Saturday, 21 September 2019

Our petit tour de France

What a great time we had, 10 days visiting my favourite country, starting with an overnight ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Caen arriving early morning on my birthday.

Early start (4.45am alarm) to my birthday on board Normandie
We had expected our crossing to be on Brittany Ferries' new ship Honfleur but she isn't ready so we sailed on an old favourite Normandie, we first sailed on her in 1992.

My late Dad's photo of Normandie when we sailed on her in 1992
Thank you Brittany Ferries for our upgrade to a Commodore Cabin with room service breakfast ... what a way to start the day!
Room service birthday breakfast
Hubby and I love our road trips, using autoroutes, major roads and minor roads (all better than ours) we travelled across to the eastern side of the Loire, arriving at Sancerre .... my favourite wine region. It made my day to be wandering the village, enjoying a glass or two of this delicious wine before a superb dinner at Le Blouchon.

A glass of Sancerre in the September sun
My delicious birthday dinner at Le Bouchon
We stayed in Sancerre for two nights, you can read about our time here and our wine discoveries in my previous post Sancerre et Pouilly-Fumé.

The village itself was very interesting, lots of history. There's a red tourist line painted on the road that wanders around the tiny streets, a good way to learn more with the 28 points of interest. Sancerre is built on a hill with a chateau at the top which is now privately owned although the owners have given permission for the ancient tower to be open to the public.

Always ready for a challenge we climbed the 190 stairs to the top. A wooden structure with open steps .... not my favourite type of stairway but I made it and the views were amazing!

Sancerre tour
Not my favourite kind of steps
Stunning views from the top of the tour
Vineyards of the Sancerre
As well as our tasting in Pouilly-Fumé we also visited our second tour ... more steps, this time a more modern structure with more superb view across the Loire to Sancerre.

Another tour to climb ...
... with easier steps !
Stunning views with Sancerre on the hill
Travelling a little further south our next stay was in Nevers, a city we have not visited before. Our studio apartment was clean and comfy with a small kitchenette, although we were confused ..... frying pan and saucepan but no cooking utensils .... very odd.

Our three days exploring were slightly hampered by the unusual September weather. This time of year we were expecting around 25 degrees, instead we had very hot and humid 30 - 32 .... plenty of refreshments required!

The Ducal Palace
Nevers was full of history
St Bernadette - famous for her vision
of the Virgin Mary - we visited her tomb in the church where
her body lies  (she has wax hands and face)
Wildlife on the Loire - beautiful to watch while we enjoyed our picnic

Perfect picnic 
I love France and am always happy to make the most of our holiday, this time by having two nights in Le Mans before our sailing home. It's a city we have passed by many times but never visited. Staying by the river Sarthe in an Ibis hotel was the perfect location for walking into the city centre.

Our day of visiting churches, the cathedral, shops and of course a few bars was superb, the highlight being a trip on the Petit Train. I love these road trains and this journey was amazing, taking us through Le Mans' narrow cobbled medieval streets.

 Notre Dame de la Couture dating back to the 12th century
Le Mans stunning cathedral
The height of the ceiling was amazing
The stain glass windows were stunning 
The oldest part of the cathedral with its painted roof
Medieval cobbled streets 
The streets were so narrow
The Petit Train of Le Mans 
Travelling from Le Mans to Ouistreham we made two stops; the first at Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conqueror; the second at Pegasus Bridge, the turning point of WWII.

The castle at Falaise where William the Conqueror was born
Memorial at  Pegasus Bridge
We were so  lucky to see it opening ...
... even more so to have a Hercules fly past
Our overnight journey home on Brittany Ferries' Normandie was slightly choppy. Settled in our cabin I slept my way across the Channel waking early morning to a beautiful sunrise over Portsmouth.

The sunrise from our cabin window
Thank you to everyone who made my birthday trip to France very special, especially my super Hubby, it was a fantastic holiday and birthday.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Sancerre et Pouilly-Fumé

Sancerre is my favourite wine, has been for many years. I have tried Sauvignon Blanc wine from other French appellations and from many other countries but it remains my favourite.

September is my birthday month and as I was missing France (it's over a year since our last visit) we decided to visit for 10 days, starting with a few nights in Sancerre for my actual birthday.

After 5 hours of driving through France's expansive countryside using the autoroutes, major and minor roads we had only 2 miles to go (according to Sally Sat Nav) yet we couldn't see a village or any vines, and did wonder if we were heading to the correct place .... and then, round the next bend was a beautiful view of this famous place with rows and rows of vines.

Standing proud amongst the vines
It would take a long time to taste all the wines produced by the 300 winemakers here but we tried our best. I have had quite a few Sancerre's at various tastings in the UK, some have been superb but others have left me questioning if they really are from this select appellation.

I now know why, the village and surrounding slopes have different terroir. Sancerre soil can be white flint, limestone, clay or a combination ... resulting in subtle but different flavours.

Terroir variations
At a Majestic tasting in Leicester (recent blog post) we tried Jean-Max Roger's Sancerre and although nice for me it had something missing.

As their domaine is in Bué, just outside Sancerre village but still within the appellation, we drove over and met Jean-Max's son. They were busy bottling 2018 vintage in order to make room in the vats for this year's wine with the grapes being harvested in the next week. I find it fascinating to see the articulated lorries at the domaines, turning into a mini bottling plant with the distinctive sound of bottles chinking along the conveyor belts.

Jean-Max Roger
We were warmly welcomed, especially when we said we had tried their wine at Majestic. We tasted four wines from their range of both soil varities and vintages. As soon as I tasted the second wine I knew it was the one we'd had at Majestic Leicester, confirmed by checking my blog post photo!

Our superb tastings
Thank you Jean-Max Roger for a superb degustation, our bottles are packed safely in the car for our onward journey to be enjoyed at home.

We also visited the Cave Co-operative in Sancerre where their grapes come from 15 communes with 3,000 hectares of vines. They have some wines produced on specific vineyards, some made from only the first hand picked crops, some from the second crop which is machine picked and some made from grapes from a mixture of growers.

It was here I tried my first rosé Sancerre. Hubby and I are not keen on red Sancerre, made from Pinot Noir, but this and some other rosés we tasted later in the bars in town were very nice, including one with distinctive orange notes.

Sancerre Rosé 
Our two Co-operative tastings
My favourite Sancerre at home is by Oscar Brilliant, well it isn't really as although under that name in the UK it is made by Joseph Mellot. This well known wine producer has a restaurant in the town (unfortunately closed the days we were there), a large Domaine (which was also closed due to harvest) and La Vigne et le Vin boutique in the centre of the village.

Before leaving for our holiday my friend gave me a bottle of Oscar Brilliant Sancerre that she had hand decorated - it's stunning. The decorations are all the things I love in life, it's a bottle to treasure! Thank you so much Sarah, it's beautiful!

All the bars and restaurants serve a variety of Sancerre wine, so many different names, with most prices being €3.50 for 120ml glass. It's a great way to try wines from producers we have, nor would, never heard of; they were all so good.

Sitting in the market place on a warm afternoon was a superb way to enjoy a glass or two, especially when accompanied by Chavignol goats cheese. Our evenings were spent in La Bouteille Rouge, a small but welcoming bar where Monsieur et Madame served a variety of Sancerre with great knowledge.

Sitting in the market place
Perfect with Chavignol cheese
A superb bar in the centre of the village

Across the Loire from Sancerre is Pouilly-sur-Loire, a small village which has it's own appellation of white wine from Chasselas grapes. It is also the appellation area for Pouilly-Fumé made from Sauvignon Blanc.

We visited La Tour du Pouilly-Fumé to learn more about this region. Our visit began with a video about the history of the wines, set in a small room seated at a wooden bench table it felt as if we were in one of the village domaines. The next room also had a video, this time about the development of the vine over a year. Sitting in rows as at the cinema our visual experience was accompanied with rain, mist, heat and wind, very atmospheric!

After our videos we went underground into an old cave where 9 large glass vessels stood in a circle. The 7 clear vessels each contained a selection of aromas that can be found in wine. It was very interested to smell each and determine the various fragrances. The final two vessels were black, a test for our noses to see if we could identify what was in each. There was never any doubt, we both passed with flying colours.

The glass vessels in the cave
Honey and spices
Dried fruit and nuts
Red berries
Pear and white fruit
Our visit finished with a degustation of Pouilly-sur-Loire and Pouilly-Fumé. Although a lovely wine we found the Pouilly-sur-Loire a little light but really enjoyed the Pouilly-Fumé. Although made from Sauvignon Blanc the same as Sancerre and only being a few kilometres apart there is an added smokiness to Pouilly-Fumé.

The flint in Sancerre is white, whereas the flint this side of the river is brown and when rubbed together releases a smoky fragrance, hence the name Pouilly-Fumé.

We've had a super time in Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, it was a great way to celebrate my birthday. Thank you to everyone who made our visit so special.