Monthly Archives: November 2008

Frenchitude Lesson #13: Enjoy Red Wine

My Dad, an avid adept to this aspect of Frenchitude, recently sent me a link that tells how, as well as combating cancer and heart disease, drinking red wine may also have another health benefit, preventing Alzheimer’s.

In Burgundy it goes without saying that red wine, even more so than bread or water, is viewed as the staff of life. It is seen as an indispensable way of nourishing the body, and even more importantly, the soul.

Burgundian winemakers take pride in austere, chemical-free wines that don’t benefit from any special assistance such as irrigation or fake oak flavouring. Made as purely as possible, wines become the link between man and the Earth. One cannot exist without the other, and together through an act of almost mystical alchemy they produce the sublime nectar in your glass.

The French have long known that drinking good red wine (emphasis on good) is a highly agreeable way of putting important compounds and minerals from the earth back into your body. It is also, and no less importantly, a way to commune with Mother Earth. The result is not only a bit of protection from the nasty tricks our bodies can play on us, but even more importantly a lovely sensation of being at one with the world.

The key to enjoying red wine the French way is twofold.

First, of course, is moderation. The French aren’t susceptible to the AngloSaxon tendency towards the “if one glass is good for me, a bottle must be even better” mentality. The French have long grasped that too much of anything detracts from pleasure, and pleasure, not health, is always the primary goal.

Second, the wine has to be good. This does not mean that the wine has to be expensive. Our winemaker friend Claire Naudin in MagnylesVillers is producing a new table wine that is not only inexpensive but as pure and gorgeous as all of her other wines.

I for one have tasted many a hideously expensive bad wine. When looking for wine to drink, don’t look for the most expensive bottle on the shelf. Search for a parsimonious use of sulfates and other chemicals, as well as a winemaker who has expressed a commitment to pure, honest winemaking.
Only eat and drink things that give you pleasure, especially red wine. That is the Frenchitude way.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Washington or Wisconsin.

Mom’s Hot Air Balloon Photos

As promised, here are my Mom’s photos from our morning of hot-air balloon excitement during my parents’ recent visit to Burgundy.

By the way, if anyone has a hankering to try this themselves, the local company we always recommend to our vacation rental guests is Air Escargot. I’m pretty sure these balloons were theirs. The company has been around for a very long time and are their outings are reputed to be very safe, professional, and enjoyable.

For more info. just go to their website;

Here are the balloons coming over the village of MagnylesVillers, which will seem rather familiar to anyone who has stayed at La Maison des Deux Clochers...

Then they floated over the valley between us here in Villers-la-Faye and MagnylesVillers. Anyone who has stayed at either La Maison de la Vieille Vigne or La Maison des Deux Clochers will be familiar with this little chapel between the two villages. It was built to thank the Virgin Mary for sparing (relatively) the two villages during the Occupation in World War II.

WHOOSH! Goes the flame!

They float closer to our deck here at La Maison des Chaumes, which looks out towards the valley and MagnylesVillers.

They were flying so low I was worried they were going to collide with the round tower of Villers-la-Faye’s very own Chateau (or what’s left of it) on the bottom right hand corner of the photo.

Mais non! They merely glided above it as though they do this sort of thing every day, which they probably do – Air Escargot’s admirable track record remains unblemished for another day! Soon I’ll be posting my Dad’s photos, which are pretty amazing as well.

And n’oubliez pas, tomorrow is Frenchitude Friday again…

6 Things…

Middle Way tagged me to reveal 6 things about myself that readers might not necessarily know, so here’s my five minutes of narcissism for today:

1. I have banned myself from watching all medical shows on TV, including ER, House, and even Gray’s Anatomy, because the medical crisis’ freak me out too much, and I am systematically afflicted with the very same ones for weeks afterwards.

2. I have signed up for the Nuits-Saint-Georges Wine Auction 10km race on March 21, 2009 and am currently walking / running three times a week. I’m using the Vancouver “Sun Run” 13 week prep program so am currently running 2 minutes, walking 3 minutes, and repeating. I will be exploring my reasons for doing this in a future blog post (the free wine has a lot to do with it), but let me just say that if I end up being able to finish the 10k, anyone can do it.

3. I eat about four mandarin oranges a day at this time of year.

4. Seeing as I’m still struggling with my personal devastation on learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I am currently tortured over what answer to give my very innocent, but currently very questioning, oldest daughter.

5. When (trying) to ebb the tide of panic before being wheeled into the OR before my first C-section (Charlotte) I didn’t fantasize about palm trees swaying in the breeze, but rather the compounding interest of the money I was saving for a down payment of a house. It calmed me down far more than palm trees ever could. Must be the Scottish blood.

6. Last night Franck went out rock climbing with some friends and I was planning on working. Instead, I popped in the Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley in the DVD player, snapped a piece of 72% black chocolate off the bar in the kitchen cupboard, curled up on the couch under a quilt, and indulged.

So now I am going to *evil cackle* tag a few others:

A Novel Woman
Chez Lou Lou
French Letters
Unlikely Nomad (to get her blogging again)

Authentic France Travel Tip #12: Follow The Locals For The Best ‘Nosh

Ma Cuisine is emblematic of Burgundy, and especially Beaune, in its obsession with good wine.

Authentic France Travel Tip #12: Follow The Locals For The Best ‘Nosh

When we went to Tuscany three years ago we took along a Rick Steve’s guide. The corner of Tuscany we chose, however, was rather obscure so the only time we pulled out “The Rickster” was during a day in Florence.

We used it to choose a restaurant for lunch…big mistake. Besides the waiters, there was not a single Italian in the place. Rather, we were surrounded by a mob of other North Americans, all with their Rick Steve’s guides under their arms. The food was merely passable, the service perfunctory, and the atmosphere anything but authentic.

We promptly realized our error of ways and ditched the guide. Thus began a covert spy mission which involved sussing out locals and following them to wherever they went to eat. This technique earned us many memorable meals, from a street-side humble pizza to a divine pasta feast in a local nunnery in Sansepolcro.

Looking for the best and most authentic meals anywhere new? Easy – follow and / or ask the locals.

Never hesitate to simply ask store clerks or anyone else without a Rick Steves guide under their arm which restaurants THEY would recommend.

I know when I’m travelling I fully expect to land in a couple of disappointing tourist traps during my trip, but using the above technique we tend to find much more good nosh than bad nosh, and sometimes we even find truly LIFE ALTERING nosh.

Here in Burgundy, we are constantly asking around to friends and family for restaurant recommendations. One name that we kept hearing was the restaurant “Ma Cuisine” in the Passage Saint-Hélène in Beaune.

Much to my well…surprise…Franck surprised me with a dinner there to celebrate my 36th Birthday. Comme d’habitude, the locals’ recommendations were right on, and my delicious dinner of rabbit paté and chicken breast with a cream sauce, accompanied with an amazing selection of hand-picked local wines, REALLY made the extra year easier to swallow.

Ma Cuisine
Passage Saint-Hélène
21200 Beaune


*Open only 4 days a week which vary. Reserve as early as you possibly can, as this restaurant is very popular with the locals!

Don’t miss this simple yet amazingly satisfying restaurant when you are in Beaune. Its low-key, understated atmosphere provides the prefect backdrop to its unfussy yet perfectly executed cuisine. In the evening enjoy a prix fixe menu for 22.00 Euros with choices such as delicious home made terrines, foie gras, kidneys, chicken breasts in cream sauce, etc. etc.

The restaurant boasts one of the best – if not the best in my opinion – wine lists in Beaune. All the bottles are hand-picked, and there is a generous selection of half-bottles for those pour souls such as Franck and I who have to drive home afterwards (however, if you are staying in Le Relais du Vieux Beaune, you are in easy stumbling distance).

The desserts (crucial for me) are just as simple and sublime as the rest of the meal. Franck had a gorgeous hunk or tarte tatin and I had a selection of three different kinds of crème brulée. Miam.

So make like a local; reserve a table at Ma Cusine, go, eat and drink divine things, then enjoy feeling at one with the universe…

Other places locals go to for a lovely evening meal in Beaune:

La CibouletteFaubourg Saint-Nicolas

Le Petit Paradis – rue Paradis

Le BenatonFaubourg Bretonnière (has a Michelin star, and the higher prices that go with!)

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Desolée, But No Friendly Asses at Grape Rentals

Merci to Roxanne Black who sent me the below property description that she found when looking for lodgings in Burgundy:

“Gite (7 persons) and B&B (suite of 4 pers) in the borders of Morvan near Beaune and its vineyards. Table d’hotes. An ideal of holidays and romanticism for the amateurs of forests, of lake and waterfalls. Our asses and horses shall welcome you as a friend.

I’m all for giving suberb value to our guests at Grape Rentals, but I draw the line at providing friendly asses.

Frenchitude Lesson #12 : Aérer Your Rooms

Frenchitude Lesson #12 : Aérer Your Rooms

No, this is not a metaphor. I’m not referring to those little rooms in your mind, but rather those highly utilitarian rooms in your house. After last week’s impassioned rant against fake food, this week I have decided to take on the less controversial topic of stale air.

The French are obsessive about airing (aérer) their rooms every day, even in the dead of winter. This was not a habit with which I was familiar back in Canada, likely because we all live in igloos up there; those ice blocks are heavy to shove.

Every French person I know turns off the heat (if it’s on), opens their shutters and windows, and airs out each room in their house for a minimum of ten minutes every day.

There’s nothing nicer than having stale inside air replaced with fresh outside air; it is a French habit that I have gladly adopted. Apparently this practice is also eminently healthy as it does away with all manner of nasty toxins and moulds and dust mites.

However, in my experience the French do it more for the pleasure of breathing in a nostril full of fresh air than because it’s a healthy thing to do. I also think the acute pleasure of flinging open a pair of shutters has something to do with the ubiquitousness of this venerable French habit.

So this week, enjoy a fit of Frenchitude and open up your windows to let in the fresh air. You can even pretend to fling open an imaginary pair of shutters if you like (and maybe break into an inspired rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien). Nothing like it to keep those nosy neighbours on their toes…

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Nepal or Nebraska.

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason# 6

Because it is within the realm of possibility that one Friday night when the weather has turned cold your friends will call you up to invite you for an impromptu boeuf bourgignon, because it turns out they have – distracted by children – mistakenly poured in a whole bottle of 1991 Vougeot when making the sauce.

I have never before tasted a boeuf bourgignon that even comes close. It’s true what all the Burgundian grandmothers have always said: the quality of the wine in a sauce does make all the difference.

Of course we also drank the Savigny that had originally been intended for the sauce, and it wasn’t half bad either.

Authentic France Travel Tip#11: Vacation Rentals, Holiday Lets, Gites, and All That Jazz

Authentic France Travel Tip #11: Vacation Rentals, Holiday Lets, Gites, and All That Jazz

I realized yesterday when debating which tip to highlight this week that I have not yet doled out my most important Authentic France Travel Tip: stay in a vacation rental if at all possible.

Tis true that vacation rentals happen to be our livelihood (or part of it) over here in France, but aside from that our family are also frequent clients of European vacation rentals. Every time we travel we try to stay in a vacation rental if we possibly can because;

1. Being able to shop locally and cook at our temporary “home” saves us a huge amount of money compared to eating out three meals a day.

2. We love being able to have a place to kick back during moments when we simply want to hang out and do nothing – this is especially valuable when travelling with kidlets.

3. We find there’s nothing that gives us the flavour of a new place and a new way of life than living like a local, which is impossible to do when staying in a hotel.

To begin your search for a vacation rental, I recommend first of all asking for recommendations from friends and family. If nothing turns up, then consider searching one or more of the following websites as a starting point;

You can also do a simple Google search for the area you are looking for; type in something like “Burgundy vacation rentals.” Trust me, you will find hours of entertainment / procrastination as a result.

There are all different sorts of vacation rentals. Here’s a rule of thumb, North Americans tend to call them “vacation rentals” or “holiday rentals” like I do, the Brits often refer to them as “Holiday Lets”, and the French generally refer to them as “gites.”

I will give you my rule of thumb when choosing a European vacation rental. First of all, although this is changing somewhat, in my experience vacation rentals owned by North American or British owners tend to be more fully equipped than French owned “gites“. We equip and furnish our vacation rentals based on what we would like to find when we rent a vacation rental ourselves i.e. lovely linens and made up beds, fluffy white towels, DVDs, wireless Internet, a washer and a dryer, an unblocked phone line, a bottle of local wine, and as for me, tons and tons of books to read!

Gites , on the other hand, originally catered to clients who were fellow Europeans and coming by car. Gites were traditionally inexpensive and bare-boned, meaning that guests brought their own bed linens and towels, or paid to rent them on the spot, and wouldn’t expect laundry facilities, nor a phone line.

French gites have evolved quite a bit, and the more luxurious ones often boast just as many bells and whistles as the Anglo-owned ones. However, do be aware that the bare bones ones still exist to cater to a European clientele who is looking for exactly that.

With this in mind, here are the questions I always ask before booking a vacation rental in Europe;

1. Are bed linens and towels provided? If not, how much do they cost to rent?

2. Is there a phone available? If so, is the phone line unblocked?

3. Is wireless Internet access included in the price?

4. Is there a washer AND a dryer (indispensable with kids – I am not spending my vacation in a laundromat!)

5. What is the situation for parking? Is it easily available nearby? Is there an extra cost?

6. Is the kitchen fully equipped (i.e. with pots and pans, a regular sized stove, etc.) to cook meals?

7. What is the security deposit (the large majority of European vacation rentals charge this)? What is the policy for its refund?

Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me directly if you have any further questions (even if you have no intention whatsoever of staying in one of our places). I ever-so-modestly consider myself something of a vacation rental mentor nowadays, and like nothing better than an opportunity to spew forth all the vacation rental-esque knowledge I have stored up over these past eight years.

Happy Hunting!

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

For The Wine Geeks Among Us : 2008 Beaune Wine Auction

Even the venerable Etienne Marey seemed a little down on Burgundy wine this year.
The Party Was Still On, But The Same Cannot Be Said For The Global Wine Market!

Everyone was expecting lower prices this year at the annual Beaune charity wine auction. The leader of the winemakers’ union was making nosies about a “soft landing” for global wine prices over the past several days. However, as it turned out, the metaphor of a fiery plane crash would have been more à propos.

Here’s what I mean;

Prices of Red Wine = down 31.53%

Prices of White Wine = down 2.45%

Total Price of White & Red Combined = down 26.42%

That’s right. Yikes. We were standing outside the halles looking into the auction, and listening as it was broadcast on speakers outside. The auctioneer from Christie’s would set the price, and then instead of going UP from there as it usually does, it went DOWN instead.

One of the most startling examples of this trend was the price of the pièce of wine that is traditionally sold every year with proceeds going to the charities chosen by the celebrity guests. In 2006 this pièce set a record by selling for over 200,000 Euros. This year it sold for 50,000 Euros. Repeat after me, Aie aie aie.

However, you wine geeks out there should know that these lower prices, in my opinion, really have little correlation to the quality of the 2008 vintage. True, 2008 was a vintage that suffered from a wet summer and a bout of very destructive hail. However, sunny dry weather leading up to the harvest and continuing all the way through saved the vintage.

The grapes were small, but all my winemakers friends are reporting that they are remarkably concentrated with considerable elegance and staying power. 2008 is looking like a year that is turning out better than anyone possibly could have expected, and all my favorite winemakers are predicting that it will be an excellent year for aging.

However, due to the problems with mildew this year, it is crucial for the 2008 vintage as it was for the 2007 vintage to only buy from winemakers who are rigorous about sorting their grapes and only harvesting optimal mildew-free bunches. For the many winemakers who do this as a matter of routine, the result of the 2008 Burgundy vintage is truly turning out to be a small miracle.

The real problem is the drop in exporters. I heard from my sources that the three most important wine buyers weren’t present at the auction this year, and I know that many winemakers here in Burgundy are suddenly unable to contact their US exporters.

The worldwide financial crisis has now, as of this weekend, officially reached Burgundy, but it is reassuring to note that despite all the whinging and wailing that the sky is falling, the wine here continues to be as delicious and authentic as ever.

The show must go on…