Monday, 6 August 2012

Andrée’s Midi Trip: Day One

After working for 40 years as a Midi wine negociant, Andrée is without doubt the Midi master! She has now come to her well earned retirement but before she lays down the tools she decided to take Tony, Cat, photographer Yves and I on a magical tour of the known and – more excitingly – the unknown Midi. 

We set off from a rather cool Bordeaux on Sunday and a couple of hours later, even though there are no signs we knew we were entering the Midi. How? Because of the sun, the heat (32°C), the wild landscape, the thick Mediterranean French accents, the waft of garrigue in the air and of course the pace of life which seems to slow down every kilometre southwards. I’m sure even the petrol pumps flow slower!  

It wasn’t long though before Yves was up to his usual antics and risking his life to get that perfect shot (it’s all that time he spent photographing war zones for newspapers!)

However, we safely arrived in Banyuls for a tasting at the oldest winery ‘La Cave Etoiles’.  Banyuls has to be one of the most stunning wine regions of the world, with the old steep vineyards seeming to plunge into the sea. They used to harvest onto boats at the foot of the vineyard and sail to the town. It was day one and little did we know it the theme was already set: old Grenache vines on steep slate (schist) soil vineyards, my heaven.

By mid morning it was already in the mid-thirties so we decided to go into the vineyards, mad dogs and English men sprang to mind …

The slate here is brown (more correctly called Marne) and the vineyards are planted on curved half-moon terraces for the drainage to keep the few inches of top soil from washing away. Fig and almond trees are scattered all around and still used today as crucial shade from the relentless sun.  I learned that a Banyuls native is called a Banyulenc and these are hardy people indeed. The precious terrace walls that hold their livelihood must be constantly maintained and it can take a whole day’s work to do just a meter of wall!

Once Yves had got his shot even the mad English realised it was probably best to get out of the sun and into the cool dark cellars in the center of Banyuls. However, before we could get into the cellars we had to experience just how the winemakers harness the sun’s power and we went up onto the terrace. No solar panels here, but demi-jons in the full face of the sun where they keep a certain style of fortified wine they call Banyuls Grand Cru Doux Paille. The sun accelerates the ageing which can be so affective you can get wine that looks and tastes like it’s been 20 years in big barrels in just 1-2 years!

The tasting kicked off with some dry whites and reds cleverly named AOC Coillure so as not to confuse with the fortified-only Banyuls AOC. Next came the Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) wines and highlights were a 1989 and a 2002. A good tip I learnt from them regarding food matching with Banyuls VDN was to simply match colour of wine with the colour of the food!

It goes without saying we had lunch and it was in a little bistro on the beach. I had a typical locally fished anchovy salad and squid cooked on the  plancha with lots of olive oil.

Enough for one day? Absolutely not! We headed back up towards Perpignan and into my territory the l’Agly valley. Here, as I have spoken about so often, is the home of the Vent de Folie and the XV du Président, actually started 35 years ago by Tony and Andree and guess what? Old Grenache vines on steep slate soil vineyards!

Tonight we were invited to chez Hervé Sabardiel in the village of Claira near Perpignan. Hervé is a very skilful winemaker and is the man behind such wines as Chante-Clair, Cabalié and many others. Well what an evening to kick off with! Herve has a great place they have converted two old barns into Ibiza style club decoration!

And the food he cooked was superb! Started off with a lobster caught that morning just down the road in the Med Sea, followed by veal and morel mushrooms accompanied of course with beautiful Midi wines he had made. BED.

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