The French toast

The French toast

Tucked away in the Midi-Pyrenees region in Southern France is a pretty little town named St Puy. We went there for a wedding celebration and were enchanted by the French cuisine, customs and culture. As the guests of a local family, we had the opportunity to get acquainted with the charming French ways as we had a lot of things to do, see and taste!

 

Chateau de Monluc is perched atop a picturesque hill in the town and is the centre of a large vineyard in the region called Gascony. People have lived in the region since the Neolithic Age. Monluc was built in the 10th century, partially destroyed in the 13th century and rebuilt later by the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Hardi once; and several times after, as it changed hands frequently. It was finally purchased by a wine-maker by the name Rene Lassus who developed the vineyard. Today, the Chateau belongs to his descendants, three brothers who have divided among themselves — the work that the industry entails.

The Chateau was the fairy-tale location chosen for the toast-raising ceremony on the morning of the wedding. It was a sunny day and there was a gentle breeze and the walk from BeauSoleil (Beautiful Sun), the name of our hosts’ house, to the Chateau was invigorating. The terrace, which was on top of the small hill, was superb and one could get a panoramic view of the hills and the breathtakingly stunning Gascony countryside for miles around.The local belief is that if you are able to spot the Pyrenees Mountains in the South-Westerly direction in the morning and afternoon, you can be certain that it will rain within the next three days. During our week-long stay, we were not able to spot the mountains even once. Sure enough, there was no rain to play spoilsports.

The Chateau, which is lovely stone structure surrounded by a garden and pond, was an idyllic setting for the wedding toast which was hosted for the couple by the owners of the Chateau. The special wine was brought out from under the shade of the magnificent trees and it was a simple ceremony, attended by family and friends. Vine growing was introduced by Romans and shared with local carpenters, who were experts in creating very effective oak barrels. Thus was born the world-renowned wine-making industry, which grew so remarkably that soon South France began exporting excellent wines in large quantities, even to Rome. The Pousse Rapiere is the signature aperitif of Gascony. It was invented by Rene Lassus in the 1960s and produced exclusively by the Lassus family at the Monluc Vineyards.

The name Pousse Rapière is derived from the rapiere, the long light sword brought back to France from the 16th century wars in Italy by the returning Blaise de Monluc, marshall and illustrious captain. Later, we went around the wine cellar and saw the large photograph of Blaise Monluc, our host pointed out that though the credit goes to him for bestowing the name on the local wine, he was a man of great cruelty. The drink was neat, supposedly similar to that of the ‘sword’s push’!

The cocktail consists of two elements — Armagnac liqueur flavoured with bitter orange, the recipe of which is a closely-guarded secret and the other, a traditional sparkling wine. It is the perfect blend of the two components and is meant for special occasions. We ambled along to the grape-crushing area of the Chateau that was used 600 years ago and visited the underground cellars.

We passed through the hall where they offered a tasting and arrived at the room of exhibits. Here, the wine-making paraphernalia from a bygone era, like an old press, as well as equipment meant for fermenting, filtering and distilling wine, are displayed.

We brought back a souvenir, a model of the Swordsman Monluc, which despite his fierce looks and menacing rapier, brought back the pleasant memories of a visit to a charismatic castle!

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