A Victorian feast tweaked for modern times including wines
Ironically, culinary pros are surrounded by delectable cuisine, but we generally experience it standing and in snatches during pre-shift meetings. So, to conclude the holi-daze, I plan a multicourse Victorian feast, soup to nuts, with tweaks for our modern times and shopping carts, to eat, drink and sit.
First, the British Isles are surrounded by seafood, so cockles (bivalve mollusks, including oysters) were a familiar appetizer. Champagne was the trendy drink, newly refined in the mid-1800s by the Veuve Clicquot to enjoy in stylish glass drinking vessels, newly affordable by the 1845 repeal of Britain's glass tax.
Now: A 2020 University of Copenhagen (UCPH) study supports culinary tradition with science, pointing to umami -- a fifth flavor detectable by our taste buds -- as a common element in both Champagne and oysters. For your Champagne taste, see Ross's Choice. Pair your bubbly with cheese, antipasto, or sushi for a prosecco pocketbook.
Then: The Champagne glass of choice was the saucer-shaped coupe. Now: Serve all your bubblies in a tall, narrow flute to enhance sparkle and delicate aroma.
Soup, then, was the first seated dish, whether Regency White, Windsor (but not the dèclassè Windsor Brown) or Mock Turtle (immortalized in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865). Because table wine is too thin for soup, the beverage -- and oft ingredient -- was fortified wine, whether Sack (Sherry) or Madeira.
Now: A tablespoon of fortified wine transforms even simple canned soup into a gourmet experience. For a light accent, choose dry Fino Sherry or Sercial Madeira. To enrich a robust soup or stew, choose Amontillado Sherry or Bual Madeira, such as Blandy's 5-Year Bual (about $25).
Avoid "cooking" sherry or Madeira packed with salt and artificial sweetener. Note: Most alcohol is removed with simmering, but not 100%.
Then: More seafood, often following cockles with the mussels of the folk tune "Molly Malone." Now: Enhance the fresh herb seasoning of many mussel recipes with the herbal notes of sauvignon blanc.
Then, after fish came domesticated fowl (such as goose) or game bird (i.e., duck). The delicacy Swan Pie was restricted to royals and landed gentry because, after a 1482 decree, they owned all the swans.
The wine of choice was red Burgundy, 100% Pinot Noir, then and now. Now: I can't speak to swan, but the cherry-berry flavors of Pinot Noir are still the choice for birds associated with fruit sauce (including turkey with cranberries).
Then: The haunch or the saddle of mutton (mature sheep), served with potatoes and vegetables, was the main event, served with Claret -- the world-renowned red wine of once-British occupied Bordeaux. Now: While USDA definitions are vague, our sheep meat is generally from 12 to 14 months old and is called lamb. Our world-renowned red is from Napa, primarily Bordeaux grapes cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc, "Hyde Vineyard," Mira, 2015: Inspired by the Latin root of "miracle," this 16-acre, family-owned estate is guided by Winemaker Gustavo A. Gonzalez, with a background working globally and in every Napa A.V.A.
The wine's saturated, youthful face says, "Come on in!" and introduces a palate of perfectly ripe berry fruit with dusty, harmonious tannin. Flavors expanded over three days in my refrigerator, opening flavors of cocoa, tea and spice, while tannin softened.
The wine is unfiltered, which enhances texture. Deliciously tasted with rib-eye with peppercorn sauce (at Chicago's The Smith), and soft enough for spanakopita at home. (Available on the Mira website, $89.)
Then: The penultimate course was a promenade of sweets, including creams, flaming puddings, trifles, Epiphany Tart -- with 13 jams to represent Jesus and the Twelve Apostles -- almond-flavored Blancmange and nutty cakes. Now: Who could taste a Blancmange today without visions of Monty Python's human-size Blancmange winning Wimbledon?
Then: Gentlemen enjoyed brandy and cigars; ladies retired to the library and sherry, then all to bed in your lavish estate. Today: Encourage your guests to call a ride-share, and tomorrow enjoy your leftovers, soup to nuts!
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at food@daily herald.com.
Ross' choiceWine name: "Collection 242"
Producer: Louis Roederer Champagne
Region: Champagne, France
Availability: Major chains, boutiques and online, about $63.
Distributed by: Southern/ Glazers of IL, Bolingbrook
Tasting notes: With a portfolio ranging from ultra-elegant Cristal to Roederer Estate (my favorite California sparkler), Louis Roederer hardly needs to shake things up to sell bottles. Here, however, is a revolutionary release, a multivintage blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Meunier, augmented by a Perpetual Reserve maturing since 2012, sourced from Champagne's finest vineyards. While other multivintages are crafted for consistency, Collection 242 intends to produce the finest wine each year that nature -- and global warming -- allows. Long, lean and rich with infinitesimal mousse and silky texture, the wine has 8 grams per liter sugar -- less than the now-standard 14 grams. "242" refers to Roederer's 242nd blend since founding in 1776.