Claret for Raymond Blanc’s Fillet Steak

A weekend treat for late summer, fillet steak topped with pesto sauce, accompanied by tappenade, concentrated tomatoes, sautée potatoes and French beans. There’s a lot of effort in preparing all the components but the result is wonderful. Just remember it has to be good fillet steak. The tastes are strong and earthy, the aspiration high, so nothing less than an interesting claret will do.

I brought up a bottle of Ch Roland la Garde, Premier Cotes de Blaye, 2005. This is 88% merlot and 12% cabernet-sauvignon, is 13% alcohol and was bought a few years ago from The Wine Society at £7.57. Now this is not great claret, but it is really interesting claret and an example of how Bordeaux can produce a huge range of very good wines over a very wide price band.  I decanted even this humble Cotes de Blaye a little before the meal and it was lovely, fruity and velvety, but with plenty of backbone. It had a heady and fruity nose, fully integrated tannin and oak and was a very good partner to Blanc’s recipe. We savoured every drop.

I suspect that the great Raymond would have recommended a Burgundy and that would have been excellent too, but more expensive than this claret for a similar experience. It happens also that I have more claret than Burgundy ready to drink at this moment.

As the 2005 clarets are coming on stream I must admit to a concern that they are excessively ‘velvety’, which can mean furry. I like integrated tannins, the effect of barrel age, and the results of very fruity and concentrated grapes, yet I am finding with the first wave of 2005s, which is to say the less expensive good wines, an excess of this slight thickness on the tongue. It is causing me to decant them all, at every price level, in the hope of achieving rather better definition and clarity. There is plenty of fruit, tannin and everything you would normally wish for, but there is also this slight but pervasive fuzziness. Remember that this was hailed as the greatest vintage for half a century.

I am going to try harder to ensure that wines have settled out, bringing them up sooner, standing them upright and decanting before drinking. Perhaps it is a problem of price-level, but this does seem to extend a fair way up the range. Or perhaps I am just a natural Rhone fan; the same seems not to apply there.

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