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A wine tasting and a long lunch in the middle of France

August 18, 2009

By Wink Lorch

Red Menetou Salon bottleTesting out the insider expert advice on Wine Travel Guides is definitely one of the perks of my job. As a wine educator, I used to advise my students that by choosing top producers from lesser-known wine appellations, they would find better value than choosing a nobody from the well-known appellations. It’s no different with a wine tour, so when we wanted a stop en route to visit my sister south of Tours, we checked out Jim Budd’s guide to the Central Vineyards of the Loire and planned our Saturday.

We’d both already visited Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire (home to Pouilly Fumé and arguably one of the most boring ‘famous wine villages’ in France!), so we decided on a short visit to one of the more obscure Central Vineyards appellations: Menetou-Salon, Quincy or Reuilly. We selected Menetou-Salon for the simple reason that we could link up a visit and tasting at a family-owned domaine with lunch at an interesting-sounding restaurant.

Pierre Jacolin of Le Prieuré de Saint Céols was initially reserved and somewhat preoccupied as during Saturday afternoon and Sunday that first weekend of August, the Menetou-Salon producers were holding ‘Caves Ouvertes’ (Open Cellars), meaning that for once, visitors are welcomed for tastings without needing appointments and often side-events are laid on. The only wine estate in the village of Saint Céols, set in an large old Benedictine priory linked to the famous Cluny monastery, the Jacolins had invited several local artisans to display and sell their crafts, arts and foods. Last minute preparations under the supervision of Pierre’s wife Christine were underway while we were tasting. As so often happens when tasting wines with a producer, as soon as he realized from our questions that we were genuinely interested, Pierre gave us plenty of information along with the wines to taste.

Domaine Jacolin in Menetou-Salon

The Jacolins' house in St-Céols © Brett Jones

The Jacolin range consists of two whites (Sauvignon Blanc), a rosé and two reds from Pinot Noir. As everywhere in the Loire’s Central Vineyards area, the whites made up the majority production from the domaine at around 70%. The slightly more expensive wine named Cuvée des Bénédictins was aged for longer on the yeast lees and bottled later giving a much deeper flavour and ageing potential than the ‘basic’ fresh and zippy white. Both the rosé and the two reds (the better one again named Cuvée des Bénédictins and this time, spending time in oak barrels) had longer maceration on the skins than most producers in the area give their Pinots. This gave more structured wines calling out loudly for food. After tasting a few older vintages, which impressed us greatly, we were offered a taste of a very different kind of drink – a Crème de Cassis made from blackcurrants grown on their family farm, and Pierre urged us to taste it neat, without adding any white wine to make a Kir. It was absolutely the most concentrated blackcurrant flavour I’d ever encountered and I could imagine it would be delicious over vanilla ice cream – we bought a bottle to try another day.

C'heu l'Zib Restaurant in Menetou-Salon ©Brett Jones

C'heu l'Zib, Menetou-Salon ©Brett Jones

As always, tasting made me hungry, so I was ready for lunch when we arrived at the restaurant C’heu l’Zib (Chez l’Zib) in the middle of the nearby village of Menetou-Salon. Apart from the food itself, the whole experience at Chez l’Zib (C’heu is the dialect word) reminded me of eating in the Italian countryside, though I suspect that decades ago there may have been more restaurants like this in France too. The warm, rustic interior is full of wood (including the trestle-like tables and rather uncomfortable school-like chairs), with decorations hanging from the ceiling and every piece of wall or beam, an open fire for winter and a bar in the corner. There is a cosy family atmosphere with strangers often sharing tables. Although a menu of sorts is displayed outside, there is no menu handed to you and you are expected to eat the menu of the day, which will include some choices. From most tables, you can see into the busy kitchen at the end where several women of all ages and one lone man bustled away. The restaurant was full this Saturday lunchtime with a mixture of locals and (French) tourists in the know.

Everything about the food is homely, simple, seasonal, regional and delicious. I started with half a melon (served completely plain) and Brett had perfect, rustic pork terrine. He followed with a classic of the restaurant, locally caught pike served simply in a typical beurre blanc (cream, butter and wine) sauce. I had tow magnificent slices of veal shin cooked in wine. Carrots in butter and simple roasted potatoes were served on the side. After, a big bowl of green salad and a cheese plate including several of the local goats’ cheeses were passed from table to table and replenished as needed. Dessert focussed on slices (however big you wanted) of a rich chocolate charlotte and there was a bowl of stewed plumss and another of marinated grapes. Phew! I feel full just writing this and to think that one option was to choose both the fish course and the meat course! The wine choice is even simpler: red or white, Menetou-Salon of course, from whatever producer they have around. You can have a bottle, a half-bottle or a glass …

Menetou Salon bottle sculpture © Jim Budd

Bottle sculpture in Menetou-Salon © Jim Budd

Our meal for two with a half a bottle of white and a glass of red plus a couple of coffees came to just 78 Euros. We had a slow walk around the village, inspected some badly hail-damaged vines (sadly 2009, the year in which the appellation celebrates its 50th birthday, commemorated by a bottle sculpture, has not been kind to Menetou-Salon) and then ambled off to the local woods for a siesta. Thanks to Jim Budd for recommending these gems in one of his five Loire guides.

By the way, in case you’ve not yet noticed, Wine Travel Guides is currently offering subscriptions at half price – only till August 26th. That makes the Gold subscription with access to 50 guides only £24.50 (approximately $42 or €30).

C’heu L’Zib, 2 Route des Aix d’Angillon, 18510 Menetou Salon
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 64 81 20 (No email, no website).
Open lunchtimes except Wednesdays. Dinner by reservation only except Wednesdays and Sundays.

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New ‘Lightning Cruise’ explores the wine rivers of France

April 1, 2009

Wine Travel Guides announces sponsorship of the wine tour to end all wine tours, which will take place in April 2010. This will be your chance to experience the great wine regions of France cruising along the historic waterways of France. The 10-day exclusive Lightning Cruise will see you supping some of the finest wines of the world on the luxury SS Dom Pérignon in the company of some prize-winning British Masters of Wine.

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Great wine has always been produced close to rivers and wine used to be transported along the waterways to its traditional customers, the royal courts of Europe. Now wine geeks can follow wine’s journey on our specially designed cruise ship, which will transport you along rivers that have been made navigable exclusively for us as one of the new French Ministry of Wine Tourism’s initiatives.

Meet the ship in Nantes (RyanAir will fly you in from an outlying airport in London – don’t forget to pay the extra for proper life-jackets – NOT included in our price). Then we cruise up the Loire river, with a side visit along the Layon tributary. Here we will examine botrytis spores with a Master of Wine winner of the technical detail prize – 5cl tastes of the famous dessert Grand Crus Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume will be available (or half bottles of Coteaux de l’Aubance for non-wine-reverent spouses).

After a demi-tour back to the Loire we cruise on through Tours and Orléans, then turn northwards along a linking canal to the Seine for a stop in Paris for a firework display by the Bastille (we hope for an appearance from top French wine journalists who’ve been interred for failing to display a health warning on their articles).

Trees grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground were used for ship

Trees used to build the cruise ship were grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground above Champagne vineyards by the Marne River

Next we join the Marne river to visit the original shipyard near Epernay, where the SS Dom Pérignon was built from trees grown on the Montagne de Reims. We plan a lively debating evening whilst there about whether Merrett of England or Dom Pérignon himself actually invented Champagne – leader of the debate here will be a winner of the Master of Wine’s Bollinger Prize. (A Karaoke alternative may be made available to non-wine-bore spouses).

From the Marne we spit onto the stately Saône River that runs through parts of Burgundy. Here, choose from side visits either to Jurassic Park home to Vin Jaune with owner of Wine Travel Guides, or to examine pruning at the exclusive Clos de Tart with one of our increasingly common lady Masters of Wine.

Ever southwards towards the great Rhône river we make a stop first in the Beaujolais vineyards for another evening debate: “Beaujolais – Vin de Merde ou pas Vin de Merde?. This will be led by a Master of Wine founder of the Beaujolais Nouveau race – and bets will be taken on the result of the debate – it’s sure to be a fun evening (we will taste samples of the ten Beaujolais cruises during the debate).

Following a gastronomic extravaganza in Lyon with one of our larger-than-life Masters of Wines, our cruise ship will head down the Rhône to Marseille stopping to collect pebbles from the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. (You will receive a full explanation from a newly pontificated Master of Wine of why, in a bid to reduce ever-increasing alcohol levels, the pebbles need to be removed – first-hand evidence of global warming effects).

A little over half-way through our cruise near Marseille, our luxury ship will slip from the Rhône estuary into the Mediterranean for some sea breezes. We will tie up for the evening to allow those who wish, to visit the night clubs of Marseille, whilst others enjoy a guided, comparative tasting of the organoleptic effects of sea breezes on the wine tasting palate.

Into calming waters, we cruise into the famous Canal du Midi, sailing speedily past and ignoring the huge Languedoc vineyards through Béziers and Carcassonne towards the final important wine destination of our Lightning Cruise – Bordeaux.

Jancis Robinson

Jancis Robinson

Slowing down to appreciate the vineyards close to the Garonne River, with a detour to explore the Ciron, another nobly rotted tributary, we sail majestically into Bordeaux to meet our mega famous Master of Wine Jancis Robinson for a tutored tasting on the theme of “Why a Bordeaux Château is a Fool’s Domaine”.

At the end of our cruise, you will have ticked off the Loire, Paris, Champagne, Burgundy, Jura, Rhône, Provence, Languedoc, South-West and Bordeaux from your wine touring wish list and there will be only Alsace and Savoie to go if you want in future to say you’ve ‘done French wine regions’ – all thanks to the Wine Travel Guides Lightning Cruise.

Our luxury cruise ship © Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Luxury cruise ship SS Dom Pérignon ©Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Other cruises run by the Cruising Rivers and Canals Company (CRAC) include The Bonus Cruise: Explore the great Banking Capitals by river and lake (Geneva/Zurich) hosted by Top Investment Bankers; and The Motor Cruise: Visit Europe’s finest Car Manufacturers along the Rhine and its tributaries hosted by recently retired Formula 1 Drivers.

Dates for the Lightning Cruise sponsored by Wine Travel Guides will be April 1st – 10th 2010. Prices start at £10,410/$10,410/€10,410. Places are limited to 10,410 people, so please contact us fast to make your reservations.

For other interesting wine stories published on 1st April 2009 do check out the Dregs Report.

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Our Loire Valley Contributor – Jim Budd – Wins Award

February 1, 2009
Jim Budd

Jim Budd

Delighted to report that Jim Budd, English writer famous for his loud shirts and his deep and ever-growing knowledge of the Loire Valley and its wines, has won an award from the French.

Jim is currently in Angers where the annual professional trade fair Salon des Vins de Loire is taking place. He has just learnt that he is the winner of the Journalist’s category of the Wine Blog Trophy organised by the Salon. Whilst there Jim’s also sniffing out new wine producers, restaurants and places to stay for the five Loire guides featured at Wine Travel Guides.

Jim only launched his blog, Jim’s Loire, a few months ago, but he has somehow managed to post an interesting piece almost every day. The blog is a treasure trove for passionate lovers of Loire wines and anyone intending to visit the region for several days should not only arm themselves with our guides, but dip into his blog too.

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