Today we offer a special recommendation for an exceptional French champagne. Honestly, when you are searching for that ‘perfect gift’, isn’t it nice to have a personal recommendation?
This extraordinary French gift is a bisou from Vouvray – the bubbly kiss from the Gods we especially enjoy during celebratory holidays. I’ve already confessed to lacking the nose and palate required for exacting examinations of wines and Champagnes, but that’s no problem. I rely on the experts – like renowned importer Kermit Lynch. And to back that esteemed recommendation, how about Le Wall Street Journal?
Earlier this year, WSJ profiled our recommended Champagne – Champalou Vouvray Brut NV, noting “…a very gentle character quite typical of the domaine. A nice palate, quite full in the mouth, with lots of foaming mousse. A good clean style, with a powerful acid backbone. There is plenty of appealing character here.” Now, that’s from experts in the realm of wine descriptions!
I enjoy exploring the who, where and what of wine production; and in this case, the origin is the Loire River Valley wine region. In that lovely, rolling landscape, two famous white wines dominate – Chenin Blanc and Sancerre. We have been fortunate enough to enjoy tastings in Vouvray and Sancerre, experiences we would recommend to all travelers and wine aficionados.
Our perfect Champagne – Champalou Vouvray Brut NV – comes from a small, specialty producer (Catherine and Didier Champalou) of the highest quality, one with a history of delivering reasonably-priced whites that are bright, clean, vibrant and almost pear-inflected.
The Champalou label is one of the most highly-acclaimed in the Vouvray appellation, where the Chenin Blanc draws from the exceptional soil and ideal climate to yield – well, something quite different from the California Chenin! In the region of the Touraine, Vouvray enjoys warm summers and slowly cooling temperatures in autumn, allowing an extended ripening season. The vineyards’ gravel and chalk soil absorbs the sun’s rays and perfects the ripeness of the grapes.
The Champalou family farms twenty-one hectares (about 50 acres) of vineyards, where the acclaimed vignerons even integrate the lunar calendar with their eco-balanced farming. Between the vineyard rows, cover crops are planted to absorb excess water and encourage microbitoic activity in the soil. Wine experts applaud their elegant, balanced results, “No one comes close to copying their distinct style.”
Early in the morning, the Champalou ‘team’ picks the grapes at the peak of maturity and immediately presses the fruit. Fermenting in stainless steel cuvees follows, and the wine is aged on fine lees (yeast and other solid deposits) to enhance flavor. The effervescence develops during a second natural fermentation that takes place once the wine is in bottle – then various periods of aging, according to the wine to be produced. (Come now – you know we won’t get the exact recipe!)
I love the fact that Champalou specializes in one grape – Chenin – that is native to the Loire Valley region. Interestingly, the grape is mentioned by Rabelais in his Gargantua (1534), so no need to question its’ pedigree! Depending on its terroir and the vinification, the Chenin ranges from bone-dry and sparkling, through dry and still, to semi-sweet dessert wines. Their annual 120,000-bottle production is enjoyed in over twenty countries around the world.
The Rhythm of the Season
Each season in the vineyards heralds new tasks: pruning in winter; de-budding and removal of unwanted shoots in spring; and trimming and thinning of the leaves in summer. No, we haven’t forgotten the big moment in September! That’s when they taste the berries for maturity and continue that tasting, until they decide the grapes are perfect for harvest.
We hope you decide to ‘gift’ Champalou, but don’t forget to keep a bottle or two for your own holiday pleasure.
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Sung in the same tune as the English Silent Night, the French version – Douce Nuit – is different in meaning. Yet, the quiet celebration and deep sentiments of the seasons are equally present. Christmas carols in any language reflect genuine joy at the birth of baby Jesus.
Douce nuit, sainte nuit
Dans les cieux , L’astre luit.
Le mystère annoncé s’accomplit.
Cet enfant sur la paille endormit,
C’est l’amour infini,
C’est l’amour infini !
Silent Night (Translation of French)
Sweet night, holy night!
In the heavens the star shines.
The foretold mystery comes true.
This child sleeping on the hay,
Is infinite love,
Is infinite love!Enjoy the peace of the season, as you make your final preparations.
A lovely reminder of the season, as you prepare to celebrate with friends and family!
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South of Blois in the Loire Valley, the 18th-century Château de Chambord rises at the heart of over 5,000 hectares (12,000+ acres) of ancient forest. Chambord was the personal chateau and hunting sanctuary of King Francois I, and today is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe.
Our first encounter with Chambord destined our return. We attended the light show — “les clairs de lune de Chambord” — a fantasy light show production created to recall the hunting of deer and boar, fox and pheasant by guests of King Francois. We arrived shortly before sunset to stroll through the grounds surrounding the Château. Couples shared ice cream or light snacks under an outdoor arbor. Others dined on the patio of a hotel restaurant.
Wait – hotel? There is actually a quaint hotel – The Hotel Grand du Saint-Michel- overlooking this magnificent chateau? With little hope that it would be affordable or available for the one night we would have between gite rentals, we had to check. When we were able to book a room at a reasonable $75 rate, we felt as if the king himself had invited us to his retreat!
Prior to the show, we watched families gather on the lawn with children, couples take to rowboats to enjoy an end-of-day outing. France bestows these blessings on a public entranced by history and tradition. Chambord’s information pamphlet reinforces this gift:
“It is to the passion of Francois I for hunting, that we owe the existence of Chambord, designed both as a meeting place and a belvedere for observing the hunt.”
Alas, when we returned a few days later, Francois was not on hand to greet us. Still, we wandered the grounds and imagined the privileged guests and game hunting of 300 years past. Visitors biked and hiked through the many lanes that lace through the forest. Others gathered for the equestrian and falcon shows.
This night, we would see the light show from our dining table on the terrace. Indeed, with our exceptional bottle of local Vouvray and delicious French fare, we felt like guests of the king! When the park closed, only the hotel guests and Château staff shared this enormous sanctuary. Chambord remains a national hunting reserve and home to an abundance of wild creatures that roam free. No, we didn’t encounter a graceful stag or menacing boar, but the crisp night sky offered us millions of stars to illuminate our stay.
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The Style section of Huffington Post ran a rather precious piece by Screenwriter-Novelist-Singer Songwriter Susan Sisko Carter. The story was all about her adventure in buying a beautiful scarf in Paris. After all, as Susan explains, Parisian women “don’t wear scarves… they flaunt them.”
In the long-story-short vein, she splurged on the purchase of a delicate scarf in a color so flatteringly beautiful she needn’t even wear makeup, so said the sales lady. Down to five Euros after her purchase, she went to an ATM only to have her card gobbled up by the machine. At the urging of “an achy old Frenchman, walking an achy old basset hound”, she entered the bank and had a prolonged discussion with a teller and the manager. Finally, her card and 300-euro withdrawal will take place the following day.
How off the chart and poetic is that lovely comment! Susan instantly felt her purchase validated, and her understanding of why French women wear scarves was seared into her spirit. Once again, it is the gift-giving season. I suggest you purchase a lovely scarf for a friend or loved one, AND look for opportunities to bestow compliments that build the spirit.
By the way, you can discover an exceptional line of stunning, authentic and finely-made silk scarves at Anne Touraine’s site, where you also will find many tips for tying and wearing your ‘jewel’. Happy shopping to you!
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