Would you poach lobster in a bath of Chateau d’Yquem, one of the world’s most expensive wines, simply because it could bring out the natural sweetness of the meat? Or spend six weeks infusing a wheel of the coveted Abbaye de Saint-Benoit Bleu Bénédictin cheese with two bottles of $150 wine to transform it into a creamy, silky dessert?
A series on the mysteries and delights of ice wine
Part 1: A winemaking challenge
Part 2: A chef gets creative with poached lobster and ice wine.
Liberal use of an extravagant ingredient is part of Chef Jason Parsons’ everyday routine. And lest you think his kitchen (located, perhaps, in a Michelin-starred restaurant in one of France’s wine regions) is awash in Sauternes or Romanée Conti, think again. His restaurant is in Canada’s Ontario province, and his liquid of choice is ice wine.
Just as decadent and expensive as wines born of botrytis (which causes the “noble rot” that creates Sauternes), ice wine is a homegrown specialty of Parsons’ award-winning winery restaurant at Peller Estates.
“When people think of ice wine, they traditionally think of German eiswein, which is really sweet. But ice wines have acidity, which creates a great balance. That’s what makes it a wonderful wine to work with. It can start a meal. It can cool down spice. You can do so many things with it,” explained Parsons.
Not one to scrimp on staples, Parsons uses a case of the precious ice wine (costing $900 or more) every day to transform all manner of culinary creations. For Parsons, Peller Estates’ famed ice wine is just one of many locally sourced kitchen provisions. Yet it infuses the menu from start to finish –- as a core ingredient and the perfect pairing. And after a three-hour, seven-course tasting dinner priced at $150, I think it’s worth every penny.
Adventurous guests enjoy a luxurious culinary odyssey
As a guest, not an incognito reviewer on a surreptitious trip, I spent the better part of three hours with Parsons, who treated me to a classic example of the restaurant’s signature tasting menu, each course prepared or paired with a Peller wine. But clearly, judging from the packed restaurant tables around me, I was not being given special treatment — everyone had pretty much ordered what I was having.
“We’re fortunate to have a clientele that is pretty adventuresome. Every night, more than half of our dinner guests choose our tasting menu,” Parsons said. “They leave it to us to introduce them to new flavors and pairings they might not try on their own. Of course, we want customers to taste a lot of wine and learn about different pairings, but it really gets fun when we can showcase something like ice wine in an unexpected way.”
Dinner began with a bubbly concoction of ice wine and sparkling Ice Cuvée Rosé. It tingled as it cleansed my palate with a refreshing little hint of apricots and peaches. Not too sweet, the apéritif alluded to the menu’s theme and set the stage for a whole lot of rich flavors to follow. It didn’t take long.
The very next course was called Blue Ice Brulée, a mélange of infused blue cheese and prosciutto on toasted brioche. The cheese was carved from the same wheel of Bénédictin cheese that had been patiently drinking ice wine for six weeks before being served up as an appetizer. The transformation was wild. The sharp, tangy flavor became uncommonly creamy and soft, but surprisingly not at all sweet. Riesling ice wine washed it down perfectly.
As the meal progressed, I witnessed Parsons’ core philosophy in action. He believes the intense, full-bodied flavor and freshness of ice wine comes from its inherent balance between sweetness and acidity, and uses both to work magic. He spoke of contrasts and complements as we worked our way through each course. The peppery spice of a seared tuna was brought in line with Cabernet Franc ice wine. Poached lobster paired with chocolate tagliatelle and parmesan maintained an odd balance of sweet and savory in every bite. Even the lamb rack with black truffles provided the perfect foil for a Cabernet Franc ice wine glaze.
“Ice wine is just a basic part of our repertoire. We’re well past thinking of it as a dessert wine,” explained Parsons. “And since we change the menu every eight weeks, it’s a great ingredient to experiment with. It’s just indispensable because we can use it across the board in all types of dishes.”
Ice Wine Poached Lobster With Smoked Scallops and Chocolate Tagliatelle
From Jason Parsons, executive chef, Peller Estates Winery Restaurant. Suggested wine pairing: Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc ice wine. Parsons makes his own chocolate tagliatelle and smokes his own scallops. He says you can substitute plain tagliatelle, or try making chocolate tagliatelle yourself. Smoked scallops are available from specialty retailers such as Petrossian.
- Place the ice wine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop the four lobster tails into the boiling wine, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Allow the lobster to cook slowly in the residual heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter. Add shallots and sauté for one minute (do not allow to color).
- Add the Chardonnay and reduce by half. Add cream and reduce by half again.
- Add the artichokes, scallops and garlic.
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, add the pasta and cook briefly, until just tender. Strain and add to the sauce.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, place the pasta in a large, wide bowl. Slice each lobster tail in three and arrange on top of the pasta. Finish with the shaved Parmesan and torn basil leaves.
Caroline J. Beck is a freelance food and wine writer and a strategic advisor to specialty food start-ups. Her articles and columns have appeared in such publications as the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, Michigan BLUE — Michigan’s Lakestyle Magazine, and The Olive Oil Source, the world’s top-ranked olive oil-related website, where she has served as editor since 2007. Caroline’s website, www.carolinejbeck.com, provides common sense advice for enthusiastic entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the specialty foods business.
Photos, from top:
Jason Parsons, executive chef, Peller Estates Winery Restaurant. Credit: Meg Parsons
Ice wine poached lobster with chocolate tagliatelle, smoked salmon and Alberta Parmesan. Credit: Joseph Chan