Restaurant Review-Montreuil-Bellay

Creperie – Grill, L’escalier Saint Pierre – 25 Place du Narché.   Up to the end of last year, if you were around the Place du Narché around 1830 in the evening you could often see  a diminutive Asian woman with a big plastic carrier bag stomping methodically from the car-park in front of the Chateau to her tiny Chinese take away in the square. The carrier bag, one assumes, carried all the ingredients for thAuberge L'Escallier St Pierre, Montreuil-Bellaye evening’s culinary masterpieces. It was a true example of the triumph of hope over reality and it was quite clear that the carrier bag was carrying less and less ingredients, even to the extent that, if you happened to see her leaving,  you could not help but notice that sometimes the bag seemed fuller than when it arrived!  Eventually, she realised that operating a restaurant without customers, is actually quite difficult to do and she sold her enterprise to the restaurant next door, which now occupies a delightful position, having a double frontage with chairs and tables clustered around the small pretty fountain in the square. Food is the sort of good quality, competitively priced simple meals which is so difficult to find in the UK; Crépes, Gallettes, (sweet and savory filled pancakes), Grills and Salads. The fixed price menus are very well priced, the decor is pleasant and authentic and the service friendly, polite and helpful.   To see all our local restaurant reviews click here 

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Restaurant Review – Doué la Fontaine

Brasserie de le Ville – 2 Rue Foullon:

One of my minor delights in life used to be sitting outside this Brassiere/Bar in Doué la Fontaine with a friend or two, nursing a glass of Rosé and watching the cars attempting to negotiate the junction just outside, even placing the odd bet on the car most likely to come to grief. This was because four roads joined at that point and no-one seemed to have the slightest idea who had the right of way. Sadly, however, the town council, in a most unfrench like attack of Health and Safetyitus have replaced this junction with a small roundabout and have instituted a totally nonsensical and complex one way system throughout the town. This has no doubt, relieved the stress on motorists using the junction but at the cost of  replacing it with worse stress because no-one has a clue how to navigate the narrow streets. Modifying the junction  is basically a bad idea because it stops people enjoying  a small pleasure in life. What they should have done was publicise “Crash Corner”, in the Office de Tourisime as one of the minor sights of interest in the town and place a few benches around the area.  Anyway, the net result was that the owners upped sticks and left, obviously because they felt there was a yawning gap in there lives.  They are probably even now scouring France for a Brasserie next to “Crash Corner 2”.   However, in their absence, the new owners have continued the concept of Brasserie at Lunchtime and Bar in the Evenings. Serving traditional French lunch time grub at a reasonable price and, as is usual, the Plat de Jour being particularly good value. (Rosbif and Frites €6.80). The speciality à la maison is Moules et Frites at €8.50, with a drink included. Though not as modern and as stylish as some of the newer eateries in Doué it has loads of “savoir faire” and an authentique Brasserie feel.  Shame about Crash Corner  though!!!               To see all our current reviews click here

Wines of the Loire Valley(1)

This is intended to be the first of a series of postings on Loire Valley Wines. This, the first, hopes to set the scene and position the Loire in the complexity of French Wine Production and then each successive posting will deal with its appellations gathered into five convenient groupings, examining the characters of their wines, their grapes and the dishes which will show them at their best.

Many years ago when I was buying wine for various outlets in the UK, I came across a sweet wine I had never heard of before, “Le Coteaux du Layon” brimming over with flavour, complexity and, unlike many other sweeties, with a distinct acidity which perfectly balanced the intense sweetness. This wine was the revelation which began my never ending love affair with the Loire Valley. I must confess that, up to that point, I had regarded wines from the Loire as a bit of a “shelf-filler” consisting mainly of over-sulphured Anjou Blancs, cheap Roses and Sparklers,with,perhaps, the Sauvignon Blancs of the Central Vineyards and the elegant reds of Saumur-Champiny getting an honourable mention.

What I actually discovered was a cornucopia of over 60 appellations covering the whole range of wine from intensely sweet to searingly dry. Huge, new-world look-alikes to elegant, “taffeta” reds and delightful, rustic curiosities cheek by jowl with wines of worldwide renown.I rediscovered wines which I had previously treated with scant respect and found new ones which took my breath away. Of course, living in the region, as we have done for five years, has enabled us to delve deep into the hidden Loire to discover both the best wines and the best producers.

But, I have also found myself enthralled by the region itself, a timeless land where the Loire winds its majestic way through centuries of history, epitomised by the magnificent Chateaux sited throughout the Valley and standing guard over every major town, (and often village), and, not least, but perhaps most importantly, we have grown the love and respect the people themselves.

In France, when people think of the Loire, and particularly Anjou, they think of the “Douceur”, which translates as the sweetness of life. This applies both to the land and the inhabitants. Neither are dramatic and both are gentle and welcoming, the countryside is picturesque and rolling and the locals have an healthy respect for the good things in life, not just for enjoying their wine and cuisine but also taking the time to do it properly and to pay it due respect, there is no hurried sandwich taken on the run, this is a land of two hour lunch breaks with three hours on Sundays. An invitation to lunch in a wine village will almost always find Monsieur disappearing for half an hour only to emerge from a dusty cellar with a 1945 Coteaux de Saumur, a 1936 Layon or some other treat. Which he will proceed to pour with due homage but with no pretension. Vignerons are proud of their wines and unlike the more famous wineries of Bordeaux or Burgundy the problem is not getting in for a tasting it will be getting out again afterwards! Many is the time I have taken people into a chais when the sun is high in the heavens and the temperature is in the 40’s only for them to stagger out again in the pitch darkness of a warm Anjou, summer night!!

So, back to the nitty-gritty, having waxed lyrical on the attractions of the Loire, just why is the region so important in French wine making?

One reason is its sheer size, not only is The Loire 635mls.long, but, more importantly, the land mass of the river and its tributaries account for 20% of the land mass of France. These tributaries are exceedingly important as almost all the great appellations are based around rivers like the Cher, the Thouet, the Layon and, rather confusingly, La Loire’s little brother, Le Loir. The reason for this is quite simple; the Loire itself is simply too big, too self important, to leave dinky little slopes which can be used for planting vines, the valley is too wide and flat and vines do not do well on flat, fertile plains, instead this is used for market gardening, giving the region another source of fame as the provider of much of France’s produce. This is reflected in the name chosen for the wine of its Vins de Pays; the evocative “Le Jardin de France,” (The Garden of France). This huge area encompasses a vast change in micro climate and terroir from the harsh slopes of the Massif Central to the flat coastal plains of the Nantais and this is, of course, reflected in the wines. The climate is Oceanic in the West with hot summers and mild winters, becoming more continental as we progress eastwards with winters progressively becoming much harder. Another reason why the Loire has become France’s second largest producer of appellation wines is the experience of its winemakers, almost genetically engineered to cope with that most capricious of grapes, the Chenin, and the vagrancies of the climate, which, in parts, is on the limit of commercial wine production. Most of its grape varieties are grown throughout the world, but to see and taste them at their best The Loire sets the benchmark, whether they are Chenins from Anjou, Sauvignons from Touraine or Cabernet Francs from either. It is true that the region lost its way somewhat in the 60’s and 70’s, having been seduced by the easy money to be made from the great Rosé boom. Old winemakers shook there heads in disbelieve as vineyards of aged Chenin were ripped out, to be replaced with the ubiquitous Grolleau, the mainstay of Rosé. However, after the bottom dropped out of the Rosé market, the old values re-emerged and, because of the realisation that quality would be the one thing that would sell the wines, a great drive commenced to improve them and this has made the Loire one of the most exiting wine regions in the country. Further, In Anjou, much of the Grolleau was ripped out and replaced by Cabinet Franc, leading to the renaissance of that area not just as a producer of great whites but as also as the home of ever improving reds. (It should be noted that the production of red wine in Anjou is a quite recent phenomenon and that California has produced reds commercially for a much longer period. In fact the first red wine appellation in Anjou was only granted in 1936, and it is still in a state of flux, for example my own village will be awarded its own appellation, Saumur-Puy Notre Dame as from this year.) We are now seeing a generational change as the current group hand over to their sons and daughters. Many of the new “Patrons” are college trained and have worked in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Australia and the New World, thus we can expect another leap forward in quality as they build on the advances made by their parents.

Having now set the scene, I hope that we have succeeded in exiting your taste buds and that you will stay with us as we proceed to examine each appellation in detail.

For the purposes of study I normally divide the Loire into five main regions. These are;

1. The group of vineyards nearest to the source of the Loire. Eg. Le Coté d’Auvergne

2. The Central Vineyards around Pouilly Fuisse and Sancerre.

3. The Touraine

4. Anjou/Saumur

5. The Nantaise

And these will be the subjects of the next five postings.

Thus the next posting will be a detailed look at the first group of vineyards stretching from the Côtes du Forez to the Côte Ronnaise, the most southerly of the Loire.

R.I.P.

Mr. Jospin       We never thought we would be writing a post like this on our blog. But this afternoon our cat Mr. Jospin was found dead in the road. This, I think would not normally be worthy of a post but Mr. Jospin was adored by ourselves and many of our gite visitors, and, it must be said, hated by some. He appears on screensavers and in kids bedrooms all over England. Almost every time someone emails or telephones one of the first questions is, "and how is Mr. Jospin?  He was known throughout the village and almost everyone who passed him in the street offered a quite, "Bonjour, Mr. Jospin."

He lived his short life with an intensity and a "joie de vivre,"which was sometimes almost frightening to watch.

I shall always remember the way he dived and burrowed into the snow trying to find invisible snowballs, the way he was trying to rip my hand off at the same time some tweedy cat lady on TV was saying how calming and therapeutic having a cat was, and, conversely, how, in the depths of winter he would glide silently in from outside and with complete trust, push his freezing face into the warmth of the palm of my hand.

Goodbye Jospy, thanks for all the memories.  

The First One

Hello and welcome to our new Blog. We intend to use it as a diary of our life in the Loire. (the region that is not the river!), although there are times when one feels that being in water would be immeasurably preferable to being continually up to ones neck in that well known slightly thicker substance!

We invite any comments, questions or clarifications you may feel you may like to add and think the blog may be an ideal way of keeping in touch with our gite visitors with whom we have passed many delightful hours here in the heart of the Loire.

We intended to start the Blog in January, however, instead of using the winter months to catch up on the renovation work and tapping away on the computer we have instead had an indepth induction course into the French Health Service. This was because we had both launched ourselves into the air, me from a 10metre ladder and Sheila from a stepladder. The net result being that (a) we know we cannot fly, (b) that Dislocated Shoulders and Broken Wrists are actually quite painful and (c) that for two right handed people having two left hands between us is not exactly a surefire way of getting much done, (on the other hand it does leave lots of time for reading and for watching the six nations tournament on TV, another byproduct is that I am now an expert on Free to Air TV- have you seen the Drama on Channel 999 between the Dog, the Duck and the Red Button. Riveting stuff, albeit a bit repetitive!)  

Anyway, our net conclusions on the French Health Care System? Superb but you need a full time secretary to keep track of the admin. This is paid here, this is paid there, this will be automatically reimbursed, this will be partially reimbursed, this will be sent automatically to your mutual, this will not etc., etc.  Still it is not without humour. When we left the "Urgences" in Saumur for example, every one lined up and, in chorus said, "a la prochaine", (to the next time), and, at the Clinic at Bagneux the surgeon asked if we had a loyalty card!! C'est la vie. C'est la France