Today, my good friend Alex is receiving the Cartaví Internacional award for the Spanish selection of her wine list at Veritas, in New York. On many a night, Alex and I hosted impromptu dinner parties with amazing food and wine – the the most recent of which was a dinner she made of seafood paella paired with a magnum of 2003 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape. The Rhône might not be a place you think of for wines that pair seamlessly with Spanish fare. But considering that the Rhône and several Spanish wine regions grow vast amounts of Grenache and Mourvèdre (Garnacha and Monastrell, respectively, in Spain), certain Rhône wines can be fine stand-ins for robust Spanish reds. To honor Alex's win and test another Spanish dish with Châteauneuf, I made duck with pears, a Catalan specialty, and paired it with the 2007 Domaine du Galets des Papes Châteauneuf.
Don't dismiss duck as too complicated – I found an easy recipe on YouTube. Duck has a thick skin and lots of delicious fat underneath, so it takes a while for the browning to occur. But this means you don't need to watch your pan like a hawk. (Also, while the recipe calls for "two boiling water pots" of water, I found that a mere cup will do; and the duck only needs about 1 hour and 40 minutes in the oven, not 2.5 hours.) What's more, the beets, tomato and onion that I strained out of the stock were delicious after being braised in the dessert wine. We used the vegetables in a butternut squash soup the next day. (The only snag I hit was caramelizing the pears – really the only part of making the dish that you have to monitor closely.)
Half a large onion, one large chiogga beet and one large hothouse tomato
The duck before going into the oven
Kick back with a glass of Châteauneuf while the duck cooks – just be sure to save some for your meal. Interestingly, this 2007 tasted very much like a fine red from Bandol, a Provençal region known for Mourvèdre-driven wines. But the black fruit and chocolate notes – in lieu of earthiness – suited the duck just fine at the dinner table. And the gobs of plum and cherry melded well with the crispy duck skin and juicy pear.
It was an outstanding compliment to my talented friend – but also a reminder that a perfect pairing of food and wine is called for at any time.