Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 1)

IMG_20140819_165126 (2)As you may have gathered, we spent some time on the Riviera last week and before leaving home I had booked in visits to a couple of my favourite vineyards.  Cue much yawning from the children.  So this Wednesday’s Wine post describes how we got on at Saint Roman de Bellet, in the hills above Nice, and I’ll tell you about our second wine tasting in Dolceacqua, a few miles inland from Ventimiglia, in a forthcoming post.

The wine area of Bellet is a small one with ten producers making wines from only 60 hectares of vines.  Much of the wine produced is consumed in the finer restaurants of Nice, but my local wine merchant here in the UK, Yapp Brothers, imports the wines of Domaine de la Source and I have come to know and love the red, white and rosé from this vineyard, made predominantly with grapes found only in Bellet itself.

Carine and Eric Dalmasso gave us a wonderful welcome and took us into the vines which slope down the hillsides with the most idyllic views across the valley. The Braquet grapes for the rosé already had a gorgeous light red hue and looked plump and ready to pick although Eric explained that the harvest would probably start in mid-September for the rosé and white Rolle grapes, and that the Folle Noir and Grenache for the red wine might be picked as late as early October.

After a quick peek at the cave, a tasting followed in the garden, complete with trampoline to keep the kids entertained. In the heat of the late afternoon with a gentle breeze and incredible light on the hills, we tasted through two vintages of rosé (2012 and 2013).  Carine told us that the later vintage made a great aperitif whilst the 2012 was probably at its best when paired with seafood and niçois dishes.   The 2013 Rolle (white) was so refreshing, dominated by grapefruit and distinct mineral nuances, that I could just imagine it being sipped delicately in a fancy fish restaurant down in the Nice port area, accompanied by a plate of oysters or langoustines.  We rounded off the wine element of the tasting with the 2011 red which was full of warmth and sunshine, mid-weight and well-suited to heartier dishes based on mushrooms or game.  Drinking well now, it will age gracefully over another ten years our hosts explained.  We also had a sneak preview of the 2012 red which was due to go on sale three days after our visit.  The reds are matured for some eighteen months in barrel before bottling, and the oak is so subtle and well-integrated leaving the flavours spicy flavours with cherries and liquorice to the fore.

Our tasting also included the domaine’s extra virgin olive oil made from the Cailletier olives grown on eighty olive trees that are scattered around the estate.  The oil and the olives have been awarded Appellation d’Origine Protegée  status under the AOP Olive de Nice et Huile d’olive de Nice for products that meet the grade anywhere from Grasse to Menton, on the coast or up in the mountains.  The Dalmasso oil was delicate and soft with almond and artichoke flavours, followed by a strong kick of pepper on the finish.   Carine also makes a range of four preserves using fruit and olives grown at the domaine and sells them to calling customers.  The black olive paste and the lemon confit were my favourites, but she also makes preserves using figs and oranges which went down well with those in our group who have a sweeter tooth.  I loved the fact that the ingredients had travelled virtually no distance at all and that you could taste a definite burst of sunshine in each of the four varieties. This diversification from the main wine-growing activities seems like clever business.

To meet Carine and Eric, to see the vines, the cave and to taste the unique wines made on this beautiful estate was a great pleasure and I heartily recommend Domaine de la Source to you.   We headed off back down the hill towards Nice, but not before swinging by the entrance to the domaine a couple more times, the satnav having become rather confusing.  I can only hope our hosts didn’t spot the mad English people getting spectacularly lost in the hills.

Domaine de la Source
303, chemin de Saquier
Saint Roman de Bellet
06200 NICE

Open daily from 10am to 7pm without appointment.


Ventimiglia Market

IMG_20140822_112219The Friday market in the Riviera border town of Ventimiglia is quite a sight to behold, but if there were one piece of advice I would give you, particularly in August, it would be this:  go on the train.  We enjoyed a beautiful drive along the coast road from Roquebrune Cap Martin, passing through Menton, where we paused for a moment to gaze at the view that heads this blog, before sailing over the border into Italy to be greeted by more glorious glimpses of the Med. Ventimiglia itself, by contrast, was gridlocked.

Fortunately, my husband and son bravely agreed to battle through the traffic to find a parking spot while my daughter and I disappeared into the crowds and quickly browsed perhaps a kilometre of stalls along the seafront which were selling mostly shoes, clothes and bags.  A tiny section of stalls on this stretch were piled high with pasta of assorted colours, huge hunks of parmesan, hams, salamis and olive oil based preserves.  But this was not the Ventimiglia market we were looking for, so we headed back into town to seek out the covered food, vegetable and flower market (fish too) on Via Roma.  We stopped briefly en route to pick up some slabs of pizza (tomato & anchovy and my favourite, gorgonzola) at La Boutique del Pane Mondino, also on Via Roma – no. 38.  Their focaccia and farinata (chickpea pancake) are definitely worth a try if the awaiting crowd – I won’t call it a queue, we’re in Italy here – was anything to go by.

At the covered market, the boys finally joined us and we spent a happy half hour wandering through the cornucopia of fresh produce. The market was bustling; it almost exploded with colour; it was noisy with chatter, and money was changing hands for beautifully wrapped bundles of the highest quality baked and fresh goods.

After much debate we settled on two types of focaccia (olive oil and cipolla – onion), a ball of burrata wrapped in vine leaves (a mozzarella-like cheese that is unctuously gooey in the middle), and some gorgeous little ravioli, one box filled with salmon, the other with rabbit.  With the pizza we’d bought earlier, that was lunch and supper sorted and supper for the next day too, all for around €32 for four people.  Had we not been heading north the following day, I would have added fresh artichokes and borlotti beans to the basket and hunted out some recipes from my Riviera cookbook collection.

And so to lunch which was contemplated with greedy anticipation on the way home in the car. We enjoyed it slowly with a view of the Med and a bottle of rosé.  Siestas soon followed.  By the pool.




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Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese and gremolata

IMG_20140807_175651Greetings from Burgundy, our home for a week or so before we head south to the Riviera.  It’s fantastic to be here, don’t get me wrong, but strangely for such a Francophile my departure from Dorset was tinged with some regret because the garden in the UK was suddenly awash with ripening veggies much earlier than expected.  Our friends who have kindly agreed to keep the plot going while we are away will certainly be ‘picking their own’, but their bounty will not include the broad beans from the dwarf plants I have been tending with care these past months.  I harvested those and brought them with me.  I couldn’t resist.

I’d been watching the beautiful, green pods emerging for a few weeks, wondering whether our summer holidays might clash with their ripening so it’s fair to say that I probably picked them a little too soon.  They are undoubtedly baby broad beans.  Recipe ideas from the Riviera for these delicious pearls of goodness are numerous, and I have gone for something that shouts summer: baby broad bean bruschetta with fresh, Burgundy goat’s cheese, – Baratte made near Macôn – and basil gremolata.  It goes down a treat with a glass of Bourgogne Aligoté, a fresh, simple, dry white wine with lots of citrus going on and well-suited to the kick of the garlicky gremolata which itself makes a great contrast to the ‘meaty’ broad beans. Give it a go and, by the way, there’ll be more on the wines from round here in next week’s Wednesday’s Wine post.

Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese & basil gremolata (on toast)
Makes enough for two as a light meal or for four people as canapés

120 g podded broad beans
50g fresh, young goat’s cheese
A few slices of country bread
The leaves from 4 large sprigs of basil
Extra virgin olive oil for mixing and drizzling
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

Put the broad beans in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat down and continue cooking for a minute or so until the beans are softened but still have a little ‘crunch’ when you poke them with a knife.

Meanwhile, zest the lemon, finely chop the basil and crush the clove of garlic. Mix these ingredients together with salt to taste – this is your gremolata.

Drain the beans and refresh in cold water then peel off the outer skins.  Mash them roughly with a little extra virgin olive oil and the juice of the lemon then set aside.

Cut four slices of medium-sized country bread and toast.  Leave to cool slightly.  Cut into your desired size depending on whether this is lunch or pre-dinner nibble nosh.

Spread the toast with the goat’s cheese, top with the crushed broad beans and sprinkle over some gremolata.

Finally, a teeny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil wouldn’t go amiss.

I hope you enjoy this taste of summer. Mozarella, fresh ricotta or feta would be good cheeses to match with the broad beans in the absence of fresh goat’s cheese.




Aubergine Salad

IMG_20140726_161055Since waxing lyrical about the recent English weather in Wednesday’s post, it seems a prolonged, warm and dry spell was not on the cards after all.  Today it has mostly rained.  Never mind – in the garden summer vegetables are starting to ripen and it’s time for aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes to shine in the kitchen.

I knocked up this simple aubergine salad pretty quickly the other day and it’s delicious served either with grilled meats or (and this is my preference) with some fresh, burrata cheese and a hunk of crusty bread.  The ingredients make enough for a side salad for two hungry people. Do give it a try.

Aubergine Salad

1 medium aubergine, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
A few leaves of basil
Salt and extra virgin olive oil

Pour the red wine vinegar over the chopped onion and leave this to sit while you prepare the other ingredients.

Fry the aubergine pieces in a little olive oil until they have softened and browned a little.

Combine the aubergine and quartered tomatoes with the onion and vinegar mixture.

Add a tiny pinch of salt to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir and top with torn basil leaves.  Serve with your choice of accompaniments, not forgetting a glass of something pink and chilled, naturally.