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Food Wine Italian Riviera: wine and Bordeaux dogue

Until today I’d only ever enjoyed the espresso, cappuccino, snacks and amazing wines at Da Nicco. This upscale, panoramic caffè-bar-hangout is just off the Via Aurelia—the old coast road that runs the length of Liguria. From the deck and inside tables you can see all the way back to Genoa, a breathtaking view. But this time around we met an extraordinary animal, and learned a tidbit of unusual French history.
The animal was what its owner called a “dogue de Bordeaux”—an old breed of dog from the Bordeaux region. To me it looked like a cross between a mastiff and a bulldog (that made sense, since a bulldog is a “bull dogue” in French). In fact, the other name for this hound is French mastiff.
At the shoulder this specimen of “dogue” stood almost as high as my hip, and though I’m not a particularly tall person that translates to a very large pooch.
“His name is Zeus,” said the owner, an affable if roughshod guy in his 50s. Alison asked if Zeus’ wife was named Juno, but somehow the joke was lost in transition and translation from the Greek to the Roman pantheon of gods. Zeus seemed like a mild-mannered fellow, a fact for which we were very grateful. “He weighs 55 kilos,” said the owner, straining to leash and restrain Zeus, who simply wanted to make friends. Fifty-five kg is Alison’s weight.
“Just don’t give him any Pinot Noir,” I said, patting his jowly head. “May I call him Cabernet?” I added. This time the joke broke through the language and humor-barriers.
Funnily, after 25 years living in France, I’d never run into a “dogue Bordelais”, and I said so to the dog’s owner.
“They were used in the Middle Ages to draw the small carts on which cadavers were piled,” Zeus’ owner explained cheerfully. “Then the royal court adopted them, in the 17th century. Louis XIV. If you go to Versailles you’ll see them shown in certain paintings.”
This took us by surprise. We’ve been to Versailles umpteen times, and we take tour guests to the chateau (on our Paris, Paris Tours). But we’ve never seen a “dogue Bordelais” in a painting out there. We promised the owner and his dogue that we’d be sure to check carefully, and would report back next time we came to Da Nicco.
In the meantime, we bought half a dozen bottles of fine Italian wines—no Bordeaux or Burgundy either—and finished our perfect cappuccini (Illy coffee). It was drizzling but we could still see the sweep of the coast below, from Recco to Genoa.
Merry Christmas!

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  1. Definitely drinks Bordeaux–will bite you if you pour him Pinot Noir or any other wine/grape varietal… And anyone who believes that must be willing to lap up anything… Actually, the dog was amazingly gentle and seemed more like an herbal tea dog.

  2. What an interesting tidbit of information about the “dogue de Bordeaux”, and it makes a good story! Do you think the dog drinks Bordeaux?

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