Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Perfect Day In Languedoc

We got up at the crack of mid-morning and headed for the Maison des Vins, just outside Montpellier. It’s the showcase for AOC Languedoc wines. The main part is a retail shop with a large selection of reds, whites, and rosés. Each of the 10 sub-appellations in AOC Languedoc is well-represented with its own section within the store. I bought a white, 3 reds, and a Vin Doux Naturel, all from sub-appellations that we haven’t yet tried. For the reds, I focussed on the wines with the traditional Languedoc blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan.

The white wine that I bought is from a producer called St Martin de la Garrigue. The friendly caviste and I get to talking about the significance of “la Garrigue” in Languedoc wine. Garrigue is a bit of a catchall name for the ubiquitous scrubland in Languedoc and it includes juniper, rosemary, thyme, sage, and lavender. The plants release fragrant oils; the wind carries the oils, they settle on the grapes, and are mixed in with the grape juice during maceration, turning up in the aromas of the red wines here, much like eucalyptus does in many Australian reds. So it’s no accident that I smell rosemary, sage, and thyme in so many wines here! The store also carries some regional products so we picked up more sel de Camargue and some pâté (cèpes and Taureau de Camargue). The Maison des Vins is worth a visit, especially as a starting point or if your visit to Languedoc is a short one.

Michèle and I head 30 kilometres west to Bouzigues, on the saltwater Bassin de Thau, bordering on the Mediterranean.  Bouzigues is home to 750 oyster farmers who take about 13,000 tonnes of oysters out of the basin every year. I am a HUGE oyster fan. We find a restaurant, La Palourdière, a bit out of town, with a large terrace set directly on the basin that looks out on the oyster farms. With a table in the shade, soon I’m slurping the flat huîtres de Bouzigues, harvested that morning, accompanied by a bottle of Picpoul. It’s another example of a classic regional match: the citrus flavour and acidity of the Picpoul is perfect with the firm, large, salty oysters. It’s 26 degrees, not a cloud in the azure sky, a gentle breeze, fresh oysters, great wine, and the woman I love: it just doesn’t get any better than this.

As we get ready to leave, we see an oyster harvester coming back in from the basin. We walk down a short road to the waterside. There we find very small processing “plants” that line the shore. The harvester had brought in fresh oysters for cleaning. The forewoman gives us an impromptu tour of the plant that's just below our restaurant. Much to my surprise, it turns out that there are no oysters native to the Bassin de Thau. The farmers import the oysters from Brittany as “babies”. They then cement the oysters onto plastic ropes, take them out to the basin and suspend them in the water for 14 to 18 months, after which they can harvest them. It’s always more complicated than we think to get food to our tables!

From Bouzigues, we head back towards the beaches south of Montpellier for a couple of hours of sun and swimming in the sea.

Dinner is out on the balcony: the pâté we bought earlier, cheese, baguette, tiny green beans, and a bottle of Pic St Loup. A walk in the old town after dinner and a stop for gelato. It’s a perfect day.

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