A tasting over lunch is in many ways an ideal way to judge wine
An unsolicited invitation from Château Cabezac, to a lunch at Le Gavroche in London, mentioning that my fellow columnist Steven Spurrier would be another guest.
I’d never heard of Château Cabezac and thought it must be a minor château from an obscure, outlying Bordeaux district, which was making wine of unusually high quality.
But it did not appear in Féret’s (formerly Cocks et Féret) bible, Bordeaux and its Wines, which lists every château, domaine and wine estate in the vast Gironde département.
Not wanting to lay myself open to more ‘élitist’ criticism, under normal circumstances I would have turned the invitation down, even to resist the temptation of lunching at this two-Michelin star temple of gastronomy, chef/proprietor being Michael Roux Jr (the nephew of Michel of The Waterside Inn in Bray), whom I know well.
That Steven had agreed to attend swayed me, but when I telephoned him to see what he knew of Cabezac, he admitted total ignorance, and, like me, regretted his acceptance of the invitation but reluctantly agreed to go.
Perhaps I should have taken a closer look at the invitation which referred to the ‘Cabezac Collection’ – not a phrase used in Bordeaux.
Come the day, a table for five (in a crowded restaurant; despite astronomic prices, no signs of a recession) consisting of our hostess Stéphanie Dondain of Cabezac, Vanessa Cumming from the Collection’s UK distributors, and a very old friend, Silvano Giraldin of the Roux Consultancy, who had served with the Roux brothers since Michel and Albert (Michel Jr’s father) opened the Gavroche in 1967.
Coincidentally, Steven and his wife, Bella, Daphne and I had dined there together shortly after its triumphant opening.
After the customary Champagne (in such circumstances I think it impolite to enquire of the name of the brand beneath the white napkin), we were shown the list of Cabezac wines. Not Bordeaux at all but from a large estate in Minervois, adjoining, I noted, St-Chinian.
Far from my heart sinking, my interest was suddenly piqued, for I very much like so many of the hugely improved wines of the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region, to the extent that when I see any on a restaurant list I always anticipate a wine of distinct character and quality at an affordable price.
Daphne and I know this region well; I did many drawings of the picturesque ruins of the Cathar castles.
Served in pairs, the first two were 2009 Minervois whites. To start was Alice, made from Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc. A good opener: very, very pale, but star bright; fresh, youthful fruit aromas; pleasantly dry, a most attractive refresher which I immediately took to. A reasonable 13.5% alcohol.
The second was Les Capitelles, a blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc aged on fine lees in new and one-year old French oak barriques. It had slightly more colour, with an appealing dash of highly polished gold; the nose more grapey and on the palate soft, fleshy. An absolutely delicious mouthful (also 13.5%).
Next, two 2006 reds: Le Petit Arthur (named for Mme Dondain’s son), a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan; maceration in stainless steel, 12 months in oak casks. Very deep appearance, intense, velvety; its composite aroma positively leaping out of the glass; delicious, delightful, with a soupçon of mint and wearing its 14% alcohol effortlessly.
The other 2006 was a domaine wine – the only one we tasted not from the Minervois AC. It was the Carinu, Vin de Pays du Val de Cesse made from 100% Carignan old vines, hand-harvested, and so on. This had a richer colour and greater depth; its aroma opened up, more Bordeaux-like in style and weight (13.5%); on the palate, sweetness, flesh and greater length.
The final two wines were from the 2005 vintage, both 14% alcohol. The first was Cuvée Arthur, a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache Noir from the château’s best plots and, interestingly, green harvested.
Appearance less deep but with a velvety sheen; nose totally different, very distinctive (anyone familiar with the scent of garrigue herbs will recognise this. It always reminds me of the smell of heather in my youth on the Yorkshire moors).
Anyway, it was a beautifully balanced wine, very complete and perfect with the lamb. Last but not least, the Belvèze 2005, a Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir blend. Fairly deep colour but looking more mature; yet again, a sort of uninhibited fragrance; sweet, soft, lovely texture, well balanced and totally delicious.
Though this, a tasting over lunch, is in many ways an ideal way to judge wines, there is always the risk of being seduced by the ambience and the food.
Our meal was just three courses, but appropriately devised by a master chef. Seduced or not, I did enjoy the wines, the sort we like to drink at home – characterful and affordable.
The wines don’t have UK retail distribution, but are available online from www.chateaucabezac.com – or you can enjoy them over a meal at restaurants including Le Gavroche.
Written by Michael Broadbent