Dispatches to Sir Kev Dutton from the Tarn et Garonne – Saint Antonin-Noble-Val, et la campagne 29.08.13

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Cher Sir Kev,

While life in London swirls inexorably in far reaching ways life in the Tarn et Garonne is simply, well quieter. With the Feast of the Assumption over many of the French holiday makers have packed their baguettes and headed for home, leaving just a few Brits to eke out the last of the summer.P1020498

Indeed, it is suddenly so quiet, so bereft of tourists, we had a heck of time finding a restaurant the other evening. Our local, the Auberge du Vieux Moulin, is closed and the owners are away on holiday, without consulting us. Our second choice, in Puy La Roque, was also closed, and we had to drive deep into the night, beneath a canopy of stars, to find a Logis in Caylus, where I ate indeterminate bits of geese and ducks.

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You would have enjoyed our evening in Caussade last week. A small party of us attended a ‘degustation’ at Vente Vins, a fine wine and delicacies emporium on the town square: A celebration of the Malbec grape, used in the rich and indomitable red wines of Cahors,  an elegant town a few miles west of here, on a bend in the Lot river. When I first visited Cahors in the 70s they couldn’t give their wine,  once favoured by Russian Tsars, away and connoisseurs mocked its bucolic primitiveness.

But things have changed Sir Kev. Today the once crude wine from Cahors has been refined, and to many is comparable to Northern Rhones, but at a third of the price. Sadly, I had to take it easy due to the infernal gout, but I can wholeheartedly recommend any Cahors older than seven years, and which would set you back about 30 euros a bottle. Compare that to an equally fruit laden and chocolatey Hermitage that would cost several times more.

During the course of the evening a young man decanted the wines and explained the production process. With my French I struggled to follow, and with Kim wondering why she was there,  we found ourselves quoting from the film Sideways to pass the time. That was until the charming assistant produced plates of rare cheeses to accompany the vintages. Believe me the Beaufort Reserve, when combined with a glass of Cahors 2000 ‘Prince Probus‘,  is an experience my taste buds will struggle to equal in my lifetime.

Returning from a morning walk with Asta we bumped into Anka and her friend Inika, on their way to St.Antonin-Noble-Val for a walking tour of the town – that would be in English. Despite being inappropriately attired (my best Goth/Camden boots, and forgive me, camouflage shorts) they insisted I hop in and join them. The guide who was supposed to have led the group had broken his leg and instead we were guided by an Englishman, who until recently had run a small ex-pat bookshop there.

P1020386There are few lovelier towns, with ancient lanes and grand Italianate buildings, shaded by tall plain trees, and all in the shadow of a mighty limestone escarpment. At different times the St.Antonin has been French and English, its wealth derived from a tannery industry. These days the lanes have pretty boutiques with chic bits and bobs suited to tourism. What struck me Sir Kev was the sheer number of ancient retail properties for sale, some large enough to accommodate small department stores. Many English buy them, working the summer and either hunkering down around wood burning stoves, or heading back to Blighty for the winter.P1020495_2

I have become quite taken with St.Antonin and these past few evenings Kim and I , always with Asta who is the most agreeable and contented pup, have enjoyed pastis aperitifs on the terrace of the Bar du Commerce. Not the swankiest joint, but a shady place to enjoy the comings and goings.

Speaking of which the weather has noticeably changed during the past month. I needed a blanket for the first time last night, and with the morning sun that little bit lower I have taken to wearing a cardigan for breakfast sur la terrace. Autumn is just around the corner and we shall be leaving Tarn et Garonne in two days. I shall be sad to go. The peace and tranquility is overwhelming. The limestone cliffs and dry stone walls, and ancient oak woodlands, the lunches of bread and cheese, Hubert’s bakery, our horses, and the eternal splendour of the skies at night, will hard to leave. But we shall, and then I shall toast this fine land with my last Havana.

A bientot Sir Kev.

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1 Response to Dispatches to Sir Kev Dutton from the Tarn et Garonne – Saint Antonin-Noble-Val, et la campagne 29.08.13

  1. Monsieur,
    Not too much to report from the Smoke my dear fellow although, having used those words, you’ve missed some decent cricket these last few weeks, watching the Aussies tumble, and a very engaging appearance by Henry Blofeld on DB’s program last Saturday. What a pair they make!
    I’m sure I speak for all readers of your epistles when I thank you for keeping us all so poetically well fed these last few weeks. Not that I mind working in Londres during the month of August (it’s like having the house to yourself for a few weeks) but being able to drift away from time to time stirred by your accounts of bread made, kingfishers seen, places observed, atmospheres absorbed and wines (and eau de vie) tasted in such a richly painted rural idyll has been heart-warming. I feel I have plenty to get on with now. Not just the music from your first dispatch, but culinary paths to follow and those wines you mention too. I’d have loved to have heard the Sideways conversation (I’m also a fan) and will go to work forthwith on the Cahors although it’ll have to be pretty top notch to compete with an Emmanuel Darnaud Crozes-Hermitage; I do love those hefty Rhones. And I’d have loved to have had even the thinnest sliver of that Beaufort. When it comes to food and drink, there really is nothing as good as fine cheese and wine, is there? As for the camouflage shorts, all I can say is ‘quelle horreur!’ I think Niven and Bogarde would have been most unimpressed. Perhaps, Crusoe, it is time to sail back to Blighty again?
    Your friend,
    Sir Kev Dutton (Viscount Doutogne DP, Vcl, TDF.)

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