Une Epi­cure en France

From the Bordeaux wine route to the Dor­dogne route du foie gras

DINE and Destinations - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Adam Wax­man

Wine and foie gras, Bordeaux and Dor­dogne

THE WORLD OF WINE SWIRLS around Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a style, a qual­ity, and a sym­bol of sta­tus. The soul of Bordeaux is vested in the newly minted La Cité du Vin. Is it shaped like a de­can­ter? What is it? We ask. In fact, it’s a “non-shape.” It is an ab­stract rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the flow of wine pour­ing into a glass. Sheer bril­liance. A mag­net for oenophiles and for those sim­ply cu­ri­ous about the al­lur­ing and iri­des­cent mica and glass struc­ture, chang­ing colours as it re­flects the sun like a glim­mer­ing tem­ple nes­tled on the river­bank.

Inside, we move like mol­e­cules in a glass of wine, cir­cling mul­ti­sen­sory ex­hibits that pro­vide in­sight and stim­u­late cu­ri­ousity at each stage of the wine­mak­ing process. Nine­teen in­ter­ac­tive mod­ules de­mys­tify the com­po­nents of colour, taste, mouth feel and aro­mat­ics and pro­vide a his­tory of wine. At the Ter­roir Ta­ble we push but­tons to sur­vey the ge­og­ra­phy of the ma­jor wine re­gions. We learn about old and new world wines from an­cient vine­yards in Ge­or­gia to emerg­ing ones in Canada. In “sa­lons” we learn how to trust our­selves in wine tast­ings; get in­tro­duced to the wines of Bordeaux as well as in­ter­na­tional re­gions; and sam­ple wines while read­ing the clas­sic lit­er­a­ture, like Charles Baude­laire’s Les Fleurs du mal, to which they cor­re­spond. In a dark room we re­cline as sounds and im­ages are pro­jected along with aroma dif­fusers to help us iden­tify wine notes. A com­fort­able library dis­plays books on wine in a va­ri­ety of lan­guages and in­cludes manga. There is even a work­shop for chil­dren us­ing colours and juice. On the top floor we taste and com­pare in­ter­na­tional wines while over­look­ing “la belle en­dormie” (the sleep­ing beauty), Bordeaux.

Strolling along the board­walk by the Garonne River and through pub­lic parks is such a plea­sure. There is calm civ­i­lized so­phis­ti­ca­tion. This is a city known for its art and 18th-century lime­stone ar­chi­tec­ture. Some build­ings even date back to Ro­man times. It was named a UNESCO World Her­itage Site for its “out­stand­ing ur­ban and ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble.” Rue Sainte-cather­ine, one of the longest pedes­trian-only shop­ping streets in Europe pur­veys all the epi­curean spe­cial­ties I love. Wine bars, cafés, choco­latiers, fro­mageries, and quaint cob­ble­stone pub­lic squares se­duce me with the most re­fined prod­ucts in the world. I en­joy espresso with canelé, a minia­ture caramelized cake with vanilla and rum that sym­bol­izes the el­e­gance of Bordeaux’s pas­try mak­ing. At the Maille bou­tique I sam­ple fresh mus­tard on tap. This is not the ball­park yel­low condi­ment I grew up with. Th­ese mus­tards are won­der­ful rich flavours that im­me­di­ately in­spire food pair­ings. Dozens of mus­tard va­ri­eties tempt me like Hazel­nut, Black Chanterelles and White Wine; Mus­tard with Aca­cia Honey and Bal­samic Vine­gar; and the lim­ited edi­tion Chardon­nay with White Alba truf­fles. My gift bag is full.

TIME TO COOK. At the Côté Cours cook­ing school within the Saint-james Ho­tel, I don an apron, raise a glass of Me­doc, and fol­low along as my teacher in­structs, in French, how to pre­pare our Mex­i­can feast, Bor­de­laise style. Classes here are in cuisines of the world, but the qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents and the prepa­ra­tions are quintessen­tially French. With each sip of wine, I feel I can un­der­stand bet­ter. Who would be­lieve what I just made? Crisped lo­cal shrimp atop a disk of salsa and roasted corn looks beau­ti­ful, but it’s the tech­niques that I will bring home. From his Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rant within the ho­tel, Chef Ni­co­las Magie serves us a vibrant dis­play of cléry straw­ber­ries el­e­vated with basil sor­bet, fen­nel and cookie crum­ble. Mag­nifique.

Bordeaux is the wine cap­i­tal of the world with more than 7,000 wine pro­duc­ers in 65 ap­pel­la­tions. My an­tic­i­pa­tion soars as I drive through the quiet coun­try­side in an English taxi, Wine Cab, con­verted into a wine-tast­ing cham­ber. There’s Château Mar­gaux! Can I take a peak through the iron gates? That’s as close as I’ll get. This is wine roy­alty, and the mys­tique is closely guarded. How­ever, ap­pre­ci­at­ing wine is as much a lo­cal pas­time as it is the main in­dus­try here and, from the wine bars to the winer­ies, I find it all hap­pily ac­ces­si­ble. First stop: Château Pape

Cle­ment where, not only do I learn how Grands Crus Classés are made but, in the wine lab, I also cre­ate my own Cab/mer­lot blend, and bot­tle it with my own la­bel which I name af­ter my son. This is the old­est planted vine­yard in the re­gion, dat­ing back to 1300. The pol­i­tics of wine and the pa­pacy are ev­i­dent here. Named af­ter Cle­ment V, the win­ery was main­tained by suc­ces­sive arch­bish­ops. In the wine cave I feel the me­dieval am­bi­ence as church mu­sic echoes

“An­other mar­ket is known for truf­fles, but I am lured into a bistro for the lo­cal spe­cialty: Le pâté de Périgueux”

through the cav­ernous tomb of the arch­bishop. Old meets new as Asian in­spi­ra­tion har­mo­niously blends with French clas­si­cism at Chateau

Mar­quis d’alesme. Sur­rounded by serene gar­dens, new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties com­bine Taoist prin­ci­ples with or­ganic and bio­dy­namic prac­tices. Grapes are hand picked for the “caviar” of the es­tate. Through a long spa­cious hall lined with dragon scales, moon gates open to re­veal them qui­etly rest­ing in their bar­rels. In an ad­ja­cent villa I sniff aro­matic oils to test my ol­fac­tory skills, and sam­ple a bou­quet of Caber­net-dom­i­nant wines. Flo­ral, el­e­gant black fruit, richly tex­tured with a re­fined mouth feel seems pa­tiently coaxed from the grapes with virtue and vir­tu­os­ity. We se­lect a few bot­tles to en­joy in the court­yard with a plat­ter of fresh bread, char­cu­terie, cheese and olives all lo­cally sourced. I could not be hap­pier. Lunch at the 2-Miche­lin star La Grande

Mai­son by es­teemed Chef Pierre Gag­naire is a priv­i­lege for the senses. The culi­nary ar­chi­tec­ture of each dish is as­ton­ish­ing. Each in­gre­di­ent, plucked from source, is neatly set in colour­ful as­sem­blage. Sea bass with oys­ters and pearls of cider is a con­flu­ence of volup­tuous tex­tures with sub­tle sweet­ness. Red mul­let is lay­ered with foie gras mousse, crisp fen­nel, black olive jelly, a thin sheet of daikon and a pot­pourri of tiny flow­ers and mi­cro greens. This is ex­quis­ite cui­sine and, need­less to say, the Bordeaux wine pair­ings are lux­u­ri­ous.

DRIV­ING THROUGH NOU­VELLE AQUITAINE to Dor­dogne is, it­self, a ro­man­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. So many bou­tique neigh­bour­ing winer­ies dot the coun­try­side as the wind­ing road me­an­ders past me­dieval towns that beckon my cu­ri­ousity. I have to pull over. Steep cob­ble­stone lanes lead me to the sum­mit of Saint-émil­ion. En route, brasseries un­veil invit­ing aro­mas of river fish cooked in red wine. Be­neath the Mono­lithic Church and its Bell Tower lies a 200km tun­nel sys­tem. Ex­plor­ing just a por­tion of th­ese dark cat­a­combs carved from rock more than 1,000 years ago is a spooky, but fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the past.

From the wine route to the foie gras route ar­ti­sans flour­ish. France is the main pro­ducer of Siberian stur­geon. At Do­maine du caviar Neu­vic I feed goats and am then taught how to eat stur­geon caviar. Metal spoons af­fect the flavour so we use mother of pearl, and sam­ple a va­ri­ety of del­i­cate caviar, sig­na­ture and re­serve, on toast, with vodka and sparkling wine. Over lunch at Re­lais de la Ganache we en­joy a dol­lop of caviar on a sous vide egg in a cau­li­flower velouté with a driz­zle of hazel­nut oil. Stur­geon is lav­ished in a yuzu crème and as­para­gus puree. We fin­ish with a glass of matcha and white choco­late mousse, lo­cal straw­ber­ries and caviar.

Lo­cals bring wal­nuts and hazel­nuts to a 12th century wa­ter­mill that has been main­tained by the same fam­ily since the 1500s. At the Moulin

de la Veyssière I ob­serve the same process of milling nuts into oil that has en­dured for seven gen­er­a­tions. There is a milky tex­ture to the wal­nut oil, and the flavour of the hazel­nut oil is very pro­nounced. I also sam­ple a nut wine made from mac­er­ated green wal­nuts. There is a hum­ble coun­try charm here and I feel like I’ve trav­elled back in time.

For La truf­fière de Péchal­i­four, Edouard Ay­naud Hum­blet em­ploys his dogs to sniff out the revered Black Truf­fles of Perig­ord. Hum­blet clar­i­fies for me that of­ten we are mis­in­formed about th­ese highly sought af­ter tu­bers. They are na­tive to the Perig­ord re­gion, sea­sonal and black on the inside. We chase his dogs through the woods, un­til Hum­blet re­wards their find with kisses. Din­ner at Hô­tel Les Glycines show­cases the black truf­fle on an or­ganic egg and brioche; in a beau­ti­ful risotto with Colon­nate ba­con and hazel­nuts; and with roasted veal and smoked pota­toes with ju­niper. The co­coa-y pep­pery pro­file of th­ese truf­fles is a rare priv­i­lege.

NES­TLED IN THE WOODS, the en­chant­ing 16th century Château de La­lande, with an­cient vines shroud­ing its cal­caire stone walls, is straight out of a fairy tale. Moss-cov­ered 300-year-old wis­te­ria branches form a per­gola on the ter­race through which I be­gin ex­plor­ing the for­est. In the din­ing room I in­dulge in duck, the spe­cialty of Chef Yves Stae­bell. A dish of cured duck, Ma­gret de ca­nard fourré (duck with foie gras inside), and foie gras sprin­kled with sea salt pair mel­liflu­ously with a lo­cal Rosette wine. Din­ing in this cas­tle is the height of deca­dence. Chef Stae­bell’s adroit­ness is re­con­firmed with a fall-off-the-bone crisp duck leg. It doesn’t get bet­ter than the care and hos­pi­tal­ity here.

All roads lead to Périgueux. The art­work and the ar­chi­tec­ture of this Me­dieval and Re­nais­sance town, and the views from within it are awe-in­spir­ing. In ev­ery pub­lic square mar­kets are filled with farm­ers and ar­ti­sans sell­ing gourmet items that one would nor­mally find at a spe­cialty food shop. In the square of Place Saint-louis we find duck con­fit, caviar, crois­sants, and vel­vety goat cheese made by monks in Ro­ca­madour. This is heaven. I pur­chase foie gras and a baguette…for break­fast. An­other mar­ket is known for truf­fles, but I am lured into a bistro for the lo­cal spe­cialty: Le pâté de Périgueux. Foie gras, wrapped in black truf­fle, is en­cased in lo­cal pork and a thin pas­try. Lo­cals make this in their homes for guests. Never have I wanted to make friends more than now. This is the height of gas­tro­nomic in­dul­gence.

No tour of the Foie Gras Route through Dor­dogne would be com­plete with­out vis­it­ing Res­tau­rant Le Ni­co­las L. Here, Chef Ni­co­las Lam­staes teaches me how to de-vein and pre­pare foie gras. It’s harder than I thought. My re­ward? I get to eat it! Through the breath­tak­ing coun­try­side and the coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity of passionate ar­ti­sans, it’s easy to feel the many rea­sons why we love France. My heart and my palate have just tasted the best of them. www.tourisme-aquitaine.fr

La Cité du Vin; Le pâté de Périgueux; Do­maine du caviar Neu­vic; Château Pape Cle­ment

Château Pape Cle­ment; Sar­lat; Château Pape Cle­ment

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