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Fishing, Eating, Drinking in the Borders

I have been holding off this post, awaiting as I was definitive news about menus and wine lists enjoyed during a recent visit to the Borders. This has become an annual event: a yearly coming together of the John Buchan Food and Wine Society. This sounds as though there might be a literature theme. There isn't.

I supply the wines for our 3 night stay and I drive, since approaching budget airlines with several cases of wine that one is determined to transport is likely to be met by either a rebuttal or a large bill. In any case, an hour or so at 35,000 feet in unpressurized surroundings would leave the wines in need of a substantial period of recovery; time we couldn't afford to give them.

Six-and-a-half hours of mostly motorway cruising was all I needed to arrive at the house of our host, Luke, who is involved in conservation for the River Tweed catchment. Luke had secured for us two days fishing. Another of the party - a chef of considerable talent - had brought the food. We convened for our first meal.

The freshest langoustine were met by several bottles of 2003 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Combottes Vieilles Vignes from the Chateau de Chorey. We offered the '06 this year and the '03 was stock I had bought three years ago from our offer of the wines of that vintage. It has softened, is quite delicious and aided and abetted the shellfish perfectly. We move onto jugged hare with polenta and broccoli and drank 2000 Grande Escolha Quinta do Cotto, 2002 Indigene Spinifex, 1999 L'Ermita Alvaro Palacios and 1994 Pagodes de Cos, this latter a big surprise: soft, cedary, unexpectedly toothsome. Sleep was not hard to come by.

Truffled scrambled eggs the next morning were paired with tea only, although a glass of champagne or a Bloody Mary might have helped with the slight mistiness that had installed itself in my cranium. We headed to the river. Standing in cold water was a slow and pleasant cure.

Lunch was barbecued by the river's edge. And what a lunch! Spiced pork belly shared a plate with ash-cooked sausages with shallots and leaves of the wild garllic so prevalent on the banks of the Tweed. We drank 2000 Girolamo from the Castello di Bossi and 2000 Chateau Lucie, the former a 100% Merlot from a Bowes Wine offer past and soft, complex and claret-like it was, the latter a fine value St Emilion in a modern style and none the worse for it. A modicum of sleeping was undertaken in the fishing hut thereafter.

Pre-dinner, back at Luke's house, thin slivers of Pata Negra ham were cut from a whole leg and combined with rocket and parmesan. The 2005 Chablis of Billaud-Simon went well, freshening us up like a cold shower. We sat down to eat. Caramelised foie gras on lentils was matched with 1988 Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau; alas, my last bottle. What a wine. And what a combination. The Sauternes was in full flow of its maturity, nutty, very complex, with a clean, dry finish.

The main course was, with some ceremony, placed before us: Pigs' Trotters Pierre Koffman. Our poor chef had laboured over these items for some hours, but the results of his trials were stupendous. To bone a pig's trotter and then stuff it with veal sweetbreads and chicken mousse (among other things) is an extraordinbary feat. To then plate it up looking as though it has come from God's own galley takes a craftsman and one bite was enough to reveal our chef to be exactly that.

This is an amazing dish and we paired it with suitably exotic wines: 1990 Chateau Rausan-Ségla from magnum, 1998 Chapelle-Chambertin Pierre Damoy, 1998 Domaine de Trévallon, 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mon Aieul Pierre Usseglio, 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieux-Télégraphe, 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Bosquet des Papes. Onward and upward!

Our second day on the river and a big disappointment. Rain overnight had raised the level of the water and put enough colour in the water to make fishing a waste of time. This didn't stop me donning my waders for some casting practice, however. Again, the barbecue, emptied of rainwater, was put to good use.

Butterflied Cheviot lamb was superb served with a concoction of wild garlic and leek leaves, shallots, wine and Stinking Bishop cheese. Will I ever be hungry again? We drank 1999 Château Pichon-Baron from magnum and a bottle of 2000 Château La Tour St Bonnet. The red Baron was full of classic Pauillac flavours and aromas of cassis and pencil shaving and very delicious. The La Tour St Bonnet, ever dependable and from this fine vintage, was mature and excellent.

Back to the house once more and the cooking aromas start to convince me that I needed food, which goes to prove that the line of communication between nose and brain is not a clear path.

Deep fried scallops in a parsley Pernod crust are wedded to 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Clos des Papes and 1993 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes Roussanne Château de Beaucastel. The Clos des Papes is starting to shut down slightly. We should have been drinking it either a year earlier or five years later. The Beaucastel was very good. Not as good as the bottle we had had the year before (which was stupendous), but very, very fine, nevertheless.

For the last time, we sat down for dinner and again, caramelised foie gras was put before us. Another Rayne-Vigneau, this time the 2003, was poured out. This was fat, massively rich and sweet and thoroughly more-ish. If any wine is going to make you feel full up, this is it.

Main course: Wild Dartmoor Ox Tongue, black pudding, Russet apple purée and herb and caper grebiche. Portions of this celestial dish were mercifully small and we show it the vinous respect it deserves. We drink 1982 Château Calon-Ségur from magnum, 1997 Guado al Tasso Antinori, 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Phenomena Sesti and 2004 Gigondas Valbelle Saint Cosme. Home made chocolate ice cream and cheese gets similar treatment: 1966 Taylor. Cheese is given a twist by the addition of white truffle honey, a combination that needs to be tried.

We awake, knowing that it is but hours till our departure. None of us want to go, but our livers demand it, my beleaguered digestion wailing for respite. Brunch is pan seared sea trout, leek vinigaigrette, mushrooms Armeniennes and a spot more cheese. We avoid the booze altogether. The four gourmands depart. We are fishless, but laden with calories that could last us for weeks. Above all, we are extremely happy.
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