Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Renaissance wine

The weekends leading up to Christmas are super-charged with events including craft fairs, pottery fairs, concerts, charity events and various other ways of inciting you to part with your hard-earned lolly.

Some are more entertaining than others. Montpellier, last weekend, was celebrating the Fete du Vin and its central square was awash with free tastings from local producers. It coincided with the Telethon in aid of research on rare diseases, so you bought a verre de degustation - a tasting glass and 3 coupons for 2€ which entitled you to three tastings. As most establishments allowed two people to taste all their bottles for one coupon, you could end up pretty merry by the end of the day. No, I did not end up drunk - I had my youngest with me who grew very bored and had to be taken to the playground to work off some energy.

On Sunday I went to a very special event organised by Domaine Henry in St Georges d'Orques. This is a village which has produced wine for eons, and had a special dispensation from Thomas Jefferson to sell its wines, considered among the finest in France, to the US. In fact, the special occasion was the introduction of a type of wine that Jefferson may well have drunk.

The Maillhol is a wine from the 17th century that started out as a research idea 10years ago. M Henry is a serious wine producer and his interest extends beyond mere traditional wine production. He had one of those idle thoughts along the lines of wondering what sort of wine Jefferson would have drunk. It led to some research and bringing in wine experts from INRA and then a search for the cepages of the era. Apparently the field trips were usually carried out in the pouring rain which must have added to the fun...

Having collected the raw material he then had to put together a huge administrative dossier to allow him to plant these rare vines which were not listed as cultivatable - wine production is strictly controlled so you can't just plant anything anywhere.

Finally, he got his first production in 2000. What is interesting is that at the time, vineyards contained several different types of cepage to produce a blend, maybe to allow for different weather conditions so that there would always be at least one type which would survive the year. The wine was fermented for only 2 weeks and then commercialised almost immediately, being shipped off to places such as the US.

To accompany this occasion, M Henry asked 4 of the finest chefs in Montpellier, including the Pourcel brothers, Eric Cellier, and Jacques Mazerand to develop a menu from the same era and recreate the dishes that would have been served with the wine. It seems they were most enthusiastic and enjoyed themselves enormously each one coming up with one of the dishes. This Buffet Grand Siecle, then, had Coulis d'ecrevisse, tourte sandre, dinde farci avec sauce aux huitres et concombre farci, saumon farci au silure et carpe, ramolade, tourte au lapin, le boudin de fois gras et de chapon, cheese and desserts: frangipane et gelee de coing, fromge d'amis, meringue au zeste de citron, pate a choux, rataffia de fruits rouge. It was preceeded by a sumptuous aperitif, and finished off with a concert of a wind trio playing Lulli, Charpentier, Mouret, and Vivaldi.

It was all delicious, although it was pretty tough on the feet. The wine was interesting. It tasted good, not great, but then these are early days, and it is a wine from a different era which appeals to the tastes of that era, so it is unfair perhaps to compare it too closely to modern wines.

The event was one of those little highlights of exquisite civilisation - fine food, interesting wine, lovely music with the added nuance of experiencing a little snippet of 17th century living.


  1. hey sarah..no posts recently..busy with Christmas shopping?

  2. Hi Zak, I haven't found much in The Guardian to post about. I've been joining in the debates in The Times though, and Charles Bremner's blog. I hope you are feeling better!

  3. yes thanks I am doing much better now..


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