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The Surprising Beauty of Hungary and Its Wines

December 19, 2017

 

Parliament Building in Budapest

Hungary, the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, has a population of 10 million and has been a European Union member since 2004. Historically it’s been a doormat for invaders: Tartars, Turks and Soviets.

Let me tell you about wines, first in general, then more specifically. I won’t even mention the famed Tokaji sweet wines here.

There are 22 wine regions in Hungary and about 155,000 planted acres (63,000 hectares).

Wine regions of Hungary – taken from The Tasting Table wine store of Budapest

To learn about these I wandered the massive food market, walked downstairs and bumped into a corner room display about wines—including a model of the country.

The massive market of Budapest

The Celts were growing grapes in the region of Europe now known as the Carpathian Basin three hundred years before the Christian era. Romans then arrived and under Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus were instructed to plant grapevines all over this region, and cultivated about 80 different species—most of them reds. They stored fermented juice in gourds and amphorae. In the 16th century the current country known as Hungary was split into three. The Turks paid little attention to grape cultivation on their land, but decided not to destroy vines as they could provide tax income.

Today, most Hungarian wines are white, and most reds come from the southwest region of Villány—best known for Cabernet Franc. To taste them, we’ll wander a bit through the capital city of Budapest.

The city of Budapest has a similar social energy to that of Berlin, but with a more mature and relaxed attitude toward time. Youth love going out to social events, but have less of the focused zeal of Berliners. This is a city where strangers meet your gaze and smile warmly in return, which is a refreshing surprise. The streets are clean, the architecture is both bold and magnificent and the people are generally happy now that the subduing and inefficient yoke of communism has been gone since the last Soviet soldier shipped out in 1991.

When you begin walking in this city, it’s difficult to stop because there is some surprise around each corner. You’ll run into visual and sensory overload on streets steeped in history.

A city with surprising architecture

After a half day of wandering you may realize you are embedded in a sizable continental region steeped in spellbinding history—whether from the ruling eras of Romans, Muslims or Hapsburgs—and that you will only see a distant smidgen of this tapestry even after a few days.

The ‘castle district’ is magnificent and wonderful for walking. From the road square of Szvent Mihaly Kápokna with its stone turrets, beneath which visitors cackle on cell phones, you can view the city below and shake your head at the bizarre truth that people still use selfie sticks to take photos.

The pedestrian friendly ‘castle district’ of Budapest

During the fall season, the castle district is sunny and burnished with glorious heaps of unswept leaves and multi colored residences. Sirens wail from the lower city and mingle with the loud chatter of bird songs from feet away.

On a friend’s recommendation I ate dinner at Zeller Bistro. This is where tattooed locals swig glasses of bubbles. It’s an eclectic mix of upscale and edgy characters. A chap named Attila seated me before a small stage, then served local ham, sausage, celery soup and veal and a bottle from the Gróf Buttler winery called Egri Bekavér. This red wine, known as ‘Bull’s Blood,’ comes from the Eger wine region in northeast Hungary and is a blend of three grapes—Kekfrankos, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This 13,000 acre wine region is surrounded by the Mátra and Bükk mountains. This was a powerhouse of a wine to enjoy with dinner.

Zeller Bistro

It tasted of smoke and oak, blackberries, cranberries, chocolate pudding and ash. It’s a gorgeously layered, bright wine with a serious forward heft of black fruit. It’s a dark, powerful and balanced with a rivulet of raspberry taste.

Live music and wine at Zeller

The next night I went to Borssó Bistro, where as part of traditional celebrations for Saint Martin’s Day, the menu focused on goose products—four courses with four wines. I sat upstairs and the atmosphere was warm and energetically boisterous—soft candlelight and homemade butter with the fresh bread. The intimacy and authenticity there are both welcoming and warm.

A magnificently comfortable restaurant

Together with a local sparkling wine (Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut) came the amuse-bouche opening dish—parsley cream, French blue cheese and quince. This pairing was a rip-roaring mouthful of contrasting and uplifting flavors.

From all around the wood-paneled room I heard American, Chinese and Irish accents—as well as plenty of local banter.

For the first course: goose soup with stuffed pasta and a 2017 Esterhazy Pinot Noir rosé from the Etyeki-Kûria winery. The Etyek-Buda wine region, just west of Budapest, produces mostly sparkling and white wines. This wine was simple, crisp, slightly fizzy and a clean way to enter the meal.

Hungarian rosé

This restaurant is magnificent. The atmosphere inside, with green lanterns and framed bottle labels hanging on walls, is quiet though lively, with a meld of laughs and silverware clatter and the sound of friends toasting.

Here, some ladies wear furs, some rough woolen cloaks and others designer silk ties. Some where loafers and some wear boots. There are dignitaries and dodgy looking characters, which adds a zip of intrigue to dinner.

The second course—smoked goose breast with cassoulet and green beans had such a full-on, delicious, gamy and wild taste that it was no doubt be too brazen for a more conservative restaurant. I drank a wine from the renowned sunny Villany wine region in the south of the country, near Croatia. Vines here were almost destroyed by the Turks, but in the 18th century German settlers focused on producing quality wines. This 6,000 acre (2,500 hectare) region produces reds and rosés. This was a 2017 Gunzer Zoltán Pincejebol made from the Portugieser grape.

All goose dishes for Saint Martin’s Day celebrations

“Like a Beaujolais,” said the server.

A hearty red made with the Portugieser grape

This tasted like a citric Syrah: dense berries and tar with a streak of lemon. This is a deep and hearty red—with fresh Mediterranean citrus superimposed on dark berries, charcoal and chocolate.

The third course was goose with quinoa with cheese and butter as well as a light red 2016 Szent Gaál wine from the Szent Gaál winery. Made with the Kadarka grape, this comes from the Szekszárd wine region, the ‘Hungarian Burgundy.’ This southern region, west of the Danube River, has a warm and balanced climate with Mediterranean and continental inputs. There are hot and sunny summers and the soil base is calcareous. Typical grapes produced in this region include Kadarka, Kékfrankos (remember our first wine, last night?) and Bikavér.

From the Szekszárd wine region, the ‘Burgundy of Hungary’

The taste of this Kadarka? Blueberries on the nose, sort of like a Barbera. In the mouth it was prunes, tangerines, and high in acidity.

What helps make this restaurant attractive is that it lacks the perfectly precise, sometimes fearful orchestration of a Michelin starred restaurant, which makes it more approachable. There is no residual stiffness from any of the wait staff, no fear that they might be serving some inspector.

Cozy and warm restaurant during a chilly Budapest night

During three nights, several meals and samples of 16 local Hungarian wines, I was never disappointed. Most dishes and wines were stellar and the prices were affordable to make me think, more than once, ‘are you kidding me?’

The final wine came from Recas wine in Transylvania. Made from the Feteascā Neagrā wine grape (a Moldavian grape, the name meaning ‘old maiden’).

Named La Pulere, it was like a casual Californian Pinot Noir with bright raspberries, strawberries, plum, peach and lime. This dark forest of smoky berries includes shortbread, strawberries, currants and prunes. This went with the dessert – Lúdláb cake.

Chocolate tart and a good red wine -an indication of the Christmas season

The end of communism in 1990 brought many changes to Hungary. One was an attitude toward making wine. Production was no longer always considered as just a high volume, low quality endeavor but as a way for producers to distinguish themselves by creating higher quality products. Some of their current wines are stellar – rich and delicious.

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Here are a few of my latest Forbes posts (and I will write another article for them, from a different angle, about Hungary in January).

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For those interested in a remote sommelier, I am including a menu below that was provided, and paired with wines, by Julien Pouplet—the ‘reluctant wine guru’ living in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France.

The suggested wines are available in the U.S. (and some outlets in New York city are identified).

IF you would like to subscribe (for a modest fee) to menus paired with French wines by Julien every two weeks, let me know and I will put you in touch.

OR, if you have your own menu but want Julien to act ‘remote sommelier’ and provide French wine pairings via email, this can also be arranged. The first pairing is free.

This week’s sample menu (no photos, unfortunately) is below.

Julien in the Loire Valley some years ago

 

Apertif –

Ibérico Ham

Suggested wines:

Clos Uroulat ‘Cuvée Marie’ – Jurançon Sec (available at Mr. Wright Fine Wines and Spirits, New York).

Hirutza Hondarrabi Zuri Txakolina (available at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

Appetizer –

Asparagus steamed in bamboo, curled parmiggiano cheese flakes and olive oil.

Suggested Wines:

Les Choisilles’ from François Chidaine of Montlouis S/Loire (available at The Wine Connection, New York).

Côteaux du Vendomois ‘Vieilles Vignes’ by Patrice Colin (available at the Amsterdam Wine Company)

The Basque country of southern France

Main Course –

Roast chicken with homemade French fries.

Suggested wines:

Château Penin Bordeaux Supérieur (available at Pavilion Wine and Spirits, New York)

Château de Bellevue Lussac Saint-Émilion (available at Flatiron Wines & Spirits, New York)

Winter nouriture

Dessert –

Orange segments with grated cinnamon and fresh mint salad.

Suggested wine:

Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine by Francois Chidaine (available at Flatiron Wines & Spirits)

Enjoy the Holidays 🙂

Crus du Beaujolais Tastings

December 5, 2017

Looking out over the Moulin-À-Vent wine region within Beaujolais, France

This is a supplement to the regular Vino Voices blog, and complements a Forbes piece I wrote about tasting several Crus du Beaujolais wines.

For a background on Crus du Beaujolais wines (which are generally excellent), you should read the above article.

The following are brief tasting notes regarding several additional Crus du Beaujolais wines, in addition to those mentioned in the other article. All of these wines, in my humble opinion, score above 90 points on a 100 point scale. These are generally excellent value wines, many of which will age for several years, if not decades.

Jeff Kralik and Charlotte Perrachon at the Moulin-À-Vent (windmill)

Cave du Château de Chénas. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Granit. 2015.

Light plums on the nose which turn slightly smoky after a minute in the glass. Opens in the mouth to a taste of luscious and light raspberries; delicate like a Fleurie. Very mild tannins.

Château de Bellevue. Moulin-À-Vent La Roche. 2015.

Mildly pungent on the nose. Gorgeous black fruits in the mouth. Slightly layered. Weak to medium tannins.

Château de La Terrière. Moulin-À-Vent Le Moulin. 2015.

Luscious and opulent black fruit and cherries on the nose. Slight citrus in the mouth. Medium tannins.

Château de La Terrière. Moulin-À-Vent Le Moulin. 2016.

Similar to the 2015 (above), but bigger black cherries on the nose. Rounded and elegant.

Château des Gimarets. Moulin-À-Vent Espirit de Ma Terre. 2014.

Black fruit, earth and blueberries on the nose. Light to medium structure. Slightly gravelly and fruit full beauty in the mouth.

Château des Gimarets. Moulin-À-Vent Tradition. 2015. [91.5 points]

Deliciously soft raspberries on the nose and additional violets in the mouth. Luscious with subtle tannins.

Édouard Pârinet of Château Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

 

Château des Jacques. Moulin-À-Vent Clos de Grand Carquelin. 2014. [91.5 points]

Huge bouquet of focused black fruit, tar and cherries on the nose. Soft and nuanced in the mouth with mild tannins.

Domaine Anita. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Vigneronne. 2015.

Mild earth, truffle and blackberries on the nose. Luscious cherries with medium complexity in the mouth.

Domaine Bourdon. Moulin-À-Vent. 2014.

Distinct on the nose and mildly pungent—similar aromas to Cabernet Franc. Deep dark fruit. In the mouth raspberries; medium tannins.

Domaine Bourdon. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Raspberries and dark plums on the nose. A hefty and commanding mouthful with black cherries and black pepper. Well balanced with medium tannins.

Domaine Cédric Vincent. Moulin-À-Vent Les Merizes. 2015.

Beautifully soft and elegant on the nose with violets and truffles. This is a gorgeous fruit filled mouthful. Slightly acidic. Low to medium tannins.

Domaine Cédric Vincent. Moulin-À-Vent L’Harmonie. 2016.

Deeply beautiful Pinot Noir like aromas on the nose, though mildly acidic. Opens to red fruit in the mouth, with soft tannins.

Guarding the terroir

Domaine de Bel-Air. Moulin-À-Vent Granit & Manganèse. 2015.

Raspberries and Play-Doh on the nose. Bright cherries in the mouth. Smooth, well-balanced easy to drink wine. Deliciously delicate.

Domaine Céline & Nicolas Hirsch. Moulin-À-Vent. 2016.

Bright raspberries on the nose, slight citrus in the mouth. Crisp, slightly pungent.

Domaine de Colette. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Plum and tar on the nose, gorgeous black cherries and raspberries in the mouth. Delicate, weak tannins. This is an easy drinking beauty.

Domaine de Gry-Sablon. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2015.

Hefty black fruit on the nose. In the mouth—focused florals and black cherries. This is a commanding wine: fruit forward, balanced and firm with medium tannins.

Domaine de La Chèvre Bleue. Moulin-À-Vent Réserve Philibert. 2015.

Red fruit on the nose. Fine chocolate and cherries and slight tarragon in the mouth. Layered and somewhat complex. Mild tannins.

Domaine de La Paillardière. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée 12M. 2014.

Black fruit and beef on the nose. Orange rind, pepper and red fruit in the mouth. A well rounded mouthful with medium tannins.

A range of cru wines from Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

Domaine de L’Iris. Moulin-À-Vent Domaine de L’Iris. 2016.

Light, barely distinct fruit on the nose. Bright lavender and mandarin in the mouth. Mildly tannic. Mildly distinct minerality.

Domaine Des Caves. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée Étalon. 2014.

Mildly pungent aroma. Mingles with black cherry to provide a commanding, balanced nose. Gorgeous full fruit mouthful.

Domaine des Caves. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée Étalon. 2015.

Nose includes hibiscus and pear—pleasant and also floral. Full and hearty mouthful of fruit with slight minerality.

Domaine des Fontaines. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Mild blackberries on the nose. Slightly citric and round in the mouth. Will go well with fish or game.

Domaine des Pierres Roses. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Gorgeous Burgundian like nose. Violets and acorns and slight tar. A full mouthful with tangerines and red fruit.

Domaine de Rochegrès. Moulin-À-Vent Domaine de Rochegrès. 2016.

Light raspberries, mild lemon rind and caramel on the nose. In the mouth the same. This is a well-balanced basket of fruit.

Cellars below Château Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

Domaine des Rosiers. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2015.

Nose is light with mild scent of plum. Balanced cherries and nuts in the mouth. Mildly, and nicely, crunchy in the mouth.

Domaine des Rosiers. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes 2016.

Bright and powerful plumbs on the nose. In the mouth—raspberry, pleasant and full taste of plumb and graphite. This is an easy drinking wine, far more fruit than minerality.

Domaine du Penlois. Moulin-À-Vent Sous L’Aile du Moulin. 2014.

Bright fruit and florals on the nose and in the mouth. Beautifully easy drinking wine.

Domaine Labruyère. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Terroir. 2015.

Gorgeously soft and supply black pepper on the nose. Rounded, mineral and very approachable in the mouth. Perfect for fish or light game.

Domaine Labruyère. Moulin-À-Vent Le Carquelin. 2015.

Spice and black fruit on the nose. Rounded, well-balanced and includes a fully approachable fruit mélange in the mouth.

Domaine Louis Boillot & Fils. Moulin-À-Vent Les Brussellions. 2015.

Black pepper and green pepper on the nose. Rounded and full in the mouth.

On a clear day, you can see the Sâone River and beyond

Domaine Merlin. Moulin-À-Vent La Rochelle. 2014.

Simple raspberries and mushrooms on the nose, creamy minestrone and spice in the mouth. Slightly tart, easy drinking.

Domaine Jean-Pierre Mortet. Moulin-À-Vent. 2014.

Peaches and caramel on the nose. Rounded raspberry rodeo in the mouth. Supple, satisfying. Low tannins.

Domaine Richard Rottiers. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Light fruit, mild tannins, easy drinking.

Juillard Wolkowicki. Moulin-À-Vent Éole. 2015. [91.75 points]

Light and beautiful florals. Lavender and black cherries in the mouth.

Maison Jean Loron. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Less than distinct nose, but full and gorgeous rounded tropical fruits in the mouth. Mild tannins.

An array of colorful Beaujolais tastes

Maison Le Nid. Moulin-À-Vent Tradition. 2015.

Mild on the nose. An attractive raspberry and pepper package in the mouth.

Maison Mommessin. Moulin-À-Vent Domain de Champ de Cour. 2015.

Bright, light and fruity mouthful. Light tannins and low complexity. Subdued, but easy drinking.

Manoir du Carra. Moulin-À-Vent Famille Sambardier. 2015.

Bright plumb and pepper on the nose. Raspberry and plums in the mouth. Fruit forward, few discernible tannins.

 

 

Orange Wine in Milan, and Secrets of Northern Italy

December 5, 2017

First, my latest Forbes pieces are here. They include another wine book review, challenges facing Barolo wine, and excellent Crus du Beaujolais wines that are smoking hot values.

Second, we’ll take a quick tour of lesser known locales within northern Italy that serve excellent food and wine (and we’ll learn a bit about ‘orange wine’).

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II near the main cathedral of Milan

I recently enjoyed dinner in the city of Milan, Italy, with a couple living there—Diletta Sereni and her boyfriend Niccolo. I had met Diletta, a food journalist, earlier this year in Abruzzo. She writes about food, farming and sustainability. Diletta insisted that, if in her city, I should get in touch to sample local food and wine. Because Milan was a stop off point during recent travels, I decided to stay there for a day and evening to explore.

Inside Museo del Duomo in Milan

For hours I walked through the city—buying roasted chestnuts, pacing under the high glass ceiling of Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, wandering on the flagstones past restaurants on Via Brera, eating a sfogliatella napoletana pastry and getting a haircut from a barber named Silvio. After spending time wandering through museums—Natural History, Novecento, El Duomo—I met Diletta and Niccolo at Ratanà. This restaurant, they explained, had no Michelin stars but was twice listed as the best restaurant in the city by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra (“The New York Times of Italy,” they told me).

Diletta and Niccolo – wonderful hosts in Milan

After aperitifs of Anisos Vallagarina (a biodynamic white wine) for Diletta, Crémant d’Alsace Extra Brut for Niccolo (crémant is sparkling wine, made the same way as champagne, but from outside that region) and Franciacorta Brut (a sparkling wine from the northern Lombardy region of Italy) for myself, we ordered dinner. The key to the main course of Osso Bucco, they explained, came at the end when we could eat the bone marrow (for which we were provided a special tool that resembled a miniature whale flensing knife).

My Italian is rudimentary; fortunately, Diletta and Nicolo translated

With this we drank a local organic wine from north of the city—a 2015 Buttafuoco Cerasa that includes three grapes: Croatina, Barbera and Ughetti di Solinga (Vespolina). This tasted of light and bright raspberries, with a mild crunchiness and taste of chestnuts. Diletta and Niccolo suggested this wine because it apparently matches well with food rich with fat. Milan is located in the Lombardy region of Italy, and this is primarily where Croatina grows. Vespolina is grown primarily in the Piedmont region (just west of Lombardy). The Barbera grape, grown in the Monferrato portion of the Piedmont region since the 1200’s, was considered a table wine until its quality and status recently began being boosted.

A light and refreshing blend of three red grapes

Just as most people associate Italy with Leonardo da Vinci and poet Dante Alighieri, most Italians are also well aware of artist Umberto Boccioni. I showed the couple photos taken earlier that day in the Novecento (‘nine-hundred’) art museum and they immediately recognized the works as created by Boccioni. Diletta then pulled a 20 cent coin from her pocket to show that one side included an image of one of his bronze sculptures (titled: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space).

‘Elasticity’ by Umberto Boccioni

After dinner, bloated, we walked through the Isola portion of Milan. Although Leonardo Da Vinci designed a church that still stands there, the region transformed a magnet for drug dealers and prostitutes in decades past, until a surge of recent upgrades. The region is now a magnet for businesses and young professionals. The Bosco Verticale towers (vertical forest) with their 900 trees on apartment porches were recently given an award for best ‘tall building worldwide.’

We soon sat inside the couple’s local wine bar—Enoteca Surli, where 24-year old sommelier Lorenzo Scarsi served glasses of orange wine.

Sommelier Lorenzo Scarsi at Enoteca Surli in the Isola region of Milan

Orange wine?

The first was a non-filtered 2016 Quinto Quarto Rebula from Franco Terpin from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Made from Ribolla Gialla grapes, this apparently typifies an ‘orange wine,’ common in northeast Italy. An orange wine is a white wine that ferments with skins and seeds. It’s basically a white made like a red. The green skins are not removed after pressing, which gives the juice a distinct orange color.

Quinto Quarto orange wine from winemaker Franco Terpin

This orange wine was acidic and distinct, like a white but heartier. We next tasted an Ein Quantum Weiß 2016 from Austria, a blend of 12 grapes, which also had a distinct taste—tannins and toast. The taste of orange wine undoubtedly grows on drinkers with time.

An Austrian orange wine blended from 12 grapes

We next tried an Orano Sangiovese from the Le Marche region on the Adriatic coast—north of Abruzzo and east of Umbria, then finished with a biodynamic and unfiltered 2016 Mille from I Cacciagalli. Made from the dark Aglianico grape as well as the Piedirosso grape, this is slightly vegetal and pungent on the nose, similar to a Cabernet Franc. Lorenzo told us this is one of the bestselling wines at the bar.

Biodynamic, unfiltered and distinct

Lorenzo held the bottle to the light.

“Non passa niente,” he said. No light passed through that dark wine.

The evening was enjoyable and instructive. Grazie mille Diletta and Niccolo!

Next stop—Lugano, Switzerland (don’t worry, we’ll soon scoot back into Italy).

Looking from Monte Brè toward Monte Salvatore over Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Looking from the city of Lugano toward Monte Salvatore (right) and Monte Brè (left)

In Lugano my friend Elena took me on a whirlwind tour not of southern Switzerland, but of hidden dining gems within the backwoods of nearby Italy.

Elena outside Hostaria di Cacciatori near Ferrera di Varese in northern Italy

We drove south, from Lugano into Italy, and headed in the direction of Varese. After some 40 minutes, we stopped at Hostaria dei Cacciatori (‘the hunters’ restaurant’) near a small rural town.

A Saturday lunch gathering in the restaurant

Inside this home with starched linen tablecloths and large wine glasses, the owner and chef—Aurora and Paolo—told us that Aurora’s father opened this restaurant 50 years ago. When we were ready to order, there was no menu; Aurora recited what was available that day.

Paolo and Aurora

After a glass of sparkling Prosecco, we ordered a fine bottle of Brunello di Montalcino wine made from Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany (Aurora recalled that Elena ordered the same wine when she ate there last, almost a year ago), then ordered an appetizer of lentils and sliced salsicha sausages, followed by pasta with shaved, fresh truffles from the local forest. The pasta was yellow because it is made in freshly in-house, and egg yolks impact the color.

The entrance lobby at the Hostaria

World renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine is made 100% from the Sangiovese grape (which is also the main grape constituent in Chianti). Brunello was the first wine that was awarded the highest quality ‘DOCG’ (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation in Italy; today there are a total of 74 DOCG designations throughout Italy.

Pasta with shaved truffles (which, fortunately, were still available)

The next evening we drove again into the hills of Italy to find a family owned restaurant in the countryside—Agriturismo Barcola. This is a ‘grotto’ restaurant; this local word describes family restaurants that were once adjacent to outdoor caves (grottos) where they kept meat cool and cured. Elena navigated down a single lane on a dark mountainside into a dirt parking lot completely filled with cars.

The entrance to Barcola

Inside, families bantered and locals toasted and we ate appetizers of tomino cheese wrapped in bacon, followed by tagliatelle pasta with shavings of fresh wild boar (cinghiale) and a bottle of delicious red Valtellina Superiore Sassella wine. This excellent wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape on the steep slopes of the Rhaetian Alps northeast of Milan, near the border of Switzerland.

From the Rhaetian Alps, which you have never heard of

For a digestif we drank homemade (‘fatta di casa’) crema di limone—similar to limoncello. When I asked for the bill the owner scribbled a number onto a torn scrap of paper and handed it over. For all that dinner and wine and digestif for two persons the cost was 56.50 Euros. Very reasonable. When we reached the parking lot it was a mishmash of cramped cars, parked randomly within a circular dirt arena, and drivers trying to extricate their vehicles without banging into too many others. Being in Italy, though, this turned into a laughing, camaraderie forming event.

Tomino cheese wrapped in bacon. You know you want it.

And Lugano? Beautiful. I once lived there, and enjoyed every moment. I wrote a piece about the Merlot wine from that region of Switzerland years ago.

Sitting outside Osteria La Lanchetta before Lake Lugano, enjoying sundowners

The beauty of the meals described above came from spending time with people who live in the region—people who recommended where to go because they appreciate excellent local foods and have, through time, filtered out locations they consider prime for visiting.

As a teenager, I spent years living in Lugano. I thought I knew it all about the city and its countryside.

Nonsense. In the space of 48 hours, Elena opened up new dimensions to this region that blasted previous concepts.

Sant’Abbondio church in Certenago, Switzerland, in the municipality of La Collina d’Oro (‘the Hill of Gold’)

As you travel, you will meet others who will invite you to visit. To spend time at their spot on this planet.

Do It!

Go. ‘Throw Caution to the Winds.’ Buy the Ticket.

This will expand Your Horizons, change your thinking, and even—bizarrely—help solve problems that you were concerned about taking time away from.

Funds will come and go, and problems will arise and diminish.

Memories and camaraderie? They are to be seized.

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Thanks again for tuning in. I write this blog and another (roundwoodpress.com) and also write for various publications (shown below). I appreciate your visit to this site and hope you will continue checking out Vino Voices!

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

 

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