DAY 120. Our EU Austerity Drinking Tour returns to France, its wine, and fabulous cheese. Why?
Spain wore us out. It was beautiful yet challenging. So our combination of illness, poor Spanish, and budget tightwad-ery pushes us back into France. Now with a return flight, a handful of months remain to tap the rest of Europe’s drink. We leave Valencia for Nîmes:
But not before Barcelona. Worst of all Shakespearean tragedies, Spain had killed my iPod: home to wine notes and fuzzy photos. However, a night back in Barcelona finds it refurbished (obligatory celebratory photo:)
As smooth as our border check, Spain’s vast industrial vineyards transition into smaller French plots. We zip through the Languedoc-Roussillon (another day). By nightfall, we arrive in Nîmes. We dump our bags in a questionable closet for a hotel room and then get lost.
After a handful of dark winding alleys, the city square opens up with the Maison Carrée (“square house”…those creative French!) glowing at its heart.
For us, it foreshadows Provence’s famed raw goat cheese: Romarin:
Au Palais makes this lovely lump infused by aromatic rosemary on top. Its wrinkled skin hides a fluffy white interior. Like the temple, it tastes clean, still fresh, of bright and tart cream, with light hints of chalk and earth. It is fluffy yet serious like the Temple, which these days plays tourist-tastic films about Nîmes’ manliness through the ages. And only 4 Euros (the cheese that is).
Roman fragments pepper every wall of Nîmes like graffiti. Headless eagles, tendrils, and demigods stare at us in the dark. It is late. We head home, planning to sleep in.
But our neighbor’s TV blasts monster truck rallies until 4am. So we sleep in the foyer.
Undeterred, we tour the Roman Amphitheater: France’s last living home to bullfights.
It looks magnificent, preserved by continual use. Of the wines we tried from the region, it came closest to Château Virgile’s Cuvée l’Énéide, from the Costières de Nîmes, France 2009. Only €8.30
This Virgile looks a bold, thin-rimmed ruby. Aromas are proud with mint and cigar followed by black cherry jam. The palate feels dry, with moderate acidity, medium plus, woody tannins, noticed 14% alcohol, and a fuller, medium-plus body. Flavors taste equally powered with black cherry jam on burnt toast, surrounded by mint, salt or chalk, and cigar throughout.
Like Nîmes’ Arena, Virgile is meaty, still ripe, modern, and tidy, but with classic tannic structure and dust. The length is pretty long at this price. Very good (4 of 5).
We spend hours in the Arena’s audio tour, find two millennia-old games carved into it, and wrestle a bronze bull.
Check back next Monday as our adventure into Nîmes’ ancient past and vinous present continues.