Thursday, March 25, 2010
We were headed north one day last fall to visit our cousin Anne-Emmanuelle and her partner Nicolas and see their newly purchased house in Moroges, a small village in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy.
Since our travel north on the A-7 would traverse the Northern Côte du Rhone, we decided we should stop and visit Tain L'Hermitage, center of the Hermitage Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC).
The town of Tain-L'Hermitage is located just west of the "autoroute" along the left bank of the Rhone River to the north of Valence about 1 1/2 hours by car from Sablet.
Wine and chocolate make Tain-L'Hermitage a favorite stop for food and wine lovers like us. Chocolate maker Valrhona is based in Tain-L'Hermitage and bars, sauces and powders can be sampled for free and bought in the boutique on Avenue du Président-Roosevelt.
In his wonderful book Adventures on the Wine Route, reknown wine importer Kermit Lynch says "If there is any single vineyard that the Creator obviously designed expressly for wine production, it is Hermitage."
Hermitage is one hillside slanted due south overlooking the Rhone River. The surface area of the Hermitage vineyards total 300 acres, the smallest AOC in the Northern Côte du Rhone.
Syrah is the only red grape permited in Hermitage AOC wines. A small amount of white wine grapes, up to 15%, of either Marsanne or Roussanne may be blended with the Syrah.
White wines from Hermitage are made exclusively from Marsanne or Roussanne grapes.
The best way to experience the Hermitage Vineyards is to hike up the hill through the vineyards overlooking Tain-L'Hermitage. A road under the railroad track leads to the base of the vineyards which cover the hill.
This is how you get to the Hermitage vineyards.
After eating chocolate, take a stroll along the Rhone River. The town of Tournon-sur-Rhone is on the other side.
You can take a pedestrian bridge, La Passerelle Seguin, across the Rhone River, to get to Tournon-sur-Rhone. Walking along the river in Tournon-sur-Rhone offer the best view of Tain-L'Hermitage and the Hermitage vineyard.
There are plenty of opportunities to taste wines in Tain-L'Hermitage.
We stopped in at M. Chapoutier on Avenue Dr. Paul Durand. As vineyard owners and negociants, they have a wide selection of wines from Hermitage and elsewhere.
Unfortunately, since we were expected at our cousin's house, we didn't get to spend a lot of time tasting wines or go anywhere else. We will definitely return soon.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
About six months after opening, we decided to close the Bistro and take a three week holiday, sort of like a French restaurant's "fermeture annuelle". It was January and we had survived the year end holidays; January is traditionally a very slow time for tourism in the wine country.
My partner in the Bistro and I decided to take our chef and one of our servers to France so they could experience the food, wine, people and culture of France since they had never been to France before.
Since we opened the Bistro, our favorite rosé wine has been the delicious Gris de Gris produced by Domaine de Fontsainte from five varietals of grapes from Corbières. Year after year, this wine has all of the best characteristics of a great rosé; color, crispness and dry.
It is easy for me to get off track when I start to talk and think about this wine so I will come back to this in a future post. When I started to research our trip, I saw that Boutenac where Domaine de Fontsainte is located, is only about 45 km from the medieval city of Carcassonne.
We were determined to visit Domaine de Fontsainte and given its proximity, we decided that we should also visit Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a fortified town in the Aude Department of Languedoc-Roussillon.
It is separated into the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city, the ville basse. The fortress which was thoroughly restored in 1853, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
Besides its history and beauty and location along the Canal du Midi, Carcassonne is also known for its cassoulet. Cassoulet is a rich slow-cooked stew or casserole containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes lamb) and white beans (haricots blancs or lingots).
The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. Numerous regional variations exist, the best known being the cassoulets from Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne.
As I have written before, I generally plan out our trips quite thoroughly before we go so that we hopefully have positive experiences whereever we go. On some trips, this means we are not very spontaneous; but I digress again.
As I was planning for the trip with our bistro crew, I checked with a variety of sources including local vintners about where we should go in Carcassone to eat a good traditional cassoulet. Numerous people told me we should go to Le Languedoc restaurant.
The traveling party from Bistro Des Copains; Tricia Stagg, Chef Melissa Gonyea, me and my partner in Bistro Des Copains, Cluney Stagg at our table at Le Languedoc. Unfortunately, my wife Shirley couldn't stay as long as the rest of us.
Among the dishes we tried was a tasty offering of moules gratinés prepared by chef Didier Faugeras.
We also tried the chef's version of onion soup gratinés.
And the "pièce de résistance", highlight, and reason for coming to Le Languedoc was cassoulet au confit de canard, the restaurant's specialty. It was the best cassoulet I have ever had. This was the first time I had ever had cassoulet served family style instead of in individual cassoles.
So while the cassoulet might not have had quite as much tasty crunchiness on top, it was a delicious, rich combination of white beans, duck confit, lamb and pork sausage. It was wonderful, so wonderful that I took seconds when it was offered.
To finish off our lunch, I had the "nougat glacé au coulis de framboise", frozen nougat with a rasberry coulis.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Having only watched the Tour on television, I really wanted to make a quick trip and see it in person. I was happily surprised when Shirley responded "why not" when I proposed this "outing" to her. Oh, what a dear.
The 2009 Tour de France started in the principality of Monaco on July 4 with a 15 km individual time trial. By the time the peloton arrived in Montélimar where stage 20 would start, the riders had ridden more than 3000 km and visited 6 countries.
Stage 20, the last competitive stage on the Tour (stage 21 is largely a ceremonial ride up the Champs Élysées in Paris), was scheduled for Saturday, July 25. The police were reporting that the road up Mont Ventoux was crowded with spectators, some estimates said as many as 500,000 people were on the mountain.
So rather than fight the crowds on Mont Ventoux, we opted to go to Bédoin, the last village the peloton would cross before they began the big climb up Mont Ventoux. Stage 20 was scheduled to cover 167 km starting in Montélimar and finish at the top.
We and our friends arrived in Bédoin about 1:00 pm. It was a beautiful, hot day and Mont Ventoux was clearly visible up behind the village.
We were not sure the route the peloton would follow to cross through Bédoin, but decided to follow the crowds as we figured they would lead us to the right place.
The road into Bédoin is lined with trees which provide shade to travelers; walkers or riders.
We found a place to watch the race along the street and bought drinks and sandwiches from the café directly behind where we were seated on the curb. The café staff were very kind and without our even asking, brought out chairs for Shirley and me.
Besides watching the riders for the brief time it takes for the peloton to pass by, I decided the best part of watching a stage in person versus on television is watching all the people. Shirley was quite the sight herself.
This US Navy pilot from Norfolk Virginia and his very pregnant wife with the US flag painted on her belly were photographed many times.
There was a crowd around the café where we were situated under the tree for shade.
The police led the Tour de France caravan through town; as I recall, they arrived about 90 minutes before the peloton was scheduled to arrive.
The parade of advertisers and sponsors seems to go on forever.
Most of the sponsor vehicles had riders or passengers throwing samples to the crowds lining the street.
There were multiple mobile "stands" selling a variety of souvenirs.
A few minutes before the first riders in the peloton arrived, police vehicles with loud speakers drove through town announcing the impending arrival of the first riders and clearing the street of spectators.
The first riders in a small break away group arrive.
A minute or so later, the leaders of the race arrive. One of the first to peddle by was Lance Armstrong.
He was followed shortly by Alberto Contador wearing the yellow jersey signifying he was the leader of the race.
Then the team cars loaded with spare bikes snaked their way through town.
After a few more minutes, the main group of riders in the peloton arrived and made their way past our location.
Finally back home to Sablet; the sun and excitement had wiped me out. Thanks Shirley for taking this lovely picture.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Although technically in Languedoc-Roussillon, the Pont du Gard and Uzès seem more part of Provence and are generally included in guidebooks about Provence.
The Pont du Gard is part of an aqueduct system which brought spring water from a catchment area near Uzès 50 km to the Roman city of Nîmes.
Built by the Romans during the 1st century, the aqueduct was constructed entirely without mortar. The stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were precisely cut to fit perfectly together eliminating the need for mortar.
The cut stone was lifted into place with a massive human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch.
The full 50 km aqueduct descended only 17 meters in its entire length and delivered 20,000 cubic meters or a little over 5 million gallons on a daily basis.
The Pont du Gard is remarkably well preserved and was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985.
I remember visits to the Pont du Gard when I was very young, probably in connection with visits to my grandmother's family who lived near Anduze in the Gard Department, and going swimming in the Gardon River below the Pont du Gard.
As recently as 1995 when we were there, you could climb to the very top and walk across the Pont du Gard. Being afraid of heights, I have never been up there myself. I was not happy when my friend and at that time future business partner Cluney took my daughters up there.
During more recent visits, we were not able to go above the bottom level, probably because of fear of law suits from falls (although the French are less paranoid about this than we are in United States) and to preserve the Pont du Gard for future generations.
The Pont du Gard can be accessed from either the right bank or left bank of the Gardon River. There is a charge for parking but access to the bridge is free. There are several places where you can swim in the river if you so choose.
A good way to explore the Pont du Gard is as part of a visit to the Duchy of Uzes which is worthwhile. There is a wonderful market in Uzès on Saturday mornings one of my favorites after the Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine. Go early as parking is difficult by late morning.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
We have never been in Sablet during the month of May so we are anxious to see what new sights and activities are in store for us.
I am most excited about seeing what will be available in the various village markets, especially the Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine.
As usual, we will have guests visiting from the US. Long time staff and friends Julia, Allison, Kari and Lisi from Bistro Des Copains in Occidental, California will be coming to Sablet for the first time.
I can't wait to show them our favorite places in the Vaucluse, eat wonderful food and drink some great wine from the Cote du Rhone.
I can't wait!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I had gone to Montpellier the day before to do some shopping, specifically buy a sofa/sleeper at Ikea and then spend the night with my cousins who live in Clapier, a village located northwest of town.
To be truthful, I had gone to visit my cousins to borrow their Espace so I could transport the sofa/sleeper back to Sablet and get it into the house.
As we arrived close to Sablet, Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail were clearly visible in the distance over the vineyards. For my California friends who ask me about the weather in Provence during January and February, we get some snow (some years more than others), but you also have beautiful weather like this day.
It was just before noon when we finished unloading the sofa/sleeper and we decided, my cousins Jean Marc and Christine Davy and me, that we should go find a place to go eat déjeuner, lunch.
On the D977 just outside Sablet is Les Genets, a restaurant and wine shop featuring the food and wines of the region. We have eaten there a number of times, the first time right after we signed the papers at the Notaires office finalizing the purchase of the house.
Les Genêts has a pretty dining room and large terrace with views of Sablet and the Dentelles de Montmirail for dining on warm days.
We were among the first diners to arrive and we were warmly greeted and seated despite the fact that we had not réserver, made a reservation for lunch that Sunday. As has been our usual experience, it doesn't take very long for this restaurant to be complet, full.
My wonderful cousins Jean Marc and Christine Davy, both physicians, he a cardiologist and she a pediatrician at Les Genêts. They are probably the most generous people I know.
Les Genêts prepares simple, tasty dishes using locally sourced ingredients. The price value ratio is wonderful; during the week, they serve a 3 course formule, prix fixe menu at lunch with 1/4 liter of house wine for 12,50 Euros. You can't beat it.
As soon as we were seated, an amuse bouche was brought out for us to taste while we perused the menu for the day. Thankfully, the pictures are quite self-explanatory because I lost my notes about what we ate that day. I do recall, that everything was very good.
I ordered the salad with duck confit and locally made goat cheese.
Jean Marc ordered the foie gras. Christine as is her habit, only ordered a plat, or main course.
Christine ordered Coquilles St Jacques which were nicely presented on a platter with their accompaniments.
I ordered the roast squab, pigeon which was accompanied by a mixture of roasted vegetables.
Jean Marc ordered the chevreuil with polenta.
For dessert, we shared a sampler of house-made desserts.
To accompany our meal, we enjoyed a bottle of red wine from Sablet. A very nice meal! Les Genets is a good place especially for lunch; get there right at 12 or make sure you reserve. We have been turned away because they were complet, full, several times.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Gigondas sits at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the Vaucluse Department; this little village, population 700, is an absolutely essential stop for lovers of big red wines.
Turn off the D-7 and follow the road up through the lower village; you will pass a succession of cafés and wine caves before you arrive at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie, town hall, and the Caveau du Gigondas, wine growers cooperative are located.
Park your car in the public parking lot near the fountain and take some time to explore Gigondas before stopping to taste at one of the many wine caves or the Caveau du Gigondas where almost all the wines produced in Gigondas are available for dégustation, tasting or purchase.
The name Gigondas is of Roman origin. Jocunditas means great pleasure and enjoyment in Latin, with the town's origin and production of wine dating back to the Romans.
Stroll the pretty narrow streets lined with stone houses up to the parish church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. On the way, you can find pretty views out over the region and the vineyards of Gigondas and the surrounding communes.
Built on the same grounds as the primitive feudal castle, the church dates from the beginning of the 17th century.
The feudal castle originally belonged to the Princes of Orange and was probably used as a second home. In 1678, a hospice was added to the castle.
After the French revolution, the castle became a girls' school, and stayed that way up until the beginning of the 20th century when it was finally abandoned and rapidly fell into ruin.
Gigondas is largely a red wine appellation with a small amount of rosé wine being produced. No white wine is produced.
In 1971, Gigondas was designated as its own appellation; previously it had been a Côtes du Rhône-Villages.
Our favorite producers of Gigondas wine are Domaine La Bouissiere, Domaine Les Pallieres and Chateau De Saint Cosme.
We spotted this old brass plaque hanging on the wall of the Domaine La Bouissiere cave; it reads: "Lord give me a long life, love from time to time, not too much work, and good wine all the time".
There are several very good places to eat in Gigondas which I will post in the future.