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Discover the wine making region of France

Discover the wine making region of France

Bordeaux, Savoy, Rhône, Burgundy or Alsace… all are inimitable and incomparable wine regions. France is blessed with a mosaic of complex and fine terroirs which produce a wide range of contrasting wines.  In an attempt to fully grasp the variety and potential of the French vineyard, a little bit of groundwork can’t do much harm.

The purpose of this article is to take you on a tour of the main winegrowing regions which convey, and are at the heart of, the French art de vivre.

I – Vineyards in the North of France

Let’s begin our trip in Lorraine. It is the northernmost vineyard in the country as well as one of the smallest covering just 115 hectares. It was once much larger, but today there are two main appellations in the region: Côtes-de-Toul gris and Moselle. The Alsace region is located a little to the east. Here we find many more varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sylvaner, and no less than 12 appellations. If you were to try only one, we would recommend the AOC Alsace Gewurztraminer. Although Alsace is also the number one producer of Cremant in France, something quite different to try.

 

        Further to the West of Alsace and Lorraine we find ourselves in the heart of the famous region of Champagne. Probably one of the most prestigious and well known wine regions in the country, it produces nearly exclusive Champagne wine (90%), which you may know under names such as Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Bollinger or Möet. This 33 000-hectare vineyard covers four counties and consists of three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. If you visit this compelling and unique region, we recommend having a sip of rosé Champagne, one of the region’s many jewels.

 

More towards the centre we reach the region of Burgundy, which also covers about 30 000 hectares. Here you will find red wines crafted from the tricky Pinot Noir and whites made with Chardonnay. Every year, about 200 million bottles are produced, 60% of which are whites. These bottles come from one of the 34 Grand cru appellations and the 84 AOCs, making Burgundy a first rate region for exports. AOC Chambertin, Clos-de-Tart, Musigny, or perhaps Clos-Vougeot are names of vintages you may have heard about which bring great pride to the region. It is worth mentioning that Burgundy benefits from peculiar climatic influences which contribute to the creation of unique wines in its terroirs. More on this in our article on wine and climate here.

Now let’s adventure ourselves across the country towards the immense Loire Valley. This 70 000-hectare vineyard benefits from a range of climates to ripen its many grape varieties. White wines are made with Chenin, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne whereas reds are mainly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Other varieties are planted to a lesser extent, such as Gamay, Pinot noir and Grolleau. This region is popular thanks to its well known appellations, AOC crémant de Loire among others.

Going South east from here we happen upon two smaller vineyards: The Beaujolais and the Lyonnais. Red wine lovers will be in good hands here, were they can explore important vintages like Moulin-A-Vent or Juliénas. Most wines here are made from Gamay and nearly all are red. The Beaujolais’ yearly production reaches over a million hectolitres regularly, half of which is exported beyond national borders. To learn more about this beautiful and surprising region, head to our website and have a look at our article on the subject.

            As we continue our path towards the east we reach the region of Savoie and Bugey. This mountainous terrain boasts three appellations, AOC vins de Savoie, AOC Roussette de Savoie and AOC Seyssel. The best wines the region has to offer are probably the whites from Chignin-Bergeron and reds from Savoie Mondeuse. Again, more on this in our article on the local food and wine, very popular throughout the country especially around the winter holidays:

            Finally, if we head up north a little bit we land in  the Jura wine country. Here we can find Chardonnay, the variety behind the regional white wines, and Pinot Noir, Poulsart and Trousseau which are used in making red wines. Altogether the vineyard has six AOCs regrouping red, white and rosé wines including two appellations, Côtes-du-Jura and Arbois.

 

II – Wine regions from the South of Francce

We now head south and continue our travels, starting with the beautiful Rhone Valley. It is the second most important wine making region in France after the Bordeaux area. The Rhone boasts a very diverse climate and a variety of soils and ground compositions, which may sound trivial but are a crucial factor in the making of local reds, whites and rosés. This results in beautifully crafted and very well-known vintages, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage. More on this in our article on the Rhone Valley.   

As we keep going down the sunshine road, we eventually reach Provence. The climate here is Mediterranean and sunny, and allows for the production of varied wines in 10 AOCs. The three key appellations of the region are Côtes-de-Provence, Coteaux-d ‘Aix-En-Provence and Coteaux-Varois. The local wines, particularly rosés, are famed beyond the national borders and should be opened and enjoyed expeditiously. 

Our next stop is the Languedoc-Roussillon region, known for its wide range of grape varieties and ground conditions. This results in a plurality of appellations, ranging from natural sweet wines like Maury or Banyuls to popular reds like Corbieres and Fitou. You may be familiar with the names of the great vintages of this region: Château Cabezac, Château de Gourgazaud and the Domaine de l’Oustal Blanc. You should also go and visit the region South West where you can taste wonderful Malbec (named locally Côt).

Finally, we reach the south west of France which hosts the county’s greatest wine making region around the city of Bordeaux, called the Bordelais.  Exceptional vintages from 38 appellations come from this 110 000-hectare vineyard. Some of the famous and popular appellations are Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Magaux and Saint Julien. You may also have heard of names from different styles, such as Yquem, Latour or Petrus.

We have been all over the country but there is always the option to hop on a boat over to Corsica and discover the Island’s vineyard. Here, the Mediterranean climate with its mountainous influence enables the production of red, white and rosé over a cultivated area of 7 000 hectares. The local AOC Vin de Corse refers to wine produced all over the island.

As our discovery trip comes to an end, we can conclude that the main vineyards out of all the exceptional areas we’ve covered are the Bordelais and the Rhone valley. This is relative to their size and production; however, your top French regions may be quite different according to your preferences. The only way to find out is to go out there and taste all these delicate, flavorful wines, which we warmly encourage you to do at every opportunity or excuse.     

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L’abus d’alcool nuit à la santé.
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Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

In the midst of this chilly season of snowfall and winter sports, we’ve decided to concentrate on a region which offers many comforting and heart warming foods: Savoy. This region has welcomed many first generation ski stations (such as Val d’Isere) and was then caught up in the wild growth of “white tourism” (linked to snow sports). Its culinary culture is rich and wide, attracting skiers and holidaymakers everywhere. In fact, skiing is often associated to cosy and warm evenings spent in the chalet, watching the snow fall outside while thinking about the delicious fondue planned for diner…

            But Savoy has many delicious tricks up her sleeve to welcome you to the mountains. Read on to learn all about the typical dishes from the region, but also about the local products to try, wine and cheese in particular.

I – Classic for a cold winter evening 

            Tartiflette, one of the most comforting of winter dishes, calls for Reblochon cheese melted over a « gratin » of potatoes, lardoons and onions. White wine is sometimes added as well. Although tartiflette is a well known and popular mountain dish, the term was only coined recently from the word tartiflal, meaning potato in the Savoy dialect. An interesting alternative you may have heard of, the morbiflette, is worth a try. You must simply replace the Reblochon with Morbier, that delicious and distinctive semi-soft cheese with a characteristic black line running across the middle. Another variation you may find in Savoie is called the croziflette. Here the potatoes are replaced with little square « crozons ». They are made from wheat, quite like a type of pasta, and produced in Chambery.

Tartiflette could be served with a variety of Côtes-du-Rhône wines, such as a Châteauneuf du pape or a white Crozes-Hermitage. (more on this in our article on wines from this region) If you’d rather stick to local produce, why not have a little bit of Roussette with your tartiflette?

 

            Another meal which will draw friends and family to the table in an instant is the famous raclette. This easy to make dish isn’t from Savoy but from the Valais, in Switzerland, but it can just as successfully be made with cheese from Savoie. This cheese is simply heated, melted and scraped onto your plate where a pile of potatoes and cold cuts await. A true raclette is quite impressive, since it uses a huge half block of cheese which becomes less and less intimidating as the meal goes. Thankfully the more common little raclette machines which are placed in the centre of the table and used for melting small pieces of cheese will deliver a delicious dish as well. 

You can choose to rave a raclette with or without any meat. Without meat, you could serve it with a dry white wine, but not excessively so or it won’t go too well with the oily mouth feel of the cheese. White Cotes du Rhone like Roussane would be a good match, or a Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy. For a raclette with meat, a good match would be red wine from the Beaujolais like the particularly smooth, fruity vintages from Morgon or Moulin-a-vent. If you would like to know more about the beautiful vineyard of the Beaujolais, have a read here)

We’ve covered raclette parties, now a few words about fondue parties. These come with a higher level of risk, since the first to fail at the art of eating a fondue traditionally recieves a dare. This dish is a true delicacy of the Savoie region, in fact its full name is really the “fondue savoyarde”. Its made by melting a selection of cheeses together (often comté, beaufort and/or gruyere) and a little white wine in a pan called a “caquelon”. This pan is placed in the middle of the table and everyone uses a long fork to dip pieces of bread into the delightful mixture. This is where you risk losing your little bit of bread in the battle and receiving a dare… When there is nearly no cheese left, you can even break and egg or two in the warm pan and finish wish a tasty variation on scrambled eggs.

            Again, this kind of cheese based meal would be most enjoyable with a dry white wine such as those from Savoie Bugey. Chautagne blanc, Rousette de Savoie or Seyssel are all good options here. 

            The last classic ski holiday meal was also conceived in Savoy, we call it a cheese « croute », meaning crust. It’s also made with our two favourite Savoyard products: wine and cheese. Take stale bread, soak it in white wine and cover it with cheese before popping it in the oven. You can also add cold cuts or an egg, serve it with gherkins and little onions and voilà!

            Finally, if you have any room left, you can try some of Savoy’s most famous desserts. The brioche de Saint-Genix, for instance, is a brioche cooked with red pralines which give it a particular flavour and a characteristic look. It was invented at the end of the nineteenth century in the little village from which it got its name, by a pastry chef called Pierre Labully. You can still find his shop in the village today. A lighter alternative to end your meal: The Savoyard cake. The recipe dates back to the fourteenth century and calls for egg whites beaten into snow and lemon, and it results in an airier and lighter cake.

II – Wine of Savoie

            This regional delicacy has been produced in the city since antiquity. In fact, we know the famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin, native to the region, used to own grapevines here. Savoy now produces wine in AOC under 16 geographic appellations.

            Local red wine is made from three main grape varieties: mondeuse, pinot noir and gamay. Mondeuse is a local variety which results in structured and tannic reds with aromas of red and black berries. Gamay, on the other hand, is a typical variety of Burgundy which was introduced in Savoy after the Phylloxera epidemic of the nineteenth century. Wines made from it are a little less tannic, quite light and share berry and spice aromas. Finally, Pinot noir expresses itself differently on this terroir than in other French vineyards. It covers only 40 hectares in Savoy, where it makes powerful and complex wines.

There are a few more grape varieties to play with in white wine crafting in the region. Again, several varieties come from Burgundy, like Chardonnay and Aligoté, but the most common are Jaquère, mondeuses blanche and altesse. This last one comes from Savoy and produces fragrant and floral whites. Jaquère is an even older variety originating from the region, where it was planted during the thirteenth century. It covers a much larger area of the region’s wine land, nearly 1000 hectares. This represents 55% of the wine land, against just 15% for altesse.

            It is not uncommon that food and cuisine from a region are a perfect match for its wines. It’s certainly the case in Savoy where we can find a series of local wine and cheese pairings, which will also give you a few examples of great bottles from the region’s vineyard. Wine shops and cheesemongers agree on a few pairings with which you cannot go wrong.

III – Savoyard Cheese

You may also discover all of the region’s agro-pastoral potential by sampling the different cheeses it produces in geographic nominations.  There are 7 apart from the raclette cheese mentioned above.

            First of all, there are two cheeses in the cooked pressed paste category to try, Beaufort, with its fruity and floral flavours made high up in the mountains and Emmental de Savoie, the fruitiest of all the French Emmentals. This particularly tender and fruity Emmental is the perfect match for a local wine called Roussette de Savoie, made from Altesse and known for its floral and spicy notes.

            Another lovely pairing to try out is Beaufort and Chignin Bergeron. This wine is made from roussane, a variety which covers only 80 hectares of land. The smooth texture and complex flavours of Beaufort go very well with the wine’s rich but delicate fruity aromas.

            Abondance is a similar type of cheese but only half cooked, meaning it is suppler and more melt-in-the-mouth. Its name comes from a breed of cows from which the milk is obtained, but it is also the name of the valley in which the cheese is made. This cheese typically has light aromas of hazelnut, pineapple or citrus fruit. You could select either a red or a white wine to have with this cheese. White wine from Chasselas Ripaille will do very well, or perhaps red wine ideally made from Gamay.

            The remaining cheeses are from the non-cooked category. The Tome des Bauges, the Tomme de Savoie, the Reblochon de Savoie (used in tartiflette, typically creamy with a touch of hazelnut) and Chevrotin. This last one is hand made and uses only goats milk.

Regarding wine pairings, here’s one for those who prefer to drink red wine with their cheese: Tome des Bauges with Mondeuse. This particular wine shows woody notes and flavours of blackberry and violet, which soften the cheese’s lactic and green flavours. Make sure you remove the cheese’s crust here, since it will not interact nicely with the tannins present in red wine.

            You are now fully prepared to face a harsh winter with comforting foods and wine. Whether you go to the mountains of stay in the city, nothing stops you from exploring these indulgent dishes and sharing them with friends or family. There’s a little something for everyone in Savoy, for all tastes and for even the biggest of appetites!

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The great vintages of the Rhône valley

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

Today we’re taking you on a discovery tour of the grand wines produced in the Rhone valley. Our stroll though the vines will introduce you to both the northern section between Vienna and Valence and the southern wine-growing area between Montélimar and Avignon. Both of these valleys deliver exceptional wines which we will begin to review without further ado.

I – Remarkable wine of the Northern Rhône valley

We first set foot on the wine trail near the city of Vienne, at the very north of the region.

         The first vineyard you will run into is also one of the finest: The Côte-Rotie. These wines are made from two grape varieties, Viognier and Shiraz, and as a result they boast a deep ruby colour. Aromas arising from a glass of Côte-Rotie are very fine and yet complex, combining several spices, red and black berries and violets. A well crafted bottle can easily become an exceptional vintage. This vineyard spreads out over 308 hectares and produces purely red wine.

         Further south, the road reaches the famous terroir of Condrieu, famous for its white wines produced from Viognier. These very fresh and fragranced wines have given the terroir its wide popularity. Typical aromas are the floral notes, such as violet, and the fruitier ones like mango or apricot. This vintage will seduce you with its pale gold colour in its youth, a truly irresistible wine but quite sensitive to oxidation. For this reason, you’d better drink Condrieu in its young years, some winemakers manage to age them well but they remain quite rare.

As we continue down the road, we happen upon a small (just 3 hectares!) appellation called Château-Grillet. Here too you will find only white wine, but a divine one which will take you as close as you can get to gustatory bliss. A single producer has the monopoly of this vintage, as a result sampling a glass or two is rather a privilege. Viognier will result in wines with floral notes and aromas of peach, honey and musk, especially as the wine grows older.

 

The next stop is the one and only Saint Joseph, responsible for respectively 88 and 12 percent of the region’s red and white wine production, both resulting in exceptional bottles.  The vineyard was established during antiquity, and is deeply rooted in steep slopes and splendid calcareous terroirs. Nowadays, the region’s red wines are made from Shiraz while the whites come from Roussanne and Marsanne. Shiraz delivers a balanced and indulgent palate, and the whites are recognisable by their sleek straw colour tinted with a green hue. This rich diversity contributes to making this vintage a must on our list. 

         Keep going and you will reach a prestigious vintage: Crozes-Hermitage. This 1683-hectare vineyard is the largest out of the entire northern valley, and it is also one of the rare vineyards to be located on the left bank of the Rhone river. Red wines made here (92% of the appellation’s wines) come out with a beautiful crimson-red colour and aromas both floral and fruity. The red berry aromas are due mainly to Shiraz, but the wines can also be made up to 15% with Marsanne or Roussane. The main qualities of this vintage are finesse and elegance.

         The following vineyard is the famous Hermitage,  an appellation which covers three left-bank municipalities of the Drôme : Tain-l’Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Larnage. It covers 137 hectares producing mostly reds (76%) and exceptional reds at that. Here too the variety used is Shiraz, resulting in deep ruby coloured wines. They tend to age well as they develop new flavours derived from violets, spices and blackcurrants.

         White wines, on the other hand, flow from Marsanne and Roussane grape varieties, and the aromas encountered here are creamy and soft, often of hazelnuts apricots and peaches.

         Overall, Hermitage is one of the legendary vintages from the Rhone Valley, and if you doubt it remember the historical figures who swore by these wines: French kings like Henry the fourth or Louis the thirteenth and authors such as Boileau and Dumas.

         As we cross over to the right bank, we find the vintage of Cornas. This vineyard covers 145 hectares and produces solely red wine with nothing but Shiraz. Indeed, the wines from this appellation are deep red in colour and highly textured. Young wines especially offer beautiful flavours, of chocolate in particular. Other aromas include pepper and truffles.

         Finally, the northern Rhone Valley ends with the vineyard of Saint-Péray. The 85 hectares of land under vine to the west of Valence produce white wine exclusively, known for its unique flavour derived from Marsanne and Roussane. The former results in light wines with soft aromas of apricot, dried fruit, beeswax, acacia and quince, and the latter produces excellent, pale straw coloured wines with excellent ageing potential. All of these remarkable traits are partly due to the unique land which hosts these vines, consisting of four geological layers.

II – Remarkable wines of the Southern Rhône valley

We continue our journey by crossing over to the southern section of the wine country, called the meridional Rhone valley. The first « cru » we encounter is called Cairanne, an appellation famous for its mostly red wine (96%). This vintage is expertly crafted with specific grape varieties which deliver particular flavours. The grapes behind red wine are half Grenache, 20% Shiraz and Mourvedre and 30% others. White wines in turn are made with Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache and Bourboulenc, and releases subtle aromas of stone fruit, citrus fruit and floral hints.

         A little further south sits the mighty Gigondas vineyard on its 630m high rise. Over 200 million years old, the area was beautifully described by Chef Alain Passard:

“Beneath the lace of Montmirail where the climate and geology are so peculiar, refusing to welcome grapevines would be a sacrilege. Wines over here show truly unique character. This wine calls for communion”

This praise is well deserved by the wine produced here, nearly all red (99%, the rest is rosé) from 1208 hectares of vines. Aromas you will encounter are a blend or red and black berries, which follow through to the palate with coarse fruity and peppery flavours. These flavours come from Grenache (80%) Shiraz and Mourvèdre.

The unique strength of Gigondas is concealed in its subtle flavours, making it a must taste vintage. The terroir also accommodates beautiful white wines, but not under its own appellation since they are not recognised by the INAO. Recently several winemakers have decided to take action in order to amend the appellation. A special edition of Terre de Vins from last October regarding wines from the south studies this issue in more detail.

Now, if there is a local king of the terroirs in this region we have reached it: the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Its history is closely linked to that of the popes who have inhabited the region. The name dates back to pope Jean XXII during the fourteenth century, a great lover of this vineyard. It dominates the valley nestled on a hill 120m high and is blessed with very helpful ground. Indeed, the floor of the vineyard is constituted of round pebbles, which release the heat they’ve soaked up during the day and greatly benefit the vines by helping them ripen to perfection (see our article on ground and climate). The surface under vine is vast, 3134 hectares, and produces 95 000 hectolitres every year. This adds up to 13 million bottles sold, mostly red wine (93%). 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is characterised by spicy, toasted aromas and a hint of chocolate. On the palate the wine comes through with finesse and great power, its firm structure contributes to giving it great length. All in all, this terroir produces one of the most valuable vintages of the French vineyard and is the major vintage of the southern Rhône valley.

         On the other bank of the Rhône, facing Châteauneuf-du-Pape, our journey ends with Lirac. Many people agree to classify this terroir as a rising star in the region. The local winemakers are working hard to perfect the wine’s qualities and fashion it into a prestigious vintage. The originality of this appellation is partly due to the three types of wine it produces: red (87%), rosé (3%) and white (10%). Altogether they cover 771 hectares. The ground contains the same pebbles as its neighbour across the river, as well as clay, and it accommodates several grape varieties: Shiraz, Grenache and Cinsault. All these factors give Lirac special value and contribute to the creation of quality vintages. It is a good choice of wine to age in a cellar for a while.

         The winding road along the Rhone river never fails to astonish and delight wine lovers in every style. From the world famous vintages to the more unique and less distributed local gems, this wine region is a must for both red and white wines. We hope we’ve helped you get a clear idea of the region’s many appellations, stay tuned for similar articles on the rest of the wondrous wine regions! Why not drop us a comment below and tell us what you’d like to read about next…?

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Homage to Paul Bocuse

 « The truth lays at the bottom of the pot» These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.         Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity...

Wanna know more about wine ?

Please drink with moderation.

Homage to Paul Bocuse

Homage to Paul Bocuse

« The truth lays at the bottom of the pot»

These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.        

Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity for us to share with you a unique issue dealing with both food and wine, and to walk in the footsteps of the surprising “Monsieur Paul”.

I – The legendary Inn of Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or

Who here has never dreamt of entering this inn to sample its wines and savour its dishes? Indeed, as soon as you set foot in the establishment, the butler joins you and leads you to your table, winding through the rich and beautifully gilded furniture and walking you through all the style and delicacy of the 18th century.
Once you’re comfortably settled in, you are handed the elegant menu, or “carte”, which strikes you with the quality of the wines offered by the sommelier.
Among the many suggestions, you will find white wines, such as a prestige Pouilly-Fuissé – George Duboeuf, a Hermitage “Le Chevalier de Sterimberg” – Paul Jaboulet Aîné, or perhaps a Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru « Les Caillerets » – Jean Marc Morey.

Alternatively, on the next page you can browse the red wine selection, in particular vintages from the côtes du Rhône such as a Côte-Rôtie-Clusel Roch, or un Cornas “Terres Brûlées” -Jean-Luc Colombo.
In addition, in the Pauillac appellation terroir located in the north of Bordeaux in Aquitaine, you will find a Pauillac Château Grand Puy – Lacoste-Grand cru classé.
Finally, you may also opt for sweet wines, such as a Gewürztraminer « Blason d’Alsace » Late Harvest – Léon Beyer, or perhaps a Hungarian wine: A Tokay Aszù 5 Puttonyos – Disznoko

Meanwhile your mouth is already watering at the though of what awaits you on the following page. Paul Bocuse’s cuisine promotes fresh and simple products, like the delectable Poultry from Bresse “Mere FIllioux”, served with Morel mushroom sauce and in-season vegetables. Before you get carried away however, you must begin by selecting an entrée such as a terrine of foie gras or the pan fried variation. If you are more into seafood, we highly recommend the marinated « Bømlo » salmon with its imperial caviar or the lobster “à la française”.

Perhaps you will be more intrigued by the famous VGE soup, which stands for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. This black truffle soup was crafted for the French president in 1975.

And finally, the coup de grace, you will be presented with a cheese trolley and a selection of desserts to conclude your intensely flavoured journey through a masters take on French cuisine. Up until last year, Paul Bocuse himself would stroll among the tables and ensure all his patrons were enjoying their meal.

« Monsieur Paul », also referred to as the chef of the century, will continue to fascinate the world with his cuisine, both refined and traditional and yet original by its simplicity.

The master of gastronomy summarised his art as follows “There is no such thing as great or poor cuisine, there is only good cuisine”. In several interviews he insisted on the importance of cooking with freshly picked and harvested ingredients. This very authentic cuisine has spoken for the French culinary culture way beyond its national borders, as Bocuse eventually became the most famous chef on earth. He was the first to step out of the kitchen in order to give time to the press, and appear with his unique charisma on screens throughout the world.

He would never hesitate, however, to remind his chefs that the time has come to hurry back to their stoves.  Both humble and generous, “Monsieur Paul” represents the excellence to which the region of Lyon owes its renown. We will now take a closer look at the path he followed to reach this goal of a lifetime.

II – A calling for gastronomy

Paul Bocuse was born in his family Inn near Lyon, in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, on February 11th 1926. As he grows up in this environment, he develops strong ties to his region and takes solid roots in his homeland. Indeed, although Bocuse has travelled quite a bit throughout the world, he ended up gladly remaining in his dear Inn. It is there in fact that, exactly a year ago, the great man expired.
How did his passion for gastronomy begin then? Some would say it was written in his DNA. Bocuse was descended from a long line of inn keepers and wine makers. The family’s very first restaurant opened in 1853. The first owner of the family inn was his grandfather, Joseph Bocuse (1869-1942).

However, during the second world war, the young Paul had less concern for cooking and inn-keeping as he enrolled in the French army of Liberation in 1944, under the General de Gaulle. He was part of the first free division of Frenchmen, with which he took part in several battles until he was injured in Alsace and nursed back to health by American soldiers. These soldiers took this opportunity to tattoo a French rooster on his left shoulder, a tattoo which he will proudly wear during his entire life. His involvement in the war effort against Nazi Germany earned him the Croix de Guerre 1939-45.

III – A rising star

After the war in 1946, Paul Bocuse decides to take up his passion once again. He learns the basics and more with a leading figure of Lyon’s cuisine: The Mère (meaning mother) Brazier. If you’d like to know a little more about the context and the story of Lyon’s “mothers”, have a read on our website where you can find our article on Lyon, capital of the gastronomy.
From the years spent in the traditional “bouchons” (restaurants of Lyon), Bocuse receives all the regional heritage he will strive to honour in his cooking for years to come.
A few years later, Paul Bocuse receives valuable training from another key figure of the food scene in Lyon: Ferdinand Point, under whom he will work eight years. Point was the first chef to receive three stars with the Michelin Guide in 1933. He is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of “new cuisine”.
Confident with the training and experience he has received under the Mere Brazier and Ferdinand Point, Paul Bocuse then decides to go back to Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or. With his fathers help, he takes over the family Inn, which soon earns its first Michelin star. The following year he loses his father, and becomes the true Paul Bocuse.

IV – A meteoric rise to the pinnacleof culinary success

Our man’s destiny took a crucial turn in 1961. It is the year he is given the award and title of “Meilleur ouvrier de France”, meaning best artisan/worker of the country. For a young chef, this prestigious title represents lasting excellence. The president Charles de Gaulle watches as “monsieur Paul” is decorated with the medal of honour at the Sorbonne.

This is no reason for the chef to rest, as he receives his second Michelin star in 1962. He then reaches the summit in 1965 as he finally receives his third Michelin star.

By now the die is cast, and Paul Bocuse is an essential figure of French gastronomy. As such, he receives honours from the French republic in 1975 and the president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing makes him a Knight of the Legion d’Honneur. A lavish reception is pulled together for the occasion, and the freshly knighted Bocuse is in charge of the meal. It is for this occasion that he created his « VGE » soup mentioned above.
The flow of acknowledgements and awards is never ending as Monsieur Paul is decorated again in 1987, by prime minister Jacques Chirac this time, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur. Last but not least, he is made Commandor of the Legion d’Honneur in 2004 by prime minister Jean Pierre Raffarin.

The Paul Bocuse empire lives on from this solid base, expanding through France and beyond.

V – Paul Bocuse and his empire

The fame that followed this chef around led him to open restaurants all over the world. Paul Bocuse restaurants can be found in New York, Tokyo or as far as Disney World in Florida.

He doesn’t forget his dear region, however, as many “brasseries” (French restaurants) appear in Lyon such as the North, the East, the South and the West. There is even a somewhat “fast-food” version of these called the West Express.

This empire is now worth over 50 million euros.

There is even a competition today that lives on from his time, as Bocuse created the Bocuse d’Or. It is one of the most prestigious competitions on the French culinary scene. He actually called this contest the Nobel prize of Gastronomy.

All in all, we can certainly address a word of thanks to the man we now refer to as the Chef of the century, simply for his brilliance. And as Monsieur Paul used to say

“In order to double our happiness, we must simply share it”.

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Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Christmas time is often associated to champagne. The joy and celebrations, but also the foods which match perfectly with this wine. (Champagne is indeed a wine). The process of making it, however, is rather elaborate and relies on a technique known to few. The aim of this article is to help you better understand this bubbly wine produced solely in the champagne region.

The French region Champagne is, in turn, often associated to the grand champagne producers (called champagne “houses”), such as Moet&Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot… It is interesting to note that only for this region do our minds go straight to brands rather than appellations. There are nonetheless terroirs in champagne, spread out over 4 regions: the montagne de Reims, the Côte des blancs, the Côte des Bar and the Marne Valley. Although Reims remains the historical capital of the region, Epernay is a serious contender to the title. This is partly due to Epernay’s famous avenue de Champagne, the most expensive street on earth because of the millions of bottles nestled underground.

I – The region’s wealth dates back

Long before it even became sparkling, wine from Champagne was already prestigious. Its first vines were planted in roman times. As is the case in many French wine making regions, the romans were the frits to discover its potential despite the relatively cold climate.

Later on, Clovis, King of the Francs, was baptized by the bishop of Reims and chose to celebrate with champagne wine. This tradition was kept up by the 33 French kings who were crowned later on in the Reims Cathedral.

The Duke of Orleans then introduced sparkling wine from champagne to the high society, where it was quickly adopted, and from then on the market skyrocketed.

   Before becoming a world famous brand of Champagne, Dom Perignon was a modest monk. Some say he was the first to master the process of making fine bubbly, although we have no historical proof of this fact. Either way, he played a major role in the wine’s development, and he greatly improved the technique for his Abbey in Hautvilliers. His wine was very reputable and sold at the price of the champagne produced by great houses. Other religious men were involved in this journey towards great Champagne.  

Among the main players of the region, we find famous merchants of the 18th century, in particular Claude Moët and Florens-Louis Heidsieck. The former slipped into the court at Versailles to advertise his wine throughout the world, whereas the latter presented his wine directly to Queen Marie-Antoinette. Both built an empire still standing today, thanks to their wit and creativity. Indeed, they were already excellent at marketing in their time.

We must also mention the women who made history in champagne. The Veuve Clicquot (Meaning Clicquot widow) was a formidable salesperson, who even managed to take over the Russian market. In addition to her commercial success, this very influent woman also invented rosé champagne and the riddling table with her cellar master Antoine de Müller. Also during the 19th century, the Pommery widow marketed the Champagne bearing her name, and did so very successfully as Pommery became on of the big champagne houses. 

Finally, some unexpected factors behind the success of champagne are rappers such as Jay-Z, who partner with certain houses to increase their fame and value, and their sales especially in the states. Several debates ensued on the appropriateness of such an ostentatious message, but it remains undeniable that such associations have boosted the international reputation of champagne houses. 

II – Behind the bubbles

Effervescence was introduced very late. At first, bubbles were undesirable, misunderstood and seen as a flaw in wine. This type of wine wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, it was even called wine of the devil because of the unfortunate tendency barrels of bubbly had to explode in the hold of ships carrying them. Even once it became a more common style of wine, sparkling wine was much sweeter at its beginnings than Champagne is today.

The elaborate process behind making sparkling wine, which we are about to go through, was developed in stages by several people. There have been many contributors to this process, and each Champagne house has its own history and specificities.  

 

Before bubbles come into the mix, Champagnes is a wine made pretty much like any other. Grapes are harvested and pressed, just as if we were making white wine., and the grape varieties used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These last two are red grapes with white flesh, and so they must be pressed very lightly to result in white wine.  The juice then goes into a vat, and then what we call the “Prise de mousse” (secondary fermentation) takes place in the bottle.

As the wine is bottled, additional yeast is introduced so that it can consume the leftover sugar. This prompts the creation of carbon dioxide, as the wine stays in a horizontal position 9for 12 months at least) and the wine ages on its lees.  There must be at least 15 months between the introduction on of additional yeast and its removal, and this limit increases to 3 years for champagnes wich are “Millésimés” (Vintage). This is the legal framework, but in reality most Champagne makers keep this process going for much longer.

The yeast at work during all this time eventually coagulates into residue which must be removed from the bottle. In order to achieve this, the bottles are turned upside-down very slowly using a riddling table, a process which is often automatic nowadays. The Yeast eventually comes to rest in the neck of the bottle, and is then submerged into a liquid which will freeze the residue. The last step called “dégorgement”(disgorging) consists in opening the bottle by popping out the frozen yeasts.

Before the bottle is corked once again to be distributed, an expedition liquor is added to the wine. It contains wine aged by 2 years at least, sometimes combined with sugar. The quantity of sugar added will determine the flavour but also the category of the champagne. From the driest to the sweetest, these categories are: brut nature (or non dosé), extra brut, brut, extra dry, demi-sec, doux.

Hopefully you now know how champagne is made and prepared for distribution. Once you have your chosen bottle, what will you pair it with? A few pointers to help you out.

III – Food and Champagne pairings

For this purpose, we will separate types of champagne into 4 categories. « blanc de blancs », made only from chardonnay, « blanc de noirs » made only from the red grapes  Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, rosés Champagne, mostly made from a mixture of red wine from the region and champagne, and finally vintage champagne.

« Blanc de blancs » will go well with meals that call for sharper wines. A good example is seafood or oily fish varieties like salmon. You could also think of getting sushi for this type of wine. Another idea would be soft cheese, such as Saint-Félicien.

Regarding « blanc de noirs », their fruity aromas will allow you to venture out towards dishes with more character. It is sometimes even served with foie gras, as mentioned in our previous article. You could also go for white meat dishes, for instance turkey with chestnuts.

Rosé champagne is the only rose wine which is made by mixing red and white wine, it is known and appreciated for its powerful and fruity profile. Rise champagne goes well with meats like duck or lamb, but also with fruit pies. It is sharp enough to cut through pastry, and its fruity flavours complements that of the fruit.

Finally, to find a perfect match for vintage champagne, you can use its slightly oily and powerful characteristics. Don’t hesitate to serve it with ripened cheese, or dishes served with mushrooms. 

Ready to taste ? 

You are now ready to begin sampling different champagnes over the holidays, and try food pairings you might enjoy. So cheers, and make sure you surprise you guests with original and elaborate food pairings. Champagne is a wine to celebrate with, but also and fortunately a wine that can be had at any point during a meal and complement many dishes!

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