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!!

One year older

The fun part about celebrating your birthday is getting gifts (no doubt about that!). When my fiancée asks me what I want for my birthday, my answer is usually the same… having a nice meal 🙂 FYI having a nice meal doesn’t mean it has to be a fancy restaurant, if it is that’s a bonus. For me the most important is that I get to eat/drink well and this in her company!  And ok, she spoils me a lot as she always gives me some extra presents on top of the meal. What did differ from last year was that this time I gave no tips on where I wanted to go, I just gave her the names of a few friends who could advice her where to take me (in case she didn’t know it herself that is), this way it stays a bigger surprise than when I give her a list of places…. It got proven once again that I’m a very lucky guy, she took me to “La Table de Maxime” in a little town near the Luxembourg border called ‘Our’. Even though it was ‘only’ for 1 day and night we were gone, it felt like much longer. La Table de Maxime is located in a green relaxing oasis… talking about the full experience: good food, nice drinks, great company and the outdoor silence. Some people might find it hard to believe I like complete silence, because I have the tendency to talk A LOT (I hate awkward silences)… but believe it or not I do love the sound of silence from time to time and I enjoyed every minute of it! I find it unbelievable that there are still places in Belgium where you hear NOTHING!! Like most restaurants in places like this, La Table de Maxime also has a few rooms to spend the night. Either you stay in one of the few rooms attached to the restaurant itself in the “La fabrique du pré maho” or alternatively in one of the rooms in a house they have 1km from the restaurant (that’s where we were) also known as “Les Jardins de Maxime” as this is where he also has a little vegetable and herb garden.

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I can strongly suggest a nice walk, bike ride or visit to some of the little towns in the area like Rochefort, Bouillon (some nice cheese and beer makers in this area) or maybe a kayak sail on the “Lesse” is more something for you? ( I have already done it twice, the sunny day had my preference).

As if the fact that we were in such a relaxing place wasn’t enough, drinking a glass of a grand cru Blanc de blanc from Pierre Moncuit and getting our appetizers served in La Table de Maxime’s garden (or terrace, depending on how you see it 🙂 ) gave us an even bigger “on holiday” feeling as this was beautiful sunny day… I was also soooo glad my hay fever/allergy didn’t ruin the moment!!

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La Table de Maxime either serves a tasting menu (3 – 5 course menu) or either you can choose ‘à la carte ‘ (with also other dishes than on the tasting menu)… Although I did feel like going the whole way, I decided not to as I’m trying to eat less (Not on a diet, but just watching out with my quantities 🙂 )… so we took the 4 course menu with wine pairing. There were a few Jean-Luc Colombo wines on the wine list that did catch my interest, but I always like to see and taste the wines the sommelier pairs with the dishes. We were served the following menu:

Trout fillet from the Ardennes with zucchini parfait, cucumber flower, a fennel gazpacho and puffed Beluga lentils. Served with a 2011 white Bordeaux (Chateau Penin)

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Birch syrup lacquered cod, poached Rhubarb with hibiscus, barigoule style artichoke, minted peas and dried ham. Served with a 2012 Riesling (Dirstelberg)

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Local veal with a wild garlic crust, green asparagus, morille mushrooms, capers, parmesan and fried Gnocchi . Served with a 2012 Sancerre (François Crochet)

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Wépion strawberries, lemon sorbet and emulsion, almond cream and Japanese pearls (FYI, no real pearls that is 😉 ). Served white an everybody’s friend a glass of Cremant dAalsace (Jean-Marc Bernhart)

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Overall a very refined meal with local products playing the main role in all dishes with lots of them grown in his own garden (I like, compliments to Maxime Collard). It is very satisfying when chefs are proud of their local/own products, especially when they have so many good ones!! BTW, I’m not sure what the sommelier’s name was, but for what I could tell he really seemed like a perfect “Best Belgian sommelier contest” candidate! (You could just feel his passion for wine when he was talking about them) He reminded me of some of the candidates from previous years and I think he would make a chance… nothing ventured, nothing gained I’d say…

I finished my meal with a nice tea to set the mood for a good night sleep…to eventually wake up with that same nice sound of silence (not taking the birds into account that is, I love the sound of birds in the morning)

People who have already met my fiancée will know that what I’m about to tell is true… I always look forward to my breakfast when I go to sleep, even more when I’m in a hotel!! Maxime’s breakfast met to ALL my expectations (I even didn’t want to take the time to take pictures). Something I must absolutely add is that La Table de Maxime has very hospitable people working for them that make on top of the good food and location this weekend get-away even more harmonious and worth a going/coming back place 🙂 (too bad I only have 1 birthday a year).

Thank you woman of mine for yet again a perfect birthday gift (on top of having you in my life every day that is….)

La Table de Maxime

Website: http://www.tabledemaxime.be/

Address: Our 23, 6852 Paliseul – Belgium

Phone n°: +32 (0) 61 23 95 10