Sunday, March 12, 2006

Planning the perfect French weekend in the perfect French club

Here’s a head-scratcher: what would constitute the perfect weekend in France? Over the last six months we have wrestled with this question and finally come up with an answer (or at least a proposition we plan to test) – an over-the-top wine and food trip to Burgundy.

To mastermind our perfect French weekend we tapped the talents of Alexandre Lazareff, a master sommelier and overall funny guy who hosts monthly wine tastings here in Paris that we have been attending over the last six months. He also happens to own a small vineyard in Burgundy and writes wine reviews for Le Figaro, so he is the right man for this kind of delicate mission.

To plan our bold expedition, Alexandre and I got together at his club, modestly named the Automobile Club de France. I should have been warned by the fact that it sits next to the swank Hotel Crillon on the Place de Concord. Nonetheless, I showed up in business casual, expecting to see a place with lots of maps on hand and maybe some tips on how to change tires on busy French freeways.

Instead, I found myself in an exquisite gentlemen’s club straight out of the 18th century. At the entrance, I was politely but firmly issued a roomy coat and tattered tie to conform to the club’s equally 18th century dress code. Upstairs was a dining room with 30 foot ceilings looking out onto the vast Place de Concord.

Over cocktails and peanuts we talked over the details of our April weekend in Burgundy: four wine tastings at local chateaus paired with four gourmet meals, each with their own wine tastings. These tastings will explore Burgundy versus Bordeaux wines; new world versus old world Pinot Noirs; grand vin de Burgundy; and terroirs of Burgundy.

Along the way we will slog over the terrain of Burgundy and visit local markets. Probably the biggest difference between California and French wines is the emphasis that the French put on the relationship between the region and the wine – all lumped into the complex term terroir.

Terroir means everything from the soil to the micro-climate to the culture to the locally produced foods for a particular region. In California, you might know that the wines from the Howell Mountain region of Napa are particularly good, but nobody spends too much time talking about why that is – terroir in California is more a matter of branding than education.