We reached Avignon and blasted through the Pope’s Palace and a wine from Visan on last Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour post (Avignon P1). Somehow, Avignon’s light, air, and quiet reinvigorated us, even though we should be dead after 123 days of backpacking. Coffee and our YMCA’s view of morning rush hour don’t hurt:
Today, we forgo Avignon’s home of popes and stay on the Rhône’s right bank: Villeneuve lez Avignon.
We climb winding streets past a sentinel tower that watches over our YMCA.
Villeneuve emerges in a valley devoid of people. Its light feels cool and gray. This town provides a modest repose -comfortable, like a river-rounded stone- contrasting Avignon’s bombast.
We head uphill to imposing Fort St Andre. Through the gates and alone, we go into full Monte Python mode, singing the theme and getting lost in search of grails and sites on our printed map.
The view is spectacular. Room after room served various pope-protecting functions. The massive oven, the powder store, the quaint chapel, the loo…
After the Fort we grab quiche (yet again…it’s damned near to impossible to eat on the go, cheaply, without meat in France), cheese, and almond paste deliciousness.
We then enter La Chartreuse: a 14th century monastery built for retiring popes and Franciscan isolation. Fort Saint Andre peers at us through its shelled-out, medieval church.
Through a narrow door, we imagine ourselves as hooded monks returning to our solitary, stark rooms in silence.
Here, the tireless work of praying for popes and contemplation went on. This was a factory for salvation. Human interaction was minimized, even dinner arrived unseen in a niche.
But austerity wasn’t all misery. Forsaking sex, money, pleasure, the world etc. didn’t mean you didn’t get a posh bed, deck, and private backyard garden to play with.
Long bleach-white halls wrap around to a small chapel with vibrant but flaking, frescoes. Before leaving we find the well painted by Fall.
Back at our clifftop YMCA, with the patio to ourselves, we open the cheapest Chateauneuf du Pape we could find:
Compagnie Rhodanniene (n) Saint Clémentin, Chateauneuf du Pape, France, 2010.
Wines from the appellation Chateauneuf du Pape can be some of Southern France’s most expensive, and not just because it is named after Avignon’s Papal Palace (which didn’t happen until 1893…marketing genius!). The Grenache dominant blend sees warm ferments, higher alcohols, and gallons per acre limited to half of what Bordeaux can do. This equates to some of France’s most robust and pricey wines.
But Saint Clémentin cost us €16.74.
Appearance: It looks a dark, deep, clear ruby, with noticeable legs.
Aromas: Young and moderate aromas of kirsch, cherry jam, vanilla icing, and nutmeg all remind me of a Christmas pudding, a flaming Christmas pudding.
Palate: The higher acidity surprises us as does the unobtrusive medium alcohol (13.5%), tannins, and body. This feels bright, balanced, and athletic.
Flavors: Black cherry, oranges, ground pepper, and old oak carry for a medium plus length.
Conclusions: Saint Clémentin’s CdP 2010 is very good (4 of 5). It is well balanced, if a bit lean, as one might expect for 16.74. It’s a bit too young, but mildly oaked and hardly tannic. All its verve and zippiness have likely cooled down when writing this. We manage to tame that acidity with baguette and cheese: the local, melty, honeyed yet tart, Saint-Félicien du Dauphiné cheese: fantastic.
The best pairing of all is watching the sun set over Avignon from our perch at the Villenueve YMCA. I sketch it while my wife books out trains and stays into the next month.
Lyon awaits in next Monday’s post. But for now, Avignon is perfect.