Bicycling through the Loire

Jun 25, 12 Bicycling through the Loire

Posted by in Food and Wine, France, Lifestyle, Travel

I tend to go on a fair amount of press trips as a wineblogger and they are all fantastic. I mean who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to visit the winemakers in their own milieu, tasting wines that quite possibly have been resting in the cellars for years or wines that never even leave the estate but are saved for special visitors. However, I recently came back from a trip to the Loire Valley in France that has to be one of my favourite press trips ever. The reason is quite simple, it’s because it was like no other press trip I’ve ever been on, a bicycling trip through the Loire. Usually press trips are an endless treadmill of get on the bus, get off the bus, taste, eat, repeat, sometimes up to 5 times in a day! It might sound like fun but if you have to do it for 3 or 4 days in a row, it can get very tiring. Now bicycling might also seem tiring but it was actually very exhilirating to be out in the fresh early summer fresh air of the French countryside. Not only that, but being on a bicycle, we could proceed at our own pace and stop and take a picture now and then or even stop and inspect the soil of the vineyards if we so desired. So many times I’ve been on a press trip bus whizzing through amazing countryside unable to snap a single pic. Before we started, Jim Budd, one of the wine bloggers on the trip wondered if this trip was designed specifically with bloggers in mind as no respectable “wine journalist” would deign to be forced to pedal around the countryside. Well, all I can say is, they don’t know what they are missing! The sense of wonder, joy and just plain satisfaction of feeling you’ve earned that lunch after doing 20 kms in the morning. I also loved the fact that I wasn’t cooped up on a bus for...

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Billecart-Salmon at Massimo’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar

May 28, 12 Billecart-Salmon at Massimo’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Posted by in Champagne, Food and Wine, France, restaurants

Walking into Massimo’s Restaurant is quite an impressive experience. I was not expecting the high ceilings, supported by striped white and black columns or the polished mahogany wood and leather banquettes, or the cool marble floors gleaming under the art deco inspired sleek chandeliers. In a way, it seemed like the restaurant should have been located in one of the grand train stations built in the US during the 1930’s, New York’s Grand Central Station or perhaps L.A.’s Union Station, both springing to mind. Massimo’s has a raw bar and it was there that I was directed to take part in a champagne and seafood matching event. Massimo prides itself on their signature dish, crudo, literally meaning “raw fish” in Italian, they are very passionate about using traditional Mediterranean methods and ingredients in all their dishes. And which champagne to pair with the crudo? One of the best, of course. That evening we were being treated to a selection of Billecart-Salmon’s champagnes. I’ve always enjoyed Billecart-Salmon’s champagnes and find that they are great food wines. They’ve been making champagne since 1818 and today the seventh generation are now running the house. We were seated at the serpentine marble topped bar and watched the raw bar chef quickly chuck the oysters in front of us, while we sipped on the Billecart-Salmon Blanc de blanc Grand Cru vintage. Paired with 3 native oysters, the Roch Loch Lyne, Colchester and Irish Rock, the champagne took on a different character with each oyster. The monsterously big Roch Loch Lyne was a big and meaty and the delicate Grand Cru was almost lost amongst the saline character of the oyster. The Colchester fared better, there being more of a balance and a crisp iodine note coming from the champagne. Lastly, the Irish Rock seemed to pair best with the champagne, a perfect balance of soil and sea, good minerality showing off from both and excellent balance. Neither seemed to outshine the other and complemented each other nicely: “Those are...

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Taittinger and Indian cuisine – can it handle the spice?

Apr 30, 12 Taittinger and Indian cuisine – can it handle the spice?

Posted by in Champagne, Food and Wine, France, restaurants

My regular readers know of my fondness for champagne, some might say obsession, but can I be blamed when champagne is such a versatile wine? Just when I think I have found the best food matches for champagne, along comes a new combination that makes me add another feather to champagne’s cap. I was invited to dinner at Moti Mahal to see what Taittinger could do when paired with Indian cuisine as well as meet Clovis Taittinger, the next in line at Taittinger. Clovis was in town last week to show off what his family champagne can do when paired with Indian cuisine.Clovis is known as a bit of a wild man and upon meeting him, I could see why – rushing down the stairs, slightly disheveled hair with impish smile and friendly air. He’s like a French, slimmer, darker version of our Mayor, Boris Johnson – and just as amusing. He had us all chuckling within 1 minute of opening his mouth,  something about the Kama Sutra and champagne, I think. Anyway, Clovis went on to tell us a bit about what he thinks makes Taittinger special – the quality and consistency of their wines is their calling card. Their wines are made with a high percentage of chardonnay which they believe gives them the finesse, elegance and delicacy that one expects from Taittinger. When queried about the best years, he replied he doesn’t remember the years, just the moments. A good way out of giving a straight answer he later admitted! While nibbling on an assortment of canapes we sipped the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut 2000. Made from 100% grand cru chardonnay it’s a charming wine, Clovis defining it as a “dancing champagne” and if any champagne would do that, it would be the Comtes, great as an aperitif. Roasted beetroot and peanut salad with a lentil dumpling and yoghurt Chaat was served with the Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé NV. The sweetness of the beetroot was enhanced by...

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A Rose night in Soho…

Apr 23, 12 A Rose night in Soho…

Posted by in Food and Wine, France

There’s something about a glass of rosé from Provence that is so pleasing to the eye, a seductive quality in it’s shimmering hues that makes me just want to dive right in. I remember when I was first introduced to Provençal rosé, I was immediately smitten.  Professionally, we are trained to judge a wine by its colour but way before I got into the wine trade, I knew that there was something evocative and special about the rosés of Provence. Many British holiday-makers associate those pink tinged wines with long, lazy, hot summer days on the beaches of Southern France. Having grown up in California, I don’t, but they still have a siren call for me. Before you ask, no, I wasn’t hitting the rosé bottle before I sat down to write this post. I did, however, attend a dinner recently at Bistro du Vin Soho sponsored by Provence Wines, the generic body that promotes all wines Provençal. Wine has been made in Provence since 600 BC when the Greeks brought it over after colonizing the coast and founding Marseille. The Greeks were making wine long before the Romans had ever set foot in France, although, it was the Romans who spread the cultivation of vines to the Rhone and beyond. The first wines made by the Greeks were in fact a pale pink colour because at the time maceration was unknown and so the wines produced had little contact with the skins – just enough to give it a rosy shade. Wine making has progressed and we now have wines that come in various shades but the vignerons of Provence still carry on making their beautiful rosés. Provence is made up of 3 appellations, Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence. The region itself produces 88% of all rosé produced in France with Côtes de Provence producing primarily rosé wine. There are more then a dozen varieties allowed in the production of rosé but the majority use a combination of grenache,...

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Ruinart 2002 lunch

This week marked the beginning of Spring and I am so ready to say goodbye to winter! What better way to celebrate then with  the launch of the Dom Ruinart 2002. Oh, yeah! Ruinart have a very distinctive bottle shape and it’s easy to spot one across a crowded room. I am a sucker for design but what’s in the bottle is just as distinctively designed. One of the qualities I most admire about champagne is the concept of assemblage.  Having spent a fair amount of time around vineyards both in Champagne and in other wine producing regions, I think that to blend champagne must be one of the most difficult things to do (no disrespect to other wine makers as I know how hard producers work to coax wine from the vine).  The cellar master uses base wines (which are thin and acidic forerunners of the wine to come) from various vintages and is able to foresee how that wine is going to transform into champagne after going through not one but two fermentations and then spending a minimum of 3yrs in a cold dark cellar laying on a sediment of dead yeast cells. Incredible and yet, the Champenois manage to produce their amazing champagnes year in and year out. Ruinart Chef de Cave Frederic Panaiotis pointed out that for Ruinart, the quality they most desire is a refined timelessness and elegance while at the same time not becoming a boring champagne which never changes with the vintages. He said that when they work on blending the wine they pay particular attention to the mouthfeel, weight and softness in the mouth while at the same time ensuring that they are making a lively and flexible champagne. He likened their champagne to alpaca wool, instant luxury and quality combined which, although you don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate, does help. The complexity and depth of the champagne is a pleasure for experts but it also has an immediate appeal and he says...

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