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AOC Cairanne: Discovering the Newest Côtes du Rhône Cru

Established in 2016, AOC Cairanne is the newest of the Côtes du Rhône’s 17 crus. Located on the left bank of the Rhône River thirty minutes from Avignon, the village of Cairanne is perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by vineyards. In the distance one can see the craggy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Considered a gateway to the southern Rhône Valley, Cairanne’s climate is Mediterranean- dry and sunny with frequent gusts from the mistral winds which cool and purify the air, an ideal setting to cultivate healthy vines. Many vines in this region are more than 50 years old.

Cairanne Village-LAURENT PAMATO
The village of Cairanne is located in the Vaucluse department of the Rhône Valley. Photo: Vaucluse Tourism. Copyright: Laurent Pamato

Red wines make up 96 percent of Cairanne’s production. AOC guidelines require that the reds be a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but no variety can exceed 30 percent of the total blend. The end result are red wines that display sultry spice, fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and elegant finesse.

Though only four percent of total production, Cairanne whites, also follow stringent AOC guidelines, comprised mainly of Clairette, Grenache Blanc or Roussanne. Bourboulenc, Picpoul. Viognier or Marsanne may be used in smaller amounts. The whites are all aromatic with a bright balance of floral, fruit and spice.

Selection of Cairanne wines

Conservation is important in Cairanne where 26 percent of planted areas are organically farmed, and sulfites are kept to extremely low levels. Most of the vines are gobelet-trained to safeguard against the wind and to preserve the freshness of the fruit. Cairanne is divided into three growing areas. To the west near the Aygues River, vineyards are planted on steep terraces with extremely stony topsoil over calcareous clay. The hilly slopes just north of the village are alluvial clay and silt with limestone. In the flat southern region, the vegetation is shallow scrubland, known in the Rhône Valley as les garrigues. Each contribute to the consistent style and character of Cairanne wines which producers unanimously refer to as more “refreshing and elegant.”

Cairanne is a winemaking community consisting of 50 independent vignerons, 35 négociants and seven cooperatives. Locals talk about a youthful vitality in Cairanne; after all, it is the newest Cru in the Côtes du Rhône. The reference is also a nod to the region’s younger winemakers who are working together with an eye on preservation, sustainability, and recognition for AOC Cairanne in the global wine market.

With Jean-Etienne Alary , Domaine Alary, in the rocky vineyards
For more information visit: www.vins-rhone.com

Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers:

Domaine Brusset. The Brusset family has been producing bottles wine since 1947 in Cairanne as well as in other appellations in the southern Rhône Valley. (Adrian Chalk Selections/MS Walker)

Domaine Alary. Jean-Etienne Alary is one of Cairanne’s young winemakers whose families have been producing wine in the region for many years. Domaine Alary has existed since 1692. Jean-Etienne represents the 11th generation. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Domaine André Berthet-Rayne. André Berthet-Rayne’s great grandfather started with 15 acres; his father, Paul expanded it substantially. Today the winery is run by André with daughter, Alexandra, taking on winemaking duties. (Santa Armosa NY)

Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint- Martin. Brothers Frédéric and François Alary represent the 10th generation of this winemaking family whose winery dates back 300 years. (North Berkeley Imports)

Domaine Les Hautes Cances. This winery was acquired in June 2019 by the Amadieu family, négociants based in Gigondas. They also produce a second label in Cairanne named Pierre Amadieu. (Alain Bradley Imports)

Domaine Boisson. Sixth generation winemaker, Bruno Boisson, studied and worked in Burgundy for several years, which is why the wines have a Burgundian flare to them, notably the barrel-aged white, L’Exigence (Verity Wines)

Domaine Le Grand Bois. An estate founded in 1920 by Albert Farjon now run by his descendent, Mireille Farjon, and her husband, Marc Besnaudeau, who worked as a sommelier in Paris before joining his wife’s family business. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Maison Brotte. The Brotte family are négociants with three estates in the Rhône Valley including Domaine Grosset in Cairanne (Monsieur Touton Selections)

Learn more about AOC Cairanne. Listen to The Connected Table SIPS. Each podcast is 12 minute.

Domaine brusset
With Laurent Brusset, Domaine Brusset
Domane Roche
With Romain Roche, Domaine Roche
Jean-Marie Amadieu, Pierre Amadieu, and Frédéric Alary, Domaine de l’Oratorio Saint Martin
At Domaine Berthet-Rayne with André Berthet-Rayne , daughter Alexandra, wife Marina and son-in-law, Axel
With Bruno Boisson, Domaine Boisson; Mireille Besnardeau, Domaine Grand Bois; and Thibault Brotte, Brotte

 

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Lirac – Stylish Wines from the Rhône Valley’s Right Bank

One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.

Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.

A windy day among the vineyards in Lirac. In this vineyard vines date back 140 years.

During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.

These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.

The round river rocks in Lirac’s vineyards are called “galet roules”

Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés

Sunday at the covered market in Avignon

Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!

bottles Lirac wines
A selection of Lirac wines we discussed on The Connected Table Sips

We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.

Melanie and David in the vineyards
In the vineyards at Chateau de Montfaucon with owner, Rodolphe du Pins
With Fabien de Chaunac, Château de Ségriès
Map showing Lirac
For more information visit www.vins-rhone.com

Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.

Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).

Château de Montfaucon.  The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)

Domaine Maby. Owned by the Maby family for generations, the estate’s sixty acres covers Lirac, Tavel and Côtes du Rhône. (DB Wine Selections)

Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by  Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure.  Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old!  (Elixir Wine Group)

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine  The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race.  (Skurnik Wines)

Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac.  (F. Wildman)

La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859.  Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)

More info: www.vins-rhone.com

With Lirac producers
With Laure Dubois,  Domaine la Lôyane, and Jean-Baptise La Fond, Lafond Roc-Epine at Restaurant la Louisa in Lirac.
At La Fourchette restaurant in Avignon with Pierre Fabre, Château Mont-Redon, and François Miquel, Ogier

 

With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby
With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby

Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!

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Secrets of the Southern Table with Virginia Willis

Our August 14 edition of The Connected Table LIVE comes with a southern drawl and a discussion about food that left listeners (and us) drooling, courtesy of  Virginia Willis, author  of "Secrets of the Southern Table" and southern food chronicler.

The South is a delicious hodgepodge when it comes to its culinary heritage and it is one of the most fascinating places to visit because of it. Many customs are rooted in traditions that blend diverse cultures: Irish, Scottish, English, French, African, Hispanic, Vietnamese and Greek, just to name a few. In fact, the upcoming Les Dames d'Escoffier International Conference October 24-27 in Nashville has a seminar focused on sorghum and honey and another on the culinary influence of immigrants past and present in the state of Tennessee. Diversity is the fabric of the south, and it's delicious. Hopefully this unique cultural heritage will endure and achieve greater appreciation.


In Secrets of the Southern Table (Houghton Mifflin), Willis introduces us to the farmers, producers and fisherman who supply the foods many of us enjoy at the restaurants throughout the south. Some are multi-generational families; others are (relatively) newer enterprises born from the dedication of immigrants who settled in pockets of the south. It’s a culinary tour that runs the gamut from sweet potatoes and grits to gospel birds and game birds to sweet shrimp and sausages. Throughout the book you can’t help but ponder about what truly defines “heritage” in the new south. It’s a richer place today thanks to the many cultures you find there. We should never take that for granted.

Willis has written cookbooks covering everything from single subjects (okra and grits) to the complete southern table with Bon Appetit Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all. And then after filling us all up with rich delicious recipes, she taught us how to “Lighten Up Ya’ll” with a tailored approach to preparing southern dishes. - trimming the fat without losing the taste. Her  articles and recipes can also be found at her  "Cooking with Virginia" column in Southern Living magazine.

Read more about Virginia Willis on her website and blog: www.VirginiaWillis.com

Listen to The Connected Table LIVE with Virginia Willis here. Click image below:

 

Buy Secrets of the Southern Table Here. Click Image below.

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Sipping with Stefano Chiarlo, Michele Chiarlo Wines

Home to some of the world’s most sought after wines including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, and Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont is regarded as one of Italy’s great wine regions.  Michele Chiarlo Wines, founded by Michele Chiarlo and now run with the help of his sons Alberto and Stefano, has been a leader in the region since 1956.

Alberto, Michele and Stefano Chiarlo

Always family owned and operated, Michele Chiarlo owns vineyards in three of Piedmont’s most important growing regions: Langhe, Montferrato, and Gavi, and focuses exclusively on making single vineyard wines. Their vineyard in Cerequio, in the heart of Barolo, is considered one of the finest plantings of Nebbiolo in the region and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. The same is true for La Court, the Chiarlo Vineyard in Barbera, which also caries the UNESCO moniker.

Cerequo vineyards

Purists at heart, the Chiarlo family creates their wines exclusively from indigenous grape varieties including Barbera, Cortese, Nebbiolo, and Moscato, and over the years has helped lead Piedmont’s quality revolution in both winemaking and farming practices in through leadership, innovation, and dedication to their craft. “Preserving this land for the future is vey important to us,” says Stefano Chiarlo, who oversees wine production, “therefore we helped establish standards of quality for the DOC winemaking laws in Piedmont, and spearheaded green harvest practices, for all of Italy, in 1984.”

Never comfortable to rest on their laurels, The Chiarlo family is constantly working to find the next big wine and as such has heavily invested in the region’s new Nizza DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest level of quality for wine), in order to build that new winemaking appelation’s reputation for quality in the marketplace.

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Vineyards

 

The following selection of Michele Chiarlo wines are a good way to get to know this iconic brand, which is imported into the United States by Kobrand Wine & Spirits.

Le Marne Gavi DOCG: Made in the Gavi region, and area known for its white wine production from the Cortese grape variety, Le Marne shows citrus and mineral notes and jumps on the palate with lively acidity. A perfect white to pair with food.  SRP: $19.99

Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG: Grown at Le Court, the Chiarlo estate in Barbera, this 100% Barbera wine is shows classic notes of ripe cherry and red fruit through a lush, yet elegant palate. A perfect wine for lighter meats and pasta dishes. SRP: $29.99

Tortoniano Barolo DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo from Piedmont’s pre-eminent wine region, the Tortoniano Barolo spends 2 years in barrel and one year in bottle prior to release. A highly structured wine, yet also quite approachable at an early age, this wine is a wonderful food wine perfect for pairing with meats, pastas, and aged cheeses. SRP: $59.99

 

Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Stefano Chiarlo. Click this image and stream:

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Exploring AOC Costières de Nimes, Rhône Valley

Costières de Nîmes was a pleasant discovery for us, far from the more heavily visited areas of Provence to the east. The Rhône Valley’s southernmost wine region sits on a plateau that stretches north from the Camargue delta region 50 kilometers to the south. From some hilltop vineyards, one can see Arles and an outline of the Frank Gehry-designed The Luma Arts Foundation complex, which has turned that ancient Roman city in Provence into a contemporary arts destination.

View from a Costières de Nimes vineyard

Vines have been cultivated in Costières de Nimes since the days of Ancient Greece. The area was also occupied by the Romans after they conquered Egypt during the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The region and its namesake city, Nîmes, display the imagery of a crocodile tied to a palm tree, from the pavement to street signs and a few whimsical sculptures positioned here and there. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the palm tree is the Roman symbol of victory.

You can find the crocodile and the palm tree throughout the city of Nîmes.

Winemaking began to flourish in Costières de Nîmes during the Middle Ages, and the region’s wines became the preferred selection of the 14th century Papal Court when it occupied nearby Avignon. A boost to the viticultural economy occurred in the 20th century with the construction of both Pierre-Paul Riquet’s Canal du Midi and Philippe Lamour’s Canal du Bas-Rhone which facilitated transportation from the region.

An AOC since 1986, Costières de Nîmes‘ production is red wines (55%), rosés (40%) and whites (5%).  Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah are the dominant red varieties (80%); Carignan and Cinsault are also used.  Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane are the three main white grapes, followed by Bourboulenc, Clairette, Vermentino and Viognier. The reds are sultry and juicy with dark blackberry and raspberry notes; the whites are aromatic with a touch of salinity thanks to the region’s proximity to the sea and the soil. The climate is classic southern France – Mediterranean Sea breezes mixed with cool mistral winds from the north and more than 200 days of sunshine.

Rockin the vineyards with Jérôme Castillon, Château L’Ermitage, AOC Costières de Nîmes, Nimes, Rhône Valley

Our first visit was Château L’Ermitage. Owner Jérôme Castillon took us on a bumpy open-air Land Rover ride through the hilly vineyards to shows us the rocky terrain covered with garrigue, a particularly herbaceous Mediterranean brush that contributes to the earthy herbal character of the wines. Thanks to the proximity to the Rhône River, the soils are alluvial with many large pale pebbles, called galets.

More rocky vineyards with Costières de Nîmes vignerons, Anne and François Collard, Château Mourgues du Grès

Later, we visited more, even steeper and stonier vineyards at Château Mourgues du Grès with proprietors François and Anne Collard. At their winery, which was formerly a convent, a few other local producers joined is to present their wines along those from  Château Mourgues du Grès, including: Maison Gabriel Meffre (Anthony Taylor), Mas des Bressades (Cyril Marès), Château de Valcombe (Nicolas Ricome).

A tasting with Costières de Nîmes vignerons. (left to right): Nicolas Ricome (Château de Valcombe), Cyril Marès (Mas des Bressades), Anthony Taylor (Maison Gabriel Meffre), Ann Collard, François Collard (Château Mourgues du Grès)

In the evening, we had dinner in Nîmes at the Museum of Roman History (Musee de la Romanate. This is a newer addition to the city of Nîmes. It’s a large modern edifice with a rooftop garden and panoramic views. We read in this article that the architect, Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was inspired by a Roman toga. We’re not sure we get that, but we did get – and enjoyed -the wines we tasted during our meal at museum’s on-site restaurant, La Table du 2 Brasserie by Michelin Star-rated Chef Franck Putelat. The producer was fourth generation vintner Fanny Boyer, Château Beaubois.

Maison Carrée (“square house”) is a perfectly preserved Roman temple in the heart of Nîmes

If you visit the region, seeing Nimes is a must. It’s filled with history and is nice for strolling and spotting crocodile and palm tree imagery. Among the many sights of historical note, two include the giant ancient amphitheater that now serves as a performance space and the Maison Carrée,  a completly preserved the ancient Roman.  More on visiting Nimes here.

We also recommend this article in The New York Times Style Magazine

Domaine des Clos was formerly a winery. Now it is a lovely hotel restored and owned by Sandrine and David Ausset.

A note on where we stayed…We loved our two nights at Domaine des Clos, a boutique apartment-hotel with spacious grounds and very good food (we had three meals there- breakfast, lunch and dinner). Owners Sandrine and David Ausset, both native to the region, left their corporate jobs in Paris to spend years renovating this abandoned 18th century wine estate. Sandrine is passionate about ayurvedic health and offers special retreats.

We came; we saw; we tasted- and enjoyed- the wines of Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley

Our trip was arranged by Inter-Rhône which has very helpful information on the Rhône Valley on its website www.vins-rhone.com. We also recommend www.costieres-nimes.org

Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Anthony Taylor, Maison Gabriel Meffre, who discussed the region and styles of wine produced in Costières de Nîmes.

Ir’s considered Good Luck to touch the nose of the crocodile in Nimes.

 

 

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Drink Explore Melanie Young

Having a Bobal in Utiel-Requena

An early spring visit to Utiel-Requena in eastern Spain provided an immersion experience in Bobal, a voluptuous grape that makes full-bodied red wine and refreshing rosés.

We stayed in the historic part of Requena, the center of the Utiel-Requena wine route. The old town is a quiet maze of small plazas lined with cafés and shops and crooked, narrow streets, barely navigable by car. Notable sites include the large fortress, landmark churches (Iglesia Santa Maria and Iglesia de El Salvador are both national monuments), a wine museum located in the 15th century Palacio del Cid, and a silk museum (Casa del Arte Mayor de la Seda). Requena and nearby Valencia used to be a center for silk production. We stayed in the Hotel Doña Anita, which has a small café and is well-located for exploring the local attractions by foot.

Utiel-Requena: Ancient Wine Roots and Wine Route

Utiel-Requena is located on a high plateau between 1,950 and 2,950 feet above sea level and 70 kilometers from the coast of Valencia (which is both a province as well as a city). The hyphenated name Utiel-Requena represents the region’s two principal municipalities; there are nine in total. Most vineyards are located between two rivers, the Turia and Cabriel; the climate is Mediterranean with a continental influence due to the higher altitude. When I was there in late March it was chilly and windy with bright sun.

The D.O. Utiel-Requena was established in 1932; however, wine production dates to 7th century BC, more than 2,700 years ago, according to archaeologists who discovered fragments of Phoenician amphorae in the Iberian village of Villares de Caudete (also known as Kelin). Other evidence of early wine making can be seen at Las Pilillas, where ancient stone ruins remain from wineries dating back to 1 BC. Walking the paths, one may still find shards of small shards of amphorae.

The closest big city is Valencia which is worth a few days’ visit. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and a major port. It’s also the center for enjoying of one of Spain’s most well-known dishes, paella, which was brought over by the Moors from Africa when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 A.D.

Bobal: A Voluptuous Grape

The name Bobal refers to a “bull’s head” which resembles the shape of the grape clusters. I couldn’t help but compare the word to “bulbous,” which the grape is. It is the third most widely planted grape in Spain after Airen and Tempranillo. Seventy-five percent of grape production in Utiel-Requena is Bobal; the varietal is also cultivated in the D.O.’s Alicante, Manchuela, Murcia and Valencia. Its cousin is Bovale, cultivated in Sardinia, and Nieddera in France. Bobal is a hearty grape that can grow well in poor soil, usually on bush vines or trellis. Thanks to Utiel-Requena’s higher altitude, this area had numerous pre-phylloxera vines. More than 50 percent of the vineyards have vines that average at least 40 years, and some more than 100 years-old.  We were there weeks before bud break, and the low, gnarly vines resembled wizened hands stretching out from the soil, which is predominantly alluvial and clay with limestone.

Bobal is less reductive than Tempranillo and contains high tannins and polyphenols. It is harvested later than Tempranillo around the same time as Cabernet Sauvignon. The red wines are usually full-bodied with dark cherry, blueberry and cacao notes, with hints of clove and thyme. Bobal contains no pyrazines, a compound which can add a slight vegetal character to some red wines. Eighty percent of the Utiel-Requena’s Bobal wines are exported. Interestingly, Japan is a large market for Bobal wines. Many are available in the U.S.

Bobal: The wines

There are two key designations for Bobal wines. “Bobal Alta Expression” is reserved for single varietal wines, with or without oak aging. Under this designation, the vineyards must be at least 35 years with lower yields, and no irrigation is allowed. “Bobal with Specific Mention” is for rosé wines and other 100 percent Bobal wines. One may find “Aged,” “Reserva,” “Gran Reserva,” “Superior,” “Early Harvest,” and “Barrel-Aged” with mention of Utiel-Requena on any rendition of the wines.

During our visit, we tasted many expressions of the Bobal grape including a sparkling Blanc de Noir from Pago de Tharsys, the first and only winery to make a sparkling Bobal wine.

Here is a rundown of the wineries we visited and some observations:

Amphorae at Ladrón de Lunes

Bodegas & Viñedos Ladrón de Lunas: The name of this winery which translates to “moon thief” is tied to its underground caves lined with giant amphorae, the traditional ways the wines have been made. Fernando Martinez, sixth generation winemaker, shared the story behind the name “Ladrón de Lunas” which, just a hint,  involves love, a promised kiss, a broken heart and murder.  I enjoyed the the Ladrón de Lunes Exclusive LDL. www.ladrondelunas.com

Winemaker Vincent Garcia and daughter, Rebecca, Pago de Tharsys

Pago de Tharsys: Founded in 2002, the winery is a Pago, which indicates “wines of unique character.” We started with an organic barrel-fermented Chardonnay called Ana Carlota Suria 2017, named after the owner’s wife. I loved this wine lemony-verbena notes and slight creaminess due to the two months of aging in French oak. I also enjoyed the sparkling “Único Brut Reserva” a blanc de noir made from 100 percent Bobal, made in the methode traditionelle style. We tasted three vintages; a 2015 aged 36 months in bottle before disgorging; a 2014 Brut Reserva aged 48 months in bottle before disgorging; and a 2013 Brut Reserva aged 40 months in bottle before disgorging and then another 24 months in bottle before release. All had soft Asian pear apple essence and crispness and more toasty characters with aging.  www.pagodetharsys.com

The Parsimonia wines of Bodegas Vibe

Bodegas Vibe: The owner of this winery runs a catering business and restaurant named Contrapunto in Valencia. Naturally the focus is making food-friendly Bobal wines. We also had the chance to taste a delightful aromatic white wine named Parsimonia made from the Tardana grape, which is also native to Utiel-Requena. This grape ripens late; thus, the name which is derived from the Spanish word for late – tarde. Our tasting in a private home was led by Raúl Vincent Bezjak, son of the owner, and winemaker, Juan Carlos Garcia.  The 2017 100 percent Bobal was silky and spicy with intense plum, blueberry and cacao notes. www.bodegasvibe.com

Old vines at Bodega Cherubino Valsangiacomo

Bodega Cherubino Valsangiacomo: Marta Valsangiacomo, fifth generation family member led our tour. The family was from the Italian side of Switzerland where they started a winery in 1831 in the canton of Ticino. It grew into a larger wine production and export company. In 1997, the family relocated facilities and headquarters to Utiel-Requena. Its San Juan vineyards, located on a plateau 750 meters above sea level, have vines averaging 40 to 60 years old; however, we also saw some 100-year-old vines. www.valsangiacomo.es

Concrete “egg” tanks at Chozas Carrascal

Chozas Carrascal: This winery, opened in 2002, is surrounded by large bronze wine-themed sculptures. It contains an impressive collection of more than two million wine labels from around the world carefully cataloged in its museum-like lobby. Chozas Carrascal’s wines are 100 percent certified organic. Winemaker Julián López Peidro, grandson of the founder, led us through a tour and tasting, noting that  Chozas Carrascal is the first winery in the region to produce its wines in concrete (since 2003). I was partial to the lush Los Ochos, a blend of eight grapes: Bobal (30%) then percentages of Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. www.chozascarrascal.es

A tasting in the barrel room at Dominio de la Vega: Daniel and Emilo Exposito with Export Director, Alejandro Martin

Dominio de la Vega: This winery is run by a father and son, Emilio and Daniel Exposito, who worked as grape growers for many years before establishing their own winery in 1992 in an 18th century estate. They produce wines from three vineyards. We started off with a delightful sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc aged 13 months before moving into the Bobal wines. The Mírame 2018 rosé was a spicier style made from Bobal and Pinot Noir. We tasted several vintages of Finca La Beate 100 percent Bobal, including a 2016, 2012 and 2006, demonstrating how nicely wines made from this varietal can age.  www.dominiodelavega.com

 

Tasting wines in the old fortress in Requena with Coviñas

Coviñas: Established in 1965, Grupo Coviñas is the largest winery in the Utiel-Requena region representing a cooperative of 3000 farmers. Our host, Manolo, compared Bobal to “a mix between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, noting it is a wine that doesn’t check you out.” Our tasting, held in the bell tower at the Fortress included a variety of wines. I was taken by the Aula Rosé made from 100 percent Bobal, for it refreshing melon notes. Another pleasant easy drinking wine was the oak-aged 2018 Authentico 100 percent Bobal. www.covinas.com

 

Marqués de Atrio: This winery was founded by the Rivero family in the late 19th century and is now majority-owned by Changyu, a Chinese corporation. The family also produced wines in Rioja, Navarra and Rías Baixas. This tasting rook place in another underground cellar by candlelight. The best-selling wine is called Faustino, a blend of 90 percent Bobal and 10 percent Tempranillo, aged in French oak for 15 months. I was partial to the 2013 Faustina Reserva. www.marquesdelatrio.com

Tasting in the vineyards at Bodega Sierra Norte

Bodega Sierra Norte: Tasting these wines in the vineyard under tree on a brilliant sunny day was the perfect finale to our tour. The vineyards had some of the rockiest soil I had ever seen, which we all navigated delicately as we walked through them to the tasting led by winemaker, Manolo Olmo, and Export Director Ricardo Calatayud. Bobal was first planted in 1914, and the winery was one of the first to produce certified organic wines. I was particularly intrigued by this winery’s Pasión rose, www.bodegasierranorte.com

This trip was hosted by the Consejo Regulador for D.O. Utiel-Requena.

One of our paellas at lunch. Served with Bobal, of course!

 

Grand finale dinner at Cafe Madrid in Valencia
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From Cancer to Cured- Chef Steve McHugh’s Inspiring Story

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer at the height of your career. How do you manage to run a restaurant while undergoing an aggressive schedule of chemotherapy treatments? More people than you may realize have lived this experience (including me), but few have opened up about it as frankly as individuals like Chef Steve McHugh. We’re glad McHugh is now in remission from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and thriving as the owner of the San San Antonio restaurant, Cured at Pearl, located in the city’s custling culinary center, also home to the Culinary Institute of America’s southwest campus.

Chef Steve McHugh (Photo: Jonathan Alonzo)

Opened in 2012, three years after McHugh’s cancer diagnosis, Cured’s name not only reflects his new lease on life but also his daily selection of cured meats. The gastro-pub style menu focuses on using ingredients sourced from local farms and fisherman.

McHugh was raised in a large farming family in Wisconsin. He flipped burgers at a local restaurant to earn money and took up playing the saxophone. He was talented enough, in fact, to earn a jazz saxophone scholarship to college. But food became his calling, and he ended up changing plans and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.

An externship landed him in New Orleans where he easily settled in the restaurant scene after graduation, working for with Creole Chef Chris Brown of Metro Bistro and for restaurateur, Dickie Brennan. In 2009, McHugh was planning a move San Antonio to open a restaurant for a New Orleans hospitality group when he was diagnosed with cancer.

McHugh says, “the cancer treatment really kicked my ass,” and he kept working straight through it all.  But, it also can kick your ass in gear and make you commit to make healthy changes. Today, McHugh is in good health, with a successful restaurant and a culinary foundation dedicated “gastronomic giving” to support several charities. www.curedatpearl.com

Cured is localed at the fomer site of Pearl Brewery in San Antonio (Photo: Scott Martin)

Here are some healthy foods McHugh recommends adding to your diet:

  • Fermented foods, such as pickles, are shown to increase our body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Raw fermented foods are rich in healthy enzymes and flavor. These enzymes help the body properly balance healthy bacteria for improved digestion.
  • Black Pepper and certain legumes and nuts [such as pecans] contain anti-inflammatory properties. For example, Pumpkin and Pepper Salad with Smoked Pecans, Preserved Celery, and Goat Cheeseis a great combination.
  • Mussels are a lean source of protein with roughly 18 grams of protein per serving. Garlic, onions, and shallots [commonly used in mussel dishes] each contain anti-inflammatory properties.
Texas Trout with picked corn at Cured at Pearl

At Cured, McHugh has forged tight bonds with both his purveyors and his community, ” Good, solid relationships are important to me, and provide great value in my life. Not only with my staff, but also the farmers with whom we work. We use vegetables grown within the city limits and pigs from a farm nearby. It provides great balance and perspective to get to know the people growing the food you serve and eat. Having a strong sense of community in San Antonio is a great  part of my life.”

Daily selection of charcuterie at Cured. (Photo: David Rangel)

Listen to our show with Chef Steve McHugh from January 30, 2019
The Connected Table LIVE! on iHeart.com and free iHeart App

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Miami On and Off the Beach

Just about now watching the snow fall steadily all day and awaiting another deep freeze on Thursday, we look at each other and say, “At least we had Miami.” If you live anywhere in this week’s polar vortex, you know what we mean!

With Chef Norman Van Aken, who the late Charlie Trotter called “The Walt Whitman of American Cuisine.”

We celebrated New Year’s in Miami Beach. Actually, we were off the beach more than on it, catching up with friends and trying local restaurants. If you go, make sure to visit the Wynwood Arts District and take in the colorful street art and local cafes. That’s where we caught up with Chef Norman Van Aken at Three at Wynwood Arcade. We were glad to see him back in South Florida after closing Norman’s in Coral Gables. If you go, sit at the chef’s counter. Van Aken also has a cooking school and rooftop bar that is an Arts District hot spot.

Scallop Ceviche at Three at Wynwood

We continued checking out locally owned spots like Stiltsville Fish Bar on Sunset Harbor, owned by Chefs Jeffrey McInnis and Janine Booth. We enjoyed the well-prepared fish dishes and casual, no-attitude atmosphere. Our one Cuban restaurant was Bella Cuba, a small family-run spot opened in 2005 that serves authentic dishes and a popular blueberry mojito.

Mojitos at Bella Cuba

Lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab is always fun. Of course, we partook in the restaurant’s namesake menu item, along with the signature creamed spinach and key lime pie. We never would have considered ordering fried chicken at Joe’s, but one of our lunch mates did. The excellent one-half free-range fried chicken is one of the best bargains on the menu at $6.95!

Conch Fritters at Joes Stone Crab

Miami is filled with great restaurants. Just about every well-known chef has an outpost in one of the hotels that line the beach or downtown. As much as we’d love to try them all, there something about smaller locally-owned places that draw us in.

We left Miami in sunny spirits and ready to book another trip.

One of the many outdoor art displays at the Wynwood Arts District

 

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The Story Behind the Name: Four Roses Bourbon

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for roses.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose. My maternal grandfather created a rose garden in his back yard in tribute to my grandmother. I used to love to wander the garden and smell the different roses.

My late father would bring my mother a single rose every Friday during their 52-year marriage. The day of his funeral, a Friday, David Ransom presented my mother a single rose at the memorial service to continue the tradition. 

My mother always has a vase of fresh roses in my bedroom when I visit her in Tennessee. Roses are a symbol of love and, for me personally, for family and for heritage.

A bouquet of red roses welcomed me to Kentucky at the 21C Museum Hotel in Lexington. Details make the difference!

So, naturally I was intrigued by the story behind Four Roses Bourbon, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2018 by sending us a baby rose-bush to plant. Coincidentally, our garden had just three blooming rose bushes. Now, it has four rose bushes.  I welcomed an invitation to visit last December. It was my first visit to a Kentucky Bourbon distillery. 

The legend of Four Roses Bourbon (est. 1888) started when its Founder, Paul Jones, a Louisville businessman, became smitten with a Southern belle  named Mary, whom he courted for a number of years.  Jones asked Mary to respond to his “final” marriage proposal (after a few asks) by wearing a corsage of four red roses to a cotillion dance.  This time she accepted and entered the ballroom wearing the corsage.

There are a few versions to this story depending on who tells it. But, if you visit Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, you may be lucky enough to meet Al Young, the brand’s official historian (a.k.a. Senior Brand Ambassador), who will share a few anecdotes and who has a sharp memory.  Young  has worked with the distillery for 51 years and wrote a book called “Four Roses- The Return of a Whiskey Legend.”

A medicinal bottle of Four Roses Whiskey on display in the distillery’s mini museum.

The word “return” is important because for a long time, Four Roses did not produce its Bourbon. One reason was Prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. During that time whiskey was only approved and made for medicinal use. After Prohibition (Repeal) distilleries had to invest heavily to start over. Making Bourbon, is time intensive. In 1943, the company was acquired by Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., which reorganized it and decided to focus on making whiskies only for the export market. Then, the brand was acquired for a time by a consortium established between Pernod Ricard and Diageo. In 2002, Japan’s Kirin Holdings acquired Four Roses and reintroduced its flagship Kentucky Bourbons starting with its single barrel in 2004 and a small batch in 2006. 

Our tasting led by Master Distiller Brent Elliott

During a distillery visit last December Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott guided us through a tasting and explained the process to which utilizes two mash bills and five propriety yeast strains to make ten distinct recipes used in the blending. It was a lesson in chemistry as he showed how the different proprietary yeasts are coded and then blended (V-delicate fruit, K=light spice, O=rich fruit, Q=floral essence, F=herbal).

Workers on the Four Roses Bourbon bottling line applying labels by hand.

We had the chance to visit both the distillery in Lawrenceburg and the bottling facility on Cox’s Creek to experience production from start to finish.  We were intrigued by the bottling line with staffers applying labels and bottle tags by hand, each bottle carefully inspected. Talk about hand-crafted!

Four Roses has three signature Bourbons. All were smooth, mellow and delicate on the palate.

Four Roses Single Barrel has notes of vanilla, maple, pear and spice with a long finish (100 proof/50% ABV)

Four Roses Small Batch is creamier  and rich with more caramel and berry notes. (90 proof/45% ABV)

Four Roses Bourbon balances vibrant fruit and spice. (80 proof/40% ABV) 

We also tasted a special blend 130th Anniversary Four Roses. This limited edition Bourbon was lightly floral and a tad sweeter in a very satisfying – please, give me some more!- way. Then, Elliott took us into his laboratory where we had the rare chance to taste of few other proprietary blends. Swoon!

The distillery was decorated for Christmas when we visited in early December.

Four Roses conducts guided tours at the Lawrenceburg distillery, which is a beautiful Spanish mission-style building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On site are a small Four Roses museum and gift shop. Info: www.FourRosesBourbon.com

Al Young in Four Roses Bourbon’s mini museum at the Lawrenceburg distillery.

Four Roses Bourbon Senior Ambassador Al Young discusses the history of Four Roses Bourbon on The Connected Table SIPS on iHeart. Click the photo below to listed or this link

 

A special thank you to Four Roses Bourbon for hosting this trip and to The Baddish Group for including Melanie, a dedicated Bourbon drinker and rose lover.

Tasting Master Distiller Brent Elliott’s special Bourbons in his lab.
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Tuscany Less Traveled: Hidden Wine Gems from Western Tuscany #RoadTrip

When thinking of Tuscany and its wines, a few regions immediately come to mind, like Chianti Classico, where the most sought-after wines of the eight classified Chianti regions are produced; Montepulciano, home to the famous Vino Nobile wines, and of course, Montalcino, where Brunello is produced.

Yet, aside from these three well-known regions, there are many smaller areas in the Tuscany  producing wonderful wines that are worth seeking out. The Connected Table recently went on a road trip, zig-zagging through the backroads of Tuscany’s west side and found a number of producers making wines the equal of their more famous neighbors.

Here are a few of our favorites and where they are located.

Gianni Moscardini, owner of Sator, in one of his vineyards

Sator Wines. Situated in the relatively small (20 producers total) Montescudaio DOC in the coastal hills just south of Pisa (west of Florence) and just north of Bolgheri, Sator is owned by Gianni Moscardini. The winery sits on rolling farmland owned by his family for over 150 years. While grapes have been grown on the property for many years, only recently did Moscardini, a consulting agronomist for a number of well-known Tuscan wine producers, start making his own wine from them. Unlike in Bolgheri, where much of the wines are made from international grape varieties, Moscardini focuses on indigenous grapes at Sator including Fiano and Vermentino for white wine production, along with Sangiovese and Cilegiolo for his red wines. www.satorwines.com/en

Selection of Sator Wines

Some favorites for us included Satur Bianco IGT, a delightfully crisp everyday white made from 85% Vermentino/15%  Fiano, and  Satur Artume, a wonderfully complex white blend of 67% Fiano/33% Vermentino aged in oak for 10 months before bottling.  For reds: Satur Rosso Montescudaio a Sangiovese /Teroldego blend that we could drink all day long (well, not really, but it sure was easy on the palate), and Sileno Sangiovese Montescudaio DOC, a ripe and structured wine that shows great balance and ageing potential.

Podere Marcampo vineyards and view

Podere Marcampo  Further south and a bit inland, near the ancient walled city of Volterra, lies the estate of Marcampo. Relatively new to the region’s wine scene, Marcampo was started in 2004 by one Volterra’s most prominent restaurant families, the Del Ducas. Claudia Del Duca runs the wine production while her mother,Ivana, runs the Entoeca Ristorante Del Duca in town. Father, Genuino, a retired carabinieri, makes wine and some amazing salumi.

There is also an agriturismo (Bed & Breakfast) on the property so one can also book a night there to stay and enjoy the incredible vistas from the ridge on the outskirts of town where the winery is located. www.agriturismo-marcampo.com

Selection of Marcampo Wines

Marcampo’s wines are also made from mostly native grape varieties, including Sangiovese, Cilegiolo and Vermentino. We loved the Terrablu Vermentino, and Genuino Sangiovese (made from 80% Sangiovese/20% Merlot), both of which were very well-made everyday drinking wines. Also not to be missed were the Severus 100% Sangiovese (named for the Roman Emperor who built Volterra’s coliseum), and Giusto alle Balze, Marcampo’s signature red “Super Tuscan” made from 100% Merlot.

60- year- old vineyard, still in production, at Poggio Al Grillo in Bolgheri

Poggio Al Grillo Leaving Volterra and heading back towards the coast and Bolgheri, we next went to the village of Castagneto Carducci to taste the wines of Poggio Al Grillo. While tiny (they currently produce only 5000 bottles per year), This producer boasts one of Bolgheri’s oldest known vineyards, a sixty- year old 1.25 acre plot of Aleatico, Petit Manseng (one of TCT’s favorite white grapes), and Cabernet Franc – all co-planted as was the norm back then since most wine was made into blends, not bottled varietally.

Poggio Al Grillo makes mostly Rosé from Aleatico (aptly named Rosatico), and is tinkering with other wines as they plant new vineyards and increase production. One, Corvallo, is a delightful blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Petit Manseng. www.aziendaagricolapoggioalgrillo.it

Melanie & David on the tractor at Sator Winery

So, next time you have an urge to try something different, yet somewhat familiar, ask your favorite wine shop or restaurant if they carry any of these Tuscan gems. You’ll be glad you did.

Stay insatiably curious!

David and Melanie   – The Insatiably Curious Culinary Couple

Connect with us Twitter @connectedtable  and on Instagram@theconnectedtable

Next up: More wine gems from the opposite side of Tuscany.

Listen to our show with Claudia Del Duca, Podere Marcampo here:

With Claudia Del Duca, Podere Marcampo

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Chattanooga Chews- The Connected Table #RoadTrip

Market Street Bridge over the Tennessee River with the Chattanooga Aquarium in the background Photo credit: Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Burea

Chattanooga, Tennessee used to be a backwater for restaurants, but now it’s hopping. Whitebird at The Edwin Hotel, part of The Autograph Collection, is near the Hunter Museum of American Art and scenic Riverwalk. The hotel’s Whiskey Thief bar has become an evening hotspot.

Grilled salmon, vegetables and kale at Whitebird, The Edwin Hotel (The Autograph Collection by Marriott), Chattanooga, TN

We celebrated David’s birthday lunch with fried chicken drizzled with honey, served with a giant Cruze Dairy buttermilk biscuit at Daily Ration.

A perfect Cruze buttermilk biscuit at Daily Ration, Chattanooga, TN

Puffy Pancakes at Daily Ration, Chattanooga, TN

 

Breakfast of Champions: Kale, Black Beans, Crispy Mushrooms, Avocado Mash and Fried Egg, Chattanooga, TN

We noshed on and spicy okra chips, burnt romaine salad and wood-grilled salmon at Lawton Haygood’s Sidetrack. Haygood, who has been a guest on The Connected Table Live, also owns Sugar’s Ribs and The Boathouse, one of our favorite places to enjoy generous portions of both freshwater fish and seafood overlooking the Tennessee River.

Burnt Romaine Salad at Sidetrack

We also enjoyed meaty lobster rolls at the Bar and Billiard Room in the newly renovated Read House Hotel (where Melanie’s mother was married over 50 years ago).

Lobster roll and fries at The Bar and Billiards Room, Read House Hotel, Chattanooga, TN

We also discovered 405 Bistro, which features Middle Eastern dishes and a nice wine list (rare for Chattanooga). The lobster bisque cous cous with seared scallops was the big hit as were the mezze.

Lobster Bisque Cous Cous and Seared Scallops at 405 Bistro, Chattanooga, TN

David gets carded at 405 Bistro. It’s the law no matter your age.

 

Other terrific restaurants on prior visits to see Melanie’s mother include: Easy BistroPublic House and Feed Table and Tavern. Melanie’s favorite smoothie and juice bar is Southern Squeeze. Every time we visit Chattanooga, more restaurants are opening.

Just like the story of the Little Engine, Chattanooga has become the little city that could…and has…become a fabulous destination for food lovers!

Wood-grilled fish, The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN

Best Bloody Mary, The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN

 

Sunset view from The Boathouse, Chattanooga, TN. Best riverside dining!

For more information on visiting Melanie’s hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee, visit the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau website www.ChattanoogaFun.com

 

Listen to our show with Chattanooga restaurateurs Lawton  and Karen Haygood, owners of Sugar’s Ribs, The Boathouse and Sidetrack, on The Connected Table @iHeart

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Malbec Match Made in Heaven: Alain Dominique Perrin and Michel Rolland

One made a name for himself running one the world’s most renowned luxury brands. The other is a world-renowned oenologist. When Alain Dominique Perrin, formerly CEO /Chairman of Must de Cartier and Cartier International, purchased the historic 16th century Chateau Lagrézette in Cahors, France, he tapped Michel Rolland to oversee construction of the new wine production facility. Using his eye for detail and design, Perrin oversaw Chateau Lagrézette’s restoration, and Rolland tended to the vines.

Michel Rolland recalled a first meeting with Alain Dominique Perrin. “We drove through the vineyards in a convertible car that belonged to Brigitte Bardot. That was classy!”

At the time (1988) Chateau Lagrézette was still a winery cooperative. Says Rolland, “This was a first for me: to consult for a private client with wines vinifed in a ‘kolkhotz’! I quickly discovered the drawbacks of the cooperative and immediately warned Alain that my intervention would useless. Not being a man to take ‘no’ for an answer, he told me, ‘I promise you a beautiful Lagrézette winery in just a few years.'”

Alain Dominique Perrin (right) Michel Rolland (left)

Construction on the new winery was completed in 1992. The first two vintages of Le Pigeonnier and Cuvée Dame Honneur became flagships of the appellation. Chateau Lagrézette has three vineyards. Caillac Vineyard, located between the winery and the Atlantic Ocean, and Landiech Vineyard, to the west of Chateau Lagrézette, both produce Malbec, the estate’s main focus. Rocamadour Vineyard, sixty kilometers from Caillac, produces Viognier.

Michel Rolland, Maguy LeCoze and Alain Dominique Perrin at Le Bernardin

Thirty years later, the two are still close and toasting to their success and good health. We had the chance to join them at a dinner September 27, 2018, that Perrin hosted in honor of Rolland at the New York Times four-star-rated Le Bernardin. Pairing two of Chateau Lagrézette’s silky Malbec wines with two of Chef Eric Ripert‘s sublime seafood dishes, Octopus with Tomato Salsa with Red Wine Molé Sauce, and a combo of Hawaiian Walu and Seared Waygu Beef with a Tomato Summer Roll in Spiced Red Wine Sauce, were both unexpected pleasures.  www.chateau-lagrezette.com 

Chateau Lagrézette aerial view. The estate dates back to 1503.

 

Listen here to our show with Alain Dominique Perrin