The biggest secret the French don't want you to know
In a word, that secret is Beaujolais.
Even an apathetic wino has no excuse to drink badly in Lyon.
Straddling the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers, it's the evocative intersection of these two waterways, bearing wines from the Northern Rhône and Burgundy respectively. With so much fantastic wine within arm's reach, it speaks volumes that despite all this, the food of this Roman capital has long been best associated with Beaujolais.
But until recently, Beaujolais has suffered from a fate worse than cork taint - that of unfashionability. In the average drinker's mind, say 'Beaujolais' and they'll think of the fruity, banana and bubble-gum laced Beaujolais Nouveau which sent your great-aunt loco in the 1970s.
But whispers of Beaujolais resurgence are now so loud as to be bellows. Clearly, we needed to check it out first hand.
Lyon is a place to order local – or even better, the set menu. Meat is king. Porky, densely packed sausages are boiled and sliced over lentils. Earthy, spice-flecked saucisson. Ferrous sweetbreads and offal in any incarnation you can think of: crispy fried, poached, buried in rich gravy. Even at the divine Café Sillon, a significantly lighter, more modern interpretation of classic Lyonnaise fare, pig abounded.
The bouchon is an institution here, with an organisation uniquely devoted to the upholding of culinary tradition. The Beaujolais revelations began to unfold on our first evening – in the ancient dining room of Le Bouchon des Filles. We ordered a favourite – Yves Culliron’s (otherwise truly sublime) Côte-Rôôtie, which was mournfully wrong with the food on our table. Pork cheeks, quenelles of pike, lentil salads piquant with vinegar – meaty and earthy, the food wanted acidity, sprightly flavour.
Take two: Saturday lunch. Café des Fédérations – a €19 set menu which commenced with an unrivalled spread of what I can only term Lyonnaise meze. We sensibly ordered a carafe of the local red. Obviously – fabulous. Fragrant, juicy, moderate in alcohol – it was a lunchtime dream.
Appetites wetted, we roamed the city, practicaly paved with corks, deciding to spend time between meals exploring Beaujolais further too. The OH and I had attended Noble Rot’s Fete de Beaujolais last year – and spent a happy hour in the cellars of world-famous wine shop, Antic, truffling for Detraive goodies to replicate that delicious pairing of pork trotter and Terroir de Champagne at home. Eventually, discouraged from blowing the full holiday budget on bottles of Clos Rougard, we settled for some highly recommended bottles of fragrant Morgan and a smattering of goodies from further afield.
(That Morgon formed the centrepiece of one of the best meals I’ve ever had, read about it here).
As far as I'm concerned, I’m torn. The best wines of Beaujolais's ten 'crus' combine the holy trinity for the shoestring wine lover: underappreciated and undervalued, they're still rosy with the flush of 'insider secret' status. But to have the winemakers who coax such sublime flavour from unfashionable Gamay, grown in unfashionable soils recognised for such achievement? You could hardly begrudge them that.