The Richebourg Affair (About $12 paperback/ $7 Kindle) by R. M. Cartmel uses the backdrop of the Burgundy wine region to weave a story of intrigue, death, romance and wine.
My sense is Mr. Cartmel is somewhat of an educator, so be prepared to learn as well as be entertained. This is less a big bang mystery and more of a gentile detective story. On any given page expect to learn about Phylloxera while being plied with lusty descriptions of culinary delights such as Coq au vin and apple tarts.
Our hero, Parisian police commander Charlemagne Truchard is called back to his family’s vineyard in the small village of Nuits-Saint-Georges after the death of his older brother. As you would expect, Truchard soon finds that all is not as it seems in the quiet wine community.
This is a slow-paced mystery so be patient and let the story unfold, much like a good wine. Its tiny sips, not gulps of speed reading that will satiate your literary thirst. I think you’ll like learning about premium French wines, vineyard management, mouthwatering pairings and small town politics . Cartmel also does a good job describing the culture of the wine business, from grape to glass.
Born into a military family, R.M. Cartmel was educated at the Sherborne School in the South West of England and Oxford. Cartmel served as a practicing doctor for over three and a half decades. The Richebourg Affair, Cartmel’s debut novel, combines two of his lifelong loves—writing and traveling throughout France’s exquisite Burgundy region.
This is a great book for both wine and mystery enthusiasts. I am looking forward to seeing this rich travelogue continue in The Charlemagne Connection (About $15 paperback/ $17 Kindle).
I asked the author to share his views on food and wine pairing.
“Tradition says that a good boeuf bougignon pairing is a bottle of Chambertin for the table, and another for the pot, but that, I always think is a waste of a good Chambertin. I do have a habit of looking at the wine list first, and picking the wine, and having decided, picking what will go with it from the menu. But I guess that’s not quite true, sometimes I see something on a blackboard that howls me me at me, and then I construct the way back.
I think to start with, one has to have a plural number of people round the table. If it’s just me half a bottle and you’re over-beveraged and the second half of the bottle could be anything!
So six people round a table, a Kir to kick off. [A blend of a Crème de Cassis and a dry Bourguignon Aligote, [the second White Burgundy grape] as an aperitif. You can mirror this with a dry white wine and a glug of Ribena (an English origin brand of blackcurrant- based uncarbonated and carbonated soft drink and fruit drink concentrate). Not quite the same.
With that you might get an amuse bouche from the chef. [The chef thinks up something that he thinks might amuse your mouth. It could be anything, all part of the fun. Last night it was a couple of fresh green olives. The fish course goes with a white wine, and right now I’m totally suckered by the signature white wine made by the Domaine where I’m passing some hours. It is a Chardonnay called Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot. Made in a smaller walled vineyard on the other side of the road from the famous red Grand Cru Le Clos de Vougeot. Cistertian Monks first planted the Clos Blanc with Chardonnay Grapes in the 1100s, and no one has planted anything else there. It wasn’t particularly well looked after over the years as the Famous White Burgundies came from South of Beaune, the Meursaults and Montrachets etc. It wasn’t until The Clos Blanc Fell into JC Boisset’s hands that it was given its new lease of life. It may only be ranked a Premier Cru, [which is the second ranking, told you Burgundy was peculiar] but that didn’t stop it winning a World’s Best ranking this year at the IEC Wine Challenge. Sarah will tell you about the 2005 we shared with Chili just before the launch. Now with that regal white a white fish simply grilled, like a lemon sole perhaps, or maybe even a cuttlefish steak like I was fed in The Fishwife on the edge of Monterey CA.
A meat course, can either stay with a red burgundy, and my all-time favorite, probably being only a village cru, I can afford to enjoy it often, though Like Le Clos Blanc, it is a lot better than many in the ranks above it, id a Gevrey-Chambertin Les Evocelles. It will never be promoted, as it too is victim to Bouguignon politics. Technically it is not in Gevrey at all, but is in the village next door, called Brochon. Brochon has not been allowed to call any of its wines Brochon, but is one of the five villages clumped together in the Cotes-de-Nuits-Villages. Apparently back in the mists of time the villagers were trying to make ‘the disloyal Gamay’ for the mass market and someone caught them at it. Les evocelles which buts onto a premier Cru Gevrey on its south side was allowed to call itself a Gevrey. Its 2003, of which I bought lots, introduced me to Domaine de La Vougeraie and I have bought lots ever since, and has never failed me as an archetypal burgundy. I don’t cook with it though. An Ox Cheek slow cooked in Mercurey from the Challonais would feed our six on a cold winter’s day. However to accompany a fillet steak off the barbecue, I am more than partial to a peppery Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in South Australia, and If I really feel like showing off, a Dark Zinfandel from Lodi, if old enough, will stand its place in the conversation. IF i really want to be playful, I raid the German quarter of my cellar. The Germans have this habit of cross-breeding grapes, and they have recently let out a Cabernet-Dorsa, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon one of Bordeaux’s Signature wines, and the rustic Dornfelder, itself a German crossing from earlier times. I only know of one Cabernet Dorsa, made in Boppard, south of Koblenz, but I’m told they are making it elsewhere.
The cheeses finish off the reds, whether they are hard English cheeses, like Cheddars or a crumbly Wensleydale or a blue Stilton, or the softer cheeses from France like a camembert or the local Burgundian Epoisses from Brochon, rolled in Marc.
The German Rieslings come into their own with the puddings. But once again, I am tempted to dig out a German Crossing, this time a Scheurebe with its overtones of lychees and grapefruit, which goes beautifully with a simple fruit salad, with fruits from the garden.
After that a fresh ground coffee from the ex-colonies, like Kenya or Tanganyika [Now called Tanzania] and a liqueur. Shall we come back to Bourgogne after our world tour in a meal? A vintage Marc, distilled from the pips skins and other detritus at the end of the first fermentation of a Gevrey-Chambertin many years ago, it tastes of a combination of nuts and fire.”
Hungry now? Try this 5-star recipe for Beef Bourguignon courtesy of Ina Garten ( SHOW: Barefoot Contessa, EPISODE: Bon Voyage). Pair with Gold Mountain’s (El Dorado County, CA) 2012 Barbera.