The Wine Duchess and easing into French living

I have to say I understand why there is so much good wine here…. Without this self-medication readily available to consume at any given moment, people would rise up and revolt (as historically they did many times).

Upon arrival, the only thing I wanted more than a meal was a hot shower and a bed. Having traveled for over 24 hours I was not feeling so fresh or so clean. I turned on the shower and while waiting for the water to get hot, took a look around. “Despite the size, this place has potential”, I thought to myself. An added bonus was that the bathroom, thankfully, had been cleaned.

I grabbed my towel and headed in to take a relaxing shower and hit the hay. The water was ice cold. ”I must not be letting this warm up correctly”, I thought. So I try it the other way. Nothing, but freezing cold water. WHAT??!!! Seriously??!!

Although the home front was cozy, it was not as turn key ready as I had hoped. I just needed a shower, which was not in the cards that evening. So the following morning I proceeded to boil water in both a plug-in teakettle and a pot that was left (Thank you Jenny!!) by the previous tenant and finally got my shower. Yes it was with pots of hot water and then rinsing cold with what came from the showerhead, but it was a shower.

I had to go talk with the landlady immediately. In her quintessential French accent exclaims, “No! This cannot be! Wait until tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning was the same horrible procedure again…. I ended up taking showers out of a pot for the first three days I was here.

On the third day I tell her, “Madame, I need to get this fixed.” “Ahhh yes”, she tells me. “We need to flip a switch on your circuit breaker…. How silly? This should work now. “ The clouds parted and I finally got a hot shower…. But this taught me several things that came up time and again in the coming weeks of adjusting to France…. No one is in a hurry to get anything done here and it is often something minor that is forgotten or overlooked that is going to prohibit any movement towards a possible solution. You just need to sit back and relax, because it is going to take a long time for things to come together.

Getting a cell phone took two weeks. You can’t get a cell phone, without a bank account, and getting a bank account, takes two weeks. Getting the Internet is still an ongoing process. First, the password given to me was incorrect, which I did not find out until I was able to get into the landlord’s house and actually look at the back of the wifi box. That has since gone out, a new Internet box has arrived and I am now in possession of yet another incorrect password. The first time I ran the washer…. Not going to lie, I had to run it three times before I figured out where the soap went and how to get the cycle to run correctly. It is a process.

This is Place de la Liberation. A gorgeous plaza that has the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne in the background. This is but a few steps from my door and a great place to sit and enjoy a glass of vino.

Which brings me back to the wine. I have decided this is why they have wine all the time and with almost every meal. For example, it is total acceptable to drink at lunch in France, contrastingly stateside the mad men days of martini lunches are long gone. I like the French take on wine here- if you are going to do it, you may as well as do it right. People take the two-hour lunch and talk with their friends. Everyday the Plaza de Liberation, outside my apartment, is packed with people, having a glass of wine or cool beer, and just enjoying the process. You can’t sweat it, just sit back have a glass of wine and enjoy the process. You may be here a while.

In anticipation of going to try and get a cell phone, I myself needed to harness some liquid courage and find my inner Zen, which it turns out I found at the bottom of my second glass of wine. All this, prior to entering the cell phone store and then a post-celebratory libation. I had accomplished a major administrative feat of getting a signed phone contract with a French number, with only a single visit to the store (this is unheard of, btw)! You have to celebrate the small victories! The administrative hurdles are big here, but you can’t sweat it, just sit back and enjoy the copious amounts of sweet nectar this place produces to keep the masses maxing and relaxing. They do it well, as you will soon see.

For you folks who may not be in the know, we are going to review a couple basics about Burgundy and some of the mind-blowing wines this area produces. Burgundy is a region southeast of Paris and, as far as wine goes, has the largest number of appellation d’origine controlee, also known as AOCs, in France. What the hell is that? In Burgundy, terroir of wine is serious business … well what the hell is that you ask? Lets start from the end and work backwards.

This is a map of terrior that is all within the appellation of Aloxe -Corton AOC. As you can see the French take this stuff seriously.

Terrior is a religion here, and there is no other terrior exactly like what you have right here in Burgundy, or so the “Burgundian” religion dictates. Terrior, is of course a French word (that could never be really translated, again because it is French), that refers to a unique combination or recipe of soil, climate, altitude and other natural factors that a particular wine region, village, vineyard or even the rows with n a vineyard (that is right people, even rows) have, that are responsible for specific characteristics within the fruit of the wine. Wikipedia says it well: “Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. At its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site.” A little poetic, but none the less true. Why is terrior so important and what does it have to do with AOCs?

In Burgundy, the varietal of wine, the producer and the winemaker are not in the driver’s seat on the label. Here, the AOC is king. It is pretty standard to see the AOC designation being the dominate feature on Burgundy wine labels. This appellation designation will tell you geographically, where exactly the grapes came from. You are expected to know that the indicated AOC or area produces the specific varietal, the quality of the fruit and thus the quality of the wine. You do a lot of reading, and a lot of drinking, for that matter, to understand this religion (praise the wine gods!).

Here are the cliffnotes on the Burgundy Bible, but keep in mind these are heavily suggested patterns of behavior and not the ten commandments of wines, so there may be some exceptions to the rules. The two most popular varieties produced in Burgundy are Pinot Noir (if it is a red) and Chardonnay (if it is a white). It is rare to see the varietal on the label (this is serious French mafia shit), so don’t be surprised when you first start scoping out the French wine section and can’t figure out if it is a pinot or a cab, a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. They like to keep you on your wine toes. As an AOC gets more specific in a geographic area, it is a good indicator that the wine is, in theory, supposed to be getting better in quality. So, if a label has a regional appellation, it means really the grapes came from all over that region, doesn’t mean it will not be enjoyable, but it will usually be a lot cheaper than a single estate wine would be.

This is a pretty standard French label. The AOC is prominently displayed as you can see clearly it is from “Pommard”. An FYI this was a fantastic bottle from a rather icon area of Burgundy.

The crème de la crème of Burgundy wines have an AOC specific designation, which will be on the label, called Grand Cru, which is the best of only a small number of vineyard sites. We are talking less than 2%; these wines can blow your mind and your entire budget. Consider yourself warned. The vineyard appellation is the only name that will be found on the bottle, not a village or region. Grand Cru grapes are often found on the highest points of the hills in those vineyards, this where terrior comes into play, with things like slope. Premier Cru is like a silver medalist…. Not a gold, but hell it made the podium and gave the winners a run for their money. Premier Crus often will have the Premier Cru designation, the village and if the wine came from a single vineyard, this too is permitted on the label. Then the bronze medalists of wines are usually indicated by an AOC with a village or communal designation. The grapes may come from a single vineyard or several vineyards within the village. I really find myself gravitating frequently towards this category of wine. It is a bit of gamble (which is always exciting) and I feel like you can find some killer wines, at a great price here. Lastly, we have come full circle back to the regional wine AOCs. The grapes can come from all over Burgundy for example and are often grapes from the lower-lying areas.

I know that was a lot to take in. But now that you have some idea of what a Burgundy wine label is all about- get out there and start experimenting! See why Burgundians not only drink so much wine, but why they are able to drink so much good wine.

Next stop- this Duchess goes from the vineyards to the market and back to the vineyards.


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