Friday, June 1, 2018

France - Chateauneuf du Pape

We made our way to one of the most well-known (and the most fun to say) regions in France's wine country —  Chatenaueuf du Pape. Apparently, the wines from this region were huge hits back in the day and many of the wineries ride on those coattails. Neither Bill nor I have much liked wines from this region and now I know why. I learned that there are a handful of wineries that have recently been pushing their limits, employing new methods and trying new things. These wineries are the ones to watch in the region… well, at least that's what our teacher, Peter, explained to us. 
Which winery shall we go to?
We arrived at Domaine des Sénéchaux, a winery that dates back to the 14th century (!!) to find gigantic wine barrels in a cool cellar. Have I mentioned it was hot while we were in France last summer? Anyway, the cool cellar was very refreshing and we were all happy to get out of the sun. 
Giant wine barrels
After a quick tour and some cheesy posing with the enormous barrels, it was time to do some tasting. 
Hangin' with a giant wine barrel
Ladies with large wine barrels
Unfortunately, this was one of the wineries where the tour leader didn't have much English. Most of our group are British and most Brits have at least a limited amount of French (French is like their Spanish, it's what most people learn in school), so they didn't work too hard to translate into English. But they had English write-ups and the wine spoke for itself! We drank one red, one white and they were both yummy. These wines were cheaper at the winery than they would have been in a shop, but they were still the most costly wines of our tour. I purchased one of each and am keeping them for an appropriate occasion… like 'I've baked a cake!' or 'friends are coming 'round!' 

First wine
Second wine tasted
After our wine tasting we had time to grab a quick lunch in town. It was a really quaint, small village with only a handful of shops. We didn't have much time to wander, but what there was to see was lovely. 
Cute store fronts

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

France - Haut Lirou Winery

Our next winery was, I think, the only dud in the two years I've been going on these trips. It was a really hot day and we had just finished an extremely long alfresco lunch sitting in direct sunlight, eating spicy chicken, piping hot and  right out of the oven. We were all overheated, cranky, sweaty, and tired, so I don't think the fact that this winery was a dud lies solely on the winery's shoulders. 
Peahen and peacock!
After a short ride on the luxuriously air conditioned bus, we arrived to the sight of several peacocks! Always a delight. The view of the vineyard was also beautiful, but it was still sweltering and there was no shade to be found. We were all happy to be escorted into the air conditioned wine making facility. Yay - cool air!! 
Haut Lirou vineyard
We toured the chilly wine making warehouse and learned all about Haut Lirou's winemaking philosophy. 
More barrels!
Fancy barrels
On our way out of the warehouse, we passed a storage area where bottled wines were continuing to age. 
Wine storage
When we made it into the tasting room, I watched as an employee turned OFF the air conditioner. Off?! 25 people just entered your small tasting room and you turn the air con off? 

As the room started heating up, the wine guy started pouring wine for the tasting. The labels on the bottle didn't match the posters on the wall or the pricing guide hand outs. We couldn't figure out which wines we were tasting, and as the room got hotter, I got more confused. My French is pretty nonexistent, but at most wineries I can pair the bottle's label to the marketing and figure out the grape(s) involved and cost of each bottle. Because their marketing paperwork didn't match each other or any of the labels on the bottles we tasted, I think I only purchased one bottle.   
Even more barrels!
That's not to say the wines were bad, on the contrary, they were very good. I was just cranky and hot and ready to dive into the cold pool back at the hotel. Sigh. 

Wine's we tasted:

Monday, April 9, 2018

France - Chateau L'Euzier

We visited Chateau L'Euzier in the Languedoc region. This winery has been managed by the same family for several generations. When the father passed away fairly young, his son and daughter returned to the family business and are now running the place. 
Wine vats
Wine barrels
The daughter had been working as a jeweler in Paris. When she came back to manage the winery, they re-named the wines to coincide with jewelry-making techniques. Her brother has also re-vitalized the business by bringing in new styles and winemaking skills. Needless to say, their wine is tasty! 
Wine tasting
Our tasting took place under the shade of some gorgeous old trees, accompanied by some yummy treats. The friendly family dog cruised around to get some scratchies from the animal lovers. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours!
By the time we were done with this, the second winery of the tour, our guide/teacher knew we were on track to buy even more wine than last year's trip. More on that in later posts. 

Wines tasted:

Friday, April 6, 2018

France - Sightseeing in La Camargue

I had honestly never heard of La Camargue until I found out we were going to visit there whilst on our wine trip. It's a small area of natural beauty within the Languedoc region of France. When we visited, we stopped in the cities of Aigues-Mortes (translated into Dead Water) and Arles. 

I took pictures in both cities, but what I didn't capture was the nature preserves we drove through within La Camargue. There were thousands of wild flamingos, hundreds of wild, all-white horses, and (although we only saw a few), pure-bred Camargue cattle. 
The walled city of Aigues-Mortes
Our first stop was in Aigues-Mortes, formerly a seaside fortress, which is now situated a bit inland as the seas have changed. Outside the walled city are marshlands where famous Camargue salt is harvested. The 'modern' city was founded by Louis IX in 1240 when he took over a catholic priory because it sat on a rather advantageous location. 
Gated entrance to Aigues-Mortes
The small, cobbled streets were filled with a mix of tourist shops and shops for locals. It was already a rather hot day, so my friend and I hit up a hat shop and purchased some shade. We all looked quite cute for the rest of the trip (if I do say so myself). 
Tiny street in Aigues-Mortes 
We bought hats!
We walked down to the beach to put our toes in the mediterranean sea. It was lovely and all, but, damn, that sand was HOT! 
The sand was HOT
Before walking back to the bus we got a group shot of the four American gals on the wine trip.
Happy girls!
After driving through la Camargue and seeing lots of wildlife and beauty, we stopped in Arles for some late afternoon touring before dinner. I had not been aware that Arles had a still-standing, still in-use Roman amphitheater built in 90AD. WOW, was it amazing! I have never been to mainland Italy, so this was the first major Roman structure I have seen. 
Roman amphitheater in Arles
Arles Amphitheater
In the picture below you can see the new(ish) stadium-style seats that they've added to the amphitheater. Even though it is almost 2,000 years old, it is still used for concerts and the like throughout the year. 
Tunnels inside amphitheater
More views of the amphitheater and its seating. I wonder, are the wooden bench seats more comfortable that the old stone slabs? They both seem rather unpleasant!
Amphitheater seating
Panoramic view of Amphitheater
We walked the amphitheater's perimeter twice, once outside amongst the seats and once inside, below the seats.
Below grounds in amphitheater

Interior walkways
It gave me the chills walking around below. I kept thinking about the gladiators, slaves, animals, etc. who had probably spent their last hours here before battle scared out of their minds. 
Gladiatorial (or animal?) entrance to the arena
Can you even imagine, having to walk out of that doorway and into an arena where you had to fight to the death? Or wrestle a tiger? Gives me the willies just thinking about it. Maybe this amphitheater was used for happier things way back when… but I doubt it. 
We went back outside for a few more photos. But, damn, it was hot. After living in England for five years, my poor body just can't take the heat!
Roman stonework at amphitheater
Several stories tall
After the amphitheater we walked through town in search of a garden made famous by Vincent Van Gogh. We walked and walked and walked in the heat, almost gave up, but then we found it! 
Arles church
Doors of the church of Saint-Trophime
The garden painted by Vincent Van Gogh is really not much more than a pretty courtyard.
Garden painted by Van Gogh
But it was pretty enough for me to take a selfie!
In garden painted by Van Gogh
And here's the famous Van Gogh painting in the garden it's depicting. You can see the white/yellow/blue terraces in the distance. The garden's grown in a bit since he painted the picture, though! 
One of Van Gogh's painting in location of painting