12 July, 2022
Julien Pineau has a restaurant! It’s called »Archimède«! (The website is a bit misleading, actually, as it’s still the one set up by the former owners.) It is great. We were there on Saturday! Thomas and me. And Marie Rocher. And Françoise and Bruno Allion. And: Damien Menut. The restaurant is in Saint-Aignan, Julien could walk home from here… or swim. It’s co-owned by Corinne and Paul Gillet from Domaines des Maison Brûlées.
During the meal, I restrained myself and tried to take as few notes as possible – I’m afraid I will have to be vague about describing the formidable meal chef Max was responsible for. What I can say: We were greeted with an ingenious lentil paste with crackers. For the first course I opted for ceviche served with melon and dill – fantastic! The second course? Ray. With cucumber. Unbelievably good. And for dessert? Ice cream – goat, rhubarb and vanilla. We all loved it.
The wines? It started with a Pet Nat, that I found to be a bit overpowering, but everyone else at the table liked it very much. I didn’t take a photo out of protest, so I can’t say what kind of wine it was. Then Julien – he was owner, waiter and sommelier that evening – opened a bottle of Chenin from the Mosse family from 2017. »A great moment«, I thought, having already read and heard about the Mosse wines a lot. Unfortunately, my expectations were disappointed. There was no tension at all, the wine appeared downright pale. We continued with two red wines. My note on La Vigne du Perron’s »Les Ermitures« (2017) says: »Smell of egg at first, then nail polish, aggressive and sharp, but super after 15 minutes, fully open.« In any case, I initially resisted drinking the wine, which encouraged Julien to bring us another red wine, in a carafe. I was allowed to try it, after a second I knew that it had to be a Pineau d’Aunis, the only grape variety that I recognize within seconds, most likely because of its succinct peppery note in the nose and on the palate. It’s officially my favorite red (!) grape variety. Unofficially? Also. So I called out »Pineau d’Aunis!« at lightning speed, to which Julien answered just as quickly: »Oui, Monsieur!« A big hello at the table, appreciative looks from all sides. How proud I was! It was only later that it turned out to be Julien’s own »Les sucettes à l’aunis et autres gourmandises« in its 2021 edition. We continued with a very good »Brouilly« from Alex Foillard (2017), a Gamay from Beaujolais, followed by an excellent Chenin Pet Nat from the quite legendary house of Breton, which actually reminded me of Thomas’s »Les Turbulents«.
During the evening I learned a lot: Marie, when she went to the wine school in Amboise, completed the practical part of her training, her apprenticeship, with Bruno. Damien, in turn, took over parts of Bruno’s vines. Why? Because Bruno has now retired. Françoise, on the other hand, wore beautiful wooden rings that her son had designed and made. And everyone present seemed to love the song »Brave Margot« by George Brassens. Why else would they have intoned it, loudly and in unison? Everyone at the table spoke English, but of course most of the conversation was in French. So I was there from time to time as I usually understand a good 30% of what is said only. If I felt I had to be there, Thomas translated for me. Or Marie. Or Damian. It generally is a good feeling not always being able to hear and understand everything but since this was already my fourth visit to the Loire and since my knowledge about making and tasting wine had been increasing every time the urge to brush up my French was growing with every minute.
We left the restaurant at around 12:30 a.m., as the last guests. Thomas and I were supposed to spend the night at Julien’s, who had started his way home a little earlier. When we got to Julien’s there was already an open bottle on the table. A neighbour (I mean: the bottle of a neighbour who also makes wine): Hervé Villemade. Another name I’ve heard many times, but whose wine I’ve never drunk. So now it was supposed to be the time. And I was not disappointed. Extra good, his Sauvignon Blanc »La Bodice« from 2019. »Tribute« from Complemen’ Terre was a good Melon de Bourgogne, which was then followed by an iconic wine, at least for me, Julien’s »Substance«, this time in its 2020 version. It was very young and alive, there were quite a few bubbles which, at least for me, actually added to the joy of drinking this outstanding Sauvignon. The last wine for me, at 2.12 a.m.: Julien’s »Les sucettes…«, again – still great.
The next morning, as we were drinking tea and eating croissants and brioche, Julien told us that he was having serious problems finding staff. Ultimately, it would just be an extra person who would have to take care of both the wine and the service. Nobody would want to work in gastronomy anymore, it seemed. »What are the young people doing?«, I asked. A general shrug. »That’s such a brilliant job for someone who is interested in food and wine!«, I added. And that reminded me of what I had recently heard in the podcast Terroir & Adiletten, in the edition with restaurateur Sepp Schellhorn. At the end of the show, he asked bar »Freundschaft« operator and podcast co-host Will Schlögl how he would see the future of restaurants. The vision was, essentially, a bleak one: Schlögl believes, to put it bluntly, that the entire mid-level of restaurants will disappear and that in ten years there will only be cheap mass catering and chains – and expensive Michelin-star restaurants. Oh dear!