Hats off for the Relais de Reuilly in the western part of the Marne Valley in Champagne. Located on the road parallel to but south of the Marne River.
After 28 years owning and running this small hotel restaurant, chef Martial Berthuit still has enthusiasm, energy and ideas. Walking a fine line between creativity of flavor associations and traditional fare, he hits spot on for perfect cooking times and appropriate portion size.
His amuse bouches of variations of sardines was spot on! Here is a dish that is stunningly delicious and costs nothing! Bravo! Especially in this era of ‘la crise’ and purchasing power, his most expensive menu is worth at least twice as much as he is charging!
We did have some prestigious ingredients later on in the menu like these riz de veau (sweet breads) with a risotto made with carrots and simply sautéed girole mushrooms. The sweet-inherent sweetness of sweet breads went perfectly with the carrots, but there was a little too much parmesan (bitter) in with the carrots.
His rougets dish with filo covered beets and sweet onions was really spot on. The earthyness of the beets and the meatiness of the rougets were very harmonious and went like a charm with the wine we were having: a 2003 Ambonnay Rouge from Egly Ouriet.
Very ripe (2003 was one of the ripest vintages on record in France but especially in Champagne). Spicy (he uses magic casks from Dominique Laurent which are very toasty and give a lot of spice). This is 100%Pinot Noir, bottled neither fined nor filtered. An excellent Pinot that would be hard to place in Champagne if tasted blind. Dark purple and black fruits of very ripe pinot with lots of exhuberant floral aromas. Smooth tannins, despite the concentration-more concentrated than Egly Ouriet’s usual style of Coteaux Champenois Ambonay. Francis Egly likes to describe his red as ‘an infusion’ of Pinot. Like with tea, he does not let it infuse too long such as to extract only pure aromas of fruit without any hard tannins. Like most great Burgundies of the Cote de Nuits, this wines concentration is mostly aromatic. The chalky terroir of the village of Ambonnay is just as good as many premier crus.
We also drank one of the 4 years on the lees with the Entre Ciel et Terre cuvée from Francoise Bedel. She is located in the extreme western Marne Valley which is not exactly famous for its quality of terroir. Hers might be an exception but between great vineyard work, low yields, long bottle aging in her cellar on the yeasts and little or no filtration, she shows that people of quality even in champagne are following the examples of other regions in France. Showing to the world that even with an average terroir, if you have nailed down all of the other points and interventions that contribute to quality, you can make a far better wine than a semi-industrialized wine made by someone-even a small grower who inherited grand crus and doesn’t not make those same choices for quality. Terroir is, of course, important; but what you do with it is maybe equally if not more important.
I could not forget to comment on the pistachio dessert: The best pistachio ice cream I have had in years combined perfectly with red and pink berries. The bitter sweetness of the pistachios harmonized with the tartness of the berries.
One more thing: this place also has a great terrace (if it is warm enough!)