When most people hear the name of a French Chateau, they conjure up in their mind’s eye a scenario that probably looks a lot like what Féret-Lambert is like in real life: green hills punctuated by vineyards bulging with ripe, juicy Merlot grapes; a large, picturesque house dating from the 1700s, located a stone’s throw from Saint-Emilion in the French countryside.
But when I hear the words Féret-Lambert, I have near-instant recall of something else entirely; I think about… tomato pie.
I think about the fourth generation family that now runs the show there, yes; and I think about some overachieving Merlot-based wine, too, of course. But the heart of the matter to me was the tomato pie we had at lunch when I visited Féret-Lambert, as a media guest of Planete Bordeaux.
For the uninitiated in Mid-Atlantic “Little Italy” cuisine, tomato pie is, essentially, margherita pizza without the cheese. But as with any cuisine, there are endless variations, and as a kid who loved tomatoes grown into an adult who loves tomatoes, I have tried just about all of them. Thin, flaky crusts with fresh baked tomato and a hint of sauce on top; thick, floppy, focaccia-style bread with a gargantuan amount of sloppy, garlic-filled red sauce oozing of the top; hearty dough that’s soft in the center, crispy on the bottom, and with a light coating of embedded, seasoned tomatoes and a thin layer of sauce that curls at the thick crust and bakes ever-so-slightly into the top layer of the bread. Inexpensive to make, but tough to do really well, and a little (literal) slice of luxury for a boy living in the “upper end of the lower middle class.”
So when it comes to tomato pie – from the utterly banal to the downright succulent – I’ve just about had it all. And I can therefore tell you with at least a semi-educated opinion that Féret-Lambert makes a mean tomato pie; more pie-like than pizza-like, flaky crust and ultra-fresh tomatoes baked up together with enough near-perfection to give a Little Italy expat a deep sense of homecoming. And with the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that they’re pulling off of the thirteen-or-so hectares of vines that they cultivate there, Féret-Lambert is also making a mean, budget-minded Bordeaux red to go with it.
Féret-Lambert is a family-run operation, now in its 4th generation, now producing about 150 thousand bottles of mostly Bordeaux Superieur, built on a steady formula of blending 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
It would be nice to be able to tell you more than that, but in all honesty there isn’t much more to tell. Family member Olivier Sulzer, with whom I toured the Féret-Lambert property, is an unassuming guy with unassuming dress and an equally unassuming viewpoint about fine wine. “For red wines,” he told me when we walked through the winery and barrel-aging caves built out of limestone quarry on the property, “you don’t need a lot of technology; but you need good grapes. So our philosophy is to change nothing.”
That Olivier, and winemaker Valerie Féret as well, should be so unassuming given the quality of the wine and idyllic vibe of the property is a bit of minor miracle in France. They’ve managed to keep prices for their Grand Vin reasonable at twenty-some-odd dollars a bottle, and are seeing pretty good availability in the U.S.
After tasting the juice, I’d consider Total Wine to have scored a pretty smart pickup. The Chateau’s entry-level wine, 2010 Costes du Château Féret-Lambert is a solid effort: spicy, plummy, and earthy with fresh red currant flavors and more skeletal structure than you might expect for the relatively smallish cash outlay. A great match even for the acid-bomb that is tomato pie (hint: if you are curious as to a red wine’s acid balance, try it with a slice of that food, the kind that’s affordable for most of the 99%-ers; if it can stand up to that, you’ve got a food-friendly vino on your hands, my friends). And, it turns out, a good primer of things to come in their Grand Vin.
2010 Château Féret-Lambert Grand Vin (Bordeaux Supérieur)
It seems a good many critics might disagree with me on this wine (if the ratings comparisons I came across are any indication, anyway), but I don’t care. This wine rocks, almost literally: there are mineral notes all over the place on this red, along with wet clay and gravel. It’s spicy, but oak only plays a minor role in that nuance, with herbal spices taking up much more of the spotlight. Great red and blue plum action, dark cherries, and some olives on the side. But what really gives this thing character is the juxtaposition of dark chocolate notes, structure and freshness; it’s tension. Tension in wine is like great dialog in film, and there’s a good deal of engaging talk going on here for what amounts to a matinee price.