The good news just keeps rolling in! After my last post, Thomas Montagne, owner and winemaker of Château de Clapier, wrote to let me know that Clapier was also listed in the 2011 Guide Hachette. Thomas’s 2007 Cuvée Soprano, made from Grenache, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, received a rating of two stars – amazing! Here’s what the review says:
Since his arrival at the family domaine in 1995, Thomas Montagne has increased its activites…two times a year visitors are invited to come to the château for festivals: for rosés in May and for the harvest in October. That’s the occasion to discover this cuvée, which strikes the right note with its deep ruby color, its expressive “nose” of dark cherries [“griotte” in French] and cassis, and its mouth-watering, spicy, well-concentrated flavor.
Another of Thomas’s wines, the Calligrappe Rouge 2008, was also listed: “Simpler [than the Soprano] but nonetheless pleasant and equally noteworthy.” A wonderful tribute to Thomas and his wines, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Thomas’s wine estate has an extraordinarily colorful and distinguished past. Not everyone can lay claim to an estate whose previous owners helped change history, but Thomas can. In 1570, the Riqueti family, originally from Italy, bought the château (and essentially, the town) at Mirabeau, located near an important river crossing. In 1685, Honoré Riqueti was given the title Marquis de Mirabeau. His grandson, Victor, was a famous economist and politician, and reportedly a friend of Montesqueiu. He made his fame initially writing of the need to return France to the feudal system, but later wrote a diatribe against excessive taxation and served time in prison. (He also created one of the great scandals of the late 18th century by trying to lock his wife away so he could live with his mistress – she fought him in court and won.)
Victor’s son Honoré is by far the clan’s most renowned denizen, a womanizer, gambler, and a clever politician, who tried to curb some of the excesses of the French revolution. He served as an advisor to Louis XVI and worked to create a model parliament under a constitutional monarch with limited powers. His life is extraordinarily well-documented since he wrote about practically everything he did. His literary output is staggering — from the lows of imprisonment to his raunchy love letters and his treatises on government, he was truly a unique individual.
Among all their other accomplishments, the Riquetis found time for making and drinking wine. So much so, in fact, that one of the family became known as Mirabeau-Tonneau – or the Wine Barrel of Mirabeau!
As the Guide Hachette reviewer mentioned, Thomas came back to the family vineyard after spending a number of years in Brazil. (He told Cy and me that he’d like to return there someday to live and produce wine). His family has been in the wine business since 1880, when the property was purchased by Théodore Barataud. M. Barataud systematized his wine production by building a brand-new winery. He installed de-stemming equipment – a modern marvel of the time – and enormous barrels that were so big the pieces had to be brought in by train and assembled on site. You can still see them today if you tour the winery.
Thomas’s goal is to take the best of winemaking traditions of the Luberon and the best of modern and traditional agriculture to make wines that are elegant, yet retain some of the ruggedness and wildness of the terrain of the region. The Luberon is home to a large, mountainous national park. Mirabeau, on the southern edge, is protected from some of the region’s harshest winds by those mountains. The southern exposure keeps everything warm during the day and surprisingly cool at night. The microclimate allows Thomas to grow Pinot Noir. He adds it in small amounts (20 percent or less) to some of his wines, which gives them a distinctively different flavor than other wines of the region.
The Soprano is one of the wines with Pinot Noir, and it’s named for Thomas’s love of music and opera (not for the TV show!) On our last trip to France, Cy and I had lunch with Thomas and he told us that he’s distantly related to Ambroise Thomas, the French opera composer of Mignon and Hamlet (which was just produced here in DC last season). So he comes to music through family, like the wine.
At lunch, Thomas opened a 1999 bottle of the Soprano (although it wasn’t called Soprano then). It was wonderfully luscious, just as the Guide Hachette described, but even more velvety. Clear evidence that the wine lasts a long time. (Something we know already from the 2004 Soprano we have in stock, it’s gorgeous!) It was the perfect accompaniment to a great meal.
You may not be able to duplicate the Luberon setting at home, and your property may not have been owned by people who changed the world**, but you can certainly open a bottle of Soprano or Calligrappe and get a taste of France. And here’s a recipe to help – it’s my version of Steak au Poivre, a change from the traditional preparation. I don’t like too much pepper on it, so I put the crushed pepper on only one side, after spreading a little Dijon mustard on the meat. The traditional cream sauce usually has brandy in it, which I don’t really like in this dish. Instead, I add some white wine and a little bit of Gorgonzola or Blue cheese. The white wine gives a little bit of acidity along with the mustard, and the cheese adds a wonderful flavor. You could leave it out if you want, but you’ll be sorry!
** Of course, if you live here in DC your home may indeed have been owned by someone who changed the world – or someone who thinks he did, anyway…
This recipe makes enough sauce for more steaks, but I like a lot of sauce!
2 6-8 ounce boneless steaks – New York strip, sirloin, or tenderloin will work – between ¾ and 1-inch thick
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 shallot or the white parts of two scallions, finely minced
¾ cup beef broth (canned is fine, or use homemade chicken stock if you have it)
¼ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
1-2 ounces Gorgonzola or Blue cheese, depending on your taste, at room temperature
Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel, season both sides with salt and pepper, and set them aside to warm up a little. Put 1 tablespoon of the peppercorns on a solid cutting board. Using the bottom of a heavy pot, press and roll the peppercorns to coarsely crush them (if your pepper grinder will do this, so much the better!) You’ll want to have enough peppercorns to pretty well cover the steaks on one side, so crush some more if you think you’ll need it.
Spread a little bit of Dijon mustard on the top of each steak, then press the peppercorns onto the mustard. You want them to stick, so go ahead and press them pretty firmly. You want the top mostly covered, a few open spots are fine. Heat one tablespoon of butter and the oil in a small skillet that will hold both steaks. When it’s good and hot, add the steaks, pepper-side down, and cook for about 4 minutes for medium-rare (depending on the thickness of the steaks and how you like them done). Then turn them carefully and let them cook on the other side. Remove the steaks to a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm. Pour off the fat from the skillet.
Add the last tablespoon of butter to the pan, then the shallot, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the beef broth and white wine, crank up the heat, and boil to reduce by about half, making sure to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the 1/3 cup of cream and reduce by a third or so. Using your fingers or a fork, mash the soft Gorgonzola and the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream together to form a smooth paste. Take the pan off the heat, then whisk the paste into the sauce. Taste the sauce for seasoning (remember, the steaks have pepper on them), then put a lovely pool of sauce on each of two serving plates, top with the steaks, and serve immediately.