Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wine Tour

So how fun is this? In Provence, wineries are about every five feet. When I used to think about driving through the French countryside, I imagined field after field of vineyards as far as the eye could see; kind of like corn in the States or wheat in the Canadian prairies. In reality, there haven’t been a lot of vineyards. We’ve seen fields and we’ve seen vineyards but we haven’t seen fields and fields of vineyards…until the wine tour.

Just north of Venasque, Rick Steve’s has a little circuit tour laid out stopping at a few cute towns and a few cute vineyards. Tom and I decided this was a tour for adults and ditched the children at home. This may sound cruel; however, the children were ecstatic and could hardly wait for us to leave. They had their own exciting afternoon of intense computer gaming all laid out. I’m not even sure each one knew the other one was there, unless of course they met online.

Tom and I started our tour at the town of Gigondas. This area is a particularly lush wine region and has several excellent wineries distributed throughout. The town has many little wine stores where one can sample a variety from region. As this was our first stop, we were both at a bit of a loss as to how this worked. It seemed too good to be true to just walk in and ask to try wine for free. Yet, that is exactly what happens. We spent quite a few minutes asking the lady at the desk how it worked and she kept insisting she could not tell us which wines to choose. This miscommunication was probably due to her inability to understand what was so difficult about, “Ask for a wine and I’ll pour you a taste,” and our inability to understand, “Sample as many of the 40-50 wines as you want. We have all day.”

As both of us are truly novices at this, we honed in on three wines that had little signs announcing they were listed in some sort of French wine guide. This had to be a good thing. We also stuck to just three, not wanting to push our luck. She told us they were good choices and very different wines. So far, so good. The first one was fabulous and I immediately exclaimed how good it was. She smiled indulgently and I figured all the wines were probably that good and somehow Tom and I had just been choosing duds the past month. That first taste brought back all the things I had ever read about wine: flavour bursting in your mouth, smooth, fruity, you get the picture.

The next wine, however, I didn’t care for as much. It had been aged in oak so I wondered if maybe I didn’t care for the “tannins” that produced. I have to put that word in quotation marks because aren’t tannins the things that leather producers use to soften the leather? And didn’t they use a variety of urine for that? I must be confusing something somewhere but at this point, not caring for a liquid that has “tannins” in it seems to just be good sense.

The last wine was okay but nowhere near the delicious first wine. In fact, though we didn’t realize it at that moment, that first wine was the best one of the whole day. We bought a bottle, thankfully. We will probably try to get back to that store again to do a bit more sampling. The rest of the wineries, or domaines as the French say, had specific wines from that winery rather than a selection from around the region. This first store was really a one stop shop.

We carried on through the countryside of my imagination. The vineyards were not in bloom. It’s February. However, the vines were all well trimmed and had certain uniformity. Often, there was someone in the field doing something important to the vines. The fields themselves were almost like a decoration on the land. The rows became stripes of colour and many times the vineyards were planted at various angles right next to each other, creating a beautiful quilt effect. Apparently, they plant them at angles because of Le Mistral, a wicked fast wind that blows the smithereens out of everything in this part of the world. We’ve experienced a few windy days but I can’t say I felt it would “blow the ears off a donkey” as Peter Mayle did. Perhaps we have yet to experience that.

At one point, we drove through the Chain Pass, a high point in the mountains. For those of you living near the Rockies or Coastal Mountains, these Provence mountains are mere hills that get in the way of the view. However, we did get a great look at the Dentelles de Montmirail. These are the weirdest looking mountains I’ve seen in awhile. At the top of a dark green average mountain these jagged, flat looking rocks jut up. No kidding, they look like the spine of a Stegosaur. An author with a fertile imagination could get a great story there. Up close, they are just as weird looking, like big front teeth.

We sampled a variety of wines at a variety of domaines over the day. No one sample is very big but after awhile I’m pretty sure we had consumed a few glasses. By the last domaine, we felt emboldened enough to stay for about eight different samples. This one was quite busy and one of the samplers was a 100 year old man. We all spent a bit of time congratulating him on his age. Imagine being able to get around to domaines at 100! He was with his son who looked like he must be nearing 80. They bought a case of wine. We bought another bottle.

I should mention the spitoons. I had heard that when you sample wines, you swirl it in your mouth and then spit it out. This seems to be grossly unfair and although we did locate the spitoon at the first place, after that first sip of wine, all thoughts of spitting fly from your head. No one spits. Everyone drives. And you should SEE the roads. These are one lane, cliffside corkscrews that look as though they wash out in a good rain. One of the roads actually had areas where the road crossed over/through the creek as the road twisted back and forth. There were several places where you could see the road had taken a beating but it is a well know fact that wine heightens your senses so we were fine.

It was a fun day and learning a little bit about wine tasting has created new awareness. We can now spot the “degustation” domaines in our own neighbourhood. Is this the first step in a twelve step program?

1 comments: said...

I am laughing out loud...loved your relating come you didn't fess up to kissing the old dude? On both cheeks! Love Mom..I think I will have wine tonight in celebration of your reaching the first of the 12 steps.