“There’s NOTHING like it in all of Bordeaux! ” I said to my friend Michel as we stared down at the small medieval village below us.
“I know,” he responded with a proud, beaming smile. After all, Michel is from Libourne, a somewhat larger town ten minutes down the road. He works in Paris and commutes to Liboume on the weekends. I guess you could call this his neighborhood.
We were talking about St.-Emilion and its incredible view from the upper vantage of l’Eglise Monolith. Probably like everyone else, when I made my first visit to Bordeaux, I rushed straight to where the Great Growths resided – to the Medoc peninsula: The communes of Pauillac, Margaux, Graves, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe. The commune of St.-Emilion was passed by on the original 1855 Classification of Bordeaux wine and wasn’t officially classified until 1955. On my first trip, I also passed it up.
No big deal. St.-Emilion beats ’em all on charm and beautiful views…
Which means there are tourists running around but the place still manages to maintain its charm. Sure there is an excess of wine shops, tasting rooms and “wine academies” with “English Spoken Here” signs – but there is also real life – boulangeries, patisseries, wine bars, etc.. I even witnessed a local wedding coming out of a church; and instead of rice, they threw laurel leaves.
I have just about stopped drinking wines from Bordeaux – they have become too expensive and, as I like to / say, arrogant. They’re just not worth the money you have to layout for them these days. The big boys are all throwing their names and appellations around with secondary labels in a marketing attempt to capture those customers who have slight recall with wine names. Names like Lafite and Rothschild pop up everywhere. It’s also popular to throw in the words, ‘Moulin de’ or ‘La Tour de’, in front of a once well-recognized name. Not exactly the same wine but it might fool somebody. As I came in on the train from Paris, I noticed a sign for “Chateau La Brise de Pomerol”. Pomerol was several kilometers in the other direction. “Is that like saying, ‘Chateau Whiff Of Pomerol’ ? ” I asked Michel.
But St.-Emilion is an exception – and always has been. Its wines are [relatively] priced well and are usually more ready to drink – probably due to a larger percentage of Merlot grapes which lends to a softer, more accessible wine. In the US, many small restaurants without lengthy wine lists will often include an inexpensive St.-Emilion as a sole Bordeaux representative. This is not to say that all St.-Emilions are good; like any other wine-producing area – there are some bad wines here and there. But their prices allow you to experiment a little more.
Michel gave me the whirlwind tour of St.-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac – all within minutes of his house. We rode by Chateaux ~ the likes of – Figeac, Belair, Ausone, L’Angelus, Pavie, Petrus, Clos L’ Eglise, De Sales, Cheval Blanc and L’Encios. Michel was in a hurry – he was worried about squeezing lunch in before dinner. Hell, I was still stuffed from Friday night’s dinner at his house.
Michel had broiled a dorade (I think the translation here is sea bass) in the oven. He merely sliced it in half and threw it into a roasting pan with whole tomatoes, garlic, whole green onions, fennel bulbs, olive oil, and a little white wine. Into the oven it went. As I sipped a pastis (one of those licorice flavored aperitifs that clouds up when you add water to it – and a drink the French seem to like so much) on the terrace, Michel pops out with several dozen oysters, several dozen shrimp and two large crabs that looked like Floridian stone crabs. “I thought we might want to munch on something while the fish is cooking,” he grinned.
The oysters, as expected, were terrific. We shucked them and sipped them down from their shells. They were salty and delicious!
“How do you buy these?” I asked.
“Fresh and in the shell” was Michel’s smart~assed answer.
“No, I mean, which unit for quantity do you use?”
“You buy them by the dozen.”
“I thought that conflicted with the metric system?”
“Oh no – we had the concept of ‘dozen’ LONG before you did…”
We started peeling shrimp. Michel stopped to see what I was doing.
“No,” he said, “you eat the heads too.” With that he broke one off and sucked the innards of the shrimp head. “Best part!”
“Here,” I responded, “you can have my shrimp heads.” [ but I guess this is no different than doing the same to crawfish…]
The crab was pretty complicated. Michel offered to prepare mine. He pulled out stuff that I would have let be (these frogs! always eating stuff they’re not supposed to!) He mixed it with a hand made mayonnaise. Delicious!
The fish was superb.
We washed it down with what anyone from Bordeaux – who had a REAL wine cellar would:
Several great white wines from Burgundy.
Next came the cheese. A goat cheese, an Auvergne and a Pyrenees. The wine? ~ Another great white wine from Burgundy. (I would have used the occasion to drink a red; Michel says that most French cheese is better served with white wine. We argued about this…)
Michel, even though you might be considered a traitor to Bordeaux – you’re a damn good host!
Merci, mon ami!