Caber­net of cu­riosi­ties

LOIRE THE MER­RIER: sam­ples the best of what the Sau­mur-Champigny tri­an­gle has to of­fer on a trip to France.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

HERE was a dis­tinctly Bri­tish feel to Sau­mur last week as the whole town turned out for Les Grandes Tablées du Sau­murChampigny, a cel­e­bra­tion of French wines, and just for this year, Bri­tish food. To add to the Bri­tish feel of the oc­ca­sion, the 100 or so vol­un­teers who manned food stands and poured the wine, wore bowler hats and there were union flags on their bright red T-shirts.

And whilst Bri­tish food may not of­ten be the first choice for loyal lovers of French cui­sine, the open-air ban­quet for 6,000 peo­ple, held in the im­pres­sive town square, pro­vided a de­li­cious in­ter­pre­ta­tion of clas­sics such as mush­room pies, pork pies and fruit crum­ble.

Nat­u­rally there was a Gal­lic twist to the menu, so the pork pies were made from a medal-win­ning ter­rine recipe with a crisp pas­try top, and the mush­room pies were shaped like pasties, but these vari­a­tions on a theme just added to the fun of the whole oc­ca­sion. It helped to have Sau­mur’s re­cently re­tired master baker François Sassier, in charge of the food. He looked re­lieved and de­lighted as the moun­tains of pies and pasties were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally con­sumed.

So why was there a nod to Bri­tain for this lo­cal cel­e­bra­tion? The as­so­ci­a­tion goes back to the 12th cen­tury, to the time of Plan­ta­genet King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who to­gether ruled this part of France. Their king­dom stretched from the Scot­tish bor­der to the Pyre­nees, and their dy­nasty lasted over 300 years, end­ing with Richard III. Henry and Eleanor were both buried in the Abbey of Fon­tevraud, close to Sau­mur, and their tomb ef­fi­gies re­main there. Side by side in the beau­ti­ful abbey, they ap­pear to be the per­fect me­dieval cou­ple, but de­spite or maybe be­cause of their eight chil­dren, they spent most of their time war­ring on a se­ri­ous scale.

To round off the as­so­ci­a­tion of this part of France with Eng­land, a plan was an­nounced at the din­ner in Sau­mur to cre­ate an ef­figy of Richard III, the last of the Plan­ta­genet kings, to lie along­side his an­ces­tors.

But while I was fas­ci­nated by the history of the re­gion, the honey-coloured stone of the grand châteaux that line the banks of the Loire, and even the troglodyte homes whose win­dows, doors and grand en­trances have been dug into the soft por­ous lime­stone, I was re­ally in Sau­mur to taste the wines.

There are vines dot­ted along the whole 600 miles length of the Loire, from Sancerre in the cen­tre of France to Mus­cadet in the west. This re­gion is fa­mous for its sparkling wines, whites, reds and sweet wines, but on one par­tic­u­lar plateau of soft, lo­cal lime­stone known as tuffeau, the Caber­net Franc grape pro­duces some of its most vi­brant, de­li­cious flavours. This is Sau­mur-Champigny, a tiny tri­an­gle of the Sau­mur vine­yard, an­chored by the town at one cor­ner, bor­dered by the river to the north and stretch­ing a few miles south to St-Cyr-enBourg.

The vine­yard area fol­lows the tuffeau, a crumbly, well-drained, al­ka­line soil that is the rem­nant of a vast shal­low sea. This is the re­gion where Caber­net Franc shows its best flavours. Tast­ing of crushed fresh rasp­ber­ries, with notes of red cher­ries and just a touch of green herba­ceous char­ac­ter, these are red wines that ap­pre­ci­ate just 30 min­utes in the fridge to add vi­tal­ity to the flavours. They go well with all kinds of sum­mer foods, not just pork pies and mush­room pasties, but oven-baked fish, herb-sprin­kled chicken and tomato-rich pasta.

Caber­net Franc is more usu­ally found in a blend, par­tic­u­larly in Bordeaux blends, but here in Sau­mur-Champigny it shines on its own. It is one of the par­ents of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and so has some of those same red sum­mer berry fruit flavours, but be­cause it buds and ripens at least a week ear­lier it is well suited to this north­ern cli­mate. I spent time driv­ing through this tiny re­gion, tast­ing wines and meet­ing the vignerons and they have been work­ing hard to de­velop con­sis­tency of style and qual­ity. As the land­scape changes, with slopes and with as­pect to the sun, so do the wines, but through­out the re­gion there is a clear thread of qual­ity run­ning through the wines. Tan­nins are soft and vel­vety, flavours are con­cen­trated and there is a har­mony on the fin­ish.

The grow­ers and the lo­cal co-op­er­a­tive work to­gether to main­tain stan­dards and there is a pro­gramme of work in the re­gion on bio­di­ver­sity, to en­cour­age a more nat­u­ral way of con­trol­ling pests. The wine poured at the Grandes Tablées was made spe­cially for the oc­ca­sion, with each grower con­tribut­ing grapes from the 2014 harvest. They will be mak­ing another wine for the 2016 Grandes Tablées, but if you want to en­joy this re­gion sooner, then the whole re­gion will be “en fete” for Fes­tivini from Septem­ber 5 to 13. There is a pro­gramme of events, from tast­ings and vis­its to walks, cy­cle-rides and even horse rid­ing amongst the vines. The beau­ti­fully

CHRIS­TINE AUSTIN This is the re­gion where Caber­net Franc shows its best flavours.

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