In August, on the plane on my way from NYC to the Côte d'Azure, and a well deserved vacation, I was seated next to a femme magnifique. My habit of either working or trying to catch up on sleep any time I´m on plane just had to be altered -- I also told myself to let go of any vain hope that dear Olivia would ever be more just a friend.
I struck up a conversation with the wonderful creature next to me, an absolutely charming American named Audrey. After a while we, of course, reached the topic of Champagne and, to my delight, she seemed interested in my latest obsession: the growing trend of organic and biodynamic winemaking in the Champagne region. We discussed everything from my admiration for the wonderfully crisp and clean Champagnes that Pierre and Sophie Larmandier produce to the pioneering spirit of the Fleury family. (Jean-Pierre Fleury started experimenting with sustainable wine making in the 1970's and the estate is now the largest biodynamic producer in all of Champagne.)
After hours of talking, I finally built up enough courage to ask Audrey to join me for a late (very!) summer picnic lunch on the beach this weekend at Eze-Sur-Mer, where I would be staying with friends. My heart was beating fast and my palms were sweating while I was waiting for her answer (Yes, this happens to French men too!) To my relief, Audrey said that she would be happy to accept my offer and would come up from nearby Nice, where she would be staying.
Well the weekend is almost here and I'm very excited to be putting together our rendezvous.
Here's My plan:
I will first take her on a tour of the cliffside, ancient village of Eze, with its fabulous views over the Mediterranian and St. Jean-Cap Ferrat. If we feel brave enough we will hike down the steep Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche's path to the sea. (The philosopher vacationed here in the 1880's.) I'll have to remind Audrey to wear good walking shoes!
Down at the pebbled beach, we'll stop my friend's house and pick up a blanket and the picnic basket that I will have had prepared for Audrey. I thought that it would be lovely to enjoy some of the Champagnes we discussed on the plane, paired with a few local specialties.
We'll start with a glass of Larmandier Bernier's Terre de Vertus. It's a Blanc de Blancs and a non-dosage wine. This Champagne is perfect at the beginning of a meal. It's elegant with toasty citrus fruit flavors and underlying minerality. While delicate, it has enough richness so that we can enjoy it with Bigorre ham, a few goat cheeses from the area and some rustic bread.
Our second glass will be of Fleury's Carte Rouge. It's a Blanc de Noirs and is made only from Pinot Noir grapes. It is a wonderful food Champagne: it is powerful but still fresh with berryish and biscuitty qualities. I have decided to pair this Champagne with a Pan-bagnat (literally translated, "bathed bread"). A Pan-bagnat is a salad Nicoise sandwich that is very popular in Provence -- you'll love my recipe below!
I'll also need something sweet for my sweet Audrey. As a near-purist when it comes to Champagne, I hardly ever drink Champagne cocktails. I do though love the Rose Royal served at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris: they just place freshly crushed raspberries in a Champagne glass and pour Champagne over them. Simply delicious! I will, of course, have some fresh raspberries and strawberries for us to nibble on.
So dear readers, wish me luck!
1 wide baguette or round white French country bread
extra virgin oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 very small garlic clove minced
2 anchovy fillets minced
1/2 red onion finely sliced into rings
pitted olives Nicoise
1 english cucumber sliced thinly
2 hard-boiled eggs sliced
1 jar premium tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1. Cut the bread in size portions and then cut them in half lengthways and scoop out some of the bread filling.
2. Drizzle the bread with olive oil, spread out the minced garlic and anchovy and season with pepper.
3. Fill the hollowed out half with lettuce leaves, red onion slices, cucumbers, olives, capers and tuna.
4. Put the other half of bread on top and wrap snugly in foil.
5. Put a heavy object on top of the sandwiches such as a book or books to flatten it. Leave for an hour or two before serving.
"Organic Farming" means that the grapes are grown without using herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.
"Biodynamic" method of farming is a holistic management approach that incorporates organic farming, but also treats the vineyard as it's own self-sustaining ecosystem. (The vineyard is managed as a living organism, not just rows of grapevines and there is a strong emphasis on the relationship between plants, soil, animals and the lunar cycle.)
"Blanc de Blancs" literally means "white of whites" and that the Champagne is made from only Chardonnay grapes.
"Blanc de Noirs" means "white from blacks" and that the Champagne is made from only black grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two).
"Zero Dosage" means that the winemaker skips adding the small amount of sweet wine that is usually added to the still wine just before bottling.
"Let me be your personal chef de cave. Sit back, relax, and I'll choose for you."