Bottarga is the Italian name for a Mediterranean delicacy that has been enjoyed since ancient times. In France, where it is known as poutargue, it is the specialty of the town of Martigues. Bottarga is salted, dried roe of mullet. Known as Mediterranean caviar, this roe is a rare, deluxe product for mullet fishing is a challenge, and preparing the roe is a lengthy, delicate process that is done by hand.
Bottarga is full of complex, subtle flavours. It has powerful taste laced with iodic tang that gives good persistency. In cooking, bottarga is used like a condiment, to add flavour to a scramble of eggs or grated on pasta.
Bottarga, classical style
Let’s take a look at a classic recipe from the south: spaghetti served with bottarga, grated lemon and olive oil. This is a dish that brings together all the Mediterranean bitters. It calls for a succulent rosé wine that is capable of ageing to enhance its complexity. I strongly advise the 2012 Bandol rosé from Domaine de Terrebrune, an estate in Ollioules, not far from Toulon. The blend, where the Mourvèdre dominates, is one of the most magnificent in the Provence appellation and comes from Trias terroir, from whence it draws its energy and character. It is vinous and has developed superb mineral flavours of quinquina and candied citrus (orange). Its good tannic structure tames the bottarga beautifully and flatters the strong flavours. Sheer delight!
Bottarga with a twist
Now let’s look at a fairly amazing recipe that takes barigoule-style artichokes, slices them fine and sprinkles bottarga and Italian hazelnuts on top, then drizzles olive oil on top of that. This is a dish with lots of personality that needs a grape with strong character, one that has grown in Italy and Slovenia since the 13th century: Rebula. Rebula, or Ribolla Gialla, has a bitter weave to it and unbelievable minerality. With his 2016 Opoka, Marjan Simsic has produced a deeply beautiful white that behaves like a red, with tannic structure and superb mineral bitters that go beautifully with artichoke and bottarga.
A third suggestion, with a carpaccio of white fish, grated bottarga and rocket salad, is Clos Nicrosi made by the Luigi family in the Cap Corse region of Corsica. This white is unique due to its use of the Vermentinu grape grown on shist terroir. Time and patience have bestowed superb complexity on this 2010 white. Gorgeous notes of root vegetables and herbal tea joyfully take on the bottarga and the lovely bitters on the palate subdue the rocket salad beautifully. Salute!
La Revue du Vin de France, juillet-août 2019