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

Daddy’s day out in the Belgian wineries

Over the years my passion for wine has grown tremendously. The person who has had a great part in this is my dad. For many years (when he still had his own restaurant) we used to have our yearly trip to Vinitaly (Verona) or trips to Italy to visit wineries. Now that he has retired it is me taking him to visit wineries 🙂

Back in the day he used to take me to wineries in Italy, today I try to show him the rest of the world 🙂 🙂 but why should we always travel far when we have very top level wineries only a short drive away??? I invited my dad to visit some Belgian wine producers in ‘Haspengouw’. Haspengouw or Hesbaye as it seems to be called in English is mostly known in Belgium for its fruit yards. Especially during blooming season (spring  time) it is a very nice region to visit… beautiful flowers as far as the eyes can see. Only for people (like myself) with hay fever a double dose of allergy medicine is required 🙂 🙂

It must be said that last few years the amount of professional wineries in Belgium has grown, especially in the Southern and Eastern part of Belgium (with a few exceptions in other parts of Belgium).  The Belgian wine production mainly focusses on white wine and bubbles, although there are also a few (not a lot) wineries that produce some very nice reds (one of my favorites is Chateau Bon Baron). The success of this growth we thank first of all to the high quality products most of the wineries make, but next to that the Belgian Wines bar in Antwerp played its part too The Belgian Wines bar is a wine bar were only wines produced in Belgium are served and can be bought.  Resulting in Belgian wines finding their way into more people’s homes and on wine lists in many restaurant AND we being more proud of local products!!

A winery that raised the ‘high quality’ bar very high for the others is Clos d’Opleeuw. Clos d’Opleeuw aka the life work of Peter Colemont is the only Belgian wine included in the Sotheby’s lists, being reviewed in the NY times and a Jancis Robinson favorite… So in other words a winery that I had to show my dad. (I already visited it once in 2013) Knowing the winery has only 1ha of land, around 2000 vines and a yearly production of 35Hl,  it is like a shimmer in comparison with wineries where they produces thousands of bottles… but the quality of the end product is just like at the big boys. During blind tastings Peter’s Chardonnay is often taken for top Burgundy wine.

On its 1ha piece  of land Clos d’Opleeuw only produces 2 types of wine, a Chardonnay (98% of their production) and a very small production of Pinot Noire.

The vineyard, as the name says, lays within walls (clos) creating a microclimate and a perfect climate to grow the grapes (or fruit in general) in the cold Belgian weather. When Peter Colemont purchased the piece of land back in the ‘90s it was far from the beautiful vineyard it is today, a wilderness with a few cherry trees in it.  In a few words Peter had to start from scratch and build up everything by himself. Something he still does today as he does all the work in and around the vineyard himself.  When you taste his younger Chardonnay’s you’ll clearly notice notes of oak. Yet there is more than enough freshness and fruitiness. In addition, we taste aromas of butter, vanilla, toast and a variation of white and yellow fruit. The concentration, fullness with a beautiful aftertaste… a joy as big as hearing Peter talking with so much passion about this wines!   If you ever have the chance to try one of his wines please do so, you won’t regret it!!

After a wonderful lunch at my favorite Limburg wine restaurant Mondevino  we set sail to the producer of the drink I started my lunch with…

Domain Cuvelier is specialized in sparkling wines.   The difference  between this winery and the previous is that owner Yves Cuvelier comes from a long line of fruit growers and his (together with his brother Patrick who I was told boss on the land and Yves in the Cellar) main job is still fruit grower. The wine making is a hobby that got out of hand 🙂 🙂 . For making the wine the brothers work together with Guy Geunis (who has been in the business for 25 years and is a role model for Yves) and Rik Schuers from the close by vineyard Optimbulles that I visited a couple of years ago. Just to be clear, both wineries have their own way of working, the only thing they share are the material, infrastructure and knowledge .

It was in the year 2000  Domain Cuvelier planted its first vines of  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Later Pinot Meunier and Grüner Veltliner followed. It surprised me that they planted Grüner Veltliner as I read somewhere that in Germany they don’t use this grape a lot because it’s too wet for the grape kind and Belgium (and especially where the vineyard is located) is not that far from Germany… but then again you read many things 😉

The majority of the harvest is destined for their CuBiz, a traditional brut that consists of the classic trilogy (70% chardonnay, 20% pinot noir and 10% pinot meunier). It was only in 2015 that they started experimenting more with the Grüner Veltliner  that let to their BizTro (mono cepage and first Grüner Veltliner in Belgium). The top of the bill is their BizJoe, a method traditional extra brut, blanc de noirs! You could also tell that Yves was very proud of his BizJoe 🙂 not he is not proud of the Cubiz, but the extra sparkle when talking about BizJoe gave it away.

When you have to compare their sparkling wines I would say that Cubiz is the ‘easy to drink’ (my dad’s favorite) one and ‘BizJoe’ the more complex’ one (had my preference) and the BizTro somewhere in between 🙂   The BizJoe is very delicate with hinds of toasted bread and full flavored. The BizTro is a dry wine with a  high acidity level and a light vegetal character through the short skin contact it had. For the Cubiz it is the chardonnay that gives it elegance and finesse, a beautiful golden yellow color and rich apple flavors. The Pinot Noir provides body and structure, the Pinot Meunier adds the round and fruity touch.  All special on their own and add Yves’ drive and passion to that and you have a winner.

With this festive note we ended our day and my dad was more excited than ever (he was really impressed by the drive both winemakers had and the story they had to tell).

Mission completed I’d say!

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight

With the ASI World Championship for Sommeliers being held in Belgium (Antwerp aka the most beautiful city in the world 😉 ) in 2019 I thought is was time to put another key person of a restaurant  in the spotlight… I mean it are always the chefs that are put in the spotlight, but  to create a full gastronomical experience it takes  so much more than only food, the beverages that accompany the dishes for example are as essential for the experience! So time for a change I’d say and put that spotlight on the sommeliers. They deserve it !

I know you might find it strange that I am putting this job on a pedestal even though I’m not a sommelier myself…  but let’s say that there are  2 persons to blame for me finding a passion that is not my profession 🙂 My Dad and  William ‘Pato’  Wouters (who I met through my dad 20 years ago)  🙂 🙂 My dad because he introduced me into the world of good wines (and food in general)  and William for helping me widening my horizon ad showing me different aspects in the world of wines  and introducing me in the world of Sommellerie. A few years later  I’m a board member of the Belgian Sommelier Association , Co-organizer of the ASI Sommelier World Championship and being as much as possible busy with wine and sommeliers … so you could say it has found a way to my heart.

What is a sommelier? I know that around this topic there is a lot of confusion. Most people think that a sommelier is only responsible for serving wine, but they do much more.  A sommelier is a trained  (HoReCa) professional with  deep knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits soft-drinks, cocktails, mineral waters, and tobaccos work in harmony (on top of what the job of a waiter implies). It is their mission to give an extra dimension to the meal you are having  :-).

In the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to have done over 80 interviews with TOP sommeliers form all over the world (and I will continue interviewing) from the great Gerard Basset to Arvind Rosengren  to Sören Polonius.. .  FYI It does me great pleasure to see  that many Sommelier Associations from other countries have taken over these interviews and translated in their local language and even started putting more of their own sommeliers in the spotlight… so basically spreading the word and making the job of sommelier more popular.

What I learned from all the interviews I did is that  in bigger cities like London, Paris or Brussels or countries like Japan or the US the job of Sommeliers is mostly valuated as it should and most restaurant owners understand the added value of having a  sommelier in their restaurant. But what surprised me maybe even more was that in many ‘smaller’ countries or countries you won’t expect the job of sommelier is taken serious the situation improving as many new Sommelier Associations are founded and many are also joining the ASI (International Sommelier Association)!! What Sommelier Associations  do is giving chances to young people to discover the a wonderful world, to build an International career and bring together people with the same passion.    There a many examples of sommelier whose life changed and turned 180° thanks to their local sommelier association.

Anyhow I can only advise you to check out the interviews with the sommeliers and let them be the shining star for a change 🙂 You can find the interviews (English) via following link 

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!

sommeliers-themed-lunch

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.

blind-tasting blind-tasting-2

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

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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

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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

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….

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

jancis-robinsson

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.

mosel-vineyards

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.

Time to put the sommeliers I the spotlight: Antonio Lopes

Now that we are less then a week away from the finals of the contest of Best Sommelier of Belgium I will introduce to you another top sommelier who is part of the International jury during the contest.  This time I had the honor of interviewing Antonio Lopes (28) who is head sommelier of the Conrad hotel in the beautiful Algarve and was elected as bet sommelier of Portugal in 2014.

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Not that I already want to reveal to much of his answers, but what I found remarkable is that until 2008 Antonio didn’t even like wine 🙂 8 years later he’s an awarded sommeliers giving master classes all over the globe and is he true ambassador of Portuguese wine  and gastronomy! Just like he did during last year during Taste Portugal London.

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In the past few years Antonio has gained lots of experience both in restaurants/hotels Portugal and Scotland. Although he admits that the job where the ‘passion’ grow and learned most was during he years at the  Vila Vita Parc hotel where he was assistant-sommelier of Paulo Duarte.  Although Antonio has lots of passion for his job leaving Portugal is something else as he admits:”my biggest ‘problem’ is that I love Portugal, and when I think of leaving, that’s always a factor that holds me back.”

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I’m sure of 1 thing, you will hear a lot of Antonio in the future!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

It is very difficult to only mention one, so If I can I will mention 3 reds and 3 whites:

Reds: Bairrada, Barolo, Burgundy(Vosne- Romaneé)

Withes: Mosel, Burgundy(Meurseult), Vinho Verde

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

Passion, working hard, a good memory is a must, presence and humbleness. Those are ”adjectives” , but let me put in words. For me to be a good sommelier you must first of all love to be in contact, serve and talk with people and in some ways you must be a “psychologist”. Secondly you must always give yourself 100% at your working place even if it sometimes takes you blood sweat and tears. It is nice to be noticed and that everybody knows you’re the sommelier and you might think yourself being a star, but you must also not forget that the only “stars” in a restaurant are the guests!! Not the Sommeliers and definitely not the chefs…

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

In Portugal? For sure

In other countries such as the U.K. sommeliers are always very respected, searched for and well paid.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Before 2008 I never touched wine. My dad is a wine producer for own use and I never liked the smell, not to say repulsive 🙂 . From 2008 onward this repulsiveness changed thanks to the sommeliers of a great resorts in Portugal and Scotland where I worked as assistant for the sommeliers. It was at that time I could feel that this was what I wanted to do till the end of my days.

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

My “bar” teacher Eduardo Vicente as he gave me the basics of serving. In terms of wine, Dirk Niepoort, Mário Sergio and João Pires (MS)

joao-pires

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

If I’ve understood the question correctly I would say I approach every single dish differently. I try to adapt my choice  to the taste of guest. How we usually work at the Conrad hotel is the Chef lets me know on a piece of paper which dish he will be making. As following step I will divide all the elements according acidity, richness, flavors, if the dish is served hot or cold, etc…. then I decide the pairing effect I want to achieve  do I want a shock effect, or extend the dish or add an extra dimension to the dish?  Finally when I decided all that I’ll taste dish (and elements used) and try to put a wine next to the dish.

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

This will be the easiest question, Douro!! 🙂

Douro, is a paradise on earth!! The landscapes, the wines, the history, the people, the food, the ports, the uniqueness….not enough words to describe how wonderful it is.

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

Chateau D’Yquem 1787, and I ‘m not even a ‘sweet wine’ person.

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

Everything 🙂 . I know it seems like a very easy and maybe unbelievable answer, but viticulture is a passion I have and therefore I love to go in wine regions like Champagne, Burgundy, etc… or even to school and listen to all the processes with all its pro and contras and especially learn how they dealt with this problems to resolve them.

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

My mother’s arroz de cabidela and homemade bread