a personal guide to good eating & drinking

Monday, April 13th, 2015


Les Vignerons d’Estézargues


D Deschamps + galets

Route des Grès
30390 Estézargues
04 66 57 03 64


Hardly any wine co-operatives feature on this blog. Why? Because, generally speaking, small, dedicated producers tend to make more interesting wines, besides having a more interesting story to tell. But this co-op in the commune of Estézargues in the Gard is exceptional. For one thing, it has just ten partners: dedicated vignerons, several with outstanding terroir. (The proportion cultivated organically, currently 50%, is steadily rising.) For another, it has a remarkably gifted oenologist. Put all that together and what do you get? Some seriously good wines.

‘We’re into minimalist winemaking,’ explains Denis Deschamps, the man who has brought purer fruit flavours and increased precision to the wines here over the past 15 years. Unusually for a co-op, cultured yeasts are eschewed in preference to the wild yeasts present on the grape skins. Very little sulphur is used at any stage; the wines are not fined and only lightly filtered.

Among the score of wines made at Estézargues, I have two long-standing Côtes du Rhône Villages favourites. Domaine Grès Saint Vincent Signargues is a deliciously juicy red with alluring raspberry and loganberry aromas and a nice touch of firmness in the finish. Domaine d’Andézon Signargues is a bigger beast, typically 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache, with sumptuous black fruit flavours and a smooth, solid body.

A newer, slightly pricier discovery is Sy…Signargues, made only in the best vintages – mainly Syrah from a few parcels of 50- to 60-year-old vines, aged in used barriques for one year and matured in bottle for a further year. Beautifully concentrated and peppery with a hint of earthiness, it’s the kind of red that could see you through the chilliest evening with a smile.

Written by marydowey

Posted in CÔTES DU RHÔNE,NEAR REMOULINS,wine producers

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Tuesday, April 7th, 2015


Terra Rossa


terra rossa var

Quartier les Launes
83690 Salernes
04 98 10 43 90

Around the small town of Salernes you’ll see plenty of striking patches of red terrain. Eyecatching – yes, but a reminder of so much more. Earth rich in iron oxide has made this small pocket of the Var a centre of ceramics for 7,000 years – a fact celebrated in style at this museum housed in a former tile factory.

Open to visitors from now until the tourist season ends in October, the Maison de la Céramique Architecturale (as it is properly known) plays a dual role with aplomb. First, it presents the history of a town which developed its earthenware industry so successfully that, in the early years of the 20th century, it had 53 factories and 1,200 employees. By that point, tableware had been supplanted, as its main output, by tommettes – traditional, hexagonal Provençal floor tiles. The whole manufacturing process is well explained.

But this is also a fantastic exhibition space for contemporary ceramics, mounting several shows every year. I admired the winning entries in an international 2014 competition to design and produce a hand-made tile (led by Pakistan, Iran and France); the 2015 results should be visible soon. But the ground floor displays heaps of other beautiful objects by leading ceramic artists – including the 15 who are based in Salernes today. At least half a dozen are in the town, so you can easily drop into a few studios after an educational hour or two here.

Written by marydowey

Posted in NEAR DRAGUIGNAN,outings

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Wednesday, April 1st, 2015


Tender green asparagus with lemon vinaigrette

asparagus vinaigrette

Provence goes green at this time of year, with asparagus on offer in every market, vegetable shop and restaurant. Although you’ll also see the white variety, slender, tender green stalks (grown with particular success in the Luberon and the Gard) far outnumber and outshine them. Chefs dream up elaborate dishes – often all-asparagus menus, in fact – making this rather grand vegetable a spring equivalent to winter truffles; but in my book simple is best.

It’s hard to beat perfectly cooked green asparagus with a lemon vinaigrette, a chunk of crusty bread and a suitable white wine – ideally one that’s young and fresh with a touch of tangy minerality. Two that work well: Château Mourgues du Grès Les Galets Dorés from the Costières de Nîmes and Domaine de la Citadelle Viognier from the Luberon.

The procedure below is so elementary that it can barely be described as a recipe. Quantities will be determined by your tastes, and the number of people at your table.

bundle of slender fresh green asparagus

cooking salt

best quality extra virgin olive oil

a lemon

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

small blob of Dijon mustard (optional)


1 First start the vinaigrette. Finely grate some lemon zest into a few tablespoons of good olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper and leave to infuse.

2 Bring a large, deep pan of salted water to the boil and have a second large pan of very cold water ready nearby.

3 Break or trim the woody ends off the asparagus spears. Plunge them into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears and whether you prefer them to be fully cooked through or with a slight bite (recommended). The second they seem right, use tongs to quickly move them into the pot of cold water so that they stop cooking and keep their bright green colour.

4 Leave for 1-2 minutes, then carefully lift the cooled asparagus on to a clean tea towel or several layers of kitchen and gingerly pat dry. Arrange on a large plate.

5 Add enough lemon juice to the vinaigrette to make it tangy but not bitter. (The proportion of lemon juice to oil will probably be about 1:4.) Add a little mustard if liked (bearing in mind that too much may spoil the flavour of your wine). Immediately spoon the vinaigrette over the asparagus and serve at once.

Written by marydowey

Posted in recipes

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Wednesday, March 25th, 2015


Domaine de la Bouïssière


T Faravel

Rue du Portail
84190 Gigondas
04 90 65 87 91

Pushy people tend to get themselves into print faster than retiring, gentle types. Maybe that is why I’m only writing now about Thierry Faravel whom I’ve admired for years. Working in tandem with his brother Gil since the death of their father in 1988, this quietly reflective winemaker is celebrated for wonderfully shapely, ageworthy Gigondas.

As a double-bass player, his first ambition was to become a full-time musician – so, given the fashion for influencing vinification with appropriate harmonies, should we expect Mozart in the cellar? ‘That would be ok for sweet wines… but I’d prefer something more bracing.’ His objective, he says, is to make des vins droits, des vins tendus – upright wines with a certain tension. With pure fruit, reviving acidity and very fine tannins, they are masterpieces of elegance with precision – so if you fancy big Rhône whoppers you have come to the wrong place.

Working alone rather than with a consultant (‘I’ve never found one who will look at the vineyards and listen to what we want to achieve, rather than impose a system’), Thierry Faravel has gradually honed his own techniques. Having experimented with small oak barrels and bigger 600-litre casks, he is happy now to use traditional outsize foudres – a new one purchased every year. ‘They make wines that are more refined, with a clearer identity.’

While most of his grapes are de-stemmed, he is not averse to including a small proportion of stems in some vinifications. ‘Oenologists are terrified of stems in case they give a green streak, but I think they can add nice, fine tannins and an attractive little touch of menthol.’

With 9 hectares in Gigondas and 2.5 hectares in Vacqueyras, Domaine de la Bouïssière has expanded into Beaumes-de-Venise (5 hectares) since the 2012 vintage. While I have always enjoyed the Vacqueyras – more refined and less sickly than many – the Gigondas remains my favourite. Dark, peppery and subtly spicy with a firm mineral undertow, over six or seven years it develops a savoury splendour which marks it out as one of this appellation’s finest wines. Not that you need to wait that long…

Written by marydowey

Posted in GIGONDAS,wine producers

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Thursday, March 19th, 2015


Le Clos Saint Antoine


Clos St Antoine David

26 Chemin des Costes
83830 Callas
04 94 67 95 85


Considering the prodigious amount of superb olive oil that Provence produces, it seems strange that decent vinegar is in such short supply. ‘I love cooking, and I was shocked that good vinegar was so difficult to buy,’ says David Doczekalski, who took the plucky step of setting up his own vinaigrerie in 2005.

‘I went to Italy and Spain to learn,’ he explains. ’I’m self-taught because no training was available.’ Artisan vinegar could scarcely hope for a more enthusiastic advocate. Showing off his Bordeaux barrels and demi-johns, Doczekalski describes the18 to 24-month process whereby good Provence wines of all three colours are converted into vinegar, following the rhythm of the seasons. They are then flavoured with plants, woods or spices before being bottled and sold, either in his small shop or on the internet.

He is particularly critical of cheap balsamic vinegar. ‘It’s made from caramel powder, so it’s horribly sweet and useless for salads which need a good kick of acidity.’ I couldn’t agree more, and was especially impressed by his carefully crafted version which tastes lively and refreshing. I also think his wild fennel and thyme vinegars are inspired creations for fish.

Drop in for a chat and he’ll have you enthralled in five minutes. You can even buy your own pottery vinaigrier, made to his design, if you fancy being able to produce high-class vinegar of your own in a mere six weeks.

Written by marydowey

Posted in food producers,NEAR DRAGUIGNAN,vinegars

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Friday, March 13th, 2015




Agape mackerel

21 Place des Corps Saints
84000 Avignon
04 90 85 04 06


The Avignon food scene has been due a shot of excitement for what can sometimes feel like an eternity. Hallelujah, here it comes. L’Agape opened last summer on one of the city’s prettiest squares. Two lunches there – one soon after the opening and the other in the last few weeks – have brought it right to the top of my Avignon favourites list.

With cement-topped tables, assorted chairs, a scuffed wooden floor and a massive blackboard, the industrial-chic décor makes for a casual ambiance – but boy, there’s nothing casual about the food. Chef Julien Gleize, who trained at the Avignon hotel school before co-running a restaurant in the Drôme for some years, cooks with brilliant precision, bringing classic dishes carefully conceived touches of individuality. Presentation is punctilious, too. Plates look colourful, elegant, modern, fresh.

In a first course of mackerel with Roseval potatoes (see photo), a vinaigrette made with preserved lemons delivers just the right amount of zing to lift the entire dish. Lamb navarin as a main acquires extra exuberance from bright spaghettis de légumes, morsels of crispy bacon and a few artfully positioned baby salad leaves. Desserts are masterly also. Instead of the formulaic, pre-prepped line-up on offer in so many restaurants you’ll find finely tuned dishes executed from scratch. A light chocolate-orange mousse with citrus segments and chocolate shortbread is especially enticing.

Top-notch produce is locally sourced (much of it from Les Halles nearby). At lunch time bread comes from the Avignon branch of Olivero; in the evening (when tables are more formally dressed and the atmosphere becomes more languorously intimate), it’s home-baked.  A well-chosen selection of wines, arranged by style and fairly priced, clocks up more points. And let’s not forget the chef’s wife at front of house – glamorous Anne Gleize whose wide smile lights the whole place up.

Written by marydowey

Posted in AVIGNON,restaurants

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015


La Bastide des Magnans


Bastide des Magnans ext 3

Chemin de Fontpourquière
84480 Lacoste
06 18 55 19 30


Travelling around Provence in search of appealing accommodation has put me right off the all-beige colour schemes which have spread across supposedly stylish interiors like a rash. So predictable, so anaemic, so boring… You won’t find them here, I’m happy to say, because Myriam Guisset who runs this imposing Luberon B&B deplores them. ‘Ce n’est pas ça, la Provence!

Too right. Provence has wonderful, traditional colours. Why not use them? In charge of a company specialising in the restoration of historic buildings (including the church in Ménerbes), Madame Guisset is more alert to such details than most interior designers. The result is that the B&B she has created out of an old silk worm farm mixes authenticity with charm. In all five bedrooms, traditional white bedspreads look all the more effective against colourful backdrops, often involving pretty printed fabrics.

The house sits on an elevated site with wide views to Goult and Gordes; in fact, in four of the bedrooms it’s possible to admire the Luberon landscape without even getting out of bed. Guests do tend to get up eventually though – for a tasty breakfast with home-made jams; a swim in the meadow-fringed pool and then the usual toss-up between lazing and sightseeing.

In this well appointed house, guests also have their own kitchen and salon. Why would you ever leave? Many are regulars.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs,LUBERON,NEAR MENERBES

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Sunday, March 1st, 2015


Leg of lamb on a bed of thyme


Roast Leg of Lamb

The recipe for this simple and delectable dish comes from Lulu’s Provençal Table by Richard Olney (published in the UK by Grub Street) – a celebration of the food served at Domaine Tempier in Bandol when Lulu Peyraud was in charge of the kitchen.

‘Leg of lamb on a bed of thyme was high on the list of the Peyraud family’s preferred dishes. Lulu says: “The thyme branches should contain quite a lot of wood so that, when the leg is placed on them, it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan. After roasting, the thyme and the fat in the pan are discarded.”

The Provençal hillsides are covered with gnarled and woody plants of wild thyme. If only fragile garden thyme is available, use a roasting rack and scatter over an abundance of thyme sprigs before placing the leg on top. Sometimes, Lulu mixes sprigs of winter savory with the thyme. In late spring and summer, when garlic is fresh, she often surrounds a leg of lamb, without without thyme, with whole heads of garlic – one per person – before putting it to roast. At table, guests pull the heads apart, pressing the cloves with the tines of a fork to force the purée from the skins before spreading it on the meat or on pieces of bread.’

Serves 8-10

2 large handfuls of fresh thyme branches

2.7kg / 6lb leg of lamb at room temperature, pelvic bone and superficial fat removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

8-10 fresh heads of garlic (optional)


1 Preheat the oven to 230C/450F

2 Prepare a bed of thyme branches in the bottom of a heavy, shallow roasting dish or large oval gratin dish.

3 Rub the leg of lamb with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, place it on the bed of thyme and surround with garlic if wished.

4 Roast for about 1 hour, lowering the temperature after 10 minutes to 180C/350F and, 20 minutes later, to 140C/275F.

5 Transfer the leg to a heated platter and keep it for 20 minutes in the turned-off oven or another warm place before carving.

Written by marydowey

Posted in Bandol,recipes

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Wednesday, February 25th, 2015


La Maison d’Odette


La Ciotat harbour

2 Rue des Frères Albert et Georges Anroux
13600 La Ciotat
06 31 14 21 73


Location – that’s the first thing. It’s just a one-minute walk from the prettiest stretch of La Ciotat’s old waterfront (see above). Simply but stylishly refurbished, it’s comfortable too. Run by Camille Lhomme and partner Alexandre – the dynamic young couple behind the popular restaurant L’Epicerie just down the street – La Maison d’Odette even has a touching story. Camille’s grandmother (Odette) lived in this tall, narrow town house as a young woman soon after the second world war, spending much of her time teaching French to Italian immigrants.

What La Maison d’Odette doesn’t have (unless things have changed since my stay) is a noteworthy breakfast; it’s a DIY situation based on tea or coffee, bottled juice and packeted panettone left in the room. Thankfully matters can easily be improved by a quick hop to the excellent Pâtisserie Duby almost next door.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs,La Ciotat

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Thursday, February 19th, 2015


Château La Dorgonne

Ch La Dorgonne ext

84240 La Tour d’Aigues
04 90 07 50 18

It’s true that great wines can emerge from apparent chaos or dilapidation. Occasionally. (The exquisite Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château Rayas is one striking example.) Conversely, well-tended vineyards and an immaculate cellar don’t necessarily produce the goods. Even so, a commitment to precision often bodes well. This is certainly the case at Château La Dorgonne whose wines I rank among the Luberon’s best.

It wasn’t always so. ‘When my uncle, who lives in Cambodia, bought the estate in 1999 it was in a pretty bad state,’ explains Nicolas Parmentier. ‘The house was in need of renovation and a cellar had to be constructed as the grapes had previously been sold to the co-op.’ The whole project also needed a dedicated manager, so Nicolas – a lawyer with a PR agency – arrived to run it in 2004.

With regular advice from the leading French soil expert Claude Bourguignon, the first priority has been to put life into the soil and encourage the vines to develop deep roots – processes encouraged by the presence of 16 types of plants between the rows. Hard pruning, green harvesting, hand-picking, careful grape sorting… these too play their part in the effort to produce perfect fruit.

Certified organic since 2007, the wines have lovely balance and finesse. While I enjoyed the peachy, zesty Château white (mainly Rolle and Ugni Blanc), the reds made the deepest impression with their fine texture, vivacity and subtle use of oak. They age well too, as I discovered sampling a superb savoury-but-still-plummy 2005 the other day. A rewarding ten-year-old! Not something that fans of mature wine stumble upon in the south as often as vignerons seem to think.

La Dorgonne is a delightful place to visit, with two self-guided vineyard walks. Be sure to pick up the illustrated guide and you’ll learn about pruning, cover crops and more as well as the estate’s eight grape varieties.

Written by marydowey

Posted in LUBERON,wine producers

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Friday, February 13th, 2015


Fromagerie La Pastourelle


Pastourelle Chevre Fleur

Le Plan
83300 Châteaudouble
04 94 70 90 00

Life as an artisan cheesemaker sounds romantic, or romantically authentic at least. That may be one reason why Provence is dotted with hundreds of small producers – some excellent but others visibly struggling to make even a feeble living. Against this backdrop it’s intriguing to discover that one of the biggest artisan fromageries in the Var is also one of the best.

Jean and Catherine Fleury have built up La Pastourelle gradually over the past 17 years, he with a useful background in accountancy and she having previously studied homeopathy. Unusually for this part of the world, they make cheeses of all three main types – goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s – rather than specialising in just one. ‘The idea is to encourage people to buy several different kinds,’ says Jean, gesturing at the well-stocked cabinet in La Pastourelle’s terrific shop. ‘We can probably offer 25-30 different cheeses at any given time.’

This bounty is assured by four Abondance cows treasured for their rarity almost as much as for the richness of their milk; 150 shiny-coated Alpine and Chamoisé goats and 70 Lacaune ewes (the species that is used for Roquefort). The Fleurys’ range includes many classics plus a number of their own creations including Chevre Fleur, a goat’s cheese wrung in a tea towel (see photo); a sheep/cow Marbré and a sheep/goat Coeur de Pirate – heart-shaped, of course. They also sell their own yoghurts and milks, plus breads at the weekend.

The shop, open 364 days a year (but closed 1-3pm), is worth a visit, I guarantee – especially as there are picnic tables outside to facilitate immediate scoffing.

Written by marydowey

Posted in cheese,food producers,NEAR DRAGUIGNAN

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