le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fete des Bateaux at Le Thoureil

A little taste of our annual fete on the river that was held this weekend in Le Thoureil. We were blessed with wonderful sunny weather so a record number of old boats made their way down the Loire to join in this celebration of life on the river Loire in times gone by.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A delicious radish salad

I don't know if you're like me but to be honest I've never been too fussed about radishes. They look pretty and I buy a bunch from time to time but more often than not, after the inital enthusiasm, they end up at the bottom of the fridge. All that has changed - I've found a recipe that uses a whole bunch and it's absolutely delicious. Here it is

800g radishes finely sliced (I had less than this but used a whole bunch)
1 Granny Smith (I used a Gala)
2 cornichons finely diced
1 shallot finely diced

For the dressing:
2tbs creme fraiche
1tsp dijon mustard
the zest and juice of 1 lemon
50ml sunflower oil
chopped chervil (I didn't have any so used flat leaf parsley and a little coriander) and mint.

Mix all the dressing ingredients together pour over the chopped radishes, apple, cornichons and shallot and mix well. Season and stir in the fresh herbs.

What could be simpler? I served it with a salmon and tarragon tart which worked well but it would be lovely as part of a simple starter.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Pascal Beillevaire Maitre Fromager à Angers

When it comes to cheese, we always buy from specialist suppliers or the markets in Angers, Saumur and Gennes. I know you can buy pretty good cheese from the supermarket but if you are looking for real quality, those who make it their living provide the best.

We provide a simple yet tasty lunch as part of our Loire wine tours and tastings and the cheeseboard is central to this. We normally serve 4 or 5 cheeses, all different in style (hard, soft, blue, goat, sheep, cow, young, old, fresh) and take advice from the fromager as to what is tasting at its best when we purchase. Like fruit and vegetables, many cheeses are seasonal so it makes sense to buy them when they are at their peak. Good cheese doesn't come cheap (I'd say on average we spend 20-25 Euros per cheeseboard) but it's worth every penny.

This is the shop in Angers that we use on a regular basis. Friendly unstuffy service and a fantastic range.

Place de la Visitation in Angers where the shop is located - just a short hop across from the station, it also has a great fishmonger and a superb boulangerie.

Local goats cheese always makes an appearance

View across from the station towards Place de la Visitation.

And did you know that in many cases, a white wine goes better with cheese than a red? A crisp Sauvignon from Touraine or Quincy brings out the best in goat's cheese, the acidity in the cheese marrying perfectly with the freshness in the wine. A sweet Chenin Blanc from the Coteaux du Layon is heavenly with a salty blue such as Roquefort. Save the chunky red for a morsel of aged Comté or Gruyère Suisse 18 mois. The hard almost crytalline character of the cheese just melts away those tannins.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Bavarois de Poivrons Rouges (a red pepper mousse)

We had a ladies day here yesterday at le tasting room - three mums and two daughters joined us for a day discovering Loire valley wines in the Spring sunshine.

Here is the recipe for a very light red pepper mousse that I served for lunch with a fresh uncooked tomato sauce and a few lightly dressed salad leaves. It makes a good summer starter and although creates quite a lot of washing up, can be made the day before and then left in the fridge which is always a plus in my book.

You will need:
Half an onion finely chopped
2 tomatoes finely chopped
5 red peppers deseeded and finely chopped
A couple of tbs olive oil

4 gelatine leaves put to soak in cold water
100ml wine vinegar
cayenne pepper
400ml whipping cream (I used creme entière)

Sweat the onion in the olive oil for about5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and peppers and season, then leave to cook for about 8 minutes with the lid ON.

If you want to 'dress' the top of the mousse with a layer of pepper jelly then after 8 minutes, drain off 100 ml of the juices that have been released by the peppers and put to one side. Then continue cooking the peppers etc for a further 20 minutes on a medium heat with the lid OFF until they are soft and all the liquid has evaporated (It took me about a further 6 minutes to reach this stage). Take off the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine leaves until they have dissolved.

When it has cooled down a little, blitz the mixture to a purée in the magimix and then push through a sieve or a mouli-legumes (the gadget with a handle that you turn round and it pushes the purée out the bottom). This is where you slightly despair at the washing up but take heart.

Reduce the vinegar to about a third and then add to the sieved purée, season with salt and cayenne pepper.

Whip the cream in a bowl until it's firm and then fold it in gently into the purée. The more gentle you are, the lighter it will be. Make sure the purée is at room temperature. Adjust the seasoning.

Pour into a tin ( I used one with a removal bottom) that is 25cm wide and 3cm high. You can also use a pastry ring. Put in the fridge and allow to set for a minimum of 4 hours.

If you are dressing the top with the pepper jelly then gently warm the 100ml of juice that you kept and stir in one gelatine leaf that you have soaked in cold water. When it has cooled, gently pour over the top of the chilled mousse and leave it to set.

I served this with a fresh tomato sauce.

Peel and de-seed about 8 tomatoes, chop and then blitz to a puree in the magimix. Now at this point you are supposed to pass this through a sieve but I lost the will and decided to go for a rougher purée (life too short and all that). Meanwhile, heat up 50ml of olive oil with a few basil leaves, a sprig of thyme, a strip of lemon zest and a couple of strips of orange zest. Leave it on a very gentle heat for about 5 minutes so the flavours are absorbed by the oil but don't let it boil. Add the infused oil to the tomato purée, season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes aren't super-ripe.

When you are ready to serve, take the pepper mousse out of the fridge and run a hot knife around the edge to loosen it. remove from the tin or if using the pastry ring gently pull it off. Serve in small wedges with a little of the sauce and a few dressed salad leaves.

So, not a complicated recipe but a bit of a faff. However, as I mentioned before, it keeps well in the fridge so can be made in advance and, would serve 10 -12 people - a little goes a long way.

As for a wine recommendation to serve with it - it's perfect with a dry rosé. Try a Rosé de Loire or one from one of the predominantly red appellations such as Domaine de la Noblaie's rosé (Chinon) or Pierre-Jaques Druet's rosé (Bourgueil).

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Les sous-terrains at Chateau de Pimpéan

Maryse Tugendhat had been promising us for a while that we could go down and have a look at the sous-terrains under Chateau de Pimpéan. Last night, we donned our scruffy gear and went down for the first time. The entrance to the network of tunnels is barely visible above ground, a series of slate slabs covers the hole which is located a short distance away from the chateau itself. We weren't quite sure what to expect and in fact I was initally a bit of a weed as once we had uncovered the entrance we were faced with a narrow well-like tunnel into which we lowered the biggest ladder we could find in the winery. The ladder was not long enough to reach the top so it required a 'leap of faith' and a little clinging on to the narrow metal bars that straddle the opening before your feet made contact with the ladder.

Here's a short video that shows us opening up the entrance. I couldn't take any video after this point but managed to hang the camera around my back while I went down the ladder so took some photos once down in the tunnels.

Dropping the ladder down the entrance tunnel

Spencer was the first to go down

Incredible - a whole series of vaulted tunnels all interlinking

Looking back up at our support team

You can see from the size of the ladder just how deep it is

Places to rest, sleep and eat are carved out of the tuffeau

And afterwards, fresh fouasses cooked in the ancient oven at the chateau

All washed down with a glass of Crémant and some Chateau de Pimpéan Cuvee Passion 2005 of course which was tasting delicious

And this is how it looks normally, a tiny area covered with a few slate slabs.

Chateau de Pimpéan was a Catholic stronghold during the French wars of religion during the 16th century and these tunnels and galleries were used to provide a safe place for those seeking refuge. Many of the galleries are no longer accessible but it's incredible to see what lies deep beneath the ground so many years later. A really amazing insight into life in ancient times.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Sunday Brocante at Montsoreau

A few pictures taken today at the brocante in Montsoreau. We enjoyed a glass of Crémant watching the world go by and pottered around by the riverside for a while just enjoying the atmosphere. While I'd love to tell you that the only reason for visiting the Loire is to discover it's wonderful wines, that would be fibbing. There are hundreds of other things to enjoy while you're here and the traditional French brocante is one of them.

This is the Amarante - a restaurant boat that operates regular trips along the river during the summer months.

It can be a bit boring being a stallholder so best to bring a good book just in case!

And when you look around and find that suddenly the stallholders are enjoying a glass of wine, some terrine de foie gras and a large platter of seafood - you know you're in France. It's lunchtime and nothing will get in the way of a good meal.

The brocante in Montsoreau takes place on the 2nd Sunday of each month and there is a small market every week selling a selection of vegetables, fruits, seafood, charcuterie and flowers.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Petite Cité de Caractère - Le Thoureil

It was such a beautiful morning I couldn't resist walking down to the river. Here are a few photos that I took - it's 8am and the sun illuminates everything in such a lovely way, highlighting the tuffeau limestone of the houses along the riverside and the old boats on the water.

Most of the houses along the riverside have these wonderful terraces which enjoy spectacular views over the river Loire.

Walking down Creuse rue to the river.

This little pathway runs high above the riverside houses giving you a glimpse of the terraces.

This is the Tour des Hollandais built by the Dutch Van Voorn family around 1670. They were négociants in wine and made their fortune in Le Thoureil becoming important vineyard owners, transporting their wines to Nantes and further afield using the waterways. These towers were built so that the merchant owners could watch their wares going along the river.

View of Le Thoureil looking towards Gennes (5km away).

This the lovely terrace of the Tour des Hollandais with the tower dominating the view.

This is l'Hotel des Mariniers - a former hotel (during the 15th century and after) which used to accommodate merchants and fisherman who were using the ancient port. The tower dates back to the 14th century.

Boats on the river Loire at the Cale de Richbourg -( little quay).

Another view of l'Hotel des Mariniers with it's 14th century tower.

The school in Le Thoureil - it has one class of CM1 & CM2 children (numbering between 12 and 30 depending upon the year). The canteen has amazing views over the river.

Waling down to the riverside you pass a couple of vineyards that look lovely in the early morning light.

The vines are pushing now and the shoots are beginning to form in this beautiful weather.

Bicyles propped up outside one of the lovely riverside houses.

View from vineyard just before descending to the river.

From the top of the hill where I shot the video yesterday. This morning you can see the bridge at Les Rosiers sur Loire. It looks more like a painting than a photo.

Vines in the early morning sunlight.

If you join us for the la Loire - Secrets of the River tour this year, Le Thoureil is where the old sand dredging boat is docked ready to welcome us during the afternoon. Alain Gillot is an experienced mariner and a local man who knows the history of this ancient port as well as that of the river itself.