A sip of the Sicilian sun in the heart of Brussels

I’m sitting here in the sun thinking that is has been waaaay to long since my last blog post…. Although technically speaking I’ve still been writing, but for the Belgian Sommelier Association and next to that I am very busy co-organizing the ASI Best Sommelier of the World competition that will  be hosted in Antwerp in 2019 (seems far away, but I assure you that it isn’t 🙂 ).  I’ve also been busy as I became dad for the 2nd time and I can say for a fact that that doesn’t make organising your days easier 🙂

Even though I didn’t write too much for my blog anymore I did get to know many wonderful the last months. Last week for example I got to taste some top Sicilian wines made by the Planeta winery . Unlike many other wineries of this size that have been making wines for centuries Planeta only started making wines in the 90’s…  The Planeta family (from Spanish origin) has been in agriculture since 1585… the current generation is already the 17th generation in agriculture in Sicily. The Planeta winery story started in the Menfi/Sambuca region (South West of Sicily)  where 2 generations  bundled their forces or better Alessio, Santi and their uncle Diego Planeta (and eventually also Diego’s daughter Francesca)  with a little helping hand of oenologist Carlo Corino.

It might seem easy to make wines in a place like Sicily (or any southern wine regions) because of its constant sunshine, but that sunshine also has its disadvantages… lots of sun often translates into high sugars and basically also high alcohol percentage. Unfortunately this was also the reputation southern wines had for many years  high alcohol and not  easy to drink… BUT thanks to modern techniques and knowhow  we are able to harmonize and control all of this much better resulting in some magnificent wines.  Already from the start our friends from Planeta were determined to plant both local and international types of grape and it was an immediate success as in 1995 they were honored by many famous wine journalists/critics with their Chardonnay (that had been in wooden barrels).

Today 27 years later they have 6 wineries  (around 400ha) spread over Sicily  : Ulmo at Sambuca di Sicilia, Dispensa at Menfi, Dorilli at Vittoria, Buonivini at Noto, Feudo di Mezzo on Etna and finally La Baronia at Capo Milazzo.  It also seems they keep growing both in quality as quantity

Tasting the Planeta wines under the Sicilian sun would have been perfection, but tasting them in the heart of Brussels at restaurant Bocconi did get close (thanks to the warm and great people at my table obviously). The lunch also wouldn’t have been the same without the great care of host/sommelier Jean- François who clearly knows what he’s doing!! During the lunch I was fortunate enough to sit next to Alessio Planeta who spoke with lots of passion about his wines and the beautiful island of Sicliy.

When you think of Silicy you think red wine, but for me their whites are as impressive.  It speaks for itself that one should always go crescendo, but if the first wine you get already is of such level that you don’t know it is possible to even go higher… but apparently it can ;-). The first wines we were served were the 2015 Cometa  that already has a cult status since his first edition and 2015 Eruzione Carricante 1614. The Cometa is fresh acidic, has a terrific savoury length and is a very stylish and wine that can convince everybody. What I think everybody would like about this wine is its aromatic notes of citrus and tropical fruit with some hinds of white peach and the fact that it doesn’t dissapoint when taking the first sip (on the contrary). If you like Rieseling style wines, I’m sure you’ll like the Eruzione 1614 as it contains 10% of Rieseling (90% Carricante) . A palate of fresh apricote and green apples with energizing minerals… again a wonderful easy to drink wine.

The previous wines were great, but the absolute star of the lunch was the 2014 Didacus which means Diego in Latin (referring to Diego Planeta who has been very important to the re-birth of the Sicilian wines). The Didacus was actually created as a ‘celebration’ wine for the 20 th anniversary of the first Chardonnay they made in 1994.  Although the price of this wine is quit high, it is majestic and very classy  wine that has everything I love:  full bodied, complex and yet very fresh with a magnificant finish that lasts forever :-)…I think that is all thanks to the old vines that are from 1985… It is a wine that can easily stand next to the best Burgundy Chardonnay’s. I hope you will get a chance to taste it some day, but as there are only few bottles this might become a very tricky quest.

After the wonderful whites it was time to discover some reds with a first in line the 2015 Mamertino (60% Nero d’avola 40% Nocera) followed by the 2007 and 2011 Santa Cicilia and as last but definitely not least the 2014 Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese that for me together with the Didacus were the stars of the lunch (it will also not surprise you that I now have a few bottles of the Eruzione in my personal cellar).  The Marmetino has an elegant floral nose with hinds of roses and prunes  with refined tannines and velvety soft finish.

From the Santa Cicilia Alessio wanted us to put 2 different years next to each other, the 2007 and the 2011. I must say that I was very surprised how full of life the 2007 was. When you tast the wine you notice black fruit notes mixing on a minerally frame as bright acidity and spice drive the fruit-filled finish. Although I must also admit that when I tasted both wines they for some reason made me think of candy or cassis… If i would have to compare both I’d say the 2001 is a bit more bitter with hinds of chocolate and spices… My preference went to the 2007, but that’s a matter of personal taste.

They kept the best for last 🙂 the 2014 red Eruzione!! This wine is one with a LOT of potentional and can easily stay a few more years in your cellar. Light ruby Pinot Noir-like color. What I liked about this wine was the very gentle handling of tannins, which, with Nerello Mascalese, can easily get a bit rustic round the edges. Delicate Pinot Noir-like flavours, red fruits but needs more concentration and fatness on the palate… it basically found its way to my cellar at home 😉

Great wines,  but also great food!! Feast your eyes on some of the treats we were served

I think next time I defintely need to try these wines in the Sicilian sun (I think another wine trip is presenting itself 🙂 🙂 ) Thank you very much Alessio for this wonderful lunch!

For all my Belgian readers in case you want more info on Planeta wines please contact Young Charly. For all my non-Belgian readers, please contact Planeta to help you to get in contact with your local salesman .

Sommeliers themed lunch: Prosecco vs Champagne and cava

Champagne, cava, prosecco or another bubbly wine… everybody has their favorite, but are they able to distinguish that same favorite when tasting blind? Last week I was present at yet another wonderful sommelier themed lunch organized by Zonin in presence of Lorenzo Zonin. What I always like about their lunches is that you learn enormously! Not only just by listening to the top sommeliers who are also present or to Lorenzo Zonin, but also by yourself. Every lunch they have a different theme and all wines you get are always to be tasted blind. Of these wines you have to distinguish (depending of the theme) what wine it is, vintage, kind of grapes used, etc… I can say for a fact that we’ve (as it wasn’t only me) discovered many great wines . What  I think for all of the lunches I’ve already had the one still most stuck in our minds is the American Barolo styled wine from the Zonin estate in Virginia as everybody was convinced that it was a very old Barolo Piemonte!

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What usually happens during these lunches is that the Zonin wines are put next to sometimes French wines, American wines from other colleague estates or sometimes against wines from different Zonin estates. They do this as this way they can see how they should/could improve their wines (in a nutshell). Our theme this time  was sparkling wines. So it was  Zonin sprakling wines (Prosecco) versus Champagnes and top cava’s. I know many amongst you think it is easy to distinguish which is which, but trust me blind tasting is harder than you might think. What makes it even more mind breaking is that it could be either 3 and having to tell which grapes they used adds extra spice 🙂 Let’s not forget that I’m an amateur, not a pro sommelier.

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Let me first start with a few facts  about  Prosecco. Something I didn’t know is that Prosecco that now is mostly known as a regional product from around Treviso actually originates from Friuli (from the 8th century) or  better from the village Prosecco on the Karst hills above Trieste (so right next to the Slovenian border). Although back then it was called a Pucinum wine produced with Glera grapes (and I’m pretty sure there were not yet too many refined bubbles involved.  Prosecco DOC can be made in 556 villages spread over 9 provinces in 2 regions Trieste and Treviso.  For it to become DOCG it would need to come from specific villages around Valdobbiadene , Colli Asolani  or Coneglino Valdobbiadene.  It is only since 2009 that use of vintages has become a common thing. Also in contrast to Champagne or Cava, with Prosecco there is no fermentation in bottles.  Tasting notes: Prosecco is very fruity and floral with in general dominant notes of green apple and pear. If you would go to the more refined Prosecco’s you’ll find aromas of peach and almonds.

prosecco-by-lorenzo-zonin

The biggest difference between Prosecco, Champagne and Cava would first of all be the types of grapes used.  For Prosecco this would be mainly Glera (Verdiso, Bianchetta, Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio & Pinot Nero up to 15%). For Champagne this would be Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier & Chardonnay. For cava it are Macabeu, Parellada & Xarello (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Subirat Parent). FYI to know more about the grape variaties check this link .  I know some people tend to say that Prosecco is sweeter, but I think they are confusing Prosecco with Moscato d’Asti that is indeed a sweet bubbly wine. Another difference between the 3 would be type types there are. Prosecco only has Brut, Extra Dry, Dry or Demi Sec… our French and Spanish French add Extra Brut, Extra Sec(o), Sec(o) and Doux/dolce. Although the biggest difference next to the grapes would be the bubbles itself .  FYI, the facts above are generally speaking as of course it all depends of the winery, etc…

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The location for this edition of sommeliers themed lunch was restaurant Tartufo   (just outside Brussels).  A great discovery btw!!

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Chef Kayes Ghourabi  has made it a meal to remember.  The first dish we were served (after a wonderful series of tasty appetizers) was scallop with foie gras d’oie and truffles. Paired with this we got 3  glasses. For us to tell which was the Champagne, Cava or Prosecco 🙂   The 2nd glass everybody was convinced it was top cava, but when they revealed the bottles it ended up to be Champagne by Devaux .  We didn’t see that one coming… then again that’s part of the game. So the first one was a Prestige 1821 DOCG Prosecco by Zonin, 2nd (Blanc de Noirs) and 3rd glass (Cuvée D) a different champagne by Devaux . The Cuvée D combined freshness with lovely orangy/mandarine notes 🙂 . In Prestige the freshness comes first with notes of green apple and nice aromas.

appetizer 5 Appeziter 1 appetizer 2 appetizer 3 appeziter 4

Scallop with Foie gras

Zonin Prestige Devaux champagne 1 Champagne devaux 2

With the sparkling wines served with the next dish (Seabream with tomatoes, basil and olives) we were lifted up the next level of tasting as we had to say which grapes was used in the 3 glasses of Prosecco?! Was it Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco or Pinot Nero. The Pinot Bianco is somehow the ‘easiest to distinguish as it is the most exuberant/aromatic of all 3… or at least that’s the theory… Even if I didn’t immediately found out which one was which I must admit my preference out of 3 went to the Pinot Bianco , second place would go to the Pinot Nero and 3rd place would go to the Pinot Grigio. Not that any of them would be a sacrifice to drink 🙂

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With the Main course which was Pike Perch (fish) with butternut and salsify we didn’t get 3, but 4 glasses again with the task to say if it were Champagne, Cava or Prosecco… It resulted in there being served 2 Prosecco’s: 1 Frizzante and 1 classic Cà Bolani Prosseco  DOC (always a winner and an every man’s friend) and 2 Cava’s : MVSA Brut Nature and  Masia Sabor Brut.

Pik perch

masia-sabor mvsa-brut-nature prosecco-doc

The ‘easiest’ sparkling wine to distinguish  was the one that came with the chocolate dessert. You could immediately tell it was a prosecco because of the smell, the looks and the ‘bubbles’ being thicker. When they put it in out glass the foam stayed a while in the glass… just like with a pint of beer. It was the zonin ICE demi-sec. Attractively intense, very fruity and aromatic with hints of jasmine and ripe Golden apples. It is deliciously well balanced….

Cholate Moeulleux

zoinin-ice

Again glad I could be part of this wonderful event!! My favorites of the day were the Zonin White Edition , the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Prestige 1821, Cà Bolani Prosseco  DOC , MVSA Brut Nature  and the Cuvée D

For more info on Zonin wines please contact Hasselt Millésime or Winespot

The butcher’s son

With a restaurant name like ‘The Butcher’s son’ it leaves little to the imagination what type of cuisine they prepare. Let’s just say it’s not a veggie place 🙂  . The butcher’s son is as you might have already expected a restaurant with as mean topic on the menu meat. Although Luc Dickens (one of the 2 owners) told me they don’t want to be the typical meat restaurant with only men as customers… They want to open up their restaurant to everybody and therefor chose for a more “general” menu. If somebody wants vegetarian or more “hard-core” meat dishes like specific intestines it is all possible :-).

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When I first heard their name I (and I think most people) presumed that either Luc Dickens or Bert Jan Michielsen (the 2 owners) would be the son of a butcher… right? After hearing the real story behind the name I think the name ‘the butcher’s adopted son’ would be more correct 🙂 🙂  . At a particular day Bert Jan was supposed to take the train back home, unfortunately missed his train. As it dates back to a pre-cellphone period Bert Jan had to look for a place where he could call and inform his parents .  This search brought him to a nearby butcher shop De Laet & Van Haver. As he had to wait a while before his parents were able to pick him up, the shop owner suggested if Bert Jan wanted he could role some meatballs while waiting . To make a long story short (but you know I prefer telling the long story) this was the beginning of a life long friendship and many weekends (after words full time)of  working at the De Laet & Van Haver’s butcher shop and catering business  in Hove … and today a collaboration with them and having a restaurant right next to their new butcher shop in the old Antwerp city brewery of De Koninck . In other words the owner saw Bert Jan as his son…

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I know Luc and Bert Jan mostly from their years working at the highly awarded restaurant De Schone Van Boskoop and Luc I also know from the Belgian Sommelier Guild .

Luc and Bert Jan by Resengo

I’m also a fan of their location in the old Antwerp city brewery of De Koninck . I say old, but it is still an active brewery, but as after restructuring the brewery they had some parts they weren’t going to use anymore they freed up this space to create an oasis of food 🙂 and bring creative/passionate people together. You can find craftsmen like  cheese master, chocolatier, butchers, etc… here. I do recommend everybody to visit it (even if you don’t want to eat their) as it is worth it. You’ll find more info on the brewery on the following link.

Butcher son 2 Butcher son

I know it sounds unbelievable but I do always try to keep it as short as possible… but I always want you guys to get the whole picture and all the info :-).

For our meal my friends and I chose to first go for all the refined meat appetizers  (all home made in the next door butcher shop) they have on their menu with exception for the 1 non meat dish 🙂 What we basically had was : dry aged  Secreto 07 (a product the Adria ‘El Bulli’ brothers also sell in their restaurants and shops in Barcelona); Calf Brains with tartar sauce; Pig head with mustard; 18 months Duroc ham de Batallé; Croquette of pork leg with pickles and some game pâté. Very nice selection, me personally I wasn’t a fan of the brains, but that clearly was a personal opinion as my table guests could have eaten a second plate 🙂 I must admit that it was also the first time I tried it in my entire life… To accompany these appetizers it seemed more that logic to take a beer made in the local brewery and that perfect marriage to my opinion… FYI the brewery makes specialty darker beers so not a pils.

Food 1 Food 2

For my mean course the first idea was to take an Entrecôte , but when I saw they had a sweetbread videe on their menu my mind was made up. A videe is  a puff pastry that gets filled with a kind of chicken and mushroom stew.  In this case the stew had next to the chicken and meatballs some sweetbread and got finished of with some hollandaise sauce. On itself not a special dish you might think, but trust me finding a good prepared videe is not an easy task!  My problem was that the videe was for 2 persons… so I had to convince one  my of 2 table guests taking it with me 🙂 I might not be a sales person, but I do know who to get it my way 🙂 🙂 the other person at my table however  took an Entrecôte.

Videe

Best decision ever to take the Videe as it is by far the best I’ve ever eaten!!  I know when we saw the dish arriving we had to share both I as my buddy thought we’d be fighting for who got the last bit as it didn’t seem enough… but our eyes were bigger then our stomachs as the dish was heavier. So instead of fighting it was rather suggesting the other one to have the last bit 😉 🙂  Nevertheless a wonderful dish!!

As we had the luck of having a sommelier at our table (and no I’m not referring to myself as I’m just an amateur sommelier) who was even a former finalist of the Best Sommelier of Belgium competition. His choice for wine went to a 2014 Spanish Garnacha Cellers Joan d’Anguera Altaroses D.O. Montsant. Good choice Bram!!

Wine

When we thought the night couldn’t become better, there came the bottle of the 1976 Madeira 🙂 🙂 FYI we just drunk a glass of it, not the whole bottle…

Wonderful food and a marvelous evening I recommend to everybody.

 

Heavenly delights white truffles and Barolo wine

That I’m a fan of the Nebbiolo grape is clear by now I think? For the last few posts I’ve been talking to you about the Valtellina variant. This time however  I’ll be talking about its more famous brother from the neighboring region Piemonte  (Alba/Asti). I know it seemed that I don’t like Alba/Asti  or Barolo variant, but I do without any doubt like them. It is just that as my roots are in Vatellina it has a special place in my heart… but I wouldn’t call drinking a Barolo a big sacrifice 😉 It is just like Luciano Taliano (owner of the Montaribaldi vineyard) said during the meal we had a couple of days ago at Spiga d’oro:  he is fan of all his wines, but the Barbaresco is the apple of his eye… why? Because his family roots are in Barbaresco….

montaribaldi

The older a Nebbiolo wine get the “easier” it gets to recognize them, because as they age the wines take on a ‘brick-orange’ shade at the rim of the glass. I know it might sound strange but you should just try it once putting an older Nebbiolo wine next to for example an older Sangiovese wine… The difference in color couldn’t be bigger. Next to its ‘characteristic’ color the Nebbiolo wine comes with fragrances of violets, tar, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles and tobacco. The most ideal location is at an elevation between 150 and 300 meter. What is special about the nebbiolo grape is that it usually only gets harvested in October, sometimes even at towards the end of the month. This is ‘special’ if you know most grapes in other regions get picked at the end of august or the latest at the end of September… then again the climate and hours of sun during the year obviously decides this … I know the Nebbiolo grape might seem like an easy grape to grow, but it isn’t as it does not adapt particularly well to various vineyard soil types. It prefers soils with high concentration of calcareous marl.

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Just like in many other regions there are multiple approaches on making wine, a ‘traditional’ way and a ‘modern’ way. Both have their pro’s and contra’s. A contra of the traditional way or at least how it used to be done many years ago was the ‘lack’ of taking hygiene in consideration that would lead to the a bacterial infection and in the end development of off flavors and potential wine faults that would require at least 24 hours decanting to alleviate . Nowadays winemaking for both traditionalists and modernists include strict hygiene controls and the use of some modern winemaking equipment… so if you no worries anymore 🙂

The most famous wines from Piemonte made with the Nebbiolo grape are without doubt Barolo and Barbaresco. The way to distinguish the 2 wines was very well described by Giorgia Tontodonati from the Montaribaldi vineyard. Barbaresco is the ‘queen’ elegant, ‘softer’ and aromatic, Barolo is the ‘King’ very complex and strong.

I’ve already had the pleasure to have travelled many times to Piemonte to discover the many wonderful things this region has to offer. Next to their wonderful wines they  also have a very refined cuisine with evergreens like ravioli del plin, Tajarin al sugo, vitel tonné (vitello tonnato), Agnolotti, carne cruda alla piemontese, etc… BUT the other world famous trademark product of the of Piemonte is the one and only white truffle! Earlier this week all these wonderful things got combined at one of my preferred Italian restaurants in Belgium Spiga d’oro by my dear friend Franco Di Taranto… As tip of the iceberg he had invited Luciano Taliano from the Montaribaldi winery and trifolau Ezio who brought white truffles he had found the day before… only when in Alba itself you’ll get them on the day itself 🙂 To describe the evening in 1 word “Mythical”!! As I’m not really the man who sticks to one word (sorry for that)  I’ll tell you more about this wonderful evening that made me feel in Piemonte all over again!!

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Montaribaldi is a quite young vineyard as the brothers Roberto and Luciano Taliano only opened it around 1994. Technically speaking the vineyard already existed earlier, but in 1994 as after he acquired the vineyards from his father Guiseppe aka ‘Pino’ who had founded it in 1968. The vineyard was named Montaribaldi after the old Roman roads that link the winery to the vineyards. Luciano’s goal was and still is to create a diverse selection of holdings that highlights the different wines of the region.

montaribaldi-family

What I think is the reason for success of Montaribaldi wines is the accurate selection of grapes (the wine gets made on the land) and careful vinification. They also are very fortunate to have vines located in between the ones from their renowned neighbor Angelo Gaja. After having tasted their wines I can only come to the following conclusion their balance, length, intensity and concentration of flavors are all right how they supposed to be! Combine these wines with a meal by Franco and you have a feast… We were served the following menu with paired wines:

my-table

A secret celery and truffle salad ‘Arte e Querce’ prepared by Ezio’s wife Clelia. The salad got served with a 2015 Roero Arneis (white). I never saw a man so proud!! You could really tell truffles are Ezio’s passion as he was flaking it so proudly… very endearing to see 🙂

Celery truffle saladRoero Arneis

ezio

Vitel Tonné & Carne cruda a l’Albese con tartufo bianco paired with a 2012 Barbera

Barbera Vitel tonné

Robbilo tre latte with blac truffle, leek from Cervere, pears, beetroot and cugnamust from Nebbiolo. This dish got paired with a refreshing 2010 Langhe

RobbioloLanghe

“Cocotte” (cheese fondu) from Fontina cheese with fennel sausage and white truffle flakes. Served with 2 Barbaresco’s from different pieces of land aka Palazzina and Sori. Both wines were from 2011.

Barbaresco Cocotte

The main course of the evening was venison with a Barolo reduction with white truffle that got paired with the wine everybody was looking forward to drink the 2012 Barolo.

Main course SVI

Barolo

To end our meal we got served a chocolate dessert together with a Moscato d’asti. We did also get some white truffle flakes on our chocolate dessert, I didn’t refuse it but if it wouldn’t have been there the dessert would have equally been good 🙂

dessert

For me when you prepare a dish with truffles, it should be the truffles playing the main role!! Here again the key word ‘simplicity’ is important to make sure the truffle gets the justice it supposed to get. That’s exactly what my dear friend Franco did. My first words after my meal (and you can check with the people at my table) were “I feel like going to Piemonte now”!! So I guess a trip to Piemonte won’t be far off 😉 😉

I’m not sure why I always have to say which wine I prefer as I like all of them and I don’t want you guys to think that because I prefer one over the other it means the other wines were bad… as they weren’t  🙂  But just to keep everybody happy I admit that the Barbaresco’s charmed me most with on the first place the Sori. On the nose sweet and penetrating notes of licorice and chocolate, firmer and more sustained on the palate but with the roundness and solidity of a high quality extraction. Maybe the fact Luciano talked with so much love about it had an influence ooooooooor that Giorgia compared it with a queen 😉 😉 who knows?! One thing is for sure once again I’ll need to expand my wine cellar and definitely have another winetrip to Piemonte 🙂

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Many thanks to Franco,  Aline, Toni, Luciano, Giorgia, Ezio and his wife for making this an unforgettable evening (and of course also my table guests 🙂 )

For more info on Montaribaldi wines in Belgium please contact SVI.

Hidden treasures, wines from Valtellina: Balgera

Like in every craft you have craftsmen who prefer working the classical way according to traditions and others prefer searching/ trying new things. In wine making this is exactly the same. That is why during my last trip to Valtellina I was very keen on visiting one of each. Rivetti & Lauro to see what result blending the Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca) with non autochthon grapes would give and Balgera to see how Valtellina wines are made according to tradition.  Which one I prefer? It all depends on the occasion when drinking a particular wine. Sometimes I prefer drinking myself a ‘classically made Sfurzat’, other times I feel like going for a Nebbiolo blend wine… There’s no wrong or right, rather a choice for every occasion and somebody’s taste 🙂

balgera

Valtellina DOC is a magnificent series of terraced vineyards on the southern hillside of the Rhaetian Alps!! A beautiful and unique landscape  (I can’t say it enough as my love for this region is enormous) at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level. Viticultur in Valtellina is often called ‘heroic viticulture’ as no machines can be used during harvest due to the location of the terraces that are sometimes on very steep hillsides.

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Azienda Agricola Balgera is one of the oldest winemakers in Valtellina and was founded in 1885 by Pietro Balgera. Balgera, that now is run by the 5th generation, calls itself ‘protector of traditions’ as they find it important to continue making the product(s) that has put Valtellina on the map. I say tradition, they basically combine the ancient ‘know how’  with the modern winemaking techniques.  What Paolo Balgera offers is wines of an exceptional elegance, great structure and exquisite aromatics of fragrance!!

Balgera since 1885

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Something both winemakers I’ve met have in common is the pride and passion for what they do!! Passionate men/women are always the best ones to learn from and producers of the best end product. A remarkable detail is that Balgera keeps the wines in large barrels for up to ten years before bottling, yet they are fresh and delicious (you would think they wouldn’t be after all that time). When I asked Paolo why he sometimes waits up to ten years to bottle wine he replied “I bottle my wines when they are ready, if this takes one or more years extra this is how it shall be”. What I understand from this is that for Paolo a wine can only leave towards the consumers when they are “perfect” and not a moment sooner. No matter if it is a ‘regular’ Sassella or a top bottle of Sfurzat that a consumer opens, the experience must equally be exceptional. I believe this is the key to be a good winemaker.

Balgera 1 Balgera 2 Balgera 3 Balgera 4

When you taste the wines you clearly taste the craftsmanship. Their Sassella for example ( a Nebbiolo, Rossola Nera and Pignola blend) is a beautiful expressive, long, fresh wine combining acidity with depth of flavor. What makes this wine as nice is probably because of the process it goes through. After the harvest the grapes get destemmed and lightly crushed, where after the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts. The Sassella is macerated for a total of around 15 days, then spends a year in tank and up to 10 more years in large (3,000L) barrels. To think this is not even their “top” wine and yet they do take their time making it.

Sassella

A wine whose name always intrigued me or rather it’s name was the Inferno which basically means ‘hell’ 🙂  not that I’m a Satan worshiper, but when I was as small boy I had a lot of imagination… anyway the reason why it is called inferno is because of the particular heat found here; the soil is also different from the other zones of the Valtellina in that it is chalky, rather than a morenic combination. The inferno is a lovely wine with excellent acidity

But my all time favorite ( no matter what) in the region is the Sfurzat or Sforzato (100% Nebbiolo aka Chiavenasca)!! Full, warm and persistent, very structured and yet very fine with hints of violets and dried blackberry jam but a very complex… just how I like my wines. We did also taste other wines, but nothing beats my beloved Sforzato 🙂

Sforzato

I hope that during my next trip to Valtellina (which is probably very soon) I’ll be discovering more hidden treasures of this wonderful region!

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Caro Maurer

Now that we are only a few days away from knowing who will be the new Best sommelier of Belgium it seems nice to know which international top sommeliers will be judging and grading our finalists. The next judge I want to introduce is German  Master of wine Caro Maurer. Caro is /was actually a writer who started hew career in the US writing  in the lifestyle section of magazines and newspaper like Forbes and Die Welt . Since the 90’s a freelance writer fully concentrating on food and wine for several famous German magazines and newspapers.

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Knowing she’s been writing about food and wine for many years now and has been top student of her class during her WSET training/exam and on top of that is a Master of wine (which is still one of the most difficult things to come in the world of sommeliers) … we can be sure she knows a loooooot about it.  Caro will be judging during contest of Best sommelier of Belgium together with other female masters of wine like Romana Echensperger and Fiona Morisson .

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Just like with the other judges I posted 10 questions to Caro to find out more about the world of sommeliers.

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What is your favorite wine region to work with?

This is depending on the work! If this is about tasting wine then my favorite regions would be Bordeaux, Burgundy and Mosel. Is it about writing an article my favorite regions would always be the ones where I have not yet been: Romania for example or India. Is it about wine travelling it would be New Zealand which is a country I felt in love with. Is it about teaching or explaining a wine region it might be Germany because I do know the most about it.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

To listen to the guest and not only insisting in the own convictions. To help guests to overcome their insecurity and  not to make them feel embarrassed. To develop an individual style and offer authentic wines rather than mainstream.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I do not think so. The last decade there was a cult built around chefs, this decade belongs to the sommeliers. They are the superstars in the restaurants. What more could they wish to be?

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

End of the 80s I was living in New York and in these days Californian or American wines in general have not been very impressive. I had to drink so much bad wine that I decided this was enough and there shall be only good wines in my glass for the rest of my life – and I started to look for them and began too study them.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

By the nature of my work I would like to choose my big examples from my wine radius: Jancis Robinson and Professor Monika Christmann, the current president of OIV, for their overall knowledge about wine and for their achievements as female pioneers in the world of wine.

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What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

Asking a sommelier for advice…

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

There are far to many to choose from and therefore I seek the answer closest to me: Mosel as this is not only a unique landscape with its steep vineyards but you will also find unique wine styles which cannot be copied anywhere else in the world.

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For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

How could I name it before I have ever tasted it? The best wines are not necessarily the big names but the ones which surprise me, touch me and remain unforgettable in my mind.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

The most wonderful memory of my studies? The moment it was over and I have passed. The studies were like climbing the Mount Everest. And passing was like reaching its top and starting to enjoy the great view.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

The best experiences cannot be planned or booked. These come when you share a bottle of simple wine in a rural bistro with dear friends and you will enjoy this moment more than any Grand Cru. Or after helping out at harvest and drinking a glass or two with all others when the work in the vineyards is finally done. This might be only the estate wine but you might think that this is the best what you have ever enjoyed.

Will apple cider be the next gin?

Apple cider is a drink I never think of buying or drinking. There’s no particular reason, I just never think of it … maybe because I don’t know it that well or that I never noticed it in bar’s or on menu’s? Or maybe it is like with regular apple juice, I like it a but I usually only drink it when somebody tells me they have it 🙂  That’s why I was more than happy to learn more about this wonderful product and who better to teach me than the one and only Andy De Brouwer owner of restaurant Les Eleveurs and Belgian top sommelier?!

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Apple cider is basically a low alcoholic sparkling (around 4%) version of apple juice 🙂 . I’m not going to bore you with the whole production process as you can find it back via following link.

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What Andy showed us last week was that although apple cider might not sound like a very “modern”, “hip” or “sexy” thing, it actually is. It is a great base to make cocktails, can be paired with funky appetizers and it is just tasty 🙂 … What do you think about a Strongbow elderflower Scotch whisky longdrink, a frozen Margarita paired with some homemade nachos or a Mojito with Gold Apple? Or is a Negroni with Strongbow red berries paired with a stuffed artichoke more your thing?

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Next to all home-made ingredients Andy used Strongbow apple cider to make his cocktails. I confess that I had never heard of Strongbow before. Strongbow is an English apple cider brand, but then again technically speaking also Belgian. I consider it as a local product as the biggest part of the production happens in Belgium. So I think it is ok to call Strongbow apple cider a local product, right?!

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Strongbow has 3 different types of apple cider:

  • Gold Apple: fresh, fruity flavor with a hints of green apple
  • Red berries: aromatic combination of apple and red fruits
  • Elderflower: subtle aromatic combination of apple and elderflower with a fresh end note of lime

The cocktail that was the biggest surprise to me was the mojito!! What surprised me about Andy’s version was that even though there was no alcohol in it, it tasted exactly the same as the “original” version. No alcohol with the exception of the cider’s alcohol that because of the mixing with other non alcoholic drinks would be 1% maybe…Which basically means you can drink more of these puppies then you could of the original one… so I’ll go for the Apple cider version if I may

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I became a fan and will without any doubt try to make these cocktails at home. And because I like you soooo much I’ll share with you Andy’s Strongbow mojito recipe .

Ingredients for +/- 20 cocktails:

  • 5 cl fake rum
  • Fresh mint (1 bot op 2 l. water)
  • 4 teabags of gunpowder (Chinese greentea)
  • 5 g cardamom bolsters
  • 200 g raisins

Per person

  • 15 cl Strongbow Gold Apple cider
  • ¼ lime
  • 1 branch mint
  • 2 drops Angostura
  • 2 lumps of cane sugar

Preparation:

For the ‘fake rum’:

  • Make an infusion of fresh mint, gunpowder and lightly toasted and crushed cardamom bolsters.
  • Leave to cool (not in the refrigerator) and sieve.
  • Let the raisins swell 24 hours in this fluid.
  • Riddle with a fine sieve, press the grapes with a spoon.
  • Recover the liquid.
  1. Put mint leaves in glass.
  2. Wash lime, cut into quarters and press the juice out of two and put in the glass.
  3. Add two lumps of cane sugar.
  4. Mortar with a mortar to a syrup.
  5. Add the fake rum.
  6. Fill the glass with ice cubes and fill with Strongbow Gold Apple. Stir with a bar spoon.
  7. Finish with 2 drops of Angostura and garnish with fresh mint and a slice of lime.

In case you would like to try to make it yourself,  Strongbow apple cider is available in almost all supermarkets. In case you want to know more good cocktail recipes and combinations with dishes I strongly recommend you the new book on cocktails by my dear friend Andy the Brouwer ‘Cocktail a night’.

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Cheers!