The Magic of an Unexpected Perfect Fit

Food and wine pairing epiphanies can be magical, particularly when a risky gamble pays off in spades and the pairing elevates both the food and the wine. It’s quite rare that things work out that well, but if they do, it’s typically because you’re venturing on a well-trodden path for the first time. More often, the wine and food simply respect each other: neither subtracts from the other, and both taste just as good as they did alone.

But even if you don’t hit the ‘mutual elevation mother lode’, sometimes you have a legitimate discovery on your hands. And so it was with silex and salsa: the 2012 Pascal Janvier Jasnières “Cuvée du Silex” got down to business with Enchiladas Suizas (recipe below).

Genetically predisposed haters of cilantro need not apply.

Who pairs Chenin and Mexican?! I’d certainly never heard of it. No mention of it in this excellent pairing resource, either. But thanks to the interplay of the fresh pear-skin Chenin fruity aromas with the balls-to-the-wall “11 out of 10” flinty minerality, Janvier’s Silex sat proudly atop the bright green tomatillo salsa.

The fruit and minerality coalesce into an intoxicating floral aroma that reminds me of those giant, yellow mimosa trees, just oozing pollen. And given the honeyed kiss of residual sugar that marks the midpalate, it’s not at all disfigured by the spicy heat of the salsa. It was, dare I say, pretty goddamn perfect.  An elegant way to sidestep Sauvignon Blanc while pairing to greenish food aromas (cilantro, tomatillo, parsley). Because who really wants to drink Sauvignon Blanc anyhow1.

The recipe below for Enchiladas Suizas (Chicken Enchiladas with Green Tomatillo Sauce) is like a delicious Ouija board, as it’s the last living memory of a dear family friend: Bob Peck. He was an incredibly generous professor, a world traveler, and nature enthusiast; so disarmingly erudite that it was as if he were connected to Google before Google even existed. Bob typed this recipe back in the Age of Typewriters, and whenever I make this dish, his playful, witty voice rises from the recipe text, and I cry a bit, because I miss him. It’s not just the onions.

I make only two modifications to his hallowed recipe: first, instead of Monterey Jack, use grated Cotija cheese. Second, start by roasting the salsa elements (jalapeno, skin on garlic, husked tomatillos) by putting them in a cast-iron pan in the broiler atop two bricks (to elevate the pan nearer to the flame) for 5-7 minutes. If you’re not using your broiler, that drawer below your gas oven, you’re about to have your life changed. Fish, meats, everything … think of it as your indoor BBQ that browns things. Just never put plastic-handled or no-stick pans inside that extreme heat: stick with cast-iron. The browning transforms the aromas, making them sweeter and earthier, but have no fear: the tang of the tomatillos isn’t going anywhere. Say hello to your new enchilada addiction:

Bob Peck’s Enchiladas Suizas Printable PDF

Never heard of quirky Jasnières? Don’t feel ashamed. There isn’t much of it: in fact, Pascal Janvier is part of a handful of producers fighting to keep it alive. Look how tiny it is (78ha in all) compared to the vastness of the Loire:

Can you find Jasnières?

The terroir here is unique, and it births wines that can age for decades.  Last March at a Loire Valley Wines event I had the pleasure of tasting a late 90s Domaine du Cézin Coteaux du Loir Chenin (just next to Jasnières on our map) and it was an unforgettable experience; the pear-skin Chenin fruit was still fresh and vivid, but swam in a dark honeyed viscous medium whose texture was lovely. In the case of our Jasnières, it’s likely the flint that the wine grows in that enables this pairing — the gunflint aroma makes it into the wine2, and acts as a bridge element that seamlessly plays off the salsa.

Below, a video in French that presents both Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. (You don’t need to speak French to appreciate the vineyard images). Winemaker Christophe Croisard explains how the Bercé Forest to the north acts as a key climatic buffer for the Jasnières region, protecting against storms that might otherwise ravage the vines, and proposes fish or goat cheese pairings for Jasnières whites. I’ll bet both Christophe and Pascal would be delighted with my enchiladas pairing, even if a typically French aversion to spiciness3 might compel them to spit it out and say we’re crazy to eat something so spicy.

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  1. Outside of the Loire, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me to join you. Okay, I’ll join you for a bottle of Vatan Sancerre Clos de la Néore any day. Or a Goisot Exogyra Virgula Sauvignon de Saint Bris, or an aged Pellé Menetou-Salon. And okay, some Monts Damnés can be pretty, too. But still: 99% of it sucks, because it’s fucking boring, monolithic Sauvignon Blanc. I dread having to taste it with reps … it’s legitimate work, and it lingers on your palate like some stalky monster. []
  2. No one understands yet how things like Kimmeridgian limestone and blue slate end up in wine, but if you come at me with your UC Davis science-talk alleging that it’s impossible, please stand back, because I will cut you. []
  3. How many times have I heard, in reaction to a barely spicy dish I’ve cooked for French friends: ‘Mais c’est HYPER relevé ! Comment tu fais pour le manger ?!’ []

2 comments

  1. Charlie Pendejo says:

    > Who pairs Chenin and Mexican?!

    Well, Rick Bayless suggested it in a brief guide to wine pairing in either his first or second book, nearly two or three decades ago:

    Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (1987)
    Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine (1996)

    I don’t have copies here at work, sadly, so I can’t tell you which. But the table toward the bottom of this page looks sufficiently familiar that I’m pretty sure it’s lifted or adapted from the book.

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