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Posted by David Eley on 29-08-2008
The Cote d'Azur, best known for Brigitte Bardot, minor monarchs with small principalities and an excessive use of Ambre Solaire - is not a natural home for one of Europe's most celebrated cerebral winemakers. Dirk van der Niepoort is a man whose personal interpretation of dressing for dinner extends to wiping the daytime dust from his beloved pair of Crocs . He is the winemaker's winemaker, a man who eats, breathes and sleeps fine wine while eschewing visible excess, except, that is, when it comes to his own state of the art schist-clad winery in the heart of northern Portugal's Douro valley. Niepoort is a professional wine Guru whose family firm, Niepoort Vinhos, commands great respect in the world of Port and table wine. His opinions on making and marketing fine wine really count - he is one of those inspirational people who create the vinous zeitgeist by exploring every nook and cranny of innovation and invention.
Nose to Nose in Nice
Dirk values quality and elegance: usually in the form of bottled liquid expression, emblazoned with the iconic labels of his winemaking heroes from Burgundy or other classic regions. The French Riviera and its environs would seem an unlikely location for him to conduct serious wine research... unless, you are teaming up with a famous ‘Nose' from the perfume business whose ‘industrial' heart is in the small southern French town of Grasse.
Mona Diorio is an esteemed French ‘Nose' and perfume creatrice who just happens to love fine wine. At age 17 Mona became the young protégée of one of the 20th century's truly great perfume Noses - Edmond Roudnitska. He was the genius responsible for creating a whole generation of legendary 20th century fragrances encompassing, Eau Sauvage, Dior Dior, Diorella and Eau d'Hermès. When Edmond passed away in 1996 Mona continued his work and she now runs her own successful perfume company ‘Mona Diorio Parfums '. Mona and Dirk met in the city of Nice, the simple idea was to compare a Nose from the world of perfume with a Nose from the world of fine wine, discovering if there are any similarities. The setting was a small restaurant in the capital of the Cote d'Azur, Dirk takes up the story, "I met Mona through wine writer Andrew Catchpole, she likes wine a lot and in her past had worked as a wine waiter ... the idea was to make a tasting of two Port wines showing how the blend is made, I chose the wines to taste. This selection comprised the component parts of a ten-year vintage Port followed by the final blend. Thereafter, we tasted the backbone of Niepoort's 2007 vintage with 5, 10, 15 and 20% of another Port to discover how the two wines behaved in relation to one another"
Dirk Niepoort seems very happy with his first sniff around the world of scents and perfumes; "in my opinion, there were some very interesting conclusions - Mona's background, having work closely with Edmond Roudnetska, echoed my own working experiences with master blender Sr. José Nogueira at Niepoort Vinhos in Gaia. Sr. José is the third of four generations from the same family to blend for Niepoort - father to son. Within these two respective disciplines I believe the mental approach is very similar ... i.e. in our world two plus two does not necessarily equal four."
Who knows where this ‘Nice' nose encounter might lead? Dirk Niepoort certainly views his experiment as the first of many and looks forward to more comparisons in the future. Given his creative originality, who would bet against a possible Eau de Niepoort... and just imagine the scope for all those floral notes on the back label... any humorous suggestions?
Posted by David Eley on 22-08-2008
Cheese is a wonderful and endlessly fascinating subject for those who love food: in many ways it offers a striking similarity to fine wine. The tremendous array of nuanced flavours and tastes, slowly evolving with time or exposure to air; the removal of the cheese rind and elevation of ambient temperature permit flavours to evolve, providing many points for comparison with wine appreciation. In addition, there are many distinct and carefully defined local appellations for cheese, with each region proudly defending the honour of its own cheesy identity. This standard and narrowly defined typicity is seldom diluted and with particular cheeses, is upheld and protected by individual A.O.C. denominations in a very rigorous fashion - the list of revered regional cheeses is endless; Roquefort, Stilton, Parmesan, Brebis, Comté, Cantal, Manchego, Queijo da Serra etc...
The finesse and subtle eloquence of a great cheese can contribute handsomely to dining and drinking pleasure, indeed, for many gastronomes it is undoubtedly the highlight of a meal. For a man whose entire life was dedicated to fine wine, this is precisely what drew the Michelin class French sommelier Frédéric Minvielle into this pungent and odiferous world. After several years practising his vinous profession in France's finest restaurants, Frédéric decided to pursue his great passion for cheese by establishing a fine cheese company in Anglet, Fromage & Compagnie at the heart of the French Basque Country, between Biarritz and Bayonne.
Frédéric Minvielle is not only a purveyor of fine cheese but a highly skilled affineur, aging and maturing cheese under controlled conditions, before offering them to clients when perfectly ready to consume. Most professional fromagers do not come from a wine oriented background and it might well be that Frédéric is unique. Certainly, his approach to cheese is founded upon the subtle understanding of flavour necessitated by his previous vinous profession. He runs a business which not only stores and ages fine cheeses from all over France, but also helps local cheese-makers to adjust and refine their artisanal products to suit the requirements of leading chefs.. Frédéric's skills are so appreciated by restaurateurs, his finely cured cheeses find there way to distant places. One of his most loyal customers is the acclaimed Paris based 2 star Michelin chef Hélène Darroze, recently appointed to preside over the restaurant kitchens of the newly refurbished (at a cost of over 70 million pounds) Connaught Hotel in London's Mayfair, so it seems that Frédéric's wonderful cheeses will now be available in London.
Knowing about cheese, food and wine pairing and understanding the complexities of the flavours required by culinary stars, are Frédéric's key to gaining their confidence. One particular star chef is Ducasse protégé Cédric Béchade at l'Auberge Basque , the stylish food-centric boutique hotel near St Jean de Luz. Cédric works alongside the world-class sommelier Samuel Ingelaere and they both have immense respect for Frédéric. At Cedric's request, Frédéric worked with a local sheep farmer and cheesemaker in the village of Itxassou - to develop a revolutionary haute-couture Brebis cheese with a much softer interior than the norm, it has proved a great success in the restaurant and provides the perfect example of why this dynamic fromager is making a distinct impression within the world of gastronomy.
Frédéric's fabulous cheeses will shortly be contributing to an occasional series of cheese ‘postcards' at A Good Nose.Com - each photographic cheese portrait will carry with it a brief description from the specific cheesemonger. In addition, we will be featuring cheese-makers within the online journal on Cédric Béchade to be launched soon. In order to receive details of this and many other fascinating food and wine topics, subscribe to our electronic Newsletter ‘Picture Post '.
Posted by David Eley on 15-08-2008
Driving back across an arid yet brightly hued Spain from northern Portugal's Douro valley, to my home in St Jean de Luz on the French-Spanish frontier, is usually uneventful. On the last occasion I made this journey from Pinhão, the high Douro's rustic capital, via Alijo, Bragança and on to Vallodolid, the autumn weather was simply perfect. By-passing Alijo and heading due north, the winding and quite narrow road breaks through an area of bracken and coniferous woodland, eventually meeting the main IP4 and the highway home. Entering the Vale de Cunho I witnessed a most extraordinary sight; as the road traversed a well worn woodland crossing, a surging mass of slate grey goats, issued forth from a gap in the trees on my left; braking hurriedly, I drew to an abrupt halt and an unbelievably enchanting sight unfolded before me...
It was like a dam-break: the goats moved so quickly across the road, and their goatherd, draped in vivid blue and carrying a wooden staff, vanished amid the seething grey mass of hair and hooves comprising more than 200 lyre-horned beasts, before entering the darkening woods beyond. The image was positively biblical and came as such a surprise. Having parked my car off the road I had to move very quickly and ran frantically into the woods pursuing the writhing sea of horns, punctuated by occasional pale coloured sheep and benignly kept in check by two substantial farm dogs. Goat meat ‘Cabrito' is a very important part of the Portuguese diet, so too is goat's milk, used to make local cheeses and many artisanal products. Do click on the image above to see the full set of photographs from this fairytale scene and visit page 2 of the Vale Meão section in the New Douro microsite, to see even more goats in a breathtaking Tolkien location.
I am now off to visit Frédéric Minvielle, the jovial fromager and affineur based in the French Basque country. Four years ago he miraculously metamorphosed from professional sommelier into an artisanal master of cheese working with star chefs, including Ducasse protégé Cédric Béchade and Michelin 2 star Hélène Darroze in Paris - also supplying London's newly refurbished Connaught hotel ... more of this story next week.
Posted by David Eley on 09-08-2008
Quinta do Vesuvio, owned by Symington Family Estates and famed for its iconic Port wine, is to release a premium D.O.C. table wine in late 2008. This legendary estate has an impeccable Ferreira Port pedigree dating back to the nineteenth century. Since the late 1990's, Vesuvio has been contributing premium grapes to the elegantly styled Chryseia and Post Scriptum, a successful joint venture with Bruno Prats of Cos d'Estournel fame. These two limited production red wines, made by French winemaker Stéphane Point, sell in the manner of a fine Cru Classé via the Bordeaux place. They sit at the apex of an S.F.E. portfolio of red table wines, whose combined annual sales already exceed 2 million Euros. The first large scale foray by Symington into table wine was Altano, a now well established brand whose commercial life began in early 2001.
Symington's Douro hectares under vine now approach nearly 1000 (2,500 acres) and encompass historical brands Warres, Dow's and Graham's. The company have ample modern facilities to handle volume production as well as hand-crafted single estate wines made with indigenous varietals after the classic French model.
Though Symington's core business remains fine Port wines, they see D.O.C. table wines as a very important element in their impressive portfolio. Until January 2008, Symington Family Estates enjoyed a successful partnership with João van Zeller at Quinta de Roriz, another of the Douro's single Quintas with a fabulous reputation. Rupert Symington, a senior director of the family firm, recently declared "when we introduce the new Vesuvio wine we believe it will coexist comfortably with Chryseia. Vesuvio is actually a separate company and will stand on its own, like a third leg... along with Altano. We have sorted out production facilities where we can combine our full range of premium wines, without conflict - the decks are clear for producing a great Vesuvio"
This exciting development has made it possible for A Good Nose.Com to build an illustrated micro-site dedicated to the Vesuvio D.O.C. wine, within our New Douro section. The first illustrated material on the birth of Quinta do Vesuvio D.O.C. will launch later this summer and I am delighted to confirm we will have a full harvest report and Vesuvio ‘vindima gallery' online in October. A Good Nose is extremely fortunate to have this privileged access - to receive further news of this historic development in the Douro, register for our e-Newsletter 'Picture Post'