Chenin Blanc: Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Loire Valley 2010 – Pairing Rating: 9.5 out of 10.0
Unoaked Chardonnay: Phillips Hill Ridley Vineyard, Anderson Valley 2013 – Pairing Rating: 8.0
When writing about wine and food, there is a real danger that one’s prose will devolve into a mass of superlatives. I get that . . . but I’m going to do it anyway by saying that this fish dish is THE best summer fish preparation to cross my counter. Perhaps you’ve had gazpacho with lump crab meat? Well this is a lighter, deconstructed version of that: grilled pink snapper served in a shallow, gazpacho pool with crisp cucumber and pan-roasted tomatoes. Warm fish and cherry tomatoes meet cool veggies. Perfect summer fare!
When opening this link, scroll down until you see the recipe for the trout with gazpacho. The recipe is identical to that found in Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook. Batali calls for tilefish; I prefer snapper. Any light, flakey fish that you can grill is great with the gazpacho.
I readily admit that I really wanted to try a Chenin Blanc from the Loire River Valley (FR) with this dish. Vouvray is perhaps the most recognizable sub region within the Loire for Chenin Blanc, but I was concerned that the wines might be a bit light from Vouvray. So I elected to head downstream to Savenniéres, a village and very small sub region, where two notable vineyards claim their own appellation: La Roche aux Moines (50 acres) and La Coulée de Serrant (17acres). To give these tiny vineyards the honorific status of “appellation” is not unlike giving Rhode Island the same “state” status as California. These vineyards lie on steep, south-facing slopes of slate and sandstone, on the north side of the Loire River. They were first planted in the 12th Century by the Cistercian Monks. The soils and climate make for wines that are unusually rich and round in substance, with a mineral core.
The 2010 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from Nicholas and Virginie Joly ($100) was near perfect for this dish. Only the high price tag kept me from giving it a score of 10. The Joly family, famous advocates of organic/biodynamic farming, has crafted a wine redolent of ripe peaches and herbal spices, but with sufficient acidity and minerality to balance the rich, round mouthfeel of this Chenin Blanc. It was the wine’s richness that contrasted elegantly with the gazpacho, while the olive oil served as a bridge between the two. The splash of Champagne vinegar provided a little character. This is one of those unusual pairings where the dish cleanses the palate instead of vice versa.
The absence of contrast is what caused the Unoaked Chardonnay to be less effective in this pairing. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love this 2013 Phillips Hill Chardonnay ($35) from the Anderson Valley in Northern California. Winemaker Toby Hill has brought out everything I love about this grape and avoided the pitfalls of many-a-California Chardonnay producer. But its light, crisp delivery of honeysuckle and stone fruits got lost in the juices of the gazpacho. Save this Chardonnay for shrimp and oysters!
One final note on the Savenniéres: the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is a standout for its unusual concentration. I chose the 2010 because I wanted the bottle age to soften any sharp edges of astringency. Younger vintages might require more time in the cellar. An excellent alternative would be the Chenin Blanc of Domaine Huet: Clos du Bourg Sec ($38). Either will make this sunny Pink Snapper recipe a staple in your summer seafood repertoire.