Wine tasting in the Var – Clos Cibonne

IMG_20150806_174749I’ve just returned to Burgundy after a blissful few days in the Var where we stayed on the Med in the town of Le Pradet, five miles to the east of Toulon.  Having recently been introduced to the wines of a local Var estate in the UK by independent merchant, Red Squirrel Wine, I was delighted to find the vineyard just round the corner from our base.

Clos Cibonne is an estate with Cru Classé vineyard sites and a history that dates back over 200 years.  The Cru Classé classification system was established by the Côtes de Provence appellation in 1955 and sought to recognise quality wine estates within its area of production.  Still in place today with no modifications, only eighteen of the original twenty-three estates remain, the other five having ceased wine production.  It should be noted that the term itself refers only to particular vineyard sites within these estates.

IMG_20150806_145057Arriving at Clos Cibonne on a blisteringly hot afternoon, we were relieved to be ushered into the cool tasting room which provided a welcome break from the heat of the day.  Production on this 15-hectare estate is geared towards rosé wines, the blend of each of these being dominated by the Tibouren grape, an ancient Mediterranean variety which has been grown in the region for centuries but is first thought to have been found in Greece.  It performs best in coastal areas, is light in colour and low in tannin making it ideal for rosé.  Clos Cibonne’s Cru Classé ‘Tradition’ range of rosés are matured in old casks making them much more complex and fuller-bodied than the estates ‘Tendance’ and ‘Tentations’ ranges.   Hence they are great food wines, perfect for matching with bouillabaisse, grilled, meaty fish or Asian cuisine.

IMG_20150806_142142We tasted two of the reds from the ‘Tradition’ range:  the 2014 Cuvée Tradition made predominantly from Tibouren with a touch of Grenache, which was soft, light and bursting with red fruit flavours – a perfect summer red and a recommended pairing for roast veal or chanterelles; then the Cuvée Prestige Olivier 2012, a vin de garde made mostly from Syrah with smaller quantities of both Grenache and Tibouren – much fuller-bodied with darker fruit and definitely one to open up again in a few years to accompany a robust winter dish.

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Very little white wine is made under the Côtes de Provence classification but we were impressed with Clos Cibonne’s only white, a blend of 90% Rolle (known as Vermentino in Italy) with a soupçon of Ugni Blanc.   The 2014 vintage is refreshing with bags of citrus and some floral hints, medium-bodied and perfect for barbecued seafood.

The setting of Clos Cibonne is beautiful as I hope you can see from the photo that heads this post.   The wine shop is open all year round from Tuesday to Saturday (9:00 to 12:00 & 15:00 to 19:00) and is located at Chemin de la Cibonne, 83220 Le Pradet.

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Made in Dorset: Ratatouille

IMG_20140921_104138We’re still going strong with homegrown tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines here in Dorset, and with the addition of a solitary, ripe pepper this week (yes, just the one) the whipping up of a ratatouille seems unavoidable.

Now, if Jacques Médecin is to be believed, each of the vegetables should be cooked separately before being combined into the final mélange, and I’m quite taken with the Ligurian tendency to throw in a few toasted pignoli (pine nuts) at the end for added crunch.  I like to sprinkle on a few pitted black olives or a crumbling of fresh goat’s cheese just before serving.

This is a dish that benefits from a bit of sitting around before you indulge.  Let it cool to room temperature and the flavours will marry all the more. Or leave it until tomorrow for the best results.  Serve it cold with a hunk of focaccia, hot with a plateful of beautiful swiss chard gnocchi or as the ideal late summer filling for a vegetarian lasagne.

And what about a wine match?  We’re trying something we’ve never drunk before called Ormeasco – a light, red wine from the Imperia area of Liguria. Virtually impossible to find away from the Riviera, it is also known as Dolcetto in Piedmont, and is widely available outside Italy under this name.  So I would track down a bottle of that if you can.  What do you like to drink with a late summer veggie recipe like this?

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IMG_20140927_140312 (1)Ratatouille
Lunch for two or a side dish for four

4 baby aubergines, cut into 1cm discs or 1 large one, sliced and quartered
6 baby or 2 medium-sized courgettes, cut into 1 cm discs
1 red pepper, cut into fine slices
15 small to medium tomatoes or 6 large ones
Extra virgin olive oil (we used a Ligurian oil)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A few drops of balsamic vinegar
A few sprigs of oregano or basil
Toasted pinenuts, black olives, and / or fresh goat’s cheese to garnish

To kick off, cut a cross into the bottom of each tomato, place them into a pan and pour over boiling water.  The skins will soon start to come away from the flesh and as they do, pour off the hot water and cover the tomatoes in cold water so that you can handle them shortly.  Peel off the skins and chop the tomatoes finely. Set aside.

Sauté the thinly-sliced peppers in the olive oil on a low heat until they soften. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Do the same with the aubergines and then the courgettes, setting them aside when they are soft and lightly browned.

In the same pan, lightly sauté the chopped garlic for a minute or two then add the chopped tomato.  Simmer for up to half an hour until the sauce thickens a little.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Add the reserved vegetables to the tomato sauce and mix together.

Place this final mixture into a serving dish.  Add chopped basil or oregano and your choice of garnishes.

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Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 2)

AltaviapicThe second tasting of our recent trip to the Riviera saw us heading up another steep hillside, this time on the Italian side of the border and high above the medieval town of Dolceacqua.  Altavia Vineyard has been going for eight years, producing the local wine, Rossese di Dolceacqua, and experimenting with grapes from further afield very successfully.

We had tasted the Rossese di Dolceacqua at home in the 2009 vintage and you can see my post on that wine here.  In situ, we tried the 2010 which was much lighter in body and our charming and knowledgable host, Chiara, told us about the local dish of rabbit, coniglio in Italian, cooked with Rossese wine. We wished we could have stopped in the restaurant she recommended down in the town which had this speciality on the menu, but we had to give in to a most persuasive argument from our children who favoured the pizzeria nextdoor. Hopefully there will be a next time.
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We loved Altavia’s white wine, Noname 2013so called because they simply couldn’t come up with a name for it.  It’s an exciting blend of the widely-grown local Vermentino grape, and the meatier Rhône grape, Viognier. With herby, aromatic and citrus flavours from the former and an added floral, zingy dimension from the French grape, the resulting wine is ideal for pairing with punchy seafood dishes, perhaps featuring a hint of chilli and spice.

Amongst the reds, we were intrigued by the recently-bottled Touriga Nacional, a grape associated with Portugal and port wine with its propensity to add structure and concentrated flavour and this 2005 single varietal is proof in point. Big, bold, black fruit dominates, but the tannins have softened sufficiently to make it just the thing to go with a hearty winter casserole or roast, preferably in January and not too far from a roaring log fire.

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The tasting room at Altavia looks out over the valley with the same idyllic views as can be witnessed from two stone holiday villas on  the property which are available for summer rentals.  Located in the olive groves with vines on all sides and sharing a swimming pool, they offer true get-away-from-it-all stuff.  For more information, check out the Altavia website.

Some of the Altavia wine range is available to buy in the UK at Red Squirrel Wines and the vineyard has an online shop. I was keen to buy some bottles from the cellar door and, despite much muttering from my husband about having to leave a child behind on the Riviera, I did squeeze a case selection into our boot together with some of the property’s extra virgin olive oil made from their own taggiasca olives.  Now being tasted in Dorset!

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
www.domainedelasource.fr

Open daily from 10am to 7pm without appointment.

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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.

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Wednesday’s Wine

IMG_20140728_173707We seem to be getting through gallons of rosé thanks to la canicule here in the UK, and with no sign of a let-up in this prolonged hot spell, I was starting to fret about where further stocks of new and good-quality provençal pinks might be found out here in the sticks.  So I was relieved to read in the August issue of Decanter Magazine that a Tasting Panel had been set up to do some of this some of this terribly difficult research for me. Their subject: Côtes de Provence rosés in the 2013 vintage.  Two of the top three wines tasted are from merchants I sometimes visit and as I happened to be passing the doors of Majestic Wine in Yeovil that very day, I dropped in to pick up some of tonight’s wine, the Famille Abeille 2013 from Château Riotor.  Located in the small commune of Cannet des Maures, 40-odd kilometres north-west of Saint-Tropez, the Château is a family-owned estate making predominantly rosé wines.

The rosé in question is one of those beautifully pale pink wines (although colour is not always a guarantee of elegance the Decanter article warns us), and beautifully refreshing with soft summer’s day fruit flavours.  First off think picnics and crab sandwiches, but we proved it had sufficient body and crispness to handle something a little heavier with our alfresco supper of ratatouille-style stuffed aubergines topped with black olives.  Heavenly. And then I sneakily enjoyed the last slosh from the bottle the following day with an aubergine and cherry tomato salad for lunch – recipe to follow in the next few days.

IMG_20140728_203837Château Riotor, Famille Abeille rosé 2013
We bought ours at Majestic Wine – £9.99