Cooking for wine #1: Loire cab franc

Following on from my previous post about matching rioja with Roman pot lamb (here), and inspired by a recent food matching faux-pas, I’ve been thinking about what dish would best complement a classic Loire cabernet franc.

A good cabernet franc, such a Domaine des Roches Neuves’ 2010 Saumur-Champignyis a smoky, savoury, sumptuous delight. Balancing bright berry fruit and floral nuances with a green pepper sapidity, a well-made cabernet franc makes a very food friendly wine. From experience though, I can tell you that it doesn’t go at all with roasted pork and apple sauce, which not only conflicts over the acidity of apples, but also jar withs the fatty sweetness of the meat. What was I thinking? Oh well, we live and learn.

My ideal cab franc match would need to be meaty, but with a good capsicum/green pepper element to harmonise with the wine’s savouriness. A fiery chilli-con-carne came to mind, but then the chilli/tannin spectre raised its head, and a decent cab franc should have fairly firm tannins, so I shelved that idea and instead opted for a classic Hungarian pörkölt, a slow-cooked, meaty, paprika-rich stew scented with caraway and pepper.

At least that’s my version of a pörkölt, I don’t want to get into a fight with any Hungarian purists out there. Pörkölt, like borscht, seems to be one of those European dishes that doesn’t have a definitive recipe, but which people will get quite irate about (usually because your version isn’t the same as the version their mum makes). Now, I might not be a native, but I have been to Hungary plenty of times, had/made many a pörkölt and read a few Gundel books, so I’ve got a fair idea about my Hungarian food.

So here’s my recipe for lamb pörkölt:

Dry-fry a tblsp of caraway seeds until fragrant, set aside, then fry off a couple of medium-sliced onions until soft and yellow. Add quarter of a lamb shoulder, cut into decent sized chunks. Brown the meat, turn off the heat and stir in two good tablespoons of paprika (ideally Hungarian and ideally really good quality – like my mother-in-law makes). Back on the heat, season with salt, pepper and the ground caraway seeds, then stir in enough water to make a consistency like blood. Cover and cook very gently for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing’s sticking and the consistency is still good. You don’t want it too dry, or too wet.

Once the lamb is starting to ‘collapse’, add two/three sliced white (ideally) or green peppers and one large chopped fresh tomato. Leave the lid off and cook for another 30 mins until everything’s cooked, keeping an eye on the consistency. Check seasoning, add some chopped marjoram/oregano/parsley and serve with boiled or baked potatoes and whatever greens you have. Get happy.

Hungarian lamb pörkölt, baked potato, steamed beetroot greens/purple sprouting broccoli. Deep, colourful, lovely.

My hunch proved a pretty good one. The pörkölt – all sweet fatty lamb, savoury green pepperiness and fragrant, earthy, every-so-slightly-spicy depths – married really well with the bright berry fruit flavours, smoky floral nuances and grippy ‘green’ acidity of the Saumur-Champigny. A good wine match is when both the food and the wine are elevated and, if you like, ‘completed’ by the other, and I think we had that going on here. A very satisfying meal.

So, if you don’t know the Cabernet Franc grape, or if you’ve had a bad experience with it (roast pork, perhaps?) I’d urge you to give it another shot and, ideally, get it going with some good home-cooked Hungarian food. Trust me, you’ll be in hog’s heaven.

With so many wines leaning towards a sweet, easy-going, food-not-required style these days, it’s lovely to experiment with those that still come into their own with food. The Loire valley is the key place to look for the best cab francs, but keep an eye on ABVs, you find some upwards of 14% these days which are fruit bombs. At around 12.5%, you tend to get a far more ‘classic’ character.

Freshly picked Cabernet Franc grapes

PS. Pörkölt can also be made with beef, veal and pork. In fact, traditionally it would be mutton, not lamb, but either way, it’s good. Enjoy!


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