Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

in vino veritas

The wine hills are alive with the sound of harvest….

There is an old saying, “never praise the vintage before it is in the cellar”. This has never been more true than for this year’s grape harvest in Rheinhessen. Germany’s largest wine producing region, oddly enough, is a grape-shaped area on the map; cupped protectively by the Rhine on almost three sides, descending deep into the Rhine plains.

Harvest has just come to an end here, due to an unusually cool spring. The grapes were late-bloomers, and tough to raise during the difficult spring and summer times. But they came through in the fall with great promise. The vintners, and their families who labour the year round, tending and harvesting, now hurry up and wait until spring to see the grapes’ full potential in next year’s vintage.

Of the 136 communities in Rheinhessen, only three do not have vineyards. Comprising 414 vineyards it is 26 hectares of pure grape, and “liquid Hollywood” as British wine critic, Stuart Pigott, describes it. “Rheinhessen is the dream factory of German wine-making; no other region comes up with such a multitude of marvellous novelties that exude this amazing aura.”

On the steep slopes, under the watchful eye of castles and cathedrals, the grapes are still harvested by hand. Workers, tied on cables, work with small grape scissors, adeptly slicing off the plump bundles. Otherwise, most families have a machine looking similar to a star wars sand robot (although great guy vehemently rebukes this comparison), which ‘walks’ over the rows of vines, shaking them steadily and quickly so that the grapes (minus leaves) drop into its basket.

Like harvest time on the Canadian prairies, the traubenlese (grape harvest) is an all-consuming time for the families fortunate enough to earn a living from their wine. Our favourite family-run wine taverns close, the sweet smell of fermenting maische-brei (mash), tucked away into stainless-steel tanks to develop a good buzz, wafts gently out of each vintner’s pore, and we wait.

Waiting. The ancient Roman, Alkaios von Lesbos (interesting name), who coined the phrase every worried girlfriend knows is true, “in wine lies the truth” must have made a stop-over in Rheinhessen. Under the innocent influence of the silvaner, gewürztraminer, dornfelder, pinot or the wunderkind, riesling; that grow in every direction the eye can see, one can’t help but be completely dedicated to truth-tellling. Right? Of course, this is also church sanctioned; with one of the most indulged upon wine fests happening courtesy of Hildegard and the nuns up on the hill beside the Rochuskappelle. This is one tradition I’m still waiting to see happen in Canada. A little more truth-telling can’t hurt there either. Until then…prosit (cheers)!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

parisian sweets

As Halloween candy grows stale in every home in North America and a few here in Germany, like the third chocolate croissant you just can't finish, I am thinking of sweets of another kind. The Parisian kind.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to fill my eyes, ears, and definitely my nose while strolling through the park-lined streets of Paris. Among the many elegant things Parisians are known for; fashion, perfume, the grave of Jim Morrison, and the odd incredible landmark or two, one thing stands out: the Parisienne patisserie.

With plenty of writing and people-gazing on my itinerary, my goal for this second trip to Paris was to experience the sweet and savory side of the city un petit peu. This was not a difficult task.

First up, the macaron. With flavours as luscious as the delicate double-decker delight itself: religieuse pistache, fleur de cerisier, framboise-anis, the macaron is a luxury. Is it just me or does everything sound just a little bit better in French? Case in point: the raspberry.

In one of the most beautiful pastry shops (or shops period) that I've been in, Ladurée in St. Germain, I had an oh so lovely experience. Was it because I smiled extra sweetly and fluttered my eyelashes or possibly because I pouted like a pretty parisian? The monsieur behind the counter, in a gray pinstripe suit and black bowtie, gave me an XL macaron for me to try. Ooo la la! Ladurée is one of the oldest and best known patisseries in the world; with humble beginnings in 1862 when Louis-Ernest Ladurée, a well-known satirist and writer opened a bakery. This just goes to show that writers everywhere need to support themselves somehow!

Beyond the gargoyle gazes along the Seine, in a narrow rue near the Marais district, I stumbled upon a feast of colour and flavour, and that was just from the outside. I was standing in front of the long, immaculate window display of Pain de Sucre, on rue Rambateau. If I'm not mistaken that translates as 'bread of sugar'. Well, sugar is definitely well represented here. Arranged in apothecary jars are the largest, most square marshmellows I've ever seen. Their vibrant colours give away their exotic flavours; saffron, blackcurrant, cassis, eau de rose, chocolat noir coco, and caramel beurre sale (salted caramel - yum). They are squishy and bouncy and delish. 

Between each of many 'cultural' pauses, I stopped to smell the espresso. Outdoor cafés with elegantly dressed men and women sipping coffee, while sharing a baguette and some fine cheese served on a thick wooden board, is the sight on every street corner. And, although everything is small (there is nothing super-sized here except the marshmellows), in my mind I fit right in. C'était vraiment super!

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