Bonjour mes amis!
Our visit to Chateau Bizy yesterday gave us a royal taste of French nobility, as well as a taste of one of Normandy’s most celebrated products, la frommage! This historic chateau, designed as a miniature Versailles, has been the home to generations of the Suchet family, descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte, who still live in one of its wings. We enjoyed several workshops within the estate, including one on apple cider, which is an alcoholic beverage in France, and another on the four world-famous cheeses indigenous to Normandy; Neufchatel, Pont L’Eveque, Livarot, and Camembert. The cheese is prepared unpasteurized, as is customary within the province, and tasted fabulously unprocessed! We even had an unexpected visit from the flamboyant King Luis XIV, or was it just his ghost?
Upon return to the ship, we dined first class once again and spent the evening in the lounge dancing to the music of “Paolo”. By now, we have come to two realizations about river cruising – first, the intimacy, care, and level of hospitality and dining has ocean cruising beat 10 to 1. This is in part due to the exceptional friendliness and professionalism of the AMA Waterways staff. Secondly, with their smaller capacity relative to an ocean cruiser, fewer people combine with the hospitality to create a very familiar atmosphere for us – it feels like we are on a floating WineStyles! We already feel part of a closely-knit group of “club members”…
On Saturday morning Barry Wiss conducted a fascinating presentation comparing the regions of Napa Valley, CA with Bordeaux, France. It is astonishing that wine has been produced for only 150 years in Napa, and, despite many major setbacks during that time, including the Earthquake of 1908, two world wars, the Great Depression, Prohibition, and numerous severe droughts, Napa’s wines consistently rank among the best in the world. With 17 different AVAs within a relatively small valley, Napa is able to grow an impressive assortment of grapes, producing varietals of exceptional quality, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. The uniquely “Mediterranean” climate, affording a longer growing season with warm days and cool nights, combined with the fact that 50% of the world’s known soil types are found in the valley, result in a winemaker’s paradise.
Bordeaux, by contrast, is eight times the size of Napa, and has produced wine for thousands of years, since the Roman Empire. Tried and true, its wines are of similar excellent quality, generally with less fruit forward and more mineral characteristics. We were able to sample this first hand, tasting a Merlot from both regions. Though the soil is not as diverse as Napa, Bordeaux produces a variety of wines also, including Medoc, Sauterne, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Speaking of wine, AMA has treated us to a different French red and white each evening at dinner. Today we have arrived at Caudebec-En-Caux and will take a bus to the charming seaside village of Honfleur.
Be sure to check in with us tomorrow on the WineStyles blog, where you can hear it through our grapevine!