I’m sure “peasant food” must be a non-PC term, but I think you know what I mean: simple, often quite robust dishes where the most is made of basic, yet high-quality ingredients and cooking tends to be equally straightforward grilling or slow-cooking. Such dishes are rarely expensive to create or buy in restaurants, yet can offer wonderful flavour and value. In many ways, this cooking, typical of Southern France, is reflected in the wine scene of the area and the wines do justice to the food. Whilst the famous French regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux continue to excite wine lovers and collectors, a quiet but far-reaching revolution has taken place in the far less glamorous south. The Languedoc region was an area that always made a lot of wine, but none of it memorable. The widely-planted, but poor quality Carignan grape was the culprit, producing tannic reds with insufficient fruit and little finesse. But this area is currently one of the most exciting in the World. Over the past decade or so the Carignan has been replaced by Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre; the grapes that give the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape such character. Many producers exploit the relatively new “Vin de Pays” classification which affords them more wine-making freedom, but their success has influenced even the traditional Appellation Contrôlée areas such as Corbières and Minervois. In terms of value for money these wines easily hold their own with the New World.
Domaine des Fontanelles Viognier
I have previously recommended the delightful Sauvignon Blanc from this producer, but this is even more impressive. It has hallmark characteristics of peach, apricot and blossom on the nose with a clean but full-bodied palate of pear, peach and orange. The fruit is nicely balanced by tangy acidity. Ideal with this month’s scallop starter, and as cheap as Viognier gets.
L’if White Grenache 1999
Definitely one for fans of the vanilla aroma of new-sawn oak that some love, some hate. Though commonly used for blending, the White Grenache is rarely seen on wine labels. This is quite fat and powerful in the mouth, with peach and melon fruit wrapped in buttery oak. It finishes with plenty of spice and enough acidity to keep it fresh.
Abbots Cumulus Shiraz
“Shiraz” is the New World term for the French “Syrah” grape. Using it on the label of a southern French bottle gives a clue to the thinking behind this wine. Very bold and powerful, this Minervois comes from the exceptional 1998 vintage and exhibits crunchy, bold black fruit flavours with a wickedly spicy edge and subtle notes of tobacco and liquorice.
From the co-op at Beaumes-de-Venise, this is from the Southern Rhone, close to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has very creamy, fresh raspberry fruit on the nose and a little hint of chocolate. On the palate it has a good chewy mouth-feel with dusty tannins, more berry fruit and a long, rich finish. Perfect with this month’s rabbit stew.
Borie de Maurel “Spirit d’Automne”
Another Minervois wine, this is a lovely example with plenty of fruit, suppleness and a bittersweet nose of chocolate and plum. On the palate it is full bodied and chewy textured with a depth of ripe plum and cherry fruit, fine tannins and a savoury complexity. This would also cellar for a few years.
Domaine de Montahuc “Comte Cathare”
This gorgeous dessert wine is a Muscat and a Vin Doux Naturel: a special class of lightly fortified sweet wines from the south. It is attractively fresh and flowery on the nose, with a subtle honeyed edge to soft pear and peach fruit on the palate. Refined and elegant, it has a long, sweet and pure finish.