Summer holidays looming. Lazy days on the waterways ahead. Evenings beneath a setting sun, glass of Picpoul in one hand, un-put-downable book in the other. It’s that time of year again. We’ve done our reading, we’ve done our best seller research and we’ve chosen a very French slant for our 2018 summer reading list. Some you’ll find at the front of the bookstore, others you’ll have to ask for from the archive.
2018 summer reading list
It is impossible to avoid the winner of the 2016 Prix Goncourt. Translated to English earlier this year, Lullaby is a tragic story of a murderous nanny. Leila Slimani depicts the life of a French family in Paris who hires who they thought to be a miraculous perfect nanny. The shocking first pages of the book lead to a depiction of social class, motherhood and the place of the nanny in the family. Although dark, Lullaby is a best seller in both France and Britain. Soon to be adapted into a film, it is acclaimed by the book critics as well as the readers.
On a lighter note, Petronille by Amelie de Nothomb, will take you to Paris, via London, and on to wine tasting. In her 23rd novel, Nothomb writes about the friendship of two women who enjoy drinking champagne. Witty and funny, this French version of Thelma and Louise will take you on a virtual summer road trip. Always surprising, Belgian author Nothomb demonstrates once again her talent in Petronille.
If you are dreaming of the French Riviera, the classic Bonjour Tristesse will not disappoint. Cécile is a carefree, wealthy yet bored teenager, who tries to interfere in her father’s life. Used to a life of parties in Paris, Cécile’s world changes when her father meets Anne, a cultured, wise, and intelligent woman. What happens next? We won’t spoil the plot for you. This was Francoise Sagan’s first novel, which she is famed for writing in just six weeks. She was 18 years old. Bonjour Tristesse went on to be one of the best sellers of the 20th century.
Tender is the Night
Another 20th century classic. F. Scott Fitzgerald takes us to the South of France in the glamorous life of Dick and Nicole. This is a tale of the 1930s in the villas of the French Riviera. If this summer you want to go back to a literary classic Tender is the Night, is perfect for you. Immerse yourself in the France of another era from the pages of what is now regarded as one of Fitzgerald’s best work.
A Year in the Merde
Enjoy a humorous perspective of France with this funny book that became a best seller on its release in 2004. Whether you are crossing the Channel for the holidays or if you simply want a taste of France, A Year in the Merde will raise more than a gentle chuckle. This tongue in cheek perspective makes gentle fun of Brits abroad, specifically in France. The tale of a year spent in France by the Englishman is the perfect light read for your summer book list.
Notes from the Cevennes
Published earlier this year, Notes from the Cevennes: Half a Lifetime in Provincial France is also the tale of life in France. Adam Thorpe wrote his memoirs having lived in the South of France for the past 25 years. This book will wander with you under the sun in Cevennes and through the history of the region as you follow Thorpe’s personal journey in the Cevennes.
Dreaming of a less stressful life abroad? In Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France, follow the journey of one family starting from scratch producing French wines. Caroline and Sean moved to Saussignac and settle for a 10-hectare dream vineyard. Except dealing with moving into a farmhouse and with the struggles that farm life entails, prove challenging. This real-life family adventure will open the door on vineyard life in France.
The Little Paris Bookshop
Right up our street, let Nina George take you on the Seine. In The Little Paris Bookshop, Jean Perdu runs a ‘literary apothecary’ in a restored barge on the Seine. He suddenly decides to unmoor and set off for Provence to find someone from his past. A light, uplifting read for the summer that will leave you dreaming of travelling the inland waterways of France, or wanting to return for more.
We hope that in this selection of fiction, non-fiction, recently published and old classic books, you find the perfect 2018 summer book for you. If your reading choice leaves you longing for a waterways holiday in France, start your search here.
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Off the beaten track – the wines of Jura, Corsica, Provence and Savoie
In the eighth and final part of our guide to French wines we go off the beaten track, beyond the well-trodden vineyard routes to discover some more unusual tipples. Lesser-known French wines are less well known than their more famous Burgundy, Bordeaux and Côte de Rhône peers, but nevertheless hold their own and are worth seeking out when you’re in France. In this section of the French wines guide we seek our the wines of Jura, Corsica, Provence and Savoie in search of some worthy lesser-known labels.
French wines from Jura
Tucked away in the far east of the country and shoehorned between Burgundy and the Swiss Alps, Jura ranks as the smallest wine-producing region in France. Just 2,000 hectares lie under vineyards on land made up mostly of limestone and marl. Jura runs to just four Appellations d’Origine Controlée (AOCs). While the production might be small in size, Jura wines come big on punch and taste.
Jura wine grapes
The region has a similar climate to Burgundy but with longer, colder winters. This element has a huge influence on both the type of grapes that can be grown and when they’re harvested. Jura vineyards cultivate five grape varieties that are picked in November and sometimes as late as December, well after most other French wine regions.
Savagnin is the Jura’s signature grape. This tiny variety is almost translucent and a key component in the region’s famous vin jaune and vin de paille. White wines made with savagnin are dry and slightly spicy.
Chardonnay is the most-grown grape and a key component in Jura white wines. However, the cold winters mean the whites resemble a Chablis more than a Burgundy.
Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau grapes make up Jura reds. All bold and earthy, and perfect accompaniments for poultry and game or the region’s strong cheeses.
Jura wine types
Jura is renowned for two main types of wine: vin jaune and vin de paille. The so-called ‘yellow wine’ is made from savagnin grapes, harvested as late as the vineyard owners dare before the first frosts arrive. The wine is aged in oak barrels for at least six years and three months, and uniquely, never topped up. As a result, around a third is lost to fermentation. The intense, nutty wine with pronounced spicy notes is bottled in a squat clavelin. It pairs well with cheese and mushroom dishes.
Production of the so-called ‘straw wine’ never amounts to much and this Jura wine is so rare that it comes in half-sized bottles. It’s made from grapes dried for several weeks before they’re pressed and aged. As a result, vin de paille is very sweet with intense walnut and raisin overtones.
Did you know? Wine experts attribute Jura’s remote location to the unusual wine making methods used in the region.
Try Jura wines
Jura makes an ideal side trip from the Burgundy waterways and meals onboard our luxury barge hotel cruises include wines from this unique region. Take a look and choose your next holiday on the water.
French wines from Corsica
Almost everything about Corsica is unique. This indomitable Mediterranean island has its own culture, climate, landscape, people and of course, wine production – all very different from anything you’ll come across on mainland France. So different in fact that the official French AOC authorities refer to Corsica as “a land of legends and magic”.
The island has the oldest wine-growing culture in France. The Phoenicians made the first vin some 2,500 years ago with Greeks and Romans following suit. Phylloxera devastated the vines in the 19th century and two World Wars decimated the island’s labour force. As a result, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Corsican wine industry found its feet again.
Unique growing conditions
Corsica isn’t a particularly large island but it certainly packs in the soil types – limestone, granite, volcanic sand… – elevations (from sea level to high peaks) and microclimates. Depending on the area, the weather takes a more continental or maritime style and different types of wind also influence growing conditions.
Add to this, the island’s typical maquis vegetation with pines, fig trees and herbs such as lavender, thyme and myrtle, all of which appear to a greater or lesser extent in the grapes. This unique combination of natural elements means that Corsican wines taste quite unlike any others.
Myriad grape varieties
At the last count, there were over 25 types of grapes native to Corsica. Some of them closely resemble their French and Italian cousins, but others have nothing in common with any other vines in Europe. In keeping with the legends and magic, the names of the grapes such as Nielluciu, Carcaghjolu and Rugughonna bring to mind mysterious concoctions rather than a bottle of wine.
AOC regulations, however, specify that Corsican whites must contain at least 75% of the Vermentinu grape that produces a floral, honey-scented wine. And that reds consist of at least half Nielluccio grapes, grown in the north, and Sciaccarello grapes, grown in the south. The resulting mixture lends itself to a robust tannic background, reminiscent of a Rhône Valley red with more delicate raspberry tones, not unlike those found in a Burgundy.
Did you know? Corsica is one of the most experiential wine-growing regions in French with new blends constantly appearing on the local market. It’s also one of the nation’s best value – wines come exempt of VAT and a good bottle starts at €5.
The far-eastern region of Savoie in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps is another of the small French wine-producing areas. Around 2,000 hectares lie under vineyards, which have traditionally produced the so-called “ski chalet wines” or, more unkindly, plonk. However, in recent years, two grapes from Savoie have been making a name for themselves in fine wine circles and nowadays merit a mention among the more unusual French wines worth seeking out.
Types of Savoie grape
Several grape varieties grow successfully in the surprisingly warm climate in Savoie, but two in particular stand out when it comes to excellent whites. The Roussanne grape, grown in Combe de Savoie on limestone slopes facing south-south-west, might be small on production (just 4% of the Savoie total) but lends itself to bold whites. Coming under the Chignin-Bergeron AOC denomination, Roussanne whites are rich and perfumed with notes of almond, apricot and even mango.
The other stand-out grape is Altesse, native to the region and grown near the source of the Rhône River as it leaves the French Alps. Produced under the Roussette de Savoie AOC, Altesse grapes age well – the best whites have spent at least three years in the barrel – and has a mostly floral flavour with hints of walnut and honey.
Did you know? All Savoie whites pair perfectly with local cheeses. For a match made in heaven, sip a chilled Chignin-Bergeron with a slice (or several) from a Beaufort wheel of cheese, weighing up to almost 60kg!
A land of intensely Mediterranean landscapes, Cézanne and Van Gogh, lavender fields and medieval castles, Provence is perhaps the most quintessential region of France. It also ranks as one of the country’s top wine-producing areas but forget about whites and reds because Provence is the world capital of rosé wines.
Most of the vineyards that form part of the three AOCs in Provence – Côtes de Provence (the largest), Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence – grow grapes that are later blended into the region’s delicious rosés. Home demand is huge – rosé wine is the summer drink in France especially if you’re at a picnic or barbeque – and exports have grown in recent years too as more wine connoisseurs discover the unique pink wine from Provence.
Types of rosé grapes
Rosé wine is made from red grapes and in Provence, these tend to be Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah. All thrive on the Provençal limestone soils and the long, hot summers when the dry Mistral wind blows relentlessly across the vineyards. The wind encourages ripening as well as keeping diseases caused by humidity from the vines.
Like red wine, rosés begin life fermenting with the grape skins on. But, unlike reds, the skins are removed soon afterwards, even as quickly as two hours, as soon as the producer deems the colour to be just right. Unlike rosés produced elsewhere in the world, the Provence version has a distinct orange tinge to its pink hue.
P for perfect
Provence rosés are essentially dry rather than sweet and offer a whole host of floral notes, a reflection of the land they come from. Herbs form the main background – thyme, lavender and rosemary, for example – and fruity notes include red berries and tangerines. Some have a distinct flavour of fennel and others a touch of spice on the palate.
Food pairing is easy. A Provence rosé does after all go with any food eaten al fresco in the summer months. But to ensure you get the combination just right, remember the two p’s: pink and Provence. For the former, think lobster, langoustines, ham and strawberries, and for the latter, any typical regional dish (bouillabaisse, ratatouille, salade Niçoise, pissalidiere…) finds a prime partner with a local rosé. Serve the wine at 8-12 degrees
Did you know? The best rosé wines from Provence have a gold, silver or bronze sticker on their label. 100 awards are given during the blind tastings at the annual Vins de Provence le Concours competition.
Perfect pink in Provence
Discover your preferred AOC rosé onboard a river cruise along the Rhône as it makes its way to the Mediterranean through the vineyards of Languedoc and Provence.