Some legendary French wine regions, like the Loire and the Rhône, are notoriously unwelcoming to tourists. Most of the famous wine producers have little interest in opening tasting rooms. And, until recently, there just weren’t many good places for a traveler to eat, beyond a few straightforward country-inn dining rooms and a handful of extravagant Michelin-multistarred restaurants. But now, haute chefs like Michel Troisgros in Roanne and Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles have opened casual places with terrific food and accessible wine lists. And some wine-country insiders, like chef Jean-Marc Bourgeois and winemaker Olivier Leflaive (renowned for his Burgundies) have taken things even further: They’ve opened amazing inns to make guests feel especially at home in French wine country.
The Loire Valley
Duck with Parmesan cream at Le Chai. Photo courtesy of Le Chai.
There are hundreds of gorgeous châteaus in the Loire valley; what makes Manoir de Restigné especially alluring is its restaurant, Le Chai, featuring Damien Cousseau’s pristine, inventive cooking. Like Loire winemakers known for their biodynamic methods, Cousseau sources local organic ingredients, which he uses to create fantastical combinations like fried foie gras with beet ravioli and beet ice cream, or roasted prawns with celery custard and chestnuts. Wines, like Domaine Breton’s mellow, cassis-flavored 2006 Trinch! Bourgueil, reflect Le Chai’s location in the middle of the Cabernet Franc–centric Loire.
Although his family name is synonymous with stellar Sancerre, Jean-Marc Bourgeois is a brilliant chef. Last year, he and his wife renovated and expanded their restaurant La Côte des Monts Damnés in the minuscule town of Chavignol, adding a hotel and a bistro. In the fancy dining room, he offers an indulgent menu that might include extra-wide tagliatelle with goat cheese and nutmeg butter; the bistro serves simpler dishes like duck salad with nut-oil vinaigrette. For obvious reasons, there’s Sancerre on the wine list in both places, including Sancerre rouge (little of which is exported to the U.S.) like Henri Bourgeois’s cherry-rich 2008 Les Bonnes Bouches. The bistro’s selection is especially approachable, with bottles like Claude Lafond’s bright 2008 Reuilly Blanc ($27).