“Greetings, fellow gastronauts.”
That was the familiar salutation of the much-missed Francophile gourmet, Keith Floyd. Whilst he undoubtedly had his demons to face, his knowledge and love of food and wine were an inspiration to me when I was young and his straight talking approach was a blessed relief from the insipid inanity of most other television cooks of the time.
I couldn’t help but think of him over dinner last night – a long-aged côte du bœuf rôti, cross sliced and served in the French manner, paired with a really lovely bottle of red Burgundy. Everything worked so harmoniously together, in such an enjoyable and memorable fashion, that I began to think about how a love and appreciation of wine is inseparable from a love and appreciation of food. The French, of course, know this instinctively and Keith Floyd tried to impart a little of the joy of this union to a largely unaware British public. Unfortunately, most people only remember his penchant for a quick slurp during cooking segments.
As something of an œnophile and a gourmet (or at least a gourmand), I really don’t believe that it is possible to enjoy great wine or great food in isolation, each has been refined over time to perfectly complement the other. Although fermented drinks have been used for millennia as libations, as relief from the toil of everyday life and as celebratory toasts, wine, like the food on your plate, is an agricultural product and the two have always been enjoyed together. Along with good company, naturally.
Aged for well over eight weeks, cooked to just under medium rare in a smoking hot, cast iron skillet, rested for ten minutes and then sliced; I ate my steak on its own, seasoned only with the salt and pepper I added before I cooked it. The flavour was incredible and it was a perfect foil for the Burgundy. After I had finished my steak and my wine, and after I had spent a few minutes in post-prandial rapture, some grilled chicory and a green salad were the vegetable elements I needed to round things off properly.
The bottle in question was a 1988 Corton-Pougets by Louis Jadot (13.5% ABV). I bought three bottles of this lesser known grand cru from D. Byrne & Co. back in the early noughties for the princely sum of £29 each, mainly because the shelf talker proclaimed its recent triumph over the same year’s La Tâche in a recent blind tasting. The previous two bottles were pleasant but not outstanding; this one, however, made me wish I’d bought more.
I always find it difficult to adequately describe a mature wine: all of the primary, recognisable aromas and flavours of youth have mellowed and melded over time and the whole has become greater than the sum of its parts. This especially true of the finest red Burgundy, where the seemingly ephemeral and delicate fruit of Pinot Noir can so often show surprising fortitude and longevity.
At twenty-four years old, it was a fading, brick-tinged garnet colour, obviously mature but still lively looking. The nose was soft, warm, sweet with perfumed red fruit and woodland notes, gently spiced and alluring. Initially, the palate showed some age: drying out but still sweetly fruited, the acidity highlighted tarter cherry and redcurrant flavours which were offset by the silkiness of a gentle touch of oak. Half an hour in the glass worked wonders, though; it opened and sweetened, becoming even more fragrant and vivacious. Very fine tannins gave balance, but it was the fruit and acidity that lent it its joie de vivre. The hauntingly beautiful fragrance persisted right through the long, long finish. This bottle was an absolute delight; it might have kept for a while longer still, but there would have been no reason so to do.
An old bottle of red Burgundy would more traditionally be served with a fine game bird such as a woodcock whereas a rare steak would usually be a good excuse for the firmer tannic structure of red Bordeaux, but the gaminess and tenderness of this piece of meat resulted in a wonderful marriage with the Corton-Pougets. I think that Keith would have approved.