01 November 2013

yonne bike trip: le pot d'étain, isle-sur-serein

Isle-sur-Serein isn't the most picturesque village in the Yonne.

That honor might go to Noyers, a medieval town containing a superb butcher shop and an impossibly cute gallery-café where my friends from the blog TheTrailOfCrumbs do projects on occasion. My fellow bike-trippers and I got caught in a biblical downpour just before passing through Noyers this past June. So we paused in that town for coffees and beer. I ate like seven gauffres from the gallery-café. We sat around damply and considered how nice it would be to just stay in Noyers.

But nearby Isle-sur-Serein - kind of a one-horse town, by comparison, and not all of it historical - is home to L'Auberge Le Pot d'Etain, a hotel whose rather trad, stuffy restaurant is distinguished by one of the most heartbreakingly great wine lists any of us had ever seen. That list puts the village of Isle-sur-Serein on the map : one glance makes a traveler want to stay a week.

Even that wouldn't be enough time to metabolize all the treasures in the Pot d'Etain's list. One would need a month of wedding parties. Name a celebrated winemaker, and there's a vertical of his or her wines, at astoundingly reasonable prices. The emphasis, naturally, is on Burgundy.

But more omnivorous tastes of the wine buyer mean that masterpieces from other regions are available, and often for even greater bargains than the Burgundies. My friends and I followed a bottle of Dauvissat's 2006 Petit Chablis with a bottle of François Cotat's 2007 Sancerre Rosé, for the startling price of 28€. It was tasting positively angelic, with a mimetic rose nose and a pure, gleaming champignon de Paris tint on palate.

The wine list is stocked by owner Alain Pechery, who also oversees service at the restaurant. His wife Catherine runs the hotel, while their son Fabien takes care of the cuisine. Pechery pere, who one commenter on French wine geek message board LaPassionDuVin accurately described as "ombrageux," is not a natural to hospitality. His background is in finance. In the native art of exhibiting impatience, he's a baroque master. But in a position such as ours - significantly poorer than the average client, and plainly aiming to plunder the low-hanging fruit of M. Pechery's carefully curated list - we couldn't take brusqueness personally.

At one point my friend J realised he knew some of the wine afficionados at a neighboring table.

Throughout the rest of the meal we exchanged glasses with this table, and its a matter of no small pride when I report that the various grand cru Burgundies both our tables had carafed in advance was fairly put to shame by a bottle of truly kingly 2000 Yvon Metras Fleurie we ordered for 31€.

My tasting notes for this wine include the uncharacteristic phrase "fucking perfect." In the glass it loosed aromas of warm earth and dark, deep florals, moving to tobacco and cumin. The palate was poised, lacquery black fruit with citrus notes, dappled with long, mature tannins. It was the best bottle of Beaujolais I have ever tasted, a triumphal validation of the belief, shared among most wine geeks I know, that the region's great wines lose nothing in comparison with Burgundy. 

It was like a highlight of the mid-2000's post-prog fad - a song that contained multitudes, shattering emotional highs and lows - only faster, before we hit skip.

However, a bottle of 2000 Lapierre Morgon we subsequently ordered for comparison was surprisingly withered and dying. Smashed tannins, turbid as pondwater, with an unclean nose. This was an exceptionally bad bottle for Lapierre, nothing like the norm.

Later in the trip, we were to learn the secret to scoring perfect meals at Le Pot d'Etain. According to Avallon-based négociant and cave-à-manger pioneer Nicholas Vauthier, it's to order the simple plates à la carte, or better yet, pass along a special request to the kitchen ahead of time for simple food. The 35€ menu, while not bad or inedible by any means, could serve as a catalog of the classic blunders of gussied-up country cooking.

My friend D's goat cheese eclair was an example of why not to put things in eclair form. All its components would have been better served in their original states. 

The duck sausage was an example of why never to garnish things with ruffled potato chips.

The cheese board, at least, was redemptive.

As was a parting glass of irreplaceable 2000 Rene Engel Vosne-Romanée 1èr cru "Les Brulées," a gift from our neighboring table. (As Eric Asimov relates in a recent piece on lost estates, winemaker Philippe Engel died of a heart attack in 2005, leaving no heirs, and the estate has since been sold to owner of Château Latour François Pinault, who renamed it Domaine d'Eugenie, after his own grandmother.) 

L'Auberge le Pot d'Etain
24 Rue Bouchardat
Tel: 03 86 33 88 10

Related Links:

Les Epis D'Or : an inexpensive hotel in Isle-sur-Serein run by a friend and colleague of mine. Two minutes' walk from Le Pot d'Etain.

A rather superficial 2012 post on L'Auberge Le Pot d'Etain at GillesPudlowski.
A 2009 post on L'Auberge Le Pot d'Etain, with pictures of its cave, at L'OeilSurLeVin.

Yonne Bike Trip: Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis
Yonne Bike Trip: Domaine Colinot, Irancy
Yonne Bike Trip: Atélier à Jean, Vincelottes

2011 - Beaujolais Bike Trip
2011 - Jura Bike Trip

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