“We had noticed that the purest wines were made with biodynamic viticulture, and it was out of the question that I would poison myself or others. I think that every living element plays a crucial role in the characteristics of the grapes.”
~ Winemaker Catherine Maisonneuve
This month we challenge your palate Old World style. Get ready—our first wine involves some tannic tough-love, but it truly rewards an open mind and a meat-centric food pairing. It comes from France’s Cahors region in the Dordogne, where the Malbec grape reigns (yep, they were doing it long before Argentina). This beautiful area is one of France’s oldest wine regions, with many vineyards dating back to the Roman occupation. These so-called “black” wines, because of their inky color, reveled in their tannic greatness early on but were later overshadowed by Bordeaux’s mellower blends and lost all but local popularity. These classics remained relatively obscure outside the region until recently when, thanks to a few dedicated and talented winemakers, Cahors came back, this time with the unruly intensity of the Malbec grape tamed. Literally crushed into submission—although delicately, mind you.
The team of winemaker Catherine Maisonneuve and Matthieu Cosse of Domaine Cosse-Maisonneuve make this month’s Cahors “Les Laquets” and they’ve really set the bar high for the region. Catherine, an oenologist, spent many years in other wine regions of France honing her craft before settling in Cahors with ex-rugby player Matthieu. An elegant (think oenologist) yet rough-and-tumble (think rugby) wine: just what one would expect from the synergy of these opposites. Together they have bridged the gap between traditional and modern winemaking techniques. The vines are farmed biodynamically with very low yields. Each parcel is vinified separately to highlight the terroir. This 100% Malbec comes from a tiny 5.6-hectare parcel of land, and the grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted, and aged in a combination of old and new oak. This wine has a dark fruit palate with a rustic edge. Enjoy by a warm fire with a hearty meat dish!
Our second wine, Cortese di Gavi, or just “Gavi” comes from the hills of the province of Alessandria in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, expanding over thirteen communes. Tassarolo is the municipality where Castello di Tassarolo makes their biodynamically farmed wine from a single vineyard of 40-year-old vines. This food-friendly wine is bone dry in character, with a hint of flintiness that emerges from the mineral-rich soils of the area. The bouquet hints at white flowers, green apples, and honeydew, yet the unique concentration and complexity bring a richness that comes from barrel fermentation and a subsequent 12 months in barrique. This depth is cut with bold acidity to balance out the weight. Due to its close proximity to the Ligurian coast, the region’s winemaking and gastronomic traditions lean more toward the Ligurian than the Piemontese. Try with seafood, or even traditional pesto Genovese.
Region: Appellation Cahors Contrôlée, France
This deep-hued red is no fruit bomb, as one might expect from a New World Malbec, but rather it’s traditional in style, coming from the grape’s place of origin, France. The nose is muted with blackberry, plum, sassafras, and anise. The palate is slightly earthy with a rustic edge. Malbec is the primary grape of the Cahors AOC, and in an effort to reclaim the prize that was once theirs, they have priced them reasonably well to compete with their New World counterparts. This is a great example of an Old World Malbec ready to drink now.
Castello di Tassarolo
100% Cortese di Gavi
Region: Gavi DOCG, Piemonte Province, Italy
Gavi is Piedmont’s shining white star. Made from the indigenous Cortese grape, it’s blessed with all the noble characteristics of a true Gavi. The nose is floral and citrusy, with a slight minerality. The body is medium with a degree of richness and texture on the palate. The finish is crisp and clean. As the Castello di Tassarolo Estate says, “an intense and persistent bouquet that develops for up to 15 years. A classic table wine for seafood and white meats.”
Recipe of the Month
Lamb and Lentil Stew
This fairly simple dish is easy to prepare so long as a few simple cooking rules are followed. First, marinating the lamb overnight and properly drying it before browning. Second, not crowding the pan when browning the meat. And third, cooking the lentils separately and adding to the lamb just before serving.
3 pounds stewing lamb – cubed
1 bottle course red wine
2 large onions – medium dice
1 pound carrots – medium dice
1 pound French lentils
½ gallon chicken or beef stock
1 bunch parsley- chopped
Orange peel from one orange
1 head garlic peeled
Clove and/or allspice – pinch
Salt and pepper
1. Combine lamb, red wine, onions, carrots, garlic, clove, pepper, and orange peel in large bowl. Hold overnight.
2. Remove lamb from marinade, separating from veggies. Hold marinade. Dry lamb on towels.
3. Heat a large heavy pan until just smoking, add pieces of lamb but not too many at a time. Brown on all sides and remove.
4. Repeat process until all lamb pieces are browned.
5. In a large pan add marinade, beef and enough stock to cover meat, bring to a boil before turning to simmer. Stir frequently. This part takes around 3 hours.
6. In a separate pot, gently boil lentils in remaining stock with salt and pepper. If using a package of lentils, follow their directions or cook according to your own preference. This takes no more than 45 minutes.
7. When lentils are just tender, remove, strain, and hold.
8. When lamb is tender and comes apart with a fork add lentils and parsley.
9. Adjust seasoning to taste and enjoy with a nice bottle of Cahors!
I don’t alway get a good excuse to open a big bottle of wine. I recently, last night actually, had a 3-way birthday party down here at wine storage and I saw no reason not to open up a six liter Cayrou Cahors from 1990. We had an extrordinary spread of live foods, cured meats, and luscious wines but the winning combinations involved rollerskates and the big bottle. The once punchy Cahors completely mellowed out after being opened for a few hours and more resembled an aged Bordeaux. It was very balanced and medium bodied. To keep things interesting, all party guests were invited to bring something that rolls, jumps, or glides. We had rollerskaters of all ability (and ages), gondoliers, scooter riders, skaters, pogo stickers, and even a biker. I don’t know what it is about big bottles except that they put smiles on peoples faces and are a lot of fun.