I have been to many wine festivals throughout the years and in my opinion, bar none, this was the best and most fun wine festival I had ever attended.
Bordeaux Fête le Vin in collaboration with the Tall Ships Regatta takes place every two years along the Gardon river in historic center Bordeaux. Friends of mine went a couple of years ago then shared their experience with me, so needless to say it has been on my ‘have to experience list’ while living in Europe. There is no reason to rent a car and drive out to Chateaux for wine tastings because most are showcased at the festival.
Many ships from the Tall Ships Regatta allows visitors to come aboard for a peek inside.
We stayed at Vatel Hotel located around the La Cite du Vin, Bordeaux’s new wine museum. A playground for wine lovers, this marvel building is a must see and believe me, be prepared to stay a few hours. This area of Bordeaux has been converted with a new and trendy vibe; yesterday’s shipping docks, ports, and warehouses are today's river view restaurants and shops.
Getting around Bordeaux and to explore its historic villages outskirts, the public transportation infrastructure is reliably efficient with the TBM app-Transports Bordeaux Metropole. There are so many wine shops in these towns that ship worldwide so no need to carry around wine.
Strasbourg, France has an indescribable charm and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is very walkable to see the sites such as the magnificent Cathedral Notre Dame, La Petite France, and quaint timber houses. Every February, around the second or third weekend there is a wine expo that feature France’s Independent Wine Growers ‘Vignerons Independants’. The Association of Independent Wine Growers Expo comprises over 10,000 French wine producers from all over France’s wine regions to present their wines at direct prices. Wine enjoyers travel from many miles just to attend this event to stock their cellars and add their collection. Be sure to bring a trolley or hand cart of appropriate size for easy handling of your purchases.
I stay at the Hilton Hotel because of its proximity to both the expo and the city tram for trips to old town Strasbourg. There are many diverse cafes and restaurants to choose, yet, I usually eat at The Ramen Shop for my fix of authentic ramen noodles. I have lived in Japan and come to appreciate Ramen Houses, so YES I am a bonafide RAMEN HEAD as these shops are certainly hard to find outside Japan.
To take a respite from wine tasting during the expo I like to visit a couple of Strasbourg’s museums. This year I wanted to learn more about the town and regional culture; so glad I checked out The Alsatian Museum and The Historical Museum of Strasbourg. Visiting Strasbourg this time of year coincides with Valentine’s Day and the city is creatively decorated with this theme in mind, so naturally, there is a very romantic vibe in the air.
I have been to this Vignerons Independants wine expo a few times over the years and realize that it is too overwhelming or impossible for me to cover all the producers in just a few days, so every year I select just a couple of wine regions to explore. For me, I like to do my homework to research and plan which wineries and wine regions to delve into further. This year I explored Savoie and Jura wine regions because right now I’m into alpine wines. I also checked out the three new appellations that were added to Cotes du Rhone Villages last year; Sainte-Cecile, Suze-la-Rousse and Vaison la Romain.
This expo allows me the opportunity to meet with the vintners and/or the family representing their wines. Indeed, it is a pleasure to take in personal vertical, horizontal, and portfolio wine tastings with the wine makers. With this accessibility I can chat up the vintner to ask questions such as the location of the vineyards, a particular spot for certain vineyards, cellar potential, family wine lineage, what foods to pair, viniculture practices or unexpected hardships that went into that bottle of wine, etc. It’s definitely an edifying experience for me and will try to go every year while I’m living in Europe.
Innsbruck is just over three-hours drive from where I live in Italy, so I am lucky that I can pop up there often. Dubbed “alpine-urban” I find this university city fun, hip, and culturally sophisticated with an artistic vibe. With majestic snow-capped mountains this area is the ultimate winter playground if you like a snow vacation for skiing, snowboarding, etc. The area was once the hunting grounds for the Hapsburg emperor Maximilian and Empress Maria Theresa, so there are many visible remnants from their rich splendor past. If you are interested in wine, food, art, and history then stay tuned because I would love to share my Innsbruck experience with you.
I usually stay at the Hilton or my favorite the Central Café hotel, a building that dates from 1884, in the heart of historic Old Town. This three-block radius holds all the museums, cafés, restaurants, and wine bars that interest me within my short periods of stay.
Innsbruck has many beautiful churches that are worth a look, so if you walk further down towards the river you will come upon Cathedral St. Jacob a historically significant feature of Old Town. Once inside I could only marvel at the astonishing display of gold. Gold, gold, gold-gold alter, gold high alter stand, and aristocratic families’ gold chapels. The opulence reminds me of the vast rich Hapsburg Empire. The baroque style Cathedral is in Cathedral Square, a quiet solicitude little square, where I can take a respite on the bench and remind myself that this was once the church of the Innsbruck nobility. One memorable thought as I sat on that little park bench admiring the Cathedral façade and listening to the soothing melody from the 6pm church bells was how appreciative I am to live in Europe.
Another impressive sign of Hapsburg wealth is the magnificent gold and silver intricate engraved tomb of Emperor Maximilian located in the Court Church. Considered to be the most important historical monument in Tyrol, the large tomb is decorated with scenes of the Emperor’s life and the elaborate gallery showcases live size marble and bronze statues representing the Emperor ancestors and his heroes of antiquity. The Schloss Ambras Castle/museum has spectacular views of the city.
Overwhelmed with vast Empire wealth, I needed to balance my museum tours with how the other half had lived. Very good examples are seen at The Tyrolean State Museum because its permanent collection includes medieval objects, historical musical instruments, and many interesting local artifacts. Speaking of musical icons Mozart stayed in the famous “Weisses Kruez” inn along the main promenade in Old Town. Innsbruck showcases pride in their traditional culture and to fully appreciate the Tyrol local heritage head to the Museum of Tyrolean Regional Heritage. Folk lore is quite interesting and holds exceptional facets of Tyrolean culture. If you appreciate contemporary art there are many modern galleries around to showcase local talent. There are great examples of old meets new architecture at The Innsbruck Contemporary Art Museum that features rotating temporary exhibitions.
Between museum and gallery hopping I must take time out to reflect and appreciate this beautiful city by popping into cafés and restaurants throughout the day. Innsbruck’s gastronomic delights range from traditional foods to ethnic bites to trendy fusion cuisine and I assure that you will never get bored of the same cafés and restaurants.
One of my favorite things to start my day is take in the old-world ambience of a quintessential Venetian coffee house, adjacent to my hotel, Central Café for a cappuccino and pastry. The décor includes beautiful shiny crystal chandlers, Swarovski no doubt, that hang from the ceiling. BTW, the Swarovski museum is worth a visit. With a casual no rush vibe, I comfortably hang out at the coffee house and peacefully read my guide book.
The local pastry Kiachl is a typical pastry that can be prepared sweet or savory. Depending on the time of day determines how I prefer to order a style of Kiachl. The mornings I prefer the sweet Kiachl style filled with marmalade and tasty with my coffee. Later in the day, for an afternoon snack, I will order the savory Kiachl prepared with sauerkraut and pair it with an Austrian white wine such as Gruner Veltliner or Muller Thurgau.
One of my favorite restaurants, to eat, sip, and be amused watching the tourists take selfie pics around the ‘Golden Roof’, is “Altstadt Beisl”. I love their delicious soups such as Tafelspitzsuppe mit Tiroler Speckknodel paired with an Austrian red wine Zweigelt.
To end my day, I stop in a neighborhood for a night cap on the way back to my hotel. A little neighborhood corner wine bar ‘La Cantina’ serves Italian wines, you can take me out of Italy, but you can’t Italy out of me.
The metro train system to the city of Melbourne and suburbs was extremely easy, user friendly, and cost effective. The Yarra River runs through the city and the culinary scene is trendy featuring an international flair to satisfy any fastidious taste buds. The Yarra Valley Food Trail offers Kangaroo jerky and other local fresh culinary delights. Don’t forget the vegemite spread, it is a taste that unforgettably lingers on the tongue and probably do not want to experience twice thank you very much. If you are a Banksy fan don’t miss his satirical street art and gift shop downtown. Just ask the locals the directions because it is not openly advertised.
North of Melbourne, the town of Cairns is great places to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef and while you are there experience true luxury at the Shangri-La Hotel. I also had the privilege to travel to Sydney and stay at a hotel that included a roof top pool to enjoy the views of the busy city, opera house, and its local beaches. It was intriguing to witness Sydney’s bat migration from our hotel window. During the day, fruit bats are curled up in a ball, asleep, and hang from the trees. Around sunset they awake, gather, and fly off into the sunset similar to a big long dark cloud, then return to the trees before sunrise to be repeated daily.
While ordering from a restaurant’s wine list in Melbourne, little did I know, I thought SA stood for South African wine; the waiter understandably informed me that SA is an abbreviation for South Australia wines. I am always looking to taste and learn about wines and their wine regions, so yes indeed, exploring the South Australian wines from local festivals and the wine trails from Yarra Valley, Mclaren Vale and Barossa Valley taught me a few things. In addition, the proximate wine stores had introduced me to other wine regions such as Margaret River, Mornington, and Hunter Valley which had opened up a whole new world of what Australia wines have to offer. We have to keep in mind that due to climate change some grape varietals in some wine regions may be in danger because of its warming effect and may affect high quality wine.
Victoria’s first vineyards and wine region dates back to 1833, and today there are over eighty personal wineries. Some local wine producers around Victoria sell their wines at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne and the place where I learned the local wine jargon. For example, ‘plonk’ is a bottle of cheap wine and a ‘flagon’ is a 2 liter bottle of wine.
Vali cchiù un tistimonìu di visu, chi centu d'oricchia.
The Delong 100 Grape Varietal Challenge encourages all wine enjoyers to expand their wine drinking horizon by seeking out unusual grape varieties. These past few years, I have tasted over 180 grape varieties. After all, there are over thousands of grape varieties world wide. With so many wine grapes, styles of wine, and wineries to explore, wine is an educational adventure. So grab your virtual passport and come along with me on a Grape EdVenture™ around the world.