Dentelles de Montmirail
Les Dentelles de Montmirail, a craggy row of limestone outcroppings, are the landmark of Gigondas in the Côtes-du-Rhône.
Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise (Tuesday, June 11)

Lunch at Les Florets in Gigondas

Our first day on the Southern Rhone wine trail began with lunch at an excellent country restaurant high above the Rhone at the foot of the craggy "Dentelles de Montmirail," a distinctive row of snaggle-toothed limestone outcroppings just above Gigondas. Filled with flowers indoors and all over its pretty terrace, Les Florets pleases with its atmosphere and its excellent Provence fare.

With brandade de saumon en cannelonis d'aubergine sauce fromage (salmon-potato mousse rolled in thin-sliced eggplant):
Domaine la Garrigue 1998 Vacqueyras Blanc - a blend of Bourbolenc and Clairette. Clear, pale gold. Pleasant white-fruit and almond aromas. Full and crisp, clean fruit and an appealing herbal-medicinal note of witch hazel.

With minute d'agneau à la Barigoule tian Provencal (a ragout of lamb, artichokes, wild mushrooms, tomatoes and tiny lima beans in an intensely herbal sauce):
Domaine la Garrigue 1996 Vacqueyras - Slightly hazy dark ruby. Fragrant pepper, berries and delicious dried-herb aromas; ferbs de Provence lace the full, tart and plummy flavor. Significant tannins are cloaked by abundant fruit.
Fourme d'Ambert aux fruits secs (mild Provence blue cheese formed into a "log" with dried fruits and served sliced in thin rounds) and Nougat glacé arlequin.

Domaine les Goubert, Gigondas

Jean-Pierre Cartier is the proprietor of this artisanal Gigondas producer, whose history dates to 1636. He produces 280,000 bottles per year from 26 hectares of vineyards.

Domaine les Goubert 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Sablet Blanc - Clear, pale greenish-gold. Very floral - the Viognier clearly shows its presence in the blend with Bourbolenc and old-vines Clairette. Crisp, fresh and floral white-fruit flavors, complex and interesting, with a pleasant touch of bitterness in the finish.

Domaine les Goubert 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Sablet - Dark garnet, clear at the edge. Bright, fresh raspberry aromas, very appetizing. Peppery, full and acidic, red fruit and spice, tannic and long.

Domaine les Goubert 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Beaumes-de-Venise - Very dark garnet, with earthy berry, tree-bark and forest-floor scents. Bright and juicy red-fruit flavors, tannic and tart.

Domaine les Goubert 2000 Gigondas - Inky blackish-purple, unfiltered and unfined. Ripe, dark berry fruit, full and brooding; fennel and herbs and a hint of floral black pepper. A blast of tannin, but there's plenty of fruit to carry it. Drinkable, even delicious, but will benefit from time.

Domaine les Goubert 1999 Cuvée Florence Gigondas - A special untiltered and unfined blend of Grenache and Syrah, aged half in new oak and half in old, named after the wine maker's daughter who was born in 1985, the year it was first produced. Very dark purple, black at the core. Ripe, grapey, intense berry aromas with hints of fennel. Big and extracted, fiercely tannic. Impressive, needs time.

Domaine les Goubert 2000 Cuvée de "V" Côtes-du-Rhône - clear, bright brass color, 100 percent Viognier, takes the name "V" because varietal labeling isn't permitted in the Côtes du Rhone. Clear, bright brass color with a delectable floral perfume, beautiful display of Viognier. Aromatic, floral Viognier fruit on a background of sweet oak.

Domaine de Fenouillet, Beaumes-de-Venise

Domaine de Fenouillet 2000 Côtes du Ventoux - Clear straw color. Aromatic white-fruit and sappy aromas with a hint of spicy oak. Dry and tart, on the simple side. All Roussanne.

Doré de Fenouillet 2000 Muscat a Petits Grains Vin de Pays de Vaucluse - Very pale straw color. Beautiful peach scent, classic Muscat. Crisp, tart and dry, slightly bitter in the finish.

Domaine de Fenouillet 2000 Côtes du Ventoux Rosé - Pale copper color. Fresh berry aromas; crisp herbs and fruit on the palate, bone-dry and fresh.

Domaine de Fenouillet 2000 Côtes du Ventoux Rouge - Rather light ruby color. Fresh, juicy raspberry aroma and flavor, great quaff. Eighty percent Grenache, the rest Syrah.

Domaine de Fenouillet 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages Beaumes de Venise - Clear ruby color, with good raspberry and herbal scents. Round, juicy and full, so fruity that it seems a little sweet.

Domaine de Fenouillet 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages Beaumes de Venise Cuvée Yvon Soard - A special bottling that's heavy on the Syrah and spends extra time in oak. Dark ruby in color, with distinct black-pepper and grilled-meat aromas over herbal raspberry fruit. Leafy and herbal notes soar over ripe fruit in a full, round flavor.

Domaine de Fenouillet 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages Beaumes de Venise Cuvé des Générations - Another special blend, this made with grapes from old vines - 30 percent Mourvèdre planted by the wine maker's grandfather in 1923, 50 percent Grenache planted by his father during the 1940s, and 20 percent Syrah planted by the wine maker as a young man 20 years ago. Very dark reddish-purple, clear at the edge. Eearthy, mineral and plummy fruit flavors, complex and appealing; big and ripe, peppery and plummy, lots of tannins and spicy oak. Meant to age, and quite a value at €14.50.

Domaine de Fenouillet 2000 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise - Clear, pale straw color. Lovely Muscat peaches on the nose with a subtle breath of mint. Fresh and clean flavor, delicate peach nectar, sweet as fruit juice, framed by snappy acidity.

Dinner at Restaurant le Vernet in Avignon

Restaurant le Vernet
Lauriann Greene (head of table) and Jean-Pierre Sollin (at her right) preside over dinner at Restaurant le Vernet in Avignon.
A crystal-bright, mild evening was perfect for alfresco dining in the leafy courtyard of Avignon's Restaurant le Vernet (58, rue Jos. Vernet). After an aperitif of the same Domaine de Fenouillet 2000 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise that we enjoyed at the winery, the dinner wine was:

G. Brunel & Fils Chateau de la Gardine 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages - Inky dark purple in color, this wine is peppery, plummy and structured, a Côtes du Rhône that shows a lot of kinship with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The wine, made to go with food, bridged a series of first-rate courses: Croustillant d'Escargots a la Provence (toothsome, garlicky snails in an envelope of crisp, paper-thin pastry), Petite salade de lentilles de Puy vinaigre d'artichaut (tiny, meaty lentils borne in a creamy white round), and magret de canard rôti aigre-doux au vinaigre d'orange puree mousseline (rare roast duck breast with a snappy, tart orange vinaigrette and rich mashed potatoes), with a light, tart-sweet soupe de fraises rafraiche (strawberry soup) to finish.

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