The ideal environment for enjoying well-aged Burgundy wine is quite often at home. The wine’s cellar conditions, provenance and service are assured and – given current market prices for Burgundy – it’s bound to be a bargain if you’ve cellared it yourself. These advantages beg the question, however, of what to cook to accompany it. I recently set out to experiment with friends in our apartment building. I love to cook. My wife and I met while studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris 30 years ago. I finished a few internships at Michelin-starred establishments in Paris and worked as a chef for 13 years in California, the Caribbean and Boston before hanging up my toque to pursue a career in wine in New York City. Despite taking on amateur status, however, I have never lost my desire to cook, and uncorking a great bottle of Burgundy from my cellar often provides the occasion to up my game a bit.
I have concrete thoughts about pairing Burgundy with food. I started my deep dive into the topic 15 years ago while working on my book The Original Grand Crus of Burgundy. It has, if anything, only accelerated since becoming the Burgundy correspondent for Decanter. While it is often true that the wine from a particular place goes well with traditional dishes from the same region, not every delicious Burgundy needs to be paired with a classic of the regional cuisine. Of course, I enjoy jambon persillé, escargots and boeuf bourguignon as much as anyone, but the greatest wines need something more than even the best renditions of these bistro classics.
I feel using fresh seasonal ingredients is essential, and when asked what we’re having for dinner, I usually respond, ‘I’ll know once I see what they have at the market’. Like many New Yorkers’, my kitchen is tiny, and I shop nearly daily for food. I have my preferred fishmongers, butchers and speciality stores, and New York is fortunate to have the Union Square Greenmarket for vegetables. On a recent evening, I made the rounds and persuaded my friends to let me cook in their well-appointed kitchen.
The right white wine
White Burgundy is incredibly versatile, but keep in mind the great diversity of styles. A crisp, mineral Chablis is perfect with shellfish or oysters, but to pair the same with a rich, buttery Meursault would be less than ideal. The dense, slightly oaky opulence of the Meursault (or Puligny, or indeed Chassagne-Montrachet) would be more suited to a roast Bresse chicken or sole meunière. However, the wine I had chosen for dinner on this occasion was none of the above.
I have long been partial to the Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants from Domaine Ponsot. It’s from ancient Aligoté vines (see Charles’ feature on Aligoté), planted in 1911 just up the slope from grand cru Clos de la Roche. Ponsot harvests the meagre yield and vinifies them in older, neutral oak casks. The Aligoté grape retains a lively acidity that needs some time to come around. I purchased a case of magnums of this wine and had cellared it for more than a decade. A recent magnum shared convinced me it was drinking at its peak.
I opted to pair the 2008 vintage Monts Luisants wine with large, wild-caught sea scallops. These exotics are three times the price of the smaller ones dredged from the ocean floor, but they are worth a splurge. Luxurious last-of-the-season white asparagus matched the richness of the scallops. Still, the two rich ingredients needed something clean and fresh to accompany them, so I devised a broth to use the stalks and trimmings from a bulb of fennel, reserving the centre for another dish. A pinch of saffron gave the broth an interesting twist. The slightly exotic aroma of saffron responded to the aged character of the Ponsot. The wine was still youthful and mineral but showed developed aromas of dried apricot and candle wax. By way of contrast, I pulled a young Bourgogne Aligoté – the 2019 vintage from Goisot (2021, £20.95 Sip Wines) – to have with dinner tonight, as its laser-beam freshness will cut through the rich tuna tartare with avocado.
In general, bright, high-acid whites such as Chablis (eg Chardonnay from the higher elevation vineyards of Puligny and Chassagne) will respond well to shellfish and white fish that is steamed or poached, such as a classic steamed Cantonese grouper with ginger and chives. Fuller-bodied versions of Chardonnay, such as a premier or grand cru from lower on the slopes of Puligny or Chassagne (or a Corton-Charlemagne), would be delightful with richer dishes, particularly with cream sauce – think of quenelles of brochet (pike) with crayfish sauce, roast pheasant, braised sweetbreads or even lobster poached in butter, topped with Oscietra caviar.
Time to shine
Similar considerations apply to red Burgundy, where the effect of age can be even more pronounced. I purchased a case of magnums of the 1996 Volnay Champans 1er Cru from Marquis d’Angerville at auction over 15 years ago. Over time, I had worked my way through the entire case save one. Some of the magnums have been a bit tired, but the best of them shone with luminous beauty. A top Volnay in its youth will have velvety richness with black plum and cherry aromas. At a quarter-century removed, the flavours are more profound and earthier, with savoury notes of game, truffle, smoke and iron.
A few of the magnums had tipped over into soy sauce and mushroom, but on the evening concerned, we had a stroke of luck, and this was perhaps the best magnum of the entire case.
‘There are no great wines, only great bottles’, as collectors are fond of spouting, and this was undeniably among the greats. It was developed and mature, but with reserves of power to assure me that had I waited longer, I still would have had a pleasant surprise. The maturity I had noted convinced me we needed game, so I hunted (well, among several different butchers) until I found a couple of brace of squab. The rich, earthy meat of the young pigeon complemented the mature aromas of the wine; using dried cep mushrooms heightened this effect. If the wine were five years of age instead of 25, I would have suggested a seared duck breast with a blackcurrant sauce rather than the gamier, long-cooked squab. Mature Pinot needs a dish with abundant umami to do its best, in my view. I tend to like earthy, gamey flavours; fatty meats can also fit the bill. With the d’Angerville Volnay, other possible matches might include unctuous braised pork belly or, for a more traditional take, braised mutton chops with sauteed escarole. Roast meats such as the mutton or roast or grilled beef steaks, such as ribeye, could also show quite well with a slightly younger wine.
There are horses for courses and dishes for wines, but the most critical element of pairing mature Burgundy and food is to drink the wines you’d like to drink with the food you’d like to eat. If you follow that simple rule, you will always enjoy your dinner; ignore it at your peril.
Charred diver scallops & roast white asparagus, fennel broth & saffron
- 12 large diver scallops per person
- 12-20 spears white asparagus, depending on size
- salt and pepper
- olive oil for frying
For the broth
- one fennel bulb
- three star anise
- 25ml anise-flavoured liqueur or absinthe
- mirepoix (chopped carrots/ onion/celery)
- bay leaf
- salt and pepper
- a small pinch of saffron
- Prepare the broth. Trim the top branches of the fennel bulb and coarsely chop. Save the rest for another use. Reserve a few sprigs from the top for garnish (or use other herbs on hand). Cover the chopped fennel, mirepoix and bay leaf with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for half an hour, strain, season with salt and pepper. The broth can be made ahead to this point. Before serving, soak the pinch of saffron in a small amount of the broth and incorporate at the last minute with anise liqueur.
- Roast the asparagus. Peel the asparagus if needed and trim. Melt 10g butter in a pan and add the white asparagus, seasoning with salt and pepper. Roast (without blanching) it at 180°C/350°F/gas 4, turning occasionally to brown on all sides.
- Finish. The scallops take just a moment. Remove the muscle from the side of the scallops and season with salt and pepper. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil over very high heat. Add the seasoned scallops and sear well on the top and bottom; remove from heat. Place the white asparagus in a shallow bowl with the scallops on top and serve, pouring a bit of the hot saffron broth into each bowl.
Domaine Ponsot, Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants Blanc 2008 (2015, US$170 Total Wine & More)
Domaine Michel Niellon, Clos de la Truffière, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumées 2010 (2020, £81.68-£105 Christopher Keiller, Four Walls, Private Cellar)
Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 2014 (2018, £315 Crop&Vine,TurvilleValley)
Squab braised with endive and ceps
- four squab
For the braising liquid
- Mirepoix (chopped carrots/onion/celery)
- bay leaf
- salt and pepper,
- a dash of Cognac (optional)
For the garnish
- 50g dried ceps (porcini)
- eight Belgian endives (generally known/sold in the UK as ‘chicory’)
- fresh seasonal green vegetables
- 100ml inexpensive white wine for cooking
- salt and pepper
- Prepare the squab by trimming the neck and the wing tips. Remove the breast meat and the thigh and leg (keeping these two together). Chop the bones and reserve.
- Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/ gas 4 and braise the squab: in a sauté pan, brown the bones briefly in butter with a small amount of mirepoix and the bay leaf. Sear
the meat on a high heat. Flambé with Cognac if desired. Reserve the breast meat; add the wine to the pan and reduce slightly before topping up with water halfway up the meat. Reduce to a simmer, cover with parchment paper and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Prepare the garnish: while this is cooking, cover the mushrooms with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain, reserve the soaking liquid and coarsely chop. Cut the endives in half, sear in butter and roast cut side down in the oven. Prior to serving, cook the ceps in butter. Combine the squab meat, endive and ceps. Reduce the braising liquid if necessary, and strain over the squab and the garnish. Heat through, ensuring that the breast meat is cooked to your liking, and adjust seasoning. Serve with seasonal green vegetables – we used sautéed fiddlehead ferns (available in the spring in the US) from the market.
Domaine Marquis d’Angerville, Volnay 1er Cru Champans 1996 (2016/2018, £145 Handford)
Domaine Thibault Liger- Belair, Nuits-St-George 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges 2015 (£170 Nemo Wine Cellars)
Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Clos Rognet Corton Grand Cru 2009 (2014, £230-£328 Bordeaux Index, Crump Richmond Shaw, Seckford Wines)
Appropriate cheese to round off the experience
One of the great pleasures of a French meal is to finish the wine with a bit of cheese after the main course. I prefer a variety. As with food pairings, the cheese doesn’t need to be from Burgundy, but here I introduce a few cheeses from the region (or the nearby Jura) that complement the wine. Feel free to substitute your local favourites.
A Burgundian classic, Epoisses is so revered that it has its own appellation d’origine protégée, with attendant strict production rules. The cheese is washed with a brine containing marc de Bourgogne (a distilled spirit similar to Italy’s grappa), a process that imparts a strong flavour and odour. The cheese can vary from cream- coloured to orange; the darker the appearance, the more pungent the odour will be.
Abbaye de Cîteaux
The famed 9th-century abbey of Cîteaux outside Dijon also produces a washed rind cheese, which is mild compared to Epoisses. It is firmer in texture since it is lightly pressed, while Epoisses is unpressed. It is served seemingly everywhere in Burgundy but isn’t easy to find outside the region. Substitutes include Reblochon, Saint-Nectaire or Morbier. The latter is produced in the Jura from the milk of Montbéliard cows (as is Cîteaux), but it is made with raw milk. Like Cîteaux, Morbier is pressed, but it is not washed, and the flavour is very mild.
Comté is one of the best-known French cheeses and the best wheels of Comté are among the great food products of France. Like Morbier, Comté is from the Jura. It is a hard cheese made by heating the curds before pressing and ageing, which can continue for anywhere from 12 to 36 months. The cheeses are graded, and the best are given a special green label and the designation Comté Extra.