The courage of forgotten heroes lives on

An op-ed in The New York Times (“He Helped Jews Escape the Holocaust. He Died Unknown”) tells the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat, who in 1940 saved tens of thousands of lives only to be punished for this heroism by his own government.

Here, at Le French Book, it reminded of us Deadly Tasting, one of the mysteries in the Winemaker Detective series, in which an investigation into a series of murders in Bordeaux jogged memories about the complicated history of Bordeaux during Nazi occupation. It was a dark time: weinfuhrers ruled the wine trade, while collaborationists and paramilitary organizations spread terror throughout the region. The authors skillfully weave real history into an otherwise lighthearted mystery series, telling the story of an unsung hero. To discover.

The New York Times article reminds us to remember.

“Was he a great man? Was he mad in showing so little instinct for self-preservation?” one of his sons asked. “The answer lies in all of us when we try to pass judgment on him. I am proud of the fact that I was lucky enough to have such a man as my father.” Tens of thousands today are alive because of his courage.

Launch Day: Discover scenery, scents and sounds of France

In this French mystery set in the Loire Valley, a beguiling actress meets with foul play. Wine expert Benjamin Cooker and his handsome sidekick Virgile rush to the rescue of a dear friend only to find that everyone is a suspect. What intrigue is playing out behind the scenes?

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Requiem in Yquem out today


A New Winemaker Detective Mystery

The intricate taste of greed and remorse

In the mist-covered hills of Sauternes, where the wine is luscious and the landscape beguiling, the brutal murder of an elderly couple intrigues the wine expert Benjamin Cooker and awakens memories for his dashing assistant Virgile Lanssien. Drawn into the investigation, the two journey through the storied Sauternes countryside, where the Château d’Yquem has reigned for centuries. Will the murder go unexplained and the killer remain free? The Winemaker Detective’s discernment and incessant curiosity push investigators to look deeper, while Virgile rekindles memories of his days at school and questions the meaning of his life. 

Praise for the series

“Magnificent series. Beautifully written. Fascinating characters. Intriguing story lines. Most entertaining reading I've done in many years. And, a bit educational as well.  Reminded me of the Colin Dexter books and TV series about CDI Endeavor Morse.”

“If you love to read cozies, enjoy learning about different locales and wines and intriguing sleuths then you need to check out this mystery series.”

"The series will have wide appeal within the British and American mystery-reading market, and particularly for those who enjoy a bit of armchair travel and descriptions of great French food and wine." 

Each book is an adventure...

Jean-Pierre Alaux

Jean-Pierre Alaux

As we prepare for the upcoming release of the new Winemaker Detective mystery, Requiem in Yquem, we talked to the authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.

In France, there are twenty-six books in the series so far (12 published to date in the U.S.), as the series grows and evolves, do you find it easier or more difficult to fall into the story and discover new and exciting plots?

Noël Balen

Noël Balen

Each book is an adventure in and of itself. It is hard to describe the process in terms of ease or difficulty. It is true that our characters are more familiar to us, and their personalities more present, and even more complex. At the same time, each plot requires us to explore a whole new lay of the land, which in the case of this series begins with the wine region where the story takes place. It is important that we invent new stories and new approaches, that we continue to find original ideas.

You have written together now for many years, as well as writing separately. Who does what in the partnership? What are the advantages?

Yes, it's been fifteen years now that we have written together, and both of us have our own approaches. Jean-Pierre also works as a reporter, and spends a lot of time out in the vineyards, tasting, and meeting people involved in winemaking, for whom it is a passion. Noël is good at refining the story, and the two of us together have learned what their respective qualities are, and where their weak spots lie. Working together in this way, striving for high standards, we advance without looking back, knowing that the world of winemaking has a wealth of stories to be told.

The series has been adapted to television. In the U.S., it's rare for an author to be allowed much input on the screenplay or casting. How has this experience been?

It's not that different in France. Here, the series has met with great success thanks in part to the actor, Pierre Arditi, who plays the main character, and to the producers, and they work closely together to make it what it is. We are not involved in the screenplay or the casting, which is frustrating, but the laws of TV are not those of literature. We learned this as we went along.

If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, which would it be?

It would have to be a Cahors wine. Wines from that region have improved so much in recent years. Jean-Pierre also admits a weakness for wines from Saint-Emilion. And a Château Angélus would be a bottle to take through the pearly gates.

You both have considerable outside interests, for Noël, music among other things, for Jean-Pierre, the sea. Do these inspire your mysteries?

Our mysteries are inspired primarily by the wines, wine regions, and winemakers that each book focuses on, but our other interests inevitably get woven into the stories, either in the form of details or more on the level of sensibilities, what a character will be attentive to or how a place will be described.

Pre-orders the new Winemaker Detective mystery with bonuses!

The new Winemaker Detective mystery will whisk you away to Sauternes.

The new Winemaker Detective mystery will whisk you away to Sauternes.

In another satisfying wine novel with a French flair, authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen give readers a perfectly intoxicating combination of French wine, gourmet meals, and mystery in the gloriously described Sauternes wine region with all the scenery, scents, and sounds of France.

Requiem in Yquem comes out on September 12.  

We’ve put together some amazing things you get if you pre-order the book before September 12. Buy any format and you’ll get immediate access to:

  • Bittersweet Delights: The lowdown on Bordeaux’s famous canelés, with a recipe and tricks for getting them right.
  • Liquid Gold, a booklet with inside information about Sauternes wine and pictures from Château d’Yquem
  • An extended excerpt, so you can start reading now.

WHAT DO I DO?

Revealed: The Winemaker Detective and Winemaking

When you sip a glass of wine, how often do you think about the lives, tradition, craftsmanship,  and dumb luck involved in getting that beverage into your glass? Every year Mother Nature holds a new adventure for winemakers who, like goldsmiths, craft each harvest into a moment of pleasure captured in a glass.

The tough life of a writer of wine mysteries: Induction ceremony to become members of the Gaillac Wine Brotherhood of the Dive Bouteille.

The tough life of a writer of wine mysteries: Induction ceremony to become members of the Gaillac Wine Brotherhood of the Dive Bouteille.

Readers of the Winemaker Detective series discover much about winemaking as an art. Each book in the series is, in fact, a wine tasting. As you read, you take a sip, and then a second one, until you climb into the glass and become completely immersed in the drink, surrounded by the land where it was made, and the people who made it. 

Each book is written to honor winemakers and set in a place that is constantly changing. The world of Bordeaux is light years away from that of Burgundy. Who could possible put Alsatian wines in the same category as Loire Valley wines? This mystery series is an initiation, with stories we hope will stay with readers for a long time. 

Noël Balen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, and Anne Trager at the Lisle Noir crime fiction festival.

Noël Balen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, and Anne Trager at the Lisle Noir crime fiction festival.

Clearly, the authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen love wine. They love the France that is far from the beaten path, where people are struggling to make exceptional vintages, despite the blows dealt by fate, hail, or drought. We asked Jean-Pierre and Noël a couple of questions.

Where do you find your inspiration for the series as a whole?

Exploring the universe of wine is a little like taking a long journey. The more you taste, the more you go out and discover wine regions, the more there is to marvel at. Exploring the diversity of wines found in France is a humbling experience. We draw our inspiration from immersing ourselves in this world. With each novel, we visit a climate, a type of winemaker, and new natural environment. It’s an adventure, and we discovered that the world of wine has ways of doing things that are not always very orthodox. When we began the Winemaker Detective series, we had no idea how complex this world would be nor the failings we would find behind the scenes of the fine châteaux, which hide very human weaknesses.

Tell us something about the two characters central to this mystery series?

Before we even outlined Treachery in Bordeaux, the first whodunit in the series, we sketched the characters who would drive the plot. We began with Benjamin Cooker, a winemaker by profession, of British descent who had been living in the Médoc region in France for many years. He has an international reputation and his skills are recognized the world over. His sidekick Virgile went to winemaking school in Bordeaux. He has youth and a Cartesian mind, with a strong connection to his country roots. They are a tandem that combines two generations and two ways of approaching wine, working in a world where Mother Nature dictates fate and where traditions and myths still have a strong hold.

CLICK TO DISCOVER OR BUY THE WHOLE WINEMAKER DETECTIVE SERIES

CLICK TO DISCOVER OR BUY THE WHOLE WINEMAKER DETECTIVE SERIES

12 Facts You Can Steal: Bordeaux, Cork Taint, Transylvania, Tokay and more

cozy culinary mystery about wine and winetasting

As readers know, the Winemaker Detective series offers an immersive experience in both French countryside and winemaking, with some gentle mystery on the side. In the most recent addition to the series—Tainted Tokay—Benjamin Cooker travels abroad to Hungary while his trusty assistant Virgile stays at home. In this one, I learned a number of fun facts, as usual. Here are twelve of them.

  1. Some Bordeaux wine estates have cupolas—those are dome-like structures on the top of a building. These were once used to watch for thieves during the grape harvest.
  2. In the city of Bordeaux, the cupolas served to spot the arrival of merchant ships.
  3. The Prince of Transylvania gave King Louis XIV of France a bottle of Tokay wine from the Tokaj region in Hungary, which gave the wine the reputation of being the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings.
  4. Since 2007, only wines from the Tokaj region of Hungary can legally be called Tokay.
  5. TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is responsible for cork taint.
  6. Pastry chefs who make Vienna’s favorite Sachertorte here go through more than a million eggs every year, plus eighty tons of sugar, seventy-five tons of chocolate, thirty-seven tons of apricot jam, twenty-five tons of butter, and no less than thirty tons of flour. (Benjamin Cooker tells the full story of the Sachertorte, with princes, apprentices, rivalries, litigation, and a supreme court ruling in Tainted Tokay).
  7. In the 1980s, some Austrian winemakers laced their wines with antifreeze to make them sweeter and more full-bodied. The fallout plummeted the whole Austrian wine industry.
  8. At Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Vienna, which is dedicated to the first king of Hungary, there is a relic of the saint’s hand, which is paraded around town once a year.
  9. In the Tokaj region of Hungary, the region’s seasonal wetness and the foggy weather create prime conditions for noble rot. The infected grapes, if picked at just the right moment, produce an especially fine and concentrated sweet wine.
  10. Winds from the great plains of Russia contribute to raisinating the grapes, that is drying them up like raisins, concentrating the sugar content. In northeastern Hungary, the interplay of moisture and sunshine stoked by the winds of the Ural Mountains produce the only grape of its kind in the world, as well as the most expensive. Its name is aszú, meaning desiccated.
  11. Tokay has more residual sugar than any other wine. The great Yquem vintages have 100 to 150 grams per liter, while the sweetest Tokaji—the eszencia—has more than 450 grams per liter. Some exceptional vintages can have as much as 900 grams per liter.
  12. Tokaj has a network of cellars carved out of solid rock between the years 1400 and 1600, where the wine ages.

Le French Book in Mystery Scene Magazine

Check out the current issue of Mystery Scene Magazine, and you'll find:

Mystery Scene Magazine
  • Page 33 - Back in Bamako, and article by Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard.
  • Page 39 - A half-page about Le French Book, by our favorite designer Jeroen ten Berge.
  • Page 60 - A review of Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen's The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus by Robin Agnew
  • Page 63 - A review of Laurent Guillaume's White Leopard by Kevin Burton Smith.