Wine and Dine in Fine France

India’s first French-certified sommelier and wine lover, Magandeep Singh, is no stranger to the vineyards of France. Read on as he shares some memorable moments from one of his many trips to the wine country.  
France is a country that I know better than… I guess I can’t give comparisons for something I know so well! With its tourism infrastructure, going to France is a very convenient pleasure. When you go, of course, you must start with the capital city. And why not? Paris is a point of entry and one of the most romantic cities in the world.
No city is prettier than Paris, and it’s small wonder that it attracts more tourists annually than the entire Indian subcontinent. I guess its reputation as the City of Love does hold a certain charm. My first stop: the ninth arrondissement. I set up camp at the chic 9Hotel, tucked away in a quiet by-lane.

The hotel is close to the opera which called to me, but my attention was first reserved for the wine bar called Albion. Though a wine bar may not be the most apt adjective for this place; it also serves fine food. The wine collection is varied with the proprietor having scavenged far and wide for some little known yet very interesting wines. The food is simple, but if you feel like something more lavish, La Grille, the neighbouring restaurant, serves more traditional French fare in an old-school setting. If you’re already homesick, you can even find an Indian restaurant not too far away.

France is amongst the top ten alcohol-consuming countries in the world and, predictably, wine is the most popular tipple here. And no wonder; there are plenty of wine-producing regions throughout the country. Though each of my trips takes me to one or more of these, this trip featured first Bordeaux, then Lyon.
From the capital of love to the wine capital, which for many is love of a different shade. Once here, I made way to the Regent Hotel facing the opera (I do have a thing for opera, one would imagine!). This is just the setting from which to watch the city go by. Step out and there is wine in every direction! Head north and you hit the belt with the most coveted reds, go south and there are whites and the very rare sweet white wines.
I crossed the river to Saint-Emilion, one of France’s prettiest medieval villages. It has vineyards just about as old as the surrounding village. The food, given the high quality of the wines, is undoubtedly good. But I must add that heading further south to the city of Pau may not be an entirely bad idea. It’s a fairly unexplored region (except for the religious who throng the nearby city of Lourdes) which also has lovely wines (including some fantastic white liqueur wines of Jurançon), and some of the best restaurants in the region.
For the rally enthusiast, if you time it right you can witness the local F3 rally, which runs through the roads of the city, placing it in the coveted club of cities with races within their city limits; Monaco and Singapore are the other two.
Then it was on to Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. From the specialised plats to the bevy of cheese available around this region, Lyon is truly gifted. Add to this that it pretty much lies at the confluence of the winemaking regions of Burgundy and the Rhone valley, and you have quite the setting for extensive wine and food pairing.

But gastronomy apart, this is also the city of the Lumière brothers, so think of it as a visit to the place where cinema began. During the Fêtes des lumières - the light festival, the entire city becomes a backdrop to the most stunning light and sound installations ever. Imagine turning a city into a museum that is as animated as a children’s playground; that is pretty much the feel of this fest! And finally, spare some time for new Lyon, a small area which also hosts the Biennale – the arts festival. Once again, you might come for the food and the wine, but you will stay for a lot more.
That was a brief sprint around the nation which barely scratched the surface. As long as the adventurer in you doesn’t run out of curiosity, there will be enough to explore in these cities – or in any city for that matter – for a lifetime!     - Magan