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Chez Alexandre et Fils

I had a very lovely lunch at this restaurant. Did you know it was the first the serve draft beer back in 1982?

The owner Monsieur Alain welcomed us at our arrival and he was extremely friendly and helpful. In fact, all the staff was. There seemed to be a lot of regulars which is always a good sign. I guessed this happens when the owner is there for more than 40 years.

The décor: It’s a french brasserie and does look like any one in Paris. Even the chairs in the front section are the exact same rattan-like you’d find on a French terrace. Extremely traditional and kitsch, in a comfortable way. The attention to detail is put on what matters. Tablecloth are impeccable, glassware is top quality especially for champagne, silver cutlery. The owner told us there would be some renovation soon to freshen up the place.

Food: Simple but very pleasant. I started with a duck and foie gras terrine with lentils. It was tasty and soft. My friend had the fish quenelle. It was even more flavorsome. For the main course I took the duck confit. Obviously! (I’m in love with duck) it was very classic but well prepared. The salad missed vinaigrette but the potatoes were crispy and good. My friend took the fish of the day, a bar filet. It was simply put in the plate, without any side dish. Even by itself, it was the best dish of the whole meal. Tasty, fresh, and just lovely.

Wine: We were told Alexandre is the place to drink Champagne. And so we did. We had a piper-Heidseick by the glass and then a bottle of Charles Heidseick. They have an agreement with this champagne so they put it forward even if they have great other choices. It is an underrated champagne which a always enjoy a lot. The prices were very reasonable. They don’t have a sommelier on site but the wine card was built up by Jessica Harnois, herself.

Other little detail, they have Badoit for sparkling water instead of the usual Eska. I like it better, but that’s some personal choice.

Overall, I’d say it’s an old-fashioned place with a lot of history and stories. It has a lot to say and offer.

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Willm – Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr

Alsace Willm Estate was founded in 1896 in the town of Barr, France (South of Strasbourg). Owner of the famous Clos Gaensbroennel, the walled vineyard within Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr famed for producing one of the world’s best Gewurztraminer wines. It translates to “goose fountain” and refers to the ancient stone fountain just outside the Clos. Maison Willm has always been concerned with revealing the best of its terroirs and sharing its exceptional wines with the whole world. This drives towards international made it the first producer in Alsace to export to the United States after prohibition. Now we can enjoy a valuable export presence in North America.

While lots of wine lovers have been anxious for the quality and identity of the brand since it became part of the more industrial Wolfberger, there’s no need to sacrifice them so fast. I understand Wolfberger is a gigantic coop that owns almost 10% of the whole Alsace vineyards. However, Willm and other brands such as Arthur Weysbeck and the newly acquired Lucien Albrecht are still quite on their own. Six winegrowers are truly the craftsman of the labels. Jean-Luc and Jean-Marc Ostertag are producing for the Grand crus respectively in Rielsing and Gewurztraminer. Dominique Haasz’s vineyards are a significant part of the Willm final results. Michel Metz joined in 1985 with Gewurztraminer plots. Hervé Thomas and Hervé Kamm part of the new generation of Maison Willm winemakers. These guys are the identity of Willm, not Wolfberger.

The wines of kirchberg de Barr are known for its incredible freshness and powerful acidity. It may be profitable to give them 10 to 20 years of rest because of this strong power and structure. The potential is just outstanding. The Rieslings tends to evolve rather slowly and smoothly while the Pinots Gris has more smokiness and richness right from the start. Overall, the wines from this Grand cru has an impressive preciseness.

La maison Alsacienne Willm a été fondée en 1896 dans la ville de Barr, en France (sud de Strasbourg). Propriétaire du célèbre Clos Gaensbroennel, le vignoble clos au sein du Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr célèbre pour la production de l’un des meilleurs Gewurztraminer. Il se traduit par “fontaine d’oie” et se réfère à l’ancienne fontaine de pierre juste à l’extérieur du Clos. La Maison Willm a toujours eu le souci de révéler le meilleur de ses terroirs et de partager ses vins d’exception avec le monde entier. Ce mouvement vers l’international en a fait le premier producteur alsacien à exporter aux États-Unis après la prohibition. Nous pouvons maintenant profiter d’une présence d’exportation précieuse en Amérique du Nord.

Alors que de nombreux amateurs de vin se sont montrés soucieux de la qualité et de l’identité de la marque depuis qu’elle fait partie du groupe plus industriel Wolfberger, il n’est pas nécessaire de la sacrifier si vite. Je comprends que Wolfberger est une coopérative gigantesque qui possède près de 10% du vignoble alsacien. Cependant, Willm et d’autres marques comme Arthur Weysbeck et Lucien Albrecht, nouvellement acquis, sont encore tout à fait indépendants. Six viticulteurs sont réellement les artisans des étiquettes. Jean-Luc et Jean-Marc Ostertag produisent pour les Grand Crus respectivement en Rielsing et en Gewurztraminer. Les vignobles de Dominique Haasz sont une partie significative des résultats finaux de Willm. Michel Metz rejoint en 1985 avec ses parcelles de Gewurztraminer. Finalement, Hervé Thomas et Hervé Kamm font partie de la nouvelle génération de vignerons de la Maison Willm. Ces hommes sont l’identité de Willm, pas Wolfberger.

Les vins de Kirchberg de Barr sont connus pour leur incroyable fraîcheur et leur acidité puissante. Il peut être utile de leur accorder 10 à 20 ans de repos à cause de cette puissance et de cette structure. Le potentiel est tout simplement exceptionnel. Le Riesling a tendance à évoluer plutôt lentement et en douceur tandis que le Pinots Gris a plus de fumé et de richesse dès le début. Globalement, les vins de ce Grand Cru présentent une précision impressionnante.

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Love Affair

It’s always the same story.

Everything happens so fast and she can’t control it. She perfectly knows that this might, possibly or realistically rather presumably, be just another fling. It’s in this perfectly flawless kind of moment, which would be remembered for decades, that everything seems to align in a magical way. A dimmed light, immaculate linens, highly polished, delicate stemware, the mood is set for another dangerous night, one of those that means something, that have the power to change her. And yet, she finds herself looking forward to it, restlessly looking for it, without any shame. I mean, why should she? It’s perfectly acceptable in this day and time.

She remembers her first time with such clarity. They say the best memories are always clearer since we remember the emotions, the sensations. She remembers the beach waves and Mediterranean smell in the breeze, her sandy sandals, the simplest effortless table and setting, the fast spoken, semi-understood Spanish as ambiance and more importantly, the combined aromas. The banquet-sized fragrant Sea Food Paella with vibrant saffron and the just caught array of shellfish were dancing with an ultimately as aromatic Domaine Georges Vernay, Les chaillées de L’enfer, Condrieu. Both were so perfectly balanced in their exuberance and perfume with power, tonicity, dynamism and richness. This was her first time falling in love, in love with pristine wine and food pairing. And, what an unforgettable first time it was. It was the start of something bigger that she would’ve imagined, a search which would last a lifetime.

The memorable experiences would multiply over time. This time was in a very different setting. Two favorites met unexpectedly to form a lovely combination. It started out with a wine or rather a grape. An unmistakable variety and type of wine surprised her inexperienced, but delicate palate. Nebbiolo is always a temptation; Barolo comes with an impulsive urge to try. It’s a wine full of opposites, subtle yet bold, simple yet complex, delicately perfumed yet graspingly structured. It has a sense of tradition and a sense of place. The ultimate Piedmontese grape, only grown sparsely elsewhere, popularly thought to be named from Nebbia, the Italian fogs that characteristically drape the hills. On the other side of the pair, there was the reason why lactose intolerance is her worst fear, cheese. I don’t have to explain why cheeses are a delectable pleasure of life, it speaks for itself. However, I can describe the one that brought this affair to an unexpected level. It was a Cheddar, as unoriginal as it might seem, it was quite the derivative. The hard granular and crumbly texture of ten years of ageing, mixed with a local element to the pairing, Black truffle bits. Its lover might seem way more special, the liquid sapphire, arch-traditionalist Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2002, a unique wine from a unique vintage when all the grapes turned out so great, only the normally specifically picked Monfortino was produced. When together, the simple cheese, and celebrity of a wine, became this one perfect memory in the mind of an awakening young girl.

Her eagerness did drive her to get on the move. She though maybe everything was even better directly in the vineyards. Realistically, “better” proved to be an understatement. She found herself wildly exploring the Burgundian vines. From South to North, from Lyon to Dijon, until she reached one specific millennium estate perfectly maintained, tidy and neat without a tiny rock out of place, one she had dreamed about, Château de Meursault. Below this immaculate white Castle and infrastructure is another complete separated world, the cellar. Entering the cellar is like entering another atmosphere. It’s gigantic and labyrinthine. The Vaults and the walls are covered with thick mold and it’s near dark. Then, there was a sign, or an accident, but she’s romantic enough to believe in fate. The lights decided to be capricious, it sometimes happens with the humidity and coat of decay. She was stuck for almost an hour in this spectacular dim environment, exploring the estate’s past and history, every bottle left from every vintage since 1977, imagining the great Paulée de Meursault exactly where she stood. That’s one way to fall deeply in love. As expected, the tasting afterward was exceptional and completely biased. Later during that trip, she came across one of the same wines on a wine list and had to impulsively repeat the experience. She might not have been completely partial yet, but the elegant poached lobster in a Chanterelle mushroom butter of the night’s dinner with the Château de Meursault monopole, Clos des Grands Charrons, 2013, would end her Journey on a very grand finish. This was a proof for her, that in a wine & food pairing, there’s not only the wine & food to take into consideration. Thus, opening a window to a much more complex, elaborate approach.

As she gets to know more about the world of wine, our heroine gets even more passionate, so much as to make her real lover jealous. She spends her time with the nose in a wine book or in a wine glass, always with a quirky smile. It is a true Love affair, one of the most curious behaviour, with the same lust, dramas and disapprovals, but hopefully with a never-ending fervour and enthusiasm.

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A respected Super-Second that’s still underrated.

Passing across Saint-Julien and Beychevelle, there’s one Château that stand out a lot, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. It is perched on the slight hill where the sun shines the most, overlooking the river and the stone castle is just breathtaking. I mean, even more than the hundreds of other castles in the region. It has the honour to be one of the 14 second growths from the 1855 classification, but it is also considered as one of the rare “super seconds”. Now that’s a title that is appealing to me. My experience there as a modest visitor was quite a revelation and added a strong sense of place to the identity of this great wine. Why did no one told me about how truly fantastic this was going to be. I wasn’t ready.

I arrived ever so slightly late, some would say fashionably but I’m normally rooting for right on time. I was greeted by a very cheerful mister wearing a bright yellow apron. I learned rapidly that it was in fact Mr. René Lusseau, cellar master, accomplished winemaker and a product of the Médoc. He seemed to have something to say on every little detail. I know about the trouble he had with his Barrel cap supplier, the name of each worker that we crossed on our guided path, the perfect spots for pictures, that the lighted cat art in the barrel room did help to get rid of small unwanted visitor, the age of each tree, why he liked the traditional candles in the barrel room, etc. This man is a fun burst of information.

Here’s some of it.

Five families have succeeded as owners of the estate. As early as the 13th century, the Bergeron family was already receiving visitors at the estate and built a good reputation. In 1795, the estate was sold to Bertrand Ducru who gave his name to the estate along with the “beaux cailloux” or nice rocks just in between gravel and pebbles that are the basis of the terroir. The next reign was the Johnson family. Nathaniel Johnson with the help of Ernest David, the manager of the Left Bank estate, created the first solution to the recurrent Bordeaux mildew problem. It is now known as “Bouillie bordelaise”. It was with a broken heart that he sold the estate to the Desbarats family after the economic crash of 1929. The Desbarats only kept the property for twelve years, unable to bring it back to its previous reputable state.

The fifth and last family to own Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the Borie Family. They also own Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Château Haut Batailley in Pauillac, Lalande-Borie produced from a vineyard purchased from Lagrange in the 70s as well as other vineyards in the region. Bruno Eugène Borie has joined his father in 1994 in the management team of the wine company. He was also Chairman of the “Conseil des grands crus classés” from 1997 to 1999.

Mister Borie, Master of the Castle is one of the few owners that uses the estate as habitation. The huge Palace has this homey feel to it. During my visit, he made a perfect grand entrance by slowly coming down the noble outdoor stairs towards us. He likes to meet and greet personally every visitor when possible as a perfectly suitable host. We had a discussion on the situation of the estate, its evolution, his passion and some politics thrown in there. Well, the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did pay the estate a visit before, apparently a good friend of the family.

A little while prior Bruno Borie came in charge of the estate, there was a big TCA contamination. In the cellars, all the bottles from 1986 up to 1994 were contaminated and destroyed. All other vintages remaining have been recorked to stay in perfect condition. It is now a problem of the past but still feel like a fresh wound when Mr. Lusseau talks about it.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is an admirable example of the St-Julien appellation with the luxury of a widespread representation of its terroir. Château Lalande-Borie, also part of the Borie group is located on the west façade. It is truly a soft, fresh and stylish accessible wine; Croix de Beaucaillou is at the epicenter of the appellation Saint-Julien to be considered as an ambitious terroir wine and not a second wine; and of course, the Grand vin wearing the bright yellow iconic color.

Overall, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou stands out, yes for its beauty and quality, but furthermore for the rather Un-Bordeaux-Like proprietors. This estate will remain in my heart as welcoming, merry, down to earth, the actual rocky earth and ever so special. It’s magical when you can add a big dose of personality to an already great wine.

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A confusing text on varietals

We already know the world of wine is a complex one but there’s something in particular that irritates as well as fascinates me… Synonyms. You may think you know a grape pretty well and the next day someone tells you all about Grecanico and you’re lost if you don’t know it’s in fact Garganega. Or, you think you’ve discovered an amazing unknown grape variety like Rolle in Provence, fantastic! This discovery is just another Vermentino. Those are just some of many personal mistakes. So, bear with me, this is going to be painful but extremely satisfying and unraveling.

You may already know the noble grapes of Alsace, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat. What about, Klevner, Gutedel, Tokay, Klevener, etc. Get ready. Klevner is the local name for Pinot Blanc, while Klevener refers to Klevener de Heiligenstein which is Savagnin Rose found only in Heiligenstein itself, Bourgheim, Gertwiller, Goxwiller, and Obernai commune. Wait there’s more! Savagnin is also known locally as Traminer, Gewürztraminer is a clone of Traminer but also named Naturé just south in Jura. Chasselas can also be found in Alsace, but it’s called Gutedel, and Tokay is just not allowed anymore, but it was Pinot Gris once. Confused yet?

There’s really no standardization or regulations over this kind of name-dropping. It may be an official synonym, a regional surname, some kind of descriptor for young vines, clones or some labeling terms. Don’t worry if you misspell Poulsard, you might just end up calling it Ploussard which is also accepted in Jura. Sylvaner is known locally in Switzerland as Johannisberg which is also a bereiche in Rheingau. And chasselas is dorin. What about very similar names just to mess up your grammar? Which one of these is correctly written: Alvarinho, Albarinho, Albarino, Albariño. Answer, all of them in their very own way and place. It’s up to each of us to navigate through this peculiar entangled map of local preferences.

Alicante or Alicante Bouschet for its breeder Henry Bouschet is found in Corsica, Tuscany, Calabria, the Balkans, Israel, North Africa, California, Portugal and Spain where it is known as Garnacha TintoNera. I’ve heard it be falsely referred to as Grenache or Garnacha (or Cannonau) in Italy but it’s in fact just a crossing from it.

Chardonnay, this one should be simple, right? Nope. It’s also called Gamay Blanc, Melon d’Arbois, Moular, Beaunois in Burgundy, whose Austrian synonyms include Morillon and Feinburgunder.

Let’s work the Cabernets now. Cabernet Sauvignon is known as Burdeos in Péru and some other South American countries. Others synonyms include Petite Vidure in some part of France. However, Grande Vidure is something else. It’s used in some parts of Chile or New Zealand to designate Carménère, which was once thought to be Merlot. Cabernet Franc can be called Gros Vidur too in Hungary (notice the similarity). More regionally, in Pomerol, it’s actually known as Bouchet.

Then there’s the whole story of the Pinot Family with so many members (156 total). Pinot noir or Spätburgunder in Germany is also Savagnin noir in Hungary or Blauer Spätburgunder in Luxembourg. Pinot Gris is commonly spelled Pinot Grigio in its Italian expression and Austrians prefers it as Ruländer or Beurot. Pinot Blanc is very similar and sometimes confused as Auxerrois or Gouais Blanc which is a mistake. It could be confused as Weissburgunder, one of its synonyms in Germany where it’s quite valued. It also has a good popularity as Beli Pinot in Slovenia and Croatia.

The sun-drenched Italy, with its many regions and 407 Italian denominations or appellations (DOCGs / DOCs / DOPs) is maybe the king (or queen?) of the regional surname. In its center, Sangiovese has served as main grape grown forever and rather recent studies mostly in the classic part of Chianti has proved the existence of hundreds of different clones. First promulgated by Biondi Santi in Montalcino, Brunello is probably the most famous clone. As for Prugnolo gentile, it can be found in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with Rosso di Montepulciano. Both have deeply rooted personalities and expressions. Yet, both are based on Sangiovese. It does not stop there. Morellino on the southern Tuscan coast, Nielluccio in the beautiful Corsica and don’t you dare talk of Sangiovese Grosso to a Chianti Producer, for them it should be Sangioveto.

Even more troubling is El Tempranillo! Spain’s most famous wine is traveling with many variant identities. While it will be Tinto Fino or Tinto del País in Ribera del Duero, it takes the name of Toro when it goes there, Tinta de Toro with looser grapes and simpler style. Going towards south, the name Cencibel is found in Valdepeñas and transformed into Jancivera in the Levante. Obviously Catalan would have their own term, Ull de Llebre, as does the Castilians, Ojo de Liebre. Other identities includes the Portuguese Tinta Roriz, Aragonês, or more internationally, mostly in the United states as Valdepeñas, yes like the Spanish DO.

Are you confused yet? I haven’t even mentioned the different regions and villages with the same name as something else or other terms used differently. Just think of how many ways the name Montepulciano may be used; the difference in a Spanish reserva and Rioja reserva; Friulano the grape or the language; Or Cava, renowned Spanish sparkling or PGI level ageing requirement in Greece… With over 10 000 varieties of wine grapes in the world, of which 1300 is commonly used to make wine, there’s definitely place for interpretation and exploration.