Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Day in the Savoie

     On Thursday morning we left the Ain departement and headed into the heart of the Savoie region, where I hoped to try several red Mondeuse wines, as well as white Mondeuse. We drove past the large town of Chambery, and then towards the wine village of Freterive, part way up the hills of the Savoie. In Freterive we first stopped at Domaine Jean Vullien et fils, a producer whom we knew a little bit about from a prior visit to Annecy. We tried a couple of whites, and then several of their red Mondeuse wines, and bought a bottle of Chignin Bergeron (a white wine made from the Bergeron grape, known elsewhere in France as Roussanne) and a Mondeuse.

     The next stop was a revelation. We visited Domaine Jean-Pierre Grisard, a producer that I knew nothing about except that they make a white Mondeuse and 5 different cuvees of red Mondeuse. We tried several of their wines, including the white Mondeuse and the 2012 vintage of all of their red Mondeuse cuvees, and they were amazing. We also tried a wine made from the Persan grape, a red variety that was almost extinct but was saved by Domaine Grisard, which also grows grapevines for sale to vineyards. Needless to say, we bought several wines here, bringing our total to far more than we'll be able to consume on this trip.
Vineyard with snow covered mountains

    I would like to have visited more wineries in the area, but we had really gone overboard with buying wine. The wines in this area are just so good, and so unusual. Many of the grapes grown here are unique to this region, and besides Chardonnay, very few of the gape varieties are well known. It's also clear from visiting this region, as well as from other recent trips, that the quality of winemaking in France has never been better than it is now. Regions that have often made undistinguished wines are now making top notch wines that sell for a fraction of the price of wines from more well known regions. For example, outstanding sparkling wines are made here which sell for far less than Champagne.

     After leaving Freterive, we stopped in the village of Miolans, high above Freterive, to take a look at the chateau there. We then drove through small villages, and through Chambery towards the Lac de Bourget (Bourget Lake). We stopped at the town of Le Bourget du Lac, where we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake. The view of the lake and the surrounding mountains, including the snow-capped Alps, was spectacular.
Chateau in Miolans
Lac de Bourget

      After leaving Le Bourget du Lac, we drove back to our gite, with a stop in the town of Belley to pick up some provisions. Tomorrow, it's May 1, a French holiday. And it's Portes Ouvertes (Open Doors, or Open House) at wine producers in the town of Jongiuex in the Savoie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Wines of Seyssel

     On Wednesday we planned to go to the Seyssel wine region and try some of their wines. But first we drove to the weekly outdoor market in the town of Culoz, about 20 minutes from our gite. We picked up some vegetables from one vendor, and some cheese from another. Then we headed towards Seyssel.
Church in Culoz

     As I mentioned in an earlier post, Seyssel is one of the oldest Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines, which, incidentally, is now Appellation d'Origine Protegee (AOP), in accordance with new EU rules. Seyssel is also a very small AOC, centered around the town of Seyssel and a few surrounding villages. The town of Seyssel itself is on both sides of the Rhone; one side is in the Ain departement, the other side is in the Savoie. I don't know whether most of the Seyssel vineyards are in the Ain or the Savoie departments, but almost all of the wineries are in the Ain. Our first stop was at Maison Gallice, in the village of Corbonod. We tried several of their Seyssel wines made from the Altesse grape, also known as Roussette, and bought one of them, as well as a sparkling Seyssel made from a blend of Altesse and Molette (Molette is a grape variety unique to this area). After leaving Maison Gallice, we stopped at Maison Mollex, also in Corbonod. Again, we bought a bottle of Seyssel Altesse, and a sparkling wine.

      We then drove across the Rhone from Seyssel Ain to Seyssel Savoie, and decided to head towards the town of Chanaz on the Canal du Rhone. As we were leaving Seyssel, we spied a sign for Cave Lambert, the producer of Royal Seyssel sparkling wines, and we decided to stop there. Although they make a couple of still wines, they specialize in sparkling Seyssel, and we tried several of them. They were absolutely outstanding, and after Madame Lambert poured them for us, her husband, Gerard Lambert, the winemaker, came over to talk to us. He told us a little about the history of Royal Seyssel, the name of which is derived from the fact that in the 1800's, several royal European families would visit nearby Aix les Bains and drink sparkling Seyssel wines. Gerard also discussed his winemaking philosophy and techniques, and told us that he had just obtained a US importer for his wines – Kermit Lynch. Which means we may be able to find his wines in the US within the next year. But meanwhile, we bought several bottles to drink now.

     Following our detour to Cave Lambert, we continued on to Chanaz, on the Canal du Rhone. The canal connects the Rhone with the Lac du Bourget, and Chanaz is a center for boat tours and rentals. We had a picnic lunch along the canal, then took a walk through the town. Among other things, Chanaz boasts an old mill which now produces oil from walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Unfortunately, while we were there it was their closing time for lunch, so we never got to visit the mill.

Some Views of Chanaz

      After leaving Chanaz we continued to drive on the Savoie side of the Rhone. We were near the Mont du Chat (Cat Mountain), and decided to drive up the mountain towards the Dent du Chat (Cat's Teeth), presumably named that because the jagged ridges resemble teeth. Unfortunately, after driving part way up, the road was blocked off, so we had to turn around.  Eventually we crossed back over the Rhone to the Ain departement, and drove to the village of Vongnes, where the Caveau Bugiste is located. I had wanted to try some wines from the rare Mondeuse Blanche (white Mondeuse) grape, and the Caveau Bugiste, which is a small cooperative of 4 wine producers, is apparently the only Bugey producer making that wine. We tried (and bought) their varietal Mondeuse Blanche, as well as several other wines, and also bought a bottle of their Roussette.
Not on the Dent du Chat

      We then drove to the nearby nature reserve, the Marais de Lavours, which is right next to the Ferme du Marais, which we visited as part of de Ferme en Ferme last weekend. There's a boardwalk that runs through the reserve, and we walked it from start to finish. There were lots of birds singing, frogs croaking, and plenty of other animals that we couldn't see. After leaving the Marais we drove back to our gite for dinner. Ann made a tartiflette using Ghislaine's recipe from the other day, and we had one of the Seyssels that we bought earlier in the day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Leisurely Drive Through The Bugey Region

     On Tuesday morning we took a drive along the Route de Bugey through several small towns, many of them on or near the Rhone River. We stopped at a few of the towns to view some of the old buildings and churches.

     We also stopped to see the waterfall in the village of Glandieu, then had a picnic lunch along the Rhone.

 One of the most picturesque villages we stopped in was Saint-Sorlin en Bugey, which was high up overlooking the Rhone. We spent some time there walking through the village and admiring the buildings and the view down to the Rhone.

     Towards the end of the afternoon, we drove to the village of Montagnieu, perched high above the Rhone. I wanted to visit Domaine Peillot, a winery that had been highly recommended to me by the wine writer Wink Lorch a couple of years ago. Lorch, who lives in this area of France a large part of the year, has written extensively about the Savoie and Jura regions, and her recently published book about the wines of the Jura will serve as our guidebook for the last week of our trip. Montagnieu has great views of the countryside below, and the wines we tried at Domaine Peillot were outstanding. We bought a bottle of their sparkling Montagnieu (Montagnieu is a "cru” of Bugey), as well as a red Mondeuse Bugey “Montagnieu,” which was rich and very smooth.

     At the end of the day we headed back towards our gite in Ambleon and took a walk through the village. We passed by a small farm along a stream that had chickens, ducks and geese, as well as a couple of cats.

    Flowers, trees and shrubs are in full bloom now, particularly lilacs, wisteria and irises.

Monday, April 27, 2015

More From The Bugey Region

    Sunday, the day after we arrived at our gite, was the second day of de Ferme en Ferme, and there also was a festival in the nearby town of Lhuis featuring local artisans. We started the day by going to Lhuis, and picked up some more cheese as well as bread and croissants from a boulangerie in town. After leaving Lhuis, we headed towards the first farm of the day, La Bergere de Munet, which raises goats, sheep and cows and makes cheese from all 3 animals. We were given a tour of the barn and a demonstration of the cheesemaking operation, which included a tasting. Naturally, we bought several cheeses to take back to our gite.

      Next, we drove to the village of Beon to visit Cave Sylvain Bois, a small winery run by the talented young vigneron Sylvain Bois. Sylvain started the winery practically from scratch in 2001 after finishing his oenology studies. He had a small parcel of vineyard land he inherited from his grandfather, but no winery and no equipment. Gradually, he bought a couple of more parcels of land and planted vines on them, and purchased some machinery and other winemaking equipment. He started making small quantities of wine, and gradually increased his production, although it is still quite small. But while his production might be small, the quality is high, and wines from his current vintage won several medals at the recent wine judgings in Paris and Macon. The wines are Appellation Bugey Controlee; Bugey was a VDQS until it was elevated to an AOC a few years ago. After being given a tour by Sylvain and tasting a number of his wines, we bought a red Mondeuse, a white Roussette, and a sparkling wine also made from the Roussette grape.

     After leaving Cave Sylvain Bois, we stopped at La Ferme du Marais, a farm next to a nature reserve in swampy land (a “marais”). The farm raises mostly pigs and cows, and produces smoked meats (charcuterie) from its animals, as well as terrines and fresh meat, all of which are sold at the farm and served at their seasonal restaurant. We strolled around the farm, tasted some of their charcuterie and terrines, and bought a salami and a walnut and pork terrine.

     Our final de Ferme en Ferme stop was at GAEC des Plantaz, an organic fruit producer. Besides selling fresh fruits in season, they make fruit juices and sorbet. We were shown into the sorbet production room where we got an explanation of their sorbet production, as well as a demonstration and a tasting of the finished product. The farm makes their sorbet from their own fruit, which is pressed, then mixed with water and sugar (and nothing else), then put into a machine that spins it and turns it into the finished product. At the end of the demonstration the strawberry sorbet was done, and everyone was given a sample. It was creamy and delicious, tasting of fresh strawberries. We bought several flavors of their sorbet, including raspberry, which became the dessert at dinner that night. We also had Sylvain Bois' Roussette as an aperitif with cheese, and a bottle of red Bourgogne Rouge from Domaine Pigneret.

     The next morning we headed towards the town of Lagnieu for their weekly market. It was a modest sized market that had a very good vegetable vendor and an excellent cheese seller, and we stocked up from both. We also found a terrific looking (and smelling) bakery where we bought some bread and pastries. Afterwards we drove to several small towns in the Cerdon part of the Bugey region. The Cerdon appellation includes red and white table wines, but it is principally known for its Methode Ancestrale Cerdon wines, which are low-alcohol, somewhat sweet sparkling wines that are made by stopping the fermentation before all of the sugar has been converted into alcohol. Most of the producers are very small, and unless you make an appointment to visit, you have to take a chance that someone will be there to greet you. We stopped at several places, but with the exception of one winery where the winemaker had just briefly stopped in and poured us some wine when we showed up, no one was present at any of the wineries. Instead, we just walked around some of the villages.
Despite the sign, the cave was not open
The obligatory cat photo

     Besides going to the market in Lagnieu and looking for wine producers, we passed by several chateaus during the day. We stopped in the town of Jujurieux, which is known as the village of 13 chateaus. We didn't find all of the chateaus, but we did see 3 of them.

     On our way back to our gite, we stopped at the larger town of Pont d'Ain, on the Ain River. We knew nothing about it, and after taking a short walk we were very unimpressed with the town. We then went back to the gite for dinner, which included two of Silvain Bois' wines – the sparkling Bugey and the 2014 Mondeuse – as well as a potato dish with fresh creamy cheese with garlic and chives made with potatoes that Ghislaine's father had grown. We also enjoyed the pastries which we had bought earlier in the day,  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

France 2015 - Burgundy and the Bugey

       Our last trip to France I called “Appellation Spring,” because we were visiting so many different wine appellations on the trip. This trip is very different, as the areas we are visiting – the Bugey/Savoie region and the Jura – are not as well known for their wine appellations. On the other hand, there are plenty of wines there, and lots of great cheeses.

      We arrived in France on Wednesday, April 23, having flown from Boston to Geneva via Dublin. We picked up a car at the Geneva Airport, and drove towards Burgundy, where we were going to spend the first 2 nights with our friend Ghislaine, whom we had stayed with on our trip 2 years ago. On the way, we made a stop in the town of Mercurey, and visited Domaine Michel Juillot. We had stopped at this winery 2 years ago, and liked their wine so much we decided to return. After tasting a few wines there, we bought 2 whites and 1 red Mercurey. Mercurey is one of the appellations in the Cote Challonaise, where very good wines are made which are overshadowed by the more well-known wines of the nearby Cote d'Or.

Tasting Room at Domaine Michel Juillot

      After leaving Mercurey, we drove to Gueugnon, the town where Ghislaine lives. The weather was beautiful – sunny and mild – and Ghislaine drove us into the center of Gueugnon where we took a walk to see the town. After returning to Ghislaine's house, we had aperitifs and a Provencal rose, and then dinner with a bottle of a 2004 white Mercurey that Ghislaine had found in her cellar. Having been awake for over 36 hours, we called it an early evening.

     The next day, one of Ghislaine's children had arranged a visit to a wine producer in the Cote Challonaise, along with several other family members. Nine of us arrived at Domaine Pigneret Fils in the town of Moroges at 11 a.m., where Eric Pigneret gave us a lengthy tour of the winery. Eric and his brother Joseph are the 4th generation of Pignerets to run the winery, and Eric gave a terrific tour with a very enthusiastic presentation of the entire winemaking process at the domaine. He then brought us to the tasting room, where we had a tasting of the entire range of the domaine's wines over several hours, which included plates of salami and cured hams made with the domaine's distilled liquor. The domaine makes wines from the Bourgogne, Mercurey, Rully, Givry and Montagny appellations, as well as 2 sparkling wines, and we tried them all. The quality of the wines was outstanding, and everyone bought quite a bit to take home.

Domaine Pigneret

       That evening we had dinner with Ghislaine's children, their children, and her in-laws. One dish was tartiflette, a casserole made with cheese, bacon, cream, wine, and Ghislaine's father's potatoes. She also made a roast leg of lamb, and a roast chicken for the children. With dinner we had a bottle of Mercurey rouge from Michel Juillot that we had picked up the day before, and a bottle of Mercurey rouge from Domaine Pigneret.


Le Diner en Famille

     The next morning, Saturday, we left Ghislaine's and drove towards the Bugey region, in the Ain department, where we were going to spend a week. This was De Ferme en Ferme weekend in France, which is the equivalent of Maine's Open Farm Day, where farms open their doors to visitors, with tours of the farm and samplings and sales of their products. We stopped at Bergerie la Ramaz, a goat cheese producer, where we were given a tour of the farm and the cheese production facility. They have around 100 milking goats, and make a wide range of goat cheese. We bought some cheese, as well as yogurt and goat milk.
Goat Milk Bar

A Few of the Little Ones

      In the late afternoon we arrived at the house (a “gite”) we were renting, and were greeted by the owners. They gave us a bottle of Seyssel, a local white wine, and a salami made by a friend of theirs. Seyssel is made principally from the Altesse grape (also known as Roussette), a grape which is pretty much only grown in the Savoie area, and the Seyssel appellation is one of the oldest and smallest appellations in France. This Seyssel, from Martine et Bernard Mollex, was absolutely outstanding. We drank it as an aperitif, and with dinner we had a bottle of Bourgogne rouge from Domaine Pigneret.