Where It All Began is a multi-part series written by Ian Hanna – a story of the early days of John Hanna & Sons and our history as wine importers in Canada dating back to the 1970s. You can click here if you’d like to start from the beginning of this series.
We departed Borgo San Felice very early in the morning – spurred on by the knowledge we were taking on an “impossible task, which could not be done!” in driving from Siena to Langon (just south of Bordeaux) in one day. To be fair, it was a long trip of just over 1200 KM – but one for which we were ready. After all, we were expected for dinner at the home of our friends Jean Noel and Muriel Belloc – owners of the small Graves property, Chateau Brondelle.
Jean Noel had visited with us in Toronto about a year earlier and where he’d joined us for dinner at our home in Richmond Hill, before boarding his flight home. We served one of our favourite dinners – BBQ’d Top Sirloin marinated in Glenfarclas Single Malt Whisky and Dijon Mustard before taking him to Pearson International and his flight to France. Apparently, he’d slept very well on that flight after a big Steak dinner!
The Bellocs then invited us to join them for a special dinner at their home to reciprocate and they planned to serve us one of their favourite meals from local cuisine.
It was a long trip but we arrived in Langon at about 6:30 PM – made our way to their country home (not at Chateau Brondelle, but close by) where we were warmly welcomed. The weather was beautiful and we sat outside the house on a terrace surrounded by vineyards enjoying delicious, chilled and much appreciated glasses of Chateau Brondelle Graves Blanc.
Marit joined Muriel in the kitchen and listened as she explained the traditional family preparation of the first course of dinner – the infamous Lamproie Bordelaise! Marit was not at all prepared for this and did everything in her power to listen attentively, smile and nod as she came to full realization that we were about to dive into large servings of Lamprey Eels (from the muddy Dordogne River) stewed for hours in the blood of the Eel combined with “the oldest and finest red wine from the cellar”, a splash of Armagnac and leeks. (author’s note: one of the few things my wife has always had difficulty eating is cooked onion or leeks (not to mention Eel’s blood!). It is a textural thing and not taste, per se, which goes way back to her childhood).
The thought of a brimming big bowl of stewed Eels with large slimy pieces of Leek combined with the description of the preparation using the Eel’s blood, presented one the most formidable challenges Marit has yet faced and she saw no way out!!!
Dinner was served at the outside table – she managed to politely take a smallish portion (using a long day’s travel as a reason for her meagre appetite) and she cleverly avoided consuming anything by engaging our hosts in vibrant conversation whilst rapidly consuming a large glass of delicious red Graves that was served alongside.
I must admit that I do love this dish. The first time I’d had it was at lunch, some years prior, on a visit to Saint Emilion and the restaurant at the famed Hostellerie de Plaisance.
Suddenly, as though the good Lord himself had been watching over my wife and taking pity on her sticky situation, the sky began to rumble, dark clouds gathered overhead as a powerful summer storm threatened our peaceful evening. Jean Noel and Muriel quickly began to move everything inside the house to their dining table. As soon as they disappeared into the house – a small but still full serving of Lamproie magically transferred itself from Marit’s bowl to mine – not a word was said, not a sound was made but I now had a second serving to gulp down as Marit smacked her lips, gently wiped her mouth with a napkin and began to make quite a fuss over how delicious this delicacy had been!!!
I quickly downed my refill before bowls were removed from the table and we all moved into the house for the next course.
Jean Noel Belloc is a great winemaker. His red and white Graves wines from his property Chateau Brondelle are amongst the very best value Bordeaux wines we’ve tasted, over the years. The whites, crafted basically from equal percentages of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon offer lively, mouth-watering fruit, good depth, and complexity. They are delicious and refreshing wines and they offer very fine value.
His red wines, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot require slightly more time in bottle to show their best but they too are fine examples of the delicious drinkability of value Bordeaux. As they age, they develop good rich flavours of currants and berries with some chocolate and ample minerality typical of very fine Graves wines.
But, perhaps Jean Noel’s deft ability to coax delicious, intense and satisfying flavours out of the local grapes are found in his remarkable Sauternes. He is widely considered, in the region of Sauternes and Graves, as one of the very finest Sauternes winemakers and he has provided winemaking consulting to some of the top producers of the region as well as producing his own Sauternes under his own label, Chateau Fontaine.
Our Dinner continued inside Jean Noel’s and Muriel’s home with a most memorable course of Sauteed Duck Livers and large apple slices sauteed in butter and allowed to cool and gel – all accompanied by a captivating bottle of older Sauternes. Age had provided a deep golden colour to this wine which was a wondrous match to one of the most delicious meals we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy.
It was a wonderful evening and one we remember with great fondness.
Ian Hanna – John Hanna & Sons Ltd.