Chateaux, Abbeys Stellar Food and Wine, Wine, Wine!

An intense azure blue sky is the opposite to what we saw the day before as we take in our last breakfast at the Chateau de Courban before hitting the road.

Most of the time, when on tour we take a room only so we can experience the delights of the local boulangerie but in Courban it's not really an option as the nearest one is a good five miles away and anyway it's an excuse to indulge in their delicious breakfast buffet! For me the toasted brioche with homemade apricot jam was irresistible.

As we loaded up the car we decided to take a small detour to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Fontenay Abbey, a decision we would later congratulate ourselves on!

At the centre of Châtillon-sur-Seine we pass this lovely fountain, one of many around the town.

We leave the the bustling town behind us and wind our way out into the beautiful rolling Burgundian hills. A landscape that is a riot of shades of green pastures dotted with the unmistakeable creamy white whisps of Charolais cows! The soothing brogue of Hugh Bonneville on Desert Island Disks is our soundtrack, it's the perfect fusion of the senses to instil peace and a sense of calm.

Arriving at Fontenay we estimate a quick pit stop but are unprepared for the sheer wonder of the place.

Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard it is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys. The industrious monks cleared a swamp that was here and dried the land to build the abbey and its surrounding buildings. The abbey was wealthy from 12th Century to the 15th Century with a community of more than two hundred monks.

The abbey owned a huge estate which was cultivated and farmed by the monks they even used their engineering prowess to create a novel forge, the first of its kind in Europe. By the 16th Century the abbey started to decline partly as the abbots became appointed by the King!

By the time of the French Revolution there were only twelve monks left. In 1790 the abbey was sold as state property and bought in 1820 by Elie de Montgolfier, a descendant of the famous pioneers of hot air balloon flight. He transformed the abbey into a paper mill. In 1906 Edouard Aynard, a wealthy financier and art collector bought the abbey back from his father in law, Raymond de Montgolfier.

He rescued the former abbey, transforming it from an industrial site and restoring the buildings to their original architectural beauty. The abbey remains in the family's ownership today and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fontenay Panoramic Views 1

Fontenay Panoramic Views 2

Completely wowed by Fontenay we head off with a taste for a little more Burgundian architectural splendour and in search of the King of Burgundian cheeses, Epoisse!

Sadly the dairy which offers five different iterations of this strong and creamy Marc washed cheese was closed as was the local gourmand food store opposite the castle so we settled on a brisk walk around the inside of the castle, which is a perfectly preserved example of a double moated castle.

At the ticket office was a young French student combining his weekend job with some flute practice and this was the result!

Live flute at Epoisse

The temperature was rising and as we raced down the autoroute towards Beaujolais our next pit stop, we decided on an unscheduled stop just outside Beaune to take a dip in the natural outdoor lido!

Refreshed and refuelled with the leftovers of the previous night's picnic we continued towards Beaujolais. We wanted to be in Condrieu before 7pm and thinking that as it was a Sunday afternoon most cellars would be closed we just plucked a lesser known Cru as a wild card on the off chance somewhere would be open.

Julienas rewarded us with the local producers association PR centre being open. Housed in a former church and also used as an education centre on the wines of Julienas they also offered tastings! Here's the results!

The terroir of Julienas is granite and shale with clay veins.

Julienas 2013 Red; Medium ruby red in appearance, developing wine with a raspberry nose. More red fruit on the palate in the form of red cherry, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a long finish.

Julienas 2014 Red: Medium ruby red appearance again with a nose of Parma violets and red cherry with more of these flavours coming through on the palate. Dry, with medium tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a medium plus finish.

Julienas 2015 Red: As predicted medium Ruby appearance, with a nose of bubblegum from the carbonic maceration. On the palate, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol and body lots of red cherry fruit and a medium plus finish. Developing and would benefit from keeping longer although drinking well now if you prefer a lighter, fruitier style.

Julienas 2016 White: Pale lemon in appearance. On the nose, white flowers, green apple and a hint of lemon. No oak. On the palate, dry, with medium plus alcohol and medium plus body, medium plus acidity and a medium plus finish. Aromas of apricot, peach and hints of tropical fruit. A surprising 100% Chardonnay Beaujolais which makes up less than 3% of total grapes grown in the Julienas AOC.

Julienas 2015 Red Oaked: Medium ruby red in appearance with red fruit, red cherry nose. On the palate, light sour red cherry aromas, like a cherry yoghurt. Dry, medium tannin, medium alcohol, light body, medium plus finish.

We arrive at the Le Beau Rivage before sunset in time for a quick change before dinner. Then a leisurely stroll along the Rhone before we drink a glass of Condrieu in Condrieu while studying the extensive wine list and menu as the sun goes down.

We are looked after by the charming Julian whose knowledge of wines is incredible we think he must be the sommelier and are surprised that he is not! We go for the turbot to share which we thought is a classic Condrieu pairing and our guided by Julian to the sublime 2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi.

Dinner is a triumph of great food as much as great wines to match!

2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi Condrieu

Pale gold in appearance with medium plus intensity on the nose of white peach and honeysuckle. A developing wine which is dry, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body and a rich intensity of more stone fruits apricot and peach with background refreshing minerality. This is a beautifully balanced wine with a long lingering finish and seamlessly integrated components that are both intensely rich and complex. It is drinking well now and is an outstanding example of a fresh unoaked Condrieu.

The Turbot is amazing. Grilled whole and served by Julian at the table. It is perfectly cooked and is succulent and rich in flavour accompanied by a perfect hollandaise.

Whilst perusing the dessert menu we get food envy seeing the dessert from the tasting menu go to an adjacent table and twist Julian's arm to see if we can have that! Chef agrees and we are excited!

The dessert is a sorbet of apricot with pistachios granules and an apricot sugar dome covering an apricot and rosemary mousse sitting on poached apricots on a dark chocolate square. It's a riot of stone fruits with lots of sweet and sour/acid flavours going on and an incredible dessert which looks spectacular.

Dessert is classicly paired with a Beaumes-de-Venise and followed with coffee and an incredible selection of chocolates from the nearby house of Valrhona.

Dinner is rounded off with a Marc from Maison M.Chapoutier after dinner we take a romantic moonlight stroll along the Rhone.

Its the perfect end to another perfect day.

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