Category Archives: Food and Wine

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods, Episode 193

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods


Never say that Annie and Elyse never say anything negative about France! We certainly do today! On today’s episode, Elyse and Annie present to you a cornucopia of bizarre French foods. Even if you never plan on trying any of them, you need to know about them because they’ll pop up on menus here and there and we’ve known visitors who had big surprises when their food arrived! Elyse herself has had some surprises!

Our conversation takes a few detours, as it always does, but this time Elyse gets a pronunciation epiphany! She finally understands how to say the city name “Caen”. It doesn’t have to take you 30 years, listen to our exchange starting at [44:46] 😉

The foods we discuss get stranger and stranger as we go along in the conversation, and we end with a few terribly ripe cheeses that can also be terribly challenging.

This is possibly more than anybody wants to know about bizarre French foods, but we think you need to be forewarned because if some of these ended on your plate by mistake, you’d be sorry!

And, watch out France, Elyse reports that there are new strange foods coming on the market in France, the kind made with insects. Honestly, what is the world coming to?

If you’re interested about learning about food in France, you should also check out Episode 161, 50 Must-Know French Phrases for Hungry Visitors, and Episode 19 French Cheese.

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moules marinières in a pot
Moules marinières.

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods Episode Outline with Timestamps

[02:51] Warning: this episode discusses animal parts, it may disgust some of our listeners.

[03:33] French people think that if you’re going to eat meat anyway, you might as well eat the whole animal.

[04:48] Historically, during a time of siege, people ate all the animals they could find, even ones we do not normally eat. Example: Paris siege of 1870 and Warsaw during WWII.

[06:30] How unusual parts of animals have become delicacies in France.

[07:16] The reason why we felt it was important to discuss these things is because you will find these foods on the menu in many French restaurants, usually as one of the specials for that day.

[07:48] How specials work in French restaurants and restaurants that specialize in regional French dishes.

[08:43] What you can do if you want to try these bizarre French foods while you’re visiting France. Go to restaurants that specialize in regional foods, or go to Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne.

[10:42] There are also Brasseries in Paris that specialize in regional foods that have unusual dishes. Brasserie Bofinger specializes in Alsatian food and Au Pied de Fouet specializes in Auvergnat food.

[11:12] You could also go to any “charcuterie” or “boucherie-charcuterie” or “traiteur”. They will have some of them, but you won’t find all of the ones on our list at any one place in France, that’s not how it works.

[12:08] If you want to look up specific recipes for any of these dishes, try the French recipe site called Marmiton.

What You Will Find on the Seafood Platter in France

[12:40] The Seafood Platter: Oysters “les huitres”. Whelks “les bulots”. Sea Urchins “les oursins ».

[15:02] Elyse orders « bulots » without knowing what they were exactly.

Foie Gras

[15:37] This French food is controversial and there are good arguments made of why we should not eat it. But in the Southwest of France, we eat some of it, mostly in small quantities because it is very rich. It’s a food for special occasions.

[17:49] The tradition of making your own “foie gras” in families from the Southwest of France.

Steak Tartare

[19:31] Steak Tartare is raw ground beef. It’s like sushi, but with beef. One variation on the Steak Tartare is qualified as “aller-retour”. [Addendum: Annie went a little too fast here. They do serve cooked hamburger with a cooked egg on top, that’s called “à cheval”, but they also put raw egg in Steak Tartare, it’s part of the recipe.]

French People Eat Horse Meat

[21:19] We explain the difference between “steak de cheval” and “steak à cheval”. The first is horse meat, the second means there will be a fried egg on top of your cooked hamburger.

Steak Tartare Au Couteau

[22:08] Sometimes you’ll see the word “au couteau” which means the meat hasn’t been ground in a machine, but rather chopped with a knife, by hand.

Moules Marinières

[23:15] These are muscles served in a pot. If they are “marinière” it means they are served with a white wine, onions, garlic and parsley sauce. Or you could get the Normandy kind, which is with cream instead of wine.

Gésiers

[24:44] Giblets are part of the stomach of ducks or chickens (probably other birds too!) and they are slow cooked in fat until really tender. [Addendum: Giblets have nothing to do with hearts, Elyse was wrong about that, but she’ll never admit to it 😉]

Coq au Vin

[27:07] Rooster cooked in wine. A classic of French cuisine. We have a lot of classic dishes cooked in a lot of wine, especially from the Burgundy region.

Escargots de Bourgogne

[28:46] Large snails cooked in a butter, garlic and parsley sauce. Most Americans try them and some actually like them. It’s hard to know if it’s the butter they like or the escargot, but it’s a popular dish for visitors to try. The snails that are served in restaurants do not come from the side of the road, they are bred to be eaten.

Rillettes

[30:38] This is a meaty spread, usually eaten with bread, could be pork, duck, salmon, tuna. It’s always super fatty. It is served at “aperitif” at lot. We explain the difference between pâté and rillettes.

Pot-au-feu

[32:24] Delicious beef and vegetables stew, often served with bone marrow. Another extremely fatty food (especially the bone marrow!), but well-loved. Annie shares her technique for making pot-au-feu and how to make it so you skim most of the fat off and it’s better for you.

Coeurs de canard

[36:35] This is one that will put many people off, but it’s so good! It’s duck hearts, cut in half, and cooked with a parsley and garlic mixture. It’s a specialty of the Southwest.

Steak à cheval vs. Steak de cheval

[37:44] “Steak à cheval” means a ground beef pattie with an fried egg on top. “Steak de cheval” means horse meat! You don’t want to confuse the two!

Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur

[37:52] This is the French version of the Grilled Cheese and Ham sandwich. Often contains béchamel sauce, and the Madame version adds an egg on top.

Frittons

[38:50] This is pork or duck rind cooked until it’s crispy. They serve it all the time in Lyon. It’s mostly an aperitif food and we’d rather have an olive!

Pieds de porc

[40:07] This is a popular dish in the South of France, both in the Catalan and Basque areas. In France, they serve pig’s feet whole, bone and all.

Tripes à la mode de Caen

[43 :06] This is one neither of us will eat, it’s so pungent that you can smell it from across the table if someone near you ordered it. It’s the inside of the lining of the stomach of cattle mixed with pig’s feet and baked. Also, the one tip every English speaker can use to know how to say that name, it’s not that hard, say it the same way you say the word “quand”.

Andouillettes and Andouilles

[45:41] One of the worst foods in our list of bizarre French foods is Andouille or Andouillettes. It turns out the fabrication process is pretty much the same, but one is served hot as a meal and the other sliced and cold for apéritif.

Langue de Boeuf

[49:12] This is beef tongue, it’s got a strange taste to it, but we won’t die if we have to put it in our mouths. How about that for high praise?!

Tête de Veau Ravigotte or Tête de Veau Vinaigrette

[50 :43] This is the head of a veal. The preparation is convoluted, but it’s really made from the head of a veal. It can be served in chunks or rolled up into a loaf and sliced. It can be served hot or cold.

Ris de Veau

[54:06] This is sweetbreads, which is made from the thymus gland inside on the pancreas. It’s usually served with a sauce like mushroom sauce, or sweet and sour sauce. It’s not on the menu often, but it tastes good, especially if you don’t know what you’re eating!

Boudin Noir and Boudin Blanc

[56:08] This one is admittedly disturbing, but it’s extremely popular in France. It is made with the blood of the pig plus onions and seasonings. Boudin blanc is made with bread, milk, and a little bit of chicken.

Lapin

[57:55] Lapin means rabbit, French people eat it a fair amount. It is usually served with either a mustard sauce or a cream sauce.

Cuisses de Grenouilles

[59:42] Frogs legs. We don’t eat them as much as we used to and they’re not on a lot of restaurant menus.

Cervelle de Veau en Persillade

[60 :03] This is another one that’s really disturbing. It’s calves brains, we find it untouchable, but it is a delicacy.

Rognons

[61:24] Rognons are kidneys. It is usually served cut up into pieces on skewers. The taste can be strong, but not unpleasant. It’s meaty. The restaurant called Robert et Louise in the Marais in Paris specializes in it.

Rognons Blancs

[63:09] These are not kidneys at all, they are testicles. They serve those in areas where they still do bull fighting, such as the Basque Country.

Cheval

[64:00] This is horse meat that French people have always eaten and got popular again when mad cow disease was a problem in Europe. The meat is a little bit healthier for you (leaner) and cheaper also.

Salade de Museau

[66:09] This is based on the pig’s head, boiled and deboned and cooled into a loaf, then sliced and accommodated with pickles and a vinaigrette dressing.

Fromage de Tête

[67:13] Fromage de tête does not contain any cheese at all, it’s all meat products, generally from the head of the pig. It can be made from wild bore in some regions as well, in that case it is called “fromage de hure” which Annie has never seen, so it’s not a common variant.

La Perdrix

[67:33] Perdrix is partridge. This is game and hunters eat it, you can’t buy it at the store.

La Pintade

[67:51] Pintade is Guinea Fowl. This is like a small chicken but with a more subtle taste. Elyse loves it, Annie doesn’t remember having it. You can see it at the grocery store sometimes around the Holidays.

Pigeon

[68:36] This is pigeon or squab. It’s very small and difficult to eat.

Cailles

[68:58] Cailles are quale, it’s the smallest bird that we eat in France, as far as we know.

Cerfeuil

[69:06] Cerfeuil is a type of venison, technically it’s “chervil”. It’s a game meat, the flavor is pungent (and not pleasing to Annie!) and it was hard to choke it down.

Strange Stinky French Cheeses

[70:14] We have so many stinky cheeses in France that most people have a special box in their fridge to contain cheese odors. Most of these cheese smell a lot stronger than they smell, but still, it takes dedication to the cause to take them into your fridge!

Époisses

[71:22] Époisses is a soft cheese from the northern part of the Burgundy area. Elyse tells us about her first encounter with “époisses”, one she’s never forgotten!

Maroilles

[74:05] Maroilles is another soft cheese from the north of France. It is also brined, and terribly pungent. Annie tells us about buying “maroilles” by accident and thinking one of the dogs at her house had an accident in the kitchen!

Langres

[76:16] This one is also a soft cheese from the Champagne area. It is often served after putting a little bit of champagne over it.

Camembert

[76:46] Some camembert can be really mild, if served right out of the fridge. But if you get raw cheese camembert and you leave it out, it can get really smelly. A favorite in most French households.

Brie

[77:36] Also a cheese that can be mild when it’s not left out. But “real” brie (Brie de Meaux) is not smelly while it has a strong mouth flavor. You have to be careful how long you let those cheeses ripen in your fridge or they’ll get so strong that you can’t eat them!

Pont l’Évèque

[78:43] It a little harder cheese, not as smelly as the others, but can be startling if you’re not used to smelly cheese. The flavor is good, it’s an easy smelly cheese to try because it won’t completely gross you out.

Munster

[79:05] The ones from their region of origin, Alsace, are quite smelly and strong. Others are really mild. The name has not been protected well and it doesn’t mean much anymore.

Morbier

[79:25] This is a cheese from the Auvergne region, it has a bit of a strong smell to it, but again, nothing that will make paint peel. The flavor is great, it’s a good “strong” cheese for visitors to try.

Roquefort

[79:49] This is again a cheese from the Auvergne area. The big brands we’ve gotten used to (Société, Papillon) make mild versions of the cheese. Small producers make more extreme versions of the same type of cheese.

Aligot and Tartiflette

[80:51] Aligot is from the Auvergne and Tartiflette is from the Alps, but both can be found all over France, especially at Christmas Markets. These are hardy winter dishes with potatoes and melted cheeses. They have a strong flavor, but are delicious and are well-loved, even by children and visitors.

Tripou

[83:25] Tripou is a type of Tripes from the Auvergne, not served in a heavy cream, but still cow tripes. If you’re in the Auvergne and you have a choice between tasting Tripou or Aligot, don’t think twice: try the Aligot!

Normal Foods with Strange Names

[84:30] In France we also have normal foods with strange names. This is done on purpose, mostly for marketing purposes. For instance, we have “Tête de Nègre” which is a chocolate covered marshmallow with an offensive name. We also have “Pêt de Nonne”, a beignet. We have a jam called “Gratte-cul”. A cheese from Burgundy called “Trou-du-cru”.

Annie & Elyse’s Dental Woes

[86:10] Why Annie went back to not eating meat. It’s Burger King’s fault! And then Elyse couldn’t stand to have me suffering alone, and she joined in the fun 😉

[89:19] The all-new strange foods you can now find in France: insect pâté! We have come full circle, haven’t we?

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving, Episode 172

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving


Today we talk about traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving. By that we mean recipes you can use to bring a little bit of France into your own family traditions, although you will hear in the episode that Annie and Elyse don’t quite agree on what that means.

We don’t talk about “French cut green beans” (which are NOT a thing in France!) but rather talk about all the traditional French foods that would fit in well on your Thanksgiving table. Sometimes putting together a Thanksgiving Feast in France requires a some creativity, but Annie and Elyse do it with good humor. 

Whether or not there is room on your Thanksgiving table for new dishes imported from France, we hope you have fun listening to this episode and have a wonderful celebration with your friends and family! And remember: you should try some traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving!

Leave a Voice Mail for the Show: 1-801-806-1015

The Extra for email subscribers this week is a classic French recipe card. This is going to be a tested recipe with measurements in both metric and Imperial so you can hit it out of the park the first time you make it.

If you’re interested in this episode, don’t miss Table Manners in France, Episode 93.

Recommended in this episode

Balsamic Glaze, Foie GrasRoasted ChestnutsTapenadePitted PrunesTruffles, Macarons

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

 Roasted Chestnuts; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving

Episode Highlights with time stamps

Typical French Salads that Work Great for Thanksgiving

[08:25] Salade de chèvre chaud. This is a green salad with grilled goat cheese toast on top. To make this recipe, Annie uses a balsamic glaze to decorate the plate first. The goat cheese we mention is pictured below. You don’t have to get that brand, but this one works well. I am quite sure I have seen this food item in America at the better grocery stores such as Target.

[12:20] Salade de foie gras. You can get foie gras on Amazon, serve on a bed of lettuce with some lightly toasted white bread.

[14:40] Endive salad with Walnuts and Blue Cheese. Use the white chicory to make this.

French Soups for Thanksgiving

[17:00] Sweet Potato Ginger Soup. In France we can get a variety of sweet potatoes now as well as butternut squash and “potimaron”. You can get acorn squash in France so far.

[19:54] French Onion Soup. The secret is a bit of brandy or marsala wine.

[26:06] Soupe Auvergnate aux Chataîgnes. This is made with roasted chestnuts and if you’re looking for new yet satisfying flavors, you will love it.

French Side Dishes You Can Make for Thanksgiving

Gratin Dauphinois or Potatoes au Gratin. This one is made mostly of butter, cream and a little bit of cheese, plus sliced potatoes, of course. I recommend you serve that in individual dishes. It is better for portion control.

[27:44] Tapenade is another very French side dish you could serve as a nibble on toast. It is very salty, but if you want to bring a little bit of Provence sunshine into your celebrations, tapenade might be the ticket for you!

[28:19] Oysters on the half shell. Extremely typical of French festive foods. Oysters are the perfect food: tasty, low-calorie, nothing but protein. Of all the foods we’ve suggested so far, oysters are the healthiest. in France we serve this as a fist course.

[29:05] Pruneaux au lard. Pitted prunes wrapped with bacon. This is typical of the South West of France where Annie is from. If you start adding that to your traditional french thanksgiving recipes roster, people will ask you to make it again and again. The only trick is don’t cook the bacon so much that you can’t wrap it around the prune!

Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving that Work for Vegetarians / Vegans

[29:44] Œuf en cocotte. Would work for vegetarian guests, not vegan. Delicious with small amounts of truffles.

[33:05]  Vegan Stuffing with Chestnuts. This is often done for Christmas, but it would work well for Thanksgiving. Dried bread, chopped up, a can of roasted peeled chestnuts, chopped up apricots. No eggs or meat, cooked inside the turkey, but you could bake it outside of the turkey.

French People Don’t Celebrate Thanksgiving

[34:45] Buying whole turkeys in France for Thanksgiving is impossible unless you go to a butcher. You can only find turkey parts until Christmas. And you won’t find the nice round Thanksgiving turkey.

[36:32] Another very French thing you could do without too much effort is to go get some fabulous bread to accompany your  Thanksgiving feast. Walnut bread, fig bread, focaccia bread, olive bread.

Traditional French Desserts You Can Use for Thanksgiving

[37:06] A typical French dessert is Clafoutis, and this is something you can make in advance. It’s a lighter dessert.

[38:10] Pear Cake with Black Pepper

[39:00] With French-Style Apple Tart you have to slice your apples evenly an

[40:00] Tarte Tatin is very French, but it’s more difficult to make at home, but so delicious with ice-cream!

[41:00] Here’s something easy: to bring some traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving wherever you live, buy some macarons. The ones from Costco as pretty good. You don’t have to tell them they are store-bought! The great thing about macarons is that they are light, will go down easy at the end of a big meal, and everyone wants to try them.

[42:30] Make Walnut Pie instead of Pecan Pie.

[42:00] No pumpkin pies in France!

[43:00] Serve a cheese platter at the end of your meal with some fruit. For important meals in France we serve both a cheese platter at the end of the meal and desserts! Note that we never serve a cheese platter as an appetizer in France. We may have cheese nibbles, but the platter is for the end of the meal.

Conclusion

So, will you do it? Will you include traditional French recipes for Thanksgiving? We think you should because it’s fun to bring a new twist to same-old, same-old. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration listeners!

Thanksgiving Table on a White Theme; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving

In France This Week

[48:47] Link to reserve a ticket for Dame de Coeur November 8, 9, 10 and 11.

[51:16] No Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées this year. I did an episode about it last year Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées. The city of Paris wants to go towards a classier Christmas Market going forward. In the meantime, you will be able to enjoy other Christmas Markets in Paris in 2017.

French Tip of the Week

[56:00] “une bonne journée”

Historical Tidbit

[57:30] How the people of Paris ate in the Middle Ages.

Voice Mail Feedback on Pickpockets in Paris

[61:30] John Murray tells us what happened to him in the Paris metro.

Support the show on Patreon.


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French-Style Home-Made Apple Pie; Traditional French Recipes for Thanksgiving

French Wine Q&A for Beginners, Episode 162

French Wine Questions and Answers for Beginners

French Wine Questions and Answers for Beginners

Wine is even better when you understand it, and French Wine Scholar Dave Walsh comes on the show today to answer wine questions from the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook. He makes it fun and simple!

Related Episodes: An Exploration of French Wines, the Wine Museum in Paris, the Saint-Vincent Tournante Burgundy Wine Festival, Saint-Emilion near Bordeaux, French Wine Regions and Loire Valley Wines.

Recommended on today’s Episode: J’aime attendre

French Tip of the Week: “Je voudrais voir la carte des vins”

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

What You Will Learn About in this Episode with Time-Stamps

[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 162. The topic of today’s show is French Wine Questions brought by the Join Us in France Community and Answers from French Wine Scholar Dave Walsh. But first, let me introduce myself and little bit. My name is Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the only travel show exclusively dedicated to helping you prepare your big trip to France. I was born and raised in France, went to the UK and the US for college and lived away from France for 20 years of my life. I’ve been back living in France for over a decade now. I didn’t work in the travel industry; this podcast is something I created because, being a bit of a geek and having lived far away from France for so long, I was eager to re-discover my own country and it turns out I also love to talk about France with other people!

[01:37] My occasional co-host and good friend Elyse has had the opposite life-experience: she was born and raised in the US, moved to France to complete college—she’s an art historian– and she has been living in France, and working in the travel industry for a long time. Because Elyse is a professional Tour Guide; we decided to organize small group tours a few times a year. I created a small business called Addicted to France and you can read reviews about Addicted to France Tours on Trip Advisor. To see what tours are available on what dates, go to Addicted to France.com.

[02:19] On the show, you will also hear from different listeners who visited France and want to share how it went, what they learned, they want to give you specific recommendations, they want people who are going after them to learn from their experience. I call those Trip Reports, but I could also have called them Listener Travel Tips, Listener Insider Tips, or Listener Trip Reviews. The point is, YOU get to hear candid reviews of other people’s vacations, you know they are not fake reviews because you can hear it straight from them, and we all help one-another have a better vacation experience in France. At the end of the show you’ll hear how you can contact me if that’s something you’d like to do. And I’m not just looking for glowing reviews, I do ask people to bring up things that didn’t go as well as you had hoped!

[03:11] In today’s episode, I bring you a conversation with Dave Walsh. We’re doing Questions and Answers about French Wines for Beginners. Well, some of this is pretty advanced; this is Edutainment at its finest. All the questions came from the Join Un in France Closed Group and we had a good time asking our questions to Dave Walsh, so stay tuned wine enthusiasts!

If you’re interested in French wines, you should also listen to Episode 158, An Exploration of French Wines, which is the first part of my conversation with Dave, but Elyse and I have also done several food and wine episodes. If you look at the Join Us in France site, under the category food and wine you’ll find 15 of them! I won’t list them all here, but there was episode 124 about the wine museum in Paris with my friend Brenda; Episode 98 about the Saint Vincent Tournante Burgundy Wine Festival with Kelly Kamborian;  Episode 40 about Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux wine country with Elyse, that episode was more about the village than about the wine, but you can’t understand the wine if you know nothing about the village; and episode 28, an oldie but goodie with Elyse on French Wine Regions with a particular interest on Loire Valley Wines. So, you’ve got lots of great listening to do about this topic with our back catalog.

[04:48] Stay tuned after the interview to hear my thanks to listeners who support the show on Patreon, my personal update and what’s happening around me, how to connect with me, any news concerning the show, and the French Tip of the Week.  And now, here’s the interview!

[05:07] Interview with Dave Walsh begins

[05:07] Question: If I like big Napa Valley red wines, what wines in France are most similar to those? Answer: if you like Napa Valley wines, you probably like Carbernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc and Merlot wines. So, if you look at what French regions use those grapes in France, it leads you directly to Bordeaux. Two other French regions that make big heavy reds, very dark in color and very high profile wines, are found in the South-West of France (Cahors wines) and also the Languedoc wines. These are places where it’s hotter and where they produce heavier wines. You will get better bang for the buck with South-Western wines than with Bordeaux because Bordeaux has gotten quite expensive of late.

[07:29] Lisa wrote: “Since French wines are named by region & not grape, a basic understanding of which grapes are primarily used in a region would be helpful for those of us who know which grapes we like.”

Dave’s Answer: In Episode 158 we went over the regions, look for the table below the fold where you can see what grapes are used in what French wines.

Annie: Yes, but French wines are often blended, aren’t they? So you’re not going to get 100% of a certain grape. You might get a wine with 80% of this and 5% of that, etc. And they don’t even necessarily list it on the bottles!

Dave’s Answer: Sometimes they do list it on the bottle when they import the bottle into the US market. The French term is “cépage” (=varietal).

Annie: When you’re buying a Burgundy wine, you’re buying a Pinot Noir mostly.

Dave: If you’re buying a Northern Rhone, it’s mostly Syrah. Southern Rhone it’s going to be a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Annie:  If you’re buying a Cahors, you’re buying a Malbec. But Bordeaux and Loire are all blended. Provence is blended also.

Dave: Some places in the Loire will make 100% Cabernet Franc.

[10:00] Dave: We should talk about why France does that because it’s really frustrating for people who come to France for the first time. They wonder why it doesn’t say Cabernet Franc on this bottle of wine. It’s due in part to history and in part to culture. French people who have an interest in wine know what grapes are grown in what regions.

Annie: with French people, if you ask them what wine they like, they will tell you either the name of a region, or the name of a village, or the name of an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). When you go to a French grocery store, you will see the wines organized by regions of France, not by grapes. French people grow up and decide that they like Bordeaux and not Beaujolais for example.

Dave: But knowing that Beaujolais is mostly made with Gamay, then, as a French person you probably don’t know that because you think of the region, not the grape; whereas in the US if you say I’m going to have a great Napa, it could be one of 15 varietals, because that’s what they grow in Napa.  The evolution of these grapes in the regions is important. Gamay was expelled from Burgundy in the 1400s, so the grapes in Burgundy have had a long time to make a home in those regions.

Annie: But your average French person does not know that when they’re drinking a Cahors they’re drinking a Malbec, unless they are a sommelier or something! French people don’t know and they don’t care. That’s why you shouldn’t ask your waiter in a French restaurant to bring you their best Pinot Noir. It’s not that they don’t want to help you, it’s just that they have no idea what you mean. Ask them for a Bourgogne (which is mostly Pinot Noir) and they totally know what to bring you!

[13:08] We have a rosé from the Camague, it is really light in color and we call it Gris. French people will know if they prefer these very light rosés from Camargue or if they want beefier rosés from Corsica. And that’s how we choose at the grocery store.

Dave: In the old world, because we have such a long history with wines, the regions have had the time to develop their characteristics. The region of Burgundy produces a certain style of wine, they don’t need to put Pinot Noir on the bottle because all Burgundies have a lot in common.

[14:30] Annie was raised French but left to live in the US before she was drinking wine. She started to learn about wine in the US. She liked the movie Sideway and so, in France, she went looking for Pinot Noir and couldn’t find it.

Dave: When you grow up in that wine culture you just know that Burgundy = Pinot Noir and if it’s from a place like Meursault it’s a white Burgundy and then it’s  Chardonnay. When you go to Oregon, they grow so many types of grapes (13) that they have to list it on the bottle. In Burgundy it’s one of 3 only.

[17:16] Bob asks: In your opinion, is there some distinctive quality which makes French wines unique and stand out from other wines from other parts of the world.

Dave: Probably France has the widest variety and the highest quality of wines in the world.

Annie:  That’s probably because we have so much history and so many ways to train wine professionals in France.

Dave: every region that makes wine in the world is unique. The Greeks brought the original grape vines to Marseilles, France in the 6th Century BC. In America the yard-stick by which the measure the quality of their wines is they look to quality French wines and want to emulate them.

Annie: There can also be issues with the basic quality of the wine. Some wines, if you take too long to drink them will develop problems with the cork or other things.

Dave: The Syrah made in Northern Rhone need to age for 5 or 10 or 15 years. They are made for ageing. Whereas Provencal rosés are made to drink quickly.

Annie: We have this saying in France, we say “un vin de garde” which means it’s a wine for keeping. At a winery, I will often ask “est-ce-que c’est un vin de garde ou un vin à boire maintenant” (is this a wine you need to age or does it need to be enjoyed soon). And most wine-makers in my region will say “drink it within 3 years.” In the South-West there are few wines that are made to be kept for 20 years. Some people keep the wrong wine for 20 years and when they open it, it’s disgusting! That happens every day in France! I have neighbors and friends who have cellars and they buy wines to keep for 5, 10 or 20 years and sometimes they have a bad surprise. But these are wines that they paid 20 € for and what they hope is that in 20 years it’ll be worth lots more, but it doesn’t happen that often.

[22:21] Dave: knowing which wines can be kept and which ones cannot is important. Wine makers know this because their wines are designed for a specific reason.

Annie: You have a lot of French people who when they turn 52 go buy some cases of wine to keep until their retirement party in 10 years. Or they want to buy some wine for when their kid turns 18. These are people who will go to wineries and tell them that they want to buy a few cases for a special occasion 10 years from now or some such. But that won’t work for most wines of the South-West, to pull it off you have to go to Bordeaux or Burgundy or places like that.

[23:52] Susan asks: How does the French soil impact the wine – as in – how does the same variety differ when grown in the states (i.e WA or CA).

Dave: This is a great question and there are several ressources just dedicated to this subject. Here are some: I’ll Drink to That! Mechanisms of TerroirDiscover The Wines of France’s Bergerac Region. There are people with PhD whose job it is to advise wineries on what grapes to grow in their particular areas. Alsace has 13 different soil types in that small region. If you grow a Riesling on clay, lime stone, granite or slate, the flavor profile flavors are completely  different.

Dave: So it’s hard to say that Cabernet-Sauvignon grown in the South-West is one way but if you grow it in Napa it’s another way because there are other influences such as climate, the wine maker, etc. There is a lot more sunshine in Napa than in the South-West or even Bordeaux and that has a huge influence. In Napa you get a lot more fruit flavor whereas in Bordeaux you get more earthy notes.

Annie: Terroir happens in America as well because terroir is the confluence of your temperature, soil, rain, wind, etc.

[27:22] Jennifer asks: Talk about some French wine areas we don’t see so much in the US such as Muscadet from the Nantes/Loire region, wines from Jura – and of course, go deep on the Rosés we are now finally seeing many more of in the US! Why are these Tavel wines so special?

  • Muscadet – Melon de Borgogne from Nantes/Loire, accents of sea and citrus.
  • Sur-lie aged, they stir the wine, we call that battonage in French. Proteins released from dead yeast impart fuller/rounded mouthfeel, Sèvre et Maine.
  • “Designed” to pair with regional seafood, great QPR ($10-15 in US)
  • Tasted at “Addicted to France” wine tasting in Paris

Annie: There’s no shame in liking what you like and disliking what you dislike. We all know our palate and it’s great to get to know what you enjoy and keep some notes on what you enjoy.

  • Jura – directly East of Burgundy near Switzerland, home of Louis Pasteur, Small region and wines rarely found outside Jura, but are now beloved by sommelier community in the USA. Chardonnay, Savignin Blanc (“Vin Jaune” Yellow wine), Poulsard. Pinot Noir and Trousseau.

Annie: In general, if you pay 10€ for a bottle in France, that same bottle is going to be $20 or more in the US. One exception is Mouton Cadet, for some reason, it’s around 10 on both continents!

[37:00] Dave: Because so many people are involved in wine distribution in America and they all add their markup, it goes up quickly.

Annie: I have an acquaintance that makes a wine called Jurançon from the Pyrenees Mountains and he asked me to help him figure out how to export his wine to the US. It is tremendously complicated and it seems it can only be done by folks whose full-time job it is. As a French resident, if I wanted to ship a bottle of wine to a good friend in America, I probably couldn’t do it! I couldn’t put it in my suitcase and bring it to America, but I can’t ship it there.

Dave: This has to do with laws that date back to the days of Prohibition. They don’t want anyone to have monopoly, so if you’re an importer you can’t be a distributor or a wholesaler. They break up the system and lots of people are involved and they each take a cut.

Annie: Just come to France and here you can enjoy any wine! We have wine producers in France who make a living producing a few thousand bottles per year. They don’t have enough of a production to sell to grocery stores in France either. We have small wine clubs where people go discover wines from all over the country.

[40:14] Dave: Hidden gems: Cotes du Rhone red GSM blends; Dry Sylvaner and Muscat from Alsace.

If you like sparkling wines, look at Cremant from Burgundy, Alsace and Limoux (Roussillon). Blanquette de Limoux is now popular in America. They’re all good except for the crémant made in the Champagne region.

[43:00] Rosé Wines

French people have been drinking rosé in the summer for a very long time. America is just now catching on. All rosé is made from red grapes, color and certain aromas/flavors/tannins from skins. Rosés have a wide variety of color.

  1. Type and quality of the grapes (thick versus thin skinned red grapes)
  2. Temperature control throughout the wine-making process (cold preserves the aromas)
  3. Length of time the nearly colorless grape juice remains in contact with the pigmented skins and seeds (the “skin contact” period)
  • Provence rosés get their unique color and character from this limited time of skin contact, which lasts for only a matter of hours. Red wines are “long vatted” – the skins are in contact with the juice for days, giving the wine a rich, dark color and a more tannic flavor.
  • Rose wines start their life like a red wine (with skin contact) then once the juice is separated from the skins, they continue as a white wine. Fermentation temperature is lowered to preserve the high aromatics.
  • Vatting or Pressing. At this step in the process, the rosé producer chooses between two vinification options: direct pressing, which yields a pale pink wine, or maceration/bleeding, which yields a darker-colored pink wine.
  • Direct Pressing: Used by the majority of Provence producers, yields a rosé that’s light in color, because the dark skins stay in contact with the clear juice for a very short period of time. In direct pressing, the grapes – either destemmed or in clusters – are immediately pressed in a wine press to release the juice. The pale pink juice is then delivered to the fermentation tank.
    or
  • Maceration and bleeding (Saignée):This is a steeping-and-draining process. Crushed grapes soak in a tank for between 2-20 hours at a cool, tightly controlled temperature. As the juice and skins comingle, the skins release their pigments and delicate aromas. The winemaker opens a filter in the bottom of the vat to drain – or bleed – the juice into the fermentation tank using the force of gravity. Exactly how long the vatting time should last is one of the questions that make rosé winemaking so delicate. It must be long enough for the red pigments to give the wine its pink color. But it mustn’t be so long that the tannins in the skins begin to detract from the wine’s lively elegance. Method used in Tavel, Southern Rhone.

[45:58] Tavel Rosés are Dave’s favorite. They are darker in color and have a stronger flavor profile. They are a little bit more expensive than rosés from Provence. The Tavel wines are close to Châteauneuf du Pape and Avignon. You can find them at Costco occasionally.

[48:50] Costco is the biggest alcohol retailer in the US. It’s a huge market for them. They also buy and hold under strict climatic conditions to guarantee the quality of the wine.

[51:06] Do you recommend people get a wine cellar to keep their wine in good condition? Wine doesn’t like large temperature fluctuations, so it depends on where you live. Americans buy wine to consume immediately whereas French people buy to keep. French houses don’t necessarily have a basement, but they often have a wine cellar. If you’re only going to keep the wine for 6 months, you don’t need a wine fridge.

[54:15] Annie: If you care about wine, it’s good to learn about it a little bit, but not so much that you become a snob. Wine is about socializing with people, and you don’t want to turn your nose at something a friend serves you, even if it comes out of a wine box.

Dave: Nobody knows your palette as well as you do, you like what you like and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Annie: Food and wine pairing is the same. If you like a specific with with a specific food, then go ahead and do that.

[55:50] Dave: In general, Americans drink their white wine too cold and their red wine too warm. When they say serve at room temperature, it’s not that warm. You can serve rosé straight out of the fridge maybe, but not white.

Annie: The sommelier at the wine class we offer in Paris as part of the Addicted to France Paris Tours, told us that he serves red wine after putting it in an icy bucket for 10 minutes. When you come to France, bring a cork opener and get daring to try a few wines while you’re here. This is your chance to try things for cheap.

[58:00] Dave: In France, if you try wines under 10€ you can’t go wrong even if you don’t love it.

[64:27] French Tip of the Week: “Je voudrais voir la carte des vins s’il vous plaît” (I would like to see the wine list please)

[65:15] Great website that shows the average wait time and busy days at various French museums and attractions, including Disneyland. It’s called J’aime attendre, which is counter-intuitive because that means I love to wait when most of us do not!

 

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Conclusion

Thanks for asking such good questions, and we hope you’re now ready to face the wine jungle in France. I know, I know, it’s a rough life, but somebody has to do it. And whatever you do, remember this: Pinot Noir = Burgundy and big reds from Napa = Bordeaux!

Continue reading French Wine Q&A for Beginners, Episode 162