Spicy Lamb and Fitou

D wanted to try a recipe of Sky Gyngell’s for a small leg of lamb served with harissa, which is a hot North African paste. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try robust peppery wines and I had just bought two different Fitou wines at Majestic. Fitou normally has a reasonable amount of Syrah in the blend, though the base is Carignan with the rest being Grenache and/or Mourvedre. They are typically a bit tannic as well as peppery.
Fitou Les Hauts de Montluzy 2008 claims to use hand-picked grapes and “modern winemaking techniques”. It is “full bodied yet soft with a hint of spice” and goes with “Casseroles, grilled meat and cheeses” – no shrinking violet then. I expect Fitou to be full bodied, but not soft. I expect pepper and tannin – some edge and backbone. It is 13% alcohol and cost me £5.49 a bottle. I found it surprisingly fruity and round for a Fitou, reasonably intense, but a bit lacking in edge. Perhaps that is what the market now wants.
Les Douzes, Fitou 2008 is made by the eponymous dozen individual winegrowers at the usually reliable Mont Tauch co-op. It is 13.5% alcohol and cost me £6.99 a bottle. It is made from Carignan, Grenache and Syrah and claims to be of “great character and charm” and that it is “Full bodied, spicy and … accompaniment to roast meat, game and strong cheese”. “Charm” does not normally come to mind in connection with Fitou.
D served the lamb and harissa with purple sprouting broccoli and pitta breads. It was very good, though the penalty of using out-of-season peppers was a lack of concentration in the paste. We’ll come back to this one in the summer.
This is a dish that will show up wines that are too soft and it did. The Les Hauts was a bit too soft for me, though D was happy enough. I preferred the Les Douzes. Even that was a bit on the round side, though more intense and with a bit more pepper. Certainly the better wine, but only fair value at £6.99.
I have seen various mentions over the last couple of years of the “troubled Fitou appellation”, but no one has explained what “troubled” might mean. These are the first Fitous I have drunk from the years under this cloud and the wines seem to have changed. Perhaps someone has been on a marketing course, or visited a British supermarket and seen that French wine is now outsold by Australian. Whatever has happened, the wine is blander than it used to be. Frankly it was sometimes a bit challenging and never something you drank on its own, but we do need wine that will complement food, even hefty winter casseroles and challengingly spiced grilled meat like this one. I hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend.

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