We had a chance to meet people who are passionate about their wines and work diligently to make the best ones they can with what Nature has given them. We saw some breath-taking landscapes and historical sites (the Abbey remains a favorite of mine). Of course, we drank some lovely bottles (and some not-so lovely ones). And we had a chance to eat some very fine meals.
Two fantastic dinners come to mind.
The first was a dinner at a new restaurant in the town of Magalas, called (appropriately enough) Ô Bontemps. In French, this is a toast, meaning “To the Good Time”, and a good, no, great time was had by all during this dinner. It is located on a beautiful cobblestone square, across the street from the ancient church. We ate there one night and I have to say that, after 30 days of very good meals, this was absolutely outstanding. We were a large group of wine buyers who took over the place and so we had a set menu, but we also had one heck of a show.
The decor is modern rustic (ie exposed brick with small, pinpoint halogen lights) and colorful wall decorations. Service was good to very good, we rarely had to ask for water or anything else. I took the liberty of copying Chef Olivier Bontemps’ (his real name!) menu, including his beautiful cursive script, to my website. You can see it by clicking HERE.
But the food...!
We started with a round of small tapas, including a shot of Gazpacho, some cured-ham wrapped Melon, mussels with lard (OH MY GOD!), fresh olives, and small cherry tomatoes (so succulent that I ended up in a fork fencing match with Ives for the last one) with a house vinaigrette.
First course was a pork terrine and a mousse of game birds with mustard flower and a capuccino of mushrooms (this last was just fantastic). Second and main course was a delicious standing rib roast that was quickly smoked (to great fanfare and with great showmanship in front of us) with the local guarrigue herbs and a gratin of potatoes and mushrooms, all with a truffle-based sauce (I dare not call it a gravy). When he did this, Chef basically called us outside, where a table had been set up with a large metal pan, filled with dried guarrigues. He barely touched them with a lighter and they burst into flames, then grabbed some more guarrigues and smothered the fire with these, leaving everything smoldering. Lifting the rib roast, he placed it on the embers, smacking the lid down over it, effectively sealing the meat with the smoky herbs. We all applauded, of course, as it was a great show. A few minutes later, he removed the meat and began carving with a carving knife that looked like a giant’s scimitar.
Next came a pungent cheese course, and dessert consisted of an apricot and peach jubilee dish and a chocolate cake that I just can't translate but was astonishingly good. Add to this the wines and we were one happy (and tipsy) crowd.
Lunch on Felines Jourdan's Rooftop Patio
The second memorable dinner was actually an entire day, our last day together as a professional group. Two wineries, the Domaine Félines Jourdan and the Domaine Condamine Bertrand, had invited us to spend the day with them, feasting on their wines, local foods, and visiting the ancient town of Pezenas.
First, we went to Félines Jourdan, where we were treated to a quiet afternoon lunch of fresh tomatoes (so good that they are proof that God exists, in my opinion) and other local delicacies. I don’t recall what else was offered as I was too busy stuffing myself with these gorgeous tomatoes. We relaxed on their roof patio, with their vineyards spread around us, drinking their delicious Picpoul under parasols while the Mistral blew around us in a never-ending breeze and under a warming sun.
We proceeded to visit the town of Pezenas, but sitting in the main square in the sun with a glass of Pastis (or three) was more preferable to an organized tour. After a few hours, we went to Condamine Bertrand’s estate, where we visited the chai (winery) and tasted through the lineup of wines. Then we went around the back of the house, where a long table had been set up. As we sipped wines from both Félines Jourdan and Condamine Bertrand, out came a huge paella in an enormous dish, redolent of fresh seafood and saffron.
Sitting outside, under the trees and with the setting sun still warming us, with the children playing, and some damn fine paella and wines in front of us, those are the things to remember.
So yes, there was lots of hard work. And yes, there were some mornings where the first alcohol of the day would push out the previous evening’s alcohol, leaving us sweating wine and smelling probably God-awful, but it was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.