Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two men of France, Richelieu and Rabelais. And some animals!

Day 15
Two men of France, Richelieu and Rabelais. And some animals!
Would Richelieu approve?
Those of you following my Loire story will be aware that I’ve “met” some admirable women here, including Eleanor of Aquitaine and Jean d’Arc. Today, it is the turn of two men, beginning with Cardinal Richelieu, a major influence in French politics, for much of the time what we’d call a prime minister today, in the 17th century, having been consecrated a bishop in 1608, and the man responsible to a large degree for the flight of the Huguenots to Cork and elsewhere.

You’ll find the Wikipedia article on him here. Not too far south of Chinon, Richelieu set about building a walled town to be named after him. And he made such a good job of it that much of it remains today, with the glaring exception of his own chateau.

 We thought we’d hit the jackpot when we saw a load of stalls in the market place and the outstanding timber framed market hall, another thriving Richelieu relic, all set up for a feast. But the fun and games weren’t due to start for some hours.

Still we had a walk in the magnificent park, another legacy from the cardinal, and saw some of the animal and farm machinery exhibitions being set up, including some very strange forms of poultry and a great line-up of vintage tractors (some with machinery on tow).
The Cardinal. "I want...."

Big Boy. Rabelais's Gargantua
Sixteenth century Francois Rabelais was the complete Renaissance man, a monk (of at least two orders), a doctor, a major writer and a humanist. We visited his original home in La Deviniere today, a modest enough dwelling, though hugely enlarged by its underground caves, which have many uses.

Between La Deviniere and a nearby Abbaye de Seuilly there is a short walk, a pleasant one. The 600 metres is lined with banners, mostly with quotes from Rabelais. “I love you from the bottom of my liver” is one. “To philosophize in wine, not in vain” is another.  His humanist tendencies are underlined with “Try every art of peace”.
Try all the arts of peace. 
Read them all on the way back to the car park at La Deviniere and soon we were on our way to Chinon and to our favourite traiteur. Every holiday maker in France, especially if you don’t want to do any cooking, should check out the best local traiteur on arrival.

They make lovely cooked dishes, including some French classics, at a fraction of restaurant prices. Quality is usually good (you should try at least two shops) and the meals just need re-heating in the oven or microwave. We bought enough for two main courses each for about thirty six euro and are all set up for the weekend. Back to the restaurants after that!

And the wine this evening? Nothing less than bubbles and a very special rosé sparkler from yesterday’s visit to Chateau Minière. Eating and drinking, included among the arts of peace. Cheers.

Well Fed at Les Années 30

Day 14 (Part 2)
Well Fed at Les Années 30


Crazy Salad and Aspic Bunny featured in the menu that drew us to Les Annees 30 in Chinon last evening. Well not in the restaurant's French language menu, but in the Google translation. Also, we had a recommendation from Sylvie, our hostess here at the gite.

Sylvie has good taste! It was an excellent meal, quite leisurely with French style service meaning a 10.15 pm exit after a 7.30pm entrance. But, in between, we enjoyed four lovely courses, some quite superb dishes and a bottle of excellent local Chinon wine.

Amuse Bouche
Rabbit in aspic, Grapefruit and Ginger, Ice Mustard, Surf Pink Grapefruit, 
Bouquet of Mesclun with Coriander. A superb starter.
Cream Codfish cumbava,Sandre chips and Smoked Salmon, 
Parmesan, Salad, Sauce Beetroot Balsamic Vinegar.
Loved this, especially with the other two fish, the
salmon and the sandre (river perch)
Dorade Redfish Snackée, Mashed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Fresh Cheese,
Espuma of Broccoli, Cream Lemon Tarragon. Five star dish!
Fillet Roasted Duckling Chinon Wine Jam, Duxelle Mushrooms, 
Roasted Pear and Celery Cream of the Tonka Bean.
Another five star!
Red fruit "soup", iced Pistachio with Amarena

Chocolate Mousse Guayaquil and Madagascar (chef's specialty),
Caramel Ice Lavender and Violet. Top class choc!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Marvellous Tasting at Chateau de Minière

Day 14 (part 1)

Marvellous Tasting at Chateau de Minière
This, our first outdoor tasting of the trip, was marvellous. In gorgeous sunny weather, and overlapping with the local pony club, we enjoyed meeting the crew at Chateau de Minière at Ingrandes de Touraine. Here, we tasted their excellent Bourgueil wines.

Owner Kathleen was unable to be present but Anna, Stephen and Anissa helped us through the tasting, a lovely leisurely one that included sparkling, rosé and red, all from the Cabernet Franc grape. 

There is a long line of feminine tradition here, now being maintained by Kathleen. The estate was handed down through a line of women for two centuries ever since Marie-Genevieve d'Espinay married Martial du Soulier in 1767 and brought him the property in her dowry. In 1995, Bertrand and Evelyne de Mascarel acquired Minière from the last descendants of Marie-Genevieve, Margarède and Diane du Soulier.

In 2010 Sigurd and Kathleen Mareels - Van den Berghe acquired Minière and will continue the further development of the vineyard and chateau.  One of those many developments is making the vineyard organic and that is almost complete.
Left to right: CL and yours truly (centre) pictured with Chateau staff Anna and Stephen.
Thanks to Anissa for taking the pic.
Back to the current wines. All were impressive but our favourite and perhaps the favourite of everyone on the estate is the Vignes Centenaires 2009 made, as you might expect, from vines of an average 100 years of age, some as old as 110! Also ordered were some Chateau de Minière 2009 and 2010.

We just could leave the sparkling rosé behind and so a few bottles of that are also on the way to Ireland along with some “specialites artisanales” of the house including Morello Cherries au vin de Minière.

Chateau de Minière is a lovely place to visit, right in the heart of the Bourgueil vineyards and close to the magnificent Loire river, and you may read more about it here.

We had planned to go boating on the Vienne and the Loire in the afternoon but that fell through when not enough passengers turned up at Chinon. The boatman declined to start up even though the four of us present offered to make up the difference to the required six, according to their leaflet, saying the minimum was eight! Had to make do with a spell in the pool as the temperature reached 28 degrees. Not a bad consolation!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The magic gardens of Villandry. Chinon Market and the Wines of Bourgueil

Day 13
The magic gardens of Villandry. 
Chinon Market and the Wines of Bourgueil
Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman were the couple that, in the early 20th century, bought Chateau Villandry and created the 16th century style gardens that you can enjoy today. The chateau was built in 1536. We were there today and, with the aid of two very good booklets, enjoyed both the house and the gardens.
While the gardens are undoubtedly the star of the place there are many treasures inside the building. The one that really stood out was the Mudejar ceiling, which combines elements of both Christian and Moorish art and was brought by Carvallo from a 15th century palace in Toledo.
From the chateau you step out on to high terraces overlooking the gardens and can walk all around, going down to different levels as you wish. The Ornamental Garden, also known as the Love Garden, is best seen from above but you do get closer to the Water Garden (most of the water is recycled) and there is also a Sun Garden and a Maze.
Perhaps the real star is the ornamental kitchen garden where flowers and vegetables mix, well over 115,000 of them! There is a standard rose bush in each plot. The work is ongoing. It takes four gardeners three months each year to prune the 1,015 lime trees! Also needing pruning are the box trees which, if placed end to end, would measure a distance of 52km. All in all, quite a spectacle

The Christian/Arab ceiling

Hot at the chateau today!
After that, it was time for a drink and we headed to the Maison Jean Carmet des Vins de Bourgueil.  Bourgueil wasn’t really damaged by the hailstones earlier in the year so they are looking forward to a good harvest. After a rapid fire tasting, I decided to concentrate on the good years there of 2005, 2009 and 2010. That filled a carton and off we went, intent on dinner.

House of wines!
My man at the market for wine, beer and juice.
It was already in the fridge. First job of the day had been a visit to the local market. Among other stalls, we called to the Asian specialist we met last week and bought those fantastic spring rolls again. Main course though is beef “with three delicacies”. Sipping a local craft beer now in anticipation!
By the way, the crowd at the market was well down on last week.  Looks as if most of the holiday makers have headed home.
St Joan of Arc rides in to the market

Amuse Bouche

At the same time, the humble parsnip, or panais in French, has become an exotic vegetable prized by Parisian food bores. Parsnips were long regarded in France as fit to be eaten only by horses and the English. They have now become, according to Le Figaro, “top of the hit parade of forgotten vegetables, with a very subtle taste reminiscent of the artichoke”.

From Our Man in Paris by John Lichfield

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lovely meal at Au Chapeau Rouge. Also Vouvray and Vendome

Day 12

Lovely meal at Au Chapeau Rouge. Also Vouvray and Vendome

Au Chapeau Rouge (The Red Hat), in the heart of Chinon and one of the best restaurants in the town, was the venue for this evening’s excellent four course dinner (€29.00).  You can see the picture of the menu above but briefly, after an Amuse Bouche, our starters were Marinated Mullet and Fondant of Rabbit with Foie Gras. 

Marinade de Mulet, almost a carpaccio.
Main courses were outstanding. CL enjoyed her Roasted fillet of young duck while my Mousseline of local fish with a saffron sauce was delightful. The local cheese, St Maure, was served with pear and was gorgeous. The desserts were perhaps the weakest course but were still good. And the wine. A 2008 Chinon by Philipe Brocourt, was light, bright and excellent.
 Mousseline of local fish with a saffron sauce

Chocolate and cherries. Great combo!
First call of the day was to Vendome, about one hour forty minutes from us but about half that for Parisians who have made it a popular weekend retreat. Sometimes called “Little Venice”, the pretty town (Pop. about 18,000), stands on a group of islands on the River Loir (yes, that spelling is correct, it is a different river!).
A beautiful children's garden at rear of abbey in Vendome
First call of the day was to Vendome, about one hour forty minutes from us but about half that for Parisians who have made it a popular weekend retreat. Sometimes called “Little Venice”, the pretty town (Pop. about 18,000), stands on a group of islands on the River Loir (yes, that spelling is correct, it is a different river!).
A 15th century wash house in Vendome
Flowers and water are well used by the council and there are some ancient buildings in the town that changed hands many times during the Hundred Years War. The best known is the Abbaye de la Trinite with its striking ornate facade. It dates back to 1034.

With the visit to Au Chapeau Rouge, we had to go easy at lunch time and found just the solution in the middle of Vendome, a €3.90 deal. It included a sandwich (mine a 12” baguette) with two fillings of your choice, a drink (eg Coke or organgina) and a cookie (from a choice of three). Good stuff and very good value.
At Domaine du Clos de L’Epinay in Vouvray with David (right)
Vouvray, where they put the white grape Chenin Blanc through its paces like nowhere else was an obvious call on the way back. We drove around the little town and then into the heart of the vineyards. Thought that the Domaine du Clos de L’Epinay looked inviting and we called in there.

Got a very warm welcome indeed from David who told us it is a small operation, just two of the family and two employees involved. They were badly hit by the hail earlier in the summer and may salvage just ten per cent of the crop. “That’s nature,” he shrugged.

We had a very good tasting here in a small and homely room. Started with the sparkling and here our purchase choice was the Tete de Cuvee Brut. The demi-sec Cuvee Marcus is a house speciality (named after one of the children) and is a gorgeous drink and the 2009 too formed part of the purchase as did their dry Vouvray 2010.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Joan of Arc and the Fortress of Chinon. Bourgueil Market.

Day 11

Joan of Arc and the Fortress of Chinon. 
Bourgueil Market.

Here in Chinon, where I am based, there is a remarkable fortress with a remarkable history. It includes the Plantagenets. Eleanor of Aquitaine was imprisoned here by her husband Henry II but the woman that dominates the story of the fortress even though she spent just a few days here is Joan of Arc, the teenager who put an end to the awful 100 Years War.
The town of Chinon (and the River Vienne) as seen from the fortress
In February 1429, in this very fortress in Chinon (began in the 10th century),  she persuaded the disinherited French king Charles VII to stand up for himself or at least to let her stand up for him and for France. He agreed and it made a king of him and a martyr of Joan who was captured by the Burgundians and handed over to the English who engineered, with church cooperation, her burning at the stake for heresy.  

Here be dragons! A summer exhibition in the fortress. Even Nessie is here.

Twenty five years later, the verdict was overturned by an inquisitorial court and the rehabilitation has been going on ever since. The Maid of Orleans, who lived to be just 19, is the French patriot and has been used worldwide as an example of patriotism. 
No shortage of cabbage plants at the market
The morning was much more peaceful. Then, we headed up the road to nearby Bourgueil (about 13 km) for the weekly market there. It was packed. It is spread over the main street, some adjoining ones and also takes in a smallish hall.  All over the place and hard (not impossible!)  to get a handle on it as food stalls are mixed in with those selling clothes, shoes, knives, and so on.
A local goat cheese.
"Drink with dry wine!"
We had no bother filling bags. Got lots of local fruit including delicious melons. Also a local goat cheese, after a taste and with some friendly advice to eat it with a dry wine. Lunch too was covered, mine a crispy tasty mille feuille with ham and cheese. Met the man with the beer and wine that we’d seen last week in Chinon and went off with some beer and a large bottle of gorgeous apple juice.
The boys at the bar, a very popular market stall.
Had been hoping to pick up a good ready-made meal at the market but they seemed in short supply so we fell back on our local traiteur in Chinon and now have a Pork Curry in the fridge for dinner, along with some other bits and pieces that will cover starter and dessert  from Bourgueil. A bottle of local beer is nearing its end and a bottle of local wine is about to be opened.

The sun too has made an appearance this afternoon after a hazy morning that promised mist but delivered zilch. Looks like dining al fresco this evening.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sweet Wines of Layon, Super Salads in Rose City and the Belt of the Virgin

Day 10

Sweet Wines of Layon, Super Salads in Rose City and the Belt of the Virgin
On the Layon trail
We enjoyed a super tasting at Chateau Soucherie this afternoon, the highlight of which, for me, was the Coteaux du Layon Chaume 2010. Sweet, not sticky, and with excellent acidity, this was unbelievable. 
Looking down on the Layon valley from Soucherie
Think I’ll just give you the notes of Olivier Poussier, who is passionate about the world of wine, from the chateau’s website. After 20 years of work and passion, he became Best Sommelier of the World in October 2000 in Montreal .

“A beautiful golden yellow colour. The nose shows very ripe white fruits with a touch of baked apple, juicy Comice pear. A touch of quince jam highlighted by the spice. Botrytis vector is present with a beautiful nobility. Wine is coated with a noble woody giving it a shade toffee. All concentrated tonic but both with a hint of volatility. mouth is wide and smooth without excess sugar, nice acid tension gives this wine focused a great drinkability. "
Chateau Soucherie
We started with two classy wines, the Anjou Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2009 and the more expensive Savennières Clos des Perrières 2010. Could have spent more time with these two but, on the initial tasting, put my money on the Vielles Vignes and even more of it on the Chaume.
Promise of good things to come at Soucherie
We had arrived at the same time as a small group of French visitors and the receptionist very kindly added us to that group and kept us up to date with a few words of English as we walked around the exterior, overlooking the Layon valley, before entering the much cooler tasting room. They make quite a few wines here, growing many varieties including Gamay and Chardonnay, and we tasted quite a few.

The vineyards, we were told, are 90 per cent organic and all the vineyard work (the stripping, the budding, and tying the harvest) is manual. They still manage to produce somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 bottles per annum.
Salad of fried ham!
 We were dawdling through the Anjou country side this morning and it took us quite a while to get to the vineyard. On of the villages we stopped off in was Le Puy Notre Dame. In the Middle Ages, throngs of pilgrims came to the 13th century church in the village to venerate the Virgin Mary’s belt, which is seen in a glass case in the old church.
Pork Belly Salad (is that a song title?)
And we made a stop at the Town of the Roses for lunch. Not that we saw too many roses in Doue La Fontaine though there was no shortage of flowers.  We settled on the Brasserie-Saladerie L’Ardoise for lunch and got two lovely salads for less than a tenner each. CL enjoyed her grilled Ham salad (3 huge slices) while I tucked enthusiastically in to my Salad of Rillauds Chauds (hot Pork belly). The coffee machine broke down just as we ordered a couple of cups and we were offered a drink instead but, with the tasting on the horizon, declined. Nice of them, though.
The belt of the Virgin,

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From the underground: Death Cap and Sparkling Wines

Day 9
From the underground: Death Cap and Sparkling Wines
A misty morning led to us going underground for this Sunday afternoon. The Death Cap was one of countless mushrooms seen in the underground Musée du Champignons in St Hilaire-St Florent, just outside Saumur, but the first call was to the premises of BouvetLadubay well known around the world for their quality sparkling wines.
Disgorgement machines, the more modern ones!
The visit began with a tour of the underground cellars- it seems virtually every winery hereabouts has conveniently cool cellars adapted from former tuffeau quarries. Temperatures are about 12 degrees, all the time, ideal for wine and mushrooms.
Underground art.
The méthode traditionnelle is used here and we were given examples of the old way of the famous “disgorgement”   and the more modern mechanical time-saving method. 
The tasting line-up
The cellars, in under a local hill, are extensive and impressive and we had glimpses of the lives of the quarry workers and saw how the caverns have been adapted to the wine makers’ use. Bouvet Ladubay, with 460 awards for their wines in the last forty years, is a big name in the world of sparkling wines.
Death Cap (in a glass case!)
We were looking forward to our tasting which was carried out above ground. We had four to taste in all, including an unusual red sparkler, and our favourite was the Decanter bronze medal winner Saphir Brut 2011, fruity and fresh with a nice acidity. A few bottles are on their way back to Ireland, maybe! Might have to return to Saumur for more.
Horse's Mane or Pom Pom growing
A few miles up the road, we came to the fascinating Mushroom Museum. Not just a museum as the underground caves are used to grown many varieties, including some that, thanks to Ballyhoura Mushrooms, we are familiar with. 
Pink Oysters growing. Get them from Ballyhoura Mushrooms at Farmers Markets
Enjoyed strolling through the various mushroom beds and reading the info. There is also a massive museum section there with information and representations, in 3B and photograph, of virtually every mushroom in the world.
More oysters growing, just a different colour
By the way, the sun did come out after lunch and it turned into quite a pleasant afternoon and evening, the only big cloud in the sky on our drive home from Saumur coming from the towers of the local nuclear station.