A Hot Topic (Literally), Hot Drinks To Warm You Up

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Whether it is hot cider, toddy, coffee, tea, atole, wedang jahevin chaud, mulled wine, or hot chocolate, when it’s cold outside people warm themselves up with a hot drink.  For some, après-ski is a big part of skiing.  It refers to socializing and having drinks after swooshing down the slopes.   On the slopes and après-ski (which translates to after skiing), people sometimes drink something with a little kick.   As you can see below, not all après-ski beverages are hot.  Nevertheless, in the cold of winter, there’s nothing like a hot beverage to warm you up.  Here, we’ve seen things other than your normal piping hot tea… and they’re dangerously delicious.

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Vin chaud (which translates as “hot wine”) is red wine mixed with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, and lemon.  Other countries call this mulled wine, Wassail,  Glühwein/glow-wine, Glögg/gløgg, bisschopswijn/bishop’s wine, greyano vino, cooked wine, quentão, vinho quente, boiled wine, vin brulé, karstvīns, hot wine, grzane wino  vin fiery, or Glintwein.  Clearly, it’s a popular beverage.  Just be careful, all that sugar can leave you feeling less than sweet if you are, ahem, over served.  Thankfully, it’s available everywhere.

Friends from the Nordics make it when they have people over.  They add almonds and raisins to their glass.  It adds a nice flavor and soaks up the liquid so they’re extra yummy.

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Hot spiced rum/hot buttered rum is a little more British than traditionally Swiss.  Then again, the Brits have been vacationing in Switzerland for centuries. Byron, Churchill, Prince William and Cate Middleton have all been, so maybe it’s not so unusual after all.

IMG_0563Yum!  Hot cider.  With all the whipped cream and, um, additives, it may not be as healthy as pure apple cider but it feels cozy and helps fight off the winter chill.  It’s not widely available here.  In fact, I’ve only seen it a couple of places.
IMG_0636Hot coffee is my favorite beverage.  I freely admit it.  I’m an addict and drink coffee every morning.  Sometimes, adults like to add more than just cream or sugar to their coffee.  Popular additions include: Bailey’s, KahluaGrand MarnierAmaretto, brandy, Irish whiskey, Amaretto and Cointreau.   On the slopes, I don’t want anything alcoholic, so I love a good cup of strong coffee with some cream.  Here, it’s usually real cream or milk and not the inferior (but great in a pinch) creamer cups you get in the US.

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Warning:  In researching this, I found at least one article about insurers rejecting claims from drunk skiers.

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How They Put The Bubbles In Champagne, The Champagne Method

In the 1662 the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret described how adding sugar to a finished wine created a second fermentation in a paper presented Royal Society.  Not surprisingly, when I visited Champagne, they didn’t mention English contributions to the local brew.  Here’s how they told it…

Once upon a time, the French Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon discovered the secret of putting bubbles into wine, inventing Champagne.   Although he didn’t, the French Benedictine monk made important contributions to Champagne’s production.  In Champagne, the art of mixing the produce of different vineyards to achieve the perfect blend is of the utmost importance.  Ol’ Dom was the first to do this.

In the 19th century, Champagne was sweeter; they added sugar helped disguise flaws and/or poor quality.  In 1846, Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his Champagne and it was a hit.  Modern Champagne had arrived.  Just how do they get the bubbles inside?  The “champagne method.”  Many other sparkling wines, including Prosecco, use other methods of putting the bubbles in.  There is just something special about champagne and it might have something to do with this process.

Like regular wine, champagne starts out with crushed, fermented grapes.  In Champagne, they use grapes from different vineyards to produce a neutral, acidic wine.  Strong flavor would interfere with the development and final flavor.  The acidity is needed for the second fermentation and extended aging.  Who knew chemistry could be so tasty?

After the initial fermentation, they add a wine and sugar mixture known as “liqueur de triage” to base wine (which is known as the cuvée) before a second fermentation.  They cap it up for the secondary fermentation; this extra fermentation naturally produces the bubbles.   Carbon dioxide (aka bubbles) is a byproduct.

Bottles are stored on riding racks, which turn them almost upside down so residue settles in the bottles neck.  Even though it’s not in the neck, you can see what the residue (known as lees) looks likes in the picture above.

Bottles are marked with lines so that they can be turned regularly.  They are turned incrementally to avoid disrupting the champagne in the bottle.  I saw Magnums wrapped in plastic to prevent their breaking and shattering surrounding bottles.  Apparently, an exploding bottle of champagne has a dangerous amount of force.  You wouldn’t want the entire stockpile below to be damaged, would you?

After 15 months, the bottle necks are quick-frozen, freezing the residue in the neck. When they remove the cap, the frozen sediment shoots out.  This process is known as disgorgement.

While I’ve mentioned adding mixtures at a couple of points, I haven’t fully detailed its importance.  Champagne is known for blending and it is part of what sets this region apart (Bordeaux is also known for blending).  There, master benders are revered.  It takes tons of knowledge and balls of steel to hold back stock, mix multiple vintages and blend it in with newer vintages.   Cheers!

I Got A Kick From Champagne

“Burgundy makes you think off silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them. Think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.”

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French gastronome, (1755-1826)

After visits to BurgundyAlsaceCôtes du Rhône, and Bordeaux, how could we not visit this wine French wine region?  Champagne is located in in north-eastern France. Although it is doable as a (long) day trip from Paris (the region starts 120 kilometers/75 miles from the city) , I did it as part of a visit to the World War I battlefield of Verdun.   There were people on some of my tours that were out from Paris for the day.  Trust me when I tell you that with a driver taking them from one producer of Champagne to another, they were having a very, um, fun educational experience.

Champagne has 4 main cities: Reims, Troyes, Chalons en Champagne and Epernay.  Most of the guidebooks recommend either Reims or the smaller Epernay.  I wanted to visit the famous (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) cathedral at Reims, so I chose to go there.  If I’d had more time, I would have done the Champagne Tourist Route.  It covers more than 500 km between Reims, Epernay and the Côte des Bar, and has around 80 welcome centers.  Growers offer tours in personalized settings, but you need to be better organized than I was and arrange them in advance.  Squeezing it in at the last minute meant that I could only tour producers like Tattinger and Pomeroy.

Let me explain.  Like Burgundy, Champagne’s vineyards are classified as Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Deuxième Cru.  However, in Champagne this does not give an indication of the vineyard’s quality or potential.  It functions more as a means to establish the price a grower gets for his harvest.   The producer or skill of the wine-maker in Champagne means that it is possible to have an outstanding performer in a second classed village and a moderate grower in a higher classed Grand Cru (just like Bordeaux, but different from Burgundy).  Confused yet?


How Thirsty Are You? French Wine Bottles From The Petite To The Gargantuan

Before our travels, I had no idea that wine came in so many different sized bottles.  Most of our visitors didn’t either.  While you can find different sizes in other areas of the globe, these are the most common in France.

  • Demi (0.375 liters) – meaning “half” in French, this is also known as a “halfbottle”.

  • Standard (.750 liters) – I think most of us know what this one looks like.  Many of us may have even had the opportunity to drink from one at some point.  It holds about 6 glasses of wine, less if you have larger glasses.
  • Magnum (1.5 liters)– I’ll admit it, this one first came to my attention through rap songs.  Essentially, this is two bottles.

  • Double Magnum (4.5 liters) –After exceeding the size of a Magnum, the sizes often have the names of biblical kings and other biblical figures.  A double magnum is also known as  “Jeroboam.”  Being twice a magnum, this holds 4 bottles.
  • Rehoboam (4.5 liters) – This one holds 6 bottles.
  • Methuselah (6 liters) – this is known as “Imperial” in Burgundy, this bad boy holds 8 bottles.

  • Salmanazar (9 liters) – a slightly different shape of the same size is known as Mordechai.  Why buy a case (12 bottles for you teetotalers) when you could buy a Mordechai?

  • Balthazar (12 liters) – Okay, if you want to get technical this guy was a wise man and not a king.  It holds 16 bottles, now that’s a party.
  • Nebuchadnezzar (15 liters)  – Also a wise man, not to be confused with a “wise guy.”  It holds 20 bottles.  When we saw it for the first time, we joked about buying one for aging when a child was born and saving it for their wedding.   It seems that large.
  • Melchior (20 liters) – I didn’t even know this existed.

We saw some unusual shaped bottles here and there.

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes a wavy bottle after one of the ancient ones found in its cellars.
  • Before the standardization of sizes, we saw many tucked away in cellars or on display in non-standard sizes.  They used bottle bolds like the one below.

For extra credit, the dimple in the bottom of a wine bottle is known as a “punt,” easy to remember for fans of American football.

Bon weekend everyone!

St. Emilion, Where They Make The Nectar Of The Gods

 

I don’t want to bore you with stories of another medieval hill town or tales of wine, but on our ladies road trip, we fell in love with Saint-Emilion and I can’t help but wax rhapsodic about it.  It is a gorgeous medieval hill town made of limestone quarried locally.

Around 5,400 hectares of vineyards and many small châteaux surround it.   Saint-Emilion has all the accoutrements you expect in a cute french hill town, inviting squares, cute shops, cobblestones, music wafting through the air, flowers, fountains, light blue shutters that look great against the limestone…you get the idea.  If I haven’t already convinced you to endure one more hill town post, that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site probably won’t sway you either.

Saint-Emilion  has been located on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela since the 11th century.  As a result, many churches, monasteries and hospices were built there.  We’d heard that the bell tower of the St. Emilion Monolithic Church had the best view of the city and it was worth making the climb up the ancient winding stairs to the top of the tower.  We paid a Euro or two each and grabbed the key from the Office of  Tourism across the way.

The bell tower was built between the 12th and 15th centuries.  Not long after that, people started carving their names and dates into it.  I’m a sucker for ancient graffiti.  I loved searching for it and reading it. The best part though was the view. Heaven.

Unfortunately our, ahem, transportation challenges (broken clutch) prevented us from having more time to tour Saint-Emilion.  I’d hoped to see the vast limestone catacombs located under the city that contain Europe’s largest underground church.  They are supposed to be amazing.

Fortunately, we still had time to check out the romanesque church and cloister, shop for antiques (you know I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to poke around this cute store), have a nice meal, listen to some street musicians, stroll the streets and catch one heck of a sunset.  Not too shabby.

 

More Than Just Champagne Wishes And Caviar Dreams Bordeaux’s Chateaux As Investments

More than just “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” wineries today can be investments, part of a portfolio.  This is often the case in Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wineries are known as Chateau.  They may only use the grapes from their vineyards to produce wine.  As such, their size limits their production.  The volume produced is further limited by the rules related to the appellation or AOC.  This ceiling on Bordeaux’s production cannot be significantly raised, yet wine has become an increasingly popular beverage around the world.   This keeps prices, particularly for recognized and higher end labels, and making them a good investment.

Until then, enjoy these shots of Chateaux In Bordeaux.

A Most Excellent Day Touring Bordeaux Wineries

Although we could have driven from one Bordeaux winery to another, we did a tour.  We did this for several reasons.

  • I firmly believe that if you are going to drink, for goodness sake don’t drive.  I didn’t mind driving across France, but would have hated driving around Bordeaux if it meant missing out on this once in a lifetime experience.
  • Bordeaux is massive with thousands of wineries.  It’s hard to know which ones to visit.  We were pleased with both the quality and variety of wineries chosen by our guide in the know.
  • We planned this road trip days in advance.  With such short notice, it would have been difficult to make all the arrangements ourselves.

Jurgen, our guide/ designated driver chose three vastly different wineries for us to visit in Bordeaux.   First, we visited Chateau Laniote in St. Emilion.  It is a family run winery run by a delightful couple.  She’s a oneologist (a wine scientist) and he’s the resident magician and jack of all trades.  Their wine was tasty and a good value.  I’m always interested in how family businesses operate and wish we could have stayed longer to talk with them.   Unfortunately for us, they were busy racking the wine (siphoning it from one container to the next in order to leave the sediment behind).  Fortunately for us, we had other lovely vineyards to visit.  After we left, our guide told us he was a Baron.   I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Baron or Baroness before.  I hope as nice and hard-working as these guys.

Our next visit was to Chateau Gruaud Larose (above).  We had a nice guide who explained some of the unique things about their winery.

  • It is located in the St Julian appellation, which is known for producing full-bodied and elegant wines.
  • They make both a first label (higher quality/more expensive) and second label (which uses grapes from younger vines and other cuvées).   The second label is Sarget du Château Gruaud-Larose.

  • They are state of the art and have embraced technology in their efforts to produce the best wine possible.  They have a weather station that is replete with a machine to break up hail, a hail gun…sort of.  It is in the distance, near the furthest building in the picture above.
  • They have a fancy-schmancy grape sorter.  It uses high-precision cameras to electronically select only perfect, ripe grapes.

We visited the highly praised Château Pontet-Canet.  While Château Gruaud-Larose embraced technology, Château Pontet-Canet returned to traditional methods in their efforts to produce a high quality wine.

  • Bordeaux is notorious for its adherence to rigid classifications laid out in the 1800’s.  Château Pontet-Canet is classified as a Cinquième Crus (fifth growth).  Our guide, Jurgen, echoed the main criticism of this rigidity when he explained to us that it meant that a fifth growth level could be better than a second-growth because of how they operate their vineyard.
  • Even though it is a lowly fifth growth, it is located in the Pauillac area of Bordeaux, across the road from first growth Château Mouton Rothschild Other illustrious neighbors include: Château Lafite and Château Mouton.  Some of the world’s most highly respected and expensive wines.  Even at several hundred dollars a bottle, people still argue that it is underrated and a terrific value.

  • Once-derided, this winery’s quality has steadily risen, particularly after its  conversion to biodynamics.  This 2007 vintage is controversial because it resorted to chemicals to treat oidium and mildew,  a decision they now regret.   That being said, I tasted it and it was pretty darn good.

  • They use horses in the vineyards. Horses compact the soils less, and do not damage the vine’s roots like tractors.

  • They sort grapes by hand, worried that an automated sorter would damage the grapes or crush them unnecessarily early.  After the manual sorting, their grapes drop directly into tanks in the floor below.

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What Is Claret? The Question That Sparked A Tasty Adventure in Bordeaux

We’ve been watching British television and one of our favorite shows is “Grand Designs.”  The host, Kevin McCloud, kept referring to “claret.”  Being idiot Americans, we had no idea what sort of beverage it was (other than it was a deep purplish-red color).  Thanks to the magic of the internet, we learned it is “a red wine from Bordeaux, or wine of a similar character made elsewhere” (according to Merriam-Webster).  After that moment – and visiting France’s other wine regions (BurgundyCotes du RhoneAlsace, Champagne) – I wanted to go see what could make stoic Brits wax rhapsodic about this wine.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to convince Wildcat and Hokie to take an girl’s road trip.

A few hours into our trip, they might have started to regret it.  To get to Bordeaux from Geneva, you have to drive across all of France to the Atlantic.  We broke down in the middle of nowhere on our way (for more, check out their accounts here and here).  We arrived in Bordeaux just in time to get a good night’s sleep so that we could begin our “education” bright and early the next day.

Bordeaux is larger and more complex than France’s other wine regions.  It has  an astounding variety of different appellations (recognized types that correspond to demarcated zones that were established in 1855 by Napolean III) in part because the region is large.  It is also topographically and climatically diverse.  It’s soils are geologically complex and vary significantly from one appellation to the next.  Its location on the Atlantic coast and on rivers further inland (the Gironde River and its tributaries, the Garonne and Dordogne) creates dramatically different weather conditions across the region.

Bordeaux wines are all about blending.  Part science, part art, the results are pure magic.  The grapes in the blends should complement each other and make a complex, interesting, balanced and harmonious blend.  The goal is to make the blended wine better than the individual grapes that contribute to it.  In other words, the whole (the blended wine) should be more than the sum of its parts (the individual grapes).

The grapes most commonly used in blending Bordeaux wines are: MerlotCabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Franc.  The Merlot grapes give the wine color, roundness and suppleness.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes provide the tannins, the wine’s backbone and structure.  In young wines, it is very aromatic and provides increasing complexity as it ages.  The Cabernet Franc grapes add a gentleness, a counterpoint to the Sauvignon.

If you haven’t already guessed from the definition of “claret,” most of Bordeaux’s wines are red (around 85%).  Bordeaux is the world’s number one producer of both Cabernet and Merlot grape varieties.  Sante!

Weingut Otto Laubsenstein

While the Rhine Valley is filled with wineries, when we went wine tasting in Germany, we went to Weingut Otto Laubstein in Hochstatten (in the Nahe region near Bad Kreuznach and Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg).  We were spoiled becasue the wine was so good.  Every wine we tasted after that, was disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong, they were fine wines, they just weren’t as good as what we had at Weingut Otto Laubstein.

It is a family business.  They have been making wines on the property since 1860 and are in their fourth generation.   Torsten Hashgagen and his wife Marita Laubenstein-Hashagen took over from her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Laubstein.  We were lucky enough to meet them all.

They are passionate about it, take it seriously and are focused on quality.  When we met Torsten, he joked that quality control is his favorite part of winemaking.  Images of him enthusiastically tasting wine out of barrels popped into my mind.  Microscopes and test tubes did not.  We’ve done several wine tours and tastings, but this tour was the first time we saw a chemistry lab.  He uses the technology in his lab to gather as much information as possible about his grapes and wines as well as to compare them year after year to produce the best quality.

Torsten is committed to continuous improvement and has an exceptional focus on quality.  Signs of it were everywhere, from the small batches to exercise more control over the grapes, to the textbooks within arms reach, to being organic.  When I remarked on the books, Torsten enthusiastically opened them and told me how he still uses them and the pleasure he takes in reading about winemaking.

The winery has Ecovin designation which means that it meets strict, constantly updated (beyond regular EU or association) requirements for quality and ecological consequences.  Ecovin wineries work toward healthy ecosystems in the vineyard by conserving soil and water, encouraging beneficial insects, and refraining from using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  Winegut Otto Laubstein sees their Ecovin (aka Bio, Organic) efforts as a part of producing superior quality wines.

They’ve even got wind power!

We got to taste some wine at the fermentation stage.  See the difference in the pictures?  The finished wine is lighter, clearer and higher in alcohol.  The fermenting wine is still cloudy and has sediment.  It was interesting to taste the wine in progress.  In case you were wondering, it tastes a lot like the finished product, but is rougher and not as clear.  The flavors aren’t as distinct.

Mr. and Mrs. Otto Laubenstien biggest treasure isn’t their winery; it is their five lovely daughters.  Three of them became Wine Queens (the only time in Germany that so many have come from the same family).   Wine Queens use their knowledge of wine growing and production to promote their region’s wine at events like fairs, business conferences, wine festivals, and openings, both at home and abroad.  Essentially, they serve as an ambassador of their region’s winemaking industry.  I learned that queen is Königin in German; it became my nickname for Marita (who still looks like a wine queen).   Torsten named their upper tier, highest quality wines “Princess” after her and her sisters.   How sweet.

The winery has a wine cellar that is over 400 years old.  It stays at a cool, constant temperature.  The old brick arch of wine cellar was beautiful and if I’d had a sweater, I would have spent hours in there taking pictures.  The wine tour ended in the wine tasting rooms (note the Wine Queens on the walls) where we drank wine and spent hours asking Torsten questions.  Torsten clearly loves his work.

So does this guy.

Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin)

When we traveled to Burgundy, we learned that hundreds of thousands of years ago it  was seaside.  The limestone deposited during that time (and complex soil from subsequent fracturing from land shifts) make their wines unique.

Like Burgundy, Alsace sits on a geological fault line and its soil varies extensively.  Also like Burgundy, it is one of the most prominent wine regions of France.  The best vineyards of Alsace are along a geological fault zone that stretches from south to north along the Voges granitic mountain range.  It is 120 km (74.5 miles) long but only a few kilometres wide.  This is the Alsace Wine Route/Route du Vin, a scenic journey to enjoy the French wines, countryside, architecture and food.

The vineyards are located in the foothills of Les Voges mountain range around villages from the middle ages.  Ruined hilltop castles from the middle ages overlook the towns.  Many of the towns have fortified ramparts and cobblestoned streets.  They are postcard pretty with flower-decked streets, historic churches, timbered buildings and gurgling fountains.  In addition to the usual assortment of delightful shops, cafes, restaurants, wine tasting rooms (winstubs) which serve wine from many local vineyards fill the towns.  Ooh la la.

Turckheim, RibeauvilleRiquewihr and Kayersberg are the most popular towns on the Alsace Wine Road and are regularly visited by tour busses and the crowds they bring. Other nice towns include: ObernaiBarrMittelbergheinAndlauDambach-la-VilleSelestatBergheinHunawihr and Eguisheim (which we visited).   Alsace is a popular destination for vacations/holidays.  While we saw other tourists, we were lucky (and surprised) we didn’t see any crowds.

Alsace wine tasting at Paul Schneider

Alsace is well-known for its crisp white wines.  Alsation wines use seven varieties of grapes: Sylvaner, Pinot BlancPinot Noir, Riesling, MuscatPinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.  It has Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation.  There are countless opportunities to taste these in roadside wine cellars (caves in French).  Everyone recommends advance appointments (particularly during busy times like harvest).  Not all wines are created equal and not all wineries are created equal.  The quality can vary drastically from winery to winery.  As a result, if you want to taste the best, research them in advance.

Eichberg and Pfersigberg are two of the other well-respected Grand Crus

One of the best surprises was the Cremant D’ Alsace, a lively and delicate sparkling wine made by the traditional method of fermentation in the bottle.  It’s kind of like Champagne.  What’s not to love?

Although you can drive the Alsace Wine Route, there are many well-marked hiking trails (sentiers viticoles) and bike routes if you get Alsauced.