Researching and writing a book about people who work with wine changed my life. I plunged into stories about grapes and geography, filled the fridge with quirky and classic vintages, and marveled when the world’s geography of taste expanded. I sipped wine made by colorful characters in locations odder than any pea green boat ever aimed for: a countryside resembling Hawaii in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; a land where people mount wooden phallus symbols over their doors; an unexpected locale in rural farmland Missouri producing wine that would make you marvel.
During the past six years I’ve read ample books and articles on wine, and found that the quality of some literary ‘vintages’ surpasses others. I enjoyed Wall Street Journal pieces written by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher because their approach is simple – decide for yourself what you like, experiment with new wines, and scrap decanting to let wines ‘breathe’ in the glass instead, changing character while they do.
It’s a challenge to write about wine and hold readers’ attention. Writers can only prattle on so much about the taste of cherries or chalky soil, or the whiff of Montecristo cigar smoke or leather saddles they sniff in a glass. Sure, readers want delight and descriptions they can relate to, but also need hard facts and edgy anecdotes to keep them turning pages. Reading about winery dogs and chateau owners and the rise of prices in Burgundy will only holds readers attention if – like good wine – the elements of each essay are fresh, memorable, and coherent.
Wine books cover several genres. These include relocation tales about those who shucked professions and moved to France or California or New Mexico to try their hand at producing wine. There are wine detective stories – fiction and non-fiction – about thieves and looters and swindlers seeking fortunes, usually through deceit related to labels or provenance. There are compendiums and atlases and instruction manuals about how to swirl and taste and purchase wine.
My favorite wine author is Gerald Asher. The writing in his books A Vineyard in My Glass, or A Carafe of Red, is rich and fluid, and his grasp of subtleties associated with interplays between geology, geography, climate, and grapes is immense. Asher can drop a casual sentence that encapsulates assessment and analysis garnered during decades of personal experience exploring the wine world, but which also includes essentially the distillate of an entire college course on viticulture or wine making.
Choose any of Asher’s essays and select random paragraphs. He recounts slivers of medieval and ancient history with ease in writing that, like good wine, is complex yet intimate and enjoyable.
Asher, who never indulges himself to be a privileged bon vivant, is – above all - optimistic. In his essay titled Roussillon – Sunlight in a Bottle [from the book A Vineyard in My Glass; 2011], he writes:
“Those are the colors of Roussillon’s wines, too…sunlight preserved in a form most likely to be of comfort to us at this time of year. In fact, a rib roast and a carafe of Côtes du Roussillon Villages followed by mince pie with a glass of old Rivesaltes should be reassurance enough for even the most skeptical that the world will indeed go on turning and that the sun will go on shining.”
I enjoy wine writings from Eric Asimov, Lettie Teague, Jay McInerney, and even the dynamic confidence Robert Parker injects in his tasting notes. Choose whoever you like, but for less than the cost of a decent bottle of wine, I suggest you invest in a book by Asher.
My friend Kathy Fu who works in Hong Kong provided photographs for this post, as well as information about Hong Kong itself – basic but intriguing stuff I simply never knew. Kathy also introduced me to Roddy Ropner, interviewed below.
Hong Kong was under British rule for most of 150 years before 1997, when governance transferred to the People’s Republic of China. It then became known as a Special Administrative Region of China. A constitutional document ensures that the existing political situation in Hong Kong will exist for 50 years after this transfer.
The land includes Hong Kong island, as well as more than 260 outlying islands. Renowned deep water Victoria Harbour lies between Honk Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. I always imagined the place as a small pocket of highly developed land, teeming with skyscrapers. The truth is that 40 percent of the country includes parks and nature reserves. Most – over 90 percent – of all inhabitants are of Chinese descent, though English and Chinese are both official languages.
In 2008, Hong Kong’s 80 percent wine import tax was eliminated. Overnight, the location poised itself as the gateway to the growing interest for wine for Asia, particularly for wealthy Chinese buyers. The demand for more expensive wines has focused on French labels, mostly Bordeaux, although in recent years demand has grown for Burgundian wines.
Have you seen any noticeable difference in trends in purchasing fine wines during the past 12 – 24 months – especially for Australian / New Zealand wines in comparison to European wines? Increased or decreased attention / sales?
I don’t see much Australian and NZ wines in the auctions but it seems to me that AUZ in particular, and NZ to a lesser extent, are trying to position themselves in the Fine Wine category. Australia’s Barossa Valley master class in wine was launched in HK so they clearly see that as a key market. I think that there was a backlash against Australian Chardonnay (overoaked) and Shiraz (too alcoholic, over extracted) and both the wineries and promoting bodies have taken this on board and are now trying to promote their premier wine regions. NZ is doing something similar and trying to let consumers know that there is more to NZ wine that Sauvignon Blanc. There is a lot of interest in NZ Pinot Noir and this is probably connected to the love of Burgundy that we are seeing in HK and other parts of Asia.
From conversations with clients, can you sense any growing interest in selecting particular wines for matching with Asian foods – such as Rieslings?
As a huge generalization you can say that people in this part of the world LOVE their food. If you sit down to a dinner with Hong Kong friends the most common topic of conversation is FOOD! So I think it is quite normal that they will then think about food and wine pairing. Also Jeannie Cho Lee MW, first Asian Master of Wine and HK resident, is one of the most prominent wine critics / writers and she has very much promoted the pairing of wine with Asian food. That being said when talking about pairing wine with Asian food people finally realize that there are so many styles that it is impossible to generalize. The cuisine in HK and south China is different to that in Shanghai and that in Beijing. Also, each meal comes with some many courses that its hard to pick one wine – say Riesling – that will par with everything.
On the subject of Riesling I still seldom see people drinking this although the dry styles from Clare and Eden Valleys [Australia] seem in demand in the wine shops. More traditional older wine drinkers might prefer a Mosel Kabinett but as I say I seldom see this being drunk here. What a shame! I think that many people also find that Pinot Noir / Burgundy pairs well with Hong Kong food as it does not overpower the dishes in the way that a Bordeaux might.
Hong Kong is now considered a ‘fine wine capital’ – regarding sales / auctions. Are you aware of any particular measures / legislation that Hong Kong is actively pursuing to maintain or strengthen this reputation?
Good question. I have just been asked to join the Hong Kong Wine Merchants Association – I have not had time to reply yet. http://www.mobilogin.com/HKWMCC/
They say that one of their roles is to lobby the government but I have not yet found out which areas they are concerned about!
The government has introduced some standards for warehousing etc.http://www.investhk.gov.hk/zh-hk/files/2012/08/2012.07-wine-en.pdf
But this is a pretty “laissez-faire” society and the government on the whole does not get too involved. Of course the great coup was to drop import duty on wine – that created the conditions for the current boom in wine. And it’s probably fair to say that most of the demand for fine wine, especially at the auctions, was coming from Chinese buyers. The reality is that there are comparatively few collectors and regular drinkers of fine wine in HK. The population here is 7 million – the size of a 2nd tier city in China!
That being said when I first came to HK in the late 80’s I attended a lot of Chinese dinners and we were always served tea and beer. Now there is almost always wine on offer. Either from the wine list or guests bringing their own wine – which is very common.
Has there been any increase or notable added attention / sales related to wines made in Hong Kong using imported grapes from France / the U.S.?
I understand that there are a couple of wineries making wine in HK. I did hear that they were set up as a way of getting round the import duty when that was still in place. However now that the import duty as been dropped there is no particular reason to buy / drink them. There are so many wines and wine merchants in HK and I think wine lovers love the idea of drinking wine from a special place or region. I don’t feel particularly excited about the thought of drinking a wine made in a factory in Hong Kong from grapes grown by another party.
Thanks for the background information on wine Roddy, and thanks Kathy for photographs and general background on Hong Kong. One day I hope to visit. Sooner rather than later.
The title of this post is misleading. Regulations concerning wine are rarely beautiful, but associated grape names can be. You’ll see.
Below are some basic and bedrock regulations concerning how wine producers can label their bottles in the U.S. Because the universe of wine laws and regulations is often labyrinthine, this post focuses just on a few colorful aspects of U.S. labeling rules. Future posts may peek at those from other wine producing countries. Why? Because regulations force wine makers to consider a wider world beyond fields and cellars.
First – which grape varieties should be listed on a wine label? None, if a producer chooses. But if any are listed, rules apply.
Wines sold in the U.S.(which are not imported) can list on bottle labels only grape varieties recognized by the federal government. Imported wines receive more lee way: they can include any grape names, as long as each is officially recognized by the government of the exporting country.
Inspecting a list from the government’s guidance on including grape variety names on wine labels (courtesty of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau; part of the Treasury), I counted over 310 ‘acceptable’ grape varieties for making wine in the U.S. These include some darlings: Watergate, Captivator, Blue Eye, Edelweiss, Iona, Melody, Noah, St. Croix, and Freedom. Ever heard of these? Just seeing ‘St. Croix’ and ‘Freedom’ on a label could entice me to buy the bottle. And there are more. Additional approved grape varieties (pending the next official rule-making) include: Geneva Red, King of the North, Bluebell, and Rose of Peru – which sound like characters from a child’s storybook.
Second – what percentage of grape(s) named on the label must be included in the wine?
Per U.S. regulations, a single grape variety can be written on the label if at least 75 percent of that bottle’s wine is made from that grape. There are exceptions. First, if the grape is of the vitis labrusca vine variety rather than the more widely used vitis vinifera, only 51 percent (or more) of the wine needs to come from that grape. Second (though I suspect this is rarely used), if a TTB officer finds that the wine made from the 75 percent minimum of one grape still tastes too strongly, he or she can drop the minimum to 51 percent. In both cases, the front or back label will have to include specific language telling that story.
If a producer wants to list two or more grape varieties, they must include the names of all included varieties, as well as their contributing percentages (each within a range of plus or minus two percent).
The state of Oregon has a reputation for applying more stringent requirements - requiring that 90 percent of any single variety must be in the wine if the label names just that grape. But there are eighteen exceptions to this rule, including all component grapes used for red Bordeaux and red Rhone blends, as well as Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and others. What is notable is that this rule does impact both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Considering these two grape varieties constitute the sole components of renowned red and white wines from Burgundy, it’s likely the Oregon legislator who crafted this rule was influenced by Oregon wine producers who are true lovers of pure Burgundian wines. Perhaps beauty does seep into regulations.
Third, what year were the grapes grown?
Stating the ‘vintage’ – the year that the included grapes were harvested – is not required in the U.S. But if a producer chooses to list the vintage, at least 95 percent of grapes included in the bottle must have been harvested during that year. This applies to grapes listed as coming from any designated American Viticultural Area, or AVA. If a state or county is instead listed as the appellation (rather than an AVA), only 85 percent of grapes need come from that labeled vintage.
Fourth – how much alcohol is in the wine?
A friend was recently pulled over by the police, tested, and charged for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Because she drank only wine that night, she suspected someone might have spiked her drink. I suggested another probable cause. During the past two decades, alcohol content has been creeping upward in U.S. wines. Whereas fifteen to twenty years ago most bottles typically used to include between 12 and 13.5 percent alcohol by volume, that number has been ascending upward to as high as 16 percent. Why? Due to improvements in viticulture and the popularity of fruit forward, high alcohol wines, grapes spend longer time on the vine, increasing sugar levels, requiring more prolonged fermentation periods, and resulting in higher alcohol levels.
What does this mean for a cocktail drinker?
If a wine contains 14 percent of alcohol – or less – the label is not required to show the percentage, and can include the words ‘table wine,’ or ‘light wine.’ If it does include the percentage, there is an allowed variance to that stated number of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. For wines that include greater than 14 percent alcohol, however, the rules are slightly different. First, the percentage must be shown on the label; second, the variance must be only plus or minus one percent.
Let’s say my friend who received the DUI had arrived at the party in the early evening. She had an empty stomach and poured herself a glass of wine. She did not read the alcohol content on the label, which showed, let’s say, 15.5 percent. That means the wine could actually contain 16.5 percent alcohol, which means each glass she consumed contained over 37 percent more alcohol than the usual bottle of wine she drinks at home with dinner, a Bordeaux with 12 percent alcohol. Also, if her host went with the current trend of using larger and wider wine glasses, her single pour to the mid-point of the glass provided, say, fifteen percent more liquid than she was used to drinking at home. The human brain has difficulty gauging the volume in a container, and people generally pour themselves more if a glass is wider. Also, people generally pour themselves more when they hold a glass in their hand rather than set it on a table. She drank two glasses on an empty stomach (which provided the same amount of alcohol as three glasses of her usual wine poured at home). Even after subsequent dining (during which she may have enjoyed another glass or a few) her bloodstream was swimming with a greater chance for getting a DUI than she would have suspected.
Want to stay buzzed but not toasted at a party? Check the wine label for alcohol percentage next time you reach for a wine bottle. Otherwise, regulations you break could cost you your driving license. Here’s to safe drinking.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small nation tucked into the mountains north of India and east of Nepal. It has a population of less than 700,000 people and no traffic lights. It is illegal to sell tobacco or engage in mountaineering in Bhutan (one is bad for health; the other might disturb mountain gods). Forbidden also are fishing and hunting.
This small country produces two excellent beers – Druk 11000 (which comes in a big – 650 millilitre – bottle, contains 8 percent alcohol, and packs a smooth punch), as well as the weaker, yeastier, Red Panda.
And wine? Bhutanese produce ara, made predominantly from wheat, although rice or barley are also used. This ‘wine’ might be what we call ‘moonshine lite’ in the United States, and is produced on the sly in villages.
Is it really wine? Technically, no. But that’s no reason to stop a good story.
Before telling of the satisfying hunt for ara, here’s a little background skivvy on wine made from wheat. Technically, wine is produced from grapes or other fruits. Sure, you can add wheat as a clarifying agent to white wine, or add wheat to provide additional tannins in red wine. But wine without fruit? The Japanese drink Sake, which is made from rice and sometimes referred to as wine. But most definitions of wine state that the basis is fruit. I found an internet recipe for ‘wheat wine’ that includes taking one pound of wheat and adding sultanas, potatoes, and grapefruits – but the sultanas and grapefruits are fruit, so their contribution makes this ‘wheat’ beverage a wine.
However, since locals and visitors to Bhutan refer to wheat based ara as wine, I’ll do alike for this piece.
In order to travel within Bhutan as a foreigner, you are required to have a guide. This is supposed to help enhance visitors’ experience. I told my guide, Mr. Tshering, that I wanted to discover more about Bhutanese ara.
And so our adventure began.
First, we visited the local market within the city of Punakha. Very colorful.
After this visit, we drove fifteen minutes, parked along a roadside, and began hiking.
We soon passed a store selling wooden phalluses. Apparently an ancient and deified hero of Bhutan known as the Divine Mad Man came from Tibet. His sexual prowess and reputation for philandering were legendary. So when four spirits were found to be maligning the people who crossed Dochula mountain pass, the Divine Mad Man was summoned to solve the problem. He used his powers to rid the pass of demons. Today, in a show of apparent gratitude, images of penises riddle the countryside: over store fronts, poking above bar doors, painted on buildings.
After passing the Phallus Handicraft store, we walked past a water powered prayer wheel – sending prayers to the heavens.
When I asked Mr. Tshering whether a site for wine making was ahead, he told me no, that we were going to the Temple of Fertility instead.
Apparently both Mr. Tshering and our driver, Mr. Sonma, considered my bachelorhood as a condition they needed to help rectify. Although, considering that both men are bachelors, I suspected they sought a little temple magic themselves to change their own personal situations. So we ascended a mild hillside toward the temple, all the while passing multiple Bhutanese couples also en route, dressed in traditional long robe clothing – khera for women, and gho for men.
Once there, we spun multiple prayer wheels with our hands, took off our shoes, entered the temple, bowed and said prayers before an image of Buddha, received a blessing from a monk, and returned to the car. On the way we passed laughing and gracious children.
But what about the ara, I asked Mr. Tshering.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “We will go.”
Days later, in the town of Chamkhar in the central province of Bumthang, I told Mr. Tshering we should skip the planned afternoon trip to monasteries and instead just wander through town on foot, which we did. When we paced down one street we spotted Mr. Sonma, standing outside a tea shop and sipping a mug of chai. It turned out that the store belongs to Mr. Tshering’s brother.
“Ara!” called Mr. Tshering. A woman drinking it laughed. She then asked for another mug and poured me a full helping. It was only 11.30 in the morning but, hey, I couldn’t refuse Bhutanese hospitality. So I took a few sips in the same time it took this woman to finish her glass and pour herself another. And then she burst into song and dance at this random wonderful little tea house/general store we happened across.
The ara had the taste of mildly bitter lemonade.
This mother of seven, wearing a nose ring made from gold, told us how the wine in the store is made at a local mountain village, and carried to the store in a big plastic container (Mr. Sonma fetched the empty container from the kitchen to display). Apparently ara is drunk by villagers at any time of day – the sugar helps keep them warm while working in mountain fields, and the alcohol dilates their capillaries, flooding their extremities with warm blood.
This woman rapidly downed two glasses, after which the shopkeeper topped up her bottles free of charge. He told me this was to keep her husband from asking whether she had already sampled the wares while on her way home.
Buzzed and happy by the encounter, my Bhutanese friends and I set off walking again. They insisted that I get some rest. After all, they said, that night was New Year’s Eve, and we would be going out drinking and dancing.
Days later, while hiking through the wide, beautiful Phobjikha valley at 10,000 feet above sea level (carved into a U-shape by glaciers long ago), we spied and photographed rare black necked cranes, watched locals practice archery, then met a farmer who invited us into his home.
After ascending steep wooden stairs, we sat. Our host, Mr. Dau, poured us his homemade wheat-based ara, likely 16 to 20 percent alcohol and particularly smooth to drink.
Although technically ara might not be wine, the alcohol content brings it into a range above beer but lower than more potent alcohols. As a lunch time drink for workers who are toiling in the field, it’s delicious, nutritious, and always seems to help strike up camaraderie between the easygoing, peaceful Bhutanese.
In Bhutan, the drink is used for celebrations, to seal deals, and also for courtship. In her book Married to Bhutan [Hay House, 2011], author Linda Leaming tells about encounters with her future Bhutanese husband. She wrote:
“We taught each other English and Dzongkha. Namgay also brought me walnuts, rice, eggs, and butter. He brought me weavings by his sisters, and ara, a locally brewed wine that tastes a little like sake. This meant we were courting.”
Ara can also be stronger than the variety I tasted in Chamkhar. In her book Radio Shangri-La [Crown Publishing, 2011], Lisa Napoli wrote:
“Ara is a clear wine, distilled from rice. A Bhutanese friend plied me with several large glasses one night. It left my head thick and cloudy. It was delicious, but it wasn’t something you’d drink if you were hoping to do anything productive the next day.”
Ara is not only a daily drink for field working villagers, but also a national beverage with pedigree. On request, I was served a helping of ara in a handsome mason bowl within a Thimphu city hotel owned by the royal family. Ara is also the name of the bar at one of the pricier resorts in Thimphu.
Of course, fortified or not by ara, any visitor to Bhutan will want to view or hike to the Tiger’s Nest, built after the original Guru Rimpoche – spiritual leader of Bhutan – received a vision for building the monastery in the seventeenth century (after transforming himself into a flying tiger and cruising through the air to the location from the east). This spectacular monastery was built in the late 1600′s. Magnificent.
Here’s to trying new wines and experiences in 2014.
The flight from Saigon to Hanoi takes two hours. In late December, the journey will take you from t-shirt, shorts, and sandals weather to where you’ll need to pull on a sweater, scarf, and cap before venturing outside.
I had never heard of Vietnamese wine. But there, in the hotel room in Hanoi, stood a bottle. Considering the upstairs restaurant sold wines from Bordeaux, Napa, Colchagua, and Stellenbosch that cost from between $22 and $56 a bottle, why would the hotel risk supplying a free local wine unless it was decent?
I opened the bottle of 12 percent Dabeco ‘red wine,’ and tried it.
“Dabeco red wine is a fermented product from various kinds of fruits of Dalat specialties which create the deep flavour taste.”
This wine was a beautiful surprise. It is light, fruit full, and has the crispness you typically associate with a white wine. This is an Asian Beaujolais, a light and easy pre-dinner drink.
The French began planting wine grapes here in the nineteenth century. What is the wine potential today? The climate is tropical, laden with hills that provide ample microclimates, and vitus vinifera vines thrive here. Not only that – growers can reap three grape harvests per year. In the same way that the waters of the Rhine River or the Finger Lakes moderate temperature extremes in adjacent vineyards in Germany and New York, the Mekong and Red rivers do the same here in Vietnam. And in the same way that breezes from the Pacific Ocean can moderate California’s coastal vineyard climate, the waters of the Golf of Tonkin do alike in Vietnam.
The climate of the north, around Hanoi, generally offers more favorable grape growing conditions than in the far south. Here, grapes are grown among the Ba Vi mountains. In the Central Region, they are grown within the Annamite Range, while in the south, grapes are planted along the coastal plain. Wine grapes can include Cardinal and Chambourcin.
However, the website for Dabeco tells how Dabeco is made from French imported Grenache and Carignan grapes – typically used in the Languedoc region of southern France. These grapes are grown in the south of Vietnam in Ta Lat, which is about a six-hour drive north of Saigon.
Imported grapes have produced an increasing quantity of decent Vietnamese table wines for the past two decades.
Vang Dalat produces wines from the Phan Rang grape growing region, about a two-hour drive south of the well known coastal resort region of Nha Trang, in central Vietnam. The winery produces a million and a half liters per year. The white I tasted is blended from Cardinal and Chardonnay grapes, contains 12 percent alcohol, and costs $4.50 a bottle (although hawkers near resort regions may try selling it for $20 a bottle). It tastes like a tart Chenin Blanc. Apparently the Cardinal grape makes raisins in the United States and Europe, but is suitable for making wine in Vietnam and Thailand.
For Christmas eve, before hitting a heavier red, I would not hesitate for a moment to open another bottle of Dabeco red.
Two years ago my friend Robin and I spent five days at a house in the village of Magny-les-Villers in Burgundy – surrounded by vineyards and rolling countryside. On arrival at such a quiet location, Robin wondered aloud whether we would find things to do for five days. On leaving, we both wished we could stay for weeks longer.
I found this new book about Magny-les-Villers online. Turns out it was written by Laura Bradbury who (together with her husband Franck) rented us the house where we stayed. Titled My Grape Escape, this book is all about finding and renovating that property. It is about camaraderie with friends, family, and workers who help inject sanity and levity into the daunting task of completing renovations before the first paying guests arrive.
The genre is that of foreigner buys property in France, undertakes renovations, and in doing so learns to slow down and appreciate the quality of day to day life. It also documents the transformation of a person as well as a property. Laura was in her twenties when she and Franck purchased this property. Her years of studying law at Oxford convinced her that time spent in non-productive tasks was almost abhorrent, something to feel guilty about. But her husband Franck helped demonstrate otherwise.
When they set off to spend a day buying a second hand car, they instead enjoyed long hours with friends eating breakfast and lunch, and drinking wine and coffee, and buying – unexpectedly – all required kitchenware for their home at a bargain price. Their failure to find a car was alleviated within days when they found one to purchase elsewhere. The book is filled with these scenes – which expand Laura’s comfort in letting go of control. As Franck asks her about events in life: “…why don’t you try to believe that they will turn out just fine – no matter what we do or don’t do?”
One day when Laura and Franck part from their friend René, he leans in the open car window to tell her, “…never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important.”
Laura lets go of her plans and realizes that working long hours in a law firm might damage her precious marriage. She also begins to enjoy herself more. Opportunities to learn abound around Magny-les-Villers. “I had never met anyone who was more gifted for capitalizing on a moment of celebration than Burgundians,” she writes.
On visiting a physician to get a prescription for pills to reduce anxiety, Laura hears her husband Franck ask whether his wife can still drink wine while on medication.
“Only good wine,” Doctor Dupont answered. “I would highly recommend around two glasses at lunch and dinner. Something fortifying. A Pommard or a Vosne-Romanée would be perfect, though I would also consider a solid Savigny. I would, however, advise you to stay away from the whites at the moment, Madame Germain. They tend to have an agitating effect.”
The book is riddled with colors, scents, and images of good food and wine. There are blue-footed chickens from Louhands, yellow wine from the Jura region, cherry red ramekins, lime green pie plates, as well as stewed rabbits and prunes in white wine sauce, smoked morteau sausages and potatoes with crème fraiche and freshly chopped parsley, and bottles of bubbly crémant, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, and Savigny-les-Beaune Les Guettes.
The home they are renovating comes with historical intrigue. Built in the year of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille – 1789 – it was also used to house a billeted German soldier during the Second World War.
It was a pleasure to read this story of how the property we stayed in was first renovated. Though I never met Laura and Franck personally because they were in Canada at the time, the attention to detail they put into each communication, and their rapid responsiveness to our queries were both informative and helpful. The brightly painted home was a joy to stay in. On more than one morning while there, we woke, drank coffee, sliced a baguette for breakfast, then simply opened the door to wander by foot around some of the most sublime and precious wine properties of the Cote D’Or.
This book brings alive the quirky joys of living in the French countryside, and will make you reconsider what you truly consider important in life.
Where to go?
Laura and Franck can recommend some of the best places to visit. Two local wineries recommended by Franck are the following:
In Magny-les-Villers; 03 80 62 91 50; firstname.lastname@example.org
In nearby Savigny lès Beaune; 03 80 21 53 42; email@example.com
Here are two dessert recipes for the holidays.
One comes from wind-zapped, volcanic isles known as the Azores, which are circled by the raging Atlantic Ocean – by way of California; the other is from California’s San Francisco – by way of the ancient, stone walled city of Beaune in Burgundy, France.
I took the photos below, which are not nearly as gorgeous as those from cookbooks. But if you make the effort on the first recipe and pull through, you’ll be so delighted with the result that you too may pull out a camera and start snapping.
Unfortunately the cookbook I purchased during a visit to the Azores is now packed away in some storage area (these pictures were taken a few years ago). Instead, I’ll refer you to the recipe of Nancy Grossi. She concocted these ‘espece’ cookies in California’s Healdsburg wine country, based on the recipe of her Azorean relative. Click here for Nancy’s recipe.
In the above photo you see that perched next to these cookies is a bottle of Pico Lajido wine. This sweet liqueur is made from fortified verdelho grapes grown on the island of Pico, which is dominated by a (sometimes) snow ringed, conical volcanic peak. The grapevines of the Azores are so unusual that less than a decade past they received UNESCO World Heritage designation, which I wrote about a few years ago.
Below is the second recipe, which a friend and I learned at a cooking class while vacationing in Burgundy. The cook is an American – Marjorie Taylor – who runs the Cook’s Atelier cooking school in Beaune, France. Her recipe for lemon cream tarts is adapted from a book of recipes based on those from a San Francisco bakery. The book is titled Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt.
The recipe involves first making a sweet dough, and then a lemon cream.
While putting in effort to make these tarts, you may want to open a bottle of bubbly. Try a 100 percent Pinot Meunier Champagne or sparkling wine, because it is fruit forward, often with aromas of bread dough, as well as red or citrus fruits – which will complement the dish you’re making (and the ingredients you’ll be sampling). You may want to try the sparkling wine Domaine Chandon Carneros 2011 (about $30). If you want to splurge with friends and are cooking for a special festive day, you may want to open a bottle of 2008 Chartogne-Taillet ‘Les Allies’ Extra Brut Champagne ($70 – $85). Then again, you might want to save that bottle for the opening of your entire meal.
After you finish a decent dinner (perhaps of asparagus and giant ravioli, shown below), you’ll be ready to tuck into your dessert masterpiece.
Enjoy the holiday upcoming holiday season.