We now know that you can drink rosé all year long, that good wine doesn’t have to be expensive, and that even the best meals can be enhanced by the gentle touch of a few drops of wine acting as a flavor enhancer. That is where I make my contribution from my kitchen at Camont, sitting smack in the middle of a broad and vast wine growing area collectively called the Wines of the Southwest or as I call them Beyond Bordeaux.
Nearby the Bordeaux wine growing region surrounds the elegant port city with famous names like Sauternes, Graves, and Pessac-Leognan before it leaps the Garonne River to the right bank and Côtes de Blaye and sprawls up the left bank of Gironde estuary toward the Atlantic gilding the Médoc region with Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Estèphe and other well known names. Pomerol and St. Emilion stretch to the north and east and the sprawling Bordeaux Superior landscapes are covered with with vines, vines and more vines. No other farmed crop is as important in the agricultural region.
But now pull back into the inland river valleys-the Garonne, Lot, Dordogne, Buzet, Gers, and Tarn rivers. Jump off the major autoroutes and turn along country roads that thread through small and smaller villages with barely a recognizable name among them and you are entering my home wine territories- Duras, Cocument, Bergerac, Gaillac, Cahors, Madiran, Côtes de Buzet, Côtes de Brulhois, Côtes de Gascognes… there are over twenty distinct wine growing areas making good, great and very good wines. These are my local wines I tend to drink and cook with- the grapes might be as well known and famous as Cabernet Sauvignan, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Semilion, and Malbec, or as little known as tannat, arbequiou, gros manseng, abouriou, arrufiac, baroque, courbu, fel blanc, folle blanche, jurançon noir, manseng noir, négret, pounjut, négret de banhars, ondenc, saint-côme, valdiguié, verdanel. There are so many different varieties grown in this wide sprawling Southwest France Region. Why settle for just drinking or cooking with only one?
I began to cook with wine in France like I began to cook and drink wine, by mimicking my neighbors and following their lead. If my neighbor’s homemade farm wine was a bit rough or weak, I’d up the game at the weekly markets and buy plastic liter water bottles of red and rosé for a couple of euros and chill it to within a centimeter of its life. Most often I’d hit the co-ops, those larger farmer cooperatives are where a region’s wines are typically made from hundreds of producer’s harvests, often keeping prized parcels and chateaus or domaines apart for premium labels. Even famous wine growing area’s like Bordeaux and Burgundy have working coops. But usually, and still to this day, I’d stock my wine racks while driving around the countryside by stopping at a small family winery to taste their wares and buy a few cases. Wine shops were for special occasions when I needed a ‘foreign wine’—a Burgundy, a Loire or Rhone Valley wine.
Slowly I settled in to my vast Southwest—lots of diversity in terroir and wines as in the cuisine-- and learned to adapt my wine drinking habits to cooking with wine, like my neighbors. When Somm TV asked me to write and cook on a video series for their streaming service (Netflix for foodies!) I jumped at it so that I could share the simple techniques and tips I had learned and pass them on to cooks everywhere—sharing France. If you haven’t watched one of the four programs, do it now! (link below)
And for those who have seen the episodes and are craving more… hold on, they are coming! And Elaine Tin Nyo, my dear editor in chief of A Gascon Year monthly ebooks, has curated an entire issue dedicated to, yes, you got it—Cooking with Wine! A Gascon Year-Septembre is avaialble as an ebook or as a print on demand paperback here.
Looking back over the years of writing about food in France, the first discoveries, the middle mastering, and the later expertise, I was stunned how much I incorporate wine into my weekly cooking. I use wine in sauces, for deglazing pans, marinating, and basting; I splash in a glass (or two) for braising and even whip wine into frothy desserts to finish on a sweet note. Infusing wine with herbs and fruit sets a medieval tone for a meal; serving wine with apéros is a more modern affectation. And of course, cooking with wine means there is an open bottle on the kitchen counter most days. What doesn’t get drunk becomes vinegar, which in turn becomes a sauce or vinaigrette. Not one drop is wasted.
This is one of my favorite recipes of all time, a classic Canard à la Vigneronne which is traditionally made with chicken, and dresses the poultry in a wine-rich braising liquid. This recipe was also featured in Saveur Magazine on an article about duck cookery I wrote a few years ago (link below) P.S. Le Vigneron is a winemaker, La Vigneronne is a winemaker, too. Just feminine!
Canard à la Vigneronne or The Winemaker’s Roast Duck with Shallots and Grapes
I borrowed this method and these ingredients from a classic chicken recipe often made during the wine harvest with big bunches of red wine grapes. As the bird steams and braises in a terra-cotta roaster or Dutch oven, it releases its own fat and juices that make a rich sauce with the roasted grapes and shallots. I add a glass (or two) of wine so that braises first before removing the lid to roast the skin until browned.
1 whole duckling (4–41⁄4 lb.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. dark, juicy red grapes, such as Concord or muscat, left on their stems in clusters
12-15 medium whole shallots, peeled (10 oz.)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme (12–15 sprigs)
1 glass of red or white wine
Crusty bread, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200’C / 415 F°. Meanwhile, trim any excess fat from around the cavity of the duck, then rub the duck all over with the salt, inside and out. Season generously with black pepper.
Separate the grapes into a few large clusters. In a large, oval Dutch oven or terra-cotta roaster, scatter the shallots, bay leaves, and half of the thyme. Place the duck in the pot on top of the shallots, then nestle the grape clusters and the remaining thyme around the duck (the duck and vegetables should fit relatively snugly in the pan). Pour the wine and 1 glass of water into the bottom of the pot and cover with a lid.
Transfer the pot to the oven and roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue cooking until the skin is crispy and evenly browned, 40–50 minutes more. (a chicken might not need to cook as long; adjust cooking time to the size of your bird.
Remove the pot from the oven and carefully transfer the duck to a cutting board. Let cool slightly, then cut into pieces and arrange on a serving platter. Garnish with the shallots and grapes, and drizzle with the pan juices (strained if desired). Serve immediately.
Enjoy! and join me in my Fall membership for A Gascon Year and cook with videos and recipes, live and on demand, as well as get a free copy of the A Gascon Year ebooks each month. Sign up for Sept, Oct and Nov here!
Cooking with Wine on SOMM TV https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_West_France_(wine_region)
Introducing the wines of Southwest France. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_West_France_(wine_region)
French grape varietals of the Southwest: https://www.vignevin-occitanie.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/D%C3%A9pliant_C%C3%A9pages_Sud-ouest.pdf
Follow Wine of Southwest France on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/winesofswfrance/
That Duck recipe and more in Saveur Magazine: https://www.saveur.com/france-gascony-duck-fat-cassoulet-confit/
A Gascon Year Seasonal Memberships: https://katehillcooks.thinkific.com/bundles/autumn-seasonal-3-month-membership