3 Dec 2012

Wine: South West Wines at Comptoir Gascon

‘COMPTOIR Gascon is our maison du vin,’ says actor turned wine PR director for agribusiness specialist, Sopexa, Chris Skyrme. He gestures to the three ISO glasses in front of me. They are a third full with three of a total range of 91 wines from the South West of France in rotation as a complimentary aperitif to diners of the Smithfield bistro.
Following ‘a call’ to the region’s producers, entries were selected in May in what Skyrme describes as ‘the room above The Atlas Pub, Earl’s Court’ by a quintet of wine writers gathering themselves under the original title, ‘The Wine Gang’. The collective, who operate a subscription-based wine buying report, priced ‘for less than a small skinny latte’ per month, comprises wine communicators: Jane Parkinson, Joanna Simon (who ‘has a second home in South West France’), Tom Cannavan, Anthony Rose, and David Williams.
Beside Majestic Wine’s chief buyer, Chris Hardy, a map of the region graces an otherwise bare-brick wall, while PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geograpical Indication) acronyms fringe the louvered windows looking out to what remains of the 144 year-old livestock market. Another wall is entirely given over to shelves laden with thoughtfully labelled bins. On the next table, a lady sports Frida Kahlo earrings.
The atmosphere on Friday lunchtime is perky in this, the most accessible eatery within the Club Gascon domain, which also includes Le Cercle and Cigalon. The minds behind the venue harness not only the cellar of South-West France, but also its larder, particularly appropriately given the location, when concerning meats.
Via his ongoing campaign, Skyrme aims to articulate the message that people could be wise to consider eating with wine. ‘Drinking wine should be convivial and relevant,’ he says, ‘and rather than generic tastings, wines, which are made for food, improve vastly when combined with it.’
Heeding his advice, with a starter of scallop and oyster tartare with artichoke (£6.50), a tricky ingredient when it comes to wine matching, I find harmony in PDO Gaillac Astrolabe ’09. Made from grape variety, ‘Loin de L’Oeil’ (far from the eye), and with a ‘long peduncle’ according to the definition given by Caves de Pyrene, the bitter fruit aroma, but full texture copes well, its flavours and acidity ultimately surfacing above the dish. 
Next, a decadent truffled duck burger “signature” (£14) features a slipper-sized insert of soft foie gras in its toasted brioche bap crested with pine nuts. Sleek, violet-scented PDO Madiran Domaine Berhoumieu ’09 Charles de Batz proves a natural match, considering the region that makes the hearty wine is also a centre for foie gras. Fairly chubby French fries, cooked in duck fat and crazy salt (£3), meaning they are spiked with piment d'espelette, are outstanding.
Finally, with carefully looked after cheese gleaned from a variety of fortunately four-legged beasts are cleansed with PGI Côtes de Gascogne, Domaine de Pellehaut ’11 Gros Manseng/Chardonnay, which is a few notches above off-dry with a zesty mandarin kick and attractively sour finish.
Through a long lunch at Comptoir Gascon, Skyrme has proved correct, of course, in his assertion that carefully made wine is best savoured with carefully prepared food. Considering these are hearty wines, an empty stomach is, after all, an empty heart.

For Harper's Wine & Spirit