Friday, December 18, 2020

France's Christmas Markets for Foodies


               France's Alsace region features Hansel & Gretel villages reflecting its Germanic past 

Last week Wine-Knows' 2022 trip to the Christmas Markets of Germany was featured on this Blog.  But, on the 2022 tour Wine-Knows will also be visiting two French Marchés de Noëin Alsace, France.  Alsace is a small district in eastern France which borders Germany, as well as Switzerland.  This unique region has passed back and forth between France and Germany many times over the last several centuries, and the Alsatian Christmas markets reflect this duality.  In many ways, the marchérepresent the best of both countries in a prettily packaged German yuletide gift with an exquisite French culinary bow.

                                         Wine-Knows will dine at a Michelin star restaurant

Alsace is an often overlooked area of France, but foodies-in-the-know flock to this  gastronomic powerhouse.  Other than the center of Paris, Alsace has more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other country in Europe.  This northeast corner of France is a capital for foie gras.  Moreover, Alsace is a treasure trove for beautifully crafted wines.  Its Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris are dry, unlike their German neighbors (although styles in Germany are shifting to drier wines).

                             Christmas markets in France have charmed locals for nearly 500 years           

Strasbourg, the capitol of Alsace, is the site of one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets.  Operating since 1570, Strasbourg’s market is regarded as one of the very best in Europe.  It’s not just one big market but eleven different smaller markets spread out over the entire historical center of this extraordinary town.  (One of these markets is just for children.)  The Christmas tree in front of city hall is >100 feet tall and all ten stories of it are decked out in full regalia.  There’s a mind-boggling assortment of handcrafted items for the holiday season including everything one could ever dream of to decorate a Christmas tree or to deck the halls.  For the food-lover, however, it’s nirvana.

                         Why not splurge with a decadent slice of foie gras from this vendor at the market?

Santa’s elves could seriously eat their way across Strasbourg through the Christmas markets.  No doubt they would begin their culinary journey with foie gras, one of the culinary treasures of Alsace.  The Christmas marchés of Strasbourg are filled with beaucoup vendors selling foie gras.  Truly decadent elves might want to indulge in truffle studded foie gras, or purchase a magnificently wrapped basket containing both goose and duck foie gras, caviar, and a bottle of a luscious Alsatian wine.

                 Light-as-air Kougelhofts come in varying sizes, but all are made in the same shape

All of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg sell Alsace’s iconic Kougelhoft, an ethereal yeast-based cake baked in a tall decorative bundt-type mold.  A traditional Germanic recipe, Kougelhoft is featured in miniature single servings, as well as gigantic ones that could feed a family of 20 for Christmas dinner.  The markets also feature vendors selling brightly colored Kougelhoft molds that are hand-painted.

                 Bring an extra suitcase to take home some of these one of a kind decorations

The second Marché de Noël Wine-Knows will visit in 2022 is located in the charming Hansel and Gretel village of Colmar.   While Strasbourg is a huge city, Alsace's Colmar is just the right size for strolling.  Its six small marches, spread out over a half of a mile walk along a meandering river, are like a Christmas dream. 

                An Alsatian specialty called Flammekeuche marries the best of France & Germany

Flammekeuche is sold by several vendors at Colmar's Christmas market.  An Alsatian version of pizza without the tomatoes, this one has a paper thin crust.  The top reflects the French DNA and France’s love affair with cheese.  In this case it’s topped with the area’s famous Muenster cheese (in another world from the insipid  mass-produced muenster cheese sold in the USA).   For the other chromosome of its German past, flammekeuche is topped with ham or bacon.

                              Gingerbread cookies feature a multitude of yummy spices

One can find plenty of Christmas stalls in Colmar selling homemade pain d’epices, spice bread.  A classical dessert of Germanic culinary roots, pain d’epices is Alsace’s rendition of gingerbread.  At the Christmas market this bread is also made as a cookie in all shapes of the yuletide season.  The cookies pair perfectly with Alsace’s Christmas market hot spiced wine drink, vin chaud.

                  Colmar's Christmas markets meander through the historic town center

For more information on Wine-Knows’ 2022 trip to the Christmas markets of France and Germany, the trip is showcased on our website:

 Joyeux Noël

Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas Markets of Germany for Foodies

                       Even the angels are captivated by the glory of Europe's Christmas markets

The Christmas markets of Europe were one of the last things on my bucket list.  Thus, a few years ago for my hallmark December birthday, I flew over for what turned out to be one of the most enchanting times I’ve had in Europe.  I’m not a cold weather gal, but with appropriate gear I found the temperatures not nearly as bad as I had imagined (especially with a glass of hot mulled wine).

                                           Labor-intensive "stollen" is available by the slice

Germany is the epicenter of Europe’s Christmas markets.  Many Christmas traditions have their origins in Germany…from the Christmas tree and rituals of holiday decorations, to gingerbread houses and the Advent calendar.  Another German custom is the Christmas market.  With roots in the Middle Ages, Germany’s modern day Christmas markets are some of the most magical events in all of Europe.


                                             Sausages ("wursts") are grilled over wood fires

Christmas markets in Germany are also a foodie’s delight.   Specialty labor-intensive food products made only during the holidays are featured.  Stollen, a time-consuming dense bread filled with nuts, spices and dried fruit is one of the "only at Christmas" edibles.   Then, there are the extraordinary sausages which come in every size and shape. Home-made sauerkraut that has been marinating in dry Riesling for several months, is addictive (and, thankfully, tastes absolutely nothing liked the canned rendition).  Cheeses abound:   there’s a popular raclette-type dish, and a pizza-like specialty called Flammkuchen topped with cheese, onions and crème fraiche.  Holiday gingerbread cookies are big at the markets, each one hand-decorated.

                                        Stalls compete for the most beautiful decor

German Christmas markets are a bacchanal for the senses.   Think adult Disneyland for the holidays with over-the-top decorations such as fully decked out 50 foot Christmas trees, life-size Santas with a sleighs and reindeers perched on rooftops, and the most mind-blowing illumination of huge squares that one could ever imagine.  Each booth at these outdoor extravaganzas are works of art themselves with every vendor trying to out decorate their competitors.  Stalls selling hand-blown glass ornaments in a dazzling array of colors, mix with artisans at the next booth selling exquisite hand-made jewelry.

Artists work the entire year preparing for hand-made Christmas gifts

Even the smells of the Christmas markets are intoxicating.  Divine scents of roasting chestnuts over open-wood fires mix with the aromas of simmering hot spiced wine, grilled sausages in every size and shape, mushrooms simmering in  wine & garlic, and a plethora of freshly cut pine trees.  But, let’s not forget the music:  groups of carolers abound (many dressed in period costume), string quartets play classical carols, and bands decked out in traditional regalia fill the air with polka-style holiday music.  It’s a cacophony for the senses.

              Historical squares & castles serve as backdrops for Germany's Christmas markets

Wine-Knows will advertising their first-ever trip to the 2022 Christmas markets of Germany and France next month.  We already have several pre-marketing signups, but at this time there are nine spaces available.  Check out the trip:

Friday, December 4, 2020

Pink Bubbles for the Holidays

Pinot Noir is responsible for the color of Rosé Champagne

There’s something about the holidays that screams bubbly.   And, I’m all about making the month of December colorful so I’ve chosen my five favorite pink bubbles.  They are all French and all five are made from Pinot Noir grapes (thus the pale pink color caused by a short contact with Pinot’s red skins).   

Four of the five are Champagnes (only sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne can legally be called Champagne.)  The fifth one, called Cremant in lieu of Champagne), is made just across the border in France’s Burgundy which is contiguous with Champagne.  The Cremant is a crazy steal, two are in the moderate price range for Champagne, the other two are about 80 bucks but represent terrific quality even for this upper range.   All are non- vintage.

Listed in order of ascending price:

JCB “69” Cremant.  We were served this “sparkling wine” recently in the home of two bon vivants in the wine business.  It was superb.  When I was told the price ($9.99 at Costco), we went out immediately and purchased a case.

Ployez-Jacquemart Rosé:  We always take our Wine-Knows groups to this family-owned boutique producer in the Champagne countryside just outside of Reims.  I can’t think of another Champagne house that produces such a terrific value.  $45 online.  


Paul Bara Brut Rosé:  Consistently ranked with an outstanding quality price ratio by many international critics, this one is a perennial favorite of ours.  Available at good wine shops and online at $60  


Mouton Rothschild Rosé:   Mouton Rothchild  is famous for its Bordeaux, however, its Champagne (made, of course, in Champagne) is a knockout.  $75 at various online stores.  Thanks, Carrol & Steve, for this winning introduction.


Billecart Salmon Rosé:   I was gifted this wine >30 years ago for my birthday and still remember my first sip.  The bottle’s shape is seductive, but it’s the contents of the bottle that will completely seduce you.   BevMo which offers it for $79.99.


Have a bubbly holiday season....