AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — The last few days have been quite relaxing, which was much needed after so much studying. On Friday, we had tasting with wines from the Loire Valley, which is located in the more northern part of France with the Loire River running horizontally through the region. Some of the better-known areas here include Pays-Nantais, Anjou, Touraine and Centre-Loire. Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc are the two more common grape varieties of the region. We tasted wines from Vouvray Petillant AC, which is one of the most popular from the Loire Vallet, as well as the ACs of Touraine Amboise, Bourgueil and Coteaux du Layon. For those who don’t know, “AC” refers to “appellation controlee,” or designated regions within the larger area. Vouvray is a well-known sparkling wine, which is made from Chenin Blanc and is light and crisp with more mineral characteristics. The sparklers are always crowd pleasers, but the real showstopper was the Coteaux du Layon from producer Chateau Perre-Bise, a sweet wine also made from Chenin Blanc.

When we had finished the tasting and the cleanup, a small group of us went to an outdoor café for aperitifs before dinner as it was much too early at 6:30 to eat. We found a small Italian-style restaurant near our university campus and first enjoyed a Kir Royale. This is a favorite drink here in France, which includes some champagne added to a splash of crème de cassis. The product is slightly more viscous champagne with a pinkish color and incredible flavor. I recommend it to anyone who has yet to experience its magnificence, especially as an aperitif. I guarantee it will delight your guests at a dinner party. Some of us had gourmet pizza, others pasta, while I enjoyed a lovely chef salad unlike any I had experienced anywhere else. With dinner we drank a Valpolicella from Italy with bold in-your-face flavor and a good strong backbone.

Sunday night was a continuation of the Marseille-Provence cultural celebration. Along the Cours Mirabeau, a main road in the center of Aix, a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra was held on a big stage along with opera singers. One of the better-known pieces was Il Duca di Mantova from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, although all of it was enjoyable, especially since anyone walking by was able to listen for free. While waiting for the show to begin, I talked with a woman I had met who was crammed in next to me. She was from the East Coast and very familiar with where I was from and the town I grew up in. We talked about wine for a while and she gave me her opinion on Washington reds, all of which she adores, especially Carmenere. She agreed with me that there would be a slim chance of meeting a French person who had ever tried a Washington wine, let alone knew where Washington was. Most of the time when I say I’m from Washington people immediately assume D.C., so I make sure to say I’m from Seattle, and most people at least have some idea where that is. I have had much difficulty trying to converse with the French about Washington wine because it’s simply not available here. There is already so much wine in France that they have no need to import. Even wines from nearby Italy and Germany are scarce among the shelves at retailers. It will be interesting to see if Washington wines ever reach the shelves in France.