First, we see tall medieval towers above a green ocean of vines. They announce the Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a building which thirty years ago became the stronghold of the Cathiards, Florence and Daniel. The couple succeeded in putting this 78-hectare vineyard, in Martillac (Gironde), on the map of the great wines of Graves. And their daughter Alice has made it a bastion of wine tourism, by creating, in 1999, with her husband, Jérôme Tourbier, in the middle of the grapes, Les Sources de Caudalie. This luxury hotel with vintage charm has a spa focusing on “vinotherapy”, where customers bathe with delight in wooden barrels: here, we rejuvenate in oak barrels.
We needed a chef in tune with this winegrower universe. We imagined a cook à la Dionysos experienced in bacchanalian celebrations, and it is a fifty-something of Olympian calm and rare humility, Nicolas Masse, who appears. This native of Cherbourg (Manche) now oversees three establishments within the hotel complex: Rouge, a tapas bar (plates from 9 euros), La Table du Lavoir, a gourmet inn (dishes around 25 euros) , and La Grand’Vigne, a two-star restaurant (menu from 165 euros). Since his arrival in 2009, Nicolas Masse has made his kitchens a unique experimentation laboratory, where he seeks the perfect match between food and wine. Here, and this is an exception, the cuisine serves the vines.
The chef goes beyond the obvious (exit the winegrower’s sauce), smokes his meat with vine shoots, works a chocolate ganache with the wood of roasted barrels, thinks about his dishes as others do the assembly of good bottles: in adjusting their acidity, their texture, their length in the mouth… Interview with a lover of grapes, who places the glass at the heart of the plate.
When you arrived in Martillac in 2009, in the kitchens of Sources de Caudalie, the Bordeaux region was a gastronomic quasi-desert. Why ?
There were very few stars: Thierry Marx, Michel Portos, Philippe Etchebest… And the territory was generally not very dynamic. We came to visit a castle, discover a wine, not large tables. The local restaurants remained on a rustic cuisine, with very good dishes, such as lamprey à la bordelaise [la sauce mélange du vin rouge et le sang du poisson], but lacked creativity. In the last ten years, everything has developed. And the big wine houses have understood the interest they had in hosting chefs.
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