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Friday Fishwrap: Random Jottings at Week's End
A Busman’s Holiday

By Charles Olken

Think of it as a person who drives a city bus all week going off on a long drive for vacation. Think of it as a fishmonger putting out to sea for a week. Think of it as a school teacher attending classes in the summer time. Think of it as a winewriter who spends his holidays in Bordeaux and Tuscany, in Champagne, the Veneto and Rioja.

Where do you spend your holidays? The “busman’s holiday syndrome” strikes pretty close to home for the Olkens.

This year’s possibilities include Portugal, New Zealand and Provence (it’s been eight years after all—something might have changed). At least, last year we strayed only as far as Washington and Oregon. It is not as though we have not also visited Paris or Barcelona, but somehow when the subject of vacation comes up, wine country around the world seems to beckon hardest.

Our neighbors are just back from China. They can’t stop talking about how much they loved it. Oh sure, they think the Chinese food in San Francisco is better than in China itself, but we will forgive them that because they admitted to not recognizing some of the proteins they were served. My good friend Earl Singer, with whom I started Connoisseurs’ Guide back when we were both children, is off to India. I think it is his third or fourth trip over there. But the Olkens are thinking of Portugal, New Zealand and Provence.

Well, it is not like we will be alone. A few years back, walking down the street in Adelaide, we came across Kendall-Jackson head winemaker Randy Ullom having lunch in a sidewalk café. In Tuscany, we ventured into a restaurant of intriguing repute called Da Antonio. It serves only fish even while sitting smack in the middle of the Chianti Classico region. The locals, it turns out, call it “Fish In Your Face”, and the monicker is well deserved.

One of our party mentioned that I was a winewriter to the waiter—a defense against an overaged Italian Chardonnay being pushed in the direction of the Americans. The waiter told Antonio who was then sitting with some other Americans, and a few minutes later, a booming voice across the restaurant cried out “Are you Robert Parker?” Antonio then ambled over and invited me into his cellar to look at his collection of California wines—all seven of them. By the way, if you go to Tuscany, Da Antonio is not to be missed—and not only because it breaks up the pattern of similarly cast menus. You can have simple pastas and simple proteins or you can have fancy pastas and fancy proteins. At Da Antonio, you will have fish—whatever fish Antonio’s family and its fishing fleet an hour away at the coast have sent over that day.

There is this thing about wine country. It is almost universally beautiful. It does not matter if it is the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley outside Melbourne or the rolling hills of Champagne. It does not matter if it is the Chianti Classico region with its towns on hilltops and its vines stretching down into the valleys or the Douro Valley with its towns along the river and its vineyards stretching to the sky. It is familiar yet it is different. It has no pyramids or great walls or Coliseums. It has no skyscrapers or grand arches or thousand-year old cathedrals. Yet it beckons, and we are going back again this year.


Provence, et al
by ThomasPellechia
Posted on:10/8/2010 8:44:31 AM

On our last trip abroad we took three weeks in France--again!

This time, we rented a car at Bordeaux and drove to Cahors to spend a few days there; then, we headed for Beaucaire, a village that sits on the west side of the Rhone between CDP and the Provencal/Languedoc areas.

Rented an apartment for two weeks overlooking the Rhone, and from that base, we could drive daily to CDP, Costiere de Neims, Aix en Provence and Provence, and other nearby wine spots--and then a stay in Narbonne before returning home gave us daytrip access to Picpoul de Pinet, Collioure and Banyuls, where I wanted to remain.

Highly recommended. Food in Narbonne is spectacular.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/9/2010 7:06:40 AM

I can think of only one place that is not terrribly beautiful, Cadiz. Facinating but not as lovely as other wine regions. Been far too long since I was in France and this post along with Thomas' comment are making me ache to go back....

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