Cellar Tours Blog

Archive for the ‘French Restaurant’ 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.

hotel dieu

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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maison colombier

Maison Lameloise

36, place d’Armes
, Chagny 71150


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.

Loiseau des Vignes

Loiseau des Vignes 2

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.

L’Auberge du Cep

Place de l’Église, 69820 Fleurie

Auberge du CEP 2

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

hostellerie Levernois

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 🙂

Hostellerie de Levernois

Le Benaton

25 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière, 21200 Beaune

Le Benaton

Le Benaton 2

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


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

Le Clos du Cèdre 2

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!

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…

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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.


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.




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.


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.



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.

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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.



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.


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.

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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.


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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.


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!


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.


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