London - Mar. 11, 2011 - My love of wine was undoubtedly imparted to me by my grandfather when I was a toddler. I recall him handing me a rustic piece of bread soaked with red wine on more than one occasion, and my cousins speak fondly of this same experience. One of the memories I treasure most is of sitting on his basement stairs watching him fervently crank his old steel and oak-slatted grape crusher to extract the juice destined for his barrels. His home was modest but his passion clear – there was barely enough room for the boiler and my grandmother’s antiquated washing machine down there.
Regardless of what your earliest wine memory is, once this libation captures your heart, you are hard pressed to ignore the pleasure of it. So in pursuit of your passion, how do you go about purchasing wine? No one truly possesses a Ninja sixth sense that enables them to smell and taste through bottles to discern what lies within.
Shelf-surfing the LCBO or scanning restaurant menus has proven to be just plain lucky for me in the past, but that is largely due to sticking with familiar varietals and favourite producers that I have enjoyed with my meals in the past. Once in a while you come across a bottle of wine that would best serve as a floor cleaner or paint stripper – and it is painful when the purchase price is a small investment.
Thankfully playing roulette with wine is no longer a necessary game plan. There are so many excellent resources out there to assist us in making decisions that range from what to serve with dinner to what investment to make when contributing to the cellar.
There are any number of books you can buy to enhance your wine education, and this can better equip you for your buying excursions. My brother bought me The World Atlas of Wine years ago, and I love flipping through the pages and reading about obscure regions and the types of grape varietals they grow.
Relying on the sage experience of experts is the most reliable alternative, and with the Internet boasting site upon site of tasting reviews and wine and food pairings, your quest for a great bottle can be just a click away. Sommeliers have years of experience under their belts in tasting literally thousands of wines, and they have a network of colleagues with which to share the information they glean from their frequent tastings.
One of my favourite sites is NatalieMaclean.com. Natalie is an accredited sommelier and multiple award-winning author who has tasted and reviewed more than 50,000 wines over the span of her career. Her recently launched iPhone application (free!) puts a mini sommelier in your pocket for those jaunts to your wine seller of choice. Why subject yourself to guessing games, when you can rely on the reviews of an expert?
I frequently use her site’s Wine & Food Matcher on the home page, and this is what inspired the delectable duck sandwich creation below. I confess I normally plan a meal and then try to match a wine to elevate the enjoyment of both, but this time I wanted to work backwards to match our meal to a special bottle of wine – the Tawse 2008 Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc. Working from the “choose your wine” drop-down menu, I discovered that both duck and blue cheese were listed.
The Bleu Duck Sandwich was born; perfect for that special weekend lunch or casual dinner.
The Bleu Duck Sandwich (serves 2)
1 Muscovy duck breast (approx. 400g)
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
1 small fresh pear, such as Anjou, julienned
1/2 cup arugula leaves
1 cup yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Ciabatta buns, halved lengthwise
1 tbsp salted butter
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 395F.
Remove duck breast from the fridge, and allow it to come to room temperature.
In a skillet, caramelize the onions with butter on low to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (approximately 40 minutes). For the final five minutes, add the julienned pear and balsamic vinegar; stir gently to combine and allow the vinegar to reduce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat, and set aside.
While the onions are caramelizing, gently score the skin of the duck breast on the diagonal with a knife, taking care not to cut the flesh. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Place the duck breast skin-side down in an unheated, oven-proof skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high, and sear the breast for approximately six minutes. This will slowly render the fat from the skin and give it a lovely crisp texture. Flip the duck breast to sear the other side for one minute, re-flip it skin-side down, and drain the fat from the pan into a heat-proof dish.
Place the skillet into the pre-heated oven and roast for approximately 10 minutes. These cooking times are for a 400g breast, so you may need to adjust accordingly. Ultimately, the internal temperature should be between 125F and 130F for perfectly cooked duck.
Removing the skillet from the oven, transfer the duck breast to a cutting board skin-side up, and allow it to rest for at least five minutes. In the meantime, cut the buns in half and place them cut-side down on the heated oven rack to warm and slightly toast. Remove the buns from the oven and set aside.
Slice the duck diagonally and divide the slices among two of the bun halves. Cover the duck with the caramelized onion and pear mixture, and then top with the blue cheese and arugula.
Slice the sandwiches in half and serve them warm. Do not forget that glass of Cabernet Franc!
Tip: Whatever you do, do not discard that duck fat. If you have never tasted roasted potatoes made with this liquid gold, you are in for a treat. Strain the fat through cheesecloth to remove the roasted bits, allow it to cool in a heat-proof dish, and then transfer it to your fridge. When roasting potatoes, simply carve off a couple of tablespoons of the solidified fat over your cut spuds and roast them to perfection.