The wonders of Piemonte….pictures sometimes speak louder than words

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Oud Sluis – a Gastronomic High

What an adventure. Short flight to Brussels, the city of oysters and Lambic beer! Follow this with a short train ride towards the Dutch boarder throw in a Taxi ride and voila “goedemiddag-wilkomme in Sluis”

You have to imagine the build up. A table booked a year in advance. A chef that has pretty much been declared perfect by a certain French guide book. Anticipation was pretty high, I wasn’t going to be taking any prisoners when it came to making judgment here that’s for sure (well come on, have you seen the prices!). I wanted fireworks and more.
Nerves took over as did excitement.The day had finally arrived.

What is so special about this little restaurant tucked away in a tiny corner of the Netherlands? That was it, it wasn’t just one thing, of course the food was show stopping (more about that later), it was the whole concept, this is a project that has been dissected and intricately put back together to provide, not just a yummy meal, but a gastro experience, a journey.

Chico y Luna – an old converted farm house with 3 fabulous rooms, in the most amazing rural setting. Every detail perfectly executed. Be it the personal greeting from Paula our hostess or the amazing snacks awaiting us on arrival. Who knew grissinis could be so good! Oh and did I mention that the bathroom was full of Aseop products (bonus points already)!
The next logical step was to check out the free mini-bar. I mean what B&B offers a 1/2 bottle of Troplong Mondot, ok 1997 wasn’t the greatest year but still.

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Paula sorted out the pick up. 18.55 our dapper driver arrived and whisked us through the quaint and surprisingly attractive Sluis, a tiny village with more Michelin star restaurants than schools. Think the Bray of Holland. Talk about perfect timing, as we arrived Sergio was just mounting his “G Star” designed whites – there is a pattern forming. Was this going to be style over substance, was he just trying too hard. Is less more? Well no is the answer!

A warm, charming welcome made you feel instantly relaxed. Little note books lie under each napkin, so that all thoughts and emotions could be documented. Fun idea! The restaurant must have had about 10/12 tables – the dining room however, was surprisingly small, compact and very cleanly designed. There was obviously a man in-charge. A glass of Pinot Meunière driven House Champagne was poured and boom, fasten your seat belts for the journey of the year.

7 snacks are fired at you with a tempo that just left you speechless. A highlight was the crazy mushroom – think the most insane earthy porcini and times this by a trillion. I am still speechless. Every morsel a new experience. Balance, a word I used all night. Balance. Every dish was perfectly balanced, 20 components became 1. Harmonized in a way that left me flabbergasted.

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Of course when it came to ordering we went for the full monty. To be honest at first I was a bit disappointed. What, they only have a 6 course tasting menu? Gosh, but after 20 minutes I knew why. I think if you include the snacks, or as we called them in the day “amuse bouche” we had a total of 12 courses! Admittedly the cheese course wasn’t needed, but how was I to know that they just had a trolley like any other fine-dining establishment. At the point when they asked miss greedy (thats me by-the-way) that fatal question “cheese or dessert Madame” I was horrified, I didn’t want to miss a single course. If he can do that to a mushroom what the hell is he going to do with cheese. And the answer was, nothing. Maybe somethings really are better just left as they are.

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Decided against the wine pairing, which was actually a shame now I think about it. On the other hand though my wallet was all the happier for it. The wine list was attractive, but a bit lacking in certain areas. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt though on this one. They are due to close soon for good, so I am presuming they have just stopped buying – which would makes sense. For someone based in Switzerland and I should add an avid Swiss wine drinker, I was incredibly surprised to see the white list dominated by the Swiss.

The service was generally good, dressed in trendy rolled up G Star jeans and black blazers – all too cool for school! The Somm was obviously alone and overworked meaning the actual wine service could have been smoother. Although I am sure no fault of her own, there is only so much a girl can do.

Back to the food. Obviously due the location of the restaurant and the proximity to the sea, seafood dominated the menu. I enjoyed the most succulent oysters and mussels. Absolutely divine. Every dish demonstrated Sergio’s respect for the product and the sea. Poaching things in sea water and using all sorts of sea herbs (if you can call them that) and seaweeds. Each dish was so intricate and complex – with a huge list of ingredients. I must admit I was a bit worried at times that it was just too much. But it wasn’t. Not once.

This guy has obviously spent the last 20 years perfecting each dish. It was perfect. Also the stories that accompanied the dishes, were honest and heart felt – no signs of kitsch and trying to be trendy. This was an example of someone who lives and feels food, and most of all respects and understands his products! There are many young Chefs out there that could learn a thing or two. Oh, did I add that him and his team work 20 hour days. Dedication.
Thank you Sergio Hermann and team for creating this memory!

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Oh, one more thing! How could I forget the breakfast – what a feast. This is what I meant at the start about providing an experience. It was 30 hours of foodie pleasure. This is gonna be hard to top.

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Fine and Rare Wine Specialist 2013

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Excitement draws in as I finally arrive in the magical, mystical city that is Vienna – birth place of both the Schnitzel and darn good coffee (well birth place may be a bit extreme but they definitely give Starbucks a run for their money!)

Today is the first day of the week long fine & rare wine seminar, a collaboration between the Austrian arm of the WSET “Weinakademie Österreich” and the grand and oh-so fabulous Palais Coburg. The seminars could not get off to a better start. None other than Mr Burgundy himself Jasper Morris.

Seats taken and time for a quick sneak at the line-up!

Roulot represented Meursault with “Les Charmes 2008″ – this 0.28ha site produces wines with not only that hazelnut richness we come to expect but also wines of great finesse. The cold dry winds of 2008 has provided concentration of both fruit, acidity and even colour. Delicious.

2005 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru was big and bold but in all the right ways. Crying out for bottle age to be able to prove its self and the potential that is has to be subtle and elegant. Here I must use the over used word minerality, but purely as a metaphor – and you all get what I am trying to express with it right? A certain backbone that is almost impossible to describe.

The amazingly interesting style of Domaine Leflaive in the ’90′s was represented with a magnum of 1994 Les Pucelles. Considering that this was probably one of the worst vintages during this period, the results were amazing, interesting off the wall but nevertheless amazing. The fruit has been able to mature slowly, expressing itself as a most beautiful wine. Definitely not the most popular in the room, but who cares I love funky wines, they show personality something that is vital in Burgundy.

Swiftly moving on to the most sensational pommard I have ever had the chance to experience; Clos Épeneaux 2003 from the very talented Comte Armand.

Next on the list, Clos de la Roche 1996 from the master of this grand Cru site Ponsot – this led us to surprisingly elegant La Tâche 2000 followed by what must be one of the high-lights of my year. 1976 Rousseau Mazy-Chambertin Grand Cru. Lapsang souchong and slight touches of dried ceps. Sweet nuances of licorice and something slightly medicinal. This wine bought unanimous pleasure to the class I’m sure!

Jasper himself summed up this last wine with a final note perfectly “I want a sense of serenity in my mature Burgundy” well if this doesn’t represent serenity than I don’t know what does!

Can’t wait for day two!

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2002 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Closed, disappointingly so in fact. The only distinguishing aromas I was getting were oddly that of green almonds and oyster shells – not really what one expects when ordering a Napa Cab! But after an hour in a huge decanter the wine suddenly came to life demonstrating Napa Valleys restrained, grown-up side.

Freshly picked blackberries, a hint of sweet wood and a definite earthiness. A fun delicate wine – it couldn’t shake off the whole oyster shell note though, still not sure if it bothered me or not!

Any how it was a nice pairing with my rare fillet of lamb.

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Domaine de la Romanée-Conti…….Eeek still have goosebumps!

So firstly, I would really like to say a huge thank you to the organiser of this grandiose tasting. I’m really not exaggerating when I say that on this damp January morning, yet another dream was fulfilled – sad but true!

So every-year I’d notice how the “select few” would attend this minute tasting of the DRC latest vintage release at the Corney and Barrow London HQ and I have always hoped that sooner, rather than later that somebody would care enough about my opinion to send me THE golden ticket…..ta da..its 2013 and i’ve got a golden ticket!

Well I must be honest, they wanted the Tasting Director and got the Exec. The big boss was luckily for me out of the country and asked me to go in her place. It was an honor to even be asked. A big shout out and thanks once again.

No point me going into too much detail on who are ” DRC”. Those of you who don’t know probably don’t care, lets be honest. What I will say is that it was top Burgundy that got me hooked, it was this elixir that got my taste buds screaming for more and made me become a tad more than slightly obsessed with this wine malarkey.

I’ve put together my impressions from the DRC 2010′s  and I do hope that you find them not only interesting but also useful. And I hope that you too, also get a chance to try these fantastic examples of Pinot Noir, once you do I am sure you will get what all the hype is about. Proof that magic can be produced when a grape is in the right hands and soil.

Tasting Location: London, Corney and Barrow HQ

Date:31st January 2013

Corton, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy France 2010                              

Wow, what a perfume. Potpourri and dried Raspberries. Hints of white pepper. English strawberries, cream and a hint of toffee. Precise and elegant with great concentration and a complex nose. Dense and chewy palate, lively . Floral notes dominate the palate with a savoury edge. Sweet raspberries with a similar balance of sweet and sour that you usually get with a bowl packed with fresh raspberries . Long intense finish.

Échézeaux, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy France 2010                      

Intense, ripe burly nose packed with dried cranberries. Sweet, delicate floral fragrance with white pepper. Definitely increased levels of oak and secondary aromas when compared to the Corton with dashes of mocha. Also higher acidity levels than the corton, or at least it felt like that anyway. Definite wild strawberries. More delicate than the nose would suggest.

Grands Échézeaux, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy France 2010                       

Restrained nose, hints of oak but still very  delicate. Subtle, especially when compared with Échézeaux. Very grown up on the mid-palate, seductive with lashings of savoury notes albeit restrained. Long sweet finish with hints of vanilla. A delicious gamey character and beautiful tannin structure with a stony almost turned earth mineral nuances.

Richebourg, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy France 2010 

Violets fill the glass, with underlying hints of chocolate and coffee, vanilla even. Hints of thyme, maybe even rosemary. Very complex nose with less obvious fruit that the first wines. Steely and refreshing with a full ripe palate. Fresh red fruits. Something herbaceous almost even vegetal. Fine grained tannins. Flamboyant.

Romanée-St- Vivant, Vosne Romanée,Burgundy France 2010

Wow, on this one the yeast jumps right out of the glass. Creamy, yeasty pungent nose. Quite forward and expressive compared with the rest of the range. Beautiful smokiness – the strawberries are very ripe. Quite a surprise. Lovely spicy notes, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Definite raspberries with the finish going back to strawberry.

La Tâche, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy, France 2010                         

Violets and a meaty veal demi-glacé, very precise and tight. Luscious on the nose. Smells deep and voluptuous. So very floral. Red ripe fruit – strawberries. Good acidity adding to the finesse. Warming hints of vanilla and nutmeg. A bowl of fresh summer fruits.

Romanée-Conti, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy France 2010                              

Pristine. Rich open nose – beef demi glace. Lifted and refreshing notes of redcurrants, providing a refreshing acidity and sweetness. Smokey, charcoal nuance. Complex. Flinty, stony minerality. Lashings of strawberries. The palate is not as open as the nose, more restrained. Layers of fresh red fruit. Delicate and feminine  – beautiful. Slight hints of thyme, coffee and demi glace shining through, but still keepings its delicacy. The finish is just so impressive and a lot fresher than the nose would have you believe.

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Me, Myself and the Guide Michelin

Recognition, something we all strive for at least once in our lives? And who are these people to judge? But surely it is us with that desire to achieve ratification. We are those with the open ears and eyes ready to read and hear somebody elses opinion on who we are and the work that we do.

Recently the Michelin Guide has been hot topic. The same time every year the culinary world starts to talk and whisper about this little red book. Over the last few years one must admit Michelin has done itself no favors; slip ups and enigmatic tasters, proof that secrecy never did anyone any favours. However I still feel this urge to fight its corner. I feel that everyone is out to get it and prove why its results are so unimportant but at the same time we all know what an honour it is to receive this little stars.

From my own experience of working in a 3 star establishment, I can vouch for the honest hard work put in to achieve such an honour. I feel that when we discuss the guide we also loose focus of what it stands for and this is a luxury industry that is to be respected for its workmanship.

The wine industry, one could argue is just as out of touch as the Michelin guide, with certain people having the power to turn a wine that could sell for €15 into to a mysterious wonder selling at well over £500 a bottle. But as with the Michelin guide there is a market for it, this may not be everyone’s weekday wine but it does have its audience. And as much as I hate to say it, these critics are wanted and needed, the proof lie in their success. Which brings me back to the Michelin guide.

The teams of talented chefs and perfection seeking front of house work sometimes up to 17 hours a day in order to provide an experience; if one wants a meal to which last only 2hrs and consist of 2 courses then maybe 3 star shouldn’t be the location of choice as it is generally only when the full experience has been had, can one understand what all the hype is about. These chefs and waiting staff should be respected for the artistry of their work and the Michelin provides recognition for this hard, grueling work – something that the wages regularly do not do!

During my time in the industry, our drive was purely a case of wanting to provide an experience that is not only faultless but one you just don’t forget and for one night you are whisked away to a faraway place where your sense are in heaven. (No cliches intended, this is just what happens when one is led by passion). We didn’t strive for the 3 stars, but boy was I chuffed when we got them!

All industries also have casualties, be it actors that go off the rails after winning an Oscar or artists after getting their first exhibition with Saatchi decide they are misunderstood and have a breakdown. If you are unfortunate enough to live your life in the hands of a critic then what can you expect, it is a guide and merely a guide to use once one understands what it represents and it is not a crime to also disagree with its in halt or opinion. I too have certain wine writers/critics to which I read and favor over others, but this is not crime.

We are currently experiencing an odd time where trash-chic is in and enjoying anything that may come across as a luxury or elitist is out. I can appreciate we all need to take a step back and enjoy the basics that life has to offer, but at the same time one girls Mulberry Bag is another girls 3 Star restaurant.

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What now?

So what now – all suggestions welcome? Two years later, £3000 poorer and a lot thirstier!

These last few months have been atrocious, the unknown and the uncertainty. What if, just what if i’m not actually very good at the one thing that I actually want to dedicate my life to. What if?

I mean, starting from scratch is so not an option being that I already gave up the Michelin star world in search of true happiness, and let’s face it we ain’t getting any younger! So, here I am the day after getting my results and I just can’t stop smiling.

Looking at my checklist and being able to say “WSET Diploma – Check” what a feeling, although at the same time a hundred thoughts are running through my head – MS? MW? (3 days left to apply for the latter.)

I’m not ready to stop learning about the topic that fascinates me through to the bones but I’m also not ready to approach the above two. Or am I? Maybe I’m just scared?

Well, one things for sure, 2012 is my year. Great new job and all! Let’s see what 2013 brings apart from a wrinkle or two more.

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