Tour and tasting reports

Paris, Bistrot de Sommelier (Monday, June 10) A blind tasting and dinner put together by one of the world's top sommeliers, Philippe Faure-Brac.
Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise (Tuesday, June 11) Lunch at Les Florets in Gigondas, visits to Domaine les Goubert and Domaine de Fenouillet, and dinner at Restaurant le Vernet in Avignon.
Suze-la-Rousse, Cairanne (Wednesday, June 12) A tasting session at Université du Vin, lunch at Le Garlaban in Suze-la-Rousse, and visits to Domaine Mazurd & Fils in Tulette and Domaine Richaud in Cairanne.
Baux-de-Provence (Thursday, June 13) Visits to Mas de Gourgonnier and Domaine de Trevallon, lunch at La Pitchoune in Maussane-les-Alpilles and dinner at Hotel d'Europe in Avignon.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Friday, June 14) Visits to Chateau de Beaucastel, Domaine de Beaurenard, Domaine Vieux-Télégraphe and Domaine Bois de Boursan, and lunch at La Mére Germaine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Echansonnerie des Papes induction (Saturday, June 15) We dress up for a formal dinner, and I'm given the keys to the Pope's wine cellar!
Provence: Luberon and Bandol (Sunday and Monday, June 16-17) Visits to Chateau Val Joanis and Chateau La Rouvière; dinner at Les Salons de L'Hostellerie Berard in La Cadière d'Azur. Wrapping it up in a Paris heat wave, and an invitation to join us next year in Bordeaux!

The Côtes du Rhône, seen from the village of Suze-la-Rousse.

This is the travel and tasting diary of our seven-day journey through the southern Rhone Valley and Provence, which I led with French Wine Explorers - an American tour company that specializes in wine tours of France - and a dozen wine lovers who chose to join us.

During the process of setting up this tour, I was consistently impressed with the quality and care that French Wine Explorers takes in setting up all its wine trips, and the credit for this goes to its principals, sommeliers-conseils Lauriann Greene and Jean-Pierre Sollin, who during the course of the week evolved from colleagues to friends.

As I do, Lauriann and Jean-Pierre take a down-to-earth, plain-talk approach to wine, sharing my commitment to make the often daunting world of wine simple and to take the mystery out of it in a friendly, non-snob environment that's equally welcoming to wine novices and advanced experts.

The trip was orchestrated perfectly, with glitches so minor and rare as to deserve no notice. And as you can see from the diary entries, it was a real wine lovers' tour, chock full of visits with the region's top wineries and wine makers, memorable meals at well-reputed restaurants, and comfortable accommodations in quality hotels.

It was a pleasure to meet and get to know the wine enthusiasts who joined us, and we look forward to continued contact with them all. Thanks to Jane Hermansen, Sandy Weiss, Clay and Vida Robertson, Peg Terhar and Don Gregory, Jay and Lavon Barnes and Charlie and Paige Fiedler, not to mention Lauriann and Jean-Pierre (and of course my wife Mary) for your enjoyable company through the week.

I'm pleased to announce that I'll join with French Wine Explorers again to co-host a tour of Champagne and Burgundy in May 2004. For more information about that tour, and to get your name on the list before it fills up, click to http://www.wine-tours-france.com/BurgundyWineTours.htm.