Lidl Foire Aux Vins 2014

Not to be sniffed at, and well worth a visit!

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year again in France for the wine fairs – foires aux vins!
Apart from the traditional French Supermarkets of Auchan and Carrefour, this year an announcement by LIDL that they are holding their wine fair from 3 – 6 September, 2014 caught my eye.

Now LIDL is a discount supermarket (‘une supermarche des bonnes affaires’) which is often looked down on and one that my wife and I do not know very well, compared with the other German discount store of ALDI, which we do frequent, from time to time, finding their wide selection of French cheeses very good value for money indeed, including the local ‘sea-salty’ flavoursome cheese of ‘maroilles’.

In their 2014 wine fair, LIDL are offering a wide selection of French wines from the main wine producing regions of France, including Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Loire, Cotes de Rhone and the Pays Doc. But, perhaps surprisingly, no Champagne – at least as far as I can see! However, I noticed that the Catalogue includes an interesting ‘Cremant de Bordeaux Brut Rose’, which won a gold medal in the 2014 ‘Concours des Cremants’, and a snip at €4.99 a bottle, and one, therefore, that I shall have to try!
As readers of my wine articles will know, I am particularly fond of the Bordelais reds, and one which caught my eye in the LIDL Catalogue is a 2009 a Graves Chateau Gravaillas, which won a gold medal at the Macon Wine Competition of 2011, selling at €7.39 a bottle.

Of the whites, a 2013 Saint-Veran, from the Cote d’ Or, Burgundy, priced at €7.49 a bottle, is particularly noteworthy, just as good as its more expensive neighbour ‘Pouilly Fuisse’! Likewise, the LIDL 2014 Catalogue features for the first time a 2011 Loupiac pudding wine from the Chateau du Cros.

There is certainly something for everyone in the 2014 LIDL French wines selection and also that will suit all pockets, from the cheap and cheerful (in other words ‘gluggable’), ranging in price from €2.50 to €4 a bottle to the more expensive sophisticated wines, like a 2011 Saint-Estephe Chateau Saint-Gorbian, Cuvee Tradition, which won a bronze medal in the 2013 Bordeaux Wine Competition, on offer at €14.99 a bottle – described as a ‘Coup de Coeur’! In other words, an irresistible bargain! Even more up market is another ‘Coup de Coeur’: a 2009 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe at €25.99 a bottle from Chateau La Tour Du Pin Figeac.

You can access on line the LIDL 2014 Wine Catalogue which is well illustrated and informative. Readers of this article, with a keen eye for detail, will notice that this is an interactive website and you can also order and buy on line, if you wish!

Better still, readers of ‘Frogsiders’ might like to make a personal visit to their local LIDL supermarket, rather than a virtual one, and see what their 2014 wine fair has to offer them and share their buys and experiences with us!

Slovenia Red Wine Challenges French!

by Ian Blackshaw

Kabaj Winery

My wife and I have just returned from a pleasant few days in Slovenia, where I was a keynote speaker at the first ever Sports Law Symposium in the Country, which was held in the delightful Slovenian lake-side resort of Bled.

During our visit, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of this pocket-size, but beautiful country, including the fine sea-side resort of Portoroz on the Adriatic coast, bordering Croatia. Our Slovenia lawyer host also took us for lunch at a winery in Goriska Brda, not far from the Italian border. Slovenia borders Austria in the North, Hungary in the North East and Italy and Croatia in the South.

Underground amphoras for maturing wine at Kabaj

Overlooking the vineyards and in warm sunshine and blue skies, we had an excellent lunch comprising several local specialities, many of which are influenced by the Italian cuisine, including pasta dishes and fluffy omelettes served with local truffles. The winery, which boasts a fine restaurant and well-appointed bedrooms, with en suite facilities, is owned by Katja Kabaj and Jean Michel Morel.

Following lunch, we visited the Cellars and enjoyed a wine tasting of some of their whites and reds. The whites are stored in oak barrels and the reds in underground amphoras. We were not disappointed with the offerings that we sampled!

However, for me, the highlights of the tastings were the reds! As many readers of my wine articles will know, I am particularly fond of red wines, especially those from the Bordelais region of France.

Of the reds we tasted was an outstanding Merlot of 2009, a good year throughout Europe, with an abv of 13.5%, which compared very favourably with an equivalent Bordelais. In fact, we were told by the winemaker that the aim of this winery is to produce red wines of the same quality and standing as the clarets from Bordeaux, using French winemaking techniques. The Kabaj Merlot – made from 100% Merlot grapes – has a fine ruby red colour and ripe plum notes, with a long finish in the mouth. This wine is very satisfying indeed and goes down very well with a hearty Winter stew.

The Kabaj winery also produces another good red comprising a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which we also tasted. Again, challenging its French Bordeaux equivalent in quality and taste!

We were told that wine stored in amphoras is not a new craze, but goes back some eight thousand years and has its origins in Georgia, which claims to be the ‘cradle of viticulture’. Certainly, to my knowledge, the Georgian reds are excellent, having sampled them on several occasions. The practice of using amphoras was also followed by the Ancient Greeks, so it has a respectable history.

We left the winery fully satisfied – if not replete – and spent the night in Ljubljana, the historic Slovenian Capital, and needless to say we slept very well.

These days, French vignerons not only face stiff competition from the ‘New World’, but also from wine makers nearer home in other parts of Europe, particularly Slovenia, as we discovered during our recent visit!

Fete du Hareng Roi – November 9-10 at Etaples

All this week at Etaples, volunteers from the “Bons Z’Enfants”, an association dedicated to maintaining local traditions, will be hard at work preparing for the 21st annual “Hareng Roi”.

To find out more about their preparations, take a look at the Hareng Roi website where you’ll learn about the enthusiasm and energy that goes into the production of this traditional festival celebrating the historic importance of the annual herring migration to the port’s fishing fleet..

If you are looking for something interesting and entertaining to do next weekend, the Hareng Roi at Etaples is our suggestion.  You’ll be tempted by the aroma from the outdoor barbecues where the herrings (smoked, marinaded or plain) are char-grilled to perfection by salty looking mariners in traditional seagoing fisherman’s garb.  Meanwhile the ladies of Etaples, in traditional costume complete with lace headresses, cut baguettes and prepare and serve fish soup, tarts, tartines, vin chaud and other accompaniments to the famous herring.

The meal is taken under cover of marquees, sitting at long communal tables, mixing with other visitors to the town, while entertainment is provided by singers and bands playing music with a nautical theme while dressed in appropriate costume.  The cost will come to between 5 and 10 euros a head, depending on how much you want to eat and drink.  You would be hard pushed to find better value for a satisfying meal and an entertaining outing, anywhere.

There’s also an exhibition area with a wide variety of art and craft work on show, as well as demonstrations of maritime ropework, lace headress making, model boat making and other traditional local activities.  Some of the stalls sell local cheeses, jams, biscuits, etc.

The quayside at Etaples is a very buzzy place to be during the Hareng Roi and it’s well worth a visit even if you don’t intend to eat the delicious grilled fish.

“Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers d’Artistes” ~ les 18, 19 et 20 octobre 2013

John Hutton in La Grange Blanche with 'Flight'

Don’t forget this is the weekend when artists in the Pas De Calais open their studio doors to the public.

Among those artists, John Hutton, based at Neuville near Montreuil, will be most happy to welcome you.  John’s  large painting “Flight”, seen in the photo above, encapsulates one of the heroic scale works made in his studio, La Grange Blanche within a ten year period. The majority of work exhibited in this show has been shown in France and abroad.

Opening times on 18/ 19/ 20/ October at La Grange Blanche are 14.00 hrs to 18.00hrs.

La Grange Blanche
43 rue de Montreuil
Neuville sous Montreuil 62170

If you are interested in contemporary works then you are welcome to visit.

For more information on the “Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers d’Artistes” event, with list and locations of all participating artists and studios, click on this link to visit the POAA Nord website.

Storing Wine ~ A Novel Idea

A bottle of Muscadet aged for 2 years under the sea

by Ian Blackshaw

As a French wine buff, the underground chalk wine cellar in our fermette was the deciding factor when buying our French property. There was no contest, in fact!

Having built up a collection of good French wines, storing the wine is very important indeed as part of the maturing process. Wine badly stored is an abomination! For wine to age properly in the bottle, the wine needs to be out of the sunlight; in a place with a constant temperature and humidity; and lying on its side horizontally on wine racks – in other words, off the ground.

People without wine cellars, store their wine in a variety of places – in garages; under the stairs; and in cupboards, for example. And wine makers themselves, when they run out of cellar space, face the same question: where is the best place to store their wines?

Now an Italian wine maker, Pierluigi Lugano, who faced the same problem, has come up with a novel idea. He stores his surplus wine under the sea in stainless steel cages on the sea bed at a depth of some 200 feet off the Italian Riviera in the north western region of Liguria – some two miles off the town of Chiavari!

He claims that this method is particularly good for storing sparkling wines – much better, he says, than storing them traditionally in an underground cellar! If that is true, it is perhaps a pity that Champagne is a long way from the sea!

“The temperature is perfect, there’s no light, the water prevents even the slightest bit of air from getting in, and the constant pressure keeps the bubbles bubbly” Pierluigi explains.

An Oyster Bar at Larmor Baden, Brittany, where you can buy Muscadet in bottles which have been aged for two years under the sea.

The wine he keeps under the sea for three or four years; the first batch of his wine was put there in 2009 – generally a good vintage all round – and has just been raised and tasted!

Wine critics, in fact, have concurred with him and acclaimed the quality of his wines; so there must be some truth in storing wine under the sea.

Perhaps, Geoff Dobson, Frogsiders Science Correspondent, who is no mean wine connoisseur himself and an aficionado of sparkling wine, in particular, might like to comment on the science involved in storing wine under the sea!

Editor’s Comment

I bought a couple of bottles of Muscadet Sur Lie which had been matured for two years under the sea, when I was on a sailing holiday in Brittany last May.  It was claimed that the very steady temperature of the water, and the lack of any sudden changes in temperature or light, had been found to give the wine a smoother rounder character.  My crew and I drank one bottle there and then, and were rather easily convinced.  I brought another bottle home with me and still have it in the cellar.

I can supply any interested reader with the telephone number of the shop in Brittany where it can be bought.

Comments on wine storage in the sea – the scientific perspective, from Dr. Geoffrey Dobson

The sea heats up and cools down far less than the land, also as you get deeper there is far less light. Once you get down to about 600 feet deep there is virtually no light at all and the temperature at any given depth is relatively constant throughout the year. At European latitudes it stays between about 15°C and 10°C at 600 feet dropping to about 5°C at 1500 feet deep. The light falls off as you go deeper until at about 600 feet it is completely dark.

At 200 feet where he is storing his wine the temperature is likely to vary between 10°C and 18°C winter to summer. There will only be about one third of normal light (a bit like a house with heavy curtains drawn).

Wine experts recommend that the optimal temperature for storing wine is between 13°C and 15°C. It would seem that at 200 feet the temperature may vary a bit more than ideal. I don’t know if he has actually measured the temperatures but it seems from his results that any variation is quite acceptable.

He needs to be careful about the pressure on the bottles.  At 200 feet the pressure on the bottles is almost 7 atmospheres.  They could implode if there are any flaws


Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year, once again, when the major French supermarkets, such as Auchan, Carrefour and Intermarche, have their wine fairs (foire aux vins) and tempt punters in with all kinds of offers. For example, buy two cartons of a particular wine and get the third one free!

It is also that time when, amongst the well-known French wines, such as those from Bordeaux and Burgundy, they often feature less well-known, but also Continue reading “Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer” »

Rouge Sucette: Whatever Next?

by Ian Blackshaw

According to the latest statistics, wine drinking amongst the French is on the decline. Only 17% of the French claim to drink wine on a daily basis. And the number of people, who never drink wine, has doubled to 38%. Whilst, the young people of France prefer to drink beer or spirits rather than wine.

To try to reverse this downward trend and to interest young people, in particular, in drinking wine, a Bordeaux wine maker, Hausmann Famille, part of Chateaux en Bordeaux, has introduced a new wine called ‘Rouge Sucette’ – in English, ‘Red Lollipop.’

Whatever is that, you may ask? Well, it is bottle of wine comprising 75% red wine and 25% sugar, water and cola flavouring. It has an ‘abv’ of 9% and, according to the makers, it is best served straight from the fridge. So far, the introduction of this new wine has drawn mixed reactions amongst the French youth.

As an aficionado of wine in general and French wine in particular, I regard this so-called new wine as an abomination and would be very surprised if it takes off! But, as they say, there is no accounting for taste!

Although I have not tried it, I am definitely with one French wine drinker who has remarked: “the very thought makes me cry in my chateauneuf-du-pape!” Whilst, on the other hand, another has said: “I’m always up for something new in the alcohol department!” But is wine all about alcohol, when all is said and done?

So, what do Frogsiders’ readers think about this new product? Please let us know your thoughts!

Northern France – Great Biking Country

This part of France seems to be wonderful cycling country. And if that sounds a little hesitant, it’s only because being a recent recruit to the cycling cause I can’t claim to have a great deal of knowledge about the cycle-friendliness of all of the countryside in the whole of the region.

I was recently persuaded back onto a bike again after Continue reading “Northern France – Great Biking Country” »

Northern France Scores Better Than Par for Golfers

The English gave so many sports to the World that that it’s nice for a change to find one that’s generally agreed to have its origins in Scotland. Although games similar to golf are on historic record as having been played in Holland and other countries, it is beyond dispute that the modern game is derived from the Scottish version.

Devotees of golf call it the greatest of all games. By its very nature it teaches patience, humility, concentration, and even-temper, while good manners and fair play are implicit in the rules. The player himself is the referee, recording his own accidental infractions and always awarding himself the appropriate penalty prescribed by the rules – no protests, arguments or intimidation. Imagine that in a game of football!

Golf came to France with British visitors in the Continue reading “Northern France Scores Better Than Par for Golfers” »

Book Review – Bernard Cornwell’s “Azincourt”

600 years ago the battlefield of Agincourt must have looked very much the same as it does now. There’s still barely a house in sight, and no doubt then, as now, a couple of village church towers poked their spires above trees on the skyline. In the wide landscape of the plateau between Hesdin and Fruges, at around 500 feet above sea level, the weather often seems wetter, windier and colder than it is in the valleys just a few miles away. If you drive up from Blangy on a wet autumn day, following the route taken by Henry V’s army, it’s not hard to imagine how shattered and defeated the English soldiers might have felt as they crested the hill at Maisoncelle, after 17 days of hard marching, to find a huge, well-prepared French army waiting to destroy them.

In Bernard Cornwell’s novel ‘Azincourt’ the campaign that culminates in the famous battle is related from the point of view of one of the 5000 archers who made up around 80% of the English army. As usual Cornwell’s central character is a man apart, a misfit in conflict with most of those around him, but whose fighting ability, loyalty and tactical instinct endow Continue reading “Book Review – Bernard Cornwell’s “Azincourt”” »

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