Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Menage a Trois of Old Burgs, Rhones and Cassoulet

After being inspired by a friend's cassoulet experience, I decided to revisit my family's part of France and make the dish myself at home. I ordered the whole kit from D'Artagnan (no affiliation, just a very satisfied customer) and printed their recipe. Considering how many ingredients are involved (duck confit, duck & Armagnac sausage, garlic sausage, ventreche - a type of French pancetta that's fantastic - Tarbais beans, carrot, and tons of duck fat), it was relatively easy to make. The apartment smelled of game for days afterwards, reminding us of the warm meal we'd enjoyed. After getting all my mise-en-place on Saturday, I spent the day cooking, letting the dish settle into its own juices from Saturday to Monday.

After some stern warnings about my cooking abilities, several good friends gamely decided to volunteer as guinea pigs. This was my 1st cassoulet! God help them...

Since one couple had recently gotten engaged, we started with a 1985 Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Champagne, its medium amber color offering crisp peach, brioche and toasty coffee, with a vivid mouthfeel and a nice finish. As the cassoulet was served, my winegeek friend Drew began pouring his white, the 1997 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage Blanc le Chevalier de Sterimberg. Much better after being decanted for about an hour, this beauty was full of peaches, wax, glycerin, smoke and a hint of heat on the back end, its thick body ending with a finish that went on and on. Surprisingly, it went really well with the dish.

Now we got to the older Burgs.

Jorge popped the first one, a 1972 Prosper Maufoux Le Corton. Vibrantly light red in color, this speaks to the issue of provenance: gorgeously dynamic strawberry fruit, with some sous-bois and mushrooms on the nose, the palate a definition of elegance, with amazingly youthful light red fruits, backed by secondary notes and a long finish. It did begin to die within about 20 minutes in the glass, but still, what a wonderful find!

Next came a 1976 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin Clos de Beze. I sniffed this and winced, not from the typical 1976 burnt funk but more from the hint of TCA I was getting. But the wine was fighting for its life, its secondary aromas peeking out of the blanket of TCA, which, truth be told, was rather thin. At the end of the night, I went back to it and found the TCA even worse, as is usual. There was some discussion as Drew and Jorge disagreed about its corkiness, but I firmly believe it was ever so slightly corked.

Now we hit the 1999 Louis Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules, a lovely crisply fruity wine with some secondary notes starting to appear and filling out its frame with grace and elegance. Very nice, this is a youngster.

We ventured south now, pouring the 1999 Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul which had been decanted several hours prior. Deep, dark and full of brooding dark fruits and guarrigue, with smoke and chocolate filling out its frame, this youngster was just smoking, a gorgeous and brawny wine that seemed to expand on the palate in velvety waves.

Still thirsty, we reached into the living room EuroCave and found a bottle of 2004 Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape, our house red. Light kirsch, dark cherries and fruits with some guarrigue filled the palate, with a nice crunchy acidity that woke up our palates after the orgy of Burgs, Rhones and cassoulet.

All in all, a wonderful way to stay warm on an absolutely bitingly cold Monday night. The cassoulet was a hit, there wasn't a bean left in the pot. Except for adding more meat, I'll definitely be ordering that again!


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