Berlin: The Broken Tooth
Regular readers of our blog (both of them!) will notice that we haven’t posted anything new for a few months… and it’s true. Italy is a land of much wine and distraction: by the time you build in a two-and-a-half-hour pausa every afternoon and a 90 minute passengiata every evening, it’s hard to see the point of drawing your ambition much past robing/disrobing and the occasional snack. That said, our silence might have you thinking that we had little to report… and nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, we feel we have a moral– nay, spiritual– duty to channel our experiences vicariously back to you poor schlubs trapped in an office somewhere. (That was us, half a year ago– so we’re not throwing stones.) So consider this a catch-up posting (one of three).
To recap: in true High-Life form, we blew through our first two months here in Italy (July-August) without barely catching a breath, taking Italian classes four hours a day and trekking around the countryside every weekend. In between other important duties we explored a list of half-shelved passions: reading, writing, sketching, cooking, singing, eating, (drinking). We already knew that we would lose our apartment for the month of September– outwitted by a disgustingly organized British couple who had reserved the place a year in advance– but as we had planned to travel anyway, it all worked out.
The Plaza in Kreutzberg
The Sandcrawler in Star Wars
So, with some wistful hesitation, on September 1 we took off for our grande tour-de-Europa.
First by air to Berlin (sidenote: Air Berlin is a nice airline), where we stayed in a funky conference hotel that looked like the Sandcrawler from Star Wars. (Don’t believe me? Compare the pics.) In addition to touring the city where one of us once lived, we reu
nited with several friends and ate lots of good Indian food. Then by train to Brussels, where we crashed at the apartment of our dashing diplomatic friend and ate Bruxillian food (pricey). Then by slow train to Strasbourg, France– another former haunt– where we ate tarte flambe and tried unsuccessfully to track down the road bike one of us had left with Kurdish landlords six years ago (they’d moved on).
Then, finally, by rental car through the much-lauded wine regions of France: Alsace, Borgogne (Burgandy), and Cotes-du-Rhone. After drinking Italian wine for several months, we thought it was time to broaden our horizons and get a feel for other types of old-world wineries. Unlike in Italy– where, before we moved here, we rarely cared for the wine– several varieties in France already had our affection. From clean, crisp Alsatian Rieslings to meaty, chewy Chateauneufs to smooth, nuanced Bordeaux’s– plus Armagnac, a favorite liquor– France had an impressive portfolio, if somewhat overpriced.
However: there’s no way to know wine like being there. When last I lived in France I really had no idea what I was looking at; I was on a student budget and was a bit of an amateur. Now, with slightly greater resources and appreciation, we discovered a few new things that you might also be interested in.
So first, Alsace: the great white wine producing region of France. Even if you don’t generally care for whites, you’ll find something you like here: these are clean, unoaked, fresh-tasting whites, easy to drink and very cheap at €4-8 a bottle. We picked up a range of whites that we liked a lot, including Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Gewurztraminer. Mostly unknown is that many wineries also make a Pinot Noir which is pretty darn good in its own way, and which expresses the Alsacian terroir; it makes for an interesting comparison with the now popular Californian and Oregonian Pinots. (For more on the wine offerings of Alsace, check out A Brief Primer on the Jewels of Alsace.)
In Burgundy (Borgogne) we saved lots of money for wine purchases by setting up camp (literally) in the trees of the Black Forest and at a five-star campground just outside the old city of Beaune. Aside from the small detail that we were sleeping outside, it really was pretty comfortable and included a cafe, electicity and wireless internet. Considering that your standard 1-star hotel costs €60-80, the €25 we spent on our Ikea mattress and our €10 Chinese-produced tent (red) seemed pretty worth it. We watched movies on our laptops plugged into the outlet as we toasted ourselves on our choice not to spend $100 a night in some fleatrap hotel.
The Wines of Borgogne
Cecy with some Dirty Old Man
As for the wines of Borgogne, we were told that for the best appreciation one must wait 10-15 years. 10-15 years? I don’t think so. Good wine may well come out of Burgundy, but for wine you expect to drink in the next few years it’s watery and overpriced. That said, there is a certain elegance here that exists few other places; we just prefer the wines of the south. We had a wonderful time touring the winery of Parent and even got to watch them as they brought in their harvest. (Having just consumed a bottle of Parent with Thanksgiving dinner, I will say that it pairs very well with light foods like turkey.) For more on wine in Burgundy, we recommend this article on Learning Burgundy.
A Small Samping for Home
But then Avignon, Cotes-du-Rhone, and Chateuneuf-du-Pape. NOW THIS IS REAL WINE. Chewy, dark, dense, “bacony” even. This was great wine, ready to drink now. The mistral winds of the Provencal beat down the grapes and force them to be hardy and heady and deep. We found any number of cellars that were willing to part with their delicious CDP’s for around €12-15, a virtual steal when you think about what these wines command back in the States (or anywhere else). We took back a good sampling of both red and white wines from the region. Did you know that CDP is traditionally a blend of about 13 different grapes, all grown alongside each other? Can you imagine growing 13 different grapes?
Back to Italy, where we had just enough time to charm our way past the Englishpeople and change out suitcases before our flight back to DC!…