Friday, November 09, 2007

Only in France - Episode 127

A diversion from the diet posts is in order. Yesterday I had one of those French experiences that seem to only happen here and which make me love living here. Not surprisingly it concerns wine!
Yesterday morning I played golf with my usual two partners. It was foggy & pretty cold & I played even worse than my normal pathetic round. The good news was that our favorite restaurant was open again. (They've been closed a lot since the owner's wife has been away helping her seriously ill father. Unfortunately he has now died. You learn these things as a regular patron.) The daily lunch was excellent as always (poached egg with a scallop sauce, Grilled pigeon breasts and a passion fruit sorbet surrounded by spicy bread cubes) I tried to order a favorite wine, but it was all gone so I tried another & that was all gone as well. (This is a small place so their cellar is good, but shallow. They can't afford to keep a large stock.)

At this point the owner/chef proposed a wine that wasn't on the list. Thought we'd like it & it was the same price as the others. The wine turned out as expected to be local. It was a 2003 La Combe d'Aves from Domaine de Ramaye. It was absolutely superb! This wine could hold its own against virtually anything I can think of. WoW! So, we asked exactly where it came from & it turned out that it was only about 15 minutes away. We had to go, so off we went.
The directions were spot on. Through Gaillac, take the Montauban Road, at the roundabout turn towards the church then take the small lane to the right just before the church. We went up this lane for about a kilometer and there was Domaine de Ramaye on our left. The sign on the gate said that they were open from 2:00 PM as it was 2:15 we were just about right. We drove into a nice, but very ramshackle garden. Walnuts, Apples & leaves all over the ground. There were a couple of cars and a huge Mas (chai, properly, I guess) covered in Virginia creeper. Beautiful. On the left was a sign & an open door to the tasting room.

In we went. It was dark & there was nobody there. We called out, but still nobody. I found the light switch. Still not bright, but we could now see all the the wine around us. Lots of it in all shapes & sizes. Still nobody. We found the price lists and descriptions. Turns out that they make a range of 6 different wines; three reds & three whites. Prices are Ok; the Le Combe d'Aves we want is 14 Euros. Not bad for a wine of this quality. Still nobody.

We go outside then knock on the door of the main house, no answer. We wander around back. The wine making area is open with the key in the lock, still nobody. I go back & honk the horn on the car - loudly & repeatedly - no luck. By now we're very determined. We will buy this wine! Eventually, we spot a car parked about 150 meters up the road; maybe this person knows something? So we get in the car & drive up. Ah ha! Half a dozen people in the vineyard. Are you from the Domaine we ask? Oui. Can we buy some wine? Oui, peut-ĂȘtre.
A little reluctantly Madame comes out of the vineyard and heads towards the tasting room. (Turns out that they are harvesting grapes for the late harvest wine called Le vin de l'Oubli, this is sort of like what they make in Germany called "ice Wein". But that's a whole new story.)
We get to the tasting room and start getting the story of the Domaine and the wines. Its all very interesting especially as many of the grapes they grow are very old varieties. Her husband, M. Michel Issaly, is the wine maker. He is dedicated to using the latest modern techniques to improve the quality of his wines, but still using the traditional local varieties of grapes. He's succeeeding in our opinion. the La Combe d'Aves, for instance, is aged for 32 months in old oak barrels. He makes a nice 'house' wine for only 4 Euros a bottle.

I find a price list which shows the La Combe for years from 1999 & older. The 1999 is only priced at 15 Euros; gosh a one Euro premium over the 2003 sounds a pretty good deal to me. Is it even better I ask? Of course says Madame, but you can only buy one bottle. We're running out. Ok I decide to buy a 12 bottle case of the 2003 plus my alloted bottle of 1999. Madeame say Ok, but she has to get her husband as she doesn't know where he's got the 1999 hidden. He comes down from the vineyard and manages to find 4 bottles. Two for me ^ one each for my friends. We settle up. (nothing rustic about paying, they take every credit card known to man.)

Its only taken us just short of an hour to buy our wine. But, we had a lot of fun & a minor adventure doing it. Next time I'm going to buy some of the 'lost' wine. (Le vin de l'Oubli means "forgotten wine!)

When I got home our friend Jacques was there doing some painting so he, Linda & I shared the 1999 along with some garlic sausage & olives. The wine really is superb and I was doubly chuffed to be able to share it with Jacques who knows his wines.

Once again an experience that can only occur in France. The people, their character and way of life have an endearing quality that is hard to match.

Have a look at their website: And try the pigeon recipe.

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