Cheval Blanc, the secret’s in the…

Cheval Blanc. To those unfamiliar with the wines of Bordeaux, it was the fine wine that Miles gloomily drank from a styrofoam cup with a burger in the movie Sideways. To Bordeaux wine afficionados, it’s one of the two wines that stand head and shoulders above the rest in St. Emilion, being designated a Premier Cru Grand Classe (A) wine (the other being Ch. Ausone) in the Classification of St. Emilion in 1955. Having seen “Sideways” and being something of a wine afficionado (I adore French wines although Premier Cru is a whole new world for me) I was beyond excited to be visiting such an iconic vineyard. The first thing you notice about Bordeaux is how boringly flat it all is, they consider a very slight incline to be a hill and an irrigation ditch is most certainly a river in their eyes. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?   I wasn’t there for the scenery though, I was there for what was under my feet, for terroir is the most important thing to Cheval Blanc and it’s unique mix of gravel, sand and clay in the vineyards, (which covers 37 hectares) the lack of limestone and the fact that the vineyards are at the limit of the demarcation between St. Emilion and Pomerol is their secret. As Pierre Olivier Clouet, Technical Director, told me over lunch, “there are no secrets in the winemaking, all the secrets are in the ground.” What does he mean by that exactly? Pierre Olivier wanted to convey the fact that by the time they pick the grapes off the vine, they will already know how the vintage will turn out. Cheval Blanc are firm believers in vineyard management and 80% of the hard work done to produce their wine is done in the vineyards. Be it quantity control, management of maturity, picking when the grapes have reached their maximum potential, winter pruning-which is very important to guard against too much vigor, and protection against disease...

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Lunching at Malmaison

It is now midnight as I write this and I am still full. There used to be this commercial that ran on American TV for Alka-Seltzer, the tagline was, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”. Despite the fact we didn’t “eat the whole thing”  as a matter of fact, we both took doggy bags home, we did stuff ourselves silly. We had 4 courses, which is not unreasonable, but there were some generous portions at the Brasserie of Malmaison. Malmaison is a boutique luxury hotel smack dab in the middle of Clerkenwell and their brasserie serves up tasty local produce all presented quite beautifully. The main draw for me and the reason I was there, were the bespoke wine flights that the restaurant sommelier, Stuart Fife matches with your dining choices. Stuart is new to Malmaison but he comes from Hotel du Vin in Glasgow and his matches were very well done indeed. While I was waiting for my lunching partner, Vintage Macaroon to arrive, I had a browse round the wine cellar and found some familiar labels, Spy Valley, Springfield Estate, Dinastia Vivanco, d’Arenberg Stump Jump, and Chapel Down, to name a few.  As I suspected, Bibendum Wines is the main supplier for Malmaison and they had some of their best on the list. We left ourselves in Stuart’s capable hands and didn’t regret it one bit. I had a very elderflowery, light and refreshing 2007 Bacchus from Chapel Down. I often find English wines to be a bit thin but Chapel Down make an excellent bacchus and it had enough body and elderflower/citrus flavours to match the trio of smoked blinis (haddock, salmon and mackerel pate) I had to start. The smoked fish was very tasty but I thought the blinis were a bit too soft for me, maybe blinis made of buckwheat would be better? I like the slight chewiness of them. I almost forgot to mention the pre-entree amuse bouche of intensely flavoured crab bisque, which would have...

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