On pronunciation and the proper way to eat a brownie.

kid brownie

{I don’t know this kid, but I know she knows how to eat a brownie.}

Any of my fellow compatriots who (still) think the French don’t really like us should come to France and see for themselves. The French love America! They listen to our music, they eat under golden arches (admit it, Frenchies, you adore “MacDo”), they speak our language.

Maybe I should rephrase that. Sure, every French person speaks English nowadays, but they also adopt our words when speaking their own language.

I particularly like the food vocabulary that has become increasingly trendy lately. I first noticed it when my friend Hélène opened up her cookie shop in Dijon and I started hearing sentences like, “I’d like one chocolate chip cookies, please.” Apparently, all cookies are plural here. Hélène also sells oh-so-American muffins, which sounds something like “meuhfeens.” A new “American restaurant” just popped up in town. They feature “bayGUHLS” and propose “Looky Charm” cereal for dessert (quelle horreur!).

I’m getting reasonably good at understanding French, but when they use our words and pronounce them their way, it always throws me for a loop.

sweet teeth

A couple days ago, a group of us was at the boulangerie grabbing some “sondweech” for a quick lunch. Victor ordered a “brohnie” for dessert and then asked me if I liked them. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You know, a brohnie,” he said. “It’s American.”

“Oh! A brownie,” I said.

“Oh, A BROWNie,” Estelle teased, with spot-on American pronunciation. “You always say, ‘oh!’ whenever you recognize an American word.”

“Yea, because when I am listening to French all day, I guess my mind is constantly trying to translate, and then when it hears an American word — pronounced differently — it gets confused.”

We paid for our lunches and made our way back to school for a “pique-nique.”  When we had finished our “sondweech” and were moving on to dessert, Victor pulled out a spoon. I couldn’t help but giggle.

“You’re going to eat your brownie with a spoon?” I asked.

“Is that not the way I’m supposed to eat it?” Victor replied.

“Eat it however you want, but may I take a picture?”

Brownie{Clearly not the American way to eat a brownie)

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Life in Images: Hospices de Beaune

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I won’t go so far as to say it was a homework assignment. Suffice it to say that the annual charity auction at the Hospices de Beaune was understood to be a cultural supplement to our coursework. Basically, I had to go take part in the festivities.

The Hospices de Beaune used to be a hospital for the poor. As in, back in the 1400’s, when it was founded. Now it is a museum (and one of the most magnificent examples of French XV century architecture in Burgundy). The charity auction has been held annually since 1851, always on the third Sunday of November.

The Hospices’ eponymous domaine comprises 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, much of it classified Grand Cru and Premier Cru.

The prices – encouraged by carefully chosen hosts, like this year’s former first lady and ex-supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy – are out of this world, even for Grand Cru. Carla sold the presidential cuvée (a 350 liter barrel) for 270,000 euros, for example.

Nicolas and I ran into more than a few members of my class during the day, but, try as we might, we didn’t spot Carla. (Let’s be real: after thirty minutes of elbowing at the window of the auction hall, we retreated in search of Nutella slathered crêpes and waffles.)

One thing is for sure: the people-watching was prime.

So was the wine tasting…of course!

2012-11-16 Hospices de Beaune

IMG_1056{Doing a little publicity work for MyVitibox.}

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IMG_1049{The “Anti-Parker Wine Buyer’s Guide”: The Seven Capital Sins…obviously there are mixed feelings about Parker here, as in the USA.}

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IMG_1012{Cougar sighting?}

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Wine School: An oxymoron? Not in France!

Bonjour! Guess who’s back in France?

And…since I’ve been away a while…and since there’s so much to tell…I’ll give you the long-story-short for now, accompanied by some mysterious pictures to pique your interest!

To make a long story short, then, since the beginning of this month, I have been taking classes at the Burgundy School of Business and working toward a Master’s Degree in International Wine Commerce. Yes, reading that sentence surprises me too. I would pinch myself, except that the demanding courses I am taking every day are enough of a wake-up call in themselves.

I’m back in France! I have six hours of classes in French every day! And this time next year I will be beginning my career in the wine industry!

Wow.

By way of introduction into this new French life, here are some images from my class’s first “field trip” into the Côte d’Or vineyards. We were led by our professor, Eric Vincent, who was trying to teach us about the geology of Burgundy terroir on what must have been the foggiest day of the year so far. Even though we couldn’t see much, we had fun climbing the prestigious Montrachet côte and noting the differences between limestone, loam, and clay soils – all very distinct, all in such close proximity. We had lunch in Beaune and finished the day with a cuverie visit and wine tasting at Domaine d’Ardhuy in Corgoloin.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a pretty sweet deal to have the vineyards of Burgundy as a classroom and wine tasting as part of the curriculum. I know. I am aware.

Pinch me?!

{Our newly elected class representatives, Victor and François}

{“Moi-même,” Jenifer, Estelle, Laure, Emilie, and Marlène}

{Marion and Jules}

En Francais! Click here to see Marie-Amélie’s translation: Continue reading

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It’s Derby Time in Kentucky!

It’s officially Derby season (or has been for more than a week now) in Louisville. Here are some pictures of people “keeping Louisville weird” at the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair last Sunday.

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The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague defines “Sommelier” + a riddle of sorts!

Winemaker, Vineyard manager, Cellar Master.

Wine Writer, Critic, Journalist.

Wine Consultant, Distributor, Sales Director…

There are many, many diverse professions within the wine industry, yet “Sommelier” seems to be the layman’s catch-all for wine professionalism. In this video, Lettie Teague, wine writer for The Wall Street Journal, explains why it’s a hot career right now, the common assumptions about what these people do, and what it truly means to be a sommelier.

I think it’s a great summary that clears up a lot of misconceptions. But because I haven’t forgotten my dear English degree, I’d like to challenge you to find one fairly surprising orthographical error that jumped out at me in the first 40 seconds of the video. Here are three hints to draw your attention (don’t read them if you want to try to find it first without help!).

  • I said “orthographical,” not “grammatical” or “typographical” error.
  • It has something to do with a very common, non-wine specific term or expression.
  • An artist might use it, or you can stack stuff on it, but for our purposes we’d rather perceive things with it.

Let me know what you come up with! Bonne chance!

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Patience and wine tasting: What I learned from Francois and three chardonnays

Three glasses of chardonnay, three progressive hues of citrus-tinged, wheat, and golden yellow, three napkin shrouded bottles adorned with rudely scribbled numbers.

When French guests arrive, it is fitting to organize a tasting or two, if you are lucky enough to have been offered a well-cushioned and strategically packed bottle.

A true Burgundian, Sara’s beau François didn’t stop at one. Reserving precious cargo space for pinot and chardonnay instead of superfluous clothing, he made his way through Charles de Gaulle security wearing an extra sweater and two jackets on his way to Louisville last week. His efforts made it all the more appropriate that they should host not one but multiple wine tastings while he was in town, and I, the adoring friend, was happy to take part.

So, after a very American dinner of burgers — accompanied nonetheless by an introductory glass of white wine in lieu of beer — Sara’s family and I find ourselves introduced to Glass 1, Glass 2, and Glass 3 (all chardonnay) by the smiling, soft spoken but assertive, Frenchman.

“First of all, let’s have a look at the color,” François suggests, his accent a melange of his native French and school-taught British English.

The table stirs with conversation; mention of colors gives way to contiguous reflections and questions. What does color mean in terms of chardonnay? Reminds me of wheat fields or mustard. Remember the yellow colza fields of Burgundy springtime?

François refrains from dominating the conversation with didactic discourse. It’s easy to see he is delighted by everyone’s interest. With dark eyes and dark hair, plus a fitted polo and tight black jeans, he is one you might peg as typically European. To hear his nearly flawless English flow into effortlessly gorgeous French further distinguishes him as coming from a traditional, cultured French family. It is no exaggeration to say his love for wine is not so much a personal passion as it is an ancestral legacy.

And yet, this traditional Frenchie has learned to appreciate more than burgers and Bud Lite over the course of his relationship with my friend Sara. He is highly, and might I say uncharacteristically, complimentary of American wine, and encouraging of our interest in learning about wine in general.

But back to color. “One of these is an American wine,” says François, “so its color might not help us when compared to the other two. The others are both Louis Latour Burgundies: a village level, and a Montagny Premier Cru. In that case, the color might tell us something.”

François reminds us that an  older chardonnay will show darker color, but then adds that there is only one year of difference between the vintages of the two Burgundies. “Which is which?” he asks slyly.

At this point, we’ve all been swirling and sniffing. An overwhelming whiff of toasty vanilla leaves me (and my rookie wine student pride) gratified in declaring that Glass 1 must be the Kendall Jackson California Chardonnay.

The remaining two glasses have their own distinct complexities. Reactions to aromas from Glass 2 range from fingernail polish remover to baked apples, peaches, and a hint of port. After that strong nose, we all agree to a general difficulty in defining the aromas of Glass 3.

“It seems muted,” says Sara.

“Smell something else,” suggests François, lifting a homemade gougere to his nose.

Still, Glass 2 dominates our senses, intriguing some and alienating others of us. I have a preconceived notion that this powerful chard must be the premier cru.

When we taste the wines in succession, we all agree that Glass 1 is the California wine. It’s familiar to us. François nods neutrally.

Glass 2 again gets the most attention after its visit with our palates. Nutty and peachy, with that lasting taste of something like port, it is a rich wine and needs food to accompany it. I’m fairly certain it is the premier cru, especially when the closed, acidic third glass leaves us grasping at straws to come up with a description.

We go around the table, offering our final judgments and reasoning behind them. I stand alone in choosing Glass 2 as the premier cru. It is not until François offers his educated opinion, however, that my conviction falls by the wayside.

“I agree that Glass 1 is the Kendall Jackson,” he says simply and definitively, pushing the glass apart from the others as if to visually confirm its otherness.

“But the choice between the two Burgundies is more complicated, just like the wines in this case. Look at the color. Glass 2 is indeed the darkest of the three, which leads us to believe it is oldest. But remember that the Bourgogne is only one year older than the Montagny Premier Cru: this should not be enough to tell a difference. Furthermore, if Glass 3 is a premier cru, it would take longer to develop color, just as it would take longer to develop its aromas and taste. Glass 2, as you can tell, is complex and round and ready to drink now, but it is only five or six years old. It cannot age much longer, can it? Glass 3 is still acidic and mysterious. One might think this is a sign of lesser quality, but it could just as easily be an indication of immense quality and complexity that will not reveal itself for years to come.”

The table is silent as the lesson takes effect. Light bulbs are going off. Revelations over three glasses of wine.

Across from François, I nod my head. I am at once disappointed that the seemingly obvious had not occurred to me and impressed by François’ execution.

Sara’s sister breaks the respectful silence. “Can we unwrap them already?” she asks, pointing to the mummy-esque bottles.

François does the honors and confirms his suspicion. The table livens once again, reactions to the solution of the game leading to tangential conversations and reflections.

I sit back in my chair, letting the lesson sink in and vowing not to make the same mistake again. Not that I guessed incorrectly, but that I spoke too soon. With a bit more patience, perhaps I would have come to a similar conclusion. François’ explanation makes perfect sense, and I’ve heard it before. I had been convinced even before tasting it that the village level wine was premier cru caliber (and perhaps it was, since there is only so much wine that is allowed to be labeled “premier cru,” leaving many bottles to be “declassified” each year: subject for another post). Had my mind been closed to other possibilities by this preconceived notion? I’m sure it was.

Patience is a virtue, as they say. More than that, it’s probably the only key to unlocking the mysteries of wine.

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Life in Images: Easter

{Notice the dog looking in at the food.}

Happy Easter!

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