Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Julia Child's Wine Suggestions

In remembrance of Julia Child's 100th Birthday I thought it would be fun to take a look at the wine pairing suggestions in "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking". Early in the book in a chapter about wine, Julia discusses various styles of wine with food. In the context of this book on French cooking, the wine suggestions are of course almost entirely French. These pairings are solid and work perfectly well. At the same time, one has to remember that the first edition of this book was published in 1961, that's over a half century ago! Perusing a wine list at a restaurant or shopping in a store today yields a much wider range of opportunities as we live in a completely different world of wine. Let's first look at some of Julia's suggestions:

Fish fillet poached in white wine - white Burgundy, Graves
Fish fillet with cream or butter sauce - she kicks it up a notch and says "chilled white Burgundy, excellent white Graves"
Fish fillet with cream and egg yolk sauce, heavily buttered - finest white Burgundy
Tuna or Swordfish steaks, wine, tomatoes, and herbs -  rosé, dry white Côtes de Provence, riesling
Scallops - rosé, dry white Côtes de Provence
Mussels - Muscadet (a rare Loire mention), dry Graves
Bouillabaisse - rosé, light strong red, Côtes de Provence, Beaujolais, strong dry white like Côtes de Provence, riesling
Roast chicken - Bordeaux Médoc or rosé
Chicken with cream sauce - full bodied white Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, red Graves
Coq Au Vin - young red Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône
Roast Duck - full red, Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape, St. Émilion, Alsatian Traminer
Beef Steak, for all but filet mignon - young red Côtes du Rhône, St. Émilion, Beaujolais
Filet, steaks from the Tenderloin - Médoc
Beef Bourguignon - Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, St Émilion, Burgundy
Braised beef in red wine - Burgundy, Châteauneuf du Pape, Côte Rôtie, Hermitage
Lamb - young with Médoc, mature with St Émilion, with stuffing or herbs a Côtes du Rhône or Burgundy

Julia's choices fall along classic lines that match the weight and richness of the dish to the weight of the wine. When a dish has richness and a sense of grandeur, so does the wine choice. An example would be for fish fillet with cream and egg yolk sauce that's heavily buttered, she says "serve your finest white Burgundy", obviously matching a rich sauce with a full-bodied, rich and grand white wine.

Where you might be surprised is with how she treats Bordeaux. Red Bordeaux is mentioned continuously throughout the book especially with all type of meats and dark fleshed poultry; beef, pork, lamb, duck, game birds, etc. In this time period Bordeaux dominated the wine trade so this is logical. Interesting is that in recommending a light or medium-bodied red wine, Julia would specify "Bordeaux Médoc", and while calling for something fuller she would state "Bordeaux St. Émilion". This is a distinction which is indeed accurate because the cabernet sauvignon based wines from the left bank in Bordeaux (the Médoc) tend to be lighter and more elegant than the plummy, merlot based wines from the right bank (St. Émilion). In our current era and with our experience with big, jammy New World cabernet, we don't have this conception. In fact we think just the opposite, super ripe California or Australian cabernet sauvignon are some of the fullest bodied red wines you can find and usually bigger and more structured in every way than merlot.

Another thing to notice is the frequent choice of Beaujolais, just in the condensed list above she recommends it with Bouillabaisse, Coq au Vin, beef steaks, and Beef Bouriguignon. For those in the know it's not news that Beaujolais is a reliable match for a wide range of dishes but it is still interesting to see it here. Additionally, Julia has no problem crossing the line between red, white, and rosé. She easily recommends rosé or a full-bodied white with dishes we'd associate with red wines. How about a traminer from Alsace with roast duck or a rosé with a veal dish? Chicken with cream sauce? She likes red Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, or white Burgundy. You especially see a white wine in the recommendation with a meat dish if a cream sauce is in the preparation.

To me, one surprise is the rare reference to a Loire wine, the only one I could find was for Muscadet with mussels. To my knowledge there is no mention of Savennières, (a wine I love with lobster) or any red Loire wines, no Chinon, no Bourgueil, no Anjou Rouge. I can only speculate at the reason, perhaps they just weren't in Julia's rotation at the time? At any rate, these wines are are certainly more well known to us now than they were in the 1960's. The same could be said for wines from the Languedoc.

So the next time you're making Bouillabaisse, or any fish stew for that matter, put on your best Julia Child voice and think about having a "light, strong red"!



  1. In remembrance of Julia Child's 100th Birthday I thought it would be fun to take a look at the wine pairing suggestions in "Mastering The Art Of French
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