Chapter 2, Part 2
Alcohol - Wine
Having already addressed the subject of potent distilled alcohol, I would now like to turn my attention to the more gentle topic of wine.
Drinking and using wine play a large part in our social life. Wine can be used to advantage in cooking, and, if chosen well, can accompany and elevate a meal. There was one lunch time experience we had, however, when the wine was all we got, and it did not accompany nor elevate anything, including our mood.
We had spent the morning in a busy market town, and having wandered through the stalls, bought carrier bags full of vegetables and various goods, we staggered into a packed restaurant for lunch, full of anticipation at the thought of moules.
We were shown to a table, ordered our meal and given the customary carafe of wine, bread and water. The other diners were served, some already leaving, and other customers arriving, and it must have been a good half an hour later ‐ our wine and bread were gone, the wine having taking effective action as an appetizer - when the chef, a small but self-important man, came into the restaurant.
Standing with arms folded and an angry gleam in his eye, he addressed his audience. "I have had a complaint about my mussels. Does anyone here also wish to complain?" - at which point, most of the diners already served, told him in no uncertain terms that they were rubbish.
He departed, we thought, back to the kitchen, to improve his culinary skills, but after another ten minutes we realised that the moules were not going to arrive, and if they did, would probably disappoint, so we nonchalantly tossed enough euros on the table to cover the cost of the bread and wine (American movie fashion), and departed, decidedly in need of food.
The chef was NOT in the kitchen. He had walked out in protest against anyone daring to criticise his skills and was busying himself aggressively sweeping the pavement outside. Too much wine and no food is not good at lunchtime.
Although not renowned for its wine at present, the Limousin has from ancient times produced its own range of wines. Through times of adverse weather conditions and prevalent diseases, the production almost completely disappeared, but some enthusiastic producers have revived the vineyards, and it now has four.
La Cave des Vignerons de Branceille
This vineyard produces Vin Paille, which is a natural sweet wine made in the south of the Correze in Limousin by about 20 artisans formed together as a syndicate in order to guarantee the perpetuation of the tradition.
The grapes from the Cabernet Sauvignon varieties and Chardonnay are harvested by hand when fully mature in September and traditionally dried naturally on a straw bed for three months to intensify the sweetness.
They then go through the usual wine making process and are left to mature for at least two years. This wine, liquorice red or white, would accompany foie gras, cheese or desserts perfectly.
Mille et Une Pierres
Le Vignoble Mille et Une Pierres was replanted in 1986, and the 30 hectares surrounding the village are planted with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Gamay and Chardonnay grapes.
Saillac, near Allassac, is one of the oldest vineyards in France. It was relaunched in 2003 and now grows Chenin, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay grape varieties for the white wines, Merlot and Cabernet for the red and rosé wines.
Les Vignerons de Verneuil
This Haute-Vienne rosé wine dates back to the 16th century, but was ravaged by phylloxera, a microscopic aphid-like creature which is one of the most destructive grape pests world wide, between 1870 and 1890. The area was replanted in 1990 by the locals, wishing to bring back something of the past to their village. The idea was to produce enough wine to supply the tables on the commune’s festival days.
The first 300 bottles of rosé were produced in 1998 when it was awarded a 'vin de pays' de Haute-Vienne title. A good production year produced around 18,000 bottles, falling to 10,000 bottles. If you were to feel like engaging in spending a morning in which wine plays a large part of the activity, look out for the vendange (grape harvest) at this vineyard which is near Limoges, usually in early October time. You start around about 8 am along with many other fellow travellers, all armed with their own secateurs. You choose your row and then pick, placing the grapes into tubs provided by the vineyard and collected by a roving tractor. It's surprising how tiring a simple task of snipping away at vines can be after two or three hours, but you will be well recompensed by volunteers frequently offering wine or a soft drink should you wish, and many temping goodies to eat.
Finally, when the last vine is bare, a magnificent lunch is provided in a marquee by the management. From experience, I can vouch for the excitement, fatigue, aches and pains, but sense of satisfaction at a job well done. It's not for the fainthearted though!
In the early years of being in France, we planted a tiny vineyard of our own, so small that the word vineyard is pretentious.
We began by planting seven rows of Merlot vines, and after two years were able to hold a mini vendange of our own. There were enough grapes, including those from the vine which grows on one of our barns, for each one of our pickers to take a bunch and put it through the crusher.
We did manage to produce a dozen or so bottles of a reasonably acceptable Merlot.
Grapes on the barn vine
Since then, we haven’t had a great deal of success due to inclement weather, wrong soil conditions, and I must admit, to neglect, but over the last few months we have tended them well and given them a mulch of calcaire (lime).
Vines like a poor, chalky soil, which we don’t have here in the Limousin, and the lime dressing should compensate a little for that, so fingers crossed for this new year.
Tending the neglected vines
Cooking With Wine
Wine has three main uses in the kitchen: as a marinade ingredient, as a cooking liquid, and as a flavouring in a finished dish.
The function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance and accent the flavour and aroma of food; not to mask the flavour of what you are cooking but rather to add depth to it. The alcohol in the wine evaporates while food is cooking, so only the flavour remains.
Boiling down concentrates the taste too much, so be careful not to use too much as the wine could overpower your dish.
Here are a few dishes which you may like to try using wine.
© 2018 Sylvia Teale