Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Domaine du Pruerat Tasting Night

Madame Luthie's son Bernar has a distribution hobby for Domaine du Pruerat, a small Chateau in Bordeaux. They make really great wines that are "under the Bordeaux radar" thus have really great prices. Because the owner ships only a couple giant loads a year to Bernar who stores them in ML's cellars, the customer saves on shipping charges and saves even more money. The most bang for your buck, Bordeaux style! I set up a formal wine tasting dinner to show off some of these wines to my friends and maybe even stir up a sale or two.
The 2002 Domaine du Pruerat Premier Cotes de Bordeaux Liquoreux was served with a mouse de foie gras. This wine is sweet and similar to a Sauterness. Actually the vinyards are located 6 km's outside the Sauterness border, therefore it is pretty much a Sauterness without the price tag. Exquisite wine that paired beautifully with the foie gras, the Roquefort cheese, and it was a nice accompaniement to the sorbet&glace (ice cream) dessert.
The 2003 Chateau Montgravier Bordeaux Graves (on the left) was the big guy at the table tonight. Lots of oak, woody, and red ripe fruits. I had the 2001 and 2002 of this and it only gets better with age. The 2005 Bordeaux rouge was maybe my favorite of the night. Strong with tannins, but less oak and sweeter fruit made it a really easy wine to drink. I now know why the French love to drink Bordeaux with cheese, because it matches almost anything you put in front of it. Especially the hard chevre (goat) and the Corsica fromage de brebis (sheep). The 2007 Bordeaux sec blanc was as well superb. It is a Sauvignon white and it went nicely with the pissaladiere and even complemented the chevre nicely. The fruits were a little weak but I bet if you let them ripen up for a year or two in the bottle, this wine would be even better. It would also stand out better next to a nice fish or mussels dish.
No French dinner is compete without some baguettes. We had three. Baguette traditionelle, plain baguette, and a flute (larger baguette). Spread a littel cheese on those and take a sip of Bordeaux. Closet to heaven you can get in France!
No dinner with the best wine in the world would be enjoyable without some great friends to share it with. Amanda (2nd to the left) was heading back to America in the morning and Anna heads back to Poland on Friday. Around the table is Emmanuel, Kelly (Kerry's bro from Philly), Madame, myself, Kerry, and Lupita. Lupita was the first person I or Amanda saw at the airport in France so I was very glad she could join us this evening. Safe travels back to America. I think I'll stay a little bit longer to keep enjoying France :)


Every have that feeling like you are over-training. Sometimes you have spent so much time on the bike that you think you are going to fall asleep before you even make it home! Hit up that Powerbar Recovery drink Maddox and you will be ready for the next training session tomorrow.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Allez Stade Toulouse!

This Saturday was the European Rugby Champions Cup Finals. Toulouse is world famous for their Rugby team and the people here are crazy for it. The city set up a giant screen in the Capitole center and thousands of people came to show their support. Roomie Peter and I met up with some of his international school friends (Lithuania, Mexico, Colombia, Finland, India, England, German, USA) and had prime seating (on the ground!) in front of the big screen right smack in the middle of 15,000 people (all sitting!). At least until something exciting happened.................

and then they stand and chant and do cheers like, "Toulousian, Toulousian, Toulousian!" The celebration was short lived as Munster (Irish team) defeated Stade Toulouse 16-13. What you didn't get to see is the guys behind us who were smoking hash during most of the game and spilling their beer in our "seats." Gotta love the freedom of France :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Graduation Celebration!

We celebrated a few special occasions in the rue des pyrenees family last night. Emanuel turned 40 years old a couple of weeks ago, I graduated from the Univeristy of Arkansas with my Master's degree in Food Science, and my American buddy Amanda is heading back to the states on Tuesday. So, how do you celebrate in France. Eat and enjoy some wine! This bird came from a local farmer outside of Toulouse, not a grocery freezer as you can tell! We aren't going to eat its head are we?
I am called the "Sommelier" due to my wine studies here in France and Madame Luthie always puts me in charge of the wine. She served a 200? Bordeaux Sauvignon blanc sec with a Tarte d'Aubergine (savory tarte with baked eggplant and chevre cheese). The wine was spicy favoring more acidic fruits like lemon and grapefruit. For the roasted chicken and stuffing, we had a very nice 2002 Bordeaux Graves that was excellent. Light bodied with fruit that carried into a very nice finish of mild tannins. That white table clothe would be getting some bleach treatment in the morning after I got done pouring the wine :)
I created my first French cheese tray for the 4th course of the 5-course meal. Some giant red grapes, fraise (strawberry), pain de fig (fig bread that tasted just like a Fig Newton!), Edom (Holland cheese), chevre blanc (soft goat cheese yogourt), and a Morbier Fromier (French Monk cheese). I knocked the french socks off of them with the combination of the chevre cheese and the fig bread. The french don't typically mix cheeses with accompaniments, but this combination of sour, sweet, and cheesy was a smashing hit!
No celebration is complete with out a cake and a little Champagne. Homemade crust with a citron (lemon) filling and meringue on top. Jolly!
The cake was for Emanuel, all 40 years old of him. I had to force a celebration for this special occasion, as the French don't see 40 as so much of a milestone as we Americans do. Luckily, we all got a piece of the pie..........I mean cake. After 4 hours, 2 bottles of Champagne, a red Bordeaux, 1/2 a bottle of white Bordeaux, a full 5-course meal, and a cafe and some chocolate, everyone in the family was ready for bed. The occasions are wonderful memories and I don't think I will ever be able to just "grab-a-bite" to eat in America again! Oh yeah, I graduated from college again. It doesn't seem real that I have completed this academic chapter in my life since I am in such a distant place away from that former life. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, except with better food! Cheers to that and congrats to my fiancee Kristen who also graduated with her Master's of Business Administration (MBA). We shall celebrate with another dinner when you get here on June 25th!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Best Mother's Day Gift Ever!

So my sister celebrated her 1st Mother's Day this past..................well Mother's Day. After being inspired by all the French mom and dad's taking their kids to school on the back of their bikes, I decided no gift was more appropriate for my nephew..........I mean sister, than a baby bike seat. Don't worry Maddox, I will buy you a cool helmet for your birthday in July.

Razorback Tailgating in Perpignan

Another Razorback fan must have been hanging out in Perpignan the same day I was. Arkansas alumni are everywhere in France.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tour du Canton

This weekend I did my first stage race and I think the only one of the Haute-Garonne region in the town of La Fousseret. It is about 30 minutes from Toulouse and one of the bigger races of the year around these parts. Spending 5 days in Lyon previous to this race was not ideal preparation as I only rode once the week before. But, its racing and its in France so why not take it to the hurt locker and have some fun. The hurt locker came super early for me and stage one was over after 80km for me. I did manage to "breakaway" from my groupetto on a downhill (the French cannot descend) and solo the last 25km by myself. It was a cheap move, but I was here to gain some fitness and burn a calorie or two of that Andouillette a la moutarde that I reported on previously from Lyon! It was fun to imagine that I was racing instead of soloing for 71st place! The morning time trial of a board flat 10K loop was no better as I was out for the count at kilometer deux (two). Rode it pretty easy and put my pride into my pocket. Before the afternoon stage, I was pretty sure that I would quit after a lap or two because I was destroyed. But, the body is a funny thing and surprises would be in store.
This had to be the coolest race I have ever done. We did a 17km loop out into the rolling countryside and then back into the village and took on a very difficult 3km climb to the finish line every lap. The road narrowed into a tiny village street and it had to be the closest thing I have ever seen other than watching the Euro races on TV back in the States.
The finish was at the very top of the village and it also marked one of the 5 Gran Prix de Montagne (King of the Mountain) spots. The race also had 4 sprints for the Sprint competition so the race had a very cool vibe about it and the race offered jerseys for each competition. I had no go at any of those, but my legs turned really good on the 2nd to last lap of this stage 3 and I was able to sprint it out for 2nd place on the stage. All of the classifications were raced together all week and I got beat at the line by 1 centimeter by a guy who just happened to be in my classification, so no flowers or trophy for me!
At the awards podium, we collected our prizes and I was more than happy with mine.............
assorted grocery food items from the supermarket Casino! Since I can't take a trophy back to America with me, and the flowers would eventually die, this was the best prize in my book! It was like Halloween-o-snacks. The 3rd place guy won 3 bottles of wine and I tried to trade him my sack of snacks for his wine, but he didn't understand me and thought I was giving him my granola bars. After that awkward encounter, I choose to keep my 2 cartons of juice (Grape, OJ), pain de epices (gingerbread), pomme de compote (apple sauce), barres cereales (granola bar), barquettes (apricot cookies), tartines grillees au froment (wheat crackers), and pate de gourmand (butterfly pasta). Random, no?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lyon and the 1st International Syrah Symposium

This past week I was in Lyon, France attending the 1st International Syrah Symposium. This symposium was dedicated to the science and consumer marketing of this incredible grape variety that is world famous from the wines of the Rhone Valley (Cotes du Rhone), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all the way over in California (Rhone Rangers). The famous Fourvière Hill is the icon of Lyon and I would make my way up to the top of the hill to explore.
But first, was the conference. The school where the conference was held was a very new building and we spent two incredible days learning about the research adn marketing aspects of the Syrah varieties. Incredible lunches were served and I had the opportunity to try over 30 different Syrah wines (didn't swallow all of them!). Luckily the French presentations were translated into English for us Americans, Australians, and South Africans and many of the presentations were given in English. I even got the chance to meet Pr. Carole Meredith who is a leading expert in genetics of wine varietals and has her own Syrah vineyard producing wine in Yountville, CA about 10 minutes away from my future wedding destination. Her team at UC-Davis has identified the original parent vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and most recently the unknown Zinfindel (Croatia).
The famous Fourvière Hill was my first stop in my adventures and the incredible church was a sight to behold. The Virgin Mary is worshiped here for stopping the Black Plague which spread from the Marsaille region all the way to the tip of Lyon, but never entered the city. The Lyon people celebrate this blessing on December 8th every year by lighting a candle in the window to that the Virgin Mary for protecting the people of Lyon. To get to the church, you had to ascend 798 steps up the side of the hill but it was well worth it as the view of the city was incredible.
Lyon is the city of the Lion and these things were everywhere in the city. I thought this one reminded me of the Jerry Jessup "man-cave" tiger that he got for Christmas so I couldn't resist taking a snap for my future father-n-law.
Last but not least, the cuisine of Lyon. The specialties of this region involve everthing to do with the pig. EVERTHING! The Andouillette a la moutarde is world famous and consists of the intestines of the pig, sliced into pieces and then stuffed into a pig intestine casing, and then grilled and topped with a mild mustard and butter sauce. When I sliced open that casing, I had an experience that was like none other in France. I love the local cuisine of France and every plate that I encounter gives me memories that I never want to forget.........except for this one. And the dinner the next night, and the dinner after that. Other plates consisted of pickled pig ears, mayonaisse chopped pig noise, and tripes cooked in wine sauce. I loved the experience but I can go without any of those items for the rest of my life! I think a Johnsonville Brat is about as far as I am going into the world of stuffed sausage from now on. The people of Lyon must have an iron stomach that I have yet to acquire, but I loved every nose plugging moment of each dinner and the spicy Cotes du Rhone helped wash it down everytime.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Off to Perpignan!

This weekend is a 5-day weekend due to 2 holidays occuring this week and the start of next. What they are, I don't know, but I am taking them. My cycling buddy Laurent invited me to go with him and his wife, who were going with his parents, to his wife's parents villa home near the Mediterranean coast. Off we went to explore some new places. This trip just proved how amazingly different France is after a short, 2 hour travel by car.
One of the first sites we visited was the Byrrh (say beer) aperitif winery in Thuir. This winery makes some of the most famous apertifs know throughout the world. Here is the largest vat that holds 15 million gallons of wine! It took 175 trees to make the planks to piece together the vat. Cheers to that!
Next stop was Collioures. This was a famous sea port with a famous church on extending out into the water. Notice how the mountains falls into the sea in the background.
A few kilmeters later we went to an amazing castle in Castelnou, a beautiful village overlooking the valley. This table was from the 16th century and I could only imagine how many amazing dinners were served on this table. But, due to medieval rules of the time, no women were allowed to sit at the table.
So, from mountains to the sea, back to the mountains, and the back to the sea again. Here is the Mediterranean in all her might. Just across the water is Spain. France is roughly the size of Texas after all. Off to Lyon for the 1st International Syrah Symposium after the trip on Sunday. Overnight train...............first one and it should be eventful.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The War Is Over!

Today was a beautiful holiday that isn't even celebrated in the USA. The end of the World War II. May 8, 1945. Toulouse has a very elegant monument honoring all the soldiers of the War and this day, the city held a ceremony honoring the end of this dark piece of European history. Sometimes, I am caught off guard by what the people of Europe had to endure. To have a great War occuring at your doorstep is more than I can comprehend. I thank all of the men and women who have protected our great country so that we don't have to endure celebrations such as this. God Bless America and God Bless this beautiful country of France and all of the soliders around the world that protect the freedoms of their citizens.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

We ate in Barcelona and Rommie Plays the Keys

Famous Spanish outdoor, covered market. Rachel Ray did a show here that I remember watching.............
Famous ice cream parlour in Barcelona. We saw all these people and were like hey, what is that. And that was good..............
And so were these for dessert at Esys's parents home, they are mini-pastries, like french petit-fors, but I call them little sweet tapas.............

So I learned that Peter, my roommate, is a classically trained pianist. He studied at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, OH during an exchange program while in high school. After we finished having our incredible Spanish dinner with Esys's family, Peter was invited to entertain us on the keys. He sure did and brought the house down with a good 45 minute interlude of several pieces of music played back-to-back-to-back. You know you are good when the audience taps along to the beat. Bravo Peter, bravo. What a trip to Barcelona!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Barcelona Adventures!

Off to Barcelona we went this holiday weekend. Almost all of May is holiday's in France so we have a 3-day weekend this week and a 4-day weekend next week. Might as well go to Spain! My rommate Emmanuel took us by car to Andorra and then over to Barcelona. We took the mountain pass and although the famous life-saving TomTom is shown in the picture, Emmanuel took his own route and 10 hours later (4 hours to Barcelona usually!) we arrived. A former Madame Luthie roommate Esys's (???) is doing her Ph.D at Univeristy de Barcelona so we were going to meet up with her for some sightseeing of the city.
The beautiful architecture of Gaudi is a sight to see and several of his famous building are in Barcelona. They are incredibly unique but I guess that is what makes them............well unique and worth seeing. Our entire Barcelona journey was via foot and I can honestly, no lie tell you that we had to of walked 50-60 miles in our day and a half journey in the city, but every step was well worth the adventures around every corner.
Yes, this guy is real. Although I didn't believe it for about 10 minutes of staring until he had to adjust his cigarette because some ashes fell on his lip. Street performers might make a hundred or more euros a day by the looks of it. Tourists love a good show, even if your talent is sitting statuesque for hours on end.
I am not for sure if these guys were street performers or just enjoying a cafe and a little bit of that Spanish sun. Luckily, as they stood to take pictures with all of the amazed onlookers, I threw up and couldn't get my camera out to take any more pictures of that :(
In this picture, you might wonder why I am showing it with all the great pictures I had of Barcelona. Maybe it is the ultra cool Euro sunglasses that I bought at the market, or maybe some friends sharing a good time together, but no, this was almost the last picture I ever got to take with my camera b/c about 5 minutes later, a purple rose flower "salesman" came to sell us some roses and accidently knocked over Peter's glass. No big deal until 30 minutes later when we leave, I am like, hey where is my camera. I thought I left it on the table so we ran back only to not find it. No one had seen it so I thought, way to go Scott, you lost your camera. But wait, remember the flower salesman!!!!! He stole it. I thought it was gone forever, but in times of need, I bowed my head and said a little prayer, "God, please show me some way to get my camera back." Sometimes all you need is faith. After walking for another 15-20 minutes randomly through the city, we come up to a metro stop, and a peace came over me and said "If I was trying to sell flowers, I would do it in a high traffic area like a metro stop!" Sure enough, I look to might right and see a man, whose face none of us had seen, sitting next to some purple roses and talking on his cell phone. I walked up to him and noticed a rectangular bulge in his pocket. How do you approach someone and say, hey give me what is in your pocket? I politely picked up the roses and acted interested, but he didn't really seem too interested in selling them to me. I KNEW HE HAD MY CAMERA!!!!! All of the sudden he put his soda down, spoke some Spanish and bolted down into the metro. I told Esys's, "We can't let him go, I know he has it!" We followed him and luckily several people were trying to enter the gates and he couldn't get in. I told him that I wanted to buy all of his flowers, so why was he running! How do you politely ask someone to give you what is in their pocket? Finally after 5 minutes of being surrounded by 3-guys and a Spanish girl trying to politely ask to see what is in his pockets, he pulls out an Iphone (not the phone he was talking on???) from one pocket and in the other, he barely pulls out some keys and all the sudden I see my camera string poke out of the pocket. As soon as I saw it I looked at him and pointed to him, and he politely handed it over. I was so happy to have it that I didn't even think about punching his lights out..........and taking the Iphone which he surely stole as well! Everyone I told the story said that is a one-and-a-million chance, but I say that all is possible to those that have faith in him!

Restaurant Review: La Symphonie, Le 23, L'Escalier in Montpellier

My first dinner in Montpellier was at La Symphonie. A petit restaurant traditionnel. I walked around for hours trying to find a tiny, local restaurant that served traditional cuisine and I hit the jackpot. At the time (8:30pm) I was the only individual in the 15 person restaurant and the chef and I conversed (in English!) extensively throughout the meal. He even invited me into his tiny kitchen where he produced these marvelous dishes. The wine was a very elegant and smooth Merlot that was from a winery about 15 miles outside of Montpellier. A rouge vin de pays de la region (local red wine of the region). It paired nicely with the plat du jour: 1/2 coquelet roti au gulis de poivron corquettes. A half a chicken roasted and served with steamed vegetables (potatoes and zuchinni) and a very good tomato based spicy sauce.
Because I enjoyed my experience so much at La Symphonie, I returned the next night. I actually sat in another restaurant but the 18 year-old waiter didn't give me the attention that I enjoyed the night before so I politetly slipped out of the restaurant and took my 30 minute walk back to La Symphonie. Not to be dissapointed again, I had the plat du jour: Canard confit with mushrooms, poached in broth and braised endive, potatoes, and a poached portabello top.
Le 23 provided my last lunch in Montpellier. The restaurant was also well known for its regional cuisine and was a very elegant and small, local establishment. The plat du jour (plate of the day): Coq au vin. Chicken leg and wing cooked in a red wine mushroom sauce with steamed carrots, grean peas, and potatoes au gratin.
My final night in Montpellier was another doozy. I love to menu shop and here in France, it is national law that all restaurant must display the menu with prices outside the restaurant for all passer-by's to use as comparison with other restaurants. I might be weird, but I walk for a good 2 hours reading menus and eyeballing inside the restaurant to see if it will provide the dining atmosphere that I am hoping to experience! L' Escalier was the local restaurant tucked down a very lonely street next to a pub filled with local's watching the Chelsea vs. Manchester United soccer match. The plat: Magaret de canard with a sweet blueberry sauce, honey glazed carrots, potatoes au gratin, and string green beans.
Even though all of these meals came with entrees and desserts, this one was by far the best at La Symphonie. A chocolat flambouse with whipped chantily. Molten chocolate cake with fresh, whipped cream. C'est Bonne (It is good)! Mes compliments au chef!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Enoforum 2008 in Montpellier

The famous Arc de Triomphe.........of Montpellier. I think every city has one because of all of the famous battles through all the years. The weather was beautiful and the city was incredible.
But I was here for business. The Enoforum 2008 wine conference. Topics included aromas, textures, and consumer marketing of wine. It was very informative and it is a great opportunity to learn from professionals of other countries. One individual starting going on a rant about the American consumer and why they are different from the French consumer. I wanted to stand up and be like, hey, get off of my back. I don't drink your wine because it is too expensive and there isn't any available in my country. But instead, I just savored the fact that I could drink it here for much lower prices :)
Sightseeing, business, and X-games. Well, not quite X-games, but FISE. Federation of Sports Extreme was going on in Montpellier that week. Awesome. The river running down the middle of the city was converted to this skateboarder and bmx paradise. After the conference, I took my daily hour stroll down to the river and just watched all the amateur chaos. Lots of broken bones and crashes. All of the pros including Dave Mirra and Daniel Diehrs (Dew Cup Champion) were there. Never saw Dave, but Daniel was there rocking it on the BMX street vert. It is incredible to watch Pros compared to Amateurs. It is a big reason why I want to see the Tour de France. Just for my own personal satisfaction. After that, I am now inspired to take up BMX. Should be good out in California!