Are Languedoc wines grand enough to stand up to truffles? Our new contributor Donald Edwards reports:
Truffles, those dark little tubers, so redolent of forest floor, sanctified earth and rarefied Michelin dining.
The Languedoc, ancient paysan France, land of tankers, truculence and garrigue-swept hills harbouring agro-industrial grievances.
How could one ever reconcile the two? Well, the good folk at The Wine Society decided that they’d had enough of the Languedoc’s wines failing to get the praise they deserved, so they elected to put on an extravagant truffle-centric dinner, cooked by Franck Putelat, chef/proprietor of the eponymous 2 Michelin-starred restaurant in Carcassonne with four kilos of prime Languedocienne truffles foraged by truffle hunter Phillipe Barrière and a battery of their finest Languedoc wines to match.
Approaching the lunch I was wondering exactly how the wines of the Languedoc, often full bodied and powerful, would interact with the subtleties of the truffled dishes.
I needn’t have worried.
Canapés and aperitif done, we settled down to lunch proper. A 2011 Bourboulenc from Domaine de Simonet, then a 2011 Ollieux Romanis, Cuvée Prestige, Corbières Blanc.
The Bourboulenc was the standout wine here - fascinating, with a lowish acidity, but still showing a decent minerality. Made with a very small amount of new oak (15 days), just enough to give a tiny amount of structure to the palate. Sadly the wine wasn’t quite up to the first dish of truffle risotto, however the second dish, a truffled oyster and beef tartare with artichokes and black truffle, was a different kettle of fish.
Firstly it was a magnificent dish, one of the finest things I’ve eaten in a good while, the raw oyster encasing a small quenelle of beef tartar on a cream of the artichoke, black olive and truffle. Secondly it worked wonders with the Simonet: the triumvirate of oyster, beef and truffle was sublime, a salty, iodine earthiness that matched wonderfully with the salty mineral edge of the Bourboulenc.
The Corbières worked better with the risotto, however I couldn’t get past the whiff of oak that first presented on the nose. Maybe a year or so more in bottle would have integrated the wine a bit more.
Staying with the first two whites, the second pair of starters arrived; A bruschetta of Castelnaudry haricot beans, mozzarella and black truffle which I particularly liked for the buttery crispness of the toasted base. The buttery, cheesiness of the dish meant that it sat firmly in the corner of the richer white.
A scallop with truffled celery ravioli was once again marginally better with the Corbières on account of the creaminess of the saucing.
Moving on to a quartet of reds, we were served; Atal Sia '08 Corbières Boutenac from Ollieux Romanis, L’Esprit de Pennautier '09 Cabardès; the Cuvée Cantilène 2010, Minervois La Livinière in magnum from Chateau Sainte Eulalie and Fitou Mégalithes '09 from Domaine Bertrand Berge. The reds were served with truffled chicken: a pie of the leg meat and a beautifully cooked piece of breast with truffle slices under the skin.
With the reds I found once again that the issue of oaking became somewhat contentious. The unoaked and lightly oaked reds demonstrated their aromatic delicacy just that much better.
The Atal Sia was probably my favourite on account of its slightly truffley, black olive and perfumed red fruit nose. It was silken on the palette and managed to work both with the more rustic pie and delicate chicken breast. The Minervois La Livinière also worked rather well, though it was a touch less exotic aromatically, which lost it the top spot.
Following the chicken, a truffled Mont D’Or cheese on brioche. Now I’ve always struggled with structured red wines when served with cheese, and again the same sort of issue presented, slightly bitter tannins coming across rather clunkily alongside the gooeyness of the melted truffley cheese. Of the four reds it was the Chateau Sainte Eulalie that I felt worked best, the opulence of the fruit contributing just enough sweetness to the mix to allow the earthiness of the cheese to stand out.
Dessert, a lightly truffled Bourdaloue pear, was served with an Antech Blanquette de Limoux, Méthode Ancestrale and a gloriously fruity Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois, Domaine de Barroubio, 2011. The crémant was made in a pétillant naturel style, so was quite off dry, the Muscat was supremely sweet and fresh. Both worked wonders with the lightly truffled pear dessert.
So Languedoc wines and high end Michelin-endorsed cuisine? A definite yes, though as with any other region I’d add a few provisos, if it’s young wines that are being drunk then stick to the more silken unoaked cuvées. However I’m pretty certain that if one was looking at oaked cuvées, a few more years in bottle and the associated earthiness and integration of tannins would neatly circumnavigate the problem.
Donald Edwards is a former sommelier, barfly and blogger at St Claire and notes from the dregs. He tweets as @donalde
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