I went to les Sources de Caudalie over a decade ago with the intention of bringing a group of guests there. While it was, indeed, a lovely place, it wasn’t really near anything, so folks wouldn’t be able to go out explore on their own unless they had a car. However, it is smack-dab in the middle of Bordeaux wine country, on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, which is an 143 second walk from the hotel and spa. So maybe I didn’t make the right decision after all. I mean – a winery, a spa, and three very good restaurants? — why go anywhere else?
Recently in Wine-ing category
One of the things that France is known for, and does very well, is luxury. Or, as it’s shortened to, in French — le luxe. It’s a world that I don’t often dip into. In fact, I’m usually on the other end of the stick. When I worked in the restaurant business, I was always the one in the back of the kitchen, stirring and baking away while everyone else was having a fancy dinner. My idea of luxury in those days was getting home at 2am, taking a shower, putting on a bathrobe, and eating a bag of tortilla chips and salsa with my feet propped up on a cushion while watching reruns of The Love Boat – and not having anyone talk to me.
Higher up than tortilla chips, in terms of price (and to some, in status) is Champagne, which is perhaps the most obvious product associated with French luxury, and fortunately, it’s an affordable one. I don’t sit around drinking it as much as I should, or would like to. (Imagine how much crazier this blog would be if I was drinking Champagne while writing it, rather than my usual trilogy of desktop snacks; bread, cheese, and chocolate?) But I do drink it from time-to-time, and it’s one of those things that in spite of globalization, the French still do best.
One can buy a bottle of it, starting at around €20 or so in France, although prices go up from there, somewhat steeply. Still, it’s something that’s within reach of most people and interestingly, in the period starting in mid-November, through Christmas and New Years, almost every wine shop and supermarket in France has amazing deals on Champagne. I often stock up for the year! Come to think of it, I still have some from last year that I should probably use up before restocking the larder. (Who can resist a sale? Especially when it’s on Champagne…)
I’m not sure how I discovered Lillet, an orange-infused apéritif wine, made in a town on a road between Sauternes and Bordeaux, but I remember driving through the area and making my friend screech to a halt when we (almost) passed the Lillet factory.
Factory probably isn’t the best word, but macerbatorium probably sounds a little dodgy, but when we walked in, we found ourselves in front of an astounding amount of oranges and shards of bark, bobbing up and down, as they macerated in vats of wine. While that was certainly a riveting sight, equally enticing was the silver daddy who was very easy on the eyes, who took us through the facility, explaining the process of making the famed apéritif wine, then joining us for a little dégustation.
It was hard to concentrate on the beverages clinking in our glasses, but I did my best. (I swear.) And I bought a bottle as a souvenir, likely as a pretext for letting us snap a picture of the two of us together, which had a hallowed place over my desk for well over a decade. I don’t know what happened to that picture, but I still pine for Lillet to this day. Interestingly, it’s rare that you find Lillet served in Paris and if you ask around, you’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in town that even know what it is. (Readers of The Sweet Life in Paris know what I was served the first time I tried to order it in a café, which I’m still living down.)
I usually have to spend a lot of time speaking in the conditional around here (using “it could be said that”, or “in most cases”…which is starting to make me sound like a politician) because there are always exceptions to every rule. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one rule that is almost steadfast in France is that glasses are rarely filled more than half-full. (Noticed how slyly I popped in “almost” and “rarely”- which are obvious proof that it’s going to be a hard habit for me to break.) It was never explained to me why, or in the case of a glass being half-empty, why not. Yet I think it’s one of those “only in France” rules that gets implemented because a full glass is simply pas joli, or not attractive.
It’s a hard concept for us Americans to fathom, a place where full=better, and an oversized steak hanging over the edges of a plate is more appealing than a few slices of beef neatly plated up and arranged on the plate. And it amuses me that many people judge the quality of a restaurant by how full they are when they leave. Probably the biggest complaint, in fact, you hear coming from people when they didn’t like a place was because they left and weren’t full.
I don’t know how that’s possible because when I go back to the states, I can barely make it though my main course because the appetizers are about the same size as a French plat principal. And I am bound to be stripped of my San Francisco stripes because I can no longer make it through a Mission burrito. But when it comes to wine, I somehow find the willpower to get through whatever is put in front of me.
After all this time you’d think that I would have figured out how to go back to older postings here on the site, update them, then bring them up to the front. Because if things change on a subsequent visit, or if I hear something major has changed, I like to make sure we’re all in the same loop. But not being so tech-savvy, I decided just to start with a clean plate after a recent visit to Les Rubis, even though not much has changed since my last visit. In fact, I don’t think anything has changed since my first one, which was probably decades ago.
One thing I am better at, though, is keeping up with Pam Williams, who I met almost about ten years back when she was launching Ecole Chocolat, her online chocolate school. She lives in Canada, but comes to Paris annually with her students, and it has become our tradition to have lunch together. No matter what is happening, or how crazy my life is, Pam and her husband’s visits have become one of the few calming presences in my life. (It might help that last time they gave me a spa gift certificate, since I was in the middle of a rather torturous remodel.) But I really mostly enjoy their annual visit because they’re such nice people (trés canadienne) and are funny, we can openly talk about anything, and they’re just all-around good dining companions. Oh yeah, and she also brings chocolate along.
I was perched on the fence, whether to say yes to staying home to work, and no to Champagne. And, well, I guess I don’t need to tell you that I simply could not fight the battle of the bubbly. And so I headed out for a quick day and night in Reims, where Champagne is made.
Fortunately the city of Reims is just a quick 45 minutes from Paris and I was invited to the region to eat, drink, and, well…I won’t
tell you what else I did. But it involved a long, hot, much-appreciated bath, and a rest on the adjacent canapé.
One of the things about the French that’s pretty well-known is that they certainly enjoy their wine. While statistics point to declining sales and consumption, I’d still dare to say that wine plays a very important role in French culture, as well as an integral part of its cuisine. And for that second one, I’m especially grateful.
I like wine, and being from California – and working in restaurants all of my life – I’m certainly no stranger to the pleasures of “the grape.” But even though wine has been simplified in America to boost consumption, such as wines with fruit-flavorings (I guess ‘grape-flavored’ wine isn’t enticing enough), there still is a bit of elitism associated with le vin. Yet in France, wine is no big deal and the wine aisle at the supermarket is just as big, if not bigger, than the mustard, coffee, paper towel, vinegar, sterilized milk, pasta, cereal, baby food, jam, and rice cake aisles – combined. It even threatens the yogurt selection in terms of scope, variety, and flavors.
It wouldn’t be the first time, but I almost had an accident on my bike when I was heading to yet another tile store (who knew is was going to be so hard to find plain, white tiles?), and raced past a new place on my list. I had the usual 4 second debate in my head whether I should stop and grab a bite and a glass of wine, before I made the decision to grind myself to a halt and hitch my bike to a signpost.
Fortunately no one else was injured, but let’s just say that I think I need to lower my bike seat a little in case I have to brake unexpectedly in the future. (Well, at least if I ever want to have children, that is.) However I did manage to save the baguette and the croissant in my bike basket, so I think it was a decent trade-off.
It was actually my third visit to Le Siffleur de Ballons this month. My first was when I was planning to meet my friend Theresa for drinks and a snack and due to an e-mail misunderstanding (you would think someone would have come up with a snappy name for that by now, a mash-up, like ‘spendy’ or ‘bromance’…I tried to come up with something but have other things on my mind at the present) but while I waited for her, I had a few glasses of Cheverny while I balanced myself on one of the metal stools, which I eyed for my new apartment, and talked to the counter woman.