At this time of year we’re always looking for recipes for gluten-free sweets, especially cookies, as more and more of our friends have forsaken flour. I always turn to my French pastry guru, Jacquy Pfeiffer, with all of my baking questions, even though I know that the Chicago-based, Alsatian-born pastry chef is not a gluten-free kinda guy. But he doesn’t need to be to offer an array of Christmas cookies that everyone can enjoy, whether they tolerate gluten or not. His moist, chewy almond-meal cinnamon stars (zimsterne), are among the most iconic of Alsatian Christmas cookies and date back to the 14th century, long before people even knew what gluten was, let alone gluten free.
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There are several other gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s Alsatian repertoire. He did not have to invent these recipes, or make traditional cookies gluten free by working with special flours or ingredients and changing formulas. They just don’t happen to contain flour. Among my favorites are his coconut macarons, or rochers, incredibly addictive morsels made with lots of unsweetened coconut, egg whites and sugar. They are the easiest cookies in the world to make: You mix together the egg whites, sugar and coconut with a very small amount of applesauce or apricot compote (whose fruit pectin absorbs and retains moisture), and stir the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens a little and reaches 167 degrees F (75 degrees C). Then you refrigerate the batter overnight. The next day you scoop out the cookies and bake them until golden brown. They keep well for weeks, so you can begin your Christmas baking way ahead of time.
Lemon mirrors, macarons and more
Other cookies that I find irresistible and always make at this time of year so that all of my friends can enjoy them are called lemon mirrors. They are delicate, nutty cookies with a meringue base enriched with almond flour, an almond cream filling (the original recipe for the almond cream called for 1 teaspoon of flour, but that small quantity was easy to swap out for cornstarch), and a lemon icing. They’re called mirrors because the final glaze makes them shiny and reflective.
The coconut macarons and lemon mirrors are not the only gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s repertoire. Think macarons. Those iconic French cookies are made with almond flour, egg whites and sugar, without a jot of wheat. But they require a little more time and practice to make than the two Alsatian cookies here, and by now you are probably ready to get those cookie plates going. So get out your baking sheets and your whisks, and leave your flour in the cupboard.
Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Coconut Macarons
It’s best to mix up the batter for these cookies the day before you bake and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. They are naturally gluten free, with no flour in the batter.
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
Prep time: About 15 minutes
Resting time: Overnight
Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes
100 grams (about 3) egg whites, at room temperature
160 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
100 grams (about 1 1/3 cups) unsweetened fine coconut flakes
10 grams (2 teaspoons) apricot compote or applesauce
1.5 grams (scant 1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt
1. Create a double boiler by pouring 3/4 inch of water into a saucepan and placing it on the stove over medium heat.
2. Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel mixing bowl that is larger than the saucepan, and mix them together with a whisk. Reduce the heat under the saucepan to low and place the bowl on top. It should not be touching the water. Stir continuously with a whisk — not like a maniac, but stirring all areas of the bowl so that the egg whites don’t coagulate throughout the mix into small white pieces. Stir until the mixture thickens and reaches 167 F/75 C. Remove from the heat, take the bowl off the pot and wipe the bottom dry. Scrape down the sides of bowl.
3. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the mixture, taking care to lay the plastic right on the surface of the batter so that it is not exposed to air. Cover the bowl as well and refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and arrange the rack in the middle. Line sheet pans with parchment or Silpats and, using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop the coconut mixture onto the sheet pan leaving one inch in between each cookie and staggering the rows. Each scoop should be leveled so that all the cookies are the same size and bake the same way. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, one sheet pan at a time, until golden brown. Allow to cool on the parchment before removing.
Note: Another way to make these cookies is to pipe them onto a sheet pan with a 3/4-inch star tip. A smaller tip will not work, as the coconut likes to clump up. Pfeiffer also likes to pipe them into small 1 1/2 by 1 1/2-inch pyramid shaped silicone Flexipan molds, then bake them right in the molds. To unmold, let them cool for a full hour. They will come out easily when they are completely cool.
Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Lemon Mirror Cookies
Here’s another naturally gluten-free cookie. The only flour required is almond flour.
Yield: 40 cookies
Prep time: 1 hour (assuming ingredients are at room temperature)
Baking time: 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes for glazing the cookies
For the almond cream:
100 grams (approximately 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) skinless almond flour
100 grams (approximately 1 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar
6 grams (2 teaspoons) cornstarch
100 grams (7 tablespoons) French style butter, such as Plugrà
Pinch of sea salt
3 grams (3/4 teaspoon) vanilla extract
60 grams (1 large plus 1 to 2 tablespoons) beaten egg
20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons) dark rum
For the icing:
50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
12 grams (2 teaspoons) fresh lemon juice
For the meringue cookie base:
50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar
50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) almond flour with skin
100 grams (about 3) egg whites
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of cream of tartar
10 grams (2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
For the topping:
50 to 100 grams (scant 1/2 to 1 cup) sliced almonds with skin
100 grams (scant 1/4 cup) apricot jelly
Before you begin: Bring all ingredients to room temperature.
1. Make the almond cream. Sift together the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Tap any almond flour that remains in the sifter into the bowl.
2. Make sure that your butter is at room temperature. Place the soft butter, sea salt and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix at medium speed for 1 minute.
3. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the almond flour mixture to the machine. Mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the egg and mix at medium speed until it is incorporated, which should take no more than 2 minutes. Add the rum and mix until incorporated. The cream should look shiny and creamy. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.
4. Make the sugar icing by mixing together the confectioners sugar with the lemon juice. Set aside.
5. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line one or two sheet pans with parchment.
6. Make the meringue cookie base. Sift together the confectioners sugar and almond flour onto a sheet of parchment paper.
7. Place the egg whites, sea salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your standing mixer and whisk together for 10 seconds on medium. Add the sugar and whip on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until you have a meringue with soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently and carefully fold in the sifted confectioners sugar and almond powder until the mixture is homogenous. Make sure that you do not over-mix. Over-mixing the meringue mixture will make it soupy and the baked cookies will be gummy.
8. Using a bowl scraper, carefully transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch round tip. Do this gently so that you don’t deflate the mixture. Pipe 1 1/2-inch rings onto the parchment-lined sheet pans, leaving 1/2 inch of space between each cookie and making sure to stagger the rows. Sprinkle the edge of each ring with sliced almonds.
9. Pipe the almond cream into the center of each ring.
10. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
11. While the cookies are baking, warm the apricot jelly in a small saucepan just until it becomes liquid. Keep the apricot jelly warm over the lowest heat possible so that it won’t seize up. If this happens just warm it up a little more and it will become liquid again.
12. Right out of the oven, brush each cookie with the apricot jelly, then right away with the sugar icing. Allow to cool completely before removing from the parchment paper.
Main photo: Jacquy Pfeiffer’s coconut macarons. Credit: Paul Strabbing, recipe and photo courtesy of Pfeiffer’s “The Art of French Pastry.”
Once upon a time, Alsace wines were relatively simple to understand. Alsace is virtually the only French appellation that allows the mention of a grape variety on the label, and with a couple of easily identifiable exceptions, the wines tended to be dry. But things seem to have changed in recent years. Am I alone in feeling disappointed that a wine I thought would be dry from the label turns out to be rich with a sweet, even cloying, finish? And then matters are complicated further with all the grands crus names. There are 50 altogether, but I can only ever remember a handful. Happily, a recent visit to Maison Trimbach in Ribeauvillé has served to restore my faith in the region.
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Trimbach makes the full range of Alsace grape varieties, with elegantly leafy Pinot Blanc, some rounded Pinot Gris and some deliciously understated Gewürztraminer — we joked about whether a restrained Gewürztraminer really exists. But it is really with Riesling that the Trimbach style comes into its own, emphasizing the slatey minerality of the grape variety.
A full range of Riesling
Trimbach makes seven qualities of Riesling, beginning with the simple Riesling based on grapes purchased from some 30 growers, picked and pressed by hand. The vinification is very simple, usually entailing a malolactic fermentation and certainly no oak. Freshness and minerality are the key characteristics. The wine has a fresh slatey note, with very good acidity, and a firm dry finish — just as Alsace Riesling should be.
Next up the scale is the Riesling Réserve, a selection of grapes, mainly from Trimbach’s own vineyards around Ribeauvillé. The vinification is the same, but the grapes come from vineyards with a higher limestone content. The result is a wine that has citrus notes and is very mineral, with wonderful freshness and great length. There is a certain austerity on the palate, making for a very pure example of Riesling.
The cuvée of Vieilles Vignes comes from vines that are 35 to 40 years old. They first made this cuvée in 2009, from two foudres of particularly good wine. The flavors are rich and intense, but not sweet. The wine may be a little more gourmand than the Réserve, but the fruit is always balanced with steely acidity, making a wine that is dry and honeyed, with an elegant finish.
The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the flagship wines of Trimbach, whose grapes are grown in marl and limestone soil. We tasted the 2007, which Anne described as a miraculous year — full of scares about the next climatic hazard, but everything turned out well in the end. The nose was rich and honeyed, very intense with an underlying austerity. On the palate, the wine was firm and slatey with very good acidity and razor-sharp clarity. I could almost describe it as the Chablis of Alsace.
The other flagship Riesling is the Clos Ste Hune, from a vineyard the Trimbachs have owned for 200 years. The soil is pure limestone, and the vines are an average of 80 years old. The wine is made the same way as Frédéric Emile, but here you taste the effect of terroir: They are quite different. The Clos Ste Hune is very slatey, very mineral, very powerful, with very good acidity and still very youthful, with wonderful length.
And then we were given a treat: 1985 Clos Ste Hune. The colour was golden, with an elegant nose that was dry and slatey, but with an underlying richness. On the palate, there were lots of nuances, with some very intriguing dry honey and some lovely notes of maturity. It was rich and elegant, but not heavy or sweet, with a lingering finish. A fabulous glass of wine that demonstrated just how beautifully Alsace Riesling ages.
The Vendanges Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles, traditionally sweeter and richer, are only made in the very best years. The 2002 Vendange Tardive Riesling was light golden in color, and on the nose, rich with a maturing nutty nose. On the palate it was very elegant, with very good acidity — there was a little noble rot in 2002, but that is not essential. The palate was beautifully balanced with rich honeyed fruit, combining fresh acidity with some sweetness. It was subtle and nuanced.
Our tasting finished with 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles Frédéric Emile. The grapes were picked in mid-November, with some noble rot. The color was golden and the nose maturing beautifully, as only fine Riesling can. On the palate there were nuances of dry but honeyed, nutty fruit, with some slatey characteristics and a touch of minerality, with a smooth rich finish. It was a powerful example of the heights that Riesling can achieve.
Top photo: Trimbach vineyards in Alsace. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach
Riesling spent years on the unfashionable grape list, but that’s over, thankfully, and the varietal has been experiencing a serious comeback. This light, fruity-tart 2011 Foris Riesling from Oregon’s Rogue Valley, with its flavors of bright citrus and green apple flavors and only 11% alcohol (!), is one of the many fine and inexpensive ones available. It’s a bit in the Alsace style, and like many Rieslings, it’s exceptionally food-friendly. It was the perfect choice with scallops and bok choy laced with lemon slices at a recent dinner. And it was another reminder that Oregon wine country is about a lot more than Pinot Noir.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Rogue Valley, Oregon
Grape: 100% Riesling
Serve with: Ham, smoked salmon and trout with horseradish cream sauce, sautéed scallops
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Riesling’s revival in the U.S. owes much to sommelier and self-described “acid freak” Paul Grieco, co-owner of New York’s Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant. He initiated the Summer of Riesling movement back in 2008, when he decided the only white wines he’d pour by the glass in his wine bars and restaurant from June to September would be Riesling. Now the idea has gone national and a www.summerofriesling.com page lists hundreds of participants and events. There’s still time to join in, as these continue through Sept. 21.
It’s not surprising that Oregon has become a source of interesting Rieslings. The state’s cool climate and ancient volcanic soils give the wines a unique character. It was one of the first varietals planted, and in the 1980s, nearly 25% of the state’s vines were Riesling. Then Pinot Noir started grabbing everyone’s attention. Today, only about 50 wineries (of 450) produce Riesling.
The Foris winery goes back to 1971, when Ted Gerber and his first wife Meri bought vineyard land in remote Illinois Valley in southwest Oregon. In 1974 they planted Pinot Noir and Alsace varietals — Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and, of course, Riesling. At first they sold grapes, but in 1986, they founded their boutique winery, which now produces wines from about 180 acres divided among four vineyards in the Rogue Valley appellation. Like Alsace, their vineyards experience a wide diurnal shift — warm days, cool nights — that gives the wines roundness and crisp acidity.
This 2011 Foris Riesling has both, which is why it’s so delicious with food.
Try it and see.
Top photo composite: Label and bottle for the 2011 Foris Riesling. Credit: foriswine.com
Among the wines of Alsace, Muscat is probably the least known — and the most surprising. Its relative obscurity is explained by the fact that there’s just so little of it.
Of the total vineyard area in Alsace, Muscat accounts for just 362 hectares (900 acres), or a little more than 2% of all plantings. Compare this with Riesling (3,376 hectares, 8,300 acres or 22% of planting) and you get the picture. There’s just not enough of this wonderful wine to go ’round.
Why such tiny quantities? Mainly because Muscat is famously difficult to grow. I sometimes think if grapes were people, Riesling might be a nicely brought-up young man, mature beyond his years, a touch preppy, a sure hit with mothers-in-law. Muscat, by contrast, would be the temperamental teenager — every parent’s nightmare. She’s susceptible to the slightest rebuff, always ready to flounce out in a huff. In a word: complicated.
Muscat grapes finicky, but payoff is worth it
Marie Zusslin of organic and biodynamic Domaine Valentin Zusslin in Orschwihr, agrees that the grape is thoroughly “capricieux” (capricious). She underlines how difficult it is to work with at every stage, right through the growing cycle and into the cellar. “You can’t let Muscat out of your sight for a moment if you want to be sure to preserve its structure and its delicate aromas,” she commented in an email.
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And the surprise element? Muscat in Alsace is always made as a dry or off-dry wine. This sets it apart from Muscat from other parts of France and elsewhere in Europe, where it is most often made sweet, and sometimes additionally fortified with alcohol. Crisp, dry, distinctly grapey — it’s the only wine that actually tastes like a juicy mouthful of fresh grapes — and delicately aromatic, Muscat is the classic Alsatian aperitif. At the world-famous Auberge de l’Ill in Illhauesern, where pre-dinner drinks are served on long, lazy summer evenings in the garden fringed with weeping willows that bend low to the river, sommelier Serge Dubs delights in offering un verre de Muscat as an appetite sharpener — très typique and more fun than the conventional alternatives, such as a glass of Champagne or Crémant d’Alsace.
Two distinct varieties of Muscat are cultivated in Alsace: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (often known locally as Muscat d’Alsace) and Muscat Ottonel. Received wisdom, shared by Jancis Robinson in the magisterial Wine Grapes, is that Petits Grains, a small-berried variety (as indicated by the name), is the superior grape, finer and more delicate and with high acidity, which gives it good backbone. Ottonel is softer, with all the blockbusting Muscat aromas, but it’s generally considered less elegant.
Traditionally, Muscat produced in Alsace was a blend of the two: Petits Grains for acidity and structure and Ottonel for seductive, ripe-fruit aromas, explains Thierry Meyer, former wine commentator on Alsace for the French wine guide Bettane & Desseauve.
Still, today you will find winemakers who are of the opinion that a blend is best, probably one that majors on the supposedly finer Petits Grains at the expense of the purportedly clumsier Ottonel. Marc Hugel of the eponymous domaine in Riquewihr is firmly in the blending camp and considers Muscat made purely from Ottonel to be “an aberration.” Zind-Humbrecht, for its part, is leaning ever more heavily in the direction of Petits Grains for its celebrated Muscat (also a blend). On the other hand, Domaine Zusslin in Orschwihr, Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg and Frédéric Mochel in Traenheim make beautiful Muscat from 100% Ottonel. But whichever of the two grapes winemakers use and in whatever proportion, all agree that choice of terroir, careful winemaking and plenty of TLC throughout the cycle are key.
However, because you won’t find any mention of the relative proportions of the two varieties on the label, this is not something to fret about. Concentrate, rather, on tracking down what you can (try www.winesearcher.com for suppliers) and savor this fruity, fragrant summer drink to the full.
Summer is time for Muscat
If Muscat’s credentials as the perfect seasonal aperitif are well established, it also stars in combination with light summery cuisine. The preferred local match is with asparagus, but — in Alsace at least — the season is now closed and the markets are full of beautiful early vegetables (baby carrots or zucchini, fingerling potatoes, fava beans and sugar snaps). Try Muscat with a platter of these with linguine in a lightly creamy emulsion based on the jus from the barely- cooked vegetables, or with a salad of summer leaves topped with soft fresh goat’s cheese.
Catherine Faller at Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg advises partnering Muscat with her celebrated snail soup, richly flavored with parsley, chervil and garlic. “The wine picks up le petit côté végétal (the slightly vegetal hints) of snails in their herby broth,” she explains. A favorite match of mine is Muscat with a dish of lightly gingered prawns in a sauce of lemongrass-infused coconut milk, whose delicate flavors echo the floral-spicy nature of the wine. For a final summer showstopper, try an Alsace Muscat with a soft-centered Pavlova meringue topped with passion fruit and strawberries and a lick of honey.
Top photo: Three favorite Muscats, from Domaine Weinbach, Domaine Zusslin and Hugel et Fils. Credit: Sue Style
If Anderson Valley, the coastal region of Mendocino County about two hours north of San Francisco, hadn’t rightfully become famous for Pinot Noir, its aromatic white wines would likely receive more attention. The climate and geography are tailor-made for grape varietals traditionally associated with the Alsace region of France: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat.
Both areas share a cool climate, with an annual average temperature hovering at about 55 degrees. Edmeades Winery is largely credited as being the first to plant Gewurztraminer, among other varietals, in Anderson Valley in the mid 1960s, though the folks at Navarro Vineyards, Handley, Husch and Lazy Creek were not far behind.
Together they built the region’s reputation for successfully nurturing these types of wines, which appeal to a large number of people because of the absence of new oak. Instead, stainless-steel tanks or used barrels are used to ferment the grapes long enough for the sugars to lower and the wines to get dry, with less than 1.5 percent residual sugar.
Whether from the homeland or Mendocino County’s own Anderson Valley appellation, these under-the-radar whites are fairly priced and spectacularly fine with a variety of food or as an aperitif. As an added bonus, a tasting visit to the valley makes a great day trip from San Francisco. The following list of producers, located mostly along Highway 128 in and around the town of Philo, represent a mix of old and new, but they all make great aromatic whites.
A joint venture between husband and wife Douglas Ian Stewart and Ana Lucia Benitez, Breggo sold last year to Napa Cabernet specialist, Cliff Lede. Before that, “Food & Wine” magazine” named it best new winery at the 2008 American Wine Awards, and Robert Parker raved poetically about the winery’s Gewrrztraminer and Wiley Vineyard Pinot Gris, calling the latter the finest Pinot Gris he’d ever tasted in the New World.
11001 Highway 128, Boonville. (707) 895-9589, www.breggo.com
Up in the highlands above Philo, Esterlina’s nod to Alsace includes a dry Riesling and off-dry Riesling from its own 253-acre Cole Ranch (its own sub-appellation, among the world’s smallest). Both citrus-laden wines have plenty of wildflower, peach and vanilla flavors.
1200 Holmes Ranch Road, Philo. (707) 895-2920, www.esterlinavineyards.com
Milla Handley founded Handley Cellars in 1982, because she was impressed by Anderson Valley’s viticultural reputation for bright acidity, long hang-time and great flavors. Returning the favor, Handley’s Gewurztraminer has lusciously exotic fruit flavors, steely acidity and refreshing balance. In some years, Handley also sources Riesling from Esterlina’s Cole Ranch. The Pinot Gris is equally tropical in memorable ways. Adding to the mix, Handley makes a Pinot Blanc from the vaulted Hein Vineyard.
3151 Highway 128, Philo. (707) 895-3876, www.handleycellars.com
Tony Husch first planted Gewurztraminer along Highway 128 in 1969, only the second modern vintner in the area to do so. Husch’s first Gewurztraminer was produced in 1971; winemaker Brad Holstine makes it now, a wine with aromas of lychee, mandarin and a bite of spice. In addition, Husch makes a Muscat Canelli, a fresh, tropically fruited dessert wine with 6 percent residual sugar, and a late-harvest Gewurz at 12 percent.
4400 Highway 128, Philo. (707) 895-3216, www.huschvineyards.com
Lazy Creek Vineyards
Founded in 1973 by Johann and Theresia Kobler, Lazy Creek was over the years among the most sought-after names in Anderson Valley, not only for its exquisite, estate-grown, “old vine,” dry Gewurztraminer but also Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Josh and Mary Beth Chandler ran Lazy Creek for almost a decade, but two years ago the famed producer was bought by Don and Rhonda Carano of Healdsburg’s Ferrari-Carano.
4741 Highway 128, Philo. (707) 895-3623,www.lazycreekvineyards.com
Wine drinkers really love Londer Pinot Noir, but Shirlee and Larry Londer are as skilled and beloved for their dry Gewurztraminer, a minerally, lychee, honeysuckle and rose wonder they’ve been making from the one acre of the varietal they planted back in the 1990s. Longtime go-to Pinot consultant Greg LaFollette made the wines with Larry until a few years ago. Rick Davis, formerly of Flowers and Tandem, helps out now.
14051 Highway 128, Boonville. (707) 895-9001,www.londervineyards.com
Inspired by Alsace since building their winery in 1974, Navarro founders Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, along with winemaker Jim Klein and now daughter Sarah Cahn Bennett, have successfully been introducing Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat Blanc to curious wine lovers ever since. Their dry Gewurztraminer is a standard-bearer — Navarro figures it farms about 35,000 Gewurztraminer vines at this point — while the winery has won gold medals at the Riesling du Monde competition held annually in Alsace. Non-drinkers will appreciate the non-alcoholic grape juice Navarro also makes from Gewurztraminer grapes.
5601 Highway 128, Philo. (707) 895-3686, www.navarrowine.com
Toulouse has long been a source of pinot noir grapes to others (Baxter, MacPhail). Founder-winemaker Vern Boltz, a retired Oakland Fire Department captain, has more recently started making an impressive estate Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. The Riesling has tremendous fruit flavor, particularly pineapple and pear, with notes of grapefruit, lemon and lime. The Gewurztraminer also screams citrus and tropical fruit, but shares varietally correct shades of rose, honeysuckle and more. The Pinot Gris tends more to the lemongrass side of things. Pair any one of them with curry, chili peppers or anything with bite.
8001 Highway 128, Philo. (707) 895-2828,www.toulousevineyards.com
Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor.
Photo: Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer
One of the things I love best about living in deepest southern Alsace, France, is that we have proper seasons. Each season brings its own special treat: In fall we get gorgeous ceps and chanterelles, freshly foraged or sourced at the farmers market. During winter it’s the turn of a whole range of seasonal sausages, recalling a time when by tradition the family pig was slaughtered and sausages were freshly made.
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Early spring brings lamb’s lettuce (aka mâche), which grows wild throughout the vineyards, and wild garlic (ramps or ramsons) from damp corners of the forest. Morels, those delectable, sponge-like mushrooms that point their wrinkled noses up through the newly green pastures (or, if you’re lucky, among the wood chippings in your newly planted rose bed), are another seasonal delicacy. A little later comes rhubarb, which finds its way into sublime, meringue-topped tarts. Right now, as spring gets fully into its stride, asparagus is having a moment.
For anyone who has never visited Alsace in May or June, it’s difficult to convey the almost religious fervor associated with this wonderful vegetable. During its brief but intense season, some restaurants give themselves over entirely to serving nothing but great, steaming mounds of asparagus. (The standard portion is about 2 pounds per person.) Huge trestle tables and long wooden benches are the order of the day; napkins are tucked into collars in time-honored French fashion and the feast gets underway. The mighty white spears are served naked and unadorned save for thin slices of ham (cooked, cured and smoked) and a choice of mayonnaise, Hollandaise or vinaigrette sauces.
Here are three recipes that make much of both the green and white kinds.
Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
8 ounces green asparagus (about 10 spears)
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the dressing:
1 teaspoon mild mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
A pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs in season (parsley, tarragon, mint, chives, lovage
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
2 good handfuls mixed salad leaves (iceberg, Little Gem, lamb’s lettuce, arugula, etc.)
4 slices cooked or cured ham, cut in thin strips
Thinly sliced radishes (optional)
1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and lay the trimmed spears in a small roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in a hot oven (400 F, 200 C) for 10 to 15 minutes until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife (timing will depend on thickness). Shake the pan once or twice so they roll around and cook evenly. Alternately, cook in a ridged grill pan over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife, shaking once or twice. Set asparagus aside.
2. Put two eggs in a small pan of cold water, bring to a boil and count 3 minutes from when the water starts to boil. Drain the eggs, place them in cold water until cool, then peel. Leave them whole.
3. For the dressing, place the mustard, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, chopped herbs and salt and pepper in a jam jar, cover with a lid and shake vigorously until emulsified.
4. To assemble the salads, place a selection of salad leaves on plates, arrange asparagus spears on top, scatter with ham strips and optional radishes and place an egg on top of each one. Drizzle with some dressing.
Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes to assemble the stacks
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 pound each of white and green asparagus
A sprinkling of sea salt, plus a pinch more for boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
A good handful of mixed tender herbs (flat-leaf parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (use sherry, white wine or cider vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste
10 ounces soft fresh goat’s cheese
6 thin slices prosciutto or smoked salmon
Flat-leaf parsley to garnish
1. Peel the white asparagus, making sure not to leave any tough strips of peel, and trim the green asparagus.
2. Put all peelings and trimmings in a saucepan with the stalks from the herbs, cover with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Strain this herby stock, put it back into the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to about a cup by fast boiling.
4. Lay both sorts of asparagus in one layer in a roasting pan, sprinkle with a little olive oil and coarse salt and roast for 10-15 minutes in a 425 F (220 C) oven or until a knife inserted in the thickest part feels tender. You can also boil or steam the asparagus 10 to 15 minutes if you prefer.
5. For the herby vinaigrette, place the chopped shallot, herbs, reduced stock, oil and vinegar in the blender and blend until smooth — seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
6. To assemble the dish, cut the soft fresh goat’s cheese in very thin slices and arrange on each plate to make a base on which to set the asparagus stacks.
7. Cut each asparagus spear in three pieces — if fat, slice in half lengthwise as well.
8. Arrange a layer of white asparagus on top of the goat’s cheese, then green (laid at right angles to them), then white (at right angles) and finally green (at right angles again).
9. Cut the prosciutto or smoked salmon in thin strips, then arrange over the asparagus stacks and drizzle herby vinaigrette around. Garnish with parsley.
Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 pounds green asparagus
8 ounces mushrooms
3 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
A walnut-sized piece of ginger, peeled, grated
1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and cut the spears on a slant in 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces. Trim the mushrooms and slice or quarter them.
2. Put the sesame seeds in a small frying pan and heat till nicely toasted and fragrant — don’t let them burn! Tip them onto a plate to cool.
3. Mix together the soy sauce and sugar and reserve.
4. When you’re ready to start the stir-fry (it takes barely 10 minutes), warm some soup plates in a lightly warmed oven.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil in a wok or paella pan and fry the garlic and ginger very briefly till golden — keep tossing and turning it so it doesn’t burn.
6. Add the trimmed asparagus and mushrooms and fry briskly, lifting and turning with two wooden spoons for about 10 minutes or until asparagus is just tender but with a bit of bite — keep the vegetables on the move and keep tasting until done to your liking. Stir in the reserved soy sauce and sugar and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.
7. Serve the vegetables over rice and scatter toasted sesame seeds on top.
Main photo: Freshly cut asparagus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style
Finally, there’s an easy macaron that is as enticing as the French classic but can be made in less than half the time. French macarons can be intimidating. The method involves an Italian meringue that requires slow streaming of very hot syrup into egg whites while they’re being whipped, a task that is always a little scary.
These cinnamon pecan macarons, which come from pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, co-owner and pastry chef at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles, don’t call for the Italian meringue. Just fold a mix of ground pecans, powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and cinnamon into beaten egg whites and you’re ready to pipe. The egg whites require an overnight rest, but that’s nothing compared to the 48 hours that many traditional macaron recipes call for.
Gluten-free for the holidays
These are gluten-free cookies you can add to your usual Christmas repertoire. Macarons are a natural choice because they don’t require any substitutions.
“Flour substitutes take away from the integrity of the original dessert. There are plenty of desserts out there that don’t have gluten and never have,” says Gergis, whose gluten-free desserts fall into that category.
The mix of ground pecans, sugar and cinnamon gives the almost-decadent cookies a texture and praline-like flavor that are unique. “They’re like nutty, super chewy snickerdoodles,” Gergis says. A creamy, unsweetened filling of mascarpone mixed with crème fraiche creates a perfect balance inside the sweet, moist, chewy masterpieces.
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Prep time: 15 minutes plus overnight rest at room temperature for egg whites
Batter and baking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen 2-inch cookies
For the macarons:
A little under 7 large egg whites
2 3/4 cups pecans
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 vanilla bean, scraped
For the filling:
7 ounces mascarpone
1 ounce crème fraiche
To facilitate working with this batter, divide the ingredients in half and make two batches. Even if you don’t choose to make two batches, grind the pecans and powdered sugar in two batches to avoid making pecan butter.
1. Put egg whites in a container, a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap, pierce plastic wrap in several places and let stand at room temperature overnight.
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2. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine half the pecans and half the powdered sugar. Pulse until pecans are finely ground, taking care not to turn them into butter (this is why you should pulse, rather than turn on the machine full tilt). Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining pecans and powdered sugar. Stir in cinnamon and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, salt and vanilla seeds.
4. In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk or using electric beaters, beat egg whites on medium low speed until soft peaks form. Turn speed to medium and gradually add granulated sugar mixture, a tablespoon at a time. Beat to stiff but not dry peaks.
5. Carefully transfer egg whites to a very large bowl. A cup at a time, slowly fold in pecan/powdered sugar mix, taking care not to deflate egg whites (they will deflate a little no matter what). Resulting mixture will be thick.
6. Preheat oven to 225 F (200 F for convection) with rack positioned in middle. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch round tip. Line sheet pans with parchment and use a 2-inch cookie cutter and pencil to trace 2-inch circles on the parchment, leaving 1 inch between circles and staggering rows. Flip parchment over so macarons don’t absorb pencil marks.
7. Holding pastry bag with tip pointed straight down, pipe 2-inch circles. Bake 10 minutes in a regular oven, 7 minutes in convection. Cookies should have a skin on surface. Remove from oven and turn heat up to 325 F for regular oven, 315 F for convection. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes. Cookies should be crisp on outside and soft on inside. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from parchment.
8. Whip together the mascarpone and crème fraiche until smooth. Turn over half the macarons and place a teaspoonful of cream mixture on each bottom half, then top with another half and gently press together. For best results refrigerate overnight (but the macarons are also good right away). They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Don’t stack them, but stand them side by side in a container or box.
Main photo: These pecan cinnamon macarons are easy to make for the holidays. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Faugères is one of the smaller appellations of the Languedoc, and yet it punches above its weight for the diversity of the origins of its wine growers and the quality of their wines. Among the 50 or so growers you will find people from Australia, Ireland, England, Catalonia, Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, not to mention other parts of France, such as Normandy, Champagne, Bordeaux and Alsace.
For the 2014 vintages, there were four new wine estates. Only one of the newcomers is from outside the region, but all four have taken quite different paths to reach Faugères and all bring individuality to their wine making. So far they have only made one vintage in Faugères, but the first tastings bode well for the future. It may be too early to know much about their wines, but their passion and energy — and some early tastings — hint at good things ahead.
Nicolas Maury: Branching off from the cooperative
Let’s take Nicolas Maury. His father, Philippe, is president of the cooperative of Faugères, as was his grandfather, but Nicolas felt that it would be more rewarding to make his own wine. His father agreed to rent him 4.5 hectares that could easily be released from the cooperative contract. I jokingly suggested that they might be the family’s best vineyards, but Nicolas shrewdly observed that as all their grapes went into the cooperative vats and were blended with other growers’ grapes, they actually had no accurate idea of the taste of the wine from their own vineyards.
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Jérôme Vialla: An adopted heir
Jérôme Vialla is a winegrower’s son, but without any family vineyards. His grandparents had vines on the coastal plain, but they were sold to divide the proceeds among their heirs, and his father now runs Domaine Valensac in nearly Florensac. Jérôme has worked for another coastal estate, Domaine de Pommière, which he described as a factory. He wanted to find more interesting vineyards up in the hills away from the plain. Chance took him to the Faugères village of Fos, where he met his neighbor, an elderly wine grower, who was retiring with no children to follow, so Vialla stepped in and now has 20 hectares planted with the usual five grape varieties of Faugères, namely Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
When I met Vialla in May 2014, his cellar consisted of several holes in the ground, but as yet no bricks and mortar. He achieved a miracle in completing the cellar just in time for the harvest. In 2014 he made five wines: a fresh, herbal white from Carignan Blanc, a crisp rosé and three qualities of red wine. Two are kept in vat, one with lightly spicy fruit, and the second more substantial; the third wine, a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir, is aged in barrel, making for some red fruit and a tannic streak. The name of Vialla’s estate, Domaine Epidaure, relates to his wife’s career as a pharmacist, as the city of Epidaurus was an important center of ancient Greek medicine.
Sébastien Louge: A Languedoc outsider
Sébastien Louge does not come from the Languedoc, but from Tarbes in the Hautes-Pyrénées. He studied in Toulouse and Bordeaux and has had a varied career as a winemaker, including a year at Cross Keys in Virginia, as well as working in Madiran and Châteauneuf-du-Pape before coming to the Languedoc, to Domaine de la Grange in Gabian, a village that adjoins the appellation of Faugères. But he wanted to do his own thing, and like Jérôme Vialla, met an elderly winegrower who was looking for somebody to take over his vines. Louge now has 10 hectares and in 2014 made four wines under the label of Domaine de l’Arbussèle.
There is a rosé, but no white, and three reds. Envol Rouge is the entry level, with easy fruit; Authentique comes mainly from old Carignan, and the name is a reference to the fact that Carignan was the original variety of Faugères. The wine is quite firm and structured, balanced with some spicy fruit. The oak-aged cuvée, Revelation, is based on old Grenache Noir, with a streak of tannin balanced by ripe liqueur cherry fruit.
Olivier Gil: Love and wine making
Olivier Gil has local roots — not in Faugères, but in the nearby village of Tourbes. His father is a member of the cooperative there, producing mainly white grapes for vin de pays. Oliver, however, wanted to make red wine and an appellation, so he looked for vines in Faugères and bought a tiny cellar in the center of the village. He learned his wine making at Montpellier, where he met and fell in love with his partner, Adèle Arnaud, who was also studying wine making. (She comes from the Gers in southwest France and has no other history with wine.) They traveled in South America and worked in Collioure before settling in Faugères. I met them the day before they bottled their first wines, under the label Mas Lou.
The names of their various cuvées all recall their South American experience, with Selva, the rosé, for the Amazonian forest. Angaco, the first red, is where they stayed and worked; Aksou refers to special Bolivian weaving; and Tio, for the oak-aged wine, is the god of the potassium mines. Olivier said that he looked for elegance and concentration in his wines, and for supple tannins, and that is certainly what he has achieved with his first vintage.
Main photo: The wines of Domaine Epidaure. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary George