By Shakira Chanrai
It’s fair to say that I’m clumsy, particularly when it comes to mobile phones – agreeing to insure me was possibly the worst decision my insurance provider could make. For example, a couple of months ago I broke my Samsung S4 by dropping it approximately 30 feet onto a squash court – if you haven’t played squash before, I can tell you that the hard floor is pretty unforgiving not just on your knees but on phones too. When I finally got my phone repaired last month, the most recent images saved were from a skiing trip I went on in March this year. Looking through the photos jolted my memory about the excellent food and wine pairing opportunities I had during that week in the French Alps.
For those of you that have not yet been to Courchevel, I can assure you that it is truly a gastronomic paradise. Yes, the skiing is fantastic: a lift pass to “Les Trois Vallés” opens the door to 600km of ski slopes – that’s comparable to more than 14 marathons – facilitated by an impressive and efficient network of 183 ski lifts. However, it’s only after the skis are taken off that the fun (and debauchery) really begins.
For those new to the resort: Courchevel is divided into four satellite villages – Le Praz, 1550, 1650 and 1850 (with the prices and ‘luxury factor’ increasing with the altitude). From a foodie’s perspective, the resort as a whole is a gastronomic hotspot, boasting eleven Michelin stars between eight restaurants; seven of these restaurants are located in the highest (and most chic) resort – 1850. Les Airelles and Le 1947 (Cheval Blanc) have both recently been awarded with two Michelin stars each, whilst Le Chabichou and Le Bateau Ivre have held their prestigious two-starred ratings for quite some time. Il Vino and La Table du Kilimandjaro both hold one star apiece, whilst the Azimut in 1300 is also the proud owner of a Michelin star. If the thought of authentic French food from the Savoie region cooked with the finest and freshest ingredients is causing you to salivate, look no further than Courchevel. That is not to say, however, that a Michelin star is a prerequisite for good food in the resort. Smaller, more intimate restaurants provide local culinary delights at much more appealing prices. La Fromagerie is extremely well-known for its cheese (as the name would suggest). Its specialities include raclette, Fondue Savoyarde and tartiflette, as well as a range of meats. La Cendrée is known to be “the” Italian restaurant of the resort, maintaining a reputation for excellence and extensive use of truffles. Le Bal also gives guests the opportunity to break away from French cuisine, with an interesting range of pizzas at a more reasonable price than La Cendrée. La Chapelle is known for its open, authentic fire and impressive range of meats – but interestingly enough its most memorable dish is the pain-perdue! The newly opened Le Chabotté is a bistrot-style affair offering traditional French cuisine in addition to live music; this is the ‘sister’ restaurant of the aforementioned two-starred Le Chabichou. Restaurants in Courchevel cater to a range of personal tastes and budgets, ranging from the pleasantly casual to the woefully expensive. Nevertheless, whether you seek the culinary experience of a lifetime or a low-key fondue dinner, there will be something that suits. You can even find yourself clubbing on the slopes while having lunch at La Folie Douce Méribel.
By the way, Courchevel is possibly the only place on earth where you can burn 2,000 extra calories exercising during the day but still go home 5 kilograms heavier. Just saying.
With such delicious regional delicacies available in Courchevel, there’s a lot of pressure on winemakers to perform equally strongly. I can tell you that the wines don’t disappoint.
The wine-producing area located around the foothills of the Alps is classified as the Savoie region (spelt Savoy in English but I will refrain from using that spelling on the grounds that it butchers the word). Unfortunately Savoie wine is not particularly accessible in the UK – much of the wine is used for domestic consumption rather than export – but it is very much available in and around the region. If you’re skiing in the Alps, Savoie wine usually represents excellent value for money – it’s often higher up on the wine list (read: cheaper) but that absolutely does not mean the wine is no good.
So what’s it all about?
Savoie wines are primarily white (roughly three quarters of all wine produced). You won’t find much regular joe Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling here, no sir. The grapes used are quite obscure and unknown to most: Jacquère, Altesse, Gringet and Roussanne. You would probably struggle to find some of these grapes elsewhere! The white wines produced in this region are known for their minerality, acidity and notes of citrus, apple and pear. Depending on the composition of grapes, some wines can also be pretty floral and aromatic too. Savoie whites are delicious with chicken and seafood; they have the acidity to cut through creamy sauces; I also find them to be excellent with cheese fondue (known in the area as Fondue Savoyard) and raclette. These wines don’t tend to age well so best enjoyed young.
The region produces red wine too – the main grape variety used is Mondeuse. Other notable grapes grown in Savoie are Gamay (the same grape used in Beaujolais) and Pinot Noir – both producing wines that are fairly light in style. These wines can be paired with a variety of dishes depending on the grape and age, including salmon, veal, chicken, chèvre (goat cheese).
Although I’m absolutely dreading the onset of winter (the days have been getting shorter since June 21st – a source of great stress for me), my annual skiing trip is something I’m already very excited about. There’s simply nothing like enjoying a glass of Savoie white alongside a lunch of chèvre chaud salad while overlooking Mont Blanc. There’s also nothing like sipping on a Savoie red while sitting in front of a warm and cosy fireplace after an intense day of skiing.
I’m already counting down to March 2015. Anyone want to join?
Hi! I’m Shakira, co-founder and CEO of Grapeful, a free app that helps you pair food with wine. I launched Grapeful in February last year after spotting a gap in the market for a user-friendly and light-hearted app that simplifies the world of wine. I like to call it “a sommelier in your pocket”. The free app helps you pair food with wine, view restaurant wine lists, impress a date with geeky facts about wine, explore wines by occasion, country, retailer and style, and much more. It is currently available for iOS and Android devices.
I write a blog reasonably regularly and I send out weekly e-newsletters to my wine-loving friends. If you’re a wine drinker, I’d love to share my views with you – click here if you’re interested. I promise I won’t spam you.
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