Autumn can be a good season, if you make the most of it. I enjoy the fresh mornings, earthy smells, a whiff of smoke on the air, changing colours, all that biznai. The dull days, though, are the dullest of the year, and need to be cheered. To ease myself into the whole thing, I thought I’d cook something seasonal and drink a good bottle of wine with it.
The duck season starts in September or October in most of the northern hemisphere, and if you like duck, as I do, then you like it plenty. Something similar can be said for mushrooms, and as my other half doesn’t eat duck, she got them. I knew exactly what wine I was going to drink: in the summer my local wine merchant (the excellent Corks of Bristol) had persuaded me to try JiJiJi—it’s a goddamn strange wine, 50% Malbec and 50% Pinot Noir, partly made using carbonic maceration, which is what they use in Beaujolais to make fresh wines that are good to drink young. Who blends Malbec and Pinot Noir half and half? And then makes it a bit like Beaujolais? No one. Presumably with good reason. Still, only a fool ignores Corks, and it’s always good to find something new under the sun.
My reaction was something like this: it was odd; what did it taste like?; I liked it; I really liked it; I thought it’d go better with duck; I knew it was going to be my autumn Alderman recommendation. With its dual character, working up an autumnal theme would be easy. Next: make some duck and drink it again.
The colour is peculiar and uncertain, it almost looks cloudy, which isn’t something you’d normally look for in a wine. It’s as if it’s dark or pale, depending on which way you look at it, although I suspect that’s at least in part because it’s unfiltered. Amazingly, the Malbec—there are different styles, but it usually sounds the deep notes—doesn’t overwhelm the Pinot Noir, probably the most subtle red wine grape. The flavour is spicy, juicy, with mixed fruit notes, some herbs and a bit of raspberry lift to it. At one point towards the end of the second bottle I detected an autumnal note, like rained-on earth and leaves, but that seems unlikely. Overall it’s light, but there’s a hint of something deeper at times. It’s hard to decide whether this is just an upmarket cheerful bottle to crack and drink carelessly any old way, or a strangely sophisticated and exotic wine to ponder. I think it’s mostly the former, but just a bit of the latter. It’s hard to say why, but it comes off. Perhaps it’s the partial carbonic maceration, and perhaps it’s because the winemaker picks the Malbec grapes before they’re very ripe, so avoiding the heady, almost jammy wine sometimes seen in Argentina. I don’t know. It’s good, though, and you should try it.
Fruits of darkness and of light, mixed character and all that; clearly, it’s autumnal. What about putting it with duck, though? I first thought of it as a match because Pinot Noir is probably the classic red wine match for duck (for white I often like an Alsatian Gewürztraminer), while Malbec is often served with the local duck confit in Cahors in France, where the grape originates from. Then the JiJiJi has enough snap and freshness to offset the fattiness of the duck. Because of its light touch, spice and mixed berry character, and because for me it’s autumn in England, I thought a seasonal fruit sauce would go best, but one with a little influence from the east.
Serving suggestion: I’d drink JiJiJi cool, or (especially in the summer) even chilled slightly, with a short spell in the fridge or a few minutes in an ice bucket.
This is a poor man’s pseudo-confit served with an Anglo-Oriental autumn fruit sauce. And when I say pseudo-confit, I just mean that I was thinking about confit when I slow-cooked duck legs. That’s why it’s scrimshanker’s duck: it’s not just a poor man’s confit, it’s really a lazy man’s non-confit. Made using what was to hand.
Cooking the duck
I put a couple of duck legs on some sprigs of thyme in a heavy dish and then covered them liberally in flakes of mild smoked salt and cracked Szechuan pepper. (I’d run out of black pepper and noticed the smoked salt while finding the Szechuan; both worked well, but ordinary salt and pepper are fine.) There was also a sad-looking orange that had some peel missing after I’d made Negronis, so I studded a bit of that with cloves and put that in. I don’t know if it helped, but it smelt nice when cooking; this was a good thing, as I had it on a low heat (around 150° C) for several hours. Being fatty, duck legs can be cooked slowly and casually, just make sure they have plenty of time in. A good-sized leg will probably feed one person, while two is a feast.
The fruit sauce
This was a boozed-up and slightly Englished version of the Chinese plum sauce recipe from Sophie Grigson’s Meat Course (1995, out of print), as follows. Plums are, of course, an autumn fruit in the UK.
- 1 lb plums, halved and pitted
- one bay leaf
- one cinnamon stick
- one tablespoon sherry vinegar
- one glass white wine
- sugar, to taste
Put the plums into a saucepan with the cinnamon, white wine, and bay leaf. Place over medium heat and bring gently to the boil. Half cover and simmer quietly until all the plums have collapsed to a purée. Rub through a sieve (or strainer). While still warm, add the sherry vinegar and sugar (three or four tablespoons should be ample) and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Set aside until needed.
I added a few cloves, a star anise and some tired old summer cherries, and used some leftover dessert wine and a splash of port and crème de cassis instead of sugar. This base sauce was already in the fridge. When the duck was done I set it aside to rest for fifteen or twenty minutes, poured out the bulk of the fat (trying to keep the juices—keep the fat for cooking, if you like), added some JiJiJi to the pan, boiled the alcohol off, and then put in the base sauce to reduce for a while and absorb the duck juice. This made for an Anglo-Oriental autumn fruit sauce. Damsons and other autumn fruits are excellent, you can use Cumberland or redcurrant sauce as a base or thickener instead, what you want is a tart but slightly sweet accompaniment with some spice, just a little bulkier and rounder than a Chinese plum sauce. As for the JiJiJi and the sauce: deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts. Which is to say, they are a prime match.
I served the duck with Tuscan potatoes, roasted whole carrots and green beans. It seemed to work. I call any potatoes fried or roasted with herbs such as rosemary or thyme “Tuscan”. It’s more or less what they do, often with garlic, etc. Here I cooked them in olive oil with sprigs of thyme, leaving the skin on. Switch the duck legs for a whole one, and you have the makings of a workable Christmas dinner here.
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t like mushrooms, much as I wish I did. So I can’t tell you whether the mushroom risotto went with JiJiJi. I suspect it did. Here’s a picture of it.
JiJiJi, Gen del Alma winery, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina. It’s made by the Michelini brothers, famously experimentative and eccentric. The best sort of “new” Argentinian winemaker. I drank the 2014—this isn’t a wine to lay down, it should be drunk young.
I buy mine from Corks of Bristol (£14.99). The UK distributor is Las Bodegas in East Sussex, while the US distributor seems to be Brazos Wine Imports. If your local wine merchant doesn’t stock it, you can always ask them to get it in.