16 March 2016
The other day my kind friends drove us fifty minutes north of Beaujolais to taste just four wines. The wines, while well-made, were not life-changing. (The winemaker in question is, alas, a strong believer in kieselguhr filtration, which in my estimation affects gamay the way direct sunlight affects unexposed film.)
"Well," I said, sheepishly, returning to the car. "That was that."
What redeemed the morning was a visit, on the trip back, to Le Carafé in Mâcon, a charming and understated wine-centric bistrot in the shadow of the Eglise Saint Pierre. Founded by a longtime supporter of the region's natural winemakers, Patrick Pigouet, Le Carafé was sold in 2013 to young chef Damien Blaszczyk, who in addition to proposing marvelous country comfort food, has retained the character and integrity of the heavily Mâconnais / Beaujolais wine list. I'm also certifiably addicted to the restaurant's particular brand of Spanish olives, which I purchase take-out by the jarful after each meal.
Blaszczyk, whose Polish surname looks amusingly like someone began typing and then had a stroke, is among the rare chefs who attends professional wine tastings. Shortly after we met last spring, I ran into him again at the Biojoleynes tasting, organised by Philippe and Catherine Jambon. (As much as the Jambons' circle of radically natural winemakers can push the limits of acceptability at times, I can attest this is a tasting worth attending, with a high ratio of discoveries that belies its small size.)
In the restaurant this is reflected in the varied and omnivorous wine selection, which, while retaining enough classic, approachable Mâconnais wines for summer tourists, shows strong support for upstart Beaujolais winemakers like Jean-François Promonet and perennial underrated maestros like Sylvain Chanudet, which latter vigneron often spends the Beaujolais Nouveau release night at Le Carafé.
It was to Le Carafé that I repaired several days after breaking my collarbone last spring, self-medicating with Chanudet's complex and fine-grained 2007 Fleurie, among other things.
The restaurant's menu, like the Mâconnais countryside itself, is heavy on simple tradition, with just the occasional and forgivable stab at modernity.
In the same way that, almost anywhere in France, one can never go too wrong with a hand-cut tartare, one can never really go right with dishes uniting avocados and shrimp. (Not pictured. It was a salad sans all acidity, with the two elements crudely mashed into the hollow of half the avocado.)
More successful was a gleefully bright gélée de poulet that managed to make aspic appetizing.
A standout late last summer was féra atop a bed of spinach. Féra are a lake fish native to Lake Geneva, with no equivalent name in English, a level of obscurity reminiscent of the components in Harry Mathews indelible short story "Country Cooking in Central France: Roast Rolled Boned Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)."
The rich texture and hearty flavour, pitched somewhere between mackerel and bass, are enough to forgive any helplessly outdated garnish styling.
Le Carafé's service is kind and responsive, notches above most hospitality in rural France. And a key draw in the spring and summer is the restaurant's shady terrace, which is doubly inviting for not having any other restaurants' terraces beside it. A diner at Le Carafé might feel, with much justification, that he or she has landed upon the jewel of the serene, provincial, slightly middling town of Mâcon.
15 rue Saint Nizier
Tel: 06 85 85 14 58
Back in 2011 I had the misfortune to visit Mâcon on a Sunday night, when only Le Saint Laurent in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sâone was open.
Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:
Marcel Joubert, Quincié
Nicolas Chemarin, Marchampt
Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon
Romain Zordan, Fleurie
Yann Bertrand, Fleurie
Domaine Thillardon, Chénas
Sylvain Chanudet, Fleurie
Patrick "Jo" Cotton, Saint-Lager
Pierre Cotton, Odenas
L'Auberge du Col du Truges, Le Truges
Julie Balagny, Moulin-à-Vent
La Cuvée des Copines 2015
Beaujolais Harvests 2015
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:
Georges Descombes, Vermont
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2011:
Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon
Café de la Bascule, Fleurie
Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Le Coq à Juliènas, Juliènas
L'Atelier du Cuisiner, Villié-Morgon