03 May, 2010

In·sh'al·lah, or divinity in the Provence.

Time keeps slipping by. More friends are on their way and summer is hot on their heels, so I headed to the Provence to preemptively top up the farmhouse inventory with some well-made (yet definitely easy on the wallet) wine. Outside of Avignon, former home to the Popes, there is Chateauneuf du Pape about which I've written earlier. A wine town par excellence (where I lunched at the sunny Mule du Pape across from the fountain in the photo below), it was the former drinks supplier to the aforementioned Popes. Not too far north of Chateauneuf du Pape, there is the village of Violes, one of the named Côtes du Rhône Villages, known for its AOC Plan de Dieu, or Plan of God.
The forty-four hectares of ground known as God's Plan around Violes (apparently linguistically evolved from God's Plain, a moniker first applied in the Middle Ages) only produce red wine. The wine is made with fixed percentages of the following varietals: Grenache 68%, Syrah 19 %, Mourvèdre 5%, Cinsault 5%, and Carignan 3%. The terroir is thick with creamy-white craggy rocks--to an average depth of 13 meters--and has a (fixed) low average return of 35 hectoliters per hectare. A Plan de Dieu has a deep red hue and a subtle nose. No "fruit bomb" by any means, it is easy on the tannin, well-rounded, with a velvety fullness that is nicely nuanced rather than being sun-baked.
I enjoy the wines of Violes' small-scale Domaine de l'Espigouette (as does the vinicultural Guide Hachette, where its name regularly appears and which in 2008 gave it two stars--Robert Parker's a committed fan too, for what it's worth). In fact, a lot of people seem to like the easygoing, well-balanced l'Espigouette wines: upon chatting with the owner Bernard Latour, I discovered both Harrod's and Selfridge's carry his wines in the UK (see the caricature below). Domaine de L'Espigouette wines have been produced by the gregarious Latour and his son over the last thirty years--and before then by Bernard's father. The Latours produce a very drinkable Plan de Dieu, a solid Côtes du Rhône, and a Vacqueyras, which is the most sophisticated (and most expensive by far) of the trio at 9 euros. You can contact M. Latour at espigouette@aol.com if you are interested. But oy. What to serve with an almighty Plan of God? Have you ever tried confit de canard? This is a divinely luscious specialty of Southwest France which has become such a standard it's available vacuum-packed or canned across France--across much of Europe for that matter. To make it yourself, allow duck legs to macerate in dry, heavy salt rub for 24 hours. Rinse off all the salt, pat the legs dry. Cook them over an extremely low flame for two hours, fully submerged in gently melted duck fat with a fistful of thyme and rosemary. Doesn't sound magnificent? If you aren't feeling compelled, it may be because you've never tasted the result: a profoundly flavorful, head-shaking gorgeousness. And the fat's all culled, drained off, discarded. The first time you taste this, I'm fairly certain the planets will realign for you. The main challenge is placing a leg whole on the plate, the meat's that tender. At the local market, confit de canard just waits for me to toss it into my shopping basket for unexpected drop-ins or must-keep-gardening-can't-be-bothered-to-really-cook evenings. It is worth hunting around your area, I promise. In the US, they can be ordered from D'Artagnan for an anything-but-frugal feast. For people looking for close to the same result with much less effort and cost, I trolled the ether and came up with this at Simply Recipes and this at City Cooks. And why not savor this heavenly dish with a side of well-roasted rosemary potatoes and a generous glassful of a southerly Côtes du Rhône Villages--such as Plan de Dieu.


  1. Wow. You know your wine. I enjoy the stuff (almost) daily, but I don't know as much about it. I suppose that comes from living in France...

    And you are right. Duck fat is the most amazing stuff ever. It totally repulses poeple when I show off my perfectly rendered duck fat. No grosser than butter, right? Potatoes fried in it are heeeeeavenly. I pour the rendered fat into ice cube trays, and have perfect little fat-sicles, which are waiting in the freezer whenever the urge strikes.

    Summer has already arrived to Florida. Arg.

  2. Oh, Rose, you are so right. I always have a jarful of duck fat in the fridge, it's heaven with those potatoes, but really for frying up anything it gives a luxurious something extra. I either grab olive oil, or duck fat.

    Having said that, good butter's pretty fine as well, and now that the cows are grazing the tender spring greens, the butter has that richer yellow hue and taste...Hmm. It's lunchtime somewhere in the world, right?

    (I'm no wine expert, I just like the stuff, and happen to be practically surrounded by vineyards.)


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