Biblical Rains, A Bar with a Killer wine list and Thirteen wines tasted! The tour just gets better

Waking to the sound of torrential rain pounding the tarmac outside our room we reflect on how lucky we had been yesterday with a dry day for cycling the Cote Rotie.

Summer Storm Video in Condrieu

We bid “au Revoir” to Julian our friendly waiter and dodging the Biblical rains we check out and go in search of breakfast.


Finding a boulangerie with a selection of pastries to fortify the soul, pre wine tasting, we go in search of the other staple ingredient of a continental breakfast- Coffee!

Winding our way around Condrieu’s narrow streets we find coffee in a bar. Walking in to it feels like the set of a wine movie! A veritable cast of rugged rustic types perched on bar stools. Some with an espresso others a glass of wine at 9am! All in boiler suits and wellies taking a break from tending their vines!

With a clientele such as this it’s no surprise to see they have an amazing wine list! In addition there’s also a huge range by the glass and with very little mark up!!

After our coffee stop we leave behind the town of Condrieu and make our steep ascent to the vineyards of Francois Villard in nearby Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône. Sometimes trying to find a winemakers caveau is a little like a puzzle or initiation test. Often there’s no clear signage, neither Googlemaps nor my Sat Nav are our frinds but eventually we find our way into the reception.


Our host Letitia guides us through a veritable line up of Monsieur Villard’s wines. I have to conceal my excitement as I’m a little like a small child in a candy store!

Legend has it that Francois is self-taught but in fact he trained as a chef which led him into sommellerie, and then onto grape-growing and oenology.

Letitia tells that Francois produces around 300,000 bottles a year. 12 years ago it was just a quarter of that!

To the whites first!

2016 Crozes Hermitage ” Cour de Récré” . Medium Lemon in appearance with a nose of medium plus intensity and greengages, made from 100% Marsanne. Rich intense aromas of yellow fruit, dry, with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and resinous overtones from 30% oak exposure culminating in a medium (+) finish.

2016 Saint-Peray, a blend of 80% Marsanne/20% Rousanne, with a nose of honey and honeysuckle flowers, on the palate dry with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and medium plus finish.

2015 Saint-Peray Version Longue: The big brother, 100% Marsanne and a bolder style of winemaking. 35% new oak and 18 months of lees ageing. Pale gold in appearance with pronounced aromas of pineapple and dried apricot. On the palate same fruits follow through from the nose. Dry with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, medium (+) body and very long finish.

2016 Viognier Les Contours de Deponcins. An IGT wine made from 100% Viognier that’s located just above the Condrieu AOC contour limit of 250m. Nose of honey, white flowers, toasted nuts, white peach and violet. Aged in oak for a fuller richer style more aromas follow through from the nose dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol and medium (+) body and a pleasing long finish.

2015 Les Grand Vallon Condrieu. This wine is fermented in oak barrels and matures in a mixture of 35% new oak and 65% 3/5 year old oak barrels. Pale gold in appearance with a bouquet of white peach and apricot and complex smoky notes form oak. Developing in age with aromas of more white peach on the palate dry, with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) body, medium alcohol, a seductive smoky toasted oakiness and long finish. This wine exhibits great balance, good finish well integrated primary and secondary aromas and a degree of complexity. It’s an outstanding example of a Condrieu.


and then the reds…

2015 Saint Joseph “Poivre et Sol” (Pepper and Soil). 100% Syrah. Medium purple in appearance. Aromas of animal, truffle and cassis. On the palate dry, medium (+) tannin, medium (+) body, medium alcohol and high acidity. More blackcurrant and a little vanilla. Long finish drinking well now.

2015 Saint Joseph “Mairlant”. 100% Syrah Medium purple in appearance. Notes of cassis on the nose. On the palate dry with high tannins, medium (+) alcohol, high acidity, aromas of blackcurrant and vanilla with a long finish. Needs minimum of 3 years in bottle to soften acidity and tannins.

2015 Saint Joseph “Reflet”. 100% SyrahDeep purple in appearance, a pronounced nose of cassis, violets, and myrrh. Developing in age, dry with high acidity, high tannins, full body, high alcohol, further aromas of cassis, myrtle berry and myrrh with secondary oak aromas of vanilla and toast. Lovely long finish integrated and well balanced.

2015 Le Gallet Blanc, Cote Rôtie. 100% Syrah. Matured in in oak for 18 months (30% new 70% 2/4 years old). Deep purple in appearance, Bone dry, with high acidity, full bodied, high tannin. Aromas of cassis and myrrh, vanilla and cream. Long integrated finish but still a baby with many years more to give.

2015 Cornas. Francois likes to make a Cornas that you can drink now! Its got fruit and spice and certainly doesn’t show the temperament of wine that usually needs to be tamed by 7 years plus in bottle. Dry, high alcohol, high tannins, medium (+) acidity, a balanced and complex mix of cassis and creaminess. Leaves you with a pleasurable long finish.



We thank Letitia for the dégustation and leave behind us the sensuous contours of the Rhone valley.  In no time at all we are back on the A7 Autoroute du Soleil. The rains of yesterday are a distant memory and the temperature starts to increase as we head into Provence. As we pass Avignon we can’t resist a quick detour to the heart of the Luberon to the picturesque perched village of Gordes, our base for our first French road trip many years before.


We stop for coffee at the cafe that was one of the main locations in Ridley Scott’s A Good Year set in and around Gordes…Russell Crowe’s character in the movie uses the adjective “intoxicating” to describe the enchanting atmosphere of this area and it couldn’t be more appropriate.

Revived and refreshed we get back on the A7 and blast our way past majestic mountains  set against azure blue skies and vineyards laden with fruit to La Cadière D’Azur our next destination. The prettiest and most typical of perched villages in this part of the Bandol AOC we arrive just after 7pm. We are greeted warmly by Madame Bérard of L’Hostellerie Berard and check in to our room overlooking the pool. It’s a Tuesday night and the little village is buzzing as we make our way down the  narrow main street to the Restaurant Regain.

Trio in La Cadiere D’Azur Part 1


We are both blown away by the simple home cooked food and local wines! We choose a Domaine de la Garenne 2011,Comte Jean de Balincourt. It’s a deep ruby in appearance with complex tertiary aromas already evident on the nose of meat, game, leather, tar and stewed damson fruit.
On the palate it’s dry with medium plus tannin, high alcohol, medium plus acidity, full body, well defined stewed damson fruit with secondary aromas of cedar, charred wood toast and clove.
Beautiful balance with medium plus length, intense tertiary fruits aplenty and a level of complexity that is disproportionate to its modest price!
An outstanding Bandol wine that still could yield more to those who wait but is a killer partner to a rare entrecôte steak in a Provençal village this evening!

Settling our bill we walk back down the main street in the village to the soundtrack of a local French band entertaining the locals.

Trio in La Cadiere D’Azur Part 2

We settle down with a Pastis and soak up the balmy atmosphere, a fusion of cicadas and flutes and gruff but melodic Provençal voices. It’s a world away from our day jobs and beautifully hypnotic!



Condrieu AOC and the Côte-Rôtie AOC on two wheels!

As the hotel prep our bikes for us we have a little time to take in this stunning view of the  Rhone adjacent to Le Beau Rivage Hotel.

River Rhone by Le Beau RivageIMG_3261

We cycle into Condrieu at a moderate pace in search of a Boulangerie. On route we compose a wish list of must visit winemakers in Condrieu and the Côte Rôtie, naively thinking our list would be complete by the end of the day!

Breakfast is a simple affair of pain au chocolat, it’s only 11:45am and we have Domaine Georges Vernay in our sights. We hurry across the road into their tasting room opposite the boulangerie and are disappointed to learn that it’s about to close for lunch and advised to return after 2pm!

We see a sign for the local Tourist Office and decide to get some intel on the other winemakers on our wish list. Schoolboy error! Most winemakers in Condrieu are taking two weeks off before the vendage!

We cut our losses and decide to venture to the Côte Rôtie. As we pedal leisurely along the car free ViaRhôna greenway we can already feel the sun burning our arms and the warm breeze from the river on our faces.

As we reach a roundabout it’s decision time! Either rejoin the busy main road to Ampuis and dodge some French HGV drivers fuelled up on their mid morning plat du jour et demi bouteille de vin or dig deep and take the quiet and almost traffic free 1 in 5 ascent to the town of Tupin-et-Semons at the top of the plateau of the Côte Rôtie.

The gears work their magic and our legs push hard on the pedals as we pass rows of vines. It’s obvious that these grapes are all tended to and harvest by hand and it helps to give some understanding of the labour intensive costs associated with these wines.


As we reach the summit we feel a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration?


Just past the church down a little lane we spot Auberge de la Source  A welcome oasis where we hope to take lunch and rehydrate!

The restaurant has the most incredible views across the Rhône and Côte Rôtie.

We meet the delightful Lucy, one of the co-proprietors who has recently taken over the running of the Auberge. She explains that they are full as they have a block booking from a local care home, the place is packed with local pensioners tucking into traditional Lyonnaise cooking.

It’s a really heartwarming sight to see the care and respect afforded to these senior citizens who are laughing and enjoying themselves, a model of care that should be aspired too, we think!

Lucy brings us a large jug of ice cool water and we order a glass of chilled St. Joseph white and one of a Condrieu, kick back and take in the panoramic view.


We get a further boost when Lucy tells us that her partner and chef is happy to rustle up 2 Salade Niçoise during a break in service. We gratefully order and spontaeously ask for the wine list! After all it is our wedding anniversary and for once neither of us is driving!

We order a stunning Condrieu Maison Christophe Pichon 2016
It’s pale gold in appearance with a medium plus intensity on the nose of white peach, wet stones and white blossom. On the nose it’s dry, with medium acidity, a full body, high alcohol with fresh apricot notes and high turpines. Ending on a very long finish with a full and pleasing mouthfeel. This Condrieu is youthful at present drinking well now with good balance and length with is great!  It’s also showing enough intensity and complexity to keep you coming back for more. An outstanding wine.

We descend down the Côte Rôtie and head towards the river to pick up the ViaRhôna once again.

Cote Rotie vineyards near Tupin-et-Semons

Passing a vista of terraces planted with Syrah and a smattering of Viognier. A combination of the topography and the effects of the Mistral necessitating  different forms of viticulture as seen below. Bottom left bush vines free standing whilst bottom right they are tied at the top for resilience and support against the winds!


Standing majestically just a few metres from the river is the iconic Domaine E. Guigal


We arrive back in Condrieu in time for a visit to the legendary Domaine Georges Vernay . Georges is long retired and his daughter, Christine, is now running the Domaine and expanding its range to major in both reds as well as the historic whites, her father’s legacy. It’s incredible that there were 170 hectares under the AOC when granted in 1940.

By the 1950s there were just 6 hectares left with many producers giving up on the back breaking and labour intensive terraced viticulture that is a central feature of this AOC. At a time when his neighbours were pulling back Georges showed commitment and dedication to the terroir by clearing land on the slopes of the Coteau du Vernon of dense acacia and oak to plant a further acre! Today Christine has 22 hectares under viticulture all organically farmed.


Inside the tasting room we opt to taste a range of wines.

Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes
Viognier: Pied de Samson 2016

Made from 100% Viognier but grown just above the 300m upper altitude limit of the Condrieu AOC and so classified as an IGP.  Fermented and matured in stainless steel, this wine is pale gold and made in a light style of Condrieu with lots of fresh stone fruit aromas of peach and apricot. It has medium plus acidity and medium to light medium alcohol with a medium finish.

Les Terrasses de L’empire Condrieu 2016

Classic nose of stone fruits all apricot and white peach with a hint of almond. Following through on the palate with medium body and medium plus acidity. Drinking well now with 2/4 years ageing potential. Fermented and matured in oak foudré for a richer style of Condrieu.

Les Chailles de L’Enfer Condrieu 2014

A Condrieu made in a style for ageing. Palate aromas of yellow fruit, especially ripe apricot more than white stone fruit but with a balanced background minerality. Medium plus body with medium acidity and long refined finish. A great wine that is delicately balanced with refined length and superb balance and complexity.

Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah: Fleurs du Mai 2016
Made from 100% Syrah but grown just above the 300m upper altitude limit of the Côte Rôtie AOC and so classified as an IGP.  Matured for 6 months in old wood barrels. Aromas of red cherry and tar secondary aromas on the nose with a purple/ruby appearance. Nose aromas continue on the palate with medium plus tannin and medium plus acidity. Drinking well now but will continue to improve over the next 4/5 years.

2015 Cote Rotie Blonde du Seigneur
A blend of 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier.Matured in 25% new oak barrel.
Medium purple appearance, jammy black currant nose with notes of toast and tar from secondary aromas. On the palate, dry with medium plus tannin, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium plus acidity and long finish. A classic style for this AOC with great balance length, intensity and complexity, a little young now and will age for another 15 years or so.
After our boozy tasting we cycle back to the hotel, drop off our bottles and pick up our swim things for a dip in the municipal Lido on the other side of the river.

Here I fall foul of the Lido police who inset that my swimming shorts are too long and prohibit me from taking a refreshing dip in the pool. I fall on the mercy of the changing room attendant who passes me a pair of speedo trunks as my passport to the pool! With no options left I take the trunks and make for the pool. It’s so worth it! The pool is clean and refreshing and the perfect way to cool down after and cycling adventure.

With our body temperatures back to normal we cycle back to the hotel and turn around quickly. It’s a gorgeous evening and the restaurant manager decides to host service in the gardens by the river.

Knowing that it’s our wedding anniversary Julian has reserved us the best table in the garden right next to the still waters of the Rhône.


Julian naturally recommends us a stunning Condrieu made in a style to perfectly accompany the pork filet mignon with a mustard sauce. The grapes for this wine are grown on terroir that is adjacent to the Chateau-Grillet AOC, the most prestigious in the Condrieu area but at prices out of my league.


Condrieu Coteau du Chery 2015 Andre Perret
This wine is medium gold in appearance, with a medium plus intensity of peach and smokiness from partial oak. It is developing in character. On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, high alcohol and a full bodied rounded rich mouthfeel with aromas of apricot and toasted cedar and a long lingering finish. In assesment there is balance in harmony with a great length, and intensity with complex flavours evolving. A great wine drinking well now and with some further ageing potential of a few years.

The richness of this style of Condrieu is perfect to balance the rich flavours of the pork and mustard main course.

We were so enchanted by the Apricot dessert from the tasting menu the night before that we reorder the same again along with a another glass of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.  To our surprise they put their own signature finish to the dish wishing us both a Happy Anniversary! A really lovely touch to bring a perfect day to its close!


With the moon working its magic on the river we stroll back to our room after another amazing day!

Chateaux, Abbeys Stellar Food and Wine, Wine, Wine!

An intense azure blue sky is the opposite to what we saw the day before as we take in our last breakfast at the Chateau de Courban before hitting the road.

Most of the time, when on tour we take a room only so we can experience the delights of the local boulangerie but in Courban it's not really an option as the nearest one is a good five miles away and anyway it's an excuse to indulge in their delicious breakfast buffet! For me the toasted brioche with homemade apricot jam was irresistible.

As we loaded up the car we decided to take a small detour to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Fontenay Abbey, a decision we would later congratulate ourselves on!

At the centre of Châtillon-sur-Seine we pass this lovely fountain, one of many around the town.

We leave the the bustling town behind us and wind our way out into the beautiful rolling Burgundian hills. A landscape that is a riot of shades of green pastures dotted with the unmistakeable creamy white whisps of Charolais cows! The soothing brogue of Hugh Bonneville on Desert Island Disks is our soundtrack, it's the perfect fusion of the senses to instil peace and a sense of calm.

Arriving at Fontenay we estimate a quick pit stop but are unprepared for the sheer wonder of the place.

Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard it is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys. The industrious monks cleared a swamp that was here and dried the land to build the abbey and its surrounding buildings. The abbey was wealthy from 12th Century to the 15th Century with a community of more than two hundred monks.

The abbey owned a huge estate which was cultivated and farmed by the monks they even used their engineering prowess to create a novel forge, the first of its kind in Europe. By the 16th Century the abbey started to decline partly as the abbots became appointed by the King!

By the time of the French Revolution there were only twelve monks left. In 1790 the abbey was sold as state property and bought in 1820 by Elie de Montgolfier, a descendant of the famous pioneers of hot air balloon flight. He transformed the abbey into a paper mill. In 1906 Edouard Aynard, a wealthy financier and art collector bought the abbey back from his father in law, Raymond de Montgolfier.

He rescued the former abbey, transforming it from an industrial site and restoring the buildings to their original architectural beauty. The abbey remains in the family's ownership today and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fontenay Panoramic Views 1

Fontenay Panoramic Views 2

Completely wowed by Fontenay we head off with a taste for a little more Burgundian architectural splendour and in search of the King of Burgundian cheeses, Epoisse!

Sadly the dairy which offers five different iterations of this strong and creamy Marc washed cheese was closed as was the local gourmand food store opposite the castle so we settled on a brisk walk around the inside of the castle, which is a perfectly preserved example of a double moated castle.

At the ticket office was a young French student combining his weekend job with some flute practice and this was the result!

Live flute at Epoisse

The temperature was rising and as we raced down the autoroute towards Beaujolais our next pit stop, we decided on an unscheduled stop just outside Beaune to take a dip in the natural outdoor lido!

Refreshed and refuelled with the leftovers of the previous night's picnic we continued towards Beaujolais. We wanted to be in Condrieu before 7pm and thinking that as it was a Sunday afternoon most cellars would be closed we just plucked a lesser known Cru as a wild card on the off chance somewhere would be open.

Julienas rewarded us with the local producers association PR centre being open. Housed in a former church and also used as an education centre on the wines of Julienas they also offered tastings! Here's the results!

The terroir of Julienas is granite and shale with clay veins.

Julienas 2013 Red; Medium ruby red in appearance, developing wine with a raspberry nose. More red fruit on the palate in the form of red cherry, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a long finish.

Julienas 2014 Red: Medium ruby red appearance again with a nose of Parma violets and red cherry with more of these flavours coming through on the palate. Dry, with medium tannin, medium alcohol, medium body and a medium plus finish.

Julienas 2015 Red: As predicted medium Ruby appearance, with a nose of bubblegum from the carbonic maceration. On the palate, dry with light tannin, medium alcohol and body lots of red cherry fruit and a medium plus finish. Developing and would benefit from keeping longer although drinking well now if you prefer a lighter, fruitier style.

Julienas 2016 White: Pale lemon in appearance. On the nose, white flowers, green apple and a hint of lemon. No oak. On the palate, dry, with medium plus alcohol and medium plus body, medium plus acidity and a medium plus finish. Aromas of apricot, peach and hints of tropical fruit. A surprising 100% Chardonnay Beaujolais which makes up less than 3% of total grapes grown in the Julienas AOC.

Julienas 2015 Red Oaked: Medium ruby red in appearance with red fruit, red cherry nose. On the palate, light sour red cherry aromas, like a cherry yoghurt. Dry, medium tannin, medium alcohol, light body, medium plus finish.

We arrive at the Le Beau Rivage before sunset in time for a quick change before dinner. Then a leisurely stroll along the Rhone before we drink a glass of Condrieu in Condrieu while studying the extensive wine list and menu as the sun goes down.

We are looked after by the charming Julian whose knowledge of wines is incredible we think he must be the sommelier and are surprised that he is not! We go for the turbot to share which we thought is a classic Condrieu pairing and our guided by Julian to the sublime 2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi.

Dinner is a triumph of great food as much as great wines to match!

2014 Pierre Gaillard L'Octroi Condrieu

Pale gold in appearance with medium plus intensity on the nose of white peach and honeysuckle. A developing wine which is dry, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body and a rich intensity of more stone fruits apricot and peach with background refreshing minerality. This is a beautifully balanced wine with a long lingering finish and seamlessly integrated components that are both intensely rich and complex. It is drinking well now and is an outstanding example of a fresh unoaked Condrieu.

The Turbot is amazing. Grilled whole and served by Julian at the table. It is perfectly cooked and is succulent and rich in flavour accompanied by a perfect hollandaise.

Whilst perusing the dessert menu we get food envy seeing the dessert from the tasting menu go to an adjacent table and twist Julian's arm to see if we can have that! Chef agrees and we are excited!

The dessert is a sorbet of apricot with pistachios granules and an apricot sugar dome covering an apricot and rosemary mousse sitting on poached apricots on a dark chocolate square. It's a riot of stone fruits with lots of sweet and sour/acid flavours going on and an incredible dessert which looks spectacular.

Dessert is classicly paired with a Beaumes-de-Venise and followed with coffee and an incredible selection of chocolates from the nearby house of Valrhona.

Dinner is rounded off with a Marc from Maison M.Chapoutier after dinner we take a romantic moonlight stroll along the Rhone.

Its the perfect end to another perfect day.

The Great Sicilian Escape

I’ve been anticipating this trip for several months. A country that’s as rich in its cultural heritage whether that be Greek, Roman or Phoenician as it is in its food and wine whether that be the searing acidity of those legendary Sicilan lemons or the sweetness of their ricotta filled pastries.Leaving a cold and damp Gatwick behind us on a Friday, our first surprise was an upgrade on our car from the charming Simona at Avis Preferred. Within an hour we arrived at the majestic Belmont Villa Sant’Andrea our base for the next 4 days. Set like a jewel into the rocks with an adorning landscaped garden giving way to breathtaking views of the ocean, its not hard to see why this is the hottest ticket in Taormina!

Receiving the warmest of Sicilian welcomes from La Bella Leah on reception we check into our room to be wowed with this view.

A nice touch was a welcome note from the General Manager with complimentary pastries.

After a quick dip in the chilly waters of the Med we headed round to the cove by the picturesque Isola Bella. There we found a beach restaurant, Ristorante La Pizzichella, with a deck which the incoming tide was lapping.

The perfect location we thought for pre dinner Negronis!

The first 2 were sooo good the words Ancora Negroni! Just tripped off our lips!

Such an idyllic location with the water lapping at our toes, it was hard to be beat so we just caught last orders at 19:45 for the kitchen and ordered the chef special,  swordfish linguini. Rounded off with a sublime bottle of Vignavella Chardonnay. Hints of oak and a dry acidity this was delicious although the Negronis impaired my memory any further.

As we strolled back up the steps from the beach we felt a craving for something sweet to finish off! We found a delightful bar and Gelateria, Ai Paladini Cafe, a few metres down the road and fed our cravings with a selection of chocolate and pistachio pastries accompanied of course by some sweet nectar like Sicilian dessert wines.

As we ordered il conto the waiter brought us a local speciality of pistachio cream liquor which was something you could easily get addicted to!

Less than 24 hours in Sicily and we had already fallen in love with the island!


Unspoilt Quiet Beaches, Wine Tasting and a Killer Sunset – Another Day in the Paradise that is Maremma!

After a first full day in the paradise that is the Maremma, we wonder what day two would hold in store for us.

We had already researched that we could join a guided trek in English through the wilderness that is the Maremma National Park at 9am that morning. So we make an early start, leaving behind us Porto Santo Stefano, already bustling with life, its marina awash with daytrippers ready to board the shuttle service to Isola del Giglio.

We arrive in the sleepy village of Alberese just before 9am and make our way to the Tourist Information Centre to book ourselves onto the trek.

To our surprise we find that the English tour was the next day and that the Italian tour that day didn’t start until 10am!

Undeterred by this seemingly large setback we decide to take a flyer on the Italian tour with my limited knowledge of spoken Italian our restricted audio guide!

With an hour to spare before the tour begins we head over to a little cafe bar opposite, where we order two doppios and two large glasses of iced water and settle down in a shady spot to take refuge from the already searing heat with our holiday reading for amusement.

At five to ten the transfer bus rolls up with our guide who to our relief speaks some English and was an Ecologist from the University of Pisa.

Within 15 minutes we are in the thick of the park with wild boars and deer visible from the bus as we drive to the drop off.

The Maremma is one of the last great unspoilt ecosystems in Italy. Its biodiversity and beauty fiercely protected by controlled entry. Access to the park by vehicle is restricted to guided tours and these are limited to just a few a day.

One of the commonest trees indigenous to the park is the Mediterranean Oak which has evolved so that it can survive drought. Unlike our native English Oak it is an evergreen and is characterised by hard small green leaves. When thriving en masse like in the park it gives the hills and mountains an intense green colour that contrasts against the azure blue sky.


Droughts here can be extreme, exacerbated by the permeability of the limestone rock which causes the winter rains to rapidly drain away.

The only sound we hear is the faint swish of waves lapping the shore below and a few odd cicadas at the end of their season, this is in contrast to late spring and early summer when their chorus of mariachi can be deafening.

All along the Maremma coast there is a series of defensive towers a relic of the sixteenth century when this area was prone to raids by Saracen pirates


A rich canvas of olive green hues leads out to the turquoise sea, beyond which the islands of Elba, Montecristo and even the faint outline of Corsica creep along the horizon.

The Maremma is also home to the Maremmana longhorned breed of cattle which can be traced back to the Etruscan period. After a period of population decline it has reasserted itself, thriving in the harsh environment of the Maremma.


We descend down through the rocky path onto a huge expanse of wild beach, completely unspoilt and with just a handful of people sprinkled across the shoreline. Our guide advises us we have twenty minutes to take a refreshing dip before the short hike back to our bus so we take full advantage of this tranquil paradise.


We work up quite an appetite during our morning hike  and decide to head to the recommended nearby Osteria La Nuova Dispensa.

The recommendation is insightful! We sit in the shade under a pergola our table covered in a rustic style patterned cloth.

Highlights on the menu are the local charcuterie with cheeses and beef T-bone cooked Florentine style.


We opt for both! The starter is a mix of spicy wild boar salami, strong flavoured capo collo and a silky prosciutto Umbria with strong umami. A glass of Maremma Sangiovese from the nearby Santa Lucia vineyard  accentuates the flavours even further. A crumbly pecorino cheese is served with wild honey from a local bee keeper.


The main course arrives with a simple garnish,it’s a full on fest of rare cooked meat on the bone simply flavoured with salt and pepper.

Our bellies full we head off in search of the Santa Lucia vineyard. Located near Grosseto it’s a fairly modern affair with a tasting room located in a large bungalow style building at the heart of the estate.


We had the opportunity to taste 3 wines:

Brigante: 100% Vermentino.

Betto: A Super Tuscan comprising Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sour cherries balanced with sweetness of the Merlot to produce a great example.

Santa Lucia: 100% Ansonica. A great expression of the local varietal that is crisp with a steely minerality and aromatic nose.

We arrive back at Cala Piccola in time to catch the last shuttle down to the little cove at the foot of the hotel.


As the mountains start to shade the falling evening sun we indulge in some open water swimming in the warm clear turquoise waters and for a finale sip on some ice cold tequila sunrises!

Before dinner we are treated to one of the most dramatic sunsets we have ever witnessed.


As we sip our pre dinner drinks on our balcony the sun finally slips behind the distant Isola di Giglio and a cooling sea breeze blows in as we descend into darkness.


Dinner is a simpler affair this evening after our meatfest for lunch.

Emilano, the sommelier again delivers a perfect recommendation:  Vini Montauto Enos I, DOC Maremma Toscana. A wine made by one of Tuscany’s new generation of winemakers who are reinvigorating their family owned vineyards with new enthusiasm for producing stunning wines that really express the terroir in which they are grown.

Exhibiting a classic nose of Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry, fresh grass and Granny Smith, a great balance of acidity and minerality with notes of white fruits, herbs, apple and star fruit rounded with a long finish and perfect with the light summer pasta.


An appetiser of anchovy and buffalo mozzarella is very light, sourced directly from the farmer and served in a slightly quirky style. Nonetheless the saltiness of the anchovy balances nicely with the rich cream of the mozzarella!



Our main course is macaroni with a mirepoix of carrot, aubergine and bacon bound in a light pea velouté. The silky yet fresh execution of this dish sings a ballad of summer with every mouthful.


We are again seduced by the Valrhona chocolate dome with passion fruit ganache and dried fruit crumbs. As spectacular in its delivery as it was the night before!


Notching up the ante just a little Emilano our sommelier recommends one of my favourite dessert wines the rare Passito Pantelleria from the tiny Italian island that is closer to Africa than Italy!

Its a heady fusion of honey and honeycomb which is a rich golden colour, with a palette of rich marmalade.


With our second day in paradise drawing to a close we take a stroll around the gardens of the hotel serenaded by cicadas!


Northern Powerhouse!

Samuel Johnson, writer, journalist and critic is credited with the quote

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

I wondered what Dr Johnson, as he was also known would have made of the regeneration and transformation of the great Northern city that is Leeds.

Anecdotaly I’ve heard that discerning global shoppers now shun London and make Leeds their first port of call when visiting the UK. It’s not hard to imagine why. An airport that’s close to the city with ease of transit through it on your return, with terminal departures area to gate in less than 10 minutes!

On every visit there’s something new, this time it’s a John Lewis department store to compliment the plethora of shopping malls. The retail scene catering for all tastes from the budget to high end.


The Victoria Arcade is one of my favourites which could easily rival even the most exclusive Jermyn or Bond Street offerings, with classy jewellers, bespoke shoes and a Vivienne Westwood boutique to name but a few!

Leeds also has a huge amount to offer the discerning foodie. On a previous visit I posted a review of the Crafthouse restaurant which blew me away.

I’ve blogged before about the renaissance of the independent coffee shop in the face of the colonisation of high streets by Costabucks. Leeds is no exception. A little research led me to Laynes Espresso on New Station Street.

With a cool vibe and range of brew methods to show off their range of coffees plus some awesome breakfast offerings (shame I’d already eaten at T5!) this place rocks.

I go for the single origin El Sunzita from El Salvador by Stockholm based Drop Coffee Roasters. Brewed with the Classic V60, a nice touch is the tasting coffee mats which they hand scribe with tasting facts for the single origin that you are drinking! Indeed their insights are spot on with notes of milk chocolate sweetness, apple acidity and nuts!

Leaving the hipsters at Laynes behind I go in search of the new redeveloped south side of Leeds. Inside the Vue cinema complex called The Light I find La Bottega Milanese.  An authentic Milanese style espresso bar serving Italian pastries and amazing Piadina (Italian Flatbread) toasted sandwiches. Here they not only sell a range of coffee beans but also the kit to brew it with from the stylish Aeropress to the Classic V60.

Before leaving the city there is just time to take in a quick early dinner at Pintura, an authentic  Basque style Pinxto restaurant. The place is fairly quiet as it’s only 5pm so I opt to sit up at the counter and start chatting with Jimmy the chef.

Going with his recommendations I choose three small dishes, his colleague recommends three sherry pairings which set off the three dishes nicely!

Pulpo Salpicion

A delicious pickle of Octopus, Peppers, Onions with Sherry Vinegar. A real sweet and sour surprise with the octopus al dente.

Served with a bone dry Williams and Humbert Manzanilla with the saltiness that compliments this seafood dish.


Brochette de Queso Y Jamon

Intensely rich and buttery Iberica Ham with a hard tangy Goat’s cheese

Served with a Williams and Humbert Palo Cortado 20 year old.  A great fusion of sweet and savoury to compliment the contrasting flavours in the brochette.


Tiny small but spicy chorizo sausages fried on the plancha grill.

Served with a full treacle like and rich Williams and Humbert Pedro Ximenez (PX) 20 year old that total handles the chilli heat and enhances the sweetness of the chistorra.


I just have enough room to squeeze in a…..

Mousse de Chocolate

Divine and sublime Valrhona chocolate in a rich mousse topped with a chocolate crumb


Served with a Williams and Humbert Sweet Old Oloroso, 15 year old semi sweet so as not to cloy with the chocolate and yet enhancing it at the same time.

I’m transported back from San Sebastian to reality as my taxi driver calls to say he is outside! He whisks me  back at the airport in time for a quick look around the Duty Free before boarding the flight back to London eagerly anticipating my next visit to Yorkshire!



Seaviews, Sublime Wines, Sunshine & Stunning Sunsets and a Gourmet Dinner; Is It a Dream or Are We In Paradise?

The long journey down from Lake Como had really wiped us out so there was no chance that we were going to see the sunrise over the Tyrrhenian Sea! When we did eventually wake up we were in awe at the stunning views from our room.


The room was really well appointed inside too with a large bathroom comprising of a walk in shower, deep bath and his/her twin sinks.

Our decadent lie in precipated a quick turnaround if we were going to make breakfast which finished around 10:30am.

We made our way down to the restaurant which afforded similar views of the cove below to our bedroom but with the added benefit of parasols to shade you from the increasing burn factor of the sun.

Breakfast was a feast in itself! We were given a table at the edge of the restaurant with one of the best views by the charming Alessandro. Then its was down to the serious business of making some tough decisions about the buffet.

For me a no brainer, salty prosciutto and sweet melon, toasted sesame bread with local cheeses and honey rounded off with the obligatory double espresso!

As we breakfasted with the azure blue sky and olive green pine trees providing a natural wallpaper behind us our thought turned to how we were going to spend our next four days in paradise.

I’d already researched that there was as interesting Antinori coastal vineyard near Castiglione della Pescaia and we thought the coastal town itself would be worth a punt. Chatting with the guest relations team we also discovered a guided walk in the nearby Maremma national park and the thermal springs at Saturnia were a must.

I phoned Le Mortelle, the Antinori vineyard only to discover that the only English speaking tour was on Saturday, the day that we had booked to do the national park walk. We decided to head down towards Castiglione della Pescaia anyway and do a drive by if the vineyard was on the route!

As luck would have it as we neared Castiglione dell Pescaia we picked up some tourist signs  for Le Mortelle (Antinori vineyard).

As we drove down the dusty track to the tenuta (estate) it was flanked by rows of vineyards.

Le Mortelle Vineyards

On arrival we were met by the charming Barbara who explained that although the full English tour was as we knew the next day she could do a personal tasting of their wines for us!


The estate covers a huge 270 hectares of which 160 are planted with grape vines. There are also 15 hectares of organic fruit orchards. The two main varietals planted are Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Recently they have also begun to cultivate white varietals such as the local Ansonica, Vermintino and Viognier.

It’s also remarkable for it’s commitment to sustainability, with the design of the cellars underground on a system of levels to allow  production “by falling”. The grapes arrive at the upper level  with the vinification process continued on the middle level and the ageing on the lowest level before the wine is ready for sale.

The cellars are lit by lateral openings in the ceiling and a huge one at the top of a helical winding staircase which connects all the levels.

After an introduction to the estate it was down to the tasting. This took place outside on the terrace with stunning views over the terroir.


2014 Vivia – Maremma Toscana

Using the typical Tuscan varietals of Ansonica and Vermentino with Viognier added after years of experimentation to find a suitable aromatic varietal to balance the blend. The result is light pale straw coloured wine, with a nose of stone fruits , white blossom and candied pineapple. On the palette, white pepper and spice with peach with fresh acidity. A fat and full flavoured wine with a smooth finish. Ansonica whether in a blend or on its own should usually be drunk young.

2013 Botrosecco – Maremma Toscana

Taking its name from a now long dried out ancient moat on the estate this blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Cabernet Franc for balance. Notes of vanilla on the nose from the oak barriques, fruity aromas when mixed with the vanilla reminiscent of blackberry crumble. A dark cherry colour with a fuller finish. Still some tannins, pepper, star anise and spice on the palette.

2012 Poggio Alle Nane – Maremma Toscana 

The premium blend from this estate. 80% Cabernet Franc with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. the terroir and microclimate of where these grapes are grown on the state yield the highest potential on the estate for fine wine.

A nose of tar and cherry, intense blackcurrant fruit and peppery spice on the palette with soft tannins and a full long finish with complex flavours. Would be an ideal partner for bistecca fiorentina. 

Barbara also arranged for me to taste 2 other wines which are produced only for sale at the estate.

Rosé Mortelle

A dark rose colour with a nose of cherry boiled sweets, continuing onto the palette. A full dry finish with rose hip acidity and freshness. Would be a great as an aperitif or with canapés.

Roso Mortelle

Made with 100% Sangiovese , this had notes of black cherry on the nose with a light fruity style on the palette and a hint of young slightly spicy morello cherries. The finish was short. Drinking young as an everyday wine with charcuterie, pizza etc…

The final tasting treat was an Eau de vie made from organic plums. A whopping 42% Alc, a strong clear spirit with a background flavour of plum. Unusual and one that I felt compelled to purchase.

Distillato di Susine – Le Mortelle


This was one of the most scenic estates for a tasting on the whole tour.

Panoramic view of Le Mortelle vineyard from my tasting seat!

Laden with our purchases and some tasty produce from the organic farm shop we made our way back down to the coast. Our energy levels slightly sapped by the heat of the Tuscan sun we found some cheap parking just a few hundred yards from the public beach in Castiglione dell Pescaia.


Taking a dip in the warm but still refreshing waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea we cooled down sufficiently before heading back to Monte Argentario and our hotel at Cala Piccola.

That evening we decided to dine al fresco in the hotel restaurant. Their chef, the very talented Salvatore Cioce had a 5 course tasting menu on offer, it looked to go to miss!

Taking pre dinner drinks on the terrace of our room before sunset we were anticipating a gourmet evening ahead of us.


Although by the time we sat down to dinner the sun had set it was still magical to be eating under the moon and stars.

We turned out attention to the menu and without hesitation plunged into the 5 course course tasting menu that had caught our attention earlier in the day.

Whilst salivating over the menu the sommelier, the charming Emiliano Leuti, recommended us this stunning wine from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. A Vintage Tunina Bianco 2013. Made from Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Picolit grapes. This is a fantastic blend. Brilliant straw-yellow colour with golden highlights. On the nose the aromatics hit you with elegant notes of honey and wild flowers. On the palette, Its taste is dry, velvety, and complex with fat flavours of quince and lychee and a hint of mandarin, ending on a rounded and long finish. Still relatively young but with definitely another 5 years in the tank! This is also a very versatile wine that was perfect for the tasting menu and its range of big flavours!


The Amuse Bouche set the standard for the gastronomy that followed. A Buffalo cream ricotta cheese with black pepper and light and crispy crostini. The ricotta was light and velvety in texture yet rich in flavour.


Following on; the next course was scallops wrapped in pancetta in hazelnut butter with apple jelly and spinach foils. The scallops were sweet and cooked to perfection and lifted to heady heights by the sweet mango sauce.


Canteloupe melon gazpacho with whole langoustine lightly marinated in citrus fruits with mandarin flavoured mayonnaise. Beautifully decorated with wild flowers! My first ever melon gazpacho which balanced perfectly the sweetnesses of the soup with the saltiness of seafood.


Veronese Vialone Nano risotto with local squid, salmon caviar and sepia powder. Visually stunning and theatre in itself,  this dish contained concentrated seafood flavours, rich and al dente risotto with a dusting of squid ink for show!


Monkfish fillet in panchetta on crovarelle potato cream and crustacean bisque. A classic combination, well executed and cooked to perfection.


Valrhona chocolate dome with passion fruit ganache and dried fruit crumbs. The last course and definitely a show stopper! The king of chocolates used creatively for a chocolate boat with passion fruit cream and then as a chocolate carpet to bind together fresh seasonal fruits and toasted sweet biscuit! Absolutely sensational. Emiliano also wanted to make sure this triumph had its own special partner and so recommend a lovely slightly sparkling red from Montalcino.


The Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui from the famous Banfi house in Montalcino was the perfect partner to the chocolate fest; almost like a sweet low alcohol (7%) sparkling cherry cordial! Delicious.image

We strolled back from the restaurant taking a post dessert espresso on the  terrace listening to the sounds of waves crashing onto the rocks before we headed off to bed.













A Magical Mountain Adventure

Waking again to the same sound of the Giessbach Falls which had sent us off to sleep, we started the day of our wedding anniversary with more than a hint of anticipation and excitement for what the day would bring forth.

We took breakfast on the terrace and secured pole position overlooking both the Falls and the lake. The Grand Hotel Giessbach breakfast was a sumptuous smorgorsborg of hot and cold dishes. Highlights were local cheese with wild alpine honey straight from the honeycomb, partnered with fruit bread and a killer Bircher muesli. Starting the day as we meant to go on we reached for the Prosecco and charged our glasses!

As we swung back past perception to confirm what time the boat left for Interlaken we had another nice surprise. Jonathan our helpful hotel receptionist from the day before had bought us an anniversary card and some Swiss chocolates as a gift. A very thoughtful and generous touch.

The concierge confined that the funicular which connects the hotel with the boat station departed at 10:40 and handed us the complimentary passes that hotel guests have for use of this novel transfer.
The funicular has the honour of being the oldest and first to have been installed in Switzerland. I’ve seen these in many locations around the world but this one certainly is the most dramatic.

imageThe Grand Hotel Giessbach stands proudly on the side of a mountain adjacent to the Giessbach Falls. It was saved from destruction after falling into disrepair by a consortium of wealthy Swiss businessmen who were keen to preserve this iconic bundling. It has the air of a palatial grand estate adorned with chandeliers and ornate furnishings and has been faithfully restored to its former glory.


The funicular took just a few minutes to convey us from the hotel down to its own boat station on the lake. Long before the winding road was built the only way to reach the hotel was by boat from Interlarken and then funicular.

Hotel guests can also purchase a first class return ticket for the hour or so trip to Interlaken which was a subsidised bargain at 30 Euros per person. First Class also guarantees you a seat on the upper deck where we were afforded some stunning views of the Lake Brienz and the surrounding mountains. There was also a little bar so we decided another Prosecco was in order!

The toot toot of the ferry announces to us our embarkation. We pass several lakeside villages dotted around lack Brienz as we zigzag our way to Interlaken Ost across the lake. It’s turquoise green waters contrasting with the intense blue of the sky.

On arrival at Interlaken Ost boat station we changed to our third mode of transport for the train journey to Wengen changing at Lauterbrunnen. One of the great things about Switzerland is the Swiss passion for ruthless efficiency which means trains running to time with minimal hanging around between connections!

At Wengen just five minutes walk from the train station is the Cable car to Mannlichen. Already within striking distance of the stunning Alps this last stage of journey was for me the most exciting! Powdery white snow dusting the majestic peaks of the mountains like a patisserie chef adding the finish to a fondant!

Exiting the cable car, the vista was breathtaking, a combination of quaint Swiss chalets, rolling green alpine pastures and snow capped mountains set against an azure blue sky.

A further surprise as we passed a group of cows, their large bells clunking in harmony around their necks was the dramatic and haunting sound of the local Alpenhorns and an annual Alpenhorn festival.

Click here for clip of Alpenhorn Festival
Walking from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg along trail Number 33 was breathtaking and ranks as one of my favourite walks of all time! Words and pictures can’t really do justice to the beauty of the panoramic vistas.

After ninety minute of walking along the trial we arrived at the tiny village of Kleine Scheidegg just in time to pick up the mountain railway to Grindelwald.  From here we crammed onto another train full of international tourists returning from the Jungfrau theme park back to Interlaken hoping to catch the last ferry back to our hotel.

We arrived back at Interlaken Ost some thirty minutes or so after the last boat departed but realised if we took the next fast train to Brienz we could catch it up there so as to enjoy our return to the hotel in the same way we departed and save on a thirty Euro taxi fare from Brienz!

We made excellent time back to Brienz and still had time for a refreshingly short dip in the icy waters of lake Brienz, so cold that it actually took my breath away, in time to catch our boat.

As the funicular pulled us back up the mountainside our thoughts turned to dinner. We had booked a table in the critically acclaimed Cascades restaurant in the hotel but having spent the day in the alpine fresh air we were reluctant to relinquish the great outdoors and so decided to opt for the bar menu again on the terrace.

When we got to the bar the terrace overlooking the lake was buzzing as it was such a beautiful evening. We need not have worried! Our new found friends from the previous evening Swiss Toni and Giota had reserved the best two tables for us so that we could chose which one we wanted! They had anticipated that we would probably want to eat al fresco and didn’t want us to have a disappointing end to our special day!

Hotel dinner

Sautéed Goat’s Cheese with Wild Garlic Pesto.

The wild garlic pesto was a triumph complimenting the richness of the goats cheese perfectl!

Main course

Entrecôte steak with thin fries and garlic/herb butter. Juicy , perfectly cooked: rare for me and medium rare for Gillian. We asked if the sommelier could come from the Cascades restaurant to advise on a wine to partner the steak, something Swiss.

We had the chance to meet the charming sommelier, Kevin Hischke who recommended Teninento La Prella from near Ascona on Lake Maggiore, in Ticino. This wine, a Merlot grand reserve had a nose of chocolate, cherry and spice. On the palette there was morello cherries and a hint of cherries in kirsch combined with soft tannins in a well rounded finish. A perfect recommendation with the steak.

As we ordered a post prandial coffee we asked Swiss Toni to recommend a typical Swiss digestif . He recommended Nocino a nut liquor which was syrupy, sweet and with a buttery nutty taste.

Giota, Tim and Swiss Toni!

imageThanking both Toni and Giota for looking after us both so well and making the end to our special day so memorable we climbed the two flights of stairs and slept like the proverbially logs!

Dinner Fit For a Gourmand

We arrived at Chateau Courban shortly before 6pm still buzzing with the excitement of our serendipitous visit to Champagne Louise Brison . As the evening sun bathed the exquisite gardens in warm light we planned to take a cooling dip in the pool as soon as we checked in.


Check in was smooth and efficient but they kept from us the best surprise of all…. An upgraded room which was straight out of a scene from the new BBC drama Versailles. A master bedroom with stunning views across the Côte d’Or countryside leading to a bathroom whose central feature was a beautiful roll top enamel bath, with shower room and toilet in separate rooms off of the bathing area so as not to spoil the Feng Shui!


We wasted no time in heading to the pool area for a refreshing pre dinner swim. Decadently we enjoyed a half bottle of the 2010 vintage Louise Brison champagne as an aperitif while getting ready for dinner and luxuriating in our sumptuous surroundings. (See previous posting for tasting notes)


This was our second visit to Courban after discovering this stunning oasis last year. We weren’t the least bit surprised to learn that many guests return again and again in what is a case of once discovered never forgotten.

It’s a great stopover at anytime of year especially if you’re heading south to the French Alps, Switzerland or Italy. It was also incredibly great value at a pre Brexit booking price of around £200 for half board which included a four course Discovery menu from their legendary Head Chef, Takashi Kinoshita. The restaurant is also deservedly included In the Michelin selection 2016.

Whilst perusing the Discovery menu we enjoyed a glass of the house champagne, Champagne Robert Barbichon, a Blanc de Blanc with 15% Pinot Noir, made to biodynamic standards in the Côte des Bars. This was the first time I had tasted a Champagne made in this style and the 15% Pinot certainly added to the taste making it arguably a more suitable companion for the amuse bouche.



Amuse Bouches No1

Mustard macaroon with toasted pecans.
I loved the sweet and savoury juxtaposition of this mouthful, a perfect balance of light sugary meringue and tangy mustard. It also looked incredible.

Deep fried epoisse parcels presented on a bed of dried lentils. I think this dish would work better with a more over ripe epoisse when its power would balance with the Tempura. Tasty though the same.

Amuse Bouches No 2

Gazpacho with Celery Foam.
Like a lightly textured fresh and slightly spicy Bloody Mary.


Prawns with baby aubergine.
Prawns in a light tempura with daikon salad, wakame with a yuzu and toasted sesame oil vinaigrette.
Lemon foam and sweet soy sauce binding all the ingredients together.


Duck Foie Gras with petits pois mousseline.
A fusion of spicy flavours including coriander seeds and chorizo offset by perfect soft and silky textured foie gras. Garnished with lemon foam and egg yolk confit.

Main Course
Roasted supreme of Bourg en Bresse chicken with duxelles of girolles mushrooms new potato soufflé and courgette ribbons, veal jus, spinach with red basil. Garnished with whole sautéed girolles.

This breed of chicken in my opinion deserves its place as the best in the world. Melt in the mouth breast, moist and flavoursome. The devil sauce carrying loads of Unami flavour from its base veal jus.



Courban countryside dessert.
A soft cream cheese set in a light green meringue wrap with white chocolate batons and ice cream.


A Summer Swim
Segments of Pink grapefruit and red shizo sorbet, peach and toasted sesame meringue with red shizo garnished with rose wine jelly and green spun sugar.
Light, fresh and sharp the perfect palette cleansing dessert in stunning summery like technicolour.


We chose a stunning local wine from nearby Chablis…..with the main course in mind.
Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles Regnard 2011. A great nose expressing both minerality and fruit. On the palette, further minerality, augmented with notes of plump ripe quinces, a fat wine with a long finish and one that I believe will continue to improve with age.


We had just enough room for coffee and petit fours. These provided the perfect finale to this discovery menu. Light and chewy meringues and rich lavender flavoured chocolate truffles.


We strolled back to our room having thoroughly enjoyed our Gastronomic experience wondering what the next day would bring as we drifted off into a deep sleep.

Al Boccon di Vino -Venetian Gastro Heaven!

We’d been planning to go to the Richmond institution that is Al Boccon di Vino since my friend Jojo went there about a year ago and hadn’t stopped raving about it since. Be warned you really need to book in advance and although I usually prefer dinner over lunch, as their menu free banquet  can last well over two and half hours on Jojo’s advice we opted for a Saturday lunchtime booking.

Joining us were Jojo and her other half Pete, they had the advantage of knowing a little about the running order. “Don’t ask for the wine list Tim, there isn’t one!” Jojo said. This was great insight as when the restaurant manager Simona asked us”You want Redda or Whita wine?” in her thick Italian accent, I was able to resist the temptation to ask for the wine list!

Whilst I love to spend time pondering a menu and wine list I am equally happy to just go with the flow especially on the back of some great recommendations. I love the confidence dare I say even arrogance of a restaurant that says “we’ll serve you the most amazing, seasonal fresh ingredients and wines that match but don’t expect a choice!” I think if more establishments could pull this off,  dining out would be more of an adventure!

Having strolled down the river from Twickenham to Richmond before lunch we went for the white wine option and were rewarded with a crisp Lugana, a delightful floral wine with a wonderful bouquet.


The Lugana proved to be the perfect accompaniment to our never ending run of starters.

First up. English asparagus with parmesan shavings, rocket and pomegranate. Deliciously simple and a great seasonal starter to kick off the proceedings.


This was augmented by the classic pairing of Charentais melon, with its wonderful bouquet and sweet tasting flesh, which worked brilliantly with the slightly salty air dried prosciutto.image

We were by no means done with the rolling starters, the next duo was a delightful vegetarian course one of sliced artichokes in olive oil with herbs and garlic and the other a mixture of grilled courgettes, aubergine and peppers with plenty of freshly baked italian bread to capture all that nectar like dressing.

The next offering was a juicy seafood combo of giant garlic prawns and razor clams in their shell served in a rich garlic and herb sauce, perfectly cooked so that the seafood retained its texture without the rubbery consistency that comes with over cooking these delicate morsels.


We were still a course away from the mains and the wine was flowing well, Pete and I were already exhibiting a healthy glow….


Finishing off the last of the Lugana as the pasta course arrived we ordered red to come with the meat pasta dish, a delicious Sangiovese I recall but to be honest I was starting to feel a little squiffy at this point.


As the pasta course was cleared away,  a fanfare from the kitchen heralded the entry of a ceremonial cortege of waiting staff carrying a vast roasting tin with a whole suckling pig inside, its crackling sparkling.


Riccardo (left of photo) is every inch the Italian stallion, proudly showcasing the wonderful fare on offer, its’ no surprise that he is both chef and owner and never seems happier than being front of house exuding Italian charisma and charm that the likes of George Clooney can only dream of!imageThe Suckling pig was a triumph although I was starting to feel just a little full. The crackling was crisp but the meat juicy, succulent and flavoursome, served with a simple pomme purée.


Our finale came in the form of a simple strawberry compote with pannacotta and served with a deliciously rich Moscato di Trani from Puglia. One of the oldest DOC in Italy, exhibiting a wonderful nose of buttery honey and yellow fruit jam; a taste that had real depth with a rich flavour perfect with the fruit compote.

With the wines costing approx £25 and the the meal fixed at £45 you know where you are budget wise here but do be prepared to be blown away by the quality of the food!

One nice surprise at the end was that with my half century birthday just 2 weeks away our generous friends Jojo and Pete treated us to lunch!  We really did feel quite spoilt!