Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Celebrating the Chevaliers de Chezelet

This is the final installment of a three-part story of a visit at Chinon's Vignoble Gasnier in February 2004. Links to parts one and two can be found at the end of this posting.

When we’d passed through the dining hall at Domaine Gasnier earlier in the day, in search of some clean stemware, I couldn’t help but notice the hot plates placed at regular intervals along the long, wooden banquet table. I took pause for a moment to ponder their specific purpose; however, we quickly moved on to the more pressing matter of tasting.

When we returned later that night for dinner at Fabrice’s invitation, the first thing we realized was that our group of nine wine travelers had been joined by two dozen or so graduate students from the University in Tours. They’d come for the day to learn about the particulars of the agricultural and culinary history of Cravant Les Coteaux. Not long after, the purpose of those hot plates became clear. Fondue. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

The cultural connection between Rabelais and Chinon (that's Fabrice Gasnier on the right) would become clear as the night wore on.

The next time you think of staging a horizontal/vertical tasting of Chinon for you and thirty or forty friends, consider something along the lines of that evening’s event.

As an aperitif, we were all offered a glass of sparkling rosé, poured from clear glass, unlabeled bottles. It turned out, unbeknownst to me at that time, that Fabrice produced small quantities of sparkling “Chinon” every year, for the sole purpose of enjoying it with family and friends. Since then, perhaps encouraged by our enthusiasm for it, he’s decided to commercialize the wine as a non-AOC bubbly (Chinon regulations do not allow for sparkling wine) called “La Cravantine,” which you can read more about here. Dry, soft, fruity and deliciously quaffable, we enjoyed our first glasses and were offered refills while it lasted.

Dinner started with a simple salad of fresh greens with smoked salmon and local chevre, accompanied by Fabrice’s 2003 Chinon Rosé. Next up was the aforementioned fondue.

This was not your everyday fondue. No oil, cheese or chocolate was to be found. Instead, each fondue pot was filled with basic Chinon rouge, cut with a little water and stock and seasoned with a handful of fresh herbs. Placed in front of every few guests was a plate of glistening, ruby-red cubes of local beef, a mound of potatoes that had been roasted in the hall’s open hearth and a bundle of fondue forks – nothing more, nothing less. With a minute or so in the bubbling pot of Chinon, each morsel of beef emerged perfectly medium-rare, infused with the flavors of the place we’d spent so much time discovering earlier in the day. The only problem was remembering to heed that minute timing, as both wine and conviviality flowed around the communal table.

Fabrice started everyone off with the current release, 2002, of his “Cuvée Les Graves.” I’m not sure what was opened around the rest of the table, but Fabrice raided the cellar for our little corner of the room. Bottles of 1997 and 1996 “Cuvée Prestige” were followed by “Cuvée Fabrice” from 1999, 2000 and 2001. A bottle of “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” from 1989, a great vintage (which Fabrice made us guess after tasting), was still bright and youthful, rounded at its edges and evocative of dried plums enjoyed around a campfire at the end of a long, autumn walk in the forest.

As the fondue furor subsided, Jacky Gasnier, Fabrice’s father, made his presence know at the front of the hall. Following his retirement from winemaking a few years earlier, Jacky had assumed the duties as head of the local Rabelais appreciation society, the Chevaliers de Chezelet. Apparently, one of my co-workers and fellow travelers, Eric Tuverson, had made a lasting impression during his previous visit with the Gasniers. I think it may have had something to do with a certain drinking technique he displayed at a local rugby match. In any event, Jacky had gathered a couple of members of the Chevaliers to make Eric part of their brotherhood. In keeping with François Rabelais’ famous quote, “Beuvez toujours, vous ne mourrez jamais” (Drink always and never die), Eric’s induction ceremony involved a bottle of Chinon and the largest wine glass I’d ever seen. I’ll say no more, other than that it provided a truly Rabelaisian ending to a long day of learning and fun.

* * *
Related posts:

Part One: On the Farm in Chinon with Fabrice Gasnier
Part Two: Tasting Chinon with Fabrice Gasnier


RougeAndBlanc said...

sparking chinon. now that is lovely. Love to get one but I have to go to Jersey to get it. sigh!

David McDuff said...

Gasnier's bubbly, "La Cravantine," is imported by Petit Pois/Fleet Street. Though it may be seasonally unavailable at the moment, it should eventually be available at New York retailers that carry the PP/FS portfolio.

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