Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Giveaway: From One Expert to Another


Wine writer Jancis Robinson is known for big books, such as the 912-page Oxford Companion to Wine (currently in its fourth, much-revised edition) and the 1280-page Wine Grapes (which won every major wine book award in the year of its publication). Perhaps that’s one reason her newest title, which just came out in the US, is so compelling: how much of her 40 years of wine experience could she possibly cram into just 111 pages, between two tiny 5” x 7” covers?

As you might have expected...quite a lot.

To celebrate the publication of this new hardcover version (the first was a paperback published in the UK in February), Jancis’ New York publisher Abrams, has given me five copies of The 24-Hour Wine Expert to give away. With corkscrews! Yep, to enter simply leave a comment below. Five lucky readers will get a copy of the book and a corkscrew to match.

Jancis is one of the most-respected, most-prolific wine writers working today. And boy, does she work. Based in London, she travels roughly one third of the year:  tasting, rating and writing for a multitude of publications including her website JancisRobinson.com, which is updated daily and has subscribers in more than 100 countries. Jancis writes a weekly column for the Financial Times while Decanter called her “the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world.” She even provides advice to the wine cellar of Queen Elizabeth II. (I love the idea of the Queen ringing up...Jan? Sorry to be a bother, but the King of Spain is on his way and I have no idea what to pour!)

When I caught up with her last week, Jancis was up in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where she told me she had just finished tasting some 175 vintages.

“This week?” I asked.

“Today,” she replied.

To learn more about her background and accomplishments, read her shortish Wikipedia bio here or the full, amazing one here...but be forewarned: whatever you’ve done with your life, you’ll feel like a total slacker if you do!

This new book, Jancis says, is for people who like wine but don’t feel quite sure of themselves in a wine shop buying for a dinner party...or in a restaurant, wine list in hand. “It’s for people who want a shortcut to the essentials,” she says. 

And so, after taking us quickly but comprehensively through the wine regions of the world and their grapes, she sets out to painlessly help us make the most of what she calls “the most delicious, stimulating, varied and infuriatingly complicated drink in the world.”

Topics include how to select the right bottle at retail; understanding the properties of color and aroma; what the different shapes of bottles and their labels tell you; what terms like “full body,” “supple,” “round” and “nose” really mean; what wines pair well with foods such as pizza, sushi or Thai; what the terms organic, biodynamic and natural mean in the wine world; how to chill and warm wines; and much more.

And what about that perennial question about how price correlates to quality? As in, how much do we really need to spend to get a good bottle?

“There is no direct correlation between price and quality in wine,” she writes, before giving us a handy list of underpriced, overpriced and splurge-worthy labels. “Many wines are overpriced because of inflated market demand, ambition, greed, or just because a marketing person sees the need for an ‘icon wine’ in the range. The difference in quality between wines at the top and bottom ends of the price scale is narrower than it has ever been, while the difference in price has never been greater.

“Packaging, shopping, marketing, and, in many countries, local taxes and duties tend to account for by far the majority of the price of very cheap wines,” Jancis continues, “with the cost of the liquid itself representing a tiny fraction of what you are paying. Ambition is responsible for much of the selling price of more expensive wines. For this reason, the best value is generally in the range of $10 to $30 a bottle. Here, you more or less get what you pay for.”

Sound good? Then leave a comment below (click where it says comments) for your chance to win a copy...and a corkscrew! If you have a wine anecdote to share, even better! And please be sure to include your email address or we can’t reach you if you win...best is to put it right in the body of your comment text. 

If you want to buy the book, it’s in all the major retailers or order it on Amazon here.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Provence for Special-Need Kids and Adults


I recently came across a company called Go Provence, offering "supported holidays" for kids and adults with learning disabilities, autism and other challenges. The goal is to provide stimulating, fun and safe vacations for all ages in the South of France...and I think what they're doing is fantastic.

Go Provence was founded in 2010 by British expats Ian Callen, Anna Callen and Neil Manser. While they cater primarily to clients from the UK, they've had guests come from elsewhere in Europe and from the US as well.

Based near the Gorges du Verdon, in a spectacularly beautiful part of Provence, Go Provence offers all-inclusive themed holidays that mix outdoor adventure, excursions and relaxation. 

For those who need it, they can even accompany clients to and from the UK.  There are also off-season trips, such as a learn-to-ski trip in Andorra in January, 2017 (more on that below) and a trip to Italy in October, 2017.

Dates for all 2017 trips have just been posted on the company’s website here.  Themes include Wildlife Photography, Trekking, Wolf Tracking, World Cuisine, Great Adventure, Music Week,  Art Holiday, Discover Provence, Water Holiday, Great Adventure and School of Rock.

There will be also be a special week in Provence designed for people who use wheelchairs. How great is that?

Go Provence also creates customized, private holidays for four people or more. 

For family members and full-time carers who choose to stay in Provence at the same time, Go Provence will happily arrange accommodation nearby, in the village of Esparron de Verdon. 

Ian and Anna Callen have lived in Provence, near the Gorges du Verdon, since 2007; they have three children. Ian worked previously at The Olive Tree International School in nearby Quinson, teaching photography, horticulture, conservation, biology and astronomy to children with challenging behaviour. There’s a very nice story about him here.

Anna also has a background in teaching children, particularly those with dyslexia and challenging behavior. She formerly worked for the local Tourist Office and knows the area exceedingly well.

Neil has lived in France for 20 years after having worked with special-need kids in the UK and with special-need adults in Malaysia. His training is in social care, epilepsy and Midazolam, safeguarding vulnerable adults and the Mental Capacity Act. Neil is the Go Provence chef and lives near St. Tropez.

All the Go Provence staff are fully bi-lingual (French and English) and experienced and first-aid trained to a Red Cross standard. The facility is registered with a local doctor and nurse and has access to nearby hospitals.

For those interested in an active winter getaway, Go Provence is offering a five-night learn-to-ski holiday in Catalan-speaking Andorra in January. Guests will fly from Gatwick to Toulouse, France on January 8, then travel by mini bus to the beautiful Pyrenean village of Arinsal, set 1467m above sea level. They’ll stay (full board) at the Hotel Solana for five nights, enjoying five days at ski school with fully qualified instructors, ski gear and boarding passes included. Support will be on hand 24/7; the trip is €2090 per person.  The registration deadline for the ski trip is October 24 and it only happens if there are five guests or more. More on the ski trip is here.

Heading into their seventh year with Go Provence, Ian says the team feels enormous pride in what they’ve helped their clients accomplish.

“We love seeing them achieve their goals,” he tells me. “We had a client Ed, a great photographer who had won awards for his work but couldn't find anyone to give him an exhibition. We were able to arrange a show for him in a local restaurant. We had an opening evening, the local press turned up and Ed sold five photos.  As you can imagine, he was a very happy man." 

Just around the time I was writing this, Ian emailed to tell me about his newest offering, a program called Travel Buddies, providing travel planning support and travel companions for a wide range of destinations. And in the months to come, Go Provence plans to add supported backpacking holidays around Europe, a Northern Lights holiday in Sweden and volunteer holidays in developing countries.

“We want to change the way that people with special needs travel...and increase their opportunities to do so...to the point where access to travel becomes standard,” Ian says. “Travel is so important to ones sense of happiness! A friend of mine, who worked in a hospice sitting with terminally ill people during their last days, once told me that when people looked back at their lives and talked about their regrets, they didn’t mention money or careers. He said that they wished they had spent more time with their family and friends...and that they had traveled more.” 

For more info, photos, mailing list sign-up and other details, visit the website here. Ian also writes a blog about the Gorges du Verdon, which you can see here.

Photos: (1-8) Among the many activities offered to Go Provence clients are kayaking, market shopping, painting, adventure sports, farm visits and photography. (9) In January 2017, the company will host a ski trip to Andorra.  (10-12) Go Provence summer holidays are based in a large country house one kilometer from the village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, considered among the most beautiful in Provence.  The house was restored in the winter of 2013/14. It has a lovely garden with views over to Moustiers and the breathtaking Gorges du Verdon.

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