Chenin blanc

Wine & Food Killers: Grilled Pork Banh Mi Sandwiches and Testalonga Baby Bandito Stay Brave 2018

Sometimes one craving begets a fiercer, more trenchant second craving. For instance: earlier this month, I ordered a banh mi from a Vietnamese deli up the road. The sandwich was delicious, but too small, and so for the rest of the week all I could think about was a second banh mi – one filling enough to sate me.

The best banh mi I ever had were in Southern California; there, the sandwiches (which arose out of a fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisines) were made with oven-fresh baguettes at all hours, always light and hot and crisp. It is hard to live up to the ideal I hold in my head, but this interpretation is close enough to do the job. Made with both grilled pork and pâté (head cheese is a common fixture of traditional banh mi), it features quick-pickled carrots and daikons, slices of cucumber and jalapeño, and fresh coriander. Each bite is at once meaty and spicy, crunchy and zesty, chewy and tender.

Founded in Swartland, South Africa in 2008, Testalonga is one of the country’s most ambitious and boundary-pushing wineries. Its Baby Bandito line (whose recognisable labels have become a fixture on natural wine shop shelves) is a good place to start, and Stay Brave – 100% Chenin Blanc, macerated for 11 days and aged in oak foudres – is a pleasing introduction to skin-contact, or orange, wine.

Orange might not quite be the operative word here, however. This wine is closer to a tawny amber, and its zingy flavour profile veers between flowers and peaches and citrus and spice. It punches well above its 10.5% ABV; it’s not merely crushable. I like what the banh mi does to the wine. Because its pickles are so piquant and acidic, and the fish sauce in the marinade and the daikon impart a nose-crinkling pungency, they mollify the wine’s sharper edges. It becomes a little less tongue-prickling, and its own mellow sweetness becomes more pronounced. Chenin Blanc is a grape that is often described as tasting like honey, and the marinade – made with a good drizzle of honey – draws out that winsome side of its personality.

Grilled Pork Banh Mi Sandwiches
Serves 4

For the pork and marinade:
600g pork tenderloin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 spring onions (white and light green parts only), roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (thick outer layers removed), roughly chopped
Small handful coriander, stems included
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 ½ tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (preferably white)

For the pickled vegetables:
1 large carrot, peeled 1 equivalent-sized daikon, peeled
180ml rice vinegar
80ml warm water
¾ tablespoon fine sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar

For the sandwiches:
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 mini baguettes
Mayonnaise
Pork pâté (optional, but recommended)
½ cucumber, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced (deseeded, if preferred)
Large handful coriander

1. Prep the pork several hours before you plan to eat. Using a very sharp knife, slice the tenderloin into thin (approximately ¼-inch-thick) sheets (if your tenderloin is very long, halve it length-wise first). Place in a large, non-reactive bowl.

2. Add all of the remaining marinade ingredients to a food processor or blender. Blend on high for several minutes, until mostly uniform. Pour the marinade over the pork, and flip the pieces to ensure they are all evenly covered. Cover and chill for 2–4 hours.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the pickled vegetables. Using a box grater (or food processor), grate the carrot and daikon and add to a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, add the remaining pickling ingredients and whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour over the grated vegetables and stir to mix. Cover and chill.

4. Once the pork has finished marinating, remove it from the fridge. Place a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Once very hot, add the pork – allowing excess marinade to drip off each piece – in a single layer (you will likely need to cook the pork in 2 or 3 batches). Cook for approximately 3-4 minutes, turning frequently, until the pieces are golden-brown and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining pork.

5. Shortly before serving, halve the baguettes with a bread knife and place cut side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under the grill and toast on high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until just turning golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or two.

6. To construct the sandwiches, divide the halved baguettes between four plates. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the top half of each baguette, and a layer of pâté (if using) on the bottom half. Cover the pâté with a single layer of cucumber slices and a few jalapeño pieces. Divide the pork between all four sandwiches and place the slices on top of the cucumbers.

7. Remove the pickled vegetables from the fridge. Top the pork with a thin layer of the vegetables (drain extra liquid before using) and finish with the coriander. Put the baguette halves together and eat the sandwiches while still warm

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now and available via our online shop and hopefully at your favourite booksellers. Pick up a bottle of Testalonga Baby Bandito Stay Brave here, and to sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Jean Christophe Garnier Bezigon Chenin 2017

A mere two editions since our December box, here we are extolling the virtues of Chenin Blanc once again. Where then it was all about the bubbles, with an immensely enjoyable Vouvray Brut, this time the focus is on a dry still wine.

In that column, we waxed lyrical about the versatility of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Its ability to produce truly invigorating wines from dry to sweet and sparkling is almost unmatched in the world of wine. Within the Loire, there are other white grapes which garner more attention (the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Poulliy-Fumé are household names), but for me, the chameleon-like nature of Chenin is more likely to set my heart racing.

This wine from Jean-Christophe Garnier is from the Anjou sub-region of the Loire Valley. Although it is a cool climate with maritime influences, the Mauges hills protect the region from the worst of the weather coming in from the Bay of Biscay. This shelter, combined with warmer soils, gives winemakers the confidence to leave their grapes on the vines longer, and seek out greater levels of ripeness.

The western section of Anjou contains the appellations of Savennières (home to some of the greatest dry Chenins) and Coteaux du Layon (a source of some of France’s most underrated sweet wines). Garnier’s plot comes from the small, but acclaimed village of Saint-Lambert-Du-Lattay. Although technically in the zone of Coteaux du Layon, Garnier makes dry wines, following his own rules and using the generic Vin de France denomination.

Garnier’s is a no-frills operation. He uses an old apple press, taking 2-3 days to extract all the juice from his berries, and after fermentation, ages the wine in large oak foudres for one year (hence the oxidative, bruised apple and almond aromas). He starts with organically cultivated grapes picked at maximum maturity, giving the wine a honeyed, baked apple aspect. There’s some volatile acidity there too, giving it a fresh finish, but not at the expense of the fruit. Paired with a fatty, rich plate like Anjou pork rillettes, and you’ve got just the tonic for a dank wintry evening.

Claire Bullen’s pairing: Braised chicken thighs with honey-glazed root vegetables or a mixed charcuterie platter

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.