Monthly Archives: November 2011

World Cuisine

Learning the skills of local chefs is one of Bordeaux blondes favourite pastimes. Bordeaux chefs Gaelle Benoiste and Georges Gotrand often call in at home to share their secrets with foreign guests, however this time Bordeaux blonde was the foreign guest.

Mauritius is a land of 5 star luxury beach hotels, so an authentic local cuisine experience is a rarity on an island where most visitors concentrate on their tan. The local cuisine is a wonderful melting pot of indian, european and creole and the 5 star resort Shanti Maurice, more often associated with their ultimate Ayurvedic spa, is also known for the asian fusion cuisine of chef Willibald Reinbacher.

Willibald Reinbacher BBQ’s on the beach

Situated on the unspoilt southern coast of the island their passion for sourcing local ingredients includes working with local farmers and fisherman. They have now taken a step further offering a more authentic experience of Mauritian creole cuisine in the home of a local resident, the grandma of the hotel manager’s PA. Small groups can try the local dishes with the family in their kitchen with dynamic 75-year-old Grandma Goindoo who grows most of the vegetables and herbs in her tiny back garden and then take away the book of ‘Grandma’s Secret Recipes’ to try at home – if you can find the ingredients. In the pipeline, for those who want to take things a step further than the kitchen garden, is the possibility of going out at dawn with a local fisherman to bring back the catch to prepare for a beach BBQ.

This year’s Worldwide Hospitality Awards gave ‘Grandma’s Kitchen’ from the Shanti Maurice the award for ‘Best Initiative in Clients Experience’.

International cuisine with a cause

Fine food and wine is a great way for cultures to come together, even better if it’s in a good cause.

Les Sources de Caudalie will host a 4 star dinner on 11th December, that is four one star chefs sharing their talents, to raise money for Japan. Bordeaux has its fair share of Michelin stars now, one of whom, Nicolas Masse, of la Grand Vigne at Les Sources de Caudalie, will welcome Keisuke Matsushima the inspiration behind this event, who holds a Michelin star for his restaurants in both Tokyo and Nice, and his neighbours Pascal Nibaudeau from Le Pressoir d’Argent in Bordeaux and Christophe Giradot from La Table de Montesquieu in the neighbouring village of La Brede. Together on the 11th December they will offer a food and wine dinner where the proceeds will benefit the victims of the Japanese tsunami.

Each chef will produce a course combining the best of France and Japan accompanied by wines from Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, of course, but also Laurent Perrier and Château Gazin. Book now to avoid disapointment.

La Grande Vigne Restaurant

The oriental charm of London

Hidden in Hedden Street, a little foodie paradise behind Regent street MOMO is a little bit of Oriental glamour and atmosphere in the heart of London. I visited this restaurant, restaurant really does not do this place justice – it’s a whole experience, one evening a few years ago for an amazing night of thousand and one food, wine and belly dancing. I’m delighted to report it is still a terrific address and a perfect lunch spot. So close but so far from the madding crowd, an oasis of peace and fabulous food. Being able to eat outside on one of the last sunday days of autumn before the fog rolled in was an extra treat we could almost of been in Morocco for real.

Bordeaux blonde even tried a few of the Moroccan wines on the menu, they were made by Bordeaux wine makers Yvon Mau – perhaps why I enjoyed them so much!

Bordeaux Amsterdam – the history continues

Although Bordeaux sales in Holland have been decreasing over the last decade it remains the 9th biggest export market for Bordeaux wines in volume.
Traditionally a major market for Bordeaux wines, the links date back to the 17th century. The Dutch being an important seafaring nation (think Dutch East India Company) their ships would often call into the Port of Bordeaux, France’s largest port at the time, delivering goods from their colonies but also picking up the lighter more acidic red wines for the sailors as, at that time, it was safer to drink a lightly alcoholic wine on a long sea trip than water which would soon become unsafe to drink.
They also bought up white wine, not for drinking but for distillation, to make their famous spirits, and they were a major influence on the growth of white wine production in the Bordeaux region.
We can thanks the Dutch for introducing the use of sulphur dioxide to Bordeaux, transforming the production from a wine whose acidity was the only way it could be preserved to the more sophisticated barrel aged ‘New French Claret’ pioneered by the Graves region and snapped up at a premium by the English market.

As if these links were not strong enough Dutch engineers were invited over to drain the Médoc in the 17th century also resulting in the development of the peninsula for the great wines produced there today – the Bordelais have a lot to thank the Dutch for.

But it is not really all about wine in Amsterdam. Traditional and locally produced spirits and beer dominate the market and the price point for wines is low and very competitive. Bordeaux organised an event for the restaurant trade and sommeliers to present the diversity of the ‘Everyday Bordeaux’ selection at the hip restaurant Lute on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

Even the cocktail served was from Bordeaux called ‘Passion Bordeaux’ –

let’s hope we reignited their traditional passion for Bordeaux.

Bio Bordeaux

Bordeaux may not be the first wine region that springs to mind when thinking of eco-responsibility – well think again. A few high profile examples such as Chateau Pontet Canet, classified growth from Pauillac and Chateau Guiraud, first growth from Sauternes, have both recently obtained organic certification and prestigious Chateau Fonroque is a leader in biodynamic agriculture.

Ploughing the vines of Chateau Latour the traditional way

There is also an important underlying eco-movement in Bordeaux which is not restricted to the top vineyards. Bordeaux is a big place with, currently, around 8700 wine growers each owning, on average 14 ha (about 35 acres). The vast majority of these properties are family owned, and with family ownership comes the notion of stewardship; the belief that the land is there to be looked after and passed down to the next generation, a philosophy that goes hand in hand with the notion of eco-responsibility.
However, conversion to sustainable, organic or even biodynamic agriculture is a long and often expensive process both in financial terms and, for a family run business often more importantly, time.
Several initiatives to help producers in their evolution towards more eco-friendly production have been spearheaded by the CIVB (Bordeaux Wine Council) and these are putting Bordeaux on the eco map.
In 2010 Bordeaux was the first vineyard region to measure their carbon footprint and launch the Bordeaux Wine Climate plan 2020 which stated clear objectives for reducing the carbon footprint of the vineyard :
20% less green house effect 20% energy savings;20% renewable energy 20% water savings and the carbon footprint by 40 000 tons carbon equivalent by 2020 (today the footprint is 203 000 tons).
Objectives are fine but this is also backed up by an online carbon footprint calculator available for all producers and merchants, which allows them to understand exactly where and how these carbon economies can be made.
The Ecophyto 2018 plan, also a CIVB initiative, has a goal of a 50% reduction in pesticide use throughout the vineyard and 20% of the surface area in organic agriculture by 2018. About 5% of Bordeaux’s vineyard is currently under organic agriculture (the same of eco friendly Switzerland, for example).
The major innovation however is the 2010 SME (Syteme de Management Environnemental). This is not just about setting industry wide objectives but is an associative management tool, helping individual properties to improve environmental performance. Under the SME, piloted last year, smaller producers, that don’t necessarily have the finances or the time to spend understanding and implementing what needs to be done to reach certification but who are motivated by a desire to become more environmentally friendly can work together, sharing the costs of a consultant and their experiences. In the first year pilot, 27 companies successfully worked together to reach the environmental certification ISO 14001. With this success under its belt the initiative is now spreading to other vineyards.
However, in the genuine desire to improve environmental practices, there are various certifications and associations which can be confusing for the consumers, especially as each country seems to have different definitions and legislation.

Healthy leaves ………

give healthy grapes
The SVBA (Syndicat des Vins Bio d’Aquitaine) currently has 140 members producing wine from organic grapes. There is currently no such thing as organic wine, only wine made from organic grapes, although this is a work in progress with the possibility of a certification for organic wine in the pipeline for 2012 (at the earliest).
The SVBA is showing their members’ wines this weekend, the 19/20th November, in Begles (better known for its Rugby than its wine!) just on the edge of Bordeaux city centre. Organic producers form other regions, such as the Jura, will also be present, which is typical of these environmental initiatives that seem to cross geographical barriers with ease.

Harlem Revival

Bordeaux Blonde is often in New York City but this was her first visit to Harlem.

In the past decade, Harlem has been rebuilt and transformed and now belies its previous rather dodgy reputation. New apartments, new restaurants and new galleries have come to Harlem, and I was lucky enough to sample some of these amazing changes a couple of weeks ago with the New York Wine and Food Society invited by friend and president Greg Hurst, this was to be a day out to remember.

Prosecco and Spoonbread’s modern take on traditional Southern Soul Cooking accompanied a live Gospel recital by Bethel Gospel Church, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Harlem. All this in a newly built panoramic apartment on the 27th floor with views of Harlem all the way down 5th avenue to Central Park.

The view down town

Then for the culture, onto Renaissance Fine Art where owner Curator Paula Coleman gave us the low down on the Harlem visual arts scene – with more wine. Followed by a Backstage Tour of the historic Apollo Theater which aught me all about Harlem musical history; this theatre helped launch the careers of such musical greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Gladys Knight, and so many others.

Finally a well earned dinner at Red Rooster, named after the legendary Harlem speakeasy, this is rightly touted as the hottest restaurant in Harlem with live music, dancing and even cooking classes using local produce. Harlem resident Chef Marcus Samuelsson serves traditional American comfort (the corn bread was to die for). His cuisine was accompanied by South African wines from importer Cape Classics

That corn bread

Altogether an eclectic day that perfectly reflected the energetic atmosphere of this part of New York that really took me by surprise.

What’s in a name?

As the Bordeaux negociant trade, under the presidency of Allan Sichel announces that it is going to try and legally reclaim the name Claret, it draws into question the importance of a name in branding wines. Bordeaux is fortunate to have such a history and tradition to call upon but this can lead to confusion – as with the name Claret.

Recently teaching a class to wine professionals recently in the USA, I saw that there is evident confusion between the name Claret and Clairet and even between Clairet and rose.

For Europeans, or should I say Brits, there is a world of difference. Claret has long been used as a collective noun by the British for all reds from Bordeaux, be they great classified growths or more run of the mill basic Bordeaux. It is also a relatively old fashioned name associated with gentleman’s clubs and traditional merchants (think Berrys Brothers Good ordinary Claret) as claret drinking (or should I say Bordeaux drinking?) was for many years. Clairet (with the i) is relatively unknown unless you have been lucky enough to taste it on a visit to Bordeaux. Bordeaux red is now breaking out of this ‘old fashioned’ mould, being made by a younger generation of wine makers, offering wines more suited for early drinking and more in touch with what the majority of wine drinkers are looking, at once fruit driven and elegant. So can the name Claret shake off a fusty old image and move with the times?

It is a name that has its origin in history and probably goes back to the mispronunciation by the English of the word ‘clair’ meaning clear. This well described the wines produced in Bordeaux as of the middle ages during the Plantagenet rule of Aquitaine and before the arrival of ‘The New French’ Claret when wines from from the region, or more particularly the Graves, were able to be aged in barrels thanks to the introduction of sulphur. A style that was particularly popular with the English market as of the 17th century, and still is to this day. The fact that this style of wine was labelled with an english expression shows not only where the wines were headed but also the importance of the export market for the wines of the region, then as now. 32% of all Bordeaux is currently exported half of which comes from the Medoc and the vast majority of the classified growths head overseas.

The importance of export is hardly surprising given the history of Bordeaux, in the 17th century Bordeaux was France’s largest port and this created close links with other seafaring nations such as the Dutch and the British who shipped the wine all over the world. The Quai des Chartrons on the Garonne river front was a who’s who of international merchants with names such as Schyler, Barton, Johnstone and Sichel still present today.

So Claret is not Clairet, Clairet today is still defined by its light colour, somewhere between a rose and a red, Claret is definitely red, no mistaking it for a rose however dark. To qualify as a rose in Bordeaux there is a colour element included. If your rose is too dark, as some can be in very ripe vintages such as 2003, it will not pass muster as a rose but will have to be labelled as a Clairet. There is a definite trend in recent years for Bordeaux roses to become lighter and lighter. Check out Château Bauduc’s rosé for a perfect example.

The Bordelais know all about Clairet, it is a very popular summer or picnic wine, on the beach or with the BBQ or as an aperitif. The French however do not use the name Claret – so no confusion for them.

The question of a name for export markets can also be an conundrum for individual properties with confusing historical names that are often difficult to pronounce by new customers in export markets.

Note the recent changes to some top Bordeaux properties. Bahans Haut Brion, the second wine of 1st growth Chateau Haut Brion changed to the Clarence de Haut Brion in the 2007 vintage and Haut Bages Averous, the second wine of Chateau Lynch Bages to Echo de Lynch Bages as of the 2008 vintage

Chateau Angelus also very subtly changed its name from l’Angelus to Angelus removing the L as of the 1990 vintage to make it easier to say and more esthetically pleasing on the label. Talking of apostrophies, is it Château Yquem or d’Yquem? It’s definitely d’Yquem, this prestigious property never seems to need to change to suit fashion, it is always in style.

With or without the ‘  that is the question.

A carnivore in Texas

What a whirlwind visit to Texas! I never knew I could eat so much in 2 days, but my guide, the wonderful Guy Stout, Glazers wine educator extraordinaire was taking no prisoners. The first day Austin, no sooner had I enjoyed my eggs sunny side up than I was whisked of to Gueros for Tacos and Margaritas (hand shaken no less) before heading over bat bridge up the towards the Capitol – larger than Washington’s (but then we know everything is bigger in Texas) and along busy 6th Street.

Having sung for my supper it was on the road again to Houston and to one of the of the many Pappas Bros establishments.The restaurant chain started in the 70?s but is based on the original idea of Greek Pappas and this restaurant empire has spread across Texas offering everything from Steak to BBQ from Burgers to seafood.

We were lucky enough to dine at the Houston Flag ship Pappas bros steakhouse – spectacular! The steaks were large (see below) and delicious, the service impeccable and the wine list was a sight for sore eyes, and deep pockets.

That night they were serving, by the glass, a 1982 Salamazar (9l) of single vineyard Beringer (the last year before they blended apparently?) the sommeliers are not just knowledgeable but strong too!
We honored Bordeaux too with a wonderful Laville Haut Brion 1995 (which has now changed its name) and an Armaillac 2005, which, decanted, was much more approachable than I would have thought. I’m not surprised their wine list is an award winner.

No, this is not a butchers display but the choice of steaks and lobster at Pappas

I still had a day to go and I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I was not allowed out of town until I’d experienced a real Texan BBQ so it was of to Goode Company BBQ and I was in good company. At lunch time, straight from the office in suits and ties, Texans were queuing for ribs, burgers, beans and dirty rice, eaten at tressel tables all to the sound of country music – I could leave happy knowing I had eaten my way through some of Texans finest even though I didn’t catch a show at Armadillo across the road!

Apologies to my friends at the Back Street cafe which I enjoyed so much on my last visit I just didn’t have a free meal. Salt Lick BBQ is on the list for next year, only in Texas would you find a name like that – I’ll be back