[Update: I learned today that while my translation is literally correct, the photo to the left is actually a very clever play on words. First, the “water” is real bottled water that’s produced in Sainte Cécile les Vignes, which is the village next door. Then, eau de là — which I translated as “the water there,” sounds the same as au delà, which means beyond. Or, in this case, the great beyond. So you could read this as “Our wine is better than dying,” which would most likely be the truth. But it could also be that their neighbor’s bottled water is like death. Ah, the crafty French! That’s much better trash talk.]
It’s harvest and wine-making time again. Harvest is the busiest time of the year for most wineries because you’ve only got a limited amount of time to pick the grapes before it gets too cold at night (or during the day, for that matter). If the harvest is later than usual because of cooler or rainy summer weather, then it’s really a race to pick them quickly.
So while there’s still time before the harvest starts, a lot of villages in wine-making regions have a pre-harvest festival. One of these villages, Cairanne, in the Southern Rhône Valley, just had its third annual Vendange des Artistes, or Artists’ Harvest.
As I posted a couple of years ago, the festival started with local art students painting the wagons used to haul grapes from the fields to the wineries (called bennes in France), in consultation with the winery owners and grape-growers. Although the wineries’ names don’t appear on the wagons, the hope was that you’d see a wagon with decoration you’d like and either follow it back to the winery, or find out who it belonged to. Then, of course, try the wines.
The Vendange des Artistes has become a little bit more elaborate every year and is now open to more than students. And the folks promoting Rhône Valley wines are using it for a marketing tool now, which is probably how the video of this year’s festival got made. Still, it’s a really fun idea. And a great way to bring the community together.
We don’t carry wines from Cairanne anymore, but this week’s recommendation is from a village that’s practically next door. Cave la Romaine Séguret ($15) is 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. The winery is the cooperative in Vaison la Romaine, but all the grapes are grown in Séguret, a village only a few kilometers from Cairanne. The wine is medium-bodied and has all sorts of ripe fruit flavor, plus a great leathery/tobacco earthiness. Robust enough for grilling, and the perfect thing to take the chill off our September evenings.
When it gets cool at night I start thinking of heartier foods. Yet we know that we can still get a couple of scorching days and I won’t want something too heavy. Salmon fits the bill for this anything-goes weather-wise time of year. I got the idea for this recipe from watching Jacques Pepin make a salmon dish. He put a fresh bread crumb and hazelnut topping on a side of salmon and baked it in a low oven — low enough to be able to bake the salmon right on the serving platter. I tried it, but the salmon wasn’t cooked enough for my taste. (I don’t need to have it completely cooked through, but this was a little too raw for me. I also have to admit that I wasn’t courageous enough to risk breaking my serving platter cooking it in the oven.)
So I’ve upped the temperature and bake them a little longer. Plus, instead of the hazelnuts in the recipe, I use walnuts, which are easier to find, and I added garlic and thyme to the crumbs for a little extra flavor. I make the recipe with four to six ounce fillets instead of one big piece. You can put the fillets butting up against one another if you like, that way the ones in the middle will cook a little less.
Southern Rhône wines pair very well with salmon, so the Séguret will be a good match. Serve the breaded fillet on top of some salad for a lighter meal, or with something like pasta with garlic and olive oil as a side dish for a colder-weather dish. You may not live in a place where you can watch the grape wagons go by, but you can eat as if you do!
4 4-6 ounce salmon fillets, skin on, any little bones removed.
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup walnut pieces
2 slices sandwich bread, or 5-6 baguette slices (remove the tougher parts of the crust if you’re using baguette slices), torn into small pieces
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow baking dish that’s just large enough to hold all four salmon fillets.
Drop the garlic clove through the feed tube of a food processor that’s running and let it get minced. Stop the food processor and add the walnuts. Pulse until the walnuts are very finely chopped, but not ground. Empty the walnut/garlic mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Put the bread pieces in the food processor and pulse until you make fresh bread crumbs. You should have about a cup of crumbs; if not, use the processor to make enough.
Combine the walnut mixture and the crumbs, along with the fresh thyme and a little salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil. Put the fillets skin-side-down in the oiled baking dish, and brush the fish with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, press the crumb mixture on top of the fillets and drizzle a bit more olive oil on top.
Put the fish in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. The crumbs will be lightly browned and the fish should be just cooked through. Serve immediately.