Tag Archives: wine

Final Day Cruising & Beaune

Somewhere this morning we left a pile of passengers on shore for a wine excursion. They will meet us by bus further down the river. The boat casts off and continues on down to Chalon-sur-Saône. We elect to sleep in and do the afternoon excursion as we have a hellish travel schedule tomorrow. There will be no sleep tonight as the load-out starts at 2:00 in the morning.

Our last day will be in beautiful Beaune, in Burgundy. Beaune, of course, is well known for world class winemaking and also for mustard. Today our tour will take us into the heart of this region, through a town called Meursault and into Beaune. We will visit an ancient winery and and the Hôtel Dieu as well as enjoy a bit of free time to shop.

Beaune 015We board the motorcoach for a four hour tour. We pass many fields of grains growing and eventually those fields give way to vineyards. Meursault is on a hill and all we climb we pass beautiful walled stone houses or clos.

Beaune 016Beaune is not a region of chateaus like the Beaujolais region. The clos have modest sized homes with walled gardens and deep scarlet roses climbing the walls.Now and then you get a peek through a break or arch in a wall down to the muted, sun drenched vines in their neat rows.   Breathtaking. I’m dying to stop for photos but there is no time if we are to make the tasting.

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We continue on and disembark near the town centre across from the Hotel Dieu from 1443. This incredible building was donated by a couple of wealthy patrons, as a place to care for the sick poor. Not much more than a comfortable bed, soup, and medicinal herbs were available to pretty much ease you into death.

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Stained glass over the altar explained in pictorial detail what your fate would be if you did not accept Jesus. Very soothing. The hospital has been  preserved as a museum and is quite remarkable especially in light of the fact that this was the only working hospital in Beaune until 1971.

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Also at the Hôtel Dieu was The Last Judgement, it’s original polyptych altarpiece by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden — A piece that figures prominently in the region, and also in a search and rescue mission from WWII that saw it rescued from destruction, featured in the 2012 film, Monument Men.

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Next we continue on to a famous cellar to taste three wines. The beautiful stone cellar itself, musty and with low ceilings, represents some of the finest product of the region.

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We taste two excellent whites, one a premier cru, a 6-year-old Pinot which they urge you to age another 14 or more years (ha!), and another specialty of the region, cassis liqueur. Of course we buy all of them.

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After the tasting we have a bit of time to pop into shops. There are a few bakeries, linen shops and souvenir shops. No time to explore this gorgeous town further unfortunately. We are due back at the bus for a return to the ship and dinner.

 

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Dinner tonight begins with a rather horrible piece of sushi for an amuse bouche. Soggy, tasteless and definitely the only bad thing we have eaten on the cruise. It was a surprise as it did not even suit the theme of the meal. It was quickly forgotten over another quite excellent and rustic meal following it.

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Chicken cassoulet appetizer with puff pastry and lots of tarragon and a deep, rich Boeuf Bourguignon with buttered noodles for a main. Both are delicious and exactly the kind of rustic food we are looking for on the cruise, the kind of food that makes me want to get home and prepare some French meals. Inspiring.

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Since we have changed ships and chefs, we have noted a more rustic trend that is our personal preference. Not to say the food on the Buri was not excellent. It was, it was just a little too “fancy” for a cruise in Provence for our tastes and I have to believe as I said in an earlier post that the food was pleasing to 98% of the cruisers. And once again I have to restate that it is no reflection on Viking, it is only personal preference.

After dinner we have to pack and go to bed for our 2 am wake up call and a 24 hour return home to Ottawa. Back to real life.

En Route to Avignon!

Cloudy, humid and very warm in Ottawa. Leaving behind a city bursting to life with the first tulips and new leaves. My driveway is a carpet of tiny white petals. I will miss my azalea bloom but be back for the lilacs. Scout gave me an affectionate send off. Josie laid on the kitchen floor sighing and doing her best end-of-the-world impression. Smudge refused her treat and isn’t speaking to me. There was a single wet, black nose in the window as we pulled out. Never look back.

Our flight at the civilized hour of 4:55PM, finds people traffic light and we breeze through security. Viking Cruises has done all of the bookings. First class all the way. I’ve never flown in a first class “pod” before. Looking forward to it. Tons of space and leg room, big monitor, full sized pillow, blanket quilt and real food. We are treated to Champagne and orange juice while the rest of the plane boards. Sit back and relax. Later my pod will become a bed.

Dinner in first class includes a choice of wine, including an excellent California cab and a French red, a well presented and very nice light appetizer of a marinated shrimp, paper thin ahi tuna on a bed of fennel dotted with fresh dill, unremarkable mixed greens salad, bland beef tenderloin, distinctly untruffled truffled potatoes, carrots and green beans.

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Rob’s tandoori chicken biriyani was excellent and served with spiced okra.

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A nice complement of cheeses (yes, served chilled, truly roughing it here) grapes, water crackers and port follows the main. Sticky toffee apple cake with lightly sweet whipped cream and tea completed the meal. Much better than anything the plebs in the back of the plane are getting, and quite remarkable for coming out of that tiny galley.

I watch a little TV and then try to sleep for three hours before simulated dawn and breakfast. The pods are certainly more comfortable than a regular airline seat but alas, sleep never comes.

We land in Frankfurt. Every bit the hellhole Rob says, a total zoo. Eventually we get to our gate where we then have to board a bus to take us to our plane. And off we are to Marseille where our trip along two French rivers begins! Our flight path carries us over breathtaking views of the snow capped alps, lovely patchwork landscapes and tiny villages, emerald green pasture, meandering rivers and glacial blue lakes.

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Soon we are over sparkling blue waters and a sea of terracotta roofs. Ancient fixtures rise from the cliffs they are built in to and are visible from the air. Reunited with our luggage and placed in a taxi by Viking reps, we speed off to Avignon to board our ship, The Viking Buri.

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During the hour and fifteen minute trek over well maintained roadways, we breeze through countless roundabouts and are treated to a visual feast that is the Southern French countryside… Past fields of red poppies, yellow and blue wildflowers, sun washed stucco homes with tiled roofs and pretty shutters, vineyards, olive trees, huge, dusty, blue green agaves and sandstone hills dotted with cypress and deep green shrubbery.

Nearing Avignon we notice the ancient ramparts from the 14th century that encompass the old part of the city. Built of local sandstone and pockmarked with age and likely acid rain, they are magnificent. Joggers, moms and infants in strollers, and people catching some sun at lunch hour, carry on their business, bustling about in the ancient shadow. Can’t wait to explore…but we are exhausted. We have been up for over 24 hours now. Luckily, check in is smooth, we are shown to our lovely, spacious and very well designed stateroom, unpack and catch some shut eye. Dancing on a bridge must wait. Tomorrow our adventure begins!

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Dinner this evening will be aboard ship in the main dining room after our muster station drill and welcome orientation in the ship’s lounge. Here we met a lovely couple near in age from Britain, one via Chicago. They have cruised with Viking before and we are immediately comfortable with them. They follow us to dinner and we are seated with what must be the youngest couple on board, thirty somethings from LA. The table turns out to be a great match and conversation lively.

The wine steward has a generous hand while menus are delivered. LA immediately spills an entire glass of water and much laughter ensues. The ice, now broken kickstarts a lovely evening of good food, wine and chatter. Viking offers a surprising number of options for each course. Rob chose the salad Nicoise, determined to stay with the “when in France…” theme. Excellent by all standards.

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I chose the goat cheese souffle, light, tangy, delicious.

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Mains follow at a leisurely pace. Rob chose the lamb with potatoes, elegant with a lamb au jus reduction and deliciously French.

IMG_3152I opted for the pasta with a full, ripe tomato sauce topped with brie.

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For dessert I had an underwhelming chocolate pot de creme with pineapple gelee. Just too sweet after a long day of travel. Rob’s small taste of apple crumble with excellent chocolate ice cream was perfect.

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After cappuccinos, more conversation, the ugly lights come up and we are kicked out. Lovely ending to a loooooong day.FullSizeRender

Spanish Tapas Night!

Rob and I are unfamiliar with Spanish wines in general. Oh sure we can pick out a decent Rioja but beyond that we are a little lost. We decided to cozy up an Ottawa winter evening by inviting a group of friends that enjoy red wine, food and travel. We sent out an invite to bring a tapas dish or a bottle of a favorite Spanish wine one might like to share. Our group of eight guests was more than up to the task and we had a fun evening trying new wines, comparing wines and enjoying the fruits of our friend’s kitchens. This is a great excuse to get together, weather be damned and learn about wine. Little or no coordination was done and so it was a true potluck with the tapas. Here’s a rundown for most of the food. As recipes show up, we’ll add them to the list.

The Menu:

Mediterranean Spiced Olives
Shrimp and Chorizo with Smoked Tomato Dip
Manchego Cheese
Spanish Roasted Potatoes in Tomato Sauce (Patatas Bravas) – Simply Recipes
Tooma Cheese with Guava Paste
Mussels in Spicy Coconut Milk
Grilled Mushrooms
Homemade Gooseberry Compote
Quinoa Salad
Olives with Roasted Peppers
Whipped Potato, Fish and Olive Spread with Garlic Crostini
Tart with Gorgonzola, Fig, Watercress and Serrano Ham

Abby and Nico’s Quinoa Salad (Abigail Lixfeld and Nico Pham-Dinh )
– toast the quinoa lightly, then cook in duck stock until done
– chop snow pea leaves and then blanche in hot water for one minute, then shock in cold water
– coarsely chop and then saute vegetables in duck fat (e.g. carrots, leeks, bell peppers)
– mix quinoa, snow pea leaves and vegetables, dress and season to taste

Dressing:
– grapeseed oil, reduced sodium tamari, garlic, cracked pepper, agave

Abby and Nico’s Grilled Mushrooms (Abigail Lixfeld and Nico Pham-Dinh )
– thinly slice king oyster mushrooms
– toss in a dressing of grapeseed oil, soy, agave, dijon mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper
– bbq, pan fry or grill until cooked through but still firm

Served with Nico’s Mom’s Ground Cherry Compote

Rob’s Shrimp and Chorizo
– Peel, clean and de-vein gulf-caught fresh shrimp
– Toss cleaned shrimp in spice mix (paprika, chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper)
– Slice Spanish-style dry chorizo into 1cm-thick coins
– Saute chorizo to render some of the fat. Remove from head when tender.
– Saute shrimp in same pan with chorizo-oil (augment with olive oil as needed) until just cooked.
– Take toothpicks and secure chorizo coins inside the curve of the shrimp
– Serve with your favourite dip, in this case, a smoky tomato jam. Sauces made with melted citrus marmalades are excellent as well.

Rob and Maureen’s Tart with Gorgonzola, Fig, Watercress and Serrano Ham
preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Brush flatbread with olive oil
Distribute sliced fresh figs, gorgonzola and watercress sprigs on flatbread
Bake in oven until crispy and golden, and topics are cooked and melted.
Top with slices of Serrano ham while hot (it will “melt” into the hot flatbread)
Cut into easy-to-eat squares.

Spicy Mussels (Courtesy of Jan and Patti adapted from 222 Lyon Street Tapas Bar)
Serves 2 (main course)

 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 cloves chopped fresh garlic
¼ cup chopped Spanish onion
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
2-2½ cups chicken stock (use less/more depending on how much liquid you want)
¾ cup dry white wine (less if you want it less “winey”)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Sprinkling of crushed red chillies (to taste)
2 lbs (one mesh bag) fresh live mussels, washed and scrubbed if necessary
1-1½ cups heavy (35%) cream (use less/more depending on how much liquid you want)

In a large pot, heat the oil until hot. Add the chopped garlic, chopped onion and parsley. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken stock, wine, crushed red chillies and Dijon mustard. When heated, add the mussels. Cover the pot and cook until the mussels have opened, 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cream and stir well. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Serve immediately in a large bowl.