The day dawned gorgeous but windy. After munching on some breakfast pastries (pain au chocolat for me and sacrastain for David), we decided to head off for Chateauneuf du Pape for some sightseeing and wine tasting.
“Camilla” told us the fastest way was to get on the A7 Autoroute at Cavaillon, very near our mas, and take it to just north of Avignon. While it might be the quickest, the high winds made driving on it at speed (130 kph) a bit nerve wracking. The gusts moved our car around quite a bit, and – coupled with the huge trucks that use the A7, it was far from a relaxing drive. Once off the A7, Camilla guided us to Chateauneuf du Pape. In all, it was about a 40 minute drive.
Arriving in the tiny village that is home to one of the Rhone’s best-known wines, we found that the main street was being repaved, making for noise, dust, and congestion.
We headed off for the chateau (the town’s name means “Pope’s new chateau”) to shoot some photos. The views were wonderful, but the heavy winds made clambering around the ruins less than fun. The vineyards in this area are not planted in soil, as with most places, but in a bit of dirt covered with stones. These stones absorb the heat by day, and radiate it back at night, creating unique growing conditions. Unlike many areas where the wines are made from one or two varieties, here there are more than a half-dozen allowed to be in the blend. While the heart of the reds is Grenache, there is also Syrah, and a host of lesser-known grapes that are blended to make each vintage. The whites – which are wonderful but not well-known – are also made from a number of grapes, allowing the creation of a floral wine with wonderful flavors.
Surrendering to the wind, we headed back to town, where we magically found a parking place right in the center, and commenced to sightsee. The first thing David noticed that was that the town’s main/best restaurant – la Mere Germaine – was closed. Not just for the day, but the hotel and restaurant that had been there for years were no more. The sign is still there, swinging forlornly in front of the vacant building. His suggestion that we see about renting it and opening “la Mere Bev” was ignored.
We strolled around the village, noting that the bulk of the stores were wine caves where you can taste and buy the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. That, a few markets, a bakery, and a couple of butchers, reflected that this is a working wine village, not really a tourist spot.
At noon everything, including the road construction, came to a screeching halt, and everyone headed to one of the two cafes in the miniscule town square. We chose one and sat down to relax. The terrace quickly filled with folks from the vineyards, taking a midday break. While pizza was the choice for most, I opted for a pave of beef, cooked bleu (rarer than rare) with frites, while David went for a salad with anchovies and tuna. Both were good. For wine, we went with a pichet of Cotes du Rhone blanc, a white wine from the region that is good and very inexpensive.
After lunch it was down to the serious business of tasting and buying wine. After perusing a number of shops, we decided that it boiled down to one of two options: a) buy a wine we were familiar with – Mt Redon, Beaucastel, Vieux Telegraphe – or taste and try something less well-known. We opted for the latter, and picked a cave where we could taste. As Thursday we are hosting cocktails for Guy, the property manager, and Patrick, the caretaker, we decided we needed a few bottles each of red and white. David did some tasting and settled on a 2007 vieilles vignes (old vines) red, and a 2009 white. The tab was moderate and the wines good, so we were happy.
We then meandered out-of-town, and decided to visit one of the vineyards on the outskirts for a bit more tasting. A large castle-like structure housed the operation of the winery we chose, and within that there was a large tasting room and store. We went in, browsed around, and tasted several whites, ending up choosing a white Cotes du Rhone which was excellent and a bargain at under seven euros! Their white Chateuneuf du Pape was also excellent, so we bought that as well, plus some wonderful olives from the area, and a small piece of Provencal pottery for serving the olives.
As the day was still fairly young, we decided to forego the A7 going home and drive back via L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, one of our favorite little villages in the area. The Sorgue river splits into several branches just outside the village and dissects it much like the canals do in Venice. There are old water wheels, antique shops, and a host of cafes and bistros set along the streams. We wandered around for a bit, then pulled up a small table next to the main stream at our favorite, the Cafe Bellevue, to watch the ducks cavort. All was well until a small duckling arrived, quacking frantically for its parents who had just moved on to another stream with the duckling’s sibling. After 20 minutes of quacking and swimming, we were becoming concerned. I was worried that the little thing would tire and sink until David pointed out that ducks don’t sink – they float on the water like little pool toys.
Finally, ma and pa returned, quacked a few duck words which probably meant, “we told you to stay with us – no ice cream tonight,” and all was right again.
Into the car, and 40 minutes later we were home. We took out the chicken that I roasted, and the asparagus that David cooked yesterday, and made a light meal, which was excellent. David cut up our stale baguettes, added some local olive oil, and made croutons for tomorrow’s salad.
As we have dialysis tomorrow, we turned in early.