Tag Archives: sancerre

The 2013 Independant Wine Growers’ Fair in Paris

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It’s Friday and we’re making our yearly trip to the Independant Wine Growers’ Fair in Paris at Porte de Versailles. We are surprised to find plenty of empty parking spaces in the back street we usually use to avoid the large crowds waiting to take the lift to the underground parking area. For once, there isn’t another fair at the same time.

Inao glass with its holder. In the background is a tapestry based on one in the Cluny mediaeval museum in Paris
Inao glass with its holder. In the background is a tapestry based on a 16th century taspestry in the Cluny mediaeval museum in Paris

We trade our free invitation for two glasses celebrating the 35th anniversary of the fair. We have a very large stock of these INAO glasses now, which is great for parties. We snap them into our nifty glass holders so we have our hands free.

Having checked out our wine list beforehand, we know we need sancerre, a Loire Valley sauvignon, for our spéciales oysters, quincy, another, less well-known Loire Valley sauvignon for fish and corbières from Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France for lamb grilled on the open fire. We’ve run out of minervois in the Carcassonne area which is also great with lamb but our wine grower seems to have disappeared to our dismay.

We use the list of wines and growers on the wall to work out the order in which we are going to make our purchases because the Fair is enormous.

François and  Cherrier from Domaine de la Rossignol
François Cherrier  and his wife from Domaine de la Rossignol

François Cherrier is first on the list. We have been buying his sancerre since we first visited his vineyard ten years ago. He and his wife welcome us and we taste their range of whites but settle, as usual, for their delicious Essentiel at 9.60 euro / bottle. We explain we are moving to the Loire and learn that they have close family in Blois so will be able to stock up again very easily. What wonderful news!

Domaine Jacques Rouzé
Domaine Jacques Rouzé

We buy our quincy Cuvée Tradition from Domaine Jacques Rouzé at 7.30 euro a bottle and decide it’s time for our traditional foie gras sandwich.

Foie gras sandwiches
Foie gras sandwiches from Foie Gras Occitanie

Jean Michel parks the trolley near a bench at the far end where other people are eating sandwiches as well and says I can sit on it. How very useful ! It’s just the right height. We notice that our neighbours have a very strange carton so I ask them if it’s a special wine. No, it’s just the box that is unusual.

Brian and his French wife
Brian and his French wife

It turns out that Brian is Irish and that he and his French wife live near the Marne in an area where we have often cycled. We have an enjoyable discussion about children and bilingualism and the different countries they have lived in.

Domaine de l'Arc for corbières
Domaine de l’Arc for corbières

The last wine grower on our list is Domaine du Grand Arc. We buy two types of sun-drenched corbières – Cuvée des Quarante which we bought last time (7.90 euro), a combination of 45% carignan, 35% grenache noir and 20% shiraz and En sol majeur (11.50 euro) which is 60% grenache noir and 40% shiraz. We see it has a “heart” in the 2014 Hachette wine guide.

As we are leaving, I spy a sign for minervois. Shall we try ? Château de l’Amiral turns out to be a lucky stab in the dark. The 7th generation wine grower is a woman whose praises are sung by her husband who is running the stand. She uses a special process he calls macération carbonique for her Cuvée Prestige.

Château de l'Amiral
Château de l’Amiral

We both look at him in amazement while he explains that the historical grape varieties of minervois, carignan and grenache are vinified  together using carbonic maceration. The whole bunches are placed carefully in a closed vat so the grapes don’t burst which means that the juice ferments inside the grape expressing its unique, typical aromas. The air in the tank is replaced with CO2 from the fermentation taking place in other vats to prevent the wine from oxidising. This mini-vintage is limited to 3,400 bottles.

We love the result with its red berry nose, dense, rich tanins and very nice balance. At 18 euro a bottle,  it’s excellent value for money!

Domaine de la Rossignole, rue de la Croix Michaud, 18300 Verdigny, Tel 02 48 79 34 93 cherrier@easynet.fr 
Domaine Jacques Rouzé, 18120 Quincy. Tel +33 248 513 561 rouze@terre-net.frhttp://www.jacques-rouze.com 
Domaine du Grand Arc, Fabienne et Bruno SCHENCK, Le Devez, 11350 CUCUGNAN, Tel/Fax: 0468450103, domaine.grandarc@gmail.com, http://www.grand-arc.fr
Château l’Amiral 14, avenue de l’Amiral Gayde 11800 AIGUES-VIVES  06 83 51 68 88 contact@chateaulamiral.fr http://www.chateaulamiral.fr/

Wine Tasting in the Loire Valley Part 2

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I just sat down to write up my impressions of our recent wine tasting with Femme Francophile at Vinomania in Blois but, surprise, surprise, I’ve left my notepad at Closerie Falaiseau, and I don’t know how much I can rely on my memory to relate the details of a 3-hour session! But I’ll try anyway and then write another post when I get my notepad back.

Virginie, the sommelier, has various wine tasting themes to offer, but I chose one that links the history of the Loire Valley with the local wine production. Now, wine from the Loire Valley is not held in much esteem in France. Most people favour bordeaux and burgundies for red and Alsatian wines (particularly rieslings) and chardonnay for white, although sancerre does have a small following. There is actually an historical reason for this, but that’s one of the things I can’t remember!

The Loire vineyard is 1013 kilometres long and covers 70,000 hectares. That’s about 170,000 acres. And they produce every type of wine: white (52%), red (25%), rosé (16%) and natural sparkling (6%). The grape varieties (or cépages as they’re called in French) are numerous but the names are often different from those used in other parts of France.

Melon de Bourgogne (brought over from Burgundy by monks in the 17th century), chenin (also called pineau de la Loire), sauvignon (which sancerre is made of), chardonnay (also called auvergnat), pinot gris (alias malvaise), chasselas and romorantin are the main whites – already quite a large collection. The reds are cabernet franc (known as bréton because it originally came from Nantes), gamay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, grolleau (sometimes grollot), pinot d’aunis and cot (alias malbec). You may recognise cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon from Bordeaux among those (the other variety down that way is merlot) and pinot noir and chardonnay from Burgundy. But that’s where any ressemblance stops.

The main production areas are Nantes, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and the Centre. The most well-known appellations (that’s how they categorise wine in France) are probably chinon, bourgueil, saint nicolas de bourgueil, saumur and saumur-champigny for reds, sancerre, as I mentioned, for whites, and vouvray, which is  a sparkling wine. If you don’t live in France, you’ve probably never heard of most of them. So with all those different grapes (which can be blended of course!), how do you find your way around?

Each grape variety has a range of “noses” to choose from. For whites (and these are probably the easiest to detect), the main ones are “white blossoms” such as hawthorn and apple blossoms, briar roses and roses, citrus fruits, grilled almonds and hazelnuts, pears, pineapple, lychees, apricots, toast, honey and butter. Sounds like breakfast, doesn’t it? But fresh butter is the very distinctive smell of a French chardonnay from Burgundy. The list isn’t really that long and with a bit of training, you can learn to detect most of those, particularly if you practise with those little phials I told you about in a previous post. Our perception of smell is very personal so, as Virginie insisted, there’s no “right” or “wrong”.

The reds offer a lot more variety as far as “noses” go, but on the whole, you can look for berries such as red and black currants, blackberries and raspberries and dark stone fruit such as prunes and cherries. Some of the stronger reds might conjure up mushrooms, cedar, pepper, leather and musk. A smell of vanilla is a typical sign of oak. In the Loire in particular, green capsicum (bell pepper) is a sure  indication of cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon, particularly when they’re young.

So knowing what to expect can be very helpful when you first begin wine tasting. Next time, we’ll get down to the nitty gritty!

What I Bought at the Wine Fair in Paris

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Nearly forgot to go to the Independant Wine Growers Fair at Porte de Versailles this weekend and pick up some more Sancerre for our oysters on Sunday before we ran out which would have been a disaster! Most of the wine in our cellar was originally bought directly from the vineyard when we used to go on one-week wine-tasting holidays around France. We finally filled up the cellar and turned to cycling holidays instead with an occasional tasting of course. Now we just top up at Versailles in November and Mailly-en-Champagne during the Whitsunday weekend.

The Porte de Versailles fair is always very crowded so it’s best  to choose a weekday or morning. This time we got there about 11.30 on Sunday. We had sorted out our many free invitations beforehand so were able to make a beeline for the stands on our list. Each invitation entitles you to two standard INAO wine tasting glasses. As you can imagine we’ve collected a fair number over the years – great for parties. The Versailles ones are pretty mundane but those from Mailly-en-Champagne are much more original. Then you use this neat little gadget to hang them around your neck (2 euros for one, 3 euros for two) to keep your hands free. They usually last for a couple of years but they eventually break.

Our first stop was François Cherrier from Domaine de la Rossignol, a family-owned vineyard on the eastern end of the Loire Valley, founded in 1858 and steeped in tradition where they still hand pick their grapes. This year’s sancerre (sauvignon) has a completely different nose from last year’s – a very distinct pineapple. It’s a very « mineral » wine due to the nature of the soil with a powerful bouquet. When we first visited the vineyard about ten years ago, Mr Cherrier shared his passion for wine-growing and showed us samples of the different types of soil and rocks that make all the difference to the way the wine smells and tastes. We have a preference for his AOC sancerre at 8.90 euros a bottle.

Just next door was our favourite margaux – Château Haut Breton – which we discovered on our very first « wine week » back in 1999 in the Bordeaux area. That day, we tasted « merlot », « cabernet sauvignon »  and « cabernet franc » straight from the vat for the first time. Not very palatable, but a wonderful learning experience. Their 1996 margaux was superb. The last time we bought their wine was in 2005 – we’ve been disappointed ever since. This year, however, we tasted their 2009 and were delighted. It has its wonderful prune nose, full body and good persistence again. I see it won a Silver Medal at the fair this year. Excellent value at 28 euros a bottle. We’ll be able to dip into our 2004 and 2005 stock now knowing  we’ll have something to replace it in a few years’ time. What better accompaniment to a côte de boeuf roasted on an open fire enhanced with a copious serving of freshly-picked wild mushrooms?

Next on the list was Domaine Cauhapé from the south-west of France, in Béarn near the Pyrenees which makes an excellent jurançon. The grapes are mainly gros menseng, petit menseng and camaralet with a bit of lauret and corbu thrown in for good measure. We decided to take a mixed carton of Geyser 2010 with its powerful palate, at 13.50, Sève d’Autonne 2008 with its exuberant nose, at 14.50 and La Canopée, fresh and aromatic, at 22.50. Excellent with fish and seafood and even veal cutlets. I was amused when the wine grower, Mr Ramonteu said, with his strong Béarn accent, « You can drink this wine when you don’t have anything else! » I don’t suppose that’s what he really meant. We initially discovered Domaine Cauhapé at a food and wine tasting in Paris and were able to visit their vineyard when holidaying in the area last spring.

The trolley was starting to fill up by then and even though we’d been spitting out the wine, the alcoholic fumes were starting to take their toll so we bought a foie gras sandwich (what else?) before tasting another red, this time a vacqueyras (grenache, chiraz, cinsault and mourvèdre), oaked for about 12 months, from Domaine Le Pont du Rieu in the Vaucluse in the south-east of France along the Rhone Rivier. An excellent accompaniment to barbecued pork loin chops and spare ribs. We took the 2009 which despite its bargain price (8 euros) is well-structured with concentrated aromas. We’ve just finished off our last bottle of 2003 so it was time to restock. It will be perfect in 3 or 4 years time.

Last stop, Domaine Jacques Rouzé, whose quincy we find very pleasant. This is another sauvignon, from an area close to sancerre, with mainly silica soils. Jacques Rouzé is an advocate of sustainable and integrated vine growing methods and his wine reflects that choice. We took his 2010 Tradition at 7 euros to have with fish or as an aperitif. Watch out for quincy on restaurant menus. It’s not as well-known as sancerre but just as aromatic and definitely worth trying.



Domaine de la Rossignole, rue de la Croix Michaud, 18300 Verdigny, Tel 02 48 79 34 93 cherrier@easynet.fr 
Château Haut Breton Larigaudière, 3 rue des Anciens Combattants 33460 Soussans/Margaux Tel 05 57 88 94 17  contact@de-mour.com  www.de-mour.com 
Domaine CAUHAPE, 64360 Monein Tel +33 (0)5 59 21 33 02 Open house 2nd Sunday in December  contact@cauhape.com http://www.jurancon-cauhape.com/en/
Le Pont du Rieu, route de Montmirail, 84190 Vacqueyras faraud@le-pont-du-rieu.com  www.le-pont-du-rieu.com
Domain Jacques Rouzé, 18120 Quincy. Tel +33 248 513 561 rouze@terre-net.frhttp://www.jacques-rouze.com/english/swf/index.htm

French Oysters on Sunday

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They have a lot of rules about food in France.  One of the most intriguing is that you can only eat oysters during months with the letter “r”.  So that rules out “mai”, “juin”, “juillet” and “août” (note that circumflex indicating a lost “s” again – remember in Blèsoise? The word for oyster, “huîtres” also once had an “s”).  Now that just happens to coincide with summer when the cold chain is easily interrupted and you’re more likely to find oysters that haven’t survived the journey from the coast. Today, with modern refrigeration, there’s absolutely no reason not to eat them but you’ll find they disappear entirely from most fish mongers, markets and restaurants in Paris!

So we eat oysters every Sunday except during months with the letter “r”!

I had two contacts with oysters when I was growing up in Townsville. Mum used to buy them in bottles which I found very unappetizing and we used to scrape them off the rocks on Magnetic Island (or “the Island” as we called our little paradise) during the summer. Already a step in the right direction, although they were pretty salty. So nothing prepared me for oysters in France.

First, they are always alive, whether you buy them on the market or eat them in a restaurant.  That’s not necessarily true in Australia where I’ve eaten them dead in their shells on a bed of ice. Not exactly to my taste. Now, if you don’t like oysters, you should stop here as some people are a bit squeamish about the details. To check that an oyster is alive (you have to shuck it first), you take a sharp knife and tease the outer edge. You can use a squeeze of lemon too. If it retracts a lot, it’s probably lost a lot of water already and is getting old. If it doesn’t retract, it’s dead and you should throw it out.

Our favourites are the ones they call “spéciale”. They’re fattened in small numbers in deep oyster parks and have a sort of sweet salty lingering taste they call « noisette » (hazelnut) in French. The most exclusive is the “gillardeau” which is cultivated for four years and is grossly overpriced but there are plently of others from the Cotentin area of Normandy. We like the « spéciales » from Blainville that we buy from the oyster vendor at the bottom end of the Sainte Eustache market on a Sunday. For a little extra, you can have them shucked.

Oysters in France are numbered from 3 to 1, with 3 being the smallest, and the ones from Normandy are usually sold by weight.  The “spéciales” have this nice little pinkish plump bit while the regular “fines de claires”, so-called because they are fattened  in oyster beds called “claires”, have a greenish tint to them and are much saltier or “iodé” (full of iodine) as they say here. I’ve never been able to get anyone to really explain the difference between “iodé” and “salty”.

We had a disappointing experience in Australia with fresh oysters. We were at Tea Gardens on the northern coast of New South Wales and were told, to our great surprise, that we couldn’t buy live oysters ourselves and had to have them opened by a licensed oyster seller. We were directed to “The Oyster Hut” where we were able to buy some local oysters which we ate at a picnic table with a nice cold bottle of sauvignon. We didn’t have glasses but the girl in the bottle shop found us some long-stemmed plastic ones.  The oysters were disappointing though. Not very tasty and not particularly fresh. It was only 10.30 in the morning, I have to confess.

On Sundays, we eat a dozen “spéciales” each, with bread and butter, home made for me (the bread, I mean!) and baguette traditionnelle for Relationnel (see Beret and Baguette) and drink Sancerre, which is a delicious sauvignon from the east end of the Loire. Our favourites, both bought directly at the vineyards, are Domaine de la Rossignole and Paul Prieur.

On ne s’emmerde pas, as they say.

Patrick Liron oysters
17 rue des Petits Carreaux, Paris 2nd arrondissement, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 10 am to 10 pm
28 rue des Archives, Paris 4ème arrondissement, Saturday 9 am to 10 pm
54 rue Cler, Paris 7th arrondissement, Friday, Saturday, 9 am to 9 pm, Sunday, 9 am to 2 pm
65 rue de la Motte Picquet, 15th arrondissement, Friday 4.30 pm to 9 pm, Saturday 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday 9 am to 2 pm
Domaine de la Rossignole, rue de la Croix Michaud Chaudoux, 18300 Verdigny en Sancerre, 02 48 79 34 93, cherrier@easynet.fr
Paul Prieur et Fils, Route des Monts Damnés,18300  Verdigny, 02 48 79 35 86, paulprieurfils@wanadoo.fr 
Thalassa distribution: street markets 9 am to 1.30 pm
Sainte Eustache, rue Montmartre, Paris 1st arrondissement, Metro Les Halles, Sunday
Villette, Boulevard de la Villette, Paris 10th arrondissement, Metro Belleville, Wednesday and Saturday
Bastille, Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 11th arrondissement, Metro Bastille, Thursday and Sunday
Vincent Auriol, Boulevard Vincent Auriol, 13th arrondissement, Metro Nationnale, Saturday 
Maisons Blanches, (75013) Avenue D’Italie, 13th arrondissement, Metro Tolbiac, Sunday
Mouton Duvernet, Rue Mouton Duvernet, 14th arrondissement, Metro Mouton Duvernet, Friday
Villemain,  Rue D’Alésia, 14th arrondissement, Metro Plaisance, Sunday
Saint Charles, Rue St Charles, 15th arrondissement, Metro Boucicaut, Friday
Belgrand, Rue de la Chine, 20th arrondissement, Metro Gambetta, Wednesday and Saturday
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