Top 5 Underrated Destinations in France

Book a wine tour that takes you into the heart of the famous famous vineyards or book a tasting and lunch at Olivier Leflaive.

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I wasn’t initially planning on writing about France today but since yesterday was Bastille Day and today France’s Les Bleus won the World Cup, It seems appropriate maybe even fated to write about France today. But what to say, after all I write about France a lot, I have visited many different areas, tried many different foods and wines so how could I pick a favourite today? France is so varied and so interesting, where to start? Every time I get ready to visit France again, I usually get the following feedback: “Haven’t you been there before?” and ” Have fun in Paris.” Well France is a large country with many different regions with their own unique cultural nuances and I haven’t been to Paris on my last 4 trips to France  so instead I thought why not focus on France’s underrated gems. France is one of the most visited countries in the world so anything being underrated seems like a stretch but these are my picks for the top 5 underrated places to visit.

  1. Arbois, Jura, France. Jura itself is a relatively unknown region in France. East of Bourgogne, , Jura is often considered a mirror image of the Cote D’Or. Arbois is one of the larger towns and a great spot for day trips to L’Etoile and Chateau-Chalon to taste the region’s famous vin jaune. IMG_2468 Try the Fruitiere Vinicole for a great opportunity to try Jura’s most famous wines. http://www.chateau-bethanie.fr/fr/chateau-bethanie-vins-jura-arbois.php Nearby are many restaurant selections with great food. As well you are close to Bourg de Sirod to hike the famous Richebourg ruins.
  2. Beaune is the heart of Bourgogne’s wine region. It isn’t exactly underrated but Beaune is often overlooked if just visiting France. Check out the Marche aux vin to try a selection of Bourgogne’s famous wines. Book a wine tour that takes you into the heart of the famous famous vineyards or book a tasting and lunch at Olivier Leflaive.https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/ However Beaune is also an epicentre of Bourgogne’s famous food culture. Try La Grilladine for Bouef Bourguignon, escargot, charlois beef or the chicken in mustard.http://lagrilladine.fr/ Le Carnot has fabulous wines and excellent gazpacho and beef tartare as well as the beauty you would come to expect of a typical French brasserie. I could have stayed just for the atmosphere, wine and people watching alone..http://brasserielecarnot.com/ Beaune is also a beautiful town with a lively market. Hotel Henri II is close to the city center and retains its old word charm with beautiful modern touches. the last time we stayed in Beaune we were able to score a last minute room at the Hotel Henri II. After our other option which was similar to the Bates Motel, The Hotel Henri was a welcome reprieve. So much so that I cried with relief when we saw our room. The bar was a fabulous place to watch the world cup too! http://www.henry2.fr/UK/
  3. Salon De Provence: Though not exactly underrated either, Salon often suffers next to its more famous Provencal counterparts. But Salon De Provence is a wonder, from the castle that housed Catherine de Medici (complete with her herb garden) and Nostradamus to the medieval festival, Salon de Provence does not disappoint. As well, its surrounding wineries are delicious and more inexpensive then there more famous Provencal and Rhone counterparts. The restaurant at the Ibis hotel is surprisingly good with local ingredients and Provencal specialties. https://restaurants.accorhotels.com/gb/restaurant-0797_R001-ibis-kitchen-salon-de-provence.shtml
  4. La Rochelle: located on the Atlantic cost, La Rochelle is a beautiful city. Known for its seafood, it is indeed worth it to try. Walking along the harbor alone makes it makes La Rochelle a must do but take the day boat trip to Ile D’Aix. No cars are allowed so rent a bike check out the beautiful view, go for a swim or simply enjoy the village. AS well Cognac is also a day trip away so be sure to check out the beautiful town and the tour at Remy Martin in which even my teetotaller mother learned to appreciate cognac. So much so that she bought cognac. for my cousin alas not us. https://www.remymartin.com/ca-en/
  5. Mende: Located in the center of France in Lozere we stumbled upon Mende by accident while trying to avoid tolls en route to Beaune. Descending into Mende is like parachuting in Mende is a beautiful village and definitely off the beaten path. The wine is cheaper than water. It can be challenging to get to but worth it.54589271

It really doesn’t matter where you travel in France. Prepare to be enthralled and charmed and you will have yourself a great if not fabulous time. Congratulations Les Bleus

On the Trail of the Blue Foot Chicken

The restaurant also looked good so the first night we decided to eat there and one the menu the elusive blue food chicken

In 2010, we visited Beaune in France for the first time. Mainly because Beaune is known as a food Mecca and more importantly a wine Mecca. Known for its charolais beef, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin and escargot, Beaune/Bourgogne is a foodie haven. Beaune is situated between the Cote du Nuit and Cote du Beaune that make up the Cote D’Or in Bourgogne so ideally it is the best possible place to visit for food and wine. While I was obsessed with finding wine (for the first visit I visited the Marche au vin in Beaune itself http://www.marcheauxvins.com/), @benton8tor was obsessed with finding blue foot chick known as poulet de Bresse from the nearby town of Bourg En Bresse. Bresse chicken is protected by AOC status and it rumored to be the best chicken in the world (or so Heston Blumenthal told us and by us I mean the TV watching public). So we ate and drank our way through Beaune enjoying coq au vin, charolais beef, bouef bourguignon, and escargot with local wines, but no blue foot chicken. French food is very local and though Bourg en Bresse is close, most establishments recommended going to Bourg en Bresse itself for the chicken. Apparently you can get it in Beaune, we just couldn’t find it.

Flash forward to 2014 and we decided to visit Beaune again, this time for some specific wine tours in the actual vineyards. Along  the way we stopped in Bourg en Bresse for lunch. Surely we could get the chicken! Well not so much, we were slightly after lunch time and most restaurants had stopped serving the chicken until dinner time. No worries we thought, we will be in Beaune for a few days so we will come back. Here’s the thing though as Beaune is such a foodie haven, the food in Beaune was so good again  with gazpacho, ham, chicken, carrot fondue, that we did not make it back. In fact the one day we were going to go was the day we ate a five course lunch with wine pairings at Olivier Leflaive and it was so delicious but we literally had no room left for dinner. https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/ Again @benton8tor was thwarted.

But in April 2018, I was lucky enough to travel to Geneva for work. Bourg en Bresse is also close to Geneva so @benton8tor decided to come with me and we would spend  a few days after Geneva in Bourg en Bresse, exploring nearby Jura for wine and hiking and finally eating the blue foot chicken. thumbnail_IMG_2544This time I had done my research. I heard Le Bressan not only had the poulet de Bresse but was one of the top rated restaurants for it. http://lebressan.e-monsite.com/ So I made a reservation. There problem solved. Le Bressan is a family run restaurant and unfortunately they were going to be closed for a family event the day of our reservation. @benton8tor began to believe he would never get the chicken. However Le Bressan is among the most accommodating of restaurants and I was able to get a reservation for another night.

 

Upon arriving at our hotel, the Hotel De France in the centre of the city, we were ecstatic. http://www.bestwestern-hoteldefrance.com/fr/ The hotel was beautiful inside and out with huge floor to ceiling windows, and old world charm with thoroughly modern bathrooms and comfort.This fad to be a good sign. The restaurant also looked good so the first night we decided to eat there and one the menu the elusive blue food chicken. and the chicken was excellent as was the wine and service but was it worth an 8 year wait? Not sure. I would say their gougeres were so incredible, they are worth and 8 year wait.

However the next night we decamped to Le Bressan for more chicken. There is a reason Le Bressan is so highly rated, the chicken tasted in @benton8tor’s words,” the way chicken is supposed to taste.”Cooked in a cream sauce it is decadent and light at the same time. Le Bressan also delivered on the wine having not only Jura wines but Burgundian and Rhone as well. The deserts and desert wine was equally fantastic as was the crazy incredible cheese board with local cheeses. With its wood beams and old world charm, I could have eaten at Le Bressan every night.

Bourg en Bresse is a charming town with a renowned market and some of my favourite shoes I have ever bought. But if your going to Bourg en Bresse, you are probably going for the chicken and its worth the trip.

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Going Local, Why Cheese and Wine Are Your Best Friends in Chambery

If you are going to If you are going to Chambery, you are probably going for the food and the wine so stay local and enjoy.

Last year @benton8tor suggested I should take the French Wine Scholar course through the Wine Guild of America. I like/love French wine and he thought it would be fun for me. So I signed up. Well it wasn’t exactly what I thought (tons of tastings and a bit of education) It is actually a ton of education to make sure you understand French viticulture, terroir, regions, permitted grapes, laws, and history. A not so humblebrag here. I passed! But the best thing is not just my understanding of French wine improving but it introduced me to wines, I didn’t even know existed, especially Savoie region. Which is why I decided to visit Chambery this last trip.

Chambery though the capital of Savoie isn’t a beautiful or quaint as Annecy or as ski friendly and visually stunning as Chamonix but it is a beauty in its own right and home to some of the best wine, cheese, and sausage I have eaten. Chambery, once home to the Duchy of Savoie, is a high altitude wine producing region. White are lean with high acid and reds tend to emulate their white counterparts. These wines are perfect for hot days and even morethumbnail_IMG_3567 perfect for pairing with cheese. Cheese is everywhere in Savoie. the Haute Alps are famous for their cheese and Savoie is famous for its cheese dishes such as fondue (with local cheese), tartiflette, racelette and more. In other words you need a lean somewhat racy wine to pair. It compliments the cheese and definitely cuts through the richness. But where to get such delicacies and why?

Well the first night we ventured over to Restaurant le Savoyard. Every guidebook, website, and hotel staff recommends Le Savoyard. Bizarrely this had me skeptical. Could a restaurant really be that good? The answer is yes.Le Savoyard takes the traditional Savoie food and elevates it to the next level. We happened to be with my parents and my mom was not a fan of the menu. “A tomato cheesecake” she sneered “who would eat that?” Well it turns out both my dad and I and it was delicious. So much so she was sorry she hadn’t ordered it. It was followed by a traditional Savoie sausage. @benton8tor speculated about what was in it but I have found when it comes to sausage, its best for me not to ask what is in it and just enjoy it. Le Savoyard has a good wine selection with Savoie beer as well. One made with the local herb genapie, http://www.restaurant-le-savoyard.com/

Au Bureau is a a warm friendly pub with a great beer selection and good wine selection. It is the prefect place to stop for a snack and great place to settle in. The owners know their beer and when @benton8tor ordered a beer they thought didn’t fit  his progression, they had him try it before ordering.

They were right and he quickly switched back to their recommendation. Me I just enjoyed the wine.https://www.aubureau-chambery.fr/foodbeer/ Just down the street Bistrot O400 offers excellent Savoie dishes including the Savoie salad. Their wine list fetaures local wines including the beloved by me, Monduese grape and altesse. Bistrot O400 is definitely the place to stay local as those dishes are their stars including the tartiflette. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g8309764-d968592-Reviews-Brasserie_le_Z-Chambery_Savoie_Auvergne_Rhone_Alpes.html

Restaurant La Banche was a happy accident for us for lunch. It specializes in Savoie wines again with the Mondesue d’Arpin being my favourite and a good beer selection too. The Monduese isn’t the only red grape is Savoie but it my favothumbnail_IMG_4164urite as the most depth  even with its high acid level.It was a great place to pass an lazy afternoon right on the square, great service, good wine and all the snacks you need.  The burgers are definitely worth it. http://www.la-banche.fr/cuisine/http://www.la-banche.fr/cuisine/

Strolling around Chambery’s local market is perfect to enjoy in season strawberries and cherries but also a great way to taste wine, local sausages and local cheeses including the famous  reblochon.  If you are going to Chambery, you are probably going for the food and the wine so stay local and enjoy.

Out of Your Comfort Zone (Navigating Wine, Wind, and More Wine)

Trying a new wine or trying one from a region that is unknown or even stereotyped is worth it when you travel, you never know what you’ll find.

Recently I was lucky enough to go to Geneva Switzerland for work. As a work trip, it couldn’t have been more successful. However I wanted to build in some down time too, After all, we were already in Europe. @Benton8tor came with me and he spent the the first part in England visiting family before re-joining me in Geneva. We decided to travel to Bourg en Bresse for the famous Bresse chicken and use it as a jumping off point to Jura, Benton8tor for the hikes and me for the wine.

But before that a I had a couple days down time by myself. My boss had booked herself some really interesting tours and invited me along but I chose to stay in Geneva day 1 to try wine at the Blanc et Rouge (a wine spot on the Rhone River). http://www.lerougeblanc.ch/en/ The next day based on my boss’s recommendation, I did book myself a day trip to Chamonix in France to see the famous Mont Blanc. Sunday morning found my destination and off I went. I had booked the unguided tour which allowed me free time in Chamonix to do whatever I wanted. Upon arrival. I was met by a tour guide who have me some pointers and options, told me where to meet the bus and off I went. I spent the first couple of hours wandering Chamonix and it is stunning, touristy as a ski village often is but stunning. I stopped for lunch at La Table a fabulous restaurant with views of Mont Blonc. http://www.latablee.fr/ I had a warm goats cheese salad with a local Savoie red, a Mondeuse. Although whites ( In Switzerland and in Savoie too, Chasselas are my favourites) are preferred  to cut through the heavy cheese dished, the reds are full flavoured and high acid and pair very well.30264251_10156089816455140_4003323915496587264_n  Savoie wines are often undervalued and under rated but well worth the try. Back to lunch, as I sat back and enjoyed the views it occurred to me that I was here navigating Europe, completely on my own, no family, no friends, no tour companions,, just me. I was feeling pretty proud of myself so I decided I would take the gondola to see Mont Blanc. As I marched  up full of bravado, I found out that the lift was closed due to wind but if I walked to the other side, I could take the gondola up. So  away I marched to the other side, slight less bravado as the climb is pretty high. https://www.chamonix.com/telepherique-de-l-aiguille-du-midi,94-156953,en.html Still I got on the gondola and away we went. Smug, I was feeling pretty awesome, until the wind start blowing and I started panicking, imagining that the gondola would get stuck, I would be there for hours and my phone was nearly dead. The panic ensued all the way to the top. Flustered I burst out of the gondola, did not take the pedestrian walk to the lookout, instead tramped through the snow with the skiers in my shiny gold high tops. I finally got the lookout, which afforded me stunning views and thankfully, more of the Savoie wine. On the way down I was sitting with a French couple who were incredibly kind so my nerves were managed.

Once @benton8tor arrived we went back to Chamonix for the day. I did the gondola again but @benton8tor wanted to take the further one to the top. To me it looked like a hydro wire to the top of a mountain. “You want me to take that?” I asked “Nope no way” yet somehow I found myself on the cable car and again the views of the French and Italian Alps were amazing. And again there was wine. 30629450_10156103573840140_6657709963231625216_n

I know for me, going out of your comfort zone with wine seems like

a) something that doesn’t apply since I will try anything or

b) something I don’t do since I only drink French wine (not true I just prefer it)

It is easy to drink only your favourite wines. Certainly the menus in Savoie had plenty of Rhone and Bourgogne options but I chose to go local despite not knowing much and I was pleasantly surprised at the reds and whites.As always, the grape is important and here they are unusual but the terroir is even more important. They drink well and they pair even better with Savoie dishes. Trying a new wine or trying one from a region that is unknown or even stereotyped is worth it when you travel, you never know what you’ll find.

 

Eating, Provencal Style

So if you haven’t tried Provencal food, dive in, There is simply no way you will be disappointed. But don’t forget the wine!

When @benton8tor and I were planning our most recent trip to Provence, I was so excited about all the tastes and smells of  Provence. Sure of course I mainly meant wine, but also lavender, rosemary, olives, and tomatoes. But mostly wine. “Are you excited to eat Provencal food again?” I asked Benton8tor. ” I don’t know” he replies ” What is Provencal food?” Naturally I was offended we’d been to Provence half a dozen times,  how could he not know what Provencal food is? But the more I thought about it, all I could think of is tapenade and aioli. I knew there was more, and every meal I have had in Provence, I have enjoyed, pastas, salad, fish. But was it traditional Provencal? Obviously I could just google search, but I wanted to taste authentic Provencal food,

so I took to the internet in search of the best food tour I could find. Hello Avignon Gourmet tours! http://www.avignongourmetours.com/

Fast forward a few weeks and we are at our Gite in Roquemare, just 10 minutes north of Avignon, and I ask everyone “Aren’t you excited about the food tour?” ” Maybe” says @benton8tor ugh, when will he learn the only acceptable answer is yes. ” Your mom will probably throw out her wine again” pipes up my dad helpfully. In return he gets death glare from my mom and she gets a 20 minute lecture from me that if she doesn’t like the wine to give it me or my dad, obviously not @benton8tor since he isn’t excited enough.

However the next day, the tour proved me right. @benton8tor decided he loved Provencal food and my mother did not spit out or throw out any liquor (though I suspected she wanted to). We met our fabulous guide at the tourist office along with our tour mates. A couple from Ohio ( the fellow was writing a book on pesto) and a family from Mexico City. We started off with the oh so French favourite the croissant from what our guide assured us was the best bakery in Avignon. The croissants were ridiculously light and fluffy and we were off! Our first stop was the chocolate store, the Aline Gehant store to be exact. All chocolate is made on premises and she specializes in unique flavours including a caramelized white chocolate or chocolate with herbs. All of it was delicious.  http://www.aline-gehant-chocolatier.com/ From there we proceeded to the Eglise St Didier a beautiful Gothic church were we were given the traditional Provencal cookie the Navette to try. A Navette is boat shaped and named for the boat that Mary Magdalene is rumored to have taken to Southern France. Followed by @benton8tor’s favourite the papilliete. A chocolate covered candy filled with a surprise. The surprise was a Avignon herb flavoured liqueur.  I loved it. My mother? not so much. From there we proceed to Place Saint Didier for sweet wine paired with the traditional star shaped pastry dusted with sugar. After enjoying that on a beautiful sun filled patio, we headed to Liquid, the wine store for some fabulous Chateauneuf du pape wine. It was 10:30 in the morning. This time my mom manged to drink rather than chuck her wine, and good thing to as the wine was silky, earthy, with berry flavours and delicious.

From there we proceeded to the famous Les Halles market for lunch. and what a lunch!http://www.avignon-leshalles.com/ Tapenades, pickled garlic aioli, sausages, cheeses, half dried tomatoes in oil! A fabulous sardine spread, mussels, Provencal. It was all amazing and paired with local winethumbnail_IMG_3032. After this tour, @benton8tor finally got excited about Provencal food. So much so that he and my cousin Christopher hit up the Les Halles market, and other local markets to cook Provencal food for a few nights.http://www.avignon-et-provence.com/en/way-life/provencal-gastronomy/agenda-markets-provence

So if you haven’t tried Provencal food, dive in, There is simply no way you will be disappointed. But don’t forget the wine!

 

You Should Drink Here, The Top 5 Under the Radar Wine Regions

Why did’t you follow me?” he asked. Umm @benton8tor, there was wine. Anyhow I ordered him a delicious chasselas cru so all was well. Eventually.

A few days ago I was chatting with coworkers about favourite red wines, and the topic of Apothic red came up. Apothic red is a wine that divides people. You love it or hate it. I am firmly in the hate camp. Not only is a terrible wine ( in my opinion but if you love it, good for you) but because of the popularity of Apothic red, our Liquor marts tend to import wines like it so that when people think California wines, they have in mind big, bold, and syrupy reds. In reality California wines are much more nuanced and varied then the local liquor mart in Manitoba would have you believe, but it isn’t just Manitoba. So next time you are out searching for a bottle of wine, try another lesser known region or lesser known wine. You may be surprised at the diversity of the region, you may find a new wine you love, you may discover you in fact like more than just big, bold reds, and love it or hate it, you will have expanded your palate. Plus, when you bring that lesser known wine to a dinner party you look like an expert. ” where did you find it?” they will gasp and you will get to feel cultured and if you are like me smug. So If you are looking for that under the radar wine, what should you look for?

5. Jura- Located in France ( I know I know, can French wine really be under the radar? the answer is a resounding yes) Jura is considered a mirror image to the Bourgogne wine region albeit much lesser known. Jura uses Pinot Noir and Chardonany grapes but also the lesser known Trosseau, Poulsard, and Savagnin grapes are also used. Savagnin is used for Jura’s famous vin jaune. The reds are light and acidic are made to pair with Jura’s famous sausages and cheeses.IMG_2516[1] The whites are in a word interesting. The vin jaune is aged under a blanket of yeast for 6 years. It has a sherry like flavour. Jura is famous for its sweet vin de paille and its fortified grape must Macavin. Jura is worth a look. Phillipe Vandelle in L’Etoile has the best Jura wines we tried. http://www.vinsphilippevandelle.com/ Domaine Genetti produced my favourite Macavin wine in Chateau Chalon.http://www.domaine-geneletti.com/index.php?lang=en In Arbois  the Fruitiere provided an amazing tasting experience to really appreciate Arbois red. http://www.chateau-bethanie.fr/fr/chateau-bethanie-vins-jura-arbois.php

4. Savoie- Just to the south of Jura, Savoie is in the the French Alps. The vineyards are terraced and here the Jaquere white grape and Mondeuase red reign. Again they are designed to cut through the rich cheese and sausage dishes. We tried our best to visit some wineries but we were too early. However Chamonix offers many wine tasting opportunities as does Restaurant Savoyard in Chambery http://www.restaurant-le-savoyard.com/ and Bistro 0400, where @benton8tor swears he ate the best salad of his life (sure it had cheese, bacon and potatoes but it was still a salad.http://www.brasserielez.com/  Savoie especially the monduese wines are worth checking out. IMG_2779[1]

3. Lake Geneva Switzerland. In all honesty I didn’t think I would like Swiss wine but I was very pleasantly surprised. Chasselas the predominant white grape is quite enjoyable and not at all sweet like its German counterparts tend to be. The Reds were mainly pinot, gamay and monduesIMG_4524[1]e and very enjoyable and easy drinking. In Geneva, I would recommend Boulevard du vin to try wine and as a bonus you can enjoy racelette as an appie (melted cheese over potatoes). http://www.boulevard-du-vin.ch/ Le Rouge et Le Blance right on Lake Geneva provided great views with excellent wines.  IMG_2100[1]http://www.lerougeblanc.ch/ But Lavaux vinorama on Lake Genveva but closer to Lausanne provided me my best wine tasting. Maybe it was because @bentontor stopped for a picture of Lake  Geneva and pulled in to a parking lot and then quickly disappeared on a pedestrian walk under the road to the beach. I had no intention of following him because it was cold. However unbeknownst to either of us the parking lot belonged to Lavaux Vinorama. So I made my way in where the fabulous sommelier recommended a flight including both red and whites from the area directly behind us. However I sat enjoying my wine, @benton8tor enters soaked to his knees haven slipped into Lake Geneva rather more than he intended. ” Why did’t you follow me?” he asked. Umm @benton8tor, there was wine. Anyhow I ordered him a delicious chasselas cru so all was well. Eventually. http://www.lavaux-vinorama.ch/

2. Missouri- I know but Missouri is actually the oldest wine producing region in the United States, and it was Missouri root stock used to combat Phyloxera that was devastating grape vines in Europe. Missouri uses a lot of French grapes such as cinsault, and petit verdot as well as it indigenous Norton. Amigoni in Kansas City is the best place to try. http://www.amigoni.com/

  1. Lirac- France. Located across the river from its more famous neighbour Chateauneuf du Pape. Lirac offers some of the best Rhone wines. Largely grenache, syrah, mourvedre blends with carignan and cinsualt as blending partners, Lirac mainly produces red, with some rose and little white. The wines are complex, delicious, and silky. Best of all they are a fraction of the price of Chateauneuf du Pape.IMG_3496[1] Lirac wines can be hard to find but worth it. They are my new favourite french wines and you can bet I will be going back for more. My favourite tasting was at the Cave du vins in Lirac itself which had an excellent selection of many local producers and many to try.  http://www.cavelirac.fr/ However Saint Roch winery is worth the drive up visit as is Domaine de la Barotte and their amazing wine named after their horse Pearl.

I know there are may more under the radar wine regions I have missed but rest assured, I am on the case and next time, I will have even more to recommend!

Due South: How To Learn About Wine From Visiting The Winery

Often with visiting the winery itself, you get the opportunity to talk to the winemaker, ask about the wine and enjoy it. So much so that you will buy several bottles for your gite.

It feels like I have been away from my blog for sometime now. In fact I have only had 2 posts since the beginning of April and it is now May 19. In the last 42 days I have only spent 14 in Canada as I was traveling for work as well as a long awaited Southern France vacation to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. So yes I am pretty lucky and I have new experiences and ideas for Vines and Voyages.

Back in the winter when I was planning the France vacay, I was  trying to make sure I had everyone’s needs taken care of, @benton8tor loves the outdoor activities, my mom the markets and my dad, well he just loves the colours and lifestyle of Provence. So I made sure we hit up lots of local markers, scheduled a hike for @benton8tor and booked a gite so my dad could enjoy his coffee on the patio overlooking grape vines every morning with his fresh croissant. But for me, I wanted to make sure I did lots of wine tasting. Now I am a big fan of wine tours as an introduction to a region ( Nowhere is this more helpful than Beaune) but my absolute favourite activity is discovering local wineries. This is best orchestrated for me by driving around the villages looking for sign that say ouvert and degustation and me screaming stop @benton8tor. Not sure how we discovered this way of tasting wine but I am pretty sure it links back to the Lancon de Provence tourist office which gave us a map of wineries when we asked about tours. Either way I much prefer driving around the region and finding the local wineries.In fact on a recent visit to Jura, which has fascinating wine, I failed to see the local degustation signs scattered amongst the countryside. Jura is beautiful but it did not stop me sulking to @benton8tor that I didn’t feel like I was in France without the signs and impromptu tastings. He just rolled his eyes. And we still did tastings

So this last vacation, I had planned on leaving some ‘drive time’ for the vacation. My cousin Christopher facebooked me in February to let me know if it was alright if he joined us for part of the trip. “Of course” I say. “Great’ he responds ” I am really looking forward to wine tasting with you.”

Fast forward a few weeks and he keeps asking me about tours and I keep telling him not to worry. It had not crossed my mind, he would was expecting a formal tour. So when we finally picked him up in Avignon, he asked me how much he he owed for a wine tour.’Nothing” I tell him. He looks puzzled. I explain that we simply drive up and taste. But he wasn’t  buying it.

So after the L’Isle Sur La Sorgue market. I scream stop to @benton8tor as we pass a Luberon vineyard. We drive up and indeed degustation is possible. Christopher, @benton8tor and I all taste and savour. This happens several more times throughout the vacation. 11 times to be exact and each time, Christopher who had primarily drunk Australian or Canada wine, started to appreciate the subtle differences in wine flavours, understand terroir and appreciate the process.thumbnail_IMG_3075 Often with visiting the winery itself, you get the opportunity to talk to the winemaker, ask about the wine and enjoy it. So much so that you will buy several bottles for your gite. ” I can’t believe you can just drive up” he exclaims, “I love it”. I try my best not to look smug. I fail

My standouts this trip were the Luberon winery of Chateau Fontvert, https://www.fontvert.com/?lang=en the Chateauneuf du Pape winery of Chateau de la Gardine http://www.gardine.com/en/ and the Lirac Cuvee Imperial. Each of these wineries provided us with the most beautiful, silky, and complex wines of the trip. Oh yeah and @benton8tor got his beloved Provencal roses, But that and exploring France’s undiscovered wineries is for another post. Until then, enjoy.

A Royal Treat

why not use that time to visit some wineries. You know as one does when visiting England. In fact the response from @benton8tor was “Don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t be very good.” I however begged to differ

Recently, I had to travel to Europe for work, so @benton8tor and I thought that could be a good opportunity to visit family in the UK if we left a couple of days earlier. @benton8tor was pretty excited to see family as was I but since we got in a bit early while everyone was still at work, I thought why not use that time to visit some wineries. You know as one does when visiting England. In fact the response from @benton8tor was “Don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t be very good.” I however begged to differ,After all, I had seen an episode of House Hunters International, (Obviously I did my research)  where they settled in the South of England to operate a winery on chalk soil. And the wine is largely sparkling. So @benton8tor reluctantly agree.

Right off the plane we stopped for breakfast at a small town somewhere in Kent then we proceeded to Chapel Down Vineyards in Tentenden Kent, https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g503919-d566283-Reviews-Chapel_Down-Tenterden_Kent_England.html Chapel Down is a fabulous vineyard that allows you to wander through the vineyards before tasting. The vineyards are a lovely walk. Returning for our tasting, the staff knows their product. They have replaced the old vines that were high producing German varieties with a more suitable grape. We tasted, whites, reds and sparkling (both white and rose) and we ere very surprised, me that the red was good! The red wine was indicative of a cooler climate red, easy drinking and  elegant (Union Red). Both sparklings were delicious! So we left with a couple bottles and in my case a smug attitude that I had indeed been right. “See” I tell @benton8tor, “I was right.” He appreciates that. We also found out Chapel Down winery had provided sparkling wine for the Royal Wedding. Kate and William that is. I was even more delighted.

Off to dinner with family at the Whitmore Arms in Orsett, Essex. Whitmore Arms is still a family owned pub and as Claire, the best UK guide you could ever hope to meet informed me, it is known for its wine selection as much as its beer. Over dinner, she gave us a brief history of the pub and the family awhile I enjoyed an excellent wine list and cheese board.

No only do they have several Beaujolais crus to pick from but some excellent port options. The Whitmore Arms is a must do.https://www.whitmorearms.co.uk/

Back in Canada 2 weeks later, I take the Chapel Down wine to my wine club. I am bringing English wine, I tell other members Mostly I am met with puzzled looks and the occasional “Should I be excited about that” to which the answer is yes. Either way, at wine club I introduce my wine complete with the Royal Wedding anecdote. Everyone is skeptical. Fast forward 2 hours later and whose wine is the nights favourite? Well chalk one up for the British beating out Portugal, New Zealand, California, and Chile. Turns out English wine is indeed a royal treat.

Picking the Perfect Wine

Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.

Just how do you pick the perfect wine? What is the wine for? to pair with a gourmet dinner? Or pizza? Or deep fried bacon fat? I paired that successfully once. As a gift? Night with friends? The reasons and possibilities are endless. It can get daunting and quite confusing figuring out what wine to pick so here are my tips

  1. Know your wine/what you like to drink: I have to admit I shudder when I hear someone order house red without asking what the wine is, after all what if it is Apothic red or possibly worse Copper Moon? All judging aside it is important to find wine that you like and if you like Apothic red by then all means drink it. Maybe you are just adventurous and want to try something new but still ask because if you like it, at least you know what you were drinking. And if you are stuck in a rut or want to try without committing to buying a bottle, try  a wine course. Most wine store offer them as do Canadian Liquor Marts. They are a fabulous way to learn about wine and try wines you aren’t sure you’d like. They are meant to introduce you to wine so prior knowledge is not required, the goal is to introduce wines that you might like and then hopefully buy! If that seems to daunting, take advantage of in store tastings. The goal is to try and find out what you like. My personal favourite in Winnipeg is Di Nardi http://www.piazzadenardi.com/chefs-dinner-wine-tasting-events-calendar
  2. Be open to new wines. I am guilty of this myself with my penchant for French wines. Even within a country, wine regions, styles and tastes vary so make sure to try wines from different regions to figure out what you like and then try wines from other countries.
  3. When traveling find a vineyard and try the wine. Unless you are lucky enough to live in wine country itself, most of what is available is not alwayIMG_8788s the best a country has to offer. So when traveling seek out a vineyard, most have tastings available, ask for recommendations and try. Or take a wine tour!  Who knows maybe it turns out you will like Missouri wine. I did http://www.amigoni.com/
  4. Don’t get stuck on a label or a grape. Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux will be very different from a California cab. Heat, sunshine, soil, wind, rain, harvesting and wine making techniques will all affect the flavour of the grape so make sure to experiment. If you like big bold wines and Cabernet Sauvignons ask for recommendations and try other varieties. You’d be surprised what else is out there. Likewise, a label may look lovely but that is not the best reason to buy the wine. Instead the label should tell a story such as where is the wine from, what year, what kind of grape and what style of wine.
  5. If you want to pair the wine, well that is a challenge I have not mastered but suffice it to say delicate dishes should be paired with delicate wines. So a light fish dish could pair equally well with a aromatic white or a light bodied red. Likewise heartier fare should have bigger bolder wines and creamy dishes pair well high acid wines that cut through the heaviness of the dish. Sweet dessert wines or port pair well with cheese, especially the more full flavored. Once again if you aren’t sure, ask for help r even internet search!
  6. Finally when wine for a gift, find out what wines the person likes and bring the wine they enjoy. Unless you are in France as this is a faux pas, bring flowers or something else instead if it is a dinner party. But if you are not in France or coming to my house, bring the wine please!

Finally picking the perfect wine means taking a chance broadening your palate and most importantly just enjoy. By the way, the glass you serve it in, does matter, it will impact the taste. And if a wine has lots of tannins, decant or aerate it. Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.IMG_0573

The Emerald Isle

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon

Back in 2006, when we were planning a trip to Europe, I was most excited about Ireland. Sure we were going to England, Paris, and Scotland but it was Ireland that held my interest. Growing up on a diet of Irish authors and movies, I was sure I would be in love with Dublin in no time (despite the fact that although I claim Irish ancestry, It is primarily from Northern Ireland not Dublin). But no matter I couldn’t wait. We told Ben’s family who are also Irish about our itinerary which was solely based in Dublin. We thought we would see everything Ireland had to offer in its capital city of course. Ben’s cousin Claire strongly encouraged us to get out of Dublin and explore. I have to say at the time I thought she was crazy but I have learned over the years to take Claire’s recommendations seriously. Without fail she always finds the most interesting or  unusual and completely perfect activities or sightseeing opportunities. However I didn’t know this at the time but luckily for us Claire and her husband Steve joined us at the tail end of our Dublin/Ireland trip.

Unfortunately for me, when you put a city on such a high pedestal well it will be hard to meet those expectations. To this day I like Dublin but I don’t love it (side-note: I do love Belfast though, it is by far my favourite Irish city). By the time Claire and Steve arrived, we were ready to see more. Steve took us on a pub tour of Dublin that a guide book could never do justice. We stopped at a traditional Irish pub on the Liffey, complete with perfectly polished wood bar and pint of Guinness at the ready. The Ha’penny Bridge Inn is just at the foot of the Ha’penny Bridge and provided the perfect Europe 2006 220pint..http://hapennybridgeinn.com/gallery/  Likewise the Auld Dubliner was some of the best pub food I ate in Ireland with a calmer atmosphere despite being set in the middle of Temple Bar. It was what I hoped an Irish pub would be complete with Guinness pie. http://www.aulddubliner.ie/

However it was getting into the Irish countryside for the first time that was a real eye opener. First stop was Bray, an Irish seaside town full of Victorian charm and stunning views of the Irish sea. But it was the Wicklow Gap and the Glenalough Monastery that were the real show stoppers. The Wicklow Gap offers some of Ireland’s most amazing views complete with sheep and heather. The Glenalough Monastery was built by St Kevin in the 6th Century and the ruins and church still stand complete with the tower used to hide from various raiding parties. St Kevin is a revered Irish saint known for his commitment to nature and animals and the monastery reflects his values.http://visitwicklow.ie/attractions/glendalough-monastic-city/ So thanks to Claire, we realized there was much more to Ireland than Dublin.

This is no doubt what inspired us to go to Belfast four years later. Though Norther Ireland is technically a different country, Its ties to Ireland are obvious and long embedded. Belfast long overlooked because of ‘the Troubles’ is one of the most beautiful and friendly cities I have visited. Despite its history and tensions, Belfast has much to offer and is a monument to resilience.

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon. https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/scotlandandnorthernireland/thecrownliquorsaloonbelfast

However @benton8tor had other ideas which included seeing Giants Causeway a unique rock formation that I am sure would be stunning if it wasn’t for the multitude of tourists blocking its view. However the drive along the north coast is absolutely stunning dotted with small villages, shops and pubs.

So thanks to Claire, we have ventured beyond Dublin and into true beauty. Now if only they could produce wine instead of beer.