An American in Provence

“The day when a Frenchman switches from the formality of vous to the familiarity of tu is a day to be taken seriously. It is an unmistakable signal that he has decided – after weeks or months or sometimes years – that he likes you. It would be chulish and unfriendly of you not to return the compliment. And so, just when you are at last feeling comfortable with vous and all the plurals that go with it, you are thrust headlong in to the singular world of tu.”  ~ Peter Mayle, “Toujours Provence”

For Semana Santa, the entire Cordero/Kling Clan came out to visit this side of the globe to tap into their European sides. First stop, family road trip to Provence, the famous south-eastern region of France known for it’s rolling hills, fields of endless lavender and some of the best wine in the world. We rented a cottage outside of Avignon, and set out on a number of day trips into the country-side and surrounding cities. We had some good family bonding time in the car navigating city streets and freeways. [Side note: The French are so kind in the way that they do not mark their streets, and all signs tell you the next major city in the direction that you are going….there are no signs forewarning you what the next street is (i.e. which might be your turn off). So basically, you always know the direction you are going (i.e. ‘ok everybody, we are headed towards Nîmes’), but you never know where you are…I guess you are just supposed to have an internal GPS system for that? Oh, and stopping for directions was fun too, seeing as absolutely no onespoke a word of English or Spanish (they would give us this look like, “You really expect ME to know how to speak English or Spanish?”), so it was quite entertaining relying on what my Grandpa remembered from his 8thgrade French class (which was pretty much, “Parlez-vous English?”). Every evening we would burst open the front door to the rental house kissing the ground and with copious amounts of wine, we would celebrate the victory of finding our way home. But, aside from all of the hecticness of driving, we DID end up see, visiting and discovering some great spots in Provence (I apologize in advance for the disorganization of this blog):

Wine Tasting 101

For all you wine lovers out there, we spent our first day in France (under very little stress might I add) being chauffeured around to all the best wineries by Kelly Auliffe, rumored to be the only American Sommeliers in France. And for all of you un-cultured people like me who have no idea what the heck a Sommelieris:

Definition of a Sommelier: A wine steward found in very high end restaurants. He/she is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional who specializes in all wine aspects, including wine a food matching. There are certifications and even formal master’s degrees offered to become a Sommelier.

Kelly is a specialist in wines from the Rhone Region (the wine produced around the Rhone River), the land of Syrah and Grenache. And man was he great; cheerful, talkative, and passionate about wine. [Just a little promotion for Kelly: here is a really nice article about him, http://www.frenchentree.com/france-provence-real-lives/displayarticle.asp?id=18084; his contact information is all at the bottom]. In-between wineries we stopped at the remains of the massive 14th century summer house of the Pope which overlooks the Provincial country-side to enjoy a picnic he had prepared (Note: You can see the Pope’s Palace in Avignon fromthe Pope’s summer house??? Those Pope’s, they really liked to “get-away” on vacation). To go along with loaves of fresh bread, we were delighted with the flavors of incredible pâtés, tapenades and schemers, crunchy whole garlic cloves soaked in olive oil, dried sausages, and aged French cheeses. A huge hit among everyone was the Brandade de Morue, a creamy salted cod spread (see recipe at the end of the blog).

Kelly took us to many wineries, but the most famous in this area was the Domaine de la Mordoree with the lovely catch phrase, Par amour de la terra…(or, “for the love of the earth.” If interested in going, the winery is in a zone of Provence known as Tavel. They call the area “Roi des Roses” or the “King of Roses.” Not being a big white wine/rose drinker (not a big fan of the sweetness), their Roses really were delightful! Aside from drinking great wine, our Wine Sommelier taught us how to taste wine like a professional.

 

How to taste wine…“properly”:

#1 Look at the color – Hold your glass against a white piece of paper. With whites, the lighter the color, the younger the wine; the more golden the color, the older the wine. With reds, the color has more to do with the amount of tannins and the type of grape used.

Kelly showing us how it’s done!
#2 The swish around in the glass – When you swish the wine around, you can see what wine connoisseurs call the “legs” of the wine, which stream down the sides of the glass. The fatter and longer the “legs” the more sugar the wine has. The more sun on the grapes the more sugar produced and thus more alcohol. [Side note: The translation from the French word into English is actually “thighs.” After we heard that, everyone (ok, maybe just me) kept shouting out, “She’s got some great thighs, this one!” after every new taste.]

#3 Smell– To quote Kelly, “If I could fit my nose and face into the glass and actually jump into the wine, I would.” So basically, stick your whole nose in your glass, as close as you can, without accidently touching the wine and having to awkwardly wipe it off. Then, the fun part, the “smelling game!” (My favorite quote from my Grandpa was, “I am so bad at this part….I smell…wine”). Kelly describes how women are much better at recognizing the smells in wine, because…well, in general, we like to “stop and smell the roses.” Women also like to depend on their senses before we do anything – we smell, we touch, we taste. So, what can you pin-point in your wine?  Floral? (honey suckle, roses, violets?); Fruity? (cherries, peaches, apples, strawberries?); Spicy? (peppery?); Earthy? (dirt?); Burning or “toastiness” from the barrel?[Note: Californians use new oak barrels because it adds a sweet, vanilla flavor to the wine whereas the French use older barrels to tapper that flavor (they say it hides the taste of the grapes…I will let the Californians and the French duel that one out!)]

#4 Taste– After all the waiting and the build-up, having to stick your nose all the way in the glass practically tasting it but then having to pull away at the last second (it is kind of tortuous when you think about it), you get to DRINK the wine. You want to take 2 sips of wine. First, you just…well, take sip like normal. The second drink is a bit strange though as he guided us to take the wine in our mouth, drop our jaws, and suck in air (almost putting the wine through a massive aerating process in about 5 seconds). For a visual, think of when you take that first sip of very hot coffee in the morning, you don’t really take a big gulp…you set your lips on the coffee mug and sort of slurp in up…it is that same idea except the liquid is already in your mouth. Kelly explained that there are 12,000 taste buds on your tongue and that different parts of your tongue recognize different types of tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, sour etc. – and thus you want to be able to touch the wine to every part of those senses. In the end I just decided to simply sip my wine like normal; I had to reward myself for all that build up and I prefer not to ruin the wonderful experience of the “drinking part.”

Dominique’s Provincial City Gems

“Gordes”

Incredible views, charming shops and restaurants, as well as the warm and friendly small town atmospheres – the little hill cities are where it’s at when visiting Provence. Here are a few towns to check out: 1.)  Uzès – charming medieval town, great restaurants, very tourist friendly and most people speak English! 2.)  Gordes– “The City on the Hill,” not a place to stay, but just make sure you drive by it and take a picture 3.) Saint-Rémy-de-Provence – just South of Avignon this is a cute little town with a fantastic Wednesday morning outdoor market, but make sure you get there early because everyone closes up shop at 12:00pm! 4.) Roussillon – named the “Pink City” because of the “ocher” in the rock that turns it pink, is perched up on a hill with fantastic views of the Provincial country-side. They have some wonderful restaurants, but make sure you make it for lunch between 11 and 2:30pm because all restaurants take a nice Spanish siesta and don’t start up business again until 7pm (we learned the hard way)

Recipe: Brandade de Morue

 Ingredients:

1/2 pound thick-cut skinless boneless salt cod
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup heavy cream plus, if desired, 2 tablespoons for thinning the brandade
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, roasted (procedure follows), or 1 drained bottled roasted red pepper, chopped fine and patted dry

Instructions:

In a ceramic or glass bowl let the salt cod soak in cold water to cover, changing the water several times, for 24 hours and drain it. In a kettle poach the cod in simmering water to cover for 25 minutes, or until it flakes easily when tested with a fork, drain it in a colander, and refresh it under cold water. Pat the cod dry and break it into pieces. In a skillet cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is soft and let it cool. In a food processor puree the onion mixture, the garlic and the cod until the mixture is smooth, with the motor running add the remaining 1/3 cup oil in a stream, 1/2 cup of the cream, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, and puree the mixture until it is smooth. The brandade de morue may be made 2 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. If desired, thin the brandade with the remaining 2 tablespoons cream.

Yield: Makes about 60 hors d’oeuvres

 

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