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Searching for A Reluctant Wine Guru In Jurançon

November 14, 2017

Pyrenees peaks forming the border between France and Spain

One: Destination Jurançon.

Years ago we spent time with a local wine merchant in La Cave wine bar in the town of Blaye, often drinking ‘mysterious bottles’ and trying to guess their origin, age and grape types included.

Julien Pouplet was a wizard, often being able to identify the specific slope within, say, Saint-Émilion, from where a mystery wine originated. He also had a rare knack for finding incredibly distinct and beautiful wines that cost a song—often for between 5 and 10 Euros a bottle. In the Russel Crowe narrated documentary about wine titled Red Obsession, Julien was interviewed three times. We took a trip to the Loire Valley together years ago to source phenomenal wines that were biodynamic and unknown.

Then, he vanished.

I tracked him down over a year ago when I was on leave from working in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Julien had already finished this jewel

We sat and drank some reality-bending Burgundian Pinot Noir wines at a few different wine bars in Bordeaux city.

Last I heard, he wrote that he was in ‘Béarn.’

Béarn? Berne? Switzerland?

No. Béarn as in Béarnaise sauce, as in the seat of the Kings of Navarre in the 12th century at the base of the Pyrenees mountains. To the south.

The biggest city in the region is Pau. A friend had mentioned that the ancient buildings in the inner city were beautiful.

Looking out from the Castle of Pau

One of many squares with fountains in Pau

Eglise Saint-Jacques in the city of Pau

I emailed Julien on a Sunday and said I would drive to Pau on Tuesday.

Did he care to meet?

The Castle of Pau

He responded.

“Bonjour Tom. Please come home for a dinner. I also got an extra bedroom if you want to. If you come with a car, I can arrange a tasting in Jurançon.”

He also mentioned that he had just cooked pasta with freshly minced veal, onions, garlic, tomatoes, Banyuls wine and white pepper, and paired this with a Domaine Charvin Côtes-du-Rhone red wine from within Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

It sounded like he was living a balanced and healthy life.

I arrived in Pau by noon, explored the city and ate lunch (read my Forbes article to get the full picture).

The rudiments of a French lunch

Beautiful and hearty lunches are served here in Pau; locals cram in to eat

Chef Pierre Ferrère and Véronique – at Bistrot des Halles, Pau

I met Julien at his beautiful countryside dwelling.

He turned out to be the same guy: did not drive a car, would not drink wine that is not French, was still writing poetry, shopped only for fresh food from local markets, remained incisive and wary.

But did he still have his facility with wine?

At 4.00 pm we drove off to the mountains to meet his friend Jean-Bernard, owner and winemaker of Clos Lapeyre.

View from Julien’s house

Reluctant Guru Julien

Two: The Wines of Southwest France.

Here is a brief overview of three wine regions of southwest France:

Madiran. Jurançon. Irouleguy.

Zero in on  a map of southwest France and there are a few discrete geographical ‘islands’ of wine production. Three are those listed above.

This map cannot be reprinted due to copyright prohibitions, but if you click here and look at the bottom left, you can see these three wine regions.

Jean Bernard of Clos Lapeyre – pouring Jurançon wine from Austrian oak barrels

Here is the skivvy in a nutshell:

  • In the far southwestern portion of France is Irouleguy. Here are produced both white and red wines, and because the slopes are so steep and difficult to harvest, the cost of wine is also steep.
  • To the east is Jurançon. Only white wines are made here (mostly sweet) from the grapes Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Courbu.
  • Further south is Madiran. Reds are made here, principally from the Tannat grape.

Irouléguy is in ‘pey Basque’ country. That’s Basque territory. We can describe that some other time in another article. Same as with Madiran.

Jean-Bernard and Julien at Clos Lapeyre

For now: Jurançon.

Jurançon is in Béarn. From the 1100’s until the French Revolution in the latter 1700’s, the Béarnais had a representative government with plenary courts occupied by representatives of three classes: nobility, clergy, and regular folk. The identity of the inhabitants of this region has remained vociferously independent until the present. The main city of Béarn is Pau (pronounced ‘Po’).

Although not known to many of those unfamiliar with France, Pau was a happening spot in the past. Rich Brazilians hung out here in the 1800’s, as well as wealthy Brits. Even today it has an airport with direct flights to and from London. According to Julien, horses from the region are such thoroughbreds that sheiks from Dubai sometimes fly into the region, then chopper out to horse farms to check out the studs.

Three: Vines and Wines.

We spent a few hours with Jean-Bernard Larrieu, owner and winemaker of Clos Lapeyre. The photos show how gorgeous his terrain is.

Sweet nectar

Three generations of his family have farmed their 70 acres, and Jean-Bernard explained how the location of Jurançon—25 miles from the Pyrenees peaks and 60 miles from the ocean—gives it key characteristics that make this region nicknamed the Piemonte of the Pyrenees (Piemonte is the Barolo wine region in northwest Italy with similar physical characteristics). The mountains block winds from Spain, and the coastal influence moderates temperatures.

Clos Lapeyre Mantoulan 2011 dry white wine

Think this: lots of rain but little wind, and a relatively large difference between day and night temperatures.

It is this last point, the temperature difference between day and night, that maintains both acidity and sugar in grapes (acidity develops during the cool evenings; sugar develops during the full sunshine). The south and southwest facing vines are located where the slope, aspect, altitude and geology uniquely combine to be most beneficial to Manseng grapes.

Manseng grapes

The elevation of Jean-Bernard’s land, at 1,200 feet above sea level, is cooler than the valley floor, where rich soils are not good for vines. The little Manseng grapes, Jean-Bernard said, are ‘skin and bones’ but are packed with concentrated flavor. They grow in a region so lush and rain soaked that grass grows all year long. These vines love moisture.

The little Manseng grapes mature late in the season, thriving above layered soils where sand and silt alternate with clay.

The vineyards of Clos Lapeyre facing the Pyrenees peaks

The Jurançon wine region is not large, comprising a total of 3,200 acres. There are about 100 independent winemakers here, of which 55 (including Clos Lapeyre) make their own labels and brands.

Jean-Bernard’s vineyard is certified organic. He is also moving toward biodynamic certification. He plants cereals between vine rows because cereal roots break up and aerate the soil, which is beneficial for adjacent vines.

Tasting room Clos Lapeyre – nice place to be when the rains lash outside

There are four prinicpal drainages within the Jurançon region, all perpendicular to the Pyrenees. Hence, another local saying is that the best vines look toward the mountains.

We walked vines and then sampled nine different excellent quality wines in Jean-Bernard’s cellar. We then headed back to Julien’s for dinner.

Near the vines at Clos Lapeyree

“I prepared a grandma’s dinner,” he said. “Simple, rustic, efficient, tasty.’

While I played with his little black cat, named ‘petit chat,’ Julien poured from the bottle Jean-Bernard gifted us—a Mantoulan 2011. Julien then served celery soup with onions, garlic and potatoes.

Later during dinner I pulled out a few bottles of ‘mystery’ Bordeaux reds and had Julien try to identify the wines. He recognized the Clos Saint-Émilion on his first sip, though erred in thinking that it was a 2010 rather than a 2009. When clued into the fact that another red came from the left bank, he correctly guessed that it was from Château Haut-Marbuzet. “Because,” he said, “it tastes unlike any other Bordeaux.”

View from Julien’s home

The Reluctant Wine Jedi was in top form.

He played Grateful Dead tunes and classical music and poured his own mystery red (a Côtes-du-Rhone, I correctly deduced; although from which producer I had no idea).

He then served pork and carrots with more wine.

At which point Julien admitted that he is no longer interested in trying to ascertain the origin or age or grape components in different wines.

Instead, he is focusing on the ‘phases of flavors.’

‘Phases of flavors…’ ?

The Guru remains ahead of most of us who enjoy wine.

He is also beginning to pair specific French wines with specific meal dishes—at a distance and online, for overseas clients. (Consider that the next time you assemble a high hitting dinner for friends; having a virtual French food and wine sommelier choose the paired wines.)

Although in Jurançon now, there is no telling where the future will bring this wandering sage.

Again, thanks for tuning in.

My latest Forbes articles are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merlot In A Mill In Southern France

October 31, 2017

Ancient flour mill, and entrance to restaurant

1. Growing Contacts And A New Tab.

Since a year ago I’ve been fortunate to be published in (or else have articles about to be published in) the following:

 

 

Thanks for your support, readers!

Also, the piece I wrote about 24 Zesty Hours In The Powerhouse Of Poitiers gained local media attention. This includes mention of honor in publication, and a recap of the article, though in French.

Other recent articles in Forbes are here, and include the story of how Argentina impacted a French winemaking couple, a wine book review, and Rothschilds and Four Seasons collaborating on opening an upgraded French ski resort. Tomorrow I’ll publish an article about wine wizard Henri Duboscq of Château Haut-Marbuzet in Saint Estephe.

This weblog also now includes a new tab that provides an overview (and history) of sizzlingly tasty Etalon Rouge Bordeaux wine. This very limited production Bordeaux wine (100% Cabernet Sauvignon and 100% Sauvignon Blanc) is produced from a small vineyard a group of us recently invested in.

Thanks to those of you in the U.S. who recently ordered bottles.

2. The Oven and The Mill.

Here is a short travel piece—a recollection of a local afternoon spent here in southwest France.

Right Bank Bordeaux countryside

Friends had mentioned a restaurant, thirty minutes away by car. On a recent afternoon, hungry and craving to explore, I drove to Au Four et Au Moulin (the Oven and the Mill) in the small commune of Reguignon.

The tiny commune of Reguignon

The drive from Blaye passes by withered brown ferns, bent trees and strands of sagging barbed wire near a tiny village named Le Grand Village—where a sizable wooden barn appears about to collapse.

Structures belonging to the Huchet family.

The approach to the restaurant is down a thin lane in a lost though lovely slice of countryside. I parked before a barn door and paced through an old mill leading to the restaurant. The interior is white and bright and the staff—wearing aprons and jeans—appear relaxed and welcoming. Mounted black and white photographs shot by owner Francois show rural scenes—neighbors shaking hands, cows moseying down a country road and a tractor plowing sod.

Restaurant with terrace on the right

The third generation Huchet family constructed a flour mill here in 1908, adjacent to other buildings from the 1850’s. Decades ago, owner Francois Huchet and brother Jean-Marie did an impeccable job renovating the structure and transforming it into a restaurant.

This is an unobtrusive family dining venue. Politeness prevails: voices were hushed and siblings there were chatting instead of arguing.

Rabbit, oysters, beef, fish and ample wines

Lunch is not rushed or complicated. I started with a glass of Tutiac white wine—sweet and simple, with acidic creaminess to balance a plate of salty Atlantic oysters and slices of baguette (the alternative appetizer—rabbit terrine—sounded a bit rich).

Tutiac Vignerons is a local wine cooperative that includes a few hundred winemakers. Collectively they pool juices and talents to craft wines from both the Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux and Cötes de Bourg regions. This is an interesting organization in that it is the source of income for at least 100 families, and now highlights a focus on ‘sustainable’ practices, which include using only recyclable packaging and shipping materials. They also collect corks for recycling at their half-dozen outlets, and then donate the proceeds to a Bordeaux cancer research center. The cooperative has also donated a portion of their income to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the past.

Entanceway

I next ordered beef for the main course. Well cooked please, because I’m American—I joked. Chef Joëlle Brard laughed, because ‘well done’ is a culinary sin in France. It arrived covered in onion slices with golden slivers of fried potatoes.

The wine for this was a 2014 Château Siffle Merle prestige cuvee—100 percent Merlot.

This four generation family estate is next to the restaurant

This wine is a hefty and welcoming glass that tastes of graphite and cocoa, an oaked and balanced beauty. The dense juice—bulging with aromas—arrived like a signal that autumn is here. This is no Burgundian trapeze artist but a Bordeaux tightrope walker. Like restaurant diners around me, the taste came with a controlled liveliness.

Apparently this wine won a bronze medal in Mâcon. Does that matter? Mâcon is both the name of a city and its surrounding region located almost on the other side of France, in the southern portion of Burgundy wine country. This is where they grow Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes. If these quite discerning wine loving Burgundians slapped a medal on a Blaye wine from a distant corner of the country made from a grape they are unused to cultivating, that generally indicates they truly appreciated the quality.

The circular panel below was once the stencil for marking flour sacks

Francois poured a second glass.

This matched the raspberry crème brûlée desert with berries on cherries.

Raspberry creme brûlée

After lunch, Francois carried over a bottle of Champagne Cognac. He sat down and poured glasses and we spoke of history, harvest, travels and life. The sun was full, the autumn colors subtle and the pace of life unhurried. We had met before in Blaye, where he has exhibited photos taken from around the world.

‘Champagne Cognac?’ Yes, it’s Cognac (which is made in the west of France, in a region just north of Bordeaux) and is not associated with the Champagne wine region (which is located across the country in the northeast of France). Cognac is produced in six regions, of which one is named ‘Grande Champagne’ and another named ‘Petite Champagne.’

The word champagne comes from the Latin for ‘open country’ and so the term is not, cartographically speaking, unique in France. There is a Champagne commune (population 530) between the cities of Royan and La Rochelle near the western coast of France, another Champagné commune (population 3000+) in the Loire Valley just east of Le Mans, and there are towns named Champagne in Brittany, in the Rhone Valley and at other French locales. Heck, there’s a street named Champagne right up the road in the nearby commune of Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye. Although Champagne wine producers are quite proprietary about the use of that word, it’s a relatively common, and historic, location name throughout France.

Proprietor Francois Huchet in the preserved mill

The action of sharing a final drop after lunch was not unusual. Just as dessert is served after cheese and French words often terminate in soft vowels rather than blunt consonants, this culture enjoys smooth, rather than abrupt, partings.

The drive home—past vines shedding crimson leaves—made me consider what motoring may have been like in the rural U.S. in the 1950’s: country roads, small towns, farmlands, orchards and yawning open spaces. Rustic, simple, unrushed. Few traffic lights or chain stores, and full drafts of clean oxygen to suck down and enjoy.

October vines

A few back roads on the way home were not much wider than a single lane. The route passed a stately church spire in Saugnon, hay bales at Forgette and bleating sheep around Sabaron. Sunlight, like honey, opened wide above the village of Perrin and sweetened the day.

‘Eat bread, you will live well’

Aspects of life here can be a dream—sometimes providing abundance when least expected. This lunch was a reminder that sometimes we have to slow down and appreciate now.

3. Message From a Bottle.

Over a month ago I received this email:

Hi,

I found your name during my try to find a special answer.

We live on the Swedish west coast. After storms we and our grandchildren search the shore for stranded goods. We find a lot of odd things from all over the world. Then we try to identify what it is and where it comes from. After that we make an exhibition for our neighbours.

Chocolate paper from the Philippines, milk case from New York, milk packages from Russia, shoes from China, wooden fruit boxes from Brazil and Argentine, radio transmitter from a weather balloon…

And, yesterday, we found a wine cork. We could identify it coming from Bourg. Due to the size we believe it’s from a magnum sparkling wine. BUT, we are not sure of the name of the wine or the vineyard.

It seems to be something like Sabinant de Bourg. (Maybe the S in Sabinant should be something else?)  Can you please help us to identify the wine if possible? (Maybe even with a picture of a bottle.) Or give me some hint of where to look for an answer? 

With warm greetings

 

 

Lars Wikander

writer, Sweden

He included photographs.

 

Uncertain, I crowdsourced the answer to this mystery by emailing local winemakers.

Soon, Rémy Eymas of Château Gros Moulin in Bourg responded. He suggested that the word was ‘Cremant’ (a term for sparkling wine) rather than ‘Sabinant.’

Much appreciated Rémy.

We also realized that cremant made in Bourg is called Cremant de Bordeaux. Therefore, it seems this cork probably said Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), but the final letters were washed away.

When I informed Lars, he was delighted—and responded to tell about the origins of ‘trivial knowledge’ in Sweden.

“About knowledge of things like this I think of a Swedish expression – ‘Pompe knowledge.’ Pompe was one of the dogs owned by the Swedish king Karl XII 300 years ago. It may be interesting to know that, but absolutely unimportant in the whole. Fascinating knowledge anyhow. I looked forward to your blog. Thankful greetings.”

He sent a few photos of box sides they have collected on the shoreline: pears from Argentina, milk bottles from New York.

 

Lars—you have a most fascinating hobby to share with grandchildren.

This interaction reminded me of a paragraph I wrote years ago in my non-fiction book Rivers of Change – Trailing the Waterways of Lewis and Clark. It is based on an article I read while doing research. I had spent days in the basement of the public library in the city of Saint Louis reading past issues of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch on microfiche. This came from a piece titled: ‘Ulster Girl Finds Bottle From Midwest’ [St Louis Post Dispatch, November 11, 1986, Section B, p.12.]

“The Missouri and Mississippi rivers meld together fifteen miles upstream of St. Louis before chugging south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The waters then join the Atlantic Ocean and disperse. A sixteen-year old Nebraskan teen-ager penned his name and address on a piece of paper, stuffed it into a Coca-Cola bottle and screwed the cap on. He tossed this into the Missouri River south of Nebraska City. A year later he ripped open a mysterious envelope from Northern Ireland and read a four page letter sent by a sixteen-year old lass. She told how she had found his bottle near her home in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

I thought it curious that littering — chucking a soda bottle into a river — denies that everything is connected, while throwing a corked bottle with a message inside embodies hope that all things are intertwined.”

4. Coming Soon

Next time we’ll sample a range of excellent value Bordeaux wines and score them.

Also, Wine Enthusiast Magazine will publish my piece on Corsica for their February Travel issue.

Finally, stay tuned for two upcoming Forbes articles regarding Italy: the wine country of Abruzzo (photo below), as well as thoughts of a renowned Barolo winemaker.

Left to Right: Ugo, Antonio, Diletta, Valentina and Maria – along the Trabocchi Coast of Abruzzo, Italy

Again, thanks for checking in.

 

 

 

Harvest Season And Moseying Around Médoc

October 10, 2017

Flashback:

Remember I wrote about this rebel?

Apparently he is still in rebel mode, according to the Times (thanks for sharing Gill Blayney).

Present.

To see my latest Forbes pieces click here. They include a piece about artist Cleon Peterson as well as a meeting with a wine producer in the Médoc who turned his war-scarred memories into art for the world.

Upcoming stories during the next month will include another interview in the Médoc as well as in Saint-Émilion, another Rothschild project opening in the Alps, more Abruzzo intrigue and the review of a forthcoming new wine book.

Harvest.

As those of you on FB know, our Etalon Rouge harvest is in, and the grapes taste zippy and fresh. Photos are below.

Though reduced in quantity because of nasty hail this spring, we’re hoping for some stellar wine. We also have a FB page you can search for and join (search Etalon Rouge).

We are building a new winery on Rue Saint Simon where a few of us live.

If you would like to purchase any 2015 do let me know. It’s the best yet—100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our vines in the commune of Fours

The freshly harvested 2017 grapes are being fermented, as well as aged, in brand new French oak barrels to improve the overall quality. Fortunately our new consulting enologist Christian Prudhomme has consulted for Opus One in California, Mouton Rothschild, Cheval Blanc, and Y’quem in Bordeaux. He’s quite the amazing enologist.

Requisite French vineyard scene – tractor and deux chevaux car (courtesy of Les)

This year our relatively minor quantity of white Sauvignon Blanc was hand harvested, while the red was machine harvested. In the future we may hand harvest red, but also want to aim at become biodynamic.

As you know the vineyard used to belong to comedian Gerard Depardieu and afterward artist Thierry Bisch. So, if, after tasting, you feel like telling jokes or getting creative, that’s the provenance of the vineyard!

Visualize the future bottle

Clarissa and winemaker Stéphane Heurlier from Château La Bretonnière (we borrowed his harvester)

 

We are borrowing space at Chateau de la Salle until our own facilities are constructed

Rambling in Saint-Estephe.

Friend and author Gilles Berdin invited me to visit a few châteaux in the Médoc region of Bordeaux this past Wednesday. I drove two minutes from where I live to the ferry boat, then rode over the estuary waters for 20 sun-soaked glorious minutes to the ‘left bank’ of Bordeaux, which includes the Médoc region. Saint Estephe is a sub-region of the Médoc that includes glorious full bodied red wines.

Gilles has written several excellent books about winemakers that share the same format. He and the vigneron sit down to share a bottle and chat. He records their words of wisdom and insight about wine and life. He visits several times, each time sharing a different, special bottle. Some of his books are translated into English, and all are excellent.

On the ferry, a person emerged from a car ahead and looked at me.

“Tom, ca va?” he asked.

It was Nicolas Vergez from the winery Châteaux Cassagne Boutet. We talked of life, work, and the poor harvest this year.

Having lost 90 percent of his grapes to the spring frost, Nicolas had finished his harvest and was driving to his family’s cabin on the Atlantic shore to go surfing for a few days. When we returned to our vehicles, he sauntered over carrying two bottles of Le Puits Merlot 2014 wine as a gift.

Merci Nicolas.

Authentic Surfing Vigneron Nicolas Vergez

After the ferry docked at Lamarque, I then drove for 20 minutes to meet Gilles. During the hours that followed, we met two winemakers who are now titans in their field. Giles has written books about both.

Both men struggled to achieve success; one came from no wealth, while the other was basically a quasi war refugee repatriated to France from Algeria as a young boy. These men are generous, visionary and have great pride in sharing with others.

I published one piece for Forbes about one of these men earlier today, and will publish the other in the coming days/weeks ahead.

At Château d’Arsac, the first winery owner, Philippe Raoux, gave us a tour before seating us for lunch and wine.

Philippe Raoux before his Château d’Arcy and beautiful grounds

Apparently the mathematics of winemaking

Part of the winemaker’s series – stunning Sauvignon Blanc

Philippe’s souvenir from his day in Oran, Algeria – then a wine producing powerhouse

Before we left, Philippe presented me with a gift box of 4 special bottles from his winery, made by four separate female winemakers from four different continents.

Each year he invites one renowned winemaker to come tend a plot of his grapes and then make wine in any way they desire. Their input is included in the annual Winemakers’ Collection series.

Four continents, four female winemakers

We next motored onto Château Haut-Marbuzet. The owner and legendary figure Henri Duboscq turned out to be a lively and bright soul who believes that making wine and making love share much in common. He was not hesitant, during our lively and fun interview, to explain how analysis and passion are separate—after all, he asked, ‘you don’t spend too much time analyzing lovemaking, do you?’

Looking out at Château Haut-Marbuzet

Monsieur Duboscq appreciates that his life may not truly have been under his guided control, but under greater forces which he submitted to, and which changed his life—quite for the better. He also believes that vines choose the individuals to tend them, not the other way around.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “You live in Blaye! You do not have to catch a plane home. Then you can take some wine! Do you like wine to drink now, or to age?”

I hesitated.

“Then you must have both!” he said before sending his assistant off to bring back a half-dozen bottles of 2013 and 2014.

I had left Blaye on the 10.00 am ferry, returned on the 6.30 pm ferry, been given two wonderful interviews, a healthy lunch with wine, and acquired, unexpectedly, a dozen wonderful bottles of wine.

Now that was quite a Wednesday 🙂

The MacCarthy’s once owned the Marbuzet vines. Yes, Irish winemakers!

Again, another piece will be on Forbes about charismatic Henri Duboscq within weeks.

Again, thanks for tuning in!

 

 

Powering By Foot Around Poitiers

September 26, 2017

Needing to get out of town, I packed an overnight bag, scoured bookshelves, chucked four historical paperbacks about medieval France into a bag and drove 45 minutes to Libourne before parking and taking the TGV train an hour and a half north.

To Poitiers.

Ivy-coated Cathedral of Poitiers

Why Poitiers?

Because this university town of about 85,000 residents was, during the medieval ages, a powerhouse. Back in the 1100’s, south of the Loire River and in the western part of what is now France, the duchies of Gascony and Aquitaine and the county of Poitou ruled the land. Two principal cities within these three regions were Bordeaux and Poitiers.

Interior of Cathedral of Poitiers

‘France’ was then something, and somewhere, else. It was a small yet powerful entity centered in Paris. These other lands to the south (including Poitiers and Bordeaux) were rich from exporting wine and salt and also blessed with sunshine.

“These turbulent nobles enjoyed a luxurious standard of living compared to their unwashed counterparts in northern France,” wrote Alison Weir in her book Eleanor of Aquitaine. She continued: “Renowned for their elegance, their shaven faces and long hair, the Aquitaine aristocracy were regarded by northerners as soft and idle, whereas in fact they could be fierce and violent when provoked.”

1677 sculpture of ‘The Great Ghoul’ by 22-year old Jean Gargot

After arriving I got a hotel room in the city center, then began walking.

There was much to explore.

But, first, lunch.

This is a ritual in France.

Church of Notre Dame, Poitiers

Eating was also a time to immerse in the culture of this medieval city that is now an energetic university town. Young people here, in contrast to my college days, dress with elegance and style.

I sat at an outdoor porch and ate fish and drank Loire Valley white wine and watched people: a homeless man with two dogs on leashes and another two in his backpack; stodgy and sandled British pensioners searching for fish and chips; a young Scandinavian visiting princess pouting at her parents for having to parade with them down the street; a skinny kid on a ten-speed bike. Multiracial pairs embraced with zeal in spacious squares where the prevalence of white stone facades keeps the atmosphere bright.

Inside the Jardin de Plante

The New York Times had an article about renowned chef Alice Water’s first foray into the sensual pleasures of Paris as a student. Poitier might now be much the same for youth as Paris was decades ago – an outlying and freewheeling city as well as a lavish, previous home to medieval aristocracy.

This is a twisting hilly town by a winding river, a blend of facets of other towns: Angouleme and Sarlat and a dribble of Nantes thrown in.

Leek Casserole

The locals’ ambient intimacy is warm, almost conspiratorial.

When you order wine they give you two choices for red by the glass: Bordeaux or Chinon.

Although students dress well, there is also ratty and ridiculous attire—the beer swilling motorcyclists seated for a drink right after their muddy ride; the youth dressed head to toe in stylish black garments but wearing bright pink shoes.

Porch of the restaurant Le Clain D’oeil

For dinner I walked on a hilly street and found this restaurant and decided to eat there. It had opened only four months earlier and I was the only customer.

The food Rocked.

So good I included it in this Forbes piece about Poitiers. I hope someone markets this guy.

Interior of Clain D’oeil

Go there. Tolerate the bohemian tunes and proximity to hillside traffic and enjoy the gut level southern/northern hemisphere cuisine that needs no linen napkins.

That article also tells of the wine.

 

 

 

Other recent Forbes articles are about edgy art on a high-speed trimaran and a photogenic harvest assembly in Saint-Émilion.

Thanks for tuning in again.

This chap is looking for something unusual

 

Corsican Food, Wine and Hospitality

September 12, 2017

First – my latest Forbes posts are here and include The Secret Attraction of Swiss Wine, and Why Sleepy Corsica Produces Excellent Wines.

Second – is about an island speckled with intriguing food and wine.

Visiting the Mediterranean island of Corsica provides the magic of veering free of big cities—Paris and Barcelona and Rome—and instead hitting off-beat puny towns a few hours from the small Ajaccio airport (which has magnificent mountain views). The food is satisfying and the wine is off the charts at prices that will make you cringe with appreciation. This is land where cork bark is farmed from trees and hauled off by mules, and where vineyard pests include wild boars.

I found a book that highlights local delights. The title is rhythmic and sounds, acoustically as: Pan, Van, Orsan. The actual title of this hardback is Du Pain, Du Vin, Des Oursins which literally means: bread, wine, Corsican people. It’s a reminder of the fruits of variety, the benefits of diversity and the glue of community that binds our world together.

The book includes photos of local charcuterie—sausage and salami plates—as well as fig and lentil dishes, Corsican veal with olives, Niolu and Calenzana cheeses, Canneloni and rosé wine, fiadone cheesecake and hazelnut cookies. It describes seven varieties of local olives and hillside herbs that include mountain thyme, Corsican mint and wild fennel.

Money and technology are not enough to produce Corsica’s beautiful wine. There is also a sense of pride in the final product. I visited unkempt cellars littered with dilapidated wooden crates, loose electrical wires sprouting from walls, and despite a sense of disorganized chaos—the wines they produced were spellbinding.

On the eastern coastline I ate squid salad and drank un pichet of local white wine (delicious: a half liter costs just over three Euros) at a beach near Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio. Next I crossed east to west over gloaming peaks that split the island, stopping for a night in the hillside town of Venacu to eat stufatu (veal and beef stew) with glasses of Nielluccio red wine.

Staying at many hotels in Corsica is simple: Walk in and ask for a room. You will be told the rate and given a key and asked to pay in the morning. No need for your name or identification or credit card details or license plate number. Fill out no forms.

Island trust.

 

Third – a few suggested sites to visit.

The Man Who Helped Save Languedoc – from the Irish Times

Museum Discovers Wine Dating to 1700’s – thanks to friend Dan Burgess

A Three Day Fast – from Forbes

 

Thanks again for tuning in…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In France – Dancing On Tables and Lalande de Pomerol Wine

August 15, 2017

First, my latest Forbes article on Lalande de Pomerol wines is here, and other Forbes recent pieces are here.

Next is a story about coming to live in France.

Here is how it began.

At the end of March of 2009, I took a break from studying in England and visited Bordeaux in France, where I rented a small Peugeot 200 car.

Bordeaux city in the evening…beautiful!

Cathedral of Saint André, Bordeaux

The first night I stayed at a bed and breakfast named the Jardin-du-Sequoia, or Sequoia Garden, on Rue St. Genes. It was so named because—oddly—there was a massive sequoia tree growing in the garden out back. I sat in the garden, opened a bottle of Saint-Emilion Château Milens red wine and sliced up cheese and a baguette before walking to the street corner where I found a bar named Nieux Amsterdam. Two energetic Dutch brothers ran this lively but offbeat jewel.

After many beers, people started dancing on tables.

Really.

I took photos.

Then the police raided the bar. Truly. They entered and blew a whistle. It was comical but alarming.

A lovely woman seated at the bar looked at me. She crooked her finger as an instruction to follow her, which I certainly did. We slipped out a side door with a few others.

Someone drove us to her apartment, where the party continued.

I got back to the rest house sometime after 4.00 am.

I loved Bordeaux!

Though I lost touch with the woman, I am grateful she helped our escape from the Police Municipale!

 

 

My Rescuer-Hostess

The next day I drove to Sauternes and Saint-Émilion and then to some place I’d never heard of named Blaye—pronounced Blye.

The owner of the Villa Saint Simon Guest House, a South African named Les, sat me in the kitchen with his friend Frank, and opened a bottle of wine. I presumed these two men were a happy gay couple (turns out they were not) and we chatted. Another pop, another bottle. More chat. A retired lawyer and previous London restaurant owner, Les operated a winery tour business in this lesser known portion of Bordeaux known as Blaye.

The next day we squeezed into a Citroën deux chevaux car and visited a winemaking couple named Valerie and Jerome at their Château near the small village of Saint Palais and then ate a stellar lunch at a country restaurant (filled with animated locals) named Chez Olga.

Fish, pasta, duck breast. More pops, more wine.

Life was in full flow.

Before leaving the next day, I remembered I had to choose a project/thesis to complete my MBA course in England. Les had a nearby farm that grew kiwi fruit where he wanted to build an eco-village. I suggested that I prepare his marketing plan. He photocopied an architectural concept drawing and handed it over. He then said if I returned he would supply me more information and all the wine I could drink.

Well…

Okay.

Countryside around Saint-Émilion wine country

Les at his Kiwi Farm near Blaye

While other students studied financial derivatives and modeled statistical analyses of market fluctuations, I spent weekends that summer drinking Bordeaux red wine and asking people to fill out questionnaires about why they wanted to visit wine country and what they thought about building an eco-village.

For that thesis? I won a prize: ‘Most original.’

Most fun, too.

Looking out from Valerie and Jerome’s château.

Sometimes you never know when folks will dance on tables or the police will raid or the woman will take you home or the deux chevaux will cart you off for an amazing spin with colorful characters in an unknown countryside with superb, affordable wine and unexpectedly ambient local restaurants while a fresh breeze slaps your smiling face and reminds you to wake up and appreciate the moment!

It was fun.

So much fun that I visited a few more times, then bought an apartment and moved here.

Life is brief.

No regrets.

Home.

For now.

Our local park and 17th century citadelle

^^^

Next, our own 2015 Etalon Rouge wine has been bottled and labeled.

It’s a winner. Well made, well blended. Friends from the U.K, Luxembourg and Colorado have already placed their orders. Thank you!

Finally,

Thanks to Wine Social for choosing my book Vino Voices as their book of the week. I am flattered and appreciative….merci beaucoup!

Thanks again for checking in.

Lesser Known, Vibrant Italy: Southern Piemonte’s Life and Wine

August 1, 2017

First, my latest Forbes posts are here, and include pieces about the new high-speed Paris/Bordeaux train, a book about Lisbon wines and a summer festival you have never heard of.

Second, I have a confession.

I have been doing business with Russians.

You can’t blame me.

For the dozens of wineries located in 18 countries who contributed recipes for my forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion—these two ladies below are finding the correct publishing house for that book. Also, we are discussing alternative publishing strategies with a new publishing imprint that Forbes acquired less than a year ago.

Sonya, Elena and Friday afternoon glasses of Pessac-Leognan white wine.

Sonya Marchand (on the left) is a neighbor who took a cruise to Bordeaux, said goodbye to her roots in Moscow and Siberia, and moved here to the countryside. She produced the promotional video for my book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion, and has her own video production company—STA Marchand.

Elena Malgina (on the right) is also Russian and now lives in Lugano in Switzerland (where I also once lived many years ago). While not working as a financial controller, she is a bibliophile with her own literary agency and is representing my book to various renowned publishers in the U.S. It was Elena who had the idea to produce the promotional video. (She also seriously scolded me for not having ever read books by Bulgakov.)

These charming and intelligent women are helping to ensure that The Winemakers’s Cooking Companion finds a secure publishing home that produces long-lasting, appreciated books. The photograph is from days ago when we spent time together here in Blaye.

Gateway to summertime in Italy

Third, I recently visited the southern portion of the Piedmont wine country in Italy. Aspects of that trip that relate to Dolcetto wine covered in my recently written Forbes piece.

Below are practical tips for visiting this region.

First, a little background about the geography of the Piedmont region.

Italy, including its southern isle of Sicily, is generally shaped like a tilted J. The top left portion of the upper horizontal bar is mostly the region of Piedmont (the lower strip of that bar being Liguria, along the coast). The Italians call this not Piedmont, but Piemonte. Because this rolls off the tongue smoothly, I shall do alike. It means, literally, the foot of the mountains.

Piemonte is a hilly land, once so cloaked in forests that medieval dukes from Austria visited its hilltop castles so they could spend days hunting.

Fountain at the Castle of Cremolino

This is a varied countryside. It’s a hilly land of sunflowers, winding roads, cobbled alleyways and road signs that warn of jumping deer. It’s filled with birdsong and tenutas (mansions), corn stalks and crenellated hilltop towers. There are raw rock buttes, ivy covered taverns and the Ligurian Apennine peaks. Unlike the more expensive haunts of Asti, Alba and Barolo to the west and north, southern Piemonte includes rugged roads and summer gatherings that include the Suckling Pig Festival of Toleto, or the Wild Boar Festival of Rocca Grimalda.

As with most locations in Italy, the language is musical. This is a land where conversation is sport, discourse is theater and a simple discussion about where to locate the water meter sounds like a poetry recitation.

View from Cremolino Castle

‘Stereo2’ band from Genoa plays at the ‘suckling pig festival’ in Toleto

An ancient fortress in the hills

Motor scooter by roadside, with village of Carpeneto in the distance

The food and wines here are truly special. Seriously, even the bottled water is the best I’ve tasted in years. There’s filleto baciato salami, porcini mushrooms, succulent blackcurrants, nougat, distinct Marroni chestnuts, and Amaretti di Acqui cookies. I can’t even recall any of the number of cheeses. And, yes, truffles.

In the southern portion of Piemonte, the wines include red Dolcetto and Barbera, and whites include Gavi. These are generally affordable, easy drinking wines.

Here is a little recollection.

At a hilltop societa’ a tavern in the Madonna della Villa village in the hills, we drank glasses of negroni before the owner and his wife agreed to rustle up amazing dishes of pasta al pesto di Pra at nine in the evening for a group of us (this is a Genovese dish; the mild, small-leaved basil should be grown on the windy, sunny slopes of Pra near Cristoforo Colombo airport). With this we uncorked a bottle and enjoyed glasses of chocolate, truffle and green pepper flavored Barbera wine, which also paired well with the bunet chocolate and amaretti dessert—a custard made from chocolate and amarone and served in ramekins.

Barbera d’Asti wine

Pasta al Pesto di Pra

Another wine produced in this region is white Gavi, which is also the name of a sizable town.

On a wall in Gavi, a plaque commemorates a legend about the name.

The city of Gavi, legend tells, was named after a sixth century princess—Gavia. The daughter of a Frankish king and a mother who descended from the king of Burgundians, she married against her family’s desires and then fled to the Lemme Valley. When her father’s soldiers found her, she was protected by the Queen of the Goths—Amalasuntha, who granted her power over a territory. The grateful inhabitants of this land later named their town after her, and named the local white wine grape after a characteristic of their ruler Gavia: Cortese, or courteous.

Salami store in Gavi

Alleyway in Ovada

Here is practical advice for visiting the south and east portions of Piemonte wine country.

  1. If you are visiting Piemonte for the first time, do stop by Barolo and Barbaresco wine producing regions, as well as such towns as Alba and Asti. Save the lesser known region of southeast Piemonte until after spending days in the more popular regions. They are renowned for a reason.
  2. Towns have posters telling of upcoming sagras, or festivals. Try visiting one. These will provide insight into local culture and history you cannot get from a guidebook or tour. If the festival includes food (and wine) all the better. Arrive with an open mind and a curious attitude and don’t be shy to strike up a conversation. Those who speak a little English will love the practice.
  3. Consider staying at an agriturismo. These are guest houses that are also working farms. They are all rural, have individual characteristics, and often serve their own homeade food and wine. Here is a good article about them.
  4. A frazione is even smaller than a village. If you see a sign for a festival there, expect few people and a more intimate experience.
  5. If you want to learn some Italian before visiting, I highly recommend Pimsleur language lessons. These involve a lot of repetition and practice, and you will find that years after taking a course you remember phrases and understand the gist of what people are saying. If you want to complement this with a grip on grammar, choose the Babbel series. You can subscribe online (about $6 to $9 a month) and the interactive courses are excellent. Remember—understanding grammar is great, but you have to practice speaking phrases in order to communicate.
  6. Carry small money notes. If you pull out a 50 Euro bill (or a 20, at times) in even a medium sized town, many people will wave it away because they lack change. Remember also that they may not take credit cards.
  7. Ask for local food at restaurants. I visited one restaurant that served 45 types of pizzas, but also dozens of local pasta dishes—which are more intriguing. Different towns often have their own specialties.
  8. For red wines, Barbera and Dolcetto go well with most foods. Barolo and Barbaresco match heftier beef dishes. White Moscato is a bubbly, low alcohol wine good anytime of the day.
  9. Stop at a tourist office (marked with the symbol) to pick up maps and literature regarding local events.
  10. Consider flying into Genova’s Cristoforo Colombo airport instead of Milan.
  11. Rent a car. Unless you are taking a train or bus between large towns or cities, public transportation in rural areas can be a dodgy proposition.
  12. If you go in winter (I did once; bare but beautiful) make sure you get all-weather tires: many hills are steep.
  13. Never ask for cappuccino after noon. This is a form of sacrilege.

Flags in the town of Acqui Terme

A special Thank You to my guide (and long time friend) Domitilla Zerbone, who introduced me to the wine and foods (and suckling pig festival) of this region, navigating her incredible Panda vehicle across winding roads. Thanks also to her friend and author Sylvia Padoa who took us to a poolside at the Agriturismo Villa Pallavicini in Gavi wine country, then introduced us to cones of stracciatella e nocciola gelato (chocolate and hazelnut ice cream) in Gavi.

Hot sun and cold wine at Villa Pallavicini in the Gavi wine region

Incredible hosts – Domitilla (right) and Sylvia (left)

Finally, at a fruit store in the city of Gavi, this is written across one wall.

It is a quote from the 20th century Milanese writer named Leo Longanesi. La natura ha strane leggi ma lei almeno le rispetta. 

Translated, these words of wisdom mean:

‘Nature has strange laws, but at least she respects them.’

That’s an insight to ponder.

Once again, thanks for tuning in.

 

^^^

My book Vino Voices has gone through a few iterations in the past years.

I just re-published the illustrated version (with dozens of original photographs) as an online ebook, which can be found here.

I will be happy to email a free copy of the ebook to the first three people who let me know they want one.

 

 

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