Once upon a time there was a prince in Médoc. He was actually a marquis but as he owned so many châteaux (all the best ones) king Louis XV declared him, “Prince of the vines”. In those days my favorite Médoc village, Saint-Estèphe, was known as Calon and the “prince” once famously declared “I make wine at Lafite and Latour (the most famous wines in the world) but my heart belongs to Calon. He was referring to his estate in Saint-Estèphe, Calon-Ségur, a property he aquired by marriage and as he was Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur he added his name to it. Because of his famous words they also added a heart to the label on the bottle, a revolutionary gesture and in hindsight, quite modern. The morale of the story is: Design something revolutionary and wonderful, give it a few hundred years and everyone will love it.
I was quite familiar with Calon-Ségur, but I might never have heard the story of the prince had my husband not been commissioned by an agency in Bordeaux to shoot the harvest for the château. It was all very mysterious, they asked him to photograph a château but wouldn’t say which one. Then one day he drove off into the uncertainty and came back beaming – he too loves Saint-Estèphe. The job took a few days and on the last one he asked me to come along and bring the kids. What can I say, it was lovely. I so enjoyed our moments there, walking around the manicured gardens, cutting a few grapes. Unfortunately the yield is not so high this year, down 50% from a normal year. It all comes down to a few precious days in June when the weather was unkind to little grapes. I hope the ones that survived will be all the better for it. We had a taste of the ’89 – to think I was only 16 when that wine was bottled. Was I ever 16? Well I won’t get into that.
On our way home we drove past one of those beautiful “châteaux in ruin” that are practically all over Médoc. I think they put them there so we mortals can dream about restoring them and throw lavish parties there and then we too would put hearts on the bottles. Talking of hearts and what they mean, we had some lovely people over this month. Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. I was filming my show and finishing my book – (which explains the lack of blog activity. There will be none of that now, I’ve promised myself, “a blog post every week” – it really is my favorite thing.) Anyway it was so nice to have them over, sometimes you just know you will “click” with people and then you do. They too loved that château in ruins and I think it made them dream. From now on we will call this château “Herriott Graydon House”. Nikole also had her eye on a fox terrier puppy, our last one, called “Cornichon”. All dogs should be named after food.
Then we had a quick stop in Vertheuil, another favorite pitstop in Médoc, where they have an old boulangerie that’s transformed itself into a B&B with a crèperie on the side. The créperie was closed but the little shop that sells … well everything, was open so we had some chips instead. A guilty little pleasure. Then we visited the church for atonement.
Médoc is all about wine and the harvest season is the main event. If wine was football, this recent period would be the world cup. So it’s impossible not to cook something inspired by the “vendanges”. Grapes, apples, chestnuts. These are the main players in the markets these days. We’ve had beautiful harvest lunches and dinners with our friends Florence and Fabien at Château Tour Haut-Caussan (you may remember him from the winemaker’s lunch post) My mother in law says he’s the best guy in Médoc and she may be right. This week we had a harvest lunch by ourselves, all the things that have inspired me in the last few weeks. All the flavors that I have yearned for. It had to be apples, it had to be grapes, so I worked around that. But I felt something was missing. A showstopper, a special appearance. I went to the market with a clear head and an open heart – something would speak to me, I just didn’t know what. And there it was, a mountain of gold, the one and only Mont D’Or. A treasure of France and my very favorite cheese. Now imagine this. You pierce a hole in it, fill it with garlic and wine and serve it with the most delicious potatoes. When you pair this with sausages baked with grapes in apples your are, maybe not in heaven but you are in Médoc.
MY heart belongs to Médoc.
p.s. A tree just at the edge where the Pauillac vineyards meet the ones from Saint-Estèphe, is lovingly referred to by my family as the “Tim Burton tree”. The Mont D’Or in this post may not be a brie but the combination of cheese + tree brings to mind a poem by Tim Burton that always puts a smile on my face:
Brie Boy had a dream he had only had twice,
that his full, round head was only a slice.
The other children never let Brie Boy play …
… but at least he went well with a nice Chardonnay
Vendanges sausages/ Harvest sausages
8 good-quality pork sausages (or chicken)
1 large onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
A few sprigs of thyme
A bunch of grapes
30 ml/ 2 tablespoons olive oil
250 ml/1 cup red wine
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
Heat olive oil in a frying pan and cook onions for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and the apples, toss them in the onions for a minutes. Set aside.
In a large oven-proof roasting pan, crush the grapes lightly with the palm of you hands. Add the onions and apples, the sprigs of thyme and scatter the sausages. Season lightly with salt & pepper, pour 250ml/ 1 cup of red wine.
Transfer dish to the oven and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy.
Mont d’Or and almond potatoes
1 Mont d’Or cheese
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons white wine
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
Preheat oven 190°C/ 375°F
Wrap the edges of the Mont d’or container with aluminium foil. With a knife, dig a small hole (remove about one teaspoon or so of cheese), gently stir the cheese inside to allow the wine and garlic to go through.
Pour wine and stuff the garlic in the hole. Place the cheese in a preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, until melted and slightly sizzling.
900 g/ 2 pounds potatoes
1 onion, chopped finely
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons olive oil
50 g/ 1/3 cup ground almonds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hash the onions very small. Peel and slice potatoes into rondelles, about ½ cm thick. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, fry the onions for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and continue frying for 2-3 minutes. Cover the potatoes with just enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until cooked through.
Add 50 g/ 1/3 cup of ground almonds, toss the potatoes gently.
Serve immediately as a side dish, along with the melted Mont d’Or. Generously drizzle the melted Mont d’or on the potatoes. Serve with the sausages.
Baked apples with almond cream
1&1/2 tablespoon honey
90 g/ 3/4 cup ground almonds
1 egg yolk
70 g + 20 g/ 1/3 cup + 1&1/2 tbsp (for garnishing) salted butter, at room temperature
6 apples (medium to small-sized)
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Rinse apples and pat dry. Cut the top ‘hat’ off the apples and set aside. Core apples (with the help of an apple corer). Place apples in an oven-proof dish.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix ground almonds, egg yolk, butter and honey together. Use a spoon and gently place mixture inside the apples. Spoon more mixture on top of apples and place the top hat on top. Dot each apples with butter and transfer baking dish to a preheated oven 180°C/350°F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until apples are tender and golden. Serve immediately.
Chestnut and black chocolate chunk muffins
250 g/ 2 cups plain four, sifted
350 g/ 12 ounces puréed chestnuts
120 ml/ 1/2 cup milk
90 g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and at room temperature
A pinch of ground nutmeg
100 g/ 1/2 cup brown sugar
150 g/1/3 pound black chocolate – cut into small chunks
12 g/ 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
(makes about 8 large muffins)
Preheat the oven to180°C/ 350°F.
Cook the chestnuts in large pot of boiling water for 45 minutes. Peel the chestnuts and mash them with a vegetable masher or a food processor.
In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, brown sugar, nutmeg and salt together. Add the puréed chestnuts, milk and eggs. Mix well. Stir in the melted butter. Add the chocolate chunks.
Cut little squares of parchment paper, large enough to fill your muffin mould. Spoon batter in each paper-lined muffin mould to 3/4 full.
Bake muffins in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Leave to cool on a pastry rack for 10 minutes before serving.