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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 190 (May 26, 2008)

Thursday, May 15: The flight to Strasbourg via Paris on Air France. Most of the group I'm touring with to Alsace and Champagne meet at the airport. They serve Jacquart Brut Mosaique champagne in cattle class, which is very civilized. Dinner – Seven-grain salad with curry and salmon, Beef Bourguignon with carrots and mashed potatoes, cheese, berry cake. The wines in splits – Castel Viognier 2006 and La Baume Cabernet Merlot 2007 both from the Pays d'Oc. The Viognier was very good. Slept a couple of hours.

In Paris Airport the direction arrows point down (in Toronto they point up). Must be a French thing. Arrive in Strasbourg in brilliant sunshine in spite of a weather forecast that predicted rain. No doubt due to the fact that Deborah bought a rain hat at Toronto Airport against this eventuality. The bus takes our group of 21 to the village of Bergheim at the epicentre of Alsace's wine route. We walk round the village since we are about 40 minutes early for lunch. The village looks like a Hollywood set for a Pied Piper musical.

We lunch at Wistub du Sommelier and can hardly keep our eyes open. Warm goat's cheese salad, Pintade, white asparagus, potato pancake and a raisin ice cream for dessert (the raisins must have been soaked in eau-de-vie). The wine: Trimbach Riesling 2005. Martin Malivoire's table ordered a bottle of Katz Muscat d'Alsace 2005 (great to taste a dry Muscat, a disappearing wine from the Alsace portfolio; only 1% of the region's production). An espresso after helps us to keep awake for a visit to Marcel Deiss. Here we are given a quick tasting of three terroir-driven wines (the winery has field blends that are labeled after the commune, like Burgundy): Engelgarten 2003 (dry and minerally), Grasberg 2004 (honeyed grapefruit) and Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim 2004 (rich and sweetish, honey and grapefruit with a botrytis note) US. Marcel Deiss, whose winemaker Jean-Michel Deiss is known by his nickname "the Ayatollah of Alsace," is represented in Ontario by my friend Dan Ruddick, the Toronto Symphony's timpanist.

After the tasting the bus takes us to our hotel in Colmar, Le Colombier, where we collapse into bed for a couple of hours. Martin and Moira Malivoire, Michael Drobot and Bonnie McLeod, Deborah and I walk over to the Bristol Hotel to have dinner at the brasserie (they also have a one-star restaurant there). Tom Stevenson had suggested I eat there, emailing me that I must order the chicken in a Riesling cream sauce and their sautéed potatoes (a dish Deborah ordered). I order onion tart (a huge slice, more like a quiche) and pig's knuckle with the sautéed potatoes. The wine, Ginglinger-Fix Hatschbourg Gewürztraminer 2005 (slightly sweet and delicious). Martin orders pichets of a drier house Gewürz and a Muscat which we finish with an order of Munster cheese.


  Etienne Hugel at Auberge de l'Ill

Saturday, May 17: A restless night, waking up with a sore back to an alarm call at 7:25 am. We walked to the centre of Colmar, where we boarded the tourist train for a tour of the town complete with an audio guide. Then to the Unterlinden Museum. Viewed the impressive panels of the Issenheim Altarpiece. The bus takes us to Illhausern for lunch at the three-star Auberge de l'Ill. Sadly we hear that the father of the chef, Paul Haberlin, has died and chefs from all over the country came to his funeral. Also the news that Robert Mondavi has passed away at the age of 94. We are joined for lunch by Etienne Hugel and his wife Anne Christine so, naturally, we order Hugel wines. A spectacular menu: an amuse-gueule of sour cream and raw salmon, followed by salade de homard à la manger verte et galette de riz basmati au curry doux, with Hugel Muscat 2005. This was followed by koulibiac d'esturgeon et de saumon version 2007 à la crème de vodka citronnée, inspiré de celui servi à la cour du Tsar Nicolas II (and much good did it do him). This course was accompanied by Hugel Riesling Jubilee 1998 (still very bright and youthful). The main course was filet de chevreuil aux champignons sauvages et compote de fruits sec, served with Hugel Pinot Noir Jubilee 2001. This, apparently, is the first day that venison is allowed to be served. A plate of cheeses followed and then assiette du croqueur de chocolate with Domaine de Prouderoux 2006, a Maury red dessert wine.

  Deborah in Kaysersberg

After lunch some of the group opted for a walking tour of Kaysersberg, the home town of Albert Schweitzer, before returning to the hotel for a pre-dinner tasting of Dopff & Irion Crémant d'Alsace in the breakfast room. For dinner a group of us stroll over in a light rain to La Krutenau in the Little Venice quarter for Tarte Flambée Gratinée with Joseph Cattin Riesling 2007.

Sunday, May 18: Awoke with sore back from the bed. We are moving rooms today so hopefully the bed will be more comfortable. Today we are crossing the Rhine into Germany to tour the Black Forest area and specifically the village of Titisee and Freiburg. We assembled at 9 am outside by the bus, but no Stephen and Kathy Pauwels. At 9:10 am I called their room and they thought it was their alarm call that they had asked for for 7:30 am. Much hilarity among the group, which inspired me to write the following limerick:

A wake-up call is a useful thing
Unless the staff forget to ring
While the Pauwels are dozing
The group is supposing
They're probably doing the other thing.

At tourist village of Titisee on a mountain lake Gordon Pape purchased a small cuckoo clock for Stephen and Kathy, which he ceremoniously presented to them on the bus. After spending an hour and a half in Titisee, enough time for a Hirsch Pils beer, we bussed to a rustic inn called Jostalstüble, where we lunched on salad, blue trout or schnitzel with fried and boiled potatoes and an elephantine piece of Black Forest cake which no-one could finish. From a rather desultory wine list I chose a Joachim Heger Grauburgunder 2006 that came in litre screwtop bottles but was pleasant enough when chilled. The rain came bucketing down during lunch and turned to hail as we drove towards Freiburg to visit the cathedral.

The cathedral, with its massive tower, flying buttresses and intricate gargoyles, is a magnificent sight, especially the soaring tower and the west door. There was a high mass celebration in progress as five new priests, lying prone on the stone floor, were being inducted. After an hour's visit we drove back to Colmar, 52 kilometres away. At 6:30 pm an impromptu wine tasting in the breakfast room of bottles people had collected over the past couple of days: Sparr Reserve Riesling 2006, Alphonse Kuentz Grand Cru Pferisberg Riesling 2002, an unidentified Muscat 2005. Dinner at Le Caveau Saint Pierre in Little Venice. Asparagus soup and a traditional baked Alsace dish of beef, veal and pork, potatoes and carrots baked in a single pot. Deborah had a rhubarb tart with a meringue topping. The wines – Leon Beyer Riesling 2006 and a Pinot Gris (rather sweet) whose producer I didn't get. Finished with a Mirabelle eau-de-vie.

Monday, May 20: Today a guided tour of Strasbourg. Heidi, our French guide, is a font of information but would rather talk about medieval Alsace than current realities. She tells us that 40% of the half million inhabitants of this university town are under 26 years of age. We tour the cathedral, which has the largest expanse of stained glass in France, and walk around Petite-France, an area so-called because French soldiers during the Napoleonic era who had contracted syphilis were ghettoized here. Nine of us lunched at L'Eveil des Sens in this quarter. The menu: white asparagus, grilled quail with Louis Sipp Pinot Gris 2005. Stephen wants us all to meet outside the cathedral at 1:45 pm so that we could walk back to the bus that was parked by a bridge across the River Ill. Some concern when Bonnie McLeod and Michael Drobot are not there at the appointed time. Nor are they at the bus, which is meant to leave at 2 pm for Riquewihr and our tasting at Hugel. Eventually they are found – an incident that inspired today's limerick:

You've probably heard of Bonnie and Clyde
Who terrorized he countryside
They dressed so swell
And ate so well
And almost missed their back-home ride.

At Riquewihr, the prettiest town in Alsace, we are shown around the ancient cellar by David Ling, Hugel's export manager, who came to Alsace from England for six weeks and 35 years later he's still there. He tells us that the population of Riquewihr is 1,000 but daily they get 20,000 tourists. He gives us the best definition of an Alsatian he knows (heard it from a Canadian Air Force Colonel): "An Alsatian is 100% Alsatian, 150% French, 100% European, 100% Germanic and 450% ego." The oldest wine in the Hugel cellar dates back to 1834 and, given the history of Alsace, it has changed nationalities five times. The tasting is conducted by the irrepressible Johnny Hugel, who is now 84 and very proud of his photo in The Guinness Book of Record (for the world's largest wine cask still in use). His image is juxtaposed between the step pyramid in Egypt and the Great Wall of China.

Johnny Hugel in full flight

Johnny set out two glasses for each of us so that we could compare vintages of the same variety. The line-up is:

  • Hugel "Gentil" 2006 and Hugel Muscat Tradition 2006
  • Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2004 and 1998
  • Hugel Pinot Gris Tradition 2005 and Pinot Gris Jubilee 2001
  • Hugel Gewurztraminer 2006 and Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2002
  • Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 1994 and Gewurztraminer "S" Sélection des Grains Nobles 1989

After the tasting Deborah and I are standing outside the cellar chatting. Johnny tells us that 2007 is one of the three best vintages he has seen in 64 vintages. Then I am the target of the passing pigeon (which will be the subject for tomorrow's limerick). We visit Hugel's Boutique Vini next door to the cellar that sells a selection of top Alsace wines as well as Primum Familiae Vini wines and other great European producers. We buy some delicious macaroons in different flavours from a tiny shop in the main street before making our way to the bus. The evening cocktail party in the breakfast room has become an institution. For tasting, Le Clos Chàteau d'Isenbourg "Les Tommeries" 2005, Dopff & Irion Gewurztraminer "Les Sorcières" 2005. Seven of us have booked for dinner at L'Aspèrge. We have the address, which is within walking distance to the hotel, but can't find it. Stephen phones them on his BlackBerry and the woman spends five minutes talking us in although we are 100 metres away from the door. I order Josmeyer Riesling "Kottabe" 2006. I start with warm Munster salad and Deborah orders foie gras. My main course is pork, Deborah's medallions of lamb. I wanted to order a bottle of Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2003. The woman says she has the 2005 only but when the bottle arrives it's 2004, which is what I don't want. Finally settle on Leon Beyer Pinot Noir 2005, since more than half the wines on the list are not available. Finish the meal with a Mertille (blueberry eau-de-vie).

Tuesday, May 20: Today we leave for Champagne, via Verdun. En route I deliver the limerick of the day:

It's good luck they say but I don't know why
'Cos out of a cloudy Riquewihr sky
A pigeon crapped
And I got zapped
But thank God pigs can't fly.

  The war memorial at Verdun

We visit the war memorial in Verdun and climb the tower shaped like a gigantic shell. Lunch by the river outdoors at Le Palmier. I order magret of duck and Brian Findlay is amused that I order beer. He takes a photo and composes the following limerick:

There once was a wine writer of good cheer
Whose fans crossed the ocean to hear
But when he went out to lunch
With the wine-loving bunch
With his magret of duck he drank beer.

Chateau d'Etoges

We bus to Château d'Etoges in the village of that name in the southern part of Champagne. There are five small champagne producers in the village. Our room is at the top of the château. From our window we look down on the moat the surrounds the building, a former royal coaching stop. We all meet on the terrace of the orangerie (the modernized part of the hotel) for a glass of champagne – the hotel's house blend, Gérard Neuville Brut. We toast Gordon and Michelle, who today celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, and I offer a limerick:

Twenty-five years is quite a haul
Like a marathon you hit the wall
But Gord & Michelle
Get on so well
Congratulations from us all.

Then into dinner in a private room. The menu is printed in French and English:

Duck Liver Terrine with Nuts and Apricots, Served with toast (I order a bottle of Ruffin Demi-Sec Champagne and the sommelier tells me it's a sweet champagne. I tell him that's why I ordered it.)

Pan Seared Sea Bass Fillet, Artichoke Barigoule, Garlic & Bacon Cream, Gravy Sauce (!), with a bottle of Chapoutier Tavel Rosé 2005

Champagne Sorbet

Stuffed Saddle of Lamb, Stewed Swiss Chard with Olives, Thyme Juice & Tapenade Sauce, with Jaboulet St. Joseph 2005

Cheese plate – Brie de Meaux, Comté, Tome de Savoie

Chestnut and Honey Delight, Jivara Chocolate Mousse on Praline

Aurelie serving champagne at the bar in Epernay

Tuesday, May 21: At an adjacent table last night Michael Drobot managed to splash himself with champagne when energetically confessing that he knew Jacques Marie. To mark the occasion, the following limerick delivered on the bus as we drive the Champagne Route of the Côte des Blancs.

If you run into Jacques Marie
Toss a glass of champagne over he
It's a Toronto thing
Called a drunkard's fling
And the dry cleaning comes for free.

We drive through Avize and following the route to Ambonnay, where Krug has a walled vineyard, Clos d'Ambonnay. The wines from this clos now sell in the US for $3000 a bottle. Take photos. On to Reims to visit the champagne shop that Tom Stevenson suggested – a very modern place at 8 rue Gambetta where you ca taste five champagnes by the glass at different measures. Downstairs they sell 150 different bottles by small, independent producers. I taste Bernard Pitois, Herbert Beaufort Grand Reserve Cuvée Brut, Francoise Bedet Cuvée Dis Vin Secret, Baillette-Prudhomme Rosé de Saigné. Purchase a bottle of the Bernard Pitois. Then on to lunch at a fish restaurant where Deborah and I have a bowl of moules marinère with a half bottle of Marc Brédif Muscadet 2006. I compose a limerick to celebrate the toilet experience of several of our group. When flushed the whole room is washed with water and if you remain you get soaked:

When you visit the toilet in Reims
You shower as well it seems
It's the place to go
And go with the flow
If you want to shrink your jeans

On to Hautvillers to visit the abbey where Dom Pérignon conducted his experiments with blending wines for champagne. Our guide, Suzanne from Holland, extols the virtues of Dom ('When I drink Moët I flirt with my husband; when I drink Dom Pérignon I flirt with angels"). Tom Stevenson had told me that the nickname of the farmers of Hautvillers was "the cuckolds" because the monks would visit the wives while they were in the fields for "religious instruction." The monks would leave their clogs outside the door, which was a sign that they were not to be disturbed. We have a glass of the latest vintage of Dom (2000) before visiting his gravestone in the church. Back to the hotel for champagne on the terrace before dinner. Beatrice Brossier, the export manager for Henriot, is joining us, as Henriot has graciously sent over wines for our group. The menu:

Asparagus and Lobster Ravioli, Cauliflower Surprise with shellfish cream, served with Henriot Brut Souverain in magnum

Poultry breast with herbs and mashed potatoes, with Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1995 in magnum and Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Château 2005

Cheeses – Pont L'Evesque, Goat's cheese from Touraine, Maroelles, Murolle, with Bouchard Père et Fils Chambertin Clos de Bèze 2001

Nougat Ice Cream with Preserved Fruits and Cherry Coulis

Beatrice couldn't find her car keys; there was a frantic search of the car park and pathways in the dark. She eventually found the key in her purse. For Beatrice:

If you lose the keys to you car
And you search for them near and afar
Don't cry and don't curse
Just empty your purse
Your husband will know where they are.

  The Chagall windows in Reims Cathedral

Thursday, May 22: Drive to Reims to visit Krug. But first we tour Reims cathedral to see the magnificent Chagall windows. We're late arriving at Krug because of a street demonstration by striking railway workers and have to take narrow side street ending up in a traffic jam. We are shown around Krug's cellar by Melan, who looks like a ballet dancer and spoke perfect English with a London accent tinted with Liverpudlian. She tells us that "There is champagne and then there is Krug," a sentiment I share. Krug is unique in fermenting its wines in 205-litre barrels. They use all three grapes and not necessarily from 100% villages. At the end of the tour we are offered a glass of Krug Grand Cuvée.

Melan, our guide, with Krug's barrels

Gordon Pape and I go off for lunch in Reims to catch up on family news. I've known Gordon since 1971 when we were both living in London. We lunch at Le Vignarie, a small restaurant that has a collection of decanters. We order two halves of Coteaux champenois – Alexandre Bonnet Rosé des Riceys 2002 and André Clouet Bouzy Rouge 2000. I order Tangine de Crevettes, Bavette with puréed celeriac and mushroom and a strawberry tart for dessert.

The dinner table in Moët's cellar

Back to Etoges for a couple of hours to dress for dinner in the cellar at Moët & Chandon. Moët has 28 kilometers of cellars on three levels under the streets of Reims. Our guide, Sophie, and the company's sommelier are cagey about the number of bottles in the cellar and the number of bottles they sell. In the tasting room we are given a glass of vintage 2000 before moving into an adjacent part of the cellar for dinner. The table is decorated with candelabra and a host of single white roses in champagne glasses. The menu:

Salmon and bass Carpaccio, lime and olive oil vinaigrette with ginger and sesame cracker, served with Moët & Chandon 1er Cru

Roast loin of Veal, new potato purée with butter and roast tomato, with Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2000

Three local cheeses – Sandrée de Champagne (goat), Langres and Chaorlus, with Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial

Exotic dessert with coconut centre, pistachio joconde and apricot coulis, with apricot coulis, with Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial

Gordon Thorne nearly set his menu on fire from a candle, which prompted the following spontaneous limerick.

Alas Moët & Chandon is no more
Burnt to the ground floor by floor
Our group did it they say
So we need not pay
But it was Gord's menu that made it roar.

(OK, so the scansion is off, but I had already consumed six glasses of champagne.)

  Floriane Eznack, Veuve Clicquot winemaker

Friday, May 23: We leave Château d'Etoges at 10 am for Reims to visit Veuve Clicquot. We tour the cellars with their magnificent crayères (chalk pit), each named for a company, employee with 40 years service. In the tasting room the company's youngest winemaker, Floriane Eznack, led us through a series of wine that go into the blend of Veuve Clicquot Brut. We taste 2007 Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, followed by 2004 and 2004 Pinot Noir and then the final blend for the next Veuve Clicquot Brut. Then we sit down to lunch. Floriane tells us that she really wanted to be a fighter pilot but was turned down by the French Air Force so she decided to become a winemaker. The aperitif wine is Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame 1998, the flagship wine of the house. A magnificent, full-bodied champagne, with Pinot Noir richness, the driest of the portfolio. The lunch that followed was one of the best meals I've had on the trip (apart from Auberge de l'Ill). The menu:

Quenelles de Bar et Saint Jacques Poêlées, Fondue de Légumes, served with Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2002

Le Meilleur de la Pintade en Ballottine aux Petits Légumes et Champignons du Moment, with Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2002

Duo de Fromages en Chaud/Froid, Mesculun de Salade aux Noix, Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2002

Millefeuille Framboises et Mousse Mangue Caramélisée en Tuile Craquante Caramal Orange, with Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec Carafé (decanted to lower the mousse activity to bring out the sweetness)

We bus into Paris and check into the Holiday Inn at Place de la Republique. Nine of us have booked to eat at Hélène Darroze. We have chosen the tasting menu of their signature dishes priced at 175 euros. The sommelier is a French cliché, casting his eyes heavenward when I try to find an inexpensive wine. I settle on an Olga Raffault Chinon Blanc 2005 followed by a magnum of Charles House Jurançon 2005, then a Drouhin Chablis Les Clos 2005 for the first four courses. For the following meat and cheese courses, a magnum of Château Bouscaut 2003.

Our group about to enter a very expensive restaurant

The menu is precisely spelled out:

Tartarede langoustine bretonne aux olives Taggiasche, cappuccino d'asperges vertes de Pertuis

Foie gras de canard des landes confit aux épices douces, chutney de fruits exotiques

Riz carnaroli acquarello 'millésimé 2005', noir et crémeux, chipirons péchés à la ligne aux chorizo et tomates confites, jus amer au persil plat et emulsion de parmesan Reggiano

Pavé de saumon sauvage de l'Adour cuit sur la peau, mousseline de carottes aux argumes confits, reduction aux cébettes à la coriander fraîche

Selle d'agneau de lait des Pyrénées rôtie 'au vert', pommes de terre fondants et croustillantes, jus aux capres à queue

Les fromages frais et affinés du Sud-Ouest de la France, sélectionné par Marie Quatrehomme, Bernard Antony et Frédéric Minvielle

Vacherin aux fraises, meringue au citron vert, sorbet et chantilly à la noix de coco parfumée à la feuille de Kafir

Crème au chocolat Carupano du Vénézuela, ganache parfumée à la cannelle, fines feuilles de confit d'orange

Our bill for water for nine people was $75! They just kept pouring it. Note to self: order tap water in future. The Armagnac trolley held 36 bottles dating back to 1904.

The Armagnac trolley at Hélène Darroze

Saturday, May 24: A free day in Paris. Deborah wants to shop. We stop for a coffee at an outdoor café (the weather is fine) then off in search of the Vlaminck exhibition in a museum by the Luxembourg Gardens. We make our way to Juveniles wine bar and have a half bottle of Charles Hours "Happy Hour" Jurançon 2006 with a plate of salami (me) and ham and melon (Deborah). Deborah shops again before we return to the hotel by the metro (it is raining now). The group meets in the bar for a farewell wine reception, using up bottles that people don't want to carry home – Marie Verselle Bouzy Rouge 1996, Stéphane Bonnet Bouzy Rouge Les Marolles (N/V) and Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris Réserve 2006.

  Deborah with Stephen Pauwels at Astier

We walk four and half blocks to the restaurant for our final dinner at Astier. We are seated upstairs and have to impose upon a reluctant staff to reorganize the tables so that we can get in and out (when this was explained to the waiter he suggested we all go to the toilet now). We have the choice of cold green pea soup with smoked duck breast or pâté de foie gras, rascasse or roast chicken (with black legs), chocolate cake with chocolate mousse, clafoutis of strawberries in light cheese with fresh mint. I order Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 2006 and Fleurie 2005 (didn't catch the producer).

Sunday, May 25: The phone rings at 3:15 am after I had set the alarm call for 6:20 am. The guy on the desk says it's a technical fault. Others in our group get morning alarm calls that correspond to their room number. Ours is 317. A bus takes us to the airport. On the way a woman dashes out into the street and appears to want to throw herself in from out our bus. Her male companion pulls her back before she can do so. We are seated upstairs in a 747 in a bulkhead seat with lots of leg room. On the plane Gordon Pape, travelling in First Class, is sitting next to Serge Hochar of Château Musar and his son Gaston, who are flying to Toronto to meet with the LCBO buyers. I haven't seen Serge, who is an honorary director of Grapes for Humanity, for at least ten years. He comes to visit us and coaxes us to come to the dinner for wine writers this evening at Le Select to taste his wines. We can't go directly home because today is the open house for the sale of our house. We have to stay away until 4:30 pm. Guy, my son, picks us up at the airport and drives us to his condo, where we have a couple of glasses of Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2006 and some appetizers. Too tired to write up the tasting of Château Musar wines (which were amazing). That will have to wait till next week.




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