Top lunch with Top sommeliers at a Top location

It is not every day that you get a blind wine tasting lunch in the company of 11 top sommeliers and if they then add that it is at Villa Lorraine in Brussel aka one of the most historical restaurants in Belgium, one just cannot refuse. For those who don’t know Villa Lorraine, this was the first restaurant outside of France to be awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 1970’s. In 2010 after 61 (opened in 1953) and the founder’s death, Marcel Kreusch ‘s family decided to sell the restaurant. Nowadays it is head chef Alain Bianchin taking the lead and making sure very delicious dishes leave the kitchen. Since the re-opening 4 years ago Villa Lorraine has already been awarded again with 1 Michelin star. FYI The restaurant is divided in 2 parts. One part is the “gastronomical” part and at the other side there is a brasserie, where in case you find a bit more economical or better less “complicated” but still very refined dishes on the menu than at the Michelin awarded part.

Themed lunch group picture

Before I continue I do want to add that for this post I chose to use the pictures taken by the professional photographer (Pascal Hermans) from  that was present during the lunch as I would never be able to make such beautiful pictures myself. Just FYI in case you thought I became a great photographer over night 😉

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The aim of this lunch was to learn more about and to discuss the theme wine(s) and to get to learn new products or get a new impression of ones you already knew. I also think there’s no better way to do this than amongst professionals (besides me, as I’m not a pro yet) This is why  they had brought togehter 11 top sommeliers like William Wouters (previous Comme Chez soi, Villa Lorraine) Cesar Roman (Comme Chez soi), Gregory van Acker (De Jonkman), Antoine Lehebel (Villa Lorraine) Luca Gardini (Italian sommelier nominated in 2010 as World’s best sommelier) to name a few and Lorenzo Zonin (winemaker and ambassador of Zonin winery) who was also the person who to take the initiative to have this kind of lunch. To make the lunch more fun and also more open for an honest discussion he  decided to make  the wine tasting during the lunch a blind tasting. Due to the fact that you don’t know the wine you are actually tasting you won’t be influenced by its name or the vineyard and therefor you’ll be more honest in your responses. What basically happened during the lunch is that with every course we got 3 different wines from which (without being able to see the bottle) you had to tell if the wine was either French or Italian and from which Vintage it was 🙂 . This is where you separate the boys from the men and you get to see how the pro’s do it 🙂

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It was Lorenzo Zonin himself  who had picked out the wines for the blind tasting, both wines from their own estates as from French friend estates. Which shows that winemakers are also open for other wines then their own :-). Unbelievable but true, 3 people where able to guess the country and vintage of all wines… I unfortunately wasn’t one of those 3, but I was pretty happy with my result that from 95% of the wines I was already able to tell if they were French or Italian. (Proud of myself). In my defense, I don’t get to taste new wines every day like a pro :-). The problem with these kind of tasting (for me) is that lots of times the wine smells and tastes familiar, but I just can’t put my finger on which one it is or from where I know the smell. Just like with sports or with anything you want to be good at, here it is also practice that will help you to get better and good guidance by a pro (which I’m very happy to have).

I’m sure you guys are very curious on finding out which wines it were we had to guess and what we ate with it? I’m gonna tell you anyhow (even if you don’t want to know 😉 ) and I’ll be honest what the answers were that I thought they were (the ones that I can still remember that is 🙂 )

After some bubbles (Ca’bolani prosecco) to open out taste buds it was time to start our lunch and the real work. For our first course, raw and smoked salmon with a dill cream we were served the following wines:

  • Wine 1: 2013 White Bordeaux by Doisy-Daëne -> very floral smell, but you could immediately guess it was from Bordeaux
  • Wine 2: 2009 Aquilis by Ca’bolani -> I first thought this was more a Vernaccia from Monte Oliveto, but I was wrong 🙂 (but at the moment itself I wrote Vermentino, but I actually mend Vernaccia)
  • Wine 3: 2008 Sancerre Blance by Vincent Delaporte (from Chavignol terroir). This was the most difficult to guess from the white wines. Couldn’t immediately place it, besides it being from France.

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The mean course we got served Cuckoo from ‘Malines’ with girolle mushrooms and grenaille potatoes.  I glad they chose for a lighter main course. Very soft flavors and cooked “comme il faut”.

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With this dish we were served the following wines

What followed was some cheese. Now I’m not sure that you know this, but I’m not a cheese lover, so I just had the salad… I know, I have already tried it a lot, but most cheeses just don’t float my boat.

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  • Wine 7: 2009 Acciaiolo by Castello d’abola: One of my favourites from the Zonin Gamma and is the best of Tuscany in a glass.
  • Wine 8: 2011 Château Valandraud: This what a tricky one :-).
  • Wine 9: 2011 Symposio by Principi di Butera: the thing with southern wines like this is that they seem aged, but in fact aren’t. The reason for this is the strength of the grapes and its alcohol percentage (thanks to the lots of sunhours year round)

One just has to end the meal in beauty, both for the food as the wine. For as far as the wines were concerned 1 I recognized immediately as it is one of my favorites and one of the best of its kind aka the Vin Santo from Castello d’albola. Like an angel peeing in your mouth….For the dessert or better desserts 🙂 Yes one cannot stand on 1 leg very long. I’m sure the pictures of the dessert say enough?

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Just for the record, the wines we had with our desserts

And as this was not enough I enjoyed another glass of Vin santo with some ‘friandises’

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FYI, this was a tasting, so we didn’t always drink the entire glasses of wine 🙂 just a sip of every glass…

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I couldn’t encourage initiatives like this more than I do know… may lots of these follow!!I had a wonderful meal and wonderful wines….

The moral of my blog post and this lunch is basically that wine is such a wonderful product and that even-though you might drink it every day, there is more in it than that… I mean so many new tastes to discover and when you think you know something 100% I’m sure one moment or the other you’ll be proven wrong. Basically a subject where the conversations about it will never stop. The outcome of this lunch is that everything we wrote down about the wines during the tasting will help wine estates like Zonin to keep making good products for everybody’s taste. So basically next time you taste a wine you’ll know that for 1 millionth I helped making that wine 🙂 🙂

I do know that not everybody will be able to have a tasting this way, but I’m sure if you go to Villa Lorraine (or any other restaurant with a good sommelier) and ask Antoine to surprise you with the wines and keep it a secret until the en… I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to take you on a journey through the wonderful world of wine!

One last special message to Gregory: I didn’t forget that you’re going on holiday to Santorini (it only took you to tell me 3 times) . The reason I’m saying this is because I asked Gregory 3 times during the lunch where he was going on holiday (I swear it was NOT the wine and I was listing to what he was telling, I sometimes just forget quickly) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Thanks again to everybody for making this such a great experience! Also a special thanks to Hasselt Millesime (especially Cathérine) for helping Lorenzo getting this organized in Belgium!!

Roadtrip with my dad: Castello d’albola

During our Tuscany trip we crossed and driven on lots of beautiful country roads, which is definitely one the reasons one should visit Tuscany (or Umbria, Lazio, or any other region in Italy)… if you miss this you’ve missed part of the Tuscany vibe to my opinion. One of the most beautiful and relaxing drives (it felt a bit like being in one of those car commercials) ,even as the driver during this trip, was towards the next vineyard we were about to visit, Castello d’albola one of the Zonin group vineyards. Arriving at Castello d’albola is as magical as driving on the roads to get there… As new as Fattoria Fibbiano was as old is Castello d’albola as it already originates from the 15th century, but only got bought by the Zonin Family in 1979. (if you want to know more about the history) The estate covers around 900 hectares of land or 900 football fields 🙂  of which 150 have vineyards on them and the rest is mostly covered with olive threes which gives you the most beautiful panoramic views. Maybe some pictures help you to convince how beautiful it is up there?? (Admitted the sunny weather made it even better)

Castello d'albola estate

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What I forgot to mention is that Castello d’albola is located just out of the “downtown” of Radda in Chianti one of the few towns where the production of Chianti is allowed. Maybe the first question I should ask you is what do you actually know about Chianti besides it being from Tuscany? When I say Chianti I’m not talking about the “Fiasco”, but about the Chianti Classico and Superiore. The Chianti Classico (can be recognised with the black rooster label on the bottle) and Chiant Superiore can only be produced with grapes from in Castellina in Chianti (SI), Gaiole in Chianti (SI), Greve in Chianti (FI) and Radda in Chianti (SI) and a few little towns on their borders also called sub-zones (for the Superiore grapes cannot come from the border towns). On top of the limitations on the “grape areas” there are also strict rules on the kinds of grapes that can be used to make the wine and aging rules (just like you would have rules for making Champagne, Barolo,…). A Chianti can only be called Chianti when a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese grapes are used to make the wine and if mixed with other grapes (so the remaining 20%), these grapes have to be on the list of allowed grapes like Canaiolo for example. The reason why some winemakers will be mixing Sangiovese with othere grapes is to soften the wines as the Sangiovese grape is a very strong grape with lots of tannins… The aging time must be a minimum of 7 months. I could go on talking about Chianti, but maybe this would bore you and it would take me too much off track about the actual trip 🙂

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I do want to add one more thing. Although most wine estates will like making Chianti wine out of respect for tradition, but most estates will mostly also be making a (super) Toscana IGT where the rules are less strict and a winemaker can let himself go and be creative and show how good he actually is…

It was nice walking around the Castello d’albola’s vineyard as you can feel the history it carries around, somehow it feels like you are going back in time (but then with modern lightning and other features as a bonus) and as like it was meant to be a few motorbikes from 1915 (so from during WO I) were standing on the parking of the estate (they were from other people visiting the vineyard) … so the historical feel was even bigger. It is just unbelievable how thick the walls are from historical buildings like Castello d’albola and how isolating they are (how the keep the right temperature inside). Castello d’albola is worth the visit when you’re visit Tuscany.

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Castello d’albola produces between 500 000 and 800 000 bottles a year (depending on the weather conditions that would influence the harvest (amount)). Part of wines ages in the old cellars, but most of the wine ages in the in 1991newly build warehouse (although I’m not sure it is the right name for it as it is more than that) which has all the modern facilities a winemaker should have to make good wine 🙂

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Like all visits the best part is always the tasting of the finished product where lots of people have worked hard and long for… If only already out of respect for the ones who made it 😉 and combine this tasting with some good local salami, ham and/or cheese and you’ve got an Italian feast (my opinion, I don’t need much to be happy)

I always say my beautiful fiancée has an expensive taste, but I have to plead guilty as well as for some reason I always seem to like the most expensive wines during a tasting 🙂 🙂 (without knowing the price upfront) … FYI it is not that I didn’t/ don’t like the other wines, but the taste wants what the taste wants 😉 From the Castello d’albola gamma my preferred wines were the Acciaiolo, Il Solatio and Le Ellere as they were of a stronger character and had a fuller body with I think the strongest the Il Solatio which is 100% sangiovese aka “Sangiovese in purezza” (which in English would mean pure Sangiovese). I already feel that my home wine assortment increasing.

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The absolute star of the tasting of the wines of the Castello d’albola vineyard was I think their Vin Santo which was one of the best I’ve ever tasted (and I just can’t get enough of the cantucci cookies you dip in that wine). It was sweet, but not too sweet or sticky in the mouth.

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We now set sail to the Abbazia Monte Oliveto wine estate of which you will read more in my next blogpost. After that I’ll stop talking about wine and tell more about other things to do in Tuscany 🙂 (although that mostly also involves eating and drinking 😉