this guy is my hero

this guy is my style icon

I see him standing in front of the Cahors booth, burgundy-trouser-clad and scarf elegantly draped, modish black-framed glasses resting on top of his head, holding back his chin-length salt-n-pepa locks. He casually swirls the wine around in his mouth, gesticulating with glass in hand, and nodding emphatically at his friend (presumably) in appreciation for what he is tasting. And then I see it; a liquid Arc de Triomphe that leaps from his lips and dives into the spit bucket on the floor one foot away from the tip of his pointed shoe, with barely an errant splash; clothing, countenance and dignity intact. I am immediately and intensely jealous.

This, before all other wine tasting skills, is the one I need to perfect: how to crache elegantly. By contrast, my abilities have graduated from drooling on myself (there’s a certificate; I can prove it) to getting (all of) it in the bucket, even on the first try. I’m currently working on my level of ‘how to spit into the bucket without getting the residual backsplash all over oneself’. There’s a fine mist of (fine) red wine over the front of several of my tasting outfits from the past few days, so the sooner I can transfer the backsplash issue to the floor or table and remove myself (ideally by the aforementioned foot) from the equation, my closet and washing machine will be forever grateful.

Patio season is officially open, although for some reason the locals are forswearing cafés and macarons for the new Burger King. Even the soldiers on duty relax a little in the sunshine.

Patio season has officially started, although for some reason the locals are forswearing cafés and macarons for the new Burger King. Even the soldiers on duty relax a little in the sunshine.

How did I get myself into this predicament, you ask? (And I’m so glad you asked!) Well, to go back two weeks, the last week of March is pretty quiet. Some teachers call in sick, other days are set aside to work on our audits, and the sun makes some appearances, so it turns into a largely uneventful and very relaxed week. This is good, because the first week of April turns out to be quite busy. It’s the week of en primeurs, when all the châteaus present the 2015 vintage to the industry to taste the wines, set prices, and even sell, even though the wine won’t finish aging in barrels for another nine months! 

en Primeur 2016: St Emilion Grand Cru Classé tasting at Château Villemaurine. A lunchbreak and chance run-in with a familiar face in St Emilion leads to a tasting of the greater St Emilion area wines at the Hall of the Dominicans. Everyone is hosting a tasting event, including the new Stadium (built mostly to host the Euro Cup in July but plays double duty easily during primeur week. Seventy-four wines later, I'm wrapping up my fifth primeur event of the day at Place de la Bourse, with the Graves tasting.

en Primeur 2016: St Emilion Grand Cru Classé tasting at Château Villemaurine. A lunchbreak and chance run-in with a familiar face in St Emilion leads to a tasting of the greater St Emilion area wines at the Hall of the Dominicans. Everyone is hosting a tasting event, including the new Stadium (built mostly to host the Euro Cup in July but plays double duty easily during primeur week. Seventy-four wines later, I’m wrapping up my fifth primeur event of the day at Place de la Bourse, with the Graves tasting.

I don’t quite know what to expect – will these taste like too-young wines (young tannins, a lot of astringency in the mouth), or will they taste like juice (maybe the aging effects haven’t really taken place yet)? It turns out whatever special tricks the châteaus use to prepare the primeurs samples are quite effective; though much more experienced tasters will probably be able to tell the difference between these and the final versions a year from now. My primeurs tastings lean a little more heavily to the right bank (St Emilion, Pomerol, etc), but I am very impressed. The reviews of the 2015 vintage are starting to come in, and it seems that this year is shaping up to be better than the last four. (So… take note: key vintages of the 2000s…2000, 2005, 2009, 2010 and now 2015! The bad news is that this frequency of great vintages is probably is due to climate change…Insert sad trombone sound.)

Wine club comes to Bordeaux! Oh, is that glass for me? Turns out my birthyear was a pretty great vintage in Margaux. (Oh fine, let's share...)

Wine club comes to Bordeaux! Oh, is that glass for me? Turns out my birthyear was a pretty great vintage in Margaux. (Oh fine, let’s share…)

In the classroom, it’s sensory analysis week. Each class has a smelling and tasting component, to further develop our gustatory and olfactory recognition skills. I’m learning where my blindspots are: I can’t seem to smell cork taint (that’s the infamous damp basement on the wine aroma wheel, wine clubbers!) at all. The good news is that you can send me any of your corked wine, and I’ll thoroughly enjoy it whereas you may not (see how efficient this can be?) The bad news is that this is not a good blindspot to have…so…. I have a lot of smelling bad wine in my future to try and learn this one. (If that isn’t tainted love, I don’t know what it is!)

Some new information about Chardonnay aromas - but very few of them are from the grape itself, as opposed to the vinification process (basically, if it's signature smells come from fermentation, barrel aging, that's something anyone, anywhere can replicate, and therefore NOT terroir). That said, there is some new - as yet unpublished - research indicating that the smell of (fresh or roasted) hazelnuts may be associated to high quality Chardonnay grapes.

Spoiler alert: very few of what we think of as signature Chardonnay aromas originate in the grape itself, as opposed to the vinification process (basically, if these characteristic smells come from fermentation or barrel aging, that’s something anyone, anywhere can replicate, and therefore NOT terroir). That said, there is new – as yet unpublished – research indicating that the smell of (fresh or roasted) hazelnuts may be associated with high quality Chardonnay grapes.

We wrap up the sensory module with a special class just on Chardonnay; this is a rare topical departure from the classic Bordeaux wines, as the original home of this grape is Burgundy. Burgundian applications and classifications are very confusing. Unlike Bordeaux, where Premier Crus are considered the highest quality (Premier Cru in St Emilion, and First Growths in the Médoc/Graves), in Burgundy the Grand Crus are considered the highest quality, then the Premier Crus, then the Appelations-Villages, and then the Appellations-Régionales. To confound things further, several of the villages have appended their names with the name of nearby Grand Cru vineyards (ie. Puligny-Montrachet is a villages appellation, while Montrachet is the Grand Cru) So…to simplify it: the shorter the name, the higher quality the wine. (But it’s still France, so that rule only applies sometimes.)

Bordeaux marathon day! The morning quais are soaked and fairly empty. The finish line at Place de la Bourse is ready long before the race begins. Wet tram tracks near the start line. Crowds gather by the Porte Cailhau to watch the runners come over the bridge. Half-marathoners run the gauntlet over the Pont St Pierre as cheering crowds press on both sides. Marathoners run late into the evening, and this one nearly misses the road through the Marché.

Bordeaux marathon day! Like Heathcliff’s moors, the quais are a sodden, solitary stretch shrouded in solemn sunless spring. The finish line at Place de la Bourse is ready long before the race begins. Slippery tram tracks near the starting line. Crowds gather by the Porte Cailhau to watch the runners come over the bridge. Half-marathoners run the gauntlet over the Pont St Pierre as cheering crowds press on both sides. Marathoners run late into the evening, and this one nearly misses the road through the Marché.

Well, it’s the end of the weekend. This coming week brings a climate change conference and our cost audit presentations (one down…one to go!) But before I go, here I am fulfilling a special request for more vineyard pictures.

A young shoot beginning to unfurl its leaves; if you look closely, you can see a latent bud at the base of the leaves. An example of a particularly vigourous single cane-pruned vine, outside Château Laroze in St Emilion. Finally.... it's pretty but someone forgot to take the buds off this trunk; count 'em - three bunched together!

A young shoot beginning to unfurl its leaves; if you look closely, you can see a latent bud at the base of the leaves. An example of a particularly vigourous single cane-pruned vine, outside Château Laroze in St Emilion. Finally, three little buds from school are they – some interesting pruning decisions from the vines on the school lawn.

 

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