Salon Mer & Vigne et Gastronomie

16 03 2009

Yesterday, Nick and I went to the Salon Mer & Vigne et Gastronomie.  Longtime readers may remember the write-ups I did on it last year, but for those of you who are interested, they were ThreeLongPosts.  And completely worth reading, if I do say so myself.  This year, though, I’m giving you the highlights.

Since March is Savoie monthhere on Croque-Camille, I made a beeline for the first cheese stand I saw.  Fortunately, Aux Saveurs des Montagnes, while based in Toulouse, had a wide variety of incredible Savoyard cheeses.  We tasted about half a dozen cheeses, all of which were remarkable.  The man at the stand made a point of explaining how his cheeses had nothing to do with their supermarket counterparts, and he wasn’t kidding.  We sampled the absolute best Morbier I’ve ever had the pleasure of placing on my tongue.  I never knew this, but it turns out Morbier comes from… Savoie!  Looks like this region may merit more than one cheese post.  After we’d made our selection, the guy tried to tempt us further with a nibble of Swiss Gruyère, which was outrageously good.  It had a texture not unlike really good Parmigiano-Reggiano, with little crystals of intense flavor scattered throughout.  The man pointed out that the Swiss Gruyère has no holes, and told a little joke: “Why are there no holes in Swiss Gruyère?” “Because they don’t have any mice in Switzerland!” Ha!

The array of wonderful wines from G. Prieur

Next we headed straight for G. Prieur, who had sent us free entry passes for buying a case of wine last year.  We were recognized immediately, and got to cut right to the excellent wines (instead of wasting time with the merely good ones).  Opting to start out by sampling the white wines this time, we were presented with a series of four excellent whites: a simple white Santenay, which would make a great table wine; a very distinctive and mineral 2005 Meursault; an exquisite apéritif-worthy 2006 Meursault, which Alain (our liaison) claimed was from one of the very best parcels in Bourgogne; and a premier cru Chassagne Montrachet 2007, whose briny character would make it a perfect accompaniment to any seafood dish.  (Here’s an insider secret I learned: true wine aficionados don’t pronounce the “t” in the middle of “montrachet,” such that it is pronounced “mon-rah-shay.”  Drop that one the next time you’re chatting up a French wine merchant – they’ll probably be impressed.)

G. Prieur's tasting glass

Moving on to the reds, of which we sampled eight, we learned that while 2005 Burgundies (both white and red) will age beautifully for several years, the 2006 vintage is best enjoyed sooner rather than later.  The highlights of the flight included a 2005 Vosne-Romanée, which was eyes-rolling-back-upon-first-sip good and a 2004 Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru, which Nick and I decided tasted like the best raisins ever.  Wines classified as Grand Cru in Bourgogne represent the top one percent of the region’s production, and let me tell you, you can taste the difference.

While we were tasting wines, we spotted our favorite Burgundian cheese producer (or at least their representative), so after buying more wine than we meant to (how do these things happen?) we headed over to sample some delicious washed-rind cheeses.

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Food Fair!

18 03 2008

Over the weekend, Nick and I had the good fortune to be given free passes to the Salon Mer & Vigne et Gastronomie.  This turns out too be a major food and wine fair, where people come to taste and purchase artisanal products of the ingestable sort.  Their website being remarkably uninformative, we really had no idea what to expect, although soon after arriving we wished we had brought a shopping bag or two.

We walked into an unassuming suburban building and found a large room with many small booths.  We noticed a full bar set up in the corner, with beers on tap and an espresso machine (hey, this is France).  Near the bar some tables were set up for patrons of the few places that were serving full meals.  One such establishment had a huge oyster display with a guy shucking constantly behind it.

Oysters

Another employed a man who was making fresh, hot crêpes nonstop.

Crêpe guy

The first place we stopped was  the Domaine des Gravennes booth, where they were pouring Côtes du Rhône.  The woman there was very friendly.  Upon learning that we were from the United States, she told us how much she had learned from the wineries in California in regards to accommodating tourists.  The wines were quite good, and exceptional if you took the price into consideration.  Generally my expectations for Côtes du Rhône are pretty low, but I actually liked these a lot.

Next we went to Pierre Matayron’s Porc Noir de Bigorre stand.  Porc Noir is a breed of pig, believed to be the oldest in France.  It comes from the Pyrenées region and is raised in a free-range environment.  Monsieur Matayron was serving slices of cured ham (à la prosciutto or Serrano) cut right off a whole leg!  He was happy to pose for a picture, as I found many of the artisans there to be, and asked me to send him a copy if it turned out well.

Hamming it up

A whole leg, hoof and all!

Next we tasted some St. Emilion Grand Cru from a woman who was significantly less enthusiastic than her peers.  We moved on to a tea stand where we met Vijay, an Indian man who gave up his steady U.S. office job to pursue his passion: tea.  He explained the special qualities of each tea, including where it came from, what time of day is best to drink it, and how long to steep it.  (4 minutes for most, except the Darjeeling which should only steep 3 minutes.)  We learned that he is a supplier for Mariage Frères, one of the most famous and expensive Parisian tea houses.  As he was brewing fresh tea every 15 mintes or so, we got to try both the Nilgiri (from the south of India) and the Darjeeling.  For those of you who don’t know, I am a big tea drinker, so we bought a sampler (50 grams each of Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, and Dooars) as well as a bag of Vijay’s own creation: Indian Dream.  A heady concoction made with ginger and orange peel, it still manages to enhance the flavor of the tea rather than masking it, as many flavored teas tend to do.

We passed up the bowls of pre-packaged aligot and went for the olive oil chocolates.  They were a little hokey, dyed green and shaped to look like olives.  What olive oil flavor there was was overwhelmed by flavors of candied orange peel and sugar.  Across the way, we tasted some jams and ogled the vanilla bean display.

More Vanilla beans than I have ever seen in one place!

And then there was the absinthe booth…

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