When last seen, your wine explorers were in Bordeaux in the heart of the trade. Took us most of our fifth day to get out of the wine capital. On our way out of town we stopped to see negociant Jeffrey Davies, the sandy-haired eternally sunny Californian. Jeffrey knows Bordeaux and all of its satellites and is responsible for discovering many of the best French values on our shelves.
Behind a nondescript garage door he has one of those charming small compounds found throughout Europe: a house and small office building (with tasting room, mais oui) and small courtyard; his dominated by a steel fountain of cans in a grape-like cluster. The wine flowing in the tasting room, however, sampled his finds from throughout the region.
Two conclusions: first, the ’08s were much easier to drink now than the fabled ’09s; second, old Bordeaux and the far reaches are bursting with new energy as smart winemakers revive old estates. Let you know when some of them cross the pond. The surprise star was not French, but an interloper from Lebanon. Not Chateau Musar or Kefaya, which Davies also launched, but Domaine Wardy’s sumptuous reds from Bekaa Valley’s old wine country, elegantly made and packaged sumptuous vs. rich. An impressive label. A triumph. Love to taste the Wardy’s arak some time…
Then we were on to the east and into Languedoc-Roussilon and the South. Several hours on the autoroute took us to Toulouse. The pink-tinged buildings of the Middle Ages and are historically the capital of Occitan culture and language (where “oc,” not “oui”, means “yes”). The city is the fourth largest in France, serving as the heart of the aerospace industry and a big university center, not known for wine so much as its local sausages and cassoulets.
“Michel Gassier, the proprietor and winemaker of Cercius, Nostre Pais and Lou Coucardie, gems of the Rhone and Costieres de Nimes, is a great ambassador for the city of Nimes. I know, I visited him last month and was shown the sparkling nighttime bounty of the city. The remnants of the Roman presence there stood boldly and beautifully, the city being proud and preservative of those landmarks. Michel’s knowledge and joy in sharing his culture was very charming and it made me want to learn more about and visit Nimes again. Ask him about them yourself Sunday 2.27.” -Rhett Beiletti, B-21′s France Expert
Travel tip: While the white bean stew is beloved throughout France, its home is here in the southwest. Despite the claims of Toulouse and Carcassonne, the city that draws the most fame as world capital of Castelnaudary, midway between them. You’ll get the real thing with duck confit and pork bubbling away in any restaurant with “Le Pays Cathars,” the blue label of regional authenticity.