May 30, 2010

"Note" worthy - May 28

We went on a wine-tasting tour, led by Aaron who is not only an instructor chef, but a wine connoisseur, and Karen and Paul who are guests at his resort.  How fortunate for us to have been invited to tag along since we definitely wouldn't have discovered these out-of-the-way places on our own.

Our first stop was the "Domaine du Pressoir à Cales: Agnès et Thierry Arnault", in the village of Bouillé-Loretz.  Thierry himself welcomed us and without further ado escorted us to the tasting room. 


We don't know the difference between a Chablis and a Chardonnay.  Aaron patiently explained the subtleties of the wine, which grapes produce which labels, and which one is appropriate with lamb and which is perfect with dessert.  Each wine is described with wine notes, words such as fruity, woody, full-bodied, and even chocolaty.

Thierry, the owner, was busy opening bottle after bottle with this enormous corkscrew made from a grape vine, dried and varnished.

When we had tasted most of the Domaine wines, perhaps 12 in all but who was keeping count, Thierry allowed us to taste his own private reserve made from pine branches.  (This is not the pine tree from Canada, but a leafy branch that he puts directly into the wine vat, which you can faintly see in the above photo.)  He mentioned something about distilling rather than just fermenting, and this potent nectar measures out at 19% alcohol content.

Pure ambrosia!  It is not for sale and is strictly for personal consumption, so we were absolutely thrilled to be gifted the bottle from which we had tasted this nectar of the gods!  A kiss on both cheeks to thank Thierry for this generous gift and to seal our new found friendship.  We walked away with four bottles of wine and our "gift".

Off we went to our second wine stop, "Domaine des TraHan", in Cersay.

Jean-Marc was gone to sell his wines at some sort of event so his wife (who is Russian) received us.

She opened two wines that Aaron recommended we try:  the "Sauvignon Blanc 2009" and "Le Logis de Preuil Rosé de Loire", winner of the 2010 silver medal.

They proved to be excellent and we bought a bottle of each.

We had a leisurely drive back home feeling very happy.  The sun was shining and the world seemed ever so beautiful.  We stopped at a boulangerie and bought some baguettes and came home to sit in our private little courtyard and enjoy an al fresco picnic.

The sun was shining and the hanging roses were in full bloom.  The figs were growing and would soon be ready to eat.  The scent of some delightful plant permeated the air.  The cheese was the right temperature and the wine was Thierry's private reserve.  Need I say more.

The little gargoyle tucked away in a grotto next to the table where we were enjoying our picnic was keeping a close eye on us, ensuring that we wouldn't over indulge.


We then headed out to Mirebeau, a town about 45 minutes from Thouars, to listen to a symphony concert given by the OPC: Orchestre Poitou Charentes, in the very old church of Notre-Dame.  This concert was highly subsidized since an audience of approximately 100 could not possibly have afforded this orchestra.  They represent the "province" (département) of Poitou-Charentes and are all directors or instructors in their own right.  The crème de la crème.

We had a coffee and then roamed around town waiting for the concert to begin, not realizing that the folks dressed in black in the background of Karl playing tourist by the fountain were part of the orchestra.

This is a poster advertising the concert with the church venue in the background.

The first segment was Adagio for strings by Eric Tanguy, followed by Serenade  by Britten for tenor, French horn and strings.  The second half of the concert was Souvenir of Florence, opus 70 by Tchaikovsky, which had us in tears, especially the part where the lead violin and cello talk to each other.  The acoustics in that church were incredible.

I have recently finished a book called "Le Premier jour" by Marc Levy, and in it he writes:  "Il y a des journées illuminées de petits moments de grâce, une odeur qui vous met l'âme en joie, un rayon de soleil qui entre par la fenêtre, le bruit de l'averse alors qu'on est encore au lit, les trottoirs enneigés ou l'arrivée du printemps et ses premiers bourgeons."  It translates as "There are days lit with moments of aroma... a sun ray...a sound..."  We felt that today was such a day, not filled with a huge agenda or historical sites, but blessed with sunshine, joie de vivre, wine, new friends, impromptu picnics and inspirational classical music.  Karl called the day "as perfect as it gets."

May 27, 2010

Château de Chenonceau - May 25

One of our main objectives in choosing this area of France for our holidays was to visit the châteaux along the Loire.  Chenonceau is a significant one, stretching across the river Cher with a gallery built over a series of arches, its elegant beauty reflected in the languid waters.
The moat with a variety of fish.

A romantic pleasure palace, Chenonceau was created from the Renaissance onwards by a series of aristocratic women. 
Karl commented that the "romantic pleasure palace" was probably inspiration for Hugh Heffner's Mansion.

L'Orangerie and the Tea Room.
The magnificent avenue bordered by plane trees leading to the serene vision that Flaubert praised as "floating on air and water."

Close-up of the Château roof.

The Marques tower, the only remaining part of the original fortified castle that was demolished in the 16th century in order to build the Château de Chenonceau by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet.

Diane de Poitiers' garden to the left of the Château.  Over 100 types of stemmed hibiscus flower here in summer.

Catherine de' Medici's garden to the right of the Château.  A more intimate garden offering the perfect image of refinement.  Bordered by the River Cher, the paths allow for a magnificent view over the west facade of the Château.  Lavish court receptions and transvestite balls were held under Catherine's auspices.

Diane de Poitiers' bedroom.
Diane de Poitiers was a beautiful and intelligent woman but hard and determined in character.  She became the mistress of the future Henri II of France, at the time already married to Catherine de' Medici.  It was a legendary tryst that increased in intensity with time.  But at the death of the king in 1559, the long-humiliated Catherine banished Diane from court.
Catherine de' Medici's bedroom.
Catherine de' Medici's bedroom is fitted with beautiful sculpted 16th-century furniture and is decorated with a set of Flanders tapestries which trace the life of Samson.  These tapestries are remarkable for their borders full of animals symbolizing proverbs and fables.  On the right of the bed is "The Education of Love" by Correggio, painted on wood.

Louise of Lorraine's bedroom. 
After the assassination of her husband King Henri III, Louise of Lorraine retired to Chenonceau to meditate and pray.  She painted the ceiling of her bedchamber black and white (the colours of royal mourning) and remained in mourning for 14 years.  Always dressed in white, she was given the name "la Reine Blanche", the White Queen.
Louis XIV's drawing room.
In memory of the visit he made to the Château in 1650, Louis XIV, many years later, offered his uncle the Duke of Vendôme his portrait by Rigaud in an extraordinary frame by Lepautre, composed simply of four enormous pieces of wood.
On the Renaissance fireplace, the Salamander and the Stoat bring back the memory of François I and Queen Claude of France.

From the bedrooms we descended to the kitchens and preparation areas which are located in the two enormous bases forming the first two piers built in the bed of the River Cher.  When crossing from one pier to the other, we can see a platform where boats carrying produce would moor (according to legend it is called "Diane's Bath") to unload their supplies.

The baking oven
A substantial bread slicer!
Staff dining hall.
Above the dining table.
A fancy muffin pan or mould pan.
Copper pots and pans.
Huge stove with warming sections.
Firepit with 3 spits connected to a pulley system - to prepare a feast!
Wild boar would have been a choice meat of the day.
Hooks to hang the game and the cleavers of various sizes for the butchers.

Karl at the door of the farm house, part of a superb group of 16th-century buildings opening onto the vegetable garden with the floral workshop at its centre.

The daily flower arrangements composed for each room in the Château, in harmony with the seasons and events, is an integral part of Chenonceau's charm.
Karl, taking time to smell the roses.

Located in a clearing within the 70-hectare grounds, the Italian maze, as desired by Catherine de' Medici, is planted with 2000 yews covering more than one hectare.
It opens towards the east to discover the monumental Caryatides by Jean Goujon.

~ AM