Now in its fifth year, the French Fest at Seattle Center is a part of the Seattle Center’s FESTÁL cultural event series and attracts 5,000 visitors. This year, Seattle Center FESTÁL is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. French Fest and FESTÁL will be partnering to make this year’s event a grand celebration of two significant anniversaries! The event is free and open to the public. French Fest draws its inspiration from the worldwide “Day of Francophonie,” organized in over 100 countries each March to celebrate the diversity of Francophone cultures and traditions around the world. During the Seattle event, festival-goers of all ages have an opportunity to enjoy many activities – all with a “French” twist: live music, theater and dance performances, French cuisine, book sales, informative seminars and demonstrations, “best baguette” contest, games and more. The event is organized by the nonprofit organization, France Education Northwest, with the support of Seattle Center FESTÁL, the French-American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest, the Consular Agency of France in Seattle.
The 104th Bicycle Tour de France in July races through, or travels close to, most of the 17 wine regions. Francophile Dieter lived in France for six years and visits French wine areas and Paris wine bars annually. Join Dieter as your guide and travel along this year’s route from Alsace, Champagne, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Jura, Savoie, Cognac, Bergerac, Bordeaux, Armagnac, Sud-Ouest, Roussillon, Languedoc, Vallée du Rhône, and Provence, to les Champs-Élysées. Descriptions of the French wine regions and some of Dieter’s wine notes follow.
Alsace: This region is remarkable. Standing at the heart of Europe at the crossroads of cultures, it cultivates its ambivalence in its language, its traditions and even in its wines. It is also the only region in France to sell wines under the name of the grape variety – and has done so for a very long time. Another paradox: despite being big on business and very densely populated, Alsace is also a wonderful agricultural – and winegrowing – region. Wine can definitely hold its own here: the region produces great, aromatic white wines such as the aristocratic Riesling and Gewurztraminer. http://www.vinsalsace.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Alsace makes wine since the 3rd century. 93% of the wines are white. My favorites are Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Several regions of France produce Crémant, a sparkling wine made similarly to Champagne. Crémant d’Alsace is the best.
Bourgogne (Burgundy): Bourgogne has retained a tradition of excellence from its very long history. The grandeur of the Bourbons, who reigned all the way to the North Sea, shaped the towns and also the winegrowing countryside, with the help of Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages in particular. All of Bourgogne’s winegrowing zones were founded on well-oriented slopes in order to capture the best of the sun. Over the centuries, the monks and then the winegrowers patiently selected and identified the best plots of land in terms of geographical orientation, soil, subsoil, and the grape varieties that thrive on them. The plots or “parcelles” are so big in Bourgogne that they are referred to here as Climats *(for the Premiers and Grands Crus appellations) or *Lieux-dits (for Village and Régionale appellations). http://www.vins-bourgogne.fr ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: The Romans started winemaking here. I love everyday Macon Villages, and the not so everyday Chablis Grand Cru or Premier Cru. Those Chardonnay wines are crisp, made with no oak in sight. And I adore wines made from the other white Burgundy grape Aligoté. A grew up with Pinot Noirs from Chambertin, Vougeot, Pommard, and Volnay, when I was a 19-year old restaurant apprentice. Now I can afford them only on rare occasions. Crémant de Bourgogne can be excellent or very light.
The Beaujolais winegrowing region could be described as the perfect picture postcard of the French countryside: a succession of well-defined hills hemmed in by a more abrupt ridge covered with forests; in the distance, to the east, a clear view across the plain of the River Saône all the way to the white line of the Alps on the horizon, with Mont Blanc the highest point. Precision meets sunshine in this dynamic region, so close to Lyon, France’s capital of gastronomy. People live well here, and they admit it. They have the sense of humor of Northerners and the serenity of Mediterraneans, with their wines always opting for the side of fun! http://www.beaujolais.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Many Beaujolais Villages, made from gamay, are decent wines, but seek out the ten Cru Beaujolais, i.e. Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly, Chénas, Fleurie, St-Amour, etc. Drink Beaujolais Nouveau on the 3rd Thursday in November and perhaps with your holiday dinners.
Jura: Vines have been grown in the Jura since Antiquity. La Séquanie, before it became Franche-Comté, and its wines were mentioned by Pliny the Younger in his natural history book in 80BC. Subsequently, from the French Revolution until the end of the 19th century, winegrowing developed continually. Nobles and ecclesiastics owned most of the winegrowing sites that are reputed today, and made sure they flourished. Today, 5,000 acres of vineyards produce wines that continue to nurture a long tradition of excellence, making the most of quite a complex soil that combines marl, clay and calcareous scree. http://www.jura-vins.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: The Romans exported wine to Rome via the Saône river. Delicious Chardonnay, and whites made from Savagnin. The reds from Pinot Noir or Poulsard are light.
Savoie (Savoy): At the crossroads of French, Swiss and Italian influences, Savoy has been devoted to winegrowing for a very long time. Its vineyards receive regular sunshine and offer a wide diversity of growing conditions. They happily lend themselves to the production of wine, the first traces of which date back to Roman colonization. After the phylloxera crisis which, here as elsewhere, almost destroyed all of the vines, producers managed to breathe life back into their vineyards in a spirit that corresponds to that of the region: mildness and finesse at the service of shared pleasure. http://www.vindesavoie.net ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Winemaking started here in the Middle-Ages. Be the star at your next wine party: pour a light, rustic white Jacquère or Chasselas, or a red Mondeuse.
Cognac et Pineau des Charentes: Half way between the Loire and the Garonne, Les Charentes cover two départements that are renowned around the world for the production of Cognac. Enjoying the same oceanic climate as Bordeaux, but perhaps less hot, the region also produces Pineau des Charentes and Vins de Pays. La Rochelle, a beautiful town overlooking the sea and the islands off its coast, has always inspired sailors and lovers of fine buildings. Thanks to a very sunny microclimate, the weather in the region is mild all year round, offering countless occasions to explore great swathes of vineyards. This is where the south starts, with passionate winegrowers and myriad escargots eaters. An authentic corner of France. http://www.pineau.fr http://www.cognac.fr
Bordeaux et Bergerac: Bordeaux occupies a highly-envied position in France between the continent and access to the ocean with the Gironde. The city and its region reconcile the north and the south. It is a big city with the air of a capital and has always been open to the rest of the world, bringing to mind Antwerp or Versailles. Although the architecture of the city’s main perspectives is more evocative of Paris than a Mediterranean village, Bordeaux is in the south – in terms of its climate and the high quality of life enjoyed by its inhabitants. Surfers have their spot nearby; hot summers and huge beaches of white sand beckon to the pleasures of nature; and gourmet cuisine is infused with Basque and Spanish flavors. http://www.bordeaux.com/fr ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Winemaking started in the Graves region in the 1st century. In Bordeaux and Bergerac the red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The white grapes in Bordeaux are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Red and white wines here are almost always a blend of several grape varieties. Know your geography! Red wines from the left bank of the Gironde river tend to feature more Cabernet in their blend, reds from the right more Merlot. Try a Crémant de Bordeaux sparkling. In the Bergerac AOC the whites are almost all sweet and range from fair to great. Excellent and liquoreux are the Monbazillac AOC wines.
Sud-Ouest (South-West) et Armagnac: Between the Aveyron and the Basque Country, edged to the south by the Pyrenees and to the north by the Massif Central, the winegrowing region in the South-West of France covers 200 sq miles shared out among 12 départements. It was born of a political decision by several small independent winegrowers motivated by their common ambition of quality and recognition. Long in the shadow of their powerful neighbor, Bordeaux, these producers joined forces to raise their profile, with a taste for hard work as their common denominator, nature in their hearts, and the ambition to reach the highest level. On the strength of this passionate heritage, wines from the South-West form a family of very different wines, with very sweet wines, fruity whites and heady reds. This region at the heart of Gascony is also home to Armagnac vineyards – 37,000 acres unfurl mainly across the gentle, sun-drenched slopes of the Gers, but also the Landes and the Lot-et-Garonne. http://www.france-sudouest.com/fr http://www.armagnac.fr ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: If you like aromatic and tannic wines, try my favorite, a Cahors AOC (Malbec). More and more local grapes are replacing Bordeaux grapes.
Roussillon, a province that joined France in 1659, became the Pyrénées Orientales département in 1790. Vines have grown here for over a thousand years. The land is blessed by the gods. Between the sea and the mountains, this amphitheater opens eastwards onto the Mediterranean and is edged by three massifs: the Corbières to the north, the Pyrenees with Mont Canigou to the west, and Albères to the south. Three rivers (the Agly, the Têt and the Tech) flow through and split up the terroirs, which offer surprising variety, reflecting a constant quest for quality. Indeed, after the phylloxera crisis, Roussillon’s winegrowers planted noble grape varieties, a policy crowned with AOPs for Rivesaltes, Banyuls, Collioure and Côtes du Roussillon. http://www.vins-du-roussillon.com
Languedoc: Among the nineteen Languedoc appellations that unfurl across 100,000 acres of vineyards, no two wines are alike. The only common denominator since Antiquity is the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is to thank for the mild, bright winters, the russet of hot, dry summers, the fragrance of scrubland and the winds carrying the sea air. In 30 years, man has totally transformed winegrowing in Languedoc. Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah now top the bill when new vines are planted. Fermenting different grape varieties separately – plus the art of then assembling them – and growing methods, shape Languedoc AOCs, producing structured, full-bodied wines. http://www.languedoc-wines.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: The Ancient Greeks started winemaking. Picpoul, Maccabeu, Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette produce wines a bit different in smell and taste due to its terroir. But for something really out of the ordinary open a bottle of sparkling wine called Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Champenoise (2nd fermentation in the bottle), or Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale (1st and only fermentation continues in the bottle – and invented in 1531). The local Mauzac grape is used.
Vallée du Rhône (Rhône Valley): As the Alps peter out, the Rhône abruptly heads full south in the direction of the Mediterranean. At this strategic point, occupied by Lyon and its outskirts, we leave behind the northern mists, the cold and the dull skies, and turn towards the sunshine, the warm scents of the countryside and a succession of vineyards brimming with sunshine. This symbolic southward trail appears to have been mapped out by the geography: the river follows a narrow valley between the Alps and the Massif Central that the tracks of the TGV fast train and the motorway also follow. They carry a stream of travelers yearning for holidays and sunshine. With a few vestiges of the continental climate lingering in the northern part, the winegrowing area of the Rhône Valley bares itself to the Mediterranean sun and the Mistral wind – much to the pleasure of all those who love good wine. http://www.vins-rhone.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: From the Northern Rhône (Syrah, Grenache) I like Côtes Rôtie, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage. From the Southern Rhône (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre) I like Côtes du Rhône, Vaqueyras, Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I also recommend Beaumes de Venise, an excellent dessert wine, sweet, high in alcohol. The Rhône Valley is huge: 200,000 acres, and 120 miles long.
Provence: From Arles to Nice, Provence consists in a series of idyllic sites uniting the sea and the mountains, surrounded by vineyards that wallow in sunshine. Art, history, geography and culture are everywhere you turn – and not only during the major festivals organized all summer long. Famous for its fields of lavender and its rosé wines, of which it is the world’s biggest producer, Provence also has a plentiful but more secret supply of reds and whites that delight knowledgeable enthusiasts. http://www.vinsdeprovence.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Winemaking started here before the Romans arrived. Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre are the leading grapes. The rosés are exceptional; my favorite is Bandol.
Champagne is a cold region. Growing vines here is quite a challenge that history and the countless battles that took place here have not aided. But over the centuries, winegrowers have tamed the austere calcareous soil, turning it into a universal symbol of celebration, love and major occasions. http://www.champagne.fr ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: The big houses are called Négociant-Manipulant, i.e. Drappier, Nicolas Feuillatte, Moët & Chandon, Mumm, etc. The small grower-producers are Récoltant-Manipulant, i.e. Adrien Redon, Grongnet. And the best place to buy those Champagnes in Seattle is FatCork https://fatcork.com/ One of my favorite big houses Champagne, Bollinger, first under the name Villermont, produces Champagne since the 16th century. In 1940 Lily Bollinger said: I drink it when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry, and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.
Paris’ Montmartre Vineyard: Dieter’s Comments: On the first Saturday in October the grapes are harvested at Montmartre vineyard. This is always a most festive event. Obtain wine at benefit auction.
Not on this year’s route ~ ~ ~
Val de Loire (Loire Valley): The Loire River is the longest river in France, running for 600 miles. Vines enjoy its company. The landscapes and the climatic zones in the vast Loire Valley vary a lot between Nantes and Roanne, with a very oceanic regime on the sea front and a marked continental influence inland. As a result, the landscapes are very different, as are the incredibly diverse wines from the region, despite all the vineyards having one important facet in common: their latitude gives the wines a refreshing, northern tone. This is the third region in France for quality wines, with dry, sweet and sparkling varieties. http://www.vinsvaldeloire.fr http://www.vins-centre-loire.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: 6th century monasteries started winemaking here. I recommend crisp Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie (made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes), delicate Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), dry to sweet Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), full-bodied single grape Cabernet Franc, and super food friendly, all-the-rage-in-Paris-lately, Pinot Noir.
Corse: Corsica has been referred to as the “l’Ile de Beauté” for a long time – since the Ancient Greeks, to be precise. Breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, craggy mountain peaks – some snow-capped until May -, turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, myriad tiny villages huddled on sheer, unassailable promontories… Corsica offers a new, magical spectacle with every turn in the road. With the same rain levels as Paris – but in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea – the island boasts ideal conditions for vines, which it rediscovered only recently. Corsica became French as late as in 1769, after a deal with the Genoans, and the Corsican soul has a keen sense of this strong identity. Wine is part of it, with grapes now only rarely to be found on the continent, such as Niellucio and Sciacarello – one more reason to rediscover the wines of the “Island of Beauty”. http://www.vinsdecorse.com ~ ~ Dieter’s Comments: Wines from here are hard to find. For unique flavors and aromas look for reds vinified from local grape varieties. ~ ~ ~