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A Perfectly Balanced Day In Provence

by David on October 10, 2006

Talk about perfect symmetry! As I wrote earlier in the entry called Culinary Getaways a la Provencal, Colleen Topper, our proprietor, and I have been in Provence and the southern Rhone tasting our palates off. And I believe we’ve discovered one of the most decadent ways to be educated in sensory evaluation. What a way to make a living!

We were whisked away to Chateau St. Esteve de Neri in the Cotes de Luberon and I thought, great – tour and tasting. Mais non!! This was not a routine visit to a winery. The estate is owned by Allan and Alex Wilson, who must be two of the most gracious souls on the planet.  Allan began by giving us a little test. Have you ever seen the Le Nez du Vin kit? It’s tons of fun. He had over a dozen vials from the kit, marked only by a number and our job was to identify the wine-related smells.  You know… blackberry, smoke, cassis… It’s amazing to discover what you don’t know, when you don’t know.  I’ll be straight with you… Colleen and I didn’t do too well in our jet-lagged and luggage-less condition (always an excuse, right?).  Some aromas were really obvious and others were quite difficult.

I polled other members in our group later to double-check my own impressions – I love the kit, but in the countless times I’ve used it, I find that some of the samples aren’t very true to their source, which just means that even after the correct aroma was revealed, licorice still didn’t smell like licorice to me. Yup, they agreed.  But that’s really not the point, and that’s why I recommend trying it. The point is to get your sensory wheels turning. It’s kind of like warming up before a marathon. That brief exercise served us well when it was time to taste the genuine article, the wine! The descriptors were flying around the room!

Next, Allan gave us a brief overview and tasting of the major French varieties. He covered the typical characteristics of the varieties and where in France they make their home. His selections were excellent representations of the type and he made it very fun and informative. I just kept wondering when we would taste St. Esteve de Neri?  When comes the sales pitch?

Then it was time for a casual, but sumptuous Provencal-style lunch on their grounds (I believe Sherry probably pulled some strings to arrange this – it may not be generally available) during which we polished off the tasting wines and a few bottles of St. Esteve to boot! Yum….

What does this have to do with balance? Fast forward to the day’s end. We went back to the farmhouse to relax, and our huge lunch was balanced by a relatively light cheese and wine tasting with a Provencal-style (translates as “don’t spare the garlic!”) salad for dinner. But what was dessert? Incredible!  Sherry had purchased a gorgeously colorful “cake” from a local glacier which was composed of pretty little balls of over 20 flavors of ice cream. You got it – guess the flavor! I must say that we, as a group, seemed to excel at this task.  As it happened our group was all women, and just imagine turning a bunch of women loose on an ice cream cake! We were absolutely determined to identify those flavors, no matter the difficulty, and our perseverance paid off!  That poor, lovely cake didn’t know what hit it. And our day came full circle.

I have to add a post-script. Later that week, Alex and Allan astounded us again, by coming to the farmhouse to taste the wines of the Cotes de Luberon.  Again, well balanced: we went from the big picture, the whole of France, earlier in the week, to the micro-picture, the 7000-acre Luberon AOC, our final night. I’m happy to say that among the eight bottles we tasted, Allan included a delicious bottle of Chateau St. Esteve de Neri Grande Expression, a blend of Syrah, Grenache (they call it Grenache Noir in Provence) and Carignane, and finally, at our request, provided us with the name of his distributor here in the USA: the Tinamou Wine Company in Sonoma, California. Just e-mail [email protected] or call (800) 388-6390.  Santé!!

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