Marcel visits two of his favourite Rhône restaurants and raises a glass to a world-changing chef
The Rhône is not just about wine; it is also about food. There have been two noticeable recent deaths in France. There was Johnny Halliday, a singer of almost royal status whose funeral was witnessed by the great and the good including present and past presidents.
And then there was Paul Bocuse, a three-Michelin-starred chef from Lyon who passed away at the venerable age of 91. He believed in fresh ingredients of impeccable quality and a certain simplicity in style. His legacy lives on in so many great eating places.
There are two Rhône restaurants that are worthy of mention. Both are either on or just off the N7 trunk road.
Mangevins is in Tain l'Hermitage, tucked away in a side street, close by the famous foot suspension bridge.
It is run by a charming Franco-Japanese couple. Keiko is in the kitchen with one helper and sometimes her daughter while Vincent manages the cellar and front of house. The menu is brief and marked up on a blackboard; there is a choice of meat or fish and a couple of starters. The wine list is inside Vincent's head and the choice is eclectic. The dishes are prepared with great care and precision with touches inspired by the Orient.
Dinner at the Beaugraviere with
John Livingstone-Learmonth. Stunning food
prepared by chef Guy Julien. His cellar is something else
Closer in spirit to Bocuse and about an hour's drive south is La Beaugravière. Set in a large house, just off the N7, north of Orange, this has been one of the great culinary institutions for years offering classic dishes, often with a Provençal twist. And in season, there is no better place to sample truffles. Oeufs brouillés aux truffes is a favourite.
But what makes Beaugravière into a place of pilgrimage is the wine list. Pages of Châteauneufs represent all the top estates. But then there are also pages of Hermitage including Chave 1929. Prices used to be remarkably cheap. Not so these days but the list also includes a number of very good-value Côtes-du-Rhônes. It is owned by Guy Julien who cooks and when in the mood will also tell stories about the past. The place is a bit drab maybe, and the staff too, to be honest. They and the restaurant are unchanged since I first visited but they are always welcoming.
Great places to eat in the Rhône seem to be getting fewer. Motorways and more efficient cars mean people don't stop anymore. Prodigious lunches are no longer in fashion and the gendarmerie has a knack of knowing where to set their traps!
And so, ended my 2017 Rhône travels. These were all about looking back and tasting the 2016 and 2015 vintages, as well as looking forward to the new 2017 harvest. To do so, I visited well over a hundred estates between June and November.
Both vintages produced some stunning wines, and rarely have I had such fun tasting them. 2017 also promises to be very good though often in short supply. Tasting for next year's en primeur offer has started in earnest and there'll be much to look forward to.
Life on the Road! - the cheese course at restaurant, l'Oustalet in Gigondas
Where to go next?