Pacte d’Amitié: a pact of friendship. Signed by two Confréries in France this summer. With the objective of promoting regional products which each represents and collaborating where possible and mainly around the table, that is with wine and food and conviviality.
It is another example of reaching out engaged in by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, in this instance with the Confrérie du Gâteau Basque from Cambo Les Bains in the Pays Basque; formalized with a written agreement and appropriate ceremony between the two organizations. It feels like that moment when you mutually decide that someone is no longer an acquaintance but has risen up the relationship ladder to be counted as a friend.
A Pacte d’Amitié. So what, anyone might ask.
The significance of this Pacte d’Amitié lies in its reinforcement of French culture and specifically the gastronomique heritage of France as recognized by UNESCO. This heritage encompasses wine and food which are represented by these two Confréries. The Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès celebrates Bergerac Region wines including late harvest botrytised wines from Monbazillac and Saussignac, villages with their own AC near the town of Bergerac.. The Confrérie du Gâteau Basque from Cambo Les Bains celebrates the rich yet light custardy cake with almond crême centre from that region. They complement each other as good friends often do.
Perhaps this is the place to include a word about late harvest wines in the Bergerac wine region. The grape varieties are mainly Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc and some Muscadelle. Sémillon is the key variety, usually with the highest percentage in the blend and is the most susceptible to botrytis cinerea or noble rot. Sauvignon Blanc supplies the acidity and Muscadelle adds the exotic perfume to the wine.
Late harvest botrytised wines are not made each year but only made if the conditions are right. These include consistent summer sunshine for the grapes to ripen well followed by an autumn with a mixture of sunshine and damp mists which causes the grapes to be benevolently affected by botrytis cinerea, a fungus otherwise known as noble rot.
This fungus or noble rot is a natural occurrence which creates tiny holes in the skin of the Sémillon grapes in particular which causes the moisture in the grape to evaporate. This concentrates the sugars and acids in the grapes and creates a sweet syrup which also has refreshing acidity.
Only hand picking is permitted for these Monbazillac and Saussignac Appellation Contrôlée wines so the grapes are individually selected and picked, usually in several harvesting sessions late in the season, hence the name, late harvest wines. The resulting intensely luscious wines have flavours of apricots, marmalade, barley sugar, spices and beeswax honey. The best wines in this area maintain some subtlety within this intense taste palette. Surprisingly and contrary to my expectations, I don’t find them particularly sweet, mainly due to the refreshing acidity which they maintain..
With respect to wine and food pairing, late harvest botrytised wines are served in a variety of ways: chilled as an aperitif, probably my favourite style, served in a sherry schooner or similar with savoury canapés, like foie gras as an example: served with blue cheese another good choice and also with a dessert.
One local wine maker of Saussignac AC wine advocates serving them with different flavour bonds including quail with grapes and pork with pineapple. Everyone has their own views so it’s worth pushing the envelope with different wine and food pairing ideas. Some experimenting over the Festive Season might be fun.
To balance this gastronomique friendship, I will add a note about Gâteau Basque which is a traditional cake from the Basque area of France. It is made with one of two traditional fillings: almond cream or black cherry jam. If jam is used, the traditional way is to make it with jam from the town of Itxassou, France.
This cake is celebrated at an annual festival in Cambo Les Bains where the Confrérie du Gâteau Basque play a key role. There is even a museum dedicated to this famous cake: Le Musée du Gâteau Basque in Sare, France. I haven’t yet made this cake myself. My first attempt will be to make the formal recipe above provided by the Confrérie du Gâteau Basque. I found the English language website of Basque news: Euskal Kazeta to be informative describing various sources for recipes which I will also check out.
I visited the town of Espelette in French Basque for a confrérie event last year and found the whole area delightful and well worth return visits, including a visit to Cambo Les Bains I hope.
Celebrating these two complementary examples of French gastronomique heritage with the formalizing of this Confrérie friendship took place at the main event of the year for the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Called a Chapitre, this event was held in Sigoulès in the Dordogne in SW France on the third weekend in July, at the same time as the Sigoulès Foire aux Vins or wine fair.
I am present at the occasion, standing on the stage with other members of the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or while the friendship ceremony takes place. The Pacte d’Amitié is formal, documented, decorated and signed with flourish.
I am taking photos when I can. One of my favourite photos of the event on stage is of members of the Confrérie du Gâteau Basque standing at the podium while the Commandeur and officials of our Confrérie welcome them and describe this ceremony of friendship.
Here they are, cast in shadow yet with bright light ahead of them, mysterious, seemingly from another era, dressed in their rich gold capes and hats. The picture conjures up images from my childhood: Alexander Dumas’s fictional characters, the Three Musqueteers; d’Artagnan with his companions Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and the ethos of their friendship – all for one and one for all. These favourite French stories from my English childhood reinforce this sense of commitment to a common objective: in this instance celebrating French gastronomique culture.
Before I get too carried away with the poetry of the moment, I shake off my childhood reverie and focus on the present. I reach out my hand to accept a slice of golden Gâteau Basque to taste with the nectar of Monbazillac wine and savour the occasion.
A Pacte d’Amitié: a noble act of friendship.
Pays Basque news in English http://www.euskalkazeta.com
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas http://www.goodreads.com
Monbazillac AC wine http://www.chateau-monbazillac.com
Saussignac AC wine check www. wine-searcher.com
Information about the Gâteau Basque festival and the Confrérie du Gâteau Basque Check out www.lafetedugateaubasque.com