Truffles and Chardonnay @ Le Chassagne

Truffle dish with Chassagne 1er Cru Les Embrazées

Truffle dish with Chassagne 1er Cru Les Embrazées

The 2004 Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Embrazées, was a little disappointing because it was reduced (needed air) and never fully expressed its potential, both of terroir and vintage.

Chardonnay, even if disappointing on its own, tends to goes well truffles. This was certainly true of the Embrazés. Chef Stephane Léger of Le Chassagne‘s truffle dish was three-fold. Buttered and toasted bread the size of a thumb coated with truffles sat next to an eggshell full of frothy egg foam and in a separate, in a small bowl, a cream of artichoke with truffles. Egg and truffle were fantastic together, as usual. Neutral and creamy egg allows a good truffle to sing its song loud and clear. The artichoke and truffle combo works really well too. The artichoke had been cooked enough so that it is sweet, no more bitterness. This went well with the sweet earthiness of truffle.

With these foods, the showed more purity through floral lemon butter, more like what I was expecting of a 2004 white Burgundy. And the mouth feel echoed the creaminess of the dish but brought in white pepper notes that refreshed and cleansed the palate in the finish.

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Haddock and beets @ Le Chassagne

Haddock and beets

Haddock and beets

I have a soft spot for chefs who use beets. Surprisingly complex aromatically with an interesting mixture of red fruits and earthiness, beets are an under-rated vegetable.

My most recent visit to Le Chassagne, chef Stefane Léger brought out a smoked haddock and beetroot appetizer with not one, but two different preparations of beets.

What a dish!

Raw beets, coarsely grated underneath, and beet chips on top. Textural play between crunch of the chips and the soft haddock. The smokiness of haddock brings bitterness that marries well with the earthiness of the beetroot. And the orange sauce acts as exciting energy that brings everything together. I’m not usually a big fan of smoked haddock, but the way it was prepared in this dish was truly extraordinary.

Of the wines on the table, it was a 2001 Pousse d’Or Corton Clos du Roi that married the most harmoniously with this dish.  The characteristic acidity of the 2001 vintage, expressed through orange rind and orange peaches kept the wine extraordinarily fresh.

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Chicken rice @ Maxwell’s

Maxwell's Hawkercenter chicken rice

Maxwell's Hawkercenter chicken rice

A six-hour layover in Singapore, the airport so near the city, we decide to go into town for dinner and head to Maxwell’s hawker center in Chinatown. The place is the size of a large gymnasium, open on all sides with three rows of stalls, running down the length and tables spread out in between them.

“Look for Tian Tian’s chicken rice,” was the advice we had from a Singaporean friend, “the stall is identifiable by the biggest queue.” She was right; the stall was mobbed and almost sold out by the time we got there.

What is so special about chicken rice, you ask? Two things so simple and so commonly found in the world, how could they be so special? Forget about all the chicken and rice you’ve had in airplanes or school cafeterias, the chicken rice at Maxwell’s hawker center is from another planet.

Lets talk about the rice first. Its soft, aromatic, and delicate. It smells and tastes almost as if it has been aromatized with delicate Indian flowers and cinnamon. In a small bowl, next to rice, is the chicken broth. As pure, precise, perfect an essence of chicken as you can imagine. The broth has the optimum degree of fattiness; enough for taste and texture but not the least bit heavy.

The chicken itself (badly represented in the photo, which makes the sauce look heavy) is perfectly cooked to be moist, soft and full of flavor. This is light years from the tasteless snow-flake aspect that a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breast can have.

This dish is perfect pure essence of both chicken and rice, which go so well together. Nothing over the top, nothing in excess. This is quiet perfection.

chicken

chicken

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What are we drinking in Vietnam?

Forget about wine. There is no wine here. Most people haven’t even heard of wine and wouldn’t know how to serve it if they did. Not that I hold it against them, they have other priorities.

It used to be that you could buy bottles of Dalat wine from ambulant push cart merchants on street corners, along with beer and water. Dalat wine might even have some potential as wine; Dalat city is in the mountains, so higher altitude, cooler, apparently good growing conditions for grapes. But by the time you bought a bottle on the street, the stuff had been baked to smithereens in the Vietnamese sun. In the streets or markets, just getting beer cold isn’t always easy, getting wine chilled is simply unheard of.

This trip we didn’t see any push cart merchants selling Dalat wine. Maybe they gave up.

Heineken cheers to the world

Heineken cheers to the world

We certainly did. And contented ourselves with beer. Cold beer. (And, yes, we accepted ice in spite of the bacterial risks) We didn’t always have a choice, but created a ranking of our favorites:

Saigon Red and 333 were the top two choices, with a slight penchant for 333. They resemble each other. Both are relatively light, blond, and digestible. Not too bitter. Fluid enough to feel like it hydrates almost as well as water (but who am I kidding, right?). Apparently 333 is the rising local favorite and it was widely available.

One night at Nam Bo, a woman was pushing Fosters. She was dressed and made up like she should have been down on the Boulevard at Pigalle(red light district in Paris). Although we prefer to drink local, we bought one. And I was reminded of that Monty Python Flying circus sketch about Australian beer being like making love in a canoe (that is f*cking close to water). That’s pretty much what it was, but at least it wasn’t bitter.

We learned to stay away from the Saigon green label, closer to lager. Thicker, more bitter and more aggressive bubbles. Not agreeable.

Tiger beer we liked fairly well, and ordered it often enough. It is also slightly thicker than the 333 and Saigon red, and slightly sweeter rendering it less digestible than our favorites.

Heineken did less promotional work than our last trip in 2007 when all the streets were decorated with Christmas trees made with Heineken bottles. In these times of crise, the imported beers, significantly more expensive, must not be as successful.  This was available in upper level restaurants, ranking well in our line up. Digestible but with slightly aggressive bubbles.

For the record, we drank water too, and also with ice at times, but nice cold beer with meals was most welcome.

All of that being said, beer just isn’t the same thing; our systems get bloated with too much of the stuff.

On the last day of our trip, we got all cleaned up and went to the Hyatt for lunch. The Park Hyatt in Saigon has a state of the art Italian wine bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The design is so sleek that you could be anywhere in the world (not that I particularly enjoy that feeling, why fly halfway around the world to be just ‘anywhere’?). But they had wine. By the glass. Chilled. The lady who served us had trouble with the corkscrew, obviously not a contraption she was used to using. Nor had the strength to use. She had to call her male colleague who had no trouble. The incentives for screw caps became so obvious; I understand why more and more growers are moving in that direction for their Asian markets. The wines we selected by the glass were over-kill-chilled but there were no problems regarding oxidation or miss treatment. Promising for the future of wine in Vietnam, if the government gets around to reducing the 300% import tax.

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fresh spring rolls @ Ben Than Market

fresh spring rolls @ Ben Than Market

She makes it in front of my eyes within seconds. It looks so easy. Rice paper, noodles, shrimp, and a tiny slice of chicken. Roll, tuck et voila. Some herb that I have never seen sticks out of one end. You need the sauce; otherwise the roll is a little dry. The sauce is thick. Thicker than what they serve with fresh spring rolls in France. This one is smooth with shrimp paste and peanuts, and it brings in meatiness. Meatiness. Freshness. Crunch. Soft center. Surf. Turf. Complete. When I eat it, I’m thinking to myself: This is the real McCoy.

lined up spring rolls

lined up spring rolls

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Big Ben Than Market Saigon

blue shrimp

blue shrimp

It’s a mistake to walk into Ben Than Market through the front. You’d never think there was anything BUT aisles and aisles of t-shirts and counterfeit bags of all big brand names you can imagine. Engulfed in sea of textile and trinket stalls, hands reaching out, grabbing my arms and back to draw me in and the incessant voices of women calling “you want buy t-shirt, Madame”, “look very nice for you”, “Madame, look”, “Madame, what you look for?”.

I’m looking for breakfast, actually.

If you walk in through the backside, then you come straight into the food part of the market. It feels more civilized than the textile part of the market, maybe because the food merchants aren’t seeking westerner clients.

We take a stroll through. Vegetables first. Always fascinating in this country. And intriguing. I don’t know what most of these vegetables and herbs are (aside from simply beautiful). And dodge the iceman, who brings big chunks of ice on his back, dripping, and crushes it before distributing to the other vendors. Impressive, actually, all of the ice, especially with the fishmongers all lined up. Lots of fish. Dead and alive. Of all colors shapes and sizes. Then the there is butcher lane. All of them chopping away. This is the strongest smelling part of the market, especially as the heat rises during the day. We don’t linger here. Then the heaps of dried goods. Spices. Rice. Beans. Bean curd. Dried fish. Nuts and fruit.

crab all lined up

crab, all lined up

coconuts

coconuts (juice and pulp separate)

pretty fish lady

pretty fish lady

hat lady and herbs

hat lady and herbs

ice man with big chunk of ice

ice man with big chunk of ice

pork offal

pork offal

rice selection

rice selection

dried shrimp with more light

dried shrimp (to make pastes and sauces)

And finally in the very center of the market, the food court. Little stalls where they serve prepared food. We check them all out. And here, they are also starting to get used to western visitors, and call out to us for us to choose their stand.

shellfish stand

shellfish stand

couteaux

razor clams

There is only one shellfish stand, and most of the things they have on offer we have never seen before. We stop here. And have a feast.

Razor clams, smaller than any we have ever seen. They just throw them into the fire. The beasts are perfectly cooked and delicious, but the fire makes the shells even more brittle than usual rendering them almost lethal. The clams are served with salt pepper lime sauce and it makes them electric.

shellfish ladies

shellfish ladies

Ben Market roasted bulots

roasted bulots

I’ve never seen bulots as dainty as these. They look like they have fingernail polish on them. As with the razor clams, these go straight into the fire, and it makes them a little dry rubbery. They need the spl sauce to make them palatable.

roasted conches

roasted conches

The conches are amongst the most expensive thing on the menu. Sold by the piece. I’ve seldom had them before, but I suppose because they are so far back into the shell, the direct contact with the fire, cooks them more delicately. They are meaty in texture but very sea-food in bitter brininess.

blood cockles

blood cockles

The Cadillac of all cockles, according to our little shellfish lady, and certainly priced that way (but everything is relative), we finish off with blood cockles. Yep, orangey-red like dried blood on the inside and they taste like they have a lot of iron in them. A very unique and concentrated taste. No need for sauce.

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that little market in Saigon


fish and pork

fish and pork

Its time for breakfast.

And we are in the streets of Saigon with a mission: find the little street market we’d liked so much the last time we visited Saigon a couple of years ago.  Even with a good sense of direction, in a constantly changing and developing country like Vietnam, finding the past is no easy feat. The cityscape of Saigon has changed. That park across the street used to be nothing but a dirty dusty parking lot, and now there are government buildings. There is a high rise here where there was nothing before.

We manage to find the market (on the corner of Pham Ngu Lao and Cong Quynh) It is nothing like big Ben Thanh Market not that far away. This one is more intimate, more makeshift, and yet they still have pretty good hygiene.

We wander through, absorbing colors, smells, and sounds.

live fish in pots

live fish in pots

The stalls gush over with fresh produce. Many of the leaves and vegetables I have never seen before. Live fish splash in pots. This is a sign of quality and freshness. If the fish is still alive, you know it is fresh, and the taste is different too. There are a lot of dried fish and shrimp, which are used to make sauces and soup stock.

fish ladies waiting for customers

fish ladies waiting for customers

shrimp heads

shrimp heads (that is where all the flavor concentrates)

market fruit

market fruit

leaves and veggies

leaves and veggies

Finally we get to the food stalls. Just in time too, my stomach is growling, activated by all of the delicious looking things I’ve just seen.

food stalls

food stalls

Every stall has their specialty, each one making only one or maybe two things.

We settle for a rice ravioli/crèpe that tastes like it is stuffed with mushrooms and pork with delicate spices and herbs. The lady makes the crèps on the spot, steaming them in a little contraption that looks like The Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. They are so thin, almost skin-like as she pulls them off of the Tin Man onto her chopping board and rolls them around over the stuffing.

rice ravioli ingredients

rice ravioli ingredients

She dresses the plate with several crèpes on top of which she places a slice of paté, some chopped leaves and herbs and fried scallions. Apparently, the French brought a culture of paté to the Vietnamese, this is more firm, a little like sausage.

rice ravioli

rice ravioli

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truck stop lunch in Phan Thiet

Phan Thiet truck after the rush

Phan Thiet truck after the rush

Just booking the car is an adventure.

How long does it take to drive from Saigon to Nha Trang? Everyone we speak to has a different answer. “The roads are good, you can drive fast. 4hrs.” “The roads are only good part way. 8hrs”….

The little lady we finally book with seems to know her stuff. “Your driver pick you up at the hotel at 8AM. He will drive you to Nha Trang.”

“We want to stop for lunch half way, maybe at Phan Thiet.”

“You should stop in Mui Ne, I can recommend a good place for you. I write down for your driver.”

“Vietnamese food? We do not want western food.”

She laughs, “Yes, yes Vietnamese food.”

“Our driver, he will speak English?” We were hoping to have someone point things out to us along the way.

“No good English, little bit of English. If good English, better job than driver.”

The driver shows up about 15 minutes late and walks into the hotel looking like a retired hippie with long hair, his weather beaten face makes him look like he has American Indian blood in him. But he is very Vietnamese.

Getting out of Saigon is surprisingly quick, but the suburbs feel like one continuous sprawled out village of shantytown. They are building a decent road but you cant drive more than 50 km/hr because of all the motorbikes, bicycles and human beings everywhere. All of the vehicles honk their horns, like voices singing out to inform everyone that they exist. I start to get used to the voice of our car as we make our way through the masses.

We haven’t said anything to driver so far except for the initial hellos, he’s been listening to the radio. But I have to pee.

“Madame needs to use the toilet.”

He looks at The Duc in the rear view mirror, questioning.

“Toilet?”

“Ah!” and he points up ahead.

At this point, we realize that conversation will be inexistent with him.

We content ourselves with looking out the window and the view we have is as engaging as it is ever changing. “Look at how many people are on that motorbike.” “Have you noticed all of the Jesus statues in this town? And Churches, look!” “What do you think that truck is carrying?” “Look at that bus, it looks like it is going to collapse at any moment.” “I’ve never seen ripe rice before, look they are harvesting with buffalo.”

We hardly see time go by and before we know it we are approaching Phan Thiet. This is the point where we must peal off onto another road to reach Mui Ne for lunch. We’ve been driving for four and a half hours. I look at the map again. Yep, we’re only half way to Nha Trang.

But the driver pulls into a truck stop. There are about 3 busses pulled up to the front door of this place-practically a shack.

“Mui Ne?” we question him pointing at the paper the travel agent lady gave us.

He looks at the paper as though he cannot read and looks at us, confused.

The Duc is frustrated, he was looking forward to lunch at Mui Ne, but I suggest that this truck stop experience may be more authentic.

Greeted by heat and dust outside the car, we follow him into the bustling shack. The place is hopping. There must be about two hundred people eating here, crouched on small stools, shoveling food into their mouths. People stare at us as though they have never seen a foreigner before. And maybe they haven’t; there aren’t any foreigners anywhere to be seen around here. Maybe it is the camera around my neck or my aspirin-white skin.

The driver sits down and motions for us to do the same. A young boy appears at our side with tattered plastic sheets of badly translated English menu. We point at what we want. The Duc is happy because he found something unusual: snake head in clay pot. He’s been trying to order snake wherever we see it but no one wants to serve it to him and tell him ‘westerners not like this’. But these people say nothing at his choice.

noodles with sea food

noodles with sea food

Our food arrives almost instantly.

The driver gets the ‘plat du jour’, a tiny portion of pork ribs mounted on a huge plate of rice washed down with a coke.

For me, noodles with cuttlefish. Topped with a beautiful selection of herbs and leaves. I love that. It adds freshness and aromatics, not to mention color. The cuttlefish is perfectly cooked, sort of sautéed with garlic and a little bit of shrimp. The noodles look like they came out of a bag ready made, but the taste is great-very peppery, but maybe it’s the juice of the sautéed cuttlefish that brings in the pepper.

snake head stew

snake head stew

Snakehead in clay pot, served with a big plate of rice, although very good, is less exotic tasting than we expected. It tastes a little lot like beef stew but with a more chilies and more spice. Its perhaps a little less fatty that beef stew, but not dry at all.

By the time we finish, the place has calmed down. The busses have loaded up and gone leaving the place looking like it has been hit by a bomb. There are chopstick, toothpicks, paper and food littering the ground and big glass mugs all over the tables leaving wet spots from the melting ice.

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Vinh’s nem

Nem @ vinh's place

Nem @ vinh's place

One night in Nha Trang, Vinh took us home to his flat for some dinner. He’d made chicken and rice soup, but on the way home he stopped off to pick up an appetizer, as non-eventfully as we might stop off to pick up some bread.

Once home, he sat us down in his living room/dining room with beer in hand and began to unwrap the appetizer from his little plastic bag of wonders. Rice paper, both fresh and fried. A beautiful assortments of leaves and herbs. Picked vegetables. Barbequed chicken. He placed all of these things in bowls in the middle of the table. And then, in front of each of us, a bowl of orange sauce that really looked like thick carrot soup.

“Please, go ahead and start.” He said heading back towards the kitchen.

“How?” I implored.

Vinh looked amused, but sat down and began constructing with agile hand. One slice of raw rice paper as the base, then a random handful of herbs held down with a thumb onto the rice paper. Then a piece of fried rice paper (that looked like one of those cigarette paper things you get in ice cream). Then a piece or two of barbequed chicken (not like American BBQ with extra spices or sauce but more of a description of the cooking method- on the grill). Then a few pieces of pickled vegetables.

Finally, with both hands, he rolled the thing up so tight in a matter of seconds and presented it to us. It looked sort of like a spring roll. He handed it to me and said,  “Now dip it in the sauce.”

The sauce was nothing like carrot soup, it was a fish sauce made with dried shrimp (which is why it had that orangey color).

I took a bite. The texture of the raw rice paper was thick and I thought it was going to be difficult to cut with my teeth, but it wasn’t, and ended up sort of melting in with the other ingredients. Then came the crunch of the fried rice paper, attenuated by the soft fattiness of the chicken and the freshness of the herbs. The sauce was sweet and delicately spicy, mingling seductively with the smoky aromas from the grilling of the chicken. Every couple of bites, the pickled vegetables would bring a burst of sweet crunch.

The aromatic and textural complexity of this simple dish impressed me. I was also impressed by the playfulness of the whole constructing aspect. They were just delicious and I ate so many that I was almost too full to have anything else afterwards.

“So what are these things called?”  I asked Vinh as we were leaving.

“Nem.”

That’s the generic word for spring roll in French, so it made sense, but these were nothing like the any ‘nem’ I’d ever had in France or elsewhere.

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Laksa for breakfast

Empty street of Chinatown in Singapore
Empty street of Chinatown in Singapore

Our flight out of Singapore is early on Sunday and Chinatown is virtually empty when we wander through looking for some breakfast. We stand at a cross roads thinking about our options: eat at that corner place that looked average? go back to the hotel? …. And then The Duc says: “Listen” and points to the first floor of a building in front of us. There are sounds of human activity, cutlery hitting plates. “That sounds promising”. We find the stairs and wander up. It’s one of the hawker’s centers in Chinatown.

Singapore Chinatown upstairs market stalls

Singapore Chinatown upstairs market

(A Hawker center is sort of like a ‘food court’, a large area with lots of different food stalls all around and in the center are communal tables. You are free to buy what you want, from different merchants and sit wherever you want to. The ones I visited in Singapore are extremely well organized and fairly clean.)

We do a lap in the place, checking out all of the options and settle for Laksa from a stall that has a long line (good sign). I’ve never had Laksa before. Its got noodles, in a spicy red coconut milk sauce with some fried wantons. I’m sort of nervous and hope it is not going to be too hot-spicy.

Laksa spicy breakfast soup

Laksa spicy breakfast soup

The first bite is electric from the chilies and the fish but the coconut milk comes in and softens things up. The noodles and the wantons also act as a buffer for the spice and the whole thing is simply splendid! All of the tastes and textures marrying so well together. I’d definitely have it again-any day.

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Singapore Noodles

Singapore Chinatown noodles

Singapore Chinatown noodles

Just throw it all in there. Thin noodles. Bits of pork. A little bit of shrimp. Some egg. A few greens. And a little bit of spice, but nothing aggressive, just aromatic.

This is snack in Chinatown after finally arriving in Singapore. A journey that should have taken about 15 hours ended up taking 45 hours after we experienced just about every delay possible.

So feeling dizzy from virtually no sleep – even though the A300-80 is so silent, I still don’t manage to sleep on the plane- I need some food. And in my state, I can’t seem to find our favorite place in Chinatown where I’ve been before, so I’m seduced by these noodles in a dirty laminated plastic photo and sit down. So simple -something that looks almost like Sunday night left overs -yet so delicious. The travel delays were worth it, I love the food in Singapore.

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Unexpected Beaujolais Nouveau 2009

Casse crout Beaujolais Nouveau 2009When he handed me the bread, and I realized that it was warm, I thought, “this is too good to be true”.

How can you have a Beaujolais nouveau day without a glass (or three) of Beaujolais? Someone with some power at SNCF (French national railroad) must have been thinking about this, or else it was Goeroges Duboeuf himself who had the idea: serve a Beaujolais Nouveau ‘formule’ on the trains to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau. For 6.10 €, you get a little bottle of Beaujolais, a ‘platter’ of charcuterie (cold cuts), warm bread and butter. Isn’t life delicious?

The 2009 Beaujolais is phenomenal. Dense. Black raspberry, black cherry fruit, incredibly smooth tannins and yet still that fabulous intrinsically typical acidity of Gamay that was simply made to go with pork. Its only defect is that it is almost too ‘serious’. This is one of the greatest vintages in Beaujolais in a lifetime.

And on top of it all, I was in a train bound for Bordeaux! Duboeuf may not be taking the pricing drugs that the Bordelaise are taking, but he sure knows how to deliver a delicious glass of wine with the appropriate food!

 

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end Ch9 day

Michel Arnaud and samples

Michel Arnaud and samples

Short hand in the notebook and constant translation from French to English. After a day of stains on teeth, hands and notebook pages. After barrels here, tanks there, old wood foudres, and multiple blends. Different spices, fruits, and flowers. After all of the power (and alcohol) saturated wines, and after the varying tannin levels…

At the end of a day of all of this, what do our brains and palates need ???

EXOTICISM.

house specialty: bun tom

house specialty: bun tom

So, armed with The Duc’s leather satchel containing a couple of bottles that we  ‘need to re-examine after air’, we head to our Vietnamese friends at Xuan Lan in down town Orange. The spices in the cuisine sooth our palates and our grumbling stomachs…and actually goes really well with Chateauneuf du Pape. We order dishes to pass around; samosas, crab claws, bun-tom, frogs legs with candied ginger, cuttlefish and tamarind sauce….

samosas

samosas

The spice in this kind of cuisine (with ginger, soy sauce, tamarind) has a spice and a bitterness to it. The Chateauneuf du Pape blends we taste, and re-taste themselves have notes of ginger, pepper, exotic woods, cinnamon, clove, but also smoky mushroom notes.

the spread + Millière Ch9 '09

the spread + Millière Ch9 '09

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The Pyrenees, Petit Manseng, and Cauhapé

Pyrenees watch over Petit Manseng
Pyrenees watch over Petit Manseng

It’s a five-hour ride from Paris to Pau on the TGV. The train flies down as far as Tours, then medium speed to Bordeaux, before slowing even more until Pau. It is as if someone wants you to watch, watch the progression of this flat land until they appear: the Pyrenees. The sun sets, the ground darkens, the sky fires pink, and the mountains seem more clearly defined. First looking like a jagged cloud on the horizon, but then turn into a soft, reassuring frame to the earth.

It is dark when we arrive. Taxi. Rental car. Pau is charming but badly lit. We find our way to Jurançon, only a few kilometers from Pau. Everything is dead in the suburbs of Pau that turn in to Jurançon except for the restaurant where we meet our friends, Henri Ramonteu, of Domaine Cauhapé, his wife and his son Nicolas.

Chez Ruffet.

Fresh. Creative. Digestable. The most surprising and delicious dish is probably the first one of our menu: Raviole ouverte au Cacao, Utah Beach No1, Vierge de Butternuts-Chataignes et Bigorneaux. The raw butternut and chestnuts gives great freshness and crunch to the dish. The oysters are of superbe Gillardeau –like quality, the Cacao very delicate. The purity of ingredients is preserved.

Petit Manseng

Petit Manseng

We start with a Clos Guirouilh 2006 La Perine (meaning small stones) Pure and precise with spicy apricots and lots of floral aromas. No defects, but it is a more delicate wine than I expect from Jurançon Sec.

I am happy to move on to Cauhapé 2007 La Canopée. Made with 100% Petit Manseng grapes, this is a bomb. Precise, concentrated, chiseled layers of aromas of flowers, nuts, candied grapefruit. And ‘topographical relief’ (in The Duc’s terms) in the mouth. This wine is almost tannic with ginger and pepper of all colors that render it extraordinarily long.

Later we have the Domaine de Souche Jurançon Sec 2007 and it seems like the polar opposite of La Canopée. Lacks precision (maybe even slightly reduced in the nose) and slightly smoky lemon butter in the mouth.

Nicolas Ramonteu

Nicolas & Henri Ramonteu

Father and Son arrive early the next morning to take us to visit vines. We climb in the back of the pick-up to get to the different parcels. Crisp air greeting us and the Pyrenees always standing by. Our feet wet with dew, we taste grapes and kick stones. 80% of the crop is still hanging on the vines. The grape varieties that they use-primarily petit and Gros Manseng- have high levels of acidity that are concentrated by the wind.

Nicolas, the son, a 35 year old oenologist is back for a visit from New Zealand where he lives and works (Alluviale) for the moment….

He nudges his father with ideas and controled confrontation. Each on their own says that one day he’ll be back to take over…. Who knows… Meanwhile, in his prime, Henri has exudes energy and love for his land, his grapes, and his wine.

Then we taste through the range (s).

And finish with the ultimate combo tomme de brebis – made to be had with a dry Petit Manseng.

Cauhapé et tome de brebis

Cauhapé et tome de brebis

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2009 harvest @ Domaine de La Madone

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2009 vintage: what ripe Chardonnay looks like: gold

golden chardonnay in Chassagne 1er Cru La Maletroie

golden chardonnay in Chassagne 1er Cru La Maltroie

We didn’t have to go far with Alexandre Moreau to see some of his ripe Chardonnay in Cote de Beaune (Burgundy), we just crossed the street from his cellar and into Chassagne 1er Cru La Maltroie vineyard.

Here, too, the leaves were beautifully green. Chardonnay grapes getting golden like this is rarely to be seen. Getting golden grapes only happens in good to great vintages. It is a sign of ripeness and almost always guarantees the magical complexity of Chardonnay that is unique to Burgundy. Here the pips were riper (more brown and less tannic) than those tasted in the Cote de Nuits. The skins were delicate and the juice, sweet already.

Alexandre Moreau in Chassagne 1er Cru La Maltroie

Alexandre Moreau in Chassagne 1er Cru La Maltroie

As a general rule of thumb to estimate harvest dates, one counts 100 days from the flowering of the vines. Weather conditions during those 100 days can modify harvest dates, but in general it is approximately 100 days to maturity of grapes. Alexandre tells us that in this vineyard, 100 days would mean harvesting it on the 10th of September.

shot Chardonnay grapes

shot Chardonnay grapes

In this photo, we can see that there are some shot grapes (known as millerandé, in French). This is a bunch of grapes where the grapes are of variable size and diameter. This comes mainly from a flowering that takes a long time to take place. It is generally a positive sign. The different sizes of grapes mean that all the grapes taste different bringing added complexity to the aromas and flavors of the ensuing wine. (This is true for both red and white.) Smaller grapes have less juice proportionally to the skins. These smaller grapes are more concentrated, both in acidity and alcohol…and flavor!

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A revelation: Foie gras with raspberries and red bell pepper jelly

Foie gras with raspberries and red bell pepper

Foie gras with raspberries and red bell pepper

How do you make foie gras go with Beaujolais Villages?

Start by giving the chef a glass or two. Just so that he can get the creative juices flowing…

The young chef at Auberge de Chantemerle came up with an incredibly creative and unique idea that worked beautifully: Foie gras with a jelly of red bell peppers and raspberries with hazelnut crumbs.

Why does this dish work? First of all, the red peppers and raspberries go splendidly together as a pair. The combination brings out the red fruit qualities of red pepper making it very complex. The red pepper brings out a spiciness to the raspberry that makes it somewhat electric. Together they have a peppery-ness that jazzes up the foie gras rendering it very digestible and fresh (from the red fruits flavors).

It is not just any Beaujolais that can go with such an exquisite dish. Domaine de La Madone 2006 Beaujolais Villages Cuvée Fut de Chene was up to the task at hand. Made from a selection of La Madone’s finest terroir and barrel aged, this wine oozes Burgundian (read pinot noir) aromas. Gamay does that when it is really well made. (The expression used to describe this is “Le vin pinottes”, which is like saying “the wine is acting like a pinot”). This saturation of Burgundian aromas, mainly expressed by small red and blue berries, make the wine go with the red pepper and raspberries. The well-integrated toastiness in the aromas and flavours, from the 20% new wood, go with the pepperiness of the dish.

The meal we at at the Auberge de Clochermerle (located in a hamlet outside of the village of Le Perreon) on Sunday August 30, 2009 was excellent over all: definitely an address to recommend. A great place for a Sunday lunch in Beaujolais.

Posted in 2006, Beaujolais, FOOD, Restaurants, TASTE TRAVEL, Uncategorized, what am I drinking with this dish? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2009 vintage: tasting pinot noir grapes

perfect green vines in Burgundy

perfect green vines in Burgundy

Driving through Burgundy last week, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the beauty of the vines. Everything was so lush, and green, it just radiated health and vibrancy. The color of the vines was almost spring-like. No yellow, brown or red as can be common this time of year, right before harvest.

No, this vintage is something else. The healthiest, most beautiful vines I have seen in the 5 years I have been visiting Burgundy before and during harvest.

Tasting grapes before the harvest teaches you a lot. The growers do it to decide when to harvest. We do it to understand the vintage. What are we looking for? Ripeness of skins (are the skins thick? Think? Bitter? Sweet? Tannic? Pink? Red? Blue? Black), ripeness of pips (are they proportionally big? Small? still green? or turning brown?), and most importantly COMPLEXITY of flavor (simply does the juice taste good?).

On August 28, 2009 Frederic Magnien took us to see ripening Pinot Noir in cote de Nuits. We drove up through the village of Morey St Denis, following Fred’s 4 x 4 off of the paved road and onto a vineyard road. A few seconds later, the rental car scraped the ground. We decided to walk the rest of the way. The ground we walk on seems ideal. Not parched, nor damp.

The parcel of Chaffots is one of the flagships of the Michel Magnien estate, surrounded on 3 sides (North South and East) by Clos St Denis (grand Cru). He de-leafed on one side in July (the northern side). This allows wind to keep things dry and sun to have even more direct access to the grapes.

Pinot Noir in Morey St Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffots

Pinot Noir in Morey St Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffots

What can we see in this photo?

The leaves are still vigorous and very green. The bunches of grapes are evenly spaced out, well aerated, making it more difficult for rot to set in (I did not see any rot at all in this vineyard). The yield appears regular and not excessive. The health of this vineyard is especially amazing considering that it was hailed upon earlier in July. (Hail that early on in the season is usually not detrimental to the quality, but rather lowers the quantity.)

I thought the grapes already taste really good. The pips were almost fully ripe and the skins, though still a bit tough did not seem bitter or invasive. The juice was sweet and flavorful. Fred thought that they are not yet ripe enough. ‘Skins are essential,’ he said, ‘I’m going to wait until they are ripe. I’ll probably harvest this around the 18th of September. Phenolic maturity needs some more sun.’

Frederic Magnien in MSD 1er Cru Les Chaffots

Frederic Magnien in MSD 1er Cru Les Chaffots

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Vive le vin de France!

Vins de France

Vins de France

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Picnic in the train

Sunday. Train ride to Montpellier. The TGV will take us there in a little over 3 hours. As soon as we are out of Paris, and the window is divided horizontally between blue sky and green fields of summer, we pull out the picnic.

We start by opening the wine: a 2003 Meursault Les Tillets from Patrick Javillier which we have in the real wine glasses we like to bring with us. Pure lemon butter. More mineral and more Puligny-like as it ages, with some notes of verbena butter (typical of Puligny). The mouth is fresh. Lemon and honeysuckle with some white pepper notes in the end. Ripe, which is normal considering the 2003 growing season (heat wave), but nothing flabby or exotics here.

“Everyone expects the 2003 to age prematurely, but this one tastes like it is three years old!” I exclaim.

“It’s all about lees.” Replies The Duc. 2003 Chardonnay lees were the best in a half century but a lot of growers were afraid to use them.

We laugh and the changing countryside of France flies by the window.

The Duc pulls out the ‘lunch boxes’ he’s made: pan seared swordfish with sautéed button mushrooms. Very simple; absolutely delicious. The swordfish is undercooked so it tastes a little like veal. Actually some bights taste like chicken too. White burgundy was made for this dish.  We try to make it last as long as possible. Savoring every last bite. I think we were still eating when we passed through the Maconnais. And soon after that, the train crossed into southern vegetation of the Mediterranean.

Posted in 2003, FOOD, Recipes, What is in my glass?, WINE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment