The Pyrenees, Petit Manseng, and Cauhapé

Pyrenees watch over Petit Manseng
Pyrenees watch over Petit Manseng

It’s a five-hour ride from Paris to Pau on the TGV. The train flies down as far as Tours, then medium speed to Bordeaux, before slowing even more until Pau. It is as if someone wants you to watch, watch the progression of this flat land until they appear: the Pyrenees. The sun sets, the ground darkens, the sky fires pink, and the mountains seem more clearly defined. First looking like a jagged cloud on the horizon, but then turn into a soft, reassuring frame to the earth.

It is dark when we arrive. Taxi. Rental car. Pau is charming but badly lit. We find our way to Jurançon, only a few kilometers from Pau. Everything is dead in the suburbs of Pau that turn in to Jurançon except for the restaurant where we meet our friends, Henri Ramonteu, of Domaine Cauhapé, his wife and his son Nicolas.

Chez Ruffet.

Fresh. Creative. Digestable. The most surprising and delicious dish is probably the first one of our menu: Raviole ouverte au Cacao, Utah Beach No1, Vierge de Butternuts-Chataignes et Bigorneaux. The raw butternut and chestnuts gives great freshness and crunch to the dish. The oysters are of superbe Gillardeau –like quality, the Cacao very delicate. The purity of ingredients is preserved.

Petit Manseng
Petit Manseng

We start with a Clos Guirouilh 2006 La Perine (meaning small stones) Pure and precise with spicy apricots and lots of floral aromas. No defects, but it is a more delicate wine than I expect from Jurançon Sec.

I am happy to move on to Cauhapé 2007 La Canopée. Made with 100% Petit Manseng grapes, this is a bomb. Precise, concentrated, chiseled layers of aromas of flowers, nuts, candied grapefruit. And ‘topographical relief’ (in The Duc’s terms) in the mouth. This wine is almost tannic with ginger and pepper of all colors that render it extraordinarily long.

Later we have the Domaine de Souche Jurançon Sec 2007 and it seems like the polar opposite of La Canopée. Lacks precision (maybe even slightly reduced in the nose) and slightly smoky lemon butter in the mouth.

Nicolas Ramonteu
Nicolas & Henri Ramonteu

Father and Son arrive early the next morning to take us to visit vines. We climb in the back of the pick-up to get to the different parcels. Crisp air greeting us and the Pyrenees always standing by. Our feet wet with dew, we taste grapes and kick stones. 80% of the crop is still hanging on the vines. The grape varieties that they use-primarily petit and Gros Manseng- have high levels of acidity that are concentrated by the wind.

Nicolas, the son, a 35 year old oenologist is back for a visit from New Zealand where he lives and works (Alluviale) for the moment….

He nudges his father with ideas and controled confrontation. Each on their own says that one day he’ll be back to take over…. Who knows… Meanwhile, in his prime, Henri has exudes energy and love for his land, his grapes, and his wine.

Then we taste through the range (s).

And finish with the ultimate combo tomme de brebis – made to be had with a dry Petit Manseng.

Cauhapé et tome de brebis
Cauhapé et tome de brebis

One Comment Add yours

  1. I should not read your blog when I am hungry! Made my mouth water. Lovely photos, too.

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