As the Rhone Valley opens up into the Mediterranean and the mountains fall away, we begin to head west into the open flat lands of southwest France. This is a huge swath of land that encompasses not only countless acres of vines with numerous micro climates, but also fruit orchards mixed in with general agriculture. As we leave the crowds on the beaches of the Mediterranean behind, we find ourselves in some of the most rural parts of France with less than 10 people per square mile. We could easily spend a full month here tasting the wines as they begin to show the influence of the Atlantic climate on the grapes as the Mediterranean influence begins to fade away. In all seriousness, we could spend the rest of our lives tasting the wines from these areas and not even get close to trying everything they have to offer. The Languedoc alone is the fourth largest wine producer in France. By the time we reach Toulouse and enter the true Southwest, we find ourselves lost in 47,000 hectares of vines spread across 43 recognized geographical designations that grow over 300 different grape varietals.
When I first began peddling wines in the 1990s, I remember a dairy farmer burning down a McDonald’s to protest US sanctions on Roquefort and Foie Gras in this part of France. He became a Robin Hood character defending small farmers, artisanal producers, and French culinary culture against the multinational corporations producing artificial food. He was led to court in an ox cart holding a wheel of Roquefort over his head with 40,000 cheering fans lining his route to the courthouse. At this same time, there was an influx of Australians who
began moving into this area buying up vineyards and building new wineries. The result of this capital influx forced up both the quality and value of the wines produced. In addition, around this time there was a very aggressive vin de pays scheme that encouraged smaller yields. Since then more and more young French and international winemakers have been moving into this area, which is one of the last semi-affordable grape producing regions around. These winemakers are combining modern technology with the best of traditional practices, including the use of new oak barrels. New fermentation practices are turning previously tough wines into fruit-forward, early drinking wines. Older, more established winemakers (who were, for the most part, quite content selling cheap plonk) began watching the vastly increasing prices that their pioneering neighbors were receiving for these new domaine bottlings. Soon, more and more grape growers stopped selling their grapes to co-ops and became winemakers as well. Once again, we see undervalued regions investing in the infrastructure to make great wines and the end result is that there are more great wines available now than any other time in history.
Tonight, we will begin a homemade Mousse of Foie Gras over homemade brioche served with a Grand Maison “Cuvee de Anges” Monbazillac, an excellent Sauternes style appellation in the heart of Bergerac, which is less than 30 miles from St. Emilion. This appellation can trace its roots back to 1080 when the vines were first planted by the monks of the Abbey of St. Martin. Pairing this intensely sweet wine with the fattiness of the duck liver is one of the most classic pairs in the western world. I learned to make this very simple mousse while working at Charcuterie Ghibaudo in Nice, France. I was dumbfounded by how six simple steps could yield one of the pinnacles of Western cuisine. Next, we linger along the Mediterranean coast for a dish of grilled calamari paired with a Viognier from Cinquante Cinq in the Languedoc. We loved how the char of the calamari played off of the minerality of this viscous wine. Next we have a deep winter mushroom soup with a truffle cream paired with with a Syrah, Cab and Grenache blend from a UC Davis trained, German winemaker who makes wines just north of Aix-en-Provence. We love the earthiness of the mushroom soup with the raw funk of this amazing wine. After a small palate cleanser of an apple sorbet we move into our main course of homemade duck confit served peasant style with butter braised cabbage with a simple white bean puree. I butchered these ducks over 90 days ago and have been curing them in their own fat ever since. We are pairing this wine with Domaine Leon Barral’s Carignan blend. This is a completely bio-dynamic wine from ancient vines in a self-sustaining ecosystem, tended to with pigs and cows. This is sustainability at its finest where the whole ecosystem thirives under proper management. We finish off the night with a final salute to the apple with a tarte Tartin and cognac. Thank you for joining us!!