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Archive for France

Restaurants in the Heart of Bordeaux, France

in Food, France, Restaurant     

September is a beautiful month in Bordeaux, and the day after we landed we went out in search of a good meal.  M de Monbadon’s menu was printed rather than handwritten and the offerings seemed uninteresting.  C’yusha, whose chef recently came from the great Table de Calvet, was closed for lunch the day we visited.

Le Loup, 66 rue Loup, was a familiar and reasonably priced alternative.  Run by the same brother-sister pair for 18 years,  the restaurant has operated in the building since 1932.  The 17 euro menu offered a salad of goat cheese lightly fried in bread crumbs with vinaigrette with verve, followed by a tender couple of pork medallions in mushroom sauce with potatoes fried in duck fat.  Dessert was simple:  fruit cocktail with lemon sorbet.  The scallops in a sauce of honey, grapefruit  and tangelos were dreamy, mopped up by rye bread we had bought at Paul bakery.  We ordered a half bottle of Chateau Falfas 2005, Cotes de Bourg.   It was tannic and needed another  5 years, since the 2005 year was very sunny and the wines strong.  We conversed with the couple next to us in their 80’s and narrowly escaped without buying either of the two properties they were selling:  a 900 square feet apartment in Old Bordeaux, and a huge country estate between Bergerac and Perigueux! 

Friday, with great pleasure, we met our friends Patricia and Daniel Bain at the new fancy Regent Hotel Brasserie for lunch.  Since we saw them 2 years ago in Martel, the beautiful stone town where Daniel had been restoring stone houses,  they had decamped to Bordeaux, where their 13 year old son Oscar is in a new school.  They now have a new project and are renting a townhouse in the center of Bordeaux, complete with beautiful wood terrace and walls painted a combination of robin’s egg blue, bright yellow and red (not their taste in colors!).  It was wonderful to see them in such good spirits, looking well.

To celebrate Catalina’s birthday, we all ordered the 22 euro 2-course menu, a heap of tiny fried smelt,  with a glass of tartar sauce for dipping.  Some in our group did not appreciate the fish’s tiny eyes looking up at them!  The main course was either a white cod with snails in parsley butter sauce, or tender chicken rolled around perfectly cooked foie gras, wrapped in a green leaf that might have been lettuce.  Several people noted that the 2001 Graves red we ordered had slightly off flavors, but we nonetheless managed to down it all.

P&D invited us to their home, and fed us delicious chocolates and macaroons.  Hopefully it won’t be long before we see them in the gite.

Claudia, Steve, Catalina

Bordeaux’s Far-Flung Satellite Restaurants

Bordeaux’s Far-Flung Satellite Restaurants
Sallying forth in the 5 passenger Opel Zafira that we had picked up at the Bordeaux St. Jean train station, we headed for the Saturday market in Bazas south of Bordeaux.  We were ecstatic to see the sausage wizard, Patrick from Aveyron, and he was equally happy to see us after a 2 year absence.  We picked up lean pork herb sausage, duck sausages, chorizo, smoked ham, smoked duck breasts and a dense wheat and seed bread.  We bought a riot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then went to our favorite restaurant for lunch.

Les Remparts, 49 place de la Cathedrale, Bazas.  This restaurant was just sold to new owners from far away.  Who knows what cuisine they will offer…  But for today, we savored a rich lamb tajine with apricots and pistachios on couscous.  Cat, John and Trudy chose the 3 course menus for 25 euros.  The first courses, Bazas beef terrine with a small salad, or sweet melon with Bayonne ham, were delicious.  The wine was a 2008 Coquillas Pessac Leognan.  It had an intense aroma of violets and blackberries with a taste to match.  Main courses were tender white cod on braised vegetables, Madras curry chicken (mild) with pineapple and steamed white rice.  Dessert:  flat apple tart with ice cream, an assortment of sorbets (pear, cassis, mandarin orange) accompanied by dense, bitter warm chocolate sauce and a side dish of Chantilly cream.  A terra cotta dish held crème brulee, excellent.  We rated the meal an A.  We also ordered a half bottle of white Graves, Chateau Brondelle, 2010.
Clos Mirande, Montagne St. Emilion (05 57 74 50 16).  We reserved for Sunday lunch in their casual bistro.  The restaurant was opened a year and a half ago.  As an entree (the entering, or first course), Steve ordered a green salad, and we also ordered terrines of rabbit with a parsley garlic sauce and salad.  Main courses were:  perfectly cooked sole with lemon butter, fricassee of guinea fowl game bird, braised with black grapes, mushrooms and honey, or tender layers of pork stacked then wrapped in bacon, sitting on a slice of eggplant.  It was accompanied by zucchini, carrots and turnips.  We asked the lady for a recommendation as to a local wine, and it was a good one:  2006 Chateau Vieux Rocher Montagne de St Emilion.  We also ordered a glass of white to go with the fish.  This was the best meal we have had in France so far on this trip!

Claudia, Steve, Catalina, John, Trudy

La Table Calvet – Fine Bordeaux Restaurant

Bordeaux has been a construction nightmare for some 10 years, with the creation of a streetcar “tramway” service.  The tram is nearly complete, and the city peaceful and beautiful now.  However, a pleasant side effect has been the restoration and improvement of the wharves.   For hundreds of years, barrels of Bordeaux were rolled down to tall-masted ships on their way to England and points beyond.  The entire waterfront on the left bank (west side) of the Garonne river now houses bike paths, grass, playgrounds, organic markets and storage warehouses turned into cafes and restaurants.  Last year we explored the Chartrons area, with its antique shops.  Today, we went further north to the Cours du Medoc tram stop, and were impressed.

But our real objective for today was the fine restaurant associated with the giant wine merchant Calvet.  They were founded here in 1818, and the building constructed around 1880 at 81, cours du Medoc.  We reserved at La Table Calvet for noon, and they were unlocking the doors as we arrived.  The room has dark hardwood floors, golden stone walls, exposed and glowing in this elegant, spacious 19th century townhouse.  The ceiling is composed of wavy white panels drilled with holes, and this quiets the room.  The back wall is all burgundy and black, very modern and beautiful.  The service was very experienced and nuanced.  We relied on the expertise of the sommelier in choosing the 2001 Calvet Combles de Canon-Fronsac red.  It was full of fruit, but with a distinct backbone.  We diluted its effects with a bottle of Badoit mineral water.

As we gazed out over the white tablecloths, we noticed the sommelier decanting a fine bottle of Leoville las Cases costing hundreds of dollars.  The central table was used to stage all the bottles of water and wine being poured for the entire room.  The table was unusual, in that, down the central pillar bounded 4 hounds carved in wood.  The businessmen ordering the Leoville had drunk the entire bottle before their first course had even arrived.  They called for another.  Thus is business lubricated in the city of Bordeaux.

The breads were made by the restaurant, and we tried cider bread, and a dense poppyseed loaf, neither of which even came close to “Frank’s bread”, with its abundance of whole grains, lentils and seeds.

Steve went for the tender Aquitaine tenderloin of beef, which was served with a delicious fried marrow, girolles mushrooms, tiny green beans, onions, purple cauliflower, orange cauliflower and a bizarre tender green vegetable sounding like celestus.

I choose the 28 euro menu.  It started with a parfait glass with a savory avocado mousse on top of shrimp served to both of us.  My first course was a flat pastry topped by green, yellow, and different types of sweet red tomatoes.   Arugula salad perched at the side of the square plate, and dabs of anchovy dip, tapenade olive dip and basil pesto completed the first course.  The main course was especially decorative.  5 medallions of chicken rolled in perfectly cooked quinoa, with 2 other colors of quinoa on the side.  Various vegetables dotted the plate. 

Then, a wooden rack with six places for glass tubes arrived. Two of the places were filled with six inch long tubes that are reminiscent of laboratory glass test tubes, complete with corks and filled with a light, delicate “violet water”, for cleansing the palate.

The dessert was a pastry packet tied with string, filled with a dense, sweet plum compote, dusted with powdered sugar and walnuts.  Walnut ice cream on the side.  Even though we didn’t order the coffee course, the nice wait staff brought us 2 miniature canneles (molded cinnamon fluted cake, specialty of Bordeaux ), two tiny tarts with jam, and two wrapped dark chocolates.  Since Steve is on the grizzly bear diet consisting of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits, he did not partake.  No need for any food tonight!

We rated the restaurant an A, for food, décor and atmosphere (tranquil, with only 2 other tables full of business men and women, and excellent, friendly and knowledgeable service.  Also, to our delight, as of January of 2008, there is no more smoking in any restaurant interior.  Hooray!

Claudia and Steve

Home away from Home!

On the way south to Cestas Gazinet, gite owner Xavier debriefed us on all the gossip since we left last October. 

It always feels wonderful to walk into this house.  The new Bulgarian maid, Teodora, had done a good job cleaning.  Every year we notice new details.  Daniele has repainted the kitchen cabinets in a golden yellow.  We discovered a new kitchen tablecloth, new coffeemaker, microwave, and pots.  New lattice wooden enclosure out front for recycling bin/trashcan.   Desktop computer.  New shower-head, new shower enclosure in green bedroom. New bedspread upstairs in yellow bedroom.  New café chair burgundy covers.  New mini-sofa in hall. New yellow patio chairs.  And the biggest surprise:  a huge bush beside the garage had been pruned to be hollow inside, and a nice lounging deck built around a big fir tree trunk.  A secret hideaway for relaxing in the shade.

This place is no secret.  Many of you reading this have come and stayed here too.  So you can imagine what we are doing and seeing.  The first day, we set up the computer, and the satellite TV system.  Neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel came over with the 42 bottles of wine they had stored for us over the winter.  We got the sheets and towels out of the attic, and brought the kitchen knives and pantry items downstairs.

Sunday, we went to Intermarche for groceries (we didn’t rent a car this year because the cost went up 33%).  We bought 6 oysters originating from the immense Arcachon bay, Steve grilled up some fresh duck breasts, accompanied by endive, watercress and carrot salads.  We looked out from under the patio umbrella at the tall old oaks, magnolia, pine and holly overlooking the garden lawns of Monsalut.  Six hours later we had the cheese course.

We cleaned, lubricated, and reconditioned the bicycles, as they are going to be one of our mainstays of transportation.  French literature courses skipped over the words for bolt (boulon), nut (rondelle) and chain guard (carter), but Xavier taught me as he gave us a 4mm bolt and nut set.  I am constantly learning more French.  But that first class at age 11 has given the whole French world to me.

We will also get lots of exercise walking to the bakery, butcher, vegetable stand, pharmacy, and deli in Gazinet.  We can hop on a train there to Arcachon , Spain, Nantes, or Toulouse .  We don’t foresee any problems because everything is so convenient here.

Saturday night there was a tremendous storm, with loud thunder right over my bed at the apex of the house.  Rain poured down and lightning illuminated the skylight.  It has cleared the air, and the temperatures plummeted.  In the annals of Bordeaux winemaking, such storms are noted.  Jean-Paul told us that in 2008, March was very mild, but there was a hard frost that killed most of the prematurely flowering buds on April 7.  The summer was rainy and not warm. Now the storm of August 30 will go into the books, especially if hail or wind reduced the yield further.  2008 will likely not be a good year for Bordeaux wine.

If it doesn’t rain today, we’ll visit Franck at the pharmacy and explore our old haunts on our bikes.  No doubt we’ll end up at “Les Sources”, the iron-rich spring in the forest.  Steve calls these fall months in Cestas the “spa treatment”.  For me, it just feels great to be alive here!

Claudia and Steve
September 1, 2008

100 Days After the Flowering Comes the Tasting

We learn something new each time we visit one of Bordeaux’s winemakers.  The rule of thumb here is, 100 days after the vines flower comes the harvesting.  The harvest of the local Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the earliest red varietal, Merlot, is already underway.
Tuesday, we visited Chateau LaFargue, a modest, yet award-winning property in Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux.  We went to pick up a case of 2004 red which we had purchased last year as futures.  Not content to just “grab and go”, we stood at the tasting bar as the acutely sophisticated (and knowledgeable) blonde sales manager offered us tastings of whatever we desired.  And even threw in a wooden case with “tampon” (the end piece with the chateau’s insignia and name stamped on it)
We wanted to taste the 2000 and 2003, reputed as excellent years.  We were more impressed with their Cuvee Prestige blends, which spend 18 months in new barrels aging, and are harvested from the older vines.  The 2000 was Steve’s favorite, and Claudia preferred the 2003.  That year was so hot and dry that everyone had to apply for an exemption to exceed the maximum 13% alcohol level.  We know.  We were here 6 months of that year (including having a pacemaker installed!).  Since the tap roots of these vines delve down 100 feet for water, in spite of drought they still produced excellent wine.
The wine books chronicle what each month’s weather was like for a given year, and relates how it affects the wine.  For 2006, for example, they might write:  “there was a heat wave July 12-25, with a cool, rainy August.  On Sunday, September 10, there was a long and violent rain, with thunder rolling like massive bowling balls down the lanes of the sky.  Some parcels received damage, but the harvest had already been brought in at other properties”.  After hearing the final earth-shatteringly loud thunder bomb, we were sure the entire wine harvest had been vaporized!  But the winemakers said it had not hit the ground.
The 2004 is said to be a moderately good year, but the 2005 is the year that everyone is getting excited about.  Lucky, because French wine sales had dropped precipitously for several years.  Now, exports are up 18.6% through May (IHT 8/8/06), based mainly on avid international demand for the 2005.
The supermarkets all run “Foire aux Vins” promotions and print color catalogs in September.  J-P and Rachel again invited us to the after-hours gourmet wine tasting event at Intermarche this year.  Hundreds of faithful customers were anxiously milling about the wooden wine crates from all over France.  There was the clink of bottles being loaded into carts and the buzz of conversation.  People lined up 10 deep around the food as if they hadn’t eaten a crumb in days.  I saw one thin older man shoveling fresh Arcachon oysters into his mouth as fast as he could.  Soon the trays of cheese cubes, fatty sausages, fine ham, and olives were gone.  The trays of foie gras on baguette lasted only seconds with this crowd.
We re-connected with the well-muscled and fashionably-dressed Stefanne (fluent English speaker who visits Napa properties).  Pouring generous glasses of the sweet white 1999 Sauternes called Roumieu, he offered to take us to Brane-Cantenac and other properties later in October when our guests arrive.  We also talked with the sommelier pouring “foreign” wines, some Chilean, Portuguese and Argentinean.  There were no American wines on offer.  The French are super sensitive to their recent failures competing with the rest of the international players, so they don’t let in much non-French wine.  Only if the importer’s name is Rothschild or Lurton does it get in.
One might think that all French wines are expensive.  This is true in fine wine stores in America.  But here, where wine is food, prices are fine.  Gold-medal winning Grenache/syrah from the villages of the Cotes-du-Rhone costs 2 to 6 euros.  An Alsace Riesling or Gewurztraminer might run 3-6 euros.  The Loire Valley cabernet franc- based reds run 4-6.  The generic Bordeaux are 3-5, with the reds from the right bank running 6, and the southern Graves cost 8.  Only Burgundies and the prestigious Grand Crus run you big money.  Chateau d’Yquem, the top Sauternes, was 157 euros a bottle .  So here, even with the euro exchange rate being so high (1.27 dollars buys one euro), you can still drink high quality wines at affordable prices.
Of course, we are only consuming red wine for health purposes, not because of the convivial, fun atmosphere around here.
Claudia and Steve

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” Wine Festival in Bordeaux 2007 – Part I

It began as a sunny, cold day in the Graves Appellation. Our friends Jean-Paul and Rachel arrived to pick us up at 9:30 this morning.  It was freezing; we all wore many layers.  We drove to Chateau Coquereau in La Brede, southeast of Cestas.  We stood in the bright, cold sunlight, tasting some 2004 and 2005 reds, then we toured the “1750 aging cellar”.  It looked like an old barn, which it was.  The owner showed us his charming homemade welded tool for stirring up the cap of grape skins, and then a homemade “room” for keeping the fermenting juice warm (a huge black plastic tent which we entered, with space heater!).  The cousins and neighbors pick the grapes on this tiny 1.5 hectare property.  Munching cookies, we photographed the sturdy 130 year old lemon tree, and hoped they remember to bring it indoors tonight.

The Depiot family began to grow wine at the elegant Chateau Belon in 1606, and the same family is still in residence.  We had visited once before.  The owner’s foxy Bostonian girlfriend,  Beverly Como, had promised to deliver a case to our house in San Diego , but didn’t answer our e-mails when the case failed to show up.  To our surprise, she was still there, and claimed that her mother in law dropped the ball.  We tasted but didn’t take her up on the offer of 24 bottles for 100 euros.  We just couldn’t see drinking bottle after bottle of the same mediocre wine.

Next, Chateau de la Haut-Pommarede, in Castres, where we learned the estate sits on a deposit of gravel 60 feet deep.  The gravel regulates water, draining it in wet years, and holding it in dry ones.  The owner demonstrated how to make a blended wine.  He drew off some Merlot from the 2006 barrels, and poured it into our glasses for tasting.  Then, he drew off Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon plus Malbec and combined it with the Merlot in our glasses.  The complexity level rose, and so did our opinion of his wine.

But first, we took advantage of the 5 euro plate of meats with glasses of 2002 and 2004 red.  The owners bustled around setting out tables in the sun, now warming us (and bringing the bees).  At other tables, Russians and French families took their lunches. 

After a coffee, we returned west to the Chateau de Castres.  Magnificent 300 year old trees frame the golden stone building owned by the Baron of Poitevin at the end of the 17th century.  The winemaker toured us through the modern facility, complete with beehive shaped conical tanks with temperature controls and new oak barrels.  The tasting took place in a charming room to the right of the main house, with wood burning in the fireplace.  We tasted the 2003 and 2004 Chateau de Castres, and bought the 2004 Tour de Castres (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet France /Petit Verdot).  The owner’s mother, elegantly attired in autumn yellows and blues, with Chateau de Castres apron on, greeted us kindly and fed us cookies and coffees.  The room connecting the main house with the tasting room was a winter garden with enormous palm tree and other potted plants kept warm with hot water radiators and original tiled floors.  Comfy and classy.

Our next target was the Chateau de Couloumey, in Beautiran. The home is an austere classical chateau, with magnificently decorated interiors. There is a graceful pigeon tower in the large courtyard, with white doves crowding into the niches.  Of all the many castles we have seen in the past 7 years of this event, this was the first where we received a tour of the dining room, kitchen and entry hall.  Walls magnificently painted with figures, period furniture, custom tablecloths, mirrors, oriental rugs, all in good taste, but the castle itself in need of ceiling and ornamental repairs.  We strolled around the back grounds, with a former chapel converted to office.

The sun was beaming, so we decided to check out one final chateau – le Chateau de Calens.  We couldn’t find it last year, with those pesky little signs leading nowhere, but J-P persevered.  The winemaker seemed indifferent, and the red Graves was pretty bad.  We asked a few questions about what they had served on the buffet at noon, as a possibility for next year (sausages, fried rice, pasta), and then made our way home.

It was a beautiful and interesting day.  The only thing we can say is, there are still 20 more wineries left that we haven’t seen, so we’ll be back next year for more!

Claudia, 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.