Discovering Chateau Bel Air

The 2007 Chateau Bel Air comes from the plains of the Entre Deux Mers (which lies between Saint Emilion and Sauternes) and is a Bordeaux Supérieur.

The small vineyard is owned by wine makers Sophie and Didier Tordeur and lies on south facing slopes of clay and limestone in Nérigean, on the right bank of the Garonne River.

Bordeaux Supérieur AOC wines have stricter production norms. They are produced from selected vineyard plots, older vines, smaller yields and the producer must age the wines a minimum of 12 months before selling them.

As a result, these wines are generally more complex and have a better ageing potential and Chateau Bel Air is no exception. This wine is soft, ruby red, well balanced and complex. It has flavours of blackberries, raspberries, cherries, warm earth and a note of mint.

Sophie and Didier Tordeur also own Chateau Les Guyonnet in the village of Verdelais in the Saint Macaire (a sweet white appellation, similar to Sauternes), half a mile away from Château Malromé – the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec.

Nérigean has ancient roots with dolmens and standing stones dotting the woodlands and a 12th century fortified church dedicated to Saint Martin.

It’s thought that Nérigean is named for the Greek god Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea and father of the Mediterranean sea nymphs known as Nereids.

There is a ruined chapel to Saint Arremedy (Holy Remedy) with a miraculous spring dating from the 16th century in Nérigean which could account for the link to the water god in the past.

Nérigean also has links to the First Growth Chateau Haut Brion via the noble Pontac family who founded Haut-Brion as the Chateau de Fourens in Nérigean was owned by Gabriel de Pontac, Lord of Fourens.

Gabriel was sentenced by the Parliament of Bordeaux as a traitor to his country for his activity during the Fronde (1648 – 1653).

The Fronde was a civil war in France, occurring in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War, which had begun in 1635. The word fronde means sling – the Parisian mobs used slings to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin.

Cardinal Mazarin was appointed as Chief Minister of France by Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, who held the Regency at the time. Anne was a food lover, especially of the type of Italian-influence cuisine of Catherine and Marie de’ Medici. She loved pasta, as did the Cardinal who was from Abruzzo.

According to French culinary historians, Mazarin was the largest consumer and promoter of pasta in France.

Queen Anne had a number of Italian chefs at her service to prepare pasta. They created a pasta dish in her honour called Maccheroni alla Anna d’Austria.

The dish was made with braised chicken, placed on a bed of Italian macaroni and seasoned with grated truffles and foie gras. To top it all off, the dish was served with pastry dough stuffed with chicken giblets and shaved truffle.

Chateau Bel Air pairs well with steaks and grilled meats, cheeses and pasta dishes and the recipe I have chosen to go with this wine is a modern variant on Maccheroni alla Anna d’Austria.

Chicken Breasts with Morels and Truffle Oil

1 tbsp truffle oil
30g morels (tinned)
1 tbsp butter
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 tsp chicken stock
100ml port
1 tbsp double cream
freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter and truffle oil in a saucepan, sauté the chicken to colour both sides. Add the cream, port, salt and pepper. Cook the chicken slowly, keeping it covered to avoid drying out, for about 10 minutes.

Turn and cook the other side about 8 minutes. Stir in the morels. Simmer another 2 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, cook fresh pasta to serve with the sauce. Place the pasta on the plate, top with a chicken breast, and divide the sauce among the plates.

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