For me, this usually means mentioning to those we meet in France's tasting rooms that we are in the middle of a two month tour of the country. Two months, they say, where are you visiting? Oh, I never thought you'd ask. The Loire Valley, Burgundy, Alsace, and Bordeaux. All wine areas (?) they remark. Oh, yeah, I guess they are. Then, I proceed with my new habit of subtly (but not so subtle that it isn't noticed) inspecting each wine they pour by holding the glass at various angles against different backdrops while carrying on the conversation. Like a real wine jerk.
Because of this hard work, not infrequently Nicole and I get asked it we are in the wine trade. We secretly love it. No other question gives us such self satisfaction on the car ride back to the Airbnb. "Who us? Oh, no. Just a couple of learners. We're amateurs! Golly gee whiz."
But wine pride cometh before the fall.
A playback of our introduction to the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon, a region in southern France best known for the sheer volume of wine it produces (according to Decanter magazine, "it has been estimated that one in 10 bottles of the world’s wine was produced in Languedoc-Roussillon during the 20th century"):
(We arrive early at La Cave de Vigneronne, a restaurant in Siran, France where we are staying (population: 568) around 6pm, the only ones there besides the owner)
Travis: Bounjour! ... (forgetting lines) ... uh, deux?
Owner (Good naturedly): Uh ... oui? Un (pointing at Nicole) ... deux (pointing first at Travis).
Travis: Uh, desole, moi francais est mauvais.
Owner: I know a little English.
(Nicole and Travis seated at table looking over handwritten wine board)
Nicole: How about a red?
Travis (Pointing to two wines on the menu denoted as "Vins doux Naturels"): There are two natural wines -- we should get one of those.
Nicole: The red is the most expensive wine on the menu.
Travis: Yeah, but it's natural wine. And we're celebrating our first night in Languedoc.
(Travis and Nicole order wine. Travis thinks to himself that he is glad he is having the opportunity to educate Nicole on the natural wine movement in a private setting such as this -- what would people think about the Meserve Reserve should Nicole not immediately fawn over natural wines in a more public setting? -- Minutes later the owner presents the wine at the table and pours Nicole a taste.)
Nicole (Takes drink, shocked look, forgets French): Whoa! That. Is. Sweet.
Owner: C'est vin doux naturals.
Nicole (Confused look): Oui, d'accord.
(Owner pours wine and retreats to kitchen)
Nicole: This is sooooo sweet. It's like Port.
Travis (Thinking to himself "Geez, Nicole, it's natural wine, what do you expect?" -- Takes drink) Yowser! That is syrupy. Yeah, it's like a cross between red wine and Port. But that's because it's natural. The winemaker isn't using chemicals to control the process. So they can't control if it ends up really sweet.
Nicole: Maybe we should cork it and save it for desert. We could order another wine for dinner.
Travis (Incredulous): What? Seriously? It's natural wine, it's fine. It'll open up. (Takes drink) It's already opening up. It was 22 euros, we aren't going to order another bottle.
(Travis and Nicole eat delicious tapas-style dinner; Finish bottle)
Travis: We should order another bottle. You want to get desert? Let's try the other natural wine, the white. It's made by the same producer.
(Travis orders white natural wine)
Nicole: Wow, this one is sweet too, but not as sweet.
Travis (Thinking to himself, I'm glad I could teach Nicole about natural wines when it's just the two of us): Yes, yes, it's natural wine!
(Later that night back at the hotel)
Travis: I looked up the wine producer of those bottles. Famille Fabre. They're only 8 miles away. We should check it out tomorrow. If they're making natural wine, it'll probably be a place we like. They really care about wine.
Nicole: Sounds great. Let's do it.
(Next day at Famille Fabre, after meeting a younger member of the family that owns the winery)
Owner: So, what would you like to taste?
Travis: Actually, we had two of your wines at La Cave in Siran last night with dinner.
Owner: Oh, that is great, yeah, I know the place.
Travis (Pointing to shelf): We had this wine and this wine.
Owner: With dinner? Both of those? ... Noooooooo ... You had those?
Travis: Yeah, we wanted to try the natural wines. Yours were the only two on the menu.
Owner: But not with food ... You had both bottles?
Travis: Yes, they were the only bottles on the list that were natural so we had them both.
Owner (after long pause): ... Ohhh ... Vins doux naturals in French means sweet wine, not "natural" like in English. They're fortified wines. Like port. I don't drink these. You two had both bottles? (Laughing) With food?
Travis: Yes... with dinner. In the U.S., there is something called natural wines. It means that the winemaker doesn't add chemicals or a lot of additional sulfur into the bottle.
Owner: Well, yeah, we have that in France, too. But it's "naturel" not "naturals." Doux naturals means sweet wine.
So that is the story our introduction to the wines of Languedoc. Or, how I insisted that Nicole and I drink two bottles of (basically) Port wine with our dinner, all the while lecturing Nicole on the new natural wine movement. In fairness, Nicole and I both agree that the vins doux naturals were delicious. We actually bought one of them at the winery to have another day. But wine pride cometh before the fall.
Like this post? Want to read more about Travis and Nicole's travel adventures? Check out The Case For France - The French Markets.
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