East-er West?

Right, I haven’t done a blog post at all this year – what is there to say…?  January and February, I was at home looking after Noah every other week, looking for importers for my wine and someone to give me some guidance with my writing.  Other than that, shopping was just about the highlight…

Then I was offered some paid, full-time work, to start at the beginning of March.  So naturally, after one week, schools and nurseries closed: I can only work every other week…It is not yet official, but they are due to reopen after Easter, so I have another week before I can work full-time.  (I don’t know if it is significant that the ‘Easter’ referred to has not been specified as 2021.)  Then, I got a big bill from my accountant for their services in 2020 – that invoice I wrote clearly took a hell of a lot of processing…

I began to feel a little deflated.

However, becoming fed up with feeling gloomy, I decided to do a blog post, topic unrevealed to me at the time.  So I went to WordPress in the hope that the inspiration would come.  And I discovered that PiemonteMio wasn’t working – I got the following page when I tried to log-in, or to view the blog:

It doesn’t half take the wind out of your sails…Right now, I’m not interested in taking a step forwards – I’d settle for simply feeling like I’m not going backwards!

The blog post may not have come, but, luckily, the inspiration did: my first blog post of the year – when I could get the bally contrivance up and running again – would be about jolly, escapist dreaming: which wine region am I going to visit once it is possible?  I am dedicating this blog post to the excellent folk at GoDaddy, who are always friendly and sorted out all the kinks so that I could post this.

The Art of the Possible.

And that word is important: possible.

Dreaming though it may be, I am going to try to keep it within the realms of the practicable: no ‘spend a month in Napa, eating at The French Laundry every night’ for this dreamer…

Inspired by those ‘36 Hours in…’, or ‘A long weekend in…’ articles one sees from time to time, I am going, for the time being, to stick to Europe, and a 5-night limit.  There is something, perhaps, quite anachronistically British about this approach to ‘dreaming’: if it’s just an academic exercise in fantasy, why not simply say, ‘You know what?  I’m getting a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce and going on a vinous Grand Tour of the World!  I’ll stop by at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and buy a couple of pallets of all their wines, pop in to Domaine Leroy and do the same, before heading to Comte Lafon.  Then, the 5 First Growths of Bordeaux, plus a bit of Pétrus thrown in for good measure.’  And so on throughout Europe, before embarking on climes more foreign and further afield.  For some; for many; perhaps for most; the unattainability is the point of fantasy – it takes you completely out of the humdrum and the mundane.

We British like our dreams like our mountains, though: modest.  For so many of us, there has to be an element of attainability about it.  Otherwise, there seems little point: there needs to be at least some possibility of its happening, otherwise the lure, the ‘something to look forward to’, isn’t there.  More doormousey, perhaps.  Less imaginative, certainly – I’m not exactly thinking big with a few nights just down the road (relatively speaking).

To me, fantasising about resuscitating a Concorde so I can zip to Stellenbosch for a 5-star hotel-laden, 3 Michelin-star-dining extravaganza of vinous overload is basically a waste of my time: it might be fun if it happened, but we can all agree, I think, that it is never going to.  Jeff Bezos, for example, or, even more likely, Elon Musk (it sounds like an Elon Musk kind of wheeze) have the wherewithal, financially, to do it, but they haven’t.  And, as I intimated about Mr Musk, if he can send a car into space just for fun, I can certainly envisage him doing this.  Given the disparity in financial wherewithal between the aforementioned Messrs and myself, I remain to be convinced that it is on the cards for yours truly.

The beauty of my ‘Dream Little’ philosophy – quite good, that: I might register it… – is that there is a high possibility, or even a probability, of its happening.  5 nights in a wine region within a day’s drive of PiemonteMio HQ is eminently plausible.  So there then arises the ‘carrot’ of its actually being something to look forward to as a real-life, bone-fide experience awaiting me, rather than something about as likely to swim into my life’s ken as cycling to the moon.  Now the juices can get flowing, the anticipation of a treat about to be realised can rise like the sap in the vines I will pass on my way.

Shall I go East, or West?

Right, so here is the template: no more than 1 day’s drive each way, maximum of 5 nights in residence.

There are any number of wine regions which both appeal to and are as yet unexplored by me.  However, probably the one region that I would like to drink in (double meaning intended…) is the Douro Valley.  Once sleepy, perhaps, for some time, this region has been alive with innovation and change, making all sorts of wines these days, from crisp fizz to the burly Ports of yore that made their name.  Apparently, I can drive in a little over 18 hours, so this certainly fits the bill…I have visited Porto – an absolutely lovely city, with plenty on offer – but never been up into the vineyards.  And I have the idea in my head that it is the most romantic wine region in the world.

One of the plenty of things that Porto has to offer…

In much the same way, I have a notion that Madeira (coincidentally, also Portugal) is like something from The Land that Time Forgot.  I have a wonderful aunt and uncle who are in love with Madeira in all its forms – geographical entity, wine (ok, both its forms) – visiting many times and they have never once given me any indication that my preconception is correct, but in my mind’s eye, as the plane descends below the cloud-line, pterodactyls are to be seen circling on the thermal currents.  But anyway.

West it is…

So I’m heading west to Iberia.  Now, for the Douro Valley, I know I should drive.  But flying from Turin to Porto and then taking the train appeals, for the train journey from Porto to the vineyards is supposed to be well worth the entrance fee.  Not only that, but a railway ride snaking up the side of the river into the vineyards is the very definition of a romantic trip.  If you don’t believe me, just have a gander at this photo…

If you know of a more romantic rail journey than this, I am all ears…

On the other hand, if I drive, I can fill the car with wine to bring back with me.  Decisions, decisions…If I drive, it’s a long way and I will probably be more tired at journey’s end than if I flew.  This might wipe out a good chunk of the following day, and I can always ship some wine home for not too much expenditure if I feel so inclined.  Besides, if I fly, I will save a not inconsiderable sum – driving from here would be at least €250 each way, and I can get a return flight for probably €180.  Then there is the fact that driving is likely to provide many a temptation to stop and look around: I will end up never getting to the Douro.

However, the stipulation was regions within 1 day’s drive, so I can’t very well start out by flying to my first port of call (see what I did there?).

So, a long drive it is!  If I am to stretch the 1 day’s driving limit to its end point, then I could conceivably have a few hours kip in the car to break up the journey.  This is probably a good idea in any case – an unbroken 18 hour stint is probably not recommended by leading road-safety experts.

And I can understand why: some years ago, I drove from my home in Piemonte to Shipston-on-Stour, non-stop.  I say non-stop – I had the dickens of a wait at Calais for the ferry, but the point is I didn’t break the journey with a drift off into the dreamless at some French road-side hostelry.  Drove through the night, with some Mars bars and two Bulls Red to keep me going.  As I say, not recommended on any level.

Right, so, Day 1 is set off and just keep going: down to the Ligurian coast, into France and past Menton, Monaco, Nice and Cannes before turning decisively inland.  Aix, Arles, Nîmes, Montpellier (very important to us wine-lovers) come and go.  At Narbonne, check the tendency to continue into Spain, and head west past Carcassonne to Toulouse.  Then take a left down into the Pyrenees, across to Pau, bursting out onto the Atlantic coast at Biarritz.

Right, toodle-ooh, France – we’re into Spanish Basque Country: San Sebastian and then south to Vitoria-Gasteiz and Burgos.  Valladolid comes and goes as we press on to Zamora and dive into Portugal near Bragança.  South-west again into the lush lands of the Trás-os- Montes, recondite even for the Portuguese.

See: I said driving would provide plenty of temptations…

Day 1 ends, then, with us – if you’re along for the ride – checking-in to somewhere cosy in Pinhão, having a simple dinner at a local restaurant frequented by the denizens of the municipality under advisement and hitting the hay with a view to rising early the following day for some wine tasting.

Day 2 would involve toddling about the area visiting some Quintas in and around the town: perhaps a place or two reachable on foot might make a nice change…Inserted in between any morning and afternoon visits would naturally be lunch at some fine victualling station, full of local dishes and a wine list of bewildering local producers and their bewildering local varieties.

It is one of the great pleasures of washing up in an unfamiliar wine region, to go into a wine bar or restaurant and see a host of names with which one is unfamiliar.  How exciting!  There is the chance for serendipitous discovery, which always delights, but more than that there is the sense of parallel worlds, oblivious of my own: thriving communities with their own social currents and vortices, where the names on the chalk board mean something to the drinkers; one’s wine is selected over another’s because the patron is a friend, and they remember the last birthday party that the producer threw.  One feels ever so slightly plugged in to this new and unfamiliar world and there is almost a sense that one is doing something mildly illicit, like some cheeky trespass into a different existence.  But it also leaves a reassuring feeling that the world is still a vast place, teeming with countless places like this, unknown and unknowable to you.  And to each of these communities, this place, where you are sitting right now, is the centre of the universe.

Day 3 dawns, and that train ride we glimpsed above?  That’s on the agenda for today – it’s about two-and-a-half hours ride along the riverbank, so an early-ish start and a day in Porto.  Did I mention that it’s lovely?  I’m thinking visit to a Port Lodge for a tour and a tasting, followed by one of the tours of the city offered by the lovely people from AtWill Tours.  I didn’t do a tour with them last time, but stayed in an apartment of which they were the proprietors.  It has the view you see below…

Walk across the bridge, hang a right and then start tasting those Ports. Better wait until daytime, tough…

Then I discovered that they do all sorts of exciting tours of the city – so that’s a must this time.  And they’re lovely people.  Did I say they are lovely?

Then it’s the last train home…

Day 4 is more tasting – reds, whites, fizz, fortified: not necessarily in that order.  We’ve done the train, so let’s take a boat or two today.  I fancy going upriver into the Douro Superior and stopping off at places like Quinta do Vesuvio.  This is why:

Did I tell you that the Douro was romantic…?

Day 5 and perhaps a trip ‘up and over’, leaving the river banks, might be nice.  Find a hidden town or village somewhere, mooch around, duck into the bar, bite of hearty fare, back out, more tasting.  Sleep.

Day 6.  Boo!  Time to go home – head full of discoveries, experiences, memories; stomach – and liver – full of delights; car full of wonderful wines.  Off we go then.  And on the way back, we’ll pass these regions that are also on my list:

Toro and Ribera del Duero – A different kettle of fish to the region just across the border in Portugal, despite the river running through it: the arid land of Don Quixote.  (I know it’s not really, but it evokes those kinds of images…)

Iroulegy, Madiran, Jurançon – Down near the French Pyrenees (or in ’em in the case of Iroulegy), these are wines of distinctive character and quality: well worth several days of anyone’s time.

Who knows, I might have to do posts on visiting them, too…!

 

Well, it’s Day 7 and I’m back home, tired after such a long drive, and in need of a shower.  But I’m pretty happy with my trip.  Now all I need to do is unload all that wine (and Jamon Iberico.  And Roquefort).

Oh, and to wish one and all a very Happy Easter!

Keep Dreaming – no matter how small…

And if your dream wine region is in Piemonte, contact me: I can help.

After all, it was my dream region to the extent that I moved here…