Check out my latest Forbes pieces here. They cover 110+ Bordeaux wine notes from 2019, as well as the mountain wine region of Irouleguy.
Below—three lovely southern French towns, three restaurants, three wonderful meals. Let me escort you through time to some lesser known intriguing venues.
FIRST DESTINATION—BISTROT GOURMAND CHEZ LOÏC IN JONZAC
The ancient town of Jonzac is about a 45 minute drive from where I live in southwest France. It is renowned for its thermal pools. Instead, I had dinner at Chez Loïc on main street.
Nine out of ten tables were occupied, and each dish was delivered to each diner in person by Chef Loïc. The energy was palpable and the atmosphere not as reserved than in Bordeaux city, though less bawdy than in the city of La Rochelle. Dishes were hearty and arty, and this is semi-comfort food touched with Bordelaise complexity. The atmosphere was laughter and romance and nostalgia meeting hunger and appreciation for conviviality and a good wine buzz. The overall vibe—convivial though moderate.
I met a young couple—Jean Vincent and Klervi – seated at the adjacent table, and we shared wine. The came from Bordeaux, and were cycling through the region and camping.
Chef Loïc Paulay greets each diner in the restaurant, and serves their main dishes in person.
2. WINES AND DISHES.
First Course –
Two wines: both biodynamic.
The first wine was from David Rimnoux, from the local appellation Vin de Pays Charentais.
This hand-harvested, Demeter certified biodynamic wine is produced only 8 miles (13 kilometers) from Jonzac in the Charentais region north of Bordeaux. This rich blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc includes aromas of spring fruit, and is rounded and balanced. Flavors include red plums, red cherries, raspberries and orange slices. A fresh and easy drinking red wine.
The main course was magret du canard—duck breast—which was as juicy as Cajun country barbecued meat: striated, chewy and as hearty as the wine.
Second Course –
The wine: Domaine de La Réserve d’O, from the Terrasses du Larzac appellation in the Languedoc region just west of Montpelier in southeast France. Another biodynamic wine that is fruity, layered, complex, rich and as juicy and as complex as a Hermitage wine. Flavors of orange slices, red plums, black pepper and prunes. Light, luscious yet hearty. This is oxtail soup meets orange angel cake, with Napa Valley style deep fruit and smooth complexity.
Chef Loïc suggested that it was worth waiting 20 minutes for a chocolate dessert because it would pair well with the Languedoc wine. So true! A deadly beautiful cake spilling its liquid chocolate guts.
3. SCENE & INSIDER ANGLES.
Jonzac includes this Wizard of Oz otherworldliness. You drive past a tree grove into a town that looks somehow familiar, but still different. The greenery, shrubbery, trees and rural route all appear somehow mildly off kilter. Pensioners appear more dressed in costumes than clothes. At intersections, roads bifurcate, trifurcate and curl all at once. Here are thin alleys like vennels in the English city of Durham, and a tourist office that sells a books about 22 flowers providing natural remedies, as well as little glass jars filled with terrine d’escargot. Among locals—the Jonzacais—also wander streams of ubiquitous visitors of not obvious origin, some with elfin beards and gypsy garb and imitation leather jackets and pink overcoats and cloth handbags striped navy blue and mandarin.
Pigeons and doves coo in town and the place has this lovely innocent somnambulence as though each hour is part of a Sunday morning. Stores sell Pineau de Charente, fig chutney and grillons de canard. In this tilted town cars glide rather than rumble along stone roads and the surrounding open fields bring back memories of Atchison, Kansas, or a quieter version of Winchester. White and ancient stone walls, similar to those within Sarlat, convey optimism regardless the season in this place where visitors shuffle rather than strut. Jonzac is this sort of large organic peri-urban quaalude with Middle Age pride and stature.
This is not a haven for industry or commerce but an agricultural nexus where your imagination can hear m’lady of the château accepting Michaelmas holiday season tribute from serfs congregating like hungry horse flies from surrounding hills. Here the town book borrow box is a red painted wine barrel and the ubiquity of gendarmes is bizarre. But when sunshine flushes the park bench walkway and pigeons coo you are filled with reverie as time and care halt beside architectural magnificence and bucolic freedom and you sniff the clean Charentaise chilly air and take time to think that sometimes peace is this: a quiet afternoon in rural France. It absurdly Peter Mayle, but true.
SECOND DESTINATION—RESTAURANT CAVE LA QUINCAILLERIE IN MONTENDRE
This restaurant is a 30 minute drive from where I live in Blaye. I only found it, years ago, because I needed to go to the phone store, and did not want to drive into the busy city of Bordeaux so headed in the opposite direction. I visited the town and found this jewel of a restaurant. The previous couple running it (he, the chef; she, the hostess) were always arguing loudly during meals, though the food was excellent. The new ownership includes two chefs who have each spent a decade and a half cooking in Norway, Denmark and Australia and who have carefully selected a new wine list. The result? Tantalizingly delicious! The small town of Montendre is attractive (in the fall it has a night market, where you can sit and eat dinner and drink wine at wooden tables outdoors).
Chef Guillaume, one of two chefs, has worked in Norway, Denmark and Australia.
2. WINES AND FOOD.
First Course –
First, a glass of 2015 Pic de Vissou. A silky suave beauty of a blend of Syrah and Grenache with aromas of petrol and prunes, and flavors of black and blue berries, black licorice and black pepper. Lovely and light, but with a firm tannic structure.
First course—Noix de Saint Jacques rôties, velouté Dubarry. A creamy cauliflower, leek and onion soup with scallops.
Second Course –
Second, a glass of Don Quichotte from Domaine Le Roc within the Fronton appellation near the city of Toulouse. This is a 70/20/10 blend of Negrette/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon. Robust aromas of barnyard scents and raspberries, and flavors of plums, salt, caramel and taffy.
I paired this wine with a risotto crémeux aux portobello, pluiotes at Parmigiano Régiano—or a creamy risotto with portobello and oyster mushrooms served with Parmigiano Régiano cheese. Wow. When a chef masters risotto, you know you have found a solid eating locale. Delicious is not even the beginning of how to describe this food.
3. SCENE & INSIDER ANGLES.
Montendre center is small and hilly and includes an old château and an outdoor theater. The outdoor market twice weekly is wonderful, with folks parading around carrying wicker baskets and sometimes pushing ancient bicycles.
THIRD DESTINATION—RESTAURANT VIGNE EN FOULE IN GAILLAC
The town of Gaillac is about a 45 minute northeast of the city of Toulouse, located in southern France about mid-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The town is a sweet locale, and the locals are approachable and down to earth in this agricultural heartland. A restaurant was recommended by a winemaker named Vigne en Foule.
2015 Serr da Beg. Fronton appellation. Made 100% from the Negrette grape (typical for the Gaillac region). Delicious.
Onglet de boeuf cuit sur la braise, pomme de terre darphin, tome de brebis, poitrine fumée. Steak, dauphin potatoes, tomme sheep cheese.
Special chocolate dessert.
4. SCENE & INSIDER ANGLES.
Gaillac, located in rural southern France, produces negrette wine, which is delicious and pairs well with local hearty farmland food.
There were five tables at the restaurant, and for my birthday dinner I learned that at four other tables, diners also included someone with a birthday that same day. At the fifth table, a diner said his birthday was the day before. Serendipitous!
Thanks for tuning in again!
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