I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the classics – the French dishes that have existed in cookbooks for generations - the ones that take days to prepare, with attention to detail and subtlety of flavor at their forefront. They may be a pain to make, sometimes finicky, and apt to go wrong, but when done correctly, with love and care, your efforts are greatly rewarded, and the fruits of your labor can be enjoyed and appreciated in the company of family and friends, and of course, great wine.
And what better time to cook these French delicacies than Bastille Day, July 14th, the French Independence day marking the storming of the Bastille, a medieval fortress turned prison, and the beginning of the French Republic.
So what to cook for this celebratory day? One of the most French, most classic, and most delicious dishes in the French repertoire- Blanquette de Veau, or veal cooked in a clean white sauce of stock, white wine, mushrooms, gentle aromatics, and finished with the additions of egg yolks, crème fraiche, and lemon juice. This melange, added just before serving, creates an ultra-velvety, luscious, tangy sauce just begging to be soaked up with mounds of rice or crispy bread.
When it comes to wine pairing, matching the richness and bright citrus notes of the sauce to a wine is imperative.
For three generations the Valette family has worked their small eight and a half hectare estate in Chaintré, in the south of Burgundy. Until recently, the grapes grown were sold off to the local co-op. That is, until current winemaker, Philippe Valette's father, decided it was time to make their own wine. Maison Valette was born.
In 1990, after finishing wine school, Philippe converted the vineyards to organic, a feat that was not à la mode at the time. It wasn't easy, but persistence prevailed, and now, the dynamic, terroir driven wines of the maison express the region and pure elegance of the Mâconnais. Only Chardonnay is grown, but when you do one thing well, there’s no need to do anything else. The wines ferment spontaneously by native yeast and cuvées are aged in neutral oak for upwards of five years without finning nor filtration, and only minimal SO2 is used at bottling.
The 2016 Maison Valette Mâcon-Chaintré Vieilles Vignes comes from old vines of around 65 years. The grapes were harvested by hand, direct-pressed, and native yeast fermented in stainless tank. Following fermentation, the wine spent an additional 6 months in tank before being transferred to neutral oak barrels for 25 months of élevage. It was finally bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with minimal SO2
Lemon yellow in the glass, it shows lively notes of lemon zest, yuzu, and clean minerality. On the palate, zippy acidity keeps the wine crisp and somewhat light on its feet. When paired with Blanquette de Veau, the marriage of citrus notes in both the sauce and wine combine effortlessly and the Chardonnay’s acidity cuts the ultra-richly textured sauce. It’s a true Bastille Day feast, worthy of such a momentous occasion.
Celebrating Bastille Day this year, a feeling of optimism can’t help but be felt as France, and the rest of the world, begin to reopen to foreign travelers. The hope of a return to some normalcy and the ability to venture off to far away lands gives us even more reason to celebrate this summer. Cheers!