by Michelle Kwan
The Pays d’Oc, encompassing the Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard within The Languedoc-Roussillon, six villages in the Lozère and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is prime wine producing country. Given the natural diversity of its terrain and warm Mediterranean climate it is no wonder that the Pays d’Oc comes forth as one of the most varied and diverse French wine producing regions in the world.
A whopping 56 wine grape types are harvested to produce varietals that encompass virtually every range of taste, from the fresh, crisp and fruit forward, to the ripe, earthy and robust. The result is consistently high quality wines that are both dynamic and adaptable. Thus, there is a Pays d’Oc wine for every season and virtually every gastronomic pairing. The diversity, meticulous wine producing methods and the collection of local family owned vineyards gives the Pays d’Oc region the distinction of producing fine wines that are affordable and therefore can be enjoyed no matter the occasion.
These very qualities were demonstrated at the award-winning Ai Fiori in New York City. With preeminent sommelier Fred Dexheimer at the helm, eight Pays d’Oc wines were paired with eight courses inspired by top chef Michael White, whose creative yet authentic regional Italian menu ensured that wine and food came together in a harmony of flavors.
A medley of varietals were poured with a Laurent Miguel Père et Fils Cinsault Syrah Rosé 2012 with sweet berry notes and a delicate finish complementing a small plate of Mediterranean sardines, black olive bread and tomato confit. Another 2012 Rosé, a blend of Syrah and Grenache from L’Ostal Cazes with lovely floral notes was paired with a smoky charred razor clam, fennel and chorizo in Manila clam vinaigrette and lemon. A Sauvignon Blanc full of fresh citrus notes came next, enhancing the delicate flavors of the insalata di astice, eggplant, fava beans and broccoli rabe pesto.
A 2011 Pinot Noir from Gérard Bertrand followed for a change of pace paired with a spaghetti blue crab with a touch of chili spice. A Chardonnay with strong tropical fruit flavors from Domaines Paul Mas La Forge Estate enhanced the flavors of the fifth course, a pan-seared swordfish while a supple, full bodied 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend from “O” by Gilles Louvet with a deep finish, worked wonders with the gamba di pollo roasted chicken, hedgehog mushrooms, spaghetti squash, pistachio and fregola in hen jus.
A 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe fruit and roasted nut tones paired nicely with an array of sharp, sweet and nutty cheeses while a 2011 Vermentino from Grange Philippe with balanced minerality, served with caramelized white chocolate crémeux, rhubarb, jasmine and tangerine ice cream, brought the meal to a sweet, satisfying end, while lively discourse on all subjects wine and food kept the company edified and entertained throughout.
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