Showing posts with label COTES DU RHONE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COTES DU RHONE. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Gorgeous New Wine Country Guesthouse

Since I launched my Provence travel-planning business this winter, I've been running hither and yon, checking out hotels, inns, rental villas and restaurants in all price ranges so I can suggest and book the best ones for each client. But also so I can share the ones I love with you here. One place that really stands out is the Clos Saint Saourde, an impossibly stylish five-year-old guesthouse just outside Beaumes de Venise. But before I got the chance to write about it, owners Géraldine and Jérôme Thuillier told me they'd be opening a second guesthouse, this one right in the heart of the village itself. I missed the opening party late last month but Jerome just sent me photos and I'm not surprised to see that Les Remparts (above) looks every bit as glorious as its older sibling. 

Built upon the 16th-century walls of this famous wine village, Les Remparts offers exceptional views of Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains on one side...and village views (the church steeple, the old castle ruins, the old Canale-tile roofs and the Vallée du Rhône) on the other. 

It has five air-conditioned rooms, a pool, communal kitchen (with serve-yourself Nespresso and tea), a large lounge with a fireplace, a library corner and of course, a garden. Like they do at Clos Saint Saourde, the Thuilliers include breakfast in the price and can provide other meals if arranged in advance. Wine tours and tastings, massage, catering, babysitting and bikes are available on request. Rooms range from €140 to €280.

Jerome was an interior decorator in Paris before the family came to Provence. His aesthetic blends beautifully with the rugged beauty of the setting, both here and at Clos Saint Saourde. I love the creamy colors, exposed stone walls, sense of space, juxtaposition of old pieces with new and exquisite lighting. Jerome's attention to detail is evident in every inch.  These rooms are romantic enough for a honeymoon, elegant without being stuffy. The design magazines are going to jump all over this place. I want Jerome to do my house!

Whether you're exploring the world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine route or simply craving a serene getaway in stunning surroundings, this is a delicious option. 

La Maison des Remparts
#74, cours Louis Pasteur
84190 Beaumes de Venise
Tel/fax 04 90 37 35 20

Note: Le Clos Saint Saourde, the Thullier's first guesthouse, has one of the prettiest treehouses in Provence; see it and others available by the night in my recent story here. Meanwhile other guesthouses that I've seen and loved lately are the Le Mas de Tourterelles in St. Remy (very pretty rooms, English owners and a great village location), Mas Bellevue just outside St. Remy (expansive views, great pool, wonderfully quiet setting) and the stunning Mas de la Rose in Orgon, about 10 minutes east of Eygalieres (quintessential Provence!).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Restaurant I Love in Wine Country

Sometimes a restaurant just does everything right. At Alonso, located in a pretty 1861 Maison Bourgeoise in the town of Sorgues (not to be confused with L'Isle sur la Sorgue), the greeting is friendly, the service is impeccable, the prices are reasonable, the room is welcoming...and the food is truly outstanding. Owners Gérard and Josette Alonso are Lyonnais and had a highly regarded restaurant in Macon for 20 years. They’ve worked together in the restaurant business since 1976 and their vast experience shows in everything they do. They opened Alonso in 2008.

The formula here is simple: for one price at lunch, you get grignotage (best translation: nibbles), an amuse, starter, main course, cheese, dessert and mignardises. At dinner, you get the same, with an extra main course to boot. The breads are homemade and addictive, and on any given day, the cheese cart offers 30 to 40 different types. Except for dessert, however, there are usually no choices: Gérard markets each morning and crafts the daily-changing menu from the ingredients he finds most appealing. But if you have special dietary concerns, he'll happily accommodate you...and the vegetarian at our table was thrilled with what Gérard prepared. ''If a dish is not for you,'' their website says cheerfully, ''we can change it.'' Today's menu includes two starters: first, a lobster pressé and then a delicate line-caught bar (seabass, also known as loup) with fresh petits pois peas (currently at their seasonal peak). That's followed by a choice between sweetbreads or volaille de Bresse. Dessert is a degustation of three. Wine is, of course extra, as are coffees, cocktails, digestifs and bottled water. Lunch is 35€ and dinner is 50€. 

It's all even more impressive when you realize that Gérard is doing everything himself: the breads, the desserts, the perfect tastes that come before your meal and the delectable little sweets that come after....not to mention the very-refined, impeccably presented, seasonal dishes that roll out in between.

Although he never worked with him, Gérard trained with--and remains heavily influenced by--the philosophy and cuisine of legendary Michelin three-star chef Alain Chapel, a forefather of nouvelle cuisine. (Chapel died in 1990, aged 53.)

My sommelier/wine guide friend Kelly McAuliffe takes clients to Alonso often and calls the wine list an oenophile's dream: fairly priced, rich in variety. ''It’s better than what you’ll find in many Michelin-starred restaurants,'' Kelly says, ''and their selection of local labels grows all the time. Gérard and Josette are very wine passionate and have relationships with some of the best winemakers in France. They’re also big on natural wines and organic/biodynamic producers as well.'' It's no surprise the restaurant is a winemaker hangout.

With only 30 or so indoor seats, Alonso's two dining rooms fill up fast, but a good six months a year everyone loves to dine outside anyway. If you're touring the Southern Rhone wine country around Châteauneuf-du-Pape (as we were, both times I went), or looking for a sensational meal not far from Avignon, this makes an ideal stop. There's really nothing not to love about Alonso. 

Restaurant Gérard Alonso
Avenue du 19 Mars 1962
Sorgues (halfway between Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
GPS: Lat: 44.00767 Long.: 4.87230
Closed Sunday and Monday

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big Châteauneuf Event Coming Up...

The Young Winemakers Association of Châteauneuf-du-Pape will host the third annual Les Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1, from 10 am to 7 pm.  More than 75 domaines and châteaux will be featured. Meet the producers, taste the wines, get a feel for the variety and quality of this historic appellation--and perhaps win a few bottles as well. For French speakers, there will be tasting workshops. Plus, this year there will be a Master Class in English (Saturday, 3 to 5 pm), in which you'll learn all about the terroir and of course, taste some terrific vintages. The Master Class is 25€ per person and you must book ahead, by email (see below). Admission to Les Printemps is 7€ per person, which gives access to the lounge and all tastings.  For the venue and other info, click here. For questions and Master Class registration:

*Want more wine? Then read about my new favorite rosé here, the top ten wine drives in Provence here, five Provence restaurants for wine lovers here, a new château hotel in the Languedoc that offers wine classes here and an expert's tour of his favorite Rhône wineries here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another Great Big Grenache Tasting

Yep, the Grenache Gang is back at it again, buoyed by the success of their last "G-Night" event, held in Avignon in November. Occupy Grenache will be Monday, February 20 at Bab Restaurant and Lounge in the town of Lattes, 10 km south of Montpellier. My friend Kelly McAuliffe, an American sommelier and Rhône wine expert, tells me it's going to be a blast. 

The event coincides with the first night of ViniSud, the international exhibition of Mediterranean wines and spirits taking place Feb 20 to 22 at the Parc des Expositions de Montpellier. The bi-annual ViniSud is the largest wine event in the South of France; this year 35,000 people are expected. Occupy Grenache is one of many "off" events being staged during ViniSud. For a list of others, click here.

In addition to Grenache-based wines from 35 top domaines in the Rhône Valley and beyond, Occupy Grenache will feature artisinal beer, light hors d'oeuvres, music, dancing and more. The wine starts flowing at 7:30 pm; dancing and beer follow at 10:30.  If you click on the invite above, you'll be able to see the map (sort of). Admission is free but you must reserve. For info or to book: 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Great Big Grenache Tasting Next Thursday

If you're free on Thursday evening November 17 and you love red wines, you need to be in Avignon for "G-Night," a grand Grenache degustation. Twenty-five winemakers from France and Spain will be pouring their hearts out, serving up tastes of their best Grenache-based vintages along with small nibbles. The event is sponsored by InterRhône, the Grenache Symposium, Tavel and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It's just 10€ per person and my friend Kelly McAuliffe, an American sommelier and Rhône wine expert, tells me it's going to be a blast. It's at Le Grenier a Sel, 2 rue du Rempart Saint-Lazare, and it starts at 7:30. Tickets are limited and there may be some left at the door, but it's best to reserve your place by emailing: For more info, call 06-61-60-95-96. If you need a map, there's one here. See you there!

Friday, March 18, 2011

An Expert's Tour of Top Rhône Wineries

Philip and Jude Reddaway run a wine-tour company called La Madèlene Rhone Wine Holidays, based in a renovated 12th-century priory just outside Malaucène, between Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail in the Haut-Vaucluse. (Lonely Planet recently picked La Madelène as one of the four top places to stay around Avignon.) The Reddaway’s most-popular offering is a three-day Southern Rhône tour, with lodging, meals, wine pairings, wine education and visits to some of the region’s top domaines. They also offer one-day excursions, custom tours, chambre d’hôte overnight stays and specialty tours such as “Truffles and Wine” (Nov 30 to Dec 3, 2011). Because Philip knows where all the best wines and winemakers in the region are hiding, I asked him to share a few of his favorites with us. With one exception, all of these domaines welcome drop-in visitors during traditional tasting-room hours. Still, Philip cautions, it’s best to call ahead. To contact Philip directly, use:

I like to start by taking guests up into the Dentelles range to visit Domaine Mourchon. At around 400 meters, this Scottish-owned estate is regarded as probably the best producer in the Côtes du Rhone Villages Seguret AOC after only 12 years of production. Their Napa-style winery, perched on the side of the hill, is complemented by their respect for traditional wine making--wood is used sparingly. These are robust, sweetly ripe, herbal, mainly Grenache- based wines that shout “terroir.” The delightful owners, Walter and Ronnie McKinley, along with their daughter Kate and her partner Hugo, are extremely generous with their time and expertise.

For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to the caveau of Domaine des Bernardins in the village of Beaumes de Venise is essential. The Hall/Castaud family has been making wine here for five generations and theirs was the first to be awarded AOC status in 1943. While they make very quaffable reds, it’s the magnificent sweet Muscats that receive ecstatic feedback from our guests and get them reaching for their wallets. The classic Muscat is a deeper red/orange hue than a standard Beaumes de Venise, arising from a blend of 20% black Muscat grapes along with the usual white “Muscat a petit grain.” The result is an indulgent wine redolent of candy peel and orange flower water, unctuously sweet but with just enough acidity to keep it fresh. On a typical visit you will usually find son of the household Romain Hall, who will quietly but authoritatively talk you through the science (“mutage’) of how a Vin doux Naturel is made.

My next choice would be Domaine Goubert in the village of Gigondas. Here the Cartier family developed something of a maverick reputation from the 1970s onward; when everyone else was maturing wine in those vast old barrels called foudres, Jean-Pierre Cartier was using small Burgundian oak barriques. I’m not always a huge fan of new oak married with Rhône varietals but Jean-Pierre’s "Cuvée Florence”  is a masterpiece of winemaking. We often buy magnums for our alfresco dinners at La Madèlene, recently the 2003, and use the bottle itself as a striking centerpiece. If we’re lucky, the eponymous Florence (daughter and only child of the house), hosts our visit. The village of Gigondas is full of other great addresses, notably Château St. Cosme and Domaine la Bouissière.

Choosing a favourite Châteauneuf winery is the hardest as we visit so many and all are so good. But visits to Domaine de la Solitude are always special. The Lançon family ancestors were part of the Avignon Pope’s court, a lineage reflected in the name of their top cuvée, Barberini.  Whites and reds here can hit the highest notes: a 1978 classic cuvée I tasted last year was probably my finest tasting moment in the appellation. But it’s not just the wines that make for a sensational visit: in Châteauneuf, most vignerons grow grapes on small parcels of land throughout the AOC but the Lançon's family vines actually all surround the house. And there are parcels that include pre-phylloxera ancient vines. The private tasting room is a delight, book lined with oil paintings of the family and a framed legion d’honneur medal earned by a Lançon at the Battle of Waterloo. Heir apparent winemaker Florent Lançon delights in hosting grand tastings in this room, his good English peppered with some course Aussie expressions picked up whilst doing a winemaking “stage” there a few years back. In Châteauneuf, I also love to take guests to La Nerthe, Pegau, Nalys, Vatican, Roger Sabon and so many more!

Visiting my friend Philippe Gimel of Saint Jean du Barroux is not an easy exercise as he’s so hard to track down: he works out of an office in Caromb, his vineyard near Le Barroux and a cave in the corner of a cherry processing shed in Malaucène. Philippe is a genuine garagist (someone who makes very high quality wines in small batches), rendering powerful exotic wines of unusual quality from the humble Ventoux appellation. Thanks to Philippe’s energy, passion and über-smart marketing (he’s the only winemaker I know with his Facebook and Twitter details prominently shown on his label), these are fast becoming cult wines in such disparate places as California, Denmark and Hong Kong. I have not taken a guest to his humble shed who has not stumbled out two hours later after a marathon tasting, utterly charmed by both man and wine. If you can find him, Philippe is definitely one to watch! To reach Philippe, call 04-90-70-84-74.

Top photo: When you sign on for a tour, you'll stay at La Madelène, just outside the village of Malaucène. Bottom photo: a typical Provencale vineyard photographed by Patrick Morand


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