Thursday, 28 July 2011

Tasting the Local Drop

In Australia and especially South Australia, we are very fortunate to have top quality wines right at our door step. In France, the reputation for producing top wine is much the same as Australia. So during our time in Paris, we found a wine bar which specialised in French wine. The Chateau wine bar in Paris, allowed customers to taste a small sample of some of the most exclusive wine France has to offer and at a resemble price. We could not resist trying the local drop while we were in France, so we were excited about what they had to offer. When we arrived at the Chateau Bar, we were instantly impressed with the range of wines. Hundreds of French wines all temperature controlled and measured in specially designed refrigeration systems. These guys took their wine very seriously. I was a little hard to understand the menu, as it was written in French, but the bartender was helpful in explaining to us the qualities of the wine on the menu.

We decided to try 4 wines, 2 whites, a rose` and a red. We started with a Chenin Blanc from the wine region of ‘Vouvray’ (south west France). Chenin Blanc grapes have been growing around Vouvray since the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th century that chenin blanc grape vines were planted and production of wine began. The chenin blancs of Vouvray are said to have a higher acidity than usual. Characteristics are honey, figs, apples, nuts and ginger. We found this wine to be quite refreshing. It would be perfect on a warm summers day.

Next was a Pinot Gris from Alsace (north east France). The wines from Alsace have a strong German influence because of the town being located so close to the border.  German grape varietals are said to be more aromatic and floral and their wine generally is produced with a higher percentage of alcohol. So when we tried this wine, we could definitely taste the German influence. It had a stronger punch of flavour. The higher alcohol of the wine meant, you could only take very small sips to really appreciate it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a top drop, but one glass would probably be enough.

We then moved on to Cara’s favourite type of wine, the rose`. This rose` was made at Chateau de Romillac in the small town of Corbieres (South France, not far from Marseille).  The region of Corbieres specialise in only producing red wine and rose`s. Due to the colder climates from the north and the warm Mediterranean whether of the south, this region is able to grow many different varieties of red grapes. The rose’s of Corbieres always use a minimum of 2 grape varieties. When we tried this wine, we could straight away taste the Mediterranean influences. Very light and refreshing. It would be very easy to drink on a hot day. It had both dry and sweet qualities. Sweet when it first hit the palette, but then with a dry finish and after taste.

Last, we tried a red wine. It was a Mourvedre from the town of Bandol (south France, half way between Marseille and Nice). Wine has been made in the region for around 2,600 years, since the ancient Greeks. The area is known for producing some of the best spicy, full-bodied red wines in the world, and the wine we tasted was no exception. When smelling, it had very subtle flavours, but then when you tasted, it gave you a spicy and peppery kick. It was definitely a wine worth savouring, so i was taking as smaller sips as possible out of my sample. It was delicious. It would be the perfect wine to drink on a cold winters night.

We thoroughly enjoyed our wine tasting. We could have tried everything on the menu, but we might have to save that for another trip, another time.  

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bienvenue à Paris (Welcome to Paris)

 We have now been in the UK for 2 months. We have seen some amazing things and have settled into life here nicely. It’s time to take advantage of the close proximity of other European countries. We decided to do a bus trip to Paris. We were so excited about exploring a new city, the 7 hour bus ride seemed to take no time at all. Once we arrived at our hotel, we quickly checked in and hit the streets. First on the list was of course the Eiffel Tower. As we made our way toward the tower, we were amazed that we were here. We Looked up at all the beautiful buildings, listening to french accent and constantly checking the map as we made our way through the maze of cobblestone streets. We certainly felt like a fish out of water. But once we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, we quickly realised that we were not alone. Literally thousands of tourists, just like us, taking in the sights of Paris. After spending a few hours around the tower, we made our way back to our hotel, excited about the days to come.

The next day we had a long list of sights that we had to go and see. Cara really wanted to go and see the ‘Moulin Rouge’. As we made our way there by train, we were entertained by a busker playing his violin and you truly felt like you were in Paris. After taking some pictures at the Moulin Rouge, We decided to have a bite to eat at a close by cafe. France is the home of the cafes, so we had plenty to choose from. As we sat down and ordered our food, I decided that this would be a great time to have the traditional french liqueur, ‘Ricard’ (also known as ‘Pernod’ in other countries). Ricard (or Pernod) are produced by a french beverage company funnily enough called ‘Pernod Ricard’. These liqueurs are both anise flavoured very similar to liquorice. The story of Pernod Ricard began with Henri-Louis Pernod in 1797. He opened an absinthe distillery in Switzerland. The absinthe he produced had instant success and by 1805 he opened another distillery in eastern France. When Henri-Louis Pernod died in 1850, his legacy of absinthe still lived on. Another distillery was opened in Paris in 1871 and absinthe was fast becoming the highest selling drink in Europe. It’s popularity was due to it’s addictive hallucinogenic qualities. This was considered dangerous and by 1915 it was banned in most of Europe and the United States. There was now a void in the drinks market that had to be filled, and it was ‘Ricard’ which took it’s place. In 1932, Paul Ricard founded his new drink which was made from similar products as absinthe, but without it’s harmful hallucinogen effects. Because Paul Ricard’s new drink was so similar to the Pernod product, the two companies we’re fierce rivals, until they finally merged in 1975. Still today, Ricard is the top selling drink in France.

Ricard is typically served in a long glass with ice. It is also served with a small jug of water, allowing you to dilute the liqueur as you wish. I can’t say that it would be a drink that I’d order regularly, but I can definitely appreciate why people love it so much. It does cleanse the palette. So after some crepes, french toast and a glass of Ricard, we set off again and continued our tour of Paris.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sipping Bramble’s at the “Gherkin"

When you walk the streets of London, you see and learn the history of famous buildings, places and other landmarks. Places like the famous clock tower (“Big Ben”), was opened in 1858. Even older is Buckingham Palace, which was built in 1705. Then there is Westminster Abbey, which has been around since 1245. I could go on and on, but basically, the architecture in London is steeped in history. It seems like every building you look at always involves detailed stone carvings and fine decoration. So when you find yourself staring at a building that is not even 10 years old, and it’s shaped like a gherkin, You can’t miss it.  It stands out like a sore thumb. A smooth curved building which consists of almost entirely glass and standing 40 floors high, 180 metres tall. It is quite impressive. We decided on one of our day trips to London to visit the famous “Gherkin” and to check out a bar that was inside.

The bar was located at the base of the building and we found a nice spot outside to sit. After we spent a few moments looking up at the giant structure we decided to consult the cocktail menu. The menu consisted of all the classics. One of the classics on the menu was the ‘Bramble’. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a classic Bramble and being a cocktail that was invented in London, this was the perfect opportunity to order one. The Bramble was invented in 1984 by Dick Bradsell at Fred’s Club located in the Soho district of London. It a simple mixture of Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and blackberry liqueur.

To make this drink you shake together with ice 45ml gin, 15ml lemon juice and a dash of sugar syrup. Traditionally this cocktail is served in a short spirit glass, but it can be served in a tall glass. Finish the drink with a drizzle of blackberry liqueur (Chambord or Creme de Mure work great). Garnish with either a slice of lemon or a blackberry.

The Bramble is a simple but very refreshing drink.  Cara and I had a great afternoon, sipping on a classic London cocktail and admiring a modern London icon.

"The Bramble"
In a Shaker add,
45ml Gin
15ml Lemon Juice
A Dash of Sugar Syrup
Shake and pour into your glass
Drizzle a dash of Chambord or Creme De Mure over the top, Garnish with either a Lemon Slice or a Blackberry

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A little taste of Venice

So far our summer has not been the kind that we're used to. However it has been a typical English summer. Mostly in the low 20's, rain and the very occasional spurt of sunlight. When we woke up one sunday morning and felt some warmth and could not see a cloud in the sky, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to go and visit a place in London that we had been saving for a day like this. We had heard of a place called "Little Venice", right in the heart of london. As the name says, Little Venice consists of a mini maze of canals just like the real venice. So we decided to walk the banks of the canals and explore the region.

As it was a rare warm day in London, the people were out in numbers. The pubs, bars and restaurants were packed. Everyone fighting to get a prime seat outside on the canal bank. We came across a popular bar called the "Waterside Bar".  Everywhere we looked all we could see were jugs of Pimms & lemonade. We found a nice spot in the garden near the canal bank to sit and selected a cocktail from the menu.  We decided to try some champagne cocktails. Cara doesn't mind a bit of lychee in her cocktails so she went for a drink called a "She-She". This consisted on muddled lychee and cucumber with lychee syrup shaken and double strained into a glass and topped up with champagne. For me this drink was a little too sweet, but Cara liked it. However she did say that the cucumber over powered the lychee. Lychee is such a strong flavour, and not many things over power it, so it was interesting to hear that the cucumber was the predominate flavour.

I ordered a drink called "Aszu like it". What interested me about this cocktail is that it consisted of a Hungarian wine known as Tokaji Aszu. Tokaji Aszu is a sweet white wine which is added to muddled grapes and sugar syrup and topped up with champagne. A simple cocktail,  but like the 'She-She', it was so sweet. The sweetness of the wine plus sugar syrup certainly made it perfect for the sweet tooth.

I did like both of these cocktails and I like the concept of muddling fresh fruit and topping it up with champagne. It follows the idea of the classic Bellini cocktail. However I do believe that they need to ease off the use of sugar, but thats just my personal opinion.

After another walk along the banks of 'Little Venice' we made our way home. We had a great day and couldn't think of a better way to spend a sunny afternoon in London.

In a shaker:
Muddled lychee & cucumber
Add a dash of lychee syrup
Shaken and double strained into a champagne glass
Topped up with champagne

"Aszu like it"
In a shaker:
Muddle grapes
Add a dash of Tokaji Aszu (Hungarian white wine)
15ml of sugar syrup
Shake and double strain into a champagne flute
Topped up with champagne