Le Vin La Table - Hale’s French Connection in the world of fine wine
PUBLISHED: 00:12 16 May 2013
WORDS BY RAY KING
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
When Muriel Lismonde, owner of Le Vin La Table, a shop-cum-cookery school, conducts one of her wine tastings, you can be pretty certain she knows what she’s talking about. For in all probability she has made the wine herself.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of undertaking a complete change of role and scenery and relocating to a sleepy village in South West France is a particularly British pipe dream. Not so – the French have similar aspirations. Ten years ago at the age of 60, Muriel’s Dutch father Eugene Lismonde sold his successful Paris-based business and fulfilled a lifelong desire to make wine, cajoling his entire family to join him in his adventure.
He chose a location in the Lot valley in South West France, home to many generations of his wife’s family and bought the tumbledown, bramble-choked ruins of an ancient walled bastide with only its 13th century tower still standing.
Said Muriel: ‘He allotted to my mother the task of restoring it and creating guest houses, while he set about putting down his roots, quite literally, by planting our vineyard. Our vision was not just to make wine for our own personal pleasure but to create a high-quality, authentic and organic wine, allowing Mother Nature’s bounty free rein without recourse to those nasty old man-made herbicides and pesticides!’
Though the wine making at Tour de Belfort deploys the very latest technology, the first three years involved much hard labour – not least, in the absence of herbicides, the hand weeding of almost 25 acres to enable the young vines to establish. ‘I tell you, we were not friends for three years with my dad,’ recalls Muriel.
Their efforts, however, were rewarded. The first three vintages received many medals and accolades and the tastings, conducted around a communal table at the back of Le Vin La Table’s premises in Hale village, near Altrincham, are a delightful way of provoking stimulating conversation. Customers swiftly become friends over a glass or three.
Muriel married Englishman Andrew Norton and these days the couple divide their time between Cheshire and the vineyard village close to the old Roman town of Cahors, home of the famous ‘black wine’ produced from the malbec grape and sporting the reputation of being so tannic that you could stand a spoon up in it. In the old days, as they said, some wines didn’t travel.
How different it is today when wines are produced to suit discerning tastes. Muriel’s signature white for instance, Tour de Belfort’s Cuvée Classique, blends chardonnay with the region’s two staple varieties, sauvignon blanc and semillon; a practice that cuts across the Appellation Controlée laws. The wine is thus accorded the ‘lowly’ status of vin de pays in much the same way as some of the best Italian reds – the so called ‘Super Tuscans’ – are classified as simple table wines for breaking regional rules.
Muriel’s 2010 vintage is crisp and refreshing with a delightful flowery nose and a delicious mouth-filling citrus and pear palate that was a marvellous accompaniment to Le Vin La Table’s cookery school chef Jason Palin’s steamed king prawns. Enter the era of the ‘Super Gascon’, a term equally applicable to the creamy, chardonnay-dominated 2011 vintage – terrific with Jason’s smoked chicken with its dusting of crushed star anise.
The reds impressed perhaps even more; the 2011, a harmonious, soft, richly fruited blend of malbec and cabernet franc working amazingly well with Jason’s pink slices of duck dressed with blackcurrant and soy. Top of Muriel’s range is her Grand Vin 100 per malbec, no longer the blunt tannic instrument of notoriety but as finessed as a rapier thrust from d’Artagnan - a supple red made from handpicked grapes with intense aromas of cassis, blackberry and morello cherries overlain with layers of complex spice. Bring on le rosbif!
Muriel, who has a track record of running wine tasting events, not least touring with luminaries Oz Clark, Ollie Smith and Tim Atkin, opened her Hale shop in December. Her wine classes encompass appreciation of the differing characteristics of grape varieties and pairing food and wine. She is also keen to broaden the horizons of her clients by introducing a new innovation - inviting participants to bring in their own favourite wine and helping them to discern the grapes and various aromas in their preferred bottle before advising them on similar wines they may like to try within their usual price range.
Muriel said: ‘We are thrilled that the shop now puts us in a position where we can offer wine and food lovers the chance to taste our wines and try out our cookery courses in a fun and innovative way. As far as we are aware this is the first time a French winemaker has opened this type of concept in the UK.’
Wine tastings at Le Vin La Table cater for up to 12 people and cookery classes up to eight.
Tour de Belfort wines are available from Muriel’s shop or online via www.tour-de-belfort.com