Le Puy en Velay is a remote cathedral city tucked away in the interior of France just to the north of the Cévennes. It is set in a volcanic bowl in the high plateau of the Massif Central. The cathedral is an impressive construction, built of the local volcanic stone, which looks like pumice stone. There is also in this quiet, provincial city one of the best hotels in the world, Hotel du Parc. Until March this year it had a Michelin-starred restaurant attached, named after the owner and patron, Francois Gagnaire, who has sold up and gone to Paris to open a swanky new place.
The restaurant has closed, though the internet informs me that the hotel continues to trade. The end of an era, I suppose.
We stayed there in early February this year, and had a fine dinner in the restaurant, accompanied by a very serious bottle of wine. Of course, we had a fine, impressive bottle of Alsace Riesling with our starters; but we decided to splash out, if that is a suitable expression, on the red with our main course. We had chosen guinea-fowl, which was beautifully cooked, moist and succulent, full of flavour. The wine list, as you would expect of a Michelin-starred establishment, was long on the classic regions of France, at somewhat elevated prices. However, there was a surprise in there, unassumingly taking its place among the Gevrey-Chambertins and Chambolle-Musignys: Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet 2006. Looks innocuous enough, doesn’t it? But this wine comes from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the grandest estate in Burgundy – a single bottle of La Romanée-Conti, their greatest wine, will set you back around £13,000. Their Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru is only rarely produced (viz. not in every vintage), from young vines where the fruit does not go into the Grand Vin. You would expect to pay £600 a bottle for this normally, but it was on the restaurant’s wine list for 150 euro. A bargain! So we ordered a bottle.
The sommelier attended to us with the utmost respect. I had stayed in this hotel and eaten in their restaurant three or four times previously without any notice being taken of me. On this evening, Madame la patronne came over to our table to have a little chat with us, and then the chef/patron himself made his way over to us to present himself.
The wine was extremely delicious – in fact so delicious, we ordered another bottle. And we had saved ourselves about £900!