Our journey began on motorbike, in Belgium and we made our way down through and around Reims, in the direction of Bourges with our goal to reach the beautiful region of Clermont-Ferrand. As you might imagine, this took a few days, which was well worth it to see the French countryside in this manner. Highways are not the most enjoyable on a motorbike, so we took the more scenic route. We traveled along windy, small countryside roads that meandered through small villages where time stood still in the form of stone buildings and crumbling churches. Everyone had a garden. Our timing was just right, and we arrived in the village to catch a small cafe open for a country French lunch.
There are three sit-down courses served. Sometimes, piping hot buttery-garlicy escargot, followed perhaps by a seared duck breast with garden vegetable salad and a dijon dressing. Possibly finishing with a plate of smelly, gooey and delicious cheeses that you mash on the last bits of bread left over from sopping up the juices of the duck. How that all fits in one’s stomach I have no idea, but there are times you don’t worry about such frivolous things and just enjoy. An espresso at the end of it all seems to get it to settle down.
You might imagine that eating like this a couple times a day, which is common for the French, can really add on to one’s figure. Luckily riding on a motorbike, even for a passenger is quite a workout. Though every once in a while it is nice to skip the big lunch and just grab a picnic.
We stopped in Issoire and decided we had enough driving for the day and it was time for some wine and a good snack and to just enjoy the perfect weather and unwind for the afternoon. We stopped off at a little boulangerie to buy some crusty bread, then off to a charcuterie and fromagerie for a few slices of jamon and cheese and then we headed to the wine shop.
When I travel with companions anywhere and stop at a restaurant or a wine shop, it is inevitable they pass me the wine list or ask me to choose the wine. I do not know about all the wines of the world and on occasion, I like to take a moment off from working and let someone else do the job. We had a budget to spend under €15 and we left it up to the merchant to pick out a bottle for us. The bottle was a few cents under what we wanted to spend and we walked out with a great wine. From Domaine Maxime Graillot, the Equinoxe Crozes Hermitage 2012 (100% Syrah) from the Rhone Valley. The merchant shared with us that the wine is a new project and a little unknown. However, they are gaining a reputation quickly, so best we can get it for that price while it lasts.
My corkscrew was still packed and I was not about to rummage through everything, so fortunately it was a screw cap. We grabbed a couple glasses from our hotel and found a cozy spot to sit in the shade of a nice tree in the nearest plaza. The cheese was cut into and rightfully smashed on some crusty bread with a slice of jamon on top and wine was joyfully sipped. But let me tell you story about the wine.
The project is one of Maxime Graillot who has grown from out under the wings of his father Alain. The man who was responsible for putting Crozes Hermitage on the map. Maxime’s own vineyards of Northern Rhone, located in the village of Beaumont-Monteux are found in the southeast region of Crozes Hermitage. The soils here are loose gravel and alluvial stones sitting in a bit of clay. The vines were planted in the 1980s and when Maxime purchased the vineyards in 2004, they were in a poor state. He has been managing them organically since and brought them back to a better state of health. The life and vigor of his vines today come from the organic compost he prepares and ploughs into the soil of the vineyards. For each harvest, the fruit is harvested by hand and the vines are producing small yields. During destemming he only retains about 10 to 20% of the best grapes, but he is predicting more in the future as the vines continually improve each season.
While most wines of the Rhone Valley are big in character and body due to a hot and dry climate in the southerly valleys that reach towards the Languedoc of Mediterranean France, northerly Rhone is a cooler climate allowing for their wine to showcase not only lighter fruit nuances but the character of their terroir. Maxime likes to keep the natural integrity and flavors of the fruit so he ages half of the wine in barrels and the other half in cement tanks.
The wine was a pleasant surprise to enjoy while sitting down to our picnic. The aromas coming from my glass as were of a mouth-watering pepper steak just before it’s about to be put on the hot grill and the fruit pushes through of fresh plum, even some tart raspberry and dry spices. At first sip, the wine was lively and surprisingly light with more plum and fresh-picked summer berries, black cherry with lingering fleshy meat nuances. Picnics don’t get much better than this.
International Sommelier and Chef Christie Kiley has over a decade of combined experience in both restaurants and wineries. While working in kitchens under talented chefs, she spent nights off serving guests in the dining room.
Her passion for food began overflowing into the wine industry and while laboring during wine harvests in Napa, she learned the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Experience working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants, wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, Christie has vast knowledge of the two industries.
Christie is currently living in Buenos Aires, where she received her Fourth level International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study. She is now travelling to fine-tune her knowledge and delve into the gastronomy and cultures around the globe. She works as a freelance writer to share her cultural experiences. Find Christie on Facebook