October 27, 2011

MNSC Rhone Trip Day 5: The best of Chateauneuf

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Got an early start this morning since we had 3 appointments before lunch.  First stop was at Clos Saouma, the new property from Mounir Saouma and Rotem Brakin of Burgundy's Lucien Le Moine.  Details of the visit are here.

Our next stop is with an MNSC old friend, at Château de Beaucastel.  Details of the visit are here.

Our final stop before lunch is at the legendary Domaine Henri Bonneau to meet the man himself.  Details of the visit are here.

We are running very late for lunch, and still have a little distance to travel for it.  We swing through the town of Orange on the way, and come to a stop at an unassuming looking arch that looks like a miniature version of Paris' Arc de Triomph.  It's under restoration, and I hesitated but decided not to take out my camera to snap a picture.  Little did I know that this is the "Triumphal Arch" that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Orange...

The venue for our lunch was Restaurant L'Oustalet in Gigondas, owned by the Perrins.  Pierre had been there for a while as we were late.  We were also joined by Rotem and Mounir.

A few delicious amuses bouches to start us off:

A little bit of Parma ham.

Chicken from Ardèche, mi cuit, with fennel and rosemary - very tender and succulent.

Ravioles de homard croustillantes, petits lègumes à l'huile d'argan sur un bouillon Thaï - we found it interesting that these were deep-fried like wontons.  Interesting flavors with ginger and chives.  Pretty yummy.

Bar et cèpes, a la racine de persil, émulsion au cresson - the sea bass was pretty good, wrapped in nori (のり) and worked very well together with the watercress.  The little clams were delicious and I wanted more than just the three...

The sautéed cèpes on the side were sooo good... I devoured them in no time.

L'agneau de Grillon aux blettes et pignons de Méditerranée - this was damn good lamb... garnished with a wafer-thin slice of eggplant.  Chard and pine nuts on the side were good.

Le plateau de fromages affinés par Claudine Vigier à Carpentras, d'ici, du Barroux, de Corse et d'Ailleurs... - I ended up taking 3 little bites of cheese:  Reblochon; Époisses de Bourgogne, sadly, not made with lait cru...; Gaperon d'Auvergne, which tasted of a little garlic and pepper.  Delicious with a little fig jam on the side.

Queques framboises sur "Macalong" le bleuet et la myrtille en sorbet - this was simply amazing collection of berries... with intense flavors, especially the blueberry sorbet.  Perfect way to finish.

2009 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Côte - very ripe, sweet, honey, marmalade and straw. Good acidity but I thought it was too ripe on the palate.

2009 Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes - beeswax notes. Good balance between acidity and ripeness. Sipping this wine after eating the deep-fried ravioles turned it into something that was really hot and ripe on the palate.

2009 Clos Saouma (unnamed Châteauneuf-du-Pape) - nose was a little sharp, minty, and very sweet.

2000 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - black olives, black fruits, smoky, very salty and mineral.

1989 Beaucastel Rouge - rubber, leather, farmy and sharp. Drank beautifully with some Reblochon, which turned the wine into a sweet, jammy nectar.

A very delicious lunch, and some delicious wines!  Many thanks, of course, to Pierre for his generosity. On our way out, we decided to purchase a few bottles off the wine list to take to dinner.

With no more winery visits planned, we returned to La Mirande and spent a little time in the outdoor courtyard, taking advantage of Pineapple’s generosity by lighting up a vintage cigar.

We walked through Avignon on the cobblestone streets, heading to our dinner at Numéro 75.  This ain't no haute cuisine... it's a casual restaurant that fit our needs.  The hotel concierge had called in advance to make sure that we can bring our own wines to dinner.

Salade poisson - ho-hum.

Ravioli with foie gras, mushroom and duck - not bad at all...  Nice cream of mushroom sauce with more mushrooms added, which always works well with foie.  I'm pretty happy.

Magret de canard - again, not bad at all.  I confirmed with the manager that I wanted it rosé, and that's how it was served.  Of course it paired very well with the wines...

We opened three fantastic bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape:

2000 Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin - nose was pretty open, showy, with animal, leather, spices, mint and prunes.  Later on there was lots of toast.  So big and fragrant.  Wow!

1995 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - lovely nose with ripe fruit and mint. Good acidity balance.

1998 Roger Sabon Le Secret des Sabon - nose was a little muted at first. Very ripe and sweet on the palate. Very alcoholic and burns the back of my throat going down. Tannins still very big. Obviously a Parker wine, which explains the very high scores given for this first vintage. Three and a half hours later, nose was much more open, with ripe and a little cooked fruit, a little mineral and savory. Really sharp and alcoholic now.

After dinner, we decided to take the remaining half bottle of Sabon back for a final drink. The original plan was to sit in one of the town squares and enjoy the cool evening air, but unfortunately it had begun to drizzle. After checking for a couple of other options, we ended up back in the bar at La Mirande.

Pineapple disappeared to flip through the hotel wine list, and returned with the sommelier bearing 5 glasses of wine. Our final bottle for the trip would turn out to be 1959 Palmer – a fantastic bottle that would give the 1961 Palmer a run for its money.  Lots of sweet grass, a little smoky, a little mineral, plenty of toast. Sweet fruit. Lovely.

What a way to end our five-day journey in France!

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