Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Day two: a reverse Battenberg

It soon became clear that ‘slate soil, old-vine Grenache’ was not the only theme we were going to have. A ‘late to bed, early to rise’ theme was emerging, too! Yves and I were up early to get to Lesquerde for some shots in the morning light. I lived here for almost 5 years and had this view every morning. You never forget a landscape like this of rugged garrigue, old goblet pruned vines, Cypriot trees and with a backdrop of the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains.

Once Yves was satisfied with the shoot, we headed back down into Maury and up the other side of the l’Agly Valley, into the red clay terroir of the Corbieres. We continued for a little further, stopping in Padern at the Café des Sports. Time has stood still here and so had the coffee! But it’s great for some real French village photos.

A further 10 minutes on, we crossed in to AOC Fitou, rejoining Tony, Andrée and Cat at the Mont Tauch winery. Fitou is another remarkable pocket of soils and micro climates with Carignan, Grenache and Syrah being the star grapes here, each being suited to a particular soil. Fitou has quite a history and was actually the first place in the Languedoc to be awarded AOC status way back in 1948!

Fitou is situated on the border between the Languedoc and the Roussillon. In fact, the name Fitou comes from the latin word for border ‘fita’. The Fitou appellation consists of nine villages. Inland in the mountainous areas there are the slate soils of Villeneuve, the ‘Poudingues du Pilou’ (cobblestones) of  Paziols and the limestone soils of Tuchan and Cascastel. Then, on the Mediterranean coast, you find the villages of La Palme, Treilles, Caves and Leucate

We tasted through each of the terroirs and I particularly liked the softness of the Carignan from the limestone but, surprise-surprise, the slate-planted Grenache was the standout wine for us!

Next was lunch at the infamous Vignerons de Embres et Castelmaure winery with Tony’s long time friends and wine pioneers Patrick de Marien (President) and Bernard Pueyo (director). I have heard a lot about these guys but I have never had the pleasure to visit or meet these living legends. And my word, what a visit it was to be!

We were greeted by the very jolly Bernard ‘the bear’ Pueyo and taken to see the old and the new winery before being shown into their brilliant home made tasting room!  The colours of the labels and the recognisable Castelmaure decorations are just brilliant, too.

Bernard and his team had built the tasting room themselves … and on a shoestring budget. I quickly began to realise what a legendary place this is as it’s all about what is the best for the wine.  The bar looks very cool and rather Red Heads in style. And although the hanging lights are the ones used for dangling into wine vats, there are big, clean tasting glasses, the wines are all chilled to perfection, and a top-class enomatic bottle dispenser allows the wines to be tasted by customers in perfect condition. Now that’s how to serve wine!

The tasting was just brilliant, Bernard and I getting along very well indeed talking about the winemaking and vineyards (amongst other random things!).  I particularly liked the freshness of the Grenache Gris/Rolle blend, the chilled red Buvette, 2010 Pompadour was lovely as always, the Syrah/Grenache Castelmaure 2009 Grande Cuvée and lastly the stunning Cuvée 3 2010.  This was a tasting I will always remember and be sure to re-live again!

I still hadn’t met Patrick the president, but Bernard told us we were invited to lunch at Monsieur President’s house, high above the village. We arrived at Patrick’s front door. The bear didn’t knock; just barged in ‘comme chez lui’ and Patrick suddenly appeared, hopping about and already laughing. He immediately reminded me of a bizarre cross between John Lennon and Clive Dunn!  

Within minutes we were seated on the terrace each with a big glass of chilled ‘Sois beau et Tais-Toi l'Esprit du Vent 2011’ and plenty of homemade liver pate, what a combination.  I – and I’m sure Tony – felt A REAL MIDI LUNCH coming on! Sure enough, out came the magnificent charcuterie board, hams, pates, boudins and saucisson, with non-stop laughing and joking from Patrick, Bernard and now Tony and Andrée; just great to see old friends back together.

More wine flowed and then the main dish of homemade ‘legumes farcie’ with a tomato rice, so perfect. Of course we finished with local goat’s cheese and a brilliant 2009 Donner du temps au temps which has 2 years bottle age before being released.  Cherries, white fig and peaches from the garden trees to finish.  One of the best lunches I’ve ever had; simple and such an inspiration.

By now it’s hot. Extremely hot, in fact, so with the agility of an excited 14-year-old boy, Patrick jumps up (his espadrills defy logic and continuously stick to his feet) and into his bright-red land rover, “into vineyards he roars”. The bear follows, then Tony, I, Cat and Andrée; it’s now its clearly only mad Midi men and women and English men and women out in the sun.

We wound up the steep tracks high into the vineyards and – lo and behold – old-vine Grenache on slate soil! There were more antics for the camera before a crazy ride back down to the 11th century Chappelle St.Felix. Looking up from the chappelle you can see the ruins of the original village of Castelmaure abandoned in 1850 due to lack of water and a murder!  

Goodbye was hard; I had had such a great time and wanted to stay and learn more. We left with a boot full of wine and I even got a kiss from Patrick! Madmen and legends, merci. 

Andrée is always in charge and now tells us dinner is in Château Pech Ceyleran near Narbonne. “Dinner?”, we shout, “we just finished lunch!” So it was off to Narbonne and to dinner with the 6th, 5th and 4th generations of the family de Exubury in their 18th century Languedoc Château Pech Ceyleran!  Second wind came as we were presented with a dusk tasting under the moonlit turrets of the magnificent château.

Nothing would outshine the brilliance of Castelmaure, but the day will be clearly remembered by what was to be served next: (you may have guessed from the title of this blog) a ‘Reverse Battenberg’!  This huge cake thing what they referred to as ‘un gateau du pate d’amande’ suddenly arrived, covered in cream. As it neared, the cream was sliding from the surface and clinging on for dear life!  I was offered a ‘petit tranche’ to which I regrettably replied “oui madame”.  Goodness knows what a ‘grande tranche’ is and I hope never to find out. But what I was about to discover was the sponge-looking consistency was in fact a pure, inch-thick slice of marzipan and that the little topsoil of sponge and cream had long-since slid away … a Mr Bean sketch came to mind. 

All I can say is that the dinner and wines started off perfect and light, but finished off like being thrown into a swimming pool with a brick of marzipan attached to your right ankle. BED.

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