Tensions began to run high on that last day of our Loire adventure. Due to my ill-timed encounter with Bertrand Jousset and his excellent range of Loire whites, we'd left freezing subterranean natural wine tasting La Dive Bouteille somewhat later than intended, thereby imperiling our chances of making it to what was meant to be the architectural highlight of our trip, and the unqualified highlight of C's trip: the 16th-century Château de Chambord, near Blois.*
Happily, traffic was relatively light in the middle of nowhere in the Loire that day, so we made the trip in record time - only to be informed by the comically brainless ticket-taker that most of the entire château was off-limits for viewing that day, either on account of renovation or on account of a period film that was being shot on the ground floor. (Both were occurring without any kind of website forewarning.) C was justifiably livid. It was a little as if J and I had been informed, upon entry to La Dive earlier that day, that, due to some filming, no winemakers were in fact to be present, just the wines and the vicious chill.
I discovered that châteaux are actually horribly uncomfortable, at least in wintertime. The Château de Chambord in particular is so monstrously large that I presume the French government, after purchasing it in 1930, immediately thought, "Merde, how the hell are we going to fill this huge empty château?" On each (accessible) level there was a great central hall of nothing, at one corner of which sputtered a sad fire, around which were gathered whichever tourists or film crew happened to be on that floor. They might have been burning relics to keep warm, it would not have been unreasonable. Anyway we left the grand majestic Shiteau and I suspect the memory of the general desolation of the place was what made all three of us so game for a homecoming dinner, at J's suggestion, at 19ème natural wine bistro Quedubon, home of probably the warmest welcome in all of Paris.
I refer to the owner, Gilles, who is kind of a maestro of the dining floor. J and he frequent each others' restaurants on their respective nights off.
Since J, C, and I had spent all weekend tasting, spitting, and not savoring mostly fractious fresh young wines, we went deep and got a bottle of Edmond Vatan's 2005 Sancerre "Clos La Neore," a perversely rare legendary Sancerre that J had been wanting to try for a while.
Sourced from a 3.6-acre parcel within the cru of Mont Damnés, this a universally lauded Sancerre by a traditional master of the appellation - a wine Robert M. Parker has boasted about drinking an entire case of. Embarrassingly, I'd never heard of it. I just don't drink a lot of Sancerre, and when I do, it's never the pricey or aged ones. It's a cost-vs.-profundity ratio, which I find is kind of wrongly skewed within the appellation as a whole.
The 2005 "Clos La Neore" was, however, correctly resonant and beautiful. A sort of mineral fourth dimension thing played in the background of a dreamy palate tableau of honey, hay, anise, and lozenge. I've read that winemaker Edmond Vatan himself retired after the 2007 vintage, so in retrospect it was rather a treat to taste one of his final vintages. (The estate is now run by his daughter Anne, with, one would presume, some advisory input from her father.)
We drank most of it before, during, and after a delightful cress soup enriched with foie gras.
Lastly, I've written before about the wonderful natural-wine community service Quedubon performs by serving dinner on Monday nights, but this night was really an exaggerated illustration of this point. Upon arrival we were sat next to the folks from neighboring 19ème wine bistro Le Baratin. Later, in walked acclaimed Corsican winemaker Antoine Arena and his wife, Marie.**
They then joined us in tasting another gorgeous rare white wine, Eduardo Valentini's 2003 Trebbiano d'Abruzzo -
- which bottle had been brought in by Eric Narioo, founder of Les Caves de Pyrène, a British caviste and importer who are largely responsible for whatever terrific natural wine is to be found in London these days. (They back London natural-wine restaurants Terroirs and Brawn, both of which I visited over the holidays.) He was having dinner with his team two tables over. Then our friend C, a sommelier we'd seen earlier that day in Saumur, arrived just as we were saying our goodbyes.
That's the thing about great restaurants, though - they become community centers, perpetual parties, places you go for a quiet meal on a Monday only to leave exhausted and tipsy.
* Least elegant-sounding French town name. Homophonous with vomiting. I guess the British equivalent would be Leatherhead, or Liphook, or something of that ilk.
** I was pretty thrilled to meet them. I used to carve a special exception for their great Patrimonio wines on the otherwise all-Italian list at my former workplace, Pizzeria Mozza.
22 Rue Plateau
Metro: Buttes Chaumont
Tel: 01 42 38 18 65
Loire Road Trip, pt. I: Domaine Guiberteau
Loire Road Trip, pt. II: Clos Rougeard
Loire Road Trip, pt. III: Café de la Promenade
Loire Road Trip, pt. IV: Renaissance des AOCs
Loire Road Trip, pt. V: Bistrot de la Place, Saumur
Loire Road Trip, pt. VI: La Dive Bouteille
Cold brains & Montlouis at Quedubon, 75019
A surprise Bordeaux tasting at Quedubon with Dominique Léandre-Chevalier of Châteaux Le Queyroux
Riesling & Cod Ceviche on a Monday at Quedubon, 75019
A pant-wetting sales pitch on Vatan's wine @ CrushWineCo.