Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Chateauneuf-de-Pape, aka CDP, is not just an AOC, but a quaint hillside town ridiculously overrun with amazing wine!  We headed out from Aix with our guide Michael sharing wine trivia and experiences + learning a lot from him about wine in France and the CDP AOC/Cotes-du-Rhone region, specifically.  We were headed into the heart of the souther Rhone valley where Grenache reins supreme and its not unusual for wineries to span hundreds of years passed down thru a single family.

First stop, Domaine de Beaurenard (http://www.beaurenard.fr/indexgb.htm), translated to the beautiful fox.  We tried both white and red CDP.  The 2006 vintage was showing its age – in a good way! – but the younger wines clearly still need some time in the bottle.  Winemaker Paul Coulon et fils.


Next up, Clos de Papes – a personal favorite of Michaels and definitely a low-key affair.  http://www.clos-des-papes.fr/   We tried both a new and old white CDP + reds from 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2006.  The last was only by lucky chance that the winemaker himself had been in the day or so before and pulled to cork on that fantastic vintage!  Lucky us!  The prices were significantly higher – mostly in line or slightly about high-end OR Pinots, so we opted for a bottle of their 10 euro table wine and look forward to having that while relaxing in Marseille.


We drove up to the remains of the chateau of Chateauneuf itself – built as another home of the Pope, which was dismantled by the same peasant workforce who built it after it fell to disuse.  We had a chance to see the rocky soil and gnarled old vines up close, as well as taste a grape or two that will be ready for vendange in @ 2 weeks.  Just down from the ruins, lunch included a delicious rose from Bandol, duck, bull, and a lovely fig tarte at Le Verger des Papes.  We also visited the cave at Le Verger and tasted wines from a mix of local makers + saw some of the old roman ruins now used as storage.


Last stop of the day and by far the best, Domanie Serguier.  http://www.domaine-serguier.com/domaine.htm   The wine was delightful and the winemaker incredibly accommodating and informative.  We tried whites and reds of both Cotes-du-Rhone and CDP – and then we tried 4 right out of the barrel.  Interesting in that she was using different sized barrels to different effect.  Elected a white CDP to take with us and started on our way to Marseille.


Beautiful day to be in the Rhone Valley!!

 

Best laid plans..

Of all of the activities we were looking forward to, the private winery tour of the Chateauneuf-de-Pape region scheduled for Tuesday was going to be the highlight.  The biggie.  The piece-de-resistance!  And then, as we’re pressed and dressed and out on the street looking expectantly for our ride – I see there’s an email from the company.  Our guide is ill and there’s nothing to be done.  Can we reschedule for the next day, she asks??  Grrrrr.   With much cursing and muttering, I summon a reasonably polite response – well yes, but we have to be in Marseille by 7.  D’accord?  D’accord.

But now what to do??  We’d seen about all there was to see in Aix and I wasn’t up for another group tour – even if we were the whole group!  We finally settled on a day trip to Arles, sorted out the correct bus/timetable, scooted out the door in time to pick up a crepe-to-go and off we went.


Arles is famous for a number of things, but most people know it as the inspiration for many of Van Gogh’s best know works.  He only spent @ 15 months there – many confined in the sanatorium – but yet he was incredibly prolific during that period, creating as many as 300 works!


What we didn’t know was that there are a number of roman ruins there – the Romans occupied the area as early as 100 BC – such as a rebuilt amphitheater, a coliseum still in use today, the remains of what were the community baths, and various pieces of roads and fortifications.
We enjoyed seeing the town and marveled at being able to touch a piece of rock carved for a pillar or cornice more than 2000 yrs ago.  What a reminder of just how young our country really is..


Last dinner in Aix turned out to be our best – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it was a burger and fries!  Naturally, it was the French rendition and not your average Red Robin, but still..  Anyway, we stumbled across Marie-Georgette by happy accident in our wanderings with Doug and Kara – we’d passed by the Passage Agard entrance to the small alley where it’s located multiple times and never even took notice.  Wonderful food and a comfortable low-key dining experience.  Should we find ourselves in Aix in the future, we’ll definitely seek it out!  http://www.marie-georgette.fr/


 

Camargue, St Maries de la Mer, and Aigues-Mortes

After our successful Luberon villages outing, we decided to try another tour, I thought it would be interesting to see a different coastal landscape + see how salt has been produced from the sea for many generations.  We were able to arrange a Camargue tour on short notice and – unbeknownst to us at the time – we were the entire group!

We had a quick lunch at Les Deux Garcons – more tourist hype than authentic cafe experience in my opinion – and went off to meet up with our guide for the afternoon.  http://lesdeuxgarcons.fr/  We did run in to Betty and Bill there from the previous day and had a quick chat exchanging notes on destinations and restaurants.  We also commiserated about a large and loud group of fellow Americans..  I guess we can’t all be subtle and savvy travelers!

The Camargue is a region of wetlands known for wild(ish) horses and bulls + large flocks of flamingos.  Might have been good to know that the very end of a hot dry summer is easily the worst time to visit!!  We did see horses, bulls, and flamingos – albeit at a distance – but the trip may be more remembered for the large and aggressive mosquitoes!!  Still whelped and itching days later!!



Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (http://www.saintesmaries.com/) is a lovely beach town.  Period.  As the story goes, its shore once welcomed – at the dawn of the Christianity after the execution of Jesus – Marie Jacobi, Marie Salomé and their handmaid Sarah, who were persecuted Christians escaping from Palestine on a boat without a rudder guided by an angel.  Miracles followed.  For more..  http://www.saintesmaries.com/eng/saintes-maries-de-la-mer.html   Had we been there during a bull game (they don’t fight/kill the Camargue bulls as in Spain) or gypsy festival, it might have been a different story.  But essentially, there was a little tourist town, a nice church dedicated to the two St Maries and St Sarah, and a beach on the Mediterranean sea.



In lieu of 2 hrs in the quaint tourist trap, we asked the driver if we could go to where the Salt Train tour is.  http://www.visitesalinsdecamargue.com/en/train-tour/  We ended up in Aigues-Mortes, which was close, but due to driving time, etc, it just wasn’t going to be possible to get there in time for the tour.  We did see the salt production facility from across the bay and also had a little time in the walled inner city of Aigues-Mortes, but that was about it.  Still, we did get rice grown and salt produced in Camargue – so we’ll have that memory once we’re home.


Note to self – and anyone else who may read this blog:  Go to Camargue in June!

Dinner that night was at a cute little bistro that we’d passed by numerous times – it always seemed lively and the plates looked good.  Le Piston was fine – but that’s about as good of a review as I can come up with.  Not bad, not great.  Okay.   Based on the reviews, it may have gone down hill in recent years..  It certainly had good reviews at some point!   https://www.yelp.fr/biz/le-piston-aix-en-provence

Footsteps of Cézanne

Got off to a bit of a slow start as we managed through the jetlag of a 9 hour time difference.  Enjoyed fruit and yogurt on the patio for breakfast.  Later, we’d have  salad nicoise and ceasar for lunch and then dinner at a Corsican restaurant, Le Contrepoint (https://www.yelp.com/biz/le-contrepoint-aix-en-provence).  The restaurant was busy and we hadn’t made reservations, so we felt lucky to snag a table in the cozy dining room.  I opted for the corsican beef tartare – with tomatoes and paprika, Paul got a fondue with potatoes and cured pork and then we had a chilled rose to go along with it.

Cézanne live and worked in Aix and the Provence region. Many of his works were inspired by the landscape here. His last workshop has been preserved with many of the objects featured in numerous still life paintings.

On our way!!

Headed to Marseilles and Provence via DC and Brussels.  Weather is clear, flights are on time…   And we made it to Aix – cheers!!

We got settled in to our basement apartment on the Cours Mirabeau, took a short nap, and then went out to explore our surroundings.  Our location was ideal – the main thoroughfare dividing the old city from the seriously old city.  There were picturesque cafes and alleys any way you went.  We later learned that Aix is the “city of 1000 fountains” – a bit of hyperbole as there are really on 111.  The do seem to be at every corner and roundabout.

No question we’re in the land of rose – were a good bottle can be had from the grocery for 7-9 euro.

Cheese Bar House-made Quick Pickles

Pickled Vegetables – restaurant quantity

  • 4 heads of cauliflower
  • 5 lbs of carrots
  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 4 yellow bell peppers
  • 2 heads of celery
  • 10 red jalapenos
  • 4 lbs of zucchini

Pickling Brine (1/3 version in parentheses)     If you cut the brine to a third of the recipe, it will be enough for 4 jars of vegetables –  2 x 32 oz and 2 24 oz jars)

  • 3 quarts of Champagne vinegar  (4 cups)
  • 2 cups White Distilled vinegar (2/3 cup)
  • 2 cups water (2/3 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp salt (2 tsp)
  • 6 cups sugar (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup mustard seeds (4 tsp)
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds (2/3 tsp)
  • 2 tsp peppercorns (2/3 tsp)
  • 10 allspice berries (4-5 berries)
  • 2 dried red chilies, broken in half (sub crushed red pepper)
  • 2 bay leafs (1 small leaf)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (2/3 tsp)

Chop vegetables.  Heat water, vinegar, salt, sugar and spices to boiling.  Remove from heat, let steep for 20 minutes.  Strain over vegetables.  Cool and chill overnight.

 

City of Angels

Enjoyed a quick trip back to the old ‘hood this week.  Very nostalgic.  I didn’t get out on the beach because I got there after dark, but I drove through PDR and Westchester.  So happy to see not much has changed!

Enjoyed seeing Larry and Shannon again – plus the campus was as beautiful as ever.  Had a nice long lunch with Lili at Shiki over in Studio City.  I even enjoyed the traffic!!