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ON THE WINE ROADS OF FRANCE WITH
CHARLES NEAL


A 2006 Excursion

On a bright, sunny Summer-like Tuesday I caught an Air France flight to Paris from San Francisco.

We were having a heat wave in winter and I was embarking on a trip to a land where they have cold weather in winter.

We landed around 1pm in Paris and a couple of hours later, Charles Neal and I were at our first stop.



Etienne Daulney.

Two hours later, and will awake somehow, we motored across the river to Patrick Coulbois' place in Saint Andelain.

Good Pouilly-Fumé!

Our hotel was not far away, thankfully...a modest place in Saint Satur.

Charles can taste wine in his sleep.

We enjoyed some decent cuisine and a couple of local wines before falling into a comatose state for a few hours.


The next morning we found ourselves tasting the new vintage of Quincy (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) made by Adele Rouzé.

That's Adele.  She's standing in front of the entire production of the 2005 vintage.


Delicious wine!

Next we drove to Saumur to visit Philippe Vatan, owner of Château Les Hureau.


Philippe and Charles.

We then drove to Tours in search of our hotel and dinner at a slow food restaurant, L'Escargot.


Happily L'Escargot serves Escargot!

We enjoyed a terrific bottle of Philippe's 1999 vintage.

The next morning we drove about 300 kilometers to Blaye, a small town near Bordeaux.

Charles had met some fellow in California who had a connection to a small estate which was making strides to produce "international quality" wine.

And we found the wine to be quite good and it ought to arrive at a reasonable price in a few months.

We then visited another estate, this one in Fronsac.



I found the 2001 vintage of La Vieille Cure to be stellar.

We were late for lunch in St. Emilion...

Le Clos du Roy.

 





We then motored around the region for a few minutes, taking in some local landmarks.



Château Fixer-Upper.

Then we found a really great little estate...



The wines of this estate have routinely been a delight.



It was nearly nightfall and we then drove to Château Tour de Mirambeau, a property owned by the Despagne family.

Thibaut Despagne and his sister took care of some good food and good wines...


The French, famous for Steak Tartare, also like their roast beef without much of the "roasting."

Happily, Thibaut's wines are "well done."



After dinner we settled down by the fireplace and had more potables...

The next morning we had to be in Sauternes, so we got up, had a quick sip of coffee and took off...

 





We then drove around for a few minutes...more landmarks...




Then we drove into the town of Bordeaux in hopes of meeting the other two partners in crime who were to arrive on this day...

Rats!
They missed the train to Bordeaux and would be arriving later.

Someone had suggested a potentially interesting, simple place for seafood...



Le Petit Commerce.


The oysters were fresh and good.


Okay, so not every restaurant in France is a temple of fine cuisine.

We had a walk around Bordeaux, searching for a curious wine emporium.

We then drove to the Medoc for a look at some landmarks before meeting our copains at the train station in Bordeaux.


Château Palmer


Château Margaux


Château Rauzan Gassies


Château La Lagune

We then found Jeremy Armstrong from William Cross Wine Merchants in The City and Jeff Berlin of Ct restaurant in Oakland.

From Bordeaux we found the roads to Bergerac.  We lost the roads to Bergerac and then, somehow, we found the estate of Château La Colline.

Vigneronne Charles Martin.


Gerrita Martin.




Home cookin' in Bergerac!
Ostrich with Polenta and Beans.
Sommelier Jeff Berlin appears as though he sat on a fork.



A couple of true San Franciscans.

The next morning we set out for an estate in the Armagnac region.

We found the road...

Château de Briat.

We enjoyed a nice little lunch with the crew at Briat.

Pumpkin soup.


Foie gras and their "Skerzo."



Grilled duck.


Duck, Roasted Potatoes and some Bordeaux.

Dessert was a local specialty, a Croustillant.  Actually, they had two...one of apples and one of prunes.

These were only slightly flakier than me!

Then we strolled through the mansion, adjourning upstairs to the library for a sip of Armagnac.



A little slice of heaven for Mr. Berlin.



We then drove to "The Village," Montreal du Gers.


Here Michel Duffour and Simone (of Chez Simone fame) treated us to a beer.

Then we drove over to Michel's vineyard and winery...he's one of the leading producers of top Côtes de Gascogne.




Then back to Chez Simone for an "informal" dinner...

Here we found Chef Bernard Daubin busy in the kitchen, preparing for an upcoming catered event.


Bernard opened some bottles...

Bernard has a "new" antique slicer in the restaurant...perfect for jambon!

He still has all ten fingers, happily.

Bernard and Veronique's daughter Margaux helps in the kitchen.


Then, the decadence began...

Fresh rolls topped with foie gras and caviar!


Stuffed Piquillo Peppers.

Bernard was back in the kitchen tending to the rich, soulful pork stew.


Veronique presents the bowl of Bernard's stew...

I ordered a special apron as a gift for Bernard...You know that some people claim "The problem with Chinese food is you're hungry three hours later" ???

At Bernard's, "The problem with dining at Chez Simone is that 3 days later you're hungry again!"


A cheese course came after the savory pork stew...

And then desserts...

The next morning we were up and out early, as usual.  This time we headed for the deep Southwest...stopping at a tiny brewery along the way.  Charles imports a few cases of this hand-made beer at Brasserie Lebbe.  Monsieur Lebbe makes but 6,000 bottles annually!


There is but one small tank in the brewery...


Mrs. Lebbe makes goat cheeses as they maintain a small herd of goats not far from the brew house and cheese-making facility!





Pa and Ma Lebbe.


Madiran is a place where you'll find some amazingly fine bottles of wine.

Domaine Laffont is a great winery owned by Pierre Speyer.

Pierre has a new assistant in the vineyards, Janine.



In the cellar.


Tasting.


Pierre pours his dark, teeth-staining wines on a table in the kitchen...after a few tastings, he simply repaints the table!

ON TO THE NEXT PAGE


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