Top Pair: Basque Cider and Chestnut Soup

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Shannon Sturtgis
Vol. 30
December, 2012   

Interest in hard cider has been slowly building (bubbling), fighting its way into the protracted cocktail/craft beer/wine popularity contest. Not that cider’s been completely off our culinary radar—but it’s been a while since it’s been very popular stateside. Because apples were easier to cultivate than beer-making grains, cider was popular in colonial American. And while it never really went away, it’s progressing into a new maturity and is slowly following in craft brew’s footsteps.

Excellent ciders are found around the world (from producers Eric Bordelet and Cyril Zang in France, Michel Jodoin in Quebec, and Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge in Virginia). However, Basque cider stands out for its “rustic and hugely funky” character, says Greg Engert, beer director at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C. So on our recent trip to Philadelphia we were thrilled when Sommelier Paul Rodriguez gave us the lowdown and paired it with Chef Jose Almeda’s Chestnut Soup.

Beverage Director Paul Rodriguez Paul Rodriguez is a lucky man. Basque wines are a bit of a somm secret, but it’s hard to justify more than one on your list. Rodriguez gets to investigate and taste as many as he can find, and maintains a Spanish-centric winelist with a rich diversity of Basque wines and a healthy selection of Basque ciders.
Cider, Bordatto Etxaldea, "Txala Parta," Irouléguy , France, 2010
Chestnut Soup, Duck-Mushroom Hash, Toasted Pistachios, and Fried Quail Egg
Pairing Note
Chef Jose Garces' “Sopa de Castaño” is a creamy chestnut soup, poured tableside around a bed of duck and mushroom hash, and topped with a fried quail egg. The soup has a rich and light mouthfeel, not starchy or sweet as you’d expect. The mushrooms add a layer of earthy flavor, and while the dish is substantial, it’s anything but heavy. The creamy and nutty flavor of the soup produces a subtle, almost coconut undertone, which is a good comparison when talking about rich and light textures.

Rodriguez maintains the soup’s interplay of rich flavor and light texture with a pairing of Txala Parta cider from Bordatto Etxaldea. Terroir and fruit are equally important to cider producer and former winemaker Bitxinxo Aphaule, in the Basque region of Irouléguy, France (remember that the Basque region crosses the Spanish/French border). Made from the Avisa apple and aged in chestnut barrels before bottling, the yeasty, funky drink creates a prickle on the tongue, and manages to cut and enhance the nutty and subtly sweet components of the dish. With a nod to the Basque sagardotegi tradition, Rodriguez pours from an isidro to simulate throwing the cider (the point is to aerate the juice and enhance the flavor). While not for the average drinker, this deep funky cider might not be considered “user-friendly,” but Rodriguez is continually amazed at the sophistication of the Philadelphia market, which keeps coming back for more.

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