Learn to enjoy the way as much as you would enjoy when you reach the destination. -Sakshi Chetana, Laughing Buddha:The Alchemy of Euphoric Living
This was my first trip to the South of France. Having been to France before, I kept hearing from others how different the south was from the rest of the country, especially Paris itself. I could not wait to experience it. Indeed it was, as hospitable and heartwarming as I had envisioned, and so much more.
Languedoc is the Southeastern region of France. It is known for its enormous wine production, exceptional cuisine, and easygoing lifestyle. I landed in Toulouse, the “pink city of the southeast,” named so due to the abundance of pink painted buildings. Interestingly, everywhere I went the shutters were always painted different colors, each reflecting the homeowner’s personality and adding a festive element to the ordinary. When I travel I put on my “child-tinted glasses”—I purposefully don’t do any research prior to the trip. I let the geographies, events and local folks unfold as they are, while I absorb it all with a child-like enthusiasm and endless wonder.
It is no exaggeration to say that French consumers are spoiled. They enjoy a virtually unlimited choice of modestly priced wines, with most landing in the range of €10-€15. The majority of wines are uncomplicated, straightforward, lovely sippers versus brain twisters.
There are a number of fascinating indigenous varieties grown in the Southwest region of France, including Loin de l’oeil, Negrette, Piquepoul, Savagnin, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc and several others. Many Vignerons practice organic farming. In fact, Languedoc is responsible for roughly 1/3 of all of France’s organically produced wines.
Mediterranean climate, combined with a wide variety of soils, from sandy clay to kimmeridgian, calcareous that offer endless opportunities to produce interesting wines. They offer astounding QPR (quality-price ratio). With thirteen appellations producing sixteen denominations of still wines, and three producing a variety of sparklers, the choices are virtually unlimited.
It became quickly apparent that Robert Parker’s “Midas touch” has been felt throughout the region. There are several large circulation, influential wine publications in France, rough equivalents to Wine Spectator, which rate wines. Evidently a lower score by these publications doesn’t necessarily affect sales, however a lower score by Parker certainly does. This phenomena remains an enigma. During the discussions on the subject, I offered the same theory as I do in the States. Parker has one palate, granted a formidable one, but it is still a singular physical entity, and it is the entity that influences his judgment. Therein lies the answer. His palate is his likely only influence. Unlike many others in the industry whose motivations are subject to question, his integrity is beyond reproach. That ultra-rare commodity is what makes Robert Parker an international phenomena.
The Languedoc-Roussillion wine growing region stretches for 700,000 acres. It is an extremely expansive, diverse region spanning from the French and Spanish border to the Provence. It is the biggest wine producing region in the world, far out-producing the entire United States, and is responsible for 1/3 of France’s total wine production. If you are aiming to visit, tailor it to your specific interests. I visited six appellations in six days. To accomplish this, I traveled at breakneck speed, akin to galloping though a stunning countryside. I would advise zeroing on fewer areas for a more in-depth focus. I would especially recommend that red wine lovers visit the Cahors for some finely crafted Malbecs.
This category should have been named “All Things Duck.” On my first day, I was greeted the same day with several types of foie gras, “gesier” salad made with duck gizzards, duck tartare, duck marinated in garlic, parsley and olive oil, duck charcuterie. I ate everything except for the quack. I truly was expecting a duck dessert! The trend continued throughout the trip, with every single restaurant offering duck prepared in a variety of ways. It is a regional specialty and a staple in Languedoc. Socializing over a long meal is a very important ritual for the residents of Languedoc. Quality time spent with relatives and friends is a top priority, especially on weekends. Saturday morning is typically spent at the market, shopping for fresh ingredients and the rest of the day is spent preparing and consuming a feast over many hours, accompanied by many bottles of local wine.
The French love to spend time with friends and family. In the evenings, virtually every table at every café is filled with patrons, no matter how small the town. People seemed jovial, happy, and easy-going. Whether it was a large group or a couple, everyone seemed to be enjoying life. And, of course, there was always wine on the table. The meals are typically three courses, and almost always finish with rich, aromatic coffee.
The French love to chat and are highly interactive. I found them to be intellectually curious, with sharp probing minds. They seem at ease with themselves, which becomes contagious and makes for a lively, friendly and relaxed social atmosphere.
Effortlessly chic, French ladies master casual elegance, whether they are wearing the latest fashion or just jeans and rubber boots (think working wine cellar.) They consume copious amounts of foie gras, crusty French bread, drink wine and countless cups of coffee, and many smoke quite a bit. Yet they don’t gain an ounce. They look as ladylike as Grace Kelly, even when holding a cigarette in one hand and a demitasse of espresso in the other. If I had half of their confidence I would own the world.
You may have wondered why I titled the piece “Luxurious Languedoc,” given the fact that the region isn’t wealthiest area of France. The “luxury” aspect comes from affording oneself a lifestyle that is about balancing one’s needs and wants. If your definition of luxury includes indulgent, hedonistic foods, leisurely wines, copious amounts of time spent with loved ones, you will find a home in this charming land of no pretense. They say money doesn’t buy happiness. Based upon what I experienced that holds true. Happiness can’t be bought, but it can be obtained. It appears that my French peers have figured out how to wrestle this elusive bird out of hiding. Somewhere between “gesier” salad and a glass or two of Piquepoul, they seemed to achieve the luxury of “being.”