During the holidays, the medieval Cité de Carcassonne quiets down a lot. The best restaurants stay open year-round because they cater to local clients and can stay open even during the slowed down winter months. We had a marvelous dinner a few nights ago at La Barbacane, the Michelin starred restaurant in l’Hotel de la Cité.
Hotel de la Cité – La Barbacane
We got there a little early (typical Americans) and chilled out in the Piano Lounge / Library area (where the bar is). They started me off with a nice glass of sparkling rosé from Castelmaure while we waited for our hosts, the Lablaudes. We nibbled on lucques (local olives) and a few exotic tidbits to start us (e.g. endives, anchovies, radishes, trout egg). Everything was light and fun and made us hungry for more as we lounged about in the piano bar enjoying the live music.
Jérome Ryon, the chef, and Georges Gracia, the manager and sommelier, guided us through a wonderful and surprising meal.
We started with a shrimp-stuffed jack be little, a small yellow-orange gourd. It looks like a tiny pumpkin (think bell pepper-sized). It was a hefty appetizer but I can deal with a little heft. And it paired wonderfully with a surprising Chenin blanc from Saumur that really cut through the fattier elements of the jack be little. Truly tasty. Next up, scallops on a thin pastry garnished in some sort of wonderful sauces and paired with a blend from Rives Blanques. The dish was garnered with some cabbage and quince confit. And then duck as the plat de resistance paired with a robust Minervois from Chateau Oupia.
And we finished off with a nice citron sorbet and a startling white from Maury.
Everything was fresh and top notch.
La Barbacane sometimes gets pigeonholed as the more conservative fine dining destination in Carcassonne, with a greater focus on traditional haute cuisine. But this meal showed that Jérome is very creative when you give him room to breathe.
The wine list
We started off with a sparkling rosé from Castelmaure.
- AOC Saumur Domaine du Collier 2005 “A Foucault” à Chacé
- AOC Limoux Chateau Rives-Blanques 2009 Cuvée “La Trilogie” à Cépie
- AOC Minervois Chateau Oupia 2007 Cuvée Mémoire d’André Famille André Iché
And we finished off with a surprising white from Maury.
Of course, as a wine nerd, one of the coolest parts of the meal is to see how Georges Gracia pairs the various courses with wines. He chose a lot from the region because he knows how I roll, but he also gave me at least one surprise from the Loire. And what a surprise! We started and ended with whites from regions that are much more known for their red wines: Saumur and Maury. And I have to say I’m very pleased with both. The Saumur was Chenin although I wouldn’t have guessed that blind. It had sort of a burnt pear nose that was pretty restrained and then a really intereting body. I think it was perfect to start off the meal and cut through some of the fat on the pumpkin. The Maury at the end was a real shocker too. Delicious sweet wine that could compete with this very tart citron sorbet. Any wine lovers who eat at the Cité should try to get one of the very talented sommeliers to guide them through a meal. It’s a real experience for any foodie.
Harvest is right around the corner at O’Vineyards. I mean that literally. If you walk past the corners of our property, you’ll be surrounded by harvesters.
We aren’t harvesting yet. The grapes just aren’t ready here. In several days, they will be. But not today.
Why are the nearby neighbors harvesting? Different philosophies. Waiting for that last bit of maturity is relatively risky. A sudden and heavy rain could lead to watery grapes and grey rot. Additionally, rain could muddy up the vineyard and make it very hard to pass through and machine harvest. Alternatively, no rain is almost worse for the guys who sell by the kilo. As the grapes ripen in the next seven days, they are likely to lose water weight and start to shrivel up just a tiny bit. When you see a single grape shrivel, you can assume that you’ve lost a huge amount of juice.
With these risks, why does O’Vineyards wait? Well, we don’t mind losing juice if it means that the grapes will have that extra level of ripeness. You can harvest now and get good grapes. But if you wait just a tiny bit longer, you’ll get great grapes.
But we get anxious waiting and preparing. We’re cleaning all the equipment and moving wine around so that there’s enough space to bring in this year’s 100% hand harvest. There aren’t a lot of cool movies to film. I’m basically just cleaning stuff. But here is a picture just to show you even the boring parts of my life have a beautiful vineyard backdrop.
A new facet of this year’s preharvest anticipation is how jealous I am of everybody who is started or done with their harvest (n.b. these people are in microclimates that harvested earlier this year and escape my obvservations regarding the nearby neighbors mentioned above). My web efforts have brought me much closer to a lot of estates in the Languedoc-Roussillon and around the rest of the world. And a lot more people are bringing the harvests online.
It’s oddly distressing to have to watch all these harvests progressing just an hour’s drive away from here. But it’s okay. We can form a club of late bloomers. The tardives climates. The medium to high altitude vineyards. I was commiserating with Castelmaure high up in the Corbieres who look like they’ll start even later than me. I think most of the work getting done so far in the Cabardes estates is limited to white grapes (which aren’t actually included in the classification).