Paris: Wine Tasting at Ô Chateau.

While doing our food tour in Nice we met Sheandra, a lawyer from Atlanta in the US who was great fun and we all got along like the proverbial chateau flambé. We ended up going out for a few glasses of wine after the food tour and then deciding to meet up again in Paris, this time for a Rick Steves-recommended wine tasting lunch at Ô Chateau.

We all arrived a little early and caught up on what we’d done since we’d last seen each other then went downstairs into the stylish cellar where the tasting would take place.

Our instructor for the day was Gerald, a man with excellent English and even better wine knowledge. His presentation not only covered how to taste wine and how to discuss it, but also the history and geography of French wine. If you are an aspiring connoisseur or just interested in wine I’d hugely recommended it. If you already know a lot about wine they have an experts course too.

Some of the things I learned were:

1. How the sediment is removed from champagne bottles without the gas being lost. The neck of the bottle (where the sediment had settled) is frozen, then the plug of ice removed before the bottle is resealed.

2. What ‘brut’ refers to. I’ve always wondered yet never bothered to look and it turns out that it means a minimum of sugar is added to flavour the champagne and sometimes none. So when a champagne is ‘brut’ it means that it is dry. Champagne that is ‘extra brut’ is in fact more sweet because extra sugar is added.

3. When a champagne is labeled ‘Blanc de blanc’ it means ‘white of whites’ which means only Chardonnay grapes have been used. The other two grapes used to make champagne are red – Although champagne is never red because the skins are discarded.

4. NVB stands for Non Vintage Brut. This means that grapes from multiple seasons have been mixed to provide a more standard flavour.

5. Champagne glasses are tall with narrow stems because until modern methods were involved, the yeast sediment used to settle in the bottom of the stem.

6. To see if a red wine is aged you can tilt the glass over a white background and note that the pinker the tint of the wine the younger it is and the redder, or browner the colour the more it has aged.

Of course we learned a great deal more but, thanks to drinking about 8 glasses of wine, I seem to have forgotten most of it. C’est la vie!

I found that we knew quite a bit about wine terminology and a bit about production. Where we always fall down is in the actual tasting, although Gerald explained so well and gave us a few hints and so we did pick some of the flavours. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we guessed successfully.

The cheeses were paired nicely and each came from the same region as the wine.

Number three was my favourite pairing and the Sancerre (a Sauvignon Blanc) was my favourite wine, but I was tickled to be trying a Chateauneuf du Pape. Partially because I had just read about there being a pope who chose Avignon as his capital (traveling around Europe is like piecing together an endless historical puzzle) but mainly because it is mentioned in a Beastie Boys song and every time I read it I start singing Body Movin’ to myself.

Anyhoo, we were properly fuzzy when we left and we said goodbye to Sheandra before heading to the Musee d’Orsay.

We had a quick look at some very elegant Art Nouveau furniture and then their impressive collection of Van Gogh works. Van Gogh is always amazing, but seeing his work surrounded by other artists of the period really impresses on you how special he was. So vibrant and expressive. I took a photo of this one for Jess, as it featured in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes.

Last night (a week later) Luke and I had a long discussion about art we liked since we’ve seen so much lately. We both agreed that we thought the very best art (fine or otherwise) was the kind that appealed to many people on many levels. Work that could be enjoyed or be controversial or in some way stimulating for everyone, whether you were trained to appreciate it or not, but which held layers of meaning so that the more you knew the more there was to appreciate. I think this is why I find some modern art so interesting – the more technically skilled but also provocative it is, the better I like it.

I’d be interested in what other people think about so leave a comment if you have thoughts!

Two Nights in Chicago

We don’t like to rush our travels, so rather than catch the train from Waukesha to Chicago then go straight to the airport we thought we’d spend two nights in the city before flying to Vegas.

I didn’t really know much about Chicago before went went – Mafia, pizza and cold winters was about it. We booked ourselves a twin room in a hostel which didn’t get great reviews online but turned out to be fine. It was in the Greek District, about a 20 minute walk from downtown.

Downtown lights that had speakers next to them playing music.

Despite getting recommendations from people about what to do and where to go, we didn’t end up doing anything touristy. We walked around the shopping strips and bought a few gifts to take home and some clothes that were on sale. Our main goal was to try a proper deep dish Chicago pizza. In Australia our ‘deep pan’ pizzas are about half the depth of Chicago style ones.

CHEEEEEESE!

The Chicago pizzas have a crust maybe 3 inches high on the edge and the one we had started with a layer of meat and sauce, then about an inch of cheese, then more sauce then meat. It was really good – and despite looking quite different to ‘normal’ pizzas they taste pretty much the same – except you get so much more cheese. I loved it! They aren’t as enormous in circumference as NYC pizzas and because of their depth they retain heat a lot better. I definitely recommend trying them if you get the chance.

Apart from that, our impression of Chicago was that it was super cold, the shopping was great and there were lots of interesting things in the middle of town. We came across a German outdoor market selling lots of hand-made things and delicious food.

We also stopped for a drink at the House of Blues, an interesting folk-art style bar/club that was pretty much deserted mid afternoon but I really loved the decor.

The ladies’ toilets.

I didn’t take a whole lot of photos but it was an interesting city. If I got the chance I’d definitely go back and see the gallery, aquarium and museum.

The only down side was the begging – but that’s pretty typical of cities in the US. All the big cities we’ve been to have had numbers of homeless people that I find hard to comprehend in a developed country. Far beyond anything I’ve seen in Australia, Europe or the UK. In fact even in Asia and most of Africa I wasn’t asked for money as frequently. We’ve had discussions with people we’ve met here about the reasons for it and there seems to be a common conception that many people find begging easier and, in some places, more profitable, than actually getting a job. Whether or not that’s true I have no idea, all I know is that it’s shocking and quite confronting. I’m not sure how long I’d have to live with it to become blase about it.