Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bordeaux II

28 August

After ten glorious hours of sleep, I woke up early on the 28th to get a good start on the day with a visit to a nearby market before my 10 AM wine tasting at the Ecole du Vin (literally, wine school), just across the street from the Office de Tourisme, both conveniently located a few blocks from our hotel off of the Place de la Comédie.

On the left, La Comédie - that is, the theater.  Oh, and on the right, the more recent addition, the tram.
There were colorful painted cows all over the city, clearly a part of an urban art project, like the crabs in Baltimore a few years ago.  I'm not sure cows in Bordeaux is quite as fitting as crabs in Baltimore (though I did see a lot of huge cuts of beef on the menus all over town), but I appreciated the artistry and the silly decoration amid the austere stone facades.  This one marked, fittingly, a Spanish restaurant:

MuuuugidoBeuuuglement?  Why are there extra consonants when cows speak romance languages?
Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos at the wine tasting.  But then, did you really want to see more pictures of glasses of wine I drank?  I took plenty of notes, though, in addition to getting a couple of stellar little information booklets, complete with slide print-outs and space for notes.

I had been to one formal tasting before, in Paris in 2008, which was an excellent introduction to how to hold a glass and smell a wine and then taste it making that really attractive sucking noise.  This time around, the tasting covered a lot more ground.  We started with an overview of the Bordeaux region, including an explanation of what makes this terroir such an ideal location for viticulture, and then a conversation about the differences in soils in the different sub-regions in Bordeaux, followed by a discussion of the grape varietals in use throughout the region and the blends of varietals used in different subregions, and then an initiation into how to read a label and understand the AOCs - that is, the 60 appelations that fit within 6 families, and a brief examination of some of the classifications within the appelations...  Suffice to say, we covered a lot of ground, and while I know I only scratched the surface, I think I have a slightly better understanding of how to choose a good Bordeaux wine.

And then, finally, onto the tasting itself!  I learned a good deal there, too - the instructor discussed what the color of the wine can indicate about its age, and broke down the difference between a first and second nose (don't swirl the glass for the first; that way, you can really notice the difference in aromas when you add the air by swirling the second), and encouraged us to "start with the finish" when discussing the flavors in a wine - that is, comment on the aftertaste first before going back to pick out what you taste while the wine is in your mouth.  Have I gotten into enough detail yet?  Thank goodness everything was in English!

We tasted four wines: one dry white (that the instructor described as "crispy," which was adorable), one Medoc red, one St. Emilion red, and one sweet white.  Not surprisingly, I liked the dry white best, but they were all nice - the St. Emilion in particular was delicious.  The instructor intentionally chose less expensive wines to show you didn't have to buy a 100€ bottle of Bordeaux to have a good wine, but I'd love to try some of the outrageously expensive ones soon, too, just to see what makes them so pricey.

After the tasting, I headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit... all that wine was a little soporific.  After a rest, we headed out to find some new luggage, and this time I chose a real luggage shop and we ended up spending more than double what I spent the last time around on a new bag (thanks Mom!), but this one did manage to last the two and a half weeks remaining before I was headed back to the US, so that was a nice added bonus.

After something as unpleasant as buying luggage, it must be time for a little something sweet - better make it the Bordeaux classic, a canelé:

You can find canelés, small pastries with a custardy interior wrapped in a dense caramelized coating in this typical couronne (crown) shape, all over France where they're typically referred to a spécialité Bordelaise, but that didn't prepare me for the wide variety of canelés I would find in Bordeaux.  I bought mine from a shop called Baillardran, which is a chain shop found all over Bordeaux that sells nothing but canelés - but before you can get one, you have to decide what size: bouchée ("bite-size," or small), lunch (medium), or traditionnel ("traditional," or, of course, large).  And then you have to decide on how much caramelization you want: light (sadly, I missed the French name for that one), croustillant ("crispy"), or craquant ("irresistible," but also related to the word for "to crunch").  I went for the middle of the road: lunch croustillant.  The edge was super stiff with sugar - definitely something to stick to your teeth, kind of like gaufres Liègeoises.  Beneath that dense exterior was an eggy, spongy, rum-soaked dough.  Not being that fond of sugar in my teeth or rum, I'd have to say this wasn't one of my favorites, but it did do the trick for my necessary sugar break.

We dropped off the new luggage at our hotel room, and then headed out to find the mirroir d'eau, which I had seen on the fabulous tourism channel on the hotel tv the night before.  This channel had relaxing music and played a 15 minute loop of information on things to do and see in the Bordeaux area.  (I didn't see a channel like this in any other cities, but they're missing out - I loved this channel.  Take note, French hotels...)  Not surprisingly, much of the information focused on wine country, but there was also a brief bit of information on the mirroir d'eau, a huge urban art project.  Literally, it translates as "water mirror."  It's a huge (think, say, 50m by 150m), shallow (maybe 2-3" deep at its deepest) puddle that fills and empties again on a 15 minute loop throughout the day.  When the water is still, it is a perfect reflection of the stately buildings on the Place de la Bourse just beyond it:

But then the mist starts coming up:

And then, the children take off their clothes and start running through the mist and water.

But it's not just the kids who get into the fun - so do their parents, as well as other adults.  Note the bride...

Well... sort of a bride.  Her hair was a mess... and her dress was the wrong size and kept falling down... not to mention being drawn upon... and she had friends with her taking lots of pictures... urban art project?  Who knows.

I got in just long enough to get my toes wet.

We stayed and watched through several cycles, seeing the kids playing and splashing and the occasional parent getting much wetter than they had bargained for.  It was very thoughtful of all of those parents to bring their kids to entertain us!

Eventually, we turned around and walked the 100m to the shore of the Garonne for a brief look over the river.

Eventually, we went back to our hotel to rest for an hour or so before dinner.  But that's another story.

Coming soon: boudin aux pommes - that is, blood sausage and apples.  Trust me on this one.  Or, rather, trust every sensible French cook.  Amazing.

A bientôt,

1 comment:

I need orange said...

Love your pic of the tram in the square. Nice juxtaposition of old and new.... If we'd had another day, maybe we would have taken the tram somewhere.....

Interesting to hear more detail about the wine-tasting. So much to learn......

Love your pics of the little kids at the Miroir.