Saumur: My Kind of Wine...Though Maybe Not My Kind of Place!

Here’s another post in my intermittent series of “My Kind of Wine…My Kind of Place,” in which I discuss great wines, from great places I’ve been—mostly in France.

This beautiful photo of Saumur is by Martin Falbisoner, via Wikicommons.

This beautiful photo of Saumur is by Martin Falbisoner, via Wikicommons.

I’ve been to Saumur twice in my life. It’s a beautiful town in the Loire Valley; Mick Jagger has a château nearby, btw. And yes, I’ve sought it out (another story for another time….).

Both times I’ve been to Saumur, I’ve been charmed by the town. And yet, at times, I’ve been…let’s just say, “less than charmed” by the people.

Let me be clear: Read this blog, and you’ll know that I’m never one to march in the ongoing “The French Are Rude” parade. I simply don’t find that to be the case, in general, anyway.

But for some reason, both times I’ve visited Saumur, I’ve left scratching my head thinking, “What is wrong with this town?”

Reserve des VigneronsThe first visit, it was simply a question of rude waiter. This fellow was a shockingly impatient guy who pretended that he couldn’t understand my French. (Really—my French is fine; no one is going to mistake me for a native French speaker, but I can always make myself understood). That day, we noticed a coolness of attitude in the cafés and shops we went into, but we got over it after we returned to Chinon, where we were staying in a Logis de France inn, run by an utterly gracious family.

The second visit to Saumur stuck in my craw much more. I was there with my mother, 80 at the time, and we walked into a little shop that had lovely homemade dolls. Mother turned to me and said, “Oh, aren’t these exquisite!

The shopkeeper, obviously misunderstanding what Mother had said, came up to us and launched into a lecture (in English) about how, no, these dolls were NOT expensive, not when you considered how much craftmanship and artistry went into them. She berated my mother with a few choice insults–something about how it was typical that we (meaning foreigners or Americans or English speakers or whatever she thought we were) wanted everything to be cheap, etc. etc.

Well, here’s the deal: You can be rude to me, and I’ll probably let it go. But if you’re rude to my 80-year-old mother, that’s another story. Let’s just say that my response to her was not my finest hour, when it comes to manners, anyway. I let her have it, in French, and then pretty much whisked my mother out of the store to make sure I got the last word.

So, a few years later, when I was on a press trip to the Loire Valley, and our winery visit to Saumur got canceled, I was secretly very happy. Who needs ‘em?

However, when I was recently at a local wine shop, I spotted a bottle of a Saumur red for an incredibly reasonable price ($11). As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m currently on a jag where I only drink French wines (The reason? In short: sane alcohol contents + their food-friendly nature + they taste good). I tried it. I loved it. And I’m willing to give Saumur a chance.

Review of Reserve des Vignerons Saumur 2014

This wine is made from 100% Cabernet Franc, a grape that my wine-hound friend Mark always describes as “crunchy.” Strange thing is, he means that as a compliment. My description would be more like this: Hearty and dry, with plenty of dark-red fruit and that thwacky acidic finish that I love when I’m drinking a red wine with meaty dishes. (Good heavens, I never, ever have understood the idea of  drinking rich, heavy wines with rich, heavy dishes–where’s the refreshment in the sip that sets you up for another rich bite?).

Mmmmm. Coq au Vin.

Mmmmm. Coq au Vin.

Food Pairing: Excellent choice for coq au vin–both in the dish and to drink alongside. Here’s the recipe–never mind what I say there about using Burgundy or cru Beaujolais (from the Eastern side of France).  Yes—those are excellent choices, too, but I’ve had amazing coq au vin in the Loire Valley, made with their Cabernet Franc based reds.

Et vous? Have you enjoyed any great, everyday-priced French reds lately? Do tell!

A few other posts you might enjoy:
My kind of wine, my kind of town: Chinon.
Great Anyday French Wine for Great Anynight French Food
My Kind of Wine: Il Ugo Elderflower Cocktail

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Yes, I'd Rather Drink Bila-Haut French Rosé Than Go to the Fair.

A Review Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oc Rosé 2014 by Michel Chapoutier: Or, Why I’d rather drink French Rosé than go to the Iowa State Fair.

So, I turned Mr. Sportcoat earlier today and said, “You know. There’s only one day left of the Iowa State Fair. Maybe we should go tonight.”

Scene from the Iowa State Fair.

Scene from the Iowa State Fair.

He said, “To tell you the truth, I’d rather sit on the balcony, have a nice meal, drink some wine, then finish that Jean-Luc Godard film we started last night.”

Une Femme Mariée: It's Godard, so there's not much of a plot. But irresistible cinematography. See a clip here:

Une Femme Mariée (1964): It’s Godard, so there’s not much of a plot. But irresistible cinematography. Check out a promo clip (though be advised this makes it seem more racy than it really is).

We both laughed, knowing all too well how utterly snobbish that sounded.

Nevertheless, we couldn’t drag ourselves to the fairgrounds for overpriced food on a stick. Yes, there are some other draws (the lights at night are spectacular), but having been 10 years in a row, I think we’ll skip a year. We’ll drink some wine, eat some Sockeye Salmon, and listen to the swell of the late-summer locusts; later, as they go silent, we’ll listen to the tree toads and crickets. And then we’ll go inside and finish up that Godard film.

Bila-Haut Rosé by Michel Chapoutier, from the Pays d'Oc.

Bila-Haut Rosé by Michel Chapoutier, from the Pays d’Oc.

So, what’s to drink? A spectacular late-summer night calls for a spectacular wine:

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oc Rosé 2014 by Michel Chapoutier.

There are wine writers who will tell you to drink Rosé all year—and certainly, you can. But it will never taste better than right now. And in my mind, there are no better rosés than South-of-France rosés. This one is extraordinarily bright, fresh, and fruity, with that great combo of zippy red berries and citrusy appeal that I love in a French rosé.

It’s not super bone-dry, so if you’re looking for a rosé that drinks like a Tavel, this won’t be your wine. But I adored it, because (as I’ve probably said before!), I love some fruit in my pink wines. After all, if there aren’t any berries in my rosé, I might as well be drinking a white!

More details: It’s a blend of Cinsault and Grenache, and has a nice body for a summery wine. Alcohol by volume: 13% (I prefer a little less, but this is by no means a bruiser).

Disclosure: As is often the case with wine writers, I was sent this wine for review purposes. However, as always, I would never recommend a wine that I wouldn’t buy myself, and indeed, I plan to head out to buy some soon–before summer is truly over. It costs a very reasonable $13-ish a bottle.


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How to Cook Lamb Leg Steaks Provençal (Tranche de Gigot d'Agneau Provençale)

Sliced Lamb Leg Steaks Provençal (Gigot d'Agneau Provençal).

Sliced Lamb Leg Steaks Provençal (Gigot d’Agneau Provençal).

Here’s how to cook lamb leg steaks–a great, quick-cooking cut of lamb that’s less expensive than chops, but infinitely more tender than long-braising cuts.

When I was in my little vacation apartment in France recently, cooking up my all-time-favorite cut of lamb—tranche de gigot d’agneau (lamb leg steak), I lamented that I have never in my life found this cut back home in Des Moines.

Less expensive (and much more meaty) than a lamb chop, and infinitely more tender than a lamb arm steak, the lamb leg steak is a big-flavored, everyday-priced, quick-cooking option for lamb lovers.

Trouble is, until now, I could never find it back home in Amerique Profonde.

Well, sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Recently, when I went to Whole Foods, I was chatting about lamb at the meat counter, and I asked the meat pro if they ever had lamb leg steaks.

“I can cut them for you,” he said, pointing to a gorgeous whole leg of lamb he had in the case. He gladly (and expertly) sliced two steaks from that behemoth cut. I was trilled—especially when I found the flavor of these New Zealand steaks every bit as good as anything I had bought in France.

See my recipe, below, for how I cooked them. Note that the butcher told me they’re also a great grilling cut. I don’t have a recipe, but I bet if you marinated them in a vinaigrette with Herbes de Provence, then simply grilled them, they’d be divine.

Aren't they lovely?

Aren’t they lovely? Lamb leg steaks come from the lamb leg roast. They’re a great choice when you don’t have the time (or the crowd around your table) for a whole lamb leg roast.

Other posts you might like:

How to cook lamb shoulder chops (these are best for braising)
A great any-night French red wine (to serve with these lamb leg steaks).
• How to cook Magret de Canard (another specialty cut I love!)

How to Cook Lamb Leg Steaks Provençal (Tranche de Gigot d'Agneau Provençale)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
Don’t confuse lamb leg steaks with lamb shoulder or arm steaks—the latter are too tough for the quick-cooking method here.
  • 1 10-ounce lamb leg steak, about ¾-inch thick
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  1. Sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the steak in hot oil over medium to medium-high heat until desired doneness (about 7 minutes for medium), turning once halfway through cooking time. Remove from pan; sprinkle with parsley, and cover with foil.
  2. Add the shallot and herbes de Provence to the pan and cook a few seconds; add the white wine and boil until reduced by half. Swirl in the butter and continue cooking until the sauce reaches desired consistency.
  3. Divide the steak in half and place each half on a serving plate. Pour sauce over the chops and serve.


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