Category Archives: Specialities

Star studded Rhone.

Tasting wine works up an appetite. I’m not looking for sympathy; as we tasted our way down the Rhone Valley last month, the high concentration of Michelin stars more than solved our wine induced munchies.

Being spring, the French passion for seasonal produce meant we had asparagus at almost every meal – it was delicious and on a wine tour any nod towards detox is very welcome!

Here are some of our gastronomic highlights should you find yourself in the same position on a Rhone Wine Tour.

In 1934, Andre Pic opened La Maison Pic in Valence, wining his three Michelin stars the same year. He would be proud of his great granddaughter; Anne-Sophie took over the kitchens in 1997 and re established the 3 star status in 2007; the first woman chef to win this accolade.

A history of Michelin stars at la Maison Pic

Her personal passion for certain ingredients is generously shared. Tea (not asparagus) seemed to be a highlight when we were there. Her 3 star-cuisine is breath taking in presentation, taste and inspiration. The same elegance is reflected in the décor that more than makes up for the location, that can take you by surprise.

The interiors as inspirational as the cuisine at Maison Pic

I think this aesthetic made it a favourite with the ladies in the group more than the men! In the seven years since I was last there (I won’t wait so long before returning again) she has spread her brand across this part of town: as well as the hotel, 3 star restaurant and Bistro André she has opened a relaxed ‘Cantine’, a cooking school, a kitchen shop, a patisserie and a deli – selling more of those products she is so passionate about.

Spolit for 3 star choice

I highly recommend the Bistro André; dinner there was one of the highlights of the trip. The atmosphere is less restrained than the Grand Restaurant, the service is generous and the staff very friendly and especially good at pointing out value amongst the famous names on the wine list.

Even the simplest fare has the Anne-Sophie signature at Bistro Andre

If you can’t get to Valence, Anne Sophie can come to you, at least if you are in London, Lausanne or Paris. She opened La Dame du Pic in Paris in 2012 (in French La Dame du Pic means the queen of Spades) now a Michelin star. She also opened a restaurant in the beautiful setting of the Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace in April 2009, winning 2 Michelin stars in October of the same year. She has just opened her latest venture; a Dame du Pic in collaboration with Château Latour in the Four Seasons Hotel in London – it’s on my radar for September so I will report back.

Breakfast at Pic – who gets the domino reference?

La Pyramide is another historical gastronomic monument of the Rhone. Opened in 1922 in Vienne, just where the Rhone vineyards start, it was named in 1925 after the neighbouring Roman obelisque. Chef Fernand Point put it on the map in 1933 winning the very first 3 Michelin stars. He was an amazing character, more or less inventing Nouvelle Cuisine and was the first chef to come out and meet the customers, wrote ‘Ma Gastronomie’ what many called the most important cookbook, and trained such famous names as Paul Bocuse, les frères Troisgros and Alain Chapel.

The view of the Pyramide in Vienne from my bedroom window

The hotel and restaurant re opened after renovation in 1989 and it is still in the capable hands of Patrick Henriroux, who earned his 2 star status in 1992 which he has kept continuously to date – quite an achievement. The wine list, very important on a wine tour, received the seal of approval from our wine experts for being ‘well rounded, deep and relatively reasonably priced’. Sounds like a wine recommendation to me! The cuisine is inventive with a dash of humour – a pyramid of snails anyone?

A pyramid of snails and seasonal asparagus at La Pyramide.

It wasn’t uniquely Michelin star dining all week, honest. I always try and visit The Beau-Rivage in Condrieu when I’m in the northern Rhone, mainly for it’s situation on the banks of the Rhone – you almost have your toes in the water while sipping wine on the terrace. I was particularly impressed by the food this year and it has a really good local wine list.

Asparagus was the star of the show at the Beaurivage in Condrieu

Further south in Avignon, La Mirande gets my vote for a future Michelin accolade (it has 3 knives and forks). When we came here a few years back it was one of our best dining, experiences, we promised to return and we weren’t disappointed. The building is tucked away right behind the Palais des Papes – you almost fall into it when you come out of the gift shop! The 18th century décor makes you feel like you are living part of the history of the city, managing to keep this traditional feel but with 21st century fittings, including very cool TV screens hidden in ancient mirrors.

Aperitif in the courtyard of la Mirande

The walled garden, in the shadow of the majestic walls of the Palace, was perfect for breakfast, the cosy bar serves a mean martini and there is even a cooking school.

Perfect lighting for a late night Martini in the bar of la Mirande

Dinner was brilliant, definitely Michelin star quality but its unpretentious charm is perhaps best kept away from stardom? The wine list offered a very good selection across a large price range with a great selection of the local Chateauneuf du Pape.

La Mirande – The cherry on the cake!

There are many local bistros that merit a stop over for great value food and wines. The Bistrot de Serine, a stone’s throw from Guigal cellars in Ampuis has great food but a very well priced and interesting wine list and, judging by the wine makers we saw there, is obviously a local favourite.

Great wines, great food at la Serine in Ampuis

I mentioned in a previous post about the wineries getting in on the restaurant act. Jaboulet opened their Vineum shop and restaurant in the centre of Tain l’Hermitage where you can taste, and buy, all the range of the Jaboulet wines and a very good selection by the glass offered with a light lunch, right in the town centre.

How Jaboulet puts their corks to good use at the Vineum in Tain l’Heritage

On the other bank, tucked away in Cornas it’s worth searching for La Ruche. Named after a beehive, as the owners consider themselves like bees buzzing around the wineries picking out local favourites, the wine list proves them right, with a wide range of local and more distant Rhone wines at very competitive prices.

Cherries were another seasonal favourite – Cherry clafoutis at La Ruche

OK, so my last recommendation is not a restaurant but it is gastronomy. You really should include a Tour of La Cité du Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage, if you need any persuading that red wine and chocolate work – this is the place!

 

The taster’s 24 days of Christmas.  

The run up to Christmas is always exciting and even more so if you have an advent calendar to help with the count down. As a girl, my advent calendars were little cardboard windows with all the excitement of a different picture behind them on transparent paper so they glowed against the light. My boys grew up with an added bonus of chocolates behind each door. As an official chocaholic, these still work for me, but now there are even more interesting grown-up versions. Below is a list of ten of my favourites, chosen with tasters in mind.

Fortunately for wine lovers, we no longer have to limit ourselves to boozy chocolates. Most wines already come in handy cases of twelve so two cases and there’s your bottle a day to open for the month of December right there – job done. Spirits are also cutting in on the act: fortunately not a bottle a day or you probably wouldn’t make it until Christmas, even sharing. There’s also an option to train your sense of smell without the alcohol, think scent and candles.

  1. Chocolate advent calendars still work, even for adults – Hotel Chocolat have a great range you can choose from dark, milk or white chocolates in the shape of seasonal reindeer, snowmen, penguins and Christmas trees.
Christmas figurines behind the windows at Hotel Chocolat

Christmas figurines behind the windows at Hotel Chocolat

  1. They also have a more romantic version for couples with two of each type of truffle behind each little window, which should prevent any pre-christmas family squabbling.
Or chocolates for two

Or chocolates for two

  1. French chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat also does a beautiful version as lovely to look at as to taste.
Designer chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat

Designer chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat

  1. The Ginvent calendar (geddit?) from the Ginfoundary includes 24 different miniatures of gin covering all different styles from different types of producer, inspired by a pop-up life-size, i.e. bottle-sized, bar they created one Christmas.
Discover botanicals with Ginvent © Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

Discover botanicals with Ginvent
© Giles Christopher – Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

  1. If whisky is your preferred seasonal tipple, Drinks by the Dram offer a whole range of different whisky selections as advent calendars. They include Scotch, Irish but also American and Japanese whiskies, as well as gins, vodkas, cognacs and tequilas. I have my eye on the old and rare whisky version as homework for a whisky tour next year, in case anyone’s asking.
A dram per day from Whisky by the Dram

A dram per day from Whisky by the Dram

  1. Wine. Although any case of 12 you choose can be doubled up to reach 24, Virgin wines has created a selection of 24 bottles in a special advent package so you don’t have to choose.
and a Bottle a day from Virgin Wines

and a bottle a day from Virgin Wines

  1. Chateau Bauduc will deliver two Christmas choices directly to you from the Château in Bordeaux. The Sparkling Case includes 8 bottles including dry white, sweet white and sparkling Bordeaux or a 6 bottle case under the banner Christmas Lunch without the sparkling so that’ll be 3 cases of the first or 4 of the second to make it through the month.
Put a sparkle in the run up to Christmas.

Put a sparkle in the run up to Christmas.

9.Traditional London Wine Merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd offers a range of Christmas cases to choose from, again in cases of 3, 6 or 12 so you’ll have to do your own maths to get to the desired number. Their Luxury Collection; a top range of wines including champagne, red and white both sweet and dry from across France, a bottle of port and a bottle of their single malt whisky – so that should cover you until Christmas day with a wee dram left over for the big day perhaps?

Spoilt for choice at BBR

Spoilt for choice at BBR

If you want to train your sense of smell without imbibing here’s a couple of options:

  1. Jo Malone (they have a shop in Bordeaux now too) has a gorgeous advent calendar full of mini perfumes most of which have fruit, flower and spice notes – so perfect training for the wine taster.
Train your sense of smell with Jo Malone

Train your sense of smell with Jo Malone

10. French candle maker and perfumer Diptyque has a similar calendar filled with mini scents and candles including their holiday fragrance such as pine, incense and berries – perfect for the festive mood.

Or with Dyptique

Or with Dyptique

I’m not sure what wine you’d pair with them but if you’ve followed the advice above you’ll have plenty to choose from.

José Maria da Fonseca – Portugal from glass to plate

2015 was a great year for me discovering new wines, new wineries and new wine makers. Even after 25 years, I’m still making my way through the 7500 chateaux in Bordeaux. But there is more to life than Bordeaux – really – and I’ve enjoyed meeting some inspirational wine makers from further afield. All over the world, winemakers share the same enthusiasm and passion and it’s contagious. You may have seen this recently in my posts from SA but I was also blown away by a trip last summer to Portugal. I wasn’t there for the wine, I was there for the golf but there is only so much golf this girl can watch. My friend Roger Voss, European Editor of The Wine Enthusiast, highly recommended I visit Jose Maria de Fonseca while I was in the area.

Outside of port, my knowledge of Portuguese wine is very limited. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn more as José Maria Fonseca produce 34 different brands from vineyards throughout Portugal. The 6.5 million litres of production comes from their own 650ha vineyards as well as from grapes bought from the North and South of the country. Consequently their’s is an enormous range of style and price point with 80 per cent of the production exported to Northern Europe & the Americas.

The beautiful fountains at the entrance to Fonseca

The beautiful fountains at the entrance to Fonseca

Fonseca produced the first Portuguese Rosé in the 1930s, Faisca (older than Mateus which arrived in the 40’s). António Porto Soares Franco qualified as a wine maker in Montpellier and made his rosé famous in Lisbon serving it with hot dogs at an amusement park, leading to great success on the domestic market.

Their biggest and oldest brand is Periquita. Introduced in the 1850s, they now produce over 800 000 litres pa, it is one of the biggest red brands in Portugal. Never content to rest on their laurels, a white wine joined the range eight years ago and head wine maker Domingos changed the blend in 2014 to include Viognier, giving it a delightful mouth feel.

The range includes premium and super premium wines but it is the Moscatel de Setubal that keeps the heart of the family beating.

I visited them in their historical centre in the Setubal peninsula just South of Lisbon. Sixth generation, Domingos Soares Franco, couldn’t have been a more charming host. As senior wine maker and VP working alongside his brother Antonio, his passion shines through. His personality is as big as some of his wines with his unique blend of experience, innovation and independence.

Some of the majestic mahogany vats

Some of the majestic mahogany vats

2015 was his 35th vintage; he was the first Portuguese winemaker to graduate from Davis University in Californian, which might explain his heady mix of respect for tradition and disrespect for rules.

It is a resolutely modern company but firmly anchored in the past.  Setubal is their largest vineyard; it is here too that they have engaged with a very modern and ecological approach to vineyard management that has been the benchmark for their production since the 1980s. They also produce wine in the Douro and in Alentejo, where they produce the José de Sousa wines (they purchased the winery in 1986).

The company was founded in 1834 and won their first award for their Moscato in 1855 (familiar date anyone?). Now the sixth and seventh generation are at the helm. The beautiful Manor house in Setubal is the original family home dating from the early 19th century; the house was restored in 1923 and was the Soares Franco family residence until 1974. With its beautiful gardens, it is now the hub of their wine tourism activity, which includes a museum and a shop welcoming over 36 000 visitors a year. The old ageing cellars here house the huge 100-year-old, 2000 litre Brazilian Mahogany vats. Vats this size and this old are neutral, giving no taste to the wine. But they make for an impressive backdrop for dinners and events.

The shop at the Fonseca Manor House.

The shop at the Fonseca Manor House.

Portugal has over 250 indigenous grape varietals to choose from, in the gardens at Fonseca they have a ‘library’ vineyard collection started in 1920 by Antonio when he was studying in Montpellier.

The super modern wine making facility, with four bottling lines with a capacity of 30 000 bottles per hour and a production of 6.5 million litres is only a stone’s throw away, but it is here that you can feel the beating heart of the family.

The tasting line up

The tasting line up

The tasting started with the entry level Lancers Rosé, a low alcohol (10%), slightly sparkling rosé which enjoys huge success in the US market where has been sold since the 1940s. We tasted the iconic Periquita in red (2012) and the first white of the range 2014 vintage (excellent for whites) as well as the Periquita reserve red 2013. I particularly enjoyed the Quinta de Camarate 2014 red. Not far from Setubal, this single vineyard has been in the families since the early 20th century. This label was launched in the 60s, with some new French oak and a little Cabernet Sauvignon alongside the traditional local Touriga Nacional, Aragones and Castelao. The land is planted under vines and the reminder grazed by sheep producing the famous local Azeitao cheese – hence the sheep on the label!

The Hexagon range

The Hexagon range

The José de Sousa collection was also eye opening. The vineyard, in the heart of Alentejo to the South has been making wine since the 1870s, but joined the family holding in 1986. 1940 had been a benchmark vintage for de Sousa, and with the purchase they decided to go back to the future, following the traditional wine making techniques of the area to reproduce this success. They ferment the grapes in 100 clay amphorae alongside a brand new stainless steel winery. José de Sousa Mayor is the estate’s premium wine, with a more precise selection, a larger percentage being vinified in the clay amphorae and aging in new French oak. The granite soils transmit a fresh minerality that shines through this big powerful wine.

Domingo also signs his own Coleccao Privada – with this he says he can do what he likes (I have a feeling he does that anyway). But the Moscato is really the star, it is their speciality; they produce almost a million cases. They produce 10 labels of Moscato here aged in old oak from ten up to forty years . The cellars of the manor hold the oldest Setúbal Moscatels, some of which are over 100 years old.

I know I have a bias towards sweet wines but these traditional fortified wines balance perfectly freshness, alcohol and an elegant fruit driven sweetness. A DOC since 1907, these traditional wines are enjoyed in Portugal more often as an aperitif than a dessert wine, in the heat of the summer chilled, they were delightful. We tasted the Alamabre 2010 from the Muscatel de Setubal varietal. Fermented until 5°, when up to one third of brandy is added, Domingos has had fun experimenting with various brandies including blends of Armagnac and Cognac to create the range. This blend is then kept on the skins for three months before pressing. The youngest current bottling is 2010, as it needs four or five years minimum ageing for complex oxidative aromas to develop. The latest addition to the Alambre range is the Alambre Moscatel Roxo de Setúbal 2010 D.O.C. Called Moscatel Roxo as it is made from this rare purple version of the Moscatel grape, a speciality of Setubal.

Because no wine is complete without food, at the end of the tasting off we trotted off to the neighbouring restaurant, bottles in hand. Here again I was treated to a wonderful welcome from Domingo’s brother, Antonio and a group of friends with some delicious typical local dishes. Despite serving some of his top Hexagon wines, the major point of discussion was the quality of the sardines and whether the season was at its peak or not yet.

Lunch including the famous sardines

Lunch including the famous sardines

To accompany these delicious dishes we started with the delightfully bright Verdelho 2014 and then onto the Hexagon wines; José Maria da Fonseca’s Super premium wines. These wines combine the best of the New World and Old World. Keeping alcohol lower and acidity higher they give a powerful but elegant expression of the terroir, specifically aimed towards the international market. They use the old traditions of foot-trodden grapes and alcoholic fermentation finished in oak casks, but use new oak French oak casks for the 12 months aging.

If you can’t get to the winery for a visit call in at their flagship store come wine bar in Lisbon. All the wines from the range are available here by the glass, served with local specialities, but I bet the sardines can’t beat the ones in Setubal.

 

A diet of sunshine

For those of you that enjoyed testing the recipes from Shelina Permalloo’s book I mentioned in a previous post, you might enjoy her new book, The Sunshine Diet. Although she claims it’s not a diet book, she did lose over 20Kgs while she was writing it, and presumably testing the recipes.

The Sunshine Diet

The Sunshine Diet

My favourite recipes so far have been chocolate and banana ice cream (p182) and the home-made coconut milk with cinnamon and chocolate (p37). Neither of which sounds particularly slimming – so just goes to show. And yes I’m aware there’s a theme here; I’m putting it down to the proximity of Valentines Day when there’s always chocolate on the menu.

Red wine and chocolate – hard to beat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Learning Mauritian Cuisine.

Mauritian cuisine is a wonderful melting pot of the all the culinary traditions brought here by the people that make Mauritius the ‘rainbow island’. This culinary traditions of the island have become much better known in the UK since Shelina Permalloo won MasterChef in 2012. Check out her excellent recipe book where she has distilled her love of the local cuisine into ‘Shelina, Sunshine on a plate’. It gives you the recipes but also beautiful photos of the dishes, the local ingredients, markets and scenery – so if you can’t make it over for a cooking class, this is the next best thing.

Shelina's Sunshine on a plate

Shelina’s Sunshine on a plate

In the hope of improving her cooking skills, Bordeaux Blonde went to Mauritian cooking school with Chef Govinden at the Awali Hotel in Bel Ombre. Starting with a very classic local dish of chicken and prawn curry (almost every restaurant on the island has a version of this dish), we used local products including garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, aniseed, fenugreek, turmeric root, curry leaves, coriander and coconut, to create an aromatic rather than spicy curry. I prefer my curry aromatic and it makes the wine choice easier (wine and heat don’t always mix), but locals do like their spice, so there is a side of ‘puree de piments’ on every table here!

Chef Govinden teaches at the Awali Hotel

Chef Govinden teaches at the Awali Hotel

Unsurprisingly, Mauritius is also a favoured destination for international chefs to come and showcase their talents. This week it was the turn of Patrick Dang to visit The Telfair Hotel. Trained in his home town of Sydney, Australia, Patrick has worked all over the world from Asia through to North & Latin America and Europe and is about to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong. He prefers the term ‘globally inspired’ rather than fusion for his style of cuisine – perfect for Mauritius! He tried to impart some of his skills to the locals with a beach cooking class. His take on a Asian BBQ was a rib eye steak in a garlic/soy/ginger sauce accompanied by Asian Coleslaw.

Chef Patrick shows how to BBQ on the beach

Chef Patrick shows how to BBQ on the beach

The coleslaw was not a million miles from the Mauritian coleslaw in Shelina’s book (one of my favourites) and a key ingredient in the rib eye sauce was the lovely dark raw sugar they produce on the island. I can recommend learning to cook Mauritian style with the waves of the Indian ocean  lapping your ankles – quite an experience!

 

An old Salt

The hot Mauritian sunshine may ripen the sugar cane but it also helps produce another local product: salt. The Salines de Yemen salt-pans of Mauritius are at Tamarin on the west coast, one of the hottest parts of the island. Surprisingly enough, I found salt making shares a few techniques with wine making.

When the weather stays dry and with a light breeze, (it’s always hot) it takes 5 days for the sea water pumped from the Indian Ocean to run through the 1600 basins covering 20ha before the salt crystallises through evaporation and can be harvested.

The majority of these basins are filled with clay acting as a filter for the water as it runs from pan to pan via gravity (does this ring any bells with betonite filtration for white wine?). This clay has to be changed at least twice a year, more frequently if it rains as when the concentration of salt is diluted algae can form. A low rain fall, up to 5cm turns the salt brown, which can then be used for animal feed, more rain than that and they have a start again.

A clay lined basin

A clay lined basin

Being a tropical island it does rain, so the production period is concentrated in the drier months from September to December.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

After filtration through the clay, the concentrated salt water trickles into the lower levels where the final 185 basins are constructed out of the island’s volcanic basalt rock. Heating quickly in the sun, this dark black stone perfectly optimises evaporation. The slower the evaporation, the whiter and purer the salt will be. The salt concentration is measured in ‘degrees Baumé’ with a mustimetre, the same tool used in wine making for measuring the evolutions of sugar concentration during alcoholic fermentation. Salt concentration starts off at about 30g per litre and reaches about 300g per litre in the final basins.

Measuring the salt concentration

Measuring the salt concentration

In the afternoon they harvest the fragile ‘Fleur de sel’, very fine crystals that are skimmed off the top of the water with a wooden skimmer. This is the most expensive and least ‘salty’ salt, often combined with herbs, spices and even local vanilla to make speciality condiments.  The next morning the ‘Gros Sel’ will be ready for harvesting.

Skimmer

At the end of the process there will be 6-7 cm of salt that has to be broken up, shovelled into pyramids and collected in 20 kg baskets. Each of the final basins will produce about 25 of these baskets, which are carried on the heads of the women to the 9 salt stores.

 

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

The saltpans employ 20 people and they produce about 2 000 tonnes of salt a year. The salt is destined for food seasoning industrial and domestic as well as the chlorination process of swimming pools.

‘Les Salines de Yemen’ ‘date back to the 18th century when the island was under French rule and salt was a valuable commodity especially important for conserving food on the long journey by ship between Asia and Europe. Mauritius was a vital stop off point on these trade routes.

The current pans were built by Rene Maingard in 1940’s and are still owned by the family today.

The dark basalt stone used in the basins is omnipresent on the island. It’s used in the construction of most of the historical buildings including the 90 remaining sugar mill chimneys scattered across the island, waterfront fortifications and official buildings, some dating back to the 18th century.

A final basalt basin

A final basalt basin

The islanders say they ‘grow’ these stones. Every 7 years the sugar canes fields have to be cleared of rocks when the cane replanted. The rocks are said to rise to the surface thanks to the active magma way below the surface. Local photographer Jano Couacaud has created a beautiful book of the influence of these rocks on the Island including pictures of these historic but still functioning saltpans.

 

 

 

 

 

La Petit Patisserie.

The village of La Brede is most famous for Montesquieu the illustrious 17th century political philosopher who was born in the beautiful 14th  century Chateau that bears the name of the village.  20 kms south of Bordeaux La Brede is at the heart of the Graves, the Bordeaux appellation as famous for its white wines as its reds. Château de la Brede has even started producing wine again under the auspices of Dominique Haverlan from, Vieux Château Gaubert, (see previous post)

Should you find yourselves on the route between Bordeaux and Sauternes there is now another reason to stop over in the village.La Petit Patisserie is a delightful village shop with an interesting and international story. Catherine and Jonathan Negre took over this small village patisserie just over a year ago and have transformed it into a pilgrimage site for those of us with a sweet tooth.

La Petite Patisserie

They have travelled a long and winding road to get here. Jonathan’s family is originally from the South West of France but he honed his skills far afield before returning home. He started cooking at the age of 13 and at the age of only 28 he has already passed through the kitchens of Michel Guerard à Eugenie des Bains, worked in Paris first at the Plaza Athénée, then Ducasse, l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Arnaud Larher and then in London again with Robuchon. It was here, as Chef Patissier, that he met his wife Catherine who followed a long route from Canada to London via France. Catherine is from Vancouver where she started her career at French bistro La Regalade cultivating her passion for fine food. From here she went to the gastronomic temple La Pyramide in Vienne in the Rhone Valley and on to London where she met Jonathan in the kitchens of Rebuchon.

Jonathan behind the counter at La Petite Patisserie

After 5 years in London they decided to return to Jonathan’s homeland and to take over the patisserie. Little by little, Jonathan has seduced the locals with his wonderful creations. With 3 apprentices and 2 interns, he uses local, seasonal produce for his creations. He hopes to share with this young team the same passion that he learnt from his mentors in France and London. Word of mouth is spreading the fame of his excellent products, including homemade jams and chocolates, which he is perfecting in time for Christmas under the brand CJ.

A delicious Paris Brest

Meanwhile, Catherine’s skills are being put to excellent use at Chateau la Lagune, classified growth of the Haut Medoc, where she has taken over the beautiful kitchens much to the joy of visiting wine enthusiasts. She presides over the lunches and diners for guests of the chateau and creates wonderful dishes with the best of local produce, including fruits and herbs from the Château’s trees and garden, all interpreted with an international twist.

Catherine in the herb garden at Chateau la Lagune

It is so exciting to see this young couple bringing their passion and expertise to the region. Open Tuesday to Saturday, from 8 am until 8pm and Sunday morning, from 7 until 1pm – I recommend you find time to call in at La Petite Patisserie on your next visit.

 

 

Don Alfonso 1890 – a southern Italian jewel.

I thought the name Don Alfonso name sounded familiar before we arrived – and then suddenly I remembered a marble clad restaurant in Macao – suddenly this lost corner of Southern Italy became a lot less lost !

The current Don, grandson of the original Alfonso Iaccarino, after whom the restaurant is named, is a gastronomic icon in Southern Italy. His 2 star Michelin restaurant is in the little town of Sant’Agata high up above the Italian coast on the Sorrento peninsula.

18 chefs work hard to share his passion for Southern Mediterranean specialities based on local produce, much of which comes from their own 6ha organic farm  ‘La Perricole’ a few miles down the coast, just opposite Capri. Here they grow lemons for their lemon liquor, olives for their olive oil as well as fruit and vegetables for the table.

The lemons are also used for a sparkling homemade lemon juice with which they welcome you to this intimate 19th century palazzo which also houses a small hotel and a cooking school.

As with many successful Italian companies this is a family affair run with his wife Livia and their sons Ernesto and Mario.

The cooking school at Don Alfonso

After visiting the farm to understand their passion for the produce you can try your own hand at some of the signature dishes from pasta to pastries and much more in between. The recently creating cooking school is on the edge of the garden with the doors wide open to the Italian sunshine.

Stay in one of the recently renovated rooms or in the tiny “Poet’s House,” in the garden by the pool named after the local poet Salvatore Di Giacomo who used it as his summerhouse. You certainly will not be able to drive home down those twisty mountain roads if you want to do justice to the wine cellar. Amongst the 25 000 bottles, as well as a great selection of local Campanilla wines, there are many famous international names, including Bordeaux of course, all hidden in a spectacular cellar which has  parts dating from the 17th century to the 6th century BC. Yes BC – a stone tunnel leads down 40 metres to a well where, along with the wines, they age wonderful old buffalo cheeses.

The 6th century BC tunnel down to the Don Alfonso cellar

And why Macao? well amongst his many other talents Alfonso Iaccarino has opened 2 international restaurants, one is the Grand Lisboa in Macao the other in the Marmounia in Marrakech, addresses that reflect the standing of the original establishment. The Marmounia apparently also has it’s own vegetable garden but I can’t imagine it is quite as poetic as the hills above the coastline of the spectacular Sorrento coast.

 

There’s more to Bordeaux than….

wine and history and culture….…. there’s also food.
Traditionally visitors to Bordeaux end up quacking after a few days with the Foie gras and Sauternes, Magret and Medoc or Confit de canard and Saint Emilion matches that are often served in local chateaux and bistros alike – and who can complain it’s all delicious but there is more to the local gastronomy than duck.
Think the famous ‘Agneau de Pauillac’, you can guess which wine is served with that, and the ‘Asperges de Blaye’ always delightful in spring with the dry white Sauvignon blanc based blends.
There is one product that seemed lacking and that is a local cheese. Renown Bordeaux cheesemonger Jean d’Alos has now come up with an new idea based an old tradition to remedy this. In the past, local shepherds would make a spring cheese from milking their goats kept in the Graves vineyards before herding them back to towards the Pyrenees for the summer. In the 15th century cellar under the town centre shop the cheesemongers from Jean d’Alos have renewed this tradition. Ageing hard goats milk cheeses named Tomme d’Aquitaine for at least 4 months and washing them twice a week with Sauternes to give them a unique fruity flavor.

The 15th century aging cellar under the town centre Jean d’Alos cheeseshop

And how about some fish, yes the Atlantic ocean is not far, giving a wonderful supply of shellfish, in particular oysters. However the famous Gironde estuary that influences the microclimate of the Medoc is also traditionally home to the Sturgeon. The wild Sturgeon was sadly over fished long ago but is now being introduced and a local company Sturia is now France’s leading caviar producer with sturgeon being farmed at 9 different sites producing 12 tonnes of caviar each year. The often forgotten flesh of the Sturgeon is also delicious and local Michelin star chef Philippe Etchebest from the beautiful l’Hostellerie de Plaisance in Saint Emilion is a big fan, often using it, as well as the caviar, in his recipes. He has now gone a step further creating a small range of products based on the sturgeon.

Tasting the Sturgeon pâté on the terrace of the Hostellerie de Plaisance.

There are 2 pâtés (my favourite is the slightly spicy one) and a marinated sturgeon with an Asian flavoured marinade and you don’t have to come to Saint Emilion to try them (although I do recommend it). Both are available on the web site and can be shipped, now all you have to do is decide which of Bordeaux 60 appellations matches best – bon appétit!

Flying high

A pink pigeon is not something you see after a few too many glasses, on the contrary this once prolific bird is now a protected species in it’s home of Mauritius. In it’s honor the Medine sugar cane estate has named its vanilla and spice flavoured rum after this rare bird. Pink Pigeon original rum is easily recognized by the rubber band around its neck and the intriguing motto Peace, Freedom & Harmony.

Delicious on the rocks or as a cocktail ingredient, you can find some inspiration on their web site.

 I highly recommend this little taste of paradise.