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How to pair Bordeaux wines with food this winter

In French gastronomy, the natural produce of Bordeaux is almost as celebrated as its wines. Here, the former head chef and head sommelier from London wine club 67 Pall Mall combine the two in a series of winter food-and-wine recipes

Words by Ronan Sayburn MS and Marcus Verberne

Photography by Joakim Blockstrom

bordeaux wine and food
The Collection

Bordeaux has a deep history of produce-led cuisine, and the fine wines of the region have played a huge part in shaping the food. Bold reds from the Médoc are used in all kinds of rich Bordeaux braises – from wild boar and beef, to lamprey and eel. These classic reds pair really well with the abundance of wild produce in the area, too. Game is plentiful around Bordeaux: the forests of the Médoc are home to rabbit and hare, deer and wild boar, as well as to all sorts of wildfowl, such as woodcock.

Périgord, to the north of the region, is world-famous for its fine black truffles, and, of course, ceps – ‘the king of mushrooms’ – can be found in autumn in the oak and chestnut forests scattered throughout the region. Moving south, Gascony produces the finest poultry in France. Ducks and geese are revered there, rightly famous for their fat and foie gras. In the same way that Normandy has its butter and the Mediterranean its olive oil, this fat defines the cooking of Bordeaux and southwest France. Surprisingly, as well as tasting wonderful, duck and goose fat is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can reduce blood cholesterol.

Further south, you reach the Northern Basque Country and begin to feel the influence of Spain. Here the sun’s heat yields immaculate peppers, sweetcorn and tomatoes, figs, apricots, plums and other stone fruits. The Pyrenean topography also plays its part, producing amazing sheep’s milk cheeses such as Roquefort and Ossau-Iraty, and goat’s cheeses like Cabécou. All in all, the produce of Bordeaux and the southwest of France is a chef’s dream larder.

bordeaux lamb
Sheep grazing in Pauillac vineyards may now be a rare sight, but the local lamb still makes the perfect complement to the region’s fine wines

Pauillac lamb

In earlier times, after the harvest in the Médoc, herds of sheep – having spent the warmer months in the hinterland and mountains – were welcomed to the châteaux to graze, as they provided manure filled with essential minerals for the vines. Due to the close proximity of those fields to the Atlantic, the grass was rich in salt, which imparted its flavour to the ewe’s milk, in turn delicately flavouring the lamb’s meat. This prized milk-fed lamb was sold in the marketplace in Pauillac, so became known as agneau de Pauillac. Although sheep are today rarely found grazing among the vines of these prestigious vineyards, Pauillac lamb is still sold by farmers from all over the Gironde, Garonne and Gers. However, it is only considered pré-salé, or salt marsh, in exceptional cases.

Bazadaise beef of La Réole

Bazas cattle, prized for their beef, are a rare breed unique to the Bordeaux region. Originally bred to work on farms, pulling ploughs in the fields, they were killed only at the end of their working lives, when their meat was no longer good. As farms became more mechanised, the cattle’s excellent possibilities for meat production were recognised. They are bred according to strict quality specifications. The calves spend six months on milk, then four years on pasture. For their final six months they are housed in barns and fattened on hay and corn. This slow maturation on pasture and the final months of fattening produce high-quality beef with wonderful intermuscular fat. Hung well, the beef develops in flavour and has a slight taste of hazelnut.

Bayonne ham

Jambon de Bayonne is produced in the basin of the River Adour. It is matured for at least seven months, rubbed with salt produced in the Adour estuary. The pork must be from eight clearly defined breeds reared in an area from Deux-Sèvres further north to Aveyron, near Toulouse. Some producers also rub a paste of Espelette pepper into the skin, giving it a spicy tang.

The ham is delicious shaved and eaten raw with figs and Roquefort; the Basques like to cook with it in dishes such as piperade. Even the bone is treasured, being used to flavour soups and stews.

Below are four winter dishes that embrace this local produce, each matched with similarly sourced wines – from a dinner party centrepiece paired with a Bordeaux bastion a to a casual supper with more modest fare. The dishes are conceived and introduced by former 67 Pall Mall head-chef-and-head-sommelier team Marcus Verberne and Ronan Sayburn.

Four winter recipes to pair with Bordeaux wines

bordeaux cote du boeuf

Côte du boeuf à la bordelaise, shallots, bone marrow, ceps and red wine jus

Served with Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 2009

Marcus Verberne: Since many 67 Pall Mall members are partial to big, full-bodied red wines, naturally we sell a lot of steaks. To keep things interesting, we regularly change the cuts, provenance and ageing. Côte du boeuf is one of the favourites and an absolute joy to cook. It’s well marbled with fat, keeping the meat juicy and flavoursome as it cooks. Though coals give it a better flavour, if you don’t fancy firing up the barbecue in winter, you can cook it in a hot pan; just take it to the same internal temperature. (In Bordeaux, they would cook it over a fire made of vine clippings.)

Ronan Sayburn: The 1985 Lynch-Bages is one of my favourite Bordeaux of all time. It was also the first wine in space, carried by a French astronaut. The 2009 vintage reveals the same always classic Pauillac style, with full tannins but elegant notes of pencil shavings, taut blackcurrant fruit and mushroom earthiness. It makes a great match with this meat-lover’s dish.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 12 small round shallots, quartered
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 400ml red wine
  • 800ml beef demi-glace
  • 12 x 2.5cm bone marrow rings
  • 300g fresh ceps
  • 2 x 800g–1kg côtes du boeuf
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. For the sauce, place a pan over a medium heat. Cook the shallots in the sunflower oil, stirring until they soften. Season and add the thyme, garlic and bay leaf. Continue to caramelise the shallots, adding the sugar. Once caramelised, deglaze the pan with the vinegar. Allow it to reduce entirely, then add the wine. Reduce by three-quarters, then add the demi-glace. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to a rich shiny jus, skimming off impurities.
  2. Extract the marrow from the bones by pushing it through. Place in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil, then set aside. Cut the ceps into large pieces. Prepare a pan with some oil on a decent heat.
  3. Remove the meat from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Season the côtes du boeuf liberally. Place in the hot pan to sear and seal the meat. Seal both sides of the steaks until you’re happy with the caramelisation. Then turn the heat down to finish cooking, turning regularly so they cook evenly. It’s hard to give a precise cooking time: it depends on the heat of the pan, the temperature of the meat and its density. I use a temperature probe for accuracy. For medium-rare, I pull the steaks off to rest once the core temperature reaches 35°C. Add 5°C for medium, then increase in 8°C increments for medium-well and well done. (For the last two, it is better to finish cooking in the oven, so they don’t burn.) Rest for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the olive oil and the ceps. Season and sauté for a few minutes until caramelised on both sides, then add 60g of the butter and a couple of tablespoons of water to create an emulsion. Reduce the heat and allow to cook, adding a little water if it begins to split. Once cooked, toss in half the parsley.
  5. To serve, flash the steaks in the pan for a minute or so to reheat them after their rest. Bring the sauce to the boil and drop in the drained bone marrow. Whisk in the remaining butter and parsley and remove from the  heat. Carve the meat and slice it into 2cm-thick slices. Place them back against the bone on a platter. Serve the ceps with the beef, spooning a few pieces of bone marrow and some sauce over, then serve the rest at the table.
cepes a la bordelaise

Cèpes à la bordelaise on toasted sourdough

Serve with Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg 2000

Marcus Verberne: The weather conditions in Bordeaux make it an excellent place for growing ceps. Trees are vital for creating the right environment, and in southwest France, oak and chestnut forests are the best places. Bordeaux markets are rich in local mushrooms after the harvest in autumn. Ceps are excellent both fresh and dried. During the drying process, their flavour actually intensifies, and when reconstituted, they are something special, adding deep umami to a dish, so you can happily use them all year round. Save this recipe, though, for autumn’s wonderful fresh ceps.

Ronan Sayburn: On the other side of the Gironde estuary to the Médoc lie some of the oldest vineyards of Bordeaux: Bourg and Blaye, which were planted by the winemakers of the Roman Empire. These days, the 9,400ha (23,228 acres) of vineyards here are dominant in Merlot, with a rising level of Malbec being planted. (As I write, the region is planted to about 10% Malbec.) The area produces 48m bottles a year, spread across 700 producers. Blaye also has a PGI (protected geographical indication) for asparagus, and when you visit, your hosts will often offer a tasting of wines with asparagus from the region. It is a terrible combination, unless you try some of the spears alongside a glass of the tiny amount of white wines made here (6% of production). Far better are the local ceps, which go well with the wines of the lesser-known area of Bourg, some of which are very good. Among them, Roc de Cambes is the best. Owned by François Mitjavile since 1987 (when he also bought the St-Emilion property of Tertre Rôteboeuf), with 20 years of age, it tends to evolve into a cep mushroom earthiness.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

  • 400g fresh ceps
  • 2 tablespoons goose fat
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 1 large banana shallot, finely chopped
  • juice of half a small lemon
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • leaves
  • 4 slices of sourdough bread, toasted
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. If the mushrooms are dirty, give the stalks a good scrape with a paring knife and then rub off any dirt or grit that may be left behind using a clean damp cloth. Cut them into 2–3cm-thick slices and set aside.
  2. Place a large frying pan over a high heat. Melt the goose fat in the pan and add the mushrooms, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Move the ceps around in the pan, turning them over and lightly caramelising them. Once you are happy with the colour of the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium and drain off most of the goose fat. Add the butter and shallot. Sauté the ceps and shallot gently in the butter for a couple of minutes.
  3. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add 1 tablespoon water to create an emulsion with the butter. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes or so. Finally, toss the chopped parsley through the mushrooms for the last minute of cooking. Check the seasoning, adjusting with salt and pepper if needed. Serve on the toasted sourdough bread, spooning over the delicious buttery juices to soak into the toast.
lamb shoulder bordeaux

Confit shoulder of lamb, truffled celeriac pommes Anna and blackcurrant jus

Served with Château Léoville Poyferré, St-Julien 1989

Marcus Verberne: This is a great alternative to the classic Sunday roast and makes an impressive spread down the middle of the table for a family style of service. Cooked in this manner, the lamb takes on all the flavours of the spices with which it shares the goose fat, so these have been chosen to reflect the flavours in the wine. The confit lamb is so soft, pulling easily from the bone. You will need to have a conversation with your butcher about portioning the shoulder (it is best cooked on the bone) into five evenly sized pieces, cut on a bandsaw.

Ronan Sayburn: One of the three great Léovilles of St-Julien, Poyferré is a full and silky style of wine when young that matures gracefully into tertiary flavours. The wine is often the riper of the three Léovilles, because it tends to contain less Cabernet Sauvignon (65%, with 25% Merlot, then Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc making up the last 10%) and is made in a modern, supple style. A confit texture of meat allows for wines that are aged and have softer tannins because of the softer fibres. Truffle is an aroma often found in aged red Bordeaux wine, and here its flavour is subtly reflected in the pommes Anna.

Ingredients (serves 5)

For the lamb

  • 1 lamb shoulder on the bone, portioned
  • into 5 pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2kg goose or duck fat
  • 300ml red wine jus
  • 100g blackcurrants
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pommes Anna

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon truffle oil
  • 2 large Maris Piper potatoes
  • 1 small celeriac, peeled
  • 1 small black truffle
  1. Salt the lamb generously on all sides and chill overnight. Next morning, preheat the oven to 140°C. Place the spices and bay leaves in a muslin bag.
  2. In a large heavy-based saucepan, melt the fat. Rinse the lamb to remove any remaining salt, pat dry with kitchen paper and place in a large, deep roasting dish. Carefully pour the fat over, submerging the portions. Add the spice bag and cover with a lid or seal with foil. Cook for 3 and a half hours until the meat is pulling away from the bone. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature, still in the fat. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C.
  3. For the potatoes, place the butter in a small pan with the truffle oil and melt it over a very low heat. Peel the potatoes and slice them on a mandolin 2mm thick. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and pour over the melted butter and truffle oil, then mix to coat. Slice the celeriac to the same thickness.
  4. Line a small ovenproof frying pan with a circle of baking parchment large enough to go up the sides. Line the pan with potato discs, fanning them from the outside and working your way in, seasoning as you go. Once you have used half the potato, start with the celeriac, still seasoning as you go. Using a truffle slicer, slice the truffle and incorporate it between layers of celeriac, or grate it finely. Once the pan is almost full, finish with the rest of the potato. Cut a second disc of baking parchment and place it on top.
  5. Place over a medium heat to gently crisp the bottom layer. This should take about 4 minutes. Cover with foil, seal and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and test with a skewer: it should give no resistance.
  6. At the same time, carefully lift the portions of lamb out of the fat, supporting them so they stay intact. Place them in a roasting dish and roast for 20–30 minutes until crisped and caramelised nicely.
  7. To turn the pommes Anna out, put a serving plate over the pan, place your hand firmly on the plate and swiftly flip pan and plate together. Pour the jus into a pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil with the blackcurrants. Serve the meat, potatoes and jus with buttered cabbage and carrots.
croque monsieur bordeaux

Croque-monsieur with Bayonne ham and Ossau-Iraty cheese

Served with Domaine Matha Cuvée Laïris, Marcillac 2014

Marcus Verberne: The croquemonsieur is the Rolls-Royce of toasted sandwiches. It is traditionally made with baked or boiled ham and Emmenthal or Gruyère cheese. For this version, though, we’re using two celebrated specialities from the southwest of France: Bayonne ham and Ossau-Iraty. This cheese, from the Northern Basque Country, is a semi-firm sheep’s cheese with complex flavours that mirror those of jambon de Bayonne. It is slightly sweet, with hints of nuttiness, a pleasant earthy aroma and a creamy texture.

Ronan Sayburn: A classic French bistro dish, upgraded slightly by the ingredients, that requires a simple but intense red wine. Jean-Luc Matha (who originally trained as both a clown and a priest) makes some of the best wines in Marcillac. The grape is Fer Servadou (aka Mansois), which delivers a spicy, aromatic, ferrous wine with bright cranberry fruit and grippy tannins.

Ingredients (makes 2)

For the bechamel

  • 125ml whole milk
  • 125ml double cream
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 20g plain flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sandwich

  • 30g unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 thick slices of soft white bread
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 120g grated Ossau-Iraty cheese
  • 8 thin slices of Bayonne ham
  1. To make the bechamel sauce, pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to infuse for 15 minutes before straining through a sieve.
  2. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat and stir in the flour, creating a roux. Cook for a couple of minutes, then, very gradually, pour in the hot cream infusion, stirring constantly to knock out any lumps.
  3. Cook the creamy bechamel over a low heat, stirring regularly for another couple of minutes, until you can no longer taste the flour. Remove from the heat, stir in the mustard and season well.
  4. Pour the bechamel into a container and cover with clingfilm directly on the surface so a skin doesn’t form while you’re preparing the sandwiches.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C and preheat the grill, too.
  6. Butter one side of each slice of bread and toast the buttered side lightly under the grill.
  7. Remove the toast from under the grill and switch it off. Turn the slices over and lightly spread the mustard on the untoasted inside of each slice. Spread a layer of bechamel sauce over the mustard, then sprinkle three-quarters of the Ossau- Iraty over that. Lay 4 slices of Bayonne ham onto 2 of the slices of bread, then close the sandwiches with the other slices.
  8. Spread another generous layer of bechamel sauce on the top of each sandwich and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
  9. Place the croque-monsieurs on a baking tray and bake them in the oven for 10 minutes or so, until the edges of the toast are crispy and the gratinated cheese has turned a light golden colour.
bordeaux food and wine book

The Wine & Food of Bordeaux & the South West of France by Ronan Sayburn MS and Marcus Verberne with photography by Joakim Blockstrom is published by 67 Pall Mall