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French Cuisine

Food, Spices & Wine

In France, wine culture runs deep both socially and economically. Next to bread and cheese, wine is a staple at the dinner table - lunch too. It is no wonder that France is the world's leading wine producer.

french-2French wines enjoy a reputation for quality and despite its small size, France has the second largest percentage of land under wine grape cultivation. Spain leads in the race for acreage in production.

French wine designation is confusing and unlike most wine-naming conventions, French names can have little or nothing to do with the actual varietal. Each region has its own unique cuisines that complement the wines produced there.  The Bordeaux region (above) produces some of the best-known and most expensive wines in the world.

French wine is organized into four different categories depending on how it was produced and the quality of the grapes. Vin de Table is 'table wine,' a lower quality wine for everyday use. Vin de Pays, is a Vin de Table, but a slight step up in quality. Vin Delimite de Qualite Superieure is wine from specific region of a higher quality. Appelation d'Origine Controlee, the highest quality of French wine.

Varietals are Regional

The region of Bordeaux is one of the most famous wine regions in the world, home to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand and Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec grapes. These famous reds pair well with Bordeaux's regional cuisine especially the beef dishes. The seafood from the region pairs well with the white wines of the regions. Bordeaux is known for its bordelaise sauce, prepared with red wine, spices stock and shallots. Home to entrecot marchand de vin and boeuf bourguignon, Bordeaux includes both red and white wines in its regional cuisine.

french-3Cotes du Rhone, a region in the south of France, grows Viognier, Roussance, Marsanne white grapes and Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache red grapes. Syrah wines are the best-known and are famous for their smoky, pepper flavors, while Grenache wines are much fruitier.

Lyon is found within the Cotes du Rhone and is famous for being a culinary epicenter. Wines from the Cotes du Rhone pair well with the culinary traditions of Lyons. Some dishes from Lyons includes bouillabaise (above) , onion soup, filet mignon with demi-glaze.

Burgundy is a region famous for Chardonnay white grapes and Pinot Noir red grapes. Like Lyon, Burgundy can be considered a culinary center known for its rich food made from its own wines and for having the best beef in France.

french-1Champagne Loves a Party

Champagne is another region in France famous for its namesake wine. Champagne is made from Chardonnay (right), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and famous pairings include Christmas and Thanksgiving turkey, Chinese food, curry, chocolate and most sweet desserts, any type of celebration, and of course love.

Sauces prepared with wine from Burgundy are designated a la bourguignonne (or bourguignon) and normally include baby onions and mushrooms. Burgundy is also known for Dijon mustard which plays a large role in its cuisine as well with dishes being prepared a la dijonnaise. Dishes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and escargots can all be served with Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

Located close to the German border, Alsace is slightly cooler than the rest of France is is known for its German influence and Pinot Gris, Rieslings and Gewurtztraminer grapes. Pork is the main meat used in Alsace and is often served with Choucroute alsacienne (sauerkraut served hot) and an Alsatian Riesling.

Fish is often cooked in Rieslings from the region and savory pastries are very common. Cuisine from Alsace is unique in France and most wines from the region pair well with each dish. Try serving Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc or Gewurztraminer with Alsatian dishes such as Quiche Lorraine, choucroute garni, baeckeoffe or tarte flambee.

racletteOne final word about French cuisine -- raclette. Raclette (left) is a French dish conceived of necessity by French shepherds of the Swiss Alps. Typically, slices of raclette style swiss cheese are melted and served with boiled or roasted potato, gherkins, black pepper, and French bread or baguette.

Modern incarnations of raclette un-fold over several apre-skis or winter dinner party hours, and include an electric or gas-fueled tablet-top broiler/grill, Swiss emmenthal and gruyere cheese, at-table grilled meats, seafood and vegetables and of course, French wine.

Raclette wine pairing, like any truly regional cuisine, should go local first. Wines from Alsace are an excellent choice, as they were developed to accompany regional cuisine. One remarkable choice is a white wine known as 'Gentil', comprising the blend of gewrttzraminer, muscat, pinot gris, reisling and sylvaner grapes all planted in a single vineyard - the same 'terroire' - and harvested together.  Slightly fruity on the nose, the blend is anything but sweet, rather floral and citrus and buttery and 'perfect' to take on and balance the super-rich flavors of raclette. Modern day shepherds often chase raclette with cherry kirsch - also not sweet.

Spices like lemon grass, fennel and anise pair beautifully with raclette and most Alsatian wines. 

C@H's DM Exotic Seafood Spice Grinder - rich fennel, lemon grass, black pepper and orange zest,  is the perfect table-top accompaniment to raclette, and its grinder-top bottle is fun to pass around.  

Bon appetit!