We’ve just returned from the most wonderful two week “tour de France”. We had planned our tour around the top two thirds of France taking in some of the country’s best wine regions and as many delicious regional foods as possible for more Dukeshill inspiration.
Our tour started on the Saturday evening and Sunday so all the Champagne houses were shut which turned out to be a running theme throughout our holiday. France generally seemed to be shut even when their signs said “Open” whichever day we turned up! It didn’t stop us drinking the stuff though!
It was fascinating to see the scenery evolve before our eyes as we headed further south towards our next destination, Riquewihr in Alsace. The beautiful villages and towns were quite medieval in character with lots of timber framed buildings, and rather amusingly a thriving population of storks living on each church tower. As a protected species the authorities like to encourage the storks to nest by providing metal frames on top of high buildings in each town for the storks to furnish in their own immitable style. Apparently they love humans so like to nest near us in the towns and villages when they fly north from Africa for our summer.
We took the opportunity to visit an Alsace wine house where we sampled and ended up buying some delicious Alsatian wines from one of the top producers, Domaine Weinbach. Of their 70 hectares of vineyard, twelve are certified as Grand Cru, so the quality of their wines generally was superb.
What I hadn’t realised was the European vines were nearly wiped out over a century ago by a tiny insect called Phylloxera which attacked the roots and so now almost all French wines are produced from French vines grafted onto American rootstocks. The American vines are not affected by the insect that wiped out the European vines.
Our next stop was Burgundy where owing to our daughter Laura’s profession in investment wine, she had managed to secure a private visit to one of the top Burgundy producers in Nuits-St-Georges, Domaine Lecheneaut. It was an incredible experience and one which we felt enormously privileged to be included on. Phillipe Lecheneaut took us into their cave where we were allowed to sample a clutch of Premier and Grand Cru wines from the 2017 vintage in the very early stages of the fermentation process, barely eight months from grape to barrel. Most would mature for many more years before reaching their peak but even so you could taste the quality and exceptional and unmistakeable Burgundian classics.
The grape has been grown in Burgundy for at least the last 1,000 years and their expertise shows. The value of vineyard land here is the most expensive in the world and Domaine Lecheneaut has ten hectares which seems tiny but the prices they command make up for the small pockets belonging to each house. Lecheneaut only produce one Grand Cru wine, the Clos de la Roche. They have their own vines in the vineyard of Clos de la Roche (sharing the vineyard with other producers who will also be producing wines called Clos de la Roche Grand Cru under their own label) – vineyards are split into tiny parcels in Burgundy, which is what makes it so complicated but also I think it is what makes Burgundy Burgundy – every winemaker has his/her own unique style and expression which I think is amazing when you basically have just 1 red grape and 1 white grape to get all that variation.
Food-wise the Jambon Persillé (pictured) was almost as good as our Ham Hock Terrine!
Next stop was Salers in the Auvergne, a staggeringly beautiful village high up in the rolling hills of the Auvergne. It was here Neale tried Truffade, an Auvergne speciality. To be quite frank it looked like a pile of sick but tasted divine! It’s a hearty potato dish made by sautéing potato and garlic in duck or goose fat to which is added some Cantal Tomme Fraîche cheese. Delicious served with a few slices of Auvergne ham or Dukeshill ham for that matter.
As we left the Auvergne we called in on the sister restaurant to the fabulous 40, Maltby Street in London, Le Saint Eutrope in Clermont-Ferrand. Unbelievably good food and well worth the detour to the slightly odd suburban setting for such a fine restaurant.
I’ll let you translate the menu!
On to the Dordogne famous for it’s Foie Gras amongst other things. We almost couldn’t get away from the stuff with it appearing on every menu, virtually on every dish, even as a pizza topping in the beautiful Brantôme. Monpazier and Saint-Jean-de-Côle, another two of the most beautiful villages in France were our next stops and again the food experience was fabulous.
It was in Monpazier that we met Hugh who had only recently moved there to fulfil a lifelong dream of setting up his own brewery in the town. He produces British style beers using mostly British hops. The French locals are starting to come around and a few of the local restaurants are starting to take his bottled beers so fingers crossed for him. The brewery was a great social venue.
On to the Loire where we visited yet another wine maker. The Château De Fosse-Seche produces the most superb organic wines and the tour was excellent. The wines are rich, complex, and well balanced and are some of the most terroir-oriented wines in all of Saumur. A special feature is that Guillaume Pire and his brother Adrien vinify and age their rouge Eolithe in concrete “eggs” and older barriques. They also produce the most exquisite organic honey which we are now selling, harvested from the bees that inhabit their wild flower meadows.
Our final stop was the stunning port of Honfleur on the estuary where the Seine river meets the English Channel. The Vieux-Bassin (old harbour), lined with 16th- to 18th-century townhouses, has been a subject for artists including Claude Monet.
Picture perfect and as it turned out a great place to watch the Belgium – Brazil and the France – Uruguay football matches. We had to disguise our accents pretending to be first French, then Belgium. Considering my appalling ear for languages (earlier in the holiday I had everyone in hysterics when I thought the bartender was asking if I was Parisian to which I replied “thank you but I’m not actually Parisian” when in fact he’d asked if I wanted Perrier!!) it was a bit of a non starter for me. However the French and Belgians were so grateful for Laura’s rowdy support that she was given a flower by the Belgian contingent as a thank you at the end. Just as well they won as I’m sure it would have been beer over our heads if not!
Sadly we had come to the end of our tour de France but what a holiday and what memories! We’ll be back, that’s for sure.