THE SENIOR WINE LIST
BORDEAUX - PART 1
Here we move into the main course of the wine list. Like "Steak Bordelaise in Bone Marrow Jus" at Brasserie Zedel this is rich mouth-filling affair that will warm your belly like your mother's cooking too. Consume in small mouthfuls if needed and always chew well before swallowing (as The Senior found out recently). Most importantly may it spur lively discussion and good meals with your friends and loved ones too.
CHATEAU TOUR HAUT-CAUSSAN
The French are the most proudly civilised eaters in the world. They have the same healthy relationship to their rustic-honest cuisine as Italians but with a more aristocratic (and indeed British) sense of pomposity thrown in. Elevate the best Italian pizza high enough on a pedestal and the thin dough, regardless of a truffle topping, simply disappears from view from below. Italian food — in its maternal desire to satiate one’s hunger — struggles with lofty heights and ideals. French food on the other hand is capable of reaching so high into the heavens that even the lowly croissant represents a religious symbol. With the French there seems a more deeply committed sense of cosmopolitan pride and honour involved. When an Italian attempts pomposity it can border on the comical; when the French do so (with Parisians at an extreme) prepare to be willingly downgraded. It simply isn’t worth the argument; when challenged your waiter at Brasserie Lipp will quote Sartre and you will have to pretend that you’ve read his works, complete and in full, in order to win the duel and get the dish you actually ordered*. No one, not even a Frenchman has read Sartre in full. In the Saint-Germain waiter’s defence he doesn’t need to have read Sartre either: Sartre to every Frenchman is an equal and a member of the fraternity and that is enough. French literature is for the rest of the world to read and rightfully look up to with respect whilst you eat your tea-soaked madeleine like a child before being sent up to bed whilst the grown-ups talk. It is said that, no matter how much you like another country’s culture, a person’s dietary preferences are a product of upbringing. In a tellingly Proustian sense everyone’s taste inevitably returns to their mother’s dining table. My own mother is a marvellous cook, but in terms of dining I could happily eat French food at every meal for the rest of my life. Luckily in London where we have Colbert, Soutine and Zedel, at any budget, I can happily do so without the need to board the Eurostar or ferry more than I do. French wine remains unchallenged in any serious philosophical conversation too. Drink what you will but, as a region, Bordeaux similarly leads the world in both the price-bracket of the paysan and plutocrat.
The main point of this article therefore was to focus on a wine I perhaps drink more than any other on the whole wine list. Now, the Senior’s wine list might read like the pursers inventory of a 150m+ private cruise liner, but in real life, away from Instagram, I drink much more soberly. If 29RR (The Senior’s residence until I can afford an apartment in Paris) has a ‘House Red’ it is invariably a Médoc and it is typically Château Tour Haut-Caussan. This is not a large, grand producer but it is nonetheless a rightfully proud one. In the north of the Médoc Tour Haut-Caussan is located not far from Château Potensac (another house I turn to often). Potensac itself is managed by the Delon family of Château Leoville-Las Cases. Las Cases is known as a “Super Second” which means it often rivals the greatest names in Bordeaux (the first growths of Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Haut Brion and Margaux). These are trophy wines in a land that long ago won the world’s best wine competition so convincingly that the rest of the world has largely stopped competing, or simply now compete in competitions that no serious wine drinker cares for. Any great producer in the new world might have aspirations to make great wine but more commonly than not this is a Bordeaux style-blend of Cabernet and Merlot. Tour Haut-Caussan, the epitome of good generic Bordeaux, is a perfectly balanced 50/50 mix of the two. It is not Las Cases but it doesn’t pretend to be either. In a financial and luxury sense if a first growth is the equivalent of a Cannes after-party on the sun deck of super-yacht loaded with A-listers, then Tour Haut-Caussan is a day spent sailing around the local estuary with close family on your Father’s fishing boat. It therefore has a more candid earthiness about it — it’s the smile of your wife rather than that of Marion Cottilard. Consider that for a second and think what it means and you’ll see where I’m going. Fortunately my wife looks like Marion Cottilard which is beside any point I seek to make but always worthy of a mention. Médoc as an appellation is perhaps known for lacking the elegance that a wine from the grander appellations to its south flaunt to the rest of the world. Although therefore it certainly has a rusticity, this is not to say that it lacks charm. It has this as abundantly as a litter of Beagle puppies. It has pride and a sense of regional honour and tradition too — it freely loads your pockets confidently with the best local produce and sends you merrily weaving down the road past the windmill on your bicycle. Not to say that it gets you irresponsibly and wildly drunk. The French generally don’t get as drunk as the English — in my own experience at least — they never have the chance to get thirsty enough for that. The Courrian family have owned and farmed Tour Haut Caussan for nearly 150 years, a fact that serves to highlight the ascendancy of wine in any carefully-considered, steadily-refined endeavour of human production. Show me a family in any other business field that has been operating for a similar length of time and you’ll likely be in the hands of an artisanal, and therefore often incredibly expensive, producer. Here like the honest French brasserie meal however, the price is a more egalitarian affair for the pleasure of all. Although Tour Haut-Caussan seemingly leads the way it is not alone in its pricing in the region. Bordeaux is ripe with many proud producers making wines that enrich the meals in bistros and at family tables the world over. This all takes me back to the quote that I used to start the wine list off — Hemingway said “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection”.
If there is a singular quality that perhaps shines through everything that the Senior holds dear it is the refinement of civility. At perhaps my least refined but my most unusually concise I try to live by the quotation “Don’t be a dick. Just be nice”. In conversations that I’ve had about posts on the website I’ve found myself explaining that my parents raised me to believe that if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. Instead therefore the Senior is a page for everything I love — perhaps too verbosely and fawningly at times. When I look at all those things I love and want to promote however they’re the result of the progressively developed refinement and civility that I mention. More than this they typically share a respect for tradition, and often a desire to build on those traditions too. The many varied things I hold dear in life (and will no doubt write about in the future, if I haven’t done so already) follow this thought: Champagne, the Martini, Italian almonds, Japanese Gardens, Swiss watch-making, Vermouth, Savile Row tailoring, Kentish beer, Whitstable oysters, hospitality at the Ritz, Cuban cigars, Harris Tweed, Barbour coats, Chanel Pour Monsieur, the Land Rover, Jazz, Baseball and democracy, the Negroni (Happy 100th), Irish stout, Czech Pilsner, the Bellini (made in Harry’s Bar Venezia since 1934). The Senior as a website therefore is like holding all these things I value up to an églomisé mirror. Some of these things are often considered luxurious and expensive but if they are this is besides the point of why I love them. Tour Haut-Caussan to illustrate this, joins my own wine list as high as any First Growth. Whilst the most prestigious names in Bordeaux are the ones oenophiles chiefly seek out and aim to remember, it is the honest, but no less noble wines, like Tour Haut-Caussan that complement our normal family meals and ultimately mean the most to us in the long run. If family is fundamentally anything it is a group of people who share, recall and repeat the same traditions over time. If I have one hope for my children it is that they will be civilised enough to drink Tour Haut-Caussan with their own families in time too.
*I would like to say that the service at Lipp is exemplary and the Senior has never been given a meal that he didn’t in fact order.
The 2010 Tour Haut-Caussan is drinking excellently right now. I'd pair with Mimi Thorisson's Coq au Vin from "A Kitchen in France" with ceps and garlic mash prepared and served at my parent's house. I'll bring the wine!
Château Tour Haut-Caussan's own website can be found here: http://www.tourhautcaussan.com/
Their instagram can be found here:
Typically given the great value for which it itself is so famed in the UK the wine can often be found at The Wine Society
As a good classical claret, Berry Bros and Rudd are an obvious source too:
It was whilst searching online for Tour Haut Caussan that I was introduced to Manger, Mimi Thorisson's wonderful blog about life in the Medoc. Mimi mentioned Tour Haut Caussan in this article here: Manger: The Windmill in Blaignan Be prepared to lose many hours looking over the blog, and subsequently the cookbooks you'll inevitably purchase if you're not already affiliated. Apparently a new cookbook centred on Italian food is in the works too. If Italian cuisine can ever be elevated to the high art forms of Tinteretto then it will be in the photography of Oddur, Mimi's extremely talented husband and fellow fan of Lucien Freud and good Champagne.