14 December 2007


You may have wondered why I haven’t posted for a while.

Well, me too.

So I’ve decided to take the late night before a four-hour French literature exam to update you. Can you tell I’m not looking forward to this exam? Because I’m not.

And I know that all of you Manchester students reading this are already done, packed up, and home on vacation mode. Let’s not talk about it.

How to become a professional wine taster

The first Saturday of December, in honor of a friend’s birthday, a group of us returned to the Hospital that sells wine for their oh-so-informative, oh-so-enjoyable, and oh-so-free wine tasting. The “oenelogues,” or professional wine tasters, guided us through sips of Alsatian white wines, varied red wines, and a collection of late harvest wines from a vineyard near Voegtlinshoffen (in Alsace, south of Strasbourg). Wisdom I will pass down to you:

When tasting a wine, look first at its color: best to have clear glasses without designs

Take a good deep breath and smell the wine

Then swirl the glass (with a supple wrist, which we all spent many giggly minutes practicing), and smell again: contact with air releases different aromas; notice also the “legs” (“tears” in French) or the streaks on the inside of the glass—denser, more alcoholic wines (like late harvest wines) will have thicker streaks

Finally, taste: hold the wine in your mouth for a moment and breathe out your nose, releasing even more aromas

When tasting wine, start first with sparkling wines, then whites, roses, reds, and finally sweet wines.

And don’t believe the price tag or the year: good wines can be found for cheap and bad wines are still produced during “good years.”

Vocabulary to keep in your back pocket: bouquet all the aromas of the wine, also called the nose; fresh, dried, honeyed, lively words to use when describing a white wine; intense, spicy, supple, deep words to use to describe a red wine; vintage year; bogus pretty much every evaluation of wine—you will say you smell/taste whatever you think you’re supposed to…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun! Among my favorite wine sensory descriptors: new-mown grass, wet wool, tar, beer and violet (the same wine), tobacco, asparagus, “farmyard,” and cat pee. Hmm…

Running around Alsace with ten Colombians and a Japanese

Sounds surreal, doesn’t it? One of the real benefits of studying a foreign language is that you meet many others who are also foreign to this language but in different ways than you. I am the only American in my grammar class, and one of my good friends here is Manuel, a student from Colombia. The day after the wine tasting, we took advantage of the EvasionPass to travel by train all day throughout Alsace for the grand price of 5 euros apiece. Unfortunately my Spanish is not as strong as it once was, so I was the language minority in more than one sense that day.

We spent most of our time in Colmar, another beautiful Alsatian town a short ride south of Strasbourg. We saw the Christmas market there, the part of town called Little Venice after the canals and gondolas that abound there, and the Unterlinden Museum. Here I am enjoying Colmar, even on a cloudy day (note the Alsace Green Guide, which gets me everywhere I want to go, conveniently in my pocket—thanks Ludivine!)

Perhaps the highlight of Colmar: Just when you think it’s never going to snow, you stumble upon an entire square of fake snow, penguins, polar bears, and igloos. And just when you think Christmas will never come, Santa himself comes floating toward you on a gondola:

Oh, if only Christmas could escape the bonds of commercialism.

After Colmar, we visited the village of Selestat, which doesn’t have much to offer except a bread museum, which didn’t seem to excite anyone but me. So while the others explored the town, I went and learned about the history of breadmaking and its evolution over the past few centuries. Did you know: In 1850 France, the average person ate a kilo of bread a day; now the amount has reduced to around 200 grams. Did you know: Bread is slashed just before entering the oven to allow the easy release of gas, so the bread doesn’t crack while baking. Did you know: Breads made from a starter or “poolish” last longer.

I thought it was terribly interesting!

We finished the day at Obernai, where one of my friends met us a showed us around her this, her hometown. We visited the ramparts around the city, the gardens outside, and the imprint of a medieval sword at the base of the cathedral. Obernai is a very nice town, and beautiful at night.

To be continued...


Hilary said...

Finally!!! I've been waiting for more from you... can't wait to read more!

Love you!!!! (Lots and Lots and Lots... and did I say Lots???) :)

Peeair said...

Happy holiday greetings.
Enjoy a Poilane Miche,slice of gruyere and a glass of Bordeaux on me.
Wonderful to see your smile.
(and the messy way you still eat)