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Archive for France

Harvesting Sauternes

Today the harvest began in Sauternes, south of Bordeaux.  And Saturday is market day in Bazas, the cathedral town at the southern limits of the Graves appellation.  The town exercises an irresistible pull on us.  The maximum magnetic force is exerted by the lean and delicious sausages of Patrick from Aveyron.  We also buy fresh herb plants of the Spanish vendor.  And little rye and raisin rolls from Biganos…that’s all the excuse we need to get up early and drive 40 minutes away to shop.
We had phoned Chateau Guillemins last week, to ask if we could stop by to pick up some red wine.  The 85 year old mother remembered us from last year’s wine festival, and even knew that we are in Cestas!  Sharp as a tack!  She arranged for Isabelle and her brother Jean-Francois to be there this morning.    Harvest will begin Monday with Merlot, then Malbec, then Cabernet.  They are unusual in withholding their wines from market until they have already aged 4 years.  We will bring our friend Catalina to meet them during the Open Doors in the Graves festival Oct 21-22.
Since Sauternes is just a stone’s throw from Langon, we visited our friend and former gite owner, Evelyne Allien of Chateau Dudon.  She phoned us last night to tell us, the sugar in the grapes is just right, it’s time to pick.  So the harvest began in earnest this morning.  We were invited for lunch.  Last year, with Steve’s daughter Suz and husband Dan, she frantically fed us in 15 minutes before we raced to the airport.  This time, Evelyne put out a magnificent spread and we took our time.  Out came fluffy egg and ham squares, giant pink shrimp dipped in curry sauce or mayonnaise, crusty bread, a roasted chicken, salad, cheeses, a chocolate tart and coffee.  We feasted with her husband Michel, followed by her daughter Francoise.  Francoise graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris in Law, and she is now the second youngest sitting judge in France.  The 3 sons all flunked their medical exams, and will re-take them in September.
Michel’s trip to California last September has borne fruit, with 240 bottles of their beautiful Sauternes (Barsac) on its way to San Francisco.  To restore the inside of the castle, they only need another 500,000 euros on top of the 300,000 euros already spent on the roof…let’s see, how many bottles of the golden nectar is that…
Evelyne escorted us into the aging cellar where an exhibit of copper wire art and sculpture was on view.  She has also completed several new oil paintings, during a trip to Brittany.  We asked her to put aside 4 of them and we are contemplating acquiring one or more of them.  On top of one she has already given us!  It’s a view of the Chateau de Sully in Burgundy perched on a hillside.  We will be back to choose them after the 3 weeks of harvest conclude.  For now, we bought a bottle of 2001 Sauternes, to commemorate the year we stayed with her.
The Sauternes “noble rot” that pulls the moisture out of the white grapes, concentrating the sugars,  begins as dew from the nearby Cirons stream.  Today, there was no sign of the classic white fog over the cold stream.  It’s been a hot summer, moderated by rain in August.   It promises to be a very good year.
There are more winetasting events coming up next week.  Tuesday, we’ll go pick up a case of Chateau LaFargue red Graves wine that we purchased futures of last year.  That same evening, we’ll go with neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel to the quirky “Winetasting at the Supermarket” evening.  There, 10 producers lavish foie gras, oysters, sheep cheeses, sausages, and breads on avid customers feverishly milling around 10 feet tall stacks of wooden wine crates, armed with color catalog containing descriptions and prices.
Wine emergency appears imminent:  reinforcements are needed to help drink it!
Claudia and Steve

First Lunches in Bordeaux

In the 10 years we’ve been coming to the Bordeaux region, we have sought out many of the good restaurants.  However, new ones are always cropping up, and there are some we have missed.
Including one in our own little village of Cestas-Gazinet. 
Clos Tassigny.  N250.  Old golden stone house with crinkled peach tablecloths, candles, stone floors, and a relaxed atmosphere.  We had just arrived from the airport hotel.  Due to jet lag, we limited the wine to a half bottle of 1998 Chateau Malleprat Pessac Leognan.  The first course included chicken pate studded with foie gras and chopped raisins, as well as a puff pastry with foie gras.  The main courses were pave of beef, cooked perfectly, and a delicate salmon steak with a light cream sauce.  Both dishes included excellently seasoned potatoes au gratin and finely chopped eggplant and squash cooked with Provencal spices and garlic.  No dessert was necessary, but a small cheese plate of goat cheese, Brie de Meaux  and a mild St. Nectaire complemented the meal.  We would rate the meal a B+.  We spoke with the older couple sitting next to us, and picked their brains for other good restaurants.  For some reason, all the new targets are near the seacoast and the Arcachon basin:
a.  La Gueriniere, Gujan Mestras.
b.  Le Patio, Arcachon
c.  La Cote du Sud, Pyla sur Mer
d.  Restaurant Gerard Tissier, Pyla sur Mer
In the city of Bordeaux on Tuesday, around the corner from the House of Japan, we found a quiet haven:
Restaurant du Loup.  66 Rue du Loup.  It’s been a restaurant since 1932, and has art deco furnishings, columns, old dark wood, pink double tablecloths, and a very warm welcome by Martine, the owner.  We considered the inexpensive 11 and 16 euro lunch menus, but finally chose the 23 euro 4-course menus.  The first courses included cubes of tomatoes and cucumbers strewn with dill, and little toasts with tapenade.  My first course was several triangles of shrimps deep fried with a spicy dipping sauce.  The wine:  a 2004 Chateau Coquillas Pessac Leognan.  We both ordered the delicious pork tenderloin with potatoes, all of which just melted in the mouth.  The third course consisted of a single slice of Brie de Meaux at room temperature.  Desserts were light because of the intense heat.  There was a apricot sorbet with fresh fruit, and Steve had a brick of almond ice cream with fresh strawberries.  The chef was big on decorating the edges of all the plates with ribbons of red and yellow sauces.  We rated the meal an A and would return.
Lastly, on Wednesday, after a long bicycle ride on some rather bumpy bike paths through the spicy resinous pine forest, we settled down at a pizzeria in the beach town of Porges.  It was so hot that we just ordered salads.   Three of us liked the salad with smoked duck breast, foie gras melted on toast (greasy), with peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and corn.  I had the Nordic salad of little pink shrimps, smoked salmon,corn, tomatoes and creme fraiche.  It was served up by a 25 year old law and business grad who has shucked it all to go constantly traveling – to India, to Bangkok, Indonesia and South America. 
To work off the salad and the bottle of wine, we climbed the white dune and plunged into the 75 degree Atlantic, strolling along its pristine, deep golden sands.  The temperatures outside reached 90 degrees and as we returned to the gite, a long line of cars was still en route to the beach for relief.
During the past week, it has become perfectly clear to us that French food is still delicious, and that nothing can compare!
Claudia and Steve

“Open Doors” Bordeaux Wine Festival 2007 – Part II

Our gite is on the fringe of the southern Bordeaux appellation called Les Graves (gravel pebbles on soil, sand or clay).  The grape varietals consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and smaller portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The exact percentage varies enormously from year to year, and between chateaux.   Each year, the winemakers of this district open to the public for tastings, visits, and eating delicious food.  Today, we visited 6 properties.  The event runs for 2 days between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The theme this year is wood, and its influence on the taste of wine.

Jean-Francois and sister Isabelle were waiting for us when we showed up at the cellar door of Chateau Guillemins near Langon, at the southern limit of the appellation.  We were welcomed with kisses, hugs and smiles.  They said they’ve been talking about us for a month and wondering if we would come.  Amidst the antiques, paintings by J-F, honey, fruit jellies, and fermentation tanks, we tasted 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and the 2002 sweet white wine called l’Exotique.  They are still holding back the coveted 2004.  We bought a case of 2000 Cuvee Margaux and regular 2000.  With promises to return next year.

Our next chateau was Respide.  Alfonso couldn’t make it this Saturday to play salsa for the attendees.  We tasted their 2004 Callipyge (50/50 Merlot/Cab) gold medal winner and 2005 (65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), bronze medal winner, and bought a bottle of each.  Since the food was still in preparation, we moved north, to the sweet white wine district of Barsac, to the 16th century Chateau Massereau that backs up to the Ciron stream whose mists create the conditions for the noble rot that makes possible the sweet white wines of this area.  They make a pricey red as well as a very expensive sweet white, so we tasted and bought their generic tank-aged 2004 Bordeaux Superieur.  The chocolate maker from the Basque Country near Spain didn’t show, so we phoned Chateau St . Agreves in Landiras to see if they were cooking.

Mais, oui!!!  Of course, finding these obscure chateaux is never easy, with signs approximately the size of postage stamps, hand lettered.  Our pointed remarks to the House of the Wines of Graves as to the danger of cars suddenly stopping and turning once they are actually able to read the tiny signs have had no effect.  They continue to reuse the same minuscule signs year after year.

We were totally surprised and pleased at the warm welcome we received at Chateau Saint Agreves, including a 3 course meal (no charge).  We began by tasting the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2003 special blend, and 2004 and 2005.  The percentage is 26% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cab. Sauvignon, and 43% Merlot in the 16 hectare vineyard. 

The congenial hostess led us to a picnic table with a huge bowl of bread, and gave us nice napkins and 2 plates of delicious raw salmon marinated in herbs and oil.  Next, the grillmaster produced duck breast, chestnut puree, squash and pumpkin, as well as a pork sausage.  The dessert was prunes in armagnac.  Even a coffee after the meal was offered to us!    The owner’s wife then toured us through their cellars, with explanations in English (she had spent time in England and Long Island ).  We were off down the road with a case of the 2003 and some happy memories of conversations with the people here.  This event is all about personal contact and conviviality.  We’ll be back!

Back across the autoroute in the community of Cerons, we visited Chateau Bourgelat, where the young owner Antoine was serving 2004 and 2005 Graves as well as 2005 Cerons and 2003 Sauternes sweet whites.  The buildings were covered by red ivy that waved in the brisk wind.  Water streamed down the urn fountain, glistening in the bright sun.  The place to be was the duck tasting bar in the courtyard, where a sarcastic duck liver grower from the Pyrenees was telling all kinds of untruths.  However, we think we won the day, because by the time we left, we had convinced the men at the bar that Steve was a Basque, that his great-great grandfather was born in Pamplona ( Irun ) and migrated to the U.S. 100 years ago.  They kept telling him how good he looked in his Basque beret, and commented on his typical Basque features!

The last chateau was the Emigrant (l’émigré).  The owner emigrated to Spain in 1793 after the French Revolution and his properties were sold.  A recently arrived Englishman warned us that only the white wine was any good, so we tasted and bought a bottle of their sweet white wine, and headed for home.

We are looking forward to tomorrow with Jean-Paul and Rachel in the northern part of the appellation.

Claudia and Steve

“Open Doors” in the Graves Appellation – October 16th & 17th, 2010

in Festivals, France, France, Life     

Open Doors – Bordeaux The wine châteaux of the Graves appellation open their doors to the general public. To gain a greater appreciation for this wine festival, we will be posting Claudia’s detailed experiences from 2006, 2007 and 2008.