Get away: Wine lovers take to the streets in stereo

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Who would have thought that "I Will Survive" would make such a great tune for a brass band? Barely recognisable, but it seems to be as enjoyable for the trumpets, trombones and saxes of Jimbalaya, Nrac's finest, as for any karaoke fan.

We've taken our places at the long trestle tables that are blocking the streets of Nrac, a small town on the Base river in south-west France. Nrac's best traiteur (delicatessen) has laid on a special meal for this weekend's festival to celebrate this year's vintage of the local wine, Buzet, as has every restaurant and food shop in town.

Those without the foresight to book ahead can taste the wine at impromptu bars set up on almost every street corner.

Our table is at a little crossroads. Jimbalaya are to our right, ahead are a band from nearby Montesquiou, playing a different song, behind us a jazz ensemble entertains the patrons of a bar. The jazz combo gives up the unequal fight with Jimbalaya and begins to improvise around the same tune. We experience a deafening stereo: brass in one ear, Hammond organ in the other.

There's been a scramble to pay. It's a fraught, joyful mess and the chef is already threatening a crise but eventually our money (less than pound;10 a head) is sorted out and the waitress hands round our initial kir, swiftly followed by a clear chicken consomm in which lurk pearls of tapioca. The first bottle of Buzet - a fruity, light red, usually served chilled - has been opened.

It's all a bit different to the quiet luxury of the menu de dgustation we treated ourselves to earlier in the week at the 15th-century Chacirc;teau de Fourcs. Afterwards, we had strolled through the sleepy centre of Fourcs, one of the many bastides, or walled towns, in the area but the only one not built to a rectangular pattern.

The assiette du terroir arrives. As Nrac is on the borders of the Gers and Lot-et-Garonne, this plate of local produce consists of slices of melon, foie gras and a coarse duck pacirc;t. We taste more wine. Behind us some toddlers begin to dance - rather stylishly - to the jazz band.

Jimbalaya's fans are now standing on their chairs, doing a Mexican wave. We taste more wine. The main course, magret de canard with chips, or local chicken, arrives. The children in our party pronounce it delicious. They have to resort to sign language because the jazz band has turned up the volume again.

It's getting dark, so we leave the children and their parents to the ice creams and set out (taking our glasses) to see what's happening in the rest of town. The half-timbered houses look down on streets jammed with tables, people waving their bread in time to the music, bands blaring and harassed waitresses ferrying plates.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

Additional research by Kay Church and David Reeves. For more information about the area see: www.gers-gascogne.com To read this story in full, see this week's edition of Friday magazine, free with the TES.

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