Pssst… Want to taste some fine, old Jura wine? Go to Besançon quick …
The place to go is right in the old town of Besançon in the French department of the Doubs, between Alsace and the Jura. Book a table at Christophe Menozzi’s restaurant of the same name and then simply ask to see him (or the sommelier if he’s not there) and discuss your wishes – you are in for an unusual treat.
I was introduced to Christophe Menozzi a few years ago, by another extremely well respected Jura sommelier, Stéphane Planche. Stéphane has his own interesting little wine shop, Les Jardins de Saint Vincent in Arbois, and for a decade has also been the sommelier/buyer for the best restaurant in Arbois – and possibly the Jura, the two-Michelin star Jean-Paul Jeunet. Both men are passionate supporters of Jura wine and have taught me much over the years.
At the time, Christophe owned a small hotel and restaurant further south in the pretty Lake District of the Jura, in a little town called Doucier. Having achieved various accolades (best sommelier in French-speaking Switzerland in 1999 and best in Jura-Franche-Comté in 2000), he had come back from working in Switzerland and elsewhere, to indulge his own passion for Jura wines and their producers. Though the hotel was modest, the restaurant built up a good reputation, not surprisingly especially for its wine list.
Finding Doucier too limiting, Christophe fell upon the opportunity to buy a restaurant in one of oldest buildings in the centre of Besançon, the Mungo Park. He has changed its name and is gradually improving the décor, but the focus is on regional food to showcase his fantastic collection of wines. The à la carte menu is short, with the fixed price menus offering the choice of paying extra for a selection of wines by the glass, something that is such a good idea, when the restaurant has a fine wine collection and an experienced sommelier at the helm.
We went there in the early evening so that I could interview Christophe before dinner for some quotes which will appear in a forthcoming article on the Jura in Sommelier Magazine (due to be published in October 2008). We never got to see the menu or choose that evening and instead were brought a series of dishes with a wine to match each one. The food highlight was a starter of a filo parcel of pork cheek with pan-fried foie gras and spices with a Macvin reduction (Macvin is a type of liqueur wine from the Jura made by blending Marc du Jura with unfermented grape juice followed by oak ageing) sublimely matched with a ripe (non-oxidative) Arbois Chardonnay 2004 from Domaine St-Pierre.
The wine highlight was a 1994 Arbois Pupillin Ploussard from the legendary Pierre Overnoy, whose wines though I respect, I don’t always enjoy … this was like drinking liquid history. The pale, pale red wine had a nose that was reminiscent of wines from another age – musty cellars, but in a good way; the palate was initially hard as stone with some fruit which emerged in particular on the long finish, whereas there was a gap on the mid-palate. With time and with the match of Magret de Canard served with vegetables on a type of pancake, it opened up and the classic ‘petits fruits rouges’ or redcurrants and bitter cherries emerged. Poulsard/Ploussard is such a bizarre grape that it can almost only be enjoyed in context and here we had it.
The wine list is small, so the idea is to have a discussion in advance or when you arrive, if possible with Christophe (he does speak English) as to what you might like him to dig out of his extensive cellar of Jura wines that he has been building up for years. If you show you are keen, he will present you with some great surprises.
Restaurant Christophe Menozzi is at 11 Rue Jean Petit, 25000 Besançon. Telephone 03 81 81 28 01. Closed Sundays and Mondays. No website. The menus are €17 – €40 with an extra amount payable on each for a selection of wines by the glass.
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UPDATE 2010: Sadly Christophe Menozzi has had to sell his restaurant and is now based near Arbois running tastings and events.