maandag 9 februari 2009

First and second week in February

A working week has 5 days and 4 nights (I'll always sleep at home on Fridays unless something very special happens). So far in 2009 we've had 20 nights and I slept away from home on 8 of them. At the end of this week it'll be 11 nights out of 24.Last week: 1 night in Germany, 2 nights in Holland. Highlights? A superb glass of Monbazillac with our dessert at the Krone Restaurant in Weinstadt and an excellent Bourgogne Pinot Noir (2005) from Domaine Parent in Pommard at the van der Valk Hotel in Gilze Rijen. On Thursday evening, to compensate for my absences during the week, Htje and I had dinner at the local Italian. Nothing special, but everything OK. The Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was reasonable. Nothing more.During the weekend at home, I celebrated our victory in the last bridge competition drive of the year with a Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2006 (La Chablisienne) matching perfectly with the shrimp & gamba rice salad. (Mineral, more vegetal than fruity, nothing of the sometimes coarse buttery taste present in some of Burgundy's whites, all class and refinement. Should better nicely in the next 2-3 years.) Htje later spoiled me to death with beef carpaccio followed by lamb cutlets with beans. I opened up the first of my Chateau Arnauton 2005 - Fronsac. Already excellent, I should have thought of de-caraffing it. Should be really OK in 2010. It's Monday, and I'm off to the south with a full planning bringing me to Tarbes, Toulouse, Montauban, La Canourgue and Montpellier in the week to come. Ryanair brings us to Carcassonne for a mere 115,40 Euro (return) and Hertz charges us another 139,80 Euro to let us drive around. On my way to the hotel I witness another beautiful sundown over the Pyrenees.
The mountains are white-capped and look very clean.I arrive at the hotel at 19:15. Hostellerie Les Cèdres in Villeneuve en Rivière is an old fashioned, traditional hotel. They upgrade my room, it looks out over the courtyard facing he village church and has a large King size bed and a comfortable bath tub. A second adjacent room will be left unused. Only in the morning I noticed that it takes ages for the hot water to get to the room but otherwise, no complaints.The restaurant is quite crowded and I settle for the standard menu: Mille-feuilles de Saint-Jacques (with one large scallop served in its half-open shell and a mille-feuilles filled with tomato sauce and smaller scallops with their coral on top, olives and salad). Followed by lotte with rice and vegetables as a main dish and all this accompanied with half a bottle of Jurançon Sec 2006 - Chant de Vignes (Domaine Cauhapé - 64360 Monin). Made of Gros Manseng - 100% harvested end of September. A complex, ripe, full-bodied, fruity white; unlike anything else I have ever had. I foresake dessert but settle for the cheeses. All local: Bethmal, Barousse and Goat (from a local farmer). I trust the sommelier's choice and get a glass of a marvellous Madiran 2005. Chateau Bouscassé from Alain Brumont - Maumusson. Thick oily tears, beautiful structure with some tannins but full of dark red fruit. More than a mouthful! Nothing old-fashioned here! Hoping that the beautiful sundown would forebode a beautiful morning was idle! Awful weather the whole day! It hardly stopped raining with stormy wind gusts up to 140km/hour. Thousands of homes in France without electricity and a lot of damage to roofs, crops etc.
Trotted along the whole day without even a chance of taking a picture of the Pyrenees and reached my hotel in Moissac in the pouring rain around 18h45. I’m given a room looking out over the slow bend in the Tarn and the bed must be the largest I’ve ever slept in. The Moulin de Moissac hotel has a wellness and spa centre and it’s noticeable from the many complimentary soaps, shower gels, peelers that can be found in the bathroom.
After an extensive phone call with my colleague Soumia I have
dinner at the hotel's restaurant. I have the carpaccio of fresh salmon as a starter with a glass of Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc); correct but nothing more. The sommelier wanted to give me a glass of Tariquet (local white wine made of Ugni Blanc) but no bottle was open...
I took the local main dish from the menu: Cassoulet. You like it or you don’t; I love it! Probably the best I ever had and chef René Bajard deserves a citation. What else could I drink with it than a 2003 Madiran from Chateau Montus? Less fruity and exuberant than the 2005. Already complete with excellent structure and mild tannins. But guess what: also produced by Alain Brumont in Maumusson. No cheese this time but a delicious dessert of crêpes.
Up early on Wednesday, I hurry to my first appointment in Montauban and afterwards drive 220km, mostly over departmental roads without any scenic views - except for the sign board signalling the village of Gaillac where they make excellent reds; but I don’t even have time to stop for a cup of coffee - to the next one in La Canourgue. I am now in the country of the river Tarn and the scenery changes completely and the drive becomes pleasant for the last 50km or so. From La Canourgue it is another 120km to my hotel. The weather has been dreary the whole morning, but later in the afternoon, the wind clears the sky, and the sun appears between the clouds.

By the time I reach the magnificent viaduct in Millau, the sky is completely clear and a watery sun makes it bearable. It’s the second time I drive by. The first time, it was raining and misty and we could hardly see anything. And although I don’t really like bridges too much, I stop to take a picture. The view of that bridge hanging over the deep ravine is breath-taking. At nearly 700m above sea level the wind is very hard and cold, cold, cold.
The last 100km or so are a nice drive through the hills towards Montpellier.
Without knowing, I booked a room at the Montpellier Golf Hotel. We’re deep south by now and dinner is only served at 20h00. An extended phone call with Stacy and Tamara to discuss business closes most of the gap and reading and answering emails the rest of it. In between I watch a French dubbed version of the original Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. Had it been in original version, I’d cancelled the calls! Amazing how that movie still stands!
At dinner I settle for the standard menu. The cold salmon and dorade (Gold bream?) starter uses just a bit too much vinegar to my taste but the pintade, accompanied with deliciously flavoured cabbage and fried potatoes is delicious. On recommendation of the waiter, I have the local Chateau Valoussière 2004 – Coteaux de Languedoc from Philippe et Frédéric Jeanjean. Won bronze metal at the Macon contest in 2007. I’ve no idea what the main grape is they use although it reminisces me of Pinot Noir. The wine is pleasant but I’ll not bend over backward to find some more of it.
Instead of a sweet dessert I settle for the fresh fruit salad. Coffee to top it off and I’m back in my room by 21:00; in time for the friendly (soccer) match between France and Argentina

(coached by Maradonna!). France will loose with 0-2. A superior Lionel Messi directed his troops perfectly and the French, despite all their talent, were unable to counter effectively. The great news of the evening, however, will be that Hiddink will train Chelsea, at least until end of this season. During half time I happily zap around and linger with a beautiful costume drama depicting the alleged (?) liaison between Cardinal Mazarin (Chancellor and prime minister of France) and Anne of Austria the King’s (Louis XIV) mother. At a par with the renowned English drama! Costumes, sets and acting: a joy for the eye!
Breakfast: very un-typically French, with fried eggs, sausage, ham, tomato and mushrooms at the bay window overlooking the golf course. The first golfers arrive on the green, it’s 8 o’clock. The weather is cold, the skies are clear; the sun is coming up and promises a beautiful day. But first to Vailhauquès, then to Montpellier and before I know, I’m on the road to the airport in Carcassonne. This is too good to be true and as I receive 2 really pressing phone calls, I have to stop and call around. I end up in Carcassonne with barely time to have a lunch and settle for the restaurant at the Intermarché. It’s good value for money but I’ll not add anything to it. The faithful Opel Astra is returned to Hertz with 1100km on the odometer in less than 4 days.
The plane is going to be late and I kill the time reading and answering emails. It's still light when we take off but the skye is clouded and there is little to see. At the landing at Charleroi in the night, the landscape looks like a giant Christmas tree.