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From young root clippings in dry, arduous conditions to fruit bursting with the essence of the surrounding countryside, grapes are cultivated over a long period of time to bring you an explosion of sensory impact...Read More

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Archive for Wine

“Open Doors” Bordeaux Wine Festival 2007 – Part II

Our gite is on the fringe of the southern Bordeaux appellation called Les Graves (gravel pebbles on soil, sand or clay).  The grape varietals consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and smaller portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The exact percentage varies enormously from year to year, and between chateaux.   Each year, the winemakers of this district open to the public for tastings, visits, and eating delicious food.  Today, we visited 6 properties.  The event runs for 2 days between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The theme this year is wood, and its influence on the taste of wine.

Jean-Francois and sister Isabelle were waiting for us when we showed up at the cellar door of Chateau Guillemins near Langon, at the southern limit of the appellation.  We were welcomed with kisses, hugs and smiles.  They said they’ve been talking about us for a month and wondering if we would come.  Amidst the antiques, paintings by J-F, honey, fruit jellies, and fermentation tanks, we tasted 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and the 2002 sweet white wine called l’Exotique.  They are still holding back the coveted 2004.  We bought a case of 2000 Cuvee Margaux and regular 2000.  With promises to return next year.

Our next chateau was Respide.  Alfonso couldn’t make it this Saturday to play salsa for the attendees.  We tasted their 2004 Callipyge (50/50 Merlot/Cab) gold medal winner and 2005 (65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), bronze medal winner, and bought a bottle of each.  Since the food was still in preparation, we moved north, to the sweet white wine district of Barsac, to the 16th century Chateau Massereau that backs up to the Ciron stream whose mists create the conditions for the noble rot that makes possible the sweet white wines of this area.  They make a pricey red as well as a very expensive sweet white, so we tasted and bought their generic tank-aged 2004 Bordeaux Superieur.  The chocolate maker from the Basque Country near Spain didn’t show, so we phoned Chateau St . Agreves in Landiras to see if they were cooking.

Mais, oui!!!  Of course, finding these obscure chateaux is never easy, with signs approximately the size of postage stamps, hand lettered.  Our pointed remarks to the House of the Wines of Graves as to the danger of cars suddenly stopping and turning once they are actually able to read the tiny signs have had no effect.  They continue to reuse the same minuscule signs year after year.

We were totally surprised and pleased at the warm welcome we received at Chateau Saint Agreves, including a 3 course meal (no charge).  We began by tasting the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2003 special blend, and 2004 and 2005.  The percentage is 26% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cab. Sauvignon, and 43% Merlot in the 16 hectare vineyard. 

The congenial hostess led us to a picnic table with a huge bowl of bread, and gave us nice napkins and 2 plates of delicious raw salmon marinated in herbs and oil.  Next, the grillmaster produced duck breast, chestnut puree, squash and pumpkin, as well as a pork sausage.  The dessert was prunes in armagnac.  Even a coffee after the meal was offered to us!    The owner’s wife then toured us through their cellars, with explanations in English (she had spent time in England and Long Island ).  We were off down the road with a case of the 2003 and some happy memories of conversations with the people here.  This event is all about personal contact and conviviality.  We’ll be back!

Back across the autoroute in the community of Cerons, we visited Chateau Bourgelat, where the young owner Antoine was serving 2004 and 2005 Graves as well as 2005 Cerons and 2003 Sauternes sweet whites.  The buildings were covered by red ivy that waved in the brisk wind.  Water streamed down the urn fountain, glistening in the bright sun.  The place to be was the duck tasting bar in the courtyard, where a sarcastic duck liver grower from the Pyrenees was telling all kinds of untruths.  However, we think we won the day, because by the time we left, we had convinced the men at the bar that Steve was a Basque, that his great-great grandfather was born in Pamplona ( Irun ) and migrated to the U.S. 100 years ago.  They kept telling him how good he looked in his Basque beret, and commented on his typical Basque features!

The last chateau was the Emigrant (l’émigré).  The owner emigrated to Spain in 1793 after the French Revolution and his properties were sold.  A recently arrived Englishman warned us that only the white wine was any good, so we tasted and bought a bottle of their sweet white wine, and headed for home.

We are looking forward to tomorrow with Jean-Paul and Rachel in the northern part of the appellation.

Claudia and Steve
10/20/07

“Open Doors” Wine Festival in Bordeaux 2007 – Part I

It began as a sunny, cold day in the Graves Appellation. Our friends Jean-Paul and Rachel arrived to pick us up at 9:30 this morning.  It was freezing; we all wore many layers.  We drove to Chateau Coquereau in La Brede, southeast of Cestas.  We stood in the bright, cold sunlight, tasting some 2004 and 2005 reds, then we toured the “1750 aging cellar”.  It looked like an old barn, which it was.  The owner showed us his charming homemade welded tool for stirring up the cap of grape skins, and then a homemade “room” for keeping the fermenting juice warm (a huge black plastic tent which we entered, with space heater!).  The cousins and neighbors pick the grapes on this tiny 1.5 hectare property.  Munching cookies, we photographed the sturdy 130 year old lemon tree, and hoped they remember to bring it indoors tonight.

The Depiot family began to grow wine at the elegant Chateau Belon in 1606, and the same family is still in residence.  We had visited once before.  The owner’s foxy Bostonian girlfriend,  Beverly Como, had promised to deliver a case to our house in San Diego , but didn’t answer our e-mails when the case failed to show up.  To our surprise, she was still there, and claimed that her mother in law dropped the ball.  We tasted but didn’t take her up on the offer of 24 bottles for 100 euros.  We just couldn’t see drinking bottle after bottle of the same mediocre wine.

Next, Chateau de la Haut-Pommarede, in Castres, where we learned the estate sits on a deposit of gravel 60 feet deep.  The gravel regulates water, draining it in wet years, and holding it in dry ones.  The owner demonstrated how to make a blended wine.  He drew off some Merlot from the 2006 barrels, and poured it into our glasses for tasting.  Then, he drew off Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon plus Malbec and combined it with the Merlot in our glasses.  The complexity level rose, and so did our opinion of his wine.

But first, we took advantage of the 5 euro plate of meats with glasses of 2002 and 2004 red.  The owners bustled around setting out tables in the sun, now warming us (and bringing the bees).  At other tables, Russians and French families took their lunches. 

After a coffee, we returned west to the Chateau de Castres.  Magnificent 300 year old trees frame the golden stone building owned by the Baron of Poitevin at the end of the 17th century.  The winemaker toured us through the modern facility, complete with beehive shaped conical tanks with temperature controls and new oak barrels.  The tasting took place in a charming room to the right of the main house, with wood burning in the fireplace.  We tasted the 2003 and 2004 Chateau de Castres, and bought the 2004 Tour de Castres (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet France /Petit Verdot).  The owner’s mother, elegantly attired in autumn yellows and blues, with Chateau de Castres apron on, greeted us kindly and fed us cookies and coffees.  The room connecting the main house with the tasting room was a winter garden with enormous palm tree and other potted plants kept warm with hot water radiators and original tiled floors.  Comfy and classy.

Our next target was the Chateau de Couloumey, in Beautiran. The home is an austere classical chateau, with magnificently decorated interiors. There is a graceful pigeon tower in the large courtyard, with white doves crowding into the niches.  Of all the many castles we have seen in the past 7 years of this event, this was the first where we received a tour of the dining room, kitchen and entry hall.  Walls magnificently painted with figures, period furniture, custom tablecloths, mirrors, oriental rugs, all in good taste, but the castle itself in need of ceiling and ornamental repairs.  We strolled around the back grounds, with a former chapel converted to office.

The sun was beaming, so we decided to check out one final chateau – le Chateau de Calens.  We couldn’t find it last year, with those pesky little signs leading nowhere, but J-P persevered.  The winemaker seemed indifferent, and the red Graves was pretty bad.  We asked a few questions about what they had served on the buffet at noon, as a possibility for next year (sausages, fried rice, pasta), and then made our way home.

It was a beautiful and interesting day.  The only thing we can say is, there are still 20 more wineries left that we haven’t seen, so we’ll be back next year for more!

Claudia, Steve
11/22/07

“Open Doors” in the Graves Appellation – October 16th & 17th, 2010

in Festivals, France, France, Life     

Open Doors – Bordeaux The wine châteaux of the Graves appellation open their doors to the general public. To gain a greater appreciation for this wine festival, we will be posting Claudia’s detailed experiences from 2006, 2007 and 2008.

CA Wine Country: Sunburned Grapes and Storage Issues

in California, Wine     

Life has been hectic for me as well as the wine country.  At the time the grapes were way behind schedule and the growers and vintners were hoping for a good late summer.  That weekend we got 3 days of >100 degrees, all records.  The last day we saw a temperature swing of over 50 degrees and over >20 degrees of that was from 2:00pm until before sunset.  Ahh, the wonders of the SF Bay weather.  The result of the heat was a disaster for the grape crops.  Canopies had been trimmed way back to let in sun to aid in ripening during the cool year and ward off powdery mildew.  The heat wave literally gave the grapes sunburn and cooked them where they hung.  Crop damage ranged from 5 to 50% depending on location and grape type.  Since then we are back well below normal and we again pray for high but not hot temps.

What does this mean?  Well the grapes are still behind schedule and harvest is just starting.  Most of harvest is complete by mid October in an average year and the farmers are hard pressed to see how that will happen this year.  The dreaded RAIN word has even been mentioned for this weekend.  Even if it is small it would just be more salt to the wounds.  Obviously, the later the harvest goes the more the chance for serious rain problems.  If we were talking about average to slightly below average harvest (tonnage) a few weeks ago I have to believe the forecast is less today, though I have no official word. 

I heard of another problem also raising its head, which it does on occasion.  Storage issues.  With a compressed crush, I guess there is a question where the later picked fruit will go.  Typically there is more time to get the juice crushed and to the right storage.  I need to learn more about this.  The last time I recall this problem it was an early harvest following a huge year, so many vintners hadn’t moved the wine to bottles due to timing and simple old demand.

It sure is a tough year to be in the wine business.

FWIW, I opened a 1991 Cain Five last weekend and it was still fabulous.  I still have a few good bottles left in the cellar.

Enjoy,
Tom

Family Wine Makers Association Tasting

in California, Wine     

I did go to the Family Wine Makers Association Tasting on Monday.  It was interesting to see who attended and who did not.  There are always lots of names I have never heard of but this year it was unusually high.  The Central Coast was also poorly represented.  The juice was good, Of Course.  I only spent 3+ hours there, which isn’t enough time by a huge margin.  I am also out of practice and probably let too much escape down my throat.  Not surprising, I saw less Syrah than in the past.  I did taste a few more GREAT Cab Francs, alas at big prices.  At least one was above the price of their Oakville appellation reserve Cab Sav.  Yikes.  The harvest is running late throughout the state.  The Santa Barbara people talked about being 1-2 weeks behind, while Sonoma, Mendo & Lake were talking up to 4 weeks behind. Lots of concern about getting it in before the rains hit.  The crop size is expected to be below average and mildew has been a problem.

Bordeaux: Hungry Guests Arriving (Oct. 6th, 2007)

Sacramento is producing a new species of gourmet these days:  hard-working women who enjoy fine dining, but don’t have the time (or are remodeling their kitchens and have no stove) to prepare meals.

That means, when they arrive in France , they need food.  If one of our guests hasn’t enjoyed fresh duck, rabbit, or game birds yet, we like to fix one or more of these things.  On the first rest day, we picked up fresh breads, pastries and appetizers of baked endives at the caterer in Gazinet, and Steve barbecued up some duck breasts.  We served them with a fresh pear and liqueur sauce.

The weather did not augur well for touring, so we laid in a massive selection of cheeses into the cheese boat, and a couple of cases of fine Bordeaux reds.  Since 2 cases of wine were not enough, we sallied forth with neighbor Jean-Paul to pick up the 2005 LaFargue futures we had ordered last year.  We were welcomed in style and tasted various reds at 9 in the morning.  Next stop was the House of Wines in the Graves appellation, where we learned about the gravel brought down by the Garonne river, influencing the taste of these southern Bordeaux wines.  The same lady has been offering tastings for 15 years, and we found some delicious sweet white wines and reds.

Thursday was dedicated to shopping in Bordeaux .  There were certain Bordeaux T-shirts, olive oils, colorful napkins, hand towels that just were obligatory!  And the wine organization across from the tourist office was more than generous in giving us beautiful posters.

Rachel had recommended a restaurant by the Quinconces Square called La Belle Epoque.  We reserved and were soon discovering delicious morsels like rouget fish with basil and lemon, and another with warm goat cheese, salad, endive and mushrooms.  Carolynn had a succulent filet mignon of beef with celery root, Steve and Rosemary opted for the classic bistro dish of tender veal in blanquette (a white sauce) in this case with the autumn cepes mushrooms.  Truly outstanding.  Claudia enjoyed a pastry packet of Indian spices and mushrooms with game bird and vegetables.  We had a Saint Robert 2004 Graves and a Lusseau 2004 Graves red.  For dessert we tried a scoop of mandarin sorbet side by side with a meltingly gooey chocolate cake, citrus cream and mandarin oranges.  The other dessert was an apple tart with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, plus coffees, more little glasses with chantilly cream and raspberry sauce.  The 1880 interior of this classic café added to the enjoyment.  We had never seen such a fervor of sweating waiters straining to serve us!  The chef emerged and shook our hands as we complimented him on the wonderful food!

The next day was even more gourmet, as we drove far north up the Medoc peninsula in search of an English speaking tour of Chateau Lynch-Bages and a lunch at the old customs house on the estuary, la Maison du Douanier.  At first, we did not hit it off well with the theatrical proprietors the DiTullios., but when we found out they had just come back from NY from their son’s wedding, and how much they love America, all was well.

The day was calm, still and overcast, so we sat just inside the large glass windows open to the lawn and the river.  Baby blue soft tablecloths and Breuer chairs constituted the décor.  The first little dish to emerge from the kitchen gave us a hint of the fine dining that was to come.  A slice of fresh smoked salmon with a chive cream topped by piquant little red pepper berries.  Four immense green salads fresh and perfectly dressed with vinaigrette.  Two dishes of the marsh grass fed Pauillac lamb, with tiny potatoes in their skins, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes cooked gently (perhaps in white wine and olive oil?).  8 scallops surrounding a stack of the famous cepes of Bordeaux mushrooms, now in season.  The consistency of scallops and cepes was identical.  Your brain tried to figure out which you were biting into if you closed your eyes.  And a local bass in a thick cream lemon sauce, with vegetables.  Carolynn made an executive decision right away:  more cepes!  So we ordered another whole plate for the four of us.  We downed a bottle of 2004 Lusseau Graves – and the local gold-medal winning 2003 Medoc red La Gorce.  The slightly grainy, crystalline, light Grand Marnier souffle arrived with a sparkler burning on it for Steve’s 76th birthday.  A fine, flourless chocolate cake and perfect raspberry, lime or pistachio sorbets with waffle cookie put Rosemary and Carolynn over the top.  But there were still coffees and little rum-soaked Madeleine cakes to cap off the meal.  We rated the meal an A.

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

The next day, it was down to Chateau Dudon for what we thought would be a tasting, and which turned out to be a 5 course lunch served by the owners Evelyne, her husband Michel, and her daughter Francoise.  We were joined by Allain, the highest ranked sommelier in the world (in 1986).  Also attending were the sculptor’s agent Rene Mas, and Pascal (an entrepreneur from Lyon who is opening a wine bar).  We were treated to a vertical tasting of Chateau Dudon sweet white Barsac wine from vintages of 2000, 2001 (the last bottle in existence), 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.  Also on hand were a 2006 burgundy from Hautes Cotes de Nuits, a 2004 Chateau Anthonic from Moulis en Medoc, Chateau d’Aney Medoc 1999.  We started with little herb or proscuitto studded goat cheeses, tiny frankfurters, cepes bread, and then a huge platter of freshly made pate with foie gras, and hazelnut sausage, and smoked duck breast.  Then after an interval another huge platter arrived, with a giant salmon, head and all.  It was delicately cooked in Sauternes wine, and was moist and succulent.  A giant bowl of salad, a giant platter of 10 cheeses, followed by pear tarts, apple tarts and coffees made us ready to nap.  Rene was joking incessantly with Evelyne and Rosemary on either side of him, flirting and saying slightly off-color things.   The “gentlemen” invited Rosemary and Carolynn to a winetasting that evening in a castle in Blaye.  Instead, we exchanged business cards with the wine buyers, and trolled the aging cellars for more oil paintings by Evelyne.  The 2007 Sauternes harvest ended last night, and we could hear all 22,000 liters fizzing in the tanks.  We were fizzing, too!

We are now sitting in front of a nice fire, eating our Sunday lunch of duck foie gras and sweet white wine, followed by rabbit cooked with bacon, peas, mushrooms, cream, onions and garlic and white wine, followed by pastries from the local best bakery.  Tomorrow we diet!

Claudia
October 6, 2007

Wine and Friendship Comes Together In A Still Life Painting

in Art, Chile, Wine      tags: ,
Still life photograph of a future painting with a bottle of Root 1: red wine, a pair of wine glasses, a silver bowl of fruit

A photo that inspired a still life painting for author Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

The elements of friendship, with our good friends Ralph and Marjorie are embodied in this oil painting…a year of exploring Chilean red wines, treasures from trips such as the pottery and the silver bowl from India, foods that nourish and a table that we share meals on regularly all came together neatly to inspire me to paint this image.

Wine bottles have been the subject of many a painting and therefore, one must conclude that wine has been a part of the artist’s life for a multitude of reasons. In Europe, it was a common item at mealtimes and artists often painted their food before they consumed it. Artists, too,  have been stereotyped as being slightly off-kilter, gloomy souls full of pain who turn to alcohol in their misery. However, I believe it is the sensuous soul of the artist that finds beauty in the wine itself. 

Winemaking has been around since the beginning of mankind and along the way, winemakers everywhere have refined their art. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that artist’s secretly paid tribute to their favorite winemaker in their paintings. A little “tip-o-the-hat” to their local eonologist…perhaps the flattery alone would be enough to get a free refill from the vinter.

Thoughts on Wine

View of Norman Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA

Norman Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA

From young root clippings in dry, arduous conditions to fruit bursting with the essence of the surrounding countryside, grapes are cultivated over a long period of time to bring you an explosion of sensory impact.

Wine has been called the nectar of the Gods, yet we’ve all had wine that had to be thrown out, so what is so special about this unique liquid that makes people travel the world in search of it, pay tens of thousands of dollars for it, give it as gifts, horde it and pair it with everything edible under the sun?

I don’t have the answer to those questions, but I have something for your consideration. Wine can be elusive and dynamic, something that appeals on many levels both conscious and unconscious. There is something we all want from wine when we open a bottle: we want to marry ourselves and our food with wine. And that is a problem…one we continually try to solve by opening the next bottle.

You see, the spouse of wine is time and we are but slaves and mistresses to that precious liquid.

 From the moment that the grandmother vine shares part of her root with the soil, that mere slip or cutting marries Time. The growth of that young plant is measured by time until the correct day arrives on summer’s calendar when its sweet fruit is harvested. From that moment onwards, the clock is ticking. Labels, commemorating the moment the wine was pronounced perfect for bottling, are printed and glued to bottles.  This generates a new set of phase whose measurements for the moments before wine’s imminent parting of ways with Time, when the cork is popped and we let it breathe its last breaths before we attempt to possess wine’s last moments.

And for a brief period of time, we are One with wine and then it is over. Years of creation going into a single moment.

Take moment to consider how we have rituals around wine’s final moments. We make toasts, clink glasses for the sound, and examine the color, sugary legs and aromas. We hold wine upon our tongues for the kiss that it will give us and gently inhale so that our brains will be ignited with imagery of grass, hay, blackberries, gravel, mushrooms, lavender, tobacco and bacon and more. Literally, there are hundreds of references to wine that we can taste and smell in the wine. Visuals spring to mind unbidden to match scents, and we tend to act surprised when we smell one thing yet taste another.

Wine is poetry for the soul and wine will take you for a soulful ride if you let it.

Wine is also chemistry for the soul and can take you for a different kind of ride altogether when it mimics and destroys neurotransmitters in your brain that suggest you are feeling really, really good. I plan to write about this matter in another post, because what I have learned on this subject should be known by all who drink alcohol.

When you next raise your glass of wine, remember to toast “Time” the spouse you are leaving behind.

Live well and be happy,
Annie

Thoughts on Food

Chef Raffie

Chef Raffie presenting dessert

Imagine a world with no limits…what would you eat? Where would you go to eat? Who would you share these Divine delights with?

I have a very dear friend, Chef Raffie, who is a world renowned personal chef in the elite circles, and he makes food come to life through all the senses. I believe this is why he is so successful. He makes food a memorable event. He takes something that is essential to our survival and elevates it to unprecedented levels. It nearly borders on the glorification of food.

Life is full of opportunity to explore a spectrum of food experiences…only you can limit yourself. Life as most people know it, is to experience the world in a state of duality, yet that is not the Truth…merely a stage of understanding. In a dualistic mentality, each ingredient will be tasted and judged as good or bad, hot or cold, raw or cooked, unripe or ripe, and on and on. In a dualistic world,  ingredients have an existential shelf life.

Although I am not yet an Enlightened soul, I read from some who are that food, like our bodies, doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion –part of the Dream state that we must eventually wake up from. Since I am curious about this new way of thinking, I wonder about the day when vinegar will not produce a taste or reaction. I am referencing the tale of the three vinegar tasters that is used to compare Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. One found it sour and made a face, another found it bitter and made a face and the third one found it sweet and smiled. I need a name for the fourth vinegar taster who says, “I didn’t taste anything!”

Occasionally, you will hear me singing “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver, sung by the ever wonderful Artful Dodger when the mention of food is brought up. It is glorious! Really good food makes my heart sing! It’s alive with vitality and when that hits my bloodstream, I can’t help but feel wonderful all over. I never call myself a food snob, I just declare that I am very discerning about what I put in my mouth. I want every mouthful to be quality in terms of texture, taste, smell, color, energetically, and so forth. It is truly living by the senses which can, admittedly, get out of hand.

And yes, I preach moderation in the hopes of learning it, but I hardly ever practice it. Would you, if you had the opportunity to eat only the best of the best foods around? I live in California where the organic produce is exceptional –and that includes the wines! (Confession: I have not found a good organic red wine, yet, so that last bit is a reference to wine as a produce item, not an organic produce item!)

I’d love to hear about philosophic thoughts on food…and your confessions! Foodies, in my honest opinion, are not moderate in their appetites. So, how do you create a balanced way of eating and drinking?

Live well and be happy,
Annie

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