Franciacorta is not the same as prosecco or spumante

Often when people talk about Franciacorta wines they never talk about Franciacorta, but about spumante or prosecco… but I would advise you to never say that to a wine producer in Franciacorta as they can’t stand it 🙂  Franciacorta bubbled wines are DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata) meaning that the wine can only be made in a specific geographical location. And therefore the sparkling wine is called Franciacorta (nothing else). The geographical location of Franciacorta is on the hills between the southern shore of Lake Iseo and the city of Brescia. A few weeks ago I noticed the Franciacorta/spumante/prosecco topic was a very sensitive topic during a lunch I had with Maurizio Zanella founder of Franciacorta winery Ca’ del bosco. I know it might seem ridiculous for most people, but if only you knew what efforts Mr. Zanella and his colleagues had to do to get this status you would definitely understand their frustration.  But also if you taste all 3 types you’ll definitely notice that the taste and experience of all 3 is very different. With Franciacorta being my personal favorite (not only because it comes from my Dad’s region… but it helps 😉 ) Not that I’m saying you can’t find good bubbles in the other 2 types, but they are different in many ways 🙂

Another very interesting fact I found out during my lunch was that not Champagne ( as everybody thinks) ‘invented’ the sparkling wine, but according to ancient literature it was many years before that a pharmacist from the Brescia/Franciacorta region already discovered it… the only difference beeing that in comparison with our friend Dom Pérignon, nobody continued making sparkling wines after the  pharmacist’s dead. resulting in the wine dissapearing for some years.

Just like in many other wine regions (especially the DOCG ones) regulations for the wine making process is very strict. Besides that the vineyards have to be location within specific borders, there are also regulations about the soil… there it is specified that it has to be mineral-rich, granular-sized, calcareous gravel and sandy morainal soils that cover a limestone bedrock. As for the permitted grape varieties , they are  Chardonnay, Pinot nero and  Pinot bianco.  As for the winemaking it self the rules are even ‘stricter’ than for Champagne. In Franciacorta the rules are as follows:

  • Non-vintage or let’s just call it regular Franciacorta 🙂 : may only be released after 25 months (after harvest), of which 18 months must be in contact with the yeast in the bottle (compared to 15 months in the case of Champagne)
  • Franciacorta Vintage or Millesimato: release not before  37 months after harvest, of which 30 months must be in contact with the yeast
  • Franciacorta Rosé: must contain at least 15% Pinot nero, and may be made by blending red wine
  • Franciacorta Satèn: can only contain with raisins (Chardonnay and/or Pinot bianco)… basically a blanc de blancs

About this last one, Franciacorta Satèn, I was wondering what the significance was… I always thought it had something to do with the silky feel of the wines … but it was Maurizio Zanella who revealed the true story.  Apparently for many years wine makers making bubbled wines had problems because of law changes (mostly because of our friends in champagne) that some names (Crémant, Cramant, etc..), indications, etc. couldn’t be used any more. As wineries Ca’ del bosco and Bellavista were sick of always having to change their labels(amongst other things) they decided to create and register their own ‘type’  and asked a copywriter to create one. This was the moment the Satèn was born. Initially only used by Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista, but after a few years they released the name for the whole Franciacorta region to be able to use the nomination.  So in a few words Satèn was just an invention from a copywriter 🙂 🙂

Mister Zanella is a born story teller and I felt very privileged to be able to sit across of Mr Zanella during a lunch! I also discovered that Mr Zanella’s mother was born in the same village (Bormio) as my dad 🙂 making me an even bigger fan of their wines 🙂 . He found it important that before we would talk about specific wines, we would know more about the wine region and its history.

Ca’ del bosco is one of the 3  major Franciacorta producers together with Berlucchi and Bellavista.  Ca’del bosco that means ‘house in the forest’ in English, is exactly what it was when Maurizio Zanella’s Mother (Annamaria Clementi Zanella) bought the property early 1960’s. it was a hillside with two hectares of land, surrounded by a dense wood of oak.   It is with the help of farmer Antonio Gandossi that she started planting vines (initially for own use). It isn’t until in the late 1970’s that André Dubois would help Ca’ del bosco to lift the quality of their wines a few levels higher and it was a huge success…. From then on they only kept climbing higher.  I must say it is very impressive how a small winery grew that much in such a short period of time. I might even add the growth of a whole region, as because of all their hard work they have put a small region on the map.

As Maurzio loved and admired his mom a lot, he decided to create a special cuvee dedicated to his mother aka Cuvée Annamaria Clementi.

Of course during our lunch at the Michelin star awarded restaurant Senza Nome we also tasted some of the beauties from the Ca’ del bosco cellar.  A lovely meal I’d say 🙂 one I wouldn’t mind having again.

We started with their ‘entry’ level wine, although I find that term maybe a bit denigrating…anyhow their Cuvée prestige is wine they produce the most bottles of and according to Maurizio it is also the most difficult wine to make. Much more difficult than the other ones he makes. As for the other ones nature does most of the work.  The Cuvée prestige is  a beautiful sparkling wine with even more beautiful aromatic profile with spicy notes with tones of I would say melon. This Franciacorta (75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero) offers spicy and vibrant aromatic tones that you don’t find in its peers. A job to drink a high level wine… so we can only imagine how their more ‘matured’ wines taste like.

To me what makes the difference between a good and lesser sparkling wine in general is the type of bubbles. The best to explain it is with a piece of fruit: if you eat a piece of fruit let’s say a peach that isn’t ripe yet you can eat it, but it wouldn’t taste like  one that is perfectly ripe and juicy. With sparkling wine if it didn’t age long enough you can drink it but the bubbles will be more aggressive, if you let if ago a bit longer they will soften and more pleasant to drink. The only disadvantage for me is that the ones that age longer are usually also more expensive 🙂 but better to drink less and have higher quality  than the other way around. Besides when I drink sparkling wines with aggressive bubbles I know I’ll be having an enormous headache  the next morning.

The next Franciacorta to be tasted was the Satèn. It was the first time I tasted it, but it was love at first sight. Very elegant sparkles that has aromas of yellow fruit and white flowers. On the palate creaminess and ripe yellow apple, crushed herb alongside a soft perlage. Now I know where the saying ‘like an angel peeing in your mouth’ comes from, as this sure felt like it.  This wine matched perfectly with the Tartare red Gambas aka Gamberrro rosso di Mazara e Caviale, patata morbida al’alceto di vino. Trust me, it tasted as good as it sounds

For the following course which was a pasta (home-made) with pesto raw marinated tomatoes (again all home-made) we were served a 2014 bottle of Chardonnay (Curtefranca Bianca DOC) that brought back lots of memories. I drank it the first time many years ago (I think early 2000’s) at an Italian restaurant in Frankfurt (I know out of all places). That’s also when I discovered Franciacorta also made great non sparkling wines. Maurizio’s idea behind this wines wasn’t to make a copy of Burgundy wines or any other famous wine as to his opinion if you want to drink a great Burgundy (of which he is big fan), you drink a wine from Burgundy… and that’s his philosophy with all the wines he makes. He does his own thing without watching too much to other and certainly not being a copycat. A very nice result for both this white as the red Sebino Rosso IGT (an elegant blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc) we got served with the Filleto di Manzo with old Balsamic vinegar.

 

The stars of the lunch were without any doubt the bottles of wines, but with 1 exception. Giovanni Bruno’s revised Tiramisu, that gave a whole other dimension to tiramisu and lifted up the level.

The end of a perfect lunch with very interesting people and hunger to find out more about this wonderful wine region and winery

Bistro Vintage 2.0

As you might know, I almost never write 2 times about the same restaurant… but sometimes I make an exception.  Last weekend my wife and I thought it was time again for a date. Basically a moment without our 2 lovely children 🙂  The checklist for our date: eating outside, reachable by bike and great food/wines.   The place that checked all the boxes was Bistro Vintage!! Only 8minutes by bike, a wonderful garden aaaaand very gastronomical.

Bistro Vintage used to be the ‘second’ restaurant of the 2 Michelin star awarded restaurant Nuance. Back at that time the few times I had a meal here, the food was good, but there was something missing… or rather someone. In my opinion (and I had heard other people sharing that same opinion) what was missing was maturity and somebody more experienced in the restaurant.  I always found it a pity that a restaurant in such a beautiful location and so much potential didn’t meet up 100% with expectations.

The trigger for me to visit and write about Bistro Vintage again was/is because of 1 person Steven Wullaert (former head-sommelier of restaurant Nuance) who took over Bistro Vintage about a year ago 🙂 .  I was pretty sure that Steven would be able to get the restaurant back on track and bring the (for me) needed experience to the restaurant and take it to the top.

My guts was right! Everything I had hoped for that would change after Steven’s arrival, changed in a positive way. From the moment you enter the restaurant until you leave again you can feel the organization. This combined with great food and the company of beautiful my wife made it a wonderful date!!

Although the ‘a la carte’ menu looked wonderful and every dish on it would make my taste buds very happy, we decided to go for the tasting menu. The same actually goes for the wine list 🙂 I gave my full confidence to Steven… why wouldn’t I, in 2012 Steven won the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium AND he worked for many years as head sommelier of a 2 Michelin Star restaurant (not even talking about everything he did before)… so I’m pretty sure if somebody should advise us nobody better than him 🙂

After a few delicious appetizers we were served our menu starting with braised beef with Artichoke, beet, fermented garlic and Savora Mustard, followed by Breton sardine, tomato, Romanesco, Rouille and almond. As main course we were served slow cooked veal with focaccia, curry, cauliflower feta, pesto and pommes soufflées.

The strawbery on the cake was the dessert ( no cherries for us this time;-) ;-))  Strawberry with champagne parfait, Cara Crakine sugar, petit gervais ice cream and sugar waffle.

As for the wines, I got another important lesson!! I still have lot to learn and taste 🙂  As Steven knows I’m a big wine lover he never told me up front which wines he served with the dishes…  so basically it was up to me to tell him what it was. In my defense, I’m not a professional sommelier (and I don’t pretend to be, I’m only surrounded by many all the time), nor do I taste/drink every day … which basically makes it all more difficult. My biggest ‘problem’ during tastings is often that I do recognize what I smell and taste, but linking it with the correct wine isn’t always easy… On many occasions I do guess it, but unfortunately also many where I don’t 🙂 🙂 but that’s the fun of the game I guess, isn’t it?

Anyhow I would advise everybody to visit Bistro Vintage 2.0 and hopefully they’ll like version 2.0 as much as I did!!

Sun, water and my beloved

There is nothing that gives my wife more stress then finding a restaurant to take me for my birthday 🙂  (that and maybe our kids from time to time). To help her a bit, every year I send her a list of restaurants that are on my wish list for her to choose from.  Basically this makes that we will both be happy with the outcome 😉 This year there was one restaurant on the list with a few exclamation marks behind its name hoping my wife would crack the code 🙂 🙂  I know I could have just said I want to go to that restaurant, but somewhere I still wanted to keep it a bit of a surprise. Anyhow I wanted her to take me to restaurant ‘Me Liefste’ (which means ‘My beloved in Dutch) right in the heart of the Goes yacht club  at the Veerse Meer (40minute drive from Antwerp)… and so she did!! She had also booked the sun for a day so it seemed (#holidayfeeling ).

Why this restaurant? Its good word to mouth reputation!! Those are usually the best restaurants. Why spend a lot of money on advertising… when you are good, the people will come no matter where you are located (and the price/quality balance is correct). From the moment we arrived I could already feel it was going to be a great afternoon! The sun shining on our faces, being right next to the water and having a festive meal with the most important woman in my life sitting across from me (and not having to pay 🙂 )… what more could I wish for??

Although it was very sunny, we only had our apero and appetizers outside as the cold breeze made it too chilly to eat outside (+ the food would get too cold to fast) . Restaurant Me Liefste only works with set tasting menus going from 4 to 8 course meals with or without paired beverages (both wines as non-alcoholic drinks).  We went for the 7 course menu as being so close to the Oosterschelde I was really craving for some lobster from the Oosterschelde and the 7 course menu had a dish with lobster from Oosterschelde in it… so it was meant to be.

Although I usually go for the wines the sommelier suggests, I do always find it interesting to have a look at the wine list and see the wines they have. The biggest reason why I usually just go for the paired wines, it because I know the sommelier and chef have put lots of time in the pairing… so it always seems more then fair to trust their judgment… but another reason is when I see the wine list, there are so many nice wines I just wouldn’t be able to pick. In the last 2 years I’ve been fortunate enough to have been accompanied during many meals by some of the best sommeliers in the world (I’m co-organizer of the ASI Best Sommelier of the World Contest that will be held in Antwerp in March 2019 and therefore surrounded by great sommeliers) and when you see them look at a wine list to choose a wine, they make it look that simple and they are always able to pick out the hidden treasures from the list 🙂  (very fascinating) unfortunately I’m not that good yet 😉 🙂 So again I trust the sommelier/chef’s chose (I know a loooot of words that could have been summarized by the last sentence alone)

From the first appetizer until the last bite we had, there was not one moment we regretted our trip to Me liefste! Every dish was full of flavor and were shots of instant happiness… sometimes you can go to a restaurant and have some dishes that you liked less, but this time I can say that I like every single dish.. I know that always seem positive about the restaurants I visit, but it seems I just know to pick my restaurant out well + if it don’t like them I just don’t write about them as I don’t want to spread bad publicity.

We love our bubbles, so no better way to start a meal then with bubbels (sometimes I get tempted in taking something else, but once they start talking about bubbles I’m sold 🙂 ) in this case a glass of Francis Boulard’s blanc de noirs ‘Les Murgiers’. A champagne with an elegant and fruity nose of yellow fruits carried by a beautiful freshness, On the palate, it is a straight, pure vintage. The finish is long and vibrant. The perfect match with a wide variety of appetizers we were served:

Roasted bread with old cheese

Time to start our trip through the 7 courses, please feast your eyes dishes we were served (and all plats I could have licked clean – but I kept it decent)

Cockles and oxheart cabbage paired with the 2016 Edel Natur by Laurent Bannwarth

 

Mackerel with whey and ‘rooie sien’ paired with the 2016 Riesling ‘Trittenheimer Steilage’ by Bernard Eifel

 

Lobster from the Oosterschelde with Rouille paired with the 2017 Chenin blanc by Joostenberg

Lemon sole with leek and beurre blanc paired with the 2015 ‘Nuvol’ by Alfredo Arribas

Eel with horseradish and beef marrow oil paired with the 2016 ‘Chardonnay by Domaine Le Rocher Des Violettes

Lam with gnocchi and wild garlic paired with the 2016 ‘Artifice Tinto’ by Borja Perez

Quark with yoghurt and buttermilk paired with the 2016 Biodynamite by Pflüger

I’ve travelled and have been around quite a bit and I can see where Thijs (the chef/owner) got the mustard, but he put it in his hand (making it his own) in a beautiful way and working with as many local products as possible!!  Bravo!!! Every dish was full of flavor and cooked to perfection and a true celebration to eat.  As for the wines, they were all correctly paired with as nice surprise the ‘Artifice’ which is I think the first wine from Tenerife I’ve tried (that I remember).  It was a very amiable wine, with extreme finesse, but that expresses all the strength of the volcanic landscape of the area.  An invitation to try more wines from this area. You can clearly see that sommelier Geert Rutten likes both his classics as trying new things.

And when we thought we had got it all, they came along with pieces of heaven with main ingredient my most beloved ingredient aka butter 🙂 🙂

Why this restaurant hasn’t had its first Michelin star yet (at least 1), I have no idea… but for me it doesn’t matter as even without the stars for they are much better than many restaurants around the globe I tried that had Michelin stars!! I can’t wait for my next meal …

Austria meets South America

When I saw our friends from Young Charly were doing  a wine & dine evening with Salomon wines at a South American restaurant (A’sur), I must say I was intrigued to try it. Basically another excuse for a night out with friends 🙂 🙂 .  The Salomon Undhof winery is one the most famous names in Austria as they did many important contributions in the Austrian viticulture history. They were one of the first ones  to export Austrian wines to the EU and the USA (to give one example). The winery is situated along the Danube River around the twin medieval towns of Krems and Stein, the Kremstal region is right next to the Wachau and the same latitude as Burgundy in fact, Krems is a sister city to Beaune. Not that this is of high importance, but just a nice to know 🙂  Today it is already the 7th generation of the Salomon family who is running the winery and the next generation is ready to continue in their parents’ food steps as it was Fanny-Marie (daughter of current owner) who came to Belgium to present their wines.  What is also nice to know is that besides the vineyards in Austria, the family also has vineyards in Australia and New Zealand. The reason why they also have vineyards at the other side of the world, is because the current owner Dr. Bert Salomon had moved there with his family many years ago . But when taking over the reins of  the Austrian vineyard from his older brother the family decided to move back to Austria.  Although technically speaking they follow the sun as first they do the harvest in Austria and in January/February they do the harvest in Australia and they all move there to help 🙂  That maybe also explains Fanny-Marie’s sunny smile 😉

At the Salomon Undhof winery they only produce 2 types of wine (but of TOP level) Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The famous Riesling of the estate groes on the top sites of Kögl and Pfaffenberg. The Grüner Veltliner Von Stein comes from the steep terraced hills behind the old town of Stein. The best “loess” soils provide the Lindberg and Wachtberg Grüner Veltliner. All the grapes are harvested traditionally by hand only… so you can imagine the time and effort it takes to produce the wines.  At the winery they only use stainless steel tanks, so no wooden barrels that results in intriguing, pure, honest and complex wines that can be drunk immediately.

We started our journey through the Salomon winery with ¨their Grüner Veltliners, the 2016 ‘Wieden’ and 2015 ‘Krems’ that got served with and appetizer with pork belly  followed by one of my favorite dishes ever a ceviche from gilt-head bream.  The 2016 had a nose of ripe yellow plum. The palate brings more Grüner Veltliner savoriness, with hints of yeast and a bit herby. It is dry in mouthfeel, it refreshes with a lovely herbal citrus tang on the finish.  The 2015 (that gets my preference) is juicier with a herbal touch reminiscent of fresh sage and a very savory finish. For the dish the 2016 seemed like a better fit (to me) as it added that extra bit of freshness. Basically wines that ask for sunny weather (just like today… so guess what I’ll be having tonight 😉 )

As a surprise Fanny-Marie had brought a 2009 Krems-Stein Grüner Veltliner. Personally it wasn’t 100% my taste, but for my table guest it was (so it was just me 🙂 ). It was a rich wine with a almost oily texture. In the mouth you notice the intense flavor of  ripe fruit with the yellow fruit flavors dominating acidity and peppery taste.  Nevertheless my personal opinion, it was a great pleasure to have tasted it. This wine was served with Brussels sprouts South American style 🙂 I didn’t see that one coming .

Now we change our path and move towards the Rieslings, the wines the winery is famous for:-)  here we were served the 2016 Riesling ‘Stein a. d. Donau’ and 2015  Pfaffenberg and here again Fanny-Marie had a 1996 Pfaffenberg as a surprise for us. The 2016 Citrus (orangy zest) with a touch of exotic (mango I think it was). Juicy, pleasant fruit sweetness with fine acidity and honey on the finish. With the smell of the 2015 you get an instant feel of happiness in the package 🙂 That and fresh lemon zest notes (aka spring). The palate is so precise, so much tension that you can almost feel the citrus flavors exploding in your mouth. A beautiful aromatic Riesling that can described with words like glorious, long, ripe and freshness.  For the 1996 it was more intense apple and mineral flavors that are accented of salt/ peppery notes. A powerful finish though.  Wines that went very nice with the seabass we were served.

As I’m not a big cheese fan I skipped the cheese, but got a lovely pineapple dessert to match one of my favorites, the Niepoort Colheita. There were some jealous people around me, I can tell you that 😉

A very nice introduction of wines I didn’t know too much about. Athough you notice that Austrian wines are finding their way more and more towards Belgium… both in restaurants and homes. I can’t wait to discover more of their wines or Austrian wines in general… I think a wine trip to Austria needs to be done!! And who new South America and Austria could walk hand in hand. Thank you to the A’sur team, Young Charly and Fanny-Marie for making this evening possible!!

Passion with a capital P

I finally found some time to write another blogpost. After 2 weeks of Easter holiday with a 10 month and a 3 year old 🙂  relaxing was not part of the daytime tasks, I can tell you that. But luckily some evenings I was raised from my function so I could relax a bit 🙂 . The last few years I have been fortunate enough to have had great meals in extraordinary restaurants. When I say extraordinary I don’t necessarily mean awarded restaurants, but rather restaurants that have built a very good reputation over the years and who’s reputation travels from mouth to mouth. A few weeks ago I ended up in one of these kind of places. We ended-up in wine restaurant ‘De Notenkraker’ (The Nutcracker) situated in a ‘lesser known’ neighborhood  in the ‘suburbs’ from Antwerp. Besides the refined food, the restaurant thanks its reputation to the incredible wine assortment they have (at affordable prices). De Notenkraker might ‘only’ be a neighborhood restaurant to many people, but I know many high-end restaurants that would be jealous of this wine list. It is the perfect restaurant for a wine lover, not a label drinker… as the owner’s opinion is (and I agree) one has to drink a wine because it is good and not just because it has a particular label. What makes this restaurant so special is that you can feel the passion. When you hear Donald (owner) speak about food and wine, it feels like he takes you on a trip  … Donald always  knows many anecdotes, interesting facts and details about all the wines and their wineries that are very fascinating. The reason he knows all of this is, besides having build up lots of experience over the year, he tries to visit most vineyards of the wines he serves.

As we knew the chef’s (Donald) reputation, we gave him carte blanche. Something when looking back we don’t regret!!

To start we were served home smoked salmon that got accompanied by a 2009 Pierson-Cuvelier Champagne Grand cru Millésimé. A very nice champagne that hadnotes of pear and star anise. Nice acidity on the mouth with fruity pleasure with a tight and lively bubble.

The next dish we were served, was one of those dishes you want to ask another plate of 🙂 . We were served river eel (smoked and glazed) with foie gras and poached quail eggs(and as little extra we got some hop shoots, mmmmm) HEAVENLY. This combined with a 2016 white wine from Rias Baixas (Spain) , Cies by Rodrigo Méndez made it even better. Later I found out that  Cies obtained a score of 92 at Parker (that is the only wine critic without commercial interest in the wine industry) which is very high score. The wine has a beautiful mineral nose, which is a bit atypical for Albariño, less exotic, more tight with nice acidity in the nose. This is also the same sensation I had in the mouth. Much content and length. Superb acids, guarantee for longevity. A true gastronomical wine.

But the best was still to come… Danish codfish with a raw chicory salad, a homemade remoulade sauce and our crispy U-fries. Simplicity itself, but oooh so good!! The cod fish got served with a 2011 Grand Cru ‘sommerberg’ Rieseling by Albert Boxler(Alsace). Albert Boxler is a winery that until recent nobody knew, but now everybody wants… A small family owned winery that works traditionally using techniques and ‘savoir faire’ that got passed down across multiple generations with beautiful end products as result. The wine had very deep, complex aromas of ripe citrus fruits, underbrush and sweet spices. Fresh and tactile, with a rich mouthfeel to its yellow plum and ripe grapefruit flavors. Finishes full and long. Real beauty!!

I can say for a fact that I had a very pleasant evening with great food and wines topped with the passion of Donald (owner and chef). A restaurant that serves honest food and wines without make up for honest prices… a recipe for an incredible evening! I’m sure our path’s will cross again.

Quality without compromise

A few days ago the time had finally arrived that I would have a meal at the 2 Michelin star restaurant De Pastorale. I had always figured the restaurant was quit far from my home, but it seemed it was only 3km from my home… oops 🙂 A few days ago I was here to discover the wines from organic &bio dynamic Tuscan winery Podere Forte.  Organic/bio dynamic wines don’t also float my boat many of them have a special taste in them that I just don’t like… luckily there are wineries like Podere Forte that could be used as a benchmark any day for how organic/bio dynamic wines should be like!! Podere forte was founded in 1997 as an act of love from Pasquale Forte. When Pasquale was visiting the area of Castiglione d’Orcia he fell hopelessly in love with it 🙂  and I can’t blame him as the area is breath taking! I visit the area 8 or 9  years ago with my wife where we stayed at the old San Simeone convent (that was transformed in B&B) that unfortunately closed its doors a while ago.

Pasquale Forte is a good example of a self-made man (that kept/keeps his feet on the ground). Pasquale was born in Calabria as youngest of 9 children. Pasquale already learned very early in life what hard working was on his parent’s farm. When his parents died, as tradition imposes it, the farm went to oldest son. Due to a gambling problem of Pasquale’s oldest brother the farm had to be sold and Pasquale set sail to the North of Italy to look for work.  In a garage in the small centre of Orsenigo, in Brianza area, not far from the Como lake  he started his own company (Eldor Corporation) specialized in consumer electronics, developing high tension transformers for radio and television sets.  Today 46 years the company has over 3000 employees, offices all over the world and is supplier of all big car companies. But still with all of this success Pasquale still had an interrupted dream…having a farm and making wine, olive oil, etc… I know many of you are thinking it is another fortunate/ famous person who just wants to have a vineyard in Tuscany,  but has no clue what he is doing with an end product basically ‘sucks’. Pasquale is exactly the opposite as he knows 100% what he is doing and he is doing it with the same love, drive for perfection, determination, and passion and philosophy like when he started Eldor ‘Quality without compromise’(in this case with full respect with nature).

Tuscany is known by everbody for its wonderful wine regions like Montalcino or the Chianti region, but instead of buying a property in one of these ‘famous’ regions Pasquale just followed his heart and chose an abandoned place between Montalcino and Montepluciano in the Orcia Valley (Unesco world heritage list) with a hundred-year history behind it and where wine making wasn’t done (or almost not done).  He saw it a bit as a challenge to put this place on the map as new wine region. On the 300ha of land Podere Forte owns only 21 are cultivated with vineyards, 23 are full of olive trees and the remaining part exists of forests, pastures, gardens and grazing areas for the Cinta Senese and Chianina cattle they have. The winery only produces 3 types of wine (technically 4 as they are been experimenting for 20 years to make the perfect white wine (a Greco di tufo), but they don’t want to sell it until it is perfect)  and next to that they have many other organic biodynamic products like honey, olive oil, flour, cured meats, etc…

At Podere Forte nothing is left to chance and everything contributes to create a self-sufficient, wholesome ecosystem. Biodynamic agriculture is a complex concept to explain, but basically it is creating products that are fundamentally balanced and respectful of every living creature in the course of its production cycle… Pasquale obviously doesn’t to this all by himself. As Pasquale is a perfectionist  who wants to do the best job possible he called in the help of “earth scientists” Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, world experts in the preparation of viticultural soil. Lydia and Claude analysed parcel by parcel (nothing happens at the estate without their blessing 🙂 ) to know which type of grapes would be best on which parcel!! Talking about a torough investigation.  The estate grows Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. You can take their philosophy ‘Quality without compromise’ almost literally as they spend over 1000 hours per hectare of land (which is enormous as most others spend around 300hours).

So after having heard all of this and much more interesting things about the vineyards I was very excited to try their wines !! Before I continue I must also add that the dishes Bart De Poorter and his team at De Pastorale made to match the wines were perfect!!! Incredible pairings!!

We started with their ‘entry level’ wine, their 2015 Petruccino that they also like to refer to as the ‘premier cru’ (85% sangiovese, 15% merlot). The wine has a ruby red color, in the nose floral notes of violets and fruity aromas of wild strawberry or maybe even cherry. When tasting you notice a lot of red ripe fruit, with a pleasant acidity, soft tannins and long-lasting elegant aftertaste. What did surprise me that the wine has a 15% alcohol percentage , you really don’t notice it as the wine is so elegant and went wonderfully with the chianina!! (the wine also already found its way to my own private cellar).

If I was already so impressed by the ‘entry level’ wine, god knows what their ‘grand cru’ Petrucci would be like. Just like with the Petruccino, in the Petrucci  you notice it is a strong wine, but in the end it still stays so elegant. From the Petrucci we were served 2 difference vintages, the 2008 and the 2013 (both 100% sangiovese).  The 2013 was brilliant ruby red, intense nose of cherries and raspberries, floral notes of violet and rosehip, on the palate cinnamon, vanilla and a hint of black pepper with a mineral finish. Now the 2008 was a bit stronger, but it had the same fresh/mineral finish like the 2013.  Basically it was the 2013 but with a bit (even more)body…

For the main dish we left the ‘Sangiovese’ for what it is and headed towards Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot blends that go under the name Guardiavigna. We were served 3 different vintages from the Guardiavigna the 2007, 2008 and 2013.  All 3 beautiful wines, but what was funny to discover was that from 2007 onwards the percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc replaced each other. The Merlot was initially the main grape, but in the most recent wines it is the Cabernet Franc that is on the main stage 🙂  . So they replaced the red fruitiness for the balance and elegance that Cabernet France brings to blends.  Add to that Petit verdot for tannins, extra colour and flavours and you have a winner 🙂  I’m more fan of Sangiovese wines like the Petrucci of Petruccino, but the Guardiavigna wasn’t at all punishment to drink 🙂 .  On the contrary, a true celebration to drink it!  It was interesting to taste this evolution from both they blends as the bottle type as that also changed during this period…

As our friends from Podere Forte don’t have a dessert wine yet, the sommelier came with a beauty he still had in his cellar to match the Jerusalem artichoke dessert (yes, you are reading it correctly, Jerusalem artichoke).  He surprised us with a 2004 Scheurebe by Koehler-Ruprecht.  Scheurebe is (as you probably know) a white-wine grape, one of Germany’s most successful new grape breeds. It is a cross between Riesling and Silvaner that are often aged to create sweet or dessert wines just like the wine we were served.  Very nice floral notes, rosted spice and candied orange slices.  Less sweet than expected on the palate, lots of citrus, without being lemony, more candied oranges, plus a hint of old oak, dried grasses and herbs, thanks to the moderate acidity keeps the gentle acidity against it and is harmonious, albeit a little quiet. Excellent as a companion for the Artichoke dessert.

A wonderful and very interesting evening. I learned lots of new things about Biodynamic/organic winemaking. A new wine trip presents itself 🙂

The ultimate tram experience

Two weeks ago I finally got to try the Brussels Tram experience, something I already wanted to do since their first ride 🙂  but for some reason or the other I never made it happen. So I was very happy when the Raimat  asked if my wife and I wanted to join them.  The Brussels tram experience is basically an ‘old’ tram they remodeled into a trendy restaurant setting and that takes you through Brussels in a 2h ride while enjoying a refined meal with accompanied drinks.  For food it were dishes created by Lionel Rigolet (Comme chez Soi**) that we were served.

I must be completely honest that the dishes weren’t  100% like you would have them at Comme chez soi itself, but when you see the size of the kitchen in the tram  and take all the shaking and bouncing in consideration (as the tram is moving) you can only have respect for the chef preparing the dishes as I wouldn’t be able to do better 🙂 !  On the menu that night:  as appetizers an Eel and sorrel soup, garlic foam, veal cannelloni with foie gras and  scallops with ras el-hanout, biscuit and a light parmesan cream. Continued by Cod with spices, small crunchy vegetables, grey North Sea shrimp, light horseradish cream;  Pressed beef stew. As mean course we were served  Free range cock supreme, shellfish jus with crayfish and tarragon. And as desert a  chocolate crémeux made with Belcolade 71% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate, exotic caramel, passion fruit, mascarpone and eau de Villée liqueur .

But the reason we were there were of course the wines from the Raimat winery. It was in 1914 that Manuel Raventós , son of  Josep Raventós  owner of  the Codorniu wineries (the first cava producers in Spain founded in the year 1515), bought 3500 ha of land in Raimat, Lleida (2 hour drive from Barcelona).  Nothing special you might think, but back in those days many people thought Manuel was gone crazy as it was a piece of desert and nobody thought he would succeed in his plan to grow vines. Now over 100 years later, millions of bottles of wine and many milestones (both for them as in Spanish wine making)  later like being the first to have a concrete building in Spain or  launching of the first to produce Albariño outside Galicia or being the first winery to classify their wine according to intensity did surprise me… and these are only 3 of the many milestones they’ve had!! He showed them 🙂 🙂 !!

I know that many amongst you, just like me, find it difficult when you are in a supermarket to find the perfect wine (especially if you weren’t able to taste it first)… in the end most people are no wine experts and in the end just go for something they have heard talking about and/or a label that looks nice. It is for this reason that Raimat started investigating how to make this process clearer and easier for regular consumers.  What they do it classify the wines according to their intensity going from 1 (very light) to 10 (very intense) and put these numbers on the bottles . The intensity of a wine depends first of all of the kind of grape, but also the wine making method that was used. It is the combination of Organoleptic  characteristics (like the freshness, color, taste and aroma), Body (Volume, depth) and Barrel (period in barrels). To help the consumers even more (if they have a smartphone that is) they added the intensity legend on every bottle as well as the body/tasting notes and for people who want to know even more they added a QR code, where when scanning it you will find all info on that particular wine.  So if you want to find out it was a good study they did go to the supermarket and find out for yourself (in Belgium Raimat can be found at the Delhaize supermarkets) . I already find it a clever solution 🙂

As a ‘test’ to see if what they say it true we were served 2 wines  with intensity 8  their  2016 Chardonnay aka Castell and a 2015 Tempranillo aka Pirinenc.

On the Castell bottle it was indicated that it was a full/intense bodied chardonnay that is very aromatic and tropical hints.  My personal finding was a  bright wine with intense aromas of a rich variety of fruits: peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, melons, and some flowery notes. In the mouth an overwhelming freshness, with an extended, pleasantly textured finish.  The acidity is smoothed out due to a part of the wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation and evens out the balance.  So I could definitely find myself in the description that is on the label. Of course what one tastes and smells can differ depending on what one knows from experience…

The same actually goes for the Pirinenc and the 12 months in oak barrels didn’t overdue it in the wine, but if I recall it well the winemaker told me that it wasn’t new oak they used… which would confirm that it wasn’t too present in the wine (what I prefer). Maybe they should indicate this on the bottle ‘old’ or ‘new’ oak, this way one knows how big the presence will be…

Both very nice wines. My wife and I even opened a bottle of Pirinenc  the day after so I think that proves home proves that I did really liked it 🙂 .  I will definitely try a few more of their wines to see the outcome or maybe just travel to Raimat (I could use some sun and warm weather 🙂 )

Now that I know what intensity 8 gives it will make it easier in the future when I see a bottle with a lower/higher intensity level to distinguish how ‘intense’ the wine(s) will be and I also think that’s the best approach if you are not a wine expert 🙂  .

Cheers