Updated: Jan 15
"To celebrate life with wine and food is one of life’s eternal joys"
One thing you learn very quickly in France there is no, too small an excuse to open a bottle of golden sparking Champagne or Loire Crémant. With the Christmas season now passed, I cannot look back without thinking of the many bottles of sparkling wine shared with friends and family. To continue the pleasure, on January 6th the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with a delicious flaky buttery pastry confection the galette du Roi; Kings Cake. Accompanied by sparkling wine and complete with golden crown and secret toy hidden in the cake. I was king and wore the crown this year and I am delighted with my prize a tiny ceramic blue Smurf troll!!
Matt and I had never been followers of wine, just enjoying whatever was about. In Australia sparkling wines were my favourites, and so well matched with the weather and parties in summer holiday season. On coming to live in France we were confronted by 1,000 of choices of wine in just one supermarket; it was a complete mystery to us as what to buy!!!! Having acquired a little French, we read the labels and noted the romantic prose descriptions to help us choose. As a safe bet we started with bottles with gleaming gold and silver medals, a good sign you are about purchase something delicious. Friends use a Wine App that that scans the labels and gives an instant review & price. It did not take us long to be buying wine as part of our grocery shopping; a shared glass of wine is such a part of life in France, our consumption has risen a great deal. The big difference is, you enjoy wine more often, yet drink much less, wine is sipped and enjoyed not scoffed.
On our regular visits to the Loire wine region of Saumur & Angers we often talk about buying cases of wine. We feel a lingering obligation to use our vast wine cellar. It waits for us evocatively dark cool and musty; for us as the new owner to add our chosen bottles to the cave shelves . I’m sure one day at dinner Matt will stand and say, "I'll just grab another bottle from the cave, and head off down the spiralling stone steps into its dark mysterious wonder.
Despite our initial random selections of wine, we have learnt great deal. The French select wine by region; not grape varieties we had been accustomed to in Australia. We smile at our Australian friends faces as they hear us confidently asking them what style of wine they enjoy and ordering perhaps a Cote du Rhone red over a Bordeaux. Never order a Riesling and enjoy Loire Valley Crémant sparkling wines over the more expensive Champagnes. Our old friends seem impressed at our local knowledge, the reality being we are just becoming more French in our habits. In summer we enjoy ice cold pale rosé, that disappears over lunch on a hot day like chilled mineral water. Yet we know our dear French neighbour abhors Rosé and a peasant’s wine and only drinks white wines in summer. With local friends we now happily get excited about sharing a Loire Crémant sparkling wines with favourites Ackerman, Louis Grenelle or Vouvrey. Ackerman began production in the early 18thc and he said about his wine -Bubbles are fleeting, emotion is eternal” how can anyone resist such romance and passion. Now I usually drink Cote de Rhone red wine, favouring the light fruity taste, a fond reminder of 1984 when I drank my first French red wine a vin ordinaire, sold by the carafe in brasseries. A joyous revelation after the rough tannin heavy Cabernet Sauvignons favoured in the Australia at the time. This fresh red wine feels right day to day, it seems to match the Pays de Loire food and climate. But for a celebration the golden sparking Loire Crémant are our favourites they capture warm sparkling sunlight of summer in a glass, a true delight in the grey damp cool days of winter.
The Saumur area has the very best conditions for producing sparkling wine, made from grapes grown on the slopes, and readily takes on a light sparkle. On our guided Tours into the Loire I delight every time to see small pockets of wine grapes growing along Loire flood plains, along the riverbanks, on traffic roundabouts, and the spare space next to the Saumur Chateau carpark. As each precious space of fertile soil is used for wine production. It easy to visit the famous wine caves dug directly into the tuffeau hillsides, they run under the city in a maze, into the foot of the hills. The Loire river still transports wines to their final destination. Over 19,693 bottles of sparling Loire Crémant produced each year by 320 vineyards. The French passion for wine production from specialised producers is alive and thriving. The UNESCO Loire Valley is the second largest sparkling wine producing area outside of Champagne, and the winemakers feel they have sparkling wines to rival – as well as the scenery to beat it. So when you visit we will share a glass of golden sparkling Crémant in a crystal glass, to welcome you to L'Hotel de Hercé.