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 it age 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

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

She’s worth it

I love my wife enormously!! She has already been my rock already for almost 17 years and will keep being it for many years to come. Although she says I don’t need to take her to special  restaurants or places in general (read: “use the money for a bigger gift(s)”)… I do it anyway 🙂 Reason 1 because I like it myself going to great restaurants, reason 2 she just  deserves it!  I admit that I also do it because she sees me going to special restaurants on many occasions  with other people and I don’t want to have her think I don’t like to do this with her … For her birthday this year I absolutely wanted to take her to Chalet de la Forêt. “AGAIN” I hear you say?? Last time I was here the chocolate dessert I had was soooo amazing that it was something my chocolate addicted wife just HAD TO HAVE!! Luckily they still served the dessert.

Chocolate dessert

Another reason I like going to Chalet is because of my dear friend Cesar Roman. He always finds ways to surprise me during a meal. A great example about how Cesar is from a few years ago when he was still working at ‘Comme Chez Soi’ , he knew I was a big sherry fan, so he paired my whole meal with sherry’s …An amazing meal that I will always remember! This time for my wife’s birthday it wasn’t any different!  Not that I had doubts that this time the quality or standards would be less than the other times. I was however curious how the experience would be now I wasn’t there with a winemaker or for an event. Curious to see in what way Cesar will be surprising me this time. Wine wise that is. When I was there with winemakers they obviously serve that winemakers’ wine.  I was also very interested to know why Cesar chose to serve certain wines with certain dishes or maybe the other way around maybe the chef made some dishes to go with a particular wine, now he had the liberty of choosing whatever he wants.

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As expected and just like the other times our afternoon at Chalet was perfect !! They have an eye for detail and try to make your time at their restaurant an unforgettable experience every single time you visit them. Chalet de la Forêt stands for high quality products prepared in a  ‘not too sophisticated’ way, but yet special. What I mean with that is that is still an understandable dish and you still know what you have a front of you.

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You can say  without exaggeration that you get spoiled at Chalet de la Forêt! When you enter you take place in one of the comfortable armchairs or couches and before we even decided what we would eating  we were already served an assortment of appetizers. It speaks for itself that we were served an appropriate drink to go with those appetizers and that’s where Cesar came into the game 🙂  We are no difficult people, my wife likes bubbles and for me the type of wine doesn’t matter that much as long as it is good…For my wife Cesar had chose a zero dosage Champagne from the Drappier vineyard.  Zero dosage basically means there is no sugar added to the champagne or better to the wine before the bubbles are formed in the bottle. The fact that they don’t add sugar makes it a very unique product where the nature (even more then with ‘regular’ champagnes) is the main actor or better the quality of your grape the most important factor as you don’t “camouflage” it by adding sugar.  For Cesar this seemed like the perfect and  subtle way to start our afternoon. For me on the other hand Cesar had foreseen  a glass of the first wine made by our mutual friend William Wouters named  Roleta Russa (Russian roulette) :-). William actually made this wine as he wanted to find out what it would be like to make a wine without the help of his wine making wife (Filipa Pato). Compliments to my dear friend and mentor, if this was only a test I’m looking forward when he is out of his test phase 🙂

Roleta Russa

Sitting in the armchairs and enjoying all the delicious bites only gave us the taste for more it felt a big like sitting in a theater where you are getting warmed up for the big show that is about to start  with a fireworks in the end 🙂

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When they asked us to move to our table, we expected to immediately start eating the dishes we ordered, but No sir, after cleaning our hands with warm towels (that always reminds of my dad doing funny things when they used to give warm towels at the end of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Worst part of it all it that I could see me doing that with my kids when they get a bit older #weareourparents ) more appetizers followed. In my  case even with a very special pairing, namely with a very old Rotterdam juniper 🙂 distilled in an old school craftsmanship way  (so not using modern techniques or machinery  to make it). I didn’t drink my whole glass… as we were just getting started and it was a pretty strong juniper.

Juniper

For the menu itself I started with a suggested dish, hop shoots with home-smoked salmon and a perfectly poached egg. One of those dishes that you don’t care it is impolite to clean your plate with a piece of bread. I like hope shoots, too bad they are only around and available 3 weeks a year…to good things about them, is that when you see them on the menu you know spring is there and you can already smell the summer sun getting closer 🙂

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My wife opted for the first course from the menu itself, the Limousin beef Tataki with tomato aromas capers and old Balsamic vinegar  (I could see a slightly jealous look on her face once I got my plate 😉 ) Again here we were in Cesar’s  hands to find us the perfect pairing. For my wife again some bubbles (she just can’t get enough of it) and for me whatever he had to offer;-)

Limousin

For my wife he brought a glass of La Closerie les Beguines extra Brut champagne which is a different one then the one she had with the appetizers. This champagne was also served in a regular white wineglass instead of a champagne glass to bring out more the wine behind the bubbles and gives you the chance to explore the complexity of the champagne. I know to some people it might seem funny that top sommeliers like Cesar take a lot of time to find the perfect glass to serve a particular  wine or drink… but I dare you to try yourself serving the same wine in a few different glasses. You’ll be astonished the world of difference in flavors depending on the glass you’ll be exploring!!  The reason for Cesar choosing  a different champagne, is  because with the Limousin tartar you need something slightly stronger, the zero dosage wouldn’t be at its proper place here.

La Closerie les Beguines

For with my dish Cesar wanted me not to try 1, but 2 wines that according to him worked very well with the dish. 2 great wines I must say. The First one was a rather ‘classic’ wine, a 2011 Bourgogne Village (chardonnay) from the Leroy vineyard ( is considered as one of the best red Burgundy winemakers). In Burgundy the “Village” wines might be considered as the ‘simple’ wines, but it is at this level where a winemaker can actually show his  talent as this is mostly the entry level by lots of people… if one likes the simpler wines, the step towards the more complex big brothers is easier made.  The second wine was maybe the biggest surprise, a 2014 white Rioja wine which is a Malvasia grape blend? I honestly didn’t know Rioja made such good white wines.. which also the reason why Cesar served it 🙂 Even though the 2014 Rioja Blanco is relatively young it already has the complexity of a good Bourgogne or Rhône wine.  I think that this comes because of the fact the grapes are grown on 80 year old vines, the high location of the vines and the the wine ages for 12months on new French oak. A very impressive wine, no wonder it has been chosen as best Spanish white wine! This also shows that the Rioja Region can make more then only  good red wines. Wines like this ask for a moment of silence if you ask me (which is something very hard for me to do)

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Bourgogne

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For with our main course, the duck, our dear friend had foreseen a 2003 Barbera d’alba from the  Elio Grasso. A winemaker that strives for harmonious and balanced wines, something I totally agree with when you taste this wine. I’m very impressed however with the long finish this wine has with beautiful notes of cassis and licorice… so if you’re a dark red fruit lover I’m sure you’ll like this wine just like me. If I must give a comment, for a Barbera it is softer then other Barbera’s I’ve tasted, but nevertheless a celebration together with the duck.

Elio Grasso

Le moment suprême, the chocolate dessert (that we got after a asparagus based pre-dessert).! I think my wife is still dreaming about this dessert! A mixture of warm and cold chocolate of different texture with if I’m correct some caramel undertones that makes every bit a pleasure and a moment in heaven. Last night my wife even asked me if they don’t do take out of this dessert 😉 (it might sound like a joke, but she doesn’t joke about chocolate 🙂 ) . With this Cesar served a French ‘Noix du pays d’OC’, a bio-dynamic distilled drink based on wine that is made with the noblest part of the fruit. You get the sensation of a higher alcoholic drink, but the affinity of a low alcohol liquor that only has a 17% alcohol percentage. A nose filled with nuts like almonds, pecan nuts with a little freshness of bergamot and I remember the scent of a brioche (bread).  The taste from the Noix reminded me a lot like a sherry finishing with a pleasant caramel like aftertaste.

Asparagus pre dessert

Chocolate dessert  Noix du Pays d'oc

A birthday wouldn’t be a birthday without a candle… I think Cesar found about my wife’s birthday via FB as I didn’t tell him or anybody at the restaurant… but I could clearly see my wife was very happy with the fact they did something 🙂

My wife

To end out meal a cup of Arabica coffee blend from Antigua & Guatemala beans and how else, a table full of sweets, cakes, chocolates, etc…

Full and very satisfied we return home and can’t wait for our next Chalet experience and Cesar’s surprises!!

Sommelier themed lunch: Italy vs. USA

To yearly tradition I was present at the Zonin sommelier themed lunch. This lunch is basically the Zonin wine estate bringing together Top sommeliers for a blind wine tasting to talk about the wines served during a lunch in a great restaurant. An event they do in lots of countries all over the world.  I can hear you think that this seems like a way to promote Zonin wines, which in some way is correct, but in last editions they also served non-Zonin wines. What I maybe should have also mentioned is that all sommeliers  write down their thoughts on every wine, give it a score and as it is a blind tasting guess which wine it is and its vintage. Afterwards they collect all the answers and see how they would be able to improve their wines. So you could see it as a Marketing strategy, but I rather see it as a case study to improve your products! That some wines getting served are being liked and turn up on the sommeliers wine list is a plus and a compliment to the winemakers or better a sign that they made very good end product.

The group at table

Cesar Roman discussions 2 discussions 3 discussions 4 discussions Me and Antoine

This year’s sommelier themed lunch took place at Le Chalet de la forêt in the green part of Brussels. Last time I was here I enjoyed my meal, but wasn’t blown away, this time however I did get blow away. Not sure what the ‘problem’ was last time, but I became a big fan after this lunch!! This year the lunch theme was to distinguish the Italian from the American Zonin wines. They would serve wines from both countries, made from the same grape, and it was up to us to say which one was from one of their Italian estates and which one from their Virginia estate. I must admit we got surprised in a positive way a couple of times. To support what I said earlier, they don’t even sell their Virginia wines outside the US and UK :-). Anyhow it was a fun afternoon amongst friends as I know most of the sommeliers present and of course Lorenzo Zonin, whose daughter has 10 days difference with mine 🙂 (10 day older if I’m right)

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I do know that I’m not a top sommelier or a sommelier like the other people at the table, but I like good food, good wine and I love talking about it 🙂 AND I have learned a lot over the last few years from the others at the table.

hapjes 2 hapjes

All of this said, after some great finger food it was time to start our lunch with a Gamberoni tartar with cold consommé and Oscietra caviar. A pleasure for the taste buds because of the little spiciness from the tartar and freshness from fish and citrus. I started my lunches in worse ways 🙂 . FYI I did take pictures of my own, but I chose to  use some from the photographer Pascal Hermans as nothing beats pictures of a real photographer!! I’m sure you’ll which ones are mine and which ones aren’t 🙂

1st course

wine 1

As for the wines being served with this dish I was 98% sure when tasting which one it was, Vermentino, as I thought remembering it from visiting some of the Zonin estates last year. Funny enough I was right about the wines, but the one I thought was Italian was from Virginia and vice versa.  I was confused by the typical ‘vementino’ scent and thought this could only come from Italy, as the other one was more floral, fresh/fruity.  I personally enjoyed or better I wouldn’t mind having a few bottles  from the Vermentino from the Rocca di Montemasi  estate for this summer.

wine with 1st course

If only the blind tasting would continue this way, I would definitely recognize more easily  🙂 But they made it harder 🙂 instead of 2 we got 4 glasses of wines from 2 different blends… oooooh boy 😦 These 4 wines that were the pairing with a signature Chalet dish: Noirmoutier sole “forêt” with parsnip, champagne butter and truffle. A piece of art in a plate that you don’t want to destroy 🙂 but glad I did it as it was njammy.

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As for the wines, like mentioned they made it harder by putting 4 glasses instead of 2. Admitted that they helped us a bit letting us know that there was Viognier and Chardonnay. Up to us to decide which ones and also from which country and their vintage 🙂

4 glasses of wine

I didn’t found out which wines were viognier and which chardonnay, but that’s where it stopped for me 🙂

dav

Up to the reds, here again 4 glasses 🙂 Tips here were that there were 2 ‘Bordeaux’ like blends, 1 Sangiovese and 1 Nebbiolo. The Nebbiolo I distinguished pretty fast due to it specific more orange color.. The same for the Sangiovese due to its specific nose (don’t know how to explain it), but also because it is one of my favorite red wines from the Zonin estates aka the Il Solatio . This gave me a little push in the back to find out which ones were the ‘Bordeaux’ like blends.  When they revealed the wines, I must say I was surpised to find out the Nebbiolo was a ‘Barolo’ from Virginia!! I would have sworn it was a blend from Italy. I’m also sure I wasn’t the only one!!

Red wines

I almost forgot, these wines were served with the half wild duck (not sure which half 🙂 🙂 ) with fruited fennel and gravy (no, not your average meat gravy). I remember once a famous Michelin Star chef telling me what the perfect dish was: ‘when somebody finishes its plate and wants an other one exactly like it, that’s the perfect this’. This duck, was one of those dishes that if I could have, I would have 🙂 The meat melted like butter and the gravy had a some of that American BBQ taste in it that we all love (I think it’s called calories ;-)). No seriously, mind blowing dish!!

Duck

The cherry or frosting on the cake was the dessert that was specially given as they found out Lorenzo was a chocoholic 🙂 and it was of the same level as the previous dish with the big difference being that a second dish of this would kill you 🙂 🙂 and you’d be condemned on having a nap in the restaurant 😉

dessert

And as if the chocolate wasn’t yet a step close enough to heaven, they paired with it what is for me that best vin santo I have ever tasted, the vin santo from Castello d’albolla!! They served just like the other wines that we didn’t know what it was, but you could guess that one out of a thousand.

Cesar and the Vin Santo heaven me in heaven

It was again, like previous times a wonderful lunch!! I’ve learned and enjoyed at the same time. Special thanks to Lorenzo Zonin and the Chalet de la Forêt team (with their to Sommelier Cesar Roman) for making this all happen.

In case you would have more question about Zonin wines, please contact Hasselt Millesime as they can tell you everything about it!!

It’s all about making good choices

When I used to work for my previous employer I used to have more days off of work… so when I now get invited for a lunch I have to choose wisely, as I also need to days for when my baby girl gets sick 🙂  So I don’t just want to take a day off to afterwards regret I took one. A few days ago I choose well joining the lunch with the winemakers of Masi at the Bocconi restaurant that is located in the Amigo hotel (one of if not THE fanciest hotel in Brussels/Belgium – last time I was here, was to hang with my friends from the P!nk band). It was a good decision as Masi is producer of my favorite wines, the Valpolicella wines with as their top wine the “Amarone” (which has same status as a Barolo or Brunello di montalcino). When arriving at the lunch I was even more convinced I made a good choice of joining as when arriving I found out the lunch was themed “Amarone lunch” 🙂 🙂 so basically “Amarone” served throughout the whole meal with exception of the aperitif and 1 white wine. I can say for a fact that I already had worse drinks during lunch 😉

Masi

It is also always nice when tasting a wine to have the winemakers in front of you! They can tell you anecdotes or stories about how a wine is made or were it found its origin. This time it was not different. During our lunch we were joined by Raffaele & Giacomo Boscaini members of family that owns Masi. Also at our table, 2 Belgian top sommeliers Gianluca di Taranto(The Jane) and Bram van der Aa (previously Pazzo). So enough knowledge around one table for me to learn many new things.

People at the lunch

What I personally like about Amarone or Valpolicella in general, is the notions of cherries in it (this is also why I like drinking Merlot wines because of the red fruit flavors) that give the wine a touch of sweetness and fruitiness. Obviously depending on the producer of the wine the fruitiness, etc… will differ, but it will always be in there 🙂 During this lunch I was fortunate enough to taste 6 Amarone wines from 1988, 1990, 1995 and 3 from 1997 and what surprised me is the freshness of these wines. I mean when you think of a 30 your old wine, you think of the total opposite of fresh and 1 glass would be more than enough…

Wines during our lunch

The 6 Amaroni we tasted:

All 6 were obviously mind blowing, but everybody unanimously agreed that the 1990 Amarone was the favorite of the day! Elegant, velvety wine at the top of it game very soft and round in the mouth… in Belgium we have a saying for how good this wine was “like and angel peeing on your tongue”!! Like I said earlier, not one of these six wines had a disturbing heavy taste you might expect from wines this age, rather round well balanced wines.  Every time I drink a good Amarone (or Valpolicella)  I always remember why I like them so much 🙂 I could also keep talking about how good and wonderful they are, but I just don’t know enough words and I do think you get my point… The plans for another trip to Verona are getting more real than ever before (FYI, this last sentence is for my wife 😉 😉 )

I do also want to say a few words about the 1 sparkling and 1 white wine we had as I personally didn’t know Masi had sparkling wine 🙂 . For the sparkling wine Masi opted instaid of buying land and start growing their own grapes to join their forces with an existing winery making sparkling and white wines. In this case it was the small estate of Bossi Fedrigotti that is located in the Trento region. Masi doesn’t have the ambition to start mass production of sparkling or white wines, but this is rather completing their wine range by adding high quality white and sparkling wines… which to my opinion they certainly achieved with Bossi Fedrigotti as I think they share the same vision as Masi “better less but good, than a lot and not as good”. From the sparkling wine aka Conte Federico for example there are only produced around 10.000 bottles… but if you get hold of a bottle do try it! I’m sure my wife would be a fan of this bubbles, easy to drink, no disturbing bubbles and a bit of fruitiness…

Conte federico

The Bossi Fedrigotti white wine was a very special blend that if they’d tell you, you wouldn’t believe it.  The Vign’asmara (the wine’s name) is a blend of chardonnay with traminer :-). To say it Masi’s own words: “The pronounced perfumes of the Traminer grape, a typical Trentino variety, are combined in an unusual and innovative way with international Chardonnay flavours. Ageing in French oak casks enhances the elegance and the personality of this wine”… I couldn’t say it better myself.

Vign'asmara

You might have noticed that I didn’t talk about the food yet, but during this lunch it were the wines that played the main role! The food was nice, nothing too complicated… Just some good food to accompany the wines. As the wines were strong, you the dishes also had to be of a stronger kind. We started with a Risotto with radicchio and Montasio cheese. This dish was followed by a beef roast with polenta and broccoli. We finished with an apple dessert and mint ice cream. Sorry I must rephrase, we actually finished with a ristretto coffee… one person actually would have preferred drinking a cappuccino, but after hearing (at the table among the Italians) it was not done to have a cappuccino after 14h, he (non Italian) didn’t dare to take one 🙂 🙂

Risotto Beef roast Apple dessert

I had a wonderful lunch and am looking forward to visit the Masi winery!! I could have saved you a lot of reading by just saying in 1 sentence the wine was great 🙂 but you know by now how enthousiastic me gets 🙂 In case you have more questions about Masi wines or want to purchase them in Belgium, please contact Young Charly

Soon more about the Masi Wine estate (after my winery visit 🙂 :-))

Gustative pleasures at sir kwinten

It’s for almost 2 years that I wanted to revisit Sir Kwinten!! Last time I was at Sir Kwinten I was not feeling 100% and got sicker by the minute…so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I had hoped back then.  Now a friend of mine, who lives in Lennik (which is the town where Sir Kwinten is located), wanted to have dinner, so  it seemed like the perfect excuse for me to revisit Sir Kwinten. Very glad I did as it was a night to remember!! The type of kitchen they serve at Sir Kwinten is exactly the type I like best, ‘simple’ brought in a special way – revisited classics if you will :-). I say simple, but there’s more to it obviously… I just mean that they are able to serve you culinary heaven just using few ingredients of impeccable quality and at a correct price (not overpriced basically).

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If I would have to rank Sir Kwinten I would put it in my top 5 favorite restaurants together with Les Eleveurs and my all time favourite Pazzo Antwerp!! If I would live closer I would definitely be a regular. On their menu you find classics like a “sole meunière” or a good “entrecôte” with homemade French fries as well as revisited classics and innovative dishes (innovative but not too complicated!)… A restaurant that puts a big smile on my face!! They also renewed the restaurant’s looks in something more modern, very nice and very comfy chairs!

Restaurant 1 Restaurant 2 Restaurant 3 Restaurant 4

Sir Kwinten is owned by one of Belgium’s best Sommeliers aka Yanick Dehandschutter, so getting served great wines is a known fact. What is great about being in the hands of a top sommelier is that they want to let you enjoy some new discoveries they made and ‘get you to learn more about wine and be as astonished as much as they were when they discovered it (that’s called passion btw.) . Who am I to stop them 🙂 Just sit back and relax I’d say! The discovery of the evening (even of the month) was a Belgian Chardonnay Barrique by Crutzberg!!

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Something Yannick tends to do is serve people wine without telling which one it is and let people think about it for a while. Not really to be able to name the exact wine, but more to take away pre-judgements people might have if a wine comes from particular country or place. Plus you’ll be more surprised sometimes when you’re told which wine it is and from where it is….This is exactly what happened with us with the Chardonnay from Crutzberg… not that I would pre-judge Belgian wines as I’m a big fan!!!! (Became even bigger fan thanks to my friends from Belgian Wines) I didn’t and would have never guessed this wine came from Belgium… Result of this is that I’m trying to get hold of a few bottles for myself to pass on this discovery to my friends and family. Isn’t that what a restaurant experience should be all about? Getting to know something you have never tried before and want more of it 🙂

Yanick

My friend and I chose the 4 course menu not that the ‘à la carte’ dishes didn’t fancy me, but my friend forced me to take the menu… If I can make people happy by such a small gesture I do it. I’m such an easy person if you look at it, my wife is such a lucky person 🙂 🙂 Feast your eyes on the menu we had:

We started with a few appetizers: 1st was local Fresh cheese with radish, eel and buckwheat. For the other dishes I confess I know they were veeeeeeery tasty and that there was something with Lamb, goose liver and a veal tartar with beetroot and kohlrabi… but that’s as far as I remember it as I wasn’t really planning on writing a blogpost (rather enjoy and relax), but I had such a great evening I just had to write and share 🙂 To accompany these appetizers we had rose bubbles from my dear friend Luis Pato adding a bit of fruitiness to harmonize our appetizers

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We continued our meal with for me Limousin veal (3 different preparations) with Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut and miso. For my friend a revisited “Chicon gratin” (chicory) . Let’s say we didn’t feel like sharing food and they were able to put the plates right back in the cupboard (we emptied them well). These dishes got accompanied by the wonderful Belgian white wine I described earlier.

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The next dish in line was  Pieterman (Weever fish) with Vichyssoise (potato and leek),  butternut and purslane that was served with a Romanian white wine aka Budureasca Fume… again very impressed, I didn’t know they made wine of this quality!! Definitely I would have never picked myself if I would have seen it on a wine list (damn pre-judgements).

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As main dish a pleasant pheasant 🙂 with cantharel mushrooms, parsnip and rillettes… with which we didn’t get 1 wine, noooooo sire we got 3 that matched perfectly with them… again here e didn’t know which ones we had… I did immediately recognized the 2010 Barolo (by Marziano Abbona) amongst them 🙂 The other 2 were a Bulgaria Allegro Barbaro Marselan, which is a more classic taste because of the syrah/merlot blend (80% merlot). The 3rd one was a French Cuvée violette by Clau de Nell, less my cup of tea on its own, but it worked with the dish 🙂 what disturbs me about this wine is the ‘bio/natural’ taste in it… dunno what it exactly is but I know I don’t like it 🙂 but again it worked perfectly with the dish.

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We finished off with some tangerine with almond, white chocolate and lemongrass served with a Belgian icewine by Hoenshof … in contrast to what you think I must say this icewine was really good!! Not too sweet FYI, for those who don’t know what icewine is, they basically freeze the grapes at a temperature of -8°C and at when grapes are frozen they press them to get the most concentrated juice out of them…(in a few words)

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I had a delightful evening filled with amazing food and wines!! Can’t wait for my next Sir Kwinten experience!! Thanks to Yanick and his team!!

Spanish premium style bubbles

When people talk about Cava wine they always feel the need to compare it with Champagne (the same goes for Spumante or Prosecco). They mostly also see Cava (or prosecco or Spumante or any other sparkling wine) as an inferior product compared to Champagne. To my opinion the only things they have in common is the way they get produced and the fact they both have bubbles in them… besides that it are products that have their own style with their own identity and characteristics. That one prefers drinking Champagne over Cava (or another sparkling wine) or vice versa is a matter of taste and preference for a particular style (or that’s what it should be, not just because of the name of a product). This doesn’t mean I don’t like Champagne, I’m just saying there is more than only Champagne 🙂

Cava premium pic by CRC

A few weeks ago I joined a dinner hosted by the Spanish Ambassador to get to know the top segment of Spanish bubbles aka Premium Cava’s. The choice of restaurant for this dinner at ‘Le Chalet de la fôret’ didn’t come as an entire surprise knowing the restaurant recently added a new TOP member to their team. After working 4 beautiful years at the legendary restaurant ‘Comme Chez Soi’ my dear friend César Roman decided it was time for something new and joined the 2 Michelin starred restaurant ‘Le Chalet de la fôret’s team. I cannot imagine a better ‘ambassador’ for Spanish wines than César, he’s one very proud Spanish person 🙂 (who can blame him?). César’s aim at ‘Le Chalet de la fôret’ is making their wine cellar the most beautiful/best in Belgium…

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Did you know the following things about Cava? Did you know that yearly there are produced around 241 million bottles on over 33 352 hectares of land ? With 97% of the land being in the Sant Sadurni d’Anoia region, basically the area around Barcelona (to keep it simple). It also seem that Belgians are on the most important cava drinkers. There are 3 kinds of Cava: Cava (around 9 months of aging), Cava Reserva (around 15 months of aging)and Cava Gran Reserva (around 30 months of aging)?  Of the 241 million bottles I mentioned before 30 million are considered as Premium cava which are Special Cuvées, Reserva’s and Gran Reserva’s….

Types of cava

The biggest “problem” during the dinner was keeping up the pass :-). There were about 10 different Cava’s served during our 5 course meal. It might not seem a lot, but you would be surprised…. You probably think I will say I loved every Cava we were served during the dinner, to that I say no! There were some I preferred over others, but this doesn’t mean they weren’t good, they just were not my cup of tea…  (of course not, you were having Cava not tea 😉 OK, bad joke). We started and ended in the same way, with beautiful bubbles 🙂

Just FYI the full list of cava’s we tasted:

My preferred Cava’s of the night were the 2010 Núria Claverol by Sumarroca because of its complex brioche/almond/ smokey aroma’s with citrus accents and even hinds of pear… basically a rich cava with refined buttery touches 🙂 (butter = good). Fun fact, the bottles of the Núria are numbered… Another favorite is the 2012 Maria Del Mar Brut Nature  Gran Reserva by Pere Ventura that has a ‘creamy’ texture with more or less the fruity accents as the previous one, but this time more herbal tones as well. Next in my favorites list would be the 2004 Reserva Particular by Recaredo. I notice  loads of tropical fruits, ‘jammed’ citrus (like a marmalade), fresh bakery accents with sweet spices  with a very fresh and pleasant elegance with a medium long after taste… simply beautiful!! Last but not least the 2013 Subirat Parent Brut Reserva by Vilarnau. The last one is one that I think is the biggest ‘everybody’s friend’ of the whole evening as the other cava’s were more complex and therefor more special… The Vilarnau had a very fruity (lycee, peach) smell, the taste reminded me a bit of a tropical fruit salad 🙂 basically a very pretty and distinctive wine. I was surprised that eventhough of the premium Cava’s came from bigger Bodegas, they were not of lower quality!! SO basically size doesn’t seem to matter in Spain 🙂 😉 (just pointing out the facts)

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As we ate at a lovely restaurant like Le Chalet de la fôret something must also be said about the food?! In general you can say that ever dish looks like a picture and you can see the advanced way of cooking from the first look you give to the plate…however you do see that the chefs knows his basics as they come back in every dish (you need to know the basics before you can start experimenting). The first dish one the menu was (after some appetizers) a grilled cadoret Oyster from Bretagne, buckwheat  and iodée vinaigrette, followed by a seabass (line caught) salisfy, Jerusalem artichoke and a Xarel-Lo sauce . To continue with pheasant breast with white truffle, foie gras sauce, pumpkin variation and sautéed ceps. Followed by a melted Old Bruges cheese. To finish with a chocolate dessert with mushrooms. Yes mushrooms 🙂 I must admit that this was the strangest dish of all and not really my thing, but i finished it anyhow

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The dish that after 2 weeks is still the first image that pops in my head when thinking of Le Chalet is  the pheasant breast with white truffle, foie gras sauce, pumpkin variation and sautéed ceps. Maybe for that reason the Cava served with this (Particular de Recaredo Gran Reserva by Recaredo) was one of my favorites? Who knows 🙂

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The dinner wouldn’t end perfect without all the ‘friandises’ aka sweets that come with the coffee 🙂 The chefs have outdone themselves as I like every piece of the assortment 🙂 🙂

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An evening to remember!! In case you would want more info on Cava don’t hesitate to contact the Cava Rugulatory board as they will be able to answer all you questions 🙂