Friday, December 31, 2010
It felt strange coming to the end of the year under blue skies and warm weather, and without the frenzy that characterizes the weeks before a Canadian Christmas. The holiday season is definitely much more subdued here in France than back home.
Apart from that and the few Christmas cards we recieved from family, Christmas could have been months away. There were no carol singers, no office parties, no lights on houses, no Christmas music, no snowmen, no holiday wreaths on doors, no strident countdowns of the remaining shopping days. I suppose some would love this, but Dennis and I were not so sure. Where was our Christmas spirit? Where was the Christmas tree? Where was the eggnogg and the mistletoe?
Judging by the window displays, grocery stores and their lineups there was no doubt that food was the main event in a French Christmas. Toys, tvs, stereo systems, clothes and jewlery were all of incedental importance. Oysters and shellfish, pheasant and hare, pates and cheeses, hams and capons, gateaux and champagne. At times I found myself suffering of visual indigestion there was so much. I even found myself having to look away from the many meat displays as there would usually be a skinned carcass or two starring blindly up at you from under the glass. Not to mention the rows of nude birds with their heads still attached, neatly arranged of course. I would shudder and move on.
Christmas day was a quiet one, just Dennis, myself and Rypien. We all woke up to sunshine and quiet empty streets, which was shortly followed by dog puke and an apartment with no electricity. The turkey was stuffed and ready for the oven when the power for our entire apartment went out. We couldn't believe it! Thankfully it was only a temporary lapse and we were back to full power. Could you even imagine a Christmas without turkey?
Luckily our Christmas dinner turned out wonderfully – turkey, stuffing and all the fixings - we ate long and drank well and talked about the months that had gone as quickly as weeks. There was so much we hadn't seen and done. It has been a fabulous year, spent mostly in France and the corner of the country in which we live, fascinating to us in its tiny details and daily rituals, sometimes uncomfortable, often frusterating, but never dull or disappointing and always exciting. It's been quite the adventure!
Champagne is without a doubt a wine of celebration. It has launched thousands of ships into the sea, it has been present at countless weddings and fetes, and of course, its a staple for everyone's New Year's Eve party.
New Year's Eve is upon us and if you want to celebrate in style, this fine French wine is certainly the way to go. But choosing from among more than 12,000 brands of champagne and sparkling wine can be difficult. Fear not – I'm here to help!
By law, only producers in the Champagne region of France are allowed to call their product “champagne”. Fizzy wine produced anywhere else in the world must, therefore, be called a “sparkling wine”. And while some wine snobs will undoubtedly turn up their noses at the thought of drinking an “inferior” sparkling wine, the fact is that some excellent sparkling wines – which can hold their own in a tast test against some of Champagne's finest – are produced in the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.
Most would agree that bubbles are the key to any good bottle of bubbly. Tiny bubbles are the essence of fine champagnes and sparkling wines and play a central role in the transfer of aroma, taste and texture. They should be small, fine and plentiful!
As is the case with any white wine, champagne should be served chilled, but only slightly. Cooling the wine properly is an art in itself. Some experts recommend that the unopened bottle be placed in an ice bucket containing ½ ice and ½ water for 20 to 30 minutes. But its also just as easy to stick it in the refrigerator for three to four hours (note: it should never be chilled in the freezer!). Be sure to serve in tall flute glasses.
So without further ado, here are some of my champagne and sparkling wine suggestions for your next celebration. You can pay just about any price for a sparkling wine – from $10 to $2,000 a bottle – so it's important to have a good idea of what you like and how you're going to serve it.
1. Moet and Chandon Brut Imperial
Type and Region: Champagne (France)
Taste: A true champagne classic. Citrus and mineral flavours with a long toasty finish. Dry with hints of butter.
Serve: Oysters and other seafoods; as an apertif.
2. Cuvee Dom Perignon
Type and Region: Champagne (Frane)
Taste: Nothing says celebration like Dom! Citrus, honey, brioche, apples and walnuts characterize this incredible wine.
3. Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne Brut
Type and Region: Champagne (France)
Taste: One of the classic French champagnes, it is usually a favourite among tasters. Dry with a velvety texture, coconut, ginger and vanilla flavours.
Serve: An excellent sipping wine, best served with lighter flavours and shellfish.
4. Veuve Clicquot Brut
type and Region: Champagne (France)
Taste: Fruity, citrus notes and hints of toast, biscuit and peach. Dry and well balanced. Medium to full body.
Serve: As an apertif with seafood or quiche. This one was waiting for us in our hotel room in Val Thorens, courtesy of Mom and Dad. Thanks guys, it was a nice surprise!
Type and region: Sparkling Wine (England)
Taste: Dry, with flavours of almond toasted croissants, dairy, vanilla and citrus fruits.
Serve: As an apertif.
6. Montaudon Brut
Type and Region: Champagne (France)
Taste: Dry, rich and toasty with notes of almond and green apple.
Serve: Dennis and I enjoyed this one on Christmas mornign with eggs! Also goes great with popcorn and nuts (especially almonds).
7. Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose
Type and Region: Champagne (France)
Taste: Dry, salmon pink in colour with fruity flavours of red berries, strawberries, morello cherries and blackcurrants.
Serve: A superb apertif! So yummy!
Monday, December 27, 2010
Window Display at Repetto.
Loved These Chandeliers!
Inside the Chocolate Shop!
Ho Ho Ho!
The Regent Hotel. Beautiful!
The Regent Hotel.
This One's For You Dad! Inside the Christmas Market
Cotton Candy Anyone?
Carousel, Inside the Christmas Market.
This Photo Was Actually Taken in November When I Was In Bordeaux With My Dad, But I Just Thought I Would Include It, Just Because.
Last Minute Christmas Eve Shoppers!
Also Taken During The November Visit.
Just a quick post of some pics before I head off to bed. Dennis and I spent Christmas Eve in Bordeaux and had a fab time. Out of all the places I have been to in France, Bordeaux is certainly one of my favourites. The city itself is gorgeous, not to mention the shops, cafes, buildings and of course the world famous vineyards!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Forget turkey, oysters are the most important Christmas must-have in France. The markets, grocery stores and even some sidewalks have been piled high with wooden crates full of oysters for folks to lug home for the festivities. Oysters are call 'huitres' here in France and leave it to the French to turn oyster selection into a science. I've been told the hospitals in France have a high rate of intakes around Christmas from too many people stabbing themselves with oyster knives.
Most aficionados swear that oysters cannot be consumed between May and August – the old saying is that you have to wait until there's an 'R' in the month - September to April. Down here in the south of France they say “Dans les mois plus froids de la mi-hiver, tout à l'heure, c'est quand les huîtres sont de leur mieux, à leur plus succulent et savoureux”. In the coldest months of midwinter, just now, that's when the oysters are their very best, at their most succulent and tasty.
So, in France, Christmas and New Year's Eve are the perfect time for oysters, and you can be sure to see a plate of oysters on any holiday menu. They make a great first course and are generally served up just the way they come out of the shell, or accompanied with a red wine vinegar and chopped shallot sauce.
Granted oysters are an acquired taste. My very first encounter with an oyster seemed more like meeting up with an extraterrestrial, but more often than not, these slippery, squishy crustaceans have a way of becoming a treat that may delight you to no end.
The obvious white wine choices for oysters would be a bottle of Sancerre or Muscadet Sur Lie, however a nice Pinot Gris from the Alsace which is slightly fruity and not so dry would also make an excellent pairing. Joyeuses Fetes!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Val Thorens Village.
Irish Coffee Break, Our First Day on the Slopes.
Blue Bird Day!
The Best Bar in Town, Malaysia! It goes Underground and opens up into a Giant Nightclub which was full of Drunk English People.
Looking A Little Tired After One Too Many Gin and Tonics at the All-Inclusive the Night Before.
30cm of Fresh!
A Blanket of White! Freshies!
The Day it Dumped 30cm Overnight. Freezing Cold but Loving the Powder!
Dennis and I just got pack from an action packed week of snowboarding in the French Alps. Since it was so early in the year we decided to go to Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe (the village sits at 2300m), that way we would be gauranteed good snow. The area is known as Les 3 Valless, the largest ski area in the world and consists of eight resorts: Courchevel, La Tania, Meribel, Brides-Les-Bains, Les Menuires, Saint-Martin, Val Thorens (the highest) and Orelle. All the resorts are linked together by runs and lifts with 600km of interconnected slopes and 180 ski lifts!
The first few days were as sunny as could be, beautiful blue bird days. However, the snow was hardpack and it was extremely cold, it seemed to hover around the -20 degree celsius mark for the entire week. By about the fourth day in, the mountains got a huge 30cm dump of snow overnight which made for epic conditions for our last few days of our trip. The snow itself was a bit weird, it was dry, heavy, a bit windblown and incredibly slow. Even steep sections with lots of powder were slow, and heaven for bid if you hit a flat spot, you'd be walking it out forsure. It made for quite the workout at 3200 feet.
We stayed at the Club Med in Val Thorens, our first Club Med experience. Not bad. The hotel seemed busy, I imagin it was pretty much full-up. The majority of our fellow Club Meders were French, older and predominately men. Women, especially young women, were a rare commodity, so I got starred at, a lot. The restaurant at the hotel was buffet style, and they usually had a vast selection of different dishes to every craving. The hotel was also equipped with a bar which doubled as an entertainment area for shows/performances and a nightclub. The staff were great, always friendly and very helpful.
It was a bit of a nightmare getting home as snow had hit most of northern Europe causing airport shutdowns in major centers such as London and Paris. This was a nighmare as the airports were packed with people! Our flight was cancelled from Geneva to Paris and from Paris to Bordeaux. We certainly weren't in the mood to wait in the million person line-up to rebook our flight home (there was also the possibility that we could be stuck there for days as flights had been cancelled for days) so I scouted out a rental car so we could drive home. This was also no easy feet as most rental agencies were out of cars! Nevertheless, we made it home safe and sound and all in one piece!
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Enjoying some Tasty Tapas.
Wine in a Glass - I Fell in Love Just a Little Bit.
Drinking with the Spanish on a Monday afternoon.
It was surprisingly warm this past Monday, almost 20 degrees! So, Dennis and I thought there was no better way to spend the afternoon than by heading down to San Sebastian, Spain. We were a bit disappointed to find that all the shops were closed, but on the plus side all the bars were open. It must have been some sort of holiday or maybe this happens every Monday afternoon, but the streets were just packed with people. The bars and restaurants were even worse, people were spilling out into the streets, hands full, with wine in one hand and a plate of tapas in the other. Everyone was in a good mood, presumably because all the tourists had gone home and now they could enjoy what they do best: eat, drink and socialize! We thought it looked pretty fun, so we decided to join in and spent the afteroon hoping from bar to bar drinking wine and sampling tapas. It was fabulous!
First thing to note, tapas aren't tapas here in San Sebastian, instead the Basques call them pintxos, and you are charged by the number of pintxos that you put on your plate. The bars and restaurants were packed. There was maybe the odd tiny table tucked away in a corner, but other than that it was standing room only with people even spilling out into the streets. The atmosphere was incredibly lively and you literally had to either squeeze and push your way up to the front of the bar or shout out your order from the back of the room. Since Dennis and I don't speak a word of Spanish, or Basque for that matter, we had no choice but to opt for the first plan of attack.
Once we finally made it to the front of the bar, I will admit that some of the pintxos did look a little alien, unidentifiable, and, I feared, inedible. Before us was what looked like some very strange and spiky food: tentacles protruding from canapes, custacean tails poking out of dollops of mayonnaise and deep fried squid bound with undercooked bacon just to name a few. We sheepishly started with the least intimidating thing on the counter, a mini sandwich stuffed with sliced meat and sauteed green pepper. It took several glasses of Ribera Del Duero (delicious red wine from Spain) to boost our confidence and before we knew it we were sampling some of the strangest and most delicious pintxos on the counter. Couldn't think of a better way to spend a Monday afternoon.