Lessons from lunch in the last brasserie in Bordeaux

Neil Pendock March 27, 2012 1

Last week I was sipping a glass of Château Malartic-Lagravière Red 2009 at the only authentic brasserie left in Bordeaux – Le Noailles in the Allées de Tourny, a few hundred metres from the Grand Theatre.  An artist friend reports “it is a shadow of its former self but still has linen aproned waiters with moustaches, but the last time I was there they didn’t even have chicken on the menu!”

His first choice had been La Tupina, which used to be the most reliable when run by Jeanne Pierre Xiradakis who cooked his chips in duck fat (wonderful and wonderfully waist enhancing), although I quite frankly couldn’t face the taxi ride in a vehicle with fur-covered seats for passengers while the driver sits on a piles-friendly beaded curtain-cum-car set cover from a Turkish brothel.

I had ended up with the Cabernet dominated (plus Merlot and a splash of Petit Verdot) Malartic as it was the same appellation as the Château La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) recommended by my friend, which was not available.  But was remembered as “a really reliable brasserie luncheon wine at a reasonable price… dare say it is now a silly price with too much oak and the complexity of Vimto – however, do let me know what they charge on the list and I can choke over my cornflakes.”  In spite of having Michel Rolland as consultant oenologist, I found the Malartic neither too ripe, too extracted nor too alcoholic.  It was simply delicious.

2009 seems to have been something of a comet vintage in Bordeaux and I wracked my brains, thinking where I could drink so well in South Africa for €38 including taxes and tip.  This is something the profusion of wine list competitions springing up like Porcini in a Jonkershoek forest, totally overlook – value for money.  One Sandton restaurateur called Neil phoned yesterday and said he had Château Cheval Blanc 1947 on the wine list.  I didn’t ask the price.

Is the great SA wine drinking public being ripped off by local cuvées that are not a patch on the Malartic yet cost even more in restaurants not half as good as Le Noailles?  Who will import these wines for us?  If only for educational purposes, as SA winemakers need to taste how far some of them have to travel to make a red blend Europeans are accustomed to drinking.  Some among them even think Shiraz is essential as Diners Club found out last year when looking for their Winemaker of the Year in a category styled “Bordeaux blends”  WOSA?  Fat chance!

Perhaps Brand House, who run the Responsible Drinking Media Awards with R70K up for grabs this year.  If Brand House – Diageo in drag – were to import 12.5% alcohol authentic Bordeaux blends, they’d quickly despatch the 15.5% local imposters into the rubbish bin, keep the SA minister of health happy, make a tidy profit for their shareholders and irritate Distell.  Responsible drinking would become something positive – taking a step up in quality rather than settling for wimp wine and a scolding from professional party poopers whose self-righteousness is enough to turn a saint onto strong drink.

If Brand House won’t bite, there is another organization qualified and able to step into the breach – the Commanderie de Bordeaux.  A South African branch of the noble institution was established on La Motte in August and their website gives a splendid introduction.  Surely a container of well-priced 2009 vintage Bordeaux could be imported to fly the flag of elegance and balance in the onion pots of Cape Town and the shebeens of Sandton?

Heck if Air France offers a second growth Margaux (Durfort-Vivens) in their business class lounge at Charles de Gaulle (as they do), how can SA hope to have a world class tourist offering with some of the hard and green imposters posing as fine SA Bordeaux-style blends at the minute?

The Commanderie should even consider hiring an eco-friendly stand made from banana leaves and peach pips at Vindaba .  Vindaba is the first SA wine tourism show and 2009 vintage Bordeaux can show consumers the elegance, affordability and drinkablity lacking in many of those SA red blends being showcased next door at Cape Wine 2012.  Alas, comparative tasting is verboten as WOSA have banned the public from their event.  Running scared, Su?

One Comment »

  1. Peter F May March 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm -

    We dined at Le Noailles a couple of times last year and paid considerably more for our wine than €38, we paid €138 for a different wine that retails for the same in the UK as Malartic. If €38 was the price for a bottle you got a bargain, imo.
    – But you highlight the fast increasing price of SAf wines…If I can buy a classed growth Bordeaux from a historic estate for the same price as a ‘me-too’ blend from a SAf winery with a 10 year track record, why should I choose the latter?

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