“I often feel that France isn’t just one wine country, it is many! Each French region has its own grapes, traditions and styles of wine making. Add the fact that more northerly areas like the Loire or Champagne have much cooler climates than the baking hot regions of the deep south and you get an idea why French wines offer so much diversity.
I’ve travelled through all corners of this wine country and each region feels very distinctive. The grand Chateaux of Bordeaux and Champagne are impressively glamorous... while Burgundy and Beaujolais are much more rural in feel, with smaller wineries and patches of vineyard dotted about here and there.
You’ll be able to taste the wines of the region you are cruising through on a Scenic river cruise. There are several on the list and plenty more from other parts of the country will be poured with meals throughout the trip. So it’s a great chance to brush up your wine knowledge whether you begin your holiday as a novice or a connoisseur.
When I host a master class on board I try to focus on showing wines from the region we’re in, though - it’s great to sail past the area where the wine is actually made while we sample a few whites, rosés or reds. And I really enjoy taking guests to a winery in, say Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Tasting in the region with some of the people who make wine there really does bring the experience of drinking wine vividly to life.
Your French hidden gem?
I love the Alsace’s gewürztraminer. This grape variety delivers a scent of lychees and roses, like Turkish Delight!
Your top tips for summer?
There are some exciting crisp whites around such as picpoul, pecorino and vermentino - and some lighter reds like Spain’s Mencia that work really well chilled.
Do you have any gift inspiration that won’t break the bank?
Anyone would be delighted to receive a sweet Bordeaux golden dessert wine.
What is the rule for pork and duck?
I’d go straight for a pinot noir, usually from Burgundy but also made in Alsace and the deep south.
What is your favourite French wine?
I’m highly tempted to say Champagne or Sancerre, arguably the best sauvignon blanc in the world. But, I’m going to plump for red Burgundy instead, one of the most versatile reds in the world. Made with pinot noir grapes, it’s delicious with red meats, cheeses, mushrooms, chicken, roast turkey, and even richer fish like salmon. It can age very well too.
What is the best glass of Champagne you’ve ever had?
My favourite Champagne ‘moment’ was at my wedding when we opened six magnums of gorgeous vintage Champagne Lanson for the toast. Enjoying wine is about the occasion as well as the quality!
Where’s best to start learning about wine?
In wine columns and books. The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (www.wsetglobal.com) runs excellent courses throughout the UK. Best of all - come on a river cruise through France’s wine regions.
What was your favourite wine on board Scenic Sapphire?
I had a delicious glass of Champagne Drappier one evening - a biscuity, lightly toasty fine fizz. And I really liked a buttery Mâcon chardonnay from southern Burgundy with a fish dish at dinner.