Thursday, April 2, 2009
A Week Into France
OK, sorry about the lack of any posts, but I haven't had any Internet access until now, and I don't have much time at the moment. So I am adding here a short recap from some notes I typed up along the way. And I'll also try to attach some pictures. Hopefully, at some point I'll be able to elaborate some more. So here are the notes:
March 26: After flying from Boston to Marseilles via Madrid, we picked up a car at the Marseilles airport and drove to Mas Neuf, a winery in the Costieres de Nimes. Some of the basic wines from Mas Neuf are exported to the US, but most of their wines don't make it here, and none of them are sold in Maine. At the winery, we tried the full range of reds, whites, and roses from Mas Neuf. All were outstanding, particularly the top-level “Mourvache,” which is a blend of Mourvedre and Grenache, and rivals any Rhone red wine for quality.
After leaving Mas Neuf we drove to our chambre d’hotes (bed and breakfast) in the small Provencal town of Aubord, where we spent the first night.
March 27: The next morning we had an appointment at Chateau d’Or et de Gueules, another Costieres de Nimes winery. The wines from this domaine, and those of Domaine de la Petite Cassagne, its sister domaine located on the same property, are imported into the US by Bobby Kacher, and our appointment was arranged by Carole Decouard, Kacher’s New England representative. We got a tour and tasting of the full range of wines from Martin Lasserre, assistant winemaker and grape grower for the estate. The wines were outstanding, particularly the reds. And although the Petite Cassagne wines, which are the only wines from the estate that are sold in Maine, are considered their lower-level wines, those wines were truly exceptional.
After our tour and tasting at Chateau d’or et de Gueules, we drove north to the Auvergne, in the center of France, where were staying with British friends, Cathy and Jim Baxter, who have a second home in the town of Chantelle.
March 27-30: During our 4-day stay in Chantelle, we toured around he area, visiting the nearby cities of Clermont-Ferrand (March 28) and Vichy (March 29) as well as the medieval village of Charroux, a few minutes from Chantelle. The day before leaving Chantelle, we drove to the Burgundian town of Paray le-Monial with the Baxters to visit two friends of theirs who live nearby. Paray is a bustling commercial center which features a Cathedral built in the 1500's.
On March 31 we left Chantelle and drove through the Auvergne to Le Puy en Velay. Le Puy is a bustling town that is also a religious center. The first pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Campostelle began here at the beginning of the first millennium, and the town is dominated by a medieval chapel and cathedral that tower above the lower part of the town. We spent one night in Le Puy, and had dinner at an outstanding restaurant, Le Romulus, which specializes in regional cuisine. The chef/owner, Thierry Rome, was born near Le Puy, and after spending a number of years as a chef for Club Med in North America, he returned to Le Puy, where he has run a successful restaurant for many years.
On April Fools Day, or Poisson de Avril as the day is called in France, we drove from Le Puy to the southern Ardeche. During the drive we saw plenty of snow in the fields (we thought we had left that behind), but when we arrived in the Ardeche we were greeted with warmth and sunshine. Asparagus was already in season there, and flowering trees and irises were in full bloom. At the end of the day we stopped in the small village of Chauzon, where we had booked a room at a chambre d’hote, Les Clapas, for 3 nights. Shortly after checking in we took a short drive to the town of Rosieres to visit the wine cooperative La Cevenole. La Cevenole was featured in Robert Camuto’s book Corkscrewed, which portrayed a dozen or so iconoclastic French wine producers. In Corkscrewed, Camuto writes about La Cevenole’s efforts to revitalize the production of wine made from the Chatus grape, a variety that almost died out and is now grown exclusively in a small part of the southern Ardeche. We tried La Cevenole’s 2005 Chatus, and were so impressed we bought a couple of bottles for our trip. The 2005 vintage was almost depleted at La Cevenole, and was being replaced by the 2006, but since the Chatus grape is known for being extremely tannic when young, we decided to stick with just the older vintage, the 2005. And the next day we visited Domaine de Grangeon, the other producer of Chatus that Robert Camuto featured in his book. If anything, the Chatus from Grangeon even outdid the version from La Cevenole. So our bags are also packed with their 2006 Chatus, which, despite being a little tannic, was spectacular.