Try France’s best kept wine secret: Cahors red wine

by Ian Blackshaw

Someone once said that there are two important decisions to be made each day: what to eat; and what to drink? And I would certainly not disagree with that! Why not try something new: a relatively undiscovered and very good French red wine – from Cahors?

A vineyard in Cahors

A vineyard in Cahors

Since 1971, Cahors has had its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which forms part of the South West France wine region. Cahors winemaking goes back to Roman times, with vines planted around 50 BC in the area. Today, there are 4,200 hectares (10,000 acres) of Cahors vineyards.

Generally speaking, the style of Cahors wine is similar to robust versions of Bordeaux red wine. The designation AOC Cahors, in fact, may only be used for red wines. There is also some white and rosé wine produced in the area, which is sold under the wine designation “Vin de Pays du Lot” and follows the course of the Lot river, which is a tributary of the Garonne, which irrigates the Bordelais wine region.

The main gape variety is Malbec, which, under the local wine regulations, must make up 70% of the Cahors red wine, known locally as “Côt Noir”; the other 30% is made up of Merlot and Tannat. The so-called ‘black wine’ of Cahors is particularly appreciated and valued. When you hold up a bottle to the light, the wine looks inky and dark. It is a full-bodied and robust wine, well suited to accompany a hearty stew, such as a traditional pot au feu, or a strong cheese, such as Roquefort. This is a wine with attitude and will keep for many years if stored under the right conditions!

In fact, during the Middle Ages, the Cahors wine was called “the black wine of Lot”. It was served at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II of England. Pope John XXII, who was born in Cahors, made it his table and sacramental wine. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who was the Controller-General of French Finances from 1665 – 1683, did not hesitate to deem it superior to Bordeaux (quite a claim but, in my opinion, being a claret fan, not entirely justified!); and the Russian Emperor, Peter I of Russia, drank Cahors and the Russian Orthodox Church adopted it as their sacramental/communion wine.

In recent times, the popularity, particularly in the UK, of the varietal Malbec wine from Argentina has probably contributed a great deal to a resurgent interest in Cahors wine, which is France’s best example of a Malbec-dominated wine.

Try the Cahors red wine for yourself, perhaps in situ – a good vintage being 2002 – and let the author know what you think of it!

MUSIC TO LEARN FRENCH BY 4

Jacques Dutronc (born 1943) began his singing career in the sixties and appeared in some 40 films from the seventies onwards.   Earlier this year he made some comeback appearances in Paris and is currently on tour in Northern France. He is part of a singing dynasty, being the husband of Françoise Hardy, another sixties phenomenon, and father of the jazz singer Thomas Dutronc. A dandy in Ray-bans, who appeared in a three-piece suit when others were into the dishevelled look, he is perhaps best known for Et moi, et moi, et moi. I have not found a site where you can listen to this in full without payment or some kind of sign-up, so have chosen two less well-known songs instead.

The first is Le Dragueur des Supermarches . In this version Dutronc sings in a joke accent, with exaggerated rolling of the letter “r”, about a young pest at the supermarket who is (a “dragueur”) “on the pull”.

Sympa’ = Sympathique : pleasant, agreeable.

Truand: crook, villain

Il est un peu Prosper: this expression has defeated me; can any reader/listener elucidate?

Grandes surfaces: hypermarkets.

The second is Il Est Cinq Heures Paris s’Eveille, all about delivery vans, street sweepers, tourists rejoining the bus after doing “Paris by Night” and more, as the night ends and the day begins.

Banlieusards: people from the suburbs, commuters

Traversins: bolsters, as in bedding

La Villette: area of abbatoirs and meat markets, now a park and exhibition site.

Déprimés: depressed

Brimés: from brimer: to rag, bully, get at. Here (I think) it’s about people having to get up when it’s the last thing they want to do.

Pride Before a Storm

I’ve had a busy week readying up our holiday cottages for the onslaught of the tourist season so you can imagine that it was a bit of a nuisance for me to also have “Carte Vitale” trouble. The problem began in 2008 when we received a letter telling us that our cover would cease in October of that year. Apparently we were only granted cover because my husband worked for a French company for a few months in 2004, a privilege which was about to cease.

I will not bore you with a narrative of my numerous and frustrating audiences with various “fonctionnaires” but suffice it to say that I was very pleased when cover was re-instated.  Then in July of last year when I reached 60 I requested my form E121 entitling me to receive a “Carte Vitale” by way of the UK authorities.

One again I found myself being interviewed by the rather formidable Madame at CPAM in Montreuil this time though things were different. The ice had melted and I guessed this was because I was relieving The Fifth Republic of the expense of my medical needs and shifting the burden to the British Pension Service.

In due course I received a temporary attestation swiftly followed by a request for a suitable photograph. I thought I had plenty of time to visit the photo booth, after all I had the old card and I would of course get round to it eventually. Then came the crunch, my old card stopped working.

Thinking that this photo would haunt me for many years I quickly blow dried my hair and applied make-up hoping to be rewarded with an image at least resembling a human being. I jumped in the car and set off for Intermarche when suddenly the heavens opened up and I was in the middle of a force 8 gale.

On arriving in the car park I did my usual trick of sticking my umbrella out of the car door and pressing the automatic opening button but this time the brolly immediately blew inside out and smacked me on the nose. Not deterred I made a run for it, reached the closest entrance and came to a stop, it was closed because of the strong winds. I dashed to the second door – also closed, so by the time I got in the place I was not looking that great.

By this time I couldn’t have cared less what the snap came out like so I sat in the booth, followed the instructions and waited wide-eyed for the flash.  Nothing happened at all so I soon realised that the apparatus was out of order.

Now I was on a mission; I got in the car and drove to Berck where there is a shop that will do the job for you. The professional was available immediately and sprang into action. He told me to take off my earrings (fair enough), take off my glasses (why!) and lift up my fringe (now wait a minute).  At this stage I was wondering where it was leading but I did exactly as I was told and sat on the stool. I gave what I thought was my best QVC smile (I used to work for a UK shopping channel) when he said “vous devez fermer la bouche Madame” and quickly pinched his lips together with his fingers. This sent me into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and we had to wait several minutes before I had composed myself.

After all that was the photograph a nice one – no of course not I’m 60 years old and can never really look good again but I did learn a valuable lesson. As the old saying goes, never put off till tomorrow what you can do today – you never know it might rain.

SOME POPULAR FRENCH GRAPE VARIETIES

by Ian Blackshaw

It is not only the soil and climatic conditions that give wines their particular characteristics and flavours (gout de terroir), but also the grape variety (cepage) used in their production. There are more than 500 grape varieties used in the production of wine!

Chardonnay grapes after harvesting

Chardonnay grapes after harvesting

pinot_noir

Pinot Noir grapes

According to wine experts, the well-known Chardonnay grape is the greatest dry white wine grape in the world. But not everybody likes Chardonnay – my sister-in-law, who prefers white wine to red, does not like Chardonnay, but prefers Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Loire region, with its dry aromatic flavour.

The Chardonnay grape is used in the production of the finest white Burgundies, such as Montrachet, Pouilly Fuisse and St Veran. It is also one of the three grape varieties used in the production of Champagne, along with Pinot Noir, with which it is often erroneously thought to be a member of the same family, and Pinot Meunier.

Another popular and widely used grape variety in wine-making in France is Gamay. It is the grape variety used in the production of wine in the Beaujolais wine region and, due to the vinification process (maceration carbonique) has a distinctive pear drop aroma.

An abundance of Gamay grapes

An abundance of Gamay grapes

The Merlot grape variety is use in the production of wine in the Bordeaux wine region and has a distinctive cherry flavour. It is the chief grape variety in the famous Chateau Petrus, the top name in Pomerol. It also combines effectively with Cabernet Sauvignon – a veritable versatile, noble and rich red wine grape variety with its predominant blackcurrant flavour – and Cabernet Franc to produce some of the finest classic Clarets, particularly from the Medoc wine area of Bordeaux.

Of other white wine grape varieties, mention should perhaps also be made of Sylvaner and Muscat – the one producing dry and the other sweet wines, especially dessert wine. The Sylvaner, originally from Austria, is now firmly established in the Alsace wine region of France and produces dry white wines with good acidity. Rather like Chardonnay, the Muscat grape variety is a very versatile one used in the production of mainly sweet wines, giving them their distinctive grapey/fruity flavour – a good and popular example being the Muscat Beaumes de Venise from the Southern Rhone.

Taking a lead from the New World wine producers, French producers are now marketing single grape variety wines, known as ‘varietal wines’ usually displaying a picture of the grape variety on the bottle label.

Although, apart from Chardonnay and Merlot, I much prefer a blend (cuvee) (literally from several cuves (wine vats)) of the main French wine grape varieties. But, like everything else related to wine and its enjoyment, it is always a matter of personal taste!

After all, one person’s meat is another person’s poison – as the old saying has it!

MUSIC TO LEARN FRENCH BY 3

This time a change from the retro: my two songs are by currently popular artists, part of the “nouvelle scène”.

Amélie-les-Crayons is the singer in a quirky four-member indie band from Lyons. The “Crayons” apparently feature in the title of one of her favourite songs. In Les Jours de Neige en Ville she sings of the magical change made by a night of snow not only to the cityscape but also to people’s hearts.

Guillaume Aldebert, who performs just  as “Aldebert”, had a big hit with Carpe Diem, a song of nostalgia for a college crush on a girl from Brittany who had written “Carpe Diem” on her suede pencil case (trousse en daim) in correction fluid after seeing Dead Poets Society on TV. He plucks up courage, anorak, blackheads and all, to approach her, nervous like Cyrano de Bergerac, and all he can find to say is “Could you lend me (ton blanc) your correction fluid please?” Nevertheless they have a date in a Quick (banana milkshakes) and he recalls dreams of the couple they might have become (glittering careers, big house, wonderful kids etc)

Coeur d’artichaut: fickle heart
Comédons: blackheads
Vénusté: beauty, grace, elegance
Jeter son dévolu sur: to set one’s heart on
P’tit déj: breakfast

Downloads can be bought through Last.fm or on Play.com or (be French about it!) Fnac.com

Body Maintenence – Human and Car

Being a big fan of our health service in France I have been, up until now disappointed that I could not find a good dentist. The main problem for me has been that the French professionals I have encountered seem reluctant to carry out a good de-scaling.

I began to think that maybe we Brits are a bit too fussy about our mouth hygiene and contemplated crossing the channel just for dental care. But then I heard that it’s almost impossible to be treated in the UK under the NHS, that private fees are very high and even if one is prepared to pay it’s difficult to get appointments.

I was becoming quite worried and dreading a toothless dotage until Monday of last week. When “bingo” I was treated by a woman who in my opinion is the “be all” of dentistry.

Tucked away in a charming courtyard in Montreuil is a very skilful woman dentist who runs an efficient and clean practice. I arrived a little early which was just as well because there was a questionnaire of my health history to be completed. The friendly receptionist was helpful with some of the terminology so the whole thing was done in a just a few minutes.

I was then escorted through to a bright and hygienic room which was filled with what looked to me like equipment from NASA. The diminutive young woman inspected my teeth and in less than 20 minutes she had de-scaled my lower jaw and eliminated one or two stubborn marks. She gave me a prescription for a panoramic tooth X-ray to be carried out at the local “radio” clinic and made a further 2 appointments after which she assured me, my teeth would soon be in very good condition.

I left her office feeling that I had at last paid due attention to this part of my body that had been neglected over the last few years. Further, I was very happy to think that here was one more thing that is better here in France than over there in the UK.

Which brings me to car servicing, you see our run-about is a Smart and most dealers here are loathe to touch them. Only Mercedes and Mitsubishi will take them on and having tried agencies of both brands in the Pas–de-Calais I am really not impressed. That’s why we take our Smart to Maidstone; the Mercedes agency there is efficient and surprisingly reasonable. The staff are pleasant and they loan us a courtesy car which enables us to do our shopping. OK, job done you may think but a small part of me is still a bit niggled that here is one thing that I just can’t find a solution for in France. Perhaps the answer is to buy a French car but then the Smart ForFour is made in France. Is that not “curieux”?

MUSIC TO LEARN FRENCH BY 2

Because this blog suggests “Music to learn French by” (for which new title I am indebted to our esteemed editor/webmaster) I have tried to find songs in which the singer’s diction is clear, the choice of words is fairly simple and the accompaniment is unobtrusive. Harder than you might think; most of my choices fail on at least one of these counts.

Georges Brassens (1921-1981) was born and brought up in the Mediterranean seaport of Sète. I will not embark on a potted biography but refer you instead to Last.fm, where you can play Les Philistins and click on the Artist and Biography links on the left. Many of his songs are having a dig at authority-figures, such as magistrates and the clergy, or the bourgeoisie in general. This short song is to the philistines who dream of their children attaining the pinnacle of respectability by becoming notaires but who are disappointed, or as Brassens puts it “punished”, by their becoming “hairy poets”.

Léo Ferré (1916-1993) was a poet, composer, musician and anarchist from Monaco, where he began his musical career as a choirboy in the cathedral. In Monsieur William he set to music a poem by Jean-Roger Caussimon. It tells the sad tale of a middle-aged innocent who on an impulse heads for the “thirteenth avenue” (where? I have not been able to discover), finds a young girl, takes her to a seedy hotel and ends up dead at the hands of a razor-wielding black man who wants the girl for himself. The devil makes a brief appearance towards the end, to a background played on the xylophone which evokes dancing skeletons.

Fredaine means an “escapade”, particularly of the sowing wild oats variety.

Pègre: “underworld” or by extension louche or seedy.

Hors de lui: note how the French say “outside himself” where the English would say “beside himself”.

Manquer de tenue can mean a number of things but in this context a free translation might be “For shame!” or “What were you thinking?”

There is a website dedicated to Léo Ferré at www.leo-ferre.com.

Wheels and Deals

Wheels and Deals

Well that’s the gardening started, although I still have a long way to go before I can call it tidy. I managed to dead-head all of our hydrangeas, get most of the paths swept and even de-weeded some of the flower beds. My usual helper wasn’t available but his replacement turned out to be an excellent worker with a lot of common sense. I felt exhausted after two full day’s hard graft but really pleased with our progress. I was however somewhat troubled by the sight of 67 large rubbish sacks full of garden clippings. They were blocking our garage and as my husband wanted to start his boat building this weekend (that’s another story) I had to think up a solution fast.

The problem was exacerbated by a current diversion on the road to the rubbish tip and the thought of negotiating those “petit chemin” whilst towing a trailer was not something I was looking forward to. I made a quick calculation and reckoned it would take around 11 journeys so I decided to hire a van.

It was not the huge extravagance that you may think. Whilst shopping the previous week I had noticed a good sized van in the supermarket car park with a sign on it advertising  a hire cost of 12 Euros for a half day. Intrigued and a little doubtful I enquired at the Intermarché reception desk and the woman assured me that this was indeed the price and I could collect it at 2pm on Friday. It would be mine for 5 hours and the only extras were the cost of the fuel and 18 centimes per kilometre.

My husband was immediately enthused, he seized the opportunity by ordering large sheets of marine ply to be collected from Leroy Merlin. I then suggested that we use the occasion to dispose of a few other household items that were clogging up our store room.  There was that old double bed, empty paint cans, a patio door frame and the odd defunct electrical appliance.

As is the habit with such things a simple idea just snowballed and the afternoon turned out to be a very busy one indeed. We made several trips to the décheterie and then proceeded to Merlimont where we met the only disappointment of the afternoon. Not all of the our timber order was available and by the time we had found that out we had just one hour to get our purchases home and then back to Intermarché before curfew.

Anyway we made it – just, I was delighted to get rid of the garden rubbish in one fail swoop and we disposed of a lot of our old junk. The cost was an absolute bargain at just 30 Euros for the hire and that sum would have been lower if we had been able to follow our usual route without an annoying detour.

So all in all we are very content with a job well done and at this moment my husband is working on his boat in a clutter free garage. I am though, somewhat perplexed as he has given no explanation of this industry. It has been raining over the last few days; do you think it could be a command from a superior being?

I’m off to pack a few things just on the off chance.

Ronald Gladman’s French Song Blog 1

Taking its cue from earlier Frogsiders articles, this blog proposes the French “chanson” as a further fun way to improve your French. Yes, it means a song, but not any old song. There is a long tradition in France of songs, usually written by the performer, that are essentially “lyric-driven” and composed to follow the rhythms of the French language.

There are scores of well-known exponents, ranging from the three greats of the last century, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel and Léo Ferré, through the likes of Juliette Gréco, Claude Nougaro and Serge Gainsbourg, to those who are alive and well today, such as Aldebert, Amélie-les-Crayons and Coralie Clément, not forgetting Madame Bruni-Sarkozy.

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If you want to improve your French by listening to songs and teasing out the words for yourself, the world of chanson has many enjoyable and worthwhile treats.

If you prefer to take a short cut you can Google your way to websites where you can find more or less any set of lyrics that you want, but (health warning) best just to look, as most of them are compiled without copyright permission and make their money from their garish animated ads for weight-loss products.

For anyone who would like to try it out, I have put together a playlist of 24 songs which will shortly be appearing in further blogs, two at a time. There are links to websites where they can be listened to in full and, if desired, downloaded as MP3 files for between 0.79 and 0.99 euros.

Here is an example: Musique Mecanique – Juliette Greco

Bonne écoute!

Growing Old in France

I know I am preaching to the converted because if you are reading this blog chances are you are familiar with computers and by extension the wonders of the web. I bring up this matter because I live with an elderly mum-in-law; she is 91 and actually great for such an advanced age. She has her own apartment and is totally independent but I can see that many of her age related frustrations could be eased if only she had mastered the art of the computer.
I am 30 years behind her so I have an interest in solving in advance, the problems that, if I am lucky I will be encountering over the next few decades. I am also haunted by a fear of having to return to the UK so add these together and you will understand why I am constantly looking for aids to growing old happily in our beloved France.
Take friendship – no problem keep in touch with your old mates by email or better still Skype with a web-cam it is already simple and cheap and no doubt set to be made even more “user friendly”. Then you can make new contacts through Face-book and other networking sites. Actually I joined Facebook a few months ago and as yet I can’t see the point but I am sure I will when it is difficult to get out and socialise.
Then there is shopping, I have to admit that this one is a breeze if you live in the UK as all the main supermarkets give a home delivery service. When I first came to live in France I was commuting one day a week to London. Each Friday I would give my order to Tesco on-line. I was able to choose a delivery time and day so that when I arrived in my office I had my grocery shopping done and even a sandwich for lunch and a copy of Times on my desk.
France is a little behind in that field but most villages have weekly deliveries of meat and fish and a daily bread van. I have also noticed vans that deliver locally the company is “Clairevoi” and their vehicle livery claims to deliver groceries to the home so let’s hope the idea catches on and spreads.
I know you will say that there are just some things from the UK that you can’t live without – no worries I have found a web site called www.britishcornershop.co.uk. I have not yet tried it because I love my excursions to Canterbury but it looks a good bet if one is stuck at home. They have most brand names available, will deliver to France within one week and charge £11.99 for up to 30 kilos.
For more personal items TV shopping channels can be very useful and they all have web sites. QVC is very competitive in price, has a 30 day money back guarantee and can supply clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, electrical goods and IT equipment. Marks & Spencer do a delivery service (not food) to France for a flat fee of £10 and I understand that the same can be had from Littlewoods.
Having just received my first pension payment I reflect and think that I am lucky to be approaching my less mobile days secure in the knowledge that having become familiar with a keyboard I can “let my fingers do the walking” now if you can remember that advertising campaign from the early seventies you will already know what I mean.

Climate Shock! In 500 years time it might get a bit warmer!

The faithful followers of the global warming religion tell us that the CO2 gas is evenly distributed throughout our planet’s atmosphere.  It is, they say a powerful “greenhouse gas” and that a very small increase in its concentration above present levels will dramatically change the climate on Earth.  I find this very hard to believe, as amateur observation, intuition and common sense tell me that it cannot be so.

The other day the sun shone all day out of a clear blue sky and warmed the ground and the air.  It was a perfect Spring day.  That night, however, the clear cloudless sky allowed all the heat of the day to be radiated back into space, so the following morning started with a hard white frost on the ground.

What does this tell us?  It suggests very clearly to me that, at a frostconcentration level of 380 or so parts per million, CO2 gas, which was certainly present that night in the atmosphere above and around my house, could not prevent all the sun’s heat of the previous day from being lost into space.  This demonstrates that atmospheric CO2 is not very effective as an insulating medium.  Before anyone argues that I’m talking about one particular night in one particular place, and that no conclusions can be drawn from this example, let me point out that this rapid cooling of Earth on clear nights is known the world over – even in the hottest places on Earth such as the Sahara desert, temperatures will plunge to near freezing on clear nights.

On overcast nights, however, it is also well-established fact that the Earth does not lose so much heat by radiation to the sky, with the result that night time temperatures don’t fall so dramatically.  Again, this effect is known in every part of the world.  It is therefore clear that water vapour which makes up the cloud cover that is responsible for this clearly demonstrable insulating effect, but which, unlike CO2,  is not evenly distributed throughout the Earth’s atmosphere, is by far the most important greenhouse gas.  In comparison, the effect of CO2 as a contributor to the “greenhouse effect” is very minor.  You don’t need to be a genius, or even a University of East Anglia scientist, to work that out.

The Global Warmers tell us that man-made CO2 emissions could be increasing the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere at a rate as high as 0.5% per year.  At this modest rate of increase, bearing in mind the demonstrably ineffective insulating qualities of the gas, I would suggest that we stop worrying about it and make a diary note to give the matter some further consideration in, say, about 500 years time.

If long-term global warming is happening, which is not out of the question, but is not proven, man-made CO2 is not the culprit.  That being the case we should recognise that we’re not in a position to do anything to slow or reverse the trend.  Instead, we should spend the next couple of hundred years adapting our way of life to suit slightly warmer (or equally possibly cooler) climate conditions.

Science, Lazy Journalism and Politics

It is well known that Professor Moonlight is sceptical about any scientific theory until it is proven (to his satisfaction) by authoritative, disciplined, documented and peer-reviewed, repeatable experiment.

He read in a magazine the other day that divers are unable to pass wind when submerged in water at any depth below 31 feet (9.4m).  Naturally he was immediately suspicious that this was a typical journalist’s “fact” – in other words a rumour or unsubstantiated supposition, overheard in a pub, totally unresearched and reported as if factual.

Despite much research and enquiry, Prof Moonlight was not able to find any recorded scientific proof that the limit of 31ft was correct.  He naturally wanted to put the statement to the test of rigorous scientific analysis and experimental proof, but he soon ran into a number of problems.

First, he doesn’t know anyone with a 32 foot deep swimming pool where he could conduct the necessary experimental research.  Secondly, though he has a number of contacts in government, industry and the scientific world who can usually provide funding for original research of this type, it would seem that the financial crisis has made development investment hard to come by.  So far no funds have been offered.  Third, no member of the Moonlight family has ever submerged themselves in water deeper than they could comfortably paddle in (with the exception of Great Great Uncle Jasper Moonlight who was a musician on the Titanic)

Unfortunately the greatest obstacle to the professor’s work has been the attitude of the United Nations where a committee of 75 underdeveloped nations has already decreed that 31 feet is to be the exact limit of man-made gas emission for the next hundred years.  They claim their coral reefs have been irretreivably damaged by fat gassy divers from Western industrialised nations and that they should be recompensed at the rate of 1 billion dollars per foot depth per reef per year.  France must pay double this rate, as it was Jacques Cousteau who invented this reef destroying sport.  Further discussion of the matter has been banned and dissenting scientists all over the world have been effectively gagged.

Of course, the professor has not given up.  He’s been experimenting without funding as best he can. Working at normal atmospheric pressure and at various submerged depths, he hasn’t yet been able to get beyond blowing a few unconvincing bubbles from a depth of 9 inches (23 cm), which is about as deep a bath as the hot water cylinder at Moonlight Towers can provide.

For the moment, with progress temporarily halted, Professor Moonlight is keeping an open mind and trying to calculate the critical depth by mathematical means.

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