Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February - Chianti Classico Collection

It is wine trade show time in Tuscany. It starts with the anteprime Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (always the same days!) then it's Chianti Classico Collection time in Florence at Stazione Leopolda and it ends with Brunello di Montalcino. The events are organised by the Consortiums of the regions and wineries may participate if they please (actually quite a lot opt not to). Those who do can bring their regional wines (so the free IGT wines are not really on show) and can bring the new vintages even if not yet released nor in bottle (so barrel samples). 
It's a great occasion for us winos to say hello to wineries we know and to ones we may want to get to know more of...and, of course, to taste wines side by side comparing one producer to another is kind of fun, too. 
So how do you get in? You're really supposed to be of the trade...but where there is a huge wine passion there is a way. Contact the Consortiums (see links above) a few months before the shows (so November - December) and beg...

Step 1: receive a glass and wear it around your neck in a fashionable glass-holder!

If you are VIP, you may get to sit here and taste (but profs spit so that's not much fun)

Riikka-Sofia - our wine school Sommelier - so cute!

Here we are ready to attack the wineries!

Tasting the new vintage at Monte Bernardi with Jennifer & Michael

Super happy Federica from Volpaia doing business

You'll meet Silvia normally at Corzano & Paterno where we go on our Super Chianti tour. Here she's showing the DOP Chianti Classico olive oils from 2014. A few good ones even if the harvest was bad.

Bumping into Bernardo who's been tasting all day (I assume by the color of his teeth!), winery consultant & Grape Tours tour guide!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

France's "Vignerons Indépendant" - the independent vintners

It is in occasion of the yearly expo in Nice this week-end that I thought of giving this category of wine makers a mention. This one in Nice is the first of 6 exhibitions that'll take place throughout France during spring (see the list on their site and join if you happen to be in the area) The fee is a very reasonable 5 euros - or here's a free invite for the one in Nice). Wineries belonging to an association of independent winemakers pour their wines and meet the public.

The association started already decades ago as a reaction of the small growers who were being overshadowed by larger corporations. United makes stronger was the idea, and indeed the term and logo that is now well recognised and appreciated can be used only by members who respect the terms of what the association also stands for:
- Respect their terroir
- Work and harvest their own vineyard
- Make the wine themselves
- Bottle their wine themselves
- Keep viticultural traditions

I love their logo:

I'ld really recommend that you give this event a go, if you have the chance. You can talk to the wine makers, try thousands of different wines, buy wines and just enjoy the variety that French wine makers have to offer.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Food for thought - "Fait Maison"

Lately I've stumbled over a symbol très simpathique on a few restaurant doors here in France - one that stands out from other stickers provided by the different guide books or sites. It says "Fait Maison" and means home-made. Now, I do find a bit of contradiction in the fact that one of the countries of strongest culinary tradition and pride has to go as far as to make a law of defining what can be labelled and sold as home-made! But surprisingly the French have been slacking towards the convenience of modern processed foods. A statistic says that 75% of the eateries in French are all but traditional and do not prep their food from scratch. I wasn't too shocked about reading this number as I've been unpleasantly surprised with the amount of fast-food restaurants on offer. And the other end of the spectrum comes at a prime price.
So whatever happened to the reasonable home-cooked meals? Well, there should be a revival as public consciousness arises and value is given to original quality ingredients.
Of course "Fait Maison" can be bastardised as many other concepts that have come around to distinguish restaurants have proven to be fail-proof. According to the decree a "home-made dish is made with products that have been sliced​​, cut, shredded, chopped, cleaned, boned, skinned, skinned, cut, ground or powdered, smoked, salted, chilled, frozen or thawed." Certainly someone could sustain a product was frozen hence home-made!
In any case, it's a good thing that awareness is being put out there and I think the concept should perhaps expand its borders to other countries suffering from industrialisation of their food offers?!

For me the biggest disappointment in going to a restaurant is if I detect the food wasn't home-made or even just partly. Second to that is a chef who does home-made stuff but can't cook! (happened to us last week, so recent in my mind but just serves to illustrate that that isn't the worse offence).
I see it this way, if I go out and spend many-fold of what I'ld spend on my own home-cooked meal - I want an experience and I want it first to be good quality and then perhaps different (hopefully better) from what I would make myself. Anything else is a waste of time & money!

Here's a couple of dishes in good "home-made" restaurants this past week in Nice. They were very good and eye-catching, too.

(fois gras sushi anyone?)

(cod made yummy on leeks and fish sauce)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rent our apartment in Nice, France!

This is the new development of our small enterprise, we're going into the rental business! This sounds grand, but we're really just talking about one apartment and it's placed right in the heart of Nice on the French Riviera.
Since Pierre and I started going to Nice some years ago, we always loved the Port area. Last year we rented an apartment here and got the wild idea of investing in this area. So this was the area we searched in and found a beautiful renovated apartment in an old art-deco building a stone's throw from the line-up of huge flashy yachts and small colourful fishing boats. We gave it the name "Niça" - an old word for Nice. 
By August we started furbishing it, step by step in between being in Tuscany running the wine tours. And now, after much selection and fixing we're almost ready - at least with the final photos for the site. 
The most wonderful features of our apartment - and the reason why you should rent it - is that it's so central to everything, the historical building gives you a true feeling of Nice, we've decorated it beautifully and given it all features of comfort for a great stay.

Have a peak with me now! This is the hall when you walk in on the second floor.

I love this cabinet. We've filled it with pebbles of Nice's beach.

In a rental I've always thought there weren't enough cooking utensils to cook up a nice meal, if you feel like it. So here you'll have all you need for a fine dinner at home.

We'll have breakfast in the kitchen with fresh made croissants or baguette from the bakery around the corner.

Here I'm standing on the terrace where I hang clothes or check out the sunny weather

I love to cook with spices and it's hard to do so when away, so these are all at the disposal of our guests.

Let's move into the living room. It's large and bright with a comfy sofa and two armchairs.

Great painting of Nice Port

There's an bluetooth stereo, a few books and games available

 Sofa's so inviting...have a drink or watch international TV (netflix available!!)

Another detail I love - this is depicted on a window shutter in the theme of the sea just outside...

Master bedroom with king size bed, super comfy!

Touch screen computer hooked up to the internet for your use

Second bedroom with beds that can be separated.

The bathroom

The meditation room!

The building is at the Port of Nice (where those green trees are)

Lots of options around for some delicious specialties

Place Garibaldi where you can hang out at Aperitif time (2 drinks at the price of 1!)

And the pebbly beach just 5 mins walk away

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The pink wine country of Provence

Another great thing about being in Nice during winter, is that we are right next door to many different wine regions. Some days we'll hop in the car and just an hour's drive away we're in the heart of Côtes du Provence. This is the largest wine region in Provence as the region counts for about 75% of the total wine production in Provence.
And rosé counts for about 80% of the wine produced within the region. So, in fact, Provence is well known for its pinkish wines bottled traditionally in a bowling-pin shaped bottle, but nowadays bottle shapes are infinite and very creative.
Producers stick to grapes that like to grow under the 3000 hours of sun that the region typically gets yearly:  Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Tibouren with an increase in the use of the use of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Wine prices in Provence are quite agreeable to the buyer. Often bottles sell for less than 10 euros, with the occasional exception of a producer putting a lot of effort into making a rosé of higher complexity using small oak barrels for ageing as for example the case of Château d'Esclans where the World's most expensive rosé is made, "Garrus" (around 90 euros a bottle).
Wineries are plentiful in the area. I've made a map of ones that I would like to visit (some done, still many to do). Perhaps that could be helpful for you, too.
Hereunder you can see the map of the Côtes du Provence AOC hanging at the very helpful Maison des Vins - a giant wine shop and place to get a bit of information whilst touring the area.

You can read much more about Provence's wine regions on the site:

For a classy wine tour in Provence from Nice, see our itinerary here:

And here's a map of some wineries that could be worth visiting:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wine Touring in Winter - Nice Wine Tours

Europe is usually not overrun with tourists during winter, but hey you have the occasional traveler during winter and when possible we'll provide a tour. So the other day we headed to the hill country behind Nice with a lovely young couple, Chris and Liz from North Carolina. 
The ride is only around half an hour on windy and very narrow roads. Kinda happy I wasn't driving myself, so I could simply enjoy the wine tour ;)
Pierre started out by pointing out the geography and wine regions of Provence, their history and modern day characteristics.

Pierre is engineer in agronomy and enjoys to explain the vineyard dynamics, so how to make great wines and what that means for the vine growers. He puts it into an analogy of parents (vines) and babies (grapes) who become big and strong only by the energy of the plants being helped along by humans and terroir. It's quite funny (not just because of his charming French accent), but it's just something all can relate to.

We arrive at the first winery where owner and wine maker Eric shows us around while Pierre translates. He grows the local grapes Rolle, Braquet and Folle Noir organically from which he makes a white, a rose and a red. The estate is a small family run one and the aim is to make wines of high quality and individual personality and to follow the variations of vintages.

It's a bit chilly, but our American couple are in good spirits, and we move inside to see where the wines are resting in vats and barrels. Eric is enthusiastic about his 2014 vintage which is still in making - my French is still primitive but I could detect the excitement while he was talking about it. 

And then it's time for our first tasting. In Provence you start by tasting rosé, then you go on to white and then finally red. Pierre's the Inspector Clouseau of wine tasters and tries to help you find the elements inside the wines to describe them better and to assess their quality.

Every drop of wine was swallowed as it was quite delicious. "Santé" is the French word for - you can also say "tchin-tchin". Good words to know for your next French vacation as wine here is consumed with every meal (breakfast apart).

We head over to Chateau de Cremat for a tasting. This is a beautiful building and the cradle of the AOC region of Bellet. For decades wines of the area were only bottled here, back when grape growers around the region weren't equipped for making and bottling their own and simply sold the grapes.

We've worked up an appetite, the sun has come out and we head down the valley to pick-up our pan-bagnat and then head up to a hilltop village for a picnic lunch with more wine :)

The view is stunning over the Var river valley and the mountains in the North (picture) spotted by medieval villages, and the Mediterranean to the South.

It's Epiphany days in France so you can't avoid devouring (more than you should of) the delicious cake called Galette. Gallette is a traditional puff-pastry cake stuffed with almond cream in which a little saint figure is hidden. The person who gets it (lucky me!) becomes king or queen. Then it becomes this person's turn to buy for the next round and so on. Hence it's never-ending and just wicked!

After our delightful lunch we head up the hill side to visit an unorthodox wine maker who uses the sunlight during ageing. It's a spectacular setup for the eyes and at the same time mind-boggling. Wasn't sunlight and oxygen usually the enemies of wines?

Mr Rasse is the proud owner of this estate and he explains his philosophy and wine making techniques. The UV light kills the yeasts and lowers the energy of the wines and a photo-oxidation occurs and the end result is higher stability. Wines that are more stable need less sulphites. Of course, this process also changes the taste of the wines due to a higher level of oxidation.

Here he is, Mr Rasse, among the gorgeous paintings of his brother that feature on the labels of the wines. A real "vigneron" with a great deal of character and charm. The tasting starts after we visit the winery with no less than 8 different wines from pinks, whites, reds & dessert wines, all followed by an interesting commentary from the owner.

And this was the conclusion of our lovely day out in the hills of Nice, tasting the typical savours of the area and learning from the locals. Our guests Chris, a winery virgin (that''s what I call someone who's never gone wine touring before), and Liz now have a whole lot more knowledge about the wine making and a good taste of what this area of France offers, and I think they got themselves a wine tour experience to remember forever!

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