French Wine Festival of St-Vincent Tournante, Burgundy 2014

I should have split this long post up into episodes. Instead let me share with you a bumper wine edition from Burgundy.

This past weekend  the vineyards around Burgundy’s Côte d’Or were alive with the sound of visitors trying desperately to park their cars.

St Aubin vineyards January

Nearly 50,000 visitors turned up to the 70th edition of the Festival of Saint-Vincent Tournante in Burgundy this weekend, over 25-26 January.  It’s the first time the wine festival was held in the tiny village of St Aubin (with 260 habitants) in the Côte de Beaune.

Traditionally celebrated over 2 days in January, each year the wine growers around Burgundy get together to pay homage to their patron saint, St  Vincent.  It’s a festival that originated in 1938 but not until 1964 was it opened up to the public and, ever since, each year it has become increasingly popular.

St Aubin Burgundy

It’s as if we’re stepping back in time. Early morning at sunrise – following a glass of the white nectar with breakfast – there is the traditional red and golden robed procession of the Confréries des Chevaliers du Tastevin with the wine growers (vignerons) through the chosen village, followed by a religious ceremony – all under the protection of Saint Vincent, held high above the vignerons’ shoulders, represented as statues amongst the various wine growers’ banners.

We witnessed the St-Vincent procession four years ago in the neighbouring host village of Chassagne-Montrachet. I’ve hunted for my photos from the ceremony in vain, but for images of the religious procession in St Aubin, click here.

Confrererie des Chevaliers de Bourgogne St Vincent

We missed the ceremony this year, as an invitation to a tasting of Jean-Claude Ramonet’s legendary Chardonnay whites in Chassagne-Montrachet was one of these you-only-live-once opportunities.  The only wine bottles we saw were ones without labels, replaced with white abbreviated markings of type and year, not yet ready for the public.

Starting with Bourgogne Aligoté (the dry, even tart wine that traditionally is used in the kir apéritif), we went through young wines such as Le Montrachet (I took me years to realise not to pronounce the ‘t’) and concluded this exceptional white tasting with a monumental Bâtard-Montrachet.  The sophisticated aromas were either already full of butter and dried fruits or slightly closed, like under-ripe peaches. What’s astonishing is that a couple of minutes later after tasting, the most immense flavours of buttered toast, nuts, cream and peachy fruits start dancing in the mouth.

With these kinds of wines, you don’t use the spittoon.

Burgundy wine tasting Domaine Ramonet

Having my modestly petit wine diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust a hundred years ago (the first that takes you on to the ultimate Master of Wine), it gave me a lame excuse to swirl the golden drink of the wine gods around the tasting glass. What I hadn’t learned in my student days was the traditional hand-twirling, clapping song, le ban Bourguignon: lala, lala, lalalalalèèère, lalala, lalala, la, la, la – a signature appreciation to end off the event.

Next stop, St Aubin. As you can see from the dazzling sun bouncing off my huge frozen nose (now developed into a lovely sinusitis, or is it turning into a French nose?), St Vincent also protected us with the weather. It may have been just above zero degrees but the sun made up for the numb fingers and toes.

Jill Colonna Fete de St Vincent St Aubin Burgundy

For the festival, 6 wines (cuvées) were made especially for the occasion with a 7th ticket for the day used as a glass of your chosen wine-maker. Glasses sporting Saint-Aubin logos are THE designer glasses that you’ll need for the weekend; apparently the glass idea started in 1973.  There are 130 hectares with 30 Premiers Crus in St Aubin, with reminders throughout the village.

St Aubin Burgundy 130 hectares of premier cru wine

Every house and balcony are decorated by the village residents with realistic-looking flowers, made from colourful crepe paper.

St Aubin wine festival St Vincent France Burgundy

We were so wrapped up with the convivial atmosphere, with musicians and eating stands (my idea of the perfect lunch was a bowl of oeufs de meurette, not pretty to photograph but exquisite poached eggs oozing in a red wine, garlic and bacon sauce mopped up by a crusty baguette), that it was quite easy to forget about the wine tastings themselves!  I ended up tasting only 2 whites but then, after Ramonet’s exquisite wines, it’s no surprise.

Ambience Burgundy wine festival St Vincent

 The village is traditionally decorated according to the four seasons.  Spot the tree humour and crêpe paper effects on this summery deck-chair.

burgundy wine festival St Vincent

Another reminder of St Aubin’s Premier Crus…

Do you know your Magnum (1.5l) from your Rehoboam (4.5l) or Balthazar (12l)?  Perhaps useful to have up your sleeve if you’re playing ‘Who Wants to be a Millionnaire’?

wine bottle quantities quiz burgundy France

This is when I got lost from our group members by taking photos.Suddenly there were a few people wearing red hats like our friend, Hervé.  I just happened to follow the wrong one.

st vincent wine festival burgundy france January

Hot oysters this way, red wine tasting that way, or what about this way for a wine aroma experience?

learning all the different wine aromas burgundy france

This was my girls’ favourite part. They’d already worked it out: touching the buttons below each vase circulated the air inside and the aromas wafted around in the giant glass.  Let’s face it, as French children, my girls don’t drink the wine yet but can appreciate their aromatic qualities and practise with Mum and Dad…

varied wine aromas to learn in France

Stick your nose in there. Do you get white flowers, fresh fruits, citrus, butter or cream? What about dried fruits and nuts?  Each aroma family is more powerful than meets the eye.

One of my favourite wine games is blind tasting using black glasses (sometimes you can get caught out with water!) but this was a blind aroma test.  We all debated but I’m sure this one was honey.  Time to move on, as it’s a sticky subject.

For red wines in particular, perhaps you discover the animal side: do you get the leather aromas, or wooded vanillas and spices such as cardamom, pepper or coriander?

My daughter, Julie, pushed the button on the sous-bois jar.  How many times have you had an earthy red wine, recognising the natural wafts  of the leafy, moussy undergrowth?  It was so realistic.

Now, repeat after me, ‘Empyreumatic‘.  Fancy, eh?  This is a family of aromas that cover anything burnt, smoked or grilled, which includes coffee and chocolate.  It’s a sign that wines were aged in wooden barrels rather than just inbox cylinders.  Do you get that toast, reminiscent of a white Burgundy, like Mersault?  Hm. Try and pronounce that at a wine tasting.

The red fruits and candied fruits were definitely to be sniffed at.  Again; and again; and again.  Who feels a lightly toasted strawberry gratin coming on?

Before night was upon us already, we headed back to our gîte at the Pavillon de Chasse, or hunting lodge.  The only hunting we were doing was checking out the rest of our wine friends next door at the Château de Tailly, where dinner was laid on by our chef à domicile friend, Thomas Le Courbe aka Toma, who has worked with chefs including Pierre Gagnaire.

Best gites in Mersault Burgundy

The glasses on the table were preparing themselves to be thrilled with our friend, Jean-Pierre Guyon‘s nectar for the evening. Another legendary wine-maker in Vosne Romanée – covering the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune – he took us through his delicate feminine wines from whites such as Savigny-les-Beaune, Nuits-Saint-Georges (pinot blanc) to the purest reds such as Chorey-les-Beaune, Gevrey Chambertain and Vosne Romanée Premier Cru. All tasting samples, you understand.

By the end of it all, who could forget the customary appreciation of such an epicurean weekend by singing le Ban Bourguignon? My Cod, it was wonderful, Jean-Claude Ramonet, Jean-Pierre Guyon and Toma. With special thanks to our good friend, Hervé, the prince of organisation!  I give you vin sur vin (20/20). Just next time, please don’t wear a red hat.

Before I ask you to sing it and wave your hands in the air, what kind of wine would you prefer to go with this cod dish?  It has a touch of chorizo, saffron, butter, potato, mussels?

I’d thoroughly recommend where we stayed. It’s a 3 hour drive from Paris, 1h30 from Lyon and 35 minutes from Dijon.  For more information, contact info@chateaudetailly.com.

Château de Tailly
Gîtes and Chambre d’hôtes
Tailly
21190 Meursault
France

Forgotten Apple Chutney, Curry Macarons and a Mole

I’m a chutney fan and this apple chutney is my favourite accompaniment to melted cheese on toast.

As the house improvement project steadily continues, it has been a relief, finally, to access one finished area: the pantry, or garde-manger! It was the easiest part, since it’s basically a small rectangular cupboard that’s shelved floor to ceiling with Ikea garage storage racks. Each expectant, hungry row has been stacked with jams, including last year’s bumper batch of apricot, lavender and vanilla jam.

However, it has been embarrassing what has turned up, as totally undomestic Goddess-like surprises from the discarded, cobweb-hugged boxes: from out-of-date pâtés to the snail and nettle spreads, bought a bit too eagerly from les marchés de producteurs, in the belief that I couldn’t cook without it. Then this forgotten 2011 vintage of apple, mango and apricot chutney suddenly surfaced (I forgot to mention the Apple Chutney on the labels!)

apple chutney recipe

Why was this such a surprise? It was a hidden matured treasure. As my children wolfed this down once too often with their favourite cheesy toasty comfort food, my precious stock dwindled – after mango season! So, being the ‘perfect’ Mum, I hid it from them.

My girls are convinced I was a squirrel at some point on this planet (or perhaps I came from the planet Mars, with this crème brûlée?). Or perhaps it’s more of a mole-style reaction? Time for a mole story.

I am a Mole and I live in a hole …

One fascinating mole reaction came from a sweet, unknown neighbour over the festive season, in the form of a letter.  It was addressed to ‘The owner of the cute mole” and “The happy host of a magnificent mole”. La taupe, I was reminded, is feminine. You see, happy mole is in our garden.  She sits under the tree and looks at children going back and forward to school.  Nothing fascinating.  Until this letter arrived, signed Loulou, a local mole admirer.

Letter from a mole fan

Devoured by sadness and frustration, Loulou simply asked that we turn the mole around again to watch the street. What? Sure enough, when I took a look at moley, she was facing the tree and had a rather few birdie splodgies on it.  Abandoned, like forgotten apple chutney in the pantry.

A happy mole story – meet Loulou with a bell collar

Most bloggers have dogs. I have a garden mole and I’ve christened her ‘Loulou’.

Back to my hole in the pantry, you’ll usually find stocks of dried, non-soak apricots in it since my giant wee bears love to throw them on their porridge in the morning.  The apricots were a last-minute throw addition to this apple chutney recipe, which adapts well to all kinds of seasonal fruits.

It’s delicious served with my favourite comfort food: melted brie or camembert on pain poilâne, or melting any other cheeseboard leftovers from a dinner party, with a few tossed walnuts on top.

apple chutney with mango and apricots for cheese

Thyme for some me-time with a dollop of precious, vintage chutney

When the Mad About Macarons book first came out, I was interviewed by Fred MaCauley on BBC Radio Scotland. Naturally, the radio team wanted to taste some macarons on air and so I brought along one of my Frenchy cooler pastry bags. Being a huge chutney fan as he is, I offered him his first macaron – although it was a curry one.  Bit unusual for a first-timer, wouldn’t you say?  Luckily he liked it.

Throw everything in the pot

Spicy Apple, Mango and Apricot Chutney Recipe

1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
500g onions
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g tart apple, chopped
300g under ripe mango, chopped
500g soft light brown sugar (or Demerara)
250g dried (non-soak) apricots
½ litre cider vinegar
2 tsp 4-spice powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger

1.  Heat the coriander seeds in a small pan, then crush them in a mortar and pestle.

2. Throw all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil.

3.  Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, uncovered, until reduced by half. Once cool the chutney will thicken.

Transfer to clean, sterilised jars. The chutney can be eaten straight away but it’s best to mature it.

apple chutney

On the other hand, this would be decadent served with a Tikka MacSala mini curry macaron. Holy moly, I can’t help it.  That’s what macaronivores do.  Have you got the symptoms yet?  I see some signs on our Facebook page so, if you haven’t done it already, come and join in the fun.

You’ll see: they go like ‘hot’cakes!

 

 

A New Year Kir Royal from Normandy

Happy, bubbly New Year to you! It’s good to be back.

Do you have resolutions for 2014? I don’t, but this morning I realised the need to resolve the online photo chaos before I move up to the new attic office when it’s ready.  Making a start – trying to cut out the distracting but fun cacophony of sawing, whistling and drilling interspersed with some singing hilarity of French-Romanian renditions of Amazing Grace upstairs- I discovered a number of photos I’d completely forgotten about, taken on a long weekend in Normandy last August.

As the sawdust flies around my nest, this is a welcome impression of fresh air on a desktop – although I can imagine with the ferocious winds this week that it’s not quite the same serene scene along the French coasts!

This shot reminds me of a typical Normandy beach scene by Eugène Boudin, where the sky dominates the canvas. Eugène Boudin was one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors – Claude Monet was his biggest fan. I picked that up at the Boudin exhibition in Paris last May at the Jacquemart André museum, before devouring a magnificent fraisier in the museum café, which inspired my strawberry and pistachio tart. But I digress.

Taken from his hidden grotto, this was Victor Hugo’s last view of the sea in 1884, according to a tourist information sign nearby.

This grotto was made towards the end of his life, as he often visited his friend, Paul Meurice, to work and contemplate the sea at his house, just metres away in Veules-les-Roses. I bet they supped plenty of watercress soup together, as this is also where the watercress beds are plentiful at the source of France’s smallest river.

Normandy beach huts

Mid-morning, the row of beach huts in Veules-les-Roses nestled into the cliff’s terrace like a drowsy audience before the sea show. By midday, the ambience flipped to bubbling.

Their weekend occupants had opened the shutters, brushed down the canvas chairs inside and laid out platters of local oysters on picnic tables while sipping on a Kir Normand apéritif: a cocktail drink of local Normandy brut cider mixed with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). In some restaurants they also add a touch of Calvados liqueur. While I tried the Kir Normand, I prefer Normandy cidre on its own, to let the flavour of the apples shine through. However, what about just the cider and Calvados?

blackberries Normandy coast

The hedgerows of wild blackberries (or brambles) that line the coastal path in Veules-les-Roses best echo my kir sentiments; my favourite is a kir à la mûre (made with blackberry liqueur), which has something warming and festive about it at this time of year, whatever extreme, crazy weather we’re having.

(Psst: most people call them blackberries, I know, but we call them brambles in Scotland – that way there’s no confusion with the other Blackberry, or hubby’s ‘ex-mistress’ – I always had this strong desire to accidentally drop his Blackberry in the swimming pool as he answered emails on holiday!)

When I first arrived in Paris – as lost as French francs were to finding my purse – I was amazed at the rows of enticing-looking cheap bottles of wine at our local Leader Price supermarket. The wines, however, were just as dry and acidic as the smile-less faces at the cash desk.

As I’d discovered the fabulous classic French kir apéritif made with Bourgogne Aligoté and crème de cassis, it was the happiest solution to disguise the rather sour-tasting white wines. Then, as I started to work, I was introduced to the cassis’ fruity cousins in Paris bars and restaurants: I could mix Aligoté or Chablis wine with framboise (raspberry), pêche (peach) or mûre (bramble).

The best ratio of crème de mûre (or cassis, pêche or framboise) to white wine in a kir is about 1:5, as it’s just enough to give a hint of fruit without overpowering the flavour of the wine.  Let’s face it: you don’t want something overly sweet for an apéritif before a meal. In Burgundy, I was surprised to be served at least double the dose by our friends from Dijon – so it’s just a matter of personal taste.

For festive occasions, the kir’s decadent big, bubbly sister is the Kir Royal made with Champagne, but traditionally and best served with a Crémant de Bourgogne, dry sparkling wine from Burgundy. When I followed Georges Lepré’s wine conferences in Le Vésinet last year, he told us that while he was chef sommelier at the Ritz until 1993, he was asked by Joan Collins for a Kir Royal with Roederer Champagne. Say no more. Don’t ruin fabulously expensive Champagne; enjoy it with a good dry brut without too much character – unless your character is stronger than the wine.


Laughter is sunshine that drives winter from the human face”

– Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

CHEERS!

to
laughter, health and sunshine in 2014!