NZ:French cheese, St Emilion, Chateaunuef a vinous tasting
We'd just returned from Europe some months before. Crossing the stop lights by a French restaurant the other day, I'd chanced a look inside the restaurant - a couple by the window were engrossed with tasting and savouring their cheese platter. I just had to sigh! - a passing lament that we didn't have the chance to get to France, as we were busy in Spain.
The cheeses in France are so moreish and the variety seemed endless. At every weekend market, during fleeting visits to France some years back, each little town or village brought out their finest cheeses to be sold, oozing scrumptiousness. A friend in the know commented, why not try the French cheese epicerie in Newmarket, in the heart of Auckland? What, here in Auckland? Great - I was delighted that there was such a place.
When I came to think of it, there are little pockets of delicatessen or speciality shops in quite a few towns in NZ. Driving across the North Island, visiting a family, friends or just re-acquainting ourselves with the area, I would say: oh! There's a Gouda shop … a Swiss cheese store...Go Dutch delicatessen.. I must get the suburb and road name I thought to myself, as I searched for pen and paper in the car, as we sometimes drove past an interesting foodie. Having little luck searching for a pen as we were in the car, Murray who was driving obviously couldn't see what I had just glimpsed and in less than no time, I'd forgotten the incident. My memory was playing up again... until it got refreshed in conversation some time further down the track..
Parked in Newmarket, the store is unmistakable. A to-die-for Fromagerie, cafe and wine shop behind its quite plain exterior, Maison Vauron is quintessentially French. As soon as you enter, evocative timber floors and quaint French relics from a bygone age greet you. The aroma of freshly made coffee wafted across the open spaciousness from the café, yet was still intimate and inviting. So tempted to have everything on offer, we finally decided on croque monsieur and croissant filled with oozing delectable Camembert and ham, accompanied by small perfect salad.
We finished the delicious lunch, took a few photos and ventured upstairs. I was very surprised: in the cavernous recesses of this first floor area, is top-to-base multitude of top quality wine. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Alsace, and more. I hadn't seen a more well-stocked wine store for French wines other than in France itself.
During our time the UK, we frequently invested in short driving trips to France as the longer holiday weekends and proximity to France made that possible. On one such trip we dropped into Saint-Émilion, a charming medieval village that makes the best Bordeaux wine and is also a UNESCO classified world heritage site. Only 25km from Bordeaux, the town was named after the monk Émilion, who settled in a hermitage carved into the rock there in the 8th century. We wandered through the leafy green township and we ventured into one and two wine shops. There were astounding choices with bottles and labels, cheek by jowl, quite bewildering. It's a charming place to visit; chateaux and vineyards, in the sunny summer days.
On another France trip quite a bit later we visited Châteauneuf-du-Pape, another great name in wine appellations located in the southern part of the Rhône Valley,. Vineyards located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighbouring villages produce more wine than in the entire northern Rhône region. The characteristic taste and full flavour, is imparted into a wine by the environment in which it is produced, and this areas secret comes from a stony layer. These stones retain heat during the day and release it at night which hastens the ripening of grapes. This results in luxuriously rich red wines, plummy flavours and aromas, producing wines of great elegance and finesse.
There's very little doubt about it, Maison Vauron based in Auckland, are New Zealand's largest specialist in Fine French wine. Also stocking French beers and liqueurs, they have New Zealand's largest selection of French cheeses, charcuterie and delicacies. The wine degustation section is actually a large space next to the racks of wine on the first floor, where you can participate in a veritable Tour (de Vin) de France, exploring the different French regions from the North to the South and the wines that have made them famous, partnered with typical local cuisine made by the cafe downstairs. That's got my taste buds hooked.
I explored the shelves and more shelves of wine while Murray looked for Pineau des Charentes liqueur. Many years ago, we were introduced to Pineau during a visit to Cognac, one hours drive north of Saint-Émilion. Pineau is a delicious aperitif - whilst making another batch of cognac in ~1590, grape must was mistakenly poured into a not-quite empty cognac barrel. The mistake was discovered a few years later when the cognac was supposedly ready.
Slightly chilled it is quite light on the palate, Pineau des Charentes is very moreish. It was quite a challenge to find it in even the upmarket wine stores in the part of London where we lived. However, Murray found it within seconds in Maison Vauron. White Pineau des Charentes, superb! We shall return for rose Pineau, if not the degustation as well.