5 avril 2019 — Under the Influence

UNDER THE INFLUENCE : HERE COMES THE (WARM) SUN

Theo Diamantis
Co-Fondateur d'Oenopole

Not that you would actually feel it at the moment, but it was the first official day of spring not so long ago, the 20th of March to be exact. They call it the Spring Equinox, and that is when days are longer than nights. The temperature rises too, but since we live in Quebec, that is not always the case. A more accurate sign of spring coming to town is the arrival of the first shrimp from Sept-Iles, with snow crab hot on its heel. Asparagus will start sprouting, as will the fiddleheads. Maple syrup will have flowed, and with the bright bulbs of tulips popping up, people’s moods and spirits will perk up too.

With the rays of sun getting warmer, we will start drinking more white wine to wash down the crustaceans and the chlorophyll–rich veggies. We will also want to draw out the apéro longer in an effort to appease the gods of good weather and good times alike.

The Epic Tale of Asparagus

Pairing asparagus has a special significance for me, as it marks the beginning of oenopole. In 2006, and the first wines had arrived from Greece. My plan at the time was to market them to the multitude of Greek restaurants in our city. What a mistake! The Greeks wanted to know nothing about these wines. They thought they were too expensive (it was retailing at 16$ at the time!) and I was left with a pallet to sell. I woke up one morning in a cold sweat: I had to find a solution; I need to find a client for these wines!

One of these wines was the Tselepos Mantinia 2007, a wine made with Moschofilero from the highlands of Arcadia. It has wonderful Muscat-like aromas, bright acidity and good structure. I presented it to the sommelier at the time at Toque! who loved it, and brought a glass to chef Normand Laprise. “I have the perfect wine for the Quebec asparagus now in season!” he exclaimed. Normand took a sip, and bit into a stalk of asparagus, and a look of sheer delight and revelation lit up his face. “Parfait!” he exclaimed, “C’est combien?” he asked. I replied timidly, “16$”, thinking the wine was expensive. He burst into laughter, and asked now many I had? He ended up taking most of the allocation!

So there you have it, faithful Under The Influencer. Have no fear of the notoriously difficult asparagus. If you decide to either simply dress it with olive and lemon, or serve it with a mayonnaise laced with herbs like tarragon, try it with the current vintage of Tselepos Mantinia 2018.

Another great match that hails from Greece would be the Mercouri Foloi 2018, a blend of Roditis and a touch of Viognier that tastes like a Spring morning in the mountains. It also hails from the Peloponnese but closer to the Ionian side of the peninsula.

Anecdotes aside, let’s get down to some more pairings.

Finicky Fiddleheads

These guys are tough (they are ferns, for crying out loud), and I look towards my Alsatian bro, Christian Binner and his Les Pirouettes project. Christian vinifies organic grapes grown by his buddies, in this case, Hubert, who supplied the Sylvaner, Auxerrois and Riesling to make this cuvee called Tutti Frutti, Alsace 2017. It has a rich mid-palate full of white stone fruit, oh-so gently perfumed, finishing dry and mineral. Perfect!

Otherwise, there is some great Chenin Blanc that works well with this idiosyncratic piece of greenery. Catherine et Pierre Breton’s Épaulé Jeté Vouvray sec 2017 fits the bill very nicely with notes of Granny Smith apple and bracing acidity that supports the greenness of the fern. Make sure to dress the fiddleheads with apple-cider vinegar, just a hint.

Cute Lil Matane shrimp

The Gulf of St. Lawrence and Canadian Atlantic shrimp trawl fisheries run from April through November. Nicknamed the Matane shrimp (since the first processing plant was located in Matane, Quebec), these tiny little buggers pack delicate flavour and nuance. If they are dressed with mayonnaise (and a bit of chive), a richer white works well, like a Domaine de la Cadette, La Chatelaine Bourgogne-Vezelay 2017, Nicolas Maillet Macon-Verzé 2016 or Claire Naudin’s Bourgogne Aligoté 2017. If you’re like me and prefer them with olive oil, lemon and capers, then go with a white with more snap and zing, like the Argyros Assyrtico, Santorini 2017 or Arianna’s Tami Bianco 2017.

Majestic Snow Crab

Never mind lobster, this is the KING of crustaceans! The beauty of this delicate, sweet and savory-flavoured meat is that it needs no condiments whatsoever, in my humble opinion anyway. Eat it straight up with a gorgeous Riesling, like Barmès-Buecher’s Herrenweg 2017, or for more torque, their Grand Cru Steingrubler 2015. Both have the minerality and saltiness on the finish to compliment the crab’s umami. And if you want to go BIG on flavour and pleasure, try pairing it with Lassaigne’s Extra-Brut Les Vignes de Montgueux Champagne. This, dear friend, is pure delight.

Spring Hopes Eternal

And finally, it’s time to celebrate the arrival of spring with some bubbles. Sebastien Brunet’s Vouvray, Methode Traditionelle 2017 is a lovely Chenin Blanc that has plenty of nerve and vivacity to get the apéro off the ground and to give thanks and praises. If the budget permits, why not Champagne? The organic Horizon, Brut, Blanc de Blancs produced by Pascal Doquet will be an amazing way to greet the new season full of promises and good times. Santé !