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My 2011 Rhone Valley Food Trip

I promised Kelly McAuliffe that I will visit him in Southern Rhône the next time I’m in Europe, so when I went to Europe to participate in the Mondial du Pinot 2011 I decided it was time to make good on my promise.

The only American Sommelier in France, Kelly McAuliffe used to work for none other than world-renowned chef, Alain Ducasse. Now he consults with winemakers, educates novices and professionals alike, and provides private wine tours of the Rhône wine region. He chauffeurs you around, which is great because you don’t have to spit out the wines during tastings. And the best part is, you get what is essentially an exclusive, “backstage” access to top Rhône wineries (many of which received 100 points for their wines from Robert Parker in 2007).

Kelly is hands-down one of the best tasters around, a great story-teller and an excellent educator (and I don’t say such things lightly). So if you want to get to know the Rhône wine region–and I mean, really get to know the place look him up (

We stayed on the outskirts of Avignon, in Les Angles where we resided in a beautiful villa that Kelly owns and rents out. It’s very conveniently located, sitting right next to Kelly’s home, it’s just a 5 minute drive from the villa to the heart of Avignon, which makes it so easy to get in and out of town.

Avignon, a historic medieval city, is one of those places you must visit if you ever go to France. The culinary capital of Southern France and the capital of the Black Truffle, this place is ideal for discovering the exquisite delights of southern French cooking.

Speaking of culinary delights, let me tell you about a must-visit restaurant in Avignon.

Restaurant Gérard Alonso

After spending the morning sampling wines with Christophe of Domaine de la Janasse, we proceeded to Restaurant Gérard Alonso in Sorgues, a few minutes’ drive from the Janasse Estate.

This restaurant is a true treasure. Gerard and his wife run the entire restaurant by themselves. Every dish is prepared to order, yet the timing is perfect and the presentation so impeccable it is hard to believe this is basically a two “man” show.

The cheese platter is extraordinary with its superb selection of perfectly ripe cheeses. Now, that says a lot about a place! The restaurant has a first-rate wine list with a huge selection of Burgundy, something you don’t often see in Southern France. And the prices, they’re extremely reasonable considering the quality of the food, wine and service.

Restaurant Gérard Alonso is definitely a restaurant you should not miss if you’re ever in Avignon. I’ll go so far as to say that this is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to this year. I agree with Kelly, this restaurant could easily get a Michelin star if Gerard wants it.

I can spend all day telling you about how incredibly good this restaurant is, but a picture being worth a thousand words and all that I figure I’ll let the pictures above do the talking. Again, I urge you to take the time to visit this restaurant. You will not regret it. FYI we paid Euro 29 per person for the lunch menu (wine extra)!