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Michel and Tina GassierVignobles Michel Gassier is a fourth-generation family vineyard located in the Rhône Valley of southern France. We recently asked owners Michel and Tina Gassier about some of the history and cultural influences surrounding their vineyards. We received a technical winemaking lesson, fun cultural insight, family stories, recipes, and of course some ideas on which of their wines to drink with those recipes.

The Mediterranean locale has a big impact on all aspects of Château de Nages, the Gassier family estate. In southern France, cultural influences from Italy and Spain are very common. In fact, Michel Gassier’s great-grandfather, Joseph Torrès, the founder of the vineyards, was from the Baleares islands of Spain. “Here we look forward to our ‘ferias,’ we are serenaded by our ‘peñas’ and we enjoy our ‘encierros’ and ‘abrivados,’” Tina said. “One of the most reputable flamenco festivals of Europe takes place here each winter and practically every young girl from Nîmes knows how to dance the ‘Sevillana.’”

Nimes SyrahMichel explained how the Mediterranean provides a unique climate for winemaking: The Château de Nages has a deep rolled pebble soil with a nutrient-rich bed of red clay below it. When examining the soil to determine which grape varieties to grow, the family didn’t just copy its Rhône neighbors and plant only Grenache grapes. Rather, they took into account that the vines would be able to grow deeply in the rocky soil and the clay would hold moisture, two important factors in the success of the Syrah grape. Today, Syrah covers 40 percent of the Rhone’s Costières de Nîmes appellation.

The vineyards benefit not only from the hospitable soil, but from the Mediterranean Sea, which provides relief from the summer sun. “Thermal winds created by the temperature difference between water and land temper the extreme summer temperatures. Around midday when the sun has beaten down on the pebbles for over 8 hours, they become very hot. The air above starts rising, creating a pull for cooler air sitting above water,” Tina said, “and this creates a sea breeze that is both cooler and with more moisture, lowering the ambient temperature and providing less-harsh conditions for the vines. At night when the temperature starts cooling off, the vines get covered with dew, permitting a better water replenishment for plants.”

Château de Nages Rouge Vielles Vignes (a blend of Syrah and Grenache) makes a delicious and satisfying pairing with the family favorite shared below.

Thank you, Michel and Tina, for letting us into your family today.

lamb shanksBraised lamb shanks with tomato and fennel  Recipe from Tina Gassier

• 4 lamb shanks, nice and thick

• 6 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 fennel bulbs, stems removed, cut into wedges

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 2 star anise

• 1 large can of stewed tomatoes

• 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

• 2 large cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

• Salt and pepper

Place rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large, ovenproof pan, brown the shanks on all sides in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper. Remove shanks  to a plate.

Remove the fat from the pan. Sauté the fennel and onion in the remaining olive oil over low heat until lightly browned and caramelized. Add garlic and cook one minute.

Return the lamb to the pan. Add tomatoes, star anise and rosemary. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and bake in oven for about 2½ hours, or until the meat separates easily from the bone. Add the beans and cook 15 minutes more. Remove the rosemary. Adjust the seasoning. Serves four.