Anjou Reviver

Heaven knows the European Community (or whatever they are calling it this week) fails to warm the cockles of the English heart. (How would you like life in Minnesota regulated in detail by a bloated bureaucracy, living on expense accounts in a foreign land?) But one of its pleasanter side effects has been a scheme of international town-twinning—“Partnerstädte in Europa,” the bumper stickers call it. Sometimes the partnerships between cities in different countries are rather elegant. Oxford, for instance, is twinned with Leiden, seat of the oldest university in the Netherlands.
Indeed, sometimes these seem to be matches made in heaven rather than in Brussels. The committees responsible have been rather kind in twinning the small town I come from in southwest England, Tiverton in Devon, with Chinon, an even smaller town on a tributary of the Loire River in western France. I am not sure what we did to deserve this good fortune. Although Tiverton is more than twice its size, Chinon has by far the more distinguished history. It was a stomping ground of Joan of Arc, Rabelais, Cardinal Richelieu, and King Henry II of England. Tiverton was a place where the medieval Earls of Devon stayed to hunt stags; it then grew into an industrial center that did very nicely thank you in the early modern cloth trade—solid and lovely—but not the scene of great romantic deeds.
In fact, the only thing I can think of that the two places have in common is that each has a twelfth-century castle that towers high over a river. Tiverton Castle, though, preserves little from the Middle Ages. The Parliamentary armies captured it during the English Civil War (a lucky cannon ball broke the chain holding up the drawbridge) and they did not leave a lot standing.
The remains of Chinon Castle, on the other hand, are massive. And its origins were royal—it was built by Henry II of England (who was also Count of Anjou). Connoisseurs of cinema will know it as the setting for The Lion in Winter, where Peter O’Toole, impersonating Henry II in robes remarkably ragged for a monarch, trades swift Stoppard-like repartee with Katherine Hepburn posing as a rather unregal Eleanor of Aquitaine, “that fertile and fateful female,” as my old tutor used to call her. The only hint that the characters in this film are anything more than spoiled celebrities is a long shot near the beginning showing the castle massive and mysterious from across the water. Shakespeare did royalty better than this. (So did Helen Mirren in The Queen.)
The wines made around the two towns are not really comparable, either. Tiverton lies on the same latitude as the Moselle River. So there is every reason it should produce good wine, but I have never seen our local Yearlstone vintages for sale in the United States. The Loire Valley, on the other hand, produces more different sorts of wine than anywhere in France. They range in flavor from the Granny Smith bite of Muscadet to the dark mysteries of red Saumur. After a hot summer, Rosé d’Anjou comes somewhere in between—light, fruity, and refreshing.
Try a delightful rosé made just upstream from Henry II’s crenellated residence. Charles Joguet’s Chinon Rosé 2005 (just over sixteen dollars hereabouts) is made wholly from Cabernet Franc grapes, the same variety used to make red Saumur, but for the rosé the juice is taken from the must (the crushed grapes) before the skins have had time to color it much. The result looks just like the pink juice of mountain-ash berries as one boils them down to make rowan jelly, the perfect foil for roast lamb or venison. The wine also has the same sequence of tastes that you find in rowan berry juice—fruit followed by delicious, long, waxy bitterness. Think pink grapefruit without the acid, but with a little tingle in the taste. This wine drunk with a venison paste would have revived a royal palate jaded by a difficult day inventing the Assize of Novel Disseisin; with appropriate charcuterie, it might refresh a Brussels apparatchik after hours in committee-making regulations about straight bananas. And for us, in the dark time of the year, it could fuel an entire dinner party, from smoked salmon through rack of lamb to a baveuse wheel of Brie. Vive les Angevins.