The carbonnade is a Sophie Grigson recipe, essentially a beef and onion casserole topped with rounds of French bread ‘buttered’ with (French) mustard. The bread goes in late in the cooking but not so late that it fails to end up brown and partly crunchy. You now only need one vegetable and we still have carrots in the garden. This is real winter comfort food. Need I say that it needs a robust red wine, the sort of thing that wine writers call a ‘winter warmer’?
The classic beef casserole wine is Chateauneuf du Pape, the archetypal Southern Rhone red, dominated by Grenache but blended with up to a dozen other varieties including the other signature Rhone grapes, Syrah and Mourvedre. What distinguishes them from lesser Southern Rhone blends is that they are built on a grand scale – hefty, fruity, supported by tannins, raised in oak and seriously alcoholic. The good ones are getting to be expensive; £15 is the bottom end of the ‘good’ range and a respected critic recently said that 1 in 3 Chateauneufs was downright poor.
So if you don’t want to splash out on the assurance of a good Chateauneuf, where do you go? The answer is to Gigondas or Vacqueyras, close by, but without the cachet. Vacqueyras Domaine de Chantegut 2007 weighs in at 14% alcohol, 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah and £14.99 (£11.99 in dozens) from Oddbins. It came as a gift and what a good one. The wine is very fruity on the nose, and on the palate very deep and chewy with obvious tannin and oak – not a party wine (whatever that is) – but with this robust casserole, perfect. It’s hard to think of a better option. Burgundy isn’t remotely applicable, and not many Bordeaux would survive the challenge; no, it has to be a big Rhone or, if you are that way inclined, a big Australian Shiraz, though that would likely be both too sweet and too oaky for D and me.