1998 Cote Rotie Jasmin is on the table. At first sip it's a heady brew, firm and vigorous and full of black fruit and brambles and leather. Should hold up well to the cassoulet.
And speaking of which, here's plates a-brimming with bean stew!
The smell is maddening, with mingled odors of duck and garlicky sausage. Hard to resist digging in when there's cassoulet on the table. Must. Wait. Everybody served? Go!
I always find it impossible to believe that BettyLu can manage to one-up herself from one year to the next. And I end up being proved wrong once again. This year she's upfront
about the major change: she wasn't at all happy with the quality of
the saucisse Toulouse---or would that be saucisson Toulousienne?---she was receiving from her purveyors, so she elected to go with a garlicky style of sausage this time. It's a firmer sausage, less grainy and mealy than the Toulouse, more tightly packed, and, to me, better, with a chewier, denser texture and a more noticeable garlic flavor. I belong to the No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic Club, so that's a good thing!
Cassoulet is such a wonderful all-around soul-satisfying dish, with the beans still firm and toothy and not cooked to a paste; the succulent and chewy confit with its rich, oily flavor; and the contrasting nature and texture of the sausages. And I love the salty, fat richness of the dish. Speaks to the peasant in me, I guess. Add one veggie for contrast---in this case some fresh and crunchy snap peas---and you've got a perfect meal for a frigid, damp winter day (and I don't care what the calendar says, it's winter out there still.)
The Cote Rotie is, once again and thank you Lou, a splendid match for the cassoulet. As it opens out and responds to the flavors of the dish, it manages to keep its firmness but adds a specific soft blueberry fruit underneath--or simply reveals it, I suppose; in any case, it is there. It is one of the more remarkable and enjoyable experiences in the world of wine and food to appreciate such an even match, where the full flavor of the food is equaled by the force and complexity of the wine.
I'm always intrigued with a great bottle of Cote Rotie: it engages intellectually as much as viscerally. There's a touch of Viognier in this one, about 5% (and no, I can't tell that with my nose; I looked it up on the InterWeb) and I imagine there is a corresponding 'lift' to the aromas as a result. But then, that could be my imagination more than a reality. Whatever is at work here, it's working well. What's not imagined but very real is the intricate complexity of the wine.
Jasmin itself is fascinating too, in the sense that the original Jasmin, who acquired the vineyards, was a notable chef in the region. Fitting, then, that his heritage wine continues to grace fine tables and enhance fine dishes like this cassoulet. Also fitting that the current Jasmin, Patrick, makes the wine as an assemblage of Cotes Brune and Blonde---perhaps in the way a chef would assemble and meld separate ingredients in a recipe?
Everyone makes the proper noises at this point. Nils Venge, old Napa grape wrangler that he is, chimes in with his highest compliment, when he tells Lou, "For something that's not Cabernet, this is pretty good wine."
When the Cote Rotie begins to run low, out comes a local wine from one of our favorite local boys (who couldn't be with us at dinner because he was living the extravagant life in New York), Edmunds St. John Syrah Bassetti Vineyards 2001, from San Luis Obispo County.
Steve isn't using this source vineyard any longer, and more's the pity for it, sez I, because this is one big herkin' lunk of a wine, if you like it that way, and it's just now beginning to show some civilization and softening around the edges, but with that same wild, untamed heart it always had.
Ten years on. And still nothing but a gawky child. Shame they can't make California wines that age well, innit.
Way less polished sophistication and complexity than the Cote Rotie at right this moment in comparative wine time, but still a goodly match for the cassoulet---did we mention seconds had gone around, and Kevin tends to have a heavy hand with the serving spoon?---and managing to hold its own.
Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 1978.
Nils looks to be approving of this development. He also looks impressed...although he doesn't look at all surprised to see it coming from Lou's cellar. But then, no one gets surprised at what may come from Lou's cellar.
Once again, roll out all the tired old cliches about Napa and wines that don't age, and they don't make 'em like that anymore (except when they do). Throw in an "alluvial plain" or "hothouse environment" for good measure. Hard to sneer, belittle or condescend when you have a wine such as this in the glass.
Still vibrant, humming with tension, tannins softened enough to round it out and balance the still fleshy fruit, this is a raspbery and blackberry cabernet, that dark, tart fruit style that seems to have endless depth to it, sufficient acids to keep it interesting, and tannins to keep it long and lingering and ever-so-slightly bittersweet at the back of the mouth, going from berry to tobacco to herbs to cocoa dust in one unbroken line.
There's a bit of dolce going around for a pleasant little interlude; then, with a refreshed palate, it's pass the port time. It's customary for BL to bring out the port glasses and pour, and so she does.
Fonseca Vintage Port 1977...and this makes an appropriate followup to the lovely red wines served with the cassoulet, because it has both deep blackberry and full-on licorice in excess, a fatter, sleeker, richer, more voluptuous echo of the syrah and reverberation of the cabernet. Perfect!
I have many fond memories of the 1977 vintage, and this is one of the finest of that year, perfectly apportioned and balanced and only now beginning to reveal its treasures. A remarkable bottle of port, and a more than fitting finish to a fabulous meal.
So the cassoulet season again comes to a pleasant close, tummies stuffed, appetites sated, good feelings all around; and even the rain has stopped, for now. As the fortunate few of this last gathering of Cassoulet 2011 wend their way into the night, they're already already anticipating next year...