Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Burgundian dinner in honor of Chinon

The kitchen of the old stone farmhouse glows with activity as Nicolas and I drive in after sunset. Inside, we spot Françoise fluttering this way and that, visible to us through the window as she washes something in the sink, disappearing in the direction of the stove, then reappearing moments later.

The very first time we drove up this drive together was after dark, and I remember the dim light from the kitchen as the first welcome I received, even before entering and reading the sweet note from Françoise:

Warm some water and prepare a tea for Emily. We can’t wait to meet her!

On this night, like so many evenings I have become used to spending at Froidvent, the lady herself greets us as we climb the stairs from the salle de jeux–the ground floor “game room” that serves as familial entryway. The smell of squash and chestnuts envelopes us as we rush to Françoise’s side, receiving a quick kiss while she tends her soup.

Ca va, mes chéris?

With grandiose gestures I present my bottle of Chinon for Françoise’s approval. In like manner, her eyebrows rise and fall, as if this will be the tasting of the day!

“Hurry and put it in the decanter,” she instructs. “And the glasses will need to be rinsed.”

I scurry into the dining room in search of the glasses and find the table dressed for the occasion. A pressed linen tablecloth lies beneath festive gold rimmed plates, and crystal water glasses accompany exceptionally round Burgundian tasting glasses. Lifting two such receptacles from the center of the table, I head back toward the kitchen, shaking my head.

“You’ve trop préparé, Françoise!” I say, giving her shoulders a quick squeeze. She continues her preparations at the stove and humbly mentions that it isn’t every day one gets to taste such special wine. Imagine that! An American girl brings a bottle of wine to a Frenchwoman, who prepares an entire meal in its — or rather, her — honor. In my heart I know it’s not about the wine. The unspoken understanding is that I will be leaving for America in just a few days, and this may be the last grand meal we have together for some time.

The lady of the house has prepared chevreuil, or roe-buck, and chestnut purée to accompany my wine. But first we’ll have soup and of course after there will be cheese, and on the kitchen table the plates of partially prepared dessert lie hidden beneath overturned bowls. A four course meal. “Normal,” she might say with characteristic modesty. Extraordinary is more like it.

When we sit down, the ceremony begins. Nicolas conscientiously pours each of us a glass. We sniff. We swirl. We talk about first impressions. “Un bon nez”  is the general consensus. (This one has a promising nose: spicy and complex.) The purple color is astonishingly different from Burgundian pinot noir, especially noticeable when being poured.

To taste, the first thing we all agree upon is that it isn’t as powerful as we anticipated. (In hindsight, perhaps it should have been drunk a little sooner: Charles Joguet recommends 5-6 years max in bottle for the 2005 cuvée, having hypothesized that 2009 might have been its peak year.) But the fruit flavors are still explosive. Nicolas is convinced of raspberries, while Françoise and Bruno taste black currant. I am hooked on the hint of cherry. One thing is certain: its slight tartness and seasonally appropriate spice marry perfectly with our chevreuil and chestnut dinner.

“It has a fine finish,” Nicolas says, smacking his lips.

“But not like the Birthday Nuits-Saint-Georges,” I counter. Once uttered, the words ring reminiscently in my ears. Will I from this day forth compare wine to that remarkable bottle? Will I ever find a wine so  magical?

Nicolas agrees. His hand darts into the air, miming a bell-curve with an extremely wide peak. “This was the Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains,” he specifies, before demonstrating another curve with a shorter, but more dramatic peak. “And this is the Chinon.”

A good, no, great wine, to be sure.

Dinner finished, cheese dispensed, there is still a little wine left in our glasses at dessert. Françoise presents a beautiful assortment of fruit and sorbet to cleanse the palate, topped by a bit of chantilly and glittering red currants. The last sips of wine do not compete with but complement the fruits’ gentle sweetness.

François Rabelais claimed he did not drink “more than a sponge.” Although I certainly cannot compete with that (nor would I want to) I like to think that at moments like these, a good bottle of wine can indeed make one more like a sponge: soaking up the flavors, not only of the wine, but of the atmosphere in general. The flavors of family and friends, of love and good cheer. The aroma of the holidays. The bouquet of what is and that wonderful perfume of what is to come.

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Filed under Christmas, Culture, Food, Gratitude, Wine

Charles Joguet Chinon Franc de Pied: an adventure

I have to admit, as Monsieur Jacquey closed the iron gate behind me and motioned toward his secluded front door, I looked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t locking the latch.

“Le Nez de Saint Pierre,” he called himself.  St. Peter’s nose.  He was nice enough, although he blinked a little too curiously at me through his yellow tinted glasses. “I didn’t expect a young lady,” he said. I gripped my cell phone and followed him up a path to his “office.”

Monsieur Jacquey sells wine from his own collection, right out of his home, which is why I was a little wary. But he’s the only one in Dijon who had the wine I was looking for — a 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon Cabernet Franc — so, after supplying Nico with the name, address, and phone number,  I had rung the “nose’s” doorbell and hoped for the best.

His office was a converted patio adjacent to the kitchen. It had its own entrance, marked by an oak barrel. Inside, papers and books covered a giant desk, which was lit only by a computer screen. I took a seat opposite Monsieur Jacquey and he poured me a taste of a 2006 Braucol from Gaillac, a town “not far from Toulouse,” he said. Ever vigilant, I took a calculated sip.

“How does a young woman like you become interested in wine?” he asked, an eyebrow arched over one oval lens.

Was that a trick question?

“I came to France,” I said.

“Thought I heard an accent.”

Yes. Yes you did, I thought. But I said, “Yes, and I still have trouble finding my words.”

He excused himself for seeming nosy (“Forgive me for sounding indiscreet”) and went right ahead with his questions. “Did you come to France for love? Do you live here in Dijon? What are your plans?” etc. I did my best to answer politely, and discreetly, then, glancing at my watch, I searched for the infamous bottle.

“Oh, one moment,” he said, taking the hint. Scrounging around behind a cotton curtain, he emerged with a dark bottle, almost black. I smiled when I recognized the familiar label, adorned with beloved French humorist Francois Rabelais’ portrait. (“Drink constantly,” he said once. “You will never die.”)

Jacquey placed the bottle between us. On the label, the name of the vineyard forfeits the spotlight to a vibrant red diagonal band announcing “Cabernet Franc de Pied.”  My host underlined it with his finger. “This is a special wine,” he said.

“Cabernet Franc is the grape of Chinon. When the phylloxera came in the 1800’s, it wiped out most of the vineyards in France, Chinon included.” He tipped his chin. “The insect came from America, but then so did the cure. American vines were immune to the phylloxera, so after a while, when all other remedies failed, someone thought to plant American roots and to graft French vines onto them, to save French wine. According to purists, something was irreparably lost, even though the rootstock doesn’t interfere with the development of the wine grape.”

Oh, the joys of French-American sibling rivalry.

“Well,” he continued, arching an eyebrow. “Some of the vines were saved. And that’s why they’re called franc de pied. They’re 100% French, and proud of it. Like I said, this wine’s special.”

After paying for the wine and thanking Monsieur Jacquey, I practically skipped away with my new bottle. When would I taste it, and with whom? Would I lay it down for a while, or decant it and taste it now? With what meal would I pair it? These questions brought a smile to my face as I made my way back toward centre ville.

For the answers, tune in to tomorrow’s post!

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Filed under Adventure, Cool Characters, Culture, Dijon, Photography, Wine

Inspired by une fleur: Hélène Dujardin’s Apple Tart

Si tu aimes une fleur qui se trouve dans une étoile, c’est doux, la nuit, de regarder le ciel. Toutes les étoiles sont fleuries.

“If you love a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make you happy just to look at the stars.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

When I saw this apple tart on Hélène Dujardin’s site, Tartelette, I said out loud, “I have to make that.”

I’ve made apple tarts before, but this one is special. Just look at it. (Did that sound conceited? I should say, look at Hélène’s.) Passionate about photography and food, Hélène brings the two together with exquisite creativity. I’ve been inspired by her blog for about two years now, and this apple tart just put me over the edge. I followed her recipe to the letter — which included about 34 studious glances at the flower design as I sliced and arranged my apples.

I didn’t think about the Little Prince’s rose until the moment I reached into the oven and delicately wrapped my potholder hands around the edges of the tart. The fragrance of warm, sugary apples filled my nose, and the room, and I thought, this is why people spend so much time baking beautiful things.

Beneath the flower arrangement is a layer of apple-vanilla compote, spread without moderation over a buttery homemade crust. Just before putting it in the oven, I sprinkled the top with lemon zesty sugar. I haven’t tasted it yet, but I think this is going to be the “ooh-ahh” ingredient.

If you have a little time, make this tart — and don’t cheat on the crust. I made the crust and compote last night, and baked the whole thing this morning. It’s super-simple, but it does take time. Which, I think, makes all the difference, anyway.

Here’s the recipe from Tartelette.

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Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes/Cooking

Christmas: Stateside

I’m back home for Christmas! Baking spice bread, visiting friends, and waiting for my beau to join me and my family next week. More soon, promis!

Photo: Weheartit.com

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Wine and writing…This could be the start of something beautiful

Okay, this picture has nothing to do with wine. Or writing. But if you hop over to E-Romantic Hotels’ website, you will quickly find out why it works.

I’ve partnered with E-Romantic, a site dedicated to showcasing a collection of stringently judged and painstakingly chosen French bed and breakfasts, as their new wine-blogger. I don’t claim to be a professional, but I’m happy to call myself passionnée, an enthusiast. I’ll be writing monthly about my coups de coeur (the wines that blow me away) while I continue to learn.

Wine has become of increasing fascination to me, and I have my heart set on continuing my education in this domain (not to be confused with domaine). Since writing about my passions comes naturally, I can promise you’ll be seeing more wine posts on this site from now on. So fun!

I should probably also take this opportunity to ask for your help. If you know anyone in the wine industry — en France or in the States —  who could be a useful contact for me as I explore career opportunities and Masters programs, I would be so grateful for your suggestions. I’m in sponge mode: soaking it all up!

{Pictures taken this week at my favorite Dijon biscuiterie, La Rose de Vergy}

POUR LA TRADUCTION DE MELIE Continue reading

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Life in Images: Christmastime in Paree

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Even if you weren’t raised in a barn, visit L’Ecurie when in Paris

A few weeks ago Nicolas and I spent the weekend in Paris with cousins Flo and Ivan. We got to talking about how I’m from Kentucky, how I was basically raised in a barn and a light bulb went off in Ivan’s head. “I know exactly where we’re going for dinner,” he announced. It’s called L’Ecurie: the barn, and it comes complete with bib-clad horses painted onto the windows of the tiny 5th Arrondissement restaurant.

The place is a family tradition for Ivan, who proudly pointed out the tiny exposed kitchen where the special grillades were being cooked to order. Steaks of all types were the stars of the show, served with potatoes and several choices of sauce (mustard, pepper, red wine, etc). Continue reading

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