Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
When our sons were schoolboys we took our ‘foreign’ holidays in Brittany and Normandy. As is the case today, it was possible to travel by ferry from Ireland to Roscoff in Brittany and Cherbourg or Le Havre in Normandy. Our favourite Norman town was Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a small atmospheric place of only a couple of thousand residents, located just north of the World War II Normandy landing beaches. We stayed in a small guesthouse where the madame was all dressed in black and reminded us of Edith Piaf.
In Brittany we have fond memories of the delightful Ille de Batz just off Roscoff, Sables d’Or on the Emerald Coast, Dinard and Saint Malo. The latter was destroyed during the war, but painstakingly rebuilt stone for stone. The popular novel ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ expertly recreates Saint Malo of the war years.
In Normandy, Cherbourg’s Cotentin Peninsular and in particular Barneville-Carteret with beaches looking out over the Channel Islands was a wonderful vacation spot unspoilt by mass tourism, as most car ferry arrivals tend to favour the long drive south in search of reliable summer weather, the climate of Brittany and Normandy being not unlike that of Ireland.
Aside from an excellent food and wine shop in Saint Vaast called the Maison Gosselin, I have no clear memories of shopping for wine in those days. Nowadays of course, stocking up at one of the supermarkets or hypermarkets, (a combination of supermarket and department store) appears to be a requisite part of any car holiday to France. The emphasis seems to be on wines at the lower range of the price market, which is not that surprising given that you can buy drinkable reds and whites in the lower than €5 bracket. Hypermarkets such as the huge Carrefours chain, which has thousands of outlets offering a bewildering selection of wines from all corners of France and ranging from the lower-priced selections mentioned above, all the way to the finest Bordeaux and Burgundies.
I was recently given a unique chance to choose a selection from the ‘Wine and Beer Supermarket’ in Roscoff to be transported back to Ireland by friends of our son who met them while on holiday in the Vendee region of France.
Keeping in mind you could choose the perfectly drinkable Domaine de Peras red or white for €2.79 a bottle, I went slightly more upmarket with two choices from Bordeaux, one from the Beaujolais region and one from the South of France.
Vieux Chateau Gachet, Lalande de Pomerol, 2014, €13.95. From a small appellation just north of the more famous and pricey Pomerol region bordering Saint Emilion and producing very fine merlot-based reds.
Chateau de L’Hospital, Graves, 2012. Graves is a great value area just south of Bordeaux city. Chateau de L’Hospital is listed in the influential Hugh Johnson Guide as one of the best labels in Graves. My special treat at €11.90
Domaine di la Combe au Loup, Morgon, €7.99 Morgon is one of the best ‘Cru’ wines from Beaujolais, and this one is a Gold Medal winner.
Finally I chose three bottles of Buzet, because it is relatively hard to find in Ireland and this selection comes at €5.95 a bottle. The Buzet growing area in south west France uses the same grape combinations as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, sometimes adding a bit of Malbec as well. Stunning value.
Chateau de Padere Buzet 2016 is produced ‘respecting nature’ and carries a ‘Bee-friendly’ badge!