by Martin Walker
The Fête de la Truffe in Sarlat each January is not only a most enjoyable extravaganza of the black truffles of the Périgord but of food and wine in general. The lovely old town of Sarlat does it very well, offering truffles in every form along with wine tastings, lessons in appreciating wine with various foods and so on.
There are stalls that offer truffles with foie gras; truffles blended with the yolks of hard boiled egg; a clear oxtail soup with truffles; truffles blended into mashed potatoes; a truffled brioche; truffle risottos; truffle chocolate; truffle blancmange and even truffle sushi (albeit with foie gras rather than fish). But if you want fish, there is truffled brandade de morue.
And then there is the brouillade, a particular favourite of mine. One could say it is merely scrambled eggs with truffles, which is rather like de La Rochefoucauld’s odious saying that love as it exists in today’s world is no more than the contact of two skins and two fantasies.
A brouillade requires eggs that have been in a sealed jar with truffles for a couple of days to absorb the flavour through their shell. They are then stirred with butter, chopped truffles and a little milk over a very low heat until the moment the eggs are about to set. Then you add crème fraîche to stop the cooking, continue stirring and only then season with a little salt and pepper and then serve at once, topped with thin slices of truffles.
This is scrambled eggs and truffles that have been uplifted to heaven, prepared by saints, stirred by angels and infused with the holy spirit to the music of Bach. If that is the menu in the afterlife, sign me up.
The good people of Sarlat even offer free booklets of all these recipes. And they take their wine seriously.
So upstairs in the splendid council chamber of the Hôtel de Ville, the mayor’s buffet this year offered the wines of Château Court les Mûts in the Saussignac, of which I have written in these pages before. Remarkable in having proved immune to the scourge of phylloxera, this vineyard still produces to my delight a wine whose grapes are pressed by human feet. I had some of their very good Bergerac Sec white wine with the tourain and a little of their wonderful Monbazillac with the foie gras.
Thus, fortified, I went down to try the street food and in one of the large marquees offering the various truffle dishes listed above, the wines of Château Poulvère were available. One of the largest vineyards in the Bergerac with more than a hundred hectares of vines, it is now run by the fourth generation of the family of Louis Borderie who began making wine here in 1923. Its lands and buildings were formerly attached to (and built at the same time as) the 16th century Château of Monbazillac, which perches atop the north-facing slope that holds most of the wines of Poulvère. They also have a dozen hectares in the Pécharmant.
Their 2015 Monbazillac, which was selling last year at 8.70 euros a bottle, is one of the best bargains I know, an excellent vin liquoreux for the price. The 2013 vintage of their Prestige brand of Monbazillac, which won a gold medal at Bordeaux, is an even better bargain at 13 euros. Their standard red, which won a silver medal in 2016, was 5.70 euros a bottle and their truly splendid Picata brand of red wine from 2016 was at 18.50 euros, and won a silver medal in Paris.
They are an inventive family at Poulvère and offer various aromatic wines in different flavours that range from pink grapefruit to white chocolate, rose petals to gingerbread, all at 7 euros a bottle. Some of our teenage guests adored them.
Continuing my tour of the stalls I came across a real discovery, a wine that was new to me, a Montravel from Chateau Moulin Garreau. I tasted their Montravel red, a really exceptionally good wine at 15 euros a bottle and began chatting with the couple who make it.
Laurence and Eric Faucheux are in their forties and new to wine making. They came to the area in 2015 after making their careers in the car trade in Paris, intent on making organic wine. Laurence’s family comes from the Jura where they made the famous vin de paille and Eric’s family are from Sauternes, so as they told me, they have ‘wine in their blood.’
Theirs is a small vineyard of ten hectares, eight for red wines and two for white. They make their wine in cement vats, which means a constant temperature and a little but welcome amount of oxygenation from the slightly porous cement.
Their red wine is made with 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. Two or three times a day they pump the grape juice from the bottom of the vat up to top so it seeps down through the cap, gaining more of the tannins and phenols that give the wine character. When the first fermentation is complete, they draw off the wine and then press the cap again and later add the resulting juice to the wine. They only make 5,700 bottles of this excellent Montravel red, so get it while you can.
Their vineyard is at the western end of the Montravel appellation, on the eastern extension of the hills of St Emilion and Castillon. This means they enjoy a more oceanic climate than most Bergerac wines, which was a challenge last year since they missed late rains that came to give the Pécharmant, so much further to the east, such a promising vintage of 2019. And since their wine went so well with the various truffle dishes I was sampling, I’ll be following their future products with great interest.
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.