Was the first Valentine’s Day card sent by a French king?

by Steve Martindale

A small town in the heart of Indre will again welcome lovers from across the country on 14th February and the nearest weekend. Why the attraction? The town of Saint-Valentin is the only place in France to bear the name of the patron saint of lovers. Residents deck their homes in blooms, the Jardin des amoureaux (lovers’ garden) opens its gates and free concerts take place to serenade courting couples. A post office, specially constructed for the week, sells commemorative stamps and postcards for the most ‘authentic’ Valentine’s card you’ll ever send.

If all that romance brings matters to a head, it’s even possible to take things one step further and tie the knot in the flower garden, with everything laid on, from hotels, hair and make-up to wedding cars, photographers and champagne. All you need to do is say “I do”….

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The Wines of Bergerac – The Prix Ragueneau

by Martin Walker

The Prix Ragueneau is known as the top cookery prize in south-west France, featuring the black truffles and foie gras, the lamb and fowl and walnuts that are the best-known specialities of this magnificently endowed region.

But is also important to winemakers since each of the two dishes prepared by the five chefs in the final must be accompanied by its own wine, which has to be explained and the choice justified before the jury by the sommelier who shares the prize with the chef.

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When it’s OK to drink from the bowl

by Steve Martindale

Every region of France has its local customs and the Dordogne is no exception. One you may have seen out and about, and which some say is the reason behind the impressive longevity of the area’s inhabitants, is to pour a splash of red wine into your empty soup bowl before picking it up, swilling it around and draining the contents, or more concisely, faire chabrol.

The tradition originates in this department, and although your grandmother may have always told you never to drink from the bowl, the opposite is the case with this old ritual. Whilst some say chabrol and others chabrot, most agree that the expression means “boire comme une chabrette” – to drink like a goat.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Atmospherics and alcohol

by Martin Walker

The more we learn about the 2018 vintage, the more extraordinary it appears. The wet spring and early summer, with constant threats of mildew, was a real challenge not just for the eventual harvest but above all for the growing trend towards organic wines.

Wet weather means mildew and there are two main ways to tackle it. The first and most common is to spray with copper sulphate, but use too much and the vineyard can lose its organic certification. The other solution is to trim the young leaves, which are most vulnerable to mildew. On a small vineyard, this is possible but very labour-intensive. On larger ones it is almost impossible.

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