For the second half of winter break, I spent a few days in the marvelous city of Bordeaux! I was with my friend Patrick, who is in the IES Abroad Nantes program this semester and who also goes to Grinnell. We stayed with our friend Vernon, who graduated from Grinnell nearly two years ago, is now studying in Bordeaux, and plans to work in the wine industry after graduating. Like myself, Vernon also double majored in Economics and French at Grinnell, so it was enlightening to hear about his life after graduation.
When we were not hanging out with Vernon and his eclectic group of housemates, Patrick and I explored the vibrant streets of the city. Bordeaux in fact reminded me a lot of Nantes. Both cities are situated along the banks of river, are large enough to create a fast-moving urban atmosphere, but small enough so that it doesn’t take all day to commute from one end of town to another. The most amusing place we visited was by far la cité du vin, Bordeaux’s very own wine museum! The museum is a bit like a very large buffet restaurant in the sense that there is so much information to take in that you must pick and choose what you want to learn about. At the beginning of the tour, we were given audio guides – in French, of course – and allowed to roam the museum at our leisure. The exhibits were inclusive of practically every aspect of wine: where it is grown, how it is grown, the history of its existence in France and around the world, its cultural and economic impacts, and the seemingly endless varieties of wine that exist.
My favorite exhibit was without a doubt the aroma section. One could smell not only individual every-day scents such as orange, coffee, or leather, but combinations of scents such as lavender, strawberries and cloves. Training the nose to identify scents helps you better know what you’re dealing with when sampling wine. At the end of the tour, we took the elevator to the top of the building in which the museum is housed and got to sample a glass of wine of our choosing. I settled on a Merlot from Romania, which I found to be as pleasing as it was pungent on the tongue.
Since my experience with wine tasting is not extensive, the visit to the museum helped me a lot in terms of learning how to taste wine and pick apart its characteristics. Additionally, we have been learning a lot about wine in my gastronomy course. Each week in the course, we sample a different type of wine and discuss what we discover. The tasting process starts not with the tasting itself, but with a visual inspection of the wine. We hold up the glass against a white background and attempt to pick out what colors we see; not simply red or white, but what shade. Next we smell the wine and identify its aromas. If you can associate the smell with a memory, you will be able to recognize it much more easily. For example, I associate the smell of blackberries – which can be found in some wines – with picking wild ones at my grandfather’s house in the woods of Oregon. Finally, we taste a small sample of the wine and let it run over the tongue for a few moments while our taste buds go nuts. The smelling and tasting steps are more difficult for me, but I know that my skills will only get better with experience and persistence. My goal is to become familiar enough with French wine to bring back one or two carefully chosen bottles for my family and friends.
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<p>Bonjour! My name is Keanan Gleason, I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but currently live in Iowa where I am a third year student at Grinnell College. I am double-majoring in Economics and French, and this spring I will be studying abroad in Nantes, France! I hope to get to know my temporary home by going on lots of runs, eating at various restaurants, and exploring with friends.</p>