Friday, May 21, 2010

An Underground Cathedral Dedicated to Bacchus

South of Avignon, in France, there’s this wonderful little town called St Remy de Provence, where Nostradamus was born, and where there’s a great restaurant, well more than one, but our favorite was the Bistro des Alpilles, but that story is for another time. The thing is, if you head east out of town on the D99, and look very carefully on the right you’ll see a tiny little sign for the one lane road called Chemin de Romanin and a place called Château Romanin. Take a right on this little road.
It looks just like this:

Down a ways on the left will be a glider field. It’s like an airport, but for gliders. No tower, and the runway is made of grass. Kind of quiet and beautiful when the gliders come in. Keep going, through all the vineyards and Provençal garigue, following those tiny little signs that say Château Romanin. Eventually you will run into the base of the mountains known as Les Alpilles.
As you approach, going through the vineyards it will looks a lot like this:

On your right, sitting at the top of an out-thrust of the mountain are the ruins of a 1000-year-old castle, the original Château Romanin. To your left will be the slightly disconcerting and just a wee bit mythical site of huge doors built into the side of a mountain. This is the new Château Romanin. Underground.
The entrance looks like this:

The new Château Romanin was built about 20 years ago into the side of a mountain. The idea was to take advantage of the naturally cooling properties of being under a mountain to make and store wine. And it works. Quite well actually.

Château Romanin is a biodynamic winery. That means they are not only organic, but work to be in harmony with the Earth, harvest by phases of the moon, pick by hand, and a host of other somewhat esoteric practices. It’s a bit complicated, but quite romantic and somehow very appropriate to wine. Especially good wine. Château Romanin is so good at making biodynamic wine that not that long ago they won the gold medal for best biodynamic wine in France. That is saying a lot. They’ve also been on a number of “best of” lists, including best small wineries of France, best rosé and best reds of Provence, and the like.

The real treat is to tour the winery and visit La Cathedral, the underground storage area filled with giant wood barrels and built deep into the mountain.  Imagine if a bunch of Dwarves from Lord of the Rings had decided to build a majestic winery under a mountain. It looks a bit like that, except this was designed by a renowned Parisian architect.  It is frankly awe-inspiring. Jelly legs inducing beautiful. On one of my visits, yes I’ve been more than once, anyway on one of my visits one of my companions almost broke into tears at the sheer beauty and majesty of La Cathedral.

Hold your breath… These pictures don't do it justice, but it looks a lot like this:

What makes it all better is that much of the wine is really good. Their rosé is a giant step above the norm. Delightfully complex for a rosé, crisp and clean and it somehow raises the spirit at each sip. So good we picked up a case. And their other selections are worth tasting, knowing the odds are you will find at least one or two "must haves."

The last time we were there we picked up a magnum of their gold winning "Cœur" wine and had it with Christmas dinner. It was heavenly. The big bird in the picture, I think it was a free range organic goose, which only looks small because of the size of the massive magnum of wine, was prepared by Chef Tiaré Ferrari and was drool inducing in its both its scent and taste:

Here is the thing: Part of the joy of wine, at least in my view, is having the sense of place that goes with the wine. Wine is more than taste; it is place, and memories, and art.

Château Romanin does not disappoint in helping establish a unique sense of place, inspired memories and a wonderful injection of art into life. I still have a few dust covered bottles that I just look at and remember. One of them is the gold winner. Someday, I will actually open them up and drink them, but it will have to be a very special occasion.

Château Romanin also makes its own small production of biodynamic olive oil from olive trees on the estate. I’m told it’s really good. It must be, they have been sold out every time I go.  Apparently as soon as the word goes out that they are pressing and bottling the oil people from all over come and buy a bottle, or a case, or two, and within a month of the pressing it is gone, until the next year.

They also make their own  honey. They keep several hives on the estate so as to keep the biodynamics of pollination working, or something like that. They harvest and sell a limited supply of two types of biodynamic honey: wildflower and forest honey. The wildflower is good. The forest honey is sensational. When’s the last time you had honey you thought was sensational? I bring some back every time I go and guard it carefully.

So, the next time you are traveling along the D99 just east of St Remy de Provence, look for the little sign on the side of the road, and follow it to Bacchus’ magical underground cathedral. You won’t regret it.  Oh, and raise a glass and give a toast to Bacchus for me, would you?

Le Capitaine

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

L’Aioli de Provence

The following recipe is taken from my upcoming book A Feast at the Beach. While it is indeed a novel that takes place in Provence, it also contains a dozen or so recipes of classic foods and drinks of that most wonderful part of France. This recipe is just a taste of what you’ll find in the book. I hope you enjoy it.

L’Aioli de Provence

I never like the aioli I get in the States because it frankly just isn’t garlicky enough, not to mention the strange things I’ve seen put in it, like sugar and relish? I once entered into a futile argument with a waitress when I tried to explain to her that aioli had garlic in it, (she said it didn’t) and in fact the word is derived from the old terms for garlic and oil.
    Aioli in Provence has a kick. A swift, wide and powerful one. It isn’t shy. That’s how I make my aioli. The truly old fashion approach is to use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic, and while that is the most traditional, I do use the minor short cuts of a garlic press and a hand held wire whisk (or mixer when working in volumes), but I shortcut only in my tools, not my ingredients.
    While it is also traditional to use aioli with fish or steamed vegetables, I often use aioli in place of mayonnaise, such as in sandwiches. It is also delicious as a dip when making steamed artichokes, or for dipping French fries.

    2 egg yolks from fresh high quality eggs
    5 garlic cloves (a few more if you
    wish, but no less!)
    1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon
    1/4 teaspoon Mediterranean Sea salt
    1 large pinch of saffron threads
    1 cups olive oil
    1 tablespoon warm water

Crush the garlic well, the closer to a paste the better, and place in a large bowl. Add egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and crushed dried saffron threads. Whisk these together until well blended.
    While whipping constantly dribble in the olive oil, starting with a very slow dribble. When about half the olive oil has been used, add the tablespoon of warm water. Continue whipping and dribbling in the olive oil until all the olive oil is used up. Store in the refrigerator in a glass container that seals well.

Note: The aioli is sharpest right after making, and mellows over time. I suggest you make it at least 4 hours before you plan on using. You will also notice these strange dark spots with an orange halo start to show up. These are the tiny bits of saffron threads releasing their wonderful essence into the aioli, and a good sign.

Bon appetit,
Le Capitaine

P.S. Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Noble

Hanging out in the beautiful town of Ménerbes, in the Luberon mountains, in Provence.  -Photo: Tiaré Ferrari

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Time to Remember

On May 8th, 1945, the Allied Forces formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. On that day more than a million people celebrated in the streets, and for good reason. An evil had been vanquished, an evil that had cost the lives and suffering of millions.
       That vanquishing, that victory had a cost.
        In World War Two, the triumph of freedom over malevolent tyranny and oppression took the effort of millions of men and women, united to fight, to resist, to say “no more –this shall not stand.” It took the courage of conviction, the insistence in enlightened principles, the clutching at hope, the foundations of duty and honor, and action. Unwavering action. Action ultimately carried out by individuals.
        Tomorrow is the 65th Anniversary of V-E Day. 
        I will be participating in a ceremony tomorrow night hosted by the Consul General of France, including diplomats from 5 of the Allied countries and various U.S. political and military officials, gathered to commemorate this historic occasion. It will be a time to remember fallen comrades, honor those that went above and beyond, thank once again surviving Allied veterans and resistance fighters, and also it will be a time to celebrate.
        To celebrate a victory that ensured that the light of freedom continued to shine.
        Can you imagine if those brave souls who gave it their all had lost? What darkness would have befallen our civilization! It would have been a new dark age, filled with suffering, oppression, murder and horror. The most basic concepts of Human Rights would be non-existent, slavery would be the norm, and evil would reign.
        That is no exaggeration.
    Keep this in mind tomorrow, on V-E Day, for it was only 65 years ago that the very concept of freedom and of human right were fought for on a global scale, and many individuals, families, and nations paid a high price for the preservation of these values for future generations.
     As part of tomorrow’s events, the second volume of testimonials to be published by The Memoirs Project will be released. In it we capture for posterity individual stories of pain, bravery, suffering, and heroism. Stories that tell in simple, yet often poignant human terms the individual price paid for freedom.
        As our World War Two veterans and resistance fighters pass into the night, they often take with them their stories.
        We who make up the dedicated volunteers of The Memoirs Project feel it is important for these individual stories to be captured, remembered, and shared amongst our collective consciousness.
        These stories are our past.
        And they can inspire us to shape a better future.

                       William Louis Widmaier
                        Editor In Chief
                        The Memoirs Project

 After helping liberate Paris American soldiers observe as the Tricolor is displayed atop of Eiffel Tower once again.