What better to eat at the start of spring than one of the most wintery dishes French cuisine has given us? Few things are as hearty and filling as a hefty portion of cassoulet. There is a certain amount of flexibility to give your own interpretation to what is in the dish, but doing justice to its culinary heritage status, you do not mess with the essential ingredients: beans, confit and basically every piece of meat you like on a pork.
For today’s variety I chose to work with duck confit, pork belly and ham, and in what will surely be considered as blasphemous by l’Académie universelle de Cassoulet, a Jurassic saucisse de Morteau (which I love for its tender smokiness, really going well with the beans and smoked bacon). Cookingwise it is all very classic and traditional: use the fat from the duck confit to gently bake the meat, take out of your casserole, and add a few vegetables (not too many, it is not supposed to be a healthy or diet-friendly) to absorb every molecule of flavourpacked fat. Put the meat back in together with the beans that you have cooked on the side with plenty of fresh herbs, cover with stock (and a splash of white wine), and tuck into the oven for five hours. Easy, right?
Winewise I was a bit more respectful with regards to regionality, looking to the Languedoc and the Sud-Ouest. It is an incredibly hearty dish, and anything that doesn’t have a tannic and slightly rustic backbone will simple not be able to make an impact.
First up, Domaine de La Garance’s Les Armières 2015, Coteaux du Languedoc and 100% Carignan. Nowadays people are rediscovering the potential of Carignan, a grape variety that was in the past primarily planted for its high yield. Old vines are however capable of delivering stunning wines, always with a rustic structure, but when done right balanced with an invigorating acidity. A centenarian plot is used for Les Armières, and the vinification is gentle, taking the time to allow the wine to find its own balance while resting in concrete tanks and used oak barrels. Surprisingly, there is a bit of spritz upon opening. The wine is fresh, with a characteristic tannic backbone, but quite fruit-driven. Overall quite smooth to drink, but only just keeping up with the savory cassoulet. I think it would work better with something a bit lighter.
The following wines were chosen on a quintessential but woefully ignored variety: Tannat. It is a variety that needs a lot of time before it reveals its maximum potential, as it can be downright astringent in its youth. Techniques like micro-oxygenation, where you expose the wine to pure oxygen during élevage were developed specifically with Tannat in mind, and while they have accelerated the drinking window of the wines, traditionalists will adhere to lengthened barrel ageing and time in the cellar.
The Laplace family has been one of the bigger players in the region, covering 58ha of various appellations. They have been quite important in analyzing the different terroirs, and they produce three Madiran wines, each a blend of different plots. The grapes for Odé D’Aydie 2013 are sourced from Saint Lanne, which is clay-chalk, and Moncoup, which is dominant in pebbles. It is a young wine so a certain degree of backwardness is understandable. It is quite muted on the nose, and on a first sip it comes across quite firm, only to open up towards the finish with a nice core of black fruit, runes and a bit of liquorice. It goes quite well in terms of intensity with the cassoulet, but is perhaps just a bit too tough when it comes to complementing the softness of the slowcooked beans.
And in a first for The Wine Analyst, a South American wine! In all honesty, I find little of interest in Chile and Argentina (cue the outrageous comments that any true winelover cannot rule out an entire continent), but my eye has fallen on Uruguay recently. The country has adopted Tannat as its most important variety (about one in four vines planted) after it was introduced by Basque settlers and I can still remember my first Uruguayan Tannat tasted in class a couple of years ago. A bit warmer, riper fruit, but still with its characteristic tannic structure.
The Pisano family is, together with Garzon (which is owned by the Argentina Bulgheroni family) one of the most important producers, when it comes to scale as well as to quality. Their RPF Tannat 2013 was the most surprising wine in the lineup, quite gourmand and foodfriendly in style, and nicely the first actual meaty wine, with hints of game on the nose aside from the more classic black fruit. A bit warmer at its core, yet still with structure and a bit more roundness that really complements the cassoulet. The more approachable of the two Tannat wines, but I would not mind tucking this in the cellar side by side with the Madiran.