My friend Mister B has been telling me about Beaugraviere for years. He even refers to it as a geographical point (Calais to Beaugraviere in seven hours): it’s that important. My first attempt at eating there was in 2009 but – France being France – it was closed on the evening that worked. So when I booked it a month or so back, plus rooms, I was rather excited. And it wasn’t quite what I expected, and my memory of the evening will be one bottle.
Beaugraviere is just under half an hour from Chateauneuf du Pape, just north of the odd place that is Orange. It’s a bit like what La Regalade in Beaune used to be – a jewel in a rough box: if you don’t know what’s inside it then you’ll drive straight past. Open the box, though, and it’s not far off the first time you’ve managed to pull or – and this is maybe better – it’s like when your horse comes in and all of a sudden you’re £100 up. It’s unexpectedly good.
The rooms are just that: rooms. A telly, a bog and a shower. All of which work though do little else. There is the usual French mindgame of both an ashtray and a non-smoking order sitting together like the devil on one shoulder, an angel on another; this aside the accommodation is functional and nothing more nor less.
The food is somewhere between eight and nine out of ten. Amouse Bouche of a sort of tomato soup = 9/10 though it slaughtered the wine. Starter of, well, mixed and lightly sautéed veg = 7/10. Main course of lamb = 8/10. Proper, simple food. Simple and well executed. Good show.
And, to business: the wine. I’m not sure I’ve seen a wine list this big. I am sure that I’ve never seen one this good, and I am granite-sure in that I have never seen such a brilliant list that has no ego. In most places a list this good would almost sneer at you: look at me, dream of me … can you afford it? … I’m better than you. And so on. But here, and a bit like the rooms, the list is what it is: a list. The quality is in the content, not the presentation: poetry on plain paper.
I’ve written about label drinking before here. Elementary label drinking is simple: Bougogne Blanc or Rouge from a top producer, and it’s relatively easy. Step one, and three stars for passing it, would be Bourgogne Blanc from Coche Dury or Bourgogne Rouge from Roumier – it’s quite simple. Bottle one was 2009 Bourgogne Blanc, Leroy, which would be the trump card in any budget-driven label drinking contest, and was pretty good as it happens. Put blind you might nail the vintage and in qualitative terms you’d go for a premier cru Meursault from a decent producer. If you can buy this wine for sub-£300 a case I would suggest that you do so. At Beaugraviere it’s fifty euros a bottle or so. Bargain.
Bottle two, the main course, took a bit more work to find. It was a bit like looking through a telephone directory without knowing the name of who you want to call. Being in the Southern Rhone you want to drink local … the usual suspects are there: Beaucastel, Telegraphe … but you can do that at home. The list of Rayas stares back at you like calling cards in a Soho telephone box; the list of Clos des Papes looks like a Rolex showroom: label drinking, level two.
Serendipity chooses this: 2001 Chateuneuf du Pape, Les Quartz, Le Clos de Caillou. Which turns out to be one of the best bottles I’ve had this year.
I’ve struggled to describe this bottle. Indeed the best and most accurate description I’ve managed to come up with is “gorgeous”. “Perfect” has also featured. And I wondered – even as I drank it – what Mr Parker had thought of this. Here’s his note:
“Burgundian-like perfume of liquid rocks intermixed with blueberries, blackberries, licorice and cherries is accompanied by exquisite concentration, extraordinary purity, and a tremendously perfumed style with minerality as well as underlying structure. This is a fabulously elegant yet full-bodied , concentrated offering that could be called the Musigny of Chateauneuf du Pape. The 2001 only hints at its ultimate potential but it is soft enough to be drunk now. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2016. 96 points.
And, in what is a massive subject-drift, this is what it’s all about.
Beaugraviere is a brilliant place. Go there. If you have more money than me you can do Lafon and Rayas or Leflaive and Clos des Papes. The food is excellent –so good that you won’t care about the boarding house rooms. But my point is this, and it’s about the bottle.
In February 2004 – this is almost ten years ago – Robert Parker tasted a sample of what I tasted last week. A sample. And he probably tasted a couple of hundred wines on the same day, maybe – indeed probably – more. And he gets this. A note that is spot, SPOT, on.
It is easy, and was once fashionable, to knock Robert parker. There are some that behave as if it was still en vogue. As if their palate (or mine, or yours) was somehow superior because it is less easily seduced by fruit, power, polish. It’s a bit like suggesting that someone is crap just because they prefer tea to coffee, or red instead of blue. This pin-sharp note on what is a brilliant wine sums it all up for me – makes the words futile. I’m in awe of both.
Summary: go to Beaugraviere; drink and eat well. And respect Mr P. The master.