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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Burgundy is France’s richest province,  historically, culturally, and, of  course, gastronomically. The region boasts an enviable and proud tradition of culinary excellence and grand winemaking traditions, with the highly sought-after flavors of both red and white Burgundy in ever-growing demand today. And where there are passionate vignerons, a plethora of fine restaurants soon follows. For Burgundians are extremely discerning in their food choices and despite the influx of tourism across the area in recent years, standards remain impeccably high. Moreover, new faces and a more avant-garde approach from the emergent Burgundian firmament have ensured that the region is in no danger of slipping into gastronomic inertia; both the traditional and molecular can now be encountered across the Burgundian landscape.

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The Cote d’Or region, and indeed Beaujolais continue to offer an impressive diversity of restaurants, from the Michelin-starred refinement of L’Edem, to the extreme comfort of local bistros, serving mouthwatering local dishes at attractive prices. But regardless of the venue, central to the local culinary philosophy is only using the freshest, seasonal ingredients locally sourced as much as possible. Resident chefs are fortunate to have access to some of the best produce and meat in France: Bresse chickens, Charolais beef, Epoisses cheese (and many more) wild game, the list goes on. Classical dishes include:  Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au vin and Escargot de Bourgourne but this barely scratches the surface. So, in this remarkable part of France, which certainly doesn’t lack taste, prepare to soak up the riches and amazing flavors among our selection of top restaurants in Burgundy and Beaujolais. Bon Appetit :)

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CELLAR TOURS SELECTION OF PREFERRED RESTAURANTS IN BURGUNDY AND BEAUJOLAIS:

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Maison Lameloise

36, place d’Armes
, Chagny 71150

Lameloise

Arguably the region’s most lauded restaurant, Maison Lameloise is inseparable from Burgundian tradition. With a coveted three Michelin stars to its name, it has been offering unparalleled service, food and wine for many years, and was family run for three generations. Now presided over by the formidable Eric Pras, the restaurant’s reputation nonetheless remains firmly based on serving classic dishes using seasonal and regional ingredients. Pras transforms local produce into works of art; dishes that you almost feel guilty eating. We don’t want to spoil the feast ahead, but standout dishes include his marshmallow of foie gras and gingerbread tuile; scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, ravioli of snails cooked in their juices with mild garlic, and his pigeon breast served with fresh pasta and foie gras. The wine list is suitably grand and covers all the major appellations of the region, from Grand Crus to humble village wines. Service is also spot-on, professional and not remotely stuffy. An icon of fine-dining in Burgundy and a must visit for all overs of great food and wine.

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Loiseau des Vignes

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31 Rue Maufoux, 21200 Beaune

A truly remarkable restaurant, Loiseau des Vignes was the first venue in France to offer an entire list of wines by the glass, with over 65 different labels to suit all budgets and preferences. Indeed, if one word sums up Losieau then its wine paradise. Ok then, two words. The list is long, diverse and braves the lesser known in addition to the famous Grand Crus of the Cote d’Or. Opened by Dominique Loiseau in 2007, it sits proudly in the historic centre of Beaune, 250 meters away from the site of the famous Hospices de Beaune wine auction. And as you’d expect, the wine list at this Michelin-starred centre of excellence compliments superlative cuisine, overseen by head chef Mourad Haddouche. His cooking is refined, playful and bold, making use of the finest local ingredients to spectacular effect. Signature dishes include the legendary seared foie gras, the “quenelle de sandre” (a fish ball with lobster sauce) lacquered duck and chocolate cassis bomb. Loisue also boasts one of the largest after dinner cheese selections in France.

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L’Auberge du Cep

Place de l’Église, 69820 Fleurie

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It is quite fitting that one of Beaujolais’ most famous red wine villages should boast such a fantastic and great value restaurant. L’Auberge du Cep offers excellent home cooking with no unnecessary frills, lovely service and local wines on tap. The space is cosy -  a bright small dining room tended to by friendly and English speaking staff, who will put you at ease with your choices from the daily specials board. Perhaps start with the Terrine de Canard or the famous snails, followed by a carre d’agneau or Margaret du canard. Those with a sweet tooth will love the dessert of cassis avec and fromage blanc. The wine list is diverse, but with an understandable bias toward the local Gamay grape, in all its glory. Our advice is to stick to the top Fleurie, you can’t go wrong – Highly recommended.

Loiseau des Ducs

3 Rue Vauban, 21000 Dijon

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Top notch but decidedly unstuffy, Loiseau des Ducs is the latest venture from Bernard Loiseau which opened in Dijon in July 2013. Located in the heart of Dijon’s beautiful historic quarter, the restaurant was quickly awarded its first Michelin star this year and continues to offer mouthwatering cuisine, professional service and a multitude of wines by the glass, via the Enomatic machine. Head Chef Louis-Philippe Vigilant shows no interest in fashion, rather he adopts a precise, imaginative approach to his cooking without being over-wrought or conceptualized. A quick glance at their menu confirms this fact; lobster tails in a rich lobster bisque sauce, Charolais beef fillet with a port reduction, pan friend bream, Margaret du canard with foie gras and the legendary Cep ice cream, which has to be tried to be believed! In the warmer months there are alfresco dining options available and if this restaurant has a draw back, well we can’t see it.

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Hostellerie de Levernois

Rue du Golf, 21200 Levernois

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At the heart of Burgundy’s gorgeous countryside, you’ll find one of the most idyllic and charming country hotels in France. Expertly run by husband and wife team Jean-Louis and Susanne Bottigliero, this luxury small hotel has established a mighty big reputation for its food, service and surroundings. Not to mention a wonderfully long and varied wine list – over 800 labels -  including the great names of DRC and Le Montrachet. Bottigliero’s protege is Philippe Augé, who has ensured that Levernois has kept its Michelin star and will undoubtedly preside other a second star soon. His cuisine promotes the idea of celebrating classical Burgundian heritage and so the age-old dishes are all present and correct. Yet, a touch of the modern flows through the menu; foie gras ravioli with a mushroom infusion, fillet of Charolais with Pinot Noir jus, pigeon breast cooked three ways with white truffle infusion and the Grand Marnier soufflé are just some of the highlights. Our advice – arrive hungry :)

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Le Benaton

25 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière, 21200 Beaune

Le Benaton

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One of Beaune’s less touristy restaurants, Le Benaton serves refined, contemporary Burgundian cuisine in a relaxed and yet elegant setting. Awarded it’s first Michelin star in 2006, owner and head chef Bruno Monnoir’s cuisine has been described by critics as the “fruit of impeccable discipline, the rigours of which are overcome every time, and transformed into creativity”. Indeed, a quick glance at his menu reveals a very modern take on classical dishes, which are executed with flawless precision and presentation. So expect daring combinations, bold flavours and perfectly conceived dishes. Although there is an extensive list of dishes a la carte, we recommend you try one of the ingenious tasting menus. One menu, the market menu, is composed of dishes only using the seasonal ingredients purchased daily from the morning market in Beaune. The highlights are numerous, but our favourite dishes include: duck foie gras with smoked eel cassis, wild turbot and butternut squash and clementine reduction, Charolais beef fillet with red wine jus and the ultimate dessert – Gold Mountain in a hot and cold caramel sauce. We won’t spoil the surprise, but trust us; you must try this spectacular dish at least once! The wine list compliments the proceedings nicely and includes all the great names you’d hope for at such a prestigious address.

La Table de Lachassagne

850 Route de la Colline, 69480 Lachassagne

La Table de Lachassagne

If you’re curious to try some of the more avant-garde experiences in modern Burgundian cuisine, then make sure to book at table at Lachassagne. The view alone is worth the price of a meal here – in the summer, a gorgeously appointed terrace overlooks the beautiful Beaujolais landscape, where you can watch vignerons harvest their precious grapes over a leisurely lunch. Head chef Anthony Fusco’s divine tasting menu offers such specialties as veal with sweetbreads, salt cod served with celery puree and vanilla mascarpone with advocat sauce, and renders them so delicately that even the most hardened food critic will be seduced. The menu is purposely kept small, allowing Fusco to concentrate on bringing each dish to perfection. His wife, Maeva, runs the front of house and keeps the restaurant feeling relaxed, friendly and warm, in contrast to many Michelin-starred venues across France. Wine lovers won’t leave disappointed, as Lachassagne boasts a veritable plethora of local vintages as well as the famous Crus of the Cote d’Or. In a word – magnifique.

Restaurant L’ Ed Em

Chassange-Montrachet, 4, impasse Chenevottes, Chassagne-Montrachet 21190

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No gastronomic journey through Burgundy can omit L’ Ed Em, a restaurant as mythical for its incredible selection of white Burgundies as its superlative cuisine. Head Chef Edouard Mignort is one of the greats, having studied in Paris and Burgundy under the tutelage of various 3 Michelin starred masters, he finally achieved his dream of opening a restaurant of his own with his charming wife Emilie last year. It quickly built a mighty reputation for warm hospitality, professionalism and precise, mouth-watering cuisine executed with flair. The whole experience feels slick and polished, but without the pretension that can so often plague fine dining establishments in France. The key to Edouard’s culinary flair is his unwavering obsession with only the finest, seasonal ingredients, “everything else rests on this foundation,” he says. With this arsenal of great produce, he crafts such delights as Breton lobster and octopus, Bresse chicken with a red pepper sauce and shallot cream, not to mention strawberry poached in red wine with Chantilly cream and mint sorbet. The cheese selection, including, of course, the legendary Epoisses, is one of the best in the Cote d’ Or, as is the generously well-stocked wine cellar, containing many of the region’s most famous names with prices to match.

Guy Lassausaie

1 Rue de Belle-Sise, 69380, Chasselay

Guy Lassausaie

The tables at Lassausaie are some of the most desirable in Burgundy; with two Michelin stars to its name and widely tipped for a third, if pays to book well in advance in high season. For owner and chef Guy Lassausaie is one of the local legends, celebrated for his extremely imaginative, inventive and downright delicious culinary art. In contrast the décor is relatively simple and restrained, make no mistake the meal is the headline act here. Major highlights include game when in season and the most delicious mushroom risotto that you’ll ever eat. Sorry Italy! You could start your gastronomic adventure with fillets of sole with truffles and a prawn emulsion, langoustine with vanilla infused butter from Madagascar, Rack of Lamb with braised shoulder and pea puree, and the legendary Pinot Noir chocolate fondant. The service is similarly impressive, ultra professional yet engaging at the same time. Moreover, Guy boasts one of the most extensive wine lists in the whole of Burgundy, so even long time Burgundy nuts are bound to discover a few surprises.

Le Clos du Cèdre

2 Boulevard Maréchal Foch, 21200 Beaune

Le Clos du Cèdre

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This outstanding restaurant is housed in the charming Hostellerie du Cedre hotel in Beaune, which attracts both residents and visitors in search of mouthwatering local cuisine. They never leave disappointed. Head chef Christophe Canati, who was appointed in 2012, has quite a pedigree; he trained in the kitchens of Bernard Louiseau and Georges Blanc, earning his first Michelin star at Hostellerie de Plaisance in Saint-Emilion in 2002. His cooking is both refined and comforting, invoking a modern take on Burgundian gastronomic traditions. So expect such delights as white crab meat on a pool of broad bean velouté, ballotine of rabbit, stuffed with foie gras and apricot and mille-feuille, served with salted caramel ice cream and salted caramel. All of this served with, naturally, an extensive selection of both red and white Burgundies, with both the superstars and more affordable options available. Service is perfectly judged and the ambiance romantic and intimate, perfect for a special occasion with a loved one. Quite simply one of the best restaurants for miles around and richly deserving of its Michelin star.

Delicious Travels!

Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

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Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

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The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.

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Venice Wine Country- While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

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Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

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Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.

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That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014′s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.

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Tenerife for Wine Lovers- While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.

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However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

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Nice for wine lovers- Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

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Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!

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The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.

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The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

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Travel Notes in Paris

Posted by gen On October - 3 - 2013

We were in Paris 2 weeks ago, ago visiting our regular suppliers and some fabulous new ones. We visited a number of hotels, restaurants and wine shops, met guides and explored new gourmet routes, and all for our lucky clients.

It´s a tough job but somebody has to eat and drink their way through Paris to make sure the standard is up to par!

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Some notes from the trip…

HOTELS- we visited  a range of 4 and 5 stars, current suppliers and new ones,  to see how the wear and tear was looking and how the welcome was.  Weren´t able to visit the 5* Ritz nor the 5* Crillon as both are under massive renovation this year, will be very interesting those grand reopenings in 2015…

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4* Westminster- this classic  hotel named after the Duke of Westminster on gorgeous Rue de la Paix near Place Vendome  is always a reliable choice for its elegant location, very comfie rooms and stellar gastronomic restaurant Le Céladon. The welcome was as good as ever and I was happy to see the hotel is in tip top form, we always recommend this one.

4* Westin- the antithesis of boutique, the Westin is reassuringly “neutral”, a nice choice in Paris for guests looking for an International style hotel. It has open and airy, elegant  public spaces, a calming garden patio and a great shopping location. Popular with North Americans and older guests.

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4* Villa d´Estrées- this was my fave hotel from the inspection! A darling townhouse style hotel in an incredibly picturesque neighborhood near St Michel, the welcome here was also extraordinarily warm (especially for Paris!). For first timers to Paris who want to be walking distance to Notre Dame, yet far enough from the tourist crowds to have the feeling of being in an authentic and very pretty quartier, this would absolutely be my recommendation. The owner is young and hands on and extremely helpful, hospitality like this in Paris is rare enough!

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 5* Mandarin Oriental- We had been meaning to visit the Mandarin since their grand opening in 2011, so better late than never. The welcome was excellent, very friendly staff, smiles all around. The decor is not for everyone (artwork is contemporary, for better or for worse I must say), spaces are minimalist, rooms are techie.  Popular with guests from Asia, Russia, and the Middle East as well as American East Coasters. There are flat screen tvs overlooking the bath tubs, Nespresso machines in the rooms and a fabulous 2 Michelin starred eatery run by Thierry Marx (previously at Cordeillan Bages in Bordeaux´s Pauillac wine lands.) The spa here is one of the best spas in Paris.

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5* Hotel Costes – as always, the welcome here was snooty and the front house staff seemed to all be  hungry and cranky models :) This is a given with the Costes. This beautiful boutique hotel designed by Jacques Garcia is verrrrry sceney and you are likely to rub shoulders with a movie star or visiting rock band. Even at mid day there was a ton of atmosphere in the rollicking bar which is laid out over several Oriental themed rooms. The vibe  is very Orient Express train meets trendy club. The DJs there are famous and the hotel even produces a series of lounge CDs. Recommended for wealthy hispters, and apart from the accommodation, it is always fun to pop into the bar and to dine here.

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FOOD AND WINE GUIDE

How delighted were we to meet a charming American wine expert expat with an art background and based in Paris for the last 10 years?  Very! Preston, owner of Paris by the Glass, is a gem, effortlessly charming, erudite and a superb addition to our collection of wine expert guides in France. Look forward to designing new programs with him soon and to pampering our guests with his fun food and wine tours around Paris.

Superb Wine Expert Host in Paris, Preston

Superb Wine Expert Host in Paris, Preston

COOKING CLASSES IN PARIS

We called in to visit Jane at La Cuisine Paris, a high end super fabulous cooking school right on the Seine with all services offered in English both for mixed group events and for our clients of course, private events. Our clients have done everything from chocolate pastry to macarons here and it was fun to brain storm new ideas like professional cheese tastings, French baguette making and more. We are creating new gourmet tours in Paris and will be featuring their classes for our food loving guests. You could not find a more professional, clean, pretty cooking school in town, and what a location!

Professional kitchen at La Cuisine with dining area overlooking the Seine

Professional kitchen at La Cuisine with dining area overlooking the Seine

 

Autumn leaves and a view of the Seine

Autumn leaves and a view of the Seine

RESTAURANTS

Dauphin- Ridiculously good looking staff serve delish new wave bistro style dishes at this super hipster venue that feels more Brooklyn than Paris. They offer amazingly good value menus and the place was great! We started with smoked eggplant purée spiked with feta and garnished with piquant Basque peppers, total flavor explosion of sweet and sour. Main course was the bonito pictured here, cooked perfectly over a bed of buttery white beans and caramelized onions. They serve a number of nice wines by the glass, we had a minerally white Bourgogne. Completely and utterly recommend. It´s an informal lunchy type spot.

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Au Bourgignon du Marais – always a fave and featured in our post on best restaurants for wine lovers in Paris, the famed Boeuf Bourguignon was as fabulous as ever, perfect for the chillier temps. Located on a beautiful Parisian street right across from the prettiest bakery ever, this spot is always a a treat. To start we had the salad of marinated artichokes and eggplant with cured jambon.  After the rich beef, we could not resist and had the fromage sampler, good heavens, total food paradise. Great service, nice wines by the glass (we had a Givry), expertly prepared traditional cuisine, pretty atmosphere, what more could we ask for?

14

Chez Paul- It´s been years since we dined at Chez Paul, a Bastille classic bistro. And nothing has changed, except for the fact that all restaurants in France are now thankfully smoke free. The atmosphere is very Toulouse Lautrec and the dishes are as fabulous and classic as they come in France. We started with a simply breathtaking Fois Gras served with an entire pear poached in red wine and spices. Rich, so rich.. thankfully this was a shared appetizer! Paired with our Gevrey Chambertin, we were in glutton´s paradise. To follow, pavé de cochon noir (black foot pork) with an entire roast garlic bulb over steamed spinach and mouthwatering confit de canard served with perfectly roasted potatoes drizzled with a basil pistou. We barely fit in a lemon sorbet, for digestive purposes of course! Luckily Paris is a city for walkers and we were able to fit in some lovely long walks to help counter our calorie count!

8

9

Le Square Gardette- Could I eat any more? yes, apparently! It´s all in the name of work…This trendy little eatery on Saint Ambroise in an up and coming neighborhood north of Bastille offers excellent value gourmet set menus. The crowd was very mixed, from Spanish businessmen to a table of Japanese fashion designers, and of course beautiful locals. I started with a glass of creamy Champagne from Michel Genet. The amuse bouche was a warm, smokey cauliflower cream with a smattering of cocoa powder. Very naughty grilled foie gras came next (a month´s worth of zumba classes down the drain) and finally for the main course a perfectly cooked supreme of volaille rolled with fresh sage over delicious little beans, total autumnal comfort food. Accompanied by a heady glass of Châteauneuf du Pape, it was a nice ending to a very productive and interesting few days in Paris.

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10 Best Restaurants in Paris for Wine lovers

Posted by gen On July - 12 - 2013

The Ten Best Restaurants in Paris for Wine lovers- Cellar Tours Selection

Paris is a city of over two million people, and is today the undisputed economic, political, artistic and gastronomic hub of France. Citizens of Lyon would undoubtedly disagree, but as far as we are concerned no other city in France offers as much variety of places to eat and drink: be it high-end haute-cuisine or brasseries off the beaten track. And of course, wine lists containing both country reds and the big names of Bordeaux and Burgundy have always been an honored part of at the Parisian high-end restaurant experience.

However, a revolution in the city’s gastronomic scene has been taking place over the last three years, as a new generation of bistros and bars are making the wines far more important than the food — which has to be up-to-scratch nonetheless, but now you choose the wine first and then the chef will match appropriate dishes.

So it’s a very exciting time to be a wine lover dining out in Paris. The classic Encyclopedia size wine lists at venues like La Tour d’Argent still exist for those who love freedom of choice, which is exactly what a top wine list provides for oenophiles. The other key factor, which elevates Paris above most cities is the sheer volume of educated sommeliers in Paris, who will help you navigate those giant-size lists with ease. These venues are joined by the new kids on the block, smaller restaurants that serve a wide section of good value wines by the glass, often specializing in one region or wine style, natural wines being currently in vogue. Their numbers are growing so we’ve done the hard work for you and selected the best below.

This was a hard list to make, but here are our ten favorite restaurants in Paris for wine lovers:

La Tour d’Argent

15-17 Quai de la Tournelle

Established in 1582, La Tour d’Argent has recovered its top-class status after a slightly shaky period following the death of Claude Terrail in 2006. The main event, other than Chef Laurent Delarbre’s exquisitely refined cooking is the 15,000 bin wine list, surely one of the largest in the world! Head Sommelier David Ridgway is a true professional and will guide you toward the perfect pairing as this list literally has a wine for every eventuality. A must visit for every wine lover once in their lifetime.

tour

Au Bourguignon du Marais

52 Rue Francois Miron,

Sip a superior wine with your excellent meal here at barely above retail prices, in a fantastic atmosphere! This venue is a dream for locals and tourists alike — great food, polite, attentive service (not always a given in Paris) and a wide selection of affordable wines. The owners generally stay away from the big names, so expect to find unexpected and hidden gems in their fantastic list.

marais

Spring

6 rue Bailleul

A wonderful restaurant — if you can get a table – Spring has been wowing the Parians food establishment since 2006 with American born Daniel Rose’s take on classic French cuisine. The wine list is a similar delight, carefully compiled by Joshua Adler and presented with aplomb by sommelier Sandra de Barros. Their selections are extensive without being unwieldy, well-chosen and include plenty of affordable options by the glass.

spring 5

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée

25, Avenue Montaigne

One for the traditionalists, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the hotel Plaza Athénée serves 3 Starred Michelin cuisine as refined and mind-blowing as any you’ll find in Paris. The opulent, formal surroundings are complimented by a classically styled, elaborate wine list which is a Bordeaux lovers delight. Extensive selections of older Bordeaux vintages are on offer, as well as an impressive selection of vintage Champagnes. Sommelier Laurent Roucayrol can assist with your choices but make no mistake, this is a place for a wine splurge, not a place to go on a budget.

plaza

Frenchie

5-6 Rue de Nil

Blink and you’ll miss it, Frenchie is a tiny haven of great bistro style cooking and fantastic wine pairings from small domaines and family enterprises, no big names to be found here! Sommelier Laura Vidal likes to focus on non celebrities, so expect lots of natural wine choices and wines from regions you probably won’t have heard of. A great place to seek out the lesser known.

Frnch

Le Grand Vefour

17 Rue de Beaujolais

A monument to the importance of Paris as a capital of Gastronomy, Le Grand Vefour is a 3 Star Michelin restaurant founded in the 18th century. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Paris and has a very long, extensive wine list to match. The bias to French wines is understandable, considering that every major region in France produces long-lived classics. Burgundy lovers are in for a particular treat, but we would head to the Loire for the best value.

grand 4

Epicure at Hotel Le Bristol

112, Rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore

Undoubtedly one of the finest hotel dining experiences in Paris, Epicure is a hard act to follow with chef Eric Frechon’s impeccably executed take on the French classics. Locals wait months to get a table at this coveted restaurant, which also houses an extremely fine wine list with a good mix of French and international wine choices. The sommelier is one of the most helpful and obliging we’ve ever met in this city.

epicure

Epicure 2

Le Porte-Pot

14 rue Boutebrie

Rising star Guillaume Dupre is as far removed from the sommelier stereotype as can be: warm, friendly and not at all intimating! He has opened a fantastic bistro and wine bar in the heart of St Michel that serves delicious fusion cuisine and some more traditional favorites. His wine list is a delight, imaginatively put together and reasonably priced, he insists on promoting the lesser known and less celebrated. His selection of Beaujolais is second to none.

porte

Cafe Burq

6 Rue Burq

A real gem in Montmartre’s mass of touristy restaurants, Cafe Burq specializes in bringing you the best selection of organic wines available across France. The wine list isn’t massive, but every wine has been carefully chosen and offers exceptional value for money. Chef Laurent Cardillac creates superb dishes to accompany your wines and this venue is open to 2 am most nights. So there’s no rush to get a table!

cafe-burq

Le Garde-Robe

41 rue de l’Arbre Sec

Let the sommelier duo Nathalie and Robin pair your wines with your food choices and you can’t go far wrong at this delightful bistro near the Louvre. They offer over 200 different wines from around the world, but no list. Instead you simply ask for a recommendation and they will be happy to serve any wine they stock by the glass. Wines are complimented by the ever-changing Plats du Jour choices and a selection of charcuterie and fresh cheeses.

Garderobe

Visiting Cognac- How to and Travel Notes

Posted by gen On September - 11 - 2012

Visiting Cognac- How to and Travel Notes

Cognac is much more than just a variety of Brandy. In fact, the legendary spirit itself, which has been produced for hundreds of years in south-west France is just part of a much bigger picture  – the region offers historic towns, ancient cellars and traditions, gourmet restaurants, a buzzing cultural scene and yes, Cognac on tap. There are almost 200 producers of Cognac, over 80,000 hectares under vine and 5 superior crus or vineyard locations. Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘just Cognac’, for styles, ages and qualities vary enormously – so plenty to discover then, even for the seasoned, hard-core Cognac drinker.

For a novice like myself, visiting the region in July was an exciting proposition – the opportunity to familiarise myself with the King (and maybe Queen) of spirits. Not to mention the fact that in July, Cognac hosts an annual Blues Festival, and with Sting and Tom Jones major headlining acts, what more could a Welsh boy want from a sojourn to France? After exploring the town’s picturesque old quarter on arrival, we spent the night enjoying the hospitality of the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac), our hosts for the weekend. The BNIC regulate the Cognac industry and had organised visits to several of Cognac’s big boys, and some smaller, grower outfits too.  Tom Jones singing Delilah ended the night on a slightly inebriated high note.

Day two and the Cognac experience ‘proper’ began, after recovering from our Cognac cocktails we visited Hine, one of the oldest Houses in the region and exclusive supplier to the Royal family! Hine was founded 1763 in the village of Jarnac by Thomas Hine, sent by his English father to create a name in the Cognac world. Located on the banks of the river Charente, the house is today run by cellar master Eric Forget, who treated us too an exceptional tour of the headquarter and cellars and, of course a tasting of some of their more rarer and finer  brandies.

Cognac, as Eric explained, is classified by the BNIC into various categories, including: V.S, a minimum of two years aging for the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend, V.S.O.P, a minimum of four years aging and Extra – requiring a minimum of 6 years of age. Companies like Hine naturally age for longer periods, always in French oak and produce Cognacs from blends as old as 50-60 years! They only use grapes from the Grand and Petit Champagne crus or vineyards in the region, the resulting house style was very fragrant, elegant and refined, their top Cognac – ‘H by Hine’ – was as smooth as silk to taste – Quite an introduction to the Cognac world, although due to the time of year we didn’t actually see any distillation take place – Good excuse to return I suppose.

In complete contrast to Hine, the house style at Hennessy is unashamed rich, oaky and full bodied, blockbuster Cognac designed to stimulate the senses, whether you are ready or not! We spent the afternoon touring the vast cellars of Hennessy, who are now part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy luxury goods empire. Cognac’s largest and most successful brand was created in 1765 by an Irish entrepreneur Richard Hennessy, after which their prestige brand is aptly named. Today the house sells over 50 million bottles a year and is undoubtedly the region’s best large-scale ambassador. After visiting their vast, ancient barrel cellars across the banks of the Charente, we were privileged to taste one of their prestige bottling – Hennessy Paradis Imperial. It astounded me with the complexity and depth of flavours; they seemed to be constantly evolving from spice and leather to stronger, cigar box and tobacco notes. Texturally the Cognac was a dream and I could see why the world’s Elite are prepared to pay top dollar for it. There was no way that I was spitting this one.

Our last visit of the day was to Otard, a smaller family-run house that happens to have one of the most beautiful and impressive Chateaux in the the oldest part of Cognac. The Chateau was apparently built in the 11th century to keep out the English (I’m ok being Welsh then) and then fell under the ownership of the Valois family. Otard was founded in 1975 by Jean-Basptitse Antoine Otard and has remained under the same family control ever since. Of particular note is their grand cellars, protected by thick walls from the Charente which creates a high levels of humidity and the perfect temperature for smooth, elegant Cognac.

After our tour we tasted a range of Cognacs, young and old, eau-de-vie that was barely 1 year old and a vintage Cognac from the 1970s. Vintage cognacs are rare, most Cognac are blends of different, barrel aged eau-de-vies produced from several stipulated grape varieties from the 6 sub-regions: namely Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche. Otard follow the standard Cognac production framework: after three weeks of fermentation the wine is distilled twice in Charente cooper and then aged for at least two years before it can be bottled as Cognac. Highlights of our tasting included an extremely complex, elegant vintage example and the XO, which impressed with its nutty, truffled aromas and flavours.  Also interesting to taste young eau-de-vie – harsh, alcoholic but a good learning curve. Again, no distillation to observe due to the season, but with heavenly Cognacs like this to taste, we weren’t too concerned. An evening with Hugh Laurie in concert at Cognac’s handsome public park, sipping Cognac cocktails was the icing on the cake.

The final day focused on the smaller players in Cognac, quality conscious growers like Ferrand, who even put on a BBQ for us – not a regular occurrence during distillery visits! First though, we paid a visit to a local Cooperage Seguin-Moreau. The tour was illuminating; who would have thought it takes so long to craft French oak barrels! Definitely worth a detour if you are in the region, Seguin-Moreau will happily organize visits and you can observe every stage of the process, from selecting the staves to toasting the barrels. After our barrel education we headed to Ferrand, headed up by the extremely amiable Alexandre Gabriel. Alexandre had travelled the world, studying in the US before decided to return home and purchase an ailing, family run Cognac house in 1989. He proudly stated that he had breathed new life into the property, easy to believe considering his incredible, energy and passion – besides perfect English that put my French to shame.

Our tour through the estate’s extensive vineyards and cellars finished on the perfect note, sampling his fine Cognac and enjoying a steak BBQ in the extensive Chateau kitchen. The sun actually appeared too and we sat sipping his Pineau de Charentes, a wonderful, sweet fortified wine that is heavenly served chilled on a warm evening. Ferrand make quite an extensive range of spirits, including Gin, Rhum and even Vodka! If you visit you can taste them all, Gabriel is happy to show off – just a little :)

The evening presented us with some free time, so I took the chance to stroll around Cognac’s handsome streets. The town is one of France’s oldest and is well worth a look; don’t just use it as a base to explore the big names of Hennessy and Martell. We dined at Héritage, a superb restaurant in the Cognac’s historic quarter. The food is well executed, local fare and they blissfully served wine as a welcome change of pace from our Cognac infused cocktails.

We sat chatting, summing up our experiences and highlights over the past three days. ‘How can we finish on a higher note,’ the German journalist enquired. ‘With Sting in concert,’ I replied, who was headlining the last act during the Blues festival. So if you are going to visit Cognac, come in July as Cognac cocktails and the Blues work rather well together I’d say.

Santé!

 

Great French Wineries

Posted by gen On February - 24 - 2012

Some Terrific French Wines- “Cellar Tours Favorites”

We are often asked by our clients to include the “best” wineries in their tours (we organize wine tours in France, among other destinations), and this is of course can mean many things. It can mean most expensive, most marketed and famous, most widely sold in your area, so forth. Visiting a winery should leave a lasting impression and be a memorable and cherished experience, this is our philosophy.

The criteria we use when choosing the wineries are not only that they make great wines (that is a given), but that the hospitality is stellar and truly warm, or there might be a terrific architectural icon, or wines might also be organic/ bio dynamic, you might be able to have a private lunch with the owner, and we might be able to organize fun activities like wine blending classes, so forth.

So herewith are some of our favorite wineries in France:

1. Chateau Kirwan, Margaux

Read profile here

2. Chateau Angelus, St Emilion

Read profile here

3. Chateau Coutet, Sauternes

Read profile here

 

4. Chateau Haut-Bailly, Pessac Leognan

Read profile here

5. Domaine Couly-Dutheil Winery, Loire

Read profile here

6. Chateau La Lagune, Médoc

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7. Champagne Mailly

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8. Domaine De Noiré Winery, Loire

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9. Larmandier-Bernier, Champagne

Read profile here

 

10. Domaine de la Charmoise, Henry Marionnet, Loire

Read profile here

Check out more of our recommended French Wineries Here.

Santé!

Wine Tours and Tastings in the Loire Valley Part 1

Posted by gen On March - 18 - 2011

Wine Tours and Tastings in the Loire Valley

By Simona Piccinelli

The Loire Valley is a sinuous strip of vineyards running along the mighty Loire river in the heart of France, from the Massif Central all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. This beautiful region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000  thanks to its beautiful landscape, gripping history (since Charles VIII moved here, it has been home to the French aristocracy) and literature (Rabelais, Balzac and Alain Fournier were all born here), lavish chateaux, historic towns and villages. We recently had the chance to go visit the region on site inspection and herewith some notes and photos from our trip.

Loire Valley

We took a trip to the wine country to learn about the more than 60 wine appellations (AOC) of the Loire Valley, from Sancerre to Nantes: 7 days, 750 km, 21 wineries, 14 restaurants, from Michelin starred to cozy bistros, 10 chateaux: a tough job, but someone had to do it :)

Photo credit: theeuropeanwinetable.blogspot.com

Photo credit: theeuropeanwinetable.blogspot.com

First stop was Sancerre, home of the same named great white wine, the greatest expression of Sauvignon Blanc. The appellation was created in 1936 (for white wine; for reds and rosés then it was later in 1959) and there are fourteen communes eligible for the appellation. One of them is Chavignol, better known for its famed goat cheese (Crottin de Chavignol). Here you can find the Domaine Henri Bourgeois estate. The Bourgeois family has produced wine for 10 generations; today, it is managed and run by the exuberant Mr. Jean Marie Bourgeois, who increased the estate vineyards up to 65 hectares and also launched a new winery in Marlborough, New Zealand (another Sauvignon Blanc hotspot). His detailed attention to the different terroirs can be easily found in all of his Sancerres. One of our favourite wines was La Bourgeoise, made with 50 year old vines.

Loire Valley Wine TastingLoire Valley Wine Tasting
Another very interesting wines estate  in the area is Daniel Chotard , in Crazancy en Sancerre.

After a quick stop in Gien, famous for its ceramics – and in Orléans – liberated from the English by Jeanne d’Arc in 1429 – we arrived in Blois, home town of Louis XII. We enjoyed a nice walk through the mediaeval cobble stoned alleys and a visit to the Blois castle. It is one of the most important castles in Loire Valley and it features 3 different architecture styles, one for each wing built by different kings: gothic for Louis XII, renaissance for François I and baroque for Gaston d’Orléans.

Finally lunch time!!! At Michelin starred «Au Rendez- vous des pêcheurs» owner -chef Christophe Cosme impressed us with pike perch with potatoes, celery and foie gras, paired with Les Veilleurs Blanc produced  by Michel Quenioux at Domaine de Veilloux.

Loire Valley Wine Tour

Loire Valley Wine Tour

We walked thought many vineyards and visited several wineries in this part of the Touraine and Cheverny appellations and we felt in love with an ancient grape: Romorantin. It is a traditional French white grape, that legend says was introduced to the region by King François I.

We particularly loved Romorantin made by Domaine de Huards and by Henri Marrionet. Domaine de Huards started with 4 hectares in 1950 and now owns 35 hectares thanks to vigneron Michel Gendrier’s energy and obstinacy. He produces natural wines, with biodynamic viticulture. So no chemicals at all in the vineyards, no oenological products (except for small doses of sulfites) and the use of natural yeasts in the cellar. We particularly loved the Cuvée François Ier A.O.C. Cour-Cheverny, made with 100% Romorantin grapes, from 50 to 83 years old vines. It has a fresh bouquet, it is rich on the palate and has an excellent balance. Long and elegant after taste.

Loire Valley Wine ToursLoire Valley Wine Tours

Henri Marrionet at the is one of the leading wine maker of the region. He loves to work with indigenous grape; in his 47 hectares he planted Gamay (and also a lost variety such as Gamay de Bouze) and Cot (known also as Malbec) as the main red varieties; and then Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Romorantin for the white ones. He planted also some ungrafted vines. His wife and daughter-in-law were excellent hosts, we spent a very delightful and interesting afternoon, walking in the vineyards, talking about their vineyard management and wine making philosophy and tasting their wine range.  We were fascinated by Cepages Oubliés 2008 (100% Gamay de Bouze), Vinifera (ungrafted Cot) and Provignage 2005 (100% Romorantin from pre-philloxera vines).

Our home for these days was Domaine Hauts de Loire, a hunting lodge built in 1860, in the middle of a forest with a private lake. It has a 2 Michelin starred restaurant, run by chef Rémy Giraud, who pampered us with his amazing cuisine and his impressive wine list. We really enjoyed the Veille Vigne 1998 Chateau Gaillard.

Loire Valley Wine Tour

Loire Valley Wine Tour
Part 2 Coming Soon…

Chambord

Memorable Dishes of 2010in France, Spain, Italy, and Ireland

It’s become an annual tradition: we look back at the last year and consider what the best meals of the year were.  Last year we focused on Italy, and this year we are doing it across the board.

As we travel throughout the five countries where we offer our gourmet tours (France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and France) throughout the year, between the whole team we get to try literally hundreds of restaurants throughout the year. These range from hole- in- the wall – family restaurants to gastro pubs to Michelin starred high end eateries.

We have selected some of our favorite dishes (as you can see we tended to favor simple preparations and top quality ingredients over complicated dishes)  this past year with links to where we were lucky enough to taste them.

May 2011 be a terrific year for all our readers, may you eat and drink very well!

1. Seafood platter, with delicious lobster and oysters, at Aherne’s in Youghal – county Cork, Ireland

Memorable Dishes 2010

2. Frog legs at Maison Lameloise in Burgundy

Memorable Dishes 2010

3. Pizzoccheri at Locanda Altavilla in Valtellina

Memorable Dishes 2010

4. Amazing Irish breakfast with wild smoked salmon and carragheen pudding at The Mill in Dunfanaghy – county Donegal

Memorable Dishes

5. Scallops at Le Coquillage of Chateau Richeaux and informal tasting of oysters (creuses and plates) in Cancale


Memorable Eating 2010

 

6. Pan fried eel and salad with shallot vinaigrette at 2 Michelin starred restaurant at Domaine des Hauts de Loire in the Loire Valley


Memorable Dishes 2010

7. Spring specialty with wild asparagus at La Subida in Friuli

Memorable Dishes 2010

8. Strawberry millefeuille at Venissa (owned by top Prosecco producer Bisol) in Venice

 

www.PassioneGourmet.it

 

9. Grilled Rodaballo (Turbot ) at Elkano in Getaria, Spanish Basque Country

Memorable Dishes 2010

10.  Sole with Fennel, Bergamot and Med Flavors at Celler de Can Roca in Catalunya, Spain

Memorable Dishes 2010


Wines of the Camino de Santiago- Wine Tasting along the Saint James Pilgrimage

Camino de Santiago

This has been a record year for number of pilgrims on the “Camino de Santiago” with visitors coming from all over the world, and travelling clear across the North of Spain to Santiago de Compostela on foot, cycling, horseback, and those with less time available, by car.  The experience is amazing and even life changing for some, and while in centuries and decades past the pilgrimage was purely religious, these days people from all walks of life and religions take part in the Camino for a number of reasons- spiritual, for their health, as a sabbatical or break between professions, and many, as a unique life affirming vacation. Some of Spain´s loveliest cathedrals and medieval towns are located along the camino. And the bonus for wine lovers is that many of Spain´s best wine regions also crisscross the north of the country.

There are  5 main pilgrim routes to Santiago in Spain, and others originating outside Spain in greater Europe but the most popular and traditional of the caminos is the “Camino Francés“, the French Way which starts in French Basque Country and stretches nearly 800 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. Here are some notes on wine tasting and traveling along the Camino Francés, for food and wine lovers.

1. ST JEAN PIED DE PORT- IROULÉGUY WINE REGION

Wines of the Camino French Pays Basque

Sightseeing: If you have a few days before starting the Camino, explore the French Pays Basques-  Biarritz, the darling fishing village of St Jean de Luz, the picture postcard of Ainhoa, etc.  St Jean Pied de Port itself is a lovely small town as is Roncevalles and St Etienne de Baigorry is in  the heart of Irouleguy wine country.

What to drink: Domaine Arretxea, Domaine Brana, Domaine Ilarria, Domaine Etxegaraya

Where to stay: Stay in a simple room at the Hotel Pyrenee and dine at their Relais & Chateaux restaurant

Wines of the Camino

2. PAMPLONA- NAVARRA WINE REGION

wine tasting on the camino de santiago

Sightseeing: Puente la Reina with its medieval bridge, 18th century Santa Eulalia de Merida church in Etxauri (14 km from Pamplona), the Hemingway trail in Pamplona, the Ermita de Santa Maria de Eunate in Muruzabal, the monastery of Irache (also a winery) with its fuente de vino (a highlight for walkers on the camino with its free wine), the hamlet of Dicastillo, the magnificent fairy tale castle in Olite, the lovely Iglesia de Santa Maria in Tafalla, Ujue with its fortress and the medieval hamlet of Larraga.

What to drink: El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa (Nekeas), Esencia Monjardin, Alzania Seleccion, Ochoa Vino dulce de Moscatel, Calchatas, Guelbenzo Evo, Coleccion 125 Chardonnay fermentada en barrica (Chivite).

Local dishes to try: Bacalao ajoarriero, Esparragos de Navarra, Cordero al Chilindron

Local festivities: The truffle festival in Oloríz in December, The medieval festival of Olite in August and the international folkloric dance festival in Lodosa in July.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Castillo de Monjardin, Palacio de Muruzabal, Principe de Viana

Where to stay: La Perla in Pamplona, the beautiful Parador in Olite and the Relais & Chateaux El Peregrino in Puente la Reina

Navarra wine map

3. LAGUARDIA- LA RIOJA WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: Medieval villages like Laguardia, Briones and Ábalos; Tapas (Calle Laurel) and some fine churches in Logroño; the hamlet of Navarrete; beautiful Torremontalbo; Nájera; the extremely important monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla (birthplace of the Spanish language; and the  Santo Domingo la Calzada is a major stop on the Camino de Santiago.

What to drink:  Tempranillo is king here and Rioja has some amazing producers making both traditional and modern style wines. We love Benjamín Romeo´s Contador, Sierra Cantabria, Remirez de Ganuza, Roda, Hermanos Peciña, Muga, Artadi, Finca Valpiedra and Señorio de San Vicente.

Local dishes to try: menestra de verduras (fresh sauteed local veggies, Rioja is a big vegetable producing part of Spain), alcachofas frescas salteadas con jamón ibérico (sauteed artichokes with cured ham, Bacalao a la Riojana (cod, Rioja style), Chuletillas al sarmiento (baby lamb chops grilled over grape vines).

Where to stay: The Marqués de Riscal wine resort in El Ciego is the most luxurious property (with wine spa and Frank Gehry design) and the Villa de Laguardia is a solid four star outside medieval Laguardia, with a spa offering wine and olive oil treatments. Also recently opened in Laguardia´s main plaza is the Hospederia Los Parajes Inn.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Darien, Baigorri, Muga, Lopez de Heredia, Juan Alcorta (Campo Viejo).  Luxury wine tours in Rioja, see sample program here.

Local festivities: the “wine battle” of Haro in June, the medieval festival of Briones also in June, another lesser known wine “battle” in San Asensio and an array of harvest festivals

rioja wine map

4. BURGOS- RIBERA DEL DUERO WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: The magnificent cathedral of Burgos, the pretty historic center of Lerma, Peñafiel with its castle housing a wine museum, the pharmacy of Peñaranda (dating to 1635!) and the medieval village of Covarrubias.

What to drink: Tinto del Pais, otherwise known as Tempranillo is the main grape in this red wine producing region. Top wines include Dominio de Pingus, Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, Dominio de Atauta,  Alion, Emilio Moro, Arzuaga, Viña Mayor, Abadia Retuerta, Viña Pedrosa, Pago de los Capellanes and Pago de Carrovejas.

Local dishes to try: Lechazo asado!! This is the definitive local dish, baby lamb roasted in ancient clay or brick ovens. Also, Asparagus from Tudela, Cochinillo (suckling pig), Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding spiced with paprika) and Salchicha de Zaratán are local specialties.

Where to stay: Palacio de la Merced in Burgos, Convento las Claras hotel and spa in Peñafiel, and the gorgeous Parador in Lerma, a 17th century ducal palace.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Legaris, Matarromera, Prado Rey, Protos, Abadia Retuerta (who just opened a new gastronomic  restaurant onsite). Luxury wine touring options in Ribera here.

wine tasting camino santiago

5. LEON- BIERZO WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: Leon´s outstanding cathedral, Astorga, Ponferrada with its fairy tale castle (featured in our most beautiful castles in Spain post), unique landscapes in Las Médulas, the abandoned castle of Corullón, the Cistercian monastery of Carracedo.

What to drink:  The land of Mencia! Amazing value red wines here and top bets include Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas, Paixar, Pétalos del Bierzo

Local dishes to try: “El Botillo” (dating to medieval times), Cecina (cured beef), Cordero asado (roast lamb), Empanada de “batallón”

Where to stay: The Prada a Tope wine estate in Canedo.

wine tasting camino santiago

6. GALICIA- VALDEORRAS

valdeorras

What to see/do: Dine and spa at Spa Pazo do Castro, visit the outrageously baroque retablo in the tiny church of Rubia, the Monastery of Xagoaza (headquarters to the Godeval winery) and check out the Ancient Roman Cigarrosa bridge near the wine producing village of Petín.

What to drink: Godello is the main grape here and our faves are  Valdesil and As Sortes. Other good ones include Joaquin Rebolledo, Godeval and Guitian Fermentado en barrica (Bodegas la Tapada).

7.  GALICIA- RIBEIRA SACRA

ribeira sacra

What to see/do: This is the prettiest of all Galician wine appellations and the riverside scenery is sublime (the Miño and Sil rivers converge here).  Here is a great website in English with a full list of sightseeing options.  Wonderful area.

What to drink: a host of white and red varietals are grown here including Albariño, Treixadura, Loureiro, Torrontés, etc. Uniquely a region known for reds and whites. We love love love Adega Alguiera, as well as Témera, and Dominio do Bibei.

Local Festivities: There are many wine festivals in the region including the charmingly named wine producing area of Sober.

Where to stay: Located in pristine forest and countryside in this beautiful wine region is the delicious Parador of San Estevo, featured in our post on the best wine hotels in Spain.

8.GALICIA- RIBEIRO

Ribeiro

What to see/do: The Monastery of San Salvador in Celanova (founded in 936, although much of what you see now is 16th and 18th century add ons), the curious spas in Cortegada (in a modernista palace) and the tiny but interesting Jewish quarter in the small medieval town of Ribadavia.

What to drink:  Ribeiro is known for its fresh whites and we quite enjoy Viña Mein, not to mention the fab estate of Pazo Casanova.

9.GALICIA- RIAS BAIXAS

rias_baixas

What to see/do:  Stay at the Parador of Baiona, one of the most scenically perched Parador hotels in Spain. Cambados is a quaint fishing village.  And the Cies islands are to die for, rent a private boat to explore.

What to drink: Albariño, but of course! Considered the most elegant white wine in Spain, the Albariño grape flourishes in the vineyards of this area (Rias Baixas translates as “low rivers”, referring to the estuaries in southern Galicia). Top producers include: Fefiñanes,  Pazo de Barrantes (owned by Rioja´s Marques de Murrieta), Pazo de Señoráns, Terras Gaudas, and Lagar de Fornelos. The Martin Codax brand is probably the most popular Albariño abroad, and one you are likely to find back home.

10. SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA!

santiago_compostela

Sightseeing: The cathedral is of course the first stop for pilgrims and the energy here at the end of the camino is amazing, with people from all over the world descending on the cathedral and then the bars and restaurants of the old town. The fun thing to do here is just get lost in the old town and taste food and wine along the way.

What to drink: The tapas bars in Santiago serve Albariño in pretty ceramic cups and it is hard to find a bad house Albarino! The zippy white wine pairs perfectly with specialties like Pulpo a la Gallega (octopus drizzled in olive oil and smoked Spanish paprika).

Where to stay: For us, there is only one place to stay in Santiago itself and that is is at the beautiful Parador, which breathes history and romance.

POST CAMINO WINE EXPLORING:

The Douro Valley is only a few hours south and Northern Portugal is a treat for those looking for fabulous food and wine and unspoiled wine country.

wine tasting on the camino de santiago

Collioure and Banyuls, a land with two souls

by Ivano Martignetti

Collioure
In the south of France, in the “Pyrénée Orientales” there is a stretch of land which is not only renowned for its beautiful sea and landscapes, but also for the quality of its wines, enhanced by the configuration of the land which requires an heroic viticulture to work the vines, as hard as in “Valtellina” or “Cinque Terre”. Machinery aid is not an option here, all the work has to be done manually and just looking at the steep slopes my back already hurts…
Mediterranean France wine travel notes

This little corner of France is so blessed for winemaking that two AOCs have been granted: Collioure (dry) and Banyuls & Banyuls Grand Cru (Sweet natural wine). Four municipalities have the right to name their wines after these two AOCs and they are all well worth a visit: Collioure, Banyuls sur Mer, Cerbère and Port-Vendres.  Collioure is a must see, rich with archeological heritage from ancient populations, architectural beauties, pastel colored architecture and a beautiful Catalan harbor that inspired artists like Picasso, Matisse, Derain and many others, leading this southern beauty to become a cultural centre in France.

Mediterranean France wine travel notes
The sweet Banyuls wines are a whole world to discover, starting from the small, boutique “caves” such as Domaine de la Casa Blanca (8 hectares in total), where you can really appreciate the human touch of the producers contrasting with the beautiful, historic Cellier des Templiers, producing 80% of total Banyuls and Banyuls Grand Cru production. Pair the wines of Banyuls with dark chocolate, chocolate cakes or even cheese, French of course.

Mediterranean France wine travel notes
Collioure is an AOC which includes white, rosé and red wines. Reds are typical southern wines, rich of tannins and alcohol, very enjoyable after a few years. A blend of Grenache noir, Carignan and sometimes Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault will make your meals  joyous occasions!

Mediterranean France wine travel notes

Best Luxury Beach Resorts in Europe this Summer

Posted by gen On July - 16 - 2010

It´s sizzling this summer in Europe and a few days on the coast are definitely in order! Some suggestions for luxury coastal hotels  by country:

FRANCE

chateau_eza 1

Château Eza- Eze: The ultimate French Riviera hideaway. Think lifestyles of the rich and famous, this charming medieval hamlet spills over a clifftop overlooking the Med. The small luxury hotel has a Michelin starred restaurant and Birdseye views over the sparkling sea.

best beach resorts in Europe

Hôtel du Cap Eden Roc – Antibes:  this hotels attracts the most beautiful, chic and rich jetsetters in Europe. Gorgeous setting.

best beach resorts in Europe

Le Mas de Langoustier – Porquerolles: Less bling bling than the Riviera, Porquerolles island in a natural paradise and has sublime views and a stay here is about the setting and the sea.

luxury sea side resorts Europe

Hotel du Palais- Biarritz:  The ultimate aristocrats playground. The Duchess of Alba is said to take a suite here for a month every year, and Russian aristocrats have been so enamored of this resort they built a Russian orthodox church across the street! Biarritz is located in the beautiful French Pays Basque, a hop skip and a jump from Spain´s gourmet Basquelands.  A stay here could pair well with some time in the Bordeaux wine county, or indeed in San Sebastian across the border.

GREECE

Best beach hotels Europe

Elounda Beach Hotel- Crete: wow, this is an amazing place located on Crete´s northeastern coastline. Highlights include the dramatic location, Chenot spa, and those sea view rooms..

ITALY

best beach resorts in Europe

Il San Pietro – Positano, Amalfi Coast: Few hotels can compete with San Pietro in Italy in terms of location and luxury. Located in the dreamy village of Positano, this hotel is a great base for exploring Campania. Must sees and dos include Ravello, Furore, a meal at Don Alfonso 1890, wine tasting in Irpinia, pizza in Naples, Pompeii…featured in our luxury tours of Amalfi Coast.

best beach resorts in Europe

La Plage resort – Sicily: Spectacular location in Sicily´s prettiest corner, Taormina. Really a collection of villas, tastefully tucked into lush gardens, this is a terrific choice for a few days by the sea. While in Taormina, don´t miss the Ancient Greek theatre and wine tasting near Mount Etna.

Best luxury beach resorts Europe

Il Pellicano – Maremma, Tuscany: stylish resort in southern Tuscany, attracting a real “it” crowd.   If you can peel yourself away from the pool scene, why not enjoy a luxury wine tour of the local Super Tuscans?

best beach resorts in Europe

Fortino Napoleonico – Marche: beautiful setting in undiscovered Marche, coined the “new Tuscany” by the New York Times. Unspoiled, amazing food here and dreamy scenery.

PORTUGAL

Best luxury beach resorts Europe

Vila Vita- Algarve: Moorish inspired design and resort is spread over 50 hectares of gardens and with inviting sea views. The kind of resort where if you want to stay in a cocoon, you have everything you need on site- various restaurants, spa, pools, etc. Tips in fine dining in the area here.

SPAIN

Luxury beach resorts Europe

La Gavina- north of Barcelona, you´ll find this graceful resort in an unspoiled section of the Costa Brava. White and airy, it has a 1920′s feel. Romantic outdoor restaurant with candlelight and piano… while in the Costa Brava, explore the Emporda wine country.

luxury beach resorts Europe

Marbella Club Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa – Marbella:  a resort for those looking for golf and sun y basta. It does golf and sun, and does them well :) If you have a craving for culture and a bit of real Spain, drive up to Ronda, a beautiful village with a terrific restaurant, Tragabuches.

Bordeaux En Primeur Tasting, Futures- 2009 Vintage

Posted by gen On April - 12 - 2010

Bordeaux En Primeur Tasting,  Futures- 2009 Vintage

By Lindsay Morriss, Bordeaux correspondent

Bordeaux Futures 2009 Vintage

One of the world’s most renowned wine tastings is the Bordeaux Primeurs. This event is not open to the general public, but organized specifically for the wine trade as a venue to gather professionals from around the world to taste the most recent vintage. Each spring, thousands of journalists, critics, importers, sommeliers, and other influential personalities descend upon Bordeaux to sample wines from the most recent vintage.

These wines represent some of Bordeaux’s most prestigious labels, such as Lafite, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem. The objective of tasting these wines is to get an overall feel for the quality of the most recent vintage, which will determine the price at which these wines should be released to the market. Once pricing has been set, they will be sold in the form of futures―otherwise referred to as selling the wine en primeur.

Bordeaux Futures 2009

Bordeaux wine purchased as futures is made from grapes harvested the previous fall. Those who purchase wine futures do so to secure supply for highly demanded wines, but also because it is anticipated that the wine’s price will increase by the time it is bottled and released to the market (generally 2-3 years post-harvest).

The wines tasted at the annual Primeurs are barrel samples of very youthful wine that is meant to age in barrel for approximately two more years, and then for many more years in bottle. Therefore, these wines are unfinished and generally unpleasant to taste. When evaluating unfinished wines, you are not looking for appealing flavor, but rather for characteristics indicating that the wine is balanced and has good aging ability such as structure, complexity, high acidity, and a long finish.

Primeurs 2009

During the last week of March into the beginning of April 2010, nearly 6,000 professionals traveled to Bordeaux to participate in Primeurs 2009. The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (a club representing 132 of Bordeaux’s premier chateaux that stages events around the world to promote the region’s fine wine offering) organized a series of tastings grouped by appellation; whereas, the most prestigious Bordeaux chateaux held their own private tastings at the estate, which could be attended by appointment only.

Bordeaux Futures 2009

I had the opportunity to participate in these tastings because I am currently interning with the Bordeaux-based wine merchant, Millésima S.A.  Together with several members from the Marketing team, we attended all UGC tastings to cover the entire Bordeaux region. Our day began in Médoc on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where we tasted all Médoc appellations, as well as Bordeaux’s sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac. The following day we visited Graves/Pessac-Léognan, then traveled to St. Emilion and Pomerol on the Right Bank.

UGC Program: Primeurs 2009

Location                                           Appellation

Day 1

Château Batailley                       St. Julien, Pauillac & St. Estèphe
Château Desmirail                     Margaux
Château Cantemerle                 Médoc, Haut Médoc, Moulis & Listrac
Château Dauzac                          Sauternes & Barsac

Day 2

Château Smith Haut Lafitte   Graves & Pessac-Léognan
Château Beau Séjour Bécot      St. Emilion Grand Cru
Château Gazin                             Pomerol

Bordeaux Futures 2009

Overall, the 2009 Bordeaux vintage was a bit exceptional in that these wines were marked with intense fruit flavors and honestly, were not at all unpleasant to sample! This was the result of a long growing season with almost four months (July through October) of ideal weather, namely warm, dry days and cool nights. As a result, sugar levels were high and the berries were small (with less water), but contained very concentrated juice.

Bordeaux Futures 2009

There have been many claims that 2009 is among Bordeaux’s best vintages in recent memory. After reading the opinions of well-known wine journalists, as well as developing my own impressions from having sampled many of these wines, I would conclude that 2009 is overall a very good vintage featuring some outstanding wines; though, at the same time has also produced wines that are over-extracted or a bit green from not having been harvested at the right moment. In general, the long growing season favored wines with blends made from predominately Cabernet Sauvignon; whereas, the Merlot-based blends weren’t always as well balanced. However, that is not to say every wine will fit this mold.

Bordeaux Futures 2009

For anyone looking to purchase wine futures, I recommend reading several opinions on the same wine, as well as identifying a trusted merchant who can offer professional advice regarding which wines feature the best aging characteristics. As with buying futures of any traditional financial instrument, there is always a risk that the price will decrease. However, a well-made wine (especially from an acclaimed vintage) will have superb aging ability, leading the wine to appreciate in value over time.

Bordeaux Futures 2009