In one sense I have many things to write about – the classes being over, the Bordeaux en Primeurs 2016, our class trip to Italy and my subsequent visit to Bretagne – and in another sense I have only one thing to reflect on – that this is the end of my time in France. I’ll start with the first list, heavy on pictures, in an effort to gather my thoughts, and then we can talk about that last item.

The primeurs tastings take us all around Bordeaux: tasting Médoc at Château Arsac in Margaux with a classic(al) lake view (top left and centre); a classmate being interviewed at the Biodyvin tasting at Château Fombrauge in St Emilion (right); a picturesque setting for the Derenencourt Consultants tasting at Château La Gafflière in St Emilion; and a reunion with Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (bottom left) and tasting some of my own handiwork from 2016!

I’ve written about the en Primeurs before, and the 2016 campaign is fairly similar, although word on the street is that the 2016s could turn out to be another blockbuster year, with the Left Bank (Médoc) edging out the Right Bank (St Emilion, Pomerol). Lots of springtime rain (remember?!) followed by a hot dry summer led to bountiful and high quality harvest, with great aging potential. Feel free to read some of the reviews yourself, Vintage Report from Fine and Rare Wines, Decanter’s report, an interview with Stéphane Derenencourt, a consultant with interests on both sides of the Garonne (the interview is in French but Google translate offers a fair rendition), but from my point of view this is a good year to stock.

While we’re in St Emilion, we take the opportunity to try and catch a glimpse of the grounds at Château Ausone, one of the four Premier Crus Classé A and notoriously private. The lilacs are in bloom, as are the wisteria; which continue to camouflage the château even when we’re on the property (shhh!). The view from Château Pavie-Macquin across the street shows off St Emilion, but somehow Ausone manages to elude us still (it’s to the left, just outside the picture…)

Our final class trip takes us to Verona, host of VinItaly, a massive Italian wine exposition. We start our trip with two days at the exposition, essentially a whirlwind tour around the wine regions of Italy, without ever leaving Verona.

First stop – go see Tobia, a first-year classmate who left us to go work for the Prosecco DOC. A few sparkling tastings at the various booths throughout Day One (research, if you will) before we go back for Tobia’s Organic Prosecco masterclass.

Though not captured in pictures, a delightful new discovery for me is the wine from Sardinia. This region uses a wide range of grapes of indigenous, French and Spanish origin. Torbato, Semidano, Niederra, Nuragus, Monica and Nasco are completely unfamiliar to me, but others just have different names, like Cannonau (Grenache), Carignano (Carignan), and of course Cabernet Sauvignon. They have both reds and whites, but I really like the reds that I try – spicy and powerful.

The Chianti tasting with Montemaggio: Ilaria Anichini, the agronomist and winemaker, takes us through the tasting. Only the wild boar stew is pictured here, but these wines go incredibly well with a variety of foods, tomato-based dishes, cheese (duh), sausage…mmmm…. I’m getting hungry again! And a final review of the lineup.

Another new experience for me is a wine blogger tasting with La Fattoria di Montemaggio. This is an organic vineyard in the heart of Chianti (Chianti Classico) on 8 hectares of limestone schist. They harvest everything manually and are passionate about producing terroir wines, insisting that we will be able to taste the wild forest that surrounds the vineyards in the wines.

Chianti Classico is required to be made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, but can also include a mix of other grapes, Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In this case, we’re predominantly tasting wines with a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot. We taste a range of the wines – from 1997 to 2011, and the Classico, the Riserva from the top of the hill and even some single-variety Merlot wines.What I’m loving about these wines is how gracefully they are aging. There is a lot of complexity and elegance in these wines – earthy/forest floor (ah, there’s the forest smells!), spicy, even meaty aromas, well-balanced with the tannins.

The day starts with Franciacorta – a sparkling wine (not all Italian sparkling wine is called Prosecco!) from Lombardy, followed by Barolo – a Nebbiolo-based red wine from Piedmont. A stealth photog catches me midswirl, but I approve of the Barolo! The booths are quite picturesque, doing their best to bring the beauty of their respective regions to the show. And finally… of course we can’t have wine without cheese! The Pecorino pairs well with….mmm…. pretty much everything.

It would be a shame to not see the sights while we’re here, so we take a break from the convention and head into the city to explore. Verona is a favourite of mine, having played host to me 7 years ago when I volunteered for the Secretaries of Juliet, responding to letters.

The entry to Juliet’s courtyard is still filled with supplicants leaving messages on the walls. Inside, a sight of the storied balcony, and the equally famous Juliet statue. The Juliet Club has moved headquarters since my time here – the new location is just behind Piazza Erbe.

But alas there are no vines in Verona, so we must move on all too quickly. Our first foray into wine country proper takes us to Soave to discover their dry white wines. These wines are from the Veneto region, and made from predominantly Garganega, though sometimes include Trebbiano and Chardonnay.

Class photo in the cellar at Cantina del Castello, followed by a tasting of a series of vintages, including the 2017 which has not yet finished fermenting. Up in the vineyards, the steeper parcels are Guyot-trained and have a lovely view, while the flatter parcels have pergola-training which means they are much taller.

Our stop in the afternoon takes us to Valpolicella, where we taste one of my favourite wines: Amarone. I’ve written briefly about how this is made, with grapes being dried out after harvest to concentrate the sugars and flavours. These are powerful and alcoholic dry wines, thanks to that concentrated sugar, often reaching 15% or more. By contrast, the sweet version of this wine – called Recioto – uses the same method, but finishes sweet, with less alcohol. I mayyyy have packed one of each in my bag for later taste testing…

The Valpolicella visit starts in the vineyard, then takes us to the cellar where the wines age in large foudres, much like Alsatian wines. Our last stop on the tour is the drying room, where we see the crates the grapes dry in for several months after the harvest, concentrating the sugars inside. Finally, the tasting!

And since we can’t seem to get enough Prosecco, we spend our last day in the Cartizze appellation. Cartizze is actually a hill, considered to produce the highest quality of Prosecco in the whole DOC – sort of like a Grand Cru. Local lore has it that due to the steepness of the slopes, these grapes take longer to pick. Apparently grape growers discovered that this extended ripening period improved the flavour of the grapes – we can certainly taste the sweetness in even the Brut (very dry) wines

A class selfie at the top of the Cartizze hill, and the view from the top, where you can see the steep slopes and terraced vines. (Selfie credit goes to my classmate Lilia)

Once the Italy trip is done, it’s time to head to Bretagne for Easter and the birthday weekend of a very good friend of mine. Oddly enough, I don’t seem to have any pictures of the birthday party, but evidently I survive to tell the tale. I’ll share some pictures of our walk on the beach, but they don’t tell the whole story either. It is particularly telling for me that this visit coincides with my imminent departure from France as my stay here in 2010 was the first ‘aha!’ moment that I had about wine, and the role I wanted it to play in my life. At the time I thought it would be nice to live in France, and perhaps know a little more about wine, but as long as I had good wine, good food, and good company, I could otherwise continue living my life the same as before. The same holds true for me today, with the sole difference that my career is evolving to embrace the same simple philosophy.

The walk from St Cast to St Jacut-la-Mer passes by the Château du Guildo, and a view of the beach at low tide. On the walk back, we can see the tide starting to return, and the setting sun softens the castle’s hard edges.

And here I am, on my last night in Bordeaux, with my life packed into boxes and bags, ready to return to Canada. The Master isn’t over – I have one more internship to complete, which will be at Tawse Winery, in the Niagara region of Ontario – but it is the end of my life in France, so it feels like the end of this chapter.

It’s no secret that I will miss the marchés and fresh bread; in fact, living across from Capucins has meant that I haven’t bothered much trying to explore the restaurant scene, instead preferring to focus more on discovering new recipes for seasonal ingredients. That’s the easiest difference to point out, so it’s the first one I mention when anyone asks. The others are important but harder to define – i love the casualness of the apéros, the conviction that both food and wine have an identity associated with their origin which cannot be replicated elsewhere, how easy it is to travel. I’ll miss learning again – not just in the classroom, but also from my classmates and the various visits and tastings all over France, and not just about wine, but also culture, food, non-French traditions… I don’t know that I can eloquently describe how I feel about this, other than to say that this has been an amazing chapter in my life and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for France.

 

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2 thoughts on “the final countdown

  1. Thank you for every moment we shared in Canada or in France, Cat.
    I remember the first time we met in Toronto, in 2009 and the first time you came in Bretagne. None of us could imagine this big challenge and change in your life. You’re so great.
    Have a good trip back to Canada and I hope see you soon, maybe in May in Canada 🇨🇦 or in november-december in BRETAGNE.

    • Yes!! Thank YOU – they all have been wonderful memories so far – and I love that my life has changed in such a way that I get to see you and your family more and more often. Cheers to making more in the near future and in the long term when you come to visit Château Cat in Canada 🙂

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