At dinner in Montelimar I was quite impressed with a modestly priced wine labeled simply Vieux Caves de Coteaux, a nearby winery along the Rhone. It had been suggested for my carre d’agneau by Madame Estaban, owner with her husband Thierry, of Restaurant Petite France at the end of a tiny street in the oldest part of town. Montelimar is in the Drome Department where Provence and the north meld into one another, so its residents have easy access to both the northern and southern Rhone wines as well as the fruity wines from Costiere des Nimes and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.The Estabans take advantage of that. All wines on their page-long wine list represent all those regions without a famous name among them and few cost more than about $40.00. We had headed to their restaurant because it was highly recommended by reliable sources. No Michelin stars — but a positive listing in the famous Red Guide, not easy to find — it requires walking from wherever one parked his car elsewhere in town — and very friendly prices for very traditional cooking. My going for the lamb led to the wine mentioned above.
It also led to an enlightening discussion about wines and wine service. The Estabans say they can seek out local producers who focus on doing their best, personalized work and don’t need to worry about commodity markets and mass distribution. This, they say, gives them considerable advantage over us Americans who like French wines because we have to depend on producers who can send over large cost-effective quantities of their bottlings. They agree that the wines we get are generally good in America but suggest that all too often they lack the personality I was finding in my bottle of Rhone.
Few restaurant owners anymore offer what they used call “house wine,” and vin ordinaire has been gone for years. But all of them seek out the best among their neighbors at prices that match the theme of their dining experiences. With the Estabans, my wife and I had a Coupe de Champagne, that bottle of Rhone, a pate, a generous serving of roast lamb, and a fruit tart for about $90.00, service and tax included. Even the lamb had come from a local farmer friend of the chef. Local is good.
You know his wines,especially in every late November when the New Beaujolais is released. But you see his wines year round, no matter where you are or where you go. Georges Duboeuf is synonymous with Beaujolais. But you probably don’t know about his Hameau en Beaujolais. This 30,000 square meters of Disneyesque construction superimposed on the ancient village of Romaneche-Thorins is the first — and probably the only — theme park dedicated exclusively to wine and the vine.
It sits between the Romaneche train station, where the TGV races by every hour, and the mammoth Duboeuf wine center. Admission is like buying a train ticket, because the entrance resembles a Victorian-era train station where after you buy your 19-euro ticket (which allows free admission to an accompanying child) you pass through the turn styles to access the wonderlands within. Going as part of a guided tour takes away the bewilderment of what to do or where to go first, but there is a unique joy resulting from unexpected turns and surprise after surprise.
Within the hamlet are model vineyards where visitors can check on the grape growing process year round. There are enchanted gardens where the Beaujolais flora are ever in bloom and awash in costumed bees and other insects willing to tell you all about them. Simulated flights take you over the whole of the Beaujolais region and three-D film programs trace the history of the region and of wine-making. A wood-paneled tasting room adorned with art nouveau frescoes allows you to sample and, if lucky, hear and watch the animated turn-of-the-last century circus organ.
When you do finally get to the exit area, you can enjoy a meal in the cafe and/or visit the large gift shop where all the wines in the Duboeuf portfolio are available at very attractive prices and displays are stocked with very tasteful gift-type items that prove you had actually been in the Hameau en Beaujolais and on the premises of Georges Duboeuf.
If you still haven’t had enough of the Romaneche experience, just a few steps away is a cheerful restaurant — Rouge & Blanc — owned and managed by Georges Blanc, one of only two dozen three-Michelin-star chefs in France and whose local staff presents ordinary food as defined by an extraordinary chef at family-friendly prices. Rouge, of course, for the Beaujolais; Blanc for the master chef.
I confess to having dined on two consecutive nights in Rouge & Blanc, where I even enjoyed a white Beaujolais.
Though I will be spending most of today involved in Memorial Day ceremonies — even being in a parade — I have not forgotten that some have designated May 25 as either International Wine Day or National Wine Day. Neither should be confused with International Drink Wine Day, always held in February, usually on the Friday just before the U.S.President’s Day weekend.
As readers have reason to surmise, every day is drink wine day in my household. I don’t really know the origin of these designated days, but I do know that reverence for and appreciation of wine goes back a long way. The ancient Greeks, as we know, had a god of wine, that’s how important wine was to them. And Christ’s Mother asked her Son to do something about the shortage of wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Wine has had a lot of respect for a very long time.
In Armistice Day and World War II Surrender Day commemorations in England and France, I have been served a vin de l’honneur, proof that wine belongs at very special occasions.
Most of our states now have a State Wine, just as they have a state flower or bird or nickname. (Some states even have a state gun!) The Indiana State Wine is Traminette, a lovely white wine that can be vinified sweet, dry, or shades between.
But having a designated wine day is a good thing. Probably, at least in America, tagging it on to our solemn Memorial Day activities is also a good thing, giving us a chance to have a wine of honor to honor those who kept it possible for us in Europe and North America to continue enjoying wine. As soon as we stack arms after today’s programs, I shall offer up a white wine from Alsace, a red wine from California to symbolize an alliance not just of peace-making and liberty creating, but also for producing our world’s noblest beverage.
Nor do I intend to wait till the end of August to enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon on its designated day. Wine days are good.OLDER POSTS »