By The Case For Wine, a certified “Good Food Fighter

During a recent visit to the Southern Rhone, I was privileged to be invited for luncheon at Gerard Alonso by the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape oenologist Philippe Cambie.

Cambie’s passion in his work is Grenache, in his life the exploration and celebration of fine cuisine.

The harvest finished, we could once again relax for a sumptuous mid-day meal. A break for Philippe and his associate Victor, who between them visit and taste at 16 properties each day!!

We started the meal with a white Cotes du Rhone from Olivier Hillaire. Philippe’s joy is in promoting those he works for (he actually drinks the wines!)

Alonso’s luncheon takes the form of a set menu with many small and fascinating additions.

With the Cotes du Rhone, we were served a platter of small lentil tarts in crisp pastry, rolls of Morvan ham and tiny spoons of avocado puree.

The fish course was wild turbot in a broth made of mushrooms and served with girolles. The accompaniment was a perfect razor clam, removed from the shell, chopped and returned folded into a seafood mousse.

Next to arrive was a tiny marmite filled with pumpkin soup. This was garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds and new olive oil.

Philippe chose one his own wines next. A Calendal Plan de Dieu 2009. Made from 50% old Mourvedre and 50% old Grenache, this wine sings in the mouth. Interesting backbone and fruit from the Mourvedre with no animal scents. Very old and very ripe Mourvedre it must be.

The main course was Lièvre à la Royale. In France hunted hare are served in restaurants. For the Royale preparation, a cleanly killed hare is required for the blood is used to enrich the sauce. The hare is marinated more than 24 hours and then slow cooked for 8 hours.

Alonso laid a light puree of potato on the dish and then piled the hare chunks on top. The meat had long fallen away from the bones. He complemented the slightly gamey taste of the hare with a pan roasted torchon of foie gras. The foie gras melted into the hare in the mouth, almost like a sauce. The Calendal wine was a perfect match to the hare. The spice and black fruit were a great counterpart for the richness of the dish.

Madame Alonso rolled up the cheese trolley. I had to try the truffled Brie and a perfect St. Felicien.

Madame placed a pre-dessert tray on the table to stave off hunger while we awaited the ‘real’ dessert. Dessert itself was a tiny crème brulée, fresh second crop raspberries with a gratin of sabayon and then a pear sorbet with black and white chocolate lollipop.