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Bacchus: the Greek god of wine and drunkenness. His spirit has visited Toulon at the beginning of every spring, and for the last three years (since I’ve moved to France) it has become part of our tradition as well.

 

The Fête de Bacchus is a wine event that the husband and I look forward to in order to replenish our stock of good wines for the spring and summer months, while patiently waiting for the foire aux vins that happens all over France in September. For three days, Friday to Sunday the big white tent is erected in Place d’Arms in the center of the city, and the wine makers, sellers, and connoisseurs come rolling in every morning from all over France to peddle their noble fare. They open their stands at 10am and the place is packed by 10:30.

 

Bottles are uncorked and lined up. Let the tasting begin.

 

We had a list of what we wanted this year. Chateauneuf Domaine du Rempart had returned and we made our usual purchase of their 2005 and 2001, both excellent years with very different characters. The 2005 we’ll be drinking this summer with something humble but heavy on a stormy day. The 2001, a deeper wine that needs to be aired, enjoyed, sipped along side something like boar will be saved for December.

 

Alsace wines are always a big purchase for us at any foire aux vins. Sure, you can buy Rieslings and Pinot Gris in the supermarkets here, but the wines from the smaller producers that come to Bacchus have much more flavor, as complex as they are subtle. We bought one of each – the Riesling, the Pinot Gris and a Gewurztraminer each with a different undertone and melody. The Riesling is dry and lemony, the Pinot Gris a bit spicy and the Gewurztraminer is soft and peachy.

There were two discoveries this year. As I’m looking to continue my studies in gastronomy at a school in the Anjou region, I insisted that we take a taste of the Angevin wines. Our first taste was of an older variety of grape the Grolleau noir which neither the husband nor I had ever heard of, let alone tasted. The producer told us it was a grape that was “out of fashion” at the moment having been replaced by the Cabernet.

A interesting scent hit our noses when we took a sniff. “It smells like a light, creamy cheese,” the husband said. I was relieved, I thought my nose was playing tricks. The taste was oddly the same. A very fruity flavor, but with a creamy taste that reminded us of, yes, a creamy cheese spread with some sort of berry sauce. According to some wine experts, all the Grolleau vines should be ripped up and replaced with something with more potential, but I am interested in opening this bottle and tasting the strange flavor again to make my final decision. Maybe it doesn’t have aging potential, but neither do I.

By this point we were hungry and a bit tipsy and our tongues were incapable of tasting further. It was time for a snack.

Of sausage.

At any wine tasting event, there are always produit du terroir, because you can’t buy wine without being inspired by the food. Or vice versa. Mushrooms, macaroons, cheeses, foie gras, sausages; they were all out in force.

On our way through the meat and cheese section we came upon a lone wine stand. It was odd to see this one separate from the others of its kind until we looked closer. It wasn’t just wine- it was hypocras.

I was excited. Ever since I first tasted this medieval beverage at Château Trigance a few years ago, I’ve loved having it as an aperitif, but it’s not something that’s easy to find. La Cuvée des Elfes had many varieties, hypocras flavored with rose, raspberries, even pepper. It was the last one that we purchased and promised the producer that we’d check out his website in case we wanted to order some more at a future date.

There was more tasting. Many of the vendors themselves were nipping at their own glasses between lulls of customers and curious tasters.

There was a lull for us too, as we had lunch at the local Japanese restaurant – and I continued my tasting with one of the biggest glasses of a local red I’ve never needed.

When we got home I rounded up the bottles and looked them over. Three whites, an Angevin rosé with a flavor completely different from that of their Provencal cousins, one hypocras, two Chateuneuf, our Anjou red and a nice Saint Emilion 2007 – a red Bordeaux that is fast becoming my favorite of the region. We won’t be going thirsty this season.

All in all, it was a festive morning and afternoon devoted to the grape. Confrères were wearing their ceremonial robes and medals in honor of the occasion – this is the twenty year anniversary after all – and we humble consumers were mostly drunk by noon. Just at Bacchus intended.

NaNoWriMo is over. I made it to 100,000 words, but the novel itself is no where near done. There’s about 1/3 left to write, which leaves me with about another 50,000 words so I’m plugging away at it every day in the hopes that it will be finished by the end of December.
This late autumn has been surprisingly pleasant. The weather is still hovering around 17°C, which is in the low 60’s for those of you not on the Celsius system. It’s still sunny and not too windy and the sky is blue and mostly clear. A very nice change from the freezing windy winters we’ve had the past two years I’ve been here. This is what I moved to Provence for. (Well, that and the husband.)
I get up every morning before the sunrise to go running. I don’t like going in the dark, but like most people, I have a day job I have to get to. While I’ll always prefer being in the mountains over the sea – I don’t know why people love the water so much – I can’t complain about the sunrise over the Mediterranean.
I’ll let the photos do the talking. This was on an 11K run last Monday morning. I was running and taking photos at the same time. I’m impressed I didn’t fall on my face.
 
What do you get for writing 100K but not finishing the novel? Well, on Sunday the husband and I are going to Table du Vigneron. But you also get cheese. Lots and lots of melted cheese.
This is a mont d’or. It’s truly amazing how many variations on one thing the French have. In this case fondue. Mont d’Or is a circle of cheese purchased in its thick rind and a bake-able wood box. You cut a hole in the top, pour in a dry white wine and bake in the oven until it’s hot and melted.
Serve with bread, potatoes, onion, ham, broccoli, what ever you like with your fondue right out of the rind. You can buy bigger ones than this. Much bigger. But as it was just the husband and the cat and me, this was enough. Apparently, my cat likes melted cheese. He’s French.
On Saturday, well, all weekend there was a salon in downtown la Seyne. L’Esprit du Vin et de la Gastronomie, has come for four days. Wine, cheese, foie gras, sausage producers from all over France have come to sell their wares in time for Christmas preparations.
Did you know they’re banning foie gras in California? Don’t get me started…
Anyway, it was a relatively small affair, compared with the Fête de Bacchus that comes to Toulon every April, but it was pleasant enough, and as it was smaller, there were less people and the rooms were hushed with festive red carpeting everywhere to block out footfall. Despite being under a simple white tent, it was warm and welcoming.
The husband and I are well known for going to these things and spending way too much money and getting more than a little tipsy. Entry was 5 Euro each and came with a complimentary glass and we had to taste as much as we could before we made any serious descisions.
We bought two whites from Alsace. A heavy, though young red from Bordeaux by a small producer in between the Margaux and Pomerol domains. A lighter red from Burgundy which will go well with a sharp cheese and last but not least a Chateauneuf. Not as good as Domain de Rampart, but Chateauneuf is Chateauneuf.
Then there was the cheese. A blue and St. Nectar from sheep’s milk. Soft and fresh, but definitely strong enough to hold their own. Handmade, carefully aged. I couldn’t resist. I love small cheese producers. There’s something definite in the taste of a homemade cheese that cannot be beat. Olivade – not to be confused with tapenade – of the last green olives of the season – which is why they dip is mostly black. And of course we can’t forget the husband’s impulse buy:
A three foot long sausage made of bull soaked in Gigondas.
It’s a lot of food. A lot of wine. But these producers are small, the types of fresh, handmade, hand cultivated, hand grown, products that you can’t get in the stores. And even if you do, they’ll cost you an arm and a leg.
Here is the producer of the Bordeaux. He was packing up our wine as if we were going to give it as a gift. Hahahaha. We’re planning on drinking it for Christmas. Hopefully with boar.
At the Burgundy table there was just too much choice. Every year had a different taste as does every part of the domain. That makes a lot of wine to try.
But for now, Pistou the cat has decided it’s time for dinner.  In fact, he’s being fairly insistent about it. There’s squash and chicken and onion. I hope I can make some sort of meal out of that.