Category Archives: France

WINE TALK: An Indian Dummies guide to understanding wine( Part 1: white wine grape varietals)

My first wine tasting experience was on a cold afternoon in December 2003, I was 21 relishing my first experience of living in the mighty USA. 2003 was an iconic unforgettable year of many “firsts”- like seeing snow for the first time, sharing a flat for the first time with an English and Argentinean girl( who were later to become my dearest friends), eating a bagel for the first time, trying and failing miserably to snowboard for the first time and finally tasting that first glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ.

For someone who, in college days, would get happily high on a Bacardi Breezer or pint of beer, I was nervous & excited. I wasn’t sure of the right words to use for descriptions in tasting notes; I was scared about getting “too” drunk, I was afraid of not having the “right” answers. Well, here’s the good thing about wine tastings: there is no correct answer and there are no correct tasting notes.  The great thing about wine tastings is that they are so personal and subjective to individual tastes. While we can’t always guarantee that you won’t get tipsy, it’s a great learning experience with oodles of fun. Just remember you always have the option of using the spittoon, in case you feel a particular grape isn’t to your liking or worried about getting too high!

Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right
Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right

The wine drinking culture in India is still relatively new- limited to opening nights in art galleries, high society social dos & corporate gatherings. It is very rare for an Indian to actually order a glass of wine off the beverage menu. There are a many reasons for this:
For starters, most restaurants charge you a bomb for a glass of wine, some even try to cover the entire cost of the bottle in a single glass- this is a clear indicator that there isn’t as much demand for wine.
Second, the complicated excise and liquor rules in our country require each wine label to be registered in each individual state of India, a result of this is that the market is mainly dominated by big players and companies- Diageo, Pernod Ricard( who have deep pockets to pay individual registration fees for each label which they wish to sell in each state) Smaller niche vineyards and companies simply cannot dream of coming to India due to the high set up cost- which is clearly off-putting.
Third, the infrastructure needed to support this industry is virtually nonexistent by the fact that there are no temperature controlled warehouses or delivery trucks. This is crucial for wine sale and transport. In a country like India where temperatures hover over 35 degrees, wine can easily turn to vinegar. I can’t count the many times I’ve been served wine which is well vinegary or in wine terms “oxidized” – returning it back to the Bar tender is unthinkable or taking the bottle back for a refund at your local liquor store is also out of the question.
Last but not the least, is what I’d like to call the “Colonial” hangover. Indians are hooked onto to Whiskey & Single Malts! Vodka is the most popular choice for the young and trendy. A real man will not be caught drinking wine( although I’m amazed at how many men have taken to drinking cheap red vinegary wine believing it to have health benefits, oh how wrong there are!) However, I am happy to report that this is changing slowly in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, which now have dedicated wine clubs that host regular wine tastings, wine & food pairing events, wine book readings on a weekly basis

The purpose of this article is to introduce an average Indian to the world of wine, without sounding like a presumptuous wine diva. There are still so many things that I don’t know and need to know about wine. What I’m hoping to achieve here is to equip you with the knowledge to enjoy a  glass of wine, to distinguish a “good” and “bad” wine & finally understand that wine appreciation is easily within your grasp and not all of what we call “wine talk” is a load of fluffy crap( in the words of a dear friend)

Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany
Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany

Wine has the power to bring back long lost memories, to make you appreciate the tiny nuances of soil, fruit and nature, to bring out the best in your food and finally to evoke poetry! So let’s go beyond calling the noble grape a “white wine” or “red wine” and look at the main grape varietals and what’s available in India

WHITE WINE VARIETALS

Sauvignon Blanc ( pronounced: soo-veen-yon blon):

The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough
The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough

Three words come to my mind when describing a Sauv Blanc: fresh, grassy, crisp. Sauvignon Blanc’s are meant to be drunk early, within 3 years of bottling. Its spiritual home is in France’s Loire Valley in particular Sancerre and Pouilly-Sur-Loire (famous for the Pouilly Fume)
The first notes to reach the nose are: the smell of freshly cut grass, herby & vegetal. On taking the first sip, you will get hints of gooseberries, apples, pears and as a parting note a hint of acidity (which I describe as “crisp”) Sauvignon Blancs are not sweet and oily and are generally pale in color. They pair incredibly well with Seafood andSouth East Asian cuisine (with its notable sweet, sour,spicy notes) My favourite will always be pairing delicate scallops with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Fratelli Sauvignon Blanc ( from their vineyard in Akluj, Mharashtra)- it comes pretty close to all the aromatic tasting notes I’ve mentioned above.. Chateau D’Ori Sauvignon Blanc is also another recommendation
FOREIGN PICKS: Easily available in all duty free shops is the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand. It has all the hallmarks of a stellar Sauvignon Blanc- freshly mowed grass, hints of gooseberries and a clean crispy finish.  Sauvignon Blanc from Vina Tarapaca, Chile   is available in Indian stores and I think makes for a better option when compared to the Indian wines

Cloudy Bay
Cloudy Bay wine from Marlborough, New Zealand

Riesling( pronounced: Rees-ling): my personal favorite,  by far the most important white wine grape varietal and ironically the most underrated too. Riesling can be best described as aromatic, delicate, stony.

Walking through the famous Riesling vineyards Dr Thanisch, Mosel
A sunny day, walking through the stunning Riesling vineyards of Dr Thanisch, Mosel

Riesling is one of the few wines that exercise a fine balance of aromas, fruit flavours and acidity ( what many winemakers call the balance of “sugar and acidity”)  Riesling’s home is in the banks of the gentle Mosel River in Germany where some of the world’ s finest Rieslings are made (https://hungrygrape.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/4/)  Drinkers are greeted by a whiff of petrol on the nose, the palate will reveal nectarine fruits which is almost immediately counter balanced with a sharp acidic stony finish.  Rieslings age beautifully and are also available in sweeter versions. I find that Rieslings pair beautifully with spicy Indian curries and South East Asian Cuisine

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Sula Riesling if you’re fond of your Rieslings being sweet and less acidic. Goes very well with our heavy curries, I would recommend serving it chilled
FOREIGN PICKS: Domaine Trimbach or Dr Loosen from Mosel/ Bernkastel ( Germany) are the top picks that best expresses the beauty of a Riesling. TIP-Please read the label carefully. German’s classify their Riesling as follows- “Trocken” or dry;  “Halbtrocken”  or semi dry; “Spatlese” made from late harvest grapes semi sweet to sweet; “Auslese” which is a select harvest of ripened grapes taste is sweet and perfect as a dessert wine.
Rieslings from Alsace region( in France) are also well known and slightly sweeter

Chardonnay( Pronounced Shard-donn-ay): The queen of all grapes and the most popular white wine varietals. Alas! Very few Indian winemakers make this grape, so very little to be found.
Chardonnay can be best described as fleshy, buttery, oaky, honey-ed, butterscotch-y. It is a versatile wine that pairs well with all cuisines.

The Chardonnay Grape
The Chardonnay Grape

DID U KNOW? That Champagne is made exclusively with 100% chardonnay grapes
Almost all the white wine from the famed Burgundy region is made from Chardonnay( including Chablis) A Chardonnay ages very well some as many as three decades!
INDIAN PICKS: Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve is a must try. Its fruity, luscious flavours are balanced with a whiff of French oak. It’s also perhaps the only Indian winery, I can think of  making Chardonnay here in India.
FOREIGN PICKS: Columbia Crest Chardonnay from Washington( USA) is  available in most Indian liquor stores, it has all the tick marks for a hallmark chardonnay.  For a couple of hundred rupees more(than the Indian whites), try the Cono Sur Chardonnay from Chile.  If you have deep pockets, look at getting a Chardonnay from the most legendary towns of Burgundy: Chassagne Montrachet & Puligny Montrachet. Try sticking with a classification of Appellation Village or Appellation Premier Cru/ 1er Cru. Do remember these wines are extremely tannic when young, so best to keep them in a cellar and open at least 5 years from bottling date!

Chassagne Montrachet- a fine choice
Chardonnay from Chassagne Montrachet, a great choice for those with deeper pockets

Other cheaper options( under Rs 3000) that make for everyday drinking include Chardonnay from Australia- Bird in Hand-  Adelaide Hills Stonier- Mornington Peninsular, Victoria

CHENIN BLANC: The most well known grape varietal in India, since almost all the Indian winemakers produce this. Chenin Blanc originated from France in the Loire Valley. Chenin Blanc’s are usually very easy to drink and fruity.

Chenin blanc grape

INDIAN PICKS: Sula Chenin Blanc or York Chenin Blanc are good value easy drinking picks. The Grover’s Art Collection Chenin Blanc is also worth trying, I found it to have more depth
FOREIGN PICKS: South Africa produces excellent Chenin Blanc’s, try Simonsig Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region.

Viognier( Pronunciation: Vee-o-nier): Perfumed, full bodied, nectarine, peaches & apricot are the thoughts that come to my mind when I think of this grape. Do be warned that they are fairly acidic too. Viognier is slowly catching on in the wine making circles and shows tremendous potential
INDIAN PICKS: Grover’s Art Collection Viognier is my favourite, best expressing the perfumed notes, do remember to chill for at least 12 hours prior to serving!
FOREIGN PICKS: Those with deep pockets must at some point try the famous Viognier from Condrieu( Northern Rhone, France) bottles can cost anywhere upwards of $ 100( USD) but is guaranteed to create lasting memories- pure heaven!

Viognier from Condrieu, Northern Rhone( House of Paul Jaboulet)
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many "Weinguts" in Cochem, Germany
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many
“Weinguts” in Cochem, Germany

There are so many other wine varietals that deserve special mention and that I can’t possibly go into detailing for lack of time, but here they are: Pinot Grigio( a relatively light and easy wine that was drunk to death in America in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s), Aligote( grown entirely in Burgundy it is used in making the aperitif Kir), Sylvaner( a beautiful semi sweet wine found in the mountains Alsace) , Gewurztraminer( my favourite, a heavily scented sweet wine from Germany resonating with notes of litchi and roses), Semillon( used in making the famous dessert wine from Sauternes, France) Muscat( a lovely sweet fortified dessert wine originating from France) , Pedro Ximenz( famed for Sherry originating from Spain), Prosecco( a zesty sparkling wine originating from Spain)

Here’s my guide on how to serve and store your white wine:

1)     Always store your white wine in the refrigerator with temperature ranging from 8-10 degrees

2)     Invest in an ice bucket which you can fill with ice & cold water.  Just as you have poured your guests the first glass, leave the bottle in the ice bucket to stay chilled. When pulling out of the bucket, remember to wipe off the water droplets with a clean cloth napkin

wine bucket

3)     Get a corkscrew: Although most white wine bottles in India have a screw tap, some may have a cork and are required to be opened to with a corkscrew, this is easily available in nearly all supermarkets

wine corkscrew

4)     White wine goes very well with Indian starters, salads and soups. I usually serve it as an aperitif or with my first course( soup/starter/salad) followed by a decent medium bodied red wine for mains

5)     Fruity  white wines- Rieslings, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc

6)     Slightly dry white wines- Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings( “trocken” and “halbtrocken”)

7)     Perfumed/ Floral white wines- Viognier, Gewurztraminer

8)     Excellent Dessert wines- Semillon, Pedro Ximenez, Sylvaner, Muscat

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Paris uncovered on foot

Paris is one of the few cities in the world, which can capture history, culture, art, food, fashion and modernism effortlessly with a style and flair that will leave you yearning for more

On my memorable first visit to this dynamic city last month, I was faced with the near impossible task of digesting all of the above in an unbelievable 3 nights( bearing in mind that we arrived from India in the afternoon on what was classified as Day 1!) It seemed rather unjust to devote such little time to one of the world’s greatest cities, but given that we had precisely 24 days to divide between two great countries France and Spain- our nights were precisely allotted in such a way that we got to explore towns and cities without feeling too rushed. That having being said- we need a holiday to get over this holiday!

A word of advice to those looking to do the same when flying in from India- get plenty of sleep/rest in your flight, you will need all the energy in exploring and absorbing the sights and sounds of Paris!

I am a firm believer of the fact that the best way to explore a city is through foot, giving you enough time to pace yourself and take in the little nuances of a new place.  Somehow the idea of getting on to a Hop On/Hop off bus seemed to put me off as I hate the idea of being looked at by locals as- “Here goes the tourists in their flashy red buses, tour guides and digital cameras!” I was soon to discover, however, that due to my limited French conversational skills and obviously large digital SLR, I would be labeled a tourist anyway- so much for trying to mingle with the locals!
Having said that I feel better knowing that I explored the city in my own time & way ( which may have possibly been harder) and in the process exploring cafes and patisseries’ frequented by locals( there’s nothing better than steering away from the tourist traps highly recommended by tour guides!) I would like to point out that when I say that we explored the city on foot- we did so the smart way, by taking a metro or bus to the nearest landmark and picking our way from there…. Central Paris is pretty easy to explore and most of the attractions centered along either side of the Seine- the Right bank & Left bank.

DAY 1:
We arrived a little over noon at Charles de Gaulle, we lost a good one hour with immigration and baggage retrieval and by the time we reached our hotel in Place D’Italie it was early evening( 4pm!) It didn’t help that the weather wasn’t any good-a typical Parisian afternoon in September- cloudy and drizzly! But wanting to make the most of our limited time, we freshened up and head out to explore our first sight- the legendary museum of Louvre, containing some of the most important art collections in the world. It makes for an excellent choice on a rainy day as you can spend countless hours marveling at the endless art and sculptures dating back several centuries.
Our hotel room was the size of a matchbox (typical of a hotel in central Paris) however for 70 Euros a night we couldn’t have asked for a better location- a short bus ride lasting up to 10 minutes, passing through up market neighborhoods  on the Left bank of the Seine-Pantheon, Luxemburg gardens and St Michelle(filled lively cafes and shops) The bus makes its final stop on the Pont or bridge where the majestic glass pyramid of the Louvre commands you to enter. People spend days and weeks together at a stretch exploring the massive labyrinth that is Louvre and still not have enough. Unfortunately we did not have the luxury of time and resorted to looking at some of the main attractions in the museum: Venus De Milo, The Seated Scribe(dating back to 2350 BC Egypt),Nike of Samothrace(200BC) Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Medieval Moats (original base of the Louvre which was a built as a fortress in 1190to protect Paris from the Vikings) Do be sure to collect a map at the entrance as you could get lost easily, moreover the map lists all the main attractions in each wing. A good 3 hours whizzed by and before we knew it was time for dinner.

        

             

Walking over to the St Michelle neighborhood across the Seine, passing well dressed couples canoodling along the bridge, the lit up Louvre & historical buildings flanking both sides of the Seine, gave the city an unmistakable romantic touch; From across the bridge the Eiffel Tower twinkled- it finally sunk in that we were in Paris!  At a local café we tucked into our first meal of L’escargot (Snails with butter and bread) and a hearty French onion soup, this is best accompanied with carafe of Cote de Bruilly Beaujolais . We called it an early night- the jet lag finally got to us and we made our way back to the hotel knowing that we had to have an early start with many more sights to see…..

DAY 2:

The delicious smell of freshly baked pastries and coffee wafted upwards to our room from the tiny Pâtisserie   beneath our hotel. Feeling completely rested after an eight hours of sound sleep we tucked into a  Pain au chocolat (Chocolate croissant) and espresso we made our way to the metro station to Eiffel Tower( Metro stop: Bir Hakeim) On alighting at Bir Hakkeim, a 10 minute stroll leads you  through a row of tall trees and before you know it- one of Paris’ greatest monuments tower over you. At a height of 324m, the gigantic size and structure of the Eiffel truly takes your breath away!

Built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel for the famous Paris Exhibition, this was meant to be a temporary addition to the skyline of Paris. As a departure from traditional architectural norms, it was highly criticized by 19th century aesthetes. Today it is an internationally loved monument and symbol of France.  Put off by the long lines of tourists waiting to take the elevators to the third level( for those of you willing to wait for around 2 hours in a Que you will be rewarded with stunning views of Paris, on a clear day it is said that you can see upto 72 kms!), we decided to walk on and settle for another view(better in our opinion from Pont Alexander) Crossing over Pont d’Ilena we made our way to Place du Varsovie, at the center of which are the grand Trocadero Fountains flanked by Jardins du Trocadero(25 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens with a large rectangular ornamental pool) We continued along the right bank towards Pont de Alexander III( Paris’s prettiest bridge offering fabulous views of the Seine and Eiffel tower, see picture below)

Taking a left at Pont Alexander (Avenue Winston Churchill) and going past the Grand Palais( Built in 1897,this elaborate exhibition hall with a glass dome is used for major commercial exhibitions) & Petit Palais( art collections pertaining to Paris are housed here) we finally reached the iconic Avenue Des Champs Elysées lined with legendary design houses, upscale boutiques, trendy brasseries and high street clothing stores. This exciting build up led to the world’s most recognizable arch- the Arc De Triomphe. Built for Napoléon after his victory at Battle of Austerlitz, Napoléon promised his men that they would go home beneath triumphal arches. The Arch is encrusted with reliefs & shields.  I was truly amazed at the orderly flow of traffic around Arc de Triomphe, which kind of becomes the central roundabout where 12 avenues converge (impossibly implemented by the vision of Baron Haussmann, who was responsible for the modernization of Paris)

      

We made our way back through Avenue Champs Elysées and towards Place De La Concorde, one of Europe’s most historical squares. This square became the centre of the bloody French revolution; it was here in Place de la Concorde that Louis VI, Marie Antoinette were beheaded, the guillotine nicknamed the Black Widow.  A few decades after the Revolution ended, a 3200 year old obelisk from Luxor was presented to King Louis-Phillipe by the Viceroy of Egypt. Across the Place de la Concorde at Pont De la Concorde you can see the stately national parliamentary buildings of Assemble Nationale( left bank of Seine) Place de La Concorde is at the end( or starting point, depending on how you look at it) of  the magnificent Jardins Tuileries. We decided to take a lunch break and headed for posh Rue de Rivoli street which runs along the Jardin Tuileries, our hidden find was the tiny quaint café Ruby, tucked away in a quiet street off Rivoli, it was here that we found boisterous locals playing the accordion and drinking wine! Our satisfying and budget pleasing meal comprised of Andouilette sausages with lentils and pomme puree( mashed potatoes)  It was the sort of café  where after a couple of glasses of wine, fellow diners become mates and even share their precious wine ( yes this happened to us, our 70 something diner left us with half a bottle of spicy Cotes du Provence wine)

    

Giddy with excitement and wine, we made our way into the beautiful neo classical designed gardens of Tuileries and onto Musée de L’Orangerie which houses Claude Monet’s stunning panoramic water lilies.But hold on there’s more in the lower level: an impressive selection of works that form part of notable 21st century art collector Paul Guillaume’s collection. This selection includes works by Renoir, Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Manet and Rousseau.Having our art fill for the day spent the rest of the afternoon admiring the perfectly manicured gardens of Jardin Touileries. Refreshed and recharged we proceeded to walk beneath Arc de Triumphe du Carousel( once again created to celebrate Napoleon’s victory) and glass pyramid of Louvre, another 15 minutes at a leisurely pace took us towards Les Halles where another iconic Parisian instituition Centre Pompidou is located.  The massive building looks like its inside out, with aircon/heating shafts and water ducts all outside! Built in 1977 this building was crucial towards the culmination of the modernization of Paris. Inside the museum is an impressive collection of works from different artistic eras- from Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism. There are notable works by Matisse, Picasso, Miro & Pollock amongst others. We were happy to admire the building from the outside as we were done with absorbing all the art from Louvre and Orangerie( seriously, you need to take it slow so you can take in beauty of the masterpieces, too much and you can get a headache) 10 minutes away from Pompidou is another Parisian landmark- the Notre Dame Cathedral, a symbol and testament to the history of Paris. Commissioned in 1160 by Bishop of Sully, the cathedral took nearly two hundred years to build. It has witnessed great events in French history such as the coronation of Henry VI and Napoleon Bonaparte.  The cathedral’s menacing gargoyles stare down at you from the outer ledge, rendering a very medieval sinister look to the surrounding area! It was 7pm and we were ready to hop on board one of the many famous Seine river cruises ( a 10 minute walk away from the Cathedral at Pont De Neuf) This seemed like a perfect way to end an exhausting day on foot. Our 1 hour cruise took us through most of the attractions we saw in the course of the day, but it gave us a fresh perspective and time to relax

      

Day 3:

On the morning of our last day, we set about having our usual morning fix- an enormous pain au chocolate with two double espressos. A short metro ride took us to Place D’Opera( Metro: Opera or Galeries Lafayette) at the steps of yet another landmark of Paris-Opera National de Paris Garnier, a grand opera house built in 1875, step inside and be overawed by the grand staircase made of white carrera marble and massive chandelier. The elaborate ceiling  is painted by renowned artist Chagall. A few minutes walking distance away is La Madeleine– a church created in the 1800’s to replicate a greek temple with large Corinthian columns( La Madeleine is visible from Place de la Concorde)

No visit to Paris is complete without visiting the famed shopping institutions, so tracing our steps back to the Opera, we made our way to the Galeries Lafayette, located just behind the Opera. It is Paris’s upscale answer to Harrods (as if Harrods wasn’t for the rich!) Located in Baron Haussman avenue and sprawled in over 5 buildings each catering to the latest designer collections, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, home decor,  food, high street fashion and much more. Other Parisian institutes on the same street are Le Printemps (featuring the latest trends to hit the runway)and Le Bon Marche, a department store like the former two BUT uniquely distinguished for its epic  food section- Le grand Epicerie de Paris, having over a 1000 handcrafted food items from across the world. We disappointingly discovered (yet again)that all of Europe stays closed on a Sunday and there was no exception to this rule with the likes of Galeries Lafayette/ Le Printemps/ Le Bon Marche, so we had to settle with window shopping, much to my husband’s delight( see image below)

Walking slightly north of Baron Haussman avenue, passing Gare St Lazare we reach the famed artistic districtMonmarte( a 25 minute brisk uphill walk) The steep hill of Monmarte has been associated with artists for many centuries, today however street artists flourish thanks to the tourists and Monmarte has become a thriving neighborhood with quaint little cafes and bars and upscale residential houses( similar to Notting Hill, London) We began our tour from Blvd de Clichy, with the famous Moulin Rouge– a dance hall in the 1900’s considered to be the home of the can-can dance immortalized in artist Henry Toulouse Lautrec’s colorful paintings. Walking further uphill takes you past the Cimetierie Monmarte, the historical cemetery containing graves of many luminaries of the creative and artistic world. We slowly made our way to the Sacre Coeur, passing quaint cobble stoned squares with cafés and street artists rendering a villagey feel to the neighborhood. The Sacre Coeur is a neo-Romanesque church completed in 1914 and contains many treasures of religious significance. We were interested in seeing the much talked about panoramic view of Paris’s skyline just outside the stately church. The sounds of the church bells ringing and crowds gathering inside the church reminded us that it was a late Sunday morning- time for mass!

  

  

After a light lunch of Quiche Lorraine, accompanied with a glass of rose, we made our way down the pretty hill with its historical houses and quiet parks, passing couples whispering sweet nothings. With wobbly knees( it was a steep walk down) we made our way to the metro( Blanche) to reach another of Paris’s famous museums-Musée d’orsay ( Metro: Solferino) The museum was actually a Railway Station called Orléans  this was pointed out to us during our Seine river cruise) The iconic turn of the century building had been designed in a grand majestic style and we were happy to note that, on becoming a museum much of the old character of the building has been retained. Today it presents an inexhaustible collection of visual arts, sculptures, objects d’art from 1848 to 1914.  The star collections are on the top floors of the building detailing the most comprehensive account of works from the Impressionist  & Post Impressionist period- Monet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Cezzane, Manet , Seurat, Matisse and so many more. The central aisle of the building is filled with sculptures from the likes of Rodin and Daumier amongst others. The lower/ entry level of the buildings have works dating back before 1870.

It took us a good 3 hours to go through the collection and by the time we exited it was time for beer, what better a place than the trendy( and expensive) St-Germain district ( behind Musée d’orsay) This famous street lined with upscale brasseries frequented by politicians, intellectuals, actors, musicians and writers. It also a place where people gather to enjoy a favorite Parisian pastime- people watching! This,we noted can last for anything up to a couple of hours, many a time with just a single glass of wine or beer!  It was nearly time for sunset and we made our way to the iconic river Seine, walking along the historical embankments, enjoying the cool slightly chilly autumn breeze. A couple of our Parisian friends suggested we catch up got drinks at a hidden place frequented by the locals- Place des Vosges( next to Place de Bastille) This historical square is centered around a pretty park surrounded on all 4 sides with old residential buildings and grand arcades. It was said that Dominic Strauss Kahn( The shamed IMF chief) had an apartment here. After a round of drinks at the popular Café Hugo, we moved on to another charming square not too far- Place St Katherine, also filled with lively bars and brasseries. A memorable dinner with friends was the perfect end to our short stay in Paris.  We made the most of our time here and enjoyed exploring the sights by foot. At times it did seem to be exhausting but fret not! Just take a break at one of the numerous cafes and bars that will leave you recharged and ready to head to your next sight. It was pouring by the time we finished dinner, almost as if the city was begging us not to leave. I do have a feeling that I will be back here sooner than later ( Paris tops the list as my favorite European city, sorry London!)

I’m going to leave you with a memorable picture taken of a macaroon tart- reminding us of that Paris is a city of where everything is presented with a touch of elegance and refinement and that the French love the good things in life

Photojournal: Provence


The 2000 year old remains of Roman aqueduct-Pont Du Gard,the greatest testimony to the Roman empire. The aqueduct was said to carry water from the springs of Uzes to Nimes( a distance of around 50km) It is believed that the aqueduct was in use for over 400 years

Gordes: this pretty town perched atop the hills, undoubtedly wins the award for the most picturesque Provencal town! Stonewalled medieval streets offer attractive views of the countryside below

   

Above Right: The town of Rousillon, aptly named for the ochre colour it derives from the surrounding hills(unfortunately we reached on a very rainy afternoon and this picture doesn’t do much to highlight the beauty of this famed town!)

    

Above Left: Triumphal Arc in Orange  built in 20AD, elaborately decorated with battle scenes and roman inscription
Above Right: Built in the reign of Emperor Augustus of the Roman era, this amphitheater is still in use today!

Above: The view of the Roman amphitheater in Arles

The famed town of Arles on the banks of the Rhone river is filled with charming finds dating back to Roman empire and medieval times: the Roman amphitheater, Roman baths, ruins of the Roman Theater, Notre Dame Cathedral and Espace Van Gogh(hospital where Van Gogh was treated in ) are a must see

Below: The riverfront, Arles

Above: Pont St Benezet leading to the Palais du Papes in Avignon
Avignon, is the medieval town locked by massive stone walls. The 12th century Pont St Benezet which was partially destroyed by floods in the 1600’s
The highly foritified, Palace of Popes was built in the reign of Pope Clementine V when he moved the papal court to Avignon in 1308. The palace, alas, is bereft of all its furnishings as it was ransacked over the course of the many following centuries.

    
   

BELOW: Wine tasting @ Skalli, a  Southern France wine making family that produces excellent wines of a GSM blend- Grenache, Shiraz & Mourverde

                                                   

   

Above Left and Right: The wines of Provence- a light and refreshing Rose and the famed red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape

Below: the scenic wine growing villages beneath the Chateauneuf du Pape

    

ABOVE LEFT: Pastis and Rose- summertime’s thirst quenchers
ABOVE RIGHT:  Quiche and Provencial Puff pastry- perfect for a light lunch

HOW TO GET HERE:
It would be best to make Avignon your base for at least 3 nights/4 days. From here you can take day trips to the towns of . We signed up with Provence Reservation(http://www.provencereservation.com/) for two tours of 4-5 hours duration each the first of which took us to Orange and Chateauneuf du Pape( followed with an informative wine tasting session) and the second which took us to the mountain villages of Gordes, Rousillon, Les Beaux de Provence & Pont du Gard

Arles is a 10 minute train ride from Provence and the small town is can be easily explored in around 4-5 hours

Of Chocolates and wines

Chocolate and Wine- who can think of a more sinful combination? The town of T’ain L’Hermitage, as we discovered, offers precisely this with oodles of French charm!

The spectacular sight of the steep green vineyards of Paul Jaboulet and M.Chapoutier greeted us on our arrival in the train station of T’ain. Much has been written about the wines of Northern Rhone, the spiritual home of Syrah or Shiraz(as its known to the new world) Northern Rhone is a region whose wines are often overshadowed by its famous sisters- Bordeaux & Burgundy. Make no mistake; the Hermitage wines are exceptional- intense fruit, plump, coffee, chocolates,peppery & full bodied( will need to age for at least 3-4 years before being approachable)

The region of Condrieu, on the Northern most tip of Rhone, produces the most divine white wines made entirely from the Viognier grape (think of perfumed apricots, peaches, sprinkles of nutmeg) Our initial choice was the Cotie-Rotie (meaning “roasted slopes” due to the ample sunshine) to pay our homage to legendary winemaker Ernesto Guigal, whose wines are the stuff dreams are made off, and who was responsible for putting Northern Rhone wines on the wine lovers map. Bad train connections meant we had to give it a miss (Note to self: please carry an international driver’s license in the next trip)

Our next and obvious choice was T’ain L’Hermitage. It’s hard not to fall in love with T’ain- unmistakably picturesque because of the surrounding vineyards lining the steep slopes, the Rhone River, easily accessible by foot, friendly people, great food & finally home to Valrhona- the legendary French chocolate maker. I remember a time in Singapore when every restaurant & patisserie was going through a Valrhona phase- warm fondant, chocolate tart, dulce de leche ice cream….it seemed very surreal that we were finally here

  

After a super fast check in at our B&B, we decided to hit the streets, starting with a delicious lunch at a breezy café by the river side- Andouilette sausages served with salad & Homemade ravioli stuffed with spinach, broccoli and cheese, all washed down with a carafe of local spicy Hermitage( Syrah) wine.

     

As if that wasn’t enough, we made our way to the Valrhona shop boutique to have a look at over a 100 different types of chocolate (okay 100 maybe exaggerated, more like 50!) all available for sampling. The staff members were ever so friendly in offering us endless chocolate squares: my personal favorite being Guanaja( 70%Cocoa, extra bitter) If you’re not too keen on dark bitter chocolate, try Caraibe( 66% cocoa) or Manjari( 64% cocoa) Their never ending range of chocolate related products ranged from chocolate pearls & cooking chocolate to hot chocolate, ice cream & pralines. Happily digging our way through(what seemed like)a zillion samples we rightfully agreed that it was enough and we had to burn it off the extra calories. Our punishment was declared: climbing up the sunny L’Hermitage hill to the vineyards.

   

Cave Du T’ain, an excellent wine cooperative at the bottom of the hill, offers an informative self guided Discovery route map, allowing you to explore the vine laden hill at your own pace. Cave Du Tain also organizes wine tastings, giving visitors a chance to sample many wines from the Northern Rhone region

Armed with the map and decent walking shoes, we made our way uphill, huffing and puffing along the way, promising never to overindulge! The scenic walk starts at the bottom of the hill and slowly ascends upwards taking you through the famous “La Chapelle” vineyard of Paul Jaboulet, picturesque country estates (owned by the winemakers) and the granite terraces which took almost 20 years to build to retain the granite sand (crucial for rendering power and structure to the Syrah grapes) Those that make it uphill are rightfully rewarded with panoramic views of the Rhone river, the vineyards of Saint Joseph( across the Rhone river) and the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. The walk takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and is a must for absolutely everybody interested in knowing more about this venerated region.

  

    

It was early evening as we slowly made our way down the Hermitage hill, admiring the sheer beauty of the vines and terroir, we had to end our evening with a wine tasting stop at the house of Paul Jaboulet, famous winemakers of the Hermitage region, now known the world over. Wines from their La Chapelle vineyard in the L’Hermitage Hill are considered by many to be among the greatest. Our complimentary tasting session of 3 wines comprised of: Le Cassines Condrieu( Viognier), La Petit Chapelle Hermitage( Syrah) and Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage( Syrah) giving us a good insight into the structure & taste

 Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and this time we decided to go easy and tuck into a salad and yoghurt! I would     recommend T’ain as a night stay, make sure you arrive in the morning to ensure you can leisurely see the Valrhona boutique, Cave du Tain walk & picturesque town center on the banks of the Rhone. For wine tastings I will recommend Cave du Tain and Paul Jaboulet who offer complimentary tastings( especially if you are two people) Do note that while it isn’t obligatory to buy a bottle of wine, it is recommended you do buy (it would be polite) as they are also priced at a bargain!  M Chapoutier also organizes wine tastings,  prior appointment will need to be made( they are located in the main street off the station and beside our B&B- Le Castel)

UNDERSTANDING THE WINES OF HERMITAGE

SYRAH- is the principal grape grown here. In fact it is here in Northern Rhone that Syrah was born. Majority of the red wines contain 100% Syrah, however producers can add a small percentage of Marsanne and Roussane. The wines of Hermitage display intense notes of berries, plum, chocolate, pepper and have a full bodied finish. They often need to be approached after 5 years and stay perfect upto 20 years!

     

MARSANNE-  is the main white varietal of the Northern Rhone, It displays exceptional longetivity in the warm, pebbly soil of Northern Rhone. The picture taken above is from Cave du Tain’s vineyard containing 100 year old Marsanne grapes! Chante-Alouette, a vineyard owned by M Chapoutier, produces exceptional full bodied white wine, green gold in colour, honey and almonds in the palate with a rounded finish- a must try…

ROUSSANNE- is the other white varietal of Northern Rhone

Main Producers- Paul Jaboulet, M.Chopoutier, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Cave du Tain & Delas

FURTHER AFIELD:

Crozes Hermitage– refers to the appellation situated beneath and behind the L’Hermitage Hill. It is a fairly large appellation with many producers. Offers good value for money. The red wines are best drunk young.

Saint Joseph- refers to the appellation situated across the Rhone river in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. Again, the wines here offer great value for money and age well
( upto 4 years)

Steeped in Wine

Most people tend to associate French wine with the region of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region is undoubtedly one of the top destinations for wine tourism attracting many aficionados from across the world. However, if you are willing to look further afield, there awaits you a charming & rustic wine region, which has for sometime been known to produce magical, knee weakening wines of the Pinot Noir grape that is bound to leave you spellbound for years to come- this is region is known to the world as Burgundy, but to the people of France as Bourgogne( pronounced-Boor-goon-yaay)
As influential wine writer Harry Waugh said “The First Duty of wine is to be Red…the second is to be a Burgundy
Burgundy is the uncrowned champion, yielding some of the world’s most venerated wines

         

Part of the reason why this region receives far less visitors than its famous sister-Bordeaux, is simply because the winemaking here is still at its rustic & rural & complicated best; Burgundy makes less than a quarter of Bordeaux wines; the vineyards are fragmentally owned- meaning to say one winemaker can own several small parcels of land, some as small as 100 yards, in fact it is highly unlikely that any winemaker can own more than 2 ha of land in any one particular village. This alas, tends to make Burgundy vineyards the most expensive real estate in the world & incredibly confusing for many wine lovers across the globe, who tend to get daunted by its sheer (dis)organization. Many of the families living here are third generation winemakers, learning the techniques which have been handed down from their forefathers, their life revolves around making wines in a rather unpredictable climate (thanks to global warming) Finally, there is far too little information available online, making it difficult for a first time visitor or wine novice to plan a holiday here.

So when I had to accompany my husband to a conference in Spain, we decided to have a spend a little more time in France- explore this region & share with you some information that you could hopefully find helpful when planning a trip there

We rolled into Dijon on a cloudy afternoon from Paris. Dijon is the capital of Bourgogne and a city known for its rich cultural heritage, the resplendent Notre Dame cathedral & home to the world famous Dijon mustard & gingerbread. We used Dijon as the start point of exploring the wine region of Burgundy giving us easy access to the world famous vineyards in Cotes de Nuits region. We spent our entire evening walking through the cobblestoned streets of the town center marveling at the ancient buildings. It is sad that the stone Owl in the church of Notre Dame is said to bring good luck when touched upon & so we did the same. It was interesting to note, that the Dijon tourism board actually created an “Owl walk” where visitors, could follow the Owl stones on the street (similar to the Hollywood Walk of fame) taking you through interesting turns and narrow alleyways-each with a story to tell. Some noteworthy places to see include Les Halles-the historic fresh food market located minutes away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, stocking everything imaginable to French food-charcuteries, seafood, mustard, gingerbread, macaroons, fresh vegetables & fruits! Unfortunately, we reached the market too late(Note: open from 7am-1pm); We were recommended by the tourist office in Dijon to visit the Amora Mustard museum, but since we were pressed from time couldn’t get around to seeing it! However we did get to sample and buy Amora/ Maille mustard from one of the many little shops in the town center. Do be sure to try the Pain d’Epices or Spiced Gingerbread, which is delicious..

            

All that walking made us thirsty and we marched to the nearest bar to quench our thirst. Dijon is famous for its Kir– a delicious drink made with white wine grapes(Aligote) and Cassis( black currant) liquor served as an apertif. After a satisfying dinner in town where we tried Escargot Bourgogne(snails in a garlic butter parsley white wine sauce) washed down with a Kir royale and Red wine, we decided to call it an early night ahead of our mega wine tour the next morning

We signed up with Wine and Voyages to take us to visit the famous vineyards of Cotes de Nuit region. Unfortunately it was a rainy day..This was more than made up by our friendly & informative guide Christopher & the fact that we were the only two people on the group tour ensuring we hogged all his attention! While driving through the quaint villages of Cotes De Nuits, he carefully explained to us the basic of Burgundy wines-the appellations, the  terroir( a word used very often here)  Cotes De Nuits is better known for its aromatic( cherries & strawberries) medium to heavy bodied red wine made entirely out of a single varietal- Pinot noir grape. We were shown the legendary villages & vineyards of the Cote D’or region- Fixin, Gevrey Chambertain, Chambolle Musigny (where we stopped for our first wine tasting at Andre Ziltener), Vosnee-Romanee & Echezeaux . Our highlight was seeing the vineyards of Romanee Conti- whose wines are said to be amongst the most expensive in the world, drunk by the likes of billionaires & movie stars.  Our final stop for tasting was at negociant- Moillard Grivot’s cellar room in the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, this gave us the chance to learn about the wines coming from all the different villages of this region. With our head buzzing from all the great wine we made our way back to Dijon train station to take a train to the next stop in Beaune.

         

Our main reason for choosing to stay in Beaune was because it gave us a chance to explore the wine region of Cotes de Beaune. There are many things to do in Beaune (do note: by this I mean wine related pleasurable activities!) Famous negociants & producers such as Bouchard Pere Et Fils & Joseph Drouhin allow visitors to see their historic wine cellars some dating back to the 13th century, a cellar visit is usually followed up with a tasting of around 4-6 wines, giving one the chance to explore wines from the various regions of Burgundy. Beaune also houses Hotel Dieu, formerly a hospital, famous for its unique Burgundian-Flandish glazed tile roofing. The Musee du Vin, contains interesting information pertaining to the winemaking in Burgundy, the building in itself is beautiful. Beaune, as we discovered, is best explored by foot, its narrow streets aplomb with historical buildings, echoing with tales of wines & grapes. The smell of fermenting grapes permeated the air that afternoon constantly reminding us that we were in Burgundy’s wine capital! If that wasn’t enough there is even a wine book shop-Atheneaum dedicated to everything related to wine- from accessories, gadgets, maps, postcards, books, novels, glassware and wine selection

         

We signed up for a 3 hour wine tour with Vineatours. Our guide Brigitte promptly picked us from our hotel. We were driven through the villages & vineyards of Cote de Baune- Pommard, Volnay, Corton, Puligny Montrachet & Chassagne Montrachet( the latter two having the highest concentration of white Grand Cru vineyards) Our visit was followed up with a wine tasting at a winemaker’s cellar in Chassagne Montrachet. I was rather disappointed with the selection of wines used for the tasting-most were no more than 3 years old, hence extremely young, harsh & tannic

Not satisfied, we decided to visit Marche Aux Vins- a wine cellar which was formerly a church behind the Hospice de Beaune. The candle light, vaulted ceilings & endless array of Burgundian wines makes for an atmospheric tasting experience. For 10 Euro/head, you can get to sample over 15 different types of regional wines- most were average but we did come across a few noteworthy wines.The benefits of wine tours & tastings at cellars is that it gave us gave us a chance to sample wines from Grand & Premier Cru vineyards, which are usually unaffordable to the ordinary folk! It also reminded us how wine produced from the same region but two different vineyards 5km apart, tasted so different-bringing to light the importance of terroir or slight variations in the soil. We felt that Burgundy wines are terroir-fic: if you’re lucky to chance upon a bottle from a good winemaker, vineyard & drink it at the right age, it will leave you craving for more. The memory of the heady aroma of crushed strawberries, plum & horses will stay with you for years to come. In the hands of an average winemaker from the inferior vineyards, you have a somewhat lack luster & boring wine

     

Overall we found Burgundy a fascinating region which, given the chance, will willingly open its doors to you. Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky with the weather which at most times was rainy & borderline cloudy- we had to remind ourselves that September is usually the month between summer & autumn, hence such weather. On the plus side, we got to see the harvesting of grapes in the vineyards, which was fascinating. It was interesting to note that in some places we actually saw the grapes being sent to a garage-like/makeshift production unit/ home of the winemaker- going to say that wine making is still so rustic and plays such an important part in people’s lives here. We were lucky to stay in a B&B that served up the most heartwarming & delicious French food ( Restaurant T’ast au Vin)- Poached eggs in a Bourgogne/Red wine sauce, Homemade Foie Gras terrine with apricot jelly,  Homemade profiteroles with Chantilly cream & Black currant parfait, all washed down with a fairly decent Bourgogne Village appellation Pinot Noir….

I shall leave you with a memorable quote: “Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.”- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

       

   

    

DECONSTRUCTING THE WINES OF BURGUNDY
Cote D’Or or golden slopes signify the narrow ribbon of Grand cru vineyards approximately 55km in length encompassing the Cotes De Nuits & Cotes de Beaune region of Burgundy.
There are only four grape varietals in Burgundy the most famous being Pinot noir  found in the Grand & Premier Cru vineyards of Cotes de Nuits & Cotes De Beaune
Chardonnay  is the white wine varietal. The vineyards in the villages of Chablis( North), Mersault & Macon( South) produce excellent steely Chardonnays
Aligote is a white varietal that is mainly used in the making of Kir & as we head further south into the Gamay is grown. Gamay goes into the making of the Beaujolais wine- a light red, with flavours of berries & cherries best drunk young. Producers are forbidden to mix different grape varieties, hence it is 100% single grape varietal
There are four appellations or gradings:
Appellation Bourgogne/ Regional– the lowest of the grades signifying that the wines are from the Burgundy region but no specific area in the region. The quality can vary drastically. More often than not, the grapes used in this wine were of below par quality. Having said that a good producer will ensure good quality
Appellation Village– the next level which implies that the wines are made from grapes harvested in one particular village in the Burgundy region
Appellation Premier /1er Cru & Appellation Grand Cru– the wines are made from grapes harvested from a specific vineyard, the name of the vineyard is clearly stated in the bottle
Quite often you will come across the word “Clos” in the label- the concept of the walled enclosures called ‘Clos’ come from the 13th century from the monks who spent most of their ‘spare’ time making wine

It is important to note French laws require that each vineyard be mapped out & awarded its quality status accordingly

HOW TO GET THERE
Burgundy is easily accessible by train from Paris’ Bercy station, the train ride usually lasts up to 1.5-2 hours. Frequency of trains is very good, almost every hour. The capital of Bourgogne is Dijon. Dijon is a great starting point for accessing the vineyards of Cotes-de-Nuits and Nuits-Saint-George
From Dijon I recommend that you head to Beaune to explore Cotes De Baune region and the many wine cellars of negociant’s and winemakers.