Taste! Tuscany 2016

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Carlos and I were very excited to be running the first of the ‘out of Languedoc’ wine holidays from the range of Taste Tours that I created last year. This one was called Taste! Tuscany and was 7 days of exploring the vineyards, the wines, the olive oils and beautiful villages and towns of this area. I had put the tour on the web site last November and was absolutely delighted when 16 people booked and the mix was perfect; 8 from the USA and 8 from the UK.

I had spent a week in Tuscany on a ‘field trip’ with my professor when I was studying for my WSET Diploma in 2005 and Carlos and I spent a week there in October 2015 getting our bearings and deciding on an itinerary. I had also studied the wines of the region quite seriously over the years so we were well prepared when we set off this September and drove from Languedoc in one of the Vin en Vacances little buses, we were to hire another one in Pisa.

Intrepid Traveller

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KateVin en Vacances team Member Kate Wardell writes about one of her experiences this year.

Whilst I think it’s fair to say that our own food & wine holidays are pretty spectacular, sometimes we have the chance to work with other travel organisations, and this year, Vin en Vacances teamed up with Intrepid Travel to offer their holidaymakers a day trip with a difference!

What does ‘Intrepid’ mean to you? Fearless? Dynamic? Adventurous? – maybe all three – and we certainly had a fantastic mix of characters on the day tours around the Minervois, from a single lady from Scotland who had mountain biked across the Atlas Mountains, and had over 100 parachute jumps to her name, to couples who had travelled through South America and the Antarctic. Intrepid Travel brought this amazingly diverse collection of travellers together on the Canal du Midi, for a succession of trips featuring a rather more gentle paced immersion into life in Southern France!

Oh What a Summer!

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my-garden-oct-3-2016It’s October 3rd and I’m sitting in my Languedoc garden soaking up the bright autumn sunshine. Did I say autumn? It feels more like summer. Although a few leaves are turning golden the bees are still buzzing the birds are singing like its springtime. The peace of my garden is only disturbed by a distant dog bark from across the village, probably from near the little castle or by the church. All that is missing is the gurgle of river water that is normally running swiftly just beyond the wall at the bottom of my garden next to where I am sitting. The river has been dry since sometime in July for we have had not a drop of rain since early June.

Wine & Food Matching

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Matching food with wine is an art and a skill that anyone can learn and experiment successfully with once you know the basic rules. It’s true that there are some classic food & wine marriages such as smoked salmon & champagne, Port & Stilton, Foie Gras & Sauternes and although they are magical matches there is nothing mystical going on, it’s all about balancing the flavours.

Let’s take smoked salmon and Champagne or indeed smoked salmon and Chablis, both wines are a fabulous match. Salmon and champagneSmoked salmon is characterful in flavour without having flavours that are big and bold plus it is greasy. What you need is a wine that is also characterful with flavours that do not overwhelm the delicate taste of the salmon. It should also have refreshing acidity to cut though the greasiness and refresh your plate leaving it clean but still holding the delicious flavours of the food and wine. The last thing you want is a wine with obvious oak, it will leave a feeling of sliminess in the mouth! So Champagne and Chablis fulfil the role perfectly but so would other wines that fit their profile.

Port & Stilton work for a few reasons. Port is a sweet wine and Stilton is a blue cheese that has a salty character. I have found that many people think that any red wine will be good with Stilton and other blue cheeses but in fact if they were to analyse the conjoined flavours of the blue veins and the salt with the tannins of a red wine they will realise that it leaves quite a bad flavour in the mouth. What you need is sugar to counterbalance it all and Port provides that perfectly as does Sauternes with Roquefort, another classic pairing.Fois gras & sauterns

Foie Gras & Sauternes works because sweet wines are the perfect foil for savoury and salty food as in the above example. That’s why I am not an advocate of dubbing sweet wines dessert or pudding wines, in my opinion they work equally well if not better with cheese and savoury foods so why categorize them for only one use?

The impact of food on wine is mostly determined by the balance of primary tastes in the food of which there are five basic tastes; sour, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and in recent years the 5th one has been added to the list which is a borrowed Japanese word umami, meaning delicious. It’s primarily a natural savoury or ripe flavour that the taste receptors in our mouths can’t get enough of. Think gravy, tomato ketchup, caramelised tomatoes, roasted meats and vegetables and for some marmite.  Glutamate is one of the key compounds providing umami taste and widely present in savoury and fermented foods and commonly added to some. Glutamate is an amino acid and it’s this that is released when you slow cook something savoury such as meat or even soup that gives the irresistible umami flavours.

50 shades of Gris

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grenache gris 3Pinot Gris is possibly the most famous of the gris grapes, a French grape but made world famous by the Italians who have re-christened it Pinot Grigio. I have to be honest I am not a great fan of the stuff that comes out the Vento region of Italy that’s grown and made with no regard other than quantity, has little flavour other than lemon juice and acid and is sold in huge quantities in the pubs around the UK. I call it ‘Château Cardboard’ as for me that is what it tastes of. But give me a glass from Friuli in the very north of that same country where the climate and care of production produces zesty floral wine with a hint of mineral and I will love you for ever.

In fact I’m a big fan of all the gris grapes and often plump for a white wine from a gris grape rather than a blanc if there’s one on offer but I must admit that until I came to Languedoc I hadn’t given them much thought. I was of course conscious of Pinot Gris as the craze for it had begun in the early 2000’s but had not realised that gris grapes occur in many varieties.