What wine(s) would you pair with cassoulet, and why should the combination(s) work?
Michael Ireland, Primary, Michael Ireland Wine & Restaurant Consulting (San Francisco Bay area). Generally, I like to look at history as a guide in pairing. In this case, cassoulet, typically coming from the south of France, was often enjoyed with wines based on grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and the rest. They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years and who am I to argue?
One of the restaurants I am currently consulting for is a wonderful spot in Berkeley, Gather, whose chef, Sean Baker, has a unique spin on cassoulet: he’s made it vegan! I know, sacrilege, but bear with me. Obviously, the bean ragout is still in effect, with smoked onion, sage, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, clove and black pepper, but it’s what he’s done in place of the meat that makes it interesting and is the key to pairing. One aspect of it is the texture that one might miss from the duck, sausage, bacon, etc. To answer this he’s taken various vegetables and cooked them as one would meat; poached, braised, seared and roasted. Next, to bring a “meaty” flavor, Sean has incorporated a heavy dark mushroom “stock” that contains dry porcini, tamari, balsamic, coffee/espresso, dried herbs you find in Southern France, and black pepper. The result is a warm, “meaty” dish that mimics a true cassoulet.
For a pairing, I like Wind Gap’s 2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah.Because we don’t have the traditional fat one would get in a typical cassoulet, I find the lower alcohol (12.3%) allows the dish to sing along with the wine. The umami character and black pepper in the wine marry well with the tamari, balsamic and pepper in the dish. Additionally, I love the whole-cluster aspect of the wine matching with the herb elements of the dish. Also, as an accompaniment, Sean serves pickles and a carrot-top mustard vinaigrette, so we need a wine with a good backbone of acid, which this wine has in perfect balance.
Chuck Furuya, Master Sommelier, DK Restaurants (Honolulu). With long-cooked dishes we typically serve slightly aged wines. As cassoulet is a very hearty, meat-driven, long-cooked preparation, we would therefore recommend a slightly aged, hearty, deeply flavored red wine, such as the 1995 Gros’ Noré Bandol we tasted recently. Although aged and therefore more harmonious and well-rounded, this wine still had a core of rusticity, masculinity, vigor and heartiness to stand up to the real meatiness of this preparation, as well as the tannins to counter the dish’s fattiness. Owner Alain Pascal is an avid hunter, which I think at least partially explains why his wines work so well with gamey, rustic and more hearty meat preparations. I only wish we had more colder nights in Hawaii to savor these kinds of pairings.
Because Hawaii has a much warmer climate year-round, another way to approach pairing a wine with such a dish would be a dry to off-dry, masculine, fuller-flavored rosé that still has a crisp refreshing edge to refresh the palate between bites. One we tasted recently is the 2010 Witching Stick Rosato from long-time former Edmeades winemaking maverick Van Williamson. Unlike the high-alcohol, wild, rustic, eccentric single-vineyard zin beasts he made at Edmeades, his 2010 Witching Stick Zinfandel Fashauer Vineyard comes from the cooler northern end of Anderson Valley at roughly 800-feet elevation. It was bottled at 12.8% natural alcohol, a far cry from the 16% and 17% zins he made in the past. This rosato is produced from some saignée he bled off early on and was aged for 18 months in oak. It is really masculine, fuller in flavor, almost to the point of being more like a red wine, although it holds its weight really well and has a surprising zippy, crisp finish which would completely freshen the palate between sips (or gulps, in his case). I would also recommend drinking this very unusual but stellar pink wine at cellar temperature (60 to 65 degrees), especially if you plan to pair it with a dish like this. In my mind, it is kind of like serving a dollop of cranberry with the roast turkey, stuffing, yams and fixings at Thanksgiving. Plus, it makes more sense in a warm climate like Hawaii’s.