Just the mention of the word “France” conjures up images of food and wine. Fashion, art, design, or lovers in a clinch on the Seine, may spring to the minds of others, but my pulse quickens to the beat of numbered bottles and Michelin stars. That said, French food does not always whet the appetite. My recollections of ordering the chef’s choice, and receiving some intestinal speciality arranged in a pool of sauce, are still strong enough to conjure
the acrid smell of the dish.
The ambience of Parisian architecture, proud waiters and exclusive ingredients are like an opera. Scenes unfold; dishes arrive as promptly as set changes. The pairing of wine influences the flavours and I find myself enticed by gourmet tales from cellar masters and restaurateurs who speak of great chefs and vintages. It’s the stuff that my dreams are made of.
Bernadette Vizioz, a gourmet who promotes Petrossian caviar, foie gras, cheese, olive oil, Grappa and wine tasting glasses invited me to a dinner, where I sampled grouse, wild boar, venison and Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin wines with owners Alain and Maryse Meyre. The couple add culinary cool to the traditional world of Bordeaux. Maryse’s love of cooking and dancing is light relief from tending the vines and she waxed lyrical about family soirées held at the Chateaux from October to February.
Grouse is a dish even the French regard as a rare specialty. It’s a privilege reserved for elite hostesses, as French restaurants are not permitted to serve it. Mine perched on a triangle of toast with a reduced sauce, beetroot and spicy julienne vegetables. The poached prunes in red wine and tarte tatin-flavoured sliced apples provided a backdrop for vintages from the archives of French history. The center of the table groaned under the weight of old vintages, paté and tranches of meat encased in aspic and spicy herbs. We tasted the 1946 with its dark garnet colour, which displays just a hint of cherries set against a palate of oak and a lingering finish.
I spoke to Alaine Chameyrat, partner of pinot noir authority Michel Bettane, whose name stirs the hearts of negociants in Burgundy. Together with the American Allen Meadows, author of the amateur bible of pinot noir “Burghound”, they are the authorities on the region and more highly regarded than Robert Parker. I learnt about developments in the French wine world from Bernard Burtschy, Vice President of the Association de la Presse du Vin. Gerard Sibourd spoke of his tasting spree in Beaune, and I reminisce about drinking coffee and eating chocolate at Le Grand Filles & Fils, his traditional wine emporium with its wooden bins housing decades-old, dusty bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Loire and Champagne a few days later.
Pierre-Yves Chupin, author and editor of Cuisine et Terroirs, sat opposite me, his Fatal Attraction features enhanced by his red scarf. His dark eyes danced at the mention of his current book Saturday Night Fever on the food, wine and ambience of dinners with friends.
Life is a smorgasbord of opportunity, with platters laden with people and invitations ripe for consumption. I travel the world using food and wine as a vehicle, capturing a kaleidoscope of dishes, scenes and inspiring personalities. Memories and images remain, but like a good wine, the descriptions never convey the depth of intensity of the moment. I scribbled my thoughts in my tasting book, a virtual, almost edible, guide to a range of international restaurants, wines and experiences.
The French journalists all criticised my copious note-taking, asking me to remember the event in my heart and recall it in the morning, just as one recalls being in love. So like the French, yet little do they know just how in love I am with France and the lifestyle that grants me fine moments with delicious food and wine in all great cities. Santé!