Wine Tasting in France!

France! The home of wine tasting, and quite possibly one of the only countries that offers wine tasting as an actual course option for a study abroad semester. I’m sure you can imagine the speed at which I added that class to my schedule. Did it seem a little ridiculous to spend three hours of my Friday getting graded for my ability to identify certain wine aromas and pair it with certain foods? Yes. But when in France, and when it’s offered, do as the French do and taste some wine.

*I would like to clarify that I did not take this class as an excuse to get drunk on wine at 9am every Friday (we spit the wine back into cups). My main goal was to come back to the U.S. with enough knowledge of wine to be an absolute annoyance to all of my friends and family.*

The class is a three hour course from 9am – 12pm every Friday morning, in which the first hour and a half consists of a slideshow on the chosen wines for that day and the second hour and a half consists of the tasting and food pairing. During the second half of class we are presented with four types of wine from the types that we discussed during the lecture. We are offered an array of food to taste as well that is meant to pair with the wines that day. For example, on the day we tasted Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay we also had fish, chèvre, and asparagus. While on the day we tasted Pinot Noir we ate mushrooms and duck.

Aside from the in-class wine tastings, our class got the chance to tour a local vineyard in Provence. Named Château des Trois Sautets, or, “Castle of the Three Goats,” this vineyard is a very new vineyard, opened in 2020 by three brothers. They welcomed us with open arms, giving us a tour of their vineyard, winemaking rooms, and goat farm. We got to see first hand how the grapes are separated, crushed, and sorted, as well as the vinification tanks in which they ferment, before being led to a beautiful stone patio overlooking the mountain side of Provence.

The rest of our time at the vineyard consisted of us trying the three types of wine they grew. They offered us one white, one rosé, and one red, each consisting of a blend of different grape types. To top it off we were served three types of fresh goat cheeses to pair with the wines, freshly delivered from the goat farm just yards away. After a long, arduous day of wine tasting we walked down the hill back to our bus and were shuttled back to our home city of Aix.

Needless to say, I feel incredibly lucky to spend my Fridays getting trained in the art of wine. You can’t complain about schoolwork when the schoolwork consists of traveling to vineyards in the South of France, although it does slightly make me dread the transition back to the American education system. Despite the fact that I may not be able to continue my career as a sommelier when I return to the U.S., I will at least come back with the ability to pick the perfect bottle of wine to go with any meal (and successfully either impress or annoy whoever’s in my company). 

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Food in French Culture

One of the first things that comes to many people’s minds when thinking of French culture (and one of the many reasons I decided to study abroad in this country) is its excellent cuisine. During my first month of studying in Aix en Provence I have tried many new cafés, restaurants, bars, and recipes in my own home! Whether you’re looking for a coffee and pastry to start your day, a perfect charcuterie board, a fancy dinner, or delicious seafood by the coast, the south of France has more than enough to offer.

Cafés and Patisseries

My favorite way to start my weekdays is with a cappuccino and a croissant from one of my favorite cafés or patisseries (pastry shops). There’s no shortage of these adorable stops in Aix, so the hardest part is finding which one you like the most. My typical stop is Chez Augustine, which is just around the corner from my apartment and typically where I get my daily baguette. Another favorite of mine for when I have more time to sit is Maison Riederer, which specializes in hot chocolate and their delicious pain au chocolats.

However, if you’re ever feeling a bit homesick or just looking for a place to study, my recommendation is Café Lumiere. One of the best places in the city to find good wifi and great iced coffee drinks (a rare find in this city). Owned and run by an American woman, the staff is incredibly welcoming and it can be a comforting feeling to walk into an English speaking business from time to time.

Restaurants in France

One of my favorite parts about French culture is the way that people here find time to enjoy each and every meal, whether that be for themselves or accompanied by friends or family. One of my favorite sit-down spots for breakfast, brunch, or lunch is at La Crêpe Sautière. This awesome crêpe spot located right near my school (IAU) serves the most delicious recipes as well as offering a build your own option. You can find a variety of fun pub/lunch spots located around la Rotonde at the edge of the historic part of the city. These spots serve cocktails, charcuterie, tapas, as well as larger plates of food that work well for lunch or dinner with friends. Some finer dining restaurants such as La Rotonde and Le Piston offer classic French dishes such as steak tartar, escargot, oysters, and more.

Market Shopping and Cooking at Home!

As a student abroad I still have to live on a budget, so eating out for every meal isn’t the most sustainable. Fortunately, Aix hosts a massive market every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, which offers a variety of fresh foods at an affordable price. Since I live in an apartment, my roommates and other students in the building have started a “family dinner night” where we all contribute to the meal and cook together. Just last week we got mussels from the market and made mussel pasta with baguette and a beet salad with goat cheese. Gathering ingredients from the local market and cooking with and for your friends is such a fulfilling experience that has helped me create so many deep bonds in my program.

The culture around food in France is much different than most people experience it in the United States. Here, meals are meant to be a time to relax and connect with people you love, such as friends or family. Meal times are much less flexible, and fast food is not nearly as common. Instead, when you go out around 12-1pm you’ll see every restaurants full, all French students are on breaks with their friends, and families are eating together. In addition to offering a wide array of delicious cultural foods, France has given me a new appreciation for how food is used to create and build connections and establish a more fulfilling way of life (even though I’m perfectly happy keeping my cheese and baguettes all to myself).