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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

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.

Champagne: Lessons behind the Bubbly

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Alleged quote by Dom Pérignon, instrumental wine maker of from Abbey St. Vanne, later found to be created by the ad industry

Did you even know Dom Pérignon was a 17th Century monk?   I sure didn’t know this before we visited the infamous wine region in France.  Below we have 12 other lessons learned on our tour:

Champagne Lesson #1 – Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.   All other must be called sparkling wine.   There are strict regulations around production and the wine cops come do checks to ensure the product is 100% Champagne AOC.    This, however, is not an indication of quality.

It wasn’t the grower, but the ‘Champagne police’ were the ones who put the wax on these bottles. It is part of their routine check ups to ensure the protection of the AOC.

Champagne Lesson #2 – The land in the Champagne region has a chalk base, much like England’s White Cliffs of Dover. The chalk not only retains heat but moisture.   We’ve seen similar theories of superior wine due to the unique ground:   Switzerland Lavaux has the terraced walls that use the sun off Lake Geneva to heat the soil, as well as Chateauneuf-du-Pape claims its rocky basin of the former Rhône river.

The exposure white cliff beside the house gives an indication what the soil is like under the vines : pure chalk

Champagne Lesson # 3 – Champagne is just as confusing with designations as many other French wines are:  Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level.  Again, this isn’t a guarantee of quality, just the designation of the land is supposed to be higher in Grand Cru.

Enjoying a taste at a Grand Cru Champagne house. Oooo la la.

Champagne Lesson #4 – Champagne likes to get sideways. While the region itself is huge, AOC Champagne grapes only take up a portion of it because only the vines grown on hills are used for wine.  The flat lands are used for other crops.   In terms of wine producing hectacres, our guide explained it in terms of American-isms….the wine-producing hectares occupy the size of 34,000 football fields or 280,000 tennis courts.

The hilly landscape in Champagne

Champagne Lesson #5 – Champagne likes to get around. Unlike Bordeaux, there are no chateaus surrounded by all their vineyards….just champagne houses that blend from various grapes/plots collected from all over the region. So many big houses are actually located in the city center of Reims, with the grapes coming from the countryside.

These grapes will likely be blended with other grapes from non-adjacent plots. Burgundy would have a fit!

Champagne Lesson #6 – Champagne is a family business. 90% of the land is family owned. It takes 2.5 hectacres, or 15 tennis courts,  for an individual to make a living. However, land isn’t easy to get: 1 hectacre goes for 1.5 million euros.  It generally requires two generations to see a return.   Most families sell a portion of their yield to the big houses.

This plot is likely owned by a family. It’s much better to think of the purchase of each bottle of Champagne as putting food into someone’s mouth 🙂

Champagne Lesson #7 – Champagne can be made from both red and white grapes!  The reds just dont keep continual contact with the skins.  There are actually 3 types of grapes in the Champagne AOC: Chardonnay, Red Pinor Noir and Black Pinot Meunier.

The juice inside every grape is clear – it is just the juice is fermented – with our without skins that determines the color

Champagne Lesson #8 –  No &*^ in the Champagne Room.   It rains 200 days out of the year in Champagne.  The rainy temps leave the mildew and catepillars.  The wind has to help with the mildew, but to avoid the use of pesticides to ward against the creatures, growers use a technique called confusion sexual.  Pods are filled with female butterfly pheromones to distract and confuse the male caterpillars so they can’t find an egg to fertilize. Each dual-pod costs 1 euro and they are placed every 2-3 meters on the vines.

A cruel joke to the male caterpillar. But if it means more Champagne for the world, I’m game!

Champagne Lesson #9 –  Champagne is under a lot of pressure!    The air inside a bottle of Champagne has pressure 3x that of a tire.   One in 10,000 explodes due to the pressure.  They use horizontal stackers to help reduce the impact to an entire wall.

A Champagne bottle that wanted to join the party a little too early.

Horizontal panes help minimize damage if there is an explosion – at least they all don’t fall vertically downwards.

Champagne Lesson #10 – Champagne is strong!  Since the glass is designed strong to support the special liquid, Champagne bottles are hard to break.  Our guide taught us how to deal with the situation if the event occurs:  leave it, cover it with a blanket a few hours. If you put it down on a counter immediately after, the impact creates a 2nd shock which can cause explosions.   Alternatively, don’t sit it down, open it and drink it.
Champagne Lesson # 11 – The official term for the process is not known as “Champagne-ing”.   I ‘created’ this term after a few glasses while asking a question to our guide.  I never heard the end of it and I can hear him telling future groups, “You’d never believe what this American I had said….”.    Even still, I managed to learn a bit about how a still wine is turned into bubbly:
1 – Fermentation happens like a normal still wine
2 – Blending happens
2- More yeast & sugar is added, a cap affixed, and a second fermentation is done in the bottle
3- Every day, bottles are turned a fraction every so often.
4 -The extra sediment must be removed in a technique called remuage.  This is either done manually, or with today’s technology by freezing the sediment so it pops out easily
5 – The bottle goes to rehab to adjust from the stressful procedure of remuage
6 – The bottle is corked
The process takes several years in order to mature and perfect the contents!

Our guide demonstrating the old school method of turning on a traditional Champagne board

Another method of turning – these barrels are slightly rotated and turned throughout the maturation

Even more current machinery automates this process

A glimpse at the sediment that must be removed before corking

Champagne Lesson #12 – France allows for blending the rules of rosé.  Okay that was a play on words that might be a little cheesy.   Rosé champagne is the only of France’s wines that permits the blending of red juice with white, because of the second fermentation process.  For traditional rosés, this process is scoffed at as cheater.     Even still, many opt for the higher grade technique of satinée, or bleeding, for their rosé champagnes.

Rosé Champagne

If it wasn’t for the pink color, would a Rosé smell as sweet?

Living in Geneva in the summer, most picnic blankets hold at least one bottle of rosé.

Being Americans, to us, pink generally = boxed wine.  So, this prevalence of pink wine was a surprise to us our first summer.   However, it didn’t take long to adapt to the European phenomenon of rosé.

Image courtesy of KitchenRap Blogspot

Far different from its cheap boxed distant cousin, the rosés of France are complex and a national treasure.  We got more of an education during our trips to Southern France, both in les Alpilles and the Tavel region.

R and Mom with some delicious rosé

In fact, Fabrice of Domaine de la Mordorée, in Tavel, told us when wine critic Bob Parker rated their rosé ‘the best in the world,’ he was insulted as it is in his opinion ‘the best in the Universe’.

Domaine de la Mordorée

Rosés are made with red grapes.   There are a few methods of making rosé:

  • Saignée, or bleeding, is achieved when the weight of the grapes do the pressing. The skins are left in only for a brief time.  Because the juices don’t have a lengthy contact with the skins, the result is a light and juicy flavored rosé.
  • Skin contact methods are used when the red skins are used to achieve ideal color, after which, they are removed and the rosé continues to ferment without the skins
  • Blending methods (or run-offs) is when the juice from the red is used, along with the white juice, making a more opaque rosé.  This shortcut technique is practically illegal in France.

The rosés are a French favorite.   Reading Of Wine And War, when I got to the chapter about the Americans and French taking back the French countryside, I couldn’t help but chuckle at this part:

“Their job was vital, said Monsabert of his American allies, “but the vinously minded historian will note that it did not take them near a single vineyard of quality. Now follow the advance of the French army. Swiftly they possessed themselves of Tavel, and after making sure all was well with one of the finest vin rosés in France, struck fiercly for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

While rosé hasn’t become my favorite French wine, I certainly am glad for getting more exposure to it during our time in Europe.

A picnic at St. Cosme

When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide.   Having lived in Paris and Southern France, K knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.

One of K’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.

She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel.   That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades.   We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.

Our picnic

This chapel is partly ruined.  In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel.  Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.

Seeking shelter in the nave

A special group of ladies

Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.

Lining up the wine at Chapel Saint Comse

After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.

Walking around Chapel St. Cosme

Beautiful pathway

Climbing into the vineyards above the chapel

The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above.   It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky.  Our group is grateful to K for taking us to this special place.

Château de Ségriès

A gem in the Côtes du Rhône / Lirac / Tavel wine region of France can be found by visiting the de Lanzac family’s Château de Ségriès.   Located off a dirt road in the little Provençal town of Lirac, the estate is run out of an old chateau.

Our group, on the grounds of the château

When we visited this Fall, Anne, her brother Laurent, and her husband & wine-maker Frederic taught us that making wine isn’t about making money.  In fact, not at all.

We tasted six of their wines, ranging from Lirac white, Vin de Table rosé, Tavel rosé, Côte du Rhône, Lirac red, and my favorite, Clos de l’Hermitage.

Frederic gaves us a taste of many different Château de Ségriès wines

Our group. Santé!

Every taste brings you a glimpse of what devotion they pour into their creation.   The care they take with the vines, the worry that comes with the changing weather, the joy and strife of the harvest, and the careful monitoring of fermentation.

Trying the 2012 – just harvested the week before

Between all the wines, they give the world 250,000 bottles a year.

In the cellars with Anne, visiting some of the vintages

Wine making is an art that leaves such a special legacy…for immediate consumption and for generations to come. However, a downside of providing such joy to others is the hard fact than in a small family run winery, there is not much time to vacation.  The group enthusiastically begged our gracious hosts to come to Virginia, yet they reminded us the vines know no break!

Their family home rests just a short walk from the chateau, surrounded by ancient trees and their vineyard.  They prepared an amazing lunch for us of traditional dishes.  We loved sitting on their patio and enjoying the autumn day. The family pets, Flash, Sara and cat came out to greet as well.

Our group at the farmhouse for lunch

The ladies enjoying the spread

Frederic preparing delicious grilled lamb & sausage

Our leader, K, and Anne

Cheese and fruit salad were the selections for dessert.

Château de Ségriès quickly became my favorite Southern France winery!

Thursday market day in Isle sur la Sorgue

While in Provence we visited the sweet town of Isle sur la Sorgue. The town literally translates to island on the Sorgue (river), and this riverside ambience plus cute French architecture is what makes the appeal.  It happened to be market day, full of fresh produce & foods as well as Provençal artisans.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got a few gifts in the form of soaps, tapenades, and herbes de Provence. Later, I walked the banks of the Sorgue river, enjoying the loveliness of this precious village.

Popping some bottles in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a wine region within Southern France.   The area became notorious in the 14th Century when Avignon, France, became the seat of the Pope during the Catholic schism.  The Popes were lovers of wine and in particular, of Burgundy wines.   However, they needed to find a closer source than Burgundy.  In 1321, Pope John XXII requisitioned wine from this particular area and the production became named ‘Vin du Pape’ for wine of the Pope.  Later the name evolved to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, referencing the wine of the ‘new castle of the Pope’.

The Papal Palace was located in nearby Avignon

I’m sure Pope John XXII was thrilled when the Beastie Boys crooned the verse,  “Like a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape / I’m fine like wine when I start to rap.”

The rocky terrain in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

In addition to its rich history and presence in Beastie Boys songs, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the wine king of Southern France, claiming price points similar to Burgundy and Bordeaux.  The region is known for the rocky terrain, many meters thick, which was created many years ago when the area was once the bed of the Rhone river.

Now the Rhone rests a few kilometers away and the rocks, galets roulés , serve as heaters and water insulators for the terroir.

I was lucky to get a special glimpse at this wine area with a group traveling from Virginia.    Our first stop on the wine tasting adventure was at Château Beaucastel, a lovely maker of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The view from Château Beaucastel

The morning we visited, I had just finished the book, Of Wine And War.  Wine was considered France’s national treasure, and the lengths to which the French winemakers went keeping their good wine from the Nazis was really interesting.   From sending the bad vintages, to building faux walls, and even burying in in the soil, they tried everything to preserve the historic vintages for France.   Our guide at Château Beaucastel said not many vintages had likely escaped Nazi hands as there were not many pre-war bottles left today.

Cellars at Château Beaucastel.  I was inspecting for pre-war bottles, but found none.

The group also visited  domaine de la Mordorée, Domaine Grand Veneur, and  La Bastide St. Dominique, all which produce Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

My graduation year

Related Links:

Schwingen in Switzerland: Wine Museum in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Châteauneuf-du-Pape rocked us….literally

Six more pieces of “chocolate trivia”

While the Heidi and Olga were in town, we managed to sneak in a chocolate tour at Stettler Laboratories.   I had done a tour with the AIWC back in February, and it was really well done, so thought they’d like doing it.    Plus, the last time I did the tour, it was in French.   So, this time, we opted for English and I soaked up a few more facts that my previous visit.    Here is what we learned:

Chocolate can help get your full day’s servings of fruits & vegetables.   The cocoa pod, from which chocolately goodness is extracted, is actually a FRUIT!

The cocoa plant.  Kind of creepy.  Like a brain.

Chocolate can help your garden grow.    You can actually use the non-edible parts of cocoa shells for garden mulch.  Just be careful if you have a dog!!

Cocoa shell images courtesy of Homejelly.com

White chocolate actually isn’t chocolate.    It is a derivative of the delicious stuff, but really only uses the cocoa butter.

Learning about the differences in cocoa and cocoa butter

You can spread out the joy over many months.    Most chocolate keeps six months.   If it has cream or fruit-type ingredients, you should consume it over 8 weeks.  Good to know!  I always try to consume it within a week so it didn’t go stale or maybe that was just because there was fresh yummy chocolate in the house and I couldn’t resist.  But, I guess I can savor it a bit more now!

Chocolate can’t be kept as long as a fine wine, but longer than I had assumed!   Loved Stettler’s chocolate wine bottles, just in time for the grape harvest, come stuffed with truffles 🙂

However, speaking of storage, don’t keep chocolate in the fridge.  The moisture can break it down.  If you don’t have a cool, dark place, make sure you wrap it tightly so the moisture doesn’t reach it.

Mmmmmm. Tasty!

Like most hand-crafted goods, expect to pay more for quality chocolate.  Stettler is a very quality Swiss brand and all of the chocolate is made by hand.

The classic marmites for Geneva’s L’Escalade take a lot of hand-work.

If you would like to visit Stettler, you can call or email them to make an appointment for a visit.   The visit costs 20 CHF per person, but includes a lovely gift of the famous Paves de Genève at the end.
Chocolats Stettler
49 avenue Blanc
1202 Genève
Téléphone: 022 738 17 20
Related links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog: The Land of Chocolate & Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate (My first Stettler visit)

Oktoberfest

We had a few friends from the States visiting Europe and they suggested a meet-up in Munich during the 16-day long Oktoberfest.   Sure, twist our arms!

While this was my first time to Munich & Oktoberfest, Gabe was no stranger to the event.   He attended the 201o Oktoberfest on it’s 200th anniversary.

As the biggest festival / fair in the world, with 6 million attendees, it was quite a site to behold. The first thing I noticed is the beer tents are not actually “tents” but beautifully designed wooden buildings.   I was expecting muddy shoes and being outside in the elements, but was pleasantly surprised!

Our group outside our “tent”.

I thought the tent was so beautiful.

Our friend from Geneva, Mr. Lederhosen, arranged for an amazing table inside the tent for us.  Apparently, you have to get tables a year in advance and still you need to be a VIP – either German with a lot of ins, or willing to fork over a lot of cash.   We met some Americans the last day whose concierge said he could get them seated for 5000 euro for their group of six.

Our awesome table location

Mr. Lederhosen hooked us up big time with his Munich connections.   We paid 20 euro each for our seats, and got a liter of beer and a half chicken, a Hendl, to boot!

A and I with our first liters

The best chicken in the world. Mmmm.

There is a special attire for Oktoberfest.  Men traditionally wear  Lederhosen, and the girls wear a German dress called a Dirndl.  Both can wear Bavarian hats called Tirolerhüte.

Typical storefront in Munich

Gabe with A & A in their German attire.

Our host, Mr. Lederhosen in his authentic lederhosen

7 million liters of beer are served annually at Oktoberfest.  We had our fair share.

Prost!

So did the rest of the tent.   I loved when the band played, “Ein Prosit”……

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit 
Der Gemütlichkeit 
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit 
Der Gemütlichkeit. 

A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times.

An enthusiastic crowd.

It was pretty impressive how much the beer girls could carry.

A typical delivery – 7-8 liters without a tray.

We tried to have a stein-holding competition as well as a beer girl competition.  It was pretty hard.

Who can hold it the longest?

A gave it a good try!

Certain vendors are very popular.  My favorite were the folks selling pretzels.

This pretzel stand means business.

Don’t worry about getting up out of your seat. Pretzels come by every 5 minutes.

The pretzel was the size of my head. So was the beer for that matter.

Gabe liked the pickle guy.

Pickle guy

They also have Lebkuchen – gingerbread hearts for sale.   Gabe brought me back one of these in 2010 that said “I love you” in German.  He had a work trip in Europe afterwards so by the time it reached me, I needed to wet the cookie in the sink to soften it enough so we could bite into it.

Cookie stand

It was still a lovely thought and I really enjoyed getting to experience Oktoberfest myself!