Photo by Tene Nash
The bar at La Bodega des Halles was jammed with hungry people, jostling for space amid dozens of bottles of wine and tempting displays of ham. La Bodega is one of about 70 food stalls in the bustling market of Narbonne, the ancient French port in Languedoc Roussillon, one of the oldest ports in the western Mediterranean.
Roman traders knew the port well more than 20 centuries ago. They would have a hard time of it today because the harbor silted up and the city is now some ten miles from the sea.
One of the major items of trade was wine. That has not changed. Narbonne is still a center for the wines of Languedoc Roussillon, as was clear from all the bottles on display at La Bodega. But we were not there to just look at the wine and food. We were there to eat and drink. And we did that. We being Chef Ann, Prof David, Tene the Terrific and me, the Wine Chap. We were on a brief French road trip from our home base at Maison Voltaire in Maury, on a constant quest to sample the food and wine of the region.
We started by sampling several wines, all local, before settling on two bottles, a moderate amount for four hungry and thirsty travelers. A bottle of Viognier was a good match with a plate of Beaufort cheese, a cow’s milk cheese from Savoie in the French Alps, that the Chef had foraged from a nearby cheese stand.
Then the ham. Oh, my. There was pata negra, jamon blanc, sobrassada ( a raw cured pork sausage, originally from the Balearic Islands) and others that didn’t make it into the notes. With the ham came a delicious bottle of Chateau de Valflaunés rosé from Pic St. Loup.
The Pic St. Loup wine region is one of the mostly unknown treasures of the Languedoc-Roussillon. The vineyards are higher elevation and somewhat cooler than many area vineyards. The wines are little known in the US, although Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley imports some Pic St. Loup wines.
After tidying up the last bit of rosé we did a walkabout in the plaza outside the market, where there is an mural depicting the wine protests and riots of the early years of the 20th century. Angry grape growers from all over southeastern France gathered in several cities, including Narbonne, to protest the importation of cheap and inferior wines from Algeria.
French farmers are still pissed off about inexpensive imports. In the news this morning there are reports of highway blockades and super market boycotts as farmers press the government for more support. The French are not shy about taking to the street
After all, for the French, eating and drinking locally is more than a trendy slogan. It is about enjoying and supporting a culturally rich and centuries old matrix based on the land and how humans live on it.
(One of a series of snapshots focused on food and wine in the Languedoc-Roussillon of southeast France)