A few weeks ago I posted about the #Frenchwinetrip, an innovative project funded by FranceAgrimer and coordinated by Sopexa (to whom I very willingly lent my professional services :-)) involving a bus, a group of international bloggers and as many French wine regions we could cram into 9 days. The aim was to use the words of the chosen wine, food and travel communicators to reveal the diversity in styles of French wines across 6 different languages.
During the trip we met wine producers, sellers, negociants, promotional bodies and educators and tasted over 250 wines from just about every corner of France. Those we didn’t visit directly were included in the ad-hoc tastings we created along the way, on the bus, at dinner and during a wine tasting competition we put together on the last night in our snug apartment in Beaune. Thanks to the amazing attention the wineries and promotional bodies paid to us, I have so much material from that trip that I don’t know where to start so here’s a first post with a few of the pictures. More tales of the #Frenchwinetrip can be found on roadtripinfrance.com
Day 1 – The trip started in the Loire on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We arrived late on our branded bus from Brussels due to traffic, rain and a longer than expected stop at what we presume to be our driver’s favourite service station. The video team were there with their cameras, boom and mic’s poised to catch the first swirls of the glass from our 6 bloggers Jens, Irene, Linn, Matt, Sebastian and Alex as they listened to a presentation of wines from the region. This was just one of the stands of Vitiloire, a wine festival held in Tours city centre every year known to be one of the most successful town wine fairs in existence.
Day 2 – Luckily the day after the sun shone as we headed out with our bikes up and down the hills of the Saumur-Champigny learning about how the appellation has encouraged organic agriculture and has invested in weather stations to allow give farmers more information about meteorological conditions to limit the use of treatments in the vineyards.
Day 3 – We arrived in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux AOC appellation accounts for 1.5% of the world’s vineyards and 5.4milion hectoliters (which would be 720m bottles) of quality wine are produced here each year. Just about all Bordeaux wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the combination depending on the location of the vineyards. The left and right banks of the Garonne river have very different soils and microclimates making them more or less suitable to each grape variety. We tried our hand at blending at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.
Day 4 – Sweet wines of Bordeaux – the sweet wines of Bordeaux are made in 11 AOC appellations covering 4,040 hectares. With 530 estates producing 15m bottles of sweet wines per year, the lush wines account for only 2% of the Bordeaux production. Too often thought of as accompaniments to desserts, the Sweet Bordeaux body is working hard to educate consumers on how they can be matched with a range of dished including tapas, oysters, shellfish, fish, spicy dishes and cheeses. We stopped off at Chateau La Bouade for a winery visit and special food and wine pairing lunch with top chef Gerard Gottrand including these deliciously spiced chicken wings.
After lunch it was time to board the bus and head South..
Day 5 – Languedoc – the new El Dorado of wine. During our 2 days in the region we visited a winery and had two dinners in the company of wine makers from many different appellations. We discovered some amazing are being made in this region which was previously only known for its bulk wines. Large wineries looking expand their portfolio (Domaine de l’Ostal Cazes is owned by the same family as Chateau Lynches Bages in Bordeaux) as well as wine affascinados looking to live their dream of buying a vineyard are taking advantage of the low cost of land and perfect weather conditions (lots of sun, dry summers and plenty of wind) to make modern, deliciously fruity, complex wines that are changing the reputation of Languedoc wines.
Day 6 – Gres de Montpellier – On our way towards Burgundy, we stopped near the town of Montpellier to visit two Chateau producing Gres de Montpellier wines. The wines much be at least 70% Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre (of which at least 10% Grenache) and are bottled in their own Gres de Montepellier signed bottle, like those of Chateauneuf du Pape in the nearby Rhone Valley region. The wines must be aged for at least 16 months and are full of fruit, cinnamon, spices, and minerality. This is one wine that will definitely make its way onto my shopping list.
Day 7 – Burgundy – This region accounts for 0.5% of the world’s wine production and 4% of the world’s value of wine. There may be only two main varieties (Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites) but the diversity of the terrain means that 60,000 different styles of wine are produced here each year. After being completely lost in the same-same-but-different appellations and crus, I reverted to the rule of thumb: the longer the name the better and more expensive it’s probably going to be. The tasting of 14 wines at Drouhin was one of my favourites of the trip – the Clos des Mouches 1990 (which we were told was a perfect vintage) was a proper treat.
Day 8 – After another winery visit, lunch with sushi and white wines from Chablis and the Jura, it was finally time to relax with a lot of local food and many more bottles of French wines. With more than a week of travelling through the French vineyards behind us, it was time to test our palates with a “guess the French wine” competition. In keeping with Burgundian complexity, we threw in wines from regions we’d not visited. We had surprised looks, gasps of “I thought it was!!” and a lot of eye rolling especially when Champagne was confused with a Cremant de Jura, and an unusually non-aromatic Alsacian Riesling got the better of all of us that the general conclusion was – we may have done a lot, but France has so much still left to show us that we can only hope there’ll be time for a Road trip in France 2014.. let’s hope so…
P.S. Our 6 wine and travel crazy bloggers posted, pinned, clicked, recorded and tweeted about our adventures to their public and bravely stood in front of the camera’s of our untiring video crew every day providing roadtripinfrance.com content in English, French, Dutch, Danish, German and Russian. A longer film of the trip will be released in the next few months.