October 26, 2011

MNSC Rhone Trip Day 4: Pope and Avignon

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We left Maison Pic early this morning and said goodbye to northern Rhône, heading down south to focus on Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Our first visit was at Domaine Roger Sabon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape this morning.  Details of the visit are here.

Next we headed to Tavel and visited Domaine de la Mordorée.  Details of the visit are here.

Fabrice very kindly treated us to lunch at the restaurant in La Mirande, the hotel in Avignon where we were staying.

Cream of pumpkin soup with nuts and truffle – this was not bad, with some spices to add a little something more interesting. Nice piece of white truffle on top.

Rémoulade de céleri-rave au saumon frais – the salmon was decent, but the rémoulade at the bottom really made the dish. The cream helped to balance the natural slightly bitter taste of the celeriac, and spices like peppers kept the taste from being boring.

Magret de canard, ceps – the breast was pretty tasty, cooked to a good rosé. A little veiny, but I don’t have a problem with that. The ceps were deliciously pan-fried.

Marron mousse, panna cotta, meringue – FAIL. How does any restaurant serve something like this, which has clearly keeled over/toppled, to a customer? The taste was OK, nothing to write home about. But the presentation here gets a big fat ZERO.

Speaking of zero… the waiter who served us also gets a big, fat ZERO for his service. He didn’t bother to introduce the dishes to us, and when I asked for a description he simply blurted out something simple and gave me a look of disdain. Dude, if you don’t want to be here serving dishes, don’t show up for work! If you decide to show up for your job at the best, fanciest luxury hotel in town, please do so with a smile.

2008 Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes – really big and rich, with intense ripeness, glycerin, beeswax. Really ripe and alcoholic on the palate.

2009 du Caillou Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Quartz – good sweet fruit, intense, with forest and pine notes.

Our appointment for the afternoon was cancelled, and we were left with an afternoon to explore the city. La Mirande is just a stone’s throw away from Palais de Papes, the old papal palace when nine of the Popes resided in France and refused to take their seats in Rome. It’s now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The complex is reasonably big, consisting of a mix of older and newer buildings. Most of the halls and chapels are now empty, devoid of any furnishings. It takes some imagination to picture this place in its prime. A few of the smaller chapels and the papal bedroom still have the original murals on the walls.  I walk through the complex fairly quickly, not having enough patience today to listen to all the explanations from the audio guide.

I decided to skip the adjacent Cathédrale Notre Dame des Doms, with the large golden Virgin Mary on top. I walk through the Rocher des Doms till I’m standing at the edge of the cliff. Here I am granted a spectacular view of the River Rhône, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon across the river, and the Pont St-Bénézet that once connected the two banks of the river.

It’s past 4pm and the light’s still pretty good, so I descend down to the river bank, and get up onto the historic bridge, also inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. First built some 800 years ago and rebuilt several times since then, it no longer connects Avignon with Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. I stuck around for a while and snapped a bunch of pictures, and get a good look at the Rhône from up close. I also spent a few minutes watching a bunch of ducks swimming around while they look for bread from a French family out with the kids.

The sun’s slowly sinking, and I have a mission to accomplish. I’ve been saving the bottles that we’ve drunk over the last few nights so I can keep the labels, but unfortunately I forgot to bring my own packs of label-removing stickers from home. I’ve gotta hit a decent wine shop and see if I can find some locally. The people in the little shops in Châteauneuf-du-Pape have never even heard of them.

I walked the cobble streets of this historic town, headed for the best wine shop recommended by the hotel concierge. No luck. The shop wasn’t particularly impressive, at least for a wine snob like myself, and I head back to the hotel a little dejected and fatigued.

Dinner time rolled around, and we headed for Restaurant La Beaugravière in Mondragon. I had done a little research, and found that the idea here was all about black truffles which are from this area. I’ve got a feeling that this little unassuming restaurant is similar to Ma Cuisine in Beaune…

We started with a complimentary bowl of soupe potiron aux truffes. Not bad at all… and when was the last time your humble pumpkin soup had chunks of black truffles in it?

All of us ended up ordering œuf brouillard aux truffles. Honestly, this really is the best way to get your truffles – by having them together with wet, runny scrambled eggs. Of course, the eggs here taste much better than most of the crap we get out in Asia… Wonderful stuff.

We all could use a little more green in our diet, so we get a round of green salads. I’m feeling a little full after the sequence of three dishes, before my main course even arrived…

Poulet de Bresse rôti – the manager asked if we wanted breast or chicken, and the response was unanimously “cuisse!” Yes, we’re Asian, and we like dark meat… Anyway, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the bits of truffle on my chicken, even though it wasn’t specifically mentioned on the menu. The skin wasn’t as dry and crispy as I would have liked, but it was still pretty yummy. I just love Bresse chicken.

1990 Clos des Papes – ripe, a little stewed, smoky, savory minerals, black olive, and a little dusty on the nose. 93 points.

1990 Guigal La Mouline – sweet nose with coconut butter, animal, bacon fat, a little mineral and savory, a little smoky with grilled meats. What a beautiful wine! 98 points.

1929 Jaboulet La Chapelle – Wow! What a treat and privilege to be able to drink this! Savory, mineral, dusty, chalky at first. Gradually opened up to reveal a beautiful sweet and fruity nose. Amazing! With this last bottle, some of us we romanticizing a little and thinking that it has seen WWII, numerous economic cycles and French presidents, just lying in a cellar somewhere… waiting for someone to come pick it up so that it can offer itself up for our pleasure. Well, this is certainly one bottle of one I won’t easily forget.

Would it surprise anyone that I fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel?


Ben said...

Peech: Amazing trip and fascinating blog. One question: for the older bottles that you uncorked during the trip, were they purchased locally or brought by your group from Asia? If latter, curious how you address the bottle shock issue?

Peech said...

Hi Ben,

We wouldn't dream of bringing our own bottles from Asia. All wines are purchased off the restaurants' wine lists. Can't possibly imagine that we could find better sources for these bottles in Asia than in France...

Ben said...

Thanks, Peech. I live in Taipei and also a wine buff. Will stay tuned for your insightful comments to wine and food. Hope to bump into you sometime in the future!


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