Tuesday, November 24, 2015


RAYR - The Wine Shop, 67 Pascal Ave, Rockport ME

On a recent Saturday I motored up to Camden/Rockport for a well overdue visit to two of Maine's Gems in food & wine, RAYR Wines in Rockport and Francine Bistro in Camden. 
Only an hour and 40 minutes or so drive from Portland, it is well worth carving out time for a visit, especially this time of year when the summer season has calmed down and the feel is more low key and local ... just what we love! Nonetheless, both venues were still bustling with energy.

Tasters reveling in the wines at RAYR

The occasion precipitating the trip was a tasting of SoPo Wines (presented by SoPo rep, Heidi Martin) at RAYR Wines. 

I loved the Domain Guerrin & fils Saint Veran Le Clos Vessats 2013. A French Burgundy (therefore 100% Chardonnay), lovely lemon yellow color with floral essences on the nose such as acacia flower. You'll want to drink this not too cold in order to truly experience the luscious rounded fruits ... white peach and pear, along with the soft, creamy mouthfeel. This all balanced by beautiful acidity. The estate is located just west of the Macon in the village of Vergisson. Terroir is decidedly clay/limestone, which truly comes through in this artisanal wine. I am offering this as one of my wine choices on my Thanksgiving table, for those enjoying white with their turkey. And somehow I imagine this will be perfectly exquisite with a savory parsnip/sweet potato dish as well. $22/bottle. A Peter Weygandt Selections, Weygandt - Metzler, Unionville, PA.

Wines from the Vaucluse region of France really float my boat! The Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone is earthy & herbacious with underlying minerality and great depth of fruit. Old vine grenache blend (75%), with 15% Cinsault, 10% Syrah. Located in Travaillon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from an estate of 5th generation winemakers, the Brunel family has owned vineyards here since the 17th century. Soil is stony with limestone subsoil. No herbicides or pesticides used. Sustainable farming and companion planting employed around vines. $14/bottle. Robert Kacher Selections, NY, NY
Proprietor Jason Haynes & SoPo rep Heidi Martin
Local French Chef, David Grant
We in Portland are lucky to have so many wonderful venues for wine, however, I can safely say that RAYR would fine itself in a unique niche if located here in our fair city! The milieu at RAYR is artful, warm and tasteful with a truly amazing selection of wines - palate is decidedly Old World, so close to my heart (and tastebuds). That said, Owner Jason Haynes has found a way to represent a broad spectrum of wines for varied palates, in a serenely tasteful way.  One may also find a delicious selection of fine specialty food items here. 

After the tasting, time for a bite to eat. My friend (and illustrious french/local chef), David Grant joined me for a little sojourn just up the road, to Francine Bistro in Camden ... his stomping grounds, bien sure!

We were welcomed by warm, wafting aromas from the kitchen and a lovely ambiance in the dining room. We elected to find a seat at the bar (always preferred when tasting plates with a glass ... near kitchen, knowledgeable staff & most likely in the company of other food/wine geeks!),  and had a nice chat with Barman Chip Dewing. At this point I was thinking something sparkling might be the way to go. He offered a couple of tastes: their house sparkling, Casteller, a Spanish Cava from Ole' Imports and Adami Prosecco Garbel Brut, Italy. 

The Adami prosecco, with its lighter style, fine cascading bubbles and delicate green apple fruit paired beautifully with the citrusy Brussel sprout salad w/walnuts, pear, smoked ricotta, peccorino and mustard vinaigrette. 

David opted for Devils on horseback, w/serrano wrapped dates, chevre, lemon puree' and purple mustard as well as Spicy Crab Tostada, w/lobster knuckle, urchin, avocado, crispy onion & kohlrabi. Being fuller bodied, with a brilliant vibrancy, the Casteller Cava was wonderfully paired.

Also noteworthy was the delicious house-made artisanal breads. I am looking forward to another visit to experience so much more of what they have to offer!

For now, an excellent, rich cup of coffee from the espresso machine and I was ready (though reluctantly) to make my way back south!

Chef/Owner of Francine, Brian Hill has another establishment as well: Shepherd's Pie, a rousing pub overlooking the harbor in Rockport. 

Fab Felines @ Francine rest room!
These seasoned venues have been around for many years now. If you haven't already experienced them, give yourself a treat and  seek them out during these off-season months, when you can really breathe in all they have to offer ... 

Cheers & Bon Apetit!  


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