Charente is our enemy, Périgord is our friend

Trip Start Jun 01, 2012
Trip End Aug 13, 2012

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Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

As you may have noticed in the last entry, our time in Charente (the area north of Bordeaux where Cognac and Angoulême are) was not entirely successful, culminating in narrowly missing our car (but not us) being involved in an accident.  Unfortunately, things did not improve much in the morning.  After breakfast, we had the receptionist at our hotel call over to to a distillery in Cognac to arrange a tour.  We hadn't originally planned to go to Cognac, but we needed a little break from piles of stone (not that we don't like piles of stone, but we do like variety).  Unfortunately, we had the choice of booking either a tour we just had time to make (11 am) or one that would have required giving up on seeing anything other than Cognac in the day (2 pm).  We opted for the former, but ended up going to the business office of the distillery rather than the tours.  We got directions from a woman working in the office (who seemed to be English), but not good enough ones.  I'm sure you all know that feeling where someone gives you directions, you feel like you understand them perfectly, and then after you've gone two blocks you realize you haven't a clue where you're going.  After about 20 minutes of tromping through the heat, we gave up and left.  Especially annoyingly, we found the tour entrance on the way out (it was only a couple of blocks away from the business office, but we'd gone the wrong direction), but at that point it was too late. 

So, we hit the road; we had actually planned today as a mostly travel day, getting from Angouleme to Sarlat, in Périgord.  Flipping through the book randomly, I hit upon the idea of going to Bergerac to go the vineyards there.  In retrospect, I think this was a much better idea than going to Cognac, since it's obviously better to go somewhere Americans have never heard of (much less competition).  We first went to the "Maison des Vins," a sort of wine tourist office in the middle of town, where we got some (very good) free samples, a couple of nice bottles of wine, and a map of nearby vineyards; after this, we headed south of town to the Montbazillac region, and stopped at 3 wineries there.  Actually, we stopped at the first 3 open ones that we stumbled across; there were dozens more in the area, but actually the constraining factor was the need to sober enough to drive, as well as time.  We had a lot of really good wines.  The area is actually most famous for its syrupy sweet whites, which I enjoy, but Jola is not a fan of; I did manage to get her to admit there was some merit to an especially heavily oaked version, at least an intellectual exercise.  However, we tasted a number of good reds (4 of them good enough to buy bottles of); it's hard for me to describe, as not exactly a wine connoisseur, but I think we actually encountered a lot more interesting and unique flavors than I have tasting in California or Oregon.  I'd definitely recommend it to anyone passing through the region.  (On a side note, this was very cheap by US standards; there was no question of paying to taste, which I've seen many places in California, and a few in Oregon, and we averaged 7 euros per bottle of wine, while definitely not buying the cheapest available; excellent for cheapskates like myself and Jola).

When we realized we couldn't take anymore, we headed to our hotel in Sarlat, and did the usual settling in, heading into town for dinner, which was only notable in that it featured a goose gizzard salad (goose gizzard is a Périgordian specialty; Jola had in in her "périgordien" soufflé back in Angers, and I had "périgordien" gizzard sandwich yesterday).  It seems that France is always digging up new animal parts for me to eat (andouilette being old hat at this point).  Now, I think I'll head to bed; we need to get up in the morning and try to get cave tickets....
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