Côtes du Rhône
The next winecation has finally arrived. The planning stages of cork and fork hopping through the French wine regions of Burgundy, Beaujolais and The Rhone Valley began last summer; picked up steam and passengers in the fall; and just last week – the final vineyard visit has been settled. I and 13 avid wine and food fans will fly into Paris and Lyon this weekend.
And I can’t wait.
My goal here is not to gloat or start a small food fight. I only want to prime the pump for those that are going and encourage those that will not be with us to really consider jumping onboard when the next opportunity comes along. It could even be Tuscany or Spain in the fall…if you want it to be. More on that later.
The final plans for the current trip to France finally came together after inking the deal to visit Chateau Mourges du Gres, a small Rhone Valley producer on the southern Rhone River just east of Arles, France. The husband and wife team of Anne and Francois Collard were so kind in inviting our crew from Wisconsin that I cancelled a visit with a much larger producer. The intimate vineyard feel and extra attention trumps a hoity-toity well-known Chateau every time. We will be toasting the wines and the work of Anne and Francois at their vineyard over lunch on Monday, May 18.
This trip will be unique. After a few days in Paris for some and Lyon for my small group, the two traveling teams will meet at our “hotel” in the small town of Chalon-sur-Saône, on the Saône River. Our living quarters for the week is a tricked out Viking longboat that houses just 160 passengers, includes only one restaurant, two bars and one long, stretched-out sundeck. The weather forecast is to be in the 80’s as we reach the southern part of the Rhone River next week.
We begin the tour in the wine region of Burgundy as we’ll stop and taste in Beaune, Tournas, Cluny and Macôn. Burgundy wines are simple to understand. You’ve got Chardonnay and you’ve got Pinot Noir. That’s it. And, they are the best of both that the world has ever known. We will be too far south on the Saône to visit the elite Pinot Noir cellars (Côte de Nuits), but the wines that we will sample from Beaune to Macôn are not bad alternatives. Beaune is known for the richest of the French Chardonnays and Macôn for their warmer climate style of wines kissed with pineapple and white peach. Both will be spectacular in the open air and warm valley sun.
While the Burgundy region is known to anyone and everyone who has ever taken wine seriously and has been making distinguishing wine for nearly a thousand years, the area is quite small. There are only about 13,500 acres of vines in Burgundy’s largest Côte d’Or region, as opposed to Bordeaux’s 235,000 acres or even Napa Valley’s 45,000 acres (California totals 515,000). Oregon is a good comparison in size with a nearly identical 13,700 vineyard acres of planted vines.
We expect to see a striking change in the landscape and the wine and food as we sail south of Beaune and into Macôn. This is where an invisible line, distinguishing the north from the south, cool from warm, divides the country. The buildings will appear different too as we go from grays and browns to bright Mediterranean colors with curved rooftops. We will taste the Chardonnays from the best Pouilly-Fuisse vineyards at a growers cooperative cellar just outside of Macôn (L’Atrium) before cruising into Lyon the next day and into the heart of Gamay country and the wines of Beaujolais.
Two wine regions in three days and the Rhone Valley on the horizon will certainly make me giddy, but it is the food of Lyon that has me feeling like a 16-year-old on his first date. Lyon is known as the gastronomical capitol of France (take that Paris) and it is the Bouchon that has made Lyon famous. A Bouchon is a style of restaurant and wine bar in Lyon that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine…meaty items like spiced sausages, duck pâté, Bresse chicken or roast pork. Bresse chicken is popular in that every Bouchon has their own unique version. The chicken itself is very French and even matches the country flag with its blue feet, snow white feathers and bright red comb.
We will leave the cruise ship for a special night in Lyon as our fearless fourteen have reservations at Bouchon des Filles, a top-ten Lyonnaise restaurant that is tucked into an out-of-the-way alley, away from tourists, and run by the creative hands of two charming women, Isabelle Comerro and Laura Vildi. They have planned a 4-course dinner along with a Viognier from the Rhone, a Beaujolais blanc and Beaujolais rosé, and a Gamay from Morgon. I spoke with Isabelle and she asked if we would like to finish with a Rhone red or a Morgon. I had to opt for the Morgon, a wine from the region whose grapes are grown from aging schist and crumbling granite soils and one that has a distinctive flavor of bright berry Gamay and stony remnants. The choice was simple. Morgon is hard to find in the U.S. and we will have our fill of Rhone reds later on this journey.
On Sunday of next week we will be in Tournon tasting Rhone wines in the morning at a vineyard chosen by the people at Viking and on to the medieval and Renaissance buildings of Old Town Viviers, just in time for dinner. We will sleep in Viviers and dream of visiting Van Gogh’s old stomping grounds the next morning while discovering more Grenache and Syrah along the way.
The new week begins in Arles, a city with very cool architecture and ancient sites, including a Roman arena that once sat 20,000; and
it’s the city of vibrant colors and striking natural light. We will see where Van Gogh lived and what inspired him on canvas. We visit our new friends Anne and Francois Collard at Chateau Mourges du Gres in the afternoon for a tasting and lunch.
Here’s the simple yet regionally perfect menu from Anne at Chateau Mourges du Gres:Eggplant terrine with tomato sauce Charcuterie Plate Pasta Salad with tomatoes Goat Cake Fresh Cherry from the estate And…more wine from the estate
Next is Avignon, nicknamed the “City of Popes,” as this is where seven Popes called home from 1309 to 1377. We will tour the wine region of Chateauneuf du Pape (House of the Pope) and taste wines with Claude at Verger des Papes (Orchard of the Popes). We’ll be in Pope Heaven as we enjoy lunch outside on their veranda that overlooks the vineyard and valley. We’ll be in no rush to return to our hotel on the Rhone as the ship will be docked overnight, our last one in France.
A wine tasting will be planned back in Wisconsin to reacquaint ourselves with the three French wine regions (and food) and introduce others to what they missed. This will be open to all…so stay tuned and look for our pictures and stories at the end of May.
The Next Tour
Where to go next? LaMacchia Travel and corkmeetsfork are willing to sneak in a quick visit to either Italy or Spain this fall. We could not fill up our last trip to Spain but are willing to give it another try. The vineyard owners are still waiting for us. Italy is a no brainer and always seems to fill up as soon as it’s announced. This time through, I’m thinking Alto Adige in the north for three days and Tuscany and our very own villa to finish the trip. We would depart in late September or early October of 2015. I’d like to hear those that are interested.
Robert J. Mitchell
Did you know?The Chablis Appellation in Burgundy is separate (to the north) from the rest of the well-known French wine region and it’s actually closer to Champagne than Burgundy. The dominant soil there is called “Kemmeridgian” limestone (the same as Champagne). The white chalky texture retains and reflects the warmth of the sun, which helps the grapes ripen and adds that “Chablis crispness” to their very special wines. And most importantly, all wines are white and only contain the Chardonnay grape.