My journey to France
Updated: Sep 9
It began at the age of fourteen, when I started learning French at school in Italy. Our French professor would tell stories of her frequent trips to the Camargue, to Paris and along the Loire Valley.
She would explain in details the culture, the geography and the local traditions. She was a gourmand and would go into the details of different recipes like: the Chateaubriand filet, the “choucroute alsacienne”, “le lapin à la moutarde”, “la bouillabaisse”, “le croque monsieur”, “la crème fraîche”, “la tarte aux fraises, aux framboise”, “le croissant et le pain au chocolat”. I was daydreaming as she was recounting her adventures.
I eventually became aware that being an "expert" in a foreign culture goes well beyond books, maps, and research. You can live a lifestyle only by travelling, eating and drinking like locals - there you speak fluently and breathe their culture.
At the university, I had enjoyed reading all the books from the Pantagruelic series by François Rabelais, and as the giant gourmand had started from Touraine his fantasmagorical trips, it was natural for me to get started from the Loire Valley in my learning journey aimed at discovering France’s wines.
Being a sommelier means connecting all the dots while developing a trustworthy olfactory memory, here I shall accompany you through my own discovery process of the Loire Valley wines, sometimes I was guided, other times I randomly discovered wines serendipitously.
Let the journey begin, and never end!
On November 26th 2018 I drank my first Pouilly-Fumé a "Florilège" from 2017 by Jonathan Didier Pabiot. I was training at the time and unable to fully appreciate it, maybe it was too young, and I ended up awarding the wine a mere 85/100. The journey had just started, and I had to go back to the region.
My memories are blurred there.
Later that same year, to celebrate the end of it on December 31st 2018, I decided to open a Louis De Grenelle, un Crémant De Loire - Cuvée Platine. I found it eye-opening, bright, lively, delicate. Straw-coloured canary yellow. With persistent bubbles. The nose was frank, the aromas of lemon, pears and lime dominated. I could smell the roundness of the quince, the aromatic liveliness of the acacia and the sweetness of the strawberry. It was a beautiful wine. Made from grapes like Chenin, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. Stored on slats for 24 months.
I had a first glimpse at the greatness of local grapes. My memories are vivid now.
Check it on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BsEOQeDHNKt/
The spell was launched and later on June 28th 2019, I was offered a 100% Chenin Blanc from Domaine Breton - Catherine & Pierre Breton, a "Pierres Rousses Vouvray" from 2015.
There I was, I could eventually start grasping the terroir. Identifying the grape. I needed a more in-depth analysis, so I started searching for vertical tastings from experienced professional sommeliers, to best explore the region.
Unfortunately, that one planned event was cancelled, luckily the list of wines had been shared on socials, so I decided to trust my skills and abilities from the recently gained certification. I made my order online using that list, and I decided to go solo.
The first bottle I opened from that order was a Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé "L'Extra par Langlois" - Domaine Langlois-Chateau. The acidity and creamy persistence was a balm that accompanied homemade "passatelli" with a fish ragout, and a "mortadella panini" with Arabic bread.
At a fish-based traditional family dinner on Christmas Eve 2019, we opened the second bottle, a Sauvignon: the Sancerre Blanc "Les Grands Champs" 2016 - Domaine Fouassier. The nose evoked a lemon pastry, with a buttered side. It was airy at the palate, with highly diffuse acidity, with soft and delicate consistency.
That Sauvignon was so different from the Italians and the New Zealanders I had experienced so far, the minerality was the magical trait more than the fruity side of it. There, I started registering in my long term memory the impact of terroir on the same grapes, grown at different latitudes.
Check it on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B6eTRhTikNK
The third bottle I opened from that very same order was the AOC Savennières "Le Vieux Clos" 2014 - Château de la Roche aux Moines. It was opened on January 6th 2020, and it was a real Epiphany.
A fragrant orange wine smelling of flourishing withering pink roses, enamel and nail polish. Here I was, I had just discovered another Chenin Blanc de la Loire, treated differently. I had a spicy local salty biscuit to pair exquisitely with it.
What a sensory experience I had. The memory got physical there.
I stuck to the whites from the Loire, choosing the last from that order: a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine "Orthogneiss" 2015 - Domaine de l'écu. I continued exploring with what proved to be a reliable wine for seafood pairing. It was vertical in its salinity.
Now, I could feel the terroir, the wet stone, the saltiness. Although it would much accompany Italian oysters, it beautifully expressed itself with prawns and scampi spaghetti. I also challenged it by ending with a local cheese: an excellent salty Pecorino Romano that exalted and confirmed the vertical and reassuring flavour of the wine.
Check it on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B6P_TxLiJG2/
I terminated the wines choice from this order with a red one, an AOC Bourgueil Rouge "Trinch!" 2017 - Domaine Breton. Life is about going back to where we started.
With this Cabernet Franc, I came back to the first winemaker I had explored from this region
Cabernet Franc can be called "uva francesca" in Italian - and Francesca is my name in Italian, meaning "she, who comes from France"
Finally, Rabelais ends his novels with the following words:
"Rien de plus, répondit Bacbuc, car TRINCH est le mot dicté à tous les oracles, célébré et entendu de toutes nations, et nous signifie Buvez!".
Trinch is the name of this wine and an invitation to
"flee from the hypocrites, the ignorant, the wicked; free yourself from vain terrors; study man and the universe; know the laws of the physical and moral world, to submit to them and to submit only to them; drink, drink science; drink the truth; drink love".
At this point, I was ready to go back to a great Pouilly Fumé, Château de Tracy (2015) which I utterly enjoyed before the pandemic times that followed in sweet company and paired with some "Saint-Jacques au beurre"
I also tried to taste it in French with a friend sommelier. Watch the video in Italian
You might wonder what is next for us, how shall we chose the next wines to explore the Loire Valley further.
There are so many good wines out there!
I found my inspiration in one of the smartest French movies on gastronomy that was directed by Thomas Chabrol in 2013, It is "Haute Cuisine".
There I was given ready-made the magic list for the next e-commerce order - you might want to follow my example, and you could watch the movie and wait for the magic scene where the chef Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) is sitting with the secretary (Jean-Marc Roulot), the young pâtissier, and "Alix la sommelier" to decide the menu for Monsieur Le Président de France.
Watch the trailer and trigger your curiosity and read more on wine movies.
Or, you can have the list I jotted down during the movie, as I just used it for my latest online order:
Vouvray Demi Sec "Le Clos du Bourg" 2014 - Domaine Huet
Sancerre "Silex Galinot" 2016 - Gitton Père & Fils given I could not find the mentioned Pouilly Fumé 'Silex' Didier Dagueneau 2014
Savennières Coulée de Serrant 2017 - Clos de la Coulée de Serrant - unfortunately the supplier mismatched the order and failed to deliver on their promises
Clos Rougeard “Les frères Foucault”, Saumur - this last one was too expensive for me - and I could not find it online.
Share your experience
Keep exploring, personally in this movie I found the inspiration for my next journey, when Hortense serves some sliced black truffles from her homeland Périgord on top of a toasted slice of bread, with truffle butter. Guess what does she pair it with?
A super expensive CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE RAYAS REYNAUD (1969)
The journey never ends