Thursday, 18 December 2008

To all our wonderful friends and wine lovers,


Santa may be left out in the cold.....

.....but you'll always get a warm welcome with us at
La Grande Maison

Micaela and Sue wish you a fabulous festive season and look forward to seeing you again in the New Year. In the meantime remember that "If a life of wine, women and song becomes too much, give up the singing."

Joyeux Noël from La Grande Maison

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Under the Hammer in Saumur

Of course we only went along to the Hotel des Ventes to view the Fine Wine bidding. Didn’t we?
However once armed with paddle number 46 there was to be no stopping us. Viewing of the lots starts in the morning when everyone turns up with their price lists and eyes you suspiciously as you have a look at what is on offer. Then the doors are firmly locked, everyone goes away and lunches for 2 hours whilst slathering over the prospective lots. Doors re-open promptly at 2pm and the bidding commences. I think the man in the red coat must suspect me of espionage!
There were plenty of goodies on offer some of which went at very competitive prices. Including the Mouton Rothschild 1966 with a label by the artist Pierre Alechinsky and the Cos d’Estournel 1934 with a label that looked like it wouldn’t cling to the bottle for much longer.
We should of held out on the 6 Magnums of Chateau Latour 1959 at a reserve of 3,000 - 3,300 per bottle but we had to let them go to an anonymous phone bidder at 3,100 euros per bottle plus 19.6% tax! What a shame my birth year as well but thank goodness Sue took my paddle away.
Carried away with the adrenalin rush of bidding we did however end up with 12 bottles of Chateau Grande Puy Lacoste 1976, (could be a little old but worth a punt at 15 euros a bottle) a Chateau Carbonnieux 1979, a Gevrey Chambertin Le Bel Air 1985, all at what seemed like very reasonable prices until we realised they were without tax! Oh well 2005 was such an excellent year that the case of Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc couldn’t be missed either.
The excitement of opening a case that had been tightly nailed shut for 32 years was too much. Inside we found 73cl bottles with no indication of the percentage alcohol so we just had to try one. Once at room temperature we got out the best Riedel glasses and decanted the wine by candle light.
Our tasting notes go something as follows : Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste St Guirons 1976 5th Cru Bordeaux, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Garnet with a brownish tint on rim. Initial nose of stewed fruit and a little woody on the nose. A huge mouthful, fruits of the forest and good length. Cedar, sagebrush and licorice root backed with vanilla but woody......a little old I guess but the complexity and structure was still there.
The cupboards will go bare this Christmas but at least we will have a well stocked cellar and it was brilliant fun to bid for, decant and then taste a little piece of oenophilic history all in one day.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Chocky Wocky Foie Gras

From La Petite Maison in the tiny riverside hamlet of Treves (Loire Valley) you are only a stones throw away from St Hilaire St Florent where you will find the famous Sparkling Wine houses of Saumur. Bouvet Ladubay, Veuve Amiot, Langlois Chateau are all here. We popped into Ackerman’s not to taste the wine this time but to see the “Divine Chocolate” demonstration held deep in the tuffeau caves.
There was chocolate double dipped in chocolate, freshly made chocolate chantilly to taste on chocolate cookies, white chocolate decorations but our award had to go to the St Jaques served with a balsamic vinegar reduction on a tomato coulis with dark chocolate and the fois gras with chocolate noir and mango. Amazing sensations on the taste buds.
We were also surprised to find Ackerman Laurance producing a sparkling “Methode Traditionelle” called L’Origine using traditional sparkling wine corks secured in the bottle by cord and a wax seal. This is how they would have been bottled back in 1811. It’s 100% Chenin Blanc and no sugar is added at any stage during the production. A “fine bulles “ tasting of dried fruits with an aromatic persistance, golden in colour with a hint toasted brioche on the nose.
La Petit Maison is available for self catering stays and sleeps two. It is in the pretty village of Treves on the banks of the Loire which is dominated by the Tour de Treves and the romanesque church of St Aubin.
The Kitchen and Dining Room at La Petite Maison

The Bedroom and En-suite Bathroom at La Petite Maison
A little further down the river the christmas lights surround the church of Le Thoureil on the banks of the Loire.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Wine Quote of the Week from La Grande Maison




Thursday, 4 December 2008

Honestly The Price of Wine These Days

I was just musing over who might buy this bottle of Petrus 1947 at 36,000 euros a bottle (that's about £ 31,000 or about $45,000 to all those with falling currency! ) and on what occasion they might drink it when I suddenly remembered a book that had kindly be given to us this summer by Yves Michalon of Editions Michalon in Paris and one of our guests at La Grande Maison. The book was called Carnets D'un Collectionneur de Vins Anciens and as you can see from the moment I opened the first page I became engrossed.
Anyway my reason for mentioning it is that Francois Audouze, the book's author, has indeed found a way that you can try these wines. Check out and for a mere 1,500 - 2,000 euros (ish) plus your travel costs, you could be dining at a Michelin starred restaurant somewhere in the world and get to taste a tenth of each bottle that is opened during the meal. There are around 1o vintage wines in all, rare ones at that from Francois's own cellar. Here is the list for the 2009 January meal which still has eight places left.

  • Champagne Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1988
  • Champagne Krug 1988
  • Château Haut-Brion blanc 1966
  • Château La Gaffelière Naudes 1959
  • Château Brane-Cantenac 1921
  • Volnay Clos des Santenots Domaine Prieur 1945
  • Nuits-Saint-Georges Camille Giroud 1928
  • Chateauneuf-du-Pape Audibert & Delas 1949
  • Château Loubens Sainte Croix du Mont 1928
  • Château Sigalas Rabaud 1959

  • Perhaps one day for VERY VERY special occasion eh?

    In the meantime why not come and stay at La Grande Maison and partake in one of our special Wine Sampling Suppers, a delicious 4 course home cooked supper with local Loire Wines to match each course.

    Sunday, 30 November 2008

    Bitten By Colette

    A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the most bohemian of bookshops on the planet, Shakespeare and Co. Currently owned by 94 year old George Whitman, who still reads a book a day and believes that he is in fact living in a novel himself. The original bookstore was opened (at another location) by Sylvia Beach and soon became the haunt of the literati. T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway being amongst some of the visitors in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Today it houses an eclectic mix of new and second-hand books, along with a small library of first editions.
    Watch out for Colette, (not a ghostly apparition creeping along the creaking corridors) but the bookshop’s dog famed for stealing gloves from unsuspecting browsers. Colette was so keen on the day that she tried twice! “That’s Colette, watch out for your gloves” I was warned as I made my way up the rambling stairs to the 1st floor library feeling a tug on my glove at the same time. I thought little of it but meeting up later with Sue outside she declared “I’ve just been bitten by a bloody dog and it’s stolen my glove too”.” Oh that will be Colette I laughed as the one of the tousled haired bookshop staff came running out of the store to retrieve the kleptomaniac dog. Luckily the bite was more of a nip so no blood was shed.

    Wasn’t it Colette who said : “Dogs think they are human. Cats think they are God.”

    By the way if you are interested in writing your own novel Faber and Faber run a series of amazing four day workshops every month in the upstairs library of Shakespeare & Co with sessions run by leading authors including Jeanette Winterston, Tobias Hill and Rachel Cusk and also feature guest lecturers. Not to be missed if you can get a ticket!

    Wine Quote of the Week from La Grande Maison




    Saturday, 22 November 2008

    Les Grand Vins et Les Grand Maisons - Bordeaux

    You will need at least couple of days if you want to follow this wine route with an overnight stop off in Bordeaux to visit the CIVB which is highly recommended. We took the BAC ferry across the neck of the Gironde river from Royan to Verdon and after 30 minutes or so rather dull drive you will arrive in St Estephe and the vineyards will start to come into view. Cos d’Estournel is perhaps the most famous in this AOC being a Second Cru of the 1855 Classification.
    Chateau Latour

    Around Pauillac however you will find three of the Premier Grand Cru Classes these being: Chateaux Latour , Chateau Mouton Rothschild (see the tasting notes of the 2005 vintage in Feb 2007 further down this blog ) and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild...
    Chateau Pichon Longueville (The Baron)

    ...along with the Second Crus of Chateau Pichon Longueville (The Baron) aquired in 2007 by AXA Millesimes and Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

    We were particulary interested to see this chateau as the owners daughter is married to one of our local wine making friends in the Anjou appellation at Domaine de Salvert. The estate has recently been sold to the Roederer Champagne Family though and May Eliane de Lencquesaing has emigrated to a beautiful wine estate in South Africa. A bottle of the 2005 Pichon Longueville we have hidden in the depths of our cellars.
    A glimpse of a section of the wine cellars at La Grande Maison.

    Next AOC up is St Julien with the Seconds Crus properties of :Leoville Barton
    Leoville Barton 1997
    and Ducru Beaucaillou
    Ducru Beaucaillou 2004

    If you still have enough energy you could look for Chateaux Margaux (you will then have four of the five Premier Crus ticked off your list!)

    CIVB Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin du Bordeaux

    Instead we headed into Bordeaux to the CIVB where you have an opportunity to taste a delicious selection of wines with tasting plates of cheeses and charcuterie. We enjoyed 2002 Pontet Canet Rouge and 2004 Vieux Chateau Gaubert Blanc Graves.
    Domaine de Grandmaison 2004

    One of my favourite Bordeaux reds has always been from the Pessac Leognan region but I never really understood why. A visit to the area and suddenly it all fell into place. Some of the Graves we had tried were 100% Merlot and some of the Bordeaux wines blended with more like 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It seemed the Pessac’s are more 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot or 50/50. Surprisingly one of the youngest apellations in France this is also where you will find the fifth of the Premier Crus - Chateau Haut Brion - the only vineyard I’ve ever seen in a city suburb (apart from the one on Montmartre Paris). It is with this wine that Samuel Pepys broke his vow to give up drinking in 1663 when he described it as “a sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan”. We are always vowing to give up drinking too.

    Les Source de Caudalie

    After Pessac what follows is a rather unexciting drive to Leognan but stick with it as once you get beyond Leognan it will all become apparent why you are there. We took the chance to visit the luxurious Caudalie Spa and Hotel which is opposite ....Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and in front of a roaring fire drank our first glasses of 2004 Smith Haut Lafitte rouge et blanc - all I have time to say here now is sublime!
    An exceptional combination of favourable elements make up this terroir. The subsoil is composed of clay and sand so well drained, the sandstone being hardened by a blackish, ferruginous cement. Further on into Graves the combination of gravel deposits, stones and pebbles which include quatrz, agate and flint. The land has been shaped by the movement of the rivers course over many millions of years.

    Story To Follow : Further on into Graves and Sauternes to Chateau d'Yquem, the Premieur Cru Superieur of them all.

    Thursday, 20 November 2008

    Wine Quote of the Week from La Grande Maison




    Wednesday, 19 November 2008

    A Surprise Painting from M. Goussin.

    Drove down to the riverside village of Treves today to check all was okay at La Petite Maison. The River Loire has been in flood so we were anxious that the house had not been inundated whilst we had been away in Bordeaux. All was well but whilst we were there we bumped into our neighbour Jacky Goussin who told us he was in the process of painting a poster for next years “fete” in Cunault and would we like to see it? Jacky is an "aquarelliste" of some local repute, his posters being seen all over Saumur advertising the Motor Museum, so of course we jumped at the chance to see inside his “atelier”.

    We have long been an admirers of Jacky’s paintings of the Loire and the Tour de Treves but imagine our surprise when he presented us with this little watercolour of Loire Barques. It is just beautiful and once framed will be hung in La Petite Maison for all our visitors to see.
    Jacky’s artist studio is just next door to La Petite Maison so if you are staying in Treves just knock on his door as I am sure he will be more than happy to show you round his gallery. In the meantime we’ll keep a look out for next years poster of Cunault. Thank you Jacky we adore it!

    Tuesday, 18 November 2008

    A Bottle of Madiran '95

    End of the 2008 season, our last guests have gone and we celebrate with a bottle of Bouscassé - Vieilles Vignes Madiran 1995. Okay so it’s not a Loire wine but it’s good for us to explore a little out of the area and we are not disappointed. This is a 100% tannat from vines of over 50 years old. Maceration of 3-6 weeks and malolactic fermentation in new oak and then on the “lies’ for 14-16 months. Wow, black fruit with a fondue of licorice and truffles. What a delicious vintage from cellars of Alain Brumont.

    Tuesday, 11 November 2008

    The Last Wine Tour of the Season

    As the starlings start to swoop in on the last grapes left on the vines we close another chapter on our 5th year of Wine Tours in the Loire Valley. Our last group left yesterday morning on the high speed TGV train from Angers to London and will leave behind fond memories of the many colourful characters they have met on their visits behind the winery doors.
    Jean-Paul generously gave our group an opportunity to taste the Domaine de Mihoudy Anjou Red 2008, still fermenting and straight from tank.
    The Coteaux de Layon 2008 was vigorously fermenting away at Domaine de Mihoudy. The strong fermentation odours took our breathe away.
    Back in the Saumur appellation in Brossay, Guillaume at Chateau de Fosse Seche filling the oak barrels with the white “Tri de la Chapelle”, their late harvest Chenin Blanc.

    We are now taking bookings for our Wine Tours for 2009 - the season starts again in mid-March so click on the link to see the Wine Tour & Stay Packages at La Grande Maison for 2009.

    Saturday, 8 November 2008

    The Mushroom Collectors of Brain

    Brain Sur Allones just north of Saumur is the place to be in early November for identifying all things fungi. The yearly Fete de Champignon (Mushroom Exhibition) is held in the Salle de Loisirs (Village Hall) and foragers are asked to bring in all their mushroomal finds from the woods and forests around the area.

    The highly skilled mushroom identificaton panel then thumb through their mushroom library to identify whether they might be edible, barely edible, toxic or WILL CAUSE DEATH!
    Three forks are awarded to the most edible.
    Although these little inky looking fellows don’t really look that tasty.
    The Tricolome Sourfe are highly toxic thus warns the exclamation mark!
    And you would be best steering well clear of anything a skull and cross bone for fear of poisoning if not indeed death.
    Throughout the year you can also visit La Cave Vivante du Champignon close to La Grande Maison in the village of Le Puy Notre Dame. The humourous if not a tad eccentric Jacky Roulleau will guide you around his caves and tunnels whilst explaining the history of mushroom production in the area. The Champignon de Paris used be grown in tunnels around Paris until the Metro moved in and so the production was moved to the Saumur area. For an online visit go to :