I went for a jog in St. Rémy, then I cooked breakfast for Mary. We bought eggs and fresh parsley yesterday, so I scrambled them up, made a pot of coffee, and we relaxed around the maison for a while. We decided to skip lunch. I called for an appointment at a domaine that was recommended to me by other wine enthusiasts.
Speaking of telephoning, here’s a travel tip for France vacations. Skype offers an inexpensive subscription service that allows using its telephone function (not video) to call specific countries, 60 minutes per month for $1.09. We don’t use our cell phones in Europe because we decided it is too expensive. Both rental properties where we have stayed on this trip don’t have landline phones, so a laptop and wi-fi are essential. We made appointments and restaurant reservations using Skype. Then, I needed to call home for a family issue and bought $10 of Skype credit, which allows calling pretty much anywhere in the world for 2.3¢ per minute. A 10 minute call is only 23 cents!
We struck out into the countryside to find Mas de Gourgonnier. Although only a half hour or so from St. Rémy, the location is remote and beautiful, what I might almost describe as wild.
Small country roads, practically lanes, curve through rugged limestone hillsides and scrub brush. Some of the mountains are sheer cliffs with what is sometimes called chaparral in California but called garrigue in Provence … sage, thyme, and rosemary growing in the wild. Some of it is pine, cedar, olive, and wildflowers. The fragrance is wonderful!
Mas de Gourgonnier farms biodynamically, which is a step even beyond organic. You can see from their sign that they also grow olives and the photos show a vegetable garden and fruit trees.
Mary took these photos to show how much more vegetation is already on the vines in comparison to the much cooler climate of Burgundy.
Although the fierce mistral was not blowing today, this tree shows the effects of the powerful winds.
The tasting experience was fine and the tasting room was more developed than we expected. In addition to wine, they had fruit and vegetable products from their own estate, as well as others from nearby.
This photo shows apricot nectar and non-fermented raisin juice. The tasting didn’t take very long. The person in the tasting area didn’t speak any English at all and conversation about the wines was difficult. What I like about them, though, was their freshness and balance. They had great fruit and aromas and flavors of herbs and that savory, peppery note I like in a Provençal red, but not jammy or compote flavors with high alcohol. We enjoyed the white wine enough to take a bottle with us for dinner later in the week.
We had dinner reservations at Bistrot Decouverte, recommended by TripAdvisor. It’s right on the main street in St. Rémy, which is a circle around the old part of town. You can see how leafy and pretty it is.
Once again, we asked for an interior table in order to avoid smokers on the terrace. And once again, we were about the first to arrive at 7:00 p.m.
We started with our usual sparkling wine aperitif, this one an actual Champagne.
The restaurant was decorated with attractive artwork of wine and food.
The amuse bouche was crisps of French bread with a tuna spread, paté de thon, which is quite popular here.
Mary decided not to have an entrée first course. Remember, the entrée in France is what Americans call an appetizer. I had a Caesar salad, which was more elaborate than most Caesar salads I’ve had. This one had grilled chicken and sundried tomatoes. It also had anchovies, which I love.
The evening's carte was listed on a chalkboard.
Mary selected risotto de St. Jacques, seasoned and seared scallops on a bed of risotto. She said the dish was incredible. She makes risotto at home quite often and I think it is delicious, but she said this risotto was much richer and creamier than hers. Her risotto calls for chicken broth, but after tasting this creamy, smooth risotto, she said she’s going to try adding some cream to her recipe next time.
I had dos de cabillaud en gratin d’aioli, cod with aioli, browned and served over a bed of mashed potatoes. I snapped a photo, but it doesn’t do it justice.
Just after the main courses were served, we were joined at an adjacent table by another couple. I smiled and nodded to them, but we didn’t chat right away. Then another couple took the table on the other side of us, so that we were in the middle. They looked at our dinners, so I said, “Le risotto de St. Jacques est magnifique.”
That made them think I actually speak French, so off they went, chattering away. I then said, “Je parle un peu le Français,” which I say all the time and translates to, “I speak only a little French.”
Then the first couple joined in. They are Belgian and it turns out he teaches French as a second language in Belgium. He’s 84 years old and they drove all the way from Brussels for a vacation.
The second couple is French, down to Provence on a holiday from their home in Paris. English is the language that all three couples had in common, at least to an extent. From there, a three-way conversation evolved quickly to discussion of our trip, families, grandchildren, a little bit of world politics, and the next thing you know, we’re all getting photos taken of each other.
We laughed and clapped and just had the best time. Our new Belgian friends had a cheese course of chèvre, which is quite popular in Provence. I asked him if he enjoys chèvre and like the good French teacher I’m sure he is, he corrected me to say I should have said “fromage de chèvre.” He said asking him if he likes chèvre without including the word for cheese means I’m asking him if he likes the goat. That set off more gales of laughing all around.
We didn’t exchange names or contact information, but we all had a fine time. Strangers became friends … a couple in their eighties from Belgium, a French couple from Paris, and Americans on their first visit to Provence. It was a highlight of our trip.
Mary’s dessert was a sorbet de fraise et ganache au chocolat, strawberry sorbet and a chocolate muffin with a warm hot chocolate center. Mary thought she was in dessert heaven. And we both had coffee, of course.
The wine for the evening was also outstanding, a Bandol rosé by Domaine Tempier. We have an appointment tomorrow at Domaine Tempier and I’ll describe their wines in more detail in the next blog post, but this is definitely not just another rosé. It is what the French call a vin gastronomique, a serious wine for serious food.
It is mostly Mourvèdre with lesser amounts of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. The Mourvèdre brings a savory, meaty quality to the wine, similar to its character in red wine. It is a much more complex and interesting wine than almost all other rosé we’ve tried, in France or at home. It has the cool, refreshing qualities of rosé, but the character of a much more serious wine.
With all the fun we were having with our new friends, the wine probably didn’t get as much thoughtful attention as it deserved, but that’s ok and that's what wine is for. A good wine serves three main purposes … it provides pleasure, it enhances food, and it is shared among friends.
That’s our post for today. We hope you enjoyed it. We had such fun, we learned some things, and we made new friends. Keep checking back at Cépage et Cuisine for more as we explore the wine, food, culture, and geography of Provence. In the meantime,