Category Archives: Food

How to drink like a French Woman.

Wine and coffee

Finish the meal with black coffee

There are so many books out there telling us how all French women are slim and beautiful, with chic style, look ten years younger than their age, have perfect children and great sex lives, etc., etc. You name it; the French are better at it than us. It’s enough to make you reach for a drink!

I’ve lived in France for over thirty years so I’m happy to dispel a few of these myths so that we non-French women can dust off our self-esteem.

The French have some great phrases relating to the after-effects of over indulgence, such as “mal aux cheveux” (my hair hurts) and the famous “crise de foie” (a liver crisis). So they obviously don’t have this thing covered either.

Everybody lies about his or her alcohol consumption, but figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the French win at alcohol consumption 12.2 litres per capita, with the United Kingdom at 11.6 and the United States at 9.2. But it’s also about what we drink. In France, over half is consumed as wine, compared to a third in the UK and less than 20% in the US.

The figures also show the divide between men and women. In the United States, men are reported as drinking 13.6 litres per capita per year and women 4.9. In the United Kingdom, it’s 16.5 litres for men and 6.9 for women. The French beat us all at 17.8 litres for each man and 7.1 per woman.

The French do drink differently.

– They consume most of their alcohol as wine and mainly at meal times. Friends rarely meet for drink in France, they drink with food, so they’ll meet you for dinner or lunch. Yes, they are the champions of the “aperitif” but very much as a pre-meal experience—no pre-loading here.

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Wine with food – even as an

Drinking with food rather than on an empty stomach reduces the Blood Alcohol Concentration, and protects the liver. In France, they advise a spoonful of olive oil before drinking, in England, we advise a glass of milk. I prefer full-fat yoghurt, as it helps with probiotics who also suffer from too much alcohol.

– They take their time over meals, chewing well; they eat less and enjoy it more. Chewing warns the stomach what food is heading its way, preparing the digestive process and allowing time for a full sensation to reach the brain from the stomach. This process slows down both food and wine consumption.

– They have both wine and water on the table. Drinking at least one glass of water for every glass of wine helps reduce headaches exacerbated by the dehydration as your body tries to dilute the alcohol. This habit helps. And no ice in that water, iced water inhibits the digestion.

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Wine and water and food

So French women drink their wine with food, but their eating habits are worth a look, too:

– French women do not snack in between meals.

– Croissants are for breakfast, not for a mid-morning top up.

– You don’t see French women walking around town with polystyrene cups of milky coffee. In fact, apart from breakfast, they never put milk in coffee.

– They eat three meals a day.

– They don’t eat on the hoof; they stop for lunch, take their time, eat slowly, and enjoy.

– They don’t eat half a baguette while waiting for the starter to arrive or a bowl of peanuts with the aperitif.

–  They drink lots of water.

– They eat their veg; a French family meal will usually start with either salad (crudités) in the summer or soup in the winter. Vegetables are served with the main course and salad offered with cheese before dessert.

– They finish their meal with a strong (bitter) espresso, which closes the appetite.

You don’t have to come to France to eat and drink like a French woman but when you do, you now know how to fit right in!

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The original of the post was featured on A Balanced Glass and is taken from The Drinking Woman’s Diet, A Liver friendly Lifestyle Guide. available in paperback as an e book or on Amazon. Contact me for  a signed copy as a Christmas gift.

 

 

The Sweet Spot.

The sweet wines of Bordeaux are too often overlooked. They were at the height of their fame and success in the 19th century, whereas now they are too often relegated to a dessert wine after dinner, when everyone is already replete, or as an optional add-on to a Bordeaux wine tour.

The wines have an undeserved reputation for being expensive. They are certainly costly, and difficult, to produce. Low yields, labour intensive, risky harvests, but they are rarely expensive to buy, certainly not compared to many Bordeaux reds. Sweet Bordeaux wines merit a closer look. Do get yourself to Sauternes, it has never been easier or more exciting. Add an extra day (or two) on your next Bordeaux wine tour – it’s nearer than Pauillac and no further than Saint Emilion and every wine tourist finds time to go there.

When I say Sauternes, I really mean Sweet Bordeaux. Did you know there are 15 different appellations in Bordeaux where sweet wines can be made? Some are really tiny and don’t make sweet wine every year. The first person to list them all in the comments below will receive a signed copy of my new book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

So what is so exciting? First the wines themselves: wine makers are producing sweet Bordeaux wines that are brighter, lighter and perfectly adapted to so many drinking opportunities, from aperitif, to fish, from roast chicken to blue cheese. Try them with spicy food and there are always the classic matches of foie gras and dessert – but be bold, don’t limit yourselves to the classics. The producers don’t – they will show you the way. The doors of Sauternes chateaux are now thrown wide open for amateurs and enthusiasts alike to sample the wines alongside all sorts of food options.

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Sweet Bordeaux and fish? be more adventurous

The area is beautiful. The rolling hills of the Sauternes plateau, the vines of Barsac along the Garonne and the limestone slopes of Saint Croix du Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac on the right bank are often swathed in the legendary early morning mists, responsible for the noble rot and adding to the romantic atmosphere. In amongst all this there is a wealth of wonderful architecture, witness to the historic and prosperous past of the region and the success of these fine wines.

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The beautiful morning mists of Sauternes

One such gem is Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a 1er Grand Classé (a first growth) in the heart of Sauternes – just down the slope from Château d’Yquem (always the reference).

Dating back to the 13th century, this proud, fortress-like construction has always been an iconic part of the diverse architecture of the appellation. Renovations were under taken by the previous owners but under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz it is really enjoying a renaissance, with the opening in June of the Lalique Hotel as a 400th birthday present to the estate.

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Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, now the home of the Lalique Hotel

Denz is no stranger to wine; he owns a wine auction house in his native Switzerland, vineyards in Spain and Italy and Château Péby Faugères and Château Faugères in Saint Emilion and Château Cap de Faugères in Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux. Lalique is no stranger to wine either. Rene Lalique was from the town of Ay in Champagne, (a Lalique discovery trail opened there this spring). He designed a collection of Yquem carafes and glasses in 1934, and a Barsac collection in 1939.

This is the third Lalique hotel, La Villa René Lalique opened in 2015 (a Relais & Châteaux 5 star hotel and 2 star restaurant) and Château Hochberg in 2016, both in Alsace where the crystal is made.

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Make yourself comfortable at The Lalique Hotel

The decor at The Hotel Lalique in Sauternes is amazing, there is Lalique crystal everywhere; the door handles, the arm rests of chairs and sofas, crystal panels of the signature grape motif inlaid into the furniture, crystal vine leaf light fittings and chandeliers and vases and other objets d’art scattered around the rooms and check out the taps. It’s like a permanent crystal treasure hunt.

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The crystal treasure hunt

A modern extension (glass of course) houses the restaurant; the ceiling is decorated with gold crystal Semillon leaves. More Lalique pieces grace the tables, including perfect replicas of the salt and pepper mills co-created by René Lalique and Peugeot in 1924.

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Some of the beautiful crystal ‘objets-d’arts’ are for sale in the boutique alongside the wines of the property

It takes quite a chef to compete with all this and Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) rises to the challenge with a menu that plays with different ways of using Sauternes in preparing the food as well as serving it. In his opinion ‘Sweet wine brings other foods into the realm of haute cuisine’. I’ll drink to that.

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The restaurant with its views over Sauternes

Lalique at Lafaurie Peyraguey is set to be an excellent showcase for Sauternes, if you were waiting for an excuse to get down there this is it.

Sauternes is not a one-stop shop; there are plenty of other things that merit the trip.

When you are sitting at your table in the Lalique restaurant you look straight across the vines to neighbouring Château Sigalas Rabaud, another 1855 1st growth. You can’t miss the bright red parasols on the sunny terrace. I’ve mentioned Sigalas Rabaud before, due to the dynamism of owner-wine maker Laure de Lambert Compeyrot. Since taking over the family property in 2006, she has added two dry white wines to their portfolio, including a 100% dry Sémillon, and a ‘natural’ sweet wine (i.e. without sulphur). Called Le 5 It is a typical example of a move in the region toward brighter, lighter wines. She is just as dynamic in wine tourism, she has opened the doors of the traditional one storey Chartreuse, where you can happily spend an afternoon sipping her wines on the terrace: Sauternes – the perfect siesta wine.

 

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The Terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud

The most spectacular Chartreuse in the sweet wine region of Bordeaux is Château de Cérons, taking its name from the appellation with one of the smallest productions in Bordeaux.

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Chateau de Cerons

Château de Cérons is a listed historic monument, built in the early 17th century on a gravel terrace overlooking the Garonne River.

Xavier and Caroline Perromat, who took over the family estate in 2012, will make you feel at home under the trees in their park overlooking the beautiful 12th century church. Settle in to enjoy a picnic with a by the glass selection of the dry white and red Graves that the property produces, their rosé and of course their flagship sweet Cérons.

If you want a more substantial lunch, Chateau Guiraud back in Sauternes has also recently opened a restaurant, La Chapelle, in the beautiful old chapel in the grounds next to the Château. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

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La Chapelle de Château Guiraud

 

It’s not all about food and wine in Sauternes, you can also just hang out, literally. Château Rayne Vigneau, another 1st growth, sits right at the top of the plateau of Sauternes, considered by many locals to be some of the best terroir in the region. Their hillsides of vines run down from the fairy-tale chateau – still lived in by the previous owner of the vineyard – with views across the Ciron valley.

To get a better viewpoint, don a harness and hoist yourself up a 200-year-old Cedar tree, here you can sip your wine seated at a suspended table high above the vines. Or get up close and personal with the terroir on a horse back tour through the different soils that make up this beautiful region. Returning to the chateau, you can blend wines from the individual grape varieties to create your very own blend of Sauternes.

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Hanging out at Château Rayne Vigneau

Barsac and Sauternes are often said in the same breath. Barsac is one of the five villages that makeup the appellation, but the only one that has the choice to put its name on the wine labels. When you come you really should visit Barsac too. It is lower than the Sauternes plateau, closer to the Garonne, on a soil dominated by limestone with a thin layer of red, iron dominated clay and sand giving wines a lovely freshness – a trend towards which most sweet wine producers are now working. There are two first growths in Barsac: Chateau Climens and Château Coutet. Visit them both.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens. Photo credit @ F. Nivelle

Château Climens is owned and run by Berenice Lurton and she is passionate about Biodynamics. A visit to Climens will allow you to discover the wines but also get an understanding of biodynamics with a visit to her ’tisanerie’, a special plant and herb drying room dedicated to biodynamic preparations. Climens was one of the Bordeaux vineyards that produced no wine at all in 2017 due to the terrible frost early in the season.

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Château Coutet

Nearby Château Coutet is also a must see. It is an impressive 13th century fortress with its own chapel and the cellars are in what used to be the stables of the Lur Saluces family, then owners of Château d’Yquem. The Baly family now owns and runs the property and they offer a warm welcome. What I really enjoyed was a unique way of understanding the aromatic complexity of these wines. With a local jam maker, owner Aline Baly has created a range of grape preserves from the emblematic grapes of the region, one from Sauvignon grapes, one from Muscadelle and one from Sémillon. There is also one made from Sémillon affected by botrytis, which really educates the palate as to how the complexity of these great sweet wines develops. Tasting each of these is a great introduction to how the different elements come together to make these special wines.

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Discover the flavours of Barsac

One day is just not long enough to discover everything there is on offer. It is a good job there is a new hotel here If you wait a while, you will be able to enjoy more Sauternes hospitality at Château d’Arche. This Classified Growth has operated a hotel in the 17th century château since before I arrived in town. Now everything is getting an upgrade. The cellars first, they are investing over three million euros in an eco friendly winery, with a vegetal roof and wooden architecture to blend in with the surrounding area. This will also give them room to welcome visitors with an emphasis on discovering the unique viticulture needed to create a great sweet wine. The hotel will also be renovated with and there are rumours of a high-end spa. A little relaxation after all this activity? Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

The Drinking Woman’s Diet.

I have finally got my hands on a physical copy of my new book: The Drinking Woman’s Diet. It’s been a long time coming. The idea for this book originally came about at the end of wine tour in Bordeaux. A client, groaning from a week of fabulous food and wine, asked me ‘how do you do this all the time and keep in shape?

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The Drinking Woman’s Diet finally!

 

Well the first answer is I don’t do it all the time, but I do it a lot; I drink wine for a living. I teach wine classes, run tastings and talk at wine dinners for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs around the world. I take people around vineyards and wineries of Bordeaux and, with the objective of keeping an open mind, I constantly sample wines from around the world and taste my way through wine regions.

It’s a wonderful job but, as with many things, there is a downside. The benefits of wine drinking are constantly being lauded in the press but so are the risks. Adding insult to injury, wine goes with food, and tasting dinners are rarely very light affairs. So, as well as keeping an eye on the state of my liver, I try to keep an eye on my waistline.

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All in a days work?

As I chatted with my client and started sharing a few tricks and tips, she suggested I write them down and hand them out before starting the wine tour. So the book started by sharing a few survival tricks and techniques: the lessons I have learnt from French women, from my friends, therapists and other yogis to try and maintain a healthy body in what may initially appear an unhealthy industry.

Not long after this conversation I went for an acupuncture consultation. The acupuncturist said well there’s nothing really wrong with you, except perhaps for your liver; he stuck a couple of needles in between my thumb and forefinger and next to my big toes to help it out. Not long after that, at the Mayr clinic in Austria, the Doctor looked into my eyes, pinched my cheek and said aha – your liver. That was before I had even mentioned that I drink for a living.

This made me think that I should take an even closer look at this drinking habit of mine. As a female baby boomer, I’m right there in the category of drinkers increasing their health risks through their habits. And I’m not alone.

At the recent launch of his book, Wine – A Way of Life, Steven Spurrier was also asked how he managed to stay so trim, despite working in the wine business. His answer: Vanity. Vanity is a great motivator; as a woman and a fairly vain one at that, the effects of excess boozing are seen not just in the liver, but also in your eyes, in your skin, your waistline so I was interested in seeing how I can allay these side effects of my chosen lifestyle and what the motivators are and how to harness them.

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Steven spurrier – still dapper after all these years!

Why The Drinking Woman? Well I’m a woman and I drink! In the book I have tried to speak from my point of view and experience. Researching the various ideas was a lot more time consuming than I anticipated, there is a lot of weird and wonderful theories out there, so I tried to focus on what worked for me.

I have already been asked ‘what about men?’ Men are more than welcome to read along, but women are at a disadvantage when it comes to drinking. The recommended limits for women are lower than for men.

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Dedicated to Drinking Women;

Many of my friends work in the wine industry (and many, many more support it through their drinking habits). I thought I had better start looking at ways to keep my liver happy and healthy while maintaining my love of wine. This includes yoga. I have a passion for yoga and when I recently organised some wine and yoga retreats in Bordeaux the question was raised how can you seriously combine wine and yoga. Aren’t wine drinking and healthy living incompatible? I don’t think so. Mindfulness is a key tenet of yoga, and a big deal right now – I’m all about mindful drinking, enjoying and paying attention to what it is you are enjoying.

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Wine and Yoga at Château Lamothe Bergeron

Over the time it has taken me to research this book it evolved into a compilation of advice from various health, fitness and beauty specialists, medical reviews and books, put together to help fellow wine lovers who are not prepared to give up their habit but not prepared to sacrifice their health either.

The title is a little misleading, but it is a great title. This is not a weight loss diet, but weight loss, if you need it, should be a happy by-product of following the healthy lifestyle tips in the book.

The strap line on my web site is: Knowledge increases pleasure. Knowledge is also power, power to make the right decisions. Deep down you know if your drinking habit is an issue, if it’s affecting your waistline, your health, your performance, and your skin so let’s stop hiding from it and work out how to enjoy a drink and still be on top of our game.

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Eat your greens French style – with truffle oil and walnuts!

I like to stay fit and healthy and I hope to grow old not too disgracefully, but not too carefully either. The book will not give you an excuse to drink to excess but I’m not looking to demonise drink either, after all wine is how I make a living. I hope the book captures a holistic approach to health, including diet but also yoga, sleep and so much more and that The Drinking Woman’s Diet will provide some inspiration on how to enjoy wine without putting your figure, your face, your health or your sanity at too much risk.

You can buy a paperback copy here or the e book on line or please e-mail me if you would like a signed copy. And of course Bordeaux Bootcamp is still available on Amazon if you want to learn more about Bordeaux and it’s wines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to survive a Wine Tour.

It’s that time of the year again, when the words detox and dry January are popping up more than champagne corks. It’s also when people plan travel for the year ahead and, judging by my inbox, wine tours are on a lot of to-do lists for 2018.

I have already offered advice on how to organise your wine visit to Bordeaux but, given the current concern for our health, it seems appropriate to include a few tips on how our livers and waistlines can survive a week of wine tastings and wine dinners.

The ideas below are taken from my book, The Drinking Woman’s Diet – A liver- friendly lifestyle guide, to be published next month. It is based on my bitter-sweet experience of living and working in the wine and food industry in France for over 20 years.

– Eat breakfast. You might not feel like it after a big wine dinner the night before but a full stomach will slow down the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream: take the eggs and have some yoghurt for those probiotics.

Breakfast – an important start to the wine tour day

– Drink a glass of water before each tasting and before eating. I always keep a stock of bottles with me when touring. Match a glass of wine with a glass of water.

Keep the water to hand

– If your hotel is amongst the vines start the day with a walk through the vines. If you’re staying in Bordeaux, walk along the banks of the Garonne, enjoy some fresh air and work up an appetite for breakfast – see above.

– Take your supplements. Alcohol can be as challenging for your gut flora as for your liver so take some probiotics alongside your milk thistle this may help. Another supplement is Glutathione, known by wine makers for preserving the freshness of white wines – it appears to help preserve the liver too. The science is out as to whether the body can process Glutathione directly; the theory is the body can break down Milk Thistle into Glutathione. I take both if it’s a busy week – better safe than sorry.

– Don’t wear white, you’ll be spitting and red wine stains. Even experienced wine tasters don’t always have great aim. Don’t be shy about it. It’s not considered rude to the wine maker if you don’t drain each glass. They’ll be spitting.

Barrel samples can stain

– And on the subject of stains, teeth can take a pounding, especially when tasting barrel samples. Many people swear by bicarbonate of soda mixed in with toothpaste. Oil pulling with coconut oil or sesame oil is an ancient Ayurveda practise to keep the mouth and gums healthy – takes a bit of getting used to but I find it helps with tannin build-up on my teeth. A glass of champagne at the end of the day is also very effective and much more delicious.

I find a glass of champagne at the end of the day works wonders

– Don’t eat the bread. Trickier than it sounds when you sit down to lunch, starving after a morning of tasting, It may seems impossible to resist the basket of delicious fresh French bread the waiter has just put on the table – but resist you must, if not you’ll never make it through lunch or be too full for the delicious dessert.

I don’t always follow my own advice!

– Clients often comment on the lack of vegetables on offer in French restaurants. The French do eat lots of vegetables. At home a French family meal will start with either salad (crudités) in the summer or soup in the winter. Vegetables will be served with the main course and salad offered with cheese, served before dessert.

Of course the French eat vegetables

Touring the farmers markets will show you the fresh and seasonal variety on offer. So why don’t we see them on more menus? Restaurants showcase ‘noble’ products such as foie-gras, dismissing veggies as homely, sometimes offering only one vegetable as an accompaniment; and it’s often potatoes (there’s a reason they’re known as French fries).

I always try to include ‘greens’ in pre organised menus but if there is no veg proposed with your chosen dish at a restaurant, ask for the potatoes to changed to the vegetable of the day, or some salad, they are usually happy to oblige.

I’ll have salad with that please

– Take a nap on the bus on the way home, I make it a rule not talk over the speaker system after the last tasting of the afternoon. I’ll wake you when we get there.

– Choose a healthy wine tour – yes really. In May I’m teaming up with yoga teacher Martine Bounet for a wine and yoga weekend. I’m always happy for guests to join me for a few morning sun salutations before the day’s tour starts.

Wine and Yoga atf Château Lamothe Bergeron

If all else fails and you haven’t been able to resist the bread and the fries, allow a couple of extra days at the end of your tour and book yourself into detox at the Source de Caudalie Wine spa. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clairet. Claret. Clarette,

The Bordeaux invasion of London – continued

London has always been a Bordeaux friendly wine hub and the Bordelais love London back, always happy to come over and share their wines with Londoners. As early as 1666 Arnaud de Pontac, then owner of Château Haut Brion, sent his son to London to open The Pontac’s Head, a tavern where they served the Chateau wine. He created a trend amongst the smart 17th century London set for ‘The New French Claret’ as compared to the lighter Clairet and established the ‘Graves de Bordeaux’ as their go-to wine well before the Wines of the Medoc dominated the market. This was possibly the first example of direct wine marketing and the first French bar.

The trend continues; I reported on 110 of Taillevant when it opened and Château Latour have recently created a new club in the Four Season at Ten Trinity Square, London, with the wonderful Anne Sophie Pic’s ‘Dame de Pic’ restaurant that I have yet to try but I did recently test-drive another new London venue.

Clarette opened in Spring this year (2017), in a beautiful half timbered Marylebone townhouse, Clarette is the project of a young generation of wine lovers with deep Bordeaux roots: Alexandra Petit, of the Château Margaux family and restaurateur Natsuko Perromat du Marais (the Perromat family are from the Graves) are in partnership with Thibault Pontallier son of the much missed director of Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier.

Clarette by night

The building lends itself to an atmosphere of private dining upstairs with its different nooks and crannies, with an impressive wine display in the private dining room. The large communal table on the ground floor lends a more informal atmosphere. Wines by the glass are served with sharing plates in front of a fireplace. On warmer days the terrace is perfect for people watching.

The wine list is French focused, as you would expect, but not all the bottles are Bordeaux, or even French, with an eclectic by the glass selection starting from around £5.

If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux, Clarette will give you a perfect taster while you wait.

 

 

 

Villa Lacoste – breathless.

Finally I arrive in Provence.

I say finally as it was a last minute inspiration to add a few Provence days on the end of a recent Rhone wine tour. My friends (we’ve been touring together too long to call them clients) had decided to go and I tagged along for a few extra days.

I’m thrilled I did; thanks to a recommendation from Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours I discovered a spectacular new wine tourism destination: Villa Lacoste.

Our timing was perfect. The vineyard and sculpture park of Château Lacoste are well established, but we were there just in time for the opening of their new hotel.

I have been known to be gushing in my praise before, but this place took my breath away. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I had been warned it was very contemporary. We arrived on a very busy Sunday afternoon. Driving through the sculpture park and past the art centre looking for the hotel, I wondered what we were heading for. So well hidden is the hotel that initially I thought I’d brought my friends to stay in a series of Nissan huts. Fortunately these were the new, Jean Nouvel wine cellars, not the hotel.

Around a bend, up a slope, hidden by trees and vines we discovered the spectacular new, purpose built  hotel.

Villa Lacoste amongst the vines and trees

Having just left the historical building of la Mirande in Avignon, (see a previous post) this was a big culture shock. The beautiful, ultra modern suites are perched high up the hillside with spectacular views of the vines, the valley and the art scattered across the 200 ha estate.

We enjoyed the warm welcome and undivided attention of their very first days. With everything brand spanking new, we had the impression of having the place almost to ourselves – but given the layout I think this would be the case even if the hotel was full.

The elegant suites are not exactly minimalist but their deceptively simple design is a show case for wonderful details: lots of contemporary art, complemented by curated books to learn more about it, as well as fresh fruit, local specialities and of course, a bottle of Château Lacoste Rosé to be sipped on the balcony looking at that view.

My suite at Villa Lacoste                                       Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The all white theme runs into the marble bathrooms each with their own terrace and an elegant olive tree over the bathtub.

The bathroom with it’s own olive tree             Photo Credit Wendy Narby

We dined in the Louison restaurant. Thanks to a photo shoot, Michelin star chef Gérald Passedat was there and it was like having a private chef. We were thoroughly spoilt.

The Couple by Louise Bourgeois high above our table at dinner.

 

Amuses bouches at Louison                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The food was spectacular. Excellent quality local ingredients, traditional recipes, all with an original and inventive twist, as exciting for the eye as the palate.

Olive Bread – more olive than bread                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The art theme runs right though this place down to the smallest details. My friends liked it so much they returned for dinner the following night and were just as thrilled.

The crab…..                                                               Photo Credit Wendy Narby

and its provencal vegetables         Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Onion: the content and the container. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is also a more informal restaurant, a cool bar, a well-stocked library to browse the wine and art books, as well as a swimming pool to occupy the residents.

The next morning, after a power walk through the vines, getting lost amongst the art installations, breakfast was served on the terrace of the hotel. Suspended high up above the pool, as delicious as breakfast was, it was hard to concentrate on with such a spectacular view.

Breakfast with that view                                      Photo Credit Wendy Narby

After breakfast off we went to discover the sculpture park – driven in a shiny new Land Rover Defender. Another box ticked for the boys on the tour.

Irishman Patrick McKillen purchased this classic French Provencal estate in 2002. As well as renovating the chateau and replanting the vines, Mckillen has created a unique sculpture park with thirty major contemporary artworks spread throughout the vineyard. The art centre, created by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in 2004, holds pride of place at the centre.

The Louise Bourgeois spider at the art centre Photo Credit Wendy Narby

It is breath-taking – arriving in front of the centre you are welcomed by a Louise Bourgeois
 Crouching Spider sculpture, which seems to be floating over the water. It was here that charming young Irish art expert, Tess Rumgay, met us.

I highly recommend taking a guided tour. You can of course walk around and discover at your own pace with a well-edited guide and map but Tess’s explanations and insights made all the difference. We felt so much more intelligent and cultured at the end of the morning.

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Tom Shannon’s Drop – in action

And the wine? Well, sadly I didn’t have time to visit the impressive new cellars designed by Jean Nouvel, (the ones that look like Nissan huts). That’ll be for another trip. But we did taste the wine. As well as the tasting room and shop, there are several restaurants to choose where you can sample by the glass or the bottle. The art centre has a light and airy Tadao Ando restaurant running alongside the water. But, after all the contemporary art, we returned to the more traditional atmosphere of the original château courtyard for lunch. The Terrace restaurant serves fresh organic produce from the neighbouring kitchen garden, at tables laid out around the fountain, all served with a selection of the delicious still and sparkling rosés from the property.

The Rosé Fountain                                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is so much to see here that it merits at least a couple of days stay, but do allow extra time if you can just to soak up the Zen atmosphere of the place. A quite remarkable wine tourism experience; it merits reflection.

Part of the warm welcome at Villa Lacoste    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

 

 

 

 

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!

 

What to drink in the snow.

We’re snowed in. I’m not complaining, that’s what we came to the mountains for. Over the last 4 days it hasn’t stopped and it’s fabulous. Fortunately the cellar is well stocked. I drove over here from Bordeaux and managed to find room, amongst all the ski kit, for a few bottles. You can take the girl out of Bordeaux……..

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So what do you drink in the snow? Here are 10 suggestions, Bordeaux biased given the supply chain, but not only.

Having a snowdrift by the front door is really useful for cooling wine so we’ll start with some white. If you are wondering how a chilled white wine can be warming, try Sauternes. 2001 is a favourite Sweet Bordeaux vintage and we just happened to have a bottle of Doisy Daene 2001, which is drinking beautifully. These wines really benefit from some bottle age, giving lovely caramelised fruit aromas and the characteristic saffron spice notes that are a signature of botrytis. Dry whites from Bordeaux are also a favourite so I’ll include the lovely Semillante from Sauternes 1st growth Château Sigalas Rabaud, one of the few 100% Semillon from Bordeaux. I haven’t found another yet – but I’m open to suggestions.

Perfect cooling condtions

Perfect cooling conditions

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte also seems an appropriate choice for the mountains; the owners, Florence and Daniel Cathiard, were both national ski champions before buying the property. The white wasn’t included alongside the red when it was classified in 1953 nor in 1959 but it has outshone the red in several vintages. The Sémillon-Sauvignon blend and barrel ageing makes for a white that just gets better with a few years in bottle.

But let’s not ignore the local whites. The Swiss love their white wines and use all sorts of varietals you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. A couple of favourites sampled this week are The Chasselas from The Dutruy Brothers at Domaine de la Treille from vines overlooking Lake Geneva. Thibault Panas, chef sommelier at The Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace, selected this ‘Cuvée Spéciale’. He should know as he manages one of the largest wine cellars in Europe with over 750 000 bottles and 3000 references of which about 250 are Swiss.

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Then chosen for the name (but I didn’t regret it) The Fendant from Charles Bonvin (that’s his real name) called Sans Culottes – no knickers – haven’t got to the bottom (sorry) of the name but I will try and find out. Worked really well with a little locally smoked salmon trout.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Then of course there are red wines – just what you need to warm the soul after a long day in the snow and the perfect match for the hearty cuisine of the mountains. Swiss whites may be the traditional match for the cheese fondues, but I prefer the ‘Chinese Fondue’ a take on beef fondue but cooked in beef broth rather that oil as a lighter alternative. This merits a lovely red. We washed ours down with a Château Beauregard, Pomerol 2011, another example of over-performance in an under rated vintage. The fresh acidity coped with those lovely cream sauces we dunked the beef in – not so light after all. My other local favourite food is Rosti, a type of hash browns covered in different toppings – think potato pizza on steroids. We chose Château Monbrison, Margaux 2015, a lovely wine from a great appellation in a great vintage offering excellent value for money.

Perfect with fondue

Perfect with fondue

Then of course there’s the chocolate. The Swiss are famous for their milk chocolate – all those cows? But they make lovely dark chocolate too. I love red wine with chocolate, a cabernet driven Medoc from a ripe Vintage, Château Pedesclaux, Pauillac 2009 worked really well with warm chocolate cake, but in this cold weather what really works for me is something more fortified; port or whisky. A Taylors late Bottled Vintage 2010 would be a good place to start and whisky is the perfect winter warmer. I enjoyed a lovely glass of Glenfiddich 10 year old at the bar of The Palace hotel on Saturday night – fortifying for the rather slippy ride home (I wasn’t driving – just saying).

Perfect Port

Perfect Port

So the tenth? Well 2 options; either a bit of fizz to compete with the sparkly snow. A glass of champagne cooled in the snow is always a winner. I’m quite taken with the wines of AR Lenoble, a small family champagne house producing wonderful elegant champagnes worthy of a great name. The second option? Cuddling up with a warming tisane. The local farmers collect mountain herbs here all summer, dry them and sell them in the local village shop – not sure quite what’s in there but it tastes delicious and makes you sleep like a baby. I’m hibernating now until the snow stops falling.

Mountain tisane

Mountain tisane

 

 

 

More Indian Ocean Cusine

I thought a dip in Indian ocean would be a nice way to start 2017! I have already written about the cuisine of Mauritius and more recently. As an island, it is the perfect place to discover fish and seafood, its situation on the spice routes and the rainbow nation with Asian, Indian, South African, European and even Australian influences all add to the diversity of the cuisine here.

Willibald Reinbacher, (Willi to his friends), has been the chef at the Shanti Maurice Hotel since 2010 at about the time we discovered the Ayurveda Spa there. Originally from Austria and now married to a Mauritian, he has made the island his home.

Breakfast at the Shanti Spa

Breakfast at the Shanti Spa

I was already impressed by the way he incorporated the Ayurveda theme of healthy eating into his cuisine, using local ingredients and Indian spices to create dishes that you would never guess were part of a healthy eating programme. He has been sharing this cuisine not only in the restaurants of the hotel but also taking guests to the local markets and inviting them into the hotel herb garden and kitchen.

His skills and familiarity with the regional culture and cuisine, not just of Mauritius but also across the islands of the Indian Ocean, have increased his repertoire. So much so that he has curated his favourite recipes from across the Indian Ocean into a new book: Aquacasia.

Aquacasia, an exploration of Indian Ocean cuisine.

Aquacasia, an exploration of Indian Ocean cuisine.

The ocean theme is at its heart, hence the name. The spectacular photos, especially the underwater ones, are an inspiration. The warm Indian Ocean is teaming with fish, each island having a different variation on the same recipes for their local species. Given that you may have over indulged during the festive season, the recipes based on seafood are healthy. Langoustines with Vanilla and Prawns on Sugarcane Skewers are a couple of my favourites.

A dip in the Indian ocean or in the pages of the book?

A dip in the Indian Ocean or into the pages of the book?

It’s not only seafood though; the wonderful chapter on spices is a showcase for all the Asian influence so present on the island and given that Mauritius is tropical the local fruits and of course Rums are also featured in the desserts chapter.

It is at once a recipe book with easy to follow recipes, a coffee table book with beautiful photos and either an invitation to visit Mauritius or, if you have been lucky enough to visit, a souvenir of your stay.

He doesn’t reveal the secret to his amazing Rum Baba though; you’ll just have to join me at The Shanti for that!

Bon Appétit!

Bon Appétit!

 

 

Happy New Year!

This seems like just the right time to take a quick look at where my wine adventures have taken me in 2016 and at plans for 2017. I thought I’d let some photos do the talking, although looking back through the images of the year it has been a challenge to choose just a few to sum up the last 12 months – so here’s a go, by theme.

A year in drinks: as well as wine, there was quite a penchant for cocktails in 2016, my girlfriends responsible for this know who they are!

Comparing the old and the new identities of chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion

Comparing the old and the new identities of Château Quintus in Saint Emilion

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks for the Dordogne at La Maison de l'Amiral

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks of the Dordogne at La Maison de l’Amiral.

A Medoc Wine line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and good Spirits Harrisburg

A Médoc line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and Good Spirits, Harrisburg

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet - perfect summer drinking

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet – perfect summer drinking

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka from milk by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka made from milk, by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

A year of food: wine goes with food goes with wine and I have been lucky enough to experience some wonderful meals in some wonderful settings. Some meals have been haute cuisine, others a simple vineyard lunch, even wine dinners in the tropics. All have served as research for my next book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’,  which will be published in 2017, exploring how to stay healthy whilst drinking for a living.

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Sunset Croquet at chateau Phelan segur

Sunset Croquet at Château Phelan Segur

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

Putting Bordeaux tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

Putting Bordeaux Tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot that won it's 1st Michelin star in 2016.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot. They won their 1st Michelin star in 2016.

Lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence in Paris

Enjoying lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence, in Paris

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

from healthy

from healthy

A less healthy breakfast

to a less healthy breakfast

Settling for a happy medium

Settling for a happy medium

Healthy can be delicious at Viva Mayr

Healthy can be delicious – much needed detox at Viva Mayr in August.

Post cure retox!

Post cure retox!

A year of teaching: wonderful opportunities to share my experience and knowledge of Bordeaux to the East, the West and of course in Bordeaux, with more successful Accredited Bordeaux Tutor candidates. I continue to learn just as much from their knowledge of other wine regions as I share with them the latest from Bordeaux. It’s been fun doing video tastings too, especially the live tastings with the Cru Bourgeois to the US.

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

Explaining the particularities of Sweet Bordeaux at the Bordeaux Wine School

Explaining the Bordeaux wines at the Bordeaux Wine School

The future of Hong kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The future of Hong Kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The latest Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

The latest 2016 Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Medoc masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Medoc Masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux Bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

A year of writing: for those of you who follow this Blog I’ve shared some of the news from Bordeaux and things I’ve learnt and enjoyed on my travels. For those who don’t please join us, or follow me on twitter, instagram or the Insider Tasting Facebook page.

I also contributed to other blogs, including the Great Wine Capitals blog, profiling the Bordeaux Best of Wine Tourism winners but it’s also an opportunity to discover other leaders in wine tourism across the globe – more of which below.

I updated my book Bordeaux Bootcamp, the Insider Tasting guide to getting to grips with  Bordeaux basics, with the latest facts and figures and I’m now working on the final draft of The Drinking Woman’s Diet, reuniting my two passions of Wine and Wellbeing explaining how the two are not mutually exclusive. It will be in print in 2017.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, Second edition is now available on Amazon.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, the second edition is now available on Amazon.

And finally a year of touring: welcoming guests to Bordeaux. With more and more properties opening their doors my guests can now stay in their very own Bordeaux chateau, where I introduce them to the wine makers, movers and shakers, experiencing the Bordeaux vineyard lifestyle for themselves.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the many chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.

 

Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

and at Beau Sejour Becot

and at Beau Sejour Becot

The historical cellars at Chateau de Cerons

historical cellars at Chateau de Cérons

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.

Veraison

Veraison

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier - some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier – some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted Merovingian well at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion

 

Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret - the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret – the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois taking lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois tasting lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

Next year? More of the same I hope but also some new destinations and different experiences. Already on the itinerary are: tours in the Rhone and Provence, a distillery tour in Scotland, seminars and master classes in Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong and the annual coast-to-coast US Road-show with an appearance at the Women for Wine Sense conference in the Finger Lakes. Lots of opportunities to for you to join me with and new destinations you might like to add to your future wish list?

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux - for your 2017 to do list. Credit Arnaud Bertrande

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux – for your 2017 to do list.
Credit: Arnaud Bertrande

I look forward to welcoming those of you coming back to Bordeaux in 2017 and some of you for the first time, or to sharing Bordeaux with you in classrooms or conferences across the globe.

Future projects include corporate and wine and wellness retreats amongst the vines and I’m excited to be working on an International Wine Tourism project sharing some of the best from other leading wine producing countries, more of which to follow.

Wine and Wellness - it's all about the balance!

Wine and Wellness – it’s all about the balance!

Please contact me for more information or stay tuned to the blog, I’ll be sharing my progress.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me this year, if you haven’t please do so in 2017, it will be a busy year with many opportunities for us to meet up, I hope to see you.

Happy New Year!