The view from the top of The Dentelles de Montmirail above Gigondas
Dinner last evening was taken at Le Sommelerie, one of the two best hotels in and around Chateauneuf-du-Pape. On the road to Roquemaure, one can be assured, within its walls, to experience good food and a testing period of rumination over a satisfyingly extensive wine list. Alas, I chose not well. The 2001 Ch9 (a common abreviation for Chateauneuf-du-Pape) from Domaine la Janasse was facile, fragile and rather short: a shame, as the food - pressed quail and foie gras terrine followed by demi-pigeon - was typically excellent for here.
After a meal like that, one wakes feeling in no particular need of breakfast. A sojourn in Gigondas, however, demands some buffering, so yoghurt and croissant and black coffee kick started my metabolism.
There's always something satisfying about the drive to Gigondas. A journey towards mountains can't fail to ignite one's sense of anticipation, and when the mountains embrace an ancient and exceptionally beautiful town like Gigondas in their foothills, so much the better.
We arrived at Chatedau Saint Cosme on the dot on 10h00 and were greeted with blank looks. A phone call to Louis Barruol - the newest generation of the family to take over here as wine maker - elicited profuse apologies. He had just returned from Japan, was away in Cote-Rotie, had forgotten about our rendezvous. We were looked after by Louis's father instead, the delightful pater familias now, I would guess, in his ninth decade.
Barruol senior worryingly took to a ladder to access the vats of wine in order to draw our samples. Is this the best address in Gigondas? Few would argue. A string of intense, amazingly impressive wines had us scribbling in our tasting books.
We took the high road. My co-taster had never been to Gig before and I considered that the baptism would not be complete without a "view from the top". The hire car nosed warily over the severely (in some places) rutted track that leads to the top of the Dentelles: the range of tooth-like mountains at the head of which Gigondas lies.
As you can see from the short clip above, the view is breathtaking, the removal of one's air aided and abetted by the stiff wind that scours the slopes at this altitude. Fighter jets quarter the broad valley ahead, most often passing below one's position, perhaps a sile away. This morning we left, not sated with the view, just too cold in our extremities to stay longer.
Lunch was spent in a restaurant in Gigondas's main square: L'Oustalet, a dependably worthy pit-stop. The food is relatively elaborate but tremendous value. I just wish that they'd open up their wine list to producers other than Gabriel Meffre.
In the afternoon, we had an extended tasting at La Bastide St Vincent, an address to which I had never been before. I always enjoy meeting new wine makers and hearing their thoughts on how to make the best wines from the local soils. This was no different, although, sadly, we didn't get to taste many 2007s, the majority of which were 2km away, lying in vat and waiting to be bottled in a week's time.
A 25 minute drive back to Orange followed and we decided to explore the town. I wanted to show the co-taster the Roman amphitheatre but, alas, it was closed. This turned out not to be such bad news, as along the street and around a corner or two, we spotted a set of broad stone steps thaht, eventually, took us up the hill of Saint Euthrope.
It's off that I have never taken notice of this not inconsiderable mound in the centre of Orange. One would have thought that a 100 metre high lump would have been pretty obvious. And it was a pleasure to get above the town, look out on views that must have stretch 100 miles in every direction and watch the lights come on in the town below and a half-moon rise above the huge statue of the Virgin Mary towering above us.
So, we had walked off lunch...but what about dinner? A brief conflab and we decided to head back to the pleasure of the Mere Germaine in Gigondas. And what a feast! Yest however good the food, it was utterly dwarfed by the quality of the bottle thath we drank: a 2004 Reserve Auguste Favier made by Isobel Ferrando at the Domaine Saint Prefert. Dark and redolent of the inside of a clean ruminant's den, the liquid ran over our palates in a cool, concentrated and vastly complex wave. Ch9 this good reminds one of the complexity of a starry summer night's sky and the inabilty of the imagination to produce words to describe the experience. Heavenly, I guess, would suit both situations rather well!
To the land of nod I go. More tomorrow!