Tasting wine works up an appetite. I’m not looking for sympathy; as we tasted our way down the Rhone Valley last month, the high concentration of Michelin stars more than solved our wine induced munchies.
Being spring, the French passion for seasonal produce meant we had asparagus at almost every meal – it was delicious and on a wine tour any nod towards detox is very welcome!
Here are some of our gastronomic highlights should you find yourself in the same position on a Rhone Wine Tour.
In 1934, Andre Pic opened La Maison Pic in Valence, wining his three Michelin stars the same year. He would be proud of his great granddaughter; Anne-Sophie took over the kitchens in 1997 and re established the 3 star status in 2007; the first woman chef to win this accolade.
Her personal passion for certain ingredients is generously shared. Tea (not asparagus) seemed to be a highlight when we were there. Her 3 star-cuisine is breath taking in presentation, taste and inspiration. The same elegance is reflected in the décor that more than makes up for the location, that can take you by surprise.
I think this aesthetic made it a favourite with the ladies in the group more than the men! In the seven years since I was last there (I won’t wait so long before returning again) she has spread her brand across this part of town: as well as the hotel, 3 star restaurant and Bistro André she has opened a relaxed ‘Cantine’, a cooking school, a kitchen shop, a patisserie and a deli – selling more of those products she is so passionate about.
I highly recommend the Bistro André; dinner there was one of the highlights of the trip. The atmosphere is less restrained than the Grand Restaurant, the service is generous and the staff very friendly and especially good at pointing out value amongst the famous names on the wine list.
If you can’t get to Valence, Anne Sophie can come to you, at least if you are in London, Lausanne or Paris. She opened La Dame du Pic in Paris in 2012 (in French La Dame du Pic means the queen of Spades) now a Michelin star. She also opened a restaurant in the beautiful setting of the Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace in April 2009, winning 2 Michelin stars in October of the same year. She has just opened her latest venture; a Dame du Pic in collaboration with Château Latour in the Four Seasons Hotel in London – it’s on my radar for September so I will report back.
La Pyramide is another historical gastronomic monument of the Rhone. Opened in 1922 in Vienne, just where the Rhone vineyards start, it was named in 1925 after the neighbouring Roman obelisque. Chef Fernand Point put it on the map in 1933 winning the very first 3 Michelin stars. He was an amazing character, more or less inventing Nouvelle Cuisine and was the first chef to come out and meet the customers, wrote ‘Ma Gastronomie’ what many called the most important cookbook, and trained such famous names as Paul Bocuse, les frères Troisgros and Alain Chapel.
The hotel and restaurant re opened after renovation in 1989 and it is still in the capable hands of Patrick Henriroux, who earned his 2 star status in 1992 which he has kept continuously to date – quite an achievement. The wine list, very important on a wine tour, received the seal of approval from our wine experts for being ‘well rounded, deep and relatively reasonably priced’. Sounds like a wine recommendation to me! The cuisine is inventive with a dash of humour – a pyramid of snails anyone?
It wasn’t uniquely Michelin star dining all week, honest. I always try and visit The Beau-Rivage in Condrieu when I’m in the northern Rhone, mainly for it’s situation on the banks of the Rhone – you almost have your toes in the water while sipping wine on the terrace. I was particularly impressed by the food this year and it has a really good local wine list.
Further south in Avignon, La Mirande gets my vote for a future Michelin accolade (it has 3 knives and forks). When we came here a few years back it was one of our best dining, experiences, we promised to return and we weren’t disappointed. The building is tucked away right behind the Palais des Papes – you almost fall into it when you come out of the gift shop! The 18th century décor makes you feel like you are living part of the history of the city, managing to keep this traditional feel but with 21st century fittings, including very cool TV screens hidden in ancient mirrors.
The walled garden, in the shadow of the majestic walls of the Palace, was perfect for breakfast, the cosy bar serves a mean martini and there is even a cooking school.
Dinner was brilliant, definitely Michelin star quality but its unpretentious charm is perhaps best kept away from stardom? The wine list offered a very good selection across a large price range with a great selection of the local Chateauneuf du Pape.
There are many local bistros that merit a stop over for great value food and wines. The Bistrot de Serine, a stone’s throw from Guigal cellars in Ampuis has great food but a very well priced and interesting wine list and, judging by the wine makers we saw there, is obviously a local favourite.
I mentioned in a previous post about the wineries getting in on the restaurant act. Jaboulet opened their Vineum shop and restaurant in the centre of Tain l’Hermitage where you can taste, and buy, all the range of the Jaboulet wines and a very good selection by the glass offered with a light lunch, right in the town centre.
On the other bank, tucked away in Cornas it’s worth searching for La Ruche. Named after a beehive, as the owners consider themselves like bees buzzing around the wineries picking out local favourites, the wine list proves them right, with a wide range of local and more distant Rhone wines at very competitive prices.
OK, so my last recommendation is not a restaurant but it is gastronomy. You really should include a Tour of La Cité du Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage, if you need any persuading that red wine and chocolate work – this is the place!