Tag Archives: France

If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday means it’s nearing the time of Carnival celebration, or Mardi Gras, which begins on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday (known as Shrove Tuesday).

With Fat Tuesday approaching, it’s the perfect time to pop the cork on a green labeled bottle of Faire La Fête Brut — the only sparkling wine with historical roots in the world’s original Mardi Gras festival on February 25.

This crémant hails from a wine region in France – Limoux – that with a claim on the first production of Méthode Traditionnelle 150 years before the Champagne region patented the method. This sparkling wine celebrates its cultural origins as the official beverage of the annual January-March Carnaval de Limoux, which is the longest running Mardi Gras festival in the world, dating back to the 16th century (which actually makes it the oldest festival in the world!). The label’s green and purple theme is also a festive nod to that heritage.

The choice on how you want to toast to Mardi Gras is yours, but with pricing so low ($19 a bottle!), Faire La Fête, which translates to “have a party” in French, seems the way to go for a great value on a tasty sparkling wine. Made with a blend of 65% chardonnay, 25% chenin and 10% pinot, I can personally attest to the quality of this sparkling wine, admittedly opening the bottle before Fat Tuesday to confirm my endorsement of this vibrant golden, crisp, lemony crémant with the essence of baked apples on the palate.

If you enjoy dry sparkling wines, this is the one for you. A mere six grams per liter, Faire La Fête has 30 percent less residual sugar than the leading Champagne brands. Compare to Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” (9.5 g/L), Moët & Chandon “Impérial” Brut (8 g/L) …not to mention a certain “blue label” Prosecco (16 g/l).

Whether you’re in New Orleans, Italy, or in your own backyard, kick up your heels and toast to Fat Tuesday!

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Weekend in Burgundy: Les Deux Chévres 

If history and wine cannot be separated, then Burgundy is a prime example. The monks are the common denominator, who from the 6th century until the French Revolution were largely responsible for the development of the Burgundy viticulture that we know today. As of 2015, the vineyards and wineries of Burgundy and Champagne, mainly the climate and terroir, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. What this means to the businesses in these regions of France is yet to be determined. Burgundy, in particular, is a conglomeration of small villages unable to accommodate hordes of tourists, but more exposure to the area’s history is no doubt going to highlight a tourist’s visit.

View from my room
View from my attic room.

One of the best areas to explore Burgundy is in the heart of the world’s most expensive Romanée-Conti vineyard at the foot of the Combe de Lavaux: Gevrey-Chambertin. This wine village is a seven-minute train ride from Dijon, and among a few gites and hotels, the luxury inn, Les Deux Chévres, is but a short car ride to a five-star experience. For the couple who manage the 10-rooms within this inn, it is an all-encompassing life commitment.

Guests filter in and out for a night or two, seven days each week. For innkeepers/owners Paul and Jolanta Thomas, a schedule of rising at the crack of dawn and resting at midnight is common. As the precursor to running this inn, the couple endured a three-plus year renovation during some harsh winter months, roughing it with no windows or heat, and working with a crew that spoke a different language. The biggest challenge began within the start of renovations, when Paul had to exit the country to tend to his folding U.K. business. The stress took its toll on Jolanta, who continues to suffer from migraines and isn’t as relaxed as her husband or the guests to which he offers pours of wine with an open heart and obvious passion to be in Burgundy.

Les Deux Chévres is the story of two stubborn goats: Paul, a lawyer from the U.K., and Jolanta, a Polish woman determined to follow-through a challenging renovation. Its lure is its location in Burgundy, where some of the world’s best wine is available (a bottle of grand cru can cost 500 euros), and where Les Deux Chévres is a bike ride away from the grand cru vineyards and wineries.

Breakfast view on property.jpg
Breakfast on property at Les Deux Chevres.

Cobblestoned streets connect the grand carpet of vineyards viewed from the windows of this peaceful property. The only noises heard are the morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s and dinnertime clink of wine glasses as the village restaurants set outdoor patio tables. Although winters may be harsh, the area’s grapes thrive on the baking hot sun of summertime and its cool nights. In July, the grapes are pea-sized, but soon enough ready for harvest.

There are 10 guestrooms and a converted attic space a circular staircase away, where the aroma of fresh-cut wood is telltale of the new construction and the window view looks out to vineyards that roll up and down through Gevrey-Chambertin. Artist Joyce Delimata’s artwork of the vineyards are sold in the boutique shop in the reception area.

A tasting

A day visit to Chateau Villars Fontaine Le Cos du Chateau, only 10 kilometers away, offers a flight of tastings, beginning with a 2010 Les Jiromees from Cote de Nuits, with a mushroom nose. Winemaker Bernard Hudelot is a legend in Burgundy, known for making wines that can last 30 years or more. The finest wine tasted is a 2012 Gevrey Chambertin Grand Vin De Bourgogne. This pinot noir is less fruit-forward than California pinot noir, as Burgundy is all about terroir. Tres bon. Another great sip is a 2013 Puligny-Montrachet Vielielles Vignes made from Chardonnay grapes in the area (did you know that 60-% of Burgundy’s overall production is white wine, most of which is Chardonnay?). A floral aroma dominates the subtlety of beeswax and offers a rich mouthfeel with mineral complexity and lingering finish. The 1994 tasting can only be described as awesome, and a 2006 offers layer of licorice and baking spices. Worth noting is that some Burgundy reds are aged 48 months in new French oak barrels, spending two years in one barrel before switching to a new one for another two years.

Dinner is best served down the road from Les Deux Chévres, at Chez Guy, beginning with a Cremant Bourgogne de Champagne and a plate of green olives and thumb-sized popovers. The chef’s amuse bouche is a beetroot mousse topped with pine nuts and eye of bread topped with celery cream and caviar. Oh, yes.

Back at the inn, there is information about an upcoming wine school for visitors who would like an introduction to Burgundy wine, and in particular the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin. With 600 hectares under vine, Gevrey is the largest and most important wine producing commune north of Beaune, boasting no fewer than nine Grand Cru wines to its name. Today, there are half-day courses available in the luxurious 19th-century salon of Les Deux Chévres. Wine instructors include Mark Fincham, the only English winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin, and one of the few making wines biodynamically; Sandrine Lanaud, who has a degree in molecular biochemistry, yet devotes her life to the subject of winemaking in her native Burgundy; and other members of the team include Matthieu Aravantinos, chief taster for Les Deux Chévres, and consultant Tim Magnus, qualified WSET Level 4 – just below MW.

For an English-speaking tour guide, U.S. historian Kelly Kamborian is the best, and works with Les Deux Chévres to offer some of the best tours of Burgundy, including a photo stop at Romanée-Conti. Check out her video on The Story of Wine and Burgundy: www.theburgundyshop.com/historicaltours

For more information about wine education and a stay at Les Deux Chévres, visit www.lesdeuxchevres.com. Note: Featured image is a drawing by Els Baekelandt.



The story of two goats

In 1694, the famous French writer and poet Jean de La Fontaine, wrote his final series of Fables, and one of them was about two goats. The story did not actually call for goats – it just needed two nimble and agile creatures with perfect balance and a head for heights. Can anyone think of a creature more apposite than a goat? Probably not, and nor can we. And this is where the problems start. Because de La Fontaine was writing about the unfortunate consequences of a refusal to compromise. Always topical! To illustrate the point, both of de La Fontaine’s protagonists were prepared to be crushed to death on the rocks below, or swept away in the raging torrent – rather than let the other animal cross the bridge first.

But this was only a Fable, you say – the goats were only used to convey the message that compromise is a better option. However de La Fontaine was the most famous poet and writer in France, and his works were published around the world. And so anyone reading the Fable, would come away thinking – what complete clots these goats must be. And so it has been ever since. In every country where the Fables have been published, there is a saying or expression associating our breed with stupidity or obduracy. We have been made into fools. For this reason, we have decided to respond.

We need to recognize Monsieur de La Fontaine’s tale for what it is – a poorly researched negationist fabrication! Strong words you say! – but we reply : how would you like to be held to ridicule for 300 years, and repeatedly put on a par with the mule in terms of cognitive functioning?

On behalf of myself Archimedes, my mate Tensy, our 674 million cousins (not to mention 1.4 billion of our Chinese friends in the Year of the Goat!) – we invite you to read the true story of The Two Goats at www.lesdeuxchevres.com

– Archimedes and Hortensia

What I learned at IWINETC 2015 in La Champagne, France

I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.

– Coco Chanel

I stand in the cellar at Champagne Collet in Aÿ, in the heart of the Champagne region, where one million bottles a year are produced. The historic cellars which were once a refuge during war are now home to some of Champagne’s finest caves, where millions of bottles age for our eventual palatable pleasure. As an attendee at the International Wine Tourism Conference 2015, held this year in La Champagne, France, I was honored to receive a hands-on education in Champagne making and tasting.

“The bottles are placed in a 45-degree angle, necks down in the pupitres,” our guide explains, and the riddler turns the bottles every one to three days over a period of several weeks. Referred to as “remuage,” the process of riddling was invented by Widow Clicquot of Veuve Clicquot fame. Today, most Champagne bottles are riddled mechanically, but the ridge-lined shape of this particular Collet bottle does not fit within the parameters of the machine and must be turned manually.

Champagne Collet's Esprit Couture Brut
Champagne Collet’s Esprit Couture Brut, 

A bottle of Esprit Couture was bestowed upon me, and I recently had the pleasure of sharing it with friends. This is a Champagne crafted entirely by hand from start to finish utilizing Collet’s finest crus in a blend of 40 percent Chardonnay (for elegance and finesse), 50 percent Pinot Noir (for depth and structure) and 10 percent Pinot Meunier (fruit flavor).

This particular Champagne is aged for a minimum of five years within Collet’s chalk cellars.

Upon sipping this amazing bubbly, there was no doubt it was just that… fine effervesces gave way to vanilla and floral aromas with a taste of minerality and citrus blended perfectly for the palate.

Perhaps it is in the crafting of a selection of grapes from twenty vineyards in La Champagne, but the delicate aromas and flavors, like melting roses on my palate, wins my praise once I sip Collet’s privee rosé dry Champagne. This is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes with a bit of pinot meunier for its fruitiness, aged four years in a century-old chalk cellar.

The next morning, my tour on the Champagne Trail continues with a half-mile-long stroll on Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, where I walk on top of 200 million bottles of bubbly. Or so I’m told.

Thoughts about taste and terroir dominate my mind as I reflect on my journey through the wine regions of France. Author and scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett once conducted research on sensory pleasures in food, citing the fact that “Wine is alive”— “It matures over the years and changes even in a few hours. It is an event. Even a single taste can be like an act in a play that is as long as the life of the vintage.” I would have to agree.

To view Collet’s video on Champagne’s tradition, click here.

Walnuts, vin jaune and Comté cheese

Not all wines are created equal. In 1990, Jean-Michel Petit tasted his first vin jaune in Pupillin, located in the Jura region of eastern France. By 1997, he had bottled his first barrel at Domaine de la Renardière, located on rue du Chardonnay. Today, he has 65 barrels filled with the grape of the region: savignin. To make vin jaune, these grapes are plucked late harvest to transform their structure in a unique process to the appellations of Arbois, ultimately producing a deep yellow wine aged anywhere from 5 to 50 years in old oak barrels.

Siting a vineyard on a slope offers better sun exposure, Jean-Michel explains, but as I stand on the highest point looking down at the bowl of vineyards in the Jura region of France, my thoughts connect the past to the present. In fact, this land was once underwater and has left behind fossils we easily find among a pile of rocks near the vineyards. Oyster shell imprints are indicative of the soil structure similar to that of the fine wines of Chablis and even some areas of Champagne, but with added limestone instead of chalk.

With both flat vineyards and sloping, Jean-Michel, owner of Domaine de la Renardière, has the best of both worlds: New World and Old World. He gets to grow grapes and make wine in the old tradition, but incorporate modernity at his will.

“If you know good basics, you can grow grapes,” he states during a tour of his property that has been in existence since the 13th century. He grows five grapes on his land: the original chardonnay and pinot noir, and the regional ploussard, trousseau, savignin, the latter to make the Jura’s unique savignin jaune.

In the last year, Jean Michel’s vineyard has been utilizing biodynamic methods, partly dictated by the lunar calendar. There are certain days when, he says, “it is best to stay indoors all day.” On these off-lunar days, work on the vineyard is on hold. At this time, the buds are about to break open.

Savignin jaune intrigued and distracted me from Jean Michel’s introduction to his white and red wines our group tasted straight from the used oak barrels. I wanted him to get to the point, which was the process of making yellow wine that can be grown only in this Jurassic soil. This wine is not aged in a cellar, but in an attic inside barrels never topped off. In a strange development that has not yet been scientifically explained (nor will it ever be to protect its AOC status), a veil of yeast forms on the wine, which protects it from oxidizing and adds intense aromas and flavors. Forty percent is lost in the barrels, and once in its unique-shaped bottle called a “clavelin,” vin jaune will keep for 6.5 years. Once the process is over, Jean-Michel sells his used barrels to a whisky producer; the whiskey will then acquire some vin jaune to its recipe.

Finally, we are offered a pour of vin jaune. Its aroma of sherry and walnuts surprises me, and sipping it surprises me even more so, as this wine tastes nothing like sherry. It offers intense acidity and tastes like a deeply concentrated 15-percent alcohol white wine best enjoyed following a meal with a plate of Comté cheese and some walnuts. It also pairs well with curry, dark chocolate and sausages, or so I am told. In fact, it was suggested to add a little in an omelet, and to make a recipe that includes chicken, mushrooms (morrels) and cream, with, of course – some vin jaune.

Bordeaux’s equivalent of Downton Abbey

Chateau Pape Clement

This is the back of the castle, where my rental car pulled in and I emitted an uncontrollable, audible gasp. The grandeur of Château Pape Clément is where you’ll experience church meets wine and feel like you’ve gone to heaven.

Part of this chateau’s structure dates back to the 16th century, during the time of Pope Clement V. But the vineyard on the estate, gifted to Pope Clement V upon his appointment as Archbishop of Bordeaux, has been around since the 13th century. As the oldest wine estate in the Bordeaux region of France, Château Pape Clément’s vineyard has survived phylloxera and two forms of mildew, as well as the French Revolution, the latter ending the relationship between church and wine. Today, both the vineyard and château stand strong and thrive in the commune of Pessac. Since the 1980’s, the château and its vineyards have been owned by Bernard Magrez, better known for his Luxury Wine Tourism brand.

Chateau Pape Clement15chateau pape clement tasting room5Chateau Pape Clement6

Inside the château, a grand entrance leads to the breakfast room where you are served “Downton Abbey” style while seated at an oversized dining room table. In this same room, an armoire carved in what seems to be Old World scrolls and patterns opens to endless bottles of wines crafted by Magrez. One bottle sits on a table inside a suite where guests can relax for the evening in the utmost comforts. This bottle is a 2011 Cotes du Rousillon “Mon Seul Reve” that bears the double key logo insignia “Les cles de l’excellence” and Bernard Magrez’ name in script. His signature is on the label, so there is no doubt at all Magrez is the producer of this wine. And if two signatures aren’t enough, turn the bottle around and you’ll see another signature and a picture of the man responsible for Luxury Wine Tourism, and a quote:

“I have devoted my undivided attention to this high-quality wine which reflects I believe the experience I have gained with my “Grand Cru Classic wine – Chateau Pape Clement.”

In 2009, Magrez’ Grand vin, Château Pape Clément was awarded a perfect 100 from wine critic, Robert Parker, a gift from the heavens, perhaps.

For my bottle of Mon Seul Reve, carignan, syrah and grenache grapes were blended together to make an elegant offering I enjoyed a month following my visit. Perhaps I waited to savor the experience, since it was decadent and memorable. The chateau and winery, papal shrine and vineyard/grounds are worth a visit to the Bordeaux region of France. Check out the clay holding tank the winery is trying out these days (photo above, right).

If grandiose wine tasting and accommodations haven’t sold you by now, the neighboring tasting room is where you’ll get to sample the celebrated Grand Cru Classic, which was made with grapes grown in Pessac Leognan of 53 hectares. The grapes are cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a small percentage of petit verdot and an even smaller percentage (1%) of cabernet franc. This is a bottle worth every single sip. In fact, you can craft your own bottle of blends on certain days/times at the tasting bar.

For more information, visit luxurywinetourism.fr

One day, two cities: Dijon and Beaune of Burgundy

Hold the mustard… not! You’ll want to taste plenty of varieties in Dijon, where the TGV arrived early one morning to drop me off to a place where some of the world’s best mustard is produced and sold. In Dijon, mustard is everywhere and in all colors and flavors. It is here where I purchase a jar of mustard blended with Modena balsamic vinegar to bring home for a later indulgence. Once tasted, it proved worthy of another train ride to get more of this specialty to the Burgundy region of France.

Famous for its Dijon mustard, which originated in 1856, we can give thanks to Jean Naigeon, who substituted the green acidic juice of unripe grapes for vinegar, introducing the tasty and traditional recipe.
Famous for its Dijon mustard, which originated in 1856, we can give thanks to Jean Naigeon, who substituted the green acidic juice of unripe grapes for vinegar, introducing the tasty and traditional recipe.

Aside from mustard, Dijon offers a city of history, and I partake in a brief walking tour offered by the Dijon Tourism Office to shed some light on the small area’s historical background. From Notre Dame to the Romanesque Dijon Cathedral to the Rue des Forges and Maison Milliere, I stroll along the cobblestone streets in awe of this quaint city in Eastern France.

What brought me to Dijon, however, was not the mustard, or the “Kir” Dijon is known for – also known as crème de cassis, but the annual International and Gastronomic Fair, where over 500 exhibitors and 200,000 visitors flock for a taste of the region’s specialties. So, I hopped on a tram to arrive at the amazing Foire Gastronomique.

A paradise for foodies inside the Foire Gastronomique Dijon. Photo: Charlene Peters
A paradise for foodies inside the Foire Gastronomique Dijon. Photo: Charlene Peters

Champagne is poured for a price, so I decide to sip an A. Bergere Champagne and sample Comte cheeses and more culinary delights, including escargot marinated in butter and seasoned with garlic and parsley. An order of pomme frites paired well with the Champagne as I strolled along the aisles holding the French specialty served in a paper cone.

A quick tram ride to the train station later, I’m headed to Beaune.

The Hospices of Beaune, established in 1443 by chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy – Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins.
The Hospices of Beaune, established in 1443 by chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy – Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins.

Google Mapping my way to the historic monument, the Hospices, I learn this is where some of the priciest wines are sold via a well-known wine auction. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to taste these wines, I did get a taste of the infirmary where, coincidentally, a woman in our small group fell ill. As I strolled through the “palace for the poor,” established in 1443 by chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy – Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins – and listened on the audio-guide, I couldn’t help but wonder how the nuns would have taken care of my friend. I could almost see her lying in one of the many rows of beds. Fortunately, the pharmacies of France proved knowledgeable and within an hour of taking a recommended dose of a magic pill, the cheese-overindulgence side effects were a mere memory.

Off to the next stop, I ponder over the fact that the United States spends the most dollars on Burgundy wines of France, with the U.K. holding second place. In 2011 alone, 199 million bottles were sold, with the majority being white wine — mostly Chardonnay.

So, why are Burgundian red wines so special? Apparently, these wines are what they are due to their terroir, and some of the most expensive wines in the world come from this region of France. If you like pinot noir, these wines will send you swooning. They differ from American pinot noir grapes in that the Burgundian grapes are more fruit-forward, but they all pair well with savory, less spicy dishes.

To learn more, I stopped at Vins des Tonneliers, a distributer in Beaune that offers more than 500 Burgundy appellations selected carefully and personally from 52 family-run domains located in the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune vineyards, the latter most famous for its white grand cru. With a few friends in tow, we tasted some local amuses-bouches and several rare wines made in small quantities from this distributor’s chilly wine cellar named La Vinif.

One Thursday each month, La Vinif offers “Thursday Aperitifs,” focusing on different themes and entertainment (visit Facebook page La Vinif – for members only). Customized service is what the Vins des Tonneliers offers, so for corporate events and parties, you can make an appointment for a full tasting, and this means with appetizers, to select the bottles of choice. Vins des Tonneliers will also help you with wine menus, corporate gifts, training, customer events, distribution and team-building seminars. The benefits of being a member of this organization include phone advice to those seeking wine pairing or wine-opening decisions on aging bottles, personalized notifications, occasional discounts, and access to private sales (membership fee is 150 euros/year). I walked out learning that dependent upon weather conditions, a white wine can be stored for 5 to 7 years, and a red for 8 to 10 years.

From Vins des Tonneliers, a 2008 Savigny-les-Beaune first grand cru “Aux Gravains” rouge.
From Vins des Tonneliers, a 2008 Savigny-les-Beaune first grand cru “Aux Gravains” rouge. Photo: Charlene Peters

I tasted an elegant chardonnay without a label, produced by a viticulturist, and a Pernand-Vergelesses ($25) that offered a clean, fresh minerality pairing nicely with cheese, fish, white meat – as an aperitif, and a puligne made from a wine merchant. As for the reds, a Pierre Bouchard 2011 Cote de Nuits-Villages ($17) offered licorice aroma and a spicy, young, delicious taste or raspberries and more red fruits, and a 2009 Domaine J.M. Boillet that isn’t titled as a grand cru – but it should be. This particular wine can be stored until 2024.  I also walked out with a bottle of 2008 Savigny-les-Beaune first grand cru “Aux Gravains” rouge that proved black current-forward when I tasted it, and opened it almost two months later for a special dinner of oysters, escargot and various French cheeses; it was a medium-bodied, flavorful pinot noir.

By 10 p.m. same day, I was back in Paris, satiated with wine tastings that paired well with adventure, and I now had a flavor of Dijon and Beaune, a destination I’d head back to for an overnight visit to sip and explore the various wine shops, bars and wineries in the walk-able circle. I also developed a strong thirst to return to Burgundy for a visit to the elusive Romanee-Conti, where one of the most expensive wine labels in the world is produced.

For more information, visit www.Visitdijon.com and www.beaune-tourisme.fr

Sips and castles of Loire Valley, France

In a land southwest of Paris, you can discover over 1,000 castles — in Loire Valley, France. On a City Wonders Tour, you’ll also discover the history of France that leads to the Loire Valley and the river that proved difficult for enemies to navigate, hence the place where the King of France lived during wars. The Loire Valley is also known for producing some of the best cabernet franc grapes, as well as 80 types of goat cheese.

Two hours of a history-lectured bus tour led us to the first tour stop: Chambord, which was the inspiration for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The palace was built by King Francis I, styled in comparison to what he loved in Milan, Italy. It was built as a mere hunting lodge in the forest of Chambord. Today, the forest is a national reserve – the same as it was in the 16th century, except there’s a wall that closes the forest. Within the castle walls of this former hunting lodge, where today you can rent out the space for $150,000 a day, there are more than 300 rooms, 200 fireplaces and 80 staircases.

The City Wonders Tour includes lunch and a wine tasting at Chateau de Nitray. We are served the food of peasants: roasted chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, cheeses, salad and apple dessert, all accompanied with a wine tasting and tour of the castle grounds and rudimentary, barrel-less wine cellar. Chateau de Nitray’s vineyards have been around for 28 years, where six varietals of grapes include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and chenin blanc as popular whites, and cabernet franc as the known red. The sauvignon blanc is sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted, with citrus, melon, peach notes that lead to a tart finish. It does have great structure. The rose is made with cabernet franc; they utilize the red skins for about 10 hours to get that beautiful rose color.

Chateau de Chenonceau proves to be the most elegant of our stops. Home to the six ladies: Catherine D. Medici (Henri II’s mistress, then wife after she ‘removed’ Diana), Diana Poitiers (the castle was dedicated to Diana by husband King Henri II), Louise of Lorraine (Henri III’s wife), Louise Dupin (artist who saved the chateau during the Revolution), Marguerite Pelouze (transformed the castle to a luxury estate) and Simone Menier (of chocolate fortune and who nursed the wounded during World War II). The interior will leave you in awe, but my goal was to check out the cellar — the wine cellar, where a tasting bar lures a crowd for sips of three wines. This is also where you can buy some bottles to take home. My advice, however, is to avoid the three-pack. Choose your personal favorites, such as the cabernet franc.

Visit http://www.citywonders.com/en/france/paris/paris-tours to view the list of tours offered from Paris.

Vendanges de Montmartre

If you happen to be in Paris this weekend, spend an afternoon in Montmartre, by the Sacre Coeur. Through Oct. 12, the annual wine harvest festival “Vendanges de Montmartre” takes place to celebrate the first grapes grown in Paris. But first, begin on the corner of Saint Vincent and rue des Saules to appreciate the only and remaining working vineyard of Paris – called Clos Montmartre, which dates back to 1932 and grows gamay and pinot noir grapes, as well as some sauvignon blanc and riesling. Don’t expect to taste wines made in Montmartre, however, as they are auctioned off at steep prices for collections only. You do not want to drink these. Not only are they inferior tastes, they are also known to be diuretic.

Now that you’ve appreciated the small vineyard, head back up the hill and take the funicular to the butte of Montemarte – unless you want a good step workout. Once at the top, you’ll be able to browse through endless tables of artisan food and wines. Many of these tables offer samples, but do not expect to sample tastes of wines complimentary; you’ll pay between 2-6 euros a glass. But you will get samples of many incredibly tasty cheeses, some Armagnac, almond/honey nougat, and more. My suggestion is to begin with a glass of Champagne, served in a flute you can keep as a souvenir. And then, browse through the tables until the end, check out a street performance, some artists in action, and head up into the Sacre Coeur to check out the interior beauty. Before you leave the area, hop on the carousel for a short ride and giggle, and then head back to taste and make your purchases if you please. End with a stop for some mulled hot wine, as the beautiful sunny days turn to chilly nights.

As you make your way back to the Metro stop: Anvers, you’ll walk through the souvenir street shops where you can participate or watch some live gambling in action. Yes, there are men with large cardboard boxes they use as a table where they place three hockey puck sized discs for you to choose which one has the two stickers underneath. Winner takes all.

Whatever you decide to do, here are a few of my suggestions of wines tastes I would highly recommend:

– A glass of Champagne Brut A Villers Marmery Premier Cru U.V. made in Champagne, France, made with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc grapes. A perfect blended wine, this one pairs well with rich fish, shellfish poultry, vegetarian dishes and venison.

– Taste the Comte De Lauze Chateauneuf-Du-Pape U.V. from Southern Rhone, France ($78), made with roussanne, marsanne and grenache blanc grapes. Pair this with pork, shellfish, rich fish or poultry.

– Finally, Jean Lecellier Santenay Passetemps 1er Cru Grand Vin de Bourgogne U.V. from Cote de Beaune, France.

Bonne degustation!

Chenin blanc from Loire Valley, France

If you’re in the mood for a neutral white wine, the chenin blanc grape is the way to go. A good pick is the golden yellow Anjou Blanc 2010, which hails from Chateau Soucherie in Samur, France, in the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley is known for its 1,000 castles and sordid history, but it’s also a superb growing region for chenin blanc grapes.

Chateau Soucherie’s Anjou Blanc is a supple wine offers white floral aromas and a long finish of creamy caramel that indicates a slight oak aging. It’s best served with shellfish, lean fish and fruity desserts. I’d enjoy this with oysters.

This 2010 Anjou Blanc won a silver medal at the 2012 Concours Mondial Bruxelles, which is a prestigious honor. And you can purchase this wine for 8,40 euro (U.S. $11). Oh, and you actually can find this in the U.S.