Cloudy Bay meet Positano

Italy produces some great wines some of which we’ve sampled over the last few weeks, but on this trip we couldn’t resist bringing a little bit of New Zealand to Positano.

When we left the country we purchased, duty free, a couple of bottles of Jean’s favourite drop – Cloudy Bay’s iconic Chardonnay.

So evenings on the verandah have been spent with the two of us and, when we felt like it,  a friend from home.

Echoes of Champagne

A friend is planning a trip to Epernay, in the heart of the champagne region, during the upcoming northern summer.

This brought back memories of the time Jean and I spent in Epernay in the summer of 2007. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the cuisine and, of course, the champagne.

Grapes from the champagne region are special. The region is located around 49˚ north of the equator which is as far north as grapes will ripen. And the grapes inherently have a high level of acidity – ideal for sparkling wines in general and champagne in particular. As a result the town is home to many famous champagne houses.

We stayed at a boutique hotel just outside Epernay called Royal Champagne. Located on a hill over looking a valley filled with vines and with Epernay in the distance, it was the perfect spot to drink in the region.

The hotel was originally a coach house on the main road running east from Paris. It has hosted, among others, the Emperor Napolean, hence the designation “Royal” Champagne which has stayed with the establishment ever since. It was a magical place with a superb restaurant and a bar where the Emperor himself could have enjoyed a drink.

No trip to Epernay is complete without a tour of the cellars of at least one major champagne house. We chose Moët & Chandon who have 28 kms of  cellars running under Epernay. And somewhere in that 28kms is their tasting room with a very fine selection of champagnes to savour.

Most importantly the issue of pronunciation of the name is dealt with. The correct pronunciation is not “mo-way” but “mo-wett” or “m-wet“, as Claude Moët’s name is Dutch, not French.

That’s worth a toast – a votre sante!

A great vintage

Grapes 2013

One of the advantages of a long, hot and dry summer is that the country has many happy vintners. The 2013 vintage is shaping up as a cracker right across the country so if you’re a fan of New Zealand wine keep an eye out for some fabulous treats.

At our place we share a very old vine with our neighbours. Over the years it has spread it’s way down the boundary fence and now covers about half the length bringing that Italian feel from our back yard right down to the front door.

Every year it produces eating grapes and usually they are, how would you put it – sour, really sour. This year the long dry spell has been their saviour. Rich and sweet they have been a hit with our friends and rellies – so much so that friends planned  a pick and run mission last weekend to clean out the last remaining bunches.

As a result, our grapes may not be up for grabs this year but any bottle of wine from New Zealand with 2013 on the label will be worth grabbing – believe me.

One year ago today

This time last year we had taken a break from the hectic pace of Tuscany, packed up the trusty Peugeot and headed north to France – the Cote d’Azur to be precise.

We had arranged to swap cars in Nice returning a slightly beat up Peugeot 308SW and picking up a brand new shiny Renault Megane Estate. Jean’s sister, brother-in-law and their baby James had been staying in Nice for a week relaxing so we met them and then moved about 10 minutes along the coast to the small seaside village of Villefranche sur Mer.

With bustling Nice on one side and glamorous Cap Ferrat on the other it always amazes me that this seaside village retains an air of calm and relaxation. There is nothing better than a quiet morning cafe at the hotel followed by a wander through the local markets and lunch on the Quai de l’Amiral Courbet with the sea lapping at your feet.

The panorama shot (made up of 6 individual photos covering 180 degrees) is taken from our balcony at Hotel Welcome, an institution in the village and a place we’ve stayed every time we’ve visited – which must be half a dozen times in the last decade. The Hotel has a wonderful manager who speaks excellent english, has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, and is a keen rugby follower. Even in August last year he was picking a France versus All Blacks Rugby World Cup final and an All Black victory. An easy one was his pick.

A view of Villefranche sur Mer with Cap Ferrat in the background

A wee slice of New Zealand – Part 1

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This gallery contains 9 photos.

Over the last few days I have had the chance to travel down the east coast of the South Island from Picton to Christchurch. Along the way I called into Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine region and … Continue reading

Family advice

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My nephew’s girlfriend and her sister are planning a trip to Tuscany in September. We have been asked for some advice on where to stay and what to do in and around Tuscany. It sounds as if the girls are … Continue reading

An autumn night in the Campo

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This gallery contains 8 photos.

Siena is full of restaurants and most of these are either fully or partially outdoor.  This is particularly true of those that ring the Campo. In summer outdoor dining makes perfect sense with umbrellas or awnings giving protection from the … Continue reading