Monthly Archives: December 2012

History on the beach

Mauritian tourism isn’t just about the beach, visitors are being encouraged to venture forth into the centre of the island to enjoy the natural wilderness, quadding and horse riding through the luxurious greenery inland and there is also an interesting architectural heritage to discover that dates back to the 1800s. Sadly, between cyclones and urban development many historical buildings on the island have disappeared over the years but those that remain are worth searching out. The island has it’s ‘chateaux’ too – the name given to the old colonial houses built and lived in mainly by the sugar planation owners. Some of those that remain are open to the public either as show cases for rum or ther local production or restaurants. Chateau Labourdonnais in the north of the island, dates from 1859 and has been beautifully restored. The original sugar production is now replaced with rums, jams and preserves made from the tropical fruit grown in the estate orchards, but the house remains and all the produce can be tasted at the excellent modern restaurant, bar and boutique built in the grounds.

The picturesque Chateau Bel Ombre, at the heart of the Valriche redevelopment of the surrounding sugar estate is another excellent example of a renovation. Here you can dine in the chateau, looking over the formal gardens, as did the original planters.

Chateau Bel Ombre

Their is a more intimate way to experience a historical Mauritian home. The Colonial House is the very last authentic Mauritian home on the Northern coast of the island. Still in the ownership of the same family that built it as a beach front holiday home in 1888, it is hidden in a manicured tropical garden not too far from the beaten track. Opened earlier this year after 2 years of passionate renovation, every room is unique, filled with historical furniture, each piece of which has a tale to tell.

The beautifly thatched Colonial House

Surrounded with hundred-year-old flame trees the house has a wooden deck, perfect for early morning yoga classes, and a slate pool with direct access to a discreet white sandy beach.

The view from the terrace.

Sleeping 8 in 4 double ensuite bedrooms, more details and enquiries about private rentals can be made with Joanne Kirk at

Bichot at the Ritz.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest especially when it comes in the form of a change from Bordeaux to Burgundy and particularly when said Burgundy is from Albert Bichot  and even more so when it is being tasted at The Ritz Club.

The venue was certainly good from the point of view of light – almost everything sparkled and glittered and if it didn’t it was simply because it was lacquered in gold instead. Opulent and plush do not adequately describe the room. The wines had something to live up to being sampled here and a statement was being made even before a bottle was opened.

Professionals tasting at the opulent Ritz Club.

Richard Bampfield MW, who organised the event, behaved as if this was his living room and Albéric Bichot, who exudes a charming mix of warm friendliness and French ‘cool’, seemed perfectly at home. Winemakers Alain Serveau and Matthieu Mangenot may have felt like fish out of water but as soon as they were talking about the wines they had made, the vintage conditions, the potential of the wines, they were in their element. In this grand room, great wines were tasted in a friendly, social atmosphere – there were no airs and graces from anyone.

Tasting cask samples, basically unfinished and incomplete wines, is not easy. It’s like interrupting a  woman  in the middle of getting ready for a party and trying to see just how beautiful she might look once the dress is done up, the hair is done and the make-up is on. If that’s too sexist for you, it’s like assessing a cake before it is fully baked and without the butter-icing and decoration, or looking at a half-finished impressionist painting up close. You get the picture! Back to the wines –  it is particularly tricky tasting unfinished reds, (some of which seemed to behave like a baby rudely awoken from his slumbers) but if you were very experienced at doing this, as are Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe (pictured), you would have found it much easier than those of us who weren’t. But we were prepared to give it our best shot!

According to Alain and Matthieu, the vintage was not straight forward and they initially categorised it as ‘easy’ and early maturing. They have since revised their opinions based on how the wines have developed and are pleased with the balance, the expression and the gentle fruit of the wines which have enough austerity, particularly in the reds, to allow for good ageing potential.

On the lesser appellations, the wines are already very appealing and balanced as seen in the Bourgogne Chardonnay Secret de Famille; well-made, from grapes sourced mainly in the Côte d’Or and treated as though a grand cru wine, through to the Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, the whites were singing! Beaune 1er Cru ‘Clos des Mouches’, Domaine du Pavillon, a wine I have loved in previous vintages, was a star but then so were Chablis 1er Cru ‘Les Vaillons’  and the Grand Cru Les Vaudésirs Domaine Long-Depaquit. The whites are collectively very fine. It is no wonder that Alain Serveau was named IWC White Winemaker of the year in 2011. Of course, he also won the title for red winemaker in 2004.

So what of the reds? These were definitely more difficult to assess and there were issues with sulphur in some of the cask samples but the two Gevrey Chambertins, Les Evocelles and 1er Cru Les Lavaux-Saint-Jacques with their ripe fruit and classy tannins showed well. Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru ‘Les Malconsorts’ Domaine du Clos Frantin was silky and elegant and the Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru radiated sheer class, such refinement. It seems that the wines from the Côte de Nuits won me over.

I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with these young wines in years to come and to witness them blossom into debonair, sophisticated givers of pleasure to those lucky enough to drink them. Perhaps, even, at The Ritz.




Happy Christmas and a Merry Bordeaux.

A favourite bottle of Bordeaux is always something lovely to find in your stocking on Christmas morning but there are more ways than a bottle of wine to spread a little Bordeaux cheer this Christmas. Here are a few ideas, aside from the usual corkscrew, for your favourite wine enthusiast. Your friends and family that want to share the beauty and history of Bordeaux from the comfort of their armchair will be thrilled to receive Jane Anson’s Bordeaux Legends. It is a spectacular and beautifully illustrated account of the history of the first growth properties of Bordeaux, how they came into being and their influence on the reputation of Bordeaux over the years since their creation. Jane’s Book is available on Berry Brothers web site or in Hong Kong at LMC Wines.

Bordeaux Legends by Jane Anson

For those friends with an artistic temperament Bordeaux artist Arnaud Faugas creates wonderfully humorous watercolours of the towns, landscapes, chateaux and other wine themes that are a much more individual and original gift that poster of wine labels.

A Faugas watercolour showing his irreverent sense of humour about Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is home to the famous wine spa ‘les Sources de Caudalie’ and short of offering a weekend of pampering there to work off the festive excess (they cleverly offer gift vouchers redeemable against a stay to put under the tree) you can also offer part of the dream under the tree with some of the Caudalie products available on line including the Christmas specials from the web site. Their Fleur de Vigne is a lovely evocation of the ephemeral aroma of the vine flower but it is not the only Bordeaux perfume. Negociant house Ginestet has also created a range of Perfume  for men and women named after familiar Cabernet, Sauvignon and Botytis and the Eau de Bordeaux, sold at the Parfumerie de l’Opera  includes notes of cedar amongst sandalwood and vetiver a little reminscet of barrel cellars – the nicest possible way !

I have already mentioned that some Bordeaux Chateaux have great boutiques and they can be a good source of gifts. On every visit to Chateau Haut Bailly, classified growth in Pessac Léognan I’ve been lusting after the beautiful picnic hamper in their shop, complete with plates and tasting glasses featuring the Chateau. Haut Bailly is hardly a picnic wine but with this we could make an exception.

The Haut Bailly hampe, perfect for a picnic wine !

Of course you could always come and celebrate Christmas in or around Bordeaux. You will be spoilt for choice as there is a multitude of places offering wonderful Christmas packages including everything from Truffle tastings (Chateau des Vigiers) to seasonal cooking classes (Le Saint James).

 The Grand Hotel in the centre of the city is the prefect base to enjoy the Bordeaux Christmas lights and to visit Bordeaux’s Christmas market. This year they are hosting a Baccarat Christmas with a huge Christmas tree dressed by Baccarat and their crystal decorations throughout the hotel including a Marie-Coquin chandelier dominating the Orangery and torchlights throughout. And you can buy into the dream with a Baccarat boutique inside the hotel until the 6th January.

Or make a booking for a full blown New year wine tour, Decanter Tours will put together a tailor made Bordeaux wine tour to share with a friend or book onto a Wine and yoga weekend this spring – you’ll be motivated to loose those Christmas pounds by then!

Of course there IS always wine so if all else fails open a bottle, Chateau Bauduc will deliver a lovely mixed case to your door directly from the chateau, cheers !

Divine Maurice

The climate in Mauritius may not be perfect for growing grapes but that has not stopped them making wine. There is a history of homesick French colonists making wines from the abundance of tropical fruit on the island that has been all but forgotten. Patick Oxenham, the currently director of the eponymous family company has now revived this tradition.

After studying oenology he came upon a recipe in his grand father’s book and decided to to give it a try. After many trials the result was launched earlier this year on the island. Divine Tropical Lychee wine has met with great success in the islands supermarkets and hotels. I was introduced to Divine by Jerome Faure, Head sommelier for the Constance group. Served blind and well chilled the finished product is reminiscent of a Gewürztraminer. Packaged in an elegant 50 cl bottle the wine retails for about 5-6 euros. At 12° it is perfect for an aperitif or even as ingredient for cocktail making, which seems to be a national sport here.

Lychees for sale on the streets of the capital Port Louis

It is the lychee season now, the trees are loaded and every street corner has a stand selling bunches of the fruit in their hard pink shells. The wine is made from lychee pulp, which has to be carefully extracted after shelling and removing the stone. The pulp is fermented with selected yeast over 2 or 3 weeks and then the wine is left to settle for another couple of weeks before being bottled.

Divine from Mauritius

The production is currently limited to the Mauritian market. However given it’s success  Oxenham is investing in equipment to increase the local pulp production. There are a lot of lychees on the island but currently fruit exports are limited to only perfectly presentable fruit whereas this pulping process can be used for all shapes and sizes of fruit creating not just a great drink but another potential export for the island.