Tag Archives: wine tasting

Another Three Reasons to Live in Blois

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It’s Mei Lun and Alain’s last day in Blois. The sun is shining brightly even though it’s four degrees. We decide to go into Blois and visit the Cathedral area. We park on the mail, so-called because of a game called mail, from maillet meaning mallet, that was very popular in the Loire Valley. We cross the road and walk up a little street that leads to a set of stairs called petits degrés because they are shallow, as opposed to the steeper grands degrés near the château. We keep going until we come out behind the cathedral. I’m enjoying myself as I’ve never taken this route before.

Petit degrés steps

We visit the cathedral , which has had a chequered existence. The original sanctuary, built during the reign of the Merovingians (5th to 8th century), was dedicated to Saint Peter. A second church was built there in the 12th century, this time under the patronage of Saint Solenne. In 1678, “a hurricane forced its way inside and lifted the roof” (I love the translation !), destroying the nave. Gothic restorations were carried out between 1680 and 1700 and the new cathedral was dedicated to Saint Louis after Louis XIV presented the church with an organ.

Cathedral of Saint Louis

Like many of the churches in the area, most of the stained-glass windows were destroyed by American bombs in the Second World War. Chartres was an exception, because all the windows were taken down before the bombing started. A new set of 33 windows, inaugurated in 2000, was designed by the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets and made by the French stained-glass artist, Jean Mauret.

Sweeping view of the Loire from the terrace above the rose garden

We turn right as we walk out the church and past the Town Hall. Just opposite is a beautiful, though inaccurate, sun dial, which reminds me that I need to go to Italy again to find one for Closerie Falaiseau! We continue walking until we come out on the terrace overlooking the Loire. The last time I came here, it was freezing cold and difficult to really appreciate the wide-sweeping view. The large urns remind me of my balcony in Paris.

View of Joan of Arc’s equestrian statue

We go back in the other direction and wander down the hill until we come to the Denis Papin steps. At the bottom we turn right and keep following the little streets in the general direction of the château, eventually arriving at Place Louis XII. Alain is keen to find some vouvray moelleux and has noticed a wine shop called Chez Laurent on one side of the Place.

Chez Laurent wine store in Blois

As we walk in, who do I see? Virginie, the sommelier, from Vinomania, with whom Kathy Standford and I did our wine tasting in June. I knew that she was going to another location because she wanted to be more involved in the wine-buying and tasting process, but hadn’t been able to locate her. She welcomes us in and although she doesn’t have the wine Alain is looking for, she suggests we try two other vouvrays. We prefer the 2005 tendre from Domaine du Viking so Alain buys a couple that she puts in an attractive carry box. They’re only sorry they won’t have time to have a Loire Valley wine historical tasting – it’s a good incentive for next time.

Chez Laurent with Virginie

Our last stop is L’Appart’thé, where Mei Lun and Alain want to sample a café/thé gourmand, as I’ve told them it’s one of the best in Blois. We ask if we can just have a tea or coffee, but the owner explains that it’s lunch time, so we decide to have an early lunch. Alain and I have the goat’s cheese and zucchini tart while Mei Lun has the spinach and salmon. Both are delicious.

Inside L’Appart’thé

The thé/café gourmand lives up to expectations with a lovely selection of baked goods, including a mini cannelé, a moelleux au chocolat, a panna cotta and a chocolate and vanilla sponge cake. In the car on the way home, we all agree that Blois is a great place to live!

Café Gourmand at L’Appart’thé

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!

Wine Tasting in the Loire Valley Part 1

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Yesterday, I explained how I became a wine lover. Before describing my best wine tasting yet at Vinomania, in the company of Kathy Standford from Femmes Francophiles, I thought you might like to read her post first, seen from the viewpoint of a newcomer to wine tasting. And don’t you just love the photo!

Fraussie, with whom I have been staying in Blois at Closerie Falaiseau, suggested that we do a wine dégustation at Vinomania in Blois. Knowing that my wine knowledge was very poor, I was only too happy to agree. Friday evening whilst the locals were making their way to bars to watch the latest football match we headed to the wine bar come restaurant. Virginie, our effervescent, knowledgeable sommelier, tailored a three hour comprehensive session for us in English that covered information about the various production areas in the Loire Valley, history of the winemaking in the area and the methodology of wine tasting.  Read more


History of a Wine Lover

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View from “La Hungerie” in Normandy

When Relationnel and I first met 16 years ago, he had a wonderful cellar but no one to share it with. Although I hadn’t done any serious wine tasting, I loved good wine. So I was delighted to help him taste some of the bottles he’d been keeping in reserve. I can still remember the taste of a wonderful bottle of Château le Bonnat 1988 that we sipped on a terrace with a bucolic view of the Norman countryside in front of a plate of oysters.

So when I was asked by a colleague at university to be part of the adjudication committee for a terminological dissertation on wine tasting, I didn’t hesitate. When the defence was finished and we’d given our mark, the student, who had studied to be a sommelier, gave us a mini tasting. What a revelation! When I got home, I told Relationnel that I wanted to go to wine tasting classes. “No problem”, he said, “we can join the oenological circle at work”.

Bergerac in February

Now why hadn’t he mentioned that earlier? So off we went and that was the beginning of a wonderful adventure into the realm of wine growing and wine tasting. We gradually learnt what to look for when tasting a new wine, helped along by the “Nez du Vin”, a collection of tiny bottles containing different “noses” which I have described in a previous post.

Our holidays from then on usually revolved around wine. We’d choose a region, find a gîte to stay in for a week or so and armed with the independant wine growers’ guide Gilbert et Gaillard, visit a couple of cellars a day. Depending on the time of year, we’d spend the rest of the time hiking, visiting, cycling or sipping wine in front of a log fire. Our first wine holiday was in Bordeaux in 1999 and we came back with the boot of the car chock-a-block, the prize possession being a 1964 bordeaux supérieur that cost us 50 francs. We certainly regretted not buying a couple of dozen but we weren’t sure how it would travel.

Loire Valley in May

I don’t remember the order of our visits, but we once had two unforgettable weeks in Alsace during harvest time. We’ve tasted wine in several parts of Burgundy and the Loire Valley, as well as Sancerre, Beaujolais, Cahors, Minervois, Bergerac, Gaillac, Jurançon and Nîmes. We’ve also toured vineyards in Italy and Luxembourg, not to mention the Hunter Valley and Orange in Australia where I came across an old school friend from Townsville running a vineyard with her husband! We’ve tasted wines in Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia  and even Egypt!

As time passed, our cellar became overstocked and our wine consumption dropped, particularly when I decided that I needed to lose weight, so our holidays are much less focussed on wine these days. However, now that we’ve bought a house in the Loire, we feel we should get to know the local wines better. And to start off, I went to a wine tasting yesterday in Blois at Vinomania with fellow blogger Femme Francophile, based on the connection between the history of the Loire Valley and the local wines.

I could honestly say it’s the best wine tasting I’ve ever had. More tomorrow!

Le Nez du Vin

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One of my greatest frustrations during our 4-part introduction to wine-tasting many years ago was my inability to identify all the “noses” that the other participants seemed to have constantly … on the tip of their tongues. “Blackberry, most definitely”, they’d say, or “bilberry – reminds me of my grandmother’s tarts”, “morello cherry – just like home-made cherry brandy”, “wild violets – you can smell the undergrowth”, “hawthorn – shades of country lanes”. “Mmmm …”, I’d say, trying desperately to memorise the elusive scent.

Although I’ve now been living in France for over 30 years, my childhood in the Australian tropics did not prepare me in any way for the subtleties of berries and flowers from temperate climes. The next spring, during our long country walks, Relationnel would invite me to smell the blossoms along the way: hawthorn, wild cherry and apple blossoms. I gradually began to enrich my olfactory memory and was delighted when I, too, could identify what the French usually lump together as “fleurs blanches” or “white flowers”. When the summer came, I seized every opportunity to smell all the different berries available on the market. But having to wait until the season came around again made the learning process a little slow.

During the wine-tasting classes, our instructors used to pass around tiny numbered phials of “noses”, part of a collection of 54 different concentrated aromas called “Le Nez du Vin” with an explanatory card for each “nose”. Since the full collection was rather expensive, we started with a smaller set of the 12 most common aromas found in bordeaux wines: strawberry, raspberry, black currant, blackberry, cherry, violet, green pepper, truffle, liquorice, vanilla, pepper and smoke (!).

It didn’t take long for us to learn them off by heart and it became our best party trick. One day, we tried them out on my daughter’s friend who was born and bred in the country and I was most reassured to see that she had even more trouble than me putting a name to what she could smell.

Of course, when we started tasting white wines, I came into my own: citrus fruits, pineapple, banana and lychee were far more familiar to me than wild berries of course. I’ve become quite an expert at picking up the “banana” aroma intentionally cultivated in “beaujolais nouveau”. Contrary to popular belief, most French people probably know less about wine today than Australians do. When beaujolais nouveau hits the cafés and restaurants on the third Thursday of November the question is always “does it smell of banana or strawberry this year?” Since people expect one or the other and love being able to get it right, the winemakers often adapt the wine-making process to produce isomyle acetate which is the molecule that gives a banana its characteristic smell.

Then one November, at the wine producers’ fair at Porte de Versailles in Paris, we didn’t like any of the wine we tasted so decided to splurge and buy the whole set of “noses”. The box is divided into citrus fruit, exotic fruit, seeded fruit, red berries, black berries, pitted fruit, nuts, floral aromas, vegetables, mushrooms, wood, herbs, spices, animal aromas and roasted aromas. Of course, the concentrated phials are only a reminder of the real thing, and what you can smell in the wine is something else again. Fifty-four aromas, however, are taking much longer to get our noses around!

But I can now identify most of the berries and flowers with a reasonable success rate, often confirmed by the experts at our regular wine tastings. And I can tell you, having the whole set is a much better party trick!

Le Nez du Vin: http://www.lenez.com/en/index.htm

Game season at Le Mesturet Restaurant in Paris

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We first got to know Le Mesturet during a food and wine-tasting with our wine-tasting circle and have been back many times since particularly in winter. Since it’s very close to the stockmarket (Bourse), it’s a popular lunchtime venue.

The menu changes with the season so at the moment, it includes hare pâté with pear chutney, velouté of pumpkin with grilled black pig pieces, venison shepherd’s pie with wood hedgehog mushrooms and sweet potatoes, deer civet with celeriac purée and chestnuts and wild boar cutlets with Grand Veneur sauce, red cabbage with smoked bacon pieces and spiced apple sauce. All delicious!

Wild boar cutlet with Grand Veneur sauce


Average entrée price 8 euro, main course, 15.
Entrée + main course or main course + dessert : 22 euros
Entrée + main course + dessert = 28 euros.
Excellent selection of wine by the glass, carafe or bottle


Le Mestruet, 77 rue de Richelieu, 75002, Paris, Tel: 01 42 97 40 68
Restaurant open every day from 12 noon to 3 pm and 7 to 11 pm (last order).
Bar open Monday to Friday from 7.30 am to 4 pm and 6.30 pm to 11 pm
Saturday and Sunday all day from 9 am to 11 pm
Book on-line by clicking on “Réservez en un click” on www.lemesturet.com

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