1989 Cabernet, AC Touraine, Domaine Michaud
In these days where much of the wine comment and news is dominated by the madness that is the Bordeaux en primeur circus, it is great to be reminded of real value. A couple of examples of wines enjoyed during the week sparked off this theme.
Firstly a 1989 Cabernet, AC Touraine from Domaine Michaud, this is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. I bought this sometime in the early 1990s for probably the equivalent of 2 or 3 €. When opened on Wednesday evening this Cabernet from the Cher Valley showed that it had aged well with ripe, medium bodied fruit with just a hint of brickiness in the colour. This was a fine reminder of the exceptional summer and autumn of 1989.
The following night I ventured down towards Michael Smith’s territory with a very enjoyable bottle of the still sweetly fruited 1986 Cuvée Spéciale Château du Grand Caumont from Lézignan in the Corbières. Two wines from fairly unheralded vineyards showing that it is possible to find wines that will age well and continue to give pleasure nearly 25 years after they were made. Offering a value that is no longer found at the top end of Bordeaux.
1986 Cuvée Spéciale, Château de Grand Caumont, Corbières
My thoughts about une valeur sûre were crystallised by our Sunday lunch at Jacky Dallais La Promenade in Le Petit Pressigny. This has long been one of my favourite restaurants and certainly my favourite in the Loire, although La Côte des Monts Damnés and Le Lièvre Gourmand, now in Orléans, can offer fairly stiff competition. Dallais wins, however, through his continued inventiveness, quality and very reasonable prices and for the wonderful wine list.
Dallais learnt his skills under Joël Robuchon in Paris before returning to Le Petit Pressigny in the mid-1980s taking over and transforming the family bistro into a fine but comfortable restaurant. Le Petit Pressigny is a quiet village in the heart of Touraine Sud with 320 inhabitants well away from the major routes. It is 75 kilometres from both Tours and Poitiers. You have to be good to attract people and the restaurant was full for Sunday lunch.
We have been going to La Promenade for the best part of 20 years and have never had a bad dish let alone a bad meal. It deserves more than one star in the Michelin. Perhaps it is not promoted further because it doesn’t have an excess of serving staff, although the service is efficient and friendly and Jacky Dallais does not do the celebrity chef performance. Rather than glad-handing around the tables he prefers to remain in the kitchen working his magic. Over the years I think I have met him just once when Xavier Fortin, their brilliant sommelier, showed us the new kitchens.
Just like driving a car, chefs should only be allowed to circulate amongst their customers once they have passed a test. One of the most memorable meals I have ever had was in August 1983 at the Troisgros in Roanne. It was wonderful and the service was impeccably understated. Sadly ten days later Jean Troisgros died suddenly.
Some ten years or so later we went back. The food was still good but less memorable and celebrity chef syndrome had struck. Both Pierre Troisgros and his son Michel took turns touring the tables. A few months before I had spent the day with Pierre in Muscadet as we were both being intronised as new members into Les Chevaliers Bretvin. When Pierre reached our table I attempted to remind him that we had recently spent the day together. I certainly didn’t expect Pierre to remember me but he appeared not to listen. I felt that the table tour was only part of the show. I don’t feel compelled to return and would rather guard the memory of our meal back in 1983.
River Aigronne that flows through Le Petit Pressigny
But I digress. From the imaginative amuses bouches to the petits fours our Sunday lunch was indeed excellent. We all agreed that the stand-out dish from the Menu Tradition (50€ for five courses or 40€ for four) was the huîtres spéciales, compote d’artichaut, citron confit and consommé de tomate featuring some deliciously succulent oysters.
Naturally the excellent wine list, assembled by Xavier Fortin and Jacky Dallais, features some of the Loire’s best producers. We could have started with the 1959 Clos du Bourg Moelleux from Domaine Huet for 98€ or the 1952 demi-sec Le Mont Huet for the same price. However, despite the recent slight rise in the value of sterling against the euro we were not feeling sufficiently expansive or flush. Instead we opted for the 2000 Saumur Blanc Brézé from the Frères Foucault at 54€ and the 2003 Les Arboises Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Rouge also from vineyards in Brézé.
Lovely complexity on the 2000 from the Foucaults and rich, black and pruny fruit with the opulent texture of 2003 in Guiberteau’s Saumur. Given the quality of the Promenade’s wine list, it is not surprising that the Loire’s wine aristocracy patronise La Promenade. On Sunday there was a group of leading producers there including Clément Pinard (Sancerre), Benjamin Dagueneau and Romain Guiberteau as well as Alain Graillot’s son.
In summary – La Promenade – une valeur sûre and well worth more than a detour. Next week: encore une valeur sûre when I report on what I hope will be a remarkable tasting of the old vintages of the Clos Roche Blanche in Mareuil in the Cher Valley.