Thursday, August 9, 2012

A perfect "pearing" with late harvest Reisling

The Voluptuous Table hosts a wine tasting each month.  At our most recent tasting, we sampled a variety of Austrian, Alsatian and German wines, all of them lovely and charming (as were the guests).  But for many of us, I think the most memorable wine was this one:

Acclaimed as one of the most exceptional producers in Germany, the Prum family has been making wine in the Mosel region for over two centuries.  Prum family wines are true estate wines and they are very special.  "JJ Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Riesling wines of the Middle-Mosel...[T]he astonishing quality of Dr. Prum's wines is achieved (combined with the schist soil type) through minimal manipulation and long, slow, temperature-controlled fermentation in his world-famous cool cellar.  Prum wines are known for their longevity and slow development.  They possess full-flavored pure fruit and piquant spiciness that are characteristic of Mosel wines.  From the inimitably light Kabinetts to the rich and harmonious Spatlese to the succulent Auslese and the noble late harvest wines, this producer and region make some of the most unforgettable wines of Germany."  This information is by way of an internet wine merchant; the JJ Prum website is here for those of you planning a wine tasting trip to Germany.

To say that this wine is "succulent" is a one-dimensional description.  It is creamy, rich, spicy and has a nose full of lime and herbal notes.  This wine tastes of tropical fruit, and has that gingery, acidic finish that makes you want to have another glass as soon as possible.  There's also enough minerality to balance out all the sweetness and fruit.  In short, this wine is well balanced and in my mind, perfect for a late-harvest Reisling.  To date, it's the best I've sampled of its genre.  You can expect to pay up to $40 for this wine.  It pairs well with rich foods like avocado, crabmeat, foie gras and rich cheeses.  And it makes an excellent dessert wine.

My friend Bill the Wine Guy suggested we pair the JJ Prum with something richer and sweeter since it was the last wine on our tasting list.  He also suggested we consider something with pears and goat cheese.  This is a classic combination; but it can be very sedate and conservative.  I wanted to transform this last plate into something "off the hook," as Guy Fieri would say.

I researched several recipes, but didn't find the right flavor profiles or enough "oomph" to complement the JJ Prum.  What I eventually came up with on intuition was so lovely, I served a second round of it to my after-partiers and then felt compelled to make it again later in the week.  Even my husband, who swears that he intensely dislikes warm fruit desserts (because fruit should be cold, you know), devoured this twice.

The pears are caramelized in a skillet, then roasted briefly in the oven with their pan juices.  Then they are plated, topped with soft goat cheese blended with crushed, roasted hazelnuts, thyme and thyme honey.

But we're not finished!  The juices from the roasting pan are combined with more thyme honey, thyme and a little water and simmered briefly before drizzling over the pears.  More crushed, roasted hazelnuts are sprinkled over the pears and then...a final flourish of fleur de sel, which has the effect of making all those flavors explode in your mouth.

I plan to make this dish over and over again.  You can experiment with other herbs and nuts to suit your taste and your dessert wine.  But for the JJ Prum, I thought that this combination was total bliss.

Caramelized Roasted Pears with Goat Cheese, Thyme Honey and Toasted Hazelnuts

      This dish would also be lovely with a not-too-sweet Moscato.
2 pears, preferably Bartlett, ripe but firm to the touch
3 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. sugar
4 oz. soft goat cheese, like Montrachet or Chevre, at room temperature
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and crushed, divided
1/2 tsp. thyme, divided
4 Tbs. thyme honey (or substitute wildflower or clover honey), divided
fleur de sel

1.  Wash pears and slice lengthwise in half, leaving stem intact.
2.  Using a metal melon ball utensil or a round metal measuring spoon, gently scoop out the core and seeds from each pear half.  You should have a space about the size of a walnut.
3.  Heat the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat until foaming; add the sugar and swirl the pan to distribute the sugar.
4.  Saute pear halves, cut side down, in the butter and sugar mixture for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until nicely caramelized.
5.  Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees.  
6.  Remove pears from heat and transfer, caramelized surfaces facing up, to an oven proof baking dish.
7.  Pour the cooking liquid over the pears and add 1/2 cup water to the baking dish.
8.  Bake pears for about 12 minutes, or until tender, but not mushy.
9.  While pears are baking, in a small dish, blend goat cheese with half the hazelnuts, half the thyme and half the thyme honey.  Set aside.
10.  Put remaining honey and thyme in a small saucepan and heat gently.
11.  When finished baking, remove the pears from oven and place on dessert plates, caramelized side up.
12.  With a small scoop or using two spoons to form a quenelle, divide the goat cheese mixture among the pear halves, placing it in the hollowed-out spaces.
13.  Pour the cooking liquid into the sauce pan with the honey mixture and raise heat to high to reduce liquid slightly, about 1 minute.
14.  Drizzle the honey mixture over the filled pears, dividing evenly.
15.  Sprinkle the pears with the remaining hazelnuts, dividing evenly.
16.  Sprinkle each pear with a pinch of fleur de sel.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.