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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!




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…

man 4

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.

westin 2westin 1

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!

villa 2

 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.


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.



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


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


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.


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?


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!



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.




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.



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…


Ten Best Things about Bordeaux

Posted by gen On August - 7 - 2009

We just spent a week in Bordeaux on a fabulous site inspection and can´t praise this graceful and friendly city highly enough. Called the “Mini Paris”, Bordeaux is an absolute must for wine lovers and equally interesting for foodies, architectural buffs and history lovers.

Here is a quick list of the top ten things you can´t miss while visiting Bordeaux:

1. The Regent Hotel- hot, new, very glam

Best of Bordeaux Regent Hotel and Restaurant

2. The Châteaux of the Left Bank

Best of Bordeaux Left Bank Chateaux

3. Romantic Saint Emilion

Best of Bordeaux St Emilion

4. Lunch at cozy La Tupina

Best of Bordeaux La Tupina

5. Cap Ferret´s shabby chic oyster haunts

Best of Bordeaux Cap Ferret

6. Thierry Marx´s 2 * Restaurant at Cordeillan Bages

Best of Bordeaux thierry_marx

7. Biking through the vineyards at Franc Mayne

Best of Bordeaux Franc Mayne

8. Dinner at Le St James in charming Bouliac- what a view!

Best of Bordeaux le-saint-james

9. Sand Dunes near Arcachon

Best of Bordeaux Arcachon peninsula sand dunes

10.Chapon Fin- an institution

Best of Bordeaux Chapon Fin