A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 445: Vive la France!

Monday, May 13: Last night Guy brought his new girlfriend for dinner. Tried to BBQ but the wind was howling and cooled down the grill, so I had to pan sear and roast the steaks – overcooked, feh. But the wine rescued the meal: Cedar Creek Platinum Pinot Noir Home Block 2010 (rich black cherry flavour, savoury, herbal notes. Dense and deeply coloured. A killer New World style Pinot – 91).

Had breakfast at the Marriott Hotel Yorkville with my sister Shirley, who’s in town to celebrate Mother’s Day with her sons, David and Mark. Deborah dropped me off at Skin & Bones wine bar on Queen Street near Carlaw for a walk-around tasting of Greek wines. The whites were more interesting than the reds (many of which had green tannins). My favourites were Skouras Cuvée Prestige White 2012 (Roditis & Moscofilero – 89), Tselepos Mantinia Moscofilero 2012 (89+) and Gerovassiliou Estate White 2012 (Assyyrtiko & Malagousia – 89).

Spent the rest of the afternoon clearing my desk and packing for London. I’m delivering a Canadian sparkling wine seminar, with Peter Gamble and Angelo Pavan, at Canada house on Thursday and then flying to Toulouse to meet Deborah and the rest of our group for my annual wine tour – this year to Languedoc and Provence. Watched the Leafs lose to Boston in the play-offs after being 4–1 up in the third period. Devastation.

Tuesday, May 14: Worked on my address for the sparkling wine seminar and took a car to the airport for the Air Canada flight to London. Slept for an hour, missing dinner, and then watched a terrible Bruce Willis Die Hard movie. Lost count of the number of cars that were demolished in a Moscow chase scene.

Wednesday, May 15: Arrived in London at 7:15 am and took the tube to Charing Cross. I’m staying at the Grand Hotel Trafalgar Square. I arrived there at around 9 am and they told me my room wasn’t ready but I could get an “early booking” room right away for a charge of £40 (even though the room they gave me had not been occupied the night before). I was so tired I didn’t argue. Slept for three hours, showered and caught up on emails (at least the hotel’s wi-fi is free).

Walked over to Berry Brothers & Rudd in St. James’s Street to deliver a promised copy of Death on the Douro to Simon Field MW, who was on the same Languedoc panel as I was for the Decanter World Wine Awards. They told me that he worked at their Basingstoke office. I asked one of the saleswomen if they still had the Berry Brothers cellar book that was the model for the Queen Mary’s dolls’ house in Windsor Castle. I had found it in a second-hand shop some thirty years ago when I was living in London and presented it to the late Anthony Berry. He told me his father had been asked by the palace to lay down the cellar for the dolls’ house in 1933. The cellar book was miniaturized to postage stamp size and all the bottles were filled with the correct wines – even the champagne bottles with their original straw sleeves. There is a mock-up of the cellar in Berry Brothers’ store.

In the evening I walked over to Seymour Place where a group of us are having dinner at Vinoteca Wine bar. I used to live in an apartment on Seymour Place before I left England to go to McGill. I was early so I had a half pint of Brakspear Oxford Gold Bitter in the Carpenter’s Arms, opposite the restaurant. Several of the Ontario producers had brought their wines, which we drank with the meal. As an aperitif Bill Redelmeier bought a bottle of Rolly Gassman Gewurztraminer 2002. Here’s a list of the wines we had on the table for the sixteen of us:

  • Southbrook Whimsy Winemaker’s White 2011 (a blend of Muscat, Semillon and Chardonnay)
  • Malivoire Motiar Chardonnay 2010
  • Cave Spring “The Adam Steps” 2011
  • Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2010
  • Charles Baker Piccone Vineyard Riesling 2011
  • Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2010
  • Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011
  • Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvée L 2009
  • Malivoire Gamay Courtney Vineyard 2010
  • Southbrook Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007

We also tasted the following wines purchased from the wine bar: Matt Thomson The Paddler Grüner Veltliner 2012 from New Zealand, Cantine Terlan Gries Lagrein Riserva 2009, Anton Bauer Zweigelt Feuerbrunn 2010, Bolyki Egri Bikaver Szüretlen 2009, finishing with Jenkyn Place Brut 2008.

My meal: Nettle soup with crème fraiche, braised wild rabbit, smoked bacon, new season garlic and fennel sticks, Yorkshire rhubarb, meringue and cream.

Tony with Steven Brook outside Vinoteca, Seymour Place, London
Tony with Steven Brook outside Vinoteca, Seymour Place, London

Thomas Bachelder, Angelo Pavan and I shared a cab back to our respective hotels.

Thursday, May 16: Checked out of the hotel and walked over to Canada House to conduct a seminar on Canadian sparkling wine. I gave a historical overview of bubbly in Canada and Angelo and Thomas spoke to the wines of Nova Scotia, Ontario and BC.

  • 13th Street Winery Grand Cuvee Blanc de Noirs 2007
  • L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut 2007
  • Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2004
  • Cave Spring Cellars Blanc de Blanc N/V
  • Hinterland Wine Company Les Etoiles 2009
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blanc 2007
  • Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2010
  • Sperling Vineyards Brut 2008
  • Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Brut N/V
  • Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Ariel 1998

After the seminar we all went down to the main hall for the walk-around tasting of 84 wines, plus 20 sparkling wines. There must have been about 200 English wine trade and press who attended the tasting and the buzz in the room was great. Harald Thiel and I took a cab to the airport, Terminal 5, for our flight to Toulouse. We had dinner in a pub at the airport with a pint of London Pride.

In Toulouse we were met by a woman driver who took us to Carcassonne, a drive of about an hour. Got to Carcassonne at 1 am to find that the barrier to the entrance to the town was down. It was not automatic. The driver had to call the hotel and the receptionist eventually came with a key to raise the barrier. We are staying at L’Hotel de la Cité, a beautiful old hotel within the walls of the old town.

The walled town of Carcassonne
The walled town of Carcassonne

Friday, May 17: Our first stop is Domane de Baron’Arques near Limoux. The property was originally owned by the monks of St. Polycarpe in the 17th century. It was purchased in 1998 by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. The estate has 47 hectares of vines including a parcel below the house that is planted Merlot with a density of 7,500 vines per hectare. They produce 60,000 bottles of Baron’Arques, 36,000 bottles of a second label, La Citadelle, and 15,000 bottles of Chardonnay.

Domaine de Baron'Arques
Domaine de Baron’Arques

  • Baron’Arques La Capitelle 2010 (50% Merlot, 36% Syrah, 8% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby colour; dry, full-bodied, savoury and herbal with a spicy note; well balanced with a bitter chocolate finish. (89)
  • Domaine de Baron’Arques 2009 (50% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Grenache): the Syrah sings through. Dense purple colour; meaty, savoury nose; dry, full-bodied, spicy blackberry flavour with a note of toasted herbs. (91)
  • Domaine de Baron’Arques 2007 (61% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 8% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc): full-bodied, dry, bitter chocolate nose; meaty, earthy, savoury-herbal flavours; mouth-filling and firmly structured with ripe tannins; an austere, august wine with a dark chocolate finish. Needs time. (90+)
  • Baron’Arques Le Chardonnay 2011: straw colour; minerally, lemony nose with a floral grace note; dry, full-bodied and broad on the palate with apple and pineapple flavours and a chalky note on the finish. (89)

Next stop Domaine Gayda in the village of Brugairolles, 25 km south west of Carcassonne. The winery with its restaurant above the cellar, is situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The vineyards are farmed organically.

  • Domaine Gayda Viognier 2011: fragrant, peachy nose with a mineral note; elegant, soft on the palate, spicy peach flavour with a chalky finish. (89)
  • Domaine Gayda Freestyle 2011 (Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Macabeo): gummy nose, floral note; resiny, peach pit and crab apple flavour, white pepper note with a touch of oxidation on the finish. (86)
  • Domaine Gayda Cépage Syrah 2011 (IGP Pays d’Oc): dense purple colour; spicy fruity, blackberry and rhubarb nose; easy drinking, soft mouth-feel with a firm finish. (87)
  • Domaine Gayda Freestyle Red 2011 (partial carbonic maceration): Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Cinsault – 9 months in oak – dense purple; blackcurrant, vanilla nose with a fruity, earthy note; roasted meat flavour, fruity, soft mouth-feel; easy drinking. (88)
  • Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou 2010 (63% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 2% Cinsault): dense purple colour; spicy, floral, blackberry nose with a touch of oak; dry, fruity, soft tannins, round and juicy mid palate, good acidity. (89)

Lunch: Salmon Carpaccio, Porc Noir de Bigorre roti, crème de Parmesan et artichauts, three goat cheeses, salade de fraises à la vanilla. Later in the afternoon our group gathered in a room of the hotel for a tasting. Wendy Gedney of Vin on Vacances, an English woman who runs a wine school in Warwick, gave us an introduction to the Roussillon region and a tasting of the following wines:

  • Domaine de la Rectorie L’Argile Collioure Blanc 2009 (90% Grenache Gris, 10% Grenache blanc): straw colour; minerally, honeyed, peach; full in the mouth, unctuous mouth feel, fat mid palate. Evident alcohol at 14.5% with great length. (90)
  • Domaine Gauby Les Calcinaires Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2011 (15% Grenache Noir, 10% Carignona, 25% Mourvèdre, 50% Syrah): purple colour; floral, meaty, peppery, funky nose; dry, fragrant, black raspberry with a floral note; medium-bodied, lively acidity and good length with a tannic lift on the finish. (90)
  • Domaine des Soulanes Kaya Côtes Catalanes (100-year-old Carignan vines): deep purple colour; minerally, tobacco, raspberry nose; lovely mouth feel, dry, lively acidity carrying pure fruit flavour of black raspberries. Ripe tannins, nicely structured. (89)
  • Domaine Clavet-Thunevin Maury Vin Doux Naturels 2004 (60 year old Grenache vines): funky, earthy, black fruit nose; sweet, porty, mulberry flavour; 16% alcohol. Full-bodied, earthy finish. (89)

Also at the restaurant was an English soccer team from Norwich who for the last 8 years have been playing a local French team. They were all wearing false sideburns to rub in the fact that an Englishman, Bradley Wiggins (who has long sideburns), won the Tour de France last year.

A candy store in Carcassonne
A candy store in Carcassonne

Stephen and Cathy Pauwels, Gordon Pape, Deborah and I went to dinner at Brasserie Donjon around the corner from the hotel. I had the 29 euro fixed menu – foie gras, Languedoc cassoulet and a meringue, mango and mascarpone dessert, with a bottle of Domaine Ollier Taillefer Les Collines 2010.

Saturday, May 18: After breakfast the group visited L’Ostal Cazes in Languedoc’s only cru appellation, Minervois La Livinière, owned by Michel Cazes of Lynch-Bages. The property, an old tile factory dominated by a tall brick chimney, was purchased in 1997 along with two vineyard sites.

  • L’Ostal Cazes Rosé 2012 (Syrah, Grenache): very pale colour with the faintest of pink tints; cherry nose; light and floral with a fresh sour cherry flavour. (88)
  • L’Ostal Cazes Eclipse Blanc 2012: pale straw colour; light, floral nose of fresh peach and pear. Good mouth feel with lively acidity. (88)
  • L’Ostal Cazes Estibals 2009 (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan): deep purple-ruby colour; floral, meaty, herbal, black cherry nose; medium-bodied, dry and firmly structured with spicy-fruity flavours and ripe tannins. (88)
  • L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin 2009 (70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre): dense purple colour; savoury, herbal, meaty nose with a note of orange peel; dry, elegant with a fruity cassis flavour and floral grace note. (90)
  • L’Ostal Cazes Eclipse 2011 (70% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc): dense purple colour; cedar and blackcurrant nose; elegant but showing a sulphur note at the moment. (88)

L'Ostal Cazes' flagship wine
L’Ostal Cazes’ flagship wine

We lunched at the winery: goat’s cheese salad, steak and tarte tartin. Our next stop, Domaine Borie de Maurel, where we tasted:

  • Borie de Maurel Cuvée Naturel (non vintage): a clairette-style wine (Mourvédre, Carignan and Syrah from young vines), pale ruby in colour, light and fresh and easy drinking. (86)
  • Borie de Maurel Le Rosé 2011 (Syrah): deeply coloured with a cherry pit nose, minerally and structured with a dry, spicy raspberry flavour. (87)
  • Borie de Maurel La Belle Aude 2012 (90% Marsanne with 10% Muscat a Petits Grains): fragrant, spicy nose or oranges and white peaches; elegant and fresh with good acidity. (88)
  • Borie de Maurel Esprit d’Automne 2011 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache): ruby colour; earthy, black cherry and pencil lead nose; dry, fruit-driven, black stone fruit flavours, full-bodied, with ripe tannins. (89)
  • Borie de Maurel Rêve 2011 (100% Carignan): minerally, black raspberry and chocolate nose; bright fruit, firmly structured with good natural acidity. (88)
  • Borie de Maurel Cuvée Maxime 2010 (Grenache, Mourvèdre): deep ruby colour; smoky black fruit and white pepper nose; full-bodied, bitter chocolate flavour, well extracted fruit with lively acidity. (90)
  • Borie de Maurel Belle de Nuit 2010 (100% Grenache): ruby colour; blackcurrant nose with a floral note; elegant blackcurrant flavour with a sweet core. Pure fruit flavour that holds its 15% alcohol beautifully. (91)
  • Borie de Maurel Cuvée Sylla 2010: deep ruby colour with a lifted blackcurrant nose and a floral top note; clean and pure fruit flavours, firmly structured with good length. (91)

Borie de Maurel Caveau de Degustation

After the tasting we took a boat cruise for a couple of hours along the Canal du Midi, consuming copious quantities of rosé. The plane trees along the banks were either dying of a water-borne virus or had already been felled. A great shame.

Cruising on the Canal du Midi
Cruising on the Canal du Midi

Dined at Restaurant Comte Roger in Carcassonne, a short walk from our hotel. Escargot salad with Domaine de Villemajou 2011 (Corbières) followed by sweetbreads with Les Vignobles Foncalieu Le Lieu 2009 (Minvervois).

Sunday, May 19: After breakfast we headed east to visit Mas de Daumas Gassac, which had graciously accepted our visit on a Sunday. There are 25 varieties planted on the property, including Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, along with the original Bordeaux varieties planted by Aimé Guibert in 1980.

Old Cabernet Sauvignon vines at Mas de Daumas Gassac
Old Cabernet Sauvignon vines at Mas de Daumas Gassac

  • Mas de Daumas Gassac 2011 (Bordeaux varieties): deep ruby colour; cedar, garrigue, black fruit nose; savoury and elegant; lovely mouth feel, dry with mellow tannins. (92)
  • Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2011 (Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Petit Mansang, Chardonnay co-fermented): light straw colour; smoky, spicy peach nose with an earthy note; peach and melon flavours, beautifully balanced and lingering with a lovely mouth feel. (90)
  • Mas de Daumas Gassac Rosé Frizant Brut (Cabernet Sauvignon): 11% alcohol, Charmat method. Pale pink with a nose of strawberries; light and fresh and quaffable. (88)

Mas de Daumas Gassac

Before dinner we sat in the courtyard of the Hotel L’Europe and drank a bottle of Domaine de Gournier Viognier 2012 under the shade of a huge, ancient plane tree.

Ancient plane tree in Saint Guilhem-le-Desert
Ancient plane tree in Saint Guilhem-le-Desert

Dinner at Le 26. With a dish of white asparagus and salmon roe I ordered a bottle of Domaine de la Garelle Blanc 2011 from the Luberon. For a dish of lamb shanks in a spicy honey sauce, Brunel de La Gaurine Rouge 2011 (Cairanne). Instead of dessert, a glass of Marc de Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Monday, May 20: This morning a guided tour of Avignon with Nina, a Danish woman living in France. In the grounds of the Papal Palace is 0.25 acre of vines (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) overlooking the Pont d’Avignon.

Le Pont d'Avignon
Le Pont d’Avignon

Vineyard in the grounds of the Papal Palace, Avignon
Vineyard in the grounds of the Papal Palace, Avignon

Lunch at the fabulous restaurant, La Table de Sorgue: crab and bulgur, avocado and salmon for amuse-bouches. Green pea foam soup with prosciutto, grilled prawn on a pork crisp in lobster sauce with Château de Pibarnon Rosè 2011 (Bandol), followed by roast veal, mushrooms duxelles and white asparagus with Domaine Bernard Gripa St. Joseph 2011. A cheese plate followed by baked apple cream with lemon and ice cream and honey, then panacotta and strawberries in syrup and a plate of macarons and chestnut cake. An amazing meal.

Tony and Harald Thiel celebrate World Chardonnay Day (May 23) in Avignon with Hidden Bench
Tony and Harald Thiel celebrate World Chardonnay Day (May 23) in Avignon with Hidden Bench

Avignon flower stall
Avignon flower stall

In the afternoon a visit to Domaine de Mourchon in Séguret, a beautiful hilltop village.

  • Domaine de Mourchon La Source 2012 (a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, Viognier and Grenache Blanc): pale straw colour; minerally, fragrant, peach flavour; dry and easy drinking. (88)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Loubie Rosé 2012 (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah): pale pink; fragrant, floral nose of watermelon and redcurrants, dry. (88)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône 2010 (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah in concrete vats): deep ruby-purple colour; fragrant, raspberry nose; dry and fruity with a herbal note; fresh on the palate with a tannic finish. (87)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Tradition 2010 (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Carignan): deep ruby-purple colour; herbal, blackberry nose; savoury, spicy and dry with an earthy note. A little short on finish. (87)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Grande Réserve 2011 (65% Grenache, 35% Syrah): ruby-purple colour; meaty, blackberry nose with a floral grace note and a touch of oak; dry, savoury, black olive flavour. (89)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Châeauneuf du Pape 2010 (70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah – vines 60–80 years old): ruby-purple colour; spicy, floral, raspberry nose with a herbal note; lovely mouth feel; dry, savoury, licorice flavour with a note of iodine. (90)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Syrah Family Reserve 2009 (fermented in stainless steel, aged in small barrels): dense purple-black colour; herbal, smoky, black fruits on the nose; full-bodied, dark chocolate and licorice flavours, ripe tannins, finishing dry and savoury. (90)
  • Domaine de Mourchon Family Reserve Grenache 2010: deep ruby-purple colour; spicy garrigue nose; savoury black raspberry flavour; elegant, beautifully balanced, dry with great length (92).

Dinner at La Petite Peche in Avignon, a tiny fish restaurant around the corner from our hotel. Our table ordered a variety of starters – curried mussels, grilled sardines, foie gras with a bottle of Domaine de la Presidente Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2011 (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Viognier).

Tuesday, May 21: The mistral started to blow today. Touring Châteauneuf-du-Pape country today, stopping in at Vieux Télégraphe. Daniel Brunet welcomed us: “We feel the Mistral in our wines,” he said. After a tour around the winery we tasted the following wines:

  • Vieux Télégraphe Blanc 2011 (45% Clairette, 30% Grenache Blanc with Bourbulenc and Roussanne): light straw colour; stony, peachy nose; soft mouth feel; harmonious, elegant and mouth-filling with a nutty, salty finish. (90)
  • Vieux Télégraphe Le Pigeoulot 2011 (Côte du Ventoux – 80% Grenache with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault): light ruby colour; spicy cherry nose; fresh and fleshy with a firm tannic structure. (87+)
  • Domaie Les Pallières Terrace du Diable Gigondas 2010 (85% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 5% Clairette): ruby colour; a nose of raspberries with a touch of oak; dry and elegant, firmly structured with the purity of black raspberry fruit and a floral top note; great length. (90)
  • Télégramme Châteauneuf du Pape 2011: ruby colour; blackcurrant nose with oak notes; firm with sweet fruit, licorice and herbal flavours ending with grassy tannins. (89+)
  • Domaine La Roquète 2010 (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre): ruby colour; herbal, licorice and red berry nose; beautifully balanced, savoury redcurrant flavour with ripe tannins. (90)
  • Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape La Crau 2010 (Grenache with 15% Mourvèdre): ruby colour; earthy, raspberry nose with a floral note; elegant, lovely mouth feel with licorice and red berry flavours; firmly structured with a warm alcoholic finish. (92)

Ruins of the castle at Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Ruins of the castle at Chateauneuf-du-Pape

100-year-old Grenache vine at Vieux Telegraphe's La Crau vineyard
100-year-old Grenache vine at Vieux Telegraphe’s La Crau vineyard

We then drove to the La Crau vineyard to have a look at the stony soil and vines that dated back 100 years. Our next stop: Château La Nerthe, with its ancient cellars dating back to 1590. Some of its tanks are carved out of the rock. One the walls was made from Roman stone blocks. Fifteen percent of the winery’s production is white, which is high for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The exceptional Chateau La Nerthe Blanc 2011
The exceptional Chateau La Nerthe Blanc 2011

  • Château La Nerthe Blanc 2011 (40% Grenache blanc, 40% Clairette, 12% Roussanne, 8% Bourboulenc): straw colour; white peach, minerally, citrus nose; elegant, spicy, pineapple flavour with a fine spine of acidity and a touch of oak that gives it a roundness on the mid palate. (92)
  • Château La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir 2009 (barrel-fermented – 50% Roussanne. 50% Clairette): straw colour; spicy, vanilla, peach and cut grass bouquet with a floral note; soft, creamy mouth feel, full on the palate, creamy with evident oak. (91)
  • Château La Nerthe 2009 (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault): ruby colour; savoury, toasted herbs. Licorice and red berry nose; full-bodied, earthy, cherry flavour, dry with ripe tannins. (90+)
  • Château La Nerthe Cuvée des Cadettes 2009 (32% Grenache (80–100-year-old vines), 31% Mourvèdre, 37% Syrah): solid ruby colour; raspberry nose with spicy oak; dry, elegant, medium-bodied, beautifully balanced, licorice and red berry flavours with a firm tannic finish. Needs time. (91+)

Thomas Perrin of Beaucastel
Thomas Perrin of Beaucastel

Dinner at La Mirande Hotel with Thomas Perrin, who brought his wines for the meal. We had our aperitif in the garden, Famille Perrin Coudelet de Beaucastel Blanc 2011 (Viognier, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette). The menu: Green asparagus velouté, pan-fried white asparagus; baked cod and basil & grapefruit coulis; slowly roasted pigeon in the wood oven with seasonal vegetables; cheese tray; strawberry soup with saffron. The dinner wines were Château de Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes 2011 (100% old vine Roussanne), Château de Beaucastel 1995, and Château de Beaucastel Muscat Beaumes de Venise 2010 with the strawberry soup. The chef, Jean-Claude Altmayer, is a real character. He performed a rap version of “La Vie en Rose” and then took a broom and some ice cubes and showed us how he curls. His memorable line: “Coca Cola is American Beaujolais.”

Van Gogh's café (Café La Nuit)
Van Gogh’s café (Café La Nuit)

Wednesday, May 22: This morning a walking tour of Arles conducted by Nina following in the footsteps of Van Gogh. Lunched at a charming country restaurant in Maussane-les-Alpilles, outside of Arles, called Le Bistrot du Paradou. The dining room had been used as the site of a photo shoot for the poster advertising an exhibition of nude photography. A signed poster of the Chinese subject hung by the kitchen.

Poster for nude photography exhibition
Poster for nude photography exhibition

Le Bistrot du Paradou
Le Bistrot du Paradou

Our menu: Fried eggplant with tomato confit; Rabbit wrapped in bacon with egg noodles and baked tomato; an enormous cheese try followed by Tarte aux pommes. The wines: Domaine Vallon des Glauges Blanc Réserve des Opies 2010 and Mont Redon Cote du Rhône Réserve 2012.

Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence

After lunch we visited Les Baux and then Domaine de Trévallon. Can’t find my notes on the wines we tasted but the biggest impression was the winery dog, Tulipe, a yellow lab, who licked up every drop of wine from the cement floor.

Domaine de Trévallon's cellar
Domaine de Trévallon’s cellar

Dinner at our hotel: Cauliflower velouté, cod brandade in squid ink rolled in ham with tomato; focaccia bread, potato, shrimp and bacon amuse-bouches. Scallops in green pea velouté; foie gras; dessert – lime and strawberry emulsion. The wines: Domaine Bernard Gripa St. Joseph Blanc 2011, Domaine de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois 2007 and Domaine La Monadière Vieilles Vignes 2007.

Thursday, May 23: Today we visited Peter Mayle country – the Luberon. Stopped at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénaque and the beautiful hilltop town of Gordes. Passed the village of Lacoste, where the Marquis de Sade had his castle (now owned by Pierre Cardin, who built a house within its walls).

L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénaque
L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénaque


In Gordes I checked out Les Caves de la Bastides (a wine shop attached to La Bastide de Gordes Hotel) to get some recommendations for wine at lunch in the hotel. Deborah and I ordered salad Niçoise and a bottle of La Ferme de Saint Pierre Roi Fainéant 2010. Visited the town of Lourmarin at the foot of the Luberon Massif and walked its narrow, cobbled streets.

Checked into our hotel, Château de la Pioline on the outskirts of Aix-en-Province. Dined in the hotel with Eric de Saint Victor, the owner of the Bandol Château de Pibarnon.

Eric de Saint Victor of Chateau Pibarnon
Eric de Saint Victor of Chateau Pibarnon

The meal began with a smoked salmon mousse, followed by duck liver terrine prepared with Beaumes de Venise, nuts and fig marmalade and seedling salad, with Château de Pibarnon 2001, followed by grilled filet of sea bream, vegetables in pistou, tomato coulis with olives, served with Château de Pibarnon Rosé 2012, and then apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and Les Restanques de Pibarnon 2010. Finally, Château de Pibarnon Vieux Marc de Bandol 1992 (aged 20 years in Armagnac casks – like an XO Cognac, deep amber in colour with a nose of honey, flower, oak; full on the palate and beautifully balanced with a long finish – 93).

Dessert at La Bastide de Gordes hotel
Dessert at La Bastide de Gordes hotel

Friday, May 24: This morning we bused into Aix-en-Provence for a walking food-and-history tour of the city conducted by a Californian ex-pat named Jennifer Dugdale. First stop: Béchard, the best patisserie in Aix, dating back to 1880. Here we tasted petit sale, the crisply, savoury pastry. Next stop Louis Brunet, established 1876, the best chocolatier in the city. Tasted a variety of macarons – chocolate, caramel and salt, and strawberry.


Chocolatier Louis Brunet
Chocolatier Louis Brunet

Our penultimate tasting stop was the ancient market square, which began as a food market in 1360. Tasted green and black olives, pickled garlic and strawberries. Final stop at the hotel de ville: we tasted the traditional almond-shaped Christmas candy created 500 years ago, calissons d’Aix, made by Leonard Parli.

Jennifer Dugdale with zucchini flowers in the market in Aix
Jennifer Dugdale with zucchini flowers in the market in Aix

Lunched in the Forum des Cardeurs at Côté Soleil pizzeria – goat’s cheese pizza and salad with a bottle of Château Lauzade Rosé 2011. Visited a wine store called Cave du Felibrige, where the two owners, François Barré and Vincent Stagetti, blind-taste the wines before they will order them for their shelves. Found a bottle of Inniskillin Oak-Aged Vidal Icewine there.

Cave du Felibrige
Cave du Felibrige

Back at the hotel, Steve brought out some wines he had purchased for a tasting:

  • Domaine Graingier St. Joseph 2011
  • Tardieu Laurent Côte Rôtie 2009
  • Les Bastides d’Alquier Faugères 2011
  • Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011
  • Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Réserve 2009

Took a taxi into Aix for dinner at Jardin Mazarin. I ordered mussels in a foam broth and truffle risotto with Château Puy Neuf Rosé 2012 (Bandol) and Château Henry Bounaud 2007 (Palette).

Saturday, May 25: Our last day of touring. Today we drove through the Côtes de Provence to Château de Léoube in the poetically named village of Bormes-les-Mimosas near Toulon, a fabulous estate of some 560 hectares, including a stretch of 4 kilometers of beach front along the Mediterranean coast. Here they specialise in rosé.

Tasting room at Château de Léoube - a former chicken coop
Tasting room at Château de Léoube – a former chicken coop

Lunched in an outdoor restaurant on the property, L’Estagnol. A huge platter of fresh vegetables was brought on “trays” of cork bark to be dipped into anchoiade (chopped fresh anchovy with garlic and olive oil) and home stone-baked pizza. Then a choice of wood-grilled beef Chateaubriand or freshly caught dorade with seasonal vegetables. Dessert: Tropezienne (a sponge cake with orange blossom custard cream). The wines: Château Léoube Rosé Secret de Léoube 2012 and Château Léoube Rouge de Léoube 2010.

L'Estagnol restaurant
L’Estagnol restaurant

Dorade for lunch at L'Estagnol
Dorade for lunch at L’Estagnol

Back at the hotel, a final get-together in the bar with bottles of wine we were unable to pack. Too full from lunch for dinner.

Sunday, May 26: The bus to Marseilles Airport. The group flew to Paris for the connecting flight to Canada while I flew to Frankfurt (my least favourite airport in the world). The train from Terminal A to Terminal C was not operating and I had to walk for over a mile to my gate. Deborah arrived a half hour before me. Rapturous welcome from Pinot the Wonderdog.

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