The Palace de Menthon obliging pushed back our checkout so we could once more indulge ourselves with an open water swim in Lake Annecy before we left on the next leg of our ” Grand Tour Du Vin”. One of the shallower alpine lakes, although still on average at least 50m deep in places, this has the advantage in keeping the lake waters at a more ambient yet still refreshing temperature than other lakes such as Maggiore or Como in Italy.
As we opted for a room only rate at the Palace de Menthon we stopped off for a pain au chocolat and a cafe au lait to go from a delightful little boulangerie called Tweedle Tea in the centre of Menthon.
It was just a little too early in the day for anything more than this but if you are in Menthon anytime below is just a teaser of what they really excel at in the typical French tradition of La Patisierre
With the bit firmly between our teeth and a tank full of gas Gillian pointed the Merc towards the autoroute du Soleil and we set off en route towards Lyon our next planned destination La Cadiere D’Azur in Provence.
As we joined the Lyon ring road Gillian surprised me by saying ” let’s take a detour via Tain L’Hermitage and St. Peray! As there’s some great wines there and it is probably your favourite area!”
We swung off the Autoroute Du Soleil and entered the town where I really fell in love with French wine. I owe its discovery to a good friend and life long wine lover who told me it was a must visit on our inaugural wine tour several years ago. I still find it magical with the negociants hoardings emblazoned on the concrete walls holding back the precious terroir of this feted appellation.
If you are going to visit one caveau in Tain then I reckon that Chapoutier is really the one you shouldn’t miss! I pre arranged a full 2 hour degustion and walk amongst the vines last time I was here 2 years ago. This was arranged with Lison Rodet, the head Sommelier by email. However, I did end up spending a small fortune on some amazing wines and also some everyday wines at affordable prices. My favourite still is the minerally 100% Marsanne Chante Aloute Hermitage.
I really like the detail of this place for example they even have a section of the caveau devoted to showing you the different types of terroir. A bit geeky I know but right up my street!
On this trip as time was not on our side I settled for a degustion of the 2013 White Crozes Hermitage. If you aren’t able to book a tasting or they are closed ( everyday from 12:30pm to 2pm) you can walk down to the spot where I took the photo above by going to the station, turn left and right under the railway bridge. If you’re feeling energetic you can even walk to the Chapelle at the summit!
Now if wine and chocolate can be considered two of the greatest pleasures in life then what’s the chance of finding not only a premier wine producer but the godfather of chocolate in my same favourite Rhone town? Tain is also home to Valrhona Chocolate City and its wonderful chocolate tasting boutique next door.
There is an admission charge to Chocolate City and because we were on limited time we didn’t go in but each time we’ve been to Tain we always go for a sampling of chocolate at the shop. It really is a chocoholics paradise with no limit on how much you taste!
Just make sure you avoid visiting though when there’s a coach load of American septuagenarians on their Viking river cruise as the place will be mobbed!
Fuelled up with chocolate and on a high from my unscheduled stop in Tain L’Hermitage we crossed the Rhone and headed south to the lesser known AOC of St Peray passing its more famous neighbour Cornas on route.
Two years before we had stayed 2 nights at the Domaine de Clairefontaine a superb hotel nearb Vienne and a great base for exploring the Rhone valley. They serve St. Peray sparking wines there and the sommelier told me about a fantastic producer of both these and still wines Stephan Chaboud. We turned up unannounced at his domaine and in my improving French we took part in a degustion in his caveau.
So it went without saying that we had to drop in on Stephan this time sampling both his cremant and his 100% Rousanne with his boxer dogs for company. The Rousanne was light with a little spice and would partner both white meats and creamy cheese like a Brillat-Savarin.
Our final stop needed no introduction , Chateauneuf du Pape is a must on any wine tour of the Rhone. It’s AOC allows for a blend of up to 13 different grape varieties so there is a huge variation in taste a quality. One of my favourites is Domaine Chante Cigale. Their white is a clean blend of 25% each of White Grenache, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Rousanne and is rich with ripe pear fruit with a peachy finish. My favourite wine with a grilled Goats cheese salad!
After a swift degustion and purchase at Chante Cigale it was burning rubber on tarmac time as we hit the Autoroute du Soleil for the last 90 mins journey to our next stop La Cadiere D’Azur just 15 mins from the Mediterranean sailing mecca of Bandol and also the name of the greatest AOC in Provence!