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Posts tagged ‘Wine tasting’


château_d'ussé_loire_valley-biking_France.jpgJust a quick post tonight as I am trying not to spend all these lovely evenings blogging. We had a more sensible biking day today: only 45 km. We biked from Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon, with a 2-hours stopover at Château d’Ussé. This truly fairytale château, standing tall above the landscape of the Loire Valley is said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty. (At the vey least it must have inspired Walt Disney to build the princess a castle in California.) IMG_1715 The château is simply stunning, especially arriving by bike, just like it must have been for Prince Charmant arriving on horseback to save his beauty after a century of sleep. At the risk of using one too many superlatives, the castle is spectacular. The grounds and gardens are well kept, the chapel and its history spellbinding, and the caves and attics intriguing.

Sleeping Beauty's Tower

Sleeping Beauty’s Tower

However the way the rooms are staged is just a bit too cheesy, and oh, so French. I counted more than 40 mannequins, and I don’t mean the French kind that stroll down the haute couture runways. I’m talking old-time mannequins decked out in their finery, a few sultry glances and a few too many crazy grins. But in that French-way, it somehow manages to be just a little bit charming, and perfect for the under-10 set who are still hoping to grow up and be a princess.

chateau_ussé_mannequins_sleeping_beauty_france.jpg From Ussé we rode our final 22 km to Chinon and her fortress, which apparently was also an inspiration for some very fine writers; maybe you’ve heard of them: Monty Python? Chinon_fortress_chateau_France_loire_biking.jpg And now after a few too many wine dégustations, I’m sitting on my balcony watching the Vienne River settle as the frogs croak and riot and one discrete beaver surveys the bank. dégustation_wine_tasting_loire_valley_france_biking.jpg

No. 359-360: M-F and Hélène: the ladies who (make) lunch and (sometimes) spit wine

MF_helene_1.jpgSome of my most cherished memories of my time in France are from the kitchen. I was fortunate to learn about and taste all sorts of global cuisine prepared with love in the homes of remarkable women from all around the world. I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend many delicious days shopping for fresh ingredients at the marché and then learning how to prepare them with the lovely Marie-Françoise and a great group of friends. Yes, when pressed, I would have to say that M-F’s approach to real French family cooking and hands on learning marks some of my most memorable days in Paris.

While in Paris, I also had the great fortune of meeting the marvelous and slightly mischievous Hélène, wine aficionado and friend. Not only has she taught me to appreciate good (and not necessarily expensive) wine, she has also taught me to appreciate life as it comes, warts and all, and to always strive to be in the moment. Those afternoons we spent nose in glass, swirling, slurping and spitting wine and strolling along the Seine were some of the best.

Here’s to my culinary friends:  the ladies who (make) lunch and (sometimes) spit wine.

Vous-allez me manquer.



MF_helene_chablis.jpgChin chin!

Marie Françoise and Hélène (perfectly bilingual) also cater private dinner parties, wine pairings, birthday and  graduations parties in Paris. For more information contact:

No. 341: Tuscan Wines


On my short visit to Tuscany I have discovered many things to love, not the least of which are the wine, and the lovely and genuine winemakers and sellers we have had the pleasure of getting to know. I have entirely enjoyed the Chiantis and the Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. I think what makes Tuscan wine so divine for me is the whole experience: the luminous young grapes, the tidy, leafy vineyards and the rolling vistas that scatter their blues and greens like waves breaking on the sand. It is nice to take the time to really taste and chat and feel the harvest’s link with the land—to be in the moment and greet the terroir.


terroir: the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. “Literal-minded fundamentalists love to call terroir the soil and climate of a specific vineyard, but in truth it’s about husbandry, about sensitivity to place and its careful management so that the best of things can be delivered of it.”

No. 327: Grapes


France’s Major White Grape Varieties

Grape Variety and Region(s)
Chardonnay: Burgundy; Champagne; Languedoc
Chenin Blanc: Loire Valley
Sauvignon Blanc: Bordeaux; Loire Valley; southwestern France; Languedoc
Gewürztraminer: Alsace
Pinot Gris: Alsace
Pinot Blanc: Alsace
Marsanne: Rhône Valley
Muscadet: Loire Valley
Riesling: Alsace
Roussanne: Rhône Valley
Sémillon: Bordeaux; Southwest France
Viognier: Rhône Valley; Languedoc

France’s Major Red Grape Varieties

Grape Variety and Region(s)
Cabernet Sauvignon: Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Cabernet Franc: Loire Valley; Bordeaux; Southwest France
Carignan: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Cinsault: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Gamay: Beaujolais
Grenache: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Merlot: Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Malbec: Southwest France; Bordeaux
Mourvèdre: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Pinot Noir: Burgundy; Champagne
Syrah: Rhône Valley; Southern France

Source: Grape Varieties Grown in France – For Dummies

No. 326: French Doors







No. 214-215: Bordeaux Wine Country and Château Moulin Riche

In water one sees one’s own face, but in wine one beholds the heart of another…

Bordeaux_Riverfront_view. jpg

Of course, the main reason to make the trip to Bordeaux is to taste, savor and purchase the regions fermented gold. The wine certainly is divine là-bas, and we did our fair share of goûter(-ing) some very fine wine in Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

I already have a formidable Bordeaux wine connection à Paris (my sweet friend, Hélène), and I was excited to visit some of her recommended vineyards. Per her advice, we started our tasting in the Médoc region at the Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Médoc.


Maucaillou, short for mauvais cailloux or bad pebbles, as the farmers of the Middle Ages deemed the land on which they could not get their important cereal and grain crops to sprout no matter how hard they tried, turns out not be such a bad patch of land. In fact, the mauvais terroir has become the perfect environment for producing some “highly expressive” wines. And, Chateau Maucaillou is the perfect place for a novice to learn about grapes, terroir, aging and tasting. The Château offers a 30-minute film (with English subtitles) explaining the winemaking process from field to bottle, followed by a tour and a (limited) tasting.

From Médoc we headed to a couple of other appellations, Pauillac and Margaux and sampled some more world famous wines. In Margaux we stumbled upon a small cave hosted by an amiable vintner who introduced me to the appellation, Saint Julien-Beychevelle, and the first wine that I have ever gone gaga for. En franglais, she patiently explained the unique and surprisingly complex terroir of this particular appellation and château that gives the wines so much character. After tasting three different offerings (and after three years of dropping in and out of wine tasting courses), I finally had an “ah-ha” moment, and completely flipped for a 2009 Château Moulin Riche. I don’t have the kind of money to become a wine snob, but if I did, the Moulin Riche is where I would be hanging out.


As it was, I talked Superman into buying one bottle for a special occasion, and we continued on through the rolling hills and vineyards along the rivers of Aquitaine. En route we visited the Louis Vuitton’s teensy-weensy château and mugged for the camera on his family home’s doorstep. We sampled some Frank Phélen from Saint-Estèphe, and ended the day with some heavenly full-flavored Pomerol mis en bouteille au Chateau Sablard du Grand Moine.


It was a perfect day in every way. I’m not sure how I came to be living this remarkable life. But I am grateful for every day, every hour, and every single minute. This break in Bordeaux’s wine country was certainly no exception. Chin chin Superman! Thanks for all you do and all you bring to our life in France.

No. 53: Beaune, Bourgogne

Beaune (pronounced somewhere between “bon” and “bone”) is about 20 mile south of Dijon in Bourgogne (Burgundy) and is the informal capital of the Côte d’Or wine region. It’s raison d’être both historically and nowadays truly seems to be wine. It’s a great place to make wine, buy wine, taste wine and of course, drink wine.


Luckily we arrived as the tourists had already gone home for the season and were able to enjoy the ancient feel of times-gone-by in this well-preserved walled town. Its windy cobbled streets and friendly squares sprinkled with cafés make it a splendid spot to ponder the rich historical and architectural heritage of the area, while sampling the region’s wine. And the wine is indeed quite fine. I have a French friend (born in Bourgogne, bien sûr) who has told me several times that Beaune is “the” best place in all of France for wine tasting. Surrounded by some of the world’s most celebrated wine villages, I would say, she definitely has a point.

In addition to being located smack dab in the middle of Burgundy wine country, Beaune also houses a marvelous Hôtel-Dieu, which dates back to 1443! Burgundy’s Philippe le Bon and his wife created this medieval charity hospital for the poor after the end of the 100 Years War. Although it is a bit dowdy and unassuming from the outside, once you step inside the courtyard you will delight in the intricate and colorfully tilled roofs, the lacy dressings and the inordinate number of weathervanes. It is a super interesting visit , one which I highly recommend.

If you are traveling without a car, it’s very easy to get to Beaune by train—only 30 minutes from Dijon, and quite simple to organize a wine tour once there.



bien sûr: of course, naturally

Hôtel-Dieu: religious hospital, charitable hospital  

raison d’être: purpose, reason for being