Paris shop for all things Champagne

Article and photos by Josette King

Dilettantes welcomed customers to its elegant corner store front

Dilettantes welcomed customers to its elegant corner store front

A far as I can remember, Champagne was synonymous with celebration in my family. From an early age, I understood how exceptional it was: served only on special occasions, in its very own glasses from my mother’s best crystal. And it could only come from the famous region a couple of hours east of Paris that gave it its name. Everything else in thick dark glass bottles with wired corks was just mousseux (bubbly), a word best spoken with a hint of condescendence.

The map of Champagne is a mosaic of small vineyards

The map of Champagne is a mosaic of small vineyards

Later on, I discovered various major labels of Champagne, and even learned to tell the difference between their offerings. And in my travels around the world, I had many opportunities to experience local sparkling wines that ran the gamut from very nice to best avoided. So I had come to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about Champagne; until I walked into Dilettantes (22, rue de Savoie, 75006 Paris, France, + 33 (0)1 70 69 98 68, www.dilettantes.fr, champagne@dilettantes.fr), a unique new cave (wine cellar) in the heart of Paris’ historic Left Bank, dedicated exclusively to Champagne.

Fanny Heucq introduced me to the various shapes of Champagne flutes for optimal tasting

Fanny Heucq introduced me to the various shapes of Champagne flutes for optimal tasting

Located on a side street of the tony 6th Arrondissement, a stone’s throw away from the Seine and the Ile de la Cité, Dilettantes is the brainchild of Fanny Heucq. Born in a family of Champagne vignerons (growers and producers) Fanny knows first hand of the wide variety of high quality Champagnes that are produced in small quantities by artisan growers and rarely available beyond their region of origin. Her goal was to take her Parisian customers past the familiar Grandes Maisons (major world-famous brands) and introduce them to these “other” Champagnes, as diverse as the vineyards and growers that produce them.

All available labels from the various artisan growers were displayed in the cellar

All available labels from the various artisan growers were displayed in the cellar

“I wanted to get beyond the labels to focus on the rich diversity of the crus (vineyards) and the passion of the people who work them,” she explained, nodding at the large black and white photographs that line the windows of her elegant shop. They are the weathered faces and the calloused hands of the vignerons that work the various crus showcased at Dilettantes.

Each bottle was sold with its own identification card

Each bottle was sold with its own identification card

Fanny pointed to a map of the official growing region of Champagne, a mosaic of small vineyards scattered around a 31,598 hectare (122 square mile) area, itself divided into four terroirs (growing areas). “Depending on the soil and the altitude, a different variety of grapes will thrive,” she explained. “In the Montagne de Rheims, it’s 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. But to the west, the Vallée de la Marne is just about all pinot noir with barely 10 percent pinot meunier, while a bit to the south, la Côte des Blancs is almost exclusively Chardonnay, and down here,” she pointed due south, “La Côte des Bars is exclusively pinot noir. But the soil is harder here, the microclimates different than around Rheims, so the grapes have a different personality.” Dilettantes featured 25 artisan producers representing the four terroirs, plus a limited selection from a handful of the Grandes Maisons. I was just beginning to grasp the extent of what I never knew I didn’t know about Champagne.

A selection from a handful of world-famous brands was also available

A selection from a handful of world-famous brands was also available

Why Dilettantes? I asked. “Originally, a dilettante meant a passionate amateur, a connoisseur” Fanny pointed out. “Our aim was to create an environment where our customers can discover and appreciate the uniqueness of each cru.” There were many ways to “discover and appreciate” at Dilettantes. First there was the spectacular refrigerated back wall of the street level store. Multiple bottles, 1,000 in all, of the 130 labels from the artisan producers and major brands showcased at Dilettantes were stored there at 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) behind floor to ceiling sliding glass doors. Five meters of wall-to-wall, ready to take home and enjoy Champagne.

The medieval vaulted cellar was an inviting tasting room

The medieval vaulted cellar was an inviting tasting room

One floor below, the ancient vaulted limestone cellar held an inviting tasting room. Each week, three different labels representing various terroirs were featured for individual on site tasting. Additionally, each month a different grower visited the shop to introduce his or her wines. And there were also occasional thematic tastings (e.g. blancs de noirs, pink Champagnes) lead by Anne Marie Chabbert, an oenologist.

A refrigerated display wall held 1000 chilled bottles

A refrigerated display wall held 1,000 chilled bottles

Whether chilled or at room temperature, enjoyed on site or at home, every bottle was sold with its own pedigree card complete with a picture of the vigneron and salient information regarding the winery, specific vineyard location, grape content, vintage, tasting notes and food pairing suggestions. There was even an entry regarding the type of flute or glass best suited to that particular bottle. I made a mental note to learn more about glasses.

Producer Sébastien Mouzon conducted a tasting of his Champagnes

Producer Sébastien Mouzon conducted a tasting of his Champagnes

On my second visit to Dilettantes, Sébastien Mouzon of Mouzon Leroux vineyards, whose family traces back to Verzy (one of the prestigious growing villages of La Montagne de Rheims) since 1780, was on hand to lead a four-wine tasting of his own labels. In addition to an in depth discussion on the particulars of each bottle and what gives it its personality, Sébastien shared a wealth of information on vine cultivation, harvesting and Champagne production. Then came the detail that consolidated the standing of Mouzon Leroux on my personal list of preferred vintners: 70 percent of their production was biodynamic (an ultra-organic wine-making method that focuses on producing naturally fermented wines from organic grapes while healing the vineyard. The biodynamic vintner treats the vines, the soil in which they grow and the surrounding flora and fauna as an interdependent ecological whole).

Dilettantes focused on artisan Champagne producers

Dilettantes focused on artisan Champagne producers

Warning: Dilettantes is habit forming. I kept finding reasons throughout my stay in Paris to revisit the inviting cave and spent time with its pleasant, knowledgeable staff. I picked up a chilled bottle as a hostess gift on my way to a dinner invitation; I stopped by with a friend for an impromptu tasting of one of the week’s selections; and what about a set of those special tasting flutes, with a couple of well chosen bottles of course, as a housewarming gift for a friend?

All available labels from the various artisan growers were displayed in the cellar

All available labels from the various artisan growers were displayed in the cellar

There is always a good reason to give, and drink, Champagne. And best of all, I enjoyed that on each visit, I left the store with additional nuggets of knowledge about the many facets of Champagne. I already plan to attend one or more of the scheduled tastings on my next visit to Paris. Thanks to Dilettantes’ dedication to making high quality artisan Champagnes readily available in Paris, and educating customers to appreciate them, I may be on my way to becoming a passionate amateur.

A visit to Riquewihr in heart of Alsace wine road

Article and photos by Josette King

The Courtyard of the Nobles of Berckheim in Riquewihr is an early stone house and turret with sundial

The Courtyard of the Nobles of Berckheim in Riquewihr is an early stone house and turret with sundial

In France, La Route des Vins (The Wine Road) wends its way north to south from Marlenheim (near Strasbourg) to Thann (near Mulhouse) through 170 kilometers (106 miles) of the rolling hills of the Alsatian vineyard. Along the way it reaches over half of the 119 wine-producing villages, with the remainder only a short drive away.

Riquewihr is recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France for its picturesque medieval architecture

Riquewihr is recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France for its picturesque medieval architecture

While Alsace traces its viticulture history back to Roman times and many of the villages along La Route des Vins can charm visitors with picturesque architecture reaching back to the Middle Ages, the itinerary itself is a contemporary concept. Intent on rejuvenating Alsatian tourism and refocusing attention on its once famed wine industry, both devastated by the Second World War, the regional tourism office organized an automobile rally on May 30, 1953. All participants departed at the same time, half from Marlenheim and the other half from Thann. Along the way they enjoyed a number of wine tastings and tourist site visits before reaching each other. History doesn’t seem to have recorded which team managed to travel the farthest, but the event proved to be a major success. Thus, La Route des Vins was born. Today, over two million visitors per year come from all corners of Europe and beyond to enjoy the warm welcome of the wine-growing community. Many return time and again to sample the superb wines and gastronomy of the region (paté de foie gras and choucroute garnie originated here).

Every break in the roofline offers a glimpse of the vineyards

Every break in the roofline offers a glimpse of the vineyards

I was recently one of these return visitors, when I was able to couple a trip to Colmar, the lovely self-appointed capital of the wine road, with a long overdue stop in the nearby village of Riquewihr. It was les vendanges (wine harvest time), and I looked forward to taking a walk up the hill beyond the city walls to the venerable Schoenenbourg Vineyards, reputed since the Middle Ages for producing some of the finest Riesling in the world, and where grapes are still picked by hand. I also planned a leisurely stroll through the historic village with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old half-timbered houses. But most of all, I wanted to return to the Hugel & Fils winery (3, rue de la première armée, 68340 Riquewihr, France, +33 (0)3 89 47 92 15, fax +33 (0)3 89 49 00 10, http://www.hugel.com, info@hugel.com), and pay a quiet homage to the memory of a man who almost four decades ago kindled my interest for good wines. Jean Hugel had hosted my first wine tasting in the very cellar where I was now headed. Along with the basics of wine appreciation, he taught me a golden rule by which I still measure wines today.

Hugel Winery headquarters and cellars below

The Hugel Winery headquarters and cellars below

“A good wine,” Jean Hugel told me, “is one that you enjoy when you drink it, still appreciate when you pay for it, and can remember fondly when you wake up the next morning.” He was at the time at the head of Hugel & Fils, one of the most prestigious labels in Alsace, and a family that traces its wine making tradition back 12 generations, to 1639. I was saddened in the summer of 2009 to read his obituary in The New York Times, where he was memorialized as “a leading force in resurrecting the Alsatian wine trade.” I could only nod, and remember his passion as he introduced me to the peerless Hugel Rieslings and Gewurztraminers and most exquisite of all, the nectar-like Vendange Tardive (late harvest) wines. These prestigious wines are made in tiny quantities from overripe grapes picked well after the classic vintage, and in the best years only. These grapes have been affected by botrytis cinerea (a fungus commonly known as pourriture noble, or noble rot). Jean Hugel is credited with writing the rules for the production of Vendange Tardive, which became law in 1984. To this day, no matter where in the world I happen to be, I can never see one of the green fluted bottles with their iconic yellow Hugel label without remembering my host on that long ago afternoon.

A passing wine harvest truck shows me the way to the Hugel Winery

A passing wine harvest truck shows me the way to the Hugel Winery

On the day of my visit, his nephew Etienne Hugel welcomed me to Riquewihr with the same warmth and enthusiasm. Alas, the weather was not so friendly. A cold drizzle had been falling since morning; not a propitious day for a walk to the Schoenenbourg. We headed for the cellars instead, under the meticulously preserved 16th century building of the Hugel headquarters. Along the way, we stopped by the dock where trucks were pulling in with their precious cargo of plump white grapes in plastic tubs. These were immediately brought to the press house, quality tested and selected before being tipped through a funnel designed to gravity-feed them into one of the pneumatic presses on the floor below. The free-run and first pressing juices are then directed, again by gravity only, into stainless-steel vats where they settle overnight to remove solids before the fermentation process begins (Hugel uses only these for its own label. The last pressing is always set aside and sold in bulk). The juice is then gravity-fed into giant oak casks, some over 100 years old, or into stainless steel vats for fermentation.

The Sainte Catherine cask dates back to 1715 and is still in use today

The Sainte Catherine cask dates back to 1715 and is still in use today

Wine tasting with Etienne Hugel

Wine tasting with Etienne Hugel

We continued on, farther into the cellar that reaches deep and wide under the old town. Wines mature there in rows upon impressive rows of huge casks, including the famous Sainte Catherine dating back to 1715, and still in use, before ending our tour in the tasting room. Etienne takes us on a seven-wine graduated tasting with the same verve as his uncle did so many years ago. By the time we get to the Gewurztraminer Jubilee 2008 and the divine Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2005, both from the oldest plots of the Hugel estate in the heart of the Sporen grand cru area, I am ready to break all the rules of wine tasting: I sip, and I swallow. I am certain that Jean Hugel would approve

Dinner at Mexico City home of Chef Monica Patino

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Chef Monica Patiño describes the artisan mezcals on offer with dinner

Before dinner Chef Monica Patiño described the evening’s artisan mezcals

On my first night in Mexico City, Mexico earlier this year I had a contemporary Mexican dinner with small production mezcals and Mexican wines at the French Porfirian style home of Chef Monica Patiño. The house is exceptional, someone from Mexico City explained before we arrived. Built in 1916 in La Roma it is part of a past era and situated in one of the city’s most upscale neighborhoods.

The Body and Soul Refreshment Menu served at 8:30 p.m. began with El 19 cocktails on the first floor of the multi-level house with an inner courtyard. The refreshing and lightly sweet homemade beverages were a blend of Mano Negra, an artisanal mezcal, celery, cucumber, epazote (a fragrant Mexican herb), lemon and brown sugar, served in a short glass rimmed with salt, chili and crushed maguey worms. Delicious.

There were ten of us including the chef at the dinner table

There were ten of us including the chef at the dinner table

Three hors d’oeuvres were served with the green tinted drinks. The first two were so hot (my tolerance for hot dishes is low) I only managed a single bite of each, Tostadas de Guacamole, guacamole served atop a nacho like cracker, and Tostada de Ceviche Verde, a crunchy corn cracker with citrus marinated seafood. My favorite was the Panuchos de Cochinita, a handheld appetizer of savory shredded pork without chili heat and a good match for the mild tasting cocktail.

Ricardo García, chef, Náos and Jesús, his assistant, in the kitchen

Ricardo Garcia, chef, Naos and Jesus, his assistant, in the kitchen

Prior to dinner, some of the members of our small group watched the staff prepared the pre-appetizers. Following cocktails, we were invited to an indoor dining room with a set table, past an open kitchen where the chef and her staff prepared the meal. Before sitting at the table with us, Chef Patiño, with the assistance of Ricardo Garcia, chef, Naos (owned by Chef Patiño) and Jesus, his assistant, prepared the meal. I especially appreciated her explanations about mezcal production and the preparation of the meal during the course of the evening.

Tamalito Costeño en Caldillo de Frijol, our appetizer

Tamalito Costeño en Caldillo de Frijol, our appetizer

For an appetizer the staff served Tamalito Costeño en Caldillo de Frijol, a tiny tamale in a black bean sauce made with corn, beans, chilies, raisins and almonds. The main course was an unusual interpretation of Pozole, a well known specialty Mexican dish. It was so unusual that several of the Mexicans in attendance were tasting the dish for the first time. A server brought each of us a bowl with Pozole Verde con Camarón, a green soup made ​​from seeds, corn, tomato, serrano peppers, shrimp and clams. Then he brought a platter with sliced radish and sardines to us the table to add to the pozole. There was one red wine, Ensamble Colina 2008, and one white wine, Emblema 2008 sauvignon blanc, on offer with dinner. I sampled the red and found it somewhat syrupy for my taste.

Pozole Verde con Camarón, a green seafood soup

Pozole Verde con Camarón, a green seafood soup

The dessert that night was my single favorite dessert during that Mexico City visit. Mixiote de Queso con Helado de Mezcal was a cheese filled filo pastry, with nougat, pumpkin seeds, atop a sauce of piloncillo (a raw sugar cane product), mezcal, and agave baked, fermented and distilled. The pastry itself was topped with mezcal ice cream which had powdered cinnamon crowning it. At the table, we were offered grated Parmesan cheese and sea salt to compliment the pastry and ice cream dish. My mouth waters at the memory. Mezcal Amores, family produced like the first one, was served with dessert.

Mixiote de Queso con Helado de Mezcal, a cheese filled filo pastry

Mixiote de Queso con Helado de Mezcal, a cheese filled filo pastry

Dinner at the chef’s home was by special arrangement. Chef Patiño has more than 34 years of experience in the kitchen. She began her career with an internship at La Hacienda de los Morales before attending L’Ecole de Cuisine de la Varenne in Paris, France. In 1978, she opened La Taberna del Leon in Valle de Bravo, Mexico. Eleven years ago, she established another La Taberna del Leon in honor of her first restaurant. Bolivar 12, serving Mexican cuisine with a Cuban influence, and Naos followed. In 2007, she became a consultant for Aeromexico. In July of this year, she taped Everyday Cooking with Mónica Patiño, a cooking segment on Utilísima, a Fox program in Argentina. Monica Patiño Marquez,  +55 52 0155 55 11 05 50, monica_patino@hotmail.com

An introductory culinary week in Burgundy

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Katherine in class

Katherine in class

In late April, I traveled to Burgundy, France for a six-night introductory cooking and culinary small group program with some behind-the-scenes features. Included in the English language program were comfortable and modern accommodations with daily room cleaning, meals, cooking demonstrations, transportation and activities with English speaking guides (a service tip was suggested though not required). As part of the program six of us shared Frelon’s Fabulous France, a five bedroom two-story recently renovated house with a working fireplace, complimentary WiFi connectivity, a private swimming pool and two enclosed courtyards (because of the cold that week the pool remained covered and the courtyards empty of guests).

Prime space at the counter

Prime space at the kitchen counter

The house, formerly used as horse stables, had been lovingly renovated by the owners, Katherine and Yannick Frelon, over an intensive 18 month period. The culinary program was led by Katherine, an English cook, and a group of her associates from the same country. It consisted of her cooking demonstrations with some hands on cooking opportunities for those so inclined, daily culinary or wine related excursions, and three non home cooked meals (one a la carte cafe lunch and two set menu gourmet restaurant meals, one lunch and one dinner).

Katherine and Yannick in the kitchen

Katherine and Yannick in the kitchen

The house itself, especially the kitchen, was well appointed, spacious and comfortable. Located in Marigny Le Cahouet, a pretty and quiet country village fronting a brook and the famed Burgundy Canal, it provided a placid setting in spite of a rain filled week. The upside of the weather were the uncrowded Dijon market and tourist attractions we visited.

One of Katherine's many dishes

One of Katherine’s many dishes

Katherine, a part-time river barge and freelance cook who had lived in France for many years, dedicated time on four days to cooking demonstrations which resulted in lunch buffets and plated dinners for our group. The meals were prepared from regional fresh ingredients (some from her garden) by her, while we watched and sometimes participated, from her own recipes which she provided in a 72-page printed spiral bound handout on our arrival. Her cooking style, she explained when I asked at the conclusion of the week, is “seasonal, local, fresh and inspired” with recipes designed to translate to cooking students homes on their return to their country of residence.

Our first activity was a wine tasting

Our first activity was a wine tasting

At the beginning of the week, we were provided with a final itinerary without times or activity duration. Katherine would inform us of times and durations just before the activities on a daily basis or by leaving a printed card atop the kitchen counter. We ate most meals in the house dining room on the ground floor. Breakfast and lunch were self service buffet style and dinner was prepared and plated in the kitchen and served by Katherine or an assistant at the dinner table. Meal times varied depending on the day’s activities. A continental breakfast (hot beverages, self squeezed orange juice, bread, deli meats, cheeses, fresh fruit, yogurt, cold cereal, honey and jams) was usually available an hour or less before departure; lunch was usually served between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Dinner, usually after 8 p.m., lasted two or more hours.

Katherine in class

Katherine demonstrated a cooking technique in class

Our days, spent mostly in each other’s company and with Katherine or a guide, were busier than I had anticipated. From breakfast through the end of dinner the majority of our waking hours were taken up by cooking demonstrations, scheduled activities or meals. That week I was reminded that spending time in close quarters with strangers with varied cultural and social backgrounds may be challenging. At times some of the attitudes and behaviors of other guests, particularly those who seemed to monopolize the conversation, complain and make unsolicited and unwelcome critical remarks, were grating and more than once spoiled the moment.

There were several wine tasting opportunities

There were several wine tasting opportunities

During the week, there were two wine activities with different guides and visits with tastings to three small family owned wine makers. My favorite experiences by far were the introduction to Burgundy wines by Nancy, a knowledgeable Englishwoman with a ready smile, the first afternoon; and the behind the scenes visit and wine tasting at a Flavigny winery also in her company.

A stop at the Maille mustard shop in Dijon was included

A stop at the Maille mustard shop in Dijon was included

There was a kitchen side cooking demonstration with guest participation at a gourmet restaurant, a visit to Dijon focusing on a market experience and cafe break, a mustard shop stop, a croissant making demonstration by the village baker in the house, and a chocolate shop visit with complimentary hot cocoa and a couple of bite size samples.

Ingredients for a recipe

Ingredients for a recipe

On our last full day we went to two wine tastings. We also stopped in Beaune for a light lunch at a central cafe, an optional 30-minute visit with our wine guide to the Hospice de Beaune, a historic building and popular tourist attraction, and an hour at leisure for shopping enthusiasts (most of the shops were closed for 30 minutes of that time).

Hot cocoa at the Comptoir des Colonies near the Dijon market

Hot cocoa at the Comptoir des Colonies near the Dijon market

The day after our arrival we drove to a gourmet restaurant in a pretty vineyard setting for a cooking demonstration with the chef followed by a kitchen-side lunch (not a favorite). Unfortunately the chef was in Singapore so the demonstration was conducted in English by one of his staff cooks, a personable Asian woman. Some of the ingredients were unavailable, she informed us at the beginning of the class and had to be substituted in the recipe. Although she tried several times she was unable to demonstrate the foam technique that was central to the recipe; instead of foam the device, when pressed, delivered liquid.

We visited cobble stoned street towns

A visit of a cobble stoned street town

Our much anticipated final gourmet meal was at a highly rated restaurant about 30 minutes from the house. On our arrival we were greeted, in charming French accented English, by the owner. Although the restaurant dining room where we were seated faced a lovely garden, our corner table was near the rear of the room rather than the window and my seat faced the wall. A flute of champagne unexpectedly flavored with pear and laurel and a warm cheese pastry amouse bouche distracted me from my initial disappointment of the view. The highlight of the set dinner menu with two house wines was a raw shrimp appetizer and a well cooked river fish. The pigeon was well prepared and presented. I especially liked the tiny but savory thighbone.

Bubbly was on offer in the afternoons

Bubbly was on offer in the afternoons

Following dessert the restaurant manager graciously invited us to the kitchen to meet the chef. While we enjoyed hot beverages in a lounge at the dining room entrance we were presented with a copy each of our menu with photos taken during our brief kitchen visit on the front cover as a memento of the night’s dinner, the closing activity for the week. By midnight we were back at the house and I was busy preparing for my early morning departure to catch the only daily train to the Charles de Gaulle Airport at the nearby Montbard station, a 20-minute drive from the house.

Cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes that week

Cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes that week

I would recommend La Ferme de la Lochere (6 Rue de la Lochere, 21150 Marigny Le Cahouet, France, +33 672 86 5609, http://lafermedelalochere.com, katherine.frelon@lafermedelalochere.com) Burgundy culinary program to friends and acquaintances seeking an introduction to culinary Burgundy, related cooking demonstrations and behind-the-scenes activities with an English cook and team, in particular to groups wishing to book the program exclusively or to rent the house.

Cape Town Graham Beck bubbly bar a great happy hour option

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Gorgeous by Graham Beck

Copper color lamps hung above the bar counter

We first patronized Gorgeous by Graham Beck soon after its opening during a stay at Steenberg hotel in Constantia in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. Before dinner at Catharina’s, the hotel restaurant located in the same building as Gorgeous, we stopped by to see what all the fuss was about and sample for ourselves some of the tapas and Graham Beck bubbly on offer. When we arrived a handful of guests were scattered in the cozy corners of the Method Cap Classique bar with room for 25 guests. As bubbly aficionados we thoroughly enjoyed our flight and canape tasting and plan to return at the first opportunity.

Zelda Pretorius

Our server, Zelda Pretorius

Zelda Pretorius, our server, was welcoming and knowledgeable. She explained, with hard to conceal enthusiasm, the varieties of sparkling wine on offer, all from producer Graham Beck who owned the Steenberg Estate including Gorgeous. Options included vintage and non vintage wines by the glass (125 milliliters or 50 milliliters for tasting menu items) priced between 40 rand and 85 rand per person and by the bottle ranging between 200 rand and 500 rand for each bottle.

A tasting selection of Graham Beck sparkling wine

A tasting selection of Graham Beck sparkling wines

Aging in the rack of the pinot noir and chardonnay wines ranged between 18 months and 36 months except for the Cuvee Clive 2005, named for Graham Beck’s son and our favorite after a through tasting of seven wines, which had aged five years. The Blanc de Blanc was 100 percent chardonnay, Zelda explained. The Brut Zero was 85 percent chardonnay and 15 pinot noir. In terms of sweetness, there were marked differences between the wines. For example, there were 38 grams of sugar per liter in the Demi and only 2.4 grams of sugar in the Brut Zero; there were 12 grams in the Brut Rose 2009, 8 grams in the Blanc de Blanc and non vintage offerings.

The sparkling wine was expertly served

The sparkling wine was expertly served

Bubbly tasting options were by the glass or by the flight. The flight options offered three wines each for non vintage (Brut NV, Brut Rose NV, and Bliss NV) and vintage (Blanc de Blancs 2008, Brut Rose 2009, Brut Zero 2005), and two for rose (Brut Rose NV and Brut Rose 2009). We sampled two flights and a glass of Cuvee Clive 2005.

A selection of canapes rounded out the tasting

A selection of canapes rounded out the tasting

To accompany our tasting we sampled a platter of five canape appetizers from Catharina’s kitchen next door. It came with bite size morsels of mushroom and rice, salmon trout and salmon roe, quail egg, oyster and tiger prawn with avocado.

The Gorgeous bar

The Gorgeous bubbly bar

While we awaited the arrival of our order I glanced around curious to observe details of the built-in sections and bar seating that made up the bubbly bar. It was decorated in muted metallic colors with a refined yet youthful designer tone. The bar counter was made of marble by Green Way Interiors and the floor had marble mosaic tiles by Kenzan Tiles. Wallpapered walls, copper color lamps hanging above the bar counter and module division lent depth to the space. Gorgeous by Graham Beck, 10802 Steenberg Estate, Tokai Road, Tokai 7945, +27 21 713 7177, www.gorgeousbygrahambeck.com, info@gorgeousbygrahambeck.co.za

Singita Sabi Sand properties in South Africa offered gourmet features, raised climate change awareness

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox and Elena del Valle

The suite at Boulders featured a stunning view of the bush

The suite at Boulders featured a stunning view of the bush

We ended our visit to South Africa’s premier game viewing area earlier this year with three nights at the Singita properties in the Sabi Sand Reserve. We spent the first two nights at Singita Ebony and the last night, the first night they were open following a soft refurbishing closure, at Singita Boulders. Our experience was superb.

The bedroom and private pool at Singita Boulders

The master bedroom and private pool at Singita Boulders

The master bedroom at Boulders featured a wood burning fireplace

The master bedroom at Boulders featured a wood burning fireplace

At Ebony we enjoyed an informative and fun wine tasting with Francois Rautenbach, the company’s wine manager, in the lodge’s cozy cellar. During the hour long event, shared with four other guests, we heard about South Africa’s varied wine regions and the wines they produce, the evolution of the country’s wine industry and some of the salient wines that are garnering international recognition.

Francois Rautenbach, Singita's wine manager

Francois Rautenbach, Singita’s wine manager

During the tasting, we had a chance to sample four wines, selected by the staff, before our tasting menu dinner. We began with a 2008 Director’s Reserve White from Tokara in Simonsberg-Stellenbosch made of 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon and a 2009 Aeternitas Wines Blanc from Voor-Paardeberg made of 90 chenin blanc, 5 percent viognier and 5 percent grenache blanc.

The Singita shop featured wine related merchandise

The Singita shop carried wine and related merchandise

Next we had two 2003 wines, a Sequillo Cellars blend of syrah, mourvedre and grenache from the West Coast and Paarl regions and a Rij’s Private Cellar Bravado blend of 21 percent cabernet, 7 percent cabernet franc, 12 percent merlot, 35 percent shiraz and 25 percent pinotage from the Tulbagh Valley.

Singita staff prepared an eco-friendly meal by lantern light

Singita staff prepared an eco-friendly meal by lantern light

At Boulders we joined fellow guests and the lodge staff, at the same time as guests and staff at Singita’s nine lodges in three countries, in an Earth Hour global event organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature on the last Saturday of March every year. The idea is to make it through one hour in the early evening without electricity to raise awareness about climate change.

The dining area on the main deck prepared for Earth Hour

The dining area on the main deck prepared for Earth Hour

The local staff regaled us with a singing and dance performance and the kitchen made sure our dinner, prepared on the deck and served by candlelight was splendid. A company executive and a local news media team were on hand to share the moment with viewers across the country. Visit the Simon & Baker Travel Review for more about Singita Boulders and our visit to the Sabi Sand Reserve and Singita Ebony.