Showing posts with label Roussillon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roussillon. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Day in Barcelona

On the way to Roussillon, I flew through Paris, but I was excited to have the opportunity to fly back through Barcelona. I had been to Spain before. This was my first trip, though, to this vibrant city and I’m so glad I was able to squeeze it in.

It was a short one and a half hour train ride from Perpignan in Roussillon, France, to Barcelona, Spain. I enjoyed the scenery as we went by, but I was anxious to arrive at my destination. I only had until the next morning before I was flying home.

The train station was busy, but it didn’t take me long to find a cab to my hotel, the Catalonia Plaza Cataluna. I was pleased that Wines of Roussillon had chosen this location for me as it was central to the city. It even had two things I don’t get often in Europe, a bathtub and king size bed.

I quickly freshened up and asked the concierge for my best walking route to see the city. He pointed me to La Rambla, which was just a block away. From there I was able to head to the Gothic Quarter, the Cathedral and Museu Picasso. This museum was probably the most difficult for me not to spend time in as I am a very big Picasso fan.

The trip to Barcelona felt like a preview of future adventures, but I still enjoyed it while I was there. The architecture, mostly by Antonio Gaudi, is spectacular and can be seeing in buildings throughout the city so just walking around is a learning experience.

As much as I loved the vibrant inner city, I was drawn by the open area around the pier and my long walk down to the water was certainly scenic. I was struck by the statue of Christopher Columbus and then walked further down to the water where I could see the World Trade Center and Aquarium. I stayed just long enough to watch the sun set over the pier and then strolled through the market and back to the hotel.

I would have loved to walk for hours more, but I had an appointment to meet with Manel Casanovas of the Barcelona Tourism Board at a new wine bar inside Moritz. I had walked so much during the day and was running late, so I decided to get a cab to the newly opened wine bar at this unusual location.

I immediately loved the décor of Moritz, modern European with a bit of pop art. Manel and wine bar staff took me through the large wine menu, which included everything from Napa Valley Cabernet to Catalan Moscatal. What made this place even more unique was the fact that you could choose the size of the glass of wine you wanted to taste. With wines priced from $15 to $3,000 a bottle, you could have a choice of a small “taste” of an expensive wine for the same price as a bottle of something local regardless of your budget.

It was time to drink some wine with some food of Moritz. Manel showed me how to use a porro, a carafe that you use to “drop” wine into your mouth. We then started with some Tapas before a charcuterie plate filled with sausage and meats. The cheese platter was also quite appetizing.

I was pretty full, but everyone insisted I try the Spanish version of a French favorite (fitting when you are near the border of both places), Boeuf Bourguinon, and I really enjoyed it.

I toured the brewery and banquet areas downstairs before I bid my hosts farewell. I decided to forego the cab and take in a bit more of Barcelona while I had the chance.

I got a bit lost on my way back to the hotel and I was actually glad it happened. I had wondered through some alleyways filled with revelers going in and out of the small bars, clubs and restaurants. 

Despite the fact that I was alone and there were some quieter areas, I felt safe. The only thing I didn’t feel was enough energy to continue partying into the night.

In the morning, I reluctantly left my hotel for Barcelona airport. Check in was easy and I was early for my flight. The airport gate was quite crowded and I chuckled at the site of a cervesa (beer) vending machine positioned just before passengers headed on the plane. I decided instead to settle into my seat (emergency row, but no upgrade from American) and have a glass of wine instead.

It had been a great week exploring Roussillon that had been made even better with a Spanish ending.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Full Last Day of Tasting Roussillon

Eric Aracil, Export Manager, Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, was there to greet me first thing in the morning at Hotel Metropole in Perpignan. It was my last day in this wine region and we had lots of wine to taste.

It was another scenic drive as I once again saw the diversity in the soil of this area between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. We were actually heading closer to the mountains into the driest area in Roussillon.

Our first stop was at Domaine La Casenove in Trouillas, where the Montes family and winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo had managed to make wine from a land filled with clay and pebbles. They had a lot of practice in doing so as this family had been here for more than 400 years.

I liked the selection of wines at Domaine La Casenove, which included dry reds like syrah and the sweeter muscat. The Muscat de Rivesaltes is dessert wine perfected, with notes of honey, apricot and kiwi.

Our ride to Domaine de Nidoleres was as scenic as the previous. I could believe the beauty of the Pyrenees Mountains from every angle.  The soil changed once again. In some areas it looked like there were vines coming straight out of rocks!

I fell for this place immediately, from the warm-hearted winemaker Pierre Escudié and his wife/partner/chef. They have Guest Houses (with hot tubs and a sauna) here as well as a restaurant, where we were to have lunch.  It seemed like the perfect place for a romantic getaway – especially with the winery.Dom

The meal started with a perfect salad made with Small mushroom soufflés served with butternut squash and mashed potatoes was a great option, especially with the 2008 Domaine de Nidoleres Grenache Blanc, filled with lemon and green apple.

I enjoyed the selection of French cheeses at the end of the meal, served with a Domaine de Nidoleres Late Harvest Vinya Blanca. I wish I had more time to stay and chat with the Escudiés, as well as see more of the property, but we had yet another winery to go to, Domaine Montana in Banyuls des Aspres.

The winery was old and beautiful.  From the ancient bricks to the newer stainless tanks and barrel room, they had it all covered.  They also had a museum which explored French wine, especially in this area. It was fun to walk through it and see all the antiques explaining how wine (and winemaking) had changed.

Before we left, Eric and I did some tasting of the Chateau Montana wines.  My favorite was La Rouge Eternal, a mix of syrah, carignan and grenache that produced a wine filled with fresh ripe fruit and a touch of cinnamon.

I had a short time to change for dinner when back at the hotel before Eric Aracil returned to pick me up for a very special final meal.

Le Clos des Lys had the understated elegance that I prefer in fine dining.  We were meeting Georges Puig of Domaine Puig Parahy for dinner. I knew he was bringing wine, but I had no idea just how special this tasting would be.

It seems the wines of Puig Parahy include a rare collection of old wines. With our meal we would be tasting aged muscat wines that were more than 100 years old – and worth thousands of dollars.

Though we started with a light and citrusy 2009 Muscat Sec, we proceeded to the older wines as the meal moved along.

I really didn’t think there would be such a difference in these wines, but each bottle had its own individuality, though they all bore resemblance to that unique taste of chestnut barreling.  

It’s hard to narrow down my favorites, but the 1977 had a fantastic combination of cocoa, fig, walnut and coffee, while the 1962 brought in a bit of sweet baked apple even though the nose was not as strong.  In the 2001, I found a lighter taste, with a mix of raspberry and cinnamon. That wine had another notable component – it was harvested on September 11, 2001.

The wines got older as the evening went on, from a rich 1936 to a spectacular 1910, bringing in notes of nutty caramel and coffee.  We stopped at the 1890 which was tasty and cognac-like.

The food at Le Clos des Les was as memorable as the wine. The plateful of hors d'oeuvres that started dinner was a meal in itself. I was glad the dishes were small since there were so many, such as the pumpkin mousse, served in a shot glass. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pork in cream sauce with artichoke and a hash brown cake.

The final dish was wild boar, served in a filet and cubed in a great sauce. I like the accompaniment of apples served with it for an added sugar and spice.  Chef Jean-Claude Vila had prepared this meal just for us and he had certainly done quite a job.

The chocolate fudge cake was as delectable as it looked and the passion fruit glace was a good accompaniment.

On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the beautifully decorated cakes and collection of macaroons. As appealing as they looked, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. It was time for Eric to drop my off at my hotel for my final night’s sleep in Roussillon. I had discovered another wine region I hope to return to someday soon. In the meantime, I was off to Barcelona for a short visit before I head home.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Water and Wine in Roussillon, France

It was a day full of beautiful surprises as I got to see incredible scenery while exploring the wine region of Roussillon.

I started the day with my favorite French breakfast of yogurt, fruit and pan au chocolat. I never eat the same thing for breakfast at home, but this seems to work well to start a day of wine tasting. Virginie Hurault from Vins du Roussillon picked me up at the Hotel Metropole in Perpignan for our trip to the mountains and the sea, further into the south of France.

The scene was like nothing I had scene. There were vineyards up mountains and in what looked like black dirt. The Mediterranean Sea was a glimmering turquoise and the houses on the hillside were unmistakably European.

Our first stop was at a small store in Banyuls sur Mer, where we met with Jean-Francois Deu, owner of Domaine du Traginer.  The shop also sold other local wines and we tasted a few.

I was taken with the 2007 Domaine du Traginer Collioure Blanc, a buttery vanilla which didn’t taste as oaky as its 14 months in a barrel would normally indicate.  I also liked his 2010 Banyuls Black Granache, a fruit-filled combination of dates and plum.

We drove with Jean-Francois up a winding dirt road to see the vineyards he works with his mule. He’s been doing this with his helpers – three donkeys and a mule. The views of the sea and Pyrenees Mountains and Mediterranean Sea were spectacular, but I never would believe someone could cultivate grapes (and make good wine from them) on this red clay if I hadn’t tasted it myself.

We took a drive back down to the town to Domaine de la Rectorie, where Marc Parce, president of the areas Cru Management Organization told us about the first white wines made here back in the 1990s and how they actually grew different grapes within the same vineyard instead of blending them later on!

My pick at Domaine de la Rectorie was definitely the 2011 L’Oriental, a mix of black grenache and carignan, but I didn’t get to have much as we had another drive to take before lunch.

I was still getting over the beauty of Banyuls sur Mer when I was captured by Collioure, from the ancient castle to the hills by the sea. Le Neptune Restaurant offered us incredible views into this seaside paradise – along with fantastic food and wine.

We started with a colorful salad and then a Cous Cous cake surrounded by hummus and vegetables. It was just the light meal I needed to offset the heavier wine of the day.  The dessert, however, wasn’t quite as light, but I couldn’t resist the presentation filled with chocolate mousse and Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream.

During lunch I tasted some wines whose vineyards we didn’t have time to visit and found the Abbe Rous Collioure Cuvee Rosé to be quite memorable.

After lunch, we walked around the town and along the sea. It was a windy and cool day, but I still wanted to check the area out and take some photos. Before we left Collioure, we stopped to see the factory of one of their most popular exports, anchovies. It was interesting to watch the workers fold them up to put into the cans. I almost wished I ate fish. I certainly could smell them!

Our next stop was at the bakery compound of Olivier Bajard, who is a award-winning master of sweets.  My sweet tooth was definitely salivating as I looked at the cakes, cookies and, of course, chocolate.
The chocolate selection at Olivier Bajard appeared to be endless, from chocolate bars made from cocoa around the world to truffles in multiple flavors. 

We walked through the kitchen, which was as busy and organized as that of a major restaurant.  In a large room at the end, Olivier and his assistant Remy were waiting for us to do a wine pairing with some of their chocolates and French macaroons.  I didn’t necessarily agree with all the pairings, but I did really enjoy all the offerings.  If I had to narrow it down, I’d say I was most blown away by the macaroon with cassis and violet.

I went back to the hotel for a brief time to change and get ready for what would be a delightful dinner with Christine Campadieu of Domaine La Tour Vielle. She made the perfect choice in Le Grain de Folie restaurant in Perpignan. It was intimate for conversation and the food was some of the best I had thus far on my trip.

Christine told me about the wines she makes in Collioure, up on a sloping vineyard. She and her ex-husband (and current business partner) produce about 10 different wines that range from dry to sweet.  I liked the ones I tried, especially the 2011 Collioure Puig Ambeille, a combination of grenache and mourvèdre.  It was perfect with the mini ravioli in a cream sauce with asparagus and mushrooms, served after a delicious salad of artichokes, celery and garlic.

Dessert was a sampling and I was glad not to be faced with any big portions. The glace in a tiny cone, mini milkshake, chocolate pudding and mousse cake were definitely the way to finish a most incredible day. I couldn’t wait to see what else Roussillon had to offer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day One Wine Exploration in Roussillon

The weather was not cooperating the way we wished, with clouds and rain most of the day. It didn’t put a damper on my day as I had waited a long time to get to this area and was excited to be in the South of France.

Eric Aracil, Export Manager, Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, picked me up for a full day of wine tasting in the Roussillon region. He apologized for the weather and explained how unusual it was since this area actually gets 320 sunny days per year.

I listened to him talk with pride as I enjoyed the beautiful landscape changing in front of the mountains. There were areas of green, but also many spots where it looked like the vines were growing right out of black! These are just a few of the things that make Roussillon unique from other French wine areas.

Our first stop was at Domaine Piquemal, a family-owned winery that was now in the hands of the fifth generation, Marie Pierre Piquemal. She greeted us in the brand new building that now houses their tasting room and winery.

Marie Pierre explained how all the elements in her land, including black soil, clay, olive trees and wild herbs, influence the wines produced by Domaine Piquemal. It was here I had my first taste of Muscat Sec, or dry moscato. It is very popular in Roussillon for its tropical and fresh flavors.

My favorite wine at Domaine Piquemal, though, was the 2010 Les Terres Grilleés, a combination of syrah, grenache and carignan that exemplifies the herb influence in the vineyards.  

Next was Maison Cazes, the largest vineyard in France to practice organic and biodynamic farming.

Lional Lavail, owner and general manager at Cazes, met with us and showed us the solar panels used in this area, which is known to be windy and sunny most of the year. Among the unusual techniques they use to avoid chemicals is a supply of bats to kill spiders and encourage the insects that will help with pollination.

Maison Cazes also has plans to lead the area in another respect – wine tourism. Lional Lavail believes that more should know that the best vineyards to visit are right in Roussillon. He’s already working on building accommodations at the winery to encourage more to visit.

We tasted the wines of Cazes wines during a delicious lunch in their restaurant, which has fresh food brought in everyday from local producers. A 2012 Le Canon du Maréchal. This blend of two types of muscat and viognier together made everything I enjoy in wine – a combination of tropical and citrus that’s fresh, light and just slightly sweet from the fruit.

I had a wonderful quinoa cake and some bread out of the oven in this rustic setting while we tasted some spicy red blends and finished with a most unusual 1999 Rivesaltes Ambré. This barrel-aged Grenache was orange in color and a very good combination of sweet and woody, though it was still hard to pull me away from the Apple-Caramel dessert!

Before I could say no more, Lional pulled out a 1978 White Grenache, which had most incredible notes of apricot, dates, ginger and cherries. It was sad to leave Maison Cazes (and its wines), but we had more places to go and bottles to taste.

Cases de Pene is actually a cooperative of 60 growers from the town with the same name. One winemaker works here to blend and then store the wine in large concrete tanks in the middle of this quaint town. The wines are then sold and exported under the Chateau de Penya name.

Chateau du Penya also produces a fantastic Muscat de Noel, a limited edition Christmas muscato made by many of the wineries in Roussillon that’s worth pre-ordering.

It was time to climb the mountain a bit for the coldest vineyards of Mas Amiel. François Trouquet took us around and showed us some of the unusual winemaking techniques here, including the largest wooden barrels I’ve seen and the smallest containers – which are kept outside.

We did a lot of tasting at Mas Amiel of quite a selection of grenache. My excitement went from one end of the spectrum to the other.  I loved the 2009 Vintage Blanc, a grey grenache with tropical minerality (including strong pineapple notes), and a creamy, long lasting finish. I also relished the 2010 Vintage, a black grenache full of chocolate and back raspberry.

After a short break at the hotel, I had dinner with Gilles Jaubert of Château Planères at Le Café Vienne à Perpignan. Like many of the winery owners of Roussillon, he is fifth generation. We sipped a light 2011 Prestige, a mix of malvasia, vermentino, and white grenache and he told me how his family helped bring new varieties to the region. He also was proud of the fact that everything in his vineyard is done by hand.

My salad was good, but the cheese filled bilini and mushroom, potato, yam dish was just what I needed with the La Romania, an oaked malvasia/vermentino, which stood strong on its own. We ended the meal with a chocolate molten cake and Vin Doux Naturel AOC Rivesaltes Garnet, a black grenache that tasted of plums, black currant and a little bit of green pepper to finish my day with spice.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reaching Roussillon

It was an uneventful start to the long trip from home to the city of Perpignan in the wine region of Roussillon, France. I didn’t get upgraded on the American Airlines flight, but I did get a seat in the emergency row so I was able to spread out a little and get a bit of sleep.

I had plenty of time before my afternoon flight, which was a good thing since I had to change in Paris from Charles de Gaulle to Orly Airport. That trip wasn’t quite so uneventful as a disruly passenger on the bus held us up quite a bit. I’d like to tell you what it was about, but my limited French could not come close to translating that conversation!

From Orly, I took a short flight to the south of France, where Roussillon is located between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It was my first visit to this region and I was excited about checking out another area of French wine. I would soon learn that this was much different than any other I had visited.

I had a chance to relax in my room at Hotel Mercure Perpignan Centree. It was right in the middle of town and would be my home for the next few days while I ventured out to explore the area. It was nice to stay put in one place.

Eric Aracil, Export Manager, Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, met me in the hotel lobby to share some basic information with me about the region. He would be my main contact for the trip. He explained to me how this area represented the most diversity in land in all of France, with mountain slopes similar to Sonoma, salt air from the Mediterranean, terroirs that ranged from grass to dark soil and three rivers that ran through it. The wines – still, sparkling, sweet and dry – all varied by what came from the vineyards they were on.

Another intriguing piece of information I learned about Roussillon is that it was actually part of Catalonia at one time with a stronger Spanish culture than French one. Given the fact that Spain was just right on the other side of the mountains, a lot of that had remained in the wine, food, and even language.

I soon learned about the difference in the food as Karine Faucher from Les VignerionsCatalanas, the first wine cooperative to be formed in Pyrénées-Orientales, picked me up to take me for dinner at Le Tire Bouchon. It was just a short distance from the hotel in Perpignan and I loved the quaint, European décor.

The food was definitely lighter than I had ever experienced in France. I started with an amazing eggplant dish and continued with a mushroom omelet, both satisfying and not at all heavy. Even dessert was a flan type dish that didn’t leave me stuffed.

Karine told me a little about her area, which represents half of the wine sales volumes. We sipped the 2010 Les Village de Terroir Catalan Lesquerdes over dinner. The Croix Milhas Muscat de Rives was my first dabbling into the region’s most popular grape and it was a good one. I was excited to be able to sample more over the coming days, but it was getting late and I hadn’t slept much in two days. I went back to my hotel in preparation for my first outing into the vineyards of Roussillon.