Chapter 3 – French food and wine culture
France is with no arguments the country with some of the most important wine denominations in the world. Wines such as Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux really made the history of wine, not only for their own nation but for the entire wine world.
It is a wide country with a various range of styles and grape varieties. Most all the world’s diffuse grapes, named international grape varieties, indeed, come originally from France, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
For this reason picking only one wine when talking about France is almost impossible. I have travelled around this country many times, I lived in Marseille so I know Provence pretty well, then Paris, Burgundy, Bordeaux, part of the vast Loire Valley.
The diversity of French wine is due, in part, to the country’s wide range of climates. Champagne, its most northerly region, has one of the coolest climates anywhere in the wine-growing world – in stark contrast to the warm, dry Rhone Valley 350 miles (560km) away in the southeast. Bordeaux, in the southwest, has a maritime climate heavily influenced by the Atlantic ocean to its west and the various rivers that wind their way between its vineyards. Far from any oceanic influence, eastern regions such as Burgundy and Alsace have a continental climate, with warm, dry summers and cold winters. In France’s deep south, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon enjoy a definitively Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot summers and relatively mild winters. (fonte Wine-Searcher.com).
For this reason I decided to pick three different wines, by as many wine regions, one white, one rosè and one red, among which you can choose your favourite style to accompany Carlotta’s dish of today.
The first wine is a white wine, Laures Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2018 from Domaine Bonnet-Huteau, 100% Melon de Bourgogne.
Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is the best known of the Muscadet appellations of the Loire Valley’s Pays Nantais district, on the central western coast of France. The title covers exclusively white wines from vineyards southeast and east of the city of Nantes, around the Sèvre Nantaise river and its tributary, La Maine, at the western end of the Loire region.
Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is made solely from Melon de Bourgogne, a grape variety brought to the western Loire from Burgundy as the name suggests.
In the wet, maritime climate of the western Loire Valley, soil drainage is crucial. This is provided by the chalky limestone soils and gravels of the area. Clay deposits are also found alongside the river banks, creating variability in drainage speed, so site selection is important.
The best Sèvre-et-Maine has an underlying minerality, often thought to be a reflection of the chalky limestone soils found within the area.
To glean as much flavor and character from the grape must as possible, many Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine wines are left sur lie (“on the lees”) for a period of several weeks or even months following fermentation. This extended contact with the lees, imparts a richer, creamier mouthfeel to the wines and contributes to the general flavor profile.
This wine is indeed aged 9 months on its fine lees and is made to be a statement from the producer evidencing the great potential of white wines from this region, to make refined wines with a strong character.
The winery, Domaine Bonnet-Huteau, has a long history of family tradition, actually they are the fourth generation of winemakers there. They are certified organic since 2005 and started recently with some biodynamic practises in the vineyard.
In my experience this wine has been a wine that I enjoyed even more at every sip. The nose is not extremely rich but elegant and inviting with notes of stone fruit, medical herbs and honey. The mouth is creamy, juicy and with a crisp acidity that calls for food.
A great pairing for Carlotta’s Tarte Tatin if you like the alternation of sweet and savoury notes in your mouth.
The second wine is the Rosé Domaine la Navicelle 2020, Côtes de Provence.
Côtes de Provence Aoc is the largest appellation of the Provence wine region in south-eastern France. It covers roughly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of vineyards, which produce the vast majority of Provence’s rosé wine.
Although it also covers red and white wine, about 80 percent of Côtes de Provence’s output is rosé. This is made predominantly from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsaut grape varieties plus the quintessentially Provencal red grape Tibouren (also called Rossese in Italy).
The terroir covered by this appellation is varied – from the slightly cooler sub-alpine hills around Seillans in the north, to the coastal vines around the Golfe de Saint-Tropez in the east and the Baie de la Ciotat, between Bandol and Cassis in the west. The quality of the vineyard sites varies widely, as does the price and quality level of wines produced under the Côtes de Provence banner.
Domaine la Navicelle stays in the heart of Provence region, in the northern side, in an area called Colle Noire. This location allows a cooler climate and a slow ripening which happens to make wines more rich and complex while with a very high acidity.
In total 18 hectares, the winery is certified organic and also has Demeter certification in the vineyards part.
The Rosè is a traditional blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Tibouren, vinified in stainless steel. The aromas are fresh and fragrant, mainly on citrus notes and small red berries, not completely ripened.
The mouth is pretty round with a lovely richness and character. A perfect pairing if you like more the aromatic structure of the food and wine pairing.
The third wine, red wine, is Odyssée 2019 from Domaine Duseigneur, a 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from Cotes du Rhone, close to Avignon.
Côtes du Rhône is a region wide appellation within the Rhone Valley in eastern France. It does not hold the prestige of the Rhône’s more famous names, like Chateneuf, Cote Rotie and Hermitage. However, the Côtes du Rhône title has risen to become one of France’s most popular and famous. (© Wine-Searcher.com)
Some Côtes du Rhône wines are of extremely high quality. Some of the appellation’s finest (and most expensive) wines command prices of more than $100 per bottle.
Some notable examples are made by a new wave of quality focused winemakers. The top-priced cuvées may also be sourced from high-quality vineyards outside the boundaries of more famous appellations.
Domaine Duseigneur is owned by Bernard Duseigneur, vigneron and it’s located in Chateauneuf du Pape, close to Avignon. They are biodynamic.
The wine, Odyssee Cotes du Rhone AOC, comes from vineyards on the northern slope of a small hill. Spontaneous fermentation happens in concrete vats, where the wine stays for the entire duration of its ageing.
It’s a fresh and young wine, fruit driven, with an extremely pleasant and juicy drinking. It has the finesse typical of the Rhone wines but with a more approachable style as it is a wine to be enjoyed and drunk a few years after the harvest.
Rotund in the mouth, it will be the perfect pairing for you if you like a smooth marriage between the food and the wine.
All the three wines can be found on Enovely e-commerce, which I would like to thank for making me discover these amazing triplete.
But now let’s dive deeper into the food side of the story, with Carlotta.
France is unanimously considered the richest country from an enogastronomic point of view, especially with regards to refined and high quality wines and food. It has always and will forever be compared to its neighbour, Italy, although I like to believe that both countries have wonderful products, landscapes, cities and cultures to offer which are equally valuable, one isn’t better than the other.
The same way Manuela struggled to choose a wine to represent this amazing country, I struggled with a recipe to choose. Before I dive into all that though, I wanted to share some extremely interesting – in my opinion, obviously – knowledge on traditional French cuisine and why it is considered so refined. Information I discovered during a course on Food History in my Food Culture, Communication and Marketing Master.
In order to demonstrate the development of French traditional cuisine, I need to compare it to the development of another country’s traditional cuisine, Italy’s, as I know it well and am confident in drawing a comparison.
Similarly to most courts throughout the Middle Ages, luxurious and pompous banquets were held, throughout which court Chefs would prepare the most elaborate dishes and compositions, playing with spices such as saffron to add colour and contrast to foods. Dishes which were considered showpieces, coated in gold and silver leaf or cooked – in the case of meat – and placed back inside the original bird, which was sewn up to appear intact.
Courts and banquets filled with elaborately prepared foods, sugar sculptures and meats paired with chocolate were also present in Italy but most traces of this past gastronomic culture are long gone nowadays. Whereas in France, especially in French patisserie and in the preparation of meats, which focus on game meat, the traditions which date back to the Middle Ages are still perceivable… why?
High cuisine, haute cuisine, was founded around the 17th century by La Varenne, a chef who is credited with publishing the first French cookbook. His recipes are a somewhat lighter and modernized version of high court dishes from the Middle Ages. His following book, focused on patisserie, set the standards for haute cuisine standards, as well as defining staple French cuisine. The subject was later revisited by another Chef in the 20th century, Auguste Escoffier, who is credited with making French cuisine famous and important around the world. He was however criticized by many for leaving out the vast and rich local regional French dishes and ingredients and for sharing recipes which were highly complex and difficult to replicate by home cooks.
Nowadays the French cuisine we – as non French natives know – is still considered haute cuisine and not exactly the easiest dishes to replicate in one’s own home. In reality France has a richness of gastronomic diversity region by region, just like Italy, but the difference of what is known as “staple French cuisine” and “staple Italian cuisine” lies in how it was diffused.
How are traditions, customs and rituals passed on? Through writing and documenting, in the case of food, cookbooks. Cookbooks defined, both in the case of Italy and France, traditional cuisine. In Italy it was Pellegrino Artusi who traveled around Italy and wrote down regional specialities and staple dishes into one book, defining traditional Italian cuisine as a regional cuisine, shifting slightly from region to region. In France it was La Varenne who wrote the first cookbook, documenting the dishes prepared in the country’s courts, defining French traditional cuisine as a court and refined one.
Italian cuisine developed regionally, whereas the French one developed from court. It is therefore easy to understand why French cuisine is considered the most refined, elegant and distinguished cuisine – the world got acquainted with France’s court cuisine!
After much deliberation I decided to share with you a classic dish, representative of France, but with a little twist. Tarte Tatin, the wonderful pastry traditionally made with caramelized apples, created by the Tatine sisters in their hotel. It quickly became one of the most popular desserts and ways of cooking – upside down – fruit with pastry. Due to the excellent flavour and texture caramelization gives foods, chefs nowadays experiment with making Tarte Tatin with vegetables and other produce.
Discover the full recipe on La Panza Piena blog.