There was a time in my life that some people think I was a bit of a stalker. It is not quite as nefarious as it may sound–I did not subject any members of the opposite sex, I did not pummel anyone into submission for their lunch money, nor did I prey on any other relatively weak member of society.
No, I have been accused of stalking a former professional bike racer whose kids attended the same school as mine. While I will neither confirm or deny the allegations (made mostly by the two wives involved), we have ended up to be pretty good friends.
Machiavelli would be proud.
A few months ago, the aforementioned bike racer was living in the small medieval town of Mougins, just above Cannes on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. He and his wife invited me to come over to visit and ride a bit before they moved their family back to the United States.
While I love visiting Europe, I do not enjoy the actual trip at all. I do not fit in airplanes all that well and I never sleep on them, so when I arrive, I am usually a bit of an exhausted mess. So, shortly after landing in Nice, when my gracious hosts asked if I wanted to join them and attend their eight year-old daughter’s dance recital, I respectfully declined. Nothing screams “ugly American” more than snoring while a bunch of little tykes are giving their best on the dance floor. (Well, actually, there are perhaps a whole host of situations that scream “ugly American” a bit louder than that, but you get my point).
Instead, after a quick nap, I ventured out into Mougins for dinner, since falling asleep at the dinner table just screams “ugly glutton.”
And I could live with that.
I did not “venture” all that far. In fact, I went out of the house, turned left, walked about 10 meters, and grabbed an outdoor table at my friends’ favorite restaurant, Le Petit Fouet.
I was quickly greeted by the owner, Sébastien, who sat me at one of the outdoor tables seen in the photo above and suggested an apéritif. Since I am never one to turn down a pre-dinner glass of wine, I asked for his suggestion. He offered a Provençal white, which is somewhat rare in the region, and almost unheard of in the States. When I asked the cépage (varietal make-up), he mentioned that it was “Vermentino.” I crinkled my nose, and respectfully asked if that were not “Rolle” since, after all, we were in France. In response to my query, he said: “Bravo! Even the French do not know that!” I dismissed the obvious (my French still gives me away as a foreigner), and focused on the positive (I am an incurable wine geek).
2012 Gavaisson Blanc: Retail 15€. 80% Rolle (Vermentino), 20% Sémillon. If there were an “official” white in Provence, it would probably be Rolle, and this is stellar: bright fruit and considerable minerality, even a few years out, this is fantastic. The winery is perhaps unique in Provence as it only makes two wines, both white. The sad part is the other white is three times the price, and not available by the glass. Outstanding. 91-93 Points. (I liked this wine so much that I made a pilgrimage out to the winery a few days later. More to follow….)
It was late and a bit slow that night in the restaurant, so Sébastien decided to join me for a while with his own glass of Gavaisson.
I would be pure folly to try to describe Sébastien, but suffice it to say that he is quite a character. We chatted about music, tourists, the restaurant business, cycling, and of course wine. His distinctly Provençale accent was nothing short of invigorating (and, at times, difficult for me to decipher). He also was surprised that I was American since he said my accent was decidedly not from the states. I blushed. No, he added, my accent was decidedly more German. I bristled.
Once we neared the end of our glasses of Gavaisson, he stood, and resumed his role as waiter, suggesting that I have the cassoulet. I was already leaning that direction, but once he added that it was his grandmother’s recipe and that it was likely the last night it would be on the menu until fall, the choice was obvious.
Sébastien suggested I move to red, and offered up the following:
2011 Domaine de Grandpré Côtes de Provence Rouge: Retail 25€. According to Sébastien, this was essentially a Carignane with a couple of other grapes thrown in. Blackberry and cherry out of the glass that combined beautifully together, convincing me these two should be made into a pie. Rich and full this is easily one of the better Provençale reds that I have ever had. A lasting, wonderful finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
The cassoulet, even by American standard was huge. And incredible. A cuisse of confit de canard, multiple hunks of pork, with a couple of sauccisses, the beans were perfectly cooked (leaving just a hint of firmness) and the seasoning precise. The pairing with the Grandpré was impeccable.
The cassoulet was phenomenal, easily the best such rendition of the classic French dish that had ever crossed my lips. But it was huge and I needed another glass. Knowing I was in very capable hands, I asked for Sébastien’s suggestion.
He returned a few minutes later with this:
2004 Domaine Gavoty Cuvée Clarendon Côtes de Provence: Retail: Who the heck knows? Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon. You could give me this wine a hundred times and I would never, ever, guess that it is a dozen years old. A classic red fruit nose that is neither too faint, nor too bold, with a bit of earth, black pepper, and just the slightest green notes. On the palate this is simply elegant. Not too fruity, not too acidic, and the tannins are nearly perfectly integrated. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
As I finished up my cassoulet, Sébastien joined me for another glass of the Gavoty, and we resumed our conversation. We once again covered a range of topics, from Global warming to the upcoming American elections.
As I got up to leave for a stroll about town before returning to my friend’s house for the night, I got the distinct impression that there was someone following me, watching my every move. Before I turned to see who it might be, I gazed up at the town’s bell tower, and I wondered if there was such a person stalking me, how bad could it be?