One of the enduring American imbecilities is a dismissive attitude toward the French – usually, that the latter tend to be dismissive. But wine snobs – they are everywhere, France included – tend to reject the notion that anything not from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne is worth a dime, or even a dingy old franc.
Take it one step further, and introduce a dish made with the humble bean: specifically, Cassoulet. A wine from outside terroir’s glamour gulch, paired with the symbol of subsistence dining? It might make everyone from Napa to Pauillac rise in dismissive fury.
Fortunately, there’s always the parsimonious prose of Value Wine Chicago to ward off such inflamed passions, and embrace the underdogs of wine and food.
In all fairness, the entrée Cassoulet is not just another pot of ersatz legumes for soldiers at the Maginot Line, or Monday’s washing fare in the Old South. It’s a low-and-slow casserole – a delight that originates in the south of France. A few regional burgs consider themselves “Cassoulet Capitals,” including Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary.
And, it’s a great time of year to indulge in Cassoulet’s savory warmth, without investing tons of money. Yes, there are the aforementioned beans (haricots blancs), but they aren’t swimming alone. There’s also duck/goose confit, bits of lamb or pancetta and sausages.
Conveniently, Cassoulet’s point of origin resides in Languedoc. Some of the best French wines at a value price point come from Languedoc, too.
“I think [many wine drinkers] have embraced more rustic, intense wines, and southern France is great because it’s so incredibly diverse,” says Rian Hill, General Manager of North Pond Restaurant. “Languedoc wines are so full of garrigue – a sort of low-level scrub brush aspect.”
So, with this diversity and compelling earthiness – plus the cool weather in force around town – it’s an opportunity to warm up to Cassoulet and the great value of the Languedoc. Its ascendant match in wine should be recognized, too. Here are some of Value Wine Chicago‘s favorites:
Château du Donjon Grande Tradition AOC Minervois 2007: A blend of 40 percent Carignan, 35 percent Grenache and 25 percent Syrah, this wine has lots of spice box aroma and a hint of forest floor amid the dark fruit. Blackberry and leather aspects continue on the palate, and the hint of smoke – probably from the Carignan – makes for a great fellow traveler to any Cassoulet that uses a liberal amount of smoked meats. A steal for $15.
M. Chapoutier “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut” Cotes du Roussillon-Villages 2009: A bit on the young side, but well-toned with demonstrable tannins. A medley of dark berries, espresso and black pepper. Not for the timid. Make sure the bean/meat ratio is at least 50/50 – with a slight emphasis on the latter. For the colder nights with a roaring fire. $13.
Château de Mattes-Sabran AOC Corbières 2008: A more fruit-forward blend of Syrah and Grenache. Full and hearty, it’s also quite fresh on the palate. Nice dark fruit has a bit of chocolate on the finish. Find a Cassoulet recipe that’s a little easier on the smoked meats to pair with this one. $14.