I recently had an incredible opportunity, thanks to the Colombos. Jean-Luc, Laure, and the gang were entertaining a group of sommeliers from London, coordinated through the Hatch Mansfield group. There were 7 total, of whom 4 were of French origin, one from the Côte d’Ivorie, one from Bulgaria, and the last from Brazil.
First we drove by the Côte-Rôtie area, then went directly to Condrieu to have a look at the vineyards and terroir. It has rugged hills composed of granite overlooking the Rhône river, which do not allow for mechanization. The granite is more solid than that of Cornas (more later on that subject). Next we returned to the Côte-Rôtie, with very steep cliffs and treacherous vineyards managed by hand. I took several photos looking straight down the hillsides at the road way below.
The soil is mica schist of two types: Côte Blonde has more silicate; and Côte Brune has more iron. They grow Syrah and a maximum of 20% Viognier. Blends can have up to 20% Viognier (Colombo’s La Divine has about 5%). You’ll sometimes see wines which are solely Côte Blonde or Côte Brune, but many are a combination of the two.
Then we went to lunch at the beautiful Michelin 2-star restaurant “La Pyramide,” run by chef/owner Patrick Henriroux. Lunch was, indeed, delicious and beautifully presented. Spending over 60€ for lunch (plus wine) is a bit much for me right now, so I was incredibly happy to be treated to it! I had to visit the “little Americans room,” which was over the top in deep aqua tiles, painted white trim and gold accents.
Upon my return, I was given my own little bread tray of 4 beautiful morsels. I tried the cereal (whole grain) roll shaped like a donut, which was nice, and loved the spiral pain au olive made of crumbly croissant dough and black olives. We had a Taittinger champagne toast to start, then several Colombo wines with lunch. The amuse bouche was an avocado mousse on top of bits of something meaty and chewy (bacon lardons maybe?). The mousse was frothy and light; guacamole à la nouvelle cuisine. Yes, my mouth was highly amused.
Next were 3 tubular seafood croquettes over a salad of fennel and pomelo. I was afraid the pomelo would overwhelm the dish, as I seem to be especially sensitive to the grapefruit family, but it worked very well. The white paired with the croquettes was a Viognier, “Amour de Dieu” (“God’s Love,” or as I say, “Oh, for the love of God!”) from Condrieu, in the northern part of N. Rhône. They are only allowed to grow Viognier in that appellation, and they do it very well. The wine had enough acidity to balance out the slight oiliness of the fried croquettes, and the freshness of the fennel and pomelo made a good contrast to the shrimp and crab inside. They weren’t gooey like some seafood croquettes in Japan, but firm-textured like my Mom’s amazing crab cakes.
As we moved on, three red wines were poured: ’10 Collines de Laure Vin de Pays; ’10 La Divine from Côte-Rôtie; and ’09 Les Ruchets from Cornas. All Syrahs, with a tiny bit of Viognier in the La Divine.
The next course was roasted pork tenderloin, incredibly tender and yummy, over mildly spicy ratatouille. Realizing it was blasphemous to do so, I cut the fat edge off my pork. I completely understand that there is a lot of flavor in the fat, but my diet see-saws between pleasure and health, and I’d (always!) rather save my fat quota for cheese. I thought this dish paired best with the Les Ruchets, but that is currently my favorite Colombo Syrah, so perhaps I’m just biased.
Last we had a layered dessert of dark chocolate, pistachio mousse and pistachio ice cream inside a dark chocolate shell, served with an ’85 Ramos Pinto-Porto. The restaurant’s sommeliers made a big show with the port, by heating very long tongs over an open flame for 20+ minutes, then applying the tongs to the bottle below the cork until the top of the bottle broke cleanly away. They said that they have occasionally had bottles explode when they do this, but my guess is that they’re playing on the “Fear Factor” for the amusement and titillation of their guests. Their explanation for why they do it is that ports can age so long that the cork can deteriorate, so rather than decant it and have to filter out any cork in the wine, they avoid the issue entirely.
The dessert was very nice for those with a sweet tooth, but “where’s the cheese?”
In the afternoon,, we visited the Colombo winery and barrel room, where Jean-Luc and Laure explained their methods and philosophy of winemaking, and then climbed through the Cornas vineyards which make up the heart of Colombo wines. Grown on steep hills made of decomposed granite with no irrigation allowed, the vines are really stressed, which brings out the best in the grape according to many winemakers. The trimmed vines lay on the ground, making treacherous footing on those steep slopes, especially for one young som from Brazil who had to borrow boots several times larger than her tiny feet!