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Wine And Food Wednesday
Duck Tacos and Pinot Noir

By Stephen Eliot

It is so tried and true that it has become the stuff of cliché, but the mealtime matching of Pinot Noir and duck is about as delicious as any cliché is likely to get, and it does not matter whether we are talking about roast duck, grilled duck, seared duck, duck in sauces or duck confit, I am already halfway to cellar with a clear mission in mind. Perhaps it is because I have a case of Pinot Noir on the brain after tasting though scores of very good wines for the new October CGCW issue, or perhaps the blame lies with Charlie for his Saturday homage to Oakland’s Bay Wolfe Restaurant and recollections of the countless outstanding duck dinners that we have enjoyed from Chef Michael Wild, but, whatever the reason, the craving for duck and a good glass of Pinot is getting hard to suppress. Now, I suppose that I could head out on the town this weekend in search of a much-needed gastronomic fix, but as I mull over my choices, I remember a particularly satisfying recipe, one that I have not prepared in a while, and Friday dinner at home has suddenly become that carrot that will get me through the week.

Mu Shu Roast Duck and Vegetable Tacos by San Francisco Chronicle food and wine writer Lynne Char Bennett was conceived as, in her words, a “fun first course” to accompany Pinot Noir. When we make it, however, we often never get to a second. We can only say thank you, Lynne; it is that good, and it is better yet when accompanied by a fruity, well-ripened California Pinot Noir. Ideally, the recipe wants pairing with a Pinot of some size and richness rather than one of a lighter, more elegant bent. We have found a number of bottlings from the Santa Lucia Highlands to be especially successful, and, while there might be temptation to dismiss the dish as being “just tacos”, please know that it has plenty of depth and complexity with regards to both flavor and texture. It might be “just tacos” to some, but we have made the dish more than once and can say from experience that it is a recipe that easily leads us to opening one of those special-occasion DuMol, Dehlinger, Merry Edwards, Williams Selyem or Kosta-Browne bottles that we have squirreled away.

The recipe is available at and can by following this link.

Here are recommendations for a few recently tasted Pinots whose price tags make them more useful in an every day setting.

87 BEAULIEU Pinot Noir Carneros 2008 $17.00 GOOD VALUE
Here is an easy and honest Pinot that counts fine varietal focus as its greatest asset, and, if never dramatic or particularly complex, it gets things right in terms of keen cherry-like fruit. It is plump and fleshy in feel, and it is free of any youthful coarseness. It is ready to go even now, but should hold up for a few years, and it is made all the more attractive by its modest price.

86 HAHN Pinot Noir Monterey 2008 $12.00 GOOD VALUE
We have been consistently impressed with the value afforded by Hahn's inexpensive bottlings of late, and this very solid, well-ripened Pinot does not disappoint. It marries plenty of cherries with lots of sweet, crème brûlée oak, and if a touch tannic and lacking real finesse, it is a flavorful, nicely stuffed effort that is hard to beat at anything approaching the price.

91 MACMURRAY Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 $35.00
Nicely stated red cherry fruit with touches of black cherries and a bright, energetic, not quite developed side makes the early going in this somewhat supple, slightly flesh, never soft bottling. Young in its fruit with good volume to its cherryish flavors and plenty of depth to hold off somewhat coarse tannins at this writing, the wine seems bound to improve for three to six years and is more likely to fit in with savory beef dishes than with something on the more refined side.


A Differing Opinion
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/27/2010 11:22:38 AM

The recipe at the heart of this blog entry is very familiar and very well liked. I have had it prepared here by Mrs. Olken, I have had it at Steve Eliot's house and I have had it prepared by our family friend, Lynne Bennett, whose article in the SF Chronicle is the inspiration behind it all.

Here is my slightly differing opinion. The recipe works perfectly well with Pinot Noir, as do most duck preparations. But, given the sweetness of the hoisin sauce and my preference to add a bit of hot black been oil to the tacos, I preferred Riesling with them.

Both work, and the whole dish is just plain good eating.


Duck, Hoisin, PN
by Christian Miller
Posted on:10/27/2010 9:52:43 PM

Steve - along the same lines, the classic Peking Duck course served with crisp skin, breast meat, scallions and hoisin sauce in a thin pancake is delicious with good young Pinot Noir.

Re: Duck, Hoisin, PN
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:10/28/2010 4:31:47 PM

Christian, I could not agree with you more. Peking Duck has been one of my favorite dishes for more years than I can remember, and I can recall the first time I had it teamed with a good Pinot Noir. I honestly do not remember the venure or who was at the meal, but I remember the wine...a 1961 Volnay Caillerets from Marquie d'Angerville. We here in California were really not in the Pinot Noir game just yet, but nowadays something along the lines of the rich but impeccably balanced bottlings of Russian River producers such as Merry Edwards, Williams Selyem, Castalia and Kosta-Browne should serve famously.

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