Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hotel de France Ferney-Voltaire; Hotel Taillard Goumois

In his old age Voltaire lived in the little village of Ferney, five miles from Geneva, so that if, as had often happened before, he got in trouble with the censorship, he would be able to make a quick escape into Switzerland. Today the modern, functional Hotel de France can be made to serve a somewhat different purpose: If one has business to transact in Geneva but is unwilling to pay the really astronomical prices that decent hotels in that city demand, this is an acceptable alternative. A double will cost you about $125 and you can be either in the city center or at the airport in less than ten minutes. But one caveat, unless you've rented a car on the Swiss side of the Geneva airport you'll be subjected to the scam that the Swiss have in place with their thruway stickers.

Goumois is a little village in the midst of a forest in the Jura, quite close to the Swiss border. The Hotel Taillard, owned for four generations by the same family, sits atop a plateau with a good view of the mountains. There's an outdoor pool and many hiking trails lead into the woods. While the rooms are rather small and the furnishings old fashioned the cuisine is a very good example of the French classical style. Half pension runs about 110 per person per day. This is a good place to unwind or a weekend if one has been working hard all week either in Switzerland or in Southwestern Germany; I used to come here from Konstanz and really enjoyed the change of pace and the food.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Le Clos des Cimes St Bonnet le Froid

As the name of the village indicates one is in the mountain here, although actually in the sub Alps. The scenery is pleasant if not spectacular, there are good views of distant peaks. The hotel, a somewhat bleak tructure, sits on an isolated, wind blown plateau. The rooms are good sized, the furniture modern, functional, but not particularly esthetic. There's a small restaurant, Le Bistrot, that serves good regional fare with a prix fixe at $35. The price of a double is $260 for the night which, as more than one traveller has observed, is out of keeping with what you get. So why come here at all? Well, as always in France, the answer to that question is the food. There is a second restaurant attached to the hotel, Regis et Jacques Marcon, and it has three Michelin stars. The chef/proprietor is a renowned mushroom and wild herb connoisseur and, in the spring and fall conjures up marvelous mushroom dishes. One of his most arresting inventions is a cassoulet made with lobster and lentils, not a combination one would readily come up with, but truly great tasting. Needless to say, the prices are well up in the stratosphere, three Michelin stars in France constitute a license to charge as if there were no tomorrow. The cheapest prix fixe is $160 and one ccan easily run up a tab twice that amount. (When I stayed here it was at the invitation of the BBC, for whom I was the featured lecturer in a series about the history of mountain vacationing, so I ate on their nickel). If you're determined to have the gastronomic experience at all costs but don't care to have your pocket picked for an overnight stay, you can also stay at the nearby Le Fort du Pre, a comfortable country hotel with an indoor pool and fitness center for $100 for a double. But, either way, you'll have to reserve a table at Regis et Jacques months ahead of time, the French will line up to pay this kind of money for a meal.

*Adegas Pegoes 2008

Available online only, this Portuguese red is on the reserved side, exhibiting rather subdued red cherry elements. The finish, according to the winery's website, is meant to be chocolate, but in fact it's merely slightly acerbic. Thecloseout price is $7.99.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Maipe Bonarda 2009

Yet another red from Argentina's Mendoza district, this has very soft tannins and somewhat suppressed plum and red berry flavors, with a just slightly acidic finish. While it would be an exaggeration to call it a distinguished wine, it's nevertheless very pleasaznt. A good buy at the sale price of $9.99.

Durigutti Bonarda 2008

The Bonarda grape is an Italian import to Argentina, for the most part it's used to make simple country wines, but this one has greater aspirations. I once wrote that I'd never met an Argentinian red from the Mendoza region that I did'nt like and that's still the case, although my CDC had some problems with this one. Other reviewers have described it as an interesting blend of old and new world elements; for her, and to some degree for me, the former were predominant. Much more of the tartness came through than the fruity elements. This was ok with our beef ribs, but it would probably have overwhelmed a lighter meal. $9.99.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Auberge des Montagnes Pailherols

The southern Auvergne is our very favorite part of France for an extended stay. Pailherols is a tiny hamlet perched atop a high plateau, the first time you drive up the winding road from Vic sur Cere down in the valley you think you'll never get there. What eventually greets you is a pretty house somewhat resembling a chalet. This is where you check in, but make sure that you've reserved your room in Les Glycines, which is their newly built annex another hundred yards down the road. Built to resemble a minicastle complete with small turrets, this overlooks a small lake with ducks and swans swimming in it. While the rooms in the main building are rather small and unpretentious, the rooms here are vast, with French doors opening upon a balcony that overlooks the lake. There is a breakfast room on the lowest level where an ample breakfast buffet is served. The evening meal is taken either in the main floor dining room or in the main house. The cuisine is Auvergnat, which translates into hearty dishes and generous portions. If someday you can get yourself to skip lunch you might try the degustation menu in the evening. This starts out with a slice of foie gras, then a whole salmoned trout, weighing at the very least three pounds, is brought to your table which Madame herself disects for you. Then only comes the main meat dish and you choose your dessert from the traditional French charriot des desserts. After that, of course, there is a cheese tray with a huge assortment of local cheeses. (General De Gaulle once observed that acountry that produced over four hundred different varieties of cheese was inherently impossible to govern and he was probably right). But if you take my advice you'll go easy on the delicious tasting, looking and smelling Auvergnat mashed potato and cheese mixture that accompanies the main meal, this will sit in your stomach like a canon ball. The place is idyllic, there are several different walks you can take that lead upward through meadows with lowing Charolais cattle to hilltops with extended views. There's both an outdoor and an indoor pool and even a small climbing wall for the kiddies. In winter the area affords excelent cross country skiing trails. At some ten minute's drive there is a castle that Louis XIV built for one of his mistresses which is nowadays part of a working farm andcan be visited. Tastes of course differ, but for both of us this region of high, isolated mountain plateaus represents the absolutely ideal setting for complete and unconditional relaxation. We spent a very happy week here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Torres Malena Garnacha 2010

A fairly uncomplicated wine, this Catalan red from the huge Torres combine, provided you give it at least an hour to breathe, provides a nice cherry element with jus enough background acidity to make it interesting. $7.99.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hotel Les 7 Molles Sauveterre de Comminges; Hotel Les 3 Lys Condom France

Hotlel Les 7 Molles Sauveterre de Comminges. A molle is a millstone, and there are seven old ones distributed around the extensive grounds of this largish country inn. It's located in the central Pyrenees, surrounded by a park which has been hewn out of the forest. There are wonderful walks in along the river valley that adjoins the hotel and an ample outdoor pool. The rooms are large and prettily decorated, there's a really superior display of old hand painted regional pottery in the dining room. The restaurant, while very good, is not what it was years ago when it aspired to greatness, it now serves a traditional and not very inspired regional cuisine. You may decide to take your meals elsewhere. What this is, is a pleasant place to stay if you have an interest in visiting nearby Lourdes and want to avoid the hustle and bustle that staying in the shrine town involves. A double is approximately $150 for the night.

Hotel Les 3 Lys Condom France. The name is perhaps unfortunate but Condom is a very pretty medieval town with mostly stone houses close to the extremely picturesque gorges of the river Tarn. The hotel is a restored eighteenth century mansion with large bedrooms that have genuine antique furniture. There, a pleasant garden with a large outdoor pool and the hotel is extremely quiet at night. Here too a rooom will set you back about $15o for the night. The restaurant is somewhat overpriced and not particularly distinguished but there is a really excellent restaurant in town, La Table des Cordeliers. This is housed in a thirteenth century convent chapel and has a Michelin star. On weekdays it serves what must be close to the cheapest three course Michelin one star prix fixe in France for $31. (A note: when travelling in France it is acceptable to not take one's evening meal in a hotel with a restaurant when staying for one night, but with a longer stay this will likely provoke a very frosty response.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stemmari Nero D'Avola 2009

The expression that first comes to my mind when Sicilian reds are mentioned is " Brutta figura", they tend to be harsh, over the top and assertive. This is not the case with this one. To be sure, it's anything but dry, expressing, wihout quite walloving in, red berry fruity flavors, but on balance it's quite restrained and civilized. Not bad, but even at the sale price of $7.99, it's overpriced, being available in neighboring states for two dollars less.

Guardian Peak Frontier 2008

A blend of half Cabernet Sauvignon, the other half Shiraz and Merlot, this South African red is pleasant on the tongue with elements of plum and cherry and a peppery finish. A very good buy at the sale price of $7.99.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Toad Hollow Risque Vin Vivant

A vin vivant falls about midway between a genuine sparkling wine such as Champagne and a just barely effervescent one such as Vinho Verde. It's made from young grapes, continues to ferment in the bottle and is always just slightly sweet. This French white from the Limousin is very light (just 6% alcohol) and goes reasonably well with light dishes such as pasta. One advantage it has is that it comes with a bottle which, while it has the usual Champaign cork, also has a European reclosable beer bottle top attached to it, so that it can be recycled to contain soda water or beer at picnics. $8.99.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Octave Vinho Verde

This non vintage Portuguese white, made from immature grapes in the north of the country, is light, refreshing on a hot day, tastes of lemon and lime and is slightly effervescent. Attractively priced at $6.99.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Parador Monforte; Parador Verin; Parador Baiona Spain

Today I shall describe three very different paradors in the Galician countryside. The parador of Monforte sits atop the highest point of a small provincial town. It occupies two adjoining buildings, a monastery and a bishop's palace, both seventeenth century neoclassical structures. The prevailing atmosphere accords with the monastic origins of the place, bare stone blocks in the public rooms make for a feeling of austerity, almost crossing the line into the severe. For those seeking a lighter touch, there's an outdoor pool. The nearby cathedral city of Ourense is well worth a visit.

The parador of Verin, a newbuild in the style of a Galician country mansion, is located on a hilltop, facing an ancient castle which formerly guarded the frontier with Portugal. The rooms are comfortable, the views pleasant, there's an outdoor pool. For those afflicted with arthritis the town offers a spa whose waters promise relief. There is another, quite unexpected plus. A ways below the parador there is what at first glance appears to be a huge junkyard but is in effect an antique store with some of the best pieces of genuine old (sixteenth and seventeenth century) Spanish pottery I've seen anywhere interspersed among the dross. Another advantage of the parador is the price. In the off season you can get a double for sixty euros ($85) for the night.

The parador of Baiona, a newbuild, has a spectacular location atop a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. The views of the long, indented shoreline are unsurpassable. There is a nice outdoor pool. Baiona is where the caravel Pinta made its landfall in 1493 to make the first report of the discovery of the new world. The parador's dining room serves a large assortment of fish and shellfish dishes purchased that day from the fishermen in the port. Baiona is a good place from which to visit Santiago if one doesn't want to incur the expense of a stay in the Reyes Catolicos.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chateau du Bousquet Cotes de Bourg 2006

The Cotes de Bourg are in the northern part of the Bordeaux region, across the estuary from the better known Medoc. The wines from there have a reputation of having more of an up front fruit flavor than the more austere Medocs, but that's not the case with this red. If you allow it to breathe for at least an hour it delivers a nicely subdued element of plum and blackberry, with soft tannins and a hint of pepper at the finish. A very nice wine, but I suspect that it has reached its peak, so drink it now. A good buy at $10.99.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Montinore Esttate Pinot Gris 2009

My CDC felt that this Oregon white, although quite pleasant, lacked the crispness that characterizes this grape. This is true, but I quite liked the fullness of the wine, in which ripe pear and a touch of apple predominate. A nice buy at $8.99. Incidentally, as a general proposition, I notice that the PSLB now intersperses its offerings with a few real bargains, which change from month to month. It's just a question of identifying them, as their ad campaigns in general feature their overpriced items.