I am in the midst of just over three weeks riding my bike around France, first preparing for, and then leading, bike tours of two regions in the country: Eastern Brittany (along the northern coast), and Northern Burgundy. The first week I was on my own, reacquainting with the two regions that I last visited a solid decade ago. From the first meal on the road, I decided to limit my wine intake to only those that were served en carafe. Why? Well, simply, I saw this trip as an opportunity to lose a bit of weight, save a bit of money, and not appear as a guy who could potentially pass out face-first in his salad.
There was also another decided reason: for the most part, wines en carafe in France are pretty darned good. Most restauranteurs in the country take great pride in their work and choosing “house” wines is no exception. Most of the time, there is little information about the wines available when ordered, and even when the question is posed of the server, he or she knows very little of the wine. And that is, at least in part, the point. Us wine types usually get too caught up in vintages, varieties, and vignerons, forgetting that wine, above all, is supposed to be consumed with a meal and enjoyed, not over-thought and over-analyzed.
Thus, here are a few of the wines that I tasted over the fortnight, including further information about the wine when available and when I remembered to ask:
Un Demi (50cl) 2016 Domaine Bienvenu Irancy. 8€50. What a day. After an automobile, two planes, a tram, a subway, two bike rides through Paris, one flat tire, a train (after missing one by literally ten seconds), another bike ride after changing in the nastiest restroom I could find, and just two hours of sleep, I made it to Auxerre, a town in northern Burgundy. after finding my hotel, I meandered to the main square, looking forward to a quiet dinner alone with a demi (50cl) of the local wine. Well, I got the wine, but two minutes into my salad, a rock concert broke out and there were a trio of old, (really old) French dudes dancing (that is at least what I think it was), and my over-tired psyche could not process what I was seeing. I was sitting quietly with my Northern Burgundian Pinot, hoping that one (or more) of them would not break a hip, or worse, keel over and test my recent CPR training. All the while I was downing the Irancy, wondering why I limited myself to only 500 ml since the wine was surprisingly tasty. Earthy and eminently quaffable, with some depth and solid fruit. Not what one would classify as a “classic Burgundy” unless, of course you are one of those old dudes “dancing” in front of the arguably attractive lead singer, convinced she is impressed with your “moves.” Still, I could drink this all day long. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
Un quart (25cl) of Rosé from Coulanges la Vineuse. 6€. The following day, I was out on my bike, on the way to Avallon, where I would hopefully make the afternoon train back up to Paris in time for dinner. It was just after noon and I knew that right after the town of Châtel-Censoir (where I was), there was a significant climb up to the abbey town of Vérzelay (although I had forgotten what a steep climb it was), so I thought I should eat a bit. There are just a couple of restaurants in the tiny town and I pulled into the only one open. How to describe the establishment? A “hole in the wall” is not sufficient–by American standards it was decidedly a “dive.” I was met by a guy in black acid wash jeans and what could only be described as a “pornstar mustache” and I was a bit worried. He turned out to be an exceedingly nice guy, but that did little to alter the surroundings. There was no carte (what we call a “menu” in the U.S.), just two choices written on a little chalkboard in the corner for 13€20 which included a buffet of an assortment of sketchy food under a quasi-cover. The buffet dishes looked like they had been there since Tuesday. And it was Monday. But the beets and the melon were both fresh and tasty, so I opted for two helpings of each, before the waiter brought out the main course I ordered, the sauté de porc in a mustard sauce. Simple but tasty. I also ordered a 25cl of the local Rosé: Coulanges la Vineuse. Like most in the restaurant, it was modest and unassuming, but there was decent fruit and hit the spot on a hot day. Had I known the killer climb that was ahead of me, I would have ordered a demi (50cl) so that the subsequent pain would have been more thoroughly numbed. Good to Very Good. 85-87 Points.
60 cl Rosé de Provence AOC. 10€. I busted a nut today (cycling term) to ride the 60k in 95 degree heat in time to catch an afternoon train back to Paris. I got into the capital by 8:00, just in time to grab some dinner and the plan was to go economical and responsible by grabbing the fixings for a salad and taking it all back to the office. Well, the vegetable stand, the cheese monger, the mini-market, and the wine shop were all either closed or unappealing (I’ll let you decide which was which). So I opted for a bar that had a decent assortment of salads near the top of rue Montorgueil, my ‘hood while in Paris. Having left Burgundy behind (for the next ten days), and suffering from the heat (yes, I live in Texas, and yes, the Parisian “heat” would have classified as “winter” in Houston, I tried to blend in so I started sweating bullets), I ordered a Carafe of Provençal Rosé. No further information was offered on the menu, but I did not care. I was sweating like a pig and watching the sole waitress handle all thirty (!) tables alone was making me sweat more (the relative attractiveness of said server was immaterial). Given the choice between 46 or 60ml, I naturally opted for the latter, which was wise (and quite Parisien, I am fairly certain). Pale pink, melon and strawberry, great balance, fantastic finish. Just what I needed. Other than air conditioning. I live in Houston, after all, the air conditioning is always on. Even in winter. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.