Thu 07 Mar 2013

Languedoc Wine & Truffle Dinner: Le Rouge (et Le Blanc) et Le Noir


In Threadneedle Street, ‘Going underground’ (as The Society’s Languedoc Wine and Truffle Dinner at Merchant Taylor’s Hall was advertised) would normally involve Bank Station, but you’d probably need to own the bank to pay for the weight of black truffles consumed on this memorable February night.

Captain of Team Truffle was Franck Putelat of Restaurant Le Parc in Carcassonne (two Michelin stars), accompanied by two of his chefs, his pastry-cook and – a great honour, given the secrecy surrounding the hunt for the über-tuber – his local truffle specialist, Philippe Barrière.

Team Wine was led by Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams, fielding an impressive line-up of producers from a region very dear to The Society’s heart. The Languedoc, he told us, produces more wine than the whole of Australia, but a historical reputation for quantity rather than quality is outdated. The region has come convincingly of age since Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Chairman of The Society from 1964 until 1987, tipped it for stardom. There are now more than ten Michelin-garlanded restaurants in the département of the Aude alone, and it’s clear that the wines deserve them.

Sitting in judgement of the rapport between black gold and liquid gold were some 170 members, their appetites whetted by Françoise Antech-Gazeau‘s patrician Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Saint Laurent (£9.25 per bottle) and surely some of the most luxurious canapés ever to grace a silver salver: truffled brioche, ‘mimosas’ of truffled quail’s eggs, shot-glasses of intensely mushroomy foam and an extraordinary macaroon, sandwiched not with buttercream, but truffled foie gras. Despite clear indications of a spectacular dinner to come, it was hard not to linger over the aperitif.

The Society\’s Corbières from Ollieux-Romanis

Our guest growers had sung beautifully for their supper at a small, select pre-prandial tasting. From Domaine de Barroubio, Raymond Miquel previewed the new vintage of his richly-fragranced but elegantly dry Muscat Sec, a treat in store. Miren de Lorgeril brought softly fruity Cabardès from Château de Pennautier (£6.95 per bottle), a blend of midi and Médoc varieties, and Christophe Barbier showcased his Terres Salées Rouge from the Côtes de Perpigan, a 100% merlot in a darker ocean of carignan and grenache. Isabelle Coustal of Château Sainte Eulalie in Minervois unveiled her homage to her grandfather – Grand Vin, an unoaked blend of old vine-fruit, including 102-year-old carignan, 80-year old grenache and syrah – a mere stripling at 35 (watch this space). Pierre Bories of Château Ollieux-Romanis, the wine brains behind The Society’s Corbières (£7.25 per bottle) eloquently explained it to members, while Jérôme and Sabine Bertrand of Domaine Bertrand-Berge demonstrated, with the aid of a natty iPad picture gallery (and several bottles of smooth, liquorice-infused Origines 2010, [£8.25 per bottle]), how their stony, galet-strewn soils and biodynamic approach are hard work, but reap dividends.

Creamy truffle risotto

Dinner, more reminiscent of a series of exquisite tapas than a formal menu, enabled our guest growers to ramp up the volume with flagship cuvées. It began with a creamy truffle risotto, followed by oyster tartare with beef, artichokes and black truffle, one of M. Putelat’s signature dishes. Accompanying it was Bourboulenc, Domaine Simonet, IGP l’Aude, 2011 (£7.50 per bottle). Infrequently seen flying solo even hereabouts, this fascinating grape nevertheless had the composure needed to mop up two complex starters.

Scallops with truffled celery ravioli

Next came bruschetta of Castelnaudry haricot beans (this is, after all, cassoulet territory), mozzarella and black truffle, quickly followed by another signature dish, scallops with truffled celery ravioli. Entrusted with the job of seeing these two off was Corbières Blanc, Cuvée Prestige, Chateau Ollieux Romanis, 2011, a fragrant blend of marsanne and roussanne with a dash of grenache blanc. Like new-wave Rhône whites made from the same varieties, this was food wine par excellence, dealing easily with the creaminess of the cheese, the mealiness of the beans and pungency of the truffle without overwhelming the delicate scallop. Quite wonderful.

On to truffled chicken, and an exceptional cheese course of (inevitably) truffled Vacherin, in perfect spooning condition, served with yeasty brioche and a salad of sweet lamb’s lettuce, or mâche. At this stage, four reds, representing the four great terroirs of the Languedoc, were served together for comparison. First up was Corbières Boutenac Château Ollieux Romanis, Atal Sia, 2008, a copybook carignan from a hotspot for the grape was possibly the best with the cheese, and despite its name, which translates as ‘Let It Be’ nobody felt inclined to. In marked contrast, and extremely good with the chicken was the drier, more Bordelais style of Cabardès, l’Esprit de Pennautier, 2009 from the meeting point of Atlantic and Mediterranean climatic influences. Tasting Minervois La Livinière Cuvée Cantilène, Château Sainte Eulalie, 2010 (£11.50) in magnum (£25) was a ripe and generous treat, bathing both courses in generous fruit. Finally, Fitou Mégalithes, Domaine Bertrand-Berge, 2009, a full-throttle, deep-throated red with a clean, dry finish that drew a deep, satisfying line under the savoury part of the meal.

Truffled Bourdaloue Pear

Finally, dessert, in the form of a (merely lightly) truffled Bourdaloue Pear, accompanied by the soft, fragrant notes, sweet but not cloying, of Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (£9.50 per bottle). Françoise reminded us that Limoux was all of a fizz in 1531, well before Champagne, and this sweeter style is a modern interpretation of a traditional style, honouring the unique characteristics of the mauzac grape. This glass with the delicate air and strong sense of place was a highlight of the meal for me, and, with the pear, one of the best matches of the evening. I also loved the opulence of Muscat St Jean de Minervois, 2011, Domaine de Barroubio, the flipside of the dry muscat that had launched this unforgettable evening, several hours before and the lingering sweetness it left on the palate.

I also heard from my rugby-mad French colleagues, an expression I never thought I’d hear them use with foreboding. I refer of course to la cuillère de bois – the Wooden Spoon.

Let’s not forget, though, that you can’t cook properly without one of those.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

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