Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

The Village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

chndp-6aVisiting famous towns in France can sometimes disappoint me. St. Tropez has one row of colorful quayside houses dwarfed by mega yachts. Cannes is a tremendous traffic snarl with little to see other then a line of designer boutiques. But taking a country drive to discover villages renown for their wine is thrilling.

The village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape lies off main roads in a tangle of country lanes. Finding the village is a good advertisement for having a GPS in the car. We were directed up a hill, negotiating ever narrowing streets, to the tiny main square and parked. It was off season and there were parked cars but no people around. Where was everyone?

“A Gourmet Magazine articles says the central café, La Mere Germaine, is the spot to rub elbows with local wine makers at lunch.” I told Bruce. It was just a few cobblestones in front of us on the square. This was lunchtime and the restaurant looked open. In fact, that’s where everyone was. The cozy dining room was packed with affluent looking locals.

Our lunch started with baked oysters in white wine and herbs. For the second course Bruce had penne with Parmesan cream sauce and Foie Gras. I had a satisfying boar stew. There were a couple of well made desserts to follow but by that time we were totally immersed in a fabulous wine, 2004 Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Our amiable server had pointed it out to us on the wine list. The 2005 vintage of this wine was number three on the Wine Spectator list of top 100 wines last year.

After lunch we gathered our coats against a bracing wind and trudged up the steep hill to the ruins of the Chateau of the Pope. The 14th century Popes of Avignon built this castle as a summer retreat. Wine was already being produced here but the Popes promoted and improved it, the story goes. Stony vineyards still surround the castle ruins.

Narrow streets of the medieval village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wind along the contours of the hill. These streets must be packed during the tourist season. Many restored stone buildings house winery tasting rooms and shops oriented to visitors. Few were open in the first week of March when we were there. We wandered about the charming village taking pictures free of other visitors.

Our waiter at the restaurant spoke English well. “I lived in Nebraska for a short while” he told us. Why Nebraska, we asked. “Well, there was a girl. I was in love…” He sent us to taste at a winery just below the old part of the town. Domaine de Beaurenard has made  a wing of their original stone winery into a modern tasting room. They offered us tastes of their white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages of their red and a dessert wine without a tasting charge. The red wines were elegant with rich fruit and minerality, welcome on a cold day. We purchased a bottle of their 2005.

The day turned out to be one of those delightful, unplanned travel experiences. The lovely village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with its tiny cobbled square and excellent wines, the cozy restaurant and the hospitable waiter must have conspired to make us reluctant to leave. We walked back up the hill to La Mere Germaine, took one of the postage stamp sized rooms above the restaurant, opened our Domaine de Beaurenard and settled in to watch the winter evening descend on the valley below.

La Mere Germanie: Hotel-Restaurant-Bar a Vin
3, rue du Commandant Lamaitre
http://www.lameregermaine.com/

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.

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