I went to IKEA in Avignon for lunch over the summer. Not through choice so much as a necessity. I had visited the sports store next door with my son so close to lunchtime that apparently his need for meatballs was all-consuming. I am sharing this in my wine column because I was amused to see mini wine bottles available for purchase alongside the other drinks. Not just a white and red wine option but several choices of each to ensure the correct match for the dishes on offer. The French believe that wine is the perfect accompaniment to a meal, creating a complex interplay of tastes. I agree completely.
That lunchtime reminded me how much importance is placed upon a sit down lunch in France; a ritual that is still regularly upheld. Families were sitting down and spending time during a shopping trip, tables were laden with starters, mains & desserts, wine and water followed by coffee. Not a site you see in many other parts of the world. In fact the French Gastronomic Meal was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010 because, amongst other reasons, it has played an active social role within its community over the generations. Sitting down at the same time most days with family and friends or workmates, socialising, sharing dishes particularly the main course (sometimes whether you like it or not!), choosing good local foods, pairing them with suitable wines are key elements to the meal. Staying in France for any amount of time can however be frustrating when 12.30pm comes along and you want to buy stamps, petrol, DIY materials, or even something as basic as bread only to find most smaller stores have closed to allow their staff to go home and enjoy lunch. I am a Francophile, (I took the test) so I really shouldn’t complain that the French see gastronomy as an art form. I too find great pleasure in finding the right dish to pair with a particular wine (rarely the other way around – not sure what message that sends?). Take a look at my website I have a whole section on wine & food matching derived from choosing wines to taste and then foods to complement or enhance them. Where do I start in this process? – I think of the origin of the wine, if for example, it is French in which region is it produced? What are the local dishes that have the flavours that the work with this wine? It really can be as simple as that, equally so for other European countries with a rich history of winemaking. UNESCO adds that the French Gastronomic Meal brings people together to enjoy the pleasure of taste; I’ll drink to that.