Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eygalières, Les Alpilles

One morning after dropping off friends Allison and Adam at Marseille Provence airport and then walking around Arles (more about my visit to Arles in a future post), I headed off in the rented Opel to the Alpilles, the small range of mountains which are an extension of the larger Luberon range.

I was going to Mas de Gourgonnier near Mouriès to buy a case of their 2009 rosé wine for our cave - wine cellar in Sablet, and some of the wonderful red rice which the family grows in the Camargue. I love the nutty taste of the rice and and like to serve it with lemon juice and pine nuts. At our Bistro Des Copains, we serve the rice as an accompaniment to pan roasted duck breast.

After walking through the vineyards in front of the winery and tasting the wines on offer that day, my growling stomach told me it was getting towards lunch and I thought I would drive to Eygalières and stroll around the village and find a place to eat. I figured there had to be at least one good place.

I have been to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, bought olive oil in Maussane-les-Alpilles, and hiked to the top of the fortress and seen the views from Les-Baux-de-Provence but had never been to nearby Eygalières before.

Eygalières is located about one hour south of our home in Sablet. The village is surrounded by the landscape of the Alpilles: scrub lands, pastures with sheep grazing, olive groves, and vineyards. As you approach, you can see Eygalières off in the distance perched on a small hill.

I found parking near the Hotel de Ville - the town hall with the village child care center and headed in the direction that looked like the commercial center of the village.

The Café de la Place is located near the Hotel de Ville.

The fountain near the center of the village.

A small épicerie located near the center of town. As you walk up the street, it is easy to see that the monied-set have found Eygalières.

As you know from a previous post, we own a beautiful black Newfoundland named Abbi so I was excited to see this Newfoundland tethered to a tree outside the épicerie since we don't see other Newfoundlands very often.

The village church.

Another café filled with people enjoying the sunny day after almost two weeks of rainy weather.

A pretty ivy-covered home along the road on the way up to the top of the village.

The ancient castle tower topped by a bell at the top of the village.

Ruins with statue.

A hike up the narrow winding street to the top of the village is rewarded with magnificent views out over Eygalières.

Views toward the Alpilles.

After walking back to my car, I headed off to Maison Bru for lunch. I will tell you about that wonderful lunch in a future post.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Les Remparts, Venasque

As you probably recall, we had several friends from our Bistro Des Copains in Occidental, California visit during our last sojourn in Sablet.

Usually, when we head out with friends to visit a pretty village or historical site, be it in the Vaucluse or elsewhere, we plan the day so our friends can see and experience as much as possible on the way to and from whatever village we choose that day.

It might seem hard to believe given how much I talk about food and wine, but we almost never choose a village or plan our day around where we are going to eat lunch. That is probably against all the rules for a restauranteur or a foodie to say, but that's the truth.

Wife Shirley has only recently started to eat fish and several of our friends are vegetarian so we are always on the lookout for restaurants that offer vegetarian dishes.

Well one morning while our friends from the Bistro were visiting, I remembered as we were planning our day, that there is a restaurant in Venasque called Les Remparts which offers a vegetarian menu each day. I am sure there are others but this is the only restaurant that we have been to in France where we have seen this.

I figured that the vegetarians in the group might be getting tired of eating chèvre chaud salad - warm goat cheese salad for lunch and we should go visit Venasque and eat déjeuner - lunch at Les Remparts. Despite the abundance of fruits and vegetables on display in village markets, restaurants in France usually don't offer many vegetarian dishes.

In addition to a nice lunch, I figured that our friends would enjoy seeing Venasque. Venasque is a small picturesque village perched at the top of a steep hill and classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France - one of the most beautiful villages of France. See previous post.

As the name says, Restaurant Les Remparts is built into the remparts - old walls, that surround the village.

The restaurant is located just a few steps from the fountain in the center of the village.

At Les Remparts, you can sit in the interior dining room, a large sun room or on a small outdoor terrace with views of the valley on sunny days.

Unfortunately, it was a grey day and raining off and on so we chose to sit in the glass enclosed sun room.

Les Remparts offer a number of prix fixe menus du jour - menus of the day, including the vegetarian menu for 25 Euros that consists of all vegetarian dishes. I chose the menu Provençal for 32 Euros. Wife Shirley chose the vegetarian salad for 12 Euros.

The vegetarian menu started with a Clafoutis Provençal with fresh goat cheese accompanied by mixed greens.

The vegetarian salad included small portions of a tomato tart, a savory carrot cake with ricotta cheese and pesto, the clafoutis Provençal with goat cheese, boiled egg, cheese and mixed greens.

My starter was a tasty plate of small bites including tomato crumble over goat cheese cream, a salt cod tart, and tomato tart tatin.

Vegetarian main courses included lasagna

and ravioli in a creamy leak sauce.

For my main course, I had a croustade d'Espadon, a tasty fish accompanied by a basil leek crumble.

The vegetarian menu included a goat cheese tasting.

Our desserts included red-wine poached goat cheese with honey.

A dessert sampler with crème brûlée, nougat glacé, and chocolate cake.

A creamy creation with oranges.

Floating Islands with chocolate sauce.

We had a pitcher of rosé wine to accompany our wonderful meal.

I recommend reservations so you can be sure to get a seat in the sun room or on the terrace on a sunny day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Château du Trignon, Gigondas

As readers of the Our house in Provence blog know, our home is in Sablet, a small village in the Côtes du Rhône wine region. The first time I ever heard Sablet mentioned was when my partner Cluney told me he had bought a case of Château du Trignon Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet for the wine list we were putting together for our Bistro Des Copains.

A little more than six months later, we decided to close the Bistro for a couple of weeks; it was January and a slow time for restaurants in West Sonoma County. We were going to France with our chef, a server and assorted friends so we could experience the food, wine, people and culture of the South of France.

As we set our itinerary, we scheduled appointments to visit wineries who make some of the wonderful wines on the Bistro's wine list. In the Côtes du Rhône region, this included wineries in Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although we were very close to Sablet for several days, we never saw the village that is now home on that trip.

When you drive into a village in the South of France, you see small rectangle signs, generally red, at street intersections pointing the direction to local restaurants, hotels and wineries. When we finally drove into Sablet for the first time, I saw a sign for Château du Trignon, unusually yellow instead of red, and knew I had to go déguster - taste their wine.

From the signs and location, you would assume that Château du Trignon is in Sablet. But that is not the case; the winery is actually located within the commune of Gigondas. When you cross the bridge to the winery, you have left the Sablet Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and you are in Gigondas.

The story of Château du Trignon began in 1896 when it was bought by the Roux family. Before then, it had been a traditional Provençal farm of the time. Over the years, the Roux family added vineyards in Gigondas AOC, Rasteau AOC, Sablet AOC and Côtes du Rhône.

In 2007, Château du Trignon was acquired by the Quiot family of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, themselves winemakers since 1748. Simultaneously with the purchase of Château du Trignon, the Quiot family added 10 hectares (24.71 acres) of vineyards in Vacqueyras and 2 hectares (4.94 acres) of vineyards in Beaumes de Venise to Château du Trignon.

Despite having been on my list of things I wanted to do since the first time we drove into Sablet, we never seemed to find the time to visit Château du Trignon till one afternoon a few weeks ago.

After driving up the narrow lane and crossing the bridge from Sablet to Gigondas into Château du Trignon, I arrived in a pretty courtyard reminiscent of a family farm.

There is a pond with ducks paddling across the water.

This looked like a small chapel to me.

After walking around the back to look for the door (I am nosy), I discovered it was not a chapel but rather a rabbit hutch with a yard for the rabbits.

A few of the rabbits who live at Château du Trignon. I am pretty sure these rabbits are not pets.

The pretty cave at Château du Trignon shaded by the trees that surround the courtyard. I entered the tasting room and was given a list of wines that were available for tasting that day.

Either by design or because they want to sell out of older vintages before they start selling the newer releases, the wines available to taste at Château du Trignon were a little older and thus more developed than many wines we taste at other wineries.

I tasted the 2005 Château du Trignon Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau, the 2005 Château du Trignon Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet, the 2006 Château du Trignon Vacqueyras, and the 2006 Château du Trignon Gigondas.

One thing I noticed and was confirmed to me was that with the purchase of Château du Trignon by the Quiot family, the wines are now being fined and filtered before being bottled, a process used by many wineries to remove sediments and clarify the wine. I generally prefer to drink wines that are not treated this way.

The pretty Gigondas vineyards of Château du Trignon with the Dentelles de Montmirail in the background.

I plan to return to Château du Trignon to taste their wines from the legendary 2007 vintage when we return to Sablet in a few weeks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises, Sainte Cécile les Vignes

Our friends Allison and husband Adam told me they wanted to take me out to dinner after we dropped off our mutual friends from Bistro Des Copains at the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse - high-speed train) station in Avignon who were headed off to Paris for a few days before returning to the United States.

I suggested we try Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises in Sainte Cécile les Vignes, a small village located about 15 km from our home in Sablet. I had tried to go there previously, but each time the restaurant had been closed or fully booked. I called for a reservation and this time I was successful and we got a table.

Sainte Cécile les Vignes is surrounded by vineyards in the plains known as the "Provence of the Popes", in the Haut Vaucluse near the Drôme. As its name suggests, Sainte Cécile les Vignes is a Côtes du Rhône wine village.

Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises is located a little north of the village on Route de Suze-la-Rousse. I had read about Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises in several restaurant guide books, most recently I had seen that it was designated as a Bib Gourmand restaurant in the 2010 Michelin Guide.

We arrived at our appointed time and walked into the small but very charming dining room. We were warmly greeted by Sylvia who owns the restaurant along with her husband Sylvain who is the chef. We were seated and shortly afterwards a basket of warm breadsticks and olives were placed on the table for us to enjoy while we looked over the menu.

Allison and I chose the Retour de Marché Menu for 21 Euros and Adam chose the Menu Découverte for 32 Euros. We selected a bottle of the 2007 Domaine de Beaurengard Côtes du Rhône Village Rasteau to accompany our dinners.

Our dishes included Salmon and Crab with lemon cream sauce.

Adam started his meal with a salad that included sardines and goat cheese.

Saddle of rabbit, stuffed with rosemary and sage served over fava beans and fried potatoes.

We had Magret de Canard au Miel - duck breast with honey served on top of a corn galette and topped with a whole steamed fava bean.

Adam finished his meal with yoghurt, strawberries and pistachios.

We finshed with blueberry clafoutis, blueberries baked in a thick flan-like batter and served warm.

Thank you Allison and Adam for a wonderful dinner and evening. I can't wait to go back.

Friday, August 13, 2010

La Victoire, Aix-en-Provence

I have mentioned in previous posts about Bistro Des Copains and Les Deux Garçons Brasserie that we have purchased all of our fabric for table cloths, curtains and place mats for the wine bar at our Bistro Des Copains at a wonderful shop in Aix-en-Provence.

I first stopped in at La Victoire in early 2006 with cousin Annick when we were leisurely strolling through old Aix-en-Provence going into and out of stores looking for pottery and fabric we might use at our soon to be opened Bistro Des Copains.

We entered La Victoire and were warmly greeted by Marie-Hélène who owns the store along with her husband Philippe. I could tell right away that this was not a tourist shop but a real fabric store. They had table cloths, place mats, table runners and rolls and rolls of pretty Provençal fabrics.

Almost best of all, they could have the fabric made into table cloths at a place in Marseille within the few days that I had remaining before I returned to California. I was thrilled. We have returned each time we are in Sablet to get new place mats and table cloths to replace those that are worn out.

I am warmly greeted with a 'Bonjour Michel" and bise, a kiss on alternating cheeks by Marie-Hélène each time I walk into the store. If you are looking for fabric or table cloths, place mats or runners from Provence, I would heartily recommend you visit La Victoire.

I am sure we will return many times in the future.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Givry, Côte Chalonnaise

One day last fall, cousin Jean Marc suggested that Shirley and I go see the house that his daughter Anne-Emmanuelle's and her partner Nicolas had recently purchased in Moroges, a small commune in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy France.

Moroges is about 350 km straight north of Sablet past Lyon off the A-6 autoroute. After checking the map, we decided that we would go and stop on the way in Tain-L'Hermitage for lunch and visit the Valrhona chocolate factory and déguster - taste wine, at M. Chapoutier (see previous post).

Both Anne-Emmanuelle and Nicolas are musicians, she has an outstanding voice and gives concerts and performs in operas around the country and he teaches wind instruments at the music conservatory in nearby Chalon-sur-Saône, the town from which the Côte Chalonnaise derives its name.

Since the next day was a jour férié - a national holiday in France, cousin Jean Marc and wife Christine would leave after work and drive up from their home near Montpellier so they could be there as well. We arrived about the time for aperitifs and then sat down for a wonderful dinner prepared by Anne-Emmanuelle.

We woke up the next morning to find lots of sunshine and blue sky, most welcomed after the rain and gray of the previous day. We took a look around and could see that with the work they have planned, the old house and land around the house will be totally charming.

The house is in the heart of Moroges and the property includes a large area for a future garden and a second house which they plan to renovate and refurbish in the future for guests.

Cousin Anne-Emmanuelle and wife Shirley standing in front of the entrance to the old house.

As it was November 11, it was Armistice Day in France, the day which commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918

Like most towns in France, Moroges has a memorial with the names of the local citizens who sacrificed their lives for France during World War I and II. The names for World War I far outnumber the names for World War II on these memorials as France suffered an estimated 1,397,800 casualties in World War I and 217,000 in World War II.

On this day, the memorial was festooned with flags in honor of Armistice Day.

The pretty church in Moroges.

After walking around Moroges, we headed off to Givry to déguster - taste wine. The Côte Chalonnaise has five village-level AOCs. They are, from north to south: Bouzeron, the only village AOC for Aligoté still wine; Rully, which is known for its chardonnay as well as being a center for crémant sparkling wine production; Mercurey, which is the largest volume producer of the region, its production being nearly all pinot noir; Givry, which produces mostly pinot noir; and Montagny which produces only chardonnay.

The village of Givry is the smallest of the village appellations in the Côte Chalonnaise. The pinot noirs are noted for their structure and ability to age well. The chardonnays of the region are noted for their characteristic licorice notes in the bouquet and slight spicy-butteriness. The pinot noirs of Givry were reportedly the favorite wines of King Henry IV.

The landscape of the region is more agriculture than other parts of Burgundy with vineyards alternating between pastures dotted with Charolais cattle and orchards on the soft rolling hills of the area. The soil is predominately limestone mixed with sand and clay and the occasional iron deposit.

The diversity in slopes and soils creates a myriad of microclimates that influence the quality of the wine from the Côte Chalonnaise, even among vineyards labeled as premier cru.

Anne-Emmanuelle had done some research about the wineries in the area and suggested we head first to Jambles, a small hamlet located southwest of the town of Givry to taste at Domaine Michel Sarrazin et Fils.

The family-owned domaine is spread over 35 hectares in various village appellations primarily within the Côte Chalonnaise. All production of wine takes place in the caves - winery, located in Jambles.

Wife Shirley standing in the courtyard outside of Domaine Michel Sarrazin et fils winery.

Some of the rolling hill vineyards of the Givry village appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise.

More hillside vineyards of the Givry village appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise.

After tasting the wines on offer at Domaine Michel Sarrazin et fils and buying a case of pinot noir to take with us, we headed for Clos Salomon in Givry to taste their wine. The name Clos Salomon comes from the Salomon family who has owned the winery for more than 300 years.

Clos Salomon makes their wine without fining or filtering, a process some wineries use to clarify and stabilize wine by removing insoluble and suspended materials that may cause a wine to become cloudy, form unwanted sediment deposits or tartaric crystals. This is done before bottling.

Clos Salomon makes pinot noir from the vineyards which surround the winery. Clos Salomon also makes chardonnary from a small parcel in Givry and from vineyards in Montagny. In total, Clos Salomon is spread over 9.62 hectares.

The vineyard around the Clos Salomon cave - winery and small La Grande Berge vineyard in Givry, are classified as premier crus and neither insectisides or herbisides are used on the vines.

By the time we finished tasting and buying wine at Clos Salomon, it was time for lunch. Our charming hostess at Clos Salomon recommended La Billebaude in the heart of Givry, as a good option for déjeuner - lunch, on a holiday.

The war memorial with its flags in picturesque Givry.

The town hall housed inside the monumental gatehouse dating from 1771.

Another view of the Givry gatehouse.

La Billebaude Auberge et Bar à Bière in Givry.

I chose very traditional dishes from Burgundy. I started with Les 8 Escargots de Bourgogne Traditionnels, plump escargots with an aromatic sauce of garlic and parsley.

For my plat - main course, I chose Oeufs en Meurrette, poached eggs in a red wine sauce. One of the most wonderful dishes I have ever tasted.

To finish, I chose Soupe au Chocolat et Mouillettes de Pain d'Épices, chocolate soup with spiced bread.

I walked out of La Billebaude a very content man.

I look forward to returning to see Anne-Emmanuelle and Nicolas and tasting more wine from the Côte Chalonnaise.