Comfort food and sunny red: Gérard Bertrand Côtes des Roses with Senegalese mafé and fonio #Winophiles

Wine wasn’t always the topic of our research. We met in Bangladesh, where Cynthia worked for the French school and Pierre studied local NGOs that made money by running businesses. In Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh), we had ice cream dates at Mövenpick, not wine dinners. Then, in graduate school, Cynthia’s work was about women traders who smuggled sugar and tomato concentrate at the border between Senegal and The Gambia. All this got us through graduate school, and the first few years of our careers. We got into wine to explore its relationship with economic development, and that took us to China. It doesn’t hurt that our current research happens to take us eating and drinking.

When L.M. Archer announced that this month’s #Winophiles chat would focus on Gérard Bertrand, from the Languedoc, the first thing we thought was… sun, we need sun. And next, our squirrel brains took us back to sunny Senegal memories, and a craving for one of our favorite dishes: mafé. We’re so busy lately that we didn’t have much time for proper wine planning. But the beauty of big brands like Gérard Bertrand is that you can have them any time, no planning required. Gérard Bertrand wines are not only delicious, they’re also easy to find anywhere.

Gérard Bertrand and the Wine Wars

We love that Gérard Bertrand represents a complex idea of wine. In fact, it is many ideas of wine all at once. To wrap your head around it, there’s no better book than Wine Wars, by our friend Mike Veseth, The Wine Economist. In Wine Wars, Mike shows that the world of wine has been shaped by a tension between big brands that make wine accessible and affordable, but also risk oversimplifying it, and, on the other side, the “terroiristes” who see big wine as a threat against diverse, unique wines with a sense of place.

But isn’t Gérard Bertrand a blend of both sides in one company? It’s a big brand, with the power to make wine widely available to all. There’s a wall full of Gérard Bertrand wines at the gift shop in Toulouse Blagnac airport. Around us in the Seattle-Tacoma area, they are available not only at wine shops, but also big supermarket chains (our wine for today came from our neighborhood Safeway). And we can even recommend them to Chinese friends, since the company is so successful with exports.

And yet, Gérard Bertrand is also quite “terroiriste” don’t you think? After all, most of the company’s estates are certified biodynamic rigorously through Demeter. And their range of wines is so diverse that you could learn about the Languedoc’s main sub-appellations entirely by lining up Gérard Bertrand wines: one big brand, many terroirs. Read Mike Veseth’s take on Gérard Bertrand here, and see if you agree. And to go deeper, get a copy Wine Wars for a fun take on the wine world, including the Languedoc!

We’ve been so busy lately (on top of teaching duties, our China wine book deadline is looming!) that we were grateful to be able to pop in Safeway and pick up our Côtes des Roses red. Thanks, big brand Gérard Bertrand. This wine felt as sunny as we hoped, with a bright ripe red fruit profile and no artifice added on top to pretend to be something it’s not. We like that. The broad appellation on this bottle, “Languedoc,” is not especially terroiriste. We admit we preferred the more place-specific wines we discovered at a Gérard Bertrand wine dinner at Wildside Wine in Tacoma a few years ago. We have fond memories of Château l’Hospitalet! And after reading the other #Winophiles posts (see the links at the end of this post), we are drooling over the Cigalus Blanc. But no time to look for more this week, and the Côtes des Roses red got the job done.

Oh, and note the cool Vinolok closure on that bottle. We didn’t even have to reach for a corkscrew!

Wine from sunny Languedoc to pair with sunny memories of Senegal

We lived in Senegal during Cynthia’s PhD fieldwork. Among the many foods we fell in love with, one stands out, perhaps because Cynthia loves peanut butter so much: it’s called mafé, a stew with a base of peanut butter, onions and tomato paste, that can be made with a variety of meats. It’s an important dish in The Gambia too, where it’s known as domoda. We learned to make some version of it many years ago, but it never felt like the real thing. Until we discovered one of our food gods: Pierre Thiam, a Senegalese chef who lives in the US. You may have seen him on the Senegal episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Lamb shanks mafé was the first recipe we made from his awesome cookbook, “Senegal.” We still remember when, toward the end of the process that first time, the look and aroma of mafé we remembered, but were never able to recreate at home, magically appeared in the pot.

Mafé in progress, patience!

We promptly made many more recipes from the book, and each one came out so well we couldn’t stop trying another. Oh wow, this just reminds us we haven’t made the mussels in a while. They’re unbelievable!

Thiam has also been an advocate for a grain you may not have heard of: fonio. He even launched his own brand, sourcing from Senegalese growers, and packaging it so that it’s easy to use. It looks a bit like couscous, but with a finer grain. Seriously, it tastes great, and it takes minutes to prepare! Mix in salt, a bit of olive oil, water (2 for 1 ratio), bring to a boil, cover, take off heat, wait five minutes, the fluff with fork, done! Great as a side, as a breakfast cereal, or in creative ways that you can find in Thiam’s book. You can buy fonio on Amazon if you want to try.

Curious about fonio? Watch Pierre Thiam’s Ted Talk about it. Isn’t he awesome?

Our sunny Côtes des Roses red, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, went perfectly with the meal. Oh, and as we said, we are busy these days, so there was no time to make mafé. But it turns out we had frozen a batch from last month! Add to that quickly sautéed greens, a short trip to Safeway for our sunny Côtes des Roses red, and voilà, our #Winophiles dinner was ready!

Bonus music pairing by Senegalese mega star Youssou N’Dour:

Here are the wonderful posts by members of the French #Winophiles about Languedoc wine and Gerard Bertrand! Thanks to everyone in the group for being so welcoming and engaged.

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19 thoughts on “Comfort food and sunny red: Gérard Bertrand Côtes des Roses with Senegalese mafé and fonio #Winophiles

Add yours

  1. What a beautiful article that is such a joy to read. I love hearing of your personal history, which is so unique and exceptional. What a beautiful take on the Gérard Bertrand wines the unique way they are bringing individual terroirs to people globally. I have now learned about a great new grain “fonio” and yes I think Pierre Thiam is great! Thank you for the video. Your pairing sounds delicious and I appreciated the background music, by which to write this note.
    Again, what a wonderful and joyful piece to read!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thoroughly enjoyed your article and learned some new things. I’m definitely off to read Mike Veseth’s take on Bertrand and read up on both fonio and mafe, both new to me. Great to have you join us, look forward to reading your China book when released!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I need to read up more about the wine wars – always two sides of a coin. There are pros and cons to economics-of-scale way of grape growing and winemaking, driving down the price of somewhat homogeneous wines through automation and robotics, less labor-intensive and letting more consumers enjoy the wines. VS. the “terroiristes” is unique/boutique winemakers who pursue a niche. I think I support both schools of thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a delightful and informative post! You two have a fascinating life together, full of global travels and one-of-a-kind experiences – and so many more in the future when your book is published! Thank you for sharing a bit of this world with our group. Hope we can meet up sometime on the West Coast.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your article and learned some new things. I’m definitely off to read Mike Veseth’s take on Bertrand and read up on both fonio and mafe, both new to me. Great to have you join us, look forward to reading your China book when released!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I learned so much reading this post. So true that there is always two sides of a coin. I think Gérard Bertrand is winning the wine war by being both a big brand and producing wines that express terroir. I will have to check out “Wine Wars” and “Senegal.” Thanks for joining the French Winophiles this month!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m definitely going to look for the Wine Wars book. Sounds so interesting. And I agree, Bertrand is a big producer that straddles the lines a bit. Also, funny enough, I have a friend from high school whose nickname is Mafé — going to have to try this dish in her honor.

    Liked by 1 person

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