Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A matter of taste

One night last week I had 7 glasses of wine and still drove home safely.  Perhaps I should add that each glass was less than 1cm full -  I was at a ‘beginners guide to wine tasting’ evening.

Friends that know me will be laughing already as I am no ‘beginner’ at wine tasting!  I started drinking it in the late 70s when pubs & bars in the UK finally caught up with the fact that it could be offered by the glass rather than just a bottle with a meal.  My grandparents even bought a bottle of Blue Nun for me to drink rather than the usual glass of sherry but being kept at room temperature in their drinks cabinet did nothing to improve the flavour.  (After they died we also found several bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau which they were storing in their cellar)! 

The French look on the British as stereotypical wine drinkers in that we drink too much of it, go for quantity rather than quality, and drink it at strange times – some French friends were quite surprised when we offered them wine at Apero time and insisted that they only drank wine with meals (some rules are just crying out to be broken ‘though!).  I’m afraid that I conform to this stereotype and purchase my wine from the Co-operative outlet in the village where 5 litres costs under 10 euros – you can even have your plastic bottles filled with wine via what looks like petrol pump.  However, my eyes were opened recently when we went out for dinner with our neighbours and J-C spent more time perusing the wine list than the main menu.  After much discussion a bottle was ordered and  I’m ashamed to say that my first thought was ‘that’s not going to go very far between four of us’ but for some reason, the fact that it was so delicious & complemented the meal perfectly made me sip and taste it rather than swig it down in large gulps. 

Having finally realised that perhaps there is more to wine than price but not really knowing how to find out more, I was really pleased to see an invitation on Facebook from a couple who run a Domaine in the neighbouring village offering a one-off ‘class’ called ‘How to Taste Better’.  This really was a ‘back to basics’ class where we learnt about the five main ‘tastes’ and were invited to smell and taste glasses containing water with added sugar, water with pure alcohol added and also glasses containing acid – I hasten to add that this was heavily diluted as I’m sure it would be very bad for business to poison potential customers.  Now that we knew what we were looking for, when it came to the wine itself it became easier to recognise the different tastes and as we swirled, sniffed and tasted we began to sound like real wine snobs as we discussed tannin levels, acidity and oak flavours.  We all agreed that the last glass we tasted was our favourite – which was lucky as it just happened to be produced by the Domaine itself! 

Many many thanks to Jon (for the talk) and Rachel (for the nibbles) and I look forward to the next lesson.      

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Visitors welcome!

One of the best things about living in a lovely area like this is having visitors to stay and showing them around.  This week didn’t quite go to plan....

On Tuesday morning my husband drove off to the airport to collect our friends while I stayed at home doing a final tidy round.  By 10.30 everything was looking perfect – the cream floor tiles were gleaming, a huge bunch of wild mimosa was sitting in a vase, the sun was shining and the views of the snow twinkling on the mountains in the distance was spectacular.  I had found time to wash and dry my hair and had even brushed the dog and sprayed her with doggie deodorant (a marvellous invention that pleases us more than it pleases her).  I sat down with a mug of coffee when she suddenly ran into the living room absolutely soaking wet and leaving muddy footprints everywhere.  I assumed she had fallen into the pond again but when I followed her outside she was barking at the corner of the garage where the hosepipe to the outside tap had broken off and water was spraying everywhere.  The dog goes completely mad around moving water and by the time I had made several attempts to reconnect the pipe we were both drenched and neither of us were looking our best when my husband arrived back with our friends.  Possibly more importantly, the leak meant that the water supply to the house was no longer working (we are not on the mains here but rely on an underground well system).  Luckily my husband managed to temporarily tie up the hose and running water and flushing toilets were back in order again and the rest of the day passed without further incident.

The next morning I was aware of an eerie silence from the boiler.  It is a huge grey monster of a machine (with a rusty fire extinguisher next to it) but it had always seemed to work very well.  We tried everything we could think of – i.e. pushing a couple of buttons and checking the pilot light, but nothing worked so I rang the boiler company.  A very helpful lady said that she would see where the engineers were and ring me back to let me know when they could come out.  When she rang back I had to sheepishly explain to her that we didn’t think we needed the engineer anymore as we thought we had found the problem – the oil tank was empty!  The Oil company couldn’t deliver until the following afternoon so we went out for the day and then spent the evening in front of a roaring log fire and used fan heaters in the kitchen.  The guest bedroom has electric radiators so our friends were nice and warm upstairs and we plugged the 2 fan heaters in the downstairs bedroom.  This promptly fused an electric circuit which affected the bedside lights, clock radio and the electric shutters!

On Thursday morning we had an appointment with our Architect who brought round various artisans to quote for our renovation work and our friends were very impressed with the way everybody shakes hands and greets everybody.  They weren’t quite so pleased by having to greet the Septic Tank man and we all spent quite some time washing our hands when he left....   I stayed in to wait for the oil delivery while my husband took our friends out for a scenic drive to Ceret and then up to Amelie-les-Bains, a pretty thermal spa town up in the mountains.  I think they would have enjoyed it had it not poured with rain and the fact that they were too late to be served at the restaurants so ended up eating supermarket sandwiches!

It was still raining in the evening so for supper we went to a little restaurant in our local town.  Our friends remarked on how nice it was that everybody who arrived greeted the diners with a ‘Bonsoir’, which I feel is a lovely French custom – apart from one woman who was hurrying in to escape the downpour and accidentally greeted everybody with a loud ‘Merde’ as she had caught her umbrella in the door-handle! 

It doesn’t often rain here (honestly!) but when it does, it really rains, so the following day when we had spent the morning stripping out the kitchen cupboards (new one arrives next week!) and the afternoon on a very muddy walk, I was a bit hesitant about asking them to fill in the Visitors Book.  Luckily they were very kind in their comments and I am looking forward to having them to stay again – when the renovation works are finished!