But What Do I Know? My Favorite Posts Of 2012

I listed the top viewed posts of 2012, but thought I would post a list of my favorite posts of 2012 too.

  1. Duomo’s Rooftop, A Sculpture Garden In The Sky – I just like the pictures.
  2. Dubai’s River, It’s Other Waterfront – I liked how different Dubai was from Geneva and loved its mix of cultures.  While you can see cool skyscrapers lots of places, there aren’t many where you can see the old wood dhows and the people from all over the world who trade on Dubai’s waterfront.
  3. Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part Two – I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Men Who Hate Women in Swedish).  When we went to Stockholm, I toured the sites mentioned in the books.  Most of them were in the super-cool Sodermalm neighborhood.
  4. Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival– We love live music and a European Music Festival is something to experience.  This one had a great lineup and was well worth the resulting fatigue (better described as exhaustion).
  5. The Toblerone Line, One Sweet Barrier– We looked all over Switzerland for this puppy.  Once we found it, we couldn’t stop seeing it places (Reichenbach Falls, near Thun, etc.).
  6. Why I Love Running– One of my favorite things.
  7. Weingut Otto Laubsenstein – Fantastic people + fantastic wine = unforgettable time.
  8. It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye – A reader suggestion and one of the best views in Switzerland.  If you’re not up for hours of hiking straight uphill, you can always take the train there.
  9. The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock – I tried to keep it real.
  10. Les Contamines – Although we’ve done a lot of skiing, this was one of our favorite days because we spent it with wonderful fr
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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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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.

A Grape Day, Geneva’s Wine Festival

Last weekend was Geneva‘s Caves Ouverts.  This translates to “Open Cellars.”  All of the area’s wineries were open for visits and to taste the latest wines.  Wines produced for consumption within a few years are usually bottled in March or April.  As a result, they are first released for sale in May.  Since it started in 1987, it has grown into a huge event.

Buy your tasting glass and we will gladly serve you. The glass is 5 CHF. Taste moderately. Love passionately.

We bought special wine glasses for five Swiss Francs ($6) each.  With these glasses, we could taste any wine at all the wineries.  The proprietors were great an were happy to talk about their wines.  I was glad that we’d done the wine tour of Burgundy and learned how to taste wine so that I knew how to tell them what I liked.

As a result of the tasting, we are now a bit more knowledgeable about Geneva’s wines and wineries.  We didn’t buy any since we didn’t have a backpack with us (rookie mistake), but will be heading back to buy our favorites.

I like that you can see my reflection in the bottle.

Most of the wineries provide tasty food at reasonable prices.   We opted for the sausage.  They had a choice of white or red and asked which I would like.  I asked for the red sausage please.

Others in our group had the Tomme, a wonderful goat cheese.  They served it grilled on bread.  We also saw: Tartiflette, hearty meat dishes, wonderful pastries and pies.  Many wineries also provide entertainment.   Accordion music anyone?

If you are thinking about visiting Geneva, Caves Ouvertes is the weekend to do it.  The countryside is beautiful.  So are the vineyards.  I love that you can always see the mountains in the distance around here. Even the towns are picturesque.  These old villages consist of stone farmhouses and massive wood barns in which people gather around barrels or picnic tables.

As the day progressed the crowds grew, spilling out into the courtyards and the streets.  It was a wonderful atmosphere.  Everyone was very friendly.  Even the usually reserved Swiss were wonderfully chatty. We went with a group; it was great to share the day with people from all over the world.

As the crowds increased, the weather deteriorated.  Being the idiots that we are, we dressed for the morning’s weather (another rookie mistake).  In Switzerland, the weather is changeable and the temperature dropped drastically over the course of the day.  He wore shorts and flip-flops (not very Swiss).  I wore a skirt and wells (also not very Swiss).  At least he remembered to bring a jacket.

Yep, the wind was blowing so hard that it turned the umbrella below inside out.  We had umbrellas too.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do a lot of good when the wind was blowing sideways and we called it a day.

I have grumbled discontentedly about Geneva’s public transport (TPG) since they drastically changed their routes in December.  After they provided free shuttle buses that loop around the wine villages, I feel much more kindly disposed towards them.  Thanks TPG!