The next hour began with chocolates. We tasted pear and vanilla caramel-filled chocolates, crunchy praline chocolates, and a peach confection that the chocolatier informed me was made from a peach unique to France. I asked him where he got his chocolate from and the answer (as it was almost everywhere I asked) was “South America, specifically Venezuela and the Caribbean.” These were much better than the olive oil chocolates I had so recently encountered, giving me hope for the rest of the chocolate booths.
Next we had the pleasure of partaking in a bite of pure foie gras d’oie. (That’s goose, for you non-francophones out there.) The artisan, Stéphane Leprettre, explained that he didn’t add anything to the foie gras but salt. It was fantastic. Nick declared it some of the best foie gras he had ever tasted. It was certainly distinct from duck foie gras (which is less expensive and therefore more common), with a mellow, delicate flavor unlike the voluptuousness of duck.
I was excited to have the opportunity to sample so many high-end French wines, but the next stop, Vignobles Pierre-Emmanuel Janoueix, was disappointing to say the least. We were poured a taste of 2002 Pomerol which tasted a little watery and flat. Certainly nothing to write home about. But when we asked to try another, the man condescendingly told me that the point of the Salon was to go from booth to booth, and that basically, he wouldn’t be pouring more than one taste for anyone. Good luck with that, buddy! Maybe you should start out with a better wine, if that’s your attitude.
After a brief macaron break, the Puligny-Montrachet line was too long, so we made our way to the Pessac-Leognan. We were served a 2002 Château Haut-Gardère, which was delicious, and a 2000, even smoother than the 2002. I paused for a nibble of some lucques olives (great olive flavor with a dense, almost meaty texture) on the way to a stand with cheeses from the Pyrénées. They were giving out samples of an aged goat/sheep cheese that had a piquant, salty flavor and an almost crumbly texture. Their pure sheep’s milk cheese was similar, but stronger and a little mustier. And then we left the “small room.”
Upon entering the “big room,” we were greeted with this sight:
We were distracted, however, by the Compagnie Bretonne’s smorgasbord of seafood salads. We ate thon à l’estragon (tuna with tarragon), and rillettes of sardine and mackerel. After a rich, eggy slice of cannelé, and a spoonful of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, we found ourselves staring at a large case full of interesting-looking sausages.
They appeared to be composed of many thin layers. We learned after tasting it, that it is, in fact, formed by rolling up the large intestines of pigs and stuffing them inside another large intestine. I must say, it was the tastiest intestine-only preparation I have ever had.
We refreshed our palates with a couple of seaweed canapés, one of which featured a concoction called “norinade,” which I took to be a play on tapenade. It was good – not overly salty with a definitive nori flavor. Moving back to heavier things, we had some smoked filet mignon of pork followed by an incredible Italian cheese: Gialline. It is made with cow’s milk and has a flavor and texture similar to good Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Of course there was more wine…
…at the Château les AlbertsBordeaux stand. I sampled the blanc Moelleux, a rather sweet, yet nicely balanced white. Nick basically got the vertical tasting of 2005-2003 old vine Merlot/Malbec blend. It was very interesting to note the progression of the wine, from the brash youth of the 2005, to the more rounded 2004, to the smooth subtlety of the 2003, the best of the lot.
More chocolate followed, this time those of Bernard Dufoux. First he handed me a piece of 80% cacao chocolate. The flavor was, as the French say, rond, meaning pleasant and smooth. Then I got a truffle made with plain ganache, a good lead-in to the Jamaican red pepper ganache. It was probably the least spicy chili ganache I have ever had, but the distinctive flavor of the pepper definitely came through. Well done. We stopped for a spoon of Québecois maple syrup, the poor girl behind the booth delivering lengthy explanations to everyone who passed by.
Next we dove into the white burgundies of Domaine Perraton Frères. The young man at the stand was quite knowledgeable and walked us through five wines, from lightest to heaviest (heavy being a relative term). He started us off with the Mâcon-Chaintré 2006, which was very light. Next came the fruitier Mâcon-Loché 2006, follwed by the buttery yet refreshing Pouilly-Vinzelles 2007. The Pouilly-Fuissé “Excellence” 2006 was the winemakers’ first attempt at a blended wine, all the rest being 100% chardonnay. But the prizewinner in this bunch was the Pouilly-Fuissé “Clos Reissier” 2006, which comes from a single vineyard perched on top of a rocky hill. This one was a keeper, so we bought a bottle, adding to our increasingly heavy load.
All the while we were tasting Perraton Frères’ wines, Nick was ogling the booth next door, which had smoked wild salmon and duck breasts.
Both were fantastic. I asked the plaid-shirted gentleman what kind of wood was used in the smoking process because smoked items here in France don’t taste the same as those back in the U.S. We figured it had to be the wood. The answer? Oak.
Flanking the salmon booth on the other side was another Burgundian wine stand, Domaine Legou. This one featured reds, all of which, in Burgundy, are 100% pinot noir. We sipped the juicy 2004 Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and the darker, more powerful 2005. We segued into Sébastien Métoyer’s Chocolats au Vin, sampling the cherry-infused chocolate, before moving on to what was probably my least favorite booth at the fair: the Distillerie Marty. The Pastis, even watered down, had an unpalatable licorice flavor. Strangely, I found the absinthe to be more subtle and pleasant. There was a pear liqueur that was a little better, and something we couldn’t identify that tasted like children’s cough syrup. Next time I’m in the mood for a Flaming Moe, I’ll know where to look.
And we still had a little over two hours to go…