Home > Recipe, Shiraz, Wine Tasting > Perfect Winter Fare – Shiraz and Cassoulet

Perfect Winter Fare – Shiraz and Cassoulet

February 6, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

DSC_0433You can call it “play it for Australia” (with a little bit of France). Or you can just call it Shiraz tasting. Whatever the name is, but a few months ago (actually, right after the hurricane Sandy – it was a miracle that we didn’t lose an electricity) we got together for a Shiraz blind tasting and the dinner.

For the blind tasting, we had two limitations imposed. First, the bottle was supposed to say “Shiraz” on it. Yes, of course Shiraz and Syrah are the same grapes, but – this was a limitation number one. Limitation number two (a soft one) – preferably, the Shiraz shouldn’t be coming from Barossa region. You wonder why? Easy. I had a couple of bottles in mind, all from Barossa, so I wanted others to do the hard work. Ahh, yes – and no blends were allowed – only 100% Shiraz.

DSC_0462Before we started the tasting, I threw in a monkey wrench. Doesn’t sound right talking about wine, does it? So the role of this allegorical wrench was played by Frank Cornelissen Contadino 8 wine. Frank Cornelissen makes very interesting wines in Sicily – natural, low intervention wines from the grapes growing on volcanic soils of Etna. His aspiration is to let people actually to taste the soil, the actual stones in his wines, and he is probably succeeding with that (here is the link which explains the wine making philosophy – I think it is worth reading). This wine literally represents a very distinct experience – outside of acidity and minerality, there is very little else which you can taste – nevertheless, it is an interesting wine to try (well, I’m not sure we got too many votes of approval for this wine from the group, but still). Okay, let’s get back to the Shiraz.

The tasting was blind. Of course all the wines were Shiraz, but the blind tasting format allows you to focus only on the wine in your glass – no matter who producer is, how cute the animal is on the label (no, I didn’t expect anyone to pull off the Yellow Tail stunt, but thinking about it now, it could’ve been interesting), did someone tasted the wine before or who brought the bottle.

We had 6 wines in the tasting. As the tasting is blind, the person who brings the bottle, gets to open it and puts it in the brown bag. Then we ask kids to stick the numbers on the bags, completely at random. The wines are poured in the numbered glasses, and the fun begins.


Shiraz in the glasses

Shiraz is usually quite a playful wine when it comes to the fruit expressions, so this time we decided to add an interesting touch to our tasting – put the fruits on the table. We had raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and couple of different plums in the glasses, slightly smashed to release the flavor. The intent was to use those fruits as a reference while smelling and tasting the wine and to be able to identify what we were tasting. Not sure if it was a successful experiment, but as the very least it was fun.

shiraz tasting

Now everybody are at the table and we start the tasting – sniff, swirl, sniff, more swirling, taste – talking and taking notes at the same time – no, there is no requirement to participate in conversation, but it is part of fun! And the notes are helpful at the end, when we take a popular vote to identify the most favorite wine of the group. Each person can vote for two wines, and the wine which will score the highest, will win. I case of a draw, we take an additional vote to select only one favorite between the two, so we still will have a winner – this all is necessary to have then a culmination point of unwrapping the winner and listening to the collective “ahh?” as pretty much in all of our blind tastings the winning wine was a complete surprise to everyone, including the person who brought the wine.

Once we have a winner, all the wines get unwrapped and admired, and everybody count their surprises for a few minutes. Here is our line up from this tasting:


And here are the notes:

1. 2006 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier lieu dit Malakoff Shiraz Pyrenees (13.5% ABV) – little smoke, blueberries, a bit tart, very restrained. Not a typical Australian Shiraz.

2. 2005 Oliverhill “Jimmy Section” Shiraz McLaren Vale (96RP, no ABV as my label was badly damaged) – a little dust, tart cherries on the nose, blueberries, very sweet on the palate, jammy, a little short on the finish, overall pleasant.

3. 2004 d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) – interesting blackberries, very tart, not balanced.

4. 2010 Molly Dooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz Australia (16.5% ABV) – very nice, dark chocolate, jammy, blackberries, dusty nose, overall very balanced.

5. 2010 Jim Barry the lodge hill Shiraz Clare Valley (14.5% ABV) – very round, balanced, plums on the nose.

6. 2010 Eden Road The Long Road Shiraz Canberra District Australia (13.5% ABV) – Smells very young, but with the tannins in the back. Good dark fruit.

Can you guess the winning wine? I will give you a few moments.

And the winning wine was…

And the winning wine was…

And the winning wine was …


2010 Molly Dooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz Australia – the wine got 8 popular votes out of 10. In the second place with 5 votes out of 10 was 2005 Oliverhill “Jimmy Section” Shiraz McLaren Vale – interestingly enough, this wine has a very high rating of Robert Parker ( 96), and expected maturity in 2011 – 2018 – I guess we opened it prematurely… Oh well.

And now – dinner time!

Did you notice the title of this post? Yep, the cassoulet was involved. No, it was probably not cold enough yet, and cassoulet is a dish from south of France, so Cote du Rhone wines would be typically more appropriate – but, cassoulet is one of my all time favorite dishes to make (and to eat too), so you got to do what you want to do, right?

I fell in love with cassoulet during one of my trips to Geneva a while ago. White beans, pork, duck, lamb, sausage – all so succulent and so “together”, a perfectly heart, soul and body warming dish. I tried to find it in the restaurants in US, but never succeeded. Then at some point I came across an article about Cassoulet in Wall Street Journal, which also contained Alain Ducasse recipe – this was a turning moment when I started making it myself. I don’t know what any other cassoulet aficionados would think, but to me it tastes the closest to those I admired in Geneva.

I would like to share the recipe with you – which is mostly Alain Ducasse recipe (here is a link to the article and recipe on WSJ site) – I made certain adaptations which don’t sacrifice the taste, in my opinion, but make it easier to prepare.

Here is list of ingredients  – as copied from the original recipe – with my comments.

For the beans:
1.5 lb Tarbais beans or white kidney beans (I’m talking about beans below)
3 carrots
1 celery stalk
1 onion
2 heads of garlic
1 tomato? ( well, in the original recipe there is a mention of tomato being diced – but then it is not used for anything – therefore, I just don’t use it)

For the meat:
4 sweet Italian sausages
1 lb pork ribs
½ lb garlic sausage
1 lb lamb shoulder
1 lb pork belly
4 duck legs confit
4 qt. chicken stock
3 carrots
1 celery stalk
1 onion
1 head of garlic (I just use garlic cloves here)
1 tomato
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 sprigs thyme
1 Bay leaf
12 whole black peppercorns

Cassoulet starts with beans. The subject of proper beans for the cassoulet can almost reach the level of religious war. The original recipe of Alain Ducasse calls for so called Tarbais beans. Good luck finding them here. May be you can order them in advance, but this is a bit too much preparedness for me. So we need a substitute. What’s important is to find beans which will sustain very long cooking time, but will not become a mush – you are looking to see and taste actual beans and not some kind of paste. I successfully used so called Great Northern beans, which can be found in supermarkets, and I believe so called Navy beans will work too, but I don’t remember trying them.

The process starts from soaking the beans overnight in a cold water. The actual cooking starts next day – but you still can do a few things in advance.

The recipe calls for duck leg confit. If you look into the recipes for duck confit, cooking it is a very lengthy process on its own. Buying duck confit is possible, but it is hard to find a supermarket which carries it. I successfully replaced duck confit with just fresh duck legs. Sometimes, finding the duck legs can be a problem too. This was my case this time. Well, when you want a cassoulet, you have to do whatever it takes… Duck flavor profile (gamey, nutty, etc. – you know how the duck tastes) is essential – replacing duck with chicken is not really an option. My solution – using the whole duck. I got the whole duck, cut it up into pieces, leaving the skin on legs and wings, but otherwise removing it together with the fat – there is way too much fat in the duck. I fried the duck in the evening, preserving all of rendered fat together with all the meat, so it was ready to go the next day.

Before we talk about the whole process, let me give you an idea about the sizing. I used 2 pounds of beans, cut up meat from the whole average size duck, about a pound of pork country style ribs, pound of Italian sausage (usually 5 pieces), about a pound of chicken garlic sausage, about a pound of lamb chops (4 large pieces). Instead of pork belly, I used one package of “bacon ends” from Trader Joe’s which were fried the day before. All together, this was enough to feed well 10 or so hungry adults, with some leftovers. Now, lets get back to the cooking.

In the morning, step one was to cook beans. Drain the water from overnight, put beans in the pot together with celery, carrots, garlic and the onion, season, cover with cold water and simmer for about 1.5 hours or until beans are tender but not falling apart. Discard carrots, celery and onion. Technically, you are supposed to discard garlic too, but I just couldn’t do it – so I reused it for the next step.

While beans are cooking, you can start working on the meat. First you will need to roast all the meat separately. I use the cast iron pot (you can also use a heavy skillet), and sear all the meat in batches – you will need to season it with salt and pepper. You really want meat to achieve a nice sear, so note that this operation will take time (usually it takes me about 1.5 hours using the amounts mentioned above). Once all the meat is seared by itself, add duck (whether you are using duck confit or the whole duck prepared the day before), add bacon ( unless you will use the pork belly), add diced vegetables and let it roast for another 10 minutes. Then I put together herbs, bay leaf and peppercorns into a cheese cloth, tie it up and use it as Bouquet garni – i.e., put it inside (this way you can remove it all together so nobody need to chase down that peppercorn out of the dish). Now, add broth, cover and let it simmer for about 1.5 hours.

Once done, strain cooking liquid into the beans and put all the meat on the cutting board and let it rest for about 20 minutes or so. Remove and discard all the bones, and cut up meat into large pieces.

We are ready for the last step. Preheat oven for 250F. Take the cast iron pot. Put all the cut up meat on the bottom. Gently put beans with liquid on the top (again, you want to preserve beans as they are, so you will need to handle them with love). Overall, you want to to have enough liquid in the pot, but without making the whole dish looking like soup. Put a good layer of bread crumbs on top of the dish (no skimping on the bread crumbs – having a nice crust on top is one of the important elements of cassoulet). Put uncovered pot in the oven for about 45 minutes. Take the pot out. When serving, make sure to go all the way to the bottom so you will get the meat together with beans. Now, most importantly – enjoy!


Also I have to mention that we had an outstanding “single plantation” chocolate as part of our dessert – can anything pair better with Shiraz than a spicy dark chocolate?

Akesson's Chocolate

Never heard of “single plantation” chocolate before? Don’t worry, me too – but it appears that Akesson’s has a a substantial collection of single plantation chocolates, and the one we had was absolutely incredible.

Apologies for the post gone too long, but I think I’m finally done by now. I don’t know if I convinced you to make cassoulet, open a bottle of Shiraz or find that chocolate – but if you are still here and reading this – I’m happy. Until the next time – cheers!

  1. February 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for the recipe sounds and looks delicious! Also glad to see the use of fruit in cups to assist in assessing descriptors. I’ve been looking forward to giving it a try,

    • talkavino
      February 6, 2013 at 9:29 am

      Thank you and I’m glad you like it! It is a long “labor of love” process, but if you like cooking, both the process and end result are very satisfying.
      I honestly expected a bit more from the fruit caps – one challenge is the fruit should be “in season” to deliver the full flavor profile, and some of those we used were not. But it definitely made it an interesting experiment.

  2. PSsquared
    February 6, 2013 at 10:44 am

    What a fun thing to do! I have some friends who are huge fans of Molly Dooker wines. Cheers.

    • talkavino
      February 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

      I think it was the first time for me tasting the Molly Dooker wines – it was definitely great and 16.5% ABV were complete unnoticeable…

  3. February 6, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Blind tastings are always fun. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Looks yummy! 🙂

    • talkavino
      February 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      My pleasure! I think it is cold enough in Germany to enjoy some cassoulet : )

      • February 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm

        Yes it is so cold! I plan to cook this in the next weeks since our winter usually last until the end of March but with Global Warming one never knows 😉 Any particular red wine that you would recommend with it?

        • talkavino
          February 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm

          something middle of the road, may be with the earthier profile – I would probably look for a nice Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Barbaresco or may be even Chianti, like Castello di Ama

  4. February 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Sounds like you had a lot of fun, coupled with good food and (mostly) good wine: that’s hard to beat, Anatoli!
    Take care

    • talkavino
      February 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      True! We will need to do the one together : )

  5. February 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Absolutely! Would be a lot of fun: sounds like a plan to me! 🙂

  6. February 8, 2013 at 9:03 am

    This caught my eye because last weekend we helped some friends move into the southern French medieval cite of Carcassonne, which is considered one of the homes of cassoulet (the other, and supposed to be original is Castelnaudary, not far up the road). After the big move, we all sat down to a lunch on Saturday of an authentic pot of Castelnaudary cassoulet and a deliciously smooth, local, shiraz-grenach that our friend found languishing in the cellar (since 2006). Definitely a delicious combination!! 😀

    • talkavino
      February 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Thank you very much for the comment! I never been to that area of France – now thanks to you I know a “must visit” place for my next visit : )

  1. February 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

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