As a Francophile, I have a deep respect for the wines, foods, and traditions of France. There is no region of wine I haven't explored, or old french cookbook I haven't stared at for hours, learning all I can, like a jack of all trades. Over the past dozen centuries, France has been developed a sense of self and place among the super powers of the world. Around 1050 a.d., the first crusaders left Jerusalem and made it into France; almost to Paris. The Holy Roman expansion at its greatest expanse completely covered the area we call France today and most of Europe. In 1189 a.d., the third crusade made it through France and through Paris returning by ship by way of the Atlantic passed Portugal and back through the Mediterranean and to home. This began to create religious differences and early division of lands which become the forefront for the modern day borders of Europe today. The Roman Empire brought with it culture and industry from architecture and art, to farming, including grape growing and winemaking. In 1309, the Catholic headquarters moved to the rural sleepy town of Avignon on the Rhone River and stayed there for almost 70 years. This was known as the Avignon Exile. A French pope was elected, along with 5 other during this time, and created turmoil throughout the church when it moved back to Rome. This time period was called the Great Schism. After many major wars between kings, Germanic tribes, religious sects, and current super powers during WWI & WWII, France has always been a battle site, and a disputed land. Over ten centuries have passed, and France played a crucial role in the development on Europe. A lot of people would argue that France was merely just a stepping ground and never really rose to power during any major events throughout history, but it was their simplistic ideals and drive to maintain a consistent way of life that I personally appreciate. If there is one area where France is and always will be a major world super power, it is in wine making. Land, vines, and method have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries and command some of the highest prices on today’s market, and also some incredible bargains. During WWII, the city of Champagne was completely destroyed and in ruins. The German Nazis stole all the champagne they could find and trampled through vineyards. Grape growers still find WWII artifacts in the soil today. After the war, families showed their determination to get back to their simply way of life, tradition, and they rebuilt the city and replanted their vineyards. A vine will produce fantastic grapes through vigor. They need to fight for sun, water, and nutrients. The beaten soils of France are the best in the world for their strong storybook vines.
I have realized that I like traditions. They are something to look forward to in an otherwise mundane world. Over the years as I grew further into the wine business, a tradition developed between my uncle, father, and me on Christmas Eve. Even though some years we all haven’t been there, we had a small tradition between us. We all have the very similar palates for wine and prefer deep reds. My father loved Bordeaux and Burgundies. My uncle likes California Zinfandels and Chateaunuef-Du-Pape. I prefer Bordeaux and Rhone wines. Our palates are all connected by French wines. My family always has a fantastic Christmas Eve party with great food, and the whole extended family. The wine would be flowing, but for the three of us, we would always have a special bottle that would be hidden away in the corner or in a cupboard. Sadly, my father passed away this year and wouldn’t be around to share the yearly secret bottle with us. As my uncle lives out of state now and had to fly in, so I assumed he wouldn’t have brought anything with him, which would be completely acceptable. I actually wasn’t going to bring anything over this year, because it didn’t really feel the same without my father, but with some last minute reconsideration and a nudge from a friend, I headed to my cellar to begin digging.
I decided on a bottle of Bordeaux. I pulled out a bottle of 2005 Domaine de Chevalier Grand Cru Classe from the region of Pessac Leognan. I knew this 2005 would be drinking early, but I decided if I wanted to do this, I was going to go big. Christmas Eve was a blast and my friend who gave me a nudge came over to spend some time with the family as well. I gave him the third spot we had opening for in our little trilogy of wine geeks. The wine was amazing as expected. I have had many vintages of Chevalier before, and this was right up there with the best of them. The current market collect anyways from $85 - $125 a bottle right now. It was rich, and perfectly balanced between tannins and acidity. The wine could definitely age longer, but it was drinking quite well right now. The French definitely got this one right!
Just like the French kept tradition and culture alive throughout tumultuous centuries, maybe we should all look within and realize that traditions are good. On bad days, they can give you something to look forward to. On good days, then they just add fuel to your excited fires. Whether it is a special bottle of wine created by historic soil, or whatever you make it, keep tradition alive.