A recent spate of watching French movies and TV (, , , etc.) sent me into my samples corner this week to see what I could find from la Belle France. In addition, Lidl have their annual ‘Taste of France’ promotion in store this week and I’ll be stocking up on Normandy Cider, Saucisson Sec, Breton Butter Biscuits and of course my guilty pleasure — Croque Monsieur sandwiches.
The Croque Monsieur is admittedly best consumed in a dive bar with a bottle of Stella Artois and a Pernod chaser but it seems unlikely I’ll get to do that this year. France is easily the country I’ve spent the most time in besides Ireland and 2020 was the first year I didn’t get to visit since around 1993 — I miss it.
While there is little good to be said about Brexit, a small positive is that it will draw Ireland closer to France with more ferry crossings already in operation and hopefully more opportunities for Ireland’s produce to sell there and vice versa — there is no doubt the French will appreciate our better produce far more than our nearest neighbour ever did.
I think what I love most about France is that my rather obsessive food and drink-focused life is considered perfectly normal there. I love its huge diversity of wine styles and its pursuit of perfection in all areas of gastronomy. The Appellation d’Origine Protégée (formerly ‘Controlée) system covers not just wine and cheese but also chickens, prunes (Agen), lentils (du Puy) and even chilli powder (the wonderful Piment d’Espelette from the French Basque country).
Of course, the AOP system is by no means perfect and more a guarantee of typicité than of quality but it is still miles ahead of any similar system and of huge benefit to rural France where a tiny region can gain fame for a cheese (there are more than 400), an eau de vie or a white pudding (Boudin de Rethel) made by only a dozen or so producers. We should be aggressively pursuing similar IGPs (Indication of Geographic Protection) for Ireland — Cork needs an IGP for spiced beef, drisheen and maybe even things like buttered eggs.
Selections this week are all from France and are a mixum-gatherum of wines —about 20 of which I tasted over the past fortnight. I think only the Dunnes Daronton Ventoux has appeared before and that was a from a different vintage. Bon Appétit et Vive la France!
Alsace is the only French region where Riesling is permitted in an AOP wine and thank goodness as it loves the Alsace climate. The best Alsace Riesling from producers such as Trimbach or Zind Humbrecht are among the best white wines in France. Entry-level but with typicité, this has lively apple and pear fruits and good balancing acidity with lingering tart apples on the finish.
This is my pick of the Bordeaux in the Lidl French promotion, still a bit young but from a ripe year so drinking well now. Dark red-purple in colour, dark plum aromas with some violet hints, full and concentrated on the palate with crunchy textures and ripe black fruits. This will soften a little over the next five years.
From the Rhonéa Cooperative, which has 236 growers in the Dentelles de Montmarail mountains (geographically Provence but classified as Southern Rhône). Made in a deliberately fruit-driven style, this is packed with red and black fruits with noticeable spice notes — fruit-driven palate with a bit of grip and structure thanks to its youth, but very drinkable and suited to rich casseroles or a mid-week pizza.
Gigondas is a half-hour drive north-east from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and good examples have similar weight and power (if perhaps a little less elegance) than the best wines of its more famous neighbour. This pours a rich purple-red with aromas of dark cherry and blackberry and is fruity and supple with good creamy concentration and richness. Lingering spicy red fruits on the finish and a solid example of Gigondas, a wine that generally costs at least €22.
We associate Alsace with varietal wines but there is a long tradition of blends, often field blends from the same vineyard. This is made from 30% Sylvaner, 20% Pinot Blanc, 15% Pinot Gris, 15% Muscat, 10% Gewüztraminer and 5% Chasselas and, as you would expect, floral Gewüztraminer is detectable on the nose but also pear confit — textured and almost lush on the palate but with balancing acidity. This matched a Tartiflette perfectly.
White Bordeaux is often rather overlooked and although it represents just 10% of the wines of the region, it can offer excellent value and quality at all price levels and ages beautifully. A blend of 70% Sauvignon and 30% Sémillon, this has stony citrus and apple aromas that follow through on the palate with the Sémillon flavours rounding out the mid-palate and adding complexity and length. The red version is also recommended.
Bertha’s Revenge has been a deserved success for Justin Green of Ballyvolane House and his business partner, Anthony Jackson. The punchy cumin and juniper flavours make a perfect G&T and an excellent Gimlet or Tom Colilns. This brand new Navy Strength version might be even better.
Despite the ABV this is remarkably smooth with spice, juniper and floral aromas, characterful citrus, cumin and clove on the palate with a bonus cream and butter texture; a full tongue-tingling spice and herbal hit on the mid-palate, and a long finish.
- Try a Bertha Gimlet: 60ml Gin, 30ml lime juice, 20ml 'simple syrup' shaken over ice.