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WINE TASTING FOR PLEBS

I don't know a darn thing about wine. So I warn you. Don't listen to a word that I say. Why? I'm an American, born in the Northeast USofA, not exactly a hotbed of boutique wine making even today when the folks in places like the Finger Lakes of upstate New York have been trying to establish their creds for generations. All that I knew of wine as I was growing up came from my experiences with my grandmother's concord grape wine. Oddly enough, straight out of the barrel in the basement it wasn't too sweet. If you liked sweet wine, though, Nana didn't mind. She'd just add a dab of maple syrup to the carafe and shake it a bit.

See what I mean? Don't listen to a word that I say.

Like many of my fellow English-speaking expats, I have come to enjoy sampling the great variety of wines available to us in here Occitanie. We live in the midst of a terroir that is transforming itself from a region known for sheer quantity to a region dotted  with an ever-increasing cohort of quality producers of light and sunny rosés, clean and subtle whites, and hearty and complex reds. Signs dot every two-lane blacktop directing travelers to domaines with wine for tasting and for sale, often along with olive oil, honey, saffron, or other bounty of this ancient land.

We all have our favorites, from affordable but reliable standards to bottles laid in for special company. Domaine Pain de Sucre, with vineyards just down the road from us along the Canal du Midi, supplies us with an inexpensive rosé that has sweetened our sunny summer afternoons ever since we moved here.full-time several years ago. Laurent Miquel's Cazal Viel estate, another early discovery located between Cazouls-les-Beziers and Cessenon-sur-Orb, produces a range of viognier and chardonnay-viognier to suit any taste. And we're learning to navigate the reds, sampling and/or laying down bottles from Domaine de Pech-Ménel, Domaine Moulin Gimie, and Domaine Saint-Georges d'Ibry among several others.

Early on, we discovered vrac, bulk wine. Our English-speaking friends know of it. But our French friends are the ones more likely to buy it. After several years standing in line, waiting to get my hands on the stainless steel hose from which pours that cheap product in bulk like petrol into the tank, I can scarcely remember hearing English spoken. (Yes, I said petrol. Life among British expats...) I can't think why not. After a pleasant evening of sips and nibbles, and more sips and nibbles, and an extra sip or two, when all of the chilled bottles of rosé in the fridge have met their maker, we have on occasion been forced to pour from an unlabeled bottle of local vrac. No one has seemed to mind, although at the point that we bring it out, taste buds have already been dulled beyond repair. Of course, 95% of the time, our guests don't get anywhere near vrac rosé. But it's what we drink for dinner when we're by ourselves. And for us, it works.

Does this mean that we cannot discriminate one wine from another? Pas de tout! Three of the local cooperatifs offer vrac at prices averaging about €1.50 per liter, the caves in Capestang, Cebezan, and Argeliers. We periodically sample each in turn to check out which pleases our naive palates best at the present moment. Our current choice is Argeliers. We have a sneaking suspicion that the taste is dependent on how carefully they separate the snails from the grapes as they are unloaded. But they're not talking and we're not asking. 

So there you have it. 10 liters at a time for €15. Ah, France. Ya gotta love it.

 

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