Natural wine trail from Beaujolais to Auvergne Galvin Restaurants
Now open almost 12 years I wanted to remind myself of the heady days of 2005 when we first opened with a wine list created almost exclusively by Eric Narioo, owner of the legendary Le Caves de Pyrene. The early tastings Jeff my brother and I had with Eric were nothing less than life changing. Flavours unknown to us, often coming from small farms, unsung heros and a brave new world of growers with respect for the earth and vine, producing the juiciest wines we had ever tasted. Instinctively we knew, along with our growing army of loyal customers, that they would work so well with our cooking at the Bistrot.
So together with Eric, Philippe Lubac from Les Caves de Pyrene, Andrea Bosco sommelier from the Bistrot, Rudina Arapi Head Sommelier from Galvin at Windows (and lover of natural wines!) we set off to one of my favourite parts of France, Beaujolais, and the home of wonderful ingredients and of course those juicy, fruity wines.
Our first stop was with Jean-Claude Lapalou who welcomed us with a table loaded with Charcuterie and his own home-made pate of pheasant and hare. All of Jean-Claude's wines brought home the reason I love them so much, even when he introduced some older vintages they were playing with our minds. Once a few too many glasses had been had, talk of teaching us to prune was brought up and we were off' Jean- Claude's vines were easily spotted because of the small weeds growing between them (not having chemicals poured over to kill them) and it is this - along with many other old fashioned ways of working with nature - that singles natural wines out as being both representative of the true terroir and being in harmony with our bodies and mind.
Much fun was had with the pruners and yours truly had a hard time of it, especially with several experts pointing to where I should cut. Just listen to them all scream "noooo' not there!' We then went to a tasting of wines with Remi Dufaitre, which was so fresh and lively all I could think was to gather some fish, fresh herbs and get cooking. The evening was closing and we set off to meet one of the legends that is Jean Foillard. We are so grateful to him for evolving these delicious wines and helping other growers attain the best they can from their vines and themselves.
We were joined by his son Alex, Jean's wife Agnes and the two boys we had met earlier. After a superb tasting in Jean's cellar we went into his home and had a feast of food and wine - again much fun, laughter and new found friendship.
We set of for Auvergne in the massive central home of the Charbonnirs (or coalmen) who travelled up the River Loire and by canal to Paris selling their loads with blackened faces, going on to set up small wine bars and Bistros or Bistrots that we know today.
After visiting the old vines on the north hill looking down into the valley of the Loire, we shared a humble lunch with wine maker Jean Maupertuis and his lovely family. We then set of for Tour to visit Catherine and Pierre Breton at Domain Breton, who were waiting for us with a superb tasting in the cave. It was the cleanest I had ever seen with beautiful wooden vats and special ovum's (or concrete eggs) to keep the wine in constant movement. Wines tasted, were Grolleau, Bourgueil, Chinon and Vouvray - all from various soils, vines and different techniques.
We then sat down to another generous feast of food and wine. A familiar pattern was emerging of more laugher and now sometimes tears!
During dinner Pierre Breton would visit his cellar and bring yet another magical bottle to the table. We were drinking vintages all the way back to 1921, ending with a sweet wine from 1904; incredibly still showing lots of fruit and acidity as if a youngster. It was a night spurred on by their son Paul who is a live wire, with a wit way beyond his 24 years, and who was responsible for much of the laughter and tears.
Dinner slowly wound to an end at 4.00am, a memorable feast. These acts of generosity from the Breton family are something I am always humbled by from my visits to France.
Three hours in bed and we set off to Samur to meet winemaker Thierry Germain at Domain Des Roches Neuves, a Biodynamic winemaker. Thierry is one of the most passionate people I have ever met. We clambered into his Landrover and visited his vines. Coming from Bordeaux, Thierry wasn't the most popular at first but soon proved he was not only going to champion the area but protect the terroir in an ever evolving way. Some of the vines we visited were protected in a Clos (walled garden with bee hives and fruit trees to help the vines). It was hard not to want to stay in the vineyards and join him as his passion was so infectious. Thierry, like most of the growers we had met, even eschews mechanical assistance amongst the vines, choosing the old method of using horses to plough. Some of Thierry's vines were over a hundred years old - something I am still thinking about. We returned to the winery and looked at the techniques Thierry uses at Domaine Des Roches Neuves, which included Amphoras (terracotta urns) buried to keep the temperature constant - a method going back to Roman and even Grecian times.
We went down a beautiful spiral staircase, maybe 30 metres below ground, to visit Thierry's cave. It reminded me of the chalk caves of Champagne and far more extensive than I expected. We tasted directly from the barrels, which was such a privilege. Wines we tasted were Chenins and Cabernet Franc again from different soil, area and ages of vines including the 100 year old ones we had seen. The cellar visit was a real treat and I guess after listening to Thierry, the proof was in the pudding - absolutely delicious.
We then met one of Thierry's friends Sylvia who was also a winemaker, and we went to see her vines, which were very old (again some over 100 years). It was like paradise looking down from the vineyard on to the mighty River Loire flowing towards the Atlantic.
Lunch time and our tummies were rumbling so we went to a charming restaurant on the bank of the Loire,' La Route Du Sel' (Sel De Geurrande is harvested a few miles west) 55 Quai Des Mariniers 49350 Le Thoureil. Some fantastic cooking along with wines we had been tasting earlier made it very special. The chef patron Marie Monmousseau had spent 10 years in London, notably with Georgio Locatelli, so it was great to have a chat about life in London and now cooking back home in the Loire.
After saying goodbye to Thierry, Sylvia and Marie we set off heading towards Paris, where we are going to visit one of my favourite Bistrots Le Baratin, 3 Rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020, run by Chef Raquel Carena and her partner Philippe who tends the wines. The food is so simple yet has a complexity of earthy flavours laying a perfect canvas for the wines.
En route we dropped into a restaurant in Paris listing wine from Eric and Anna's vineyard on Mount Etna in Sicily, we picked up two bottles of Qvevri Don Alfio from Vino di Anna. We were joined at Le Baratin by two cartoonists Michel Tolmer, who has created many of the most recognisable natural wine labels, and Jacques Ferrandez who have just released their book about three wine "enthusiasts", Mimi, Fifi & GlouGlou "A Short Treatise on Tasting" - an hilarious look at things we say when tasting (I am sure you will recognise the situations they find themselves in). The book by Michel and Jacque (a legend in the cartoon world and friend of some of the best French chefs and winemakers) will be available from Galvin Bistrot de Luxe.
The menu at Le Baratin is written on a large blackboard and brought to the table, which is perfect if your eyes are not great like mine! Also the wines are up on a chalkboard with many of the growers we had just visited featuring. Robert who looks after the wine simply put each wine in a pot and a guessing game began. In the mix we tried the wonderful Qvevri Don Alfio which was delicious. The food was so tasty - Eric bagged the last two calves brains, we had tete de veau sauce, Gribiche, a plate of beautiful violet artichokes escabeche and a wild duck terrine. Mains were a braised beef cheek, interestingly pan fried to crisp the exterior, and I had the largest veal sweetbreads - I swear it was meant for two; just as well we decided to share amongst ourselves! Again we had much conversation and laughter - and deep thought on Brexit. We left around midnight, just time for a photo of a happy table and a nice photo with Raquel Carena - what a legend!
- Chris Galvin