Zingy & Fresh Wine & Food? I know, I know – post Christmas and feeling sluggish and perhaps a little sorry that the fun is all over for another year, one could hardly be expected to feel energetic and lively, harrumph!

But shops everywhere and gardens here on the Riviera are full of lemons and oranges. So after the rich fare of the Festive season, something lighter & juicier perhaps? Without getting bogged down in the chemistry, citrus fruits are full of (besides Vitamin C!) Citric Acid and acidity in wine is incredibly important to give balance and harmony. You won’t tend to see the word “acidity” on any wine list or tasting description as, quite frankly, it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, but wines are often described as “fresh”, “tangy” “citrusy” “zippy” or “crisp” – all basically describing the tingling sensation you feel down the sides of the tongue when either a foodstuff or a drink is high in acid.

If you were to picture in your mind’s eye tasting a wedge or slice of lemon, (go on, try it!!) I bet your instinctive and “Pavlovian” response is that your mouth starts watering and you sub-consciously start to salivate!

For food matching purposes, the easiest example to offer would be any dish that you would squeeze lemon over i.e. fish, seafood, salad etc. will work with a high acid wine. Think of a crisp and sea-salty Muscadet sur Lie with Oysters & Fruits du Mer; a refreshing, minerally Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre; New Zealand) with Grilled Sole or any pan-fried White Fish – delicious!

High acid wines (white and red) can work really well with fatty and / or oily food too – tart and crisp Pinot Noir, the classic black grape of Burgundy (Bourgogne) will cut through the fat of a Magret de Canard sublimely. This is a food & wine marriage that is so perfect the Bordelaise tend to keep quiet about it – Duck in all its forms being the cuisine of the region one would think a red Bordeaux would be the classic partner. The folk from Bordeaux will happily insist that their reds go winningly with all red meat or game and then sneak off home to glug a Gevrey-Chambertin or Nuits St Georges with their Magret & Pommes Sauté – shhhh, keep it secret!

So back to the tingly and refreshing stuff….rather than an obvious Citrus recipe, the one that has sprung to mind to share with you is a dessert using delectable and certainly tropically tart Passion Fruit – a twist on a classic Crème Caramel:

Passion Fruit Caramels

Makes 6

Put 100g Caster Sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn a golden brown colour (keep an eye on things here as you don’t want the Caramel to burn or go too dark) – remove from the heat and add 45 ml of water (3 tablespoons) and stir quickly so it doesn’t crystallize – tip into 6 heatproof ramekin dishes or timbales (even tea or coffee cups will do as long as they are heat proof!). Leave to set.

Scoop out 6 x ripe Passion Fruit (the crinklier the skin, the riper and juicier they are!) and push through a sieve – hard work, this bit, but worth the effort!

Mix 4 x large Eggs and 2 x Egg Yolks with 150ml Milk and 150ml Cream. Add the Passion Fruit puree and 100g Caster Sugar and whisk lightly until well mixed. Tip mixture into prepared Timbales / Ramekins and sit in a roasting tin filled halfway up with boiling water. Carefully put in the oven (Gas 3 / 150C) for 40 – 50 minutes. Bake until set, remove from oven and leave to cool in the “bain marie”. Chill until needed.

Gently turn each Caramel out onto a serving plate and drizzle with a few more Passion Fruit seeds, if desired.

Sip a really well chilled (8 – 10C) sweet wine with plenty of zingy acidity – a Sauternes or look alike will bring this pud alive in every way.

Wine recommendations: Unless you are Super-rich I’d look over the shoulder of the exquisitely rare Château d’Yquem (unless you have a bottle of 1989 stashed under your bed, in which case – “when can I come over?”) and look at other superb Sauternes (& Barsacs) such as Château Suduiraut or Climens. Better value can be had with neighbouring appellations of Cadillac & Loupiac – not quite the profundity or complexity of Sauternes but a mere teaspoon of the price! For other divine French sweeties with good acidity and layers of orange blossom and lush pineapple, are further down into the South West – look for Monbazaillac and Jurançon Moelleux.

Helen Brotherton