Thursday, 30 May 2013

Mencia, the heart of Bierzo

If anyone has the impression I am not enjoying my very personal pilgrimage, please, get that idea out of your mind. I think I have not enjoyed more in my life (or maybe I have). This is just such a great experience.

Today, my day started out in Ponferrada after a not so pleasant stay at a decadent, horrible service hotel. This morning I thought my predisposition for the day was not the best, but I could not have been more mistaken.

At 10 I had the first visit scheduled at Castro Ventosa winery. I arrived a bit late and I just hate being late, so no, not a good start. After apologising, I was shown the winery on bottling day. This one is a very small family-run winery, producing around one hundred and fifty thousand bottles out of 65 hectares of old vineyards. 

In the last five days I have seen the oldest vines of the trip. Here and in Toro, this is given great importance due to the low yields and high concentration of the fruit characteristics in the grape.

By 10:30 I was tasting three wines directly from the vats and without the possibility of using a spittoon. LOL. I guess from that moment on, my day could only be fantastic.

After this visit, I went to the wine council to get a full list of DO Bierzo wineries and called them to see if it was possible to visit them. I got some visits confirmed and since my next visit was at 16:00, I decided to have a long lunch. And I did! At Moncloa. The food was super yummy and the wine... well, what can I say?

This was only the starter, do you really want to see more? I do not know if you will be able to bear it... 

 Sorry, I did warn you.

After my very much enjoyed lunch, time for my next visit. 

At Bodegas Godelia I arrived early (to make up for the previous delay), got a brief introduction and was toured around the winery, really, Spanish wineries have the latest technology, it is a great pride the way that wines are produced in this country.

After the visit, the tasting... Hhhhmmmm, yes, a golden brooch. Josep, the oenologist, arrived at that point and we got engaged in a very interesting conversation, starting off with vineyard management, the conversation covered many subjects, all very interesting where he gave me great ideas and information, ten minutes before six (yes, two and a half hours later), I got the reminder that my next visit was due at six. Oh dear, time flies when you are having fun. I did not even have the time to finish the tasting, but he gave me a bottle of their premium wine for my very personal wine tasting. Thanks Josep, it has been my great pleasure.

Last visit for the day to Pittacum, who's wines I had met before. Javier was my guide this time. He was an absolute star, very knowledgable and another wine lover. What a pleasure! His approach was from a very technical point of view that I greatly appreciated. I must say, it feels really good when being an amateur with professional aspirations to be considered a fellow wine expert. Oh yes!

With Javier we ended up tasting directly from the vat, the ready to bottle Pittacum Aurea. Lovely wine. The oak, acidity, tannins, alcohol, so well integrated, resulting in a deliciously round wine.

Being only little over a hundred kilometres from Ourense, tomorrow will must likely be the end of the journey home. It is a bit sad, but I think I am ready for landing and start with the phase B. Time to sort out domestic issues and transfer into a business plan all my thoughts, ideas and experiences.

During the well over three thousand kilometres of road, the initial draft idea has finished the fermentation and it is in the maturation phase. I have reached the point where I know where I want to be, and now, I just need to figure out the 'how to get there' part. My next journey.

Salud and sweet (wine) dreams ;)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Toro and its 'Tinta'

I have spent my last two days visiting wineries in the Toro DO. 

For those of you who have never heard nor tried these wines, Toro wines are known for their... How can I call it? Power? Yes, Toro wines are powerful. 

Following the Duero river, after Rueda, Toro is in the provinces of Valladolid and Zamora. Mostly reds, the main grape is Tempranillo, here known as 'Tinta de Toro'. Claimed to be the original, pre-phylloxera grape, they say the pest did not reach this land, due to the poor soils. And the are! Sand and stone, with a very extreme continental climate, one can often find vines of well over a hundred years and meters-long roots that find the water deep in the sandy soils. Very reduced yields and high concentration of sugars, being the Toro wines, high in tannins, alcohol (always around, more likely above,15%) and lots of complexity. 

The vineyards are mostly bush trained, the way they have traditionally been, and the grapes hand-harvested, selecting the best, first in the vineyard and latter in a selection table, before placing the unpressed destemmed grapes in the stainless steel vats for the first fermentation. In order to 'smoothen' the wines, the wine receives oxygen, by transferring it first to an open container before pumping it over.

Once the alcoholic fermentation is done, new French and American 225 oak barrels are used for the malolactic fermentation and the ageing. This is of course not the general rule, with slight, or not so slight, variations from winery to winery.

These strong, full of personality wines pair beautifully with the rich Castilian dishes. 

Potatoes with spareribs and vino de Toro at Restaurante Castilla

Of the five wineries I visited and the close to fifteen wines I tried, I can say that Toro is producing wines of good quality for the strong-red wine lovers, with marked land characteristics. All different and for all palates. I guess now you have to do your share of wine tasting ;)


Monday, 27 May 2013

Another day in wineadise

Four weeks have passed since I left Germany and started my journey home. So many things have happened, and I am now so used to a life on the road. Who sang that song?... 'Give me a life on the road' (I should add that one to my journey's sound track), and sleeping in so many comfortable and uncomfortable beds, but actually sleeping. That can only be a good sign that I am on the right track.

When I planned my suitcase I decided to take the most pragmatic approach. I would be travelling south during the month of May, therefore, I would meet sun and heat, halfway. It has not been the case at all. I have been wearing the same clothes for a month (washing in between). That makes me think of my 21 cubic-meter removal. Unnecessary stuff! My short sleeve t-shirts, skirts and 'sock less' shoes have only, and briefly, seen the light in Belgium. LOL.

Nevertheless I am not complaining, life has been good and generous. I have had the chance to contemplate beautiful landscapes, receive the morning's chill and feel amazed and happy when the sun would come out to greet me. 

Today I had an intensive wineries day, each winery was different and special in their own way. Their mission statement was so personal and valid, that I enjoyed each and every visit. It is so comforting to meet talented and passionate young and old Spanish professionals, who believe in themselves and in what they represent. 

It is so energising, in a country where crisis, unemployment and disenchantment rule, to see the other side. It is a kick in the spirit to try to be our best ambassadors, to believe in ourselves and what we can do for our country and for ourselves.

However, this afternoon I was confronted with the, sadly, present scenario. Two engineers; a chemical engineer, unemployed for the last two years and a telecommunications engineer, with a pay check under 1000 EUR, asking me about job opportunities in Germany. My heart shrunk. It is sad to see young and highly educated Spanish having to leave their houses and families, not because they are unprepared and irresponsible, the way sometimes we are pictured. They are not smarter, more intelligent and better workers when abroad, it is just because elsewhere, they are given the chance to excel. Why not in Spain? Why are we our worst enemies? Why do we always try to compete in price, when we can compete in quality? Why are we so humble (?) with our skills and our products? 

While visiting wineries, the Spanish wineries have nothing to envy, if not the other way around, the wineries I have visited in other parts of Europe, but when selling the wines, Spanish wines are excellent value for money, but of course that has an impact in the whole chain. To achieve those prices, everyone I the chain, chips in. Due to this low wage approach, we go abroad to work and what we do is that the same labour force pays taxes and spends money elsewhere while here an aged population struggles to make it to the end of the month. Shops close, towns die, population decreases, the fields are abandoned and we sell our bottles of wine, at one third of the price we sometimes have to pay for a 'null zwei' glass of wine. And that, hurts. 

Believe me, I have no clue what was first; the chicken or the egg, nor how to fix it. And these, are just my thoughts spoken out loud. 

I am now only a few hundred kilometres away from home, 'reality' time is ticking, at times I feel lost and not knowing how I will continue, but when the morning breaks, I am always clueless how the day will go, and by the end of the day, not only have I survived, but I have learned something new, I have enjoyed and I have had a wonderful day. 'Moraleja': one day at the time, staying positive and looking at the bright side of life.

BTW, next time you visit Spain, be aware that in this country it is easier to have lunch at 17:00 than dinner at 19:30. But I managed to find a place and I am enjoying myself...

    Sartenada Tía Mari. 5€

Paired with a glass of Ribera  del Duero, I am sure this is also... Salud!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Verdejo's green gold

In the province of Valladolid, Verdejo is the king of whites. This white grape is to Rueda, what Tempranillo or 'Tinta del Pais' is to Ribera de Duero. In fact many wineries from the nearby DO are now producing their whites here. 

In the DO Rueda, four white grape varieties are permitted, being Verdejo the predominant grape, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Viura and Palomino Fino.

The fruity, fresh, young wines from Rueda have similar aroma characteristics as those of the Sauvignon Blanc: lemon and grapefruit citrus aromas, grassy, green apple. However; the hints of melon, the greenish colour and, once you try it, the taste, you know it is a completely different variety. The freshness of the Rueda wines match well the Castilian summers. Meant to drink young and chilled, it will bring to your mouth the freshness on a hot summer day. 

If one can get luckier, meeting Angel Rodríguez Vidal, a legend for the Rueda Verdejo, was my great pleasure today. Following the recommendation of Manuel Perez Pascuas, I called this morning to ask if by chance I could visit the winery. His daughter Sole guided me through the winery dated back to 1780. The visit to this small, full of personality winery was something different and unique. Hand harvested grapes and very traditional vinification method; Martinsancho wines do not talk trend, only quality. 

Their bushed trained, up to 300 hundred year old, Verdejo vines standing well apart in poor stone soils are a beautiful sight, but what captivated me were the small, bright, full of life and wisdom eyes of the 84 year old winemaker. A once in a lifetime experience. 

A man who was pioneer and an active part creating the bases for the Rueda DO, who decided not to sign the increased yield allowance and who thinks the mass produced Rueda wines will have a negative impact on the reputation of the original wines. A dreamer and a fighter, a man of principles, a man ahead of his time. A man proud of his wines. 

Those eyes have seen many things, those eyes know better, those eyes have seen the past and look to the future. A big lesson for me today, not only about wine, but about life.


I am liking more and more this word, which 'just' means health. Just think about it, in many languages when we toast we are wishing each other good health. And wine must be the key... ;)

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Ribera de Duero, land of good wine and good men

Of all my weaknesses, one I can confess is my weakness for Ribera de Duero wines. For years, it has had a special place in my table, shared with my most treasured friends. Therefore, so you can correctly assume that being here is not only a dream come true, but also one with implied expectations. 

I arrived to Aranda de Duero on Thursday and for the last two days, all I have been doing is driving around this extended land of vineyards and tasting its excellent wines and excellent food.

Unfulfilled expectations? Not at all! I can say without hesitation, that my expectations have not only been fulfilled, but crowned.

Today was a day I was awaiting with special enthusiasm, I had a visit scheduled at 12:00 to a winery, who's wines I have been a fan for years.

Half an hour before noon, I was parked outside Viña Pedrosa, the Pérez Pascuas brothers winery. I was so excited I even called my friend Carlos in Frankfurt to let him know I was going to visit the winery. As we say in Spanish: "al que madruga, Dios le ayuda" God helps early birds ;) Pilar, the nice lady who welcomed me, asked me if I wanted to join a visit that had just started, so that I did not have to wait. I was added to a 'friends visit' guided by one of the Pérez Pascuas brothers, Manuel. 

The winery is impressive, extremely modern, producing extremely traditional wines, putting special attention to preserve the lovely fruit characteristics of the Tempranillo grape and aged in new French and American 225 litres oak barrels, but what really made this visit exceptional, was the guide. 

Manuel, is a good, knowledgable, wine man, who patiently answered my questions and I am so thankful to him for so generously sharing his acquire-from-the-cradle know-how. Manuel could have never guessed how special this visit was for me, and he probably will never know, how even more special he made it for me. Thank you Manuel.  

A very touching detail was that Manuel was so enthusiastic about my career move, that he even gave me a business idea and in all honesty, a very good one to be seriously considered and defined. We agreed that one day I would visit again and we will have a picture taken for the house gallery of fame, where illustrous people such as the king of Spain, the Pope John Paul II, the US embassador, several prime ministers, ministers, movie stars, have a place, and I added (would not miss the chance in a million years) that we would drink a bottle of their Perez Pascuas wine, from his father oldest vines. The jewel of the winery. Thank you for believing in me. I will try my best to deserve a place in your gallery.

At the end of the visit, a wine tasting between old friends and a new friend (me) who was immediately treated as a good old friend. During the wine tasting, that was more likely wine drinking among friends, where football and weather were discussed and later, just because I was determined not to let my big chance to ask questions to the expert, vineyards, grapes, training, harvest, yields and wine. Just to learn that I was surrounded by two heavy weighs of the Spanish wine panorama. At a later state, Adolfo, the youngest of the Perez Pascuas brothers joined the group.

After the visit and the tasting I stayed for a good hour talking to Manuel and Adolfo. I loved their wines before, now I can appreciate them even more knowing that behind those super-quality wines are super-quality men, who love their land, take great pride on their work and give the best of themselves to their winemaking.

All my gratitude to the pater familia, Don Mauro, for cultivating good vines and good men. The two together, make wines of excellence.

I am so thrilled with this morning's experience, that I am not mentioning the rest, but Aranda de Duero and around Peñafiel, the land, the food, the people and the wine are a taste of country men who like the good table among friends. 

Two very interesting visits are the 'Museo Provincial del Vino' (Museum of Wine) located in the Peñafiel castle and the 'Museo de los Aromas' (the museum of the scents) an initiative of young dreamers who have put all their efforts and heart to have the only museum of the scents in Spain and a one of the few in the world. They are the kind of passionate entrepreneurs that deserve success. So, if you are ever in the area, the visit to the museum is a must. Even if you are as sceptic as I was seeing it from outside, I can assure you, you will not be deceived.

If you do not plan to visit the place in the near future, at least take a peek in their web site

After my last visit this afternoon and before leaving Ribera de Duero, someone left a bunch of beautiful red poppies in my windshield. See you soon Ribera de Duero, thank you for the wine, the food, the countrymen and the flowers.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Priorat; and monks created wine.

I have been in Priorat for three days now, and the place do not cease to impress me. It must be a clear case of overdose. 

I should have guessed of the singularity of the place, where the Benedictine decided to stablish in the peace and quiet of this, gifted by nature, land.

Priorat and Montsant is the place where wine, olive oil and prayer come together, in such a way that one does not know when one stops and the next starts. 

The few wines of the Priorat DOQ, Montsant DO and Conca de Barbera DO I have had the fortune to try are of excellent quality, being those of Priorat, outstanding.

In the region, the schist and slate soils, together with the altitude and the protection of the Serra de Montsant (a mountain chain), its proximity to the Mediterranean, make of the Priorat a unique terroir.

Priorat soils

Terraced vineyards of Priorat

Once again the magnificence of the region and its wines make you believe you are in heaven.

Priorat is known for its full bodied, high alcohol reds. Forty percent of the grape variety in Priorat is Garnacha, a spicy, red berry, soft on the palate and high in sugar, producing wines high in alcohol with soft velvety tannins. Very thorough winemakers produce wines made with love and care, achieving of this region cuvées some of the best.

I am afraid I am not making justice to the wines of the region. The only way to know what I am talking about, is to actually try them, and if that can be done in situ, even better! No one could ever be deceived by the beauty of the region, the magnificence of the Cistercian monasteries and the quality of its wines. 

A WINE TIP: for those of you fans of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, the Priorat wines will definitely please the most demanding palates.

A WINE RECOMMENDATIONScala Dei Cartoixa 2007.

Tomorrow I will try to visit a winery producing kosher wines (it just sounds interesting to me) before  directing my steps to another wonderful Spanish wine region: Ribera de Duero.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Au reboire Vin de France

Pas mal pour commencer la journée! 

Before crossing the Pyrenees, a visit to Carcassonne. The city looked nice, but nothing that special, until I saw the impressive view from below, of 'la cité'. Parked the car and started the ascension to the fortress like city. It was kind of funny to realise that I have never been good walking up hill, and after seven years in the flat (at least that) it has not changed.

Walking around before the opening times was kind of mysterious, the medieval look and the cold, windy, misty morning, did not make it pleasant, but interesting. The one thing that was open, was the basilica and an early mass was taking place, in what I kind of figured out was Languedoc. 

Time to continue the route through the kilometres and kilometres of vineyards of the south of France, drived past Languedoc-Roussillion, Aude, and briefly stop in the Fitou AC, curious about the bush trained vines, only to find out la Maison du Vin of Fitou is not open on Sundays. Now you know.

Direction Perpignan, the Pyrenees in the horizon and the Spanish border getting closer. It is a strange feeling of excitement, fear (?) about what will come next once I reach Galicia. Even though I am not worried and I have decided to take my time, the question-mark is in the back of my head, and I am curious. The road has given me good insight moments. I have sorted some pending issues on the way. I am learning a lot about wines, soils, winemaking... so it is all good. I am meeting and talking to very interesting people and specially, I am taking one moment at the time and savouring each and every one.

España! The weather in sunny Spain is terrible, the first kilometres are of storm rain and strong winds, temperature dropping to 11 degrees... But arriving to the outskirts of Barcelona, the sun was shining and the temperature, 20 degrees. Hello sun! long time, no see.

The joy did not last long, now it is rain and thunders, but I am here in the Priorat DOQ, in the province of Tarragona, surrounded by mountains and vineyards. My parents are here as well. I met them for an amazing late Spanish lunch at 16:00. Oh la la, la Espagne! We can really eat late lunch. Siesta is a cliche, but the tourism office here closes Sunday from 14:00 and Monday. How will I survive without my routine?

I will have to drink the great Priorat wines ;)


Friday, 17 May 2013

Gaillac AC. Red, white and rosé

Upon arriving to Cordes-sur-Ciel after a beautiful sunny drive from Toulouse enjoying of the spectacular landscapes, what I saw, I do not think it can be described with words. It was more like a mouth drop and eyes wide open thing (I would have loved to see my face). The place in the mountain top is only surrounded by the sky. The view is impressive, I tell you.

A picture would not do justice to the place. It just cannot capture the quintessence of the village that does not deceive you at all, once you start walking up its very inclined cobblestone streets. It is so beautiful and full of ateliers, little artisan shops, everything put together in such a tasteful way, that it was like being inside a dream.

The link to the video from the tourism office, so you have an idea of what I am talking about.

The drive between kilometres and kilometres of vineyards in the Midi-Pyrénées region with its splendorous colours brought out by the light it just reassured me, this is the style of living I want to go for. Really, cities are nice and fantastic refugee for individuals, but a life out in nature, is so much more appealing (remind me this in the middle of the winter with no heating and in the middle of the summer with no air conditioning).

Today I also learned that over 50 grape varieties can be found in the vineyards of the Midi-Pyrenees, and that Gaillac wines can be either blends or mono varietal, and that the two local grape varieties are: Braucol (black), it produces a wine high in colour, full bodied with characteristic aromas and flavours of ripe blackcurrant, raspberry and spicy red pepper. For the white, the Loin de l'oeil, wine with a very subtle, floral or citrus fruit aroma (grapefruit) flavour characteristics. 

After the stop and before deciding to stay to live forever in the heights of 'le Ciel', I drove down to Albi. Apart of being a city worth the visit, it is the home of the Toulouse Lautrec museum, and for a fan of his work like me, it was absolutely 'a must'. So I arrived to Albi around noon and looked for the tourism office, to my luck that everything (or almost everything) in France closes from 12:30 to 14:00, so as soon as I arrived they were leaving, and the museum next door, as well. So I took the opportunity to visit the cathedral of saint Cecile and once again was impressed by its magnificence.

Albi, Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile 

At 14:00 I was ready to give more pleasure to my eyes and visited the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec museum. WOW! The permanent collection has a good amount of his paintings, sketches, drawings and posters. Yes, I do love his strength and style, so personal and so intense. 

Time to relax and go for a nice evening out in Toulouse.

Have a nice weekend and... Santé!

Monbazillac, Cahors, Languedoc-Roussillon, Saint Chinian, Minervois, Cobiers...

Good night, sorry for the lack of posts, but I have been very busy ;)

I am now in Toulouse, getting closer to the Spanish border, which I plan cross sometime this weekend.

I left Bordeaux early(ish) morning yesterday and took advantage to visit Monbazillac. Most of you have probably heard about the famous Sauternes sweet wines within Bordeaux. All honey and very appreciated, but there is a place not far, that produces gorgeous sweet wines called Monbazillac. 

So I headed down, determined to learn something about these wines.

I was very lucky to meet a very collaborative agent at the tourism office, who gave me to taste two wines before 10 o'clock and recommended a foie gras shop across the street to accompany my Monbazillac wine, hey, what can I say? I do have a heart and the thought of a lonely wine without its foie gras seemed just not right.

He also reccommended three châteaux where I could get a bit of a explanation on the vinification of this wine, all on my way to Bergerac. Does it ring a bell? It did to me, but I did not know which one.

The first visit was off the counter, and I got a good explanation of the noble rot (botrytis affected grapes), the hand harvesting and selection of the grains, the amount of residual sugar allowed in the Monbazillac  wines, from 50 to 200 grams per litre and the alcohol, between 13 and15,5% Did a bit of tasting and also got interested in their other wines Bergerac AC (Monbazillac AC is only for the sweet ones produces under the strict specifications). I discovered a new (to me) grape variety, the Sauvignon Gris and I got to try a dry white made of this grape, and a sparkling one. 

My next stop was even more didactic. Chateau la Brie is part of the Lycée Agricole de la Brie, so being an active part of the wine formation of the region, I got a really detailed explanation of the whole process. Happy with my new acquired knowledge, my next stop was to take place only 6kilometres away, in Bergerac. Pretty old city and... It was not until I saw the statue of the renowned Cyrano (of Bergerac), that the penny dropped... Dahhh! Ha ha ha...

Drive and several stops took me to a beautiful Medieval city, labeled as one of the prettiest I France (at least that is what the sign said), so of course I had to stop. Monpazier that is and it was indeed something quite special. Picture for your eyes, below.

Running late... and so many things to see, so directly to Cahors without concession. I must say the driving is resulting as pleasant as the rest, the scenery of the landscape is so beautiful, that just doing that is a present to the senses.

In Cahors I must make a special mention to its cathedral, different to the ones I have seen so far, and in a more cozy way, unique. Another pic, not fantastic, but just so you have an idea of what I am talking about.

Time to rush to Toulouse, where I am expected for dinner. I arrived around 19:30 and Paul had prepared a delicious Cassoulet of cannellini beans, duck and Toulouse sausage, accompanied by a Saint Emilion red Bordeaux. Followed by my favourite digestive: Armagnac. Great food, in the best of companies. Thx, Paul.

Today, I had a very ambitious plan, and ended doing only half of it, I must go to Carcassone and Mirepoix before leaving, but I did go to: Revel, Saint-Ferreol (lake), drove across the 'Montagne Noir' from Mazamet to Beziers, down to Narbonne and then had to give up on Carcassone and Mirepoix because of the time and the rain. However; what I did do, was to go in a wine chateau and try about 10 wines from the Minervois and Corbieres regions. Interesting grapes and blends, and some, very good as well. I will pass on the recommended one, but the notes are in the car.

The Languedoc-Roussillon

Time to go to bed and get a good night rest before visiting Albi and... to be confirmed.

Salud y buenas noches!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Saint Vincent, the patron of wine.

On the right bank of the Gironde and the Dordogne rivers, in the Libourne region, stands Saint Emilion, where some of the most famous Bordeaux wines are produced, predominantly of Merlot grapes and Cabernet franc, these Bordeaux are known for their subtle and elegant mouthfeel. 

The limestone soils provide good draining conditions for the rainfall of the region and capture the heat, warming the soils and helping the vines to grow and the grapes to ripen. Since Saint Emilion is also in slopes, it has a better exposure to sun, something not so easily achievable in the region.

Upon leaving Bordeaux, the first chateau (that does not mean it is a castle, but a estate, a wine estate) is Chateau Canon. Our French group is guided by a beautiful and impassioned young woman who definitely enjoys her work. You know, I do not know if the pastures are greener on the other side, but I have not yet met anyone in the wine chain who are not passionate about it. Yes, that is the future I want for  myself, to do something I enjoy so much I do not have to fantasise of doing anything else. 

It was at the end of this visit that I learnt the patron of wines in France is Saint VINcent, and the discovery is so hilarious, I just wanted to share it with you. 

Saint Vincent outside Château Canon

After this visit, we went to another Chateau, Chateau Haut Sarpe. The visit was really casual, the guide made it really enjoyable, a friendly frenchman with terrible english, but so charming, that it was all excused. The visit did not go too much into figures and details (something probably only I was interested in). They are producing their wines in cement vats, yes, the trend is back (see cement vat below)

I also heard about these in the course in London, and I did not even had to wait a month to see one! 

We had lunch in the state, all very good one with the regions specialities and after that, we visited the beautiful town of Saint Emilion. 'Encore un autre' pilgrimage stop of the Saint James way, I am on the right track, everything leading me home.

The town and its history are worth the visit. It is a UNESCO's world heritage place (Bordeaux is as well). At least I will have to give UNESCO credit for that. 

In Saint Emilion I had the time to walk around and to try, for the very first time, no, not another wine, 'Barbe a Papa' ice cream, that is sugar cotton ice cream! Ha ha ha... so many first timers. Life is fun! 

Now I am sitting at 'Bar à Vin' in the 'Bordeaux Maison du Vin' (the wine school) taking advantage of their great selection and their free WiFi ;)

Time for a walk an early start tomorrow to visit Médoc. 


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bordeaux, in the crescent moon (or the smile on my face)

I would have never guessed that arriving to Bordeaux was going to make me feel so happy. I am of the idea that Bordeaux wines are overrated, but seeing the city itself, I have to change my opinion and the simple fact of being produced close to this majestic town, justifies the price.

In a few minutes I will join a walking tour of the city, so before thinking ahead seeing, I can already say, the place is grand. It looks like a pampered miniature of the best Paris. 

The first thing I did, was to visit the tourism office (it is becoming a routine) and booked three excursions. A city tour for today, a full day visit to Saint Emilion, tomorrow and a full day visit to the Médoc: Margaux, Saint-Estephe and Pauillac AC (appellation contrôlée) on Tuesday. From there I will decide if I  prolong my stay or move on to the south of France. Nice wines over there as well. Oh dear, such a world of tastes and all at reach. One gets too ambitious and wants to see them all, and indeed, try them all. But again, life is about decision making and I will not escape this time.  

During lunch I started a conversation with a couple from Detroit. Linda and Robert had just arrived for a short stay in Bordeaux, and Robert said, that just for the glass of wine he had with his lunch, the trip was already worth it. Oh la la, wine lovers, we are joined by the pleasure of taste and indeed I cannot but agree with him. I had a glass of a long time friend, Château Bonnet, Entre Deux Mers, white Bordeaux. Délicieux, even more in situ. 

City tour. Mental reminder: do not do it again. I like much more walking without a direction or intention. Interesting though. After the tour I did a bit more of solo walking (I think I have been on my feet since 12:00) end ended up at the cathedral. For a minute I thought I was not going to visit a church! And this one, on top, was packed. Confirmation day. It was actually nice to see and listen, so I stayed for a while, faith still amazes me, but it is truth you can feel the strength and the sense of community inside a church full of people. 

18:30, it is cold (at least the wines in my boot will not suffer too much from abrupt changes of temperature, one has to always look at the positive side). Time to sit down and enjoy a glass of red Bordeaux, hey, that is what I am here for, right? Superb! Life is generous and I can only be grateful for that. 

Wine tip of the day: Château Lafont Fourcat 2009.

Merci et à votre santé! 

PS. Today I learnt that Bordeaux is at times represented by a crescent moon due to the shape of the Garonne river. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Le Vin Vivant" where Loire meets the Atlantic, Nantes.

Today I needed a day off. I know you might think I have been off for months, or at least weeks, but being an errant, is hard work... and a very nice one, as well.

I arrived to Nantes yesterday night and decided to extend my stay an extra night before driving down to Bordeaux. A deserved rest for the wine warrior. So today I did a day in the city, no vineyards, no wineries, only museums, churches and city walk. The weather is still cold and the sun seems to shine for its absence (literal translation from a Spanish saying that means the sun is nowhere to be seen). 

I was feeling a bit miserable in the cold when I saw the entrance to an art gallery, one that looked more like an antique shop, jammed and full of interesting objects (not only paintings). A painting caught my attention immediately, I just could not get my eyes off. The owner, with the Russian last name of Schkulnyk, was incredibly welcoming and nice. An artist himself, we ended talking about life, wine and career, he asked me if I wanted to try something that I had never tried before (several things crossed my mind) but since I am a declared HSS (high sensation seeker), I said: 'YES!'. What he gave me, was a glass of absinthe which, I recently learned during the wine course in London, is being produced again. So another first timer for me. A 68% alcohol spirit, with anise taste and... interesting. believe it or not, it was not that strong.

After all my efforts of getting rid of part of my painting collection, I am the proud owner of a small painting of two horses by Michel Guyon. I should give up on myself and my very noble intentions of getting rid of things, but when it comes to pretty objects, good intentions are futile.

So happy with my new acquisition I continued my city visit. Nantes is all under construction, so many places were closed or not at their prettiest. Still, a place worth the visit, with lots of museums and gardens. 

I have not yet mentioned the difficulties I am having eating in this country, their schedules do not coincide with mine and when I get hungry and start looking for a restaurant, they are closed... Today I had the firm purpose of EATING. In a country where its cuisine is of renowned fame, I was starting to fear I was not going to have the chance to try it, ending up eating the easy stuff, low quality and leaving half of it on my plate. God I am picky! 

So finding it easier to eat sweet, my crave for savoury is at its maximum. Midday (almost 15:00) and I did go into, what it looked like, a good place to eat, but was so deceived by the food and the wine, that I decided to focus my efforts on doing better in the evening. I even went into a wine & gourmet products shop and asked for advice of a place where I could enjoy a nice meal and a good glass of wine outside the touristic areas. I was kindly advised by the shop owner and headed towards my gourmet evening, only to find out the recomended 'Bar à Vins' was closed until the 15th of May and other attractive ones I found on my way, as well. 'Con mi gozo en un pozo' (with my joy in a well), I headed towards the cathedral, thinking of going back to the hotel and having another 'something to eat and fast to forget' meal. But my gourmet guardian angels, guided my steps towards 'Le Jardin des Plantes' and the 'Musée de Beaux Arts', two places definitely in line with my personal likes, to find 'THE PLACE' I was looking for; un petit et charmant bar à vins, and with a name as appealing as its apparence: "Le Vin Vivant" where I am enjoying an elegant Loire (Chenin Blanc) white, with a  recomforting soup and a cheese platter accompanied by a strong, full of personality, Côtes du Rhône (Grenache et Carignan) red. 

Life after good food and good wine is so much better. Time for dessert, between riz au lait au beurre salé, panna cotta avec coulis de framboise, crème brûlée et moelleux au chocolat, the winner is: moelleux au chocolat with a glass of red sweet wine, Grenache, from the French Catalan side. Life is marvellous by now. 

The music selection is also 'délicieuse'. What a pleasant evening it turned out to be. 

Hopefully tomorrow I will have an early start towards Bordeaux. Merci Loire, it has been my great pleasure. 

    "Le Vin Vivant" 93 rue du Maréchal Joffre, 44000 Nantes

And a book that might be worth reading: 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Rubis, a different sparkling

There is a first time for everything (or not) but you can congratulate me today for trying, for the very first time, a sparkling sweet red. Hurray! I had heard about them, but never tried one, and... Wow, it was quite something! OK do not expect me to say the it was the best sparkling wine I have ever tried, because it is not. I think that place still corresponds to Louis Roederer Cristal and to a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose.

After the introduction, I should go back to the beginning. Today I woke up in Tours and visited the city. So many things happening in one day, that I have to go back in my memory and try to recall the day, but yes, it started in Tours. The lady at the tourism office was extremely helpful, giving me lots of information not only about what to do and see in Tours, but all my way to Nantes, where I am staying tonight.

Tours, of course, Saint Martin of Tours! It was kind of funny realising two things: first, that I am in a pilgrimage route. My first idea was to do the Saint James way from the French border to Compostela, but since I also wanted to do the road trip, in my mind I decided to call it 'my very particular wine pilgrimage', et voilà! My wishes come true. The second, that it is the same Saint Martin, who happens to be the patron of my Spanish hometown, Ourense. 

So it has been quite a mystic experience from cathedrals to vineyards and wineries. Definitely, god exists ;)

But the maximum exponent of beauty today, and the reminder of nature's greatness, came in the form of a tree. A sight that left me speechless for its magnificence and beauty. It is today's picture of a cedar of Lebanon, 31 meters high and with a trunk of over 7 meters circumference. 

After leaving Tours, my first stop was Langeais, I guess I am starting to bore you with my repetitive description of 'beautiful', but I tell you, they still are. Several deviations and Saumur. OK if you have not done so, you should definitely see it with your own eyes. It is worth it. 

After such a non-alcoholic day, he, he, upon leaving Saumur, I came across a bunch of wineries specialised in crémant of the Loire. I was very lucky to catch up a visit at the Bouvet-Ladubay caves, where they are producing sparkling and still wines from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, mainly. 

This time the subterranean caves digged on the typical 'tuffeau' soils of the Loire, also used to grow champignons due to the humid and cold conditions. They even have a Champignon Museum. Cool!(

After the very interesting visit, that varied slightly from the Champagne production method, time to do some tasting, and this was the moment where Rubis, the red sparkling, came to my life ;)

Time to 'speed up' a bit, still have half of the way to go before I get to Nantes, so only a two hour stop at  Angers, where I could finally see a XIII century fortress, finally! A castle with its crocodile pit and everything. Nice. 

Time to make my way to Nantes and have nice glass of wine, before going to bed and continue my trip tomorrow. Soon in Bordeaux. 

Meet Rubis:

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Sauvignon Blanc, le Roi du Loire

Early morning in Orleans. Outside is windy and cold. The streets dressed in blazons to celebrate 'des fêtes de Jeanne d'Arc', the city patron. Entering the cathedral of Sainte Croix d'Orleans, the music from the organ fills the massive structure, full of light and beautifully decorated ready to celebrate the day of the ascension, the felling is overwhelming, the powerful sound of the organ invading everything, making the cathedral even more beautiful.

The visit to L'Hotel Groslot, across the street from the cathedral and a walk around the historic centre of Orleans, warmed up the eye for beauty.

Today ended up being a sightseeing day, but the Loire Valley, 'c'est quelque chose!' 

Driving along the Loire river from Orléans to Tours, the views of the river and the castles are magnificent. The massive but elegant tall structures cut the sky, presenting the viewer with something so full of taste and grandeur, that is difficult to remain indifferent. 

After a couple of deviations, the first stop was the (if I use the word beautiful again, it will loose its meaning) indescribable city of Blois, with its royal castle in the highest point. The castle is a masterpiece in the outside and the inside, the richly decorated façades have nothing to envy the refined decoration in the inside. It is so exquisite, that it has to be French. Spanish castles were known to be robust, but the refinement of these castles along the Loire are an allegory to elegance.

After the visit, a walk around the city and a scenic drive to my next stop: Amboise. I am afraid I will not do justice to the beauty of Amboise, but it was the afternoon and being a bank holiday today, it was packed. I tried to go into the castle, but was dissuaded by a never ending queue that makes any place worth visiting, loose its attractive. However, I opted for a walk outside the crowded touristic points and the word 'charmante' comes to my head.

My French is doing better than expected, although I keep practicing my German on a daily basis, I think I have spoken more German in the last few days, than any month of my life in Germany. Lo que son las cosas...

A tout à l'heure.

et... Santé!

Cathédrale Ste. Croix, Orléans 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

La Belle Sancerre

"Life is really amazing. We travel far to find ourselves. We experience the world in order to find our way home. The wisdom eventually goes to basic elements but no short cuts are possible. When we try to convince ourselves staying in the comfort zone, we cheat ourselves and we live unfulfilled". Extracted from an Email sent by Luc and that is constantly in my thoughts.

What an amazing day where nothing went as planned, the beauty of the 'no-plan' plan.

I left Reims this morning under a grey blanket of clouds threatening rain, and it was soon after that it started pouring by the litre while I headed west towards Paris. 

My ambitious plan for the day was to drive directly to Sancerre and from there visit and try the Pouilly-Fume and Menetou-Salon wines of the neighbouring regions, before ending the day in Orleans. The reality was that once I arrived to the absolutely-charming-little-village of Sancerre, I spent my whole day there. 

The first impression of the Loire Valley from its most Easter location in the Central Vineyards is quite something, not only its well known wines, but seeing where they are produced was great.

I parked my car and walked my way up to the hill top where the historical centre of Sancerre is located, with a magnificent view of the surrounding vineyards and the River Loire. Walking around the village was so pleasant, that I did not feel like doing anything else. Lunch time, but really not wanting to sit and eat, I bought a bag of 'croquettes de Sancerre' across the street from the church of Notre-Dame (another one) BTW, those of you who know my passion for biscuits, I can say these are the hardest cookies I have ever had in my life, with almonds and framboise and very tasty. Bag of cookies in hand, I made my way to the 'Maison des Sancerre', an amazing museum explaining all there is to know about the regions wines from the climate, weather, aspect, grape varieties, training, viticulture, vinification... in a very direct and friendly way. If you ever visit the place, really, it is worth the visit. 

A bit more walking and time to taste some wines... will not go into detail, but by 18:30 I had tasted 10 including a rosé and a red and a very uncommon matured in oak and on its lees white Sancerre, with a very peculiar complexity to it. Yes, I did buy a box with four Sancerre and two Pouilly-Fume. If you want the tasting notes, see below ;)

Time to continue the route, and the drive to Orleans was beautiful. I had all kinds of weather between the little-over 100 kilometres that separate Sancerre and Orleans, the spring countryside it's at its blooming best and the changing skies presented me with breathtaking snapshots, which I wish I could share with you, but you will have to take my word for it.

Visiting Orleans is my intention for tomorrow, before driving to Tours. For the time being I will go to bed with the rest of the croquettes de Sancerre in my belly, hoping not to get too hungry over night. Life as a job-free person is not always glamorous, and paying under 50€/night does not give you the right to have a restaurant nearby. As Per would say: "when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!" The positive side is that breakfast is only 8 hours away.

BTW, on my way here, I passed by a museum that triggered my attention: Musee de la sorcellerie. Did not know they had those. Have a look!

Link to the Maison des Sancerre

In Sancerre 

Sancerre white 
Les Romains 2011 (Flint/clay)
Domaine Fouassier
Clear, pale, lemon, legs
Clean, med intensity, stoney-steely, lemon, grapefruit, blossom, stone fruit peach, honey
Dry, high acidity, med+alc 13%, med body, lemon, pear, grapefruit, grassy, floral, herbaceous
Finish: med
Very good
Drink now, not suitable for ageing
Price: 10€

Melodie de Gustave Fouassier 2011 (clay/flint on upper Cretaceous, limestone on lower kimmeridgien)
35 year-old vines 
Oak ageing (French) on the lees for 10 months and stirring of the lees
Domaine Fouassier
Clear, pale, Lemmon, legs, 
Clean, med+ intensity, honey, floral: blossom, biscuit, vanilla, lemon, developing 
Dry, high acidity, med alc, lemon, toasty, honey, stone fruit: peach, floral: blossom, creamy, buttery, vanilla
Can drink now, suitable for further ageing
Price: 15,50€

Pouilly-Fume white 
Domaine de Cassiers 2012 (clay/chalk)
Pierre J. Fouassier
Clear, pale, lemon, legs
Clean, med+, floral: acacia, lemon, grassy, herbaceous, fully developed
Dry, high acidity, med+ alc 12,5%, med- body, lemon, stone fruit: peach, grassy, fresh, med- finish
Very good, drink now, not suitable for ageing
Price: 9,00€ 

Monday, 6 May 2013

In the glory of Champagne

Hypnotised by this place, my second stop in the beautiful city of Reims it's its world famous cathedral, where one cannot but feel the extent of faith. When we say that faith moves mountains, here we can see them transformed into a magnificent monument for the glory of God where no human effort is spare to glorify the almighty God.

Gothic, high, reaching the heavens, full of coloured light entering through the thousand glasses. I am sure believers or not this place cannot leave anyone aloof and make you think of that afterlife we have been told and taught. One can imagine the construction of these temples, sometimes through decades, where human lives were devoted to this one task, sometimes not to see them finalised. An ongoing daily purpose, day after day, month after month, year after year. So often we get lost in our daily lives without finding a purpose, becoming mechanical, without being able to see the goal where all our human efforts are channeled towards. It is good to stop and take a step back from our busy lives and try to see where we are heading and devote ourselves to the rewarding task in order to find a sense.

After all these heavenly thoughts, and across the street from the beautiful romanesque-gothic abbey church, the Saint-Remi Basilica, it does not come as a surprise the relation between church and wine, and descending to the Taittinger cellars was a staircase to a different kind of heaven.

Excavated in the typical chalk soils of the Champagne region, some from the Roman times, were later used and expanded by the monks from the Saint Nicaise Abby to keep their wines. Owned nowadays by the Taittinger house, here they produce their most emblematic Comtes de Champagne using the traditional method, including the manual rémouage.

Coming back to earth with a 'dégustation' or their most commercial brut champagne, was not the best way to end the visit. 'C'est la vie!' as the French say and unfortunately, unless I pay well over a hundred Euros to try this particular one, I will have to live with the fact. One day, perhaps.

A second visit to the G.H. Martel & Co. Sometimes we get lost with the big names and the visit to the Martel cave was far more charming and familiar. We got a very nice explanation of the whole champagne process from climate, weather, soils, to the hand harvesting, four pressings, the amount of first run juice used for the champagne wines, the blending, first and second fermentation, etc. The after visit tasting included three types of champagne. First a brut Blanc de Blancs, followed by a very nice 2005 Millésime brut and an extremely tasty, long finish 'Charles de Cazanove Grand Apparat Brut', with biscuity, toasted flavour characteristics. Really good.

After the tasting I stayed around chatting to the lady who had guided our group, to find out that she was also in the middle of a career change and was doing her practices at the Martel house after her training. As Peter would write:"Je ne cherche pas, je trouve". Even though I promised not to buy any wine, I have the first two bottles in the car.

Walking back from the wineries I saw a restaurant called Flo. Since that is a nick name I was given when I visited Istanbul, I decided to go in. Next to me was a German couple and soon after my first course arrived, we started a conversation. Who was going to tell me that in my first day in France, I would end up having an over two hours conversation in German! Christian and Marianne, Nett, Sie kennen zu lernen. Thanks for the very nice chat, for your friendly approach and for the glass of rosé champagne. Ha ha ha... life has indeed a sense of humour.


Friday, 3 May 2013

Sparkling, rose, red and white

"Life is about movement" and definitely about options.

Yesterday was a very special day, from start to end.

My stay in Belgium is resulting so pleasant, that I could not think of a better way of starting my official time off.

After leaving Germany and arriving to Belgium heavy hearted, it was kind of expected, that I needed some realisation time. My life in the last four months has been so hectic that little time was left to think ahead. I entered into the mechanical mode of resolving and closing a long list of 'to do' things that could just not be postponed. It was not a mater of importance, but of end date urgency.

The first couple of days, I felt a bit strange in my own skin, but as days pass by, the awareness after the numbness is making its way.

Wednesday was a crucial day, I woke up, not feeling my best, but clouds tend to fade when the sun shines, and my particular sun was shining for me with a kind smile and his soothing company.

After breakfast, a walk around the city of Antwerp in the best of companies, getting mixed impressions and not knowing how to interpret them, at the risk of making the wrong judgement. However, time usually brings the answer, and the evening arrived with a present for me: understanding. With everything falling into place and from the new perspective, it all has been about openings, personal growth and enhancement.

I must confess that not understanding has always been my Achilles heel, and despite of my recurring purpose of being accepting without the need of an explanation, I still have to work on that one, because there is a lot of room for improvement.

Thursday was one on the most pleasant days of my life. Dank U Peter, for showing me your beautiful hometown where Scheldt met Leie, Gent. Dank U for sharing the stories of the city and your own. It is such a luxury having the chance of visiting a place by the hand of a proud to be from Gent guide. Dank U for the lovely dinner with your family and for introducing me to 'the boys', your childhood friends. Each and every gesture has been a great honour and my great pleasure, and I know that every time anything Belgium related comes into my life, I will think of the week I spent here and the warm, friendly, belgian people I met. It was not needed, nor expected, however; it is greatly appreciated.

At times, life is so generous that you do not even have to choose, you can have a glass of each ;)