French Beverages, Part 2: Languedoc-Roussillon’s Vin de France and Vin de Pays

“You know, every glass of wine here is French wine.”  Me sharing the extremely obvious with Tracy.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southwest France, where we are living, is the largest area in France in terms of vineyard acreage.  The region is known for its Blanquette de Limoux, the world’s oldest sparkling wine, and many high quality red wines like Corbières, Cotaeux du Languedoc, Côtes du Roussillon, Fitou, Minervois, Saint Chinian, and Costières de Nimes.

Languedoc-Roussillon (Wikimedia Commons)
Languedoc-Roussillon
(Wikimedia Commons)

Languedoc-Roussillon is also known as the “Wine Lake” of France where the majority of inexpensive wines in France are produced. So much wine is produced in Languedoc-Roussillon that France worries the “Wine Lake’s” surplus drives down the export price of French table wine.  More than 1/3 of all grapes grown in France are grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

The everyday wines are called Vin de France, (previously called “Vin de Table“) the lowest level of the three tiers in the current wine classification system in France.  But don’t let the term “lowest level” deceive you, these are flavorful wines that enhance any meal or are enjoyable simply by the glass.  Any wine in France is all about its terroir:  the environment, climate, soil, geography, and weather that makes up the intangibles that combined with the variety of grapes and the skill of the winemaker creates the final taste of the wine.

Pichet de Vin
Pichet de Vin

The mid-level category of French wines are Indication Géographique Protégée wines (IGP), an intermediate category basically replacing the former Vin de Pays (“country wine”) category.  These IGP/Vin de Pays wines are simple varietal French wines that include Vin de Pays d’Oc from Languedoc-Roussillon. Vin de Pays d’Oc is the largest portion of all Vin de Pays wines produced in France.

Vin de Pays
Vin de Pays

Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) is the highest category of French wine replacing the previously used category of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines.  We look forward to touring some of the local vineyards in the near future and tasting some of these top-tier AOP wines.  Restaurants in Carcassonne offer high quality AOC wine lists in addition to their basic house wines.

AOP Seal (Wikimedia Commons)
AOP Seal
(Wikimedia Commons)

Most of Tracy and my wine consumption has been Vin de France and Vin de Pays.  These inexpensive reds, white, and rosé wines have proven to be delicious.  “Un demi-pichet de vin,” (a half litre carafe of a restaurant’s vin de France) has never been a bad experience.  Restaurants carefully choose even the house wine with their reputations in mind.  Rosé wines are a respected wine choice and hold a prominent place in many of France’s major wine regions, including Languedoc-Roussillon.

Tracy enjoying "un pichet of vin rouge."
Tracy enjoying “un pichet of vin rouge.”

Shopping for wine is an embarrassment of riches.  The wine section in every store offers a huge range of quality, varieties, and price points.  It is difficult to narrow down your choices from so many offerings.  I was stunned to even see “boxed” vin de France meant for inexpensive table wine. Two of our most recent purchases, a red and a rosé, were both under 2 Euro and they were delicious!

Shelves of Wines
Shelves of Wines
Shelves of Wines
Shelves of Wines
Shelves of Wines
Shelves of Wines
Varied wines and prices
Varied wines and prices

Tracy and I greatly enjoy our new tradition of a glass of wine with lunch and dinner.  And there is nothing like a leisurely afternoon, sitting in the town square of Place Carnot, and  lingering with a carafe of wine as Tracy and I just enjoy the view, conversation, and people watching.

Enjoying the Open Air Market

One of our goals with our new retired life is to eat healthier.

In the past it was always faster and often more convenient to swing by a “drive-up window” and pick up a quick meal.  Even though I knew better about nutrition, it was quick and satisfying to grab Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Baconator, or Extreme Sausage Sandwich.  I love a good cheeseburger, et. al, but “everything in moderation” and sometimes I wasn’t moderate in my dining habits. (You would think that after documentaries like “Super Size Me” I would have long ago been avoiding fast foods.)  Please don’t think Tracy and I raised the kids on fast food and that we didn’t use healthy foods to prepare meals, but we also took our fair share of “short-cuts” to the “drive-up.”

With a major change in environment and limited access to fast food, Tracy and I wanted to create new eating habits that actually follow the USDA Food Pyramid recommendations we previous ignored if it wasn’t convenient.  (But still enjoy an occasional, emphasis on “occasional,” indulgence.)

Tracy and I both love to cook and try new recipes. Now we have a lot of brand new ingredients to explore with our cooking.  We want to minimize meat and emphasize vegetables, fruits, and grains. We also wanted to use farm fresh, local foods as much as possible and avoid frozen, canned, and pre-packaged foods.  There are no excuses as we now have the time with retirement to enjoy making our meals completely from scratch.

One pleasure has been shopping at the open air market in Place Carnot.  Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is market day in Carcassonne.  The town square in Place Carnot is full of tables with vegetables, fruits, honey, breads, meats, and flowers.  We are now shopping for seasonal and fresh foods, usually directly from and sold by the farmers themselves.  (There are also some imports from Spain, Italy, and North Africa also available.  The country of origins on all foods are clearly identified.)  Colors are often vivid with some shocking differences in foods’ colors that we only used to see in heirloom and heritage produce in the U.S.

I realize I am stating the obvious regarding the local food being is raised for its taste, rather than its ability to be trucked long distances and to last longer on store shelves.  There are many new and different flavors to experience.  (And new names for old favorites:  mushroom are des champignons, potatoes are des pommes de terre, and strawberries as des fraises.)  Yes, I already knew about the improved quality of local foods but it’s an evolution for me to experience it on a continuous basis.  I never had or took the time to shop farmer’s markets or to garden at home.  (I have a “black thumb” when plants are involved.  There were only silk plants in my old office.) Previously tt was always a matter of running by the supermarket’s vegetable section or stocking frozen vegetables in the freezer.

The experience of shopping at the open air market is a theater upon itself:  all different kinds of people coming and going, the various interactions between buyers and sellers, people looking for the best quality at the best value, friendly “bonjours” and “au revoirs,” and us standing in the middle of it.  We are already choosing our favorite vendors.  We have our farmer with the freshest and best tasting tomatoes.  There is our “Melon Man” who insists we taste a slice of his cantaloupes first before he hand-picks the ripest melons for us.  There are the vendors who are exceedingly patient with my limited French when they ask for, “Trois euros cinquante-cinq centimes” (3 euros 55 cents) and make a point to write the amount out on a pad of paper or show me the amount on the calculator.

And the best part is, of course,  cooking and eating our bounty then returning to the market do it all again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bus Riding 101 and a Shark Face

Yesterday we rode the bus for the first time here in Carcassonne.

We are not the world’s most experienced travelers, but we have used public transportation before in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Rome while traveling. It isn’t that hard to figure out how a bus, trolley, metro works but there are some differences in each place . . . we learned about some of those differences on our travels yesterday.

We woke up and decided today is the day we will try riding the bus. Where to go? The grocery store, of course. In many places and even in Reno/Sparks the buses always have stops near grocery stores and we wanted to look for better grocery prices than those in the tourist areas, which we know are higher priced with minimal selection. We had visited a Geant Casino supermarket in Montpellier and Alan did a little online research and found there are two here in Carcassonne. So we got ready and headed out to ride the bus to a grocery store.

Which bus to take? There are 11 bus routes around Carcassonne, there is no printed route map that has all of the routes listed. Cathy, our new friend at the tourist office had told us that one street over from ours is one of the main offices of the bus system Agglo’transport. So we headed to the bus system office.

Alan talked to the nice elderly gentleman behind the counter and asked if he spoke English. He said with a surprisingly Italian accent, “a little.” Alan said we wanted to go to Geant Casino, the man asked “which one?” Alan replied “either one.” The little man, circling the times on the route 1 brochure, said “that’s your bus out there, go, I call and let him know you come.”

So without any fanfare, we raced over to hop on a bus. Alan had thoughtfully scooped up the brochure before leaving the bus office.

We board the bus and the driver said, “Geant Casino” we smiled and said “Oui.” We paid him 2 Euro and found a seat.

15 minutes later we arrive at Geant Casino and get off the bus. TaDa! Bus trip number 1 accomplished!! We congratulated each other and entered the store to have our first “supermarket” experience in Carcassonne.

We went inside, found that it is like a mini-mall, and there was a coffee bar so Cafe Creme it is! A nice way to celebrate our successful bus riding affair.

Fortified with caffeine, we go to the corral of shopping carts only to realize that they are all chained together. We look around and see that other people have shopping carts and realize that there must be a way to get one unlocked. We look at the mechanism, there are no directions. Alan notices a slot and realizes that something must fit in it to remove the hook from the cart. We assume a coin of some sort, but there are lots of coins and we’re not sure which and don’t want to jam the mechanism.

Thankfully, a little girl about 10 years old comes by to get the cart for her mom and Alan notices that she got the cart unlocked, then scooped out a handful of coins and asked, “which one?” She grabbed a 2 Euro coin and showed him it was too big. He scooped out another handful of coins and she selected the 1 Euro coin and showed him how to unlock the cart.

So we’ve now been inside the building for 45 minutes and we’ve managed to drink a cup of coffee and unlock the grocery cart. Feeling a bit deflated after our earlier high, we head into the store and spend the next two hours walking up and down every aisle trying to familiarize ourselves with the grocery store.

As some of you have already read, I had issues over the potato chips. Realizing that this supermarket has much better prices than the ones downtown in the tourist area we select a few purchases for the upcoming week and head to the checkout.

And voila! Bus ride and grocery shopping, done. We even figured out how to get the 1 Euro coin back out of the cart lock mechanism – score!

We walk back to the bus stop where we got off the bus and headed across the street believing that the return trip would start there. We only had to wait about 10 minutes before the driver arrived with the bus.

Yippee! Bus ride number 2, commenced!

The bus didn’t use the same route on the return and we unknowingly figured that it would get to where it was going, circle back and repeat the route. It’s how it works most everywhere we’ve been before. So we stay on the bus and when we reach the far side of town, enjoying the sightseeing, in the opposite direction of where we got on, the driver stops and as we are the only ones still on the bus says “Terminus – you must got off!”

A little shocked and wary, we gather our two bags of goodies from the grocery store and hop off the bus. Alan asks the driver “Is another bus coming?” the driver says “Oui” and leaves. We look at each other and realize we haven’t the slightest clue where we are. I told Alan ‘I think we’re near the other Geant Casino, I think I recognized the logo a couple of stops before this one.” He says, “then we’re on the other side of  town.”

Okay then, but we want to be on OUR side of town. Where we got on the bus, near the apartment, not here with bags of groceries and no bus.

We had spotted a KFC across the roundabout and decide to take a moment to regroup, eat something, get something cold to drink and then look at the bus schedule. Alan spotted the bus schedule kiosk so we noted the time for the next bus would arrive and headed over to KFC to grab some lunch. We pulled out the bus route brochure Alan had thoughtfully scooped up at the bus office, look at it after we eat and realize that there are little tiny, hard to see without your glasses, arrows showing the direction the bus travels and realize that the next bus would take us back to our original starting point.

We finish our drinks, walk back to the stop where the driver left us and waited until the bus returned. A different driver thankfully, one that hadn’t been witness to our “tourist” moment earlier.

We hopped on paid the driver and found a seat, rode until we reached our original starting point and felt pretty pleased that we didn’t let the whole extra two hour experience totally ruin the day.

This morning we decide to purposefully ride to the “other” Geant Casino and check their selection and prices and to determine which of the two will make for an easier trip with bags of groceries. Yesterdays experience has made us wary.

We walked to the bus stop near the train station since we now know that we need to be on that part of the route to go where we want to go. The driver, same guy who dropped us at the “terminus” yesterday recognizes us and asks “Geant Casino” to which I stupidly reply, “Yes!” The driver tells us to take the other bus, #2, which had just pulled up behind him thinking that I wanted to go to same Geant Casino as I did yesterday. Confused we walk to bus #2 and ask Geant Casino, the driver shakes his head and points back to bus #1. We walk back to bus #1 and the driver shakes his head. The poor man is probably thinking we’re stupid tourists who like to be lost, but we pay him the fare and find a seat.

We did end up at Geant Casino #2, and did our shopping. Today’s Geant Casino had really, really fresh fish — including a small shark displayed with the head removed and set to the side with a lemon in its mouth! We opted for pork instead. This store had the same deplorable selection of potato chips, in case anyone was wondering. Then managed to catch the right bus to the stop a  block from the apartment. We have decided that Geant #2 is the better route, a longer walk to catch the bus but a shorter walk with bags of groceries.

Now I’m wondering if the driver works that route all the time as I fear that every time he sees us from now on he may think we are his weirdo riders who fly all the way to France to get lost on a bus looking for grocery stores. Can’t image what he told his family about us today!

bus1

Agglo’transport Bus #1 (with our favorite driver!)

morechips

Once again, we found chicken flavoring on chips. But I really love the “bursting with flavor” on the ketchup flavored chips!!

freshfish

Today’s fresh catch.

 sharkface

Lemon Shark??