Gratitude Friday: A Blue Sky in November

This week, I have been in a bit of an Eeyore mood.   Not sure if it is November in Geneva, the perma-cloud the rests above the city for 1-2 months this time of year, the incessant rain, or the fact we are still in limbo with our next steps & move.

Image courtesy of tvtropes.org

But low and behold…..today, out came the blue skies, if even just for a bit.

I captured this shot on my iPhone last night while waiting for the bus:

I am thankful for a small break in the rain and clouds, especially this burst of blue & cotton candy in normally dreary November.

Bon weekend, everyone.

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The 3 B’s of Piedmont Wine

As I mentioned in the last post, we have become fans of the wine of Italy’s Piedmont region.   However, while we knew the most famous types – Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera – we did not know the slightest about the vinoculture.

So, to develop our knowledge on Piedmont wine, we had no choice but to travel there and have an official Piedmont wine tour!

To start, all three of these are grown in the Langhe region of Italy.   This is an area within the Piedmont.   Italian wine isn’t as complicated as French with Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level designations.  However, they do have a similarity in that certain plots are valued more.  However, these are more ‘small areas’ than particular plots belonging only to one winery.     While France uses AOC to designate the its approval of the grape / area, Italy uses the term DOC.

The Langhe region is very hilly.

Of the three I mentioned above, in addition to being types of wine made with Nebbiolo grapes, Barolo and Barbaresco are also towns.   There is no town of Barbera, but the Barbera grapes grow in the Piedmont and come from different towns…Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, etc.

Barolo is the king – the best.   There are eleven towns in the Langhe which can call their wine Barolo.   Building on that, there are many crus, or plots of land where these special Nebbiolo grapes come from.    At our first stop, Fratelli Revello, we tasted their Barolo 2008, Barolo Vigna Gattera 2007, Barolo Vigna Giachini 2007 and Barola Vigna Concha 2007.   The names Gattera, Giachini and Concha are the plots.  They pointed out their window to show us where they came from – to the south, to the southeast, and across the street.  Thus, Barolos are not blended.

Checking out the Barolo map while overlooking the beautiful vineyards

While visiting the Marchesi di Barolo winery, we learned a bit more about Barolo’s history and the influence of the Savoy, who made their capital in nearby Torino.  This was very influential in the growth of Barolo.

As I mentioned, Barolo is a town.  And it is quite lovely….it is located in the middle of the hills, complete with a charming castle.

View of Barolo as we descended from our tasting above in La Morra

If you don’t have a planned visit, there are countless local wine stores in the town of Barolo with signs that invite strollers to come have a tasting.  We abstained due to the heavy amounts we were tasting at our visits, but did buy some local goods – hazelnut creme, pasta, and a handmade wine opener.

Exploring the town of Barolo, Italy

Barolo’s castle

Barbaresco is a town and also a type of Piedmont wine made with the Nebbiolo grape.   Exactly like Barolo, Barbaresco has only certain plots within the DOC.   There are only five compared to Barolo’s eleven.    We visited a charming family winery, Ca’del Baio.  In addition to their flagship Barbaresco, this winery also produced a few other local grape varieties: Dolcetto, Barbera d’Alba, and a Nebbiolo without DOC designation (outside the borders).

The hubby, checking out the family’s photo collection.

Barbaresco town is beautiful yet still much smaller than Barolo.   It is situated on the top of one of Piedmont’s rolling hills.

Town of Barbaresco, as seen from a neighboring hill

Like Barolo, you can taste in the many tasting rooms of Barbaresco.  Our guide told us about one tasting room that is a converted church.  We didn’t visit the Sunday morning we were there, but you can see it in the below photo as the central building.  Barbaresco also has a charming Sunday market.

Sunday morning market in Barbaresco. We purchased some nocciola creme and olive oil.

Finally, an explanation on Barbera.   As mentioned above, Barbera is the name of a grape, not a town.    So, it came come from different areas, generally designated on the label.

Barolos are the most expensive, ranging from 30 – 50 euros a bottle.  Barbarescos are a better bargain at 20 – 25 euro bottles.  Barberas are 6 – 12 euros.

While I like Barolos and Barbarescos, my wallet keeps me a bigger fan of Barbera.

The Piedmont: Italy’s Best Region for Food & Wine

I first discovered Piedmont wines through a restaurant in Charlotte called Vivace.  Always an early bird, I would sit at the bar to wait for the friends I was meeting.   One time, the bartender recommended a Barbera wine from Italy called Fontanafredda – Briccotondo.   I enjoyed it and let him know that he’d made a great selection.   He tipped me in on a secret….the local Charlotte gem Common Market was the only place to stock it in town and the bottle sold for as much as what a glass in the restaurant ran.

My first taste of Piedmont

I picked up a few bottles and it became a favorite.

Fast-forward a few years and we are in Geneva.  We attended an expat fair which was very boring but what made the visit worthwhile was a food & wine booth run by a Swiss man and his wife.   They were selling Piedmont products and couldn’t have been more passionate.  They said after a visit, they’d fallen in love with the area and bought a house.   They then started a business selling Piedmont products in Switzerland.

Image courtesy of e-rcps

They graciously offered us tastes of all their foods and wine.  We expressed interest, but our regret that we had not enough francs to buy wine.  The gentleman assured us he’d ship us a case and invoice us later.  Still new to Switzerland, we were baffled that someone would ship us wine before we paid for it.   We were a little skeptical but gave our address.

And, one week later, our wine showed up.  We loved it.  As time passed, we’ve learned even more about the products from the Piedmont region.  It is in my opinion, Italy’s overall best region for food and wine.    Here is a run-down of what Piedmont is known for:

The Slow Food Movement.   The Piedmont is the birthplace of this movement, which was started to counteract the fast food movement.  Basically, the theory is that food sourced locally and prepared mindfully is better for the body & spirit.    It’s thinking about how the choices you make in food affects the world.

Street vendor selling locally made items

Truffles.    Truffles are basically very rare mushrooms.      I love dishes with truffle flavorings….they are aromatic and add a special flavor to dishes.  While there are many parts of Europe that produce black truffles, the Piedmont is known for its white truffle.    Due to their rarity, they are very valuable.  In fact, the world’s most expensive truffle ever sold for $330,000.

A line-up of truffles for sale at the International Truffle Festival in Alba

Risotto.    Made with a special short grain rice, Italian risottos are cooked until creamy.   I like making mushroom risotto as well as green garden risotto.   The best risotto I ever had was truffle risotto at Les Sesflo in Geneva.

I bought three types of Piedmont rice from this guy at the Alba farmers market.

We happened upon a risotto exposition and decided to get our lunch there.  I wasn’t able to express the kind I wanted in Italian, so they gave us ‘risotto spumante’.   It is risotto with Asti champagne.

Don’t eat so much, Gabe! You have to drive!

Hazelnuts.    The Piedmont is a prime hazelnut producing area.    In fact, Nutella was invented in Piedmont!

Passing the factory where Nutella was made.

Passing Italian hazelnut fields

The company who produces Nutella, Ferrero, also produces Ferrero Rocher, the yummy hazelnut truffle candies.    However, we did learn that modern day Nutella production uses Brazilian hazelnuts because they are cheaper.

All of these things are made in Piedmont, Italy

A very interested customer.  Doesn’t everyone need a jar of Nutella the size of your head?

If you are into local types, artisanal hazelnut creme (nocciola) is sold in droves.

I decided that I needed to research these artisanal types….you know, for the benefit of the blog.

Hazelnuts are also made into delicious cakes and flours.

An offering of hazelnuts at the Alba farmers market

The hazelnut cake lady at the Truffle Festival

Wine.   Piedmont produces a few types of notorious red wines:  Barolo, Barbaraesco, and Barbera.  As I mentioned, the Barbera was my gateway wine.  The Barolo is most often named as Italy’s best wine.     Also, Asti is famous for its sparkling white wine.   As it is sweet, and it isn’t our preference, we didn’t stop in Asti this trip.

A few late bloomers….Barolo vineyards after harvest

What’s not to love in Piedmont??

Swiss Baby Names

Back in the Summer, Switzerland released the 2011 Most Popular Baby Names.    It gets a little complicated because there are four different national languages, which very greatly in influence and history.

And here they are:

GERMAN SPEAKING SWITZERLAND NAMES:

BOYS:
Leon – 310 boys were named Leon
Noah
Luca
David
Leandro
Levin

GIRLS:
Mia – 341 girls were named Mia
Lena
Elena
Leoni
Julia
Alina

FRENCH SPEAKING SWITZERLAND NAMES:

BOYS:
Gabriel – 128 boys were named Gabriel in 2011
Noah
Nathan
Maxime
Louis
Nolan

GIRLS:
Emma – 131 girls were named Emma
Chloé
Lara
Zoé
Eva
Léa

ITALIAN SPEAKING SWITZERLAND NAMES:

BOYS:
Mattia – 37 boys were named Mattia
Alessandro
Leonardo
Matteo
Luca
Davide

GIRLS:
Giulia – 41 girls were named Giulia
Sofia
Emma
Alice
Sara
Anna

ROMANSCH SPEAKING SWITZERLAND NAMES:

BOYS
Flurin, Luca, Nino and Noah all tied – A whopping 3 boys were each named those names in 2011

GIRLS:
Anna – 4 girls were named Anna in 2011
Laura
Madlaina

Apparently Luca, Leonardo, Noah, Emma, and Anna transcend all languages since they appear in multiple regions with different dialects.  And Gabe fits into French speaking Geneva quite well with his name, Gabriel, being #1 in 2011.

I only wish this was the case with me.   Lauren is pronounced exactly the same as Laurent, a common French name for men.   If there is no indication to check Mr. or Mrs., I receive plenty of letters and emails addressed to Mr. Lauren.   Gabe also was instructed by his French tutor to make sure to insert some sort of reference to me being a woman when he talks about his home life or travels with Lauren.

 

Gratitude Friday: Thanksgiving

We weren’t able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving.   It is the first time for both of us not seeing family during at least one to two days over the long weekend.  To boot, Gabe doesn’t get Thanksgiving off as he is on the European system.

Instead of being sad, we decided to infuse Thanksgiving into Geneva by hosting a traditional dinner at our flat.   Our group was comprised of 5 from the United States, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Finland, and 1 from Germany.  Oh, and a Swiss dog!   It was our first International Thanksgiving.

Those of us from the US made some traditional dishes –  green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.   It was my first attempt at making turkey and we used the recipe from this site.      Many thanks to the friends and family who sent me recipes over email since I was nervous.

My “Virginia biscuits” didn’t turn out so hot, due to the fact they don’t have self rising flour here.  Oopsie.    The pumpkin pie had a crater, but oh well. It still tasted like a piece of home, and was fun to share an ‘authentic’ Thanksgiving with our friends from other countries.

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While we miss our family and friends back home, we feel fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful friends and good and plentiful food.

Bon weekend everyone!

The crooked little town of Troyes

As I mentioned last week, if we are on a road trip, we love to discover interesting places to stop on the way home.

As we left Champagne around 11am, our lunchtime fell in the town of Troyes, France.  We parked and while exploring a place to grab some food, soon designated this as the most crooked town we’d ever seen.   No, not because of any shady deals that took place.  Literally, the architecture:

Do you think the floors are level in the yellow house?

Lonely Planet highlighted an alley way called the “tiny street of the cats”, and it was crooked as well.

Gabe and Marty McFly near some teetery houses. Both being finance guys and very orderly, they were both going into hyperbolic shock from the unevenness.

Even me, who hangs up the most crooked of photos and pictures and can’t draw a straight line to save my life found it uncomfortable!

Another crooked yellow place

While you might not be able to live this way permanently, Troyes was still pretty cute.

Architecture in Troyes, France

Adorable street in Troyes

Lovely architecture & skyline

By the way, in French, Troyes isn’t pronounced Troys or Troy but Twaaaah.   Before I mastered this knowledge, the French would have considered my speech a little crooked as well!

Reims: Not just a Champagne town

During our stay in Champagne, we selected a hotel in the city of Reims (Rheims in French). Before our arrival, we had no clue how historically significant the town was.

Main square in Reims

Our first night in Reims, with Marty & Jennifer McFly, all we knew of Reims was champagne….

However, as I stated on last week’s Gratitude Friday post, our champagne guide was a bit of a history expert.   While exploring the rolling hills of the Champagne region, we also had the benefit of a history lesson.   We learned that the tribe of Remi founded Reims.  Caesar invaded the Gauls and in 51BC conquered it with the help of the tribe of Remi, whom he rewarded for their help.

Image courtesy of peperonity.com

From then, It was a Roman city.  They built the triumphal arch in 200AD, largest arch outside of Rome.

Roman arch in Reims

In the 5th century, Clovis became the first king to reunite all the territories within France.   He was baptized at the site of the current Basilica St Remi in Reims.  His armies converted to Catholic Christianity in the same way Clovis did, per the traditions of the time for soldiers to follow their leader.  From that point on, Reims became the religious center of the region.

Basilica St Remi

Inside the basilica, with Sunday services in the front

From then on, all kings were coronated in Reims.   Most occurred in the Cathedrale Notre Dame.   Most famously, Joan of arc stood by King Charles XII during his coronation ceremony after her vision to help him become monarch and overthrow Britain’s control.

Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims

Visitors are able to see the structure on Sundays, but just not the back where the service takes place

Inside of the cathedral with its’ magnificent stain glass windows

Soon, Paris overtook Reims in size and became the most prominent city in France. However, this change didn’t keep Reims safe in WWI when it was seen as a symbol of France’s rich history and bombed 1051 consecutive days in a row, destroying over 90% of it.  This was known as the ‘crime of Reims’.   Since, they have repaired and rebuilt, but the impact was devastating.
As discussed last Friday, also in WWI, Reims saw the 1st battle of the Marne and advent of trench warfare.   Sadly, Reims and the surrounding countryside has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.
WWII treaty was also signed in Reims after the German surrender.