Power To The Pinot (Noir)!

In my world an appreciation of all things vinous is a journey rather than a destination. I’ve recently been studying for my Level 2 WSET which caused me to reflect on some aspects of my journey.

It has in the main been quite Franco centric and the stimulus of learning more about grape varieties that I thought I knew has got me seeking out alternative expressions of them.

I love Pinot Noir, but my exposure has been almost exclusively Côte d’Or. I did get to try a few interesting Alsatian Pinots when in Ribeauville a few years ago but I’d not really tasted many Spätburgunder from the Pfalz, Ahr, Rheingau, Rheinhessen or Baden.

Serendipitously last week I saw a Tweet from Wines of Germany about an event called “Power to the  Pinot (Noir ) wine tasting at the  recently opened German Gymnasium in Kings Cross on Tuesday night. Having secured 2 tickets I eagerly made my way over there to start my  German wine education.

Overwhelmed by the number of wines on tasting I decided that a strategic approach was required. I asked Emily, from Wines of Germany to recommend a different Pinot Noir from Ahr, Baden, Pfalz, and Rheinhessen. (Unfortunately the one I wanted to try from the Rheingau wasn’t available for tasting!).

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The AHR region

This is the northern most wine producing region in Germany and is dominated by Pinot Noir with 4/5 of production producing stunning red wines with a good reputation.

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2012 Spätburgunder Recher Herrenberg                                                                                                             

Jean Stodden

Simply Wines Direct £36.99

The wine takes its name from the men of the nearby village of Rech, which owned the Saffenberg , which has these vineyards at its peak.

Grown on volcanic slate in a centrally inclined 60% gradient south-facing slope affording excellent conditions to capture the sun. The terroir lends itself to producing elegant, partly full-bodied Spätburgunder wines with a high aging potential.

The hand-picked, strictly selected grapes were temperature-controlled for 18 days, without stalks, and fermented on the mash. Malolactic fermentation took place during storage (17 months) in new and used barriques.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Clear, medium ruby

Nose: Clean, red fruit with vegetal notes of mushroom

Palate: Dry with more pronounced red fruit and secondary characteristics of ageing such as vegetal and mushroom, medium tannin, high acidity, medium body with a medium finish.

Conclusion: A great example of Pinot Noir with continued ageing potential.

An ideal pairing with venison.

2015 Spätburgunder

Jean Stodden

Location

This Spätburgunder comes from the best parcels on their steep vineyards in Rech and Dernau. Similar soils and clay to the Herrenberg with south and southeast facing slopes.

The hand-picked grapes were strictly selected in the vineyard as well as in the winery on the sorting belt and 14 days temperature-controlled, without stalks, fermented on the mash. Then 16-month ageing in barriques.

Tasting notes

Appearance: Clear, pale to medium ruby

Nose: Clean, red fruit.

Palate: Dry with more red fruits, noticeably raspberry and red cherry. High Acidity, high tannins, medium body, short finish.

Conclusion: A relatively young Pinot that is drinking well now but should gain more complexity with age like its older brother tasted just before.

An ideal pairing with lamb.

The BADEN Region

With a warm and sunny climate, Baden is the southernmost German region, stretching 240 miles from Lake Constance to Heidelberg.  Much like neighbouring Alsace, there is a great tradition of wine and food in part inspired by the dry food friendly wines made from Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder grapes

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2013 Pinot Noir Castelberg

Martin Waßmer

Situated between the Black Forest and Rhine lies the fertile Markgraeflerland region. Martin Waßmer’s vineyards are located in the idyllic wine towns of Dottingen, Laufen, Auggen and Schlatt. Generations of locals have been working in viticulture here with the earliest recored vineyard in Schlatt in 1298. The wines are fermented with their own natural yeast and matured in wooden barrels usually for a period of 18 months.

Tasting notes

Appearance: Clear, deep ruby.

Nose: Clean, medium to light intensity of plums.

Palate: Dry with red fruits and cherry. High acidity, high tannins, light body, medium smooth finish.

Conclusion: A good balanced example of German Pinot Noir, that is drinking well now but still has ageing potential .

An ideal pairing: Lamb

The PFALZ Region

Germany’s second largest wine growing region with a sunny climate that is similar to Alsace.

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2014 Spätburgunder Bockenheimer

Ludi Ness

These vineyards are situated in the north of the Pfalz region with a  cooler climate allowing  for a longer maturation of the grapes, which gives their wines an expressive character.Some of their vines are over 40 years old grown on mineral-rich limestone soils which yield powerful wines with a fine acid structure. This wine sees at least 12 months maturation in oak.

Tasting notes

Appearance: Clear, medium ruby.

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, plums

Palate: Dry, medium to high acidity, medium tannins, light to medium body, aromas of red cherry, with hints of violet and chocolate.

Conclusion: Well balanced very good example of Pinot Noir .

An ideal pairing: Lamb.

The RHEINHESSEN Region

This is Germany’s largest wine region accounting for twenty five percent of German vineyards area. It is situated in a valley of gentle rolling hills with many steep vineyard sites and a favourable climate

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2012 Pinot Noir Eichelberg

Steitz

Grown on volcanic soils with great ageing potential. 24 months in new oak barrels reduces acidity and softens tannins to fine grain finish for structure and elegance.

Tasting notes

Appearance:  Clear, deep ruby. Colour starting to change on rim.

Nose: Red fruits, raspberries, hints of vanilla and smoky violet notes

Palate: Dry, light to medium body, medium acidity, medium tannins, flavours of raspberry with further hints of violet and vanilla with a medium finish.

Conclusion: Complex and well balanced, overall my favourite of the tasting. Drinking well now but will keep yielding further complexity till 2022.

An ideal pairing: Rack of Lamb with a herb crust.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Chistorra

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

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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!

 

 

The Barley Mow – Englefield Green’s Newest Gastro Pub Puts On A Great Show!

There has been much talk locally about the fate of the former shabby pub that occupies arguably one of the most coveted positions on the village green in the North Surrey village of Englefield Green.

In the fifteen or so years that I’ve lived here it’s always been a fairly average pub and never ever managed anything more than a notch above that which can be microwaved or put in a deep fat fryer.

We locals have been waiting in anticipation when local gastro pub chain The White Brasserie Company (sister company of the well established Raymond Blanc franchise Brasserie Blanc) took over the Barley Mow .

Over the last few months they have heavily invested in refurbishing and extending the premises breathing new life into the tired old building.

Last night the second soft opening took place and I was lucky enough to secure a table to sample the fruits of their labours!

Located just 1/2 mile from my house and a brisk 10 mins walk we were looking forward to having a place to eat on our doorstep that didn’t involve a taxi or train ride.

On arrival we met the charismatic Johnny O’Connor, the GM steering the ship, a great host but obviously a man who takes his craft seriously as he skilfully manages his brigade of staff to deliver a fairly impressive service.

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Once inside, the decor is bright yet cosy. There is a small bar with a full range of pre dinner drinks and cocktails available including an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc on tap and a Fleurie!

If you are a lover of all things that is the drink of the moment; GIN, then this is the place for you! An impressive range of Gin’s to suit all tastes from the classic Hendrik’s to the stellar aromatic Gin Mare.

The dining area is split on two levels; the new larger lower level looks into the open kitchen, a signature feature of Brasserie Blanc’s, revealing an openness and transparency of what goes on in the kitchen!

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As its a chilly night outside we opt for the slightly more intimate and cosy upper floor and choose a table adjacent to a roaring log fire, it’s warmth a welcome addition to the ambiance.

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After taking some time to cogitate and deliberate over the extensive menu, I’m seduced by the Hake for mains which I had a year ago on a visit to Brasserie Blanc in Winchester and which wowed me then. My other guests make their choices and I order a delicious Pouilly Fumé at a very modest mark up on retail price.

It’s crisp and fresh and the perfect partner to my choice of starter…

Starter

Rainbow smoked beetroot & goat’s curd salad, balsamic dressing & beetroot crisps.

One of the best iteration’s of this classic that I’ve tasted. The secret… The beets are steamed separately unpeeled to preserve colour, then peeled and cold smoked in their own in-house smokery. Finally, to finish the dark beets are marinated in a red wine marinade and the the lighter colours in a white wine marinade. The result a visual stunner that balances sweet and sour  flavours with the lightness of the goat’s curd.

One course in and I’m already loving this place!

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Main Course

Roast hake fillet with saffron sauce, mussels, clams, kale, new potatoes.

I had already bigged up this dish to my guests and and wasn’t disappointed when it arrived, the wonderful aroma from the saffron sauce tantalising my taste buds. The Hake cooked to perfection, crispy skinned and yet moist so that it’s delicate flavour and texture could express themselves in the luxurious combination with sweet mussels and clams. Al dente kale and new potatoes provided an unfussy but necessary balance to the flavours on the plate.

Wine number two was a budget favourite from Rare Vineyards; one whose modest £23 price tag totally under estimates the sublime combination of Marsanne/Viognier that was the perfect partner to our quartet of fish that were our main courses.

Asking our waiter, Vince for a soup spoon to ensure that not a drop of the saffron liquor was wasted the only debris left on the plate were the discarded mussel shells!

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Cheese Course

Selection of traditional seasonal artisan cheese; Double Gloucester, Keen’s Cheddar, Yorkshire blue

Having already decided unanimously as a table that we were all going for the French classic Tarte Citron we decided to share one cheese course between four.

Beautifully presented with a tangy red onion marmalade and garnished with dried apricots and candied fruit the cheeses went down a storm. In my book Keen’s Cheddar is up there as one of the greatest English cheddars that exists. Made the same way it was a hundred year’s ago from raw unpasteurised milk it’s flavours, strong deep and full of umami!

The Yorkshire Blue creamy and yet with a delicious savoury saltiness! I could see myself popping in for a cheese course after dinner at home without the guilt of having a pound of cheeses tempting me in the fridge at home!

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Dessert

Classic deep-baked lemon tart, crème fraîche

And so to dessert. A deep slice of sunshine with a lovely caramelised surface courtesy of chef’s blow torch! The tart zing of lemon balanced perfectly with the custard creme filling and offset both decoratively and flavour wise with the off sour tang of a thick crème fraîche.

Bringing this triumphant finale to a close, to accompany the dessert we had a classic Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, one of my favourite sweet wines…

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But we were not done and in a defiant act to prolong our enjoyment of the evening further we ordered post dinner cocktails!

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Legér whose job it is to keep the wine and cocktails flowing took to making several new off piste cocktails to keep us happy in addition to her signature Espresso Martini!

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Espresso Martini using Stoli! A Barley Mow twist on the Brandy Alexander and of course the quintessential Bondesque classic Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred!

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Johnny, Tim and Vince by the log fire in the upper restaurant.

All in all a fantastic night! If they can maintain this quality of service and food this is going to be a real local asset and transform the restaurant scene in the village.

If you need any more of a recommendation I’ve just booked for Christmas Eve, but don’t delay as they are already filling up..

The Barley Mow, Englefield Green, Surrey, TW20 0NX, 01784 480210

Official Opening 28th November 2016

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tremezzo to Tuscany – A Food Lovers Autoroute 

It would be really remiss of me not to wax just a little lyrical about how wonderful it was to return to Hotel La Perla in Tremezzo. The twin sisters Clelia and Mara who run this place with their husbands, Sergio and Luca are justifiably proud of their many awards and accolades from Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence to other commendations.

They work tirelessly and with great humour to make your stay so special and comfortable whilst maintaining really high standards of cleanliness and comfort. The rooms are really well appointed and since our last stay 4 years ago have all been refurbished, another good sign of a hotel run not just for profit but for the benefit of its guests!

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We enjoyed a last morning coffee and spectacular view from our balcony (always worth paying a little extra for the view!) before grabbing a quick swim in the pool before breakfast.

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The pool was always a great place to cool off at the end of the day with plenty of sun loungers and a plentiful supply of towels!

The Hotel La Perla has the added advantage of being located about 2o mins walk from the lake so that it is also incredibly quiet unlike the many period hotels that adorn the lakeside but have to constantly compete with the hustle and bustle of the traffic!

After enjoying the spectacular view from the terrace over breakfast one last time……

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we loaded up the car and settled our bill before having a group photo with the our hosts!

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L-R ( Sergio, Clelia, Tim, Mara, Luca)

Whilst Gillian was taking this photo Luca remarked that we’d back in time for the Olympics in 4 years! ( the 2012 London Olympics were taking place when we last stayed there and the Rio Olympics were in full glow this time!).

As we bade farewell to the Lago di Como we joined the autostrada to Milan. I was somewhat slightly troubled by the AdBlue warning light flashing on the dashboard and so we stopped off at a large service area just west of Milan to seek assistance.

With my very limited Italian I managed to converse with the kiosk attendant and get a 5 litre carton of the fuel additive along with a watering can and a large funnel! With the car refuelled and the AdBlue sorted we were back on the road and heading to Parma our next stop. My attention turned to blogging and as I fired up the iPad and we tore along the autostrada words started flowing out of me like extra virgin olive oil from a press!

This was always going to be one of our longest drives of the tour at 350 miles and so we decided to schedule in several stops. As we headed along the E35 towards Parma we crossed the iconic Po river its vast banks flanked by fields of the legendary Arborio rice! It really got me thinking about risotto! However, we decided that our first shop should be a picnic lunch in Parma, arguably one of the must visit food stops in Emilia-Romagna. 

In our minds we were already salivating over crumbly and intense parmesan cheese, gossamer thin slices of prosciutto di parma and light and doughy focaccia!

After extracting ourselves from a near miss courtesy of driving the wrong way down a one way street we parked in a multistory just fifteen minutes walk from the old town.

As we strolled down the Via Garibaldi we were struck by the sheer number and choice of delicatessen. We opted for La Verdi. What a  a place!

imageParmesan wheels stacked up on wooden shelves, a legion of hams of every kind of age hanging to tantalise the purchaser!

We opted for just a standard aged parmesan and a 12 month aged prosciutto di parma. A little further down the Via Garibaldi we came across a bakery whose speciality was foccacia!

Armed with our purchases we crossed the Via Garibaldi and sat by some fountains to have our picnic.

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with this stunning panorama as our backdrop

Parma Panorama 360

We figured that we had just enough time to take in some of the stunning Parmesan architecture before hitting the road again.

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Back on the road we headed to Bologna. However, we made a schoolboy error and hadn’t properly researched our next stop! We spent an hour or so wondering around the central station area in search of the perfect Ragù but found nothing!

Disappointed we pushed on in the direction of Florence by passing the city but remembering our last visit here also 4 years ago as we saw the impressive Duomo towering over the city.

If ever you are minded to drive to the Tuscan coast make sure that you factor in the appalling nature of the road network!  The last 2 hours of our journey were tortuous in every sense of the word. Despite great views of the Tuscan vineyards we encountered worse roadworks than on the M1 “smart motorway” back home and 40mph speed restrictions!

Slightly short tempered and with a sense of humour stretched we eventually arrived on the  Monte Argentario peninsula just before 7pm. We passed through the little port of Porto Santo Stefano before the road wound it’s way up round the mountain and then down the other side to our hotel the stunning Hotel Torre di Cala Piccola.

After check in we were shown to our room. It had to be the best room in the hotel! Views towards the beach on one side and views towards Isola del Giglio on the other and the perfect place to catch the evening sunsets which were without a doubt a highlight of the 5 days we stayed there!

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Feeling slightly grubby from our drive and just wanting to chill we opted for room service; a bottle of the local Sangiovese wine, A tagliatelle with wild boar ragù ( as compensation for missing out in Bologna!) and a Caprese salad! Sitting on the balcony with the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks below it was pretty much the perfect dinner location and the food probably one of the best room service meals we’ve ever had!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking, Swimming and Eating – The Best of Lake Como

The summer weather on the Italian lakes can be quite unpredictable with the searing heat causing dramatic thunderstorms to blow up. Today was no exception with one forecasted for around 4pm.

We breakfasted like kings on the terrace with a traditional Italian spread of local cheeses, hams, pastries and jams all washed down with a large dose of espresso! Made all the more dramatic against a backdrop of bells peeling from a nearby church.

Lake Como with Church Bell Soundtrack

Deciding to maximise our day and beat the storm we packed our rucksack and headed off on the “Greenway del Lario” a 10km trail that takes you between Lake Como and the many villages behind away from the busy main road between Colonno and Cadennabia.

We joined the trail just a distance from our hotel in the village of Susino. Here we were afforded stunning views of the lake and this striking church.

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We pressed on through Azzano before descending down to the lake from Mezzegra, pausing for a few moments to take in this view towards the Lido di Lenno.

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As the path weaved through a few lanes and brought us right onto to the lakeside the heat of the morning sun was becoming intense. Just before the San Giorgio Hotel there was a little beach and so we decided to take a refreshing dip with a little open water swimming to cool off.

We then headed off to the bustling lakeside town of Lenno which is one of the stopping points for the many ferry boats which are the essential mode of transport for travelling round Lake Como.

Jostling our way through the crowds at the busy Tuesday street market we soaked up the atmosphere by the little marina and admiring the view towards the Villa Balbianello.

imageA closer view shows the stunning opulence of these lakeside villas with  contrasting shades of terracotta, probably the holiday home of some A lister or millionaire!

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We headed back up through the market to pick up the Greenway again and as we did we heard “Bonjour” and not “Buongiorno”. It was our new found French friends Laurence and Rèmy and their families out exploring in Lenno! With a  “Bonne journée” we left them and continued on into Lenno to pick up the trail.

In Lenno we found a real gem. “La Cantina Vini Sfusi di Lenno”, or bulk wine cellar in English!image

Here you bring along your container and they fill it straight from these steel tanks at €2.20 per litre! We tried the Bonarda which was surprisingly drinkable for an everyday table wine!

They also sell lots of high end Italian wines and spirits too. We had hoped to go to one of the legendary Valtellina vineyards Pelizatti Perego, but having phoned Isabella one of the winemakers that morning she apologised that no one was available and advised me to book in advance for our next trip. As a comprise for not getting to Valtellina we decided to splash out on a bottle of the Passito style red wine that this region is famed for.

Sfursat di Valtellina, one of the two DOCG in Valtellina, is a dry red wine made by drying grapes in much the same way as in Amarone, the grapes being dried out in specially vented cellars before pressing, the wine is aged for a minimum of 18 months, with the key grape variety being Chiavennasca  (The local name for Nebbiolo), DOCG rules dictate at least 90% Nebbiolo in the blend.

Scanning the shelves in the Cantina we spotted one bottle of this treasured beauty left. We made our purchase and asked the owner which Valtellina foods would accompany this best. The answer came local aged Braesola, and any good local hard cheeses such as Bitto or Casera. With this crucial information carefully written down we continued along the Greenway trail.

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Just past Lenno, sauntering along the Greenway we passed a convent with a cobbled path on the opposite side going down to the lake. A chain cordoning the access off was down so we took this as in invitation to swim in this idyllic spot above.

Quiet and secluded away from the bustle of Lenno it was only as we swam out to the white buoy in the middle that we noticed a sign saying “Privado” ! At this point we took our chances and continue with our swim with no adverse consequences.

imageOut of the water and continuing back on the trail it took us past the stunning if not lesser known Villa Balbiano, where we paused to admire the perfect symmetry of the gardens.

Noticing that the weather was on the turn and anticipating the storm’s earlier arrival we doubled back along the route towards Lenno before we got to Colonno arriving just in time to pick up the shuttle boat to Tremezzo which took us a mere 10 mins.

imageBack at the hotel we jumped in the car to head down to the nearby village of Mezzegra to use the local laundrette and to buy our essential Valtellina cheeses for our locally themed picnic dinner.

As we arrived in Mezzegra the heavens opened and the streets became awash with raging torrents of water. We sat for a while sheltering in the car before making a run for it to the nearby laundrette . Whilst trying to figure out the operating instructions we met another couple in there who offered assistance.

Andy was a Swiss-German architect and his partner was a German neurologist. As our respective loads spun through their 35 minute cycle we chatted partly in German, partly in English.

They told me they had a boat on the lake. It turned out that is was more than just a boat! A magnificent 35 foot hand built Tuillo Abate powerboat which was moored nearby. Fast boats were Andy’s passion and we learnt a little of the history of Tuillo Abate whose shipyard was in the village of Mezzegra.

We all remarked it was like one of those random meetings in a movie where strangers connect and chat like old friends!

As the dryer finished its cycle we headed off the the little deli opposite to buy our cheese and then made our way back to Hotel La Perla in Tremezzo.

As we got ready for dinner the storm clouds started to lift, so we cracked open the 1999 Louise Brison champagne and enjoyed our aperitif on our balcony.

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We had planned to picnic on the balcony, however Clilia and Mara were having none of it! Instead, as their “snackbar” was closed they offered us the use of the main hotel terrace, put us out plates and crockery and some really lovely Bordeaux style wine glasses! It really was a very special picnic!

The freshest local ingredients; The Braesola was strongly flavoured from months of maturation seasoned with the fresh peppery rocket and offset with sweet plum tomatoes.

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The Sfursat was exceptional! A nose of plum, damson and chocolate. Really soft tannins, a dry long lingering finish with violets and damsons. It was the perfect partner to the local cheeses and Braesola. There’s always something really special about enjoying wine and food that are coterminous with the same terroir!

imageimageThe cheeses were pretty exceptional too especially the Casera with its hard, texture and intense mature flavour!

During dinner we had the added spectacle of the seeing the sunset again over the pink tipped mountain tops and as the terrace became enveloped in darkness, we looked out across the sparkling lights of the lakeside villages and decided to head back to our room in anticipation of a long drive the next day!

We were just about to crash out when there was a knock at the door; We’d forgotten that we had promised to meet our new found French friends for a final Grappa on the terrace! Again entering into the Entente Cordiale spirit and banishing those Brexit demons we joined Rèmy and Laurence on the terrace for a final Grappa and late night conversation!image

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
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The Great Gastro Adventure (three countries, two foodies one mission)

( It seems hard to believe that I started timsfoodandwinetravels.com on a whim just before last years food and wine tour to France. Sitting in the co pilot seat with my iPad on my lap I’m looking forward to sharing with you the next great Gastro Adventure. A two week tour to the heart of the Tuscan wine country via
Champagne, the Bernese Oberland and Lake Como. Our return taking us via the stunning Val d’Aosta and my Achilles heel Burgundy.

Our journey started with a bleary eyed slog to Dover. Heading the Twittersphere advice of both P and O and Dover Port authority to allow extra time for check in due to additional security.
As the Pride of Canterbury slipped her mornings and we edged out into the Straits of Dover we took up pole position on the top deck, soaking up the warmth of the sun’s rays as we saw the iconic cliffs of Dover shrink onto the horizon.
In less time than it it takes me to drive the 20 miles or so to London we were embarking onto the Calais quayside and out into the French countryside.
Our first destination was Courban in the Côte d’Or via the Route du Cremant. The area around Chatillon-sur-Seine is known as the Chatillonnais. It’s renowned for making the sparking wines made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir called Cremant du Burgogne.
The thing I love about these adventures is the serendipitous finds that come from the least likely of places. Day one of this trip was no exception. As we neared our first destination I saw a sign proclaiming “Champagne vigneron”. My analytical brain starting processing this information. Was this a random Cremant producer pushing the limits of the AOC or did the Champagne AOC really extend this far south!
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By the time I’d come to the conclusion it could well be the later we were already 2km down the road when we passed another Champagne house by the road side. Curiosity well and truly got this cat and I lept out of the car like a fan who had his last Pokemon in sight!

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I approached the cellar door of   Champagne Louise Brison with an air of trepidation, I was really hoping that they would be open. I wandered into the tasting room and saw a wall adorned with award winning accolades from such prestigious sources as Decanter, Vinalies Internationales Concors des Oenologues de France and the International Wine Challenge.

My heart started beating faster with the anticipation that I had stumbled across by chance an award winning champagne house at the very southern tip of the Champagne AOC.
The office door swung open and we were met by the charming Julie Gallecier, their Sales Assistant.

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What struck me as we were driving through this area is that unlike the Epernay and Reims areas to the north west where the terroir is dominated by viticulture in the Aube area it’s farming that dominates with small pockets of viticulture.

What makes this area different is also the terroir, Burgundian in character (Clay/limestone) and suited to the staples of Burgundy; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It doesn’t suit the other grape varietal used in Champagne the Pinot Menier.

A family concern, the estate of 13 hectares is named after his maternal grandmother, who have farmed the area for generations it was the courage and determination of the current owner Monsieur Earl Brulez, who loved champagne that led to the creation of Louise Brison. Unlike generations before him who sold their precious grapes to the cooperatif for the guarantee of financial security but the anonymity of the cooperatif; instead he choose the high stakes of going it alone to produce his own individual style vintage champagne. If that wasn’t setting the bar high enough he further set out three golden rules to which he wanted to produce his first champagne.

1. Reasoned and Reasonable – affordable vintage champagnes that had purpose.

2. Respectful of the Harmony – although not certified biodynamic, the wines are produced to biodynamic standards to preserve the microbiology of the soil. By avoiding chemical fertilisers, insecticides and fungicides and maintaining these organic conditions the vines are free to draw minerals from the subsoil and to improve their metabolism and production of organic compounds.

3. Revelation of the Aromas – this house only produces vintage champagnes with huge ageing potential. It’s no accident that each vintage is cellared for a min of 6 years to allow all their flavours and aromas to develop. This gives their champagnes refinement, roundness and character. It also means that half a dozen bottles of say the 2009 vintage purchased now but opened each year for the next six years are likely to taste different each year. This will also effect the suitability of the champagne to be either any aperitif or accompany a certain food style.

This schematic nicely illustrates how these champagnes change character over their life.
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Louise Brison, 2010 Brut Vintage. A 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend. A nose of citrus especially grapefruit and toasty brioche from the oak ageing. By their standards this is a young vintage but had a surprisingly long finish; in its current form would be an ideal aperitif but showed great promise of good food pairing in future.

Louise Brison, 2009 Brut Vintage. Has received 6 accolades.
Gault Millieu, 2015 Effervescents du Monde, Silver Medal/ 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards, Silver Medal/les Vinalies 2016 Grand Prix d’Excellence

Notes of spice, violets, quince, pineapple and oak on the nose. Similar on palate with a  little oak. This champagne has great ageing potential.

Louise Brison, 2008 Vintage, Blanc de Blanc. This has won 2 medals, a gold medal in Chardonnay of the world, and a gold medal in best French wine in USA.

A nose of wet stones yielding an overall minerality with a hint of oak after spending 9 months in barrel. On the palate there are both salty and citrus notes, a perfect partner to fruit de mer.

Champagne Rose  L’impertinente. A 100% Pinot macerated Rose, 2010. An deep pink colour with a dark orange hue. Notes of wild strawberries, red fruits on the nose, with oak toastiness. On the palette the red fruit theme continues with further hints of morello cherry. The finish is long and fat. Whilst this would be an ideal aperitif, suit white meats and work sublimely with a strawberry Charlotte it surprisingly partners BBQ meats.

We thanked Julie for the degustation, made a few purchases and then headed off to Courban. Before we left, Julie suggested we take the slightly longer route via the champagne villages of Noe les Malettes and Fontette. Between these two villages is a panoramic view across the vineyards called Plateau de Blu.

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Plateau de Blu. A stunning view of the champagne vineyards.

As we pulled up into the car park of the Chateau du Courban we reflected on the fact that we hadn’t made it to the Route du Cremant but had discovered instead one of the hidden jewels of champagne.

A Birthday celebration in the Cotswolds!

A few weeks ago I reached that most auspicious of birthdays! The half century! To be honest its been a great excuse for a little more of the things that a like to do best; drinking fine wine, eating amazing food and catching up with friends!

On the day itself Gillian had planned an overnight stay at the legendary Lords of The Manor hotel in Upper Slaughter. Still recovering from the previous week in which I had managed to get in a vintage tasting at Furleigh Estate in Dorset combined with an overnight stay at the incomporable Summer Lodge Hotel in Evershot, dinner at The Quality Chop House in Farringdon with friends and a magnum of the iconic Domaine de Trévallon 2001!

Determined to make the most of the forecasted flaming June weather we made an early start arriving in the sleepy Cotswold village of Upper Slaughter shortly before 1pm.

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The front lawn at The Lords of the Manor

Quickly checking into our room, we changed into our walking gear and set off on an appetite building 15 mile circular walk of the local villages.

Our first stop was the neighbouring village of Lower Slaughter. The contrast could not be greater between these two Cotswold jewels. Lower with its bustling hoards of visitors, picturesque stream and Mill juxtaposed with the tranquility and calm of Upper Slaughter and without a single coach party in sight!

By contrast Lower Slaughter is a world away from the heaving hordes of visitors that flock to Bourton-on -the-Water, our next stop on our walk. I don’t know why towns feel it’s really necessary to tap into some sort of Romantic association with things Venetian, but I do feel that just because there’s a few little streams running through the town that calling it “the Venice of the Cotswolds” is really poetic licence gone too far!

We picked up a delicious picnic at one of the really outstanding gems in the village, Bakery on The Water. Quiche Lorraine’s with melt in the mouth pastry, delicious spiced pork sausage rolls and a tempting selection of tarts and cakes!

We made our escape from the maddening crowds and found peace and tranquility adjacent to the River Windrush.

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Our picnic spot by the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the -Water

We picked up the pace fortified by our picnic and followed the waymarked trail across woods and valleys of buttercup clad pastures and sun kissed meadows.

After several hours we arrived in the tiny village of Naunton and headed to the village pub for some refreshments before completing the last few miles back to Upper Slaughter.

On arrival back at the hotel we were greeted by Michael Obray, the General Manager who informed us that we were being upgraded to the full tasting menu which was a really lovely surprise!

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The bedrooms at the Lords of the Manor

We thought that we’d start as we meant to go on and ordered cocktails to sup whilst getting ready for dinner! The long walk had given me a thirst and so this Negroni went down a treat!

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Pre Dinner Negroni!

Included in our Secret Escapes package was a complimentary glass of NV. Tattinger, currently one of my favourite champagnes.

We decided to take this with our canapé al fresco in our attempt to squeeze every last drop of warm sunshine out of the day.

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A trio of Canapé: L-R Mackerel with Apple, Foie Gras Tuile. Goats Cheese with Raisin and Caper Jelly

These were all outstanding and really set the tone for the whole meal. I loved the delicate balance of the food pairings here e.g. the saltiness of the goats cheese with the sweetness of the grape and caper jelly.

As the sun started to go down we were called through for dinner and the anticipation of what would follow was almost too much!

 

The appetiser arrived with a flourish! Like an exquisitely composed still life the complimentary colours of the tomato and chervil enhancing each others colour whilst the natural colour of the viola shone on the consommé canvas. Flavours and textures balanced perfectly with added creaminess from the ricotta and crunch from the pine nuts! A real triumph! Meanwhile the Rousette grape delivered a steely clean and fresh taste with an apple like acidity that partnered the consommé jelly to a tee.

 

The next course arrived with another sublime pairing suggested by our sommelier Michael Bray. The richness of the Petit Manseng grape yielding notes of thick unctuous honey and sweet orange marmalade. By contrast the duck liver’s richness enhanced by rolling in port contrasted with the texture and acidity of the apple jelly, pickled rhubarb and hazelnuts.

Course number four arrived and we were already feeling the wow factor! It was really no surprise to learn of the restaurants well deserved one Michelin star status. This course balanced oriental spiciness with stabilising flavours of oriental mushrooms and tomato. The exotic notes of papaya combined with hints of apple and honeysuckle in the superb 2014 Mangan Vineyard Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc with a little vanilla spice from light oaking and good natural acidity.

My favourite red meat is always going to be new season English lamb. Here served three ways with spectacular presentation and garnished with olive tapenade, tomato confit, minted broad beans and lamb jus, it was just heaven! What made it even more special was the pairing with a stellar 2009 La Rioja Alta, Reserva! Just 2 months earlier I had sat in their tasting room in Haro, with Ainhoa Elosegui, their PR manager learning more about this iconic estate! Here the wine combines notes of violets, and damsons with a little pepper. So good it’s one I’ll be seeking out again!

A palette cleansing Mango and Kalamansi foam shot prepared our tastebuds for the finale…image

Before the soufflé finalé they bought me a lovely decorated  plate with a single macaroon and a candle with a chorus of happy birthday!

The raspberry soufflé followed…..which was incredible, light and with a zing of raspberry sharpness contrasting with the light creaminess of the tonka bean ice cream. The finale eclectic pairing was a rare Franz Haaz Moscato Rosa from Friuli. Its rarity and low production are due to the low yield. It is not a late harvested grape, nor it is a passito, naturally it has a high content of sugar and is harvested when ripened well.

Before heading into the lounge to take coffee we had our final surprise of the evening and something that speaks volumes for the brigade working the kitchen at Lords of the Manor, the entire service that evening had been executed under the supervision of Senior Sous Chef, Paul Evans, who came out to meet us in person.

It’s always really great to get the opportunity to speak to the chef in person especially when they’ve delivered such a memorable tasting menu!

 

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We settled down with a little espresso and these delightful petit fours before rolling into our comfy beds for a wonderfully long lie in!

It’s always hard thinking about breakfast after such an amazing dinner the night before but Senior Sous Chef Paul, had already piqued my interest! The full English was so worth it!

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Beautiful presentation and the really neat thing was that it was a manageable size portion that left you satisfied without disappointing! Perfectly poached eggs and the crispiest of bacon excited my taste buds all over again.

After breakfast we decided to walk around the ten plus acres of grounds and gardens. Truly stunning as this little montage shows

Before heading off Michael Bray the sommelier had one more trick up his sleeve and offered to show me round his extensive cellar under the dinning room! Above ground they’ve also converted one of the old fire places to house some of the more popular wines in a more ambient cool temperature.

Overall a stunning way to spend my 50th birthday and a brilliant introduction to this jewel in the Cotswold crown!