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.

montaribaldi-family

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

my-table

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

Celery truffle saladRoero Arneis

ezio

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

Barbera Vitel tonné

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

RobbioloLanghe

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

Barbaresco Cocotte

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

Main course SVI

Barolo

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

dessert

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

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

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

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

Hidden treasures, wines from Valtellina: Balgera

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

balgera

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

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

Balgera since 1885

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

Balgera 1 Balgera 2 Balgera 3 Balgera 4

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

Sassella

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

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

Sforzato

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

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Caro Maurer

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

caro-maurer

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.

Will apple cider be the next gin?

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

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

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

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

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Strongbow has 3 different types of apple cider:

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

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

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

Ingredients for +/- 20 cocktails:

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

Per person

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

Preparation:

For the ‘fake rum’:

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

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

cocktail-a-night

Cheers!

Pampering all the way at restaurant Pouic Pouic

When I found out there was a gastronomical restaurant in Belgium that based its name on a Louis De Funès (and basically are  big fans of him like me) movie I just had to find out more … and preferably try it 😉 And so I did or rather so we did as my wife and I chose to celebrate our 17th anniversary (and she still looks as beautiful as day 1) at restaurant Pouic Pouic in the little town of Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont.  Pouic Pouic is the lifework of Patrick Libert (maître) and Sicilian chef Philippo Santangelo who opened the restaurant in 2007. The icing on the cake for them was  receiving a Michelin star a few years ago.

pouic-pouic

What I liked about the restaurant besides the food (but I’ll talk more about that later on) was the space you had in the restaurant. I always prefer when you are at a restaurant and you don’t feel like you’re sitting on your neighbor’s lap 🙂 I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, right??  On top of that space you get a very nice view over the open kitchen where you can follow what chef Philippo and his team are doing or a view over the lovely garden. I prefer the kitchen though, for me it gives the impression that they have nothing to hide and that everybody can see what they are doing and the ingredients they are using.

Pouic pouic 1 Pouic Pouic 2

BTW I loved the little wooden mushrooms on the tables 🙂

Pouic Pouic 3

For our meal we gave’ carte blanche’ to the chef, as choosing ourselves would have been too hard… everything on the menu looked great. The same for our wines, we had full trust. Before the actual menu we were spoiled with a nice assortment of delicious refreshing  appetizers and a glass of Champagne.  One of my favorite appetizers was actually the cauliflower with red onion gel.

appetizer 1 appetizer 2 appetizer 3 appetizer

What followed was pure pampering and a pleasure for our taste buds. With a first dish a Risotto with tomato water, ricotta quenelle, red mullet, young basil shoots and lemon balm that got accompanied by a 2015 Spanish white wine from the Acústic Celler estate (Catalunya). On the taste buds you sensed notes of white fruit mingled with hinds of spices and citrus. A freshness that goes really well with the red mullet and definitely doesn’t overpower the dish.

Red Mullet Acústic Blanc

Next dish Cod with peas and a cookie to add sweetness and crisp.  This time there was chosen to go for a white French wine from the Côtes de Gascogne . Correct pairing and dish.

Codfish

Côtes de Gascogne

The next dish was maybe my favorite as I’ve got a soft spot for sweatbreads 🙂 We were served a home made pasta with truffles and sweetbread. From all times that my wife wants to share her plate (as she doesn’t eat as much as me) I regret this time the most she didn’t ask me 🙂 🙂 I could have handled another one of those.  To accompany this dish they had chosen for a Grüner Veltliner from the renowned winery of Nigl . In contrast with the ‘classic Gruner Veltliner’ that mixes citrus aromas with fresh vegetal notes and a hint of white pepper. This wine  from the Kremstal region (which is a warmer region) had more complexity that added that extra kick to the dish.

Nigl Pasta with truffle and sweet bread

The main course was a young pigeon. One tasty little bird!  The only things that I wasn’t too crazy about were the little pieces of candied orange… but that’s a personal taste as I’m not a fan of candied fruit in general. (and I know in Sicily everybody loves it). nevertheless it was a very nice dish and it all was well balanced. For the wine they chose a red variant from the white Monsant wine they served with the red mullet. it was a nice wine, but I think that a wine with a bit more strength would have given an extra kick… but again here it is probably a personal taste.

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Red wine pigeon

And of course it ain’t over until the fat lady sings or in this case before they serve the sweets and dessert 🙂

dessert 3 sweets candle in the wind dessert

Every dish tasted as good as it looked!! I don’t know if I’m right but I think the chef has a sweet tooth as the dishes were rather on the sweet side than on the bitter/sour/salty side . Not sugar sweet but just sweeter like in a rich sauce … which for me perfect because I’m a rich sauce and sweet fan ;-).  For me all wines we got fitted perfectly with the dishes .   There are different approaches to pair wines, in this case (or at least that’s what I think their approach was) was to harmonize with the dish and add a bit of freshness

For me a meal is successful when you loose track of time and that’s exactly what happened at Pouic Pouic! We entered at noon and before we knew if it was 3.30pm 🙂 So I can only add 1 more thing: GO THERE! 🙂

A big thanks to chef Philippo and his team for giving us such a wonderful afternoon! Grazie!!

mand and philippo

 

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.

douro-valley

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.

chateau-dyquem-1787

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

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Romana Echensperger

Let me introduce to you one of the international top sommeliers that will be judging during the competition of Best Sommelier of Belgium Romana Echsperger.  Since 2015 Romana is one of the 8 Masters of wine in Germany  who has gained much experience during her years as (head) sommelier in lots of high-end restaurant like restaurant Vendôme *** near Cologne. Romana has also done lots of internships in Germany, Spain and Italy and has won many national and international sommelier titles

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The last few year she has mostly been travelling the world as wine educator, wine consultant, journalist and ambassador promoting  German wines around the globe. So she’ll be the perfect person to teach me more about German wines as I almost know nothing about them 😦 Romana has also co- written a book about the basics from wine together with another big wine personality Janice Robinson and Filip Veheyden.

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Let’s get to know Romana a bit better and see what she has answered to the 10 questions I posed her 🙂

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What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Difficult to say, there are so many regions that I love. However, if I should decide I would go for Franconia. I love Silvaner which they have on commitment and fits with almost any food (I am a notorious  underdog-supporter)

Furthermore, you find great Riesling and Pinot Blanc as well as outstanding Pinot Noir over there. So – what do you need more for some perfect pairings?

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

20% humor

20% having no „porcelaine-allergy“ – meaning: be a good colleague!!!

20% high level knowledge about psychology and psychological disorders to survive in a restaurant

20% Very good general knowledge – to be able to do some convincing small talk (don’t say thinks like „Madrid or Mailand – Italy is always worth traveling“)

10% Very good physical condition and being able to organize yourself

10% Knowledge about wine, food pairing, service, etc.,…

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

No – I don’t think so. I think if you are long enough in the business you and you are doing a good job, you get more attention then in any other business.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

In the restaurant during my apprenticeship in the Hotel Königshof in Munich. They have a tremendously big wine list and one of the best Sommeliers (which is still working there). One day he brought me a tasting sample from a bottle that he just opened with the words: „Taste – It’s not bad“ – it was Romanée Conti out from a Magnum bottle. If you don’t know anything about wine – I got immediately that this is something special.

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

Stéphane Gass from the Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in Traube Tonbach. I don’t know anybody who is a better taster.

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

Texture, Texture, Texture!!! I was never the type of Sommelier who was sniffing himself to death – talking about hundreds of flavors. The texture of wine and food has to fit – then comes the basic aromatics.

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

Mosel – to understand how much work it can be to get a damn glass of wine.

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

For great Burgundy and Champagne

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

The inauguration party when I became Master of Wine. It was in the vintner’s hall in London – the atmosphere was so stunning. Furthermore, my beloved parents, who never travelled that much, were there.

I will never forget my father sitting in the corner with my MW colleague from Japan – Kenichi Ohashi and laughing themselves to death.

I asked him later „Hey Dad – what did you say to him? You don’t speak English and he doesn’t speak German?“

My father said: „I think he asked me where I come from.“

Me: „And what did you say?“

My father: „Oh – Bayern München“

Kenichi said then: „Oh – Beckenbauer“

My father: „Oh – Schweinsteiger“

So this was the whole conversation – talking about soccer stars. This was so funny.

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

Drinking the best wine that you have at home with the most beloved people.

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Sören Polonius

I’m very glad to introduce to  you yet again a very remarkable sommelier! This man is the founder of “Swesomm” (that if my Swedish is still up to date is the Swedish Sommelier Guild 🙂 ) ,  breeder of international TOP sommeliers as he was the coach of 2 winners of the ASI World Sommelier Championships (Andreas Larsson 2010 & Arvid Rosengren 2016) and a few European Champions. He’s also holder of the title of best Swedish Sommelier and sommelier of the year and an example to lots of Nordic (and far beyond) sommeliers.  The president of the Belgian Sommelier Guild William ‘Pato’  Wouters calls him the Mourinho amongst the sommeliers 🙂 🙂

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Next to all the coaching he’s also head sommelier of the renowned Esperanto restaurant group .  I didn’t have the pleasure yet to meet Sören, but I hope we soon will cross paths 🙂

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I always like to know what a person who is an inspiration to lots of people has himself as source of inspiration or way of looking at this… That is why I also send the below 10 questions to Sören. Feast your eyes on his answers 🙂

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What is your favorite wine region to work with?

As a sommelier, i´m trying not to get “stuck” in one single field, but my hart beats a bit harder for Burgundy and Wachau to be honest. Of course, I don’t want to discard Champagne and California, nor Bordeaux. It´s always a difficult question. It´s like choosing between Your children.

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

Love, hunger and knowledge. Add the ability to communicate, and You got a very good sommelier.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued? 

I think so. We need to get a bit better to communicate to the rest of the world what we are doing. In contrary to what many think, we´re not only drinking wine day in and day out. It´s about so much more.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

The first little spark were lit while I did a internship at a hotel, and helped the maitre ´d to do the monthly inventory in the wine cellar. He learned me the pronounciation and often told me a short history surrounding the château or domaine. So I got my interrest in a quite romantic “packaging”.

However it took a few Years before I took the full step to educate as a sommelier.

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

There´s a lot of sources of inspiration in our world. Gerard Basset and Markus del Monego is just a couple of names that I regard to be among the foremost in our ranks, not only for their deep knowledge, but also for their ability to communicate, and will to share their knowledge.

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

 Beverages shouldn´t only “work good” with food, it should also lift the course to a higher level. I love to seek new ways, avoiding “old rules” and not only walk on the “beaten paths”. In the end of the day, it´s all about balance, “Yin & Yang”.

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

Burgundy, a quite complicated region to many. A visit will shed light to a lot of questions. A bike ride through Côte de Beaune, from Beaune to Puligny with a vineyard map in my hand, was one of the great moments for me while travelling the wine world. A lot of things became so much more clear to me during this bike ride. (Terroir under a magnifying glass.)

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

There´s a few wines that I would give a lot for, in order t taste them. It´s difficult to choose one single specific wine. But it would have been interresting to taste the wine served at the “last supper”…

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

When I graduated from the sommelier education as the number one of class. That was the trigger point for me, from that moment on, I knew that I had found my way “home”.

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

We all have the luck to work with a passion, wich often takes us to the best dining rooms and wine cellars in the world. But it´s the “simple” moments that I would recommend all to actively search for. To jump around among the stones during low tide by the shoreline in Brittany, in search for wild oysters, with a bottle of Muscadet in one hand and an oyster knife in the other. That was one of those moments for me.

Another time we were up in northern Norway, in Lofoten, picking whelks in low tide. Preparing them in wine, parsley and garlic. Eating directly out of the pot, drinking a white grand cru from Puligny, gazing out over the sea, under the midnight sun. Gastronomical romanticism!

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Hidden treasures: wines from Valtellina: Rivetti e Lauro

I know it has been a while, but I finally made it to continue my story about my visit to my preferred wine region and 2 wineries . Like I mentioned in my first blogpost about this trip with my dad , Valtellina is a a wine region that is very underestimated and sadly even unknown to many people. As this is a region that lays very close to my heart I want to promote it as much as I can 🙂

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The first vineyard I visited during my stay was Rivetti & Lauro  a rather new winery as they only exist since 2010.  If I have to be completely honest it was a Belgian friend of mine who brought this vineyard to my attention 🙂 🙂 He told me I absolutely had to try their wines as they were spectacular. Who am I not to do as I’m told. Now that I’ve tried them I do agree with my friend and I can also speak for my dad as he bought 3 boxes of wine 🙂 .  What intrigued me most about this winery was its location in Tirano. It intrigued me as I always thought all of the wineries (Nino Negri, Nero, Sandro Fay, Bettini, etc…)in Valtellina were or had to be located near/right around Sondrio (or Chiuro  to be more specific). So it was something I wanted explore and  know more about.

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Just for the record, I am not a professional sommelier yet 🙂 I’m learning every day and I prefer learning everything by visiting and trying and I have some incredible people guiding me towards the estates that are worth visiting.

Rivetti & Lauro is a story about friends that shared a passion for many years and decided to take their passion to the next level. It was 2010 Alberto Rivetti and Dino Lauro opened the doors of their winery “Rivetti & Lauro”. Dino Lauro with over 20years experience in wine business at Nino Negri and 2 years at Salis. Alberto Rivetti on the other hand comes from the world of Coffee but also has a very good business background. They did also get a little help from former friends/ colleagues to realize their dream Catia, Emanuele and Pietro (that also have a long experience in winemaking).

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As base location Rivetti & Lauro  found a very beautiful unique location and are settled  in the historical cellars of Torelli’s Palace. Palazzo Torelli is a 16th century castle from Count Luigi Torelli who was an important personality of the valley and in Italian history. They also still have a beautiful old wine press in their cellar!! FYI they did remodel and renovate the cellar first 🙂

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Did you know that Valtellina is the largest terraced wine-growing area in the Italian mountains? It is!  This basically means lots and lots of manual labor during the harvest as every grape has to be picked by hand. On top of that it is also a place where Nebbiolo is grown (or in this region better known as Chiavennasca), a grape kind that is the synonym for noble and extraordinary quality. As we all know a great wine is made on the vineyards…the human only helps it a bit, but without the good ingredients the human goes nowhere 🙂 The showpiece wine or top of the top would be the Sforzato which is the Valtellina variant of Amarone (with different grapes that is) as they also use the grape drying technique like they do in the Valpolicella wine region. So now you also know why I’m such a big fan of those 2 regions…

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What distinguishes Rivetti & Lauro from other vineyards in the area is that they are experimenting by growing new grape kinds and assembling them with the traditional Nebbiolo. I know that for lots it is like swearing in church, but I must say that it resulted in some very nice assemblies. The Rivetti & Lauro winery is also one of the smaller ones in Valtellina with a production of around 25000 bottles of wine that after vinification in small stainless steel tanks they get refined in French oak barrels. I always find it very courageous to open a new winery and trying to do their own thing and experiment and basically let a new wind blow through this wine region.

Rivetti & Lauro have 8 different types of wine( 7 red and 1 white). Wines going from the full-bodied pride of Valtellina the Sforzato  and Sassella (both 100%Nebbiolo) to the “experimental”  wines like the Cormelo’ a Nebbiolo and Merlot blend (basically the Valtellina variant of the Super Tuscans 😉 ) or the Satama’ a Nebbiolo – Shiraz blend.  One of my personal favorites from Rivetti & Lauro is the UI’ a Nebbiolo in purezza (100% Nebbiolo) that aged for 24months in steel and wooden barrels.  The UI’ balances both complexity and refinement  perfectly and is a real pleasure to drink!! I noticed intense aroma of raisins mixes with the spices, hazelnut with tannins and acidity typical of wines from long vitality.

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Although my biggest love of this wine region and my all time favorite will always be and stay the Sforzato/ Sfurzat!!! One of the most beautiful wines around if you ask me. If you would ever have the chance every year the wine region holds a Sforzato tasting from and with all the wine makers from the region… I call it paradise!!

It was a pleasure to have met this wonderful winery and its wonderful people!! Up to the next 🙂

 

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Xavier Faber

Our next sommelier we interviewed is a special case as he isn’t really a sommelier anymore… although once a sommelier, always a sommelier?! I’m talking about our dear friend Xavier Faber former  sommelier with more than 15years experience in restaurants like that brought him to restaurants like Seagrill **, La maison du boeuf, etc.. and managing several restaurant.  Let’s also not forget to mentioned that in 1999 he won the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium!!

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After all those years he traded all that wine for water as for the past 10years he’s been working as sales manager for Spadel which is the group that owns BRU and Spa water brands.

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What must also be said is whenever Xavier is around the words fun and laughter always come to mind 🙂 He’s one happy camper 🙂 He really likes to spread the love and bring smiles on people’s faces… which actually reminds me of my dad, so maybe that’s why I like him that much.

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I know I said he now chose water over wine, but he still does a lot to support young sommeliers and help out wherever he can (he’s a big example/inspiration for lots of people).  That’s also the reason why I wanted to interview him.

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What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I don’t really have a favorite wine region, but my preference does go out to European wines

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

Something he should definitely have is ‘un sens du contact’, basically understand the customer and being able to communicate to him in words he understands. A sommelier has to offer a moment of joy to the customer not by just giving him his choice, but rather understanding the customer’s urge.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

The sommelier has finally found his rightful place with  recognition he deserves. It is also true that by opening up sommelier contests to the public (to attend the finals, for example) it has given the opportunity to lots of people to better understand the job and all its aspects both technical as theoretical.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I discovered wine during my year in hotel management school thanks to my oenology professor Gérard Devos.
He really pushed me this way by communicating or passing on his passion with enthusiasm. After that my career also gave me the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people that transmitted their passion for wine to me (Eric Boschman, Daniel Marcil, Philippe Stuyck, Giulinao Gianotti, etc…..)

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

Eric Boschman because he was one of the first sommeliers who had a different view over wine and world wines .
Today he is still very active and remains an great ambassador for/in the sommelier world. Furthermore, he has always shown the many dimensions of a sommelier’s profession that does not only come down to the wine knowledge, but also knowledge about other products a sommelier could propose and serve.

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

Obviously the match of wine and food is important, but the most important  is one to suit everyone. I’m specifically looking for the perfect match, but rather the match  that fits at that particular time or  spot… I love the idea of a good wine with a couple of good friends and a dish with out to much chichi.

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

Le Valais. I fell in love with this region for at one side the diversity of its wines, for the ones producing it, but also for the contrasts of the seasons and the beauty of the landscapes. Exploring its wines it a long journey, but you will make lots of great discoveries.

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

If we talk about financial sacrifices, I never will never do it. I do not like the idea of paying for an expensive bottle of any kind.
On the other hand sacrificing a day of work to go enjoy an old Rivesaltes accompanied by smoking a cigar, I do not say no! 🙂 🙂

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school? 

My best memory of the hotel school was when I won the title of ‘Best sommelier of Belgium”. I remember that I thought I wound stand a chance against the well reputed schools like the ones from Namur, Brugge, Koksijde and in the end it was for me
after all 🙂

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

No wine, no meal without natural mineral water of high quality 😉