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Mixed Case: Mr. President, What's For Dinner?

Hunt for great wines and legendary winemakers, and you'll always find good food

Posted: Mar 12, 2013 2:30pm ET

By Mitch Frank

One thing I have learned in life—if you travel and can't find good food, good wine and good company, you might as well have stayed home.

In September 2000, I was a young political reporter at Time magazine, living a dream—I was covering a presidential race. For two weeks, I traveled with then–Governor George W. Bush as he crisscrossed the country, campaigning for the White House. Halfway through my stint, the campaign plane headed to Austin. Bush was taking the weekend off, so the press corps had two days free in the Texas capital.

During the flight, Bush wandered back to chat—off the record. The governor was not known for taking questions from reporters, but he did like to chat. When he got to my row, what did I ask the next President of the United States? "Governor, I've never been to Austin. Where can I find good barbecue?"

Perhaps this was a sign I should be covering wine and food, not politics.

I travel several weeks a year for work, meeting with thoughtful winemakers, creative chefs and forward-thinking business leaders to bring their stories to life in Wine Spectator. The rewards come in new vineyards explored, new wines tasted and new relationships forged. And if I'm fortunate, some delicious meals.

I've just returned from a 10-day, 1,200-mile reporting trip around France, including four days in the Southern Rhône. When I reached out to Isabel Ferrando, owner of Domaine St.-Préfert in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, she knew how to charm me. "For lunch, do you like 'bécasses?'," she wrote. A quick trip to Google Translate revealed that bécasses means woodcocks. I grew up in Miami—our idea of exotic fowl was when Pollo Tropical first opened. "That sounds delicious," I replied, thinking anything served with Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be tasty.

So, on a cold February day, while the mistral wind was trying its best to rip the weatherbeaten Grenache vines right out of the stony soils, Ferrando, her young enologist and I sat in her living room, discussing the subtleties of fermenting whole grape bunches, while her husband tended to a small flock of woodcocks on a spit roasting in the fireplace. The smell alone was excellent hospitality. 

The bécasses were delicious, especially with a full roster of Ferrando's wines. She had set up a showdown between three of her best Châteauneuf-du-Pape cuvées—all juveniles from the 2011 vintage: the silky Domaine St.-Préfert Auguste Favier (80 percent Grenache with some Syrah and Cinsault), the exuberant, lush Domaine Ferrando Colombis (100 percent Grenache) and the fruity, rich, structured St.-Préfert Charles Giraud (60 percent Grenache, 40 percent Mourvedre). Auguste Favier won my heart with the woodcocks, but I would buy Charles Giraud to cellar.

A good meal doesn't have to be fancy or well-planned, though. Apparently no one eats out in the Southern Rhône on Mondays, because when I walked into the office of Louis Barruol of Château St.-Cosme in Gigondas two days after meeting Ferrando, he was calling every restaurant he knew, trying to get a live person. (My protestations that cheese and crackers went well with Gigondas were ignored.)

In the end, we drove to Le Tourne au Verre, a simple bar/restaurant in Cairanne. Over a bottle of his 2007 La Poste, from a single vineyard we had walked through an hour earlier, we ate hanger steaks and had a heated chat about French politics.

Now I write about food and wine, and talk politics. This is a much better way to live.

Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  March 12, 2013 3:18pm ET
How did Bush respond to your question?
Lars Leicht
Old Brookville, NY, USA —  March 12, 2013 3:42pm ET
Mitch, you don't reveal the governor's answer to your question -- was the conversation that deep off the record? ;)
Peter Hellman
New York, NY, USA —  March 12, 2013 4:50pm ET
Yes, Mitch, you are evasive and must repent. Where did that good ol' boy tell you to eat the yummy stuff?
Mitch Frank
New Orleans, LA —  March 12, 2013 6:05pm ET
Not being evasive at all, gentlemen. I just know how to build suspense.

Bush responded that he was not a big barbecue fan - he was far more enthusiastic about Mexican cuisine. But he said his staffers were fans of Iron Works BBQ, which was conveniently just a few blocks from my hotel. I had no car and couldn't visit the Salt Lick or Kreuz Market on that trip.

Went to the Iron Works that night and it was great.
Daniel Davis
New Orleans, LA, USA —  March 12, 2013 11:30pm ET
Must admit to the occasional guilty pleasure of Pollo Tropical when I lived in Miami. What would you pair with those fried plantains?
Steve Trachsel
poway, CA —  March 13, 2013 3:41pm ET
Just went to Kreuz Market last week!! Was on a boar hunt and and came up empty so stopped at Smittys Market on way home to pick up sausage to take home. Both great BBQ...
R M Kriete
Melbourne, FL —  March 18, 2013 2:25pm ET
He should have told you, "Salt-Lick". Best BBQ in the world!

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