Skip to content

This Wine Detox Is A Bhutanese Parasite

January 8, 2019

A New Year is here. Open mind, open horizons.

Clearing the mind

Many of us splashed our way through midnight, then decided to enjoy celebratory bottles again for a January 1st lunch, delaying that promised exercise regime until January 2nd.

Or was it the 3rd?

New Year’s Chablis

About four times a year I undergo a week-long ‘detox’ that involves eating mostly fruit and vegetables and drinking no alcohol. This January I’ll do alike, but will prolong the session to clear the mind, drop some weight and increase productivity.

Just one final glass – promise! – before beginning that detox

I usually follow the ‘General Motors’ diet (Google it) which eliminates pasta and bread and cheese. This time I’ll substitute fish for the beef component. Combining this with some exercise—running, walking or gym—means that in seven days from the beginning I should feel shinier and more energized. But this year that time span will be extended.

Ain’t that the truth

I’ll also incorporate ‘detox’ methods others have suggested—such as a half lemon squeezed into hot water and sipped between 5 and 7 a.m.—when the liver produces most bile. [Suggested by friend Brant Hartsock, whose Asian medicine doctor recommended he do this 3 to 4 times weekly.]

Or taking ‘liver cleanser’ tablets that include seeds, bark, roots and fruit. I’ve begun downing two daily. [Gifted by friend Elena, who picked them up in Goa, India, after she spent two weeks at a ‘dynamic meditation’ retreat there.]

Or good quality honey and turmeric taken in the morning [suggested by neighbors Les and Clarissa here in Blaye].

Labelling that is not in any way subtle

There is also tea gifted by friends when I visited Bhutan last year. I had put this box of ‘cordyceps and green tea’ on a shelf until—intrigued by seeing recent photos taken by these Bhutanese friends and posted on social media—decided to brew a mug, and do some internet research.

This may be hard to believe.

Daddy I think it’s time for your cordyceps detox.

Basically, cordyceps is a form of fungi, of which there are several hundred species. They attack insects from within, sometimes commandeering the body of, say, an ant, and telling it to climb to the high point of a grass stalk and cling on. Strands of cordyceps then spring, or at least grow, out of its head (best seen in time-lapse photography) thereby killing the insect and providing the fungi with nutrients. (Check out this video clip from BBC’s David Attenborough telling about cordyceps in general.)

The real life feats of these killer fungi make zombie movies look tame. In fact a video game was invented years ago that has 60 percent of humanity wiped out by a species of cordyceps.

Yak herding Layup women live at high altitudes in Bhutan, and wear distinct conical bamboo hats

One species is known as Cordyceps sinensis and is prevalent in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. It lives above 11,000 feet altitude. This form of cordyceps invades Himalayan caterpillars when they are buried below the surface of soil, where they keep warm for winter. The spores will kill a caterpillar from the inside, then grow a long thin shoot out of the dead body, making the two species appear as a bizarrely fused, elongated critter. This grows vertically upward until it pokes out of the soil. The spores transform the entire caterpillar into a fungi (although it retains the outer shape and appearance or the displaced caterpillar).

Colorful and light hearted roadside police in the land of cordyceps – Bhutan

At high altitudes in June, teams of pickers, including the Layap people who live above 13,000 feet elevation (the women wear distinct, conical, bamboo hats) crawl on their bellies over the earth in search of shoots. They then dig below the surface to unearth the rest of the cordyceps, attached to the now dead and transformed caterpillar. Historically, herders noticed that their Yaks became energized after grazing on grass with these shoots. This led the herders to boil cordyceps for tea, and they learned of its medicinal properties. Since then, they have spent thousands of years harvesting cordyceps for beneficial effects.

Wonder tea: caterpillar annihilation = detoxification

This stuff is not easy to hunt—think slender truffles at high altitude—which is why cordyceps can command a very hefty price. Apparently Chinese athletes were sucking down cordyceps tea during the 2008 Olympics to try to gain an additional competitive edge.

Gateway to cordyceps country in Bhutan

This marriage of insect and fungi excavated from hillsides may look odd, but apparently does wonders for the body.

It can apparently prolong life, increase memory and—according to an esteemed cancer center in the U.S.—includes ingredients that can slow down cancer. Additionally, it can improve kidney function, reduce heart disease and—indeedy!—boost sex drive.

Yum – put the kettle on (Photo credit: Tshering Chojur)

Using lemon, honey, cordyceps tea, fresh air, fruit and vegetables – I’ll let you know how this January’s detox goes.

[If you are interested in obtaining real deal cordyceps, let me know; my Bhutanese friends spend weeks in the mountains at harvest time.]

I wrote no Forbes posts in December, but posted one for January. This originated from meeting and interviewing a visionary Swiss entrepreneur who is a sailor, businessman and engineer. The post is about wristwatches, navigation and turning plastics into fuel to clean up oceans.

Thanks again for tuning in!

I hope your 2019 turns out to be Magnificent 🙂

 

 

Subtle Intrigues on The Paris to Bordeaux Flight

December 18, 2018

The Opera House on Place de la Comédie, Bordeaux

The Paris to Bordeaux flight on Air France is an excursion into a lifestyle. Passengers generally appear trim, fit and polite. They are cordial rather than effusive; graciously calm instead of overly animated. Their attire is lean, not bulky; elegant, not flamboyant. Any casual (never gaudy) passenger may sport an earring, a glinting watch or a leather satchel that signals inconspicuous and unobtrusive wealth. Most wear tight, thin layers in subdued shades of gray or black or tan (with an odd splash of red or yellow on a kerchief): a snug buttoned vest, a thin winter jacket, a business suit that appears more Zurich than Dallas; a daypack more Milanese chic than Barcelona summer.

The Seine River and Notre Dame, Paris

Even younger passengers, giddy with sexual tension, touch rather than fondle, laugh instead of cackle. Their tattoos are likely more Celtic pattern than Marvel comic character. Footwear, like clothing, is prim and functional—designed to walk city streets instead of stomp coastal pathways.

Bordeaux at night

Hand luggage is slipped (never shoved) into overhead compartments. It is compact and sleek, never sloppy or loud. Some bags have bright colors: token garnish beside more modestly hued main dishes.

Darwin, Bordeaux

This overall flight experience is slim and taut. Narrow, like the plane. Professionals travel light; passengers returning home appear modest and calm. At the end of this sleek and rapid aerial transect of France you look down through the window at the sight of the muddy, meandering Garonne River below. It snakes across a plain pitted with vineyards and farms and tame rural enclaves outside Bordeaux—the gorgeous stone city without skyscrapers.

Grand Hotel, Bordeaux – opposite the Opera House

The view will take you back into the ordered courtliness of 11th century Aquitaine, a land ruled by a woman named Eleanor, a fecund, fertile sunny domain of romance and wine and bawdy chivalry. Rather than hold the title Queen of France, or Queen of England (she was, at different times, both) this ruler clung to her title as ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’ because this land she ruled—the terrain between waters—was renowned as Europe’s richest in terms of wealth, agricultural bounty and progressive thinking toward love, commerce and life.

A wildly edible chocolate garden in a Bordeaux store

A drink and snack are served during the flight—a satisfying quick nibble and quaff. Eating and drinking in this land of the Gauls is enjoyed in moderation—which is why wines are 12.5 to 13.5 percent alcohol rather than booze bombs laden with gobs of fruit and tannin.

Market time

The flight takes one hour. The baggage carousel at the main airport terminal includes a few towering bottles that advertise wine. The airport garden is—of course—a vineyard.

Baggage claim, Bordeaux Merignac airport

There are no visible customs agents at the airport. Why would there be? Who would smuggle opiates into a land that oozes with oodles of excellent wine? They are there, certainly. But hidden. Inconspicuous. Unobtrusive. This is the land of the Bordelaise, where subtlety rules. Why make a fuss when you have it all?

In 1933, Air France was created from a merger of a half-dozen airlines, unions and navigation companies. It remained the French carrier until merging with KLM fifteen years ago. A year later the airline was Europe’s largest, with a quarter of the continent’s market share. (Well choreographed safety video is below.)

All wine served on Air France is French. On long haul flights even economy passengers are offered Champagne (incidentally, my friend Gabrielle Vizzavona wrote this excellent recent piece on champagnes, for Le Figaro newspaper; even if you ne parle pas Francais, just check out the names, and drool). Because aridity and air pressure on airline flights modifies our sense of taste, tannic wines are best avoided while fruity choices turn pleasant in the air (I wrote about the effects of altitude on wine in this past post).

So many choices, so little time …

Air France selects excellent food and fresh wines that will age well within the next four to six years. After Emirates, according to The Wall Street Journal, Air France pays the next highest average price per wine bottle served on its flights. This year the World of Fine Wine ranked Air France as having the Best Airline Wine List in The World.

Burgundy and Rhone wines

Air France employs Paolo Basso—voted world’s best sommelier—as a wine consultant. Earlier this year I met Paolo in Switzerland at a wine event and sampled his own wine—which is excellent. We talked about the city where he now lives—Lugano, Switzerland—where I also spent four years living in youth. He has good taste. If Paolo nods assent at a wine, I’m all for it. Even decent wine is something to appreciate during a flight. I once sat in business class on a U.S. air carrier crossing from Chicago to Los Angeles and was served a red wine that tasted more like bubble gum than a fermented fruit beverage. The event made me reconsider the worth of accruing air miles with that company.

Bordeaux wine

Still, integral to the French culture, employees of Air France sometimes strike. This past summer the airline was sporadically on strike for months during the same time that the national rail service—SNCF—went on strike. Even after that ended I arrived at Bordeaux airport one day to learn that air traffic controllers had gone on a sudden one-hour strike during lunch hours. One hour! Perhaps they needed more time to finish their crème brûlée. Still, no harm. The upstairs restaurant was open. I scooted inside and sat. Their wine list? Splendid. One hour with a good meal and a bottle of Bordeaux was the right way to kick off a day of travel.

Airport waiting time

Thanks for tuning in. Next month’s Forbes articles will tell of a four-year ocean expedition promoting technology that converts plastic into energy. It will also foray into the world of high-end watches, as well as Swedish wines.

Meanwhile, enjoy your holiday season!

 

Kick Off Any Event With Creamy Crémant Sparkling Wine

November 27, 2018

A lineup of modest yet endearing crémants

Consider crémant sparkling wine as a non-sophisticated entry point to any gathering—whether barbecue, picnic, dinner or party. It’s an opening act, the liquid equivalent to a bowl of pretzels before dinner. The juice is clean, zippy, low in alcohol and lively. It’s like fresh orange juice before breakfast or a rinse off shower before plunging into a swimming pool or a one-page prologue that begins a novel; it’s the vestibule entry way leading into a castle. Crémant is more passageway than place to linger.

The French word crémant (pronounced CRAY-mon) refers to sparkling wine that is made in the same way as champagne. A secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle rather than (as with Prosecco) in a steel vat controlled for pressure and temperature.

‘Secondary fermentation’ means an extra dose of yeast and sugar are added before a bottle is sealed, allowing the generation of carbon dioxide fizz.

Looks like Crémant O’ Clock

The word crémant was once used in the Champagne region to refer to sparkling wines made at lower pressures than champagne. These provided not a fizzy feel in the mouth as much as one that is creamy. Today that meaning has vanished; the word now refers to sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne.

Ten regions produce crémant, eight of which are in France, one in Luxembourg and one in Belgium. The newest French appellation for this drink—Crémant de Savoie—was established only in 2014, while that of Alsace was created in 1976 and that for Bordeaux in 1990. Crémant producing regions of France are: Bordeaux, Bourgogne (Burgundy), Loire, Savoie, Jura, Die, Limoux and Alsace. All appellations must use hand-picked grapes and juice must age at least nine months on the lees (which means keeping yeast in the barrel).

These sparkling wines are basically bargain bottles of effervescence; kick off cocktails for a delicious early event buzz.

Dusk means crémant hour

Advantages of crémant over champagne include lower cost and flexibility—it can be made from a geographically more diverse range of grapes. Many regions producing this beverage include—as a base for whites—the two classic Burgundian grapes of Chardonnay (providing acidity, freshness and elegance) and Pinot Noir (providing structure and fruity aromas). Crémant regions not including these two grapes are Bordeaux, Die (in the Rhone Valley) and Savoie (in which Pinot Noir is not used, though Chardonnay can be). Crémants also include locally popular grapes, and many—such as Mauzac, Chenin Blanc and Aligoté—include aromas of apples and lemons, as well as other fruit.

To gauge the ease of access and price, at a local supermarket (and at one nearby winery), I purchased crémants from four regions of France, then sampled them with a colorful array of characters at the local wine bar: two are winery owners and one individual is not involved with the trade, but is a fiction author from Canada.

Their collective comments are below.

Left to right: Ben, Les, David

Cremant Bourgogne (Burgundy).

Veuve Ambal. Grande Réserve. Demi-Sec. 12% alcohol.

Euros 7.95 ($9.00)

The four included grape varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Aligoté and Gamay. Whereas Aligoté is acidic and adds structure and taste (including lemon and green apples) Gamay is the Beaujolais grape that bursts with fresh fruit flavors.

I considered this demi-sec as a gorgeous and sweet opener for the evening.

Les – Etalon Rouge winery proprietor:

‘Nutty and dry for a demi-sec. Includes tastes of ripe yellow peaches.’

David – Canadian author:

‘Tastes of strawberries. Good desert wine.’

Ben – La Garagiste winery proprietor:

‘Flavorsome, but a bit sweet.’

The cold winter season is ideal for cold, sharp crémant

Cremant Limoux (rosé).

Antech Alliance. Brut. 12% alcohol.

Euros 8.55 ($9.70)

This includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. The last grape, also known as ‘blanquette,’ is used in another regional sparkling wine known as ‘blanquette de Limoux,’ which was supposedly the first sparkling wine ever made, predating even champagne.

I enjoyed the subtle tastes of lemon and nuts.

Les – Etalon Rouge winery proprietor:

‘Stunning color, not pink or apricot but in between. Beautiful tiny bubbles. Dry off the tongue, but with a beautiful finish that lasts.’

David – Canadian author:

‘Flavorful but subtle, silky and refreshing.’

Ben – La Garagiste winery proprietor:

‘Very lemony and fresh.’

Bubble Up

Crémant de Loire.

Ackerman Grand Millesme 2016. 11.5 % alcohol.

Euros 7.99 ($9.05)

The grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc. The Chenin Blanc is the locally prevalent white wine grape of the Loire Valley, and offers high acidity, which is good for sparkling wine. Rosé crémant from the Loire Valley can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and also locally available pineau d’Aunis.

I enjoyed the citrus taste, and appreciated how the wine developed and improved in the glass after five minutes.

Les – Etalon Rouge winery proprietor:

‘Elegant and smooth; best yet.’

David – Canadian author:

‘Wildflowers, blackberries and lemon.’

Ben – La Garagiste winery proprietor:

‘Beautiful and notable effervescence, reminder of pop rocks candy. Sharp, but balanced on the tongue.’

Beaune city in Burgundy

Crémant de Bordeaux.

Clos du Notaire L’héritage. 12% alcohol.

Euros 7.50 ($8.50)

Crémants from Bordeaux are made from the same grapes as are used for red and white blends. This particular crémant from Bourg is unusual because it includes only one white grape—Semillon. This grape is today a darling of Australia’s Hunter Valley, and also once covered 90 percent of white grape vineyards in South Africa in the early 1800’s (today it represents only one percent of grapes found in the cape region of South Africa).

For me this has heft, structure and power, as well as aromas and tastes of lime, nuts and pineapple. It is not as complex as that from the Loire.

Les – Etalon Rouge winery proprietor:

‘Ebullient sparkler that has oomph. Reminds you that it is in your mouth. Extremely dry finish; sort of melts away.’

David – Canadian author:

‘Pomegranate and vanilla, very spicy. A lot of character and punch.’

Ben – La Garagiste winery proprietor:

‘This stays in the mouth longer than any others.’

These observations highlighted the truth that a demi-sec is notably sweeter than a Brut, that lemon certainly is a characteristic of Mauzac grapes, that Semillon has commanding structure and body and that Chenin Blanc, combined with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, can produce distinctly complex wines.

The range of quality and style for crémants is wide and offers much to appreciate for little price: blasts of fruit, commanding power, rich complexity and also subtle shades of flavor—depending on which bottle you choose, and from which region. As corks pop during the holiday season, offer your friends something different with crémant.

^  ^  ^  ^  ^

My latest Forbes pieces are here, and include one on the digital marketing of champagne and the physics of bubbles, on why Cru Beaujolais wines made this year are looking powerful, on hunting for a war ancestor in central France, and why the city of Beaune is a good base for exploring Burgundy.

Thanks, as always, for tuning in again!

A Military Ancestor Stationed Between Burgundy And Champagne

November 13, 2018

Un Ancêtre Militaire Stationné Entre Bourgogne et Champagne

Mayor of Beauchemin, and the ‘porteur de drapeau’ or flag bearer (Jean-Baptiste’s father)

The Armistice that ended World War One was signed at 11.00 a.m. on November 11th, 1918. Eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month. A century ago.

Years ago my mother told me that when she grew up, Americans around Chicago used to dedicate a minute of silence to that moment (although they used Central U.S. time, not French time—because otherwise they would be sleeping). She remarked that few did the same any more.

Peace in a rural French village

However, they still do in Europe. Ten years ago I entered a supermarket near Durham in the U.K. with my American friend Barbara, and—ignorant of the hour or the day—was shocked to see all shoppers frozen in place. It was like a Zombie movie. I soon realized the truth, and respected their respect for history.

Earlier this year my sister prepared an album detailing family history. I saw an image of my grandfather on my mother’s side—Lester Peter Ray. And there was a scan of a letter he wrote, with a map.

Lester Peter Ray

 

Card showing travel route

 

In 1918, he had traveled by boxcar from Brest, on the west coast of France, to the city of Langres—north of Dijon in central-eastern France, and was then sent a few miles away to the village of Beauchemin (‘beautiful trail’).

I decided to visit this year, but kept putting it off. Last Thursday, on a whim, I bought a plane ticket on Easy Jet to Lyon, rented a car, and on Saturday morning drove to Beauchemin for a quick visit in the rain before a more lengthy visit the next day. The village has 103 residents. A local man I chatted with suggested my returning the next day, Sunday, in time for the memorial commemoration. I agreed, then drove to Langres, a wonderful walled city designed by the military architect Vauban. There, I slept the night.

On Sunday I returned to Beauchemin. No one showed up at the memorial at 11.00 a.m., but they trickled in about 11.05, because they considered the key commemorative moment to be at eleven minutes past eleven, or at 11.11 a.m., on 11/11.

Portion of letter that accompanied map from Lester Peter

 

The mayor stood before the village war memorial and read a proclamation telling about the war, while the flag bearer stood beside him. The group of some 30 villagers next moved to the cemetery, where the mayor read another proclamation. Apparently, the mayor does this every year, and the same is done in villages throughout France. This is done annually not only on the day that commemorates the end of the First World War, but also on the day that marks the end of the Second World War. These rituals remind the locals of the importance of these historical events, and trigger conversations about lessons learned.

Can you imagine how Americans’ respect for history in general could be improved by encouraging such events? Our state of education concerning history and geography in the U.S. needs improvement, and such voluntary family events could be excellent ways to wake children up to the importance of both subjects. Our future leaders, if clueless about the past, may otherwise be ill-trained to lead us in sensible directions forward.

We then all moved into the town hall (it used to be a cheese processing plant) to drink a few glasses of wine and eat snacks.

A woman named Alix Prodhon spoke with me and said she knew a local historian I may want to meet, then brought me to her home near the memorial where she and her husband Jean-Baptiste and two wonderful children Clemens and Rose cleared the table and prepared lunch. We ate a salad with bacon and onions, then a main course of chicken and also wild boar (hunted by husband Jean-Baptiste) as well as lentils. Jean Baptiste poured out glasses of Beaujolais wine. Then, a plate with four types of cheese—including Emmenthal, Morbier, Langres and Epoise. What luxury!

Parents Alix and Jean-Baptiste, and son Celesten and daughter Rose

Both children—aged 10 and 8—spoke of how the love school, how they thrive on history and mathematics, and pulled out colored books that provided history lessons with attractive drawings and text. It was quite inspiring to see how much they had already learned about local and international history, and how much more they wanted to learn.

Cheeses after lunch

We soon drove five minutes to another village, Marac, where Franck Besch has collected U.S. military memorabilia for 30 years. He has opened a museum in Marac. He was delighted to meet, took details about my grandfather and within a day emailed me a copy of Lester Ray’s hand written registration card with the military, as well as details about his regiment, position, arrival and departure dates from France. Talk about a serendipitous encounter and situation…

At center is Franck Besch before his museum with a ‘History of ‘Doughboys” – and the most hospital local residents

Lester was apparently in the D company of the 5th anti-aircraft machine gun battalion and had arrived in Beauchemin in October of 1918, then departed for the U.S. on January 2, 1919. The city of Langres, a fifteen minute drive away, had hosted over ten thousand U.S. soldiers during this war, where they set up training schools in communications, medicine, and veterinary science (because of all the horses involved in the war).

Inside the museum

Lester Ray, after returning home, would eventually go on to become an executive at a Chicago company that managed a series of tunnels below the city for transporting and storing goods. Fortunately, he did not go to battle when in Europe.

What an incredible day!

In the village of Marac, drinks and stories before a roaring kitchen fire

We visited the house of more friends of Alix and Jean-Baptiste and sat before a roaring wood burning stove in the kitchen and drank more wine as I told them of what had become of Lester Ray’s children. The locals were rapt and joyous and spoke about the ‘magic’ of that moment, and assured me that Lester Peter Ray was above us, watching.

Indeed.

I was immensely fortunate to spend time with such generous, good-hearted, curious and bright people.

The coziness of a French country village home in autumn

Quite an amazing day.

Freshly painted memorial in Beauchemin

As for wine, that which Jean-Baptiste opened was a Cru Beaujolais, rather than a ‘nouveau.’ The cru are the top quality wines from the Beaujolais region (these wines are made from the Gamay grape), and unlike the less expensive ‘nouveau,’ these wines can be stored for years. Of the ten regions that produce Beaujolais Cru, the northernmost is Saint-Amour (which we drank for lunch) and is light and delicious. After lunch, Jean-Baptiste gave me a gift of a bottle of 2015 Claude Loup Saint-Véran, which is a white Burgundy Macônnais wine (made from Chardonnay grapes). The appellation for this wine is located in Burgundy, very slightly north of that of the Beaujolais we drank.

White Burgundy wine from Saint-Véran

The Saint-Véran appellation was established in 1971, at the far south of Burgundy, and is produced by six communes on chalk and clay soils up to 450 meters elevation. I cannot tell you how the wine tastes, because I’m saving this bottle for a very special occasion.

The nearby city of Langres straddles the Burgundy region to its south, and Champagne, to its north.

The walled city of Langres, north of Burgundy and south of Champagne

It turns out that the uncle of the flag bearer met in Beauchemin (on the right in the first picture above) used to bring in bottles of liquor for American soldiers stationed in Beauchemin during the war. (I wonder if they picked up a taste for less alcoholic wine.)

To those soldiers who served in the First World War, to my ancestor Lester Peter Ray, and to the exceedingly warm, hospitable residents of Beauchemin (and Marac)—here is a toast to our freedoms, our respect for history and our ability to enjoy wonderful food and wine together.

Sante!

Just What IS ‘Good Wine’?

October 23, 2018
IMG_4873

Trentodoc sparkling wine from Trentino, in northern Italy

What is a ‘Good Wine’?

Good question.

Not difficult to answer:

It’s whatever you like.

Simple.

IMG_5995

Vneyards at Château Angélus in Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France

Tasting different wines over time is like visiting different countries, or learning fresh phrases in another language or exploring country or city roads around where you live. It’s like getting to know a neighborhood or building a house or writing a book or riding a bicycle. The more you do, the more familiar you become with the process and the entire landscape of that activity. Over time drinking different wines, you experience different tastes and styles and strengths; you tune into more details and understand the bigger picture of that entire agricultural industry.

IMG_7185

Etalon Rouge vineyards in Fours, Bordeaux

In time you may find that the plonk you once adored now tastes a bit one dimensional and lame. That wine you slugged back as a teenager that gave you a cracking headache the next morning? You realize it never even tasted that good.

IMG_2028

Riesling wine from New York state in the U.S.

As with reading or traveling or cooking, after time sampling different wines you grow hungry for more variety and exploration. The greater range of wines you drink, the more you also appreciate different levels of quality.

If I drink wine and think about it (does not always happen) I look for three basic levels of quality.

First—is the wine balanced? Unbalanced means there’s a dominance of some characteristic that’s not very pleasant, or is only appreciable in small doses. Balanced means that the different components—including fruit and tannin and alcohol—meld together in your mouth in a way that is at least pleasant. You won’t wince.

That’s a good baseline for a decent wine: balance.

IMG_5411

Teroldego wine from northern Italy

Second—complexity and/or coherence. Complexity means that that taste of a wine has different layers, or levels. It’s like a movie that has a subplot, or at least a few unexpected surprises. Or, imagine you go to a party and meet not only friends you know, but intriguing or funny or memorable new characters who make you laugh or think differently or provide fresh information or viewpoints. Complexity is like having a dinner course with multiple flavors and even textures—creamy risotto as well as crunchy green beans and maybe even succulent sweet baby carrots. Think layers, surprise and exploration.

Coherence means that even if complexity is lacking, there’s strength of character in one aspect of that wine that pleases you and commands attention. It’s like going to a party and there’s a stage show and the comedian or singer or magician completely captivates your attention. It’s like reading a book where the plot may be thin, but the central character dazzles, or at least attracts and pleases you.

IMG_6514

Casual wine bar in Saint-Tropez, France

For example, it may be a simple New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine with a dominant and intriguing grapefruit character. Or the peppery snap of a well made wine from Carmenere grapes. It could be the beautiful and fruity roundness of a specific, gorgeous Merlot. ‘Coherence’ is a word I’ve adopted regarding wine to mean one memorable, focused aspect that makes you concentrate and perhaps even mentally applaud.

Complexity and coherence together are also possible: imagine going to that party, meeting fresh faces and also enjoying the stage show. It’s like eating a dinner where you not only appreciate the delicacy of that lemon sole—which captivates your attention—but are also mesmerized by that mint chocolate chip ice cream dessert that follows.

If a wine is balanced, and also has complexity or coherence, you should be a happy individual—smiling and satisfied.

IMG_6035

Two cheerful Russian women enjoying excellent wine in Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

The third level is emotion. You won’t get this very often, but when you do it’s memorable.

Let’s say a balanced and complex wine—even before any of the alcohol impacts you—makes you experience emotions you did not expect: joy or sadness or euphoria or whatever causes a flood of feelings to course inside. If wine tickles memory or jostles feelings which make you feel giddy or unusually high—that’s a bonus.

I recall sitting in the wine bar L’Univerre in Bordeaux City and sipping red Burgundy with a friend and being so blown away with the scent and taste that I wanted to get up and walk to other tables and clap strangers on the back and insist they sample the liquid nectar in my glass. Fortunately, my drinking companion convinced me that was not a wise idea. But the emotions caused by that wine? Outrageous.

IMG_7292

Plenty of wine to taste and books to read

Emotion is when you go to a party, perhaps unexpectedly, and fall in love. It’s like watching a movie that makes you cry or laugh or decide to alter the fundamental trajectory of your life. It’s having that unexpected meal—quite likely in a small tavern in a tiny town you never heard of before and only stopped in because you got a flat tire—and being blown away by the medley, the gastronomic chorus, of different flavors from that plate.

That’s what I look for in wine, if making a mental effort to ‘look for’ anything. Plenty of wine is unbalanced (including some expensive bottles made by supposedly ‘renowned’ producers). If I just find balance, that’s great. That’s enough. That’s contentment. Throw in complexity/coherence, and that’s a treat. That’s special. That’s bonus and pleasure, and probably even involves sharing good times with friends.

IMG_7117

A misty harvest morning in Etalon Rouge vineyard in Fours, Bordeaux

Emotion? That’s a jackpot. That is spotting, for the first time ever, that lovely woman seated inside the café working with pen and papers by her mug of tea and realizing she is intensely beautiful and attractive to you, although she is unaware that you even exist. It is meeting that individual introduced to you on a train platform on some rainy day when your mind was filled with complaints about not wanting to be there and hating the fact that you forgot your umbrella when suddenly the world—on encountering that friend of a friend when you least expected it—transforms to lightness and beauty, uplifted by this magical new individual who just blasted into your life.

IMG_5855

Spanish Ribera del Duero wine in Madrid

Finally, one of the beauties of wine is unpredictability. Whereas you want one brand of beer to taste the same year to year, bar to bar, throughout the world, you want the opposite in wine. Even a wine made from grapes from the same vines each year by one producer will change in taste from vintage to vintage, year to year and bottle to bottle. The taste will also change depending on your mood and the weather, as well as the company you keep.

Which means, and this is an odd thing to say and even odder to realize, that sometimes—not often, but sometimes—you may find a wine that is not necessarily balanced or even complex but that, because of the situation on that sunlit autumn afternoon on that grassy hillside beneath an oak tree with a picnic and a blanket and wonderful company—still provides powerful and memorable emotions you can never replicate. Sometimes, in other words, the highest levels of quality in wine may unexpectedly emerge from a wine that until then was unknown, not renowned and until that moment never before mentioned as remarkable. Perhaps it’s a special vintage, or the angle of sunlight, or …. well, who knows.

That only happens sometimes.

Which is part of the magic of wine.

IMG_5698

A casual afternoon glass of red wine inside the citadelle of Blaye, France

&   &   &

Now, visitors.

Remember weeks ago I wrote a three part series about driving a loop through south west France? There was Part l, Part II and Part III.

I did it as a way of saying goodbye to travel writing. I had always wanted to write books like those from travel writer Paul Theroux or Laurens Van Der Post or William Least Heat Moon. But I wrote a few travel books (self-published, and listed here) which never generated too much interest. So, I decided to do that little trip and write that little piece as a way of saying goodbye to travel writing.

Which I did.

IMG_7479

Susie and Davide enjoying their visit to southwest France

And then, weeks later, out of the blue, a woman named Susie from New Jersey got in touch. She’d read these pieces. She said she wanted to visit France with her boyfriend Davide and do the same journey. Sure, I thought. Whatever. I never expected to hear anything more.

But they did! They showed up in the town Blaye, then drove that route up to Soulac-sur-Mer and spent a few evenings with me drinking red and white wines in our cellar and in a local restaurant and telling stories of travel and exploration. They said, keep writing, keep the ‘dry wit’ and to make my email address more conspicuous on this blog. That was a most unexpected surprise! They also ended up sharing novelties they learned about our own neighborhood, as well as that of nearby Saint-Émilion.

Sometimes only after you say goodbye to things does their very essence return. This may even encourage you to modify your direction a bit, then continue forward. There are no rules in life, and until we embrace that truth, our vision and opportunities will be limited.

&   &   &

My latest Forbes pieces are here and include more articles about sailing than wine in recent weeks, after a recent visit to Saint-Tropez.

[In the above video – Clarissa and Monica work hard at the harvest]

Our hand harvest of all Etalon Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon grapes was completed after 2.5 days of grueling effort (thanks to all who helped out, including Kim and Julie Hopkins, Monica, Pierre, Sonya and Thomas Marchand and many others). The new winery that Les and Clarissa undertook to prepare on Rue Saint Simon in Blaye is completed, spectacular, and now includes grapes merrily fermenting in oak.

IMG_7047

New Etalon Rouge winery on Rue Saint Simon in Blaye, Bordeaux, France

Thanks again for tuning in!

Contact me anytime at: tjlmullen@gmail.com

You can also find me on Instagram or at my Roundwood Press site and blog.

 

 

Foire Aux Vins Makes For A Colorful Outing

October 2, 2018

LeClerc grocery store having its wine sale bonanza

In 1973 the French supermarket chain LeClerc held a wine sale called ‘Foire aux Vins,’ or the ‘fair of wines.’ Wines from all over the country were discounted, put on sale and were soon snapped up by bargain hunters.

The practice has blossomed, and now most supermarket chains in France do alike. Some do so both in fall and spring, although the fall season has most sales.

I was invited last night and showed up at LeClerc at 7.50 p.m., took a grocery cart, and was held at bay outside the doors until the main grocery store closed. At 8.10 p.m., the doors opened and a parade of shoppers bust forward clinging onto their carts.

Sampling of inexpensive, decent wines

I had expected a wine tasting only. Not so. A platoon of ladies greeted entrants by handing out plastic glasses filled with bubbly, and winemakers gave tastings along the aisles. I soon stuffed bottles of wine from Languedoc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Loire Valley, Provence and Bordeaux into the cart, as well as bottles from Italy and Austria. Most ranged in price from about five to fifteen Euros, although there were bottles from Saint-Émilion and elsewhere for up to 80 or 90 Euros.

In minutes, the cordoned segment of the supermarket turned into a sort of polite French carnival. The empty cartons I had put into my cart kept getting pilfered by others when I looked away, and wine sellers and makers not seen in months shouted their hellos across aisles. I watched two men who found a shelf of Languedoc wine selling for 2.50 Euros a bottle rapidly clean off the entire shelf into their basket with hungry gusto. A female doctor we know, who somehow managed to get into the store early, rapidly loaded up her cart, which was almost twice her size.

This can lay away for another decade and will still taste wonderful

After loading a few boxes with bargains from all over France, we pushed the cart to the check out and paid, happy to have scored bargain wines and to have participated in a slice of French consumer culture.

Comparing local prices to those on the Vivino app (which is somewhat of an average for the U.S.), retail prices in the U.S. range from being similar to those in France to about 75 percent more.

As an example, a few bottles are listed below with their equivalent Euro prices converted to U.S. dollars, as well as their U.S. price.

My kind of shopping cart

Savigny-Lés-Beaune Sous Lavières. 2017. $22.50 ($39.00 in U.S.). [Burgundy]

Cht de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 2016. $35.65 ($44.55 in U.S.) [Rhone]

Jean Chanussot Mercurey. $18.50 ($24.25 in U.S.) [Burgundy]

Cht de Cazeneuve Cynarah Pic Saint Loup. 2016. $10.30 ($14.99 in U.S. [Languedoc]

Cht Larrivet Haut-Brion. 2013. $29.40 ($27.20 in U.S.) [Bordeaux]

Cht La Tour de Mons, Margaux. 2015. $20.20 ($33.99 in U.S.) [Bordeaux]

Cht Haut Bourcier Cuvée Remy. 2012. $9.25 ($15.99 in U.S.) [Blaye, Bordeaux]

Cht Roland La Garde Tradition. 2015. $6.90 ($15.10 in U.S.) [Blaye, Bordeaux]

Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino. 2016. $17.26 ($18.00 in U.S.) [Tuscany, Italy]

Weingut Autrieth Grüner Veltliner Eiswein. $14.75 ($14.86 in U.S.) [Austria]

Etalon Rouge hand harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

I checked the purchased wines with U.S. prices when I got home, and mistakenly thought that my Esprit de Valandrau from Saint-Émilion cost 19 Euros locally and $178 in the U.S.

Whoaa! I hustled back to LeClerc this afternoon to buy more bottles. But, no. Truth is, the Esprit is the second label, which costs comparatively the same in the U.S. as in France. The $178 price is for Valandrau’s top tier wine.

False alarm.

Thanks for tuning in again.

My latest Forbes pieces are here and include interviews with two who have hiked the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail in Spain, sparkling wine from near Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, why I grapple with grappa, the virtues of Hungarian oak and biodynamic wine making in Oregon.

Harvest lunch – before the main course of chicken

Finally, as I mentioned on social media—we recently harvested the first half of our one hectare (2.5 acre) Etalon Rouge (‘Red Stallion’) vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. This year looks like it might just produce a Stellar Vintage!

Vineyard harvest lunch break in the commune of Fours in Bordeaux

 

 

 

Driving A Counterclockwise Spiral Through Southwest France – Part lll

September 18, 2018

[This is the last of a three part series about a recent journey. French words are italicized; some, not all, are translated.]

This post is a few weeks overdue…

General location in France

The overall, brief but colorful, route

The final route segment

PART THREE: FOREST, SHORES, CITY

Soulac-sur-Mers

I pulled off a sweater, rolled up sleeves and began the 3.5 mile drive to Soulac-sur-Mer.

The roadside included pine and palm trees, sandy road shoulders and villas behind trimmed hedges, white wood fences or chains linked by squat brick columns. This made the locale appear to be a similar but slightly shaggier version of famed Cap Ferret further south. One bonus here: ample parking.

A scaled down statue of liberty as tribute to Marquis Lafayette

Near the Atlantic Ocean I found a museum run by the Memorial of Fortresses in North Medoc. Part of France was occupied by German forces during the Second World War, including the country’s coastal western strip. Resistance was organized and coordinated (including by the British) both in England and surreptitiously in France.

Inside I looked at old uniforms and guns and photos and maps in glass cases. There were hand grenades and medals and rusted pistols and drab olive green gas masks as well as buttons and belt buckles. Everything was aged and oxidized and most had been dug out of local salty sand. The curator at this little outpost sat me down before a small television screen that showed a black and white video of war footage in France. It was all people prancing with victory music and aerial shots of bombarded ships and capped French officers hoisting flags as American tanks squeezed along dirt roads. The black and white footage included medals pinned on soldiers, salutes, handshakes, marching in formation and roadside crowds cheering on French troops. If only victory had been that clean. The museum is a reminder of how heavily fortified and defended this peninsula was by Germans, as well as of bloody battles required to recapture this terrain.

Looking toward the distant Phare de Cordouan lighthouse from Soulac

One war story is that of Operation Frankton, where a group of 10 soldiers, led by the initiator of the plan—Herbert ‘Blondie’  Hasler—paddled five canvas canoes (each with two-persons) from the mouth of the Gironde Estuary to Bordeaux city, placed mines under German ships and then retreated to a northeastern estuary bank near Blaye before escaping on foot.

The operation was akin to the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo in 1942, when 16 U.S. aircraft bombed that city. The real damage was not physical but psychological—alerting enemies to unrealized vulnerabilities in the heart of their best defended positions.

Only four of these soldiers made it to Bordeaux to inflict minimal damage and only two—Hassler and canoe partner Bill Sparks—escaped. Two canoes, swamped by ocean waves, immediately vanished at the mouth of the estuary, and another six men were apprehended and executed. After the war Hasler organized, and participated in, a single-handed transatlantic ocean race between New York and Plymouth.

Fresh fish for sale

Outside I spied a blazing trio of flags—American, French and European. I pulled over to where dunes rose and waves roared. Here was a bronze miniature Statue of Liberty. Rescued from abandoned disuse in Paris in 1980, the statue now celebrates the Marquis Lafayette, who at 19 years of age departed France in 1777 to fight for liberty in America, then returned to France to participate in the Revolution. The statue was made from original molds used to model the actual Statue of Liberty.

A father walked his two young daughters, each three feet tall and wearing a turquoise bicycle helmets as well as mirrored sunglasses with colored frames. He carried their bicycles across the street into town. If not for victory, I wondered, what freedom would those children have now?

Beach art

I kicked off sandals and climbed dunes, toes squishing through delicious layers of warm and cool sand, and looked westward across waves, ever attractive and always inspiring. Soon I visited another beachside memorial that included four French flags and names, hundreds, inscribed on a black marble wall commemorating the 1944-1945 liberation of Point de Graves, this northernmost tip of the Médoc.

Soulac-sur-Mer is a regular beachside holiday town, stuffed with roadside parked cars and a waterfront with dozens of international flags. Along walkways and the main road moved morning joggers, a stylish young brunette in a polished black Mini, a stroller carrying a scared terrier in his arms and ample men with ugly, unkempt and unwashed Rastafarian braided dreadlock hairstyles—each moving arm in arm with a female mate, each resembling a runway model. Did I recently miss the onset of this bizarre latest trend?

At noon, I ordered an orange juice at Les Chiens Fous. From an outer table I watched a healthy parade of multicolored generations reveling in the wind bitten and sun soaked day, evincing joy and health and movement and some sensible disregard for social media for at least a few hours.

Soulac’s summer highlights include ample bicycling, family friendly everything, juicy fresh fruits and historical reminders of a darkly jagged history where liberty eventually prevailed over an industry of genocide. Times have changed, people have moved on, nations and identities have—thankfully—merged.

On the southern edge of the city I found a shack of a wine store. A glazed eyed man in a cap with a remote and faraway look melted into his lawn chair out front. I walked in.

Fresh from the market

A rotund and chummy woman appeared. We spoke. They sold two types of wine. One from Perpignan, on the other side of France; one from Castillon on the other side of Bordeaux city—itself far away.

I inspected the Castillon. Five euros for a bottle of red. And the Perpignan. Three euros a bottle for rosé. That included the cost of shipping it across the country. I decided to buy both to try. If the rosé was a go, perhaps California’s Two Buck Chuck may have met its match. I pulled bottles from the counter. Later I tried the rosé. Not Bad. Not good. Not really a surprise.

Montalivet

The beach of Montalivet, further south along the Atlantic coast, parallels thick pine forests and dunes demarcated by a long and shaggy wood picket fence. Here again there was bicycling for all ages, surfing, kite surfing, beach volleyball and beach soccer. The town’s abbreviation in ‘Monta,’ hence signs for Monta Surf School and Monta Pizza.

Pedestrian Avenue de L’Ocean was as jammed and sweaty as a summer outdoor concert. There were bikers in black bandannas, a skirted boy wearing a pearl necklace and a swarthy, bearded chap in a pirate’s hat. I counted 24 people in line outside the ATM. This crowded summer family scene with too many bodies hungering for fast food made me return to the car and get out…fast.

Montalivet – too crowded

The southern outskirts of Montalivet skirts several forests: Dunaire, Vendays and Junda. There are adjacent miles of bicycle trails, as well as a separate asphalt bicycle path paralleling the road through deep, dense, lovely woods—all a glorious escape after the pedestrian human zoo of Montalivet. Long distance bikers (many with children) moved with loaded panniers, while shirtless boys skateboarded. One couple picked roadside blackberries. The towering, expansive woods of the Médoc are a cathedral, a living and breathing respite from nearby sea tides of humans clustered on narrow streets. Although this road is a patchwork of asphalt repairs—a buckled, neglected semi-artery through the woods—it magnificently lacks bleating crowds.

Hourtin-Plage

I liked Hourtin-Plage immediately: a square grassy park, uncluttered side streets, dispersed groups of people with nothing to prove. I sat at a shaded table at Le Grillon Restaurant and ordered fresh tuna with herbal vinaigrette sauce and Château Pouyannne white wine from Graves—poured into a less than pretentious big bulb of a glass with the words Gallo Family Vineyards printed on the side. Then, aha! Once again: seated dead ahead—another lame knot of ugly and unwashed dreadlocks on an enervated youth eating lunch together with a ten star babe. What is going on, World?

Rated restaurants hope to neutralize unpredictability by providing consistently good food. Sometimes this works; not always. There’s strange, unpredictable magic in dining out. Michelin Star restaurants offer food that is visual artwork, although not always delicious, and staff can be as stilted as furniture in a doll’s house. Better to have good people, soul filling and reasonably priced fare that is delicious as well as decent wine (even table wine) with friendly staff who treat diners alike whether they are celebrities or off duty dishwashers. You can’t predict when you’ll find this confluence. This restaurant ticked those boxes, and was a pleasure to visit. The atmosphere was quiet and happy, and the staff unrushed but efficient.

For dessert I ordered a café gourmand (you don’t know what this is? It can change your life) before motoring south to Bordeaux city.

Bordeaux City

This has been a cracked and brutal summer with tree leaves, burnt and withering, turning yellow and brown mid August. August is an odd and mobile month in France, a time when train stations may close on Friday mornings (for whatever reason), when libraries often close for the month and school-free students with weird haircuts loiter and slouch and share lame jokes at train stations or on street corners. This is traveling season when commuters haul luggage more often than shopping bags and vines look trim and grapes full and dangling.

The Garonne River looked gloriously muddy, its shores a pastel of muck and weeds while beyond rose beautiful Bordeaux city spires and stately architecture, all as deliciously proportioned as a well decorated Christmas tree.

Spires in this city welcome you, a reminder that this was home of Eleanor of Aquitaine and centuries of medieval knights and troubadours, sword and ax fights and wandering bards. The spires piercing skylines are part of lithic architecture that curls parallel to, and along, the city’s winding waterfront.

I parked near the main railway station, Gare Saint-Jean, which is as much destination as thoroughfare. Here classical piano music rang out and the overall vibe was less raucous than stations at, say, Paris Montparnasse or Milano Centrale.

Out front were trams and a bendy bus departing for Place de la Bourse (5 stops). I boarded and paid. Away it whooshed and rattled along past road construction near Pont de Pierre, the stone bridge crossing the Garonne with 17 arches, one for each letter of Napoléon Bonaparte’s name.

Place de la Bourse

Near the water of River Garonne is Bourse, a wall of beautiful stone apartments and offices. Across the street is a sizable horizontal fountain with multiple jets that spray mist or flood the surface with water a half inch deep. Kids lay down and did snow angels and belly rolls and everything that makes parents cringe at seeing their children wallow on stone earth before a battery of strangers. Still, kids here are generally not bratty or loud or obstinate but whisper and sing and cuddle their parents with overt affection.

A tour guide who looked pre-teen carried a red flag on a stick and marched a group of visitors across Place de la Bourse, She was followed by a sizable woman and several youths attired with the latest style of backpack—basically pear shaped leather pouches on strings slung so low that they bounce off wearers’ rear ends.

Others drove rental bicycles over square cobbles, jouncing butts and boobs and halting to take toothy selfies. They’re all very stylish these French: couples with matching sailor shirts and a woman in debonair silver lace sandals pulling a chique but heavy chunk of luggage across cobblestones. This contrasted sharply to the attire I saw weeks earlier in the aisles of Walmart in rural New Mexico.

I moved by foot into the sunny heart of this magnificent city, compact and clique, global yet quintessentially French. Here is a smattering of public squares—places—that makes the city infectiously attractive: I begin at Place de Parlement with woofing dogs, two lost cyclists, a three year old holding her mother’s bouquet of flowers and roadside stone bollards linked by thick and weathered chains. I passed a parked pink Vespa near to where diners scarfed down plates of salad nicoise and drank golden ales and light yellow wines.

Then, up Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges with its abundant little eateries—terraced and table clothed—such as Le Saint Georges and Osteria Da Luigi. Next—past Place Camille-Jullian with an ancient Roman column and performing tightrope walker and trimly dressed ambling Asians who smelt of lavender.

For a light dinner I ate at an Asian restaurant across from Bradley’s Bookshop (‘Coffee & Tea Taste Better with a Good Book!’). This is the confluence of Rue Saint-Siméon, Rue de La Merci and Rue Arnaud Miqueu.

Earlier in the bookstore I had purchased a Jared Diamond book The World Until Yesterday as well as Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and three short stories by Nabokov and then walked outside and relished the gorgeous temperature. There on Rue Saint Siméon clunky dented bicycles were chained in twos, like drunken sentries, on metal rails and I noticed several American visitors dressed alike: sneakers, beige cargo shorts, gray t-shirts.

There I dined outside—à l’extérieur—and ordered Saké Teriyaki and a half bottle of Château Boyrein white wine from Graves and wallowed in the acoustic beauty of young French ladies chatting at the adjacent table. The dress and comportment of families and couples here was sleek and trim and bereft of loudness or bulk.

Eating with chopsticks, I noticed the constants of summertime: mirrored sunglasses, tanned legs, older wrinkled French wives sucking on vapes, short sleeves showing off intricate tattoos. Most families, even when herded on crowded streets, stayed harmonious and polite.

Even in the most hectored and aggravated cobbled intersections, stuffed with ambling bodies and toddling toddlers I was amazed to see driving school vehicles shunting along these rues (one came close to taking out the entire table of gabbing teens beside me).

If not full on savoir-faire on the part of visitors who obviously just arrived, they displayed a quiescent hush, as though in a cathedral during service. This toning down of loud voices showed respect for a location different from their home.

It is easy to love this city, including its understated power (three times it functioned as the alternative capital of France) and its yawning confidence—much like a Grand Cru Classe wine that commands a committed audience and generates a fat bank balance. A thousand years ago the Aquitaine was the veritable living Elysian Fields of Europe.

Without being reputed so, this city is also a pillar of style and fashion and architectural glory (dusted off by Mayor Alain Juppé, who led the cleaning of stone buildings since his election in 2006).

Next, up the main shopping street—pedestrian Rue Sainte-Catherine—which, near its northern (theater) end, is slightly inclined and heaved with swarms of pulsating humans, sweeping their own divergent paths, clutching plastic bags and bicycle helmets and with clicking heels navigating baby strollers and parading tattooed thighs or signal-red lipstick as they cooed and froed and peddled scooters or paraded along this artery, this aorta, of an ancient yet revitalized city. Tanned sisters bantered about lingerie before Yves Rochet while necklaced divas darted into H&M, and a snoozing, horizontal indigent—his cap and framed family photo propped up on the walkway before him—actually made money while he slept.

I diverted westward off Saint-Catherine along Rue de la Porte Dijeaux. At first the stone road was inclined in a steep V for drainage and had a whiff of urine but I sallied forth past the stores: Galeries Lafayette and L’Atelier du Chocolat (try a feuilleté blanc or Rocher Suisse Noir—sinfully delicious) and passed young ladies gandering at summer dresses in the window of Bimba y Lola.

This street / rue then intersected with Rue Vital-Carles, which offered an inclined gape at the rosary window and graceful spire of Cathédrale Saint-André. Here, a tram car passed—not the blocky stocky style like those from Lisbon but sleek and blue and whispering efficiently along rails tastefully embedded in stone pavement.

Here at the corner is Librairie Mollat—a book selling institution in the city with its blue tinged wooden window frames showing abundant titles (Varuna by Charles Frazier, The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse and A Column of Fire by Ken Follet).

Then, on foot through the ancient stone gate—Porte Dijeux, built in the 1700’s to commemorate the ancient western, Roman entrance to the city. Outside Le Bistro de la Porte drinkers at round marble tables languished with books and parfaits and eerie green cocktails while loud jazz throbbed through a cheery humid Friday afternoon.

I spotted second hand books for sale, including one on how to be a perfect gentleman—Le Guide du Parfait Gentleman—with a chapter titled comment être sexuelle (how to be sexual).

Place Jean Moulin gave a flurry of brazen impressions—gesticulating visitors wearing Hawaiian shirts and girls rolling cigarettes and every person in this open space belittled by the ancient, shiny, imposing spire of Saint-André cathedral.

Next, down Cours Pasteur—eerily empty at 4.51 on a Friday afternoon, past a bicycle store selling bangers and a vapid ‘international bar’ that can’t even attract locals. I sauntered through Place de la Victoire with its live Peruvian flute music, an Egyptian obelisk and a magnificent old stone Román door beside a sinuous street. I hiked along at a rare clip in order to drive northward to catch the ferry back to Blaye.

Then along Cours de la Marne past Marché des Capucins where strange spices, bizarre fish and esoteric vegetables flourish in cool interior stalls during weekends. From Bordeaux city I drove northward, through the famed wine country of Médoc (which I’ll omit, having covered it in so many other stories and articles).

The Ferry Home 

The road northward to Lamarque ran along groomed and clean roads passing well snipped hedges and grassy but mowed road shoulders. The church spire of Lamarque resembles a long bullet, or the capsule cover to a syringe.

Finally, homeward on the Lamarque to Blaye car ferry. The 3.45 p.m. boat left on time, pirouetted in sun dappled but muddy water and the day, with fresh breezes on that Friday afternoon in August was uplifting and, considering it marked the completion of this local driving loop—perfect.

During the 25 minute ride to Blaye I sat upstairs in sunshine where the sight of the nearing cliffside Citadelle looked beautiful. Perfect. Like home anywhere.

^  ^  ^

Thanks for tuning in again.

My latest Forbes pieces are here, and include sparkling wine from Trentino in Italy, why it’s worth visiting the beaches of Bordeaux, and a slice of Bali in Bordeaux.

%d bloggers like this: