Best Sommelier of the World – A once in a lifetime experience

Last week (10th -15th of March) the 16th edition of the Best Sommelier of the World contest set up its tents in Antwerp. It seems like only yesterday when we received an email from our President William Wouters (president of the Belgian Sommelier Association and Vice-president of ASI Europe) asking us what we thought of the idea of organizing the 2019 ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest 🙂 .  At that time most of us thought William had lost his mind, but William’s enthusiasm convinced us all. What followed after that specific email, were 3 years of hard work (although I only was supposed to help a little bit 😉 ).

The contest can definitely be compared with the Olympics, as it is an event that is only organized every 3 years where only the best of the best from 63 countries compete against each other. It takes years for the competitors prepare themselves for this contest…. Just like the athletes for the Olympics.   And although they don’t get a ‘money’ price if they win it, it does change their life tremendously. From the moment they win, there are soooo many interesting offers that pass by  that for many years to come they don’t have to worry too much about having spare time 🙂  but even for those who don’t win, it opens doors in their own country and gives opportunities that maybe before were unreachable.  So it represents so much more than only a contest… it can (to my opinion) be seen as a life changer and that is why I was glad to be help a hand to make this event a success.

Most people I mention the contest to immediately make the reflection that the competitors only need knowledge about wine, which is obviously a big part of it, but it is also about so much more than that… it is also about coffee, tea, beer, cigars, distillates, juices, hospitality , etc… This also explains why they have to prepare themselves for years, as it a looooot of info to put in their brain.

A question I’ve heard a lot the last few years, was how the sommeliers actually got selected to compete. Every country will ask the winners from the local championship (sometimes also finalists) from the last 10 years who is up for it (as it takes a lot of sacrifices). For the remaining group, we organize a ‘mini’ competition and the winner from this competition can compete.

When William started talking 3 years ago about the championship and experiences he had from all the previous editions from both continental as the world contest that he was part of since the early ‘90’s  , one thing was sure, we wanted to make it an extra special edition. Extra special, as this edition would be exactly 50 years after the 1st edition that was held in 1969 in Brussels. It would also be the first urban edition, as unlike in previous editions we wouldn’t be visiting vineyards. Another important things was to try to take the dust off the image ‘sommeliers’ often have (which is also the mission of the ASI).

Quickly we noticed that we couldn’t manage an event of this size alone. First of all as besides the contest, you have to organize masterclasses, a program for people travelling along with the official delegations, meals, logistic movements, etc… for over 300 people that travel to Belgium for a whole week. But also that it is just a business we don’t know that much about. That’s when our friend Mich Van Aerde and his event company Balthazar came in the picture. They have done an outstanding job in the last 3 years, as some circumstances didn’t always make it easy  for them to wrap their heads around the whole event (also because of constant changes, etc…) and get the work done.

Now that we had that, the next very important thing, was gathering the money to be able to actually organize the event 🙂 this is where our path crossed the path of Claire Berticat. She took in charge all the negotiations with all potential partners (of who many became actually became a partner).

From time to time It has been a bumpy ride, it took blood, sweat and tears… but we (or at least that’s how I experienced it) were a team headed for the same goal, making the 2019 Best Sommelier of the World a World class event where they would talk about for many years to come … and I modestly think we succeeded?!!  Funny enough the week of the contest felt a bit like a wedding party, you are present, but did you actually got to fully enjoy  it? 🙂 I’m exaggerating, I enjoyed it very much 😉 😉

I did get to see a bit of the contest itself here and there, but there were so many things going on behind the scenes, so basically I got to experience it less then I had hoped.

What I will always treasure is all the wonderful people I got to meet  and things I got to experience during the 3 year adventure and I hope to see many again in the future.  It was also wonderful hearing from so many people from around the globe that we did a great job and receiving many compliments… this makes all the hard work worth it!

I wish I could have freed up more time to help, but nevertheless I hope my little contribution to this event made a bit of difference. If you want to know how the week went, please check out the below footage from the whole week!! As it will give you a better view then when I would explain it 🙂

I want to thank all the great people I was fortunate enough to work with and from who I’ve learned a lot: William Wouters, Mich van Aerde, Claire Berticat, Sofie Van der Poel, Tania Asselberghs, Niels Goyvaerts, Domien Van Aerde, Bob van Giel, Amandine Vandeputte (PR/Communication)  and Katrin Bilmeyer for their devotion and outstanding work.  Also thank you to all the people behind the ASI, not to forget all the previous winners of the World title who were present at the finals (even Armand Melkonian who won in 1969)

But this event wouldn’t have been as good without the many many volunteers that travelled from far to help us a hand like Filipa Pato, William Wouters (there are 2 William’s in the Belgian Sommelier Association, this is the other one 🙂 ), Katia Wouters, Marijke Bilmeyer, Bart Sap, Gerard Devos, Kris Lismont, Els De Brucker, Douglas Wouters, Hanne Lesage, Lucas Delforge, Steven Wullaert Bram van der aa, David Hsaio, Jean-Marc BrasseurEllen Franzen, Karim Hayoun, Yiannis Stefanides, Giannis Papachristoforou , Ketil Sauer, Saskia Schurink, Guillaume Coret, Allard Sieburgh, Nelson Guerreiro, Pedro Noguiera, Sergio Pires, Tomas Carreira, Adrian Jipa, Ivan Nikolic, Nenad Nedimovic, Anika Manojlo, Milena Zakaric, Milica Papic, …

Not to forget Belgian helpers and students from hotel school PIVA who helped during the gala dinner. I do hope I didn’t forget anybody!

Last but not least I do want to thank all the AMAZING partners that believed in our project and have kept supporting us until the very end. Thank you Austrian Wines, Inter Rhône, Le Wine, TorresPerrin, Bellavista, Zonin, Gusbourne, Bairrada, Grahams, Vinventions, Port of Antwerp, city of Antwerp,  Flemish Government, Clarence Dillon, Malartic Lagravier, Duvel, Gerard Bertrand, Farnese, Carlos Ruben, M’as tu vu, Decanter, etc… and obviously mostly the people behind these brands 🙂

 

Without all of the above mentioned people (and I hope I didn’t forget anybody, but if I did I apologies as we are of course also thankful to them) there would have not been a 16th Edition of best Sommelier of the world.

It was fun and I met lots of people, but I’ll be honest that I’m also very glad it is over 😉 😉  it literally will be a once in a lifetime!!  Once again congratulations to the new Best Sommelier of the World Marc Almert!! Also To the 2 runners up Raimonds Tomsons & Nina Højgaard Jensen  and of course to our very own Antoine Lehebel who became 10th. Very proud of you all.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Scallop with Foie gras

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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.

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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….

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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

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.

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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)

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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 😉

Roadtrip with my dad

For years my dad and I make a yearly trip (long weekend) to Italy, usually around April, with wine as the ‘central theme’… or that is the excuse 🙂 . I know I don’t need an excuse to go on a little trip, but for some reason one feels less guilty when he has an excuse 🙂 What we basically do during these trips is eating, drinking, sleeping and enjoying life combined with an occasional vineyard visit. One of the world’s biggest wine fairs “Vinitaly” in Verona has also been the destination for a few times, but I do prefer visiting a few vineyards from friends in a particular area/ region in Italy. Normally it is my dad making all the arrangements, but this year it was my turn to organize the trip which brought us to the always beautiful Tuscany… No matter how many times you visit Tuscany it doesn’t wear off… The only thing that usually bothers me is the enormous amount of tourists!! FYI, I’m not a tourist, from the moment I cross the Italian boarder I’m an Italian (double nationality) 🙂 🙂

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The main reason I picked Tuscany was because during 2 wine tastings in Belgium I met 2 guys whose wine I liked and their vineyards happen to be in Tuscany :-). The first guy is Lorenzo Zonin (my blogpost) who have vineyards all over Italy of which 3 (+ 1 personal from Lorenzo) vineyards in Tuscany and the other guy it Matteo Cantoni from Fattoria Fibbiano (my blogpost). What I did not realize when I was planning my trip that during this period Italy celebrated its National holiday during this period… but ok in the end all worked out anyhow (so no damage).

Fattoria Fibbiano 4

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The initial plan was to sleep at the Agriturismo from Fattoria Fibbiano as it is close to lots of “must-visits” in Tuscany like Sangiminiano, Volterra, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Firenze, San Miniato, Lari, Vinci, Calci… but due to the fact they are so popular and I waited too long to book we stayed at one of Fattoria Fibbiano’s friends (that are only 1 km away)Agriturismo Santo Pietro… so you see one excuse made room for another as I just have to return just to be able to sleep at Fattoria Fibbiano’s agriturismo 🙂 (ooooooh yeah). I have to admit that where I slept didn’t matter as long as I could see the people I wanted to see I’m happy! (in case you didn’t know it yet, I’m a people person) Another option would have been staying at Abbazia Monte Oliveto’s agriturismo (from Zonin)

Fattoria Fibbiano

Stay tuned to read more about our trip and the wonderful hospitality we got!

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The southern Italian odyssey

Southern Italian wines don’t make me think of easy to drink wines. When I think of Southern Italian wines I think more of wines with a very high alcohol percentage, about wine makers that prefer quantity instead of quality… But times change and they understood it is better to make a qualitative wine and maybe have less volume, than having a big volume and not selling the wine 🙂 I mean Southern Italy (or southern Europe) has something lots of other places wish they had, the sun almost whole year round!! So they would be crazy not to take advantage of this benefit!! BTW when I speak of Southern Italy I mean everything under Rome.

Zonin Logo

My statement about the tide having turned actually got confirmed at a lunch/wine tasting from Sicilian wines from ‘Feudo Principi di Butera’ and Puglia wines from ‘Masseria Altemura’ both vineyards from the Zonin Group that has already been making wine since 1821. I also couldn’t imagine a better way to taste these wines then accompanied by dishes prepared by one of my favorite chefs Ingrid Neven (Pazzo) and in Company of some of the best Belgian Sommeliers including this year’s winner Yannick Dehandschutter (Sir Kwinten), Kris Lismont (Mondevino), Sepideh Sedaghatnia (‘t Zilte), Luc Dickens (Schone van Boskoop) to name a few and last but not least Lorenzo Zonin 🙂

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Now I’ll first tell you guys something more about the vineyards. I’ll start with ‘Feudo Principi di Butera’. This vineyard owned by the Zonin Family since 1997 has a history that goes much further back in time, I might even say for centuries (read more on following link). What I think gives the Zonin family the  know-how to make wines is first of all the fact that wine making is in their veins and already goes back a few generations. On top of that they also own Vineyards all over Italy which also teaches them how to work with (mostly local grapes) in different weather conditions, soil types, etc… and this could maybe even lead for them to write an own piece of history.  For their Sicilian wines they make use of the grape (amongst other) that has actually put Sicilian wines back on the map ‘Calavrisi’ aka Nero D’Avola (Calavresi is the name used in Old Sicilian Dialect). Which means Red wine (Nero) from Avola (D’avola). The taste of the Nero d’avola can be compared with a Shiraz, that has round tannins  (you know, the circles that stay on the glass when you turn the wine in your glass) and has spicy-red peppery smells to it.

Location Feudo Principi di Butera

Nero d'avola grape

As for their vino Pugliese Masseria Altemura, this estate joined the Zonin group in the year 2000 (No millennium bug for them :-)).  Puglia is an often forgotten region in Italy, not sure why, but it sure is a pity! Like in all their other Vineyards Zonin chose to give the tradition and authenticity a high value and make mainly of a local grape. In this case the ‘Primitivo’, which is also a grape often used in California where it got brought from Puglia mid 19th century. It is better known in California as Zinfandel :-). Although If I want to be entirely correct I should mention this grape has an identical DNA as the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape which is from Croatia (so basically from across the street if you wouldn’t count the Adriatic Sea ;-))…  but try to pronounce that Croatian name, let’s just stick to the origin from Puglia :-). What this wine has as a similarity to the Sicilian ones is I think the red peppery smell .

Location Masseria Altemura

To make our extensive lunch more interesting, with every course we were served 2 different wines from which we had to guess its vintage and to make it more confusing or difficult, 2 times they even gave the same wine but both from different vintage 🙂 The price for the ‘winner’ a magnum bottle of wine 🙂

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Unfortunately I wasn’t the winner of the bottle, but I did win something  during this tasting!!  I have learned a lot about wine again from all the pro’s around me. (no I’m not sucking up to anyone 😉 )

  • With the Sashimi of mackerel , mousseline of Green apple and Japanese vinaigrette  we got served a 2012 Insolia (Feudo), which is a grape that finds its origin in Sicily and some say Tuscany. But also seems to  like the soil and sun in Puglia. Insolia has a typical nutty aroma. BTW this is white wine, which is not that common in Southern Italy (with a few exceptions). Most white wines in Italy come from Friuli/ Veneto.

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Insolia

  • The risotto with wild mushrooms came with:

Sasseo 2011 (100% primitive) and a 2011 Deliella (100% Nero d’Avola)

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Sasseo

Deliella

From this point it started to become tricky as with the following 2 dishes we got the same wine, but from a different vintage… if only I had more experience as I only guest 2 out of 4 correct.

  • Filet of pheasant, crushed potatoes with tartufata and a light sauce:

2010 Altemura (100% Primitivo) and a 2008 Deliella (100% Nero d’avola)

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Altemura

  • Cheese assortment (I got something else as I’m not a huge cheese lover, I confess)

2010 Altemura (this was clearly a trick question) and a 2006 Deliella

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Drinking these wines made me feel on holiday in Southern Italy… I’m not sure if my preference goes to the Sicilian wines or the Puglia wines. Maybe I have to try them all over again 😉  Although I think it depends of the moment you’ll be drinking them which one will get your preference.

OMG, I did again… ah well better writing it all than having an empty page I always say 😉

Oh and I know it might seem like it, but I’m not turning this blog into a wine blog 🙂 It is just coincidence there’s a lot of wine involved in my meals lately.

For more info on where to buy these wines check with Hasselt Millesime.