Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Blake Gowar at the Eagle's Nest hilltop
During a recent stay in Constantia, a wine producing suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, I went on a 4.5 hour Private Half Day Wine Tour recommended by the owners of the Glen Avon Lodge where I was staying. At 12 noon sharp, Blake Gowar, owner of The Constantia Wine Tour (11 Midhurst Way, Constantia, Cape Town, 7806, South Africa, +27 021 794 4873, +27 082 377 5233, www.theconstantiawinetour.co.za, Blake@theconstantiawinetour.co.za), picked me up at my hotel in his company branded sports utility vehicle.
One of the historic buildings of the Klein Constantia Estate
During the short drive to Klein Constantia (Klein Constantia Estate, PO Box 375, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 021 794 5188, kleinconstantia.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), the first of three wineries on the tour, we had a chance to chat as I was the only guest on the tour the chilly winter day. Blake explained his was the first and only company dedicated exclusively to half and full day tours of Constantia wineries.
Janine Dodds, our friendly host at Klein Constantia
After passing through the security gate we entered the Klein Constantia Estate. Dating to 1685 the property was built among ancient trees on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg Mountains. It had a view across the city to False Bay. Although it was in the midst of extensive renovations the tasting room was unaffected. Janine Dodds, a well informed and friendly representative, greeted us and recommended wines for me to taste. We were the only visitors at that moment. Thanks to the quiet off season ambiance I had her undivided attention during the wine tasting. The property was best known for its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines. It also had the best stocked gift shop I visited on the tour. There were branded cycling shirts and a variety of foodie and wine items on sale.
The vineyards at Klein Constantia
The garden seen through a glass of rose wine at the Eagle's Nest
A handful of people had arrived before us at the Eagle's Nest (Old Constantia Main Road, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 21 794 4095, eaglesnestwines.com, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) where we received a warm welcome from Kaylee Morrick and Kathleen McNulty. There were still left plenty of table choices in the verdant garden. Following the staff's recommendation I picked a spot where I tasted a rose and couple of the white wines while Blake went to swap his sports utility vehicle for a four wheel drive. Thanks to a family friendship with one of the owners of the Eagle's Nest Blake had exclusive permission to use the property owner's Land Rover and drive up the winery's mountain for tours.
Although it was chilly I was drawn to the lush garden at the Eagle's Nest
The Eagle's Nest was in a secluded valley high up on the slopes of the historic Constantia mountain range, part of the Table Mountain area. One of the five small boutique wineries of Constantia it was home to some of the steepest gradient vineyards in the country, Blake explained. The winery was known for its dry rose, viognier and award winning shiraz. The weather worn vehicle climbed the single lane dirt road with the ease of a goat, if slightly less grace. We stopped along the way for some photos and a close up glimpse at flowers.
Flowers growing by the side of the road
By the time we reached the high point on the farm the wind had picked up and I was chilled despite my fleece and windbreaker. The panoramic views of the farm, followed by Constantia in the foreground and greater Cape Town beyond reached all the way to the ocean. The breathtaking scenery from the top made the detour worthwhile.
Bird's eye views of Cape Town from the hilltop at the Eagle's Nest
On our return to the Eagle's Nest tasting room, we sat indoors near the crackling flames of the fireplace. The glass walls afforded us a view of the garden during the second half of the wine tasting. I especially enjoyed their three lovely reds.
Our third winery was Silvermist
All that wine tasting had made me hungry. By the time we arrived at Silvermist (Constantia Nek, 7806 Cape Town, South Africa, +27 21 794 7601 silvermistmountainlodge.co.za, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), on the forested slopes of Table Mountain and within the Table Mountain National Park, I was ready for a late lunch and a tasting of the farm produced white. The rustic 120 acre estate that borders the Constantia Wine Route was, I was told, the only organic vineyard in Constantia. It was best known for its sauvignon blanc. Candace Louw, one of the owners, welcomed us warmly when we arrived.
The Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc
The views of Table Mountain National Park at Silvermist
We ate in the Green Vine Eatery, one of two dining venues within Silvermist, where Blake ordered the special of the day, a tasty pizza, and I had a well prepared hamburger with potato wedges. While we waited for lunch we stepped out briefly to enjoy the beautiful views of the environs and Table Mountain. Dessert of chocolate muffins was to go.
The pizza special for lunch at the Green Vine Eatery
Candace Louw, one of the owners of Silvermist
As my tour guide and I parted company, I realized how much I had enjoyed the pleasant pace of the private half day tour, the wine tastings, lunch, and Blake's company. Although I had visited Constantia before, I had never been to any of the wineries on our tour that day. I appreciated having someone else drive all afternoon. It meant I could taste as many wines as I wanted without worrying about driving. And, I didn't have to find the wineries with my rental car's not always trustworthy GPS directions. Plus, it was fun to discover new estates. Blake's selection of the wineries was spot on in terms of the setting and the wines themselves. The unique opportunity to climb to the high point of the Eagle's Nest farm was an unexpected bonus.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Four of the newest floral drink mixer flavors: Orange Blossom, Violet, Jasmine, and Cherry Blossom
While I find a glass of refreshing spring water to be one of the pleasures of life, over the years I have met many people, including some visitors to my home, who don't like the taste of water. To address their taste preferences in the past I used to stock up on sodas, juices and other flavored beverages until I discovered floral drink mixers. They offer a way to add natural flavors and a hit of sweetness to water (each serving has 9 grams of sugar), sparkling water, sparkling wine, champagne and any other beverage in need of a pick me up.
A serving of Violet Elixir added a sweet floral flavor to spring water
The Floral Elixir Company (2100 W 7th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113, +1216-385-0292, www.floralelixir.com, email@example.com) offers 13 all natural floral drink mixers: Rose, Lavender, Tropical Orchid, Hibiscus, Elderflower, Cherry Blossom, Orange Blossom, Rose Hip, Juniper Berry, Jasmine, Violet, Prickly Pear, and Lemon Verbena. We liked all the ones we sampled.
Cherry Blossom Elixir with water on the rocks
I love the Tropical Orchid with brut sparkling wine (see Flower and fruit liquid infusions add flavor, sparkle to special occasions). From the eight new flavors, I sampled Cherry Blossom, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, and Violet. Jasmine was my favorite with brut sparkling wine. I liked them all with water. Next, I plan to try them with iced tea.
I especially liked the Jasmine with brut sparkling wine or brut champagne
“I handcraft a line of floral drink mixers - all natural - they're made from real flowers blended with a touch of cane sugar that are ideal to create adventurous cocktails and sodas,” said Nora Egger, owner, Floral Elixir Company, by email from Goa, India, where she was traveling in search of new flowers for her company. “I choose my Flavors based first on other countries around the world that have historically made beverages and dishes using certain flowers and the spend some time refining the recipes so that they are enjoyable in beverages.”
We also tasted Orange Blossom Elixir with brut sparkling wine
The ingredient list for the mixers was short, including pure cane sugar, real flowers and floral extracts, (nothing synthetically produced). They may also include natural plant based dyes, such as red beet for Rose, black carrot for Lavender and spiraling for Lemon Verbena, Egger explained. Most ingredients come from the United States where the mixers are made. Some of the essences, such as the one from Damask Rose from Bulgaria, come from Europe where they are harvested.
Deciding which ones to sample first was challenging. The best selling flavor? Nora says Lavender is quite popular for all beverages, followed by Tropical Orchid and Rose for rum and whiskey based cocktails. After that its a fair split.
Article and photos by Josette King
A discrete sign guided visitors to the internal courtyard where the shop was located.
Epiceries fines (gourmet shops) are hard to miss in Paris, France. They range from vast food halls that offer all manner of desirable foodstuff from around France and far beyond, to boutiques specializing in a specific indulgence: caviar, cheese, smoked salmon, chocolate or macarons to name a few. You name it and any self-respecting Parisian will give you at least a couple of bonnes adresses (top places where you are sure to satisfy your particular yearning). Many of these epicurean temples have been in business for well over a century and have achieved the status of local institutions on the checklist of foodie tourists from every corner of the planet.
Unassuming doors led to a treasure trove of delicacies from the French heartland.
Then there are adresses confidentielles, exceptional places to be shared only as a favor to someone’s friends. Tomat’s (12 Rue Jacob, 75006 Paris, France. +33 1 44 07 36 58. www.tomats.fr), a tiny gem tucked in a 17th century courtyard in the heart of Saint Germain des Prés rates high on my list of the latter. Barely a decade old, its unique appeal is rooted in the passion of its owner-manager Alexandra Blanchet de Pudhot for the traditional delicacies of the French heartland. She was proud to point out that 95 percent of her inventory comes from small French producers. She also featured a few outstanding Italian treats, such as her coarse fresh Genovese Pesto so delicious that one of my friends has taken to slathering it on toasted country bread.
Tomat’s owner-manager Alexandra Blanchet de Pudhot
In addition to a broad array of the essentials that great pantries are made of, she also sourced exceptional seasonal specialties.
At the time of my early fall visit she had just received a fish and crawfish terrine from the Loire Valley that was otherwise only available at the producer’s. And in anticipation of the holiday season her inventory was being enhanced with attractive assortments of exotic spices each with a cookbook included, as well as new kinds of truffled foie gras, duck confits and traditional goose sausages from the South West of France that I expect will star in my gourmet gift baskets. Alexandra had tasted approximately 80 percent of the products carried at Tomat’s. Her associate was charged with tasting the remainder, such as artisan jams and honeys, the full range of the peerless Bonnat chocolate bars, and other sweets. Products that have become permanent staples of the inventory were re-sampled periodically to ensure that the high quality remained constant.
A tasting of artisanal Huiles LeBlanc
At Tomat’s the emphasis on personal contact was as exceptional as the products on the shelves. Alexandra clearly enjoyed discovering her customers’ tastes to better offer suggestions on what could delight them and enhance their recipes, making her épicerie the sort of place where savvy cooks get their “secret ingredients.” In my case recently, one such find was a small pot of Beaume de Casanova, an exquisite bitter chocolate and ginger mustard, a few dabs of which had my guest raving over a simple roasted chicken. I had not suspected such a thing existed until my visit to Tomat’s. Nor had I heard of Huiles LeBlanc, a wide range artisan oils from Burgundy.
The shelves were brimming with the makings of a great pantry.
The family-owned and operated enterprise has extracted exceptional virgin oils from a variety of products from pistachio, pine and hazelnuts to marrow pits for well over a century. In Paris, they could be found at Tomat’s exclusively. I was a bit dubious at some of the most esoteric concoctions such as oil from the nut found inside the pit of prune plums, until I had a taste of several of them. In all cases, it had a more subtle, smoother taste than the nut itself. Their pistachio oil is my new favorite to drizzle over seared scallops and poached mild white fish. As for the prune plum nut oil? A few teaspoons transformed a humble autumn fruit compote into an intriguing dessert. I have also been known to use it as a dipping oil for bits of day-old brioche.
An attractive assortments exotic spices made original gifts
With its exceptional variety of unusual products, personalized service and this not insignificant detail, friendly prices, Tomat’s has become a frequent stop for me, just in case a new interesting something has come in. It usually has.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The exterior of Lolita Vinoteca + Asador
Lolita Vinoteca + Asador (90 Congress Street, Portland, Maine 04101, +1 207-775-5652, http://www.lolita-portland.com/, firstname.lastname@example.org), a few blocks past the Portland Observatory on one of Portland's main streets, was easy to find. Maine's coastal city had many dining choices from exotic to exclusively local. Lolita, established by Guy (executive chef) and Stella Hernandez and Neil Reiter was the only Spanish themed tapas eatery with a wood fired oven we came across. The 900 square foot eatery with a staff of 12, table seating for 20, and space for 10 at the bar opened its doors in June 2014.
Guy and Stella Hernandez
The menu, described as “American cuisine, guided by Mediterranean and old-world traditions,” featured small plates and plates to share with specialty dishes from the wood-fired grill and meats from the eatery's antique prosciutto slicer.
Bread, honey and Consider Bardwell cheese
Prior to Lolita, Guy and Stella owned and operated Bar Lola for seven years. Lolita is a reference to that previous establishment in that the Asador where we had lunch was smaller and less structured than Bar Lola had been. Vinoteca, or wine facility in Spanish, referred to Stella’s wine and beverage background. There was a list of 75 wines featuring classic wine regions and varietals, as well as unique selections from around the world. Plans were in place for an extensive by-the-glass program with full, half-glass and flights options. Asador, referring to an establishment that features food cooked over an open fire in Spanish, highlighted the custom grill in the open kitchen.
A serving of thinly sliced Serrano ham
Before entering the restaurant industry, Guy held a number of teaching positions in architectural design and technical drawing. In 2006, before opening Bar Lola, Guy was a baker at the One Fifty Ate Bakeshop in South Portland, and assisted with the launch of Scratch Baking.
Stella, general manager and beverage director at Lolita, had more than a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. Prior to working at Lolita, she held the same positions for Bar Lola. She was a member of the Guild of Sommeliers and was taking Court of Master Sommeliers education courses. Stella and Guy were the owners of Hilltop Coffee, nearby.
The Sardine Rillette pot with bread
Neil’s passion for the restaurant industry grew out of his experience as a silent partner in several successful New York City restaurants and clubs. Previous entrepreneurial experiences included founding and being president of Reiter Marketing Group, Inc., and R & J Partners, LLC.
Our order of Wood Roasted Clams
We liked the casual contemporary decor with post industrial features, as well as the friendly and well informed, if slow paced, service. Mostly we enjoyed the food. We sampled a variety of the dishes: Thinly sliced Serrano ham from La Alberca, Spain; the day's special short rib panino; Consider Bardwell, a West Pawlet, Vermont cheese; local Wood Roasted Clams (a favorite); Spicy Sardine Rillette, served in a pot with roasted slices of bread; Grilled Romaine served with Tarragon Vinaigrette and Pecorino cheese shavings (a favorite); and a homemade Apple Tarte Fine for two. We washed it down with a glass of cava and a pale ale.
The Grilled Romaine
One of the staff making Grilled Romaine in the Asador
Our only complaint? Parking was difficult to find in the residential neighborhood of Munjoy Hill. It took us ten or more minutes of circling around the eatery to locate a parking space two blocks away where we hoped our car would be safe from the tow trucks announced on many city signs.
Article and photos by Josette King
The rear of Monticello overlooked vast expanses of lawns and flower borders
This was my first visit to Charlottesville, Virginia, a small historic city with a big reputation. I admit I approached it with a degree of skepticism. Everyone I knew who had ever visited had come back smitten and daydreaming about settling there. Surely, no place could be that idyllic? Charlottesville was.
Montpelier offered stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Although a mere 115 miles (185 kilometers) from Washington, D.C. and 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Richmond, this small Central Virginia city nestled in the picturesque rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains had, in spite of its popularity, retained the charm and tranquil pace of earlier times. Its once Main Street was now the Downtown Mall, an eight block tree shaded pedestrian walkway lined with restored historic buildings. There, antique shops, art galleries and all manner of fashion boutiques mingled with café terraces, restaurants, pubs and several movie and live performance theaters. A favorite spot for tourists as well as local people had a Freedom of Expression Wall where passersby could pen (in chalk) what was on their mind, which I was told included the occasional marriage proposal. The wall was erased each night to give others an opportunity to have their say.
Passersby were welcome to scroll their thoughts on the Freedom of Expression Wall
Charlottesville has conserved to this day the enduring mark imparted upon it two centuries ago by its most illustrious citizen, Thomas Jefferson. In addition to his Monticello home, he founded and designed the University of Virginia. Both of the neoclassical (or Jeffersonian style) masterpieces are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Today, Monticello attracts half a million visitors annually and the University of Virginia, with its yearly enrollment of over 23,000 students, contributes significantly to the cultural vitality of the area.
Jefferson also made a significant impact on the landscape of the area, albeit posthumously, when he attempted to establish vineyards on land adjoining Monticello, only to have his efforts thwarted by the start of the Revolutionary War in 1774. In the latter part of the 20 century, a handful of determined growers were inspired to revisit his vision to develop the Central Virginia vineyards.
The tasting room at Jefferson Vineyards Winery
Today, Virginia has over 2,000 acres (810 hectares) of vineyards, half of them around Charlottesville. Almost 30 of the wineries form the Monticello Wine Trail and welcome visitors in their tasting rooms. A well mapped itinerary took me along some of the loveliest back roads of the greater Charlottesville area. One of the oldest, Jefferson Vineyards, was within a stone's throw of Monticello, on the very land where Jefferson made his own wine growing attempt.
In addition to Thomas Jefferson, the Charlottesville area was also home to two more of America’s Founding Fathers, James Monroe and James Madison. All three became President of the United States and their respective homes Monticello, Ash Lawn Highland and Montpelier were open to tourists. I combined their visit, in an itinerary known as the Presidents Trail, with that of nearby wineries. Along the way, I soon discovered that the bucolic setting had drawn a large number of talented artists and craftspeople, whose studios and galleries made for an enjoyable visit as well.
Glass artist Cara DiMassimo with some of her recent creations
With its charming rural environment, rich history, vibrant artistic life, inviting vintage downtown, wineries and more than a few notable restaurants to boot, I could see how Charlottesville could be an enjoyable place to live. It was an exceptional place to visit.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Bellota Bellota in the Latin Quarter (click photo to enlarge)
On a recent trip to Paris, France we ventured to Bellota-Bellota, a new gourmet shop with on site dining in the Latin Quarter (Bellota-Bellota Saint Germain, 64 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France, +33 1 46 33 49 54, www.bellota-bellota.com, email@example.com). From the sidewalk we could see through a large display window. The distinctive azulejo tiles and hanging hams in the decor were a sign of the treasure trove of domestic and imported goodies housed inside. When we first arrived in between meal times we had the dining area and shop mostly to ourselves. Despite the touristy location there was a steady trickle of French customers picking up supplies to go. Such was the case with two gorgeous poodles who were as fond of the shop's famed dry aged distinctive hams imported from Spain as their owner.
Watching the Bellota slicing is part of the fun
We relied on the staff's knowledge and advice in our extended late afternoon tasting. We started with the shop's seafood products. First, there were three varies of Tarama (a creamy spread made with roe), natural, lobster and truffle. We were lucky to be able to sample them all. The server explained they didn't always carry the lobster Tarama. The wild Alaska salmon eggs were non pasteurized (though previously frozen). The sliced-by-hand Norwegian salmon, farm raised in an area with many currents, was memorable. Double smoked in Germany with elderwood it had a rich, well rounded flavor without greasiness.
The three varieties of Tarama we tasted
Wild Alaskan salmon eggs
Spanish pork products were next. Gijuelo, a 58-month chorizo, Fayet from Catalonia (from a Celtic pig), lomito (pork loin from the end of the filet), and lomo, pork loin aged 20 months and vacuum packed, were next. The Fayet, somewhat hard and aged, was flavorful. Although we enjoyed all of them the lomo was our favorite. They were served with a homemade tomato blend of French tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt flavored with rosemary, thyme, basil and laurel.
Two different cuts of the Norwegian Salmon
A selection of Spanish pork products with crackers and homemade tomato dip
A volcano shaped dish designed by Bernardeau on Limoges porcelain was born from an idea by Phillipe Poulachon, the Bellota-Bellota founder. The plate had space in the middle for a votive candle to gently warm the fragrant bellota ham in order to enhance the flavor. The warmth of the candle, a staff member explained, should make the fat of the ham translucent at 28 Celsius, the ideal temperature, and display the product to its best advantage. We sampled pata negra Grand Crus from the Guijuelo region of Spain and Bellota-Bellota from Huelva and Jabugo. The small portions disappeared as if by magic from the table. It was served with crystal bread without leavening.
The special volcano shaped serving plate (click photo to enlarge)
A different cut of meat on the volcano (click photo to enlarge)
The bellota hams were selected from among the best produced in Spain, the shop specialist explained. The company trained its staff to identify ideal hams by using a horse bone, known as a cala, to pierce the seven veins in a pork leg. He demonstrated the process on one of the ham legs in the shop, inviting us to note the variations in the different hearty vein smells. Thirty percent of the original weight of the pork meat is lost to the dry aging process, he went on to explain. Some studies in Spain, he mentioned, suggest the oleic acid in the pork may be good for heart health.
The staff demonstrated piercing the ham to check the curing process
The scents of the ham from different testing points were intense
We also sampled delicious Pluma de Pata Negra rare grilled steaks with a heavenly scent prepared at the shop. They were made from frozen as only 600 grams of pluma were produced from each Iberico de Bellota ham, the staff person told us. They were tender and oh so flavor filled. They were served with Pimientos de Padron green peppers (also from frozen), and mashed potatoes with olive oil.
Pluma de Pata Negra rare grilled steaks
Sharp cheeses from Spain, that matched the powerful deli meats, closed the savory portion of our tasting menu. There were two types of manchego and a torta d'Extremadura from Salamanca. The strong Extremadura cheese, made with raw ewe's milk, was aged 60 days and turned by hand daily. The cheeses were served with quince jam.
Manchego cheese with quince jam
The staff selected Spanish wines to match our tasting: Pago Vallegarcia made from 100 percent vignior from Toledo, and a red Bassus Premium, a spicy blend of bobal, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and petit verdot grapes from Utiel Requera from Valencia; a red 2007 Coma Vella (priorato) made with grenach, cabernet sauvignon, carinera, syrach from south of Barcelona. To complete our tasting, we had Spanish turrones (nougat) from Alicante and Girona followed by French Madeleine pastries made with honey harvested by handicapped artisanal makers from Les Cevennes, France.
A selection of Spanish wines and champagne was available
From beginning to end the tasting was a delight. The cheeses, salmon, Tarama, and salmon eggs were free of preservatives. Our favorites were in no particular order the double smoked salmon back, the 20-month aged lomo and the aged Bellota-Bellota Grand Cru hams.