Tag Archives: Cotes de Provence

Summer in a bottle – gorgeous golden pinks from Provence and surprises from further afield

5 Jul

In a midsummer made for pink wine drinking, the Wine Wanderers have challenged themselves to reconsider roses made outside the South of France.   It was a wrench; it’s hard to turn away from the beautiful golden-pink wines which characterise Cotes de Provence and have a quality mostly absent from pinks made elsewhere.  It’s what Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Paris Ritz, speaking of the Clos de l’Ours CdP he sells through Le Petit Ballon, so aptly describes as “a stony minerality”.

Our prejudice against deeper-pink wines which often lack any hint of minerality has been fed over the years by some horrid Rose d’Anjou and even nastier “blush” zinfandel first encountered when the Wanderers lived in California.   It was a shock to return to these shores and find that white zinfandel had followed us – but we were close enough to France to pick up endless five-euro bottles of Cotes de Provence in French supermarkets which never disappointed, despite the bargain basement price.

CdP has now made it on to UK supermarket shelves, riding the crest of a wave of Brits’ preference for pale pink roses, but costs twice as much here as it does in France, thanks to the duty.   The Wanderers enjoyed Laithwaite’s gorgeous golden-pink Domaine Les Gres(£10.99 or £9.89 if buying 12) but felt it was a bit pricey.    At least both Sainsburys and Waitrose, whose own label CdP’s are decent value on promotion if also pricey otherwise at £8-9, have ramped up their range of pinks in light of sales of tens of million bottles every year and made some good finds elsewhere.

It’s not only in Provence where a preponderance of grenache makes for a great drop. Having established on a visit to Langedoc-Roussillon how good winemakers there are at blending this grape with syrah(viz. the excellent value L’Or du Sud by Foncalieu, £5.49 at Lidl), we ventured further north, enjoying a £6 Winemaker’s Selection Cotes de Rhone from Sainsburys, which also blends grenache with Syrah.  Ditto an £8  Barrihuela Rioja Rosado – here the grenache is spelled garnacha – perhaps a little finer than the excellent value £4.99 Rioja rosado from Lidl.

Laithwaites’ Pillastro Rosato from Puglia presented the first challenge to our prejudiced palates, not only because it was a slightly suspect strawberry pink, but because the grape was primitivo, the progenitor of zinfandel.   While not as sweet and nasty as the “blush” zinfandel we used to drink in California, the Pillastro was still too jammy for our taste, and a reminder that primitivo/zinfandel does have an inherent sweetness which is subsumed by the alcohol when it appears as a joyous red.    Similarly, we love red pinot noir, but not the New World pink pinot noirs tasted from various sources – a bit sweet and a bit fizzy for our tastebuds.

Specially worth mentioning is a great rose from Greece we approached with anticipation, remembering a wonderful cheap as chips rose enjoyed with barbecued pork in a remote corner of Mykonos.   Twin Sails, a Waitrose exclusive, is made from the xinomavro grape, another variety usually reserved for reds but this one performing perfectly as a fragrant pink with not a hint of unwanted sweetness.   Fabulous value at an everyday price of £5.99, all you should really have to pay for a wine that looks and tastes like summer in a bottle.

Valentine’s drinking – it’s not just about great pinks and fabulous fizz

11 Feb

What to drink with Valentine’s Day dinner?  Marketing hype says it ought to be fizz, still or sparkling pink or at the very least a red or white with a heart on its label.

So far, so cliched; what you really want is a sexy wine which will perfectly complement the aphrodisiac feast you plan to serve – or to enjoy as an aperitif before a dinner out.    In respect of the former, pink sparkling wine is hard to beat; generally less acid than white, it immediately creates a festive air and provides a feast for the eyes as well as a tickle for the tastebuds.

Champagne is no longer de rigeur now that we’re growing our own fizz, and it’s hard to beat a sparkling rose from Chapel Down.   But if the real thing is desired for its ooh-la-la cachet, Lanson rose is a bargain this week on promotion at £25 from Sainsburys.

Still rose is always a joy when well-made, particularly the gorgeous pale golden pinks from Provence.   You’re unlikely to find any of the Miraval made by Brangelina till spring- inevitably this small production sells out every year – but you could try the delicate violet-pink Pure from the similarly-named Mirabeau at Waitrose; not cheap at £12.99 but elegant.

Mirabeau is owned by an English couple, ironic considering that the English are doing a pretty good job with still rose themselves.   The Wanderers enjoyed the Broadwoods Folly, £7.99 at Lidl who have added three English wines to their selection for the first time.

Although rose is an apt partner for chicken, white meats and spicy food, if you have your heart set on oysters, you’ll want a decent white.    One Wanderer believes nothing but Chablis will do for oysters, but the other thinks the money would be better spent on Sainsburys Taste the Difference Sancerre, a sensational example of the genre at £13.  It will also work with asparagus, the other most-touted aphrodisiac food, which M&S have managed to get from their British growers in time for this year’s Valentines weekend.

A bottle with a heart on the label which would also partner asparagus is the Bordeaux sauvignon blanc known as Good Ordinary White  from Berry Brothers & Rudd, who got Paul Smith to design a special Valentines Day label for this and their Good Ordinary Claret.  While the white is lovely, the red suffers like most claret under £10 from being too young for full enjoyment.   To accompany steak or duck, better to splash out a fully developed voluptuous wine from southern Europe – the excellent Ribera del Duero by Condado del Hazo, £15 at Sainsburys or the austerely elegant Terre del Barolo from Waitrose, £18.79.  These are pricey treats, but decent reds from the New World are available at Lidl for less, including Lodi zinfandel from California, £4.99, and Axis cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River in Australia, home of great reds, for £6.49.

Paul Smith Good Ordinary White       For value and reliability, you can’t beat the “i heart” range which is a lynchpin of convenience store shelves.  Despite the rather naff label, most are eminently quaffable and true to variety, with the exception of the sauv blanc, which tastes suspiciously sweet – added sugar to please girly palates?   A nice enough drop for an aperitif, but keep it away from the oysters!

Bandol arrives in SW10 – heaven in a glass for lovers of elegant roses and stonking reds

26 Oct

The news of Bandol establishing a new home in the UK was joy to the ears of the Wanderers, who have happy memories of drinking some of the most sublime drops of red and rose in this very particular part of Provence.
This is the home of Domaines Ott, who make rich pale pinks to die for, and Domaine Tempier, from whom we first learnt that the South of France can produced great, stonking reds of enormous elegance.
Both wineries, and some innovative successors, are represented at Bandol, a new casual Fulham restaurant.  It aims to showcase the food as well as the wine of le tout Provence, but while while the tapenade and the fragrant bouillabaisse broth were spot-on during the first month of opening, we felt the chef, who is not from the area, needed to taste and replicate more authentic versions of his anchoiade and rouille.

But first to the wine; while Tempier is available by the glass – a huge treat for Londoners – the only choice of pink Provence was between Chateau Minuty, surprisingly austere for the joyous roses of this region, and the richer, more satisfying Miraval from the vineyard owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.   Why no Bandol roses, though?  Tempier makes one of many delicious bottles which belong on the by-the-glass list, and there are many more affordable bottles around.

You could be tempted to stick with the luscious Miraval all night to complement this garlic and herb-scented food which sings of summer, but that would be to overlook the fact that Bandol produces some amazing whites.  The superb, organic Terrebrune, a mix of clairette and the ugni blanc and bourboulenc barely known outside the area, is also available by the glass while it lasts.

What we did get before the bottle ran out was rich, robust and packed with exotic minerality, a perfect partner for the bouillabaisse, while the Wanderer among us addicted to Tempier absolutely savoured a glass or two with his perfect, Provencale-style lamb chops on a base of black olives and sauce soubise.   At £20.50 for a large glass it cost nearly as much as the lamb, but another Bandol red from Domaine Maubernard is available for just over half that price.

It’s puzzling that only seven wines from Bandol are available by the bottle – a tiny proportion of the list – but there’s a much larger selection from the wider south of France.  All complement this style of lustily-seasoned food, of which the petite friture – a generous heap of perfectly battered and deep-fried whitebait, calamari and prawns with aioli – was the standout starter.   The Wanderers would be tempted to return for that alone with a carafe of the Terrebrune – heaven on a plate, and in a glass, for the £60 for two you can easily pay for a totally unmemorable taste and drop elsewhere in London.Dining Booths at Bandol

Divine wines from the south of France meet comfort food from the north at Brasserie Chavot

22 Nov

Eric Chavot is one of those French chefs whose return to these shores after a stint abroad we are celebrating in spades.   Like Pierre Koffman and Bruno Loubet, similarly lost to London for a while and recently reclaimed, he earned his Michelin stars years ago but now prefers to serve classic, affordable cuisine in an informal brasserie setting – how blessed can we get?

Comfort food was on our mind when we checked into Chavot’s brasserie adjoining Mayfair’s Westbury Hotel this week.   He is particularly known for his choucroute garnie, and we expected to accompany this feast of sausages and sauerkraut born in north-eastern France with an Alsace riesling.  Instead, sommelier India Salcade surprised us with a stupendous white from the opposite end of the country.

Le Grand Blanc is a curious mix of grapes – chardonnay with the rarely seen rolle and grenache blanc – but it is a revelation.   Big and yet fresh at the same time, it is the most seductive white we can remember tasting this year.  It more than stood up to the smoked pork belly and bangers and played well to the winey sauerkraut(actually, a bit too winey – we prefer our sauerkraut the traditional way – a little sharper and well-flecked with caraway seeds).

We also missed the meaty frankfurter which is a staple of choucroute in Alsace, although well done Eric producing the turned waxy boiled potato which is also an essential, and invariably tastes better than any boiled potato you’ve had in Britain outside the Jersey Royal season.

Talking of Jersey, that was where the plump, briny oysters came from, although they were served in the Bordelaise manner with a little crepinette sausage.    With them came another lovely white  from the south – an Entre Deux Mers from Chateau Deville.  It’s easy to forget it was the French, rather than the Australians, who thought of blending sauvignon with semillon – this confection of 80 per cent sauv and 20 per cent sem was just the ticket.   We missed those little slices of pumpernickel that come with oysters in France, but the home-made bread was great, and so was the generous pat of butter.

The fact Chavot is not truly a traditionalist was borne out by the starter which earned raves when the restaurant opened earlier this year.   Deep-fried soft shell crab is hardly French, even if you serve it with aioli, and these little beauties came from India.   Deliciously crisp, though, and delightfully served on a board topped with French newspaper, accompanied by yet another really sumptuous wine from the south. Chateau la Coste Bellugue from Provence, proved more powerful than its blush of palest pink suggested, with cabernet sauvignon and syrah punching up the usual mix of cinsault and grenache.

Ile flottante for dessert could have used crackly toffee on the meringue instead of in the creme anglaise, but the baba au rhum was just about the best we’ve ever tasted.  And the room is truly beautiful-elegant but not a bit stuffy.

Brasserie Chavot, Conduit Street, London W.1.
(0)20 7183 6425

One reason to take Eurostar to Paris – brilliant Brasserie Terminus Nord on the doorstep

30 Dec
Take the Metro to the Brasserie Terminus Nord if you're not going straight from the Eurostar

Take the Metro to the Brasserie Terminus Nord if you’re not going straight from the Eurostar

Who would have thought one of the best meals in Paris could be had within steps of the Eurostar terminal at the city’s busiest main line station? Plenty of insiders, judging by the line for tables at Brasserie Termiinus Nord.

The restaurant is part of the Flo chain, which has long specialised in acquiring the city’s great fin de siecle brasseries and preserving with respect everything from their etched glass to their art nouveau panelling to their classic menus.   Many are a bit off the beeaten track, but those with an hour or so to spare before an onward journey to other parts of France can enjoy one of the finest feasts available in the capital on the hop.

This is a restaurant well used to serving travellers fast with no loss of quality. Bags are stowed in a discreet but capacious area right in the heart of the restaurant as you are escorted briskly to your table (a reservation is de rigeur unless you want to squander part of your precious dining time in the queue).

Seafood lovers immediately call for fines de claire or other delights from the oyster menu; I added a few plump crevettes just for the joy of getting a gloop of divine mayonnaise as well as the mignonette, pumpernickel bread and fine Normandy butter which come automatically with every plateau de fruits de mer.

Like most brasseries in the Flo stable, Terminus Nord does a superb choucroute, our normal choice for a main here following an oyster fix.  But as we were on our way to Alsace, with its unlimited supplies of pickled cabbage and smoked pork, within the hour, we opted for other regional specialities. This brasserie might as well be in Marseille, so deliciously authentic is its bouillabaisse, from the rascasse to the garlicky rouille. Liver braised in sherry was another excellent choice, it could as easily have been kidneys in mustard sauce or steak tartare. An excellent Cotes de Provence rose from a well-chosen and fairly priced wine list suited our choices perfectly; those opting for a seafood feast should check out the choice of Sancerre and Muscadet

Our only regret about this excellent restaurant is never yet having had time to sample dessert – a tragedy when real rum baba and crepes Suzette are invariably on offer. But perhaps it’s good to be  left wanting to more; we  now make a point of travelling though Paris at lunchtime for any journey across France involving a change of trains.  Those feeling flush might even consider splashing out £69 for a midweek day fare just to indulge in such a special lunch.  But you don’t have to be a rail traveller to eat here; those lucky enough to be stopping over can enjoy the privilege of a leisurely dinner – or come for a no doubt excellent breakfast from 8 am.

The Terminus Nord is at 23  rue de dunquerque, right opposite the main entrance of the Gare du Nord, tel: +33 (0) 142 85 05 15. For those £69 fares check out http://www.eurostar.com