“All is safely gathered in – Ere the Winter storms begin” at least as far as most of the vineyards of France are concerned, and with more definite signs of Autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness on our own shores my taste buds begin their annual craving for the warmth and spicy/fruity depths of wines from the Côtes du Rhône. My own choice of wine for this month is perhaps hardly surprising – Rèserve du Mistral Vinsobres AoC 2014, a wine that would sit very happily at table alongside the richness of the classic recipe from the Auvergne I offer further below. The village of Vinsobres is admittedly in a bit of a backwater of the southern Rhône valley and is celebrated almost as much for its wines as for the olives and lavender that grow thereabouts.
Vinsobres wines celebrate a decade since their elevation to their specific full appellation controlée status, having previously been lumped-in as one of the wider grouping of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages wines. The rules that apply to the AC Vinsobres cépage require at least 50% Syrah plus the remainder made up in varying proportions by Grenache and Mourvèdre depending on the direction of the individual producer. As the name on the label suggests, the wine’s production area in the southern Rhône Valley area suffers the drying Mistral wind which can blow for upwards of 200 days a year. There’s one advantage at least, vines avoid suffering bunch-rot that some less well-aired vine sites can succumb to. Produced by the Perrin family who have interests across a full range of southern Rhône wines there’s a tie-in here with M&S-sponsored winemakers, in this case Belinda Kleinig who has crafted this medium weight red wine. There’s an appealing softness of berry fruits on the nose, a whiff of wood smoke too, perhaps – an attractive autumnal tinge. Overall, there’s a light touch here: the wine being delicately balanced to show off its subtle complexities, and the gentle dryness on the palate and the lightest dusting of tannin on the back taste are just the foil one needs to offset the richness of the seasonal fare at table. Handily, the wine can be accessed at your local M&S.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France – Southern Rhône.
NAME OF WINE Rèserve du Mistral Vinsobres AC
STYLE Dry, food-friendly red
PRODUCER Famille Perrin, Orange.
RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.
PRICE £ 15 . 00
Chevreuil en Ragout
There is a fashion in some nouvelle cuisine restaurants these days to serve venison as it stands, without marinating, but for this traditional French classic it is essential to allow the meat to soak overnight (at least) in a marinade that not only adds its own pungency and depth of flavour to the meat but tenderises the flesh at the same time. A labour of love getting everything together maybe, but the guarantee also of a memorable result. Autumnal magnificence at table? Nothing daunted…here goes!….
For the marinade:
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 carrot, sliced up
1 medium onion, studded with 2 cloves
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 ‘eschallion’ shallots or 3 round shallots, in quarters
600 ml of sturdy red wine, preferably Syrah
1 teasp. crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp. crushed juniper berries
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. of redcurrant jelly
salt . black pepper
For the venison:
1.25 kg boneless loin of venison, cubed
150g lardons of unsmoked bacon
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
4 shallots, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the prepared vegetables with a seasoning of salt, cover it and cook, shaking the pan from time to time for about 8 minutes. Pour in the wine, and raise the temperature to bring it up to boiling point, then reduce the temperature and put in the coriander, the thyme and the juniper berries. Simmer very gently together for 10 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
Having arranged the venison pieces in a large bowl, pour the marinade over and add a grinding of black pepper, stirring briefly to ensure all the pieces of meat are covered.
Leave overnight in a cool place.
When you are ready to cook the venison, lift the pieces out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and dry them on kitchen paper. Strain the marinade into a jug and reserve it to be added later. Also reserve the marinade vegetables separately.
Using a large frying pan, brown the venison chunks in batches in the oil over a brisk heat, stirring to ensure each of the sides takes colour. Once all the venison is evenly browned, transfer it to a heavy casserole. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and add the flour, stirring it in well and scraping up the cooking residues. Once the flour has browned add both the strained marinade and the vinegar, stirring all the while. Bring to the boil, and keep boiling for about a minute. Pour this into the casserole and stir in the marinade vegetables along with the fresh chopped shallots, the garlic and all the herbs, together with seasonings of salt and pepper.
Cover the casserole tightly, and allow to cook gently for 1 ½ hours until the meat is quite tender.
At this point, sauté the bacon lardons in a small frying pan with a little butter for about 4 minutes, then transfer them to a dish. Likewise add the mushrooms to the same pan (plus a little more butter) and sauté them for 4 minutes. Add both the bacon and the mushrooms to the contents of the casserole, mixing them well in. Test seasoning at this point. Add more salt and pepper to taste as necessary. Put the lid back on the casserole and simmer very gently for the final 15 minutes. Serve.