When it comes to wine we have a very clear division of labor: my wife drinks it and I drive her around. She has spent many, many hours through the years helping our good friends in their California vineyard pruning, harvesting, bottling (best therapy ever, she claims) so she can throw around words like refractometer and bortrytis. But she is no wine snob, not her, and points or AV designations and especially not the contrived descriptions or ludicrous prices make no difference to her. What she really enjoys is the human aspect of wine production and tasting and that makes it really fun for me going along for the ride. Therefore I feel honored to let all important decisions of the day rest in the capable hands of my leading co-director, such as which winery to select, what wine to drink and how long to stay in any of the watering holes, while I am tasked with less important aspects like trying to enjoy myself while
1. sipping a glass of local sparkling mineral water whenever all others taste wonderful French wines. (Sometimes I am generously allowed at least a whiff). 2. staying fully compliant with the country zero tolerance policy and the new speed limit that the authorities just lowered a week before we crossed the River Rhine. (When I asked why, I was told it should lessen the high summer casualties occurring year after year as French population leaves en-mass the places of their business, exhausted by their 32-hour work week, seeking a well deserved month of national recuperation in the countryside).
3. settling the bills after our frequent drinking stops
During the necessary relocations between cellars my duty was to move fast within the constraints of the new law, so the time spent on the road was not wasted AND in case of frequent police stops my primary responsibility was to make absolutely clear that the wine vapors coming out of the car window have nothing to do with the driver himself.
Occasional gaps between wine tasting were not spent by arguing over navigation, one of the only few possible and in truth infrequent discourses between travel co-directors, as the other member of our team was dozing oblivious, before having another opportunity for a drink somewhere else.
Every evening it was a joy to pull up at a carefully pre-selected Airbnb, often times a veritable “chateau”. My wine tasting travel companion clearly realized a strong need for a sturdy, yet soothingly comfortable bed in the Louis XIV size bedroom with possibly a pool full of mercifully cold water, so we would be well prepared for another day of wine drinking duties (her) and loving gentle care (me). Our itinerary of crossing France was carefully selected so that the most famous of French wine production regions were coincidently never too far off: Alsace, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the River Rhône. All necessary effort was taken to learn…and to drink.
While thinking of French wines might immediately bring an image of a large glass of red, one should not forget the white wine, too. Alsace and its wine has a special place in our heart. Maybe it is because many, many years back when we first travelled through Alsace we had the first taste of excellent dry white wine that was not at all sour and acid reflux inducing. (Hint: grow up and stop drinking cheap white wine). I still remember the name of it – Trimbach Riesling.
Realizing lately that it is mostly wiser to keep old memories intact, we did not return to that winery, we headed for Turckheim and Colmar. Our welcome introduction to the region came via last minute email from our California friend, whose cousin married over there all the way from the Philipines. Her storytelling was nearly as good as her mean quiche baking that went really well with a bottle of Alsatian Riesling. Tasty and affordable.
Locals were just wonderful at giving suggestions to help us avoid the expensive tourist traps. One of the Airbnb hosts in Burgundy welcomed us with local cheese and wine and then immediately called her neighbor so we could be at her “cave” bright and early the next morning for a most friendly welcome
and informative tasting.
Other mornings we lingered with other guests over sumptuous breakfast
and in the evenings we continued to acquire new viticulture knowledge.
At another Airbnb in Bordeaux we expanded our discussion into world power politics with the hosts, a former French Air Force officer and his Russian wife. Regarding French wine he gave an interesting take on the stratospheric wine prices in the overheated global economy. “There is only so much boutique wine and plenty of crazy Chinese and Russian collectors willing to pay €25,000 for a bottle. (Anyone remembering tulip bulb or nutmeg fever of the past?) Personally we were quite satisfied to just drive by the two most famous wineries in Bordeaux, Le Pin and Petrus. While Petrus was securely locked up, the even more expensive 4 hectares small Le Pin was just there for the tromping. Of course we will never taste those wines, so we gleefully snuck into a row of vines and at least touched a celebrity cluster worth a few thousand bucks. Never mind the sour grapes, we were happy as a lark to stop at nearby Saint-Emilion and enjoy a modest but delicious picnic lunch in the garden of a 14 century Franciscan monastery Les Cordeliers, washed down by their lovely rose bubbly made from the most famous grape varieties of the Bordeaux region including Merlot, Sémillon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon.
Usually when the time came to mitigate the large quantities of drinks with some solids, we tried to follow the locals. Initially we did have some difficulties at this time of the the year to find any French people about. They seemed to practically disappear during a magical time between noon and 3pm. That is a window of time when France looks pretty much like after a fierce neutron bomb attack. All buildings are standing, but small towns and villages are devoid of any sign of life, including dogs and cats. Until you discover under the shade of a few trees around a village restaurant a group of parked cars. Their drivers and their families (and their dogs) are sitting at the tables enjoying the national pastime of having a “small lunch”, probably including foie gras in any shape and form. In France, forget the drive-in fast food joints. Having lunch with a minimum of a 3-course serving accompanied by a bottle of wine is a process and it is honored nationwide. At some point you realize why French army rarely won any war unless assisted by an Allied country with mediocre cuisine at best, as taking proper time to eat (and drink) everyday is de rigeur.
À Votre Sante!
Oh, and what is your favorite wine?