Champagne Floozy: [sham-PEYN FLOO-zee], noun: 1. A woman of the early days of Champagne, before her time, who decided it was ok for women to partake in the drinking of Champagne. 2. A lifelong foodie turned wine industry professional based in Durham, NC.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Loire Cab Franc & Duck Breast with a Cherry Reduction

As is often the case with me, my dinner decision started with a wine decision. Milling about the market at the end of my Saturday shift, pondering what to take home for the all-too-brief weekend before the busiest week of the year. (Mid-July sale week, which means about 60 hours of hard physical labor under the guise of Your Friendly Wine Steward) But I digress. I spied a bottle of Loire Cabernet Franc that had recently snuck its way onto our shelves without my knowledge. I love Loire reds, and with the weather actually taking a turn for the cooler, this is the perfect opportunity for red wine and a meatier meal in contrast to all the couscous and eggplant and rose I've been consuming as of late. After a brief discussion with the boss-man, I discovered this wine demanded something pretty hearty. His first suggestion was duck. Hmm. Maybe. I bought a back-up bottle of Beaujolais just in case duck was not, in fact, in my future.
Turns out it is.
After reading a bunch of recipes online (I've never cooked duck myself before!), I settled on one involving roasted grapes and creme fraiche. But once at the grocery store, I discovered the gorgeously ripe and sweet cherries they had on sale. Cherries and duck, that's classic, right? So I swapped the grapes for cherries and headed home. Now what to do with the creme fraiche...
This is the part where we reflect on our wines.
 The Wine: Clos Cristal Saumur-Champigny 2009, from the Hospices de Saumur. Antoine Cristal labored tirelessly in his vineyards for the last 30 or 40 years of his life, working to create a name for the red wines of Saumur at a time (around 1900) when it was known exclusively for it's Chenin Blanc based whites, before bequeathing the property to the local hospital in 1928. Also worth noting is the ingenious method of grape-growing developed by the late Cristal. He built three kilometers of walls (the Clos of Clos Cristal) around which, and through which, the vines grow. This produces an ambient source of heat, especially after the sun goes down, which helps the grapes ripen in this cool climate. This is same principle of terroir surrounding the large stone galets that sprinkle the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The soils at this organic and biodynamically farmed estate are sandy, atop a table of tuffeau (sandstone) at varying depths below the surface, which causes the vines to struggle and take longer to root down. The average age of the vines is 45 years old, with some as old as 80.    

In The Kitchen:  I scored the skin of the breast, then seasoned it with juniper and thyme. I seared it, fatty side down, in my cast iron skillet for a few minutes then flipped it and finished it off in the oven. This was my first time cooking duck, so I relied heavily on recipe times for each step of the duck. We served it on a bed of arugula and Israeli cous-cous alongside some simple steamed green beans from Jean's garden. Topping off the dish was a beautiful savory cherry sauce - fresh cherries that were chopped in the food processor and cooked down with a touch of red wine, onion, garlic, and homemade chicken stock, then finished with a healthy swirl of creme fraiche. All in all, the cherry sauce was the only triumph. Word to the wise: Don't buy duck breast from Greenlife's freezer. It was really just a poor quality product. I overcooked the duck a little, but, even recognizing that, I think, in the future, I'd be happier to shell out a little more money for something good and fresh. Oh well, live and learn.

In the glass: Immediately upon pouring, Bigsy and I were both struck by the color: Dark, almost black. The black theme continued in an array of lush black fruit: plum, blackberry, boysenberry, and black cherry.  Also immediate was the firm acidity of the wine, a good backdrop for the fatty duck. Alas, I really should have decanted this. Some very interesting notes emerged with exposure to air: the trademark sanguine iron minerality and tobacco leaf, but also black olive, truffle, and after even more time in the glass, an herbal chord, almost minty. In retrospect, I think lamb shoulder rubbed with anchovy and rosemary would've been a better choice. Although the wine was not particularly tannic by Bordeaux or Napa standards, it was still awfully big. That being said, it possessed no hard edges and definitely caressed the palate with a lovely, softly velvety mouthfeel. Getting to the bottom of the bottle as I write this, there is a good bit of sediment in my glass. If I had to sum up this wine succinctly, I would say: Obviously Loire Cab Franc but burlier. Also, not a wine for beginners.
That being said, I loved it.
Vines trained through walls. Ain't that some shit?

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