On the Food and Wine Trail in Burgundy and Provence
Highlights from a 10 day tour:
Day 1: Dijon, a rainy September morning. It's a new twist to the phrase eating your words. The rain had washed away our reservation so we are at the Brasserie L'Impremerie. Actually perfect for three scribes, this press turned into a dining place.
(2, Place Darcy - 21000 Dijon Tel: 03 80 30 69 43 - Fax: 03 80 49 84 65)
We loved the plates the e imprinted on them, the old type writers placed on the window sills, the wooden furniture blocks that in the days of the lino press held the typeface in metal in place of metal trays... takes me back to my first job, where I fretted at the strait jacket od metal composing and the limited type faces. This is even an old lino typesetter taking pride of place here!
The food is heartwarming, I order a warm cheese drenched potato bake, Rakhi the veg goes for a pizza nd the others choose between fish and the baked potato and chicken. The portions are bountiful, we are famished and the light fruity wine that is our first tastw of what lies ahead chases it all down even as it sends us into a happy post prandial haze. Oh for a soft bed, but it is our first day and there is much to see and do, even if it is raining!
Day 2: Côte d'Or
8.30 am: The sun, the road, a Mercedes and friends beside me...it is a heady start to a day. My Sabyasachi khadi trench coat is adding to my sense of adventure, but the air is nippy as we drive up the Golden route, or the Côte d'Or where some of the best wines are produced. With little warning, the person whom Dijon tourism has appointed as guide of the tour, stops his car on a shady slop, and uncorks a bottle. The Louis Buillot, a rosé, blushes prettily in the sunlight, and goes wonderfully with the scene of limestone walls, green vineyards and purple fruit spread as far as eyes can see. Omar Khayam, I tell myself would now have cause to feel jealous.
Noon: If it was not high noon, I would swear I had seen a ghost! The Château Andre Ziltener is a huge sprawling estate, where we had our first wine tasting. Of course parsimonious me would not spit, (also how not genteel!), and ended up just light headed enough to follow the rest in a haze. We were in the cellars when I saw the figure on the stairs...
The wines were delicious, we started with a light, happy white and moved to a red, but the Grand Cru was the scene stealer. I could have guessed it with my eyes shut... such an evolved taste.
an hour later: Met History at the Château de Clos de Vougeot, in the form of an old wine press, named le tetu or the Stubborn One and larger than life pictures of the monks who originally ran the place. The 51 wine growing acres of the 680 year old Abbey property yields 250,000 to 300,000 bottles a year. Today, the Château is in the care of the recently created Conférie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and in its great hall, many of the wine grower members of the Conférie, who number 12000, meet 16 times a year to dine at banquets and celebrate their wines! It is here we taste the Clos de Vougeot, the most emblamatic of the Grand Crus. Also highly recommended come the Savigny-les-Beaune Rouge 1st Cru Champonnet 1999, and the Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose tastevine.
2.00 pm: Running through a lunch typical of Burgundy at La Petite Auberge, and finding it amazingly palatable. It seems a popular place and we are lucky to have a reservation. I taste duck for the first time, perfectly sandwiched between tiny red radish, greens and blood red tomato slices, packed under crisp triangles, topped with goat's cheese! Supriya has a cake of salmpn with parsley as a starter. The Lasagna du Coq au vin is worthy of queens, I am justified in ordering it! The lemon crème brulée comes with frills... kiwi and a chocolate biscuit! Unstoppably, we down an ice cream glace with vanilla and cassis and the calories of course are now nudging four figures. But there is more to come...Accompanying it all is the Guignolet de Dijon and the Kir de Dijon, which is white wine and Cassis. More on Cassis is to follow!
4.00 pm: Cassis. It is my magic word for the rest of the trip. For me the Kir is the ultimate drink for the rest of my life, I believe, but where shall we get the Cassis in India! The Fruirouge farm is the highlight of this day! The shop is like something out of an Enid Blyton book, crammed with fruit preserves and mustards, bottles of liquer... all made of the Black Currant, raspberries, red currants, cherries and wine peaches. Wonder what it is like to grow all the fruit, and then work at pressing, boiling, distilling, bottling, which is what this couple does. The quantities are small and precious. I stock up... something to take home that is not in the duty free shop! Now both my bag and my system are loaded with heady stuff!
10 am: The market at Dijon burst with goodness, fruit, fowl, meats and vegetables. Everything under one well lit, airy roof. The locals seem happy to be here, but oh me, I am tempted by the racks of clothes outside. End up buying purple heeled shoes! And munching on a croissant from the roadside.
11 am: I have bought bread. Marie Antoinette would prefer this bread to cake! The Rose de Vergy on Rue de la Chouette is a place that delights the senses. The smell of bread is tantalising mixed with the scent of spices. Not surprisingly the creators, Alice and Clement use spices from India, and bake gingerbread and others, that is said to have been invented by Chengis Khan... even today the breads will keep for a year in ideal cool conditions. One regret: wich I could carry one loaf of each of the may varieties! Neither pocket nor suitcase will strech that far!
Day 4: We are at Avignon in Provence and taken the long drive to Arles, Van Gogh country. The hospital where he spent years, the shops selling his postcards are must visit pilgrimage sites for an impressionist fan like me! I am warned against lunching at the yellow walled café that bears the legend The Van Gogh Café. Obviously it has little to offer on the lines of what the painter partook of. So we took pictures of it instead. Good enough and chea[er!
Lunchtime: Tje Basilic Citron, a tiny place with Indian and Egyptian artefacts and cane chairs in Avignon convinces me this is the land of curd and honey. My 'fasting meal' of curd is a rich whirl of thick white curd with a huge swirl of money. It keeps me going. The others, digging into their meaty repasts do not know what they have missed!
12 pm: Wine tasting at the Chateauneuf du Pape, drinking reds that once graced the table of the Popes who made Avignon their home, when Italy was troubled by dissent. Learnt a lot about letting the wine release its bouquets from a smart young lady. This time, spat the wine, stylishly. In France, do as the French do!
11 am: Marseille: Walking through the city, after a breakfast fit for queens at the scenic restaurant of the Sofitel. Waddling is a better word. Stopped after tea times when hunger raised it head at a biscuit shop, reportedly historic. The owner, Jose Orsoni is generous, and even as we try to decide which of the biscuits on display we should buy, hands us a small paper bag of biscuits to taste. Strangely shaped, we learn they are called the shuttle... and realise that is exactly what they look like. Tradition has it that they are eaten at Candlemas: and are a reference to the Provencal, the boat that is supposed to have brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Martha and Lazarus from the Holy land to Marseille. The shuttle has no yeast. We find the taste growing on is, indescribable... it is much later we recognise the scent in it is from orange blossoms!
Day 7: Aix en Provence: breakfast at the small but lovely hotel, and we watch the street where Cezanne walked, and eat the kind of food he ate when he lived in this town where he was bor. we look at the scenes he painted, the mountain, the trees, the house of his father, his studio, and feel we are inside a slice of history. the market that comes up every morning is full of produce he must have chosen fruit and vegetables from his amazing still life paintings. We feel blessed. Come evening we stop at the house of our guide, for an apperitif of... you guessed it... kir!
7.00 pm: Dinner at the Carton Rouge, a tiny wine bar turned eatery run by mother and daughter, untrained but with a love of food. The moong lentil with orange and vanilla is something I must try to recreate back home, there is also a chocolate cake with pepper sauce and a crème brulée with vanilla, quite unforgettable. The silver forks and the gold rimmed plate add the right sophistication for food that is so purely 5 star.
Day 8: Carcassonne, a walled city, dating back to the Roman times! Like a dream! At the Hotel de la Cité the dinner is at the Barbacane, a Michelin restaurant. Summer vegetables in a fricassee cooked barigoule-stylr, aestiyum truffle and seasoned toast, grilled wild turbot, thin tart with pigeon's - heat tomatoes, grenaille potatoes and house-made ketchup, Choron sauce, Roasted Pyrénean lamb fillet, pastry with pequillos, ratatouille, lamb's sweetbread, lamb's breast, thick stock, fresh raspberries, Bordeaux cannelé and dark guanaja chocolate dessert and for good measure, apricots roasted with honey, house-made panettone and almond milk ice cream with macadamis nuts, forms our formidable but irrestible menu. And there is the heady Kir Royale, which is Cassis with champagne of white wine to make it more perfect.
5.00 pm: Perhaps emboldened by the fact that I have ridden a wilful, dappled horse through part of the 100 hectares of lush vineyards of Vignobles Sarrail I drink all the lovely reds and rose wines the younger brother and sister owners of the place offer for taste. Happy and with head buzzing, I still want more, and carry away the award winning red lime a trophy.
It will be a pleasant way to remember France and its wonderful wines. I will worry about getting safely through without breakage in my luggage, when the time to take my flight comes. No point worrying ahead of time when one is in beautiful France!
Written by Sathya Saran and Rakhi Agarwal
Photographs by Supriya Kantak