an afternoon in Saint-Émilion

This is it… my final full day in France. The day was planned: depart Eymet, head for Saint- Émilion, hopefully not get lost, depart Saint-Émilion for Bordeaux, again, hopefully not get lost. You see, much of my week was spent in the car, attempting to read a map (I still can’t) and direct Julie in the right direction. Thanks to properly marked roundabouts (my new favourite thing) we found our way quite easily most of time… but venturing out on an adventure knowing you are likely to get lost adds a little bit of stress to the upcoming ride. But back to my final adventure; Saint-Émilion.

one of our stops while in Saint-Émilion

Saint-Émilion is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. A world heritage site, we park the car at the bottom of the hill and climb up the steep and narrow streets until we reach the top and look into the horizon; the views of the countryside and vineyards surrounding Saint-Émilion was well worth the exertion. That, and the prospect of tasting some good, local wine.

a picture of this beautiful village

I think Julie and I expected our wine tasting experience in Saint-Émilion to be similar to the evening before (as hosted by Mitch); experimental and fun. That was not the case… it seems that the wine merchants actually expect you to (1) enjoy whatever wine you sample, and (2) buy the bottle… no matter what the price point is. Have you sensed that our expectations and the merchants expectations didn’t quite a-line? Needless to say, other than entering a couple of wine shops and sampling a few wines; Julie and I spent the majority of the day giggling over a horrible lunch (2 patrons required 4 servers… I kid you not), walking around the town and … discovering the greatest little delicatessen shop ever!!!

in a wine cellar

We were greeted at the door by the merchant; a welcoming smile on her face followed by a pleasant conversation. While we chatted, I looked around the shop and was drawn to the shelf that contained cookies. You see, they resembled my gâteau basques! Quelle chance! I asked if they were anything alike and was informed that these palets normands were actually better: sounds like a challenge to me! I bought a bag of 5 cookies, another bag of mini cookies that resembled madeleines and then grabbed a couple pounds of fresh Normandy butter (one for Charlotte and one for me).

rich salty Frehcn butter

We’d made it halfway back to the car before I sampled my first palet normand… at which point I asked Julie if we could go back so that I could purchase some more… they taste like a really moist shortbread. Seriously, the French know how to bake. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside… perfect for a cookie.

palets normands

Although I still believe that my gâteau basques are the better of the two, I am certainly ok with the fact that I now have a box of 30 palets normands… I’ll be passing them around in the office and sharing the love :0)

Bacchanalia around the world in 80 minutes…

I would like you all to know that I did in fact do things other than just eat desserts while in France… I will confess that most of my activities lead me to sampling pastries, but each day began with a purpose other than only indulging in culinary delights. And that is how I ended up at a wine tasting.

Mitch – the hostess with the mostess

Julie has become fast friends with Mitch; patron of the Cave d’Eymet – lovely person with a vast amount of knowledge that she loves to share with others (and after having visited other wine cellars, I’ve realized that not everyone is as inviting or lovely as Mitch is). Mitch coordinates a monthly wine-tasting; selecting the grape varieties when they are at their best, which is how we ended up sampling white wines. The theme of the evening was “interesting and ‘generally’ unknown white grape variations from around the world”. Mitch arranged it so that one quiet evening in Eymet I made my way to Argentina, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Chilli, Tenerife and Spain – all thanks to the white grape!

I’ve never, ever done anything like this before. And at first I thought it would be pretty intimidating; I mean, what do I really know about wine other than I like some and I don’t particularly like others? But there I was, surrounded by 23 other people, eager to pour from an unlabeled bottle (it was a blind tasting too boot!), look at the wine, smell the wine and finally taste the wine. What fun!

see… don’t they all look the same?

The first thing I learnt… I am not very good at figuring out the colour… you see, of the 8 wines sampled, I would admit that they all looked “water white”, or “pale yellow with a hint of green”, or simply “pale yellow”. I than remarked on whether or not the wine clung to the sides of the glass when swirled around (this has something to do with tears???)… All in all, this part of sampling is not my strong suit.

Onto the nose or smell of a wine. I really enjoyed the challenge that each and every wine presented… because when you stick your nose in a glass your greeted by either very pleasant, or at times, highly unpleasant scents. For example, I described one wine as “cat piss”… yep. Cat piss. A truly unappealing smelling wine. Another one smelt of a bonfire, smokey, heavy. Far more appealing to cat piss don’t you think? Another one brought back memories of Asia – a predominantly lychee aroma rising to greet my nose. But my favourite wine smelt of berries of the forest and honey. What a combo!

proof that i reall did describe something as “cat piss”

Finally onto the third, and in my opinion, most important aspect of a wine tasting; the actual tasting. The greatest lesson I learnt was that wines do get better after a second sip and swirl. Or not. And, just because I found the nose of the wine to be appealing did not mean that my pallet would be equally pleased. It was also neat to determine whether what I smelt with my nose was registered on the tongue – did I actually taste those berries or apples or apricots? Did that wine taste like cat piss (not that I know what that tastes like firsthand)?

Since I was standing across from Julie who was enjoying the wine samples as much as I was, I didn’t realize that people were actually spitting out what they were “tasting”… it seems that only Julie and I drank all 8 glasses of wine… in my defense, I drank a LARGE glass of water between each round, and I did ensure that I grabbed several of the offered baguette slices. No drinking on an empty stomach for me!

It was a truly memorable and enjoyable evening; I got to spend time with really interesting people: specially Mitch – who encouraged any of our ideas about the wines, and never made me feel silly for blurting out the first thing that came to mind when smelling or tasting. It was a grand evening!

In case you’re wondering… my least favourite wine was the one I described as cat piss… the taste did not improve (and yet, still I didn’t spit); it was from Tenerife, the Vita Norte. And my favourite (which was tricky, because I could have taken half of those bottles home and been very happy) was from Spain! Imagine that!!! After my experience in San Sebastian with the horrible wine, I ended up picking a Spanish wine as my top choice! The Bodega Castro Martin an Albarinho grape variety (I’d never even heard of that grape before) was delicious. Sigh. I bought my bottle and am looking forward to serving it as an aperitif… with the right amount of bite and a slight bubble sensation at the end; it has the perfect acidic balance in my estimation… and it smelt great too!

Cheers to a super evening! Oh… and in the spirit of full disclosure… I did end up having a divine dessert afterward… a raspberry tiramisu…the perfect way to end this evening :0)

un marché Français

Day 7 of my trip… I’m awakened to the sounds of a market being set-up. You see, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the studio apartment is situated (almost) directly above the market square. When I peak out the large windows I can look down and see people enjoying a coffee at Kismat Café (run by a lovely, kind English women and her husband)… I can also hop downstairs to the pâtisserie next door, or even make my way to le cave d’Eymet (more about that later).

But back to the market. Stepping into the square brought a smile to my face; not only was it a brilliantly sunny day, but visiting markets is my favourite part of traveling… markets are places where an outsider gets a real feel for the people, the place, the country that they are visiting… which is why we travel right!?

the cheese… sigh

fresh, bright green basil

enough olives for the hearts delight

shallots.  perfect.

This was a real French market; full of vibrant colours, the vendors as colourful as their products, and people getting the freshest and the best products around. As soon as I wandered into the organized chaos my eye was drawn to the cheese vendors, large hunks of cheese – each and every assortment; standing in front of the stand, your nose was assaulted by bold and sharp scents. From there I was drawn to the bright red tomatoes; perfectly ripe, ready to be sliced and diced. A little further down the lane was the wide assortment of sausages (actually my favourite vendor was selling gorgeous cheese and sausage), duck products, fois gras, fresh herbs, spices, fresh olives (sigh), and dried fruit. Then we hit the fish stands. The fish mongers were a riot – showing off their assortment of fish, bright pink shrimp, smooth coquille St. Jacques… everything looked absolutely fresh and ready to be flash fried in a butter sauce or drizzled with fresh lemon (double sigh).

fish fish fish

So in keeping with the idea of a market, we actually picked up some goodies for our lunch… a warm, juicy roasted chicken, some avocado and tomato to toss in a salad, and the most gorgeous cheese I’ve ever tried (yes, I was actually quite ill at the end of that meal… but so worth it). Obviously I couldn’t skip out on dessert… so two wonderful little pastries were purchased – a doughy pastry filled with a chocolate cream and a rum cream… both, divine; light and perfectly sweet. And Julie grabbed a handful of the sweetest, moistest, softest dried apricots I have ever tasted. I can understand why she goes back for those week after week.

But my absolute favourite purchase… was my new straw panier! I bought a new basket to bring back home with; it’ll be my market basket in Ottawa… that way I’ll always have a little bit of France with me when I hit a marché!