Abaluche Wine Company

Fine Wine Adventures

Lugana: The Heart of Italy's Lake District

A few years back, I worked with a crazy Italian during harvest at Gainey Vineyards in Santa Barbara.  He had a shock of thick bushy brown hair, always wore bright blue or fire engine red Adidas, and ran the lab during harvest with the precision of a mob boss.  Despite his position firmly at the head of the notorious Boy's Club of Gainey (alas, similar to most wineries) during harvest, he would find the compassion to invite me along for beers at the end of the day in between critiquing my forklifting skills. "Christina, you're such a wo-man, you can't lift 6 barrels at one time!"

Medieval Fortress in Lago di Garda, Italy

Needless to stay, once the juvenile antics of harvest were all put away on the shelf and collecting dust, Domenico and I stayed in touch.  He once came out to visit me in Yountville, where I did my best to show off my regional tour guide skills.  And when I learned that I would be spending a good amount of time over in France and Italy in 2011, I made sure to get in touch with Dom to see if he was still running the show at a prominent Prosecco estate in Valdobbiadene.  When he wrote back that he had moved on to Ottella, and was producing Lugana in Northeast Italy's Lago di Garda region, my first thought was "They're making wine in the Lake District?!?". And my second was to book a train via Verona to this region of unexplored minerally and spicy floral white wine.

Ottella is one of several major estates producing DOC Lugana, which is grown on the picturesque southern slopes of the Lago di Garda, and one of the smallest DOC's in Italy.  The region nearly straddles the Veneto and the Lombardy regions of Northern Italy, and is 24 kilometers west of Verona.  To enter the region from the south, it is uncanny the similarities to another Alpine-influenced wine region, Friuli Veneto-Guilia, and the colorful villas and fisherman's homes that dot the shores of Garda only enhance the magical beauty of this most scenic region. Oh, and a few castles reign above the lake as well, hidden away in the rocky slopes.

Lago di Garda, Italy

The mild continental climate ensures frosty winters and hot summers, with a great swing in the pendulum of diurnal changes during the growing season.  The soil is rich in calcerious clay and silt from ancient lake deposits.  What does that mean for the hearty Trebbiano grape grown in this area?  Retaining florals and tropical aromas while showing off in a cloak of acidity and minerality that screams for ripe cheeses and late summer bounty from the garden.

Late winter light in the vineyards of Lugana

According to Dom, the grapes in this area have to overcome much harsher conditions than their cousins gown in the fertile southern valleys of Tuscany, as witnessed during my visit at the end of January.  Clear but freezing, the solid pack of clay earth seemed like it might never sprout life again.  After accompanying Dom and his veterinarian girlfriend Mila to the local stables to exercise their stallion in a seemingly daily ritual (he also is a roper for the local rodeos), we headed to the Ottella winery, situated just on the outskirts of Peschiera del Garda, where I would be able to taste freshly racked Lugana from the recent 2011 vintage.  Tightly wound with wonderful young aromas of key lime and zesty jasmine blossom, the acid zings through you like a sweet-tart, and even in the near-zero degree cellar, a bit of perspiration beads up on your upper lip and under your eyelids due to the acid.  Bound to rest for another vintage, I could see then the structure and finesse that the DOC Lugana possesses.

Baby Ottella Lugana DOC, fresh from racking (and in a freezing cold cellar!)

Dom then graciously handed me off to another winemaker friend and rodeo roper in the region, Nunzio Ghiraldi, whose tough cowboy exterior matched the American muscle of his Dodge Ram Extended Cab 4X4.  However, beyond the stone walls of Nunzio's family estate or tenuta, which was situated a few kilometers to the west of Ottella and just peeking over at the Lombardy border, Nunzio's true internal spirit was revealed to me.  Upon meeting me, Nunzio's excitement was palpable, as he took me by the hand, led me through the corridors of the tenuta, past the looming Dodge parked in the creamy stuccoed carport, to the edge of the first vineyard on the property, where we kneeled down together in the dirt, grabbing handfuls of it, rubbing it together between our fingers and letting the rich clay and calcareous granules release their iron-rich aromas. "This is what matters.  This and only this."  Where Dom was the bright university whiz kid who had traveled the world and could out-calibrate you in the lab at every turn, Nunzio couldn't wait to get out into the dirt where the family legacy thrives today.  Only 800 meters from the shores of Lago di Garda, Azienda Agricola Nunzio Ghiraldi has been run by the family sine 1750, and upon exploration of the original farmhouse, or podere, a few kilometers south of the tenuta, I could feel the pride Nunzio has for his family's history by the passionate way he pointed out every important wooden beam, fireplace, stone mantle, and iron latch in the place.

The beautiful podere of the familia Ghiraldi, c. 1750

Like with all producers in DOC Lugana, Nunzio's focus is with the white grape Trebbiano.  You could stop quite pleasantly at their "Il Gruccione" DOC Lugana and "Il Gruccione" DOC Lugana Superiore, which will take your breath away.  However, he produces an astounding Vendemmia Tardiva from the Trebbiano grape, and the Ghiraldi family also owns 54 hectares down in Toscana, which they truck up to Lugana for production on the estate, thus giving their line a very wild, very vibrant Sassirto Toscana (which was paired marvelously that evening with housemade culaccia di zibillo, a glorious cured salami from Parma).  The "Il Gruccione" DOC Lugana Superiore stopped me cold though, with the mineral and clay ridden soils we had just tasted out in the vineyard racing through from beginning to end to form the spine of the wine, the nose all honeyed exotic spice, and and the palate fleshed out with wonderful zesty green apple, white peach and pineapple, softened on the finish with elements of Chantilly cream, blooming white florals and a languid, glamourous finish.

Il Gruccione DOC Lugana Superiore & Il Gruccione DOC Lugana, tasted at Azienda Agricola Nunzio Ghiraldi

Something with a languid, glamourous finish is just the sort of thing you'd like to be drinking on your terrace overlooking the Lago di Garda, admiring how just before the sun dips beyond the peaks of the Italian Alps, it scatters scores of glittering jewels across the dark rippling surface all for you.

Lago di Garda, Sunset

Beaune-time is Fun-time

Dormant vineyards in Savigny-les-Beaune

Dormant vineyards in Savigny-les-Beaune

What started as an innocent, yet necessary, jaunt down to Burgundy for a few days turned into (another) ridiculously memorable experience.  As most wine professionals know, it is not recommended to turn up at a cellar door in any renown wine region without an appointment arranged at a chateau or domaine ahead of time.  This is most evident in Europe, and especially in noted regions such as Bordeaux, Loire, Champagne....and definitely Burgundy.  But, filled with hope, optimism and excitement, I jumped on the train out of Gare du Lyon in Paris and set out for the SNCF station for the center of Burgundy:  Beaune, where the Côte du Nuits and the Côte Chalonnaise form a nice little sandwich around the Côte de Beaune.  The only thing I knew for certain was happening was a meet-up with a fellow stagier from Domaine François Villard where I had just completed harvest, for a few days of pinot and chardonnay drinking, and maybe a few snails.  Having just signed on a few days ago with French importer Paul M. Young back in San Francisco, I was all of a sudden filled with the inspiration to visit such rockstars of the Burgundy scene as Nicolas Rossignol, René Bouvier and the girls at Louis Chenu Pere et Filles.

Center Ville, Beaune



Not even knowing where I was going to be sleeping that night, I was forwarded directions from Scott, which indicated that he would meet me at the station and take me into town where his host in the region, and subsequently mine, would be meeting us.  The setting of appointments would have to wait until tomorrow, which, unfortunately, happened to be Sunday.  Luckily, our host was none other than the amazing Muriel Deléger, of the famous Colin-Deléger Montrachet family.  She now resides just outside of Beaune, and runs her own organic and biodynamic vineyard consulting firm for the forward-thinking vignerons of Burgundy.  In addition, she runs a fantastic enotourism company called "Les Essence du Sens, La passion du Terroir en Bourgogne".  I don't think that needs any translation.  In effect, she hosts in-depth vineyard tours of some of the more exclusive, organically farmed properties in Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Clos du Vougeot,  Vosne-Romanée, Givry, Chablis, Beaujolais..... Daughter of the famous winemaker Georges Deléger, she is deeply rooted in the soil of Burgundy, literally, and is as passionate a enthusiast for the biodynamic and organic farming as anyone I've ever met.

Meursault vines



So Muriel was to be our personal host and guide for five days in Burgundy.  Beats the local Travelodge, for sure.  Her passion and mine ignited instantly, and that Friday night, we began making plans for the next day and for Monday and Tuesday appointments.  Better late than never.  But it seems flying by the seat of my pants, packing a bag at 10 pm the night before after getting inspired to get out of Paris and see what is literally a few hours' train ride from my door, has been my modus operandi lately.  And, as last minute plans always show, when you're not expecting much, the things that come to light take on an even more awesome aura.  My plan shaped up to be this:  Bouchard Aïne et Fils, Chateau de Meursault, Maison Champy (depuis 1720!), Domaine Chandon de Brailles, Nicolas Rossignol, Domaine Drouhin.  And a plan to eat considerable amounts of escargot.

Winter Market Goods



Saturday started leisurely at the prolific winter marché in the square just next to the famous Hospices du Beaune, and an hour drooling over the insane wine book shop inside the Athenaeum (where the infamous Côte de Nuits and Côte du Beaune topography maps came home with me).  On Saturday, for the weekend crowd, many of the large domaines located within the medieval stone walls of Beaune offer tastings and tours without appointment.  The most interesting I discovered was the tour and tasting at Bouchard Aïne & Fils, where they take you literally on a tour of the senses.  

Bouchard Aïne & Fils

Five chambers down in the domaine's cellars have been devoted to one of the senses:  Sound, Sight, Smell, Taste and Texture.  Led down dark corridors with the tell-tale French gravel crunching below your feet and the distinctive must clinging to your nostrils, you don't need much to supplement the Sound and Smell senses.  After the predictable alcove of Pure Wine Aroma Essences , we happened upon the Texture cave, where a long bar was set up alongside one side of the room, covered in six different materials:  silk, velvet, canvas, metal, fur, leather, lace, faux leather....each one representing the different textures of the wines we had tasted through.  Silk for Chambolle-Musigny, Velvet for Pommard; Fur for Vougeot Grand Cru.  The Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2004 stole my heart, although I settled for a more recent vintage of the Chambolle-Musigny to take home with me.

Château de Meursault



The next morning had me early at the doorstep of Château de Meursault, where I was greeted by a friend of Muriel's and the contact for the maison's enotourisim department.  It was still early, but as the fog lifted, and Véronique explained more about the history of the Château de Meursault....I realized I was at the home of La Paulée, the famous and exclusive lunch held to celebrate the end of the vintage, and has become in it's own right one of the big auction events in Bourgogne, in addition to Hospices du Beaune and the Clos de Vougeot dinner.   Here, the Château was founded in the 11th siécle, with the caves being built from the 11th siécle through the 16th siécle.  And we thought we had contractor issues these days.  A morning shot of 1er Cru Meursault 2006 woke me up with gunpowder, pencil lead and almonds, but balanced beautifully with the palate of peaches, apricots and honey.  I was ready for the vin rouge.  The Corton Grand Cru was outstanding, although young, and the Volnay 'Clos des Chenes' 2004 also stood out.  But really, at the Château de Meursault, it was really the Meursault that took home the prize.

Puligny-Montrachet

Champs Pere & Cie, depuis 1720



The day rounded out with a quick tour and taste at Maison Champy, one of the oldest companies in Beaune, having been formed in 1720, and has 28ha of certified Biodynamic and Organic vines.  A nice composite of wines from their various vineyards in Pernard-Vergelesses, Corton-Charlemagne, Corton and Beaune, they are elegant wines that should be enjoying more exposure in the international markets soon.  Escargot count at this point:  12.

Tasting Clos de Mouches rouge et blanc in the cellars of Joseph Drouhin

Le Cave du Joseph Drouhin



Through some miracle of local intuition, Muriel called to the offices of Domaine Drouhin, notoriously difficult to secure an appointment with, and she was able to arrange a meeting with one of their people the following morning at 10.  If you look for a huge, imposing château of a place with en enormous stone tablet outside the gate proclaiming "Domain Joseph Drouhin", you would be looking for the wrong place.  Quietly situated on a small street next to the Notre-Dame, it's humble exterior misleads you to the unbelievable history and richness below the cobblestone street.  Three acres of caves snake below the streets of Beaune; the core of which lie beneath the old crushpad that was purchased in 611 by the church to host their grape crush.  Looking out out the original glass windows onto the oldest street in Beaune, rue d'Enfer, towards the oldest church in Beaune, while standing atop some of the world's greatest wine cellars, the twinge of mold and dust in your nose and the stark chill emanating up from the stones below your feet,  you start to feel very small, and very infinite, all at the same time.   And you're connected to the past, as well as the present.  And then you wind your way down the stone and iron spiral staircase to the cave below, where the wines of Joseph Drouhin are waiting your judgement.


Home is Where your Computer Is

So now, let's see...... it was two months ago today that I took off on my last little trip around France, with stops in Champagne, Italy and Burgundy. After spending four amazing days in Champagne, I jumped back on the TGV, and headed back to Paris for the night before leaving for Beaune the following afternoon. It was a beautiful feeling to climb aboard the TGV and go 'home' to Paris. It felt so right. And arriving back into Gare du l'Est, it was just three short metro stops to my stop, a 10-minute walk through the littered cobblestones of the Goutte d'Or, past the extremly ethnic diverse street merchants selling courgette, poission and leather belts, through the three courtyard doors to the 'battement coeur', up two flights of rickety, drooping stairs, and I was home. Turning the key in the lock of the new armored door that JPC and his brother installed a few weeks earlier, I was greeted with 40sq meters of a construction zone, but it was just part of the landscape of home to me at that time. The compact and efficient kitchen, the blue protective plastic still clinging to the cupboards, the unfinished paneling surrounding the windows and the white chalky plaster on the walls leaving their marks on all of my dark clothes. The French kitchens are uncannily economic. In the space the size of an American walk-in closet, and with the help of Ikea, a typical 8sq meter space you have a fridge, convection oven and induction cooktop, a front loading energy saving washer/dryer, sink with sizable depth and a dishwasher. Really, San Francisco, is it really all that hard? I believe their plumbing is a bit older in Paris than it is here too. They seem to manage. The living room is still currently I believe the staging zone for all the DIY stuff, but at least we had finished the bedroom together. We finally had the chance to move the bed and it's impressive leather headboard in the separate living space after the walls were painted a calming, elegant shade of slate blue. We had also just put up the mirrored closet doors a few weeks ago, which now hid the expertly designed and organized closest space. Never before did I have slide out drawers with soft closes that held my jewelry, watches, and unmentionables. Such luxury! With the muted striped curtains of lavender, pale blue and grey purchased at Madura on the rue du Rivoli, it felt like a truly grown up room. The first I had ever had a hand in creating, no matter how slight. And I loved to sleep in that bed, with the oversized European goose feather pillows, the long round bolster pillow that I would entwine myself around in the morning after he'd gone to work, the simplicity of French bedding: good quality cotton perçale fitted sheet and a duvet cover, nothing more, even in the dead of winter. After sleeping on the couch of some very generous students in Reims, I was so happy to climb back into this luxurious piece of real estate in the northeast of Paris. And the bathroom, mostly finished, was expertly designed and fashioned. Towels from DeLorme warmed themselves over the sleek new radiator installed next to the shower cabinet. It was good to be home. After a long, hot 'hollywood' shower, I started the tea kettle and settled in on the only chair in the place, a standard black swivel desk chair in front of the large computer screen, to plan out my next two weeks. Listening to Arcade Fire fill the small space with sounds of longing and retreat, I increasingly found myself not wanting to leave my little haven in Paris. Yes, it was small, and yes, it was under construction, but it was home, and everything I ever needed was just a few feet away. Especially when JPC came home, and we made dinner together, and ate it in our laps on the floor, as there was only one chair and a coffeetable in the place. I found myself not wanting to leave, but the inspiration of the vineyards of Burgundy, the architecture of Venice and the landscape of the Alps kept me on track. Sometimes, when you find a place, and it becomes your home, it can be increasingly difficult to leave. Even if it is for the Grand Cru vineyards of Montrachet. But I knew I had to get out, get away, and see what was on the other side of the river. Or I would regret it forever, and be stuck wondering just what was awaiting me. 'Cause on the surface the city lights shine........they're calling at me, come and find your kind.....'

AWC in Champagne: Cattier, Chiquet et Jacquesson

A NOTE FROM ME:
I know I'm probably breaking a lot of blogging rules here, but honestly, with only a month left in Europe, I couldn't bear the thought of staying inside and writing!  Paris and beyond was waiting for me outside my window, waiting to be explored.  And so, with a fragile American Express card and 100 euros in my pocket, I embarked on what I would lovingly refer to as my last Euro 'suicide mission':  beginning on 16 janvier, I packed an itinerary for a three week tour of France and Italy, focusing on my favorite wine regions and towns, via the superb French TGV rail lines.  It looked like this:
Paris-Champagne-Strasbourg-Beaune-Lyon-Venezia-Verona-Milano-Lyon-Gigondas-Paris.  Yes, slightly insane.  But what else do you do when you're literally a few hours from each of these places??  You go.  And so I did. (Although timing and budget had me cutting Strasbourg, Lyon and Gigondas.  Always next time......)  I'll attempt over the next few posts to break it down and bring you the highlights of the adventure.  Donc, allons-y!



CHAMPAGNE
Reims is only a 45 minute TGV ride from the Gare du l'Est in Paris, so why wouldn't this be your first stop?  Especially if you're cou-cou for champers (like me)?  Of course, the reality of how helpful a vehicle would have been is evident as soon as you emerge from the train station.  Sure, there are taxis and a sleek new tram system to take you to the center of town, but if you're bent on visiting the recoltant manipulant houses, not so much the Moet et Chandon/Mumm/Pommery stuff, you need a car.  Alas, I had to do without, but with the help from some wine friends living and working in Champagne, I was able to make it out to my appointments outside of Reims with little trouble.  And outside of Reims is really where all the magic happens.

There were tastings at Lanson, and the obligatory stop at Pommery to appreciate the grandeur of their 100m deep chalk caves.  An upgrade during the tasting to the tete du cuvee, "Louise" proved to be quite uninspiring though.  The following day was much more awe-inspiring with appointments at the grower-producers of Jacquesson and Gaston Chiquet in the township of Dizy.

At Chiquet, I was hosted by the extremely passionate Nicolas Chiquet, grandson of Gaston.  He welcomed me in the foyer of what was once their family home, and was subsequently occupied by the German army during the WWII occupation of Champagne.  Chilling historical context.  And we had not even been out to the estate vineyards yet.  Of course, with their production hovering around 50,000 bottles, they are considered to be a medium-sized recoltant manipulants in Champagne, but  far smaller than others such as Jacquesson (at 300,000 bottles, they are considered the largest).  His passion for small batch fermentations is evident in the tank room, where small tanks await the individual blocks that are brought in from the family's surrounding vineyards for initital fermentation.  Long aging sur lies, and extended time in bottle before disgorgement add to the complexity of the Chiquet wines.  And then....there are the vineyards.

23 hectares, situated on the estate in Dizy and in Ay, Hautvillers and Mauriel-sur-Ay, they sit atop some of the finest soil in Champagne.  Extremely sensitive to natural techniqes in the cellar as well as out in the vineyards, Chiquet does not limit himself with organic or biodynamic certification, but steps are carefully taken in the vineyards and during production to ensure everything returns to the state in which it started.  The wines are sublime, especially the Blanc du Blanc d'Ay, made exclusively from fruit in their vineyard in Ay.  Ay is best known for Pinot Noir; however, Nicolas' grandfather had planted a bit of Chardonnay back in 1935, and it is now the only plot of Chardonnay left on the hill.  A truly outstanding wine, dubbed 'le vin du mariage' and is really worthy of such a celebration.

After time traveling with Nicolas, I walked around the corner to Jacquesson, which was purchased from the Chiquet family in 1974.  Very small world, indeed!  Doing some fine long-age blends in new 4,800 liter foudres and 600 liter tonnes, they are starting to produce (with the 2002 vintage) single-vineyard, single varietal vintage Champagnes.  I sampled the 2002 Dizy 'Corne Bautray' which showcased immense earthy, grassy freshness mixed with a bit of funk that took form in a palate of pumpkin and hay, mixed with laser-focused acidity and chalkiness.  To compare, the 2002 Avize 'Champ Cain' showed much more floral and feminine notes.

The creme de la creme of the trip (outside of the delightful time spent with M. Chiquet), was the following day, at Champagne Cattier in Chigny-les-Roses.  Through the generosity of a friend of a friend, whose cousin is the proprietor (isn't that the way in France!), I garnered an appointment, for which I will forever be grateful.  Having experienced the Cattier Champagnes in the past (at said friend-of-a-friend's apartment in Paris), I was slowly falling in love with their freshness, their complexity, and their appealing hand-crafted nature.  During one lively discussion in French, I picked up that in fact, Cattier is the house that produces the eponymous 'Armand de Brignac' (or 'Ace of Spades', as Jay-Z likes to call it).  Whether or not I would be able to actually taste such highly allocated Champagne was doubtful, but I would extremely excited to tour the cellars, discover the techniques of the house, and sample some additional blends of Cattier.

I was not disappointed.  Accompanied by the company's buyers from Brussels, we had an extremely in-depth (literally!) tour of the estate.  Descending down a rickety iron spiral staircase 30 meters below the warehouse, we were witness  to a veritable cavern of treasures.  Wines are still aged deep inside les crayeres, sur-lie, standing upside-down on their necks.  Spotted were Magnums and Jerobams from the 30's to the 70's, and up to today.  Where all these hand-crafted wines age today, used to be an ammunition storage facility during WWII.  You can still see the soldier's engravings of initials and cartoons on the chalk walls.

The tete du cuvee, Clos du Moulin of Cattier and the Armand de Brignac are both hand riddled for 3 years, and comprise only about 50,000 bottles out of their 3 million bottle production.  The caves which house the Armand de Brignac, and the riddling racks on which they rest, are reminiscent of Ali Baba's cave of riches.  Bathed in warm golden light, with the racks theatrically up-lit to showcase the gilded bottles that await the riddler's expert hands, it is truly breathtaking.  The packaging design, and in fact the concept for Armand de Brignac came from Cattier's proprietor, Jean-Jacques Cattier, who dreamed of doing something unique and special for the few barrels of truly outstanding vin clair that they wanted to keep seperate from the Cattier cuvees.  The fruit came from outside the clos, which could not be considered for their tete du cuvee, and so AdB was born.  And he is proud to admit that he decided on the decadent packaging, while his wife named the wine after a French literary hero.

As for the wines of Cattier, which I had the pleasure of exploring over a lengthy lunch just outside of Reims at on of Cattier's best accounts (which, by the way, was an American WWII Air Force-themed steak restaurant called Le Hangar.  I was not expecting that one!  But, the food was great, the owner friendly and attentive, and we had the luxury of lounging and drinking one bottle after another of the Cattier Champagnes without anyone to hurry us along.).  Brut, Blanc du Blanc, Blanc du Noir, Rose....all fresh, elegant, lively with fruit but balancing with great complexity and richness.  My notes for all the wines echo the same:  round, fresh, beautiful finish.  White flowers, cassis, brioche.....all lovely things to taste among foie gras, crispy duck confit and homemade toffee and caramel profiteroles.

Hearing the stories of the history of the house from Jean-Jacques, his son Alexandre and their General Director Phlippe over lunch, and after the surreal underground experience in the caves of Cattier, no wonder I came away believing even more now than ever, that Champagne is a dream, that can easily turn to reality before your very eyes.


Following the Gourmand Trail, Part Deux

Part Deux takes us from the inimitable Pierre Gagnaire just around the corner to the classic Taillevant, and on down the Faubourg St. Honoré past Le Bristol to Alain Senderens and finally, the Pavillion Ledoyen.

Waiting for the guests
Taillevant, 8ème, **
Granted it's first Michelin star in 1948, just 2 years after opening its doors, Taillevant has been the barometer for fine French cuisine since then.  Always classic, the restaurant has moved three times, achieved a three-star status, and currently resides inside an 19th century townhouse on rue Lamennais.  The history of the restaurant is rich; once occupying the former embassy of Paraguay, opening Les Caves Taillevent and L'Angle du Faubourg, and the eventual loss of one star in 2007.  Chef Thomas Keller also spent some time behind the stoves here before moving on to New York in the mid-80's.  Chef Alain Solivérès is the current master of the kitchen, and the cuisine is still considered some of the finest in the city; the experience of a lunch or dinner tasting at Taillevant is unparalleled, and always highly recommended.

The Famous Bakery
You'll then find yourself near the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, a perfect excuse to promenade down this famous route, and you can see the gradual transition from sleepy art galleries and antique shops to designer chocolatiers, patisseries, and finally, Hermès (the original saddler opened here in 1880).  You'll also pass by one of the city's most celebrated hotel properties, Le Bristol, where our 6th top restaurant lies.
At 749€ a night, why wouldn't you check in?
Le Bristol, 8ème.  ***
In the decadent hotel that opened in April 1925, right along the Rue Faubourg St. Honoré and Avenue Matignon.  The hotel and it's eponymous restaurant were named for the Count de Bristol, a famous British traveler who was renowned for his splendid taste of all things luxurious and refined.  But it's history as a hotel dates all the way back to 1829, known then as the Vogüé Hôtel, named for the Count Charles de Vogüé.  Today, the hotel is just as resplendent as it most likely was at the turn of the century, in part due to a grand restoration that was just completed in 2011.

Originally founded 1880.
Continuing down the Fbg St. Honoré, you'll pass the grand ateliers that made the this street their home as early as 1880 (Hermès, Lanvin) to the early 20th century pioneers of Parisian haute couture (Chanel, Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Rochas, Christian Lacriox).  At Rue Royale, turn left to walk past Gucci up to the Place du Madeleine.  At this picturesque place (and one of my top 3 Places in Paris), you'll see our 7th restaurant on the list.

Alain Senderens, née Lucas Carton.
Alain Senderens, 8ème, **
Formerly the famous Lucas Carton restaurant, Chef Alain Senderens, a founding father of 'Nouvelle Cuisine', took over ownership in 2005 where he renamed it, and kept the cuisine as hot as it was when he began cooking there in 1985.  Famously, he claims to have returned the three stars the restaurant earned as Lucas Carton when it was relaunched, claiming that he "could not charge an affordable price for meals while keeping up the standards Michelin required." He has apparently not lost his magic touch, as the restaurant now boasts two stars.  Even if the prix fixe menu of 100€ is too much, there is the fantastic Bar Passage du Senderens, the entrance inside an adjacent arcade, and a dining room above the main restaurant with a lovely leafy view of the Place du Madeleine.  The tasting menu, although smaller, is just as carefully designed and presented as I would assume it's done downstairs. Flavors pop, and reflect the seasons perfectly.  A great way to experience the great cuisine of Chef Senderens, at an even smaller fraction of the price of his already modestly priced menu.

Dejeuner à la Passage Senderens
Heading down towards the Place de la Concorde and the Seine, along the rue Royale, you'll pass the splendid façade of Maxim's, with the heavy burgundy-colored velvet drapes and intricate gilded Belle Epoque details. I've only been in to enjoy a Kir Royale at Le Petit Maxim's next door, but hope to return someday for the full show.  Head to the right of the Concorde, to pass in front of the grand Hôtel Crillion, to the left of the Espace Pierre Cardin, and across the Champs-Elysées.  You'll discover the last stop on the Gourmand Trail, Ledoyen.

Maxim's:  The Gift Shop
Christofle, rue Royale
Ledoyen, 8éme, ***
Established in 1791, this is Paris's oldest restaurant.  The history and impact of this restaurant on French cuisine through the centuries is palpable the minute you come face to face with the Pavilion.  With the ornate gilded and crystal-encrusted decor, lush landscaping, and million-dollar view of the Jardins des Champs-Elysées and the Place de la Concorde, it is no wonder why the nobility and the royalty of France came to this spot to dine (as well as artists and literary luminaries).  But at the same time, it does not overpower or intimidate you.  It seems you have been invited to a fabulous dinner party at a friend's estate in the countryside (who happens to be the Emperor).

The magnificent Ledoyen
Although I can imagine the interior to be just as 'contemporary' for the 18th century as the façade, I'm sure the dishes have undergone some sort of wonderful transformations in their time.  And although not the 'Nouvelle Cuisine' that seems to be de régulier at most of the top restaurants in Paris, the Guy Savoy's and Alain Senderens and Pierre Gagnaire's of France had to gain inspiration from somewhere.  Perhaps this is one of the places.

Est. 1792
It's a perfect way to end the tour of some of Paris's cherished gastronomic palaces.  And now, for my reward:  off to Eric Kayser bakery for a café, a galette du citron, and a fresh baguette for the morning.  Some chefs claim it's the best bread in Paris (for others, it's Pôlaine...more on that debate later), but at 4,40€, this is one of the 'Best Of's' that I can actually afford!

Mmmmm...Eric Kayser pastries.  And the Galettes du Roi!

Bon appétit, et a la prochaine!

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