Traditional recipes

Warm Winter Ruins Ice Wine

Warm Winter Ruins Ice Wine

Abnormally high temperatures have basically ruined this year's crop

Wikimedia/Dominic Rivard

Ice wine is made from grapes that freeze on the vine, but this year temperatures have been too high to freeze anything.

While parts of the U.S. are currently experiencing weather so cold that people have been amusing themselves by creating snow by throwing pots of boiling water in the air, some German vintners would kill for a bit of that cold temperature action, because the abnormally warm winter has all but ruined this year's ice wine crop.

Ice wine, or eiswein, is a sweet, specialty German dessert wine that is made from grapes that have literally frozen on the vine during the winter. But according to The Local, this year temperatures have not been low enough for the grapes to freeze, so the grapes are just sitting there, unfrozen and useless.

Last year's cold weather in Germany was perfect for ice wine, with several German producers taking a risk and leaving more grapes than usual to freeze. The cold snap came through, and last year's ice wine crop was huge. This year, however, the whole crop has basically been ruined.

A small cold snap came in at the end of November, so according to The Local a handful of producers might have some ice wine, but otherwise it has been a very bad year for winemakers.

“We can’t rule out that individual winemakers still have grapes on the vine," said a spokesperson for the German Wine Institute, "but they will be the absolute exception.”


A Warm Winter Left Germany Unable to Produce Its Famed Ice Wines

Known for their uniquely sweet flavor, ice wines are a prized treat made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vine. The viticultural tradition originated around 200 years ago in Germany, which remains a top producer of the drink. But this winter, according to David McHugh of the Associated Press, the country’s ice wine output has been drastically compromised by unseasonably warm temperatures.

The German Wine Institute announced this week that just one winery—Zimmerle, located in the region of Württemberg—had managed to harvest a batch of ice wine. "Beyond that, we are not aware of any other winemaker from one of the 13 German wine regions, who managed to produce ice wine in this mild winter,” said the institute's Ernst Büscher. As far as experts know, 2019 marks the first vintage, or harvest year, in German history with such a low yield.

Frost-covered silvaner grapes hang on the vine in Nordheim am Main, Germany, on November 30, 2016. (Photo by Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Image)

Allowing grapes to freeze on the vine concentrates their flavors, leading to a delicious dessert beverage. But making ice wines is a finicky process. The grapes have to be picked when temperatures drop below 19 degrees Fahrenheit if left too long, however, they might start to thaw and rot, which dilutes their juices. Winemakers have to be prepared to harvest the grapes within a few hours of temperatures dropping to the right range. During picking season, which can fall anywhere between December and February “producers . have a small army of workers ready to harvest hard grapes in the dark at a moment’s notice,” explains Atlas Obscura.

This year, however, the weather in Germany simply did not get cold enough in most of the country’s wine regions. “[T]he required minimum temperature . was not reached," the German Wine Institute said.

The yield of the 2019 vintage was exceptionally low the lone successful harvest in Württemberg produced less than 100 liters of wine. But this is not the first time that temperate weather has confounded the efforts of Germany’s ice wine producers. Only seven winemakers managed to produce the sweet stuff during the 2017 vintage. “Before that, the winter of 2014-2015 was so mild that ice wine from the 2014 vintage is also an absolute rarity,” Büscher said, adding that the output of the 2013 vintage was low, too.

A group hurries to harvest ice wine grapes near Grossheringen, Germany in January 2014, one of the lowest yield vintages prior to 2019. (Photo by Michael Reichel/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Germany certainly does seem to be heading towards warmer winters, says Peter Hoffmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research to the New York Times’ Christopher F. Schuetze. This winter, in fact, marked the second-mildest since record keeping began in 1881. “It could be an anomaly,” Hoffmann says, “but the longer you observe, the clearer the trend for warmer winter temperatures stands out.”

Shifting temperatures threaten to adversely impact the country in a number of ways, including the melting of Alpine glaciers, increased precipitation during winters and increasingly dry summers. Heat and drought conditions put Germany’s crops at risk—including, perhaps, ice wine grapes. Because it is difficult to produce, ice wine is already an expensive commodity. “If the warm winters accumulate in the next few years, ice wines from the German wine regions will soon become even more of a precious rarity than they already are,” Büscher says.

Employees of the Freyburg Winegrowers' Association in Freyburg-Müncheroda harvest frozen grapes in frosty temperatures in January 2019. By the end of 2019, however, temperatures did not reach the required minimum for harvesting. (Photo by Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Ice wine is no longer a uniquely German speciality Canada is now the largest producer of ice wine in the world, though its industry is also threatened by climate change. Still, “the most famous (and expensive)” ice wines continue to hail from Germany, according to the Times. Whether the country will be able to keep producing its famed alcoholic delicacy is now uncertain.

"In [the] future,” Büscher tells CBC Radio, “maybe you don't have any ice wine anymore."

“[P]roducers . have a small army of workers ready to harvest hard grapes in the dark at a moment’s notice,” explains Atlas Obscura. (Photo by Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images)


How Long Can Your Groceries Sit In A Hot Car Without Making You Sick?

There are plenty of things that make running errands in warm weather really nice. Like, not feeling as if your face is going to freeze off while you hustle from your car to the store. And not having to worry about snow, ice, or sleet turning all the roads and parking lots into a complete mess.

One thing that's not so nice? Hot temperatures mean all that food you just bought at the supermarket is basically a ticking time bomb for harmful bacteria growth. (Put those groceries to good use with the 180+ recipes in Prevention's Eat Clean, Lose Weight & Love Every Bite&mdashtry it FREE for 21 days!)

Before you start rolling your eyes and muttering something about the food safety police, consider this: You'd obviously never store groceries in a metal box that's sitting out in the summer sun, right? But when you pack your bags in the car, that's exactly what you're doing. On hot, sunny days, the temperature inside your car can soar to as high as 172 degrees, according to the CDC. Not exactly ideal for stuff like meat, fish, chicken, or dairy. (Pushed your luck? Here are 4 signs you have food poisoning.)

Of course, that number will start to drop once you open your windows or crank up the air conditioning. But the inside of your car still be more than warm enough for nasty bugs that could potentially make you sick to start flourishing on your food.

Exactly how long do you have before that pack of chicken cutlets or quart of milk starts to go south? The answer depends on where you live and what the weather is like, says Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of the nonprofit public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness. Still, the specifics are almost beside the point. "Heat is a good medium for bacteria growth, so you want to minimize it as much as you can. The less time you have between shopping and going home, the better," she says. (These are the 9 foods most likely to make you sick.)

That means no stopping off at the bank or wandering into the wholesale club after you're done at the market. "If you need to make other stops, do those before you go to the grocery store," Schlunegger says. (You know what would make your life a lot easier? Grocery shopping online.)

It also means being smart about shopping for and packing up your groceries. In the store, get into the habit of sweeping through the meat and dairy aisles last, to ensure that those items spend the least amount of time in your cart. Once you reach the checkout counter, pack the cold items in an insulated bag with an ice pack. If you have a long ride home, it might even be worth storing your stuff in a cooler to keep it extra chilled, says Schlunegger. (Looking for less waste? This is what a package-free grocery store looks like.)

Once you reach the car, put your bags inside the passenger area, Schlunegger recommends. Even if you don't use the AC, it'll still be infinitely cooler than your furnace of a trunk. Then head straight home and get everything into the refrigerator or freezer ASAP.

Sure, this might feel a little hypervigilant. But it sure beats getting food poisoning. (And if you do end up getting sick, here's how to recover fast.)


Delicate German Riesling’s are perfect as an aperitif, while the young New World styles go well with dishes such as Thai green curry and chicken korma. On a sweeter note, try delicate sweet versions with apple crumble, and save the sweetest to drink with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Drink dry styles with goat’s cheese, as the French do with ‘Sancerre’. If you have a sweet bottle, in Bordeaux, the classic match is foie gras. Or, try creamy blue cheese, or caramelised peaches or plums.


7 Winter Music Festivals For Escaping The Cold

Head to a warm destination this winter to escape the cold and see performances by some of the top names in electronic dance music. From Fiji to Miami and Tulum to the Dominican Republic, there are multiple music festivals taking place this winter in various tropical spots. Dance on beaches and forget the snow at any of these seven music festivals happening over the coming months.

Your Paradise Fiji. Courtesy of My Media Sydney.

Dance to some of the top names in electronic dance music while enjoying white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. Hosted at Malolo Lailai in the Mamanucas Islands from December 6 through December 12, Your Paradise Fiji fuses resort life with music festival culture. This year’s lineup boasts acclaimed acts such as A-Trak, What So Not, AC Slater, Gorgon City and Mija. At the resort, attendees have the options to surf, dive, snorkel or simply relax on the beach. The festival is limited to 600 spots, allowing for an intimate music festival experience.

Rakastella. Courtesy of Lauren Morell.

Located on the shores of Miami’s historic Virginia Key Beach Park is Rakastella, a 16 hour music festival. The event will take place on December 7 during Art Basel, and it will boast German house innovator Motor City Drum Ensemble’s Miami debut. The lineup also includes techno favorites such as Dixon, DJ Tennis and Âme. This year’s event will feature new immersive amenities including hi-fi tea garden, hors d’oeuvres at sunset and lighting design by Montreal’s Iregular.

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FriendShip. Courtesy of Rukes.

Set sail on the Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas for four days and nights of dancing on a boat and on a private island. FriendShip, which sails from Miami to CocoCay in the Bahamas, will host the likes of artists such as Boyz Noize, GRiZ, Jack Beats and Ducky. In addition to music, festival goers can also enjoy curated events such as Ice Disco on the boat’s ice rink, Ship-Teese with Dita Von Teese, comedy performances and theme nights. The event was founded by Gary Richards, who is also known by his DJ alias DESTRUCTO.

Day Zero. Courtesy of Juliana Bernstein.

Take refuge to Tulum, Mexico to escape the cold and dance this January at Day Zero. The festival, curated by Damian Lazarus, is a nod to the ancient Mayan traditions as the inaugural event was held on December 21, 2012—the day some considered to be the end of the world because it was the final date on the Mayan calendar. Day Zero will take place on January 10 in the upcoming year and it will host top talent such as Black Coffee, Ellen Allien and Bedouin.

Holy Ship! Wrecked. Courtesy of Rukes.

Escape the cold this January by dancing on the beaches of the Dominican Republic. Holy Ship! Wrecked by HARD Events, Cloud 9 Adventures and The Bowery Presents is coming to land for the first time, and it will take place at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana from January 22 through January 26 in 2020. The festival will takeover the all-inclusive resort for four days and nights of music. This year’s lineup highlights include Diplo, Claude VonStroke, Chris Lake and Madeon.

CRSSD Festival. Courtesy of Juliana Bernstein.

Enjoy views of Downtown San Diego’s Waterfront Park this March at CRSSD Festival. The event fuses Southern California culture with dance music’s underground roots. This year’s lineup for the March 7 and March 8 event hasn’t been announced yet, but the September rendition of the event hosted the likes of Anna Lunoe, Fisher, Hot Chip and more. Dance to underground electronic music while taking in views of “America’s Finest City” this winter.

SXM Festival. Courtesy of SXM Festival.

Travel to a Caribbean island this March to escape the cold and dance on the beaches of Saint Martin. Taking place from March 11 through March 15, the music festival spans a private beach, VIP villas, nightclubs and a jungle venue. In addition to watches performances by acts such as Bedouin, Blond:ish and YokoO, attendees can also enjoy an array of food and drink vendors, shop at boutiques, observe art installations and indulge in wellness activities, such as massages and yoga.


4. Manchester, VT

The nearby Bromley and Stratton mountains translates into cool, shady days in Manchester, Vermont—perfect for alpine slides and Bromley fun zone zip lines in the summer, and skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in winter. Plus, there are plenty of shady hikes at Equinox Mountain (the tallest in the Taconic range) and on the Long Trail, which is part of the Appalachian trail. There’s also nearby fly fishing at Orvis.

Where to stay: Check into a historic guest room at Wilburton Inn, or at one of the inn’s seven vacation properties (including a 15-room mansion that sleeps 34 guests—perfect for big family reunions).


When Vine Protection Is Necessary

Bud break is crucial to grape development, and it's the time when the vine is most susceptible to frost damage. You must understand the growth characteristics of your cultivar at the outset. Some areas see buds in late April, and they are resilient to temperatures that dip below 32 F. However, as the buds swell and develop, they become less tolerant of the cold, and by the time “green” appears on the buds, they cannot survive a frost and the crop will be damaged.

Choosing a cultivar with a late “bud break” protects your crop from frost damage. But the variety you’ve chosen must also have time to ripen. A spring frost may kill the first buds, but a second spurt of budding may occur. This diminishes the quantity and quantity of the crop and weakens the cultivar against future frosts. Overall temperatures between 77 and 90 F are optimal for successful grape growth, according the Grape Growers Handbook.


The Sultry Beauty: Cartagena, Colombia

As a trickling stream of international travelers rediscovers a more peaceful Colombia, Cartagena has become South America's worst-kept secret. "Word of mouth has been a powerful tool in promoting Cartagena as a hot emotional brand," says Latin fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi, who recast a 250-year-old mansion into the city's newest luxury digs, the seven-room Tcherassi Hotel Spa. "But it's not a flavor-of-the-month destination. The spirit is unparalleled. Each corner, each street, each plaza has a magic and unique story to tell." Preserved by a seven-mile ring of 500-year-old fortress walls, this colonial city of domed churches, courtyards, and bougainvillaea-covered balconies glows in the original colors that once lay hidden under centuries of whitewash: ochre, fuchsia, canary yellow. You'll find its crooked streets confounding—they were reputedly designed to befuddle marauding buccaneers—as you weave past the vallenato musicians, cumbia dancers, and hip-swaying ladies selling papayas from baskets balanced atop their heads. It's a modern-day version of Pirates of the Caribbean, except the dungeons have been converted into craft stores and the 17th-century convents are now chic hotels, such as the Sofitel Santa Clara, which offers what all hotels should consider: a confessional. Evenings start at the many alfresco cafés offering bold fusions of Old and New World cuisines, and end in Getsemani, the former slave quarter, where nightclubs roll till morning. If it's all too much, make like a pirate and escape to Islas del Rosario, a national park of 43 islands one-hour offshore by boat, where smart eco-hotels like Hotel San Pedro de Majagua offer the kind of tranquility you can slice with a cutlass. The High: Tour the city after sunset on the open-air Chiva bus, a real fiesta-on-wheels. The Low: You may find some assertiveness training helpful in keeping street touts at bay.


Road Trip through the Rhône Valley

The Rhône Valley is a place of remarkable beauty and astonishing diversity, a patchwork landscape woven together by a common thread: its legendary wines. Jennifer Ladonne gets a taste of the area between Lyon and Avignon

Giving oneself just a week to cover the Rhône Valley – or at least the incredibly varied 140-mile stretch between Lyon and Avignon – is potentially a fool’s errand. My ideal week off here would be to hunker down in a village and decide each morning where to explore. So covering this entire area, which spans seven départements and encompasses must-see sites dating from prehistory to the present day, in only seven days, would leave no time for wandering.

Lyon is the ultimate gastronomic destination. Photo: Shutterstock

I decided to focus on the Drôme, the Ardèche and the Vaucluse, all reliably gorgeous and packed with things to do and places to see. And, as this is one of France’s great wine regions, it made sense to make wine a guiding theme, with side visits to some far-flung spots I’d never seen, like the city of Valence, Chauvet Cave and a secluded eco-resort near Châteauneuf-du-Pape with cabins on a lake (literally). So, with a crazy itinerary in hand, I set off on my adventure.

A vineyard tour in the region. Photo: Cave de Tain

With all there is to see here, the Rhône Valley is a place where you can speed up or slow down. Distances are short. You can motor quickly from town to town via the A7 autoroute or the mythical route du Soleil, the N7, which every July for almost a century was clogged with hordes of French holidaymakers on their way south to the coast. Or you can choose a region, or theme – wine and food, Roman ruins, vineyard hikes or biking, for example – and follow narrow country lanes through sleepy perched villages, stopping at your leisure to explore ramparts, a church, a château or a provincial market to sample the local fare.

The belfry of Séguret and its one-handed clock. Photo: Shutterstock

CULINARY RESURGENCE

Paris may now own the distinction of ‘gastronomic capital of France’, but Lyon, as the ancient crossroads for the country’s great wines and cuisines, is where the grand French traditions took root. Lyon still nurtures its famous bouchons – family-owned establishments, often in a home and typically headed by women, where the city’s silk workers could get a hearty, reasonably priced meal, washed down with the local vin de Bourgogne. Nowadays, dining here is an exuberant adventure, as Lyon emerges from Paris’s shadow in a scintillating culinary resurgence fuelled by passionate young chefs. The new restaurants are often casual and laid-back, with the emphasis placed squarely on the food. Dinner at Les Apothicaires is the perfect case in point. Here, husband and wife team Ludovic and Tabata Mey create an eight-course “liberated and sincere” menu that plays with textures, temperatures and flavour pairings: the crunch of rose petals and sea salt on beetroot, or white beans paired with smoked eel and velvety cubes of bone marrow and sparks of lemon thyme.

Ludovic and Tabata Mey. Photo: Nicolas Villion

Many of Lyon’s chefs are not native-born but were looking for a less stressful lifestyle than they had in Paris. At Le Kitchen Café, you’ll find Swedish chef Connie Zagora and her pastry chef husband Laurent Ozan, who worked in top kitchens in Paris, Bordeaux and Arles before settling in Lyon. “We were looking for a nice place to live,” they told me. “Lyon is calm, beautiful, and has an airport nearby.” What’s more, “In the last three to five years, Lyon has become one of the most interesting cities for gastronomy”. The restaurant’s gourmet lunch is wildly popular, so you must book ahead.

A steep hillside emblazoned with a banner for Michel Chapoutier. Photo: Shutterstock

HILLSIDE VINEYARDS

The steep hillside vineyards bordering the tiny town of Tain-l’Hermitage, on the banks of the Rhône, an hour’s train ride from Lyon, are emblazoned with banners for Michel Chapoutier, Paul Jaboulet and other Côtes du Rhône giants.

A household name in France, Chapoutier is a seventh-generation winemaker whose vineyards cover most of the Rhône Valley, as well as the great Côtes du Rhône appellations lining both sides of the river – Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Péray. He is also a pioneer of biodynamic wines, an ecologically-sound method of cultivation that abstains from chemicals and encourages a healthy ecosystem.

Chapoutier is a major presence in Tain-l’Hermitage, with a tasting room and wine boutique and Le Marius Bistro, a fine place for lunch or dinner after your dégustation, all on the main street, a few minutes’ walk from the train station. Tastings are always private and free of charge for up to five people, but you can also participate in one of several workshops offered, pairing wine and food or focusing on Chapoutier’s exclusive grands vins.

The wine cooperative Cave de Tain, whose wines are vying with those of the top producers, will take you on a tour of their winery with explanations of the wines and winemaking process and a tasting afterwards. The sprawling boutique is an excellent place to stock up on wines, which can be shipped anywhere.

Chocolate and wine at Cave de Tain

Wine and chocolate tastings are on offer at all the major houses, as Tain is also the home of Valrhona chocolate (‘Val’ as in valley, ‘rhona’ as in Rhône), which was founded here in 1922. The globally celebrated brand is France’s number-one premium chocolate and is the one used by most French pastry chefs and chocolatiers.

A chocolate lover’s dream, the Cité du Chocolat excels in interactive activities for adults and kids to discover what chocolate is all about: where it comes from and how to taste and appreciate it – with all the free samples you can eat. Kids and parents can participate in hands-on workshops on chocolate and pastry-making and afterwards dine in the café (on a savoury and sweet all-chocolate menu), and then go crazy in the boutique.

Exploring Valence’s picturesque side streets is a must. Photo: CRESPEAU – Valence Romans Tourisme

CELEBRITY CHEF

Say “Valence” to a French person and they’ll invariably reply, “Anne-Sophie Pic”. Such is the status of this daughter of the Rhône, the only woman in France to hold three Michelin stars and the head of an ever-growing culinary empire. Though Pic now has restaurants in Lausanne, Paris and London, she cooks every night in the kitchen of her eponymous Valence restaurant, a rarity for a celebrity chef, and a major reason to go.

Panoramic view of Valence. ©Valence Romans Tourisme

Pic’s plush gastronomic restaurant, luxury hotel and suave gourmet bistro reside together on an unalluring street in central Valence. This is the restaurant’s historic address it was opened here by her grandfather in 1936, when the street was on the old N7, so holidaymakers could easily stop in on their way south. Don’t be alarmed by the entrance: to walk through these doors is to enter a parallel universe, complete with luxuriant gardens and elegant hushed rooms that speak of Pic’s 90-year-old legacy as the daughter and granddaughter of legendary chefs. A short way down the street you’ll find Pic’s gourmet épicerie and cooking school, Scook, which offers sophisticated wine and food tastings and classes for all cooking levels.

Chef Anne-Sophie Pic

Pic is not the only gastronomic reason to head to Valence. I had one of the best meals of my trip at Flaveurs, where Michelin-starred chef Baptiste Poinot is creating dishes of extraordinary subtlety and sophistication. Poinot’s intimate restaurant is set in Valence’s medieval old town. This is an area well worth an afternoon’s exploration for its cobbled streets lined with Renaissance and medieval buildings, leafy, café-strewn square and market (and local farmers’ market on Tuesday evenings) not to mention the newly-renovated museum offering a fine Roman collection and 360-degree views of the Rhône Valley from its upper terraces.

Montélimar nougat. Photo: Shutterstock

About 30 miles south of Valence, Montélimar, the land of the famous almond-and-pistachio-laden nougat (where you can stop for an hour or two to visit Arnaud Soubeyran’s museum, factory, boutique and café), is called the northern doorway to Provence. The Drôme Provençale, just above Provence’s Vaucluse département, has one of France’s loveliest landscapes, dotted with sleepy medieval villages, vineyards and the foothills of the Alps to the east.

Nyons olives. Photo: Shutterstock

If you have time for just one village in the Drôme, make it Grignan, whose creamy white buildings rise like an apparition above rolling vineyards and lavender fields that explode with colour in late June and July. The Château de Grignan, the beautifully restored 17th-century home of the daughter of Madame de Sévigné, the renowned letter writer, tops the village. Another excellent reason for stopping – and staying – is Le Clair de la Plume, one of the area’s great ‘hotels of charm’, with an outdoor eco-pool, a superb Michelin- starred table and the best breakfast to be had anywhere. Just a bit further inland, the town of Nyons, which is chiefly famous for its deliciously mellow black olives, offers a vibrant farmers’ market and the Vignolis cooperative, where you’ll find all the Rhône’s Grignan-les-Adhémar appellations: Vinsobres, Visan, Suze-la-Rousse and the sparkling Clairette de Die – plus gourmet olive oils and other local specialities.

The world’s oldest known prehistoric art at the Chauvet Cave. Photo: ©L. Clara

PREHISTORIC PAINTINGS

In 1994, three speleologists discovered a cave harbouring prehistoric paintings that date back 32,000 years, making these the oldest in the world. Having learned the lessons of Lascaux, which suffered irreversible damage during its 15 years open to the public, Chauvet, which is named after its principal discoverer Jean-Marie Chauvet, was immediately sealed off to all but a handful of scientists and scholars, who are allowed limited access twice a year. It took more than a decade to create Chauvet II, which also benefited from the lessons of Lascaux.

The Caverne du Pont-d’Arc’s wooded grounds were designed to leave the lightest footprint possible on the natural landscape. Once you descend into Chauvet II’s dark interiors it’s easy to forget that this is a facsimile, as the remarkably expressive paintings come vividly to life under lighting meant to recreate the flickering torchlight used by the original artists. It is a moving experience, though the cave itself poses more questions than anyone will ever answer. (Werner Herzog, the only filmmaker to gain a few hours’ access to the cave, made the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams – useful viewing before you make your visit.)

Le Pont d’Arc is a natural formation in the Gorges d’Ardèche, a short distance from the Chauvet Cave. Photo: L. CLARA

From Chauvet II you can visit nearby Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge, and enjoy lunch at the Auberge La Farigoule (be sure to try a red wine and chestnut aperitif and, if you happen by in the winter months, the all-truffle menu, including an omelette, salad and truffle-flecked ice cream). For your perched village x, 12th-century Saint-Montan is a lovely short drive away through scrubby garrigue.

Seventh-generation winemaker Raphaël Pommier and his American wife, Rachel, play up the Chauvet theme with tastings of their award-winning organic wines in a soaring cave near their vineyard in Bourg-Saint-Andéol. Raphaël is an engaging host and raconteur his passion for the wines and terroir is utterly contagious. Raphaël and Rachel offer a range of local experiences for individuals and families at the vineyard, Notre Dame de Cousignac, plus a restaurant and an adorable B&B. Butting up against the Drôme, across the Rhône from the Ardèche, Provence’s Vaucluse is another département that demands exploration, beginning with Vaison-la-Romaine, a town as famous for its elegant Roman bridge and ruins as for its Tuesday morning market, one of the region’s largest.

The Château de Grignan, one of the finest in France

Across the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range begins another, more arid, microclimate whose limestone soils and abundant sunshine produce the gorgeous Grenache-based reds of Gigondas and the sweet Beaumes-de-Venise nectars.

On a four-wheel-drive tour of the terrain above Beaumes-de-Venise, I am reminded once again of why this particular part of Provence grabs my heart: a cloudless, electric-blue sky against the bleached mountains and ruddy gold earth, the leafless black grapevines of late March skewering up with all the fervent life of a Van Gogh painting.

Expertly manoeuvring on this craggy, steep terrain, Claude Chabran, President of the Beaumes-de-Venise cooperative Rhonéa (a great place to taste and buy local wines and other produce), explained how this rocky, upside-down terrain is like no other in the Rhône Valley: “Under the pressure of sediments below, the limestone slabs pushed up vertically, creating the Dentelles. The sediments that were below rose to the surface and the sediments on the surface are now deep. This is the specificity of the region.”

Aerial view of the charming and sophisticated village of Gigonda

DISTINCT CHARACTER

To highlight the uniqueness of each terroir and microclimate – of which there are dozens in the Rhône Valley, varying by such precise factors as elevation, exposure, angle of slope, etc. – at Rhonéa you can taste the distinct character of three red Beaumes-de-Venise from side-by-side terroirs and, of course, the golden, perfumed Beaumes-de-Venise, a sweet fortified wine made from the Muscat grape, one of the oldest Rhône Valley varietals, beloved of the medieval French popes. A 15-minute drive takes me to the village of Gigondas, a rare mix of charm and sophistication, mostly bestowed by its art gallery and perched tasting room in a medieval stone building, and its superb gastronomic restaurant, L’Oustalet, which won its first Michelin star in February. At an all-truffle lunch with local winemaker Pierre Amadieu, we had the great fortune to sample chef Laurent Deconinck’s exquisite Mediterranean cuisine, including the first asparagus of the season, followed by a sublime dish of melt-in-your-mouth veal and sweetbreads, all complemented by Amadieu’s superb Gigondas reds, whites and rosés.

Gigondas’s lovely shaded square, which embraces L’Oustalet’s outdoor terrace, is the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. The village is also an ideal starting or stopping point for a hike or bike ride along the many vineyard trails, and the town’s central spring provides cool, drinkable water.

It’s worthwhile stopping in at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, about 15 miles away, if only for a tasting at one of the many estates (the highly-respected Domaine Pierre Usseglio, right in town, is a good choice) as well as the Vinadea boutique, where you can taste and purchase the region’s top appellations. Maison Brotte, the wine museum, is also worth a visit for all you need to know about Côtes du Rhône wines.

Alternative accommodation at the eco-friendly resort of Coucoo Grands Cépages. Photo: @C. Rodriguez

Arriving at Coucoo Grands Cépages at 6pm was both a blessing (hallelujah, I found it!) and a curse, once I took in the beauty of the place and realised I had about four waking hours to spend there.

Set back off a residential road just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a code gets you through a motorised gate leading to a parking lot where you leave your car and forget about it for however long you have the pleasure of staying.

The resort’s 15 secluded, eco-friendly cabanes, designed for couples or families, are clustered around a lake – two or three are actually on the water, reached by a walkway or boat – and surrounded by tall pampas grass and trees, so you barely see your neighbours. The lake is ringed by a gravel road, and hiking trails take you through the garrigue terrain or to the ozone swimming pool. Breakfast is included in the price and all meals (healthy, Provençal or gourmet with or without wine) are brought directly to your cabane by golf cart at your appointed hour.

All the cabanes are beautifully designed to best accommodate the Mediterranean climate and offer either a hot tub or sauna. Relaxing on my terrace, watching the sunset over the lake deepen from the colour of an old Beaumes-de-Venise to a fiery fuchsia, seemed like a fitting close to a journey that had served mainly to whet my appetite for more.

SIDEBAR: WHAT TO SEE IN AN AFTERNOON IN AVIGNON

It is best known for its bridge, but I never tire of Avignon, as few small cities in France are as generously endowed. Encircled by the best-preserved ramparts in France and crowned by the Palais des Papes, home of the 14th-century French popes, it’s an all-around impressive sight. Add to that a handful of world-class museums, the incomparable Avignon Theatre Festival and an enviable foodie scene and, well… You see what I mean.

The medieval Pont d’Avignon. Photo: Shutterstock

Wine lovers should head straight to the Carré du Palais, where all the great Rhône Valley appellations are available by the bottle or the glass, paired with meals or delicious small plates of cheese or charcuterie. A few weeks of dining out would not exhaust the gastronomic options here and the overflowing Halles d’Avignon central food market would tempt anyone to rent a farmhouse and dine à la maison.

But with only one afternoon to spend here, I must content myself with a visit to
the Collection Lambert, one of my very favourite contemporary art centres in France, and a walk through the golden-hued old town in the late afternoon light before heading to the train station.


12 Reasons Why Your Venison Tastes Like Hell

I’m often amazed at the people, deer hunters included, who tell me they just don’t like venison. That statement is usually followed by a qualifier: it’s tough it’s gamy it’s dry. And so on.

I’ve eaten a lot of good deer meat. But I’ve eaten some really bad deer meat, too. I’m only a self-trained butcher, but I’ve been processing five to six deer a season for the better part of 20 years. When it comes to cooking, I’m no Scott Leysath or Michael Pendley, either, but my wife, kid, and I do eat venison in some form two or three meals per week, year-round. I think we eat pretty good.

Some things consistently make venison really tasty. And some things will ruin the flavor, too. Here are a dozen of the worst offenders.

1. Poor Field Care

In the real world of hunting, things happen. We all make bad shots on occasion. And while we know not to “push” a deer that’s been hit marginally, realize that the longer it takes for the animal to die and the farther it runs, the more adrenaline and lactic acid builds up in the animal’s system and muscles. Ever had a glass of good-tasting acid? I didn’t think so.

The faster a deer hits the ground and can be field-dressed, the better the meat will be. Some of the best-tasting deer I’ve ever had have been shot in the head with a gun. The animal is killed instantly, and the meat is uncontaminated by blood and entrails from the chest cavity. That said, head shots are risky. The lungs remain the best place to aim.

2. Failure to Cool Quickly

Internal bacteria rapidly takes over after death, expelling gases and causing the animal to bloat. That’s the first step in decomposition. This process is accelerated in warm weather. Learn how to field-dress a deer, and get to it ASAP. Removing those organs is the first step in cooling the animal down.

On a cold night — in the mid-30s or lower — a deer can be left hanging skin-on overnight. In especially cold weather, some hunters like to age a deer in such a manner for several days (more on aging in a bit). I live in a warm climate, and most of the deer I shoot in a season’s time are during early bow season, so I don’t have that luxury. When I find my deer and get it field-dressed, I plan on having it skinned, quartered and on ice within the hour.

3. Shooting the Wrong Deer

Modern deer hunters are in tune with deer herd management. We’ve learned of practices that contribute to the health of a herd, including which deer to shoot. Given the chance, most of us want to shoot a mature buck with big antlers. Me included.

Old bucks are perfectly edible but rarely the best. Muscles get tougher with use and stringy with age. An old buck that’s spent a full autumn fighting, rubbing, scraping, and chasing does will be lean. Expect chewy steaks. Same thing goes for an old doe that’s burned all her summertime calories producing milk to nurse fawns. I usually make hamburger, sausage, and jerky out of such animals.

For steaks, you can’t beat a young, crop-fed deer. Deer that spend a summer munching on corn and soybeans have an easier life — and more fattening food sources — than those that spend a lifetime wandering the big timber in search of scattered mast and browse. The tastiest venison I’ve ever eaten came from a 1 1/2-year-old forkhorn shot through the neck near a picked cornfield during early bow season.

That young deer had nothing to do all summer except get fat. Am I saying to whack every young buck that walks by? No. But I am saying if a deer for the freezer is your goal, young bucks from the early season are usually good eating and have more meat than does to boot. If you want to shoot one and it’s legal, go for it. You don’t owe anyone an apology.

4. Failure to Age / Purge

I’ve been told that aging venison on ice is a mistake, but I don’t buy it.**

The mercury rises above 50 degrees on most days of deer season in my area. That’s too warm to let a deer hang, so icing them down is my only option. I line the bottom of a cooler with a layer of ice, add my deer quarters on top of that, and then cover them with more ice.

I keep the cooler in the shade with the drain plug open and on a downhill incline. That’s very important. The idea is to let the ice slowly melt and drain from the cooler. This not only keeps the meat cold, but purges an amazing amount of blood from it. Do this for at least two days, checking the ice a couple of times per day in especially warm weather. (Note: If you do this without a drain plug, you’ll get the opposite effect — deer quarters that are essentially marinated in bloody, dirty water. Does that sound tasty? Didn’t think so.)

5. Dirty Knives and Power Saws

A deer’s legs are held together just like yours: with ball-and-socket joints and connective tissue. Learn where these are, and you can cut an entire skinned deer apart within minutes with a good pocketknife. Laying into a deer’s legs and spine with a power saw puts bone marrow, bone fragments, and whatever mess was on the saw blade into your venison. Would you season your steak with bone fragments and wood shavings? Didn’t think so.

I keep three sharp knives handy when I’m cleaning a deer. One is for field-dressing. This one will be a stout knife with a drop point for prying through bone. Another is for skinning. Though a skinning blade with a gut hook is nice to have, I’ve been using a long-bladed fillet knife the last couple of seasons, and it works beautifully. These knives can be honed to a razor’s edge and quickly resharpened. Other than quickly dulling a knife’s edge by slicing through hair, skinning is not taxing on a knife’s blade, so a flexible fillet knife works fine. Finally, I swap over to another knife — again, with a heavier blade — for my quartering. The point to take from all this is to keep your knives separate so you reduce contamination of the meat with blood and hair.

6. Poor Trimming

Unlike beef fat, deer fat does not taste good. Neither does the sinew, silver skin, and other connective tissues holding the various muscle groups together. Venison, whether destined for steaks or hamburger, should be trimmed free of anything that’s not rich, red meat.

7. Burger Is Too Lean

Ironically, because fat needs to be trimmed away for the best flavor, venison often becomes too lean for hamburger purposes. Patties made for grilled double cheeseburgers often fall apart soon after hitting the hot grate. The solution is to add some fat, either beef or pork, when you’re grinding venison. We use cheap bacon, mixed at a rate of 5:1 (5 pounds of venison per pound of bacon). It makes our patties stick together, and the bacon adds a great flavor.

8. Using a Cut-Rate Processor

Some commercial deer processors do a great job. But some do not. I once took a deer to a processor, filled out my paperwork, and watched him disappear to the freezer room. He weighed my animal and returned with a corresponding amount of packaged, frozen venison. “We mix all our meat together and package a lot of burger at once,” he said.

For all I knew, the deer I was getting could’ve been gut-shot, left to hang in 90-degree heat, and then dragged along a blacktop road en route to the processor. No thanks. Insist on getting your own deer back when you have processing work done.

9. Marinade Problems

“First, soak for 48 hours in Italian dressing …”

It’s enough to make a venison lover cringe. Look, Italian dressing and BBQ sauce taste fine, but you’d better be a ravenous fan of them if you’re using them to soak venison steaks for two days. At the end of those two days, your steaks will taste just like … Italian dressing or BBQ sauce.

There’s nothing wrong with a little splash of flavor enhancement, but try lighter flavors that complement the flavor of deer meat, and keep the marinade time short. My usual maximum is three or four hours. A favorite marinade for grilled venison steaks is a mixture of olive oil, a spoonful of balsamic vinegar, a spoonful of Worcestershire sauce, some minced garlic (with the juice), a squirt of mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.

10. Cooked Too Cool, for Too Long

Venison recipes, especially grilled recipes, often call for removing the meat after a couple of minutes per side. For many, the result of that is “This is raw and gross.” And so they place it back on the grill. After a while, it turns gray, chewy, dry … and still gross.

Grilled venison is best when eaten with a medium-rare interior, but the outside needs to be cooked. In order to do that, your grill needs to be hot enough to instantly sear the meat surface and lock in those flavors and juices. Flip your venison steaks one time. If you don’t have nice grill marks after three or four minutes, the grate isn’t hot enough.

11. Improper Packaging and Freezing

Freezer burn doesn’t help the flavor of ice cream or anything else, deer meat included. Modern vacuum packaging systems are handy and save on space, but I’ve used some that resulted in freezer-burned meat after a few months. If you’re buying a vacuum-sealing unit, get a good one.

We package our deer the old-fashioned way, first wrapping each portion in clear plastic wrap, and then covering that with heavy-duty freezer paper. Every package is clearly labeled, so we not only know what cut of meat is inside and when it was killed, but also which deer it came from. If one animal proves especially tough, we know to use that meat for slow-cooking recipes.

12. Getting Too Fancy

There’s no big mystery or secret to cooking venison. Treat it as you would treat very lean beef, and you’ll get outstanding results day in and out. We substitute deer burger for beef hamburger in virtually everything — chili, tacos, sloppy Joes, burgers on the grill, spaghetti, and who knows what else. We never plan on a “wild game night” at the house. We just plan to cook dinner, and that usually means wild game by default.