Just desserts

It's bad news for the cockerel but good news for lovers of sweet whites

We acquired our cockerel when he was just two months old - a timid creature who was shy of the chickens and scared of everything else. A year later he was strutting his stuff, tearing feathers from the wings and throats of his companions, and pecking the ground and circling whenever we approached.

A few months on, it was unwise to enter the chicken run without a stick to protect yourself, and we were beginning to regret that the days of cock-fighting were past, recognising that we had inadvertently bred a champion who could have paid for his keep many times over.

When he took to pecking open the eggs and drawing blood from the hens who laid them, we realised it was time for him to go. A shot to the head, then strung up, throat slit - and the blood collected, with a drop of vinegar to prevent clotting, all ready for the coq au vin.

The first thing that put me off was the extremely leathery skin that he had managed to acquire. And then my daughter pointed out the lice and mites that were crawling over his denuded body.

I fought off my revulsion and jointed the carcass. An onion, a bottle of claret and a couple of hours of marination before the stew. A bunch of herbs, a carrot, some chicken stock, and soon the savoury odour filled the kitchen. I added the blood, and the sauce blackened.

All was as it should be - or nearly so. But whence came that odour of cat's piss? I tried to ignore it and continued according to the classical recipe, with bacon pieces and a good brown roux to thicken the stock. But the aroma remained.

I tasted the sauce and yes, it was as it should be, except for that feline aftertaste. It was as though our cock's aggression had been so bottled up as to have become part of him, incarnate in his very flesh, and that he was still fighting us from the pot. We swallowed what we could of the pungent remains and gave the rest to the fox.

Neither claret nor burgundy - nor all the perfumes of Arabia, I suspect - could sweeten our mouths, however. A sour flavour of ammonia and sweat lingered like an accusation. Only when we opened a half-bottle of the delicious Monbazillac dessert wine from Château Septy was our cock at last sweetened and his aggression overcome, so that we could toast his demise.

Monbazillac in general, and Septy in particular, are seriously underrated. And for those who love sweet white wine, and the pourriture noble that makes it more than sweet and something higher than wine, this is a true bargain.

The 2000 and 2002 are available in halves from www.drinkon.com, and at just over £6 a half represent a genuine bargain - a match for Sauternes, but with a refinement all of their own.