One of the most memorable aspects of spending some time in a foreign country is that almost everything you do (going to the market, buying chocolates at the chocolate store, making the laundry machine work) turns into an incredible experience. Each day is different, and each day is amazing!
Having been here almost four weeks in the same apartment, we’ve had the opportunity to entertain as well as be entertained. This foray into a totally different realm of entertaining has been both exciting and educational. Not only have we met some of the nicest, most interesting people, but it seems that everyone wants to help us along in our journey to understand, not just wine, but the whole French lifestyle.
We were totally unprepared for Christine and Michel
(our landlady and her partner) when we had them over for dinner. Not only does Christine do an amazing job of kindly correcting my French, but her subtle comment that 6:30pm was very early (and we mean early!) for dinner in France (regardless of the day of the week) was very helpful. We should have clued into this early on anyway (if we hadn’t been overwhelmed by everything else new) since the restaurants don’t even open until 7pm. Better yet, Christine’s comment on our next dinner (where they offered to come at 6:30 pm to talk like Americans before dinner at 8:30) that our Boeuf Bourguignon (yes, we made a French dish for Frenchmen) should have just a bit more flour to thicken the sauce was said simply for information. How refreshing this honesty was, making us better cooks (from comments one might not hear in the US).
Our time with Christine and Michel was great preparation for a dinner invitation of Malbec and truffles starting at 8:30pm. We had been invited to Babeth and Pierre-Jean Pébeyre’s house (whose business is truffles) for dinner. We met up with Jérémy Arnauld, the marketing director of all Cahors wines, at his house (a block away from ours) for a wonderful discussion of Malbec around 7pm. With a very nice bottle of 2007 Château du Cèdre, we discussed the characteristic s of “authentic” Malbec, with its tight yet fine tannins, incredible color, dark berry fruit, and the ability to age the best vintages for decades. Cahors Malbecs are, in many ways, bold yet elegant, which seems to be in direct contrast with the style of Argentine Malbecs.
This lead into the interesting discussion of style versus marketing, and who can claim what in the competitive world of wine sales. With the
southern hemisphere’s success with a softer style and the globalization of wine competitions (and scorings), Argentina is striving to become known as the world’s predominant producer of Malbec. In the process, their attempts have stepped on and into Cahors’ historical bond with this great variety, sometimes ignoring Malbec’s origins. Undoubtedly, this can cause friction.
As we walked over to the Pébeyre’s house, the discussion turned to the need for regions to remain “authentic” to their style, which by some wine writers’ opinions is a “rustic” nature for Cahors Malbecs. We at home can take this to heart as we need to remain true to our terroir (the climate, the soils, the slopes, the inherent styles) and revel in its uniqueness.
For Cahors, this uniqueness is in producing a Malbec that perfectly
melds with foods from the region (the ultimate in ranch/regional marketing). The Pébeyre’s served several incredible Malbecs from their cellar, including a 2002 Cuvée Dame Honneur from Château Lagrézette that was positively exquisite.
By 10:00pm, we started dinner. The wines were wonderfully paired with paté with truffles, a glorious soup of carrots and celery (with truffles), baguettes grilled with truffles and sea salt, and a chicken dish with mashed potatoes and truffles. There’s a reason this region is famous for truffles, paté, and Malbec, they pair together wonderfully (at least for Cahors Malbecs with their tannins and great acidity).
But once again, the conversation made the evening. It was a never-ending mixture of French and English. Bits and pieces of culture thrown back and forth. Honest comments about marketing challenges (our issues are not very far from their issues). And laughter filled the kitchen throughout. There is no doubt that Babeth, Pierre-Jean and their daughter Marie can throw a great dinner party.
And for us, we soaked it up (wine, food and fun), walking home at 1am through the deserted streets of Cahors. And as for the kids? They did great. We’ve moved wonderfully into the French lifestyle of eating late, going to bed late, (and for us) getting up late. It’s the least we can do to try and assimilate a bit (plus it’s good practice for going to Spain later in March).