Southern Comforts


In the bad old days, not so long ago, many French country wines were little more than rustic plonk. At best, they served the needs of local workmen or curious tourists; at worst they were converted into industrial alcohol. Then in the 1970s, all that changed.  The French Government introduced a new wine classification called Vin de Pays (“Country Wine”).

Although these wines were only one notch up from the rock-bottom Vin de Table, they were governed (and still are) by production rules that allowed wine makers to grow virtually whatever grapes they wanted. This eventually led to the production of some exceptional artisan wines in those regions and the appearance of wineries dedicated to quality. Vin de Pays d’Oc (“County Wines of the South”) come from the massive Languedoc-Roussillon area down near the Mediterranean.

Maison Virginie Viognier, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009 (white), France. (Foodmart Jomtien, Bt. 565)

Maison Virginie is a relatively new company, located between the towns of Béziers and Narbonne and dedicated to the production of high quality wines. The Viognier (vee-o-NYAY) grape is comparatively unusual, but it can produce wines of distinction. This pale, straw-coloured wine has a delicate aroma of apricots, pears and peaches. Give it time to breathe by opening the bottle in advance, because this is not the “in-yer-face” style of some Californian wines. The mouth-feel is excellent, with a very smooth silky texture and just the slightest nip of acid to add zest and interest. The price might seem a bit high but in the wine world, with a few notable exceptions, you tend to get what you pay for.

This wine would be ideal with lightly-prepared chicken dishes. The company’s website suggests that this wine could accompany les plus noble poissons. I’m not sure whether Pacific Dory is considered noble enough, but I’m going to try the wine with deep fried Dory filets in a batter made with Japanese tempura flour, Chang beer, a dash of paprika and chilli powder. This recipe, which makes a lovely thin crispy batter, is a closely guarded secret, so please don’t pass it on.

Les Ormes de Cambras Merlot, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009 (red), France. (Friendship, Bt. 425)

Les Ormes de Cambras is a huge company based near Béziers. Twenty million bottles of this wine are produced each year, and get this: solely for consumption in France. The population of France is about 62 million so the French must drink an awful lot of it.

I don’t blame them, for this super little wine has good fruit and just a touch of satisfying tannin. If at first the aroma doesn’t come though, slosh the wine around in the glass. (Incidentally, this is why I advocate using large wine glasses.) It’s made entirely from Merlot (mehr-LOH) grapes, so it’s softer and less assertive than Cabernet Sauvignon. At 12.5% alcohol, you could safely serve this with beef, pasta or even fried chicken, if the thought of red wine and white meat doesn’t make you wince. I’d suggest opening it about half an hour in advance. If, in this sultry climate you prefer your reds cool, about thirty minutes in the fridge should do the trick.

Oh, just in case you were wondering, the Pacific Dory Tempura was superb and the textures of the fish and the Viognier wine matched perfectly. Even the dogs agreed. Mind you, those three would wax lyrical over a bowl of Pedigree Chum.