Vines and voyages may either sound pretentious, weird or intriguing. But vines and voyages represent my two favourite things in the world, wine and travel. Like so many of us the world over, I love to travel. Like really love it. When I am not traveling, I am thinking and planning my next trip. It could be a European vacation or simply a weekend trip away, and then on to planning the next one or at least exploring where I might want to go next. And when I have found the next destination, I may also have to spend some time convincing my husband @benton8tor why he too wants to go there. Now it isn’t that @benton8tor doesn’t like to travel, he loves it. I often get him super excited to travel somewhere and just before booking, I find another place that seems even more interesting, and have to crush his travel dreams and build a new one often in the space of an hour. I have gotten really good at this.
Like so many people the world over I also love wine. And for me wine is closely associated with travel. It is not why I travel, but learning about and trying new wines are some of my favourite travel memories that have helped turn my love of wine into an actual hobby at home. Understanding it, appreciating the wine making process, especially the knowledge that it is more than the flavour of the grape that makes a wine so interesting and learning how to pair it with my third favourite passion, food!!!
And for everyone who travels food is often the star.
I am not sure when I got the travel bug, maybe I was born with it, maybe it came from the multitude of books I read, maybe it was from others talking about it, but I always knew as soon as I could, I would travel as far and often as my bank account would permit. And I did.
As it so happened the first trip I planned for myself by myself happened after graduating University. I had always hoped to backpack across Europe but my bank account and my University job dictated that I would have to settle for a road trip across Eastern Canada (for now). For a prairie kid, I was pretty stoked to try fresh seafood in Nova Scotia, visit the old-world charm of Quebec City, explore the amazing landscapes of New Brunswick but most importantly, visit Montreal. To say I was excited, was an understatement and often when you build something up so much in your head it can disappoint. But Montreal didn’t.
From the very first moment my shoe touched the city, I was in love. despite the rather white-knuckle drive into the city (let’s just say speed limits seemed optional) Montreal was beautiful. Many people had told me to plan an itinerary to make sure I had time to see all the sites, and sometimes I do exactly that but not this time. This time I just wanted to see what Montreal had to offer. Turns out more than I anticipated and there is still so much more to do.
But that first day in Montreal I set out t explore the streets that were literally teeming with people. We found ourselves down in Old Montreal, where (for preEurope me) seeing buildings from the 1600s was mind-blowing. It was beautiful. Full of fun, interesting shops and cafes and some of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen (I am looking at you, Notre Dame Basilica). Everywhere we went, we encountered friendly service. On our way back to find somewhere to eat, we walked through a French film festival held for free on the streets, had police stop us to give us tickets to a football game and find the most charming café to practice our French and enjoy one of the best crepes that I have still ever tasted. But it is dining out that first night in Montreal that shaped me for my travel mindset in years to come.
As we walked down Peel street in Montreal and found a small little Italian restaurant to try. Italian food seemed safe but also the café was small and looked exotic so it seemed like I was stretching out of my comfort zone for food even though I wasn’t.
That was about to change. Yes, it absolutely was an Italian restaurant but rather than just serving the standard Italian fare of pizza, fettuccine and spaghetti that I was used to, this particular Italian restaurant served more traditional Italian fare. Starting with an amuse bouche (what even was that?? I wanted to ask but didn’t for fear of looking even more unsophisticated that I was) of lamb meatballs and pesto, I realized there was definitely more to what I thought was Italian food. The server did graciously explain that the amuse bouche was prepared by the chef for the diners to ‘wake up the mouth’. It wasn’t a concept I truly understood yet but I really appreciated it. Especially since it turned out I loved the meatballs that I would have never ordered on my own. Now this seems like a tame dish that is pretty standard but back then… Emboldened by this new taste. I decided I was going to order red wine. Those who know me now would have a hard time believing there was ever a time I didn’t drink red wine but back in the day, I was once a red wine newbie. I a did however associate red wine with the height of sophistication and closely linked to French culture so I was game.
I had absolutely no idea what I was ordering and looking back, it may have been swill but my uneducated palate would have had no way of knowing that. Besides since this particular red wine opened me up to a lifetime of love of wine I still chose to believe it was amazing.
It came served in a stoneware jug and served in stoneware wine goblets. This made me feel even more sophisticated. I took my first sip. I knew nothing about tasting wine so I am embarrassed to admit, I probably chugged it down like a rum and coke. My fist reaction was interesting. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. In fact I didn’t know what I thought. It was drier than I expected (up till know my experience with wine was baby duck at Christmas or very sweet white wines) but the flavour changed the more I drank it, it became silkier and smoother. the flavour seemed to stay with me. I was hooked, just what was this magic potion??
My second trip to Montreal was with @benton8tor. It was as amazing as the first time round but one memory stands out in particular. We were exploring downtown and just off one of the main streets was this tiny little alleyway. All that was lit up was an orange beer sign for a bar, the St Elizabeth. Ben wanted to go, I didn’t. I thought it looked sketchy at best and vaguely murdery. He really wanted to try so I very reluctantly agreed. Never, was I more wrong. It was the most beautiful bar. Pale wood floors, a beautiful polished bar, it was hopping. There was not a table left. Disappointed I thought we’d leave but a server took us out to the even more beautiful back patio. Walls covered entirely in greenery, beautiful tables and low key music scene, we had found our place. It had one of the most extensive wine and beer lists I had seen at this point and the wine didn’t disappoint. Neither did the beer. Being a Brit @benton8tor stuck to what he knew best and drank mostly Smithwicks or as our bartender called it Smitticks. It was amazing. It was good to push your boundaries. We were having the best night just because we took a chance and I am pretty sure there wasn’t a single tourist in the place.
@benton8tor was at this point not really a wine drinker, and like me so many years before when he did drink wine it was white. I clearly remember going to dinner with him and he said “I bet you will turn into a white wine drinker.” Not likely I thought. In keeping with our Montreal theme of trying something new, I encouraged him to try red wine, something he believed he hated. Never had he been more wrong. Montreal was also successful at turning him into a red wine drinker. And so, Montreal started my love affair with travel, wine, food and trying something new. Over the years, I have traveled to many different places, tried my many different wines, primarily red but I do branch out now and then to include white, champagne, ports and sherry’s but red is always my first love. Some are OK, some awful and may fabulous but I m always glad I tried.
My first foray into travel taught me to try new things, my first foray into wine taught me there is a whole world of new tastes to try. And it left me always wanting more
If you are taking the time to read this, I hope you enjoy it, or it makes you want to visit a place too, try a particular wine, see a particular landmark, try a local specialty, try a local experience traveling or it may just make you wonder in future posts, why is she so obsessed with France ( I hope you will be too).