Pasta with asparagus, lardons, mushrooms, onions, cream and scattered with parmesan
We are celebrating the arrival of our lovely garden asparagus again – a wonderful time of the year and in abundance in our vegetable garden.
There are so many recipes to try with it both fresh and raw, we have it in quiches, soups, salads, pastas – the list is endless. Our favourite is in pasta with mushrooms, lardons, onions and cooked asparagus thrown in at the last minute. Apparently in ancient times, asparagus was renowned as an aphrodisiac! Regardless of its powers to put you in the mood though, this savory vegetable contains a stimulating blend of nutrients, making this member of the lily family alongside onions, leeks and garlic a fantastic food for your health. We will have to let you know if it lies true to its ‘aphrodisiac’ reputation, (Brian insists that this is a fallacy – as with oysters and he’s eaten enough so he should know)! but one thing we can vouch for is it causes stinky pee! Scientists aren’t entirely sure why. Most evidence seems to suggest that not everyone can smell the odor and some scientists think that not everyone produces it. Either way, there are no harmful effects.
And so we will continue enjoying our harvest and sharing garden produce with our Clos des Guyons guests during their stay! Not sure if they will let us know about the asparagus aphrodisiac affects though!!! That would be telling wouldn’t it!!
The asparagus season has about another week to go and we’re now into cherries – and that’s another story!
Sheila and Brian
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An 170 year old nectar.
Those of you who know me or who have done one of our Loire Wine Tours will be aware that I am unashamedly biased in favour of our two local sparklers “Saumur Brut” and “Crémant de Loire”. I am not a fan of the upstart “Champagne”. And I am in good company with many wine writers both here in France and abroad considering that the average standard of our sparkling wine is superior to the average standard of the sparkling wine made in Champagne. Therefore I very rarely write about the latter. However, I make an exception in this case because it is a truly unique story. 170 years ago a ship sunk in the Baltic. On board were
168 bottles of Champagne from the houses of Veuve Clicquot, Ponsardin, Heidsieck and Juglar. In 2010 the bottles were discovered, still intact, lying at a depth of 50 metres. They were salvaged, chemically analysed and tasted. The results of this research has given an intriguing idea of the tastes of wine lovers in the middle of the XIXth. century. Philip Jeandet, professor of Food Chemistry at the University of Reims, (in Champagne of course) said that it was still an impressive wine, with a long length and notes of tobacco and leather. Professional wine tasters said that, despite it’s age, the wine still seemed young with floral notes and lots of fruit. Which is some achievement.
So what have we learned: Firstly that the wine must have been very well made indeed and secondly that, if you wish to keep your wine for as long as possible, put it under 50 metres of sea water.
So I’m going to raise a glass of Crémant de Loire to those anonymous winemakers of 170 years ago – and hope like hell I don’t find any taste of leather in the wine!
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Aperitifs on Christmas Eve here at Le Clos des Guyons in the Loire Valley, France.
From our guests and neighbours at Le Clos des Guyons, Le Puy Notre Dame, in the heart of the Val de Loire, we are raising our glasses to wish all our lovely clients both old and new, friends and family far away, a “Joyeux Noel” and “Very Merry Christmas”!
The 300 year old traditional Loire fireplace made from the local “tuffeau” limestone. Totally inefficient of course but what a centre-piece!
Here we are in the photograph (Sheila is missing because she is taking it) with our neighbours and current guests from Kent and New Hampshire, USA, in our Salon in front of a roaring fire at the start of our Christmas Eve Reveillon, sharing conversation and aperitifs over a Magnum of the Domaine de la Paleine’s Saumur sparkling wine. It was such a perfect Christmassy evening before the feasting of our delicious six course meal paired with other amazing Loire wines.
We sincerely hope you too enjoy a lovely Christmastime and holiday wherever you are!
There are lots of things to do over the next week, Christmas markets everywhere to enjoy with all the local artisan production of gift ideas, foods and wines and Chateaux and castles to visit ALSO last but not least our Wine Tour around the Le Puy vineyards and Wine Tasting in the village.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!
Sheila and Brian
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I recently read a very interesting post about sweet wines from France on Jill Barth’s excellent blog. So I thought I’d do something on the superb but little known wine fom the Saumur vineyard – le Coteaux de Saumur. The reason that this superb wine is so little known is that it is incredibly rare with an appellation of only 12 hectares, (less than 30 acres). The total yield is around 40000 litres but, in reality, it never reaches this quantity and in many years none is made at all and in others just one or two winemakers may decide to do it. This is why I always refer to it as a “mythical” wine when we are tasting it on wine tours.
The cépage is 100% Chenin and the vines have to grown on “islands” within the greater Saumur appellation where the chalky limestone comes to the surface. It is no coincidence that most of the production is centred around Champigny and Le Puy Notre Dame both “lieu-dit”, (named places – sort of Grand Crus) of Saumur.
I would describe the wine as aristocratic, with the limestone giving it an elegance which is sometimes missing in the more alcoholic stickies of the Coteaux du Layon. In the glass you will find a rich golden colour, fine fruit with hints of waxy honey and a cornucopia of exotic fruit flavours particularly lychées. The one I know best and a serial award winner is from just round the corner here in Le Puy Notre Dame from the renowned Domaine de la Paleine. The 2006 developed a distinct nose of mandarins whilst the 2010 had it from the start. There is always a vibrant acidity which balances the luscious sweetness. Made by a selective “tri” with anything between three and five passes through the vineyard it is then normally put in oak barrels for at least a year. The intense sweetness and acidy mean that the wine is almost eternal, (I have actually drunk a wine from 1856 which was still perfect although of course the actual appellation name didn’t exist at that time, it wasn’t granted until 1966).
Here in the Loire, it has several uses; as an aperitif, as the classic accompaniment to foie-gras and, my particular favourite, alongside the soft, salty French blue cheeses like Roquefort and St. Agur etc, a taste made in heaven. Of course it is also used as a dessert wine but perhaps not as often as you would think.
Price wise it is very competitive when compared to a similar quality Sauternes primarily because our region still makes wine to drink and, as yet, wine isn’t really bought for the prestige of its label although I have detected a slow but pronounced upward movement as the quality of the wine attracts more and more aficionados. A half bottle would cost around €17 whilst a comparable Sauternes would cost immensely more.
So, if you can find a bottle grab it with both hands. If you can’t you’ll just have to visit the Royal Valley of France, le Val de Loire
Le Puy Notre Dame, France.
Today is the Wine Market in Place de la Republique Saumur, alongside the Loire. and what a wonderful afternoon with clear blue skies and temperatures in the thirties it was a lively afternoon! The market is a part of the “Festivini” celebrations which is a two week long celebration of the wines of Anjou and Saumur. It has many tastings throughout the region, gourmet meals with carefully chosen wine in such rarified atmospheres as the Royal Abbey at Fontenvraud and walks, bike rides, horse treks and carriage rides through several vineyards. We arrived just after 2:00pm having eaten at the Hotel le Bussy in nearby Montsoreau. This is a great place for Sunday Lunch havig superb views, not just of the Loire but also of the Château.
Part of the enchanting terrace of the Hôtel le Bussy at Monsoreau
The menu is simple and quite restricted but the food is superbly well cooked and the “frites” are to die for.
The market was just starting to fill up again after the two hour lunch break and it was an ideal oppurtunity to get round easily and meet some of our old friends like Hubert Deffois from Château de Brossay in our first village of Cléré sur Layon. A superb producer of exquisite Coteaux du Layons. As usual our current village was represented by the Domaine de la Paleine and the Domaine d’Enchentoir whilst all the big sparkling houses of Saumur like Akerman, Gratien-Meyer and Langois Chateau were well represented.
A recent photo of our guests out in the vineyard, giving their holiday an added value in terms of French Loire Valley wine culture – what a nice idea!
They went with Brian to enjoy the magnificent views around Le Puy Notre Dame and no better place for an introduction than in the local vineyards. The grapes are now well formed on the vines. It was an enlightening visit learning how the vigneron grows and manages his vines whilst looking at the stony soils that give the wines their flavours and the main grape varieties on some of the patches of vines on the slopes around Le Puy Notre Dame.
Amongst several wineries visited was our old favourite the Domaine de la Paleine, a 32 hectaire biodynamic award winning winery around the corner from our home and gites at Le Clos des Guyons After an extensive visit around their wine chais explaining the processes involved and then walking into the vast underground galleries of caves finishing in the important bottling room, Brian explained the Domaine’s many appellations and conducted a tutored wine tasting for everyone from a selection of their wines and vintages including naturally our village’s own wine appellation, Saumur Puy Notre Dame!
Our guests left with plenty of wine knowledge, wine vocabulary and a few cases for the boot of the car – a lovely talking point for the family back home and memory of a good holiday!
Santé and bon dégustation!
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Sage, variegated sage, basil, thyme, savory and lemon mint in our herb garden
When our Loire Gite and Wine Tour Guests arrive here at Le Clos des Guyons we always do extensive aperitifs in the courtyard or on the wooden decked terrace around the pool area. Always accompanied by a bottle or two of the region’s famous sparkling wine, one of the talking points is always the “Cochonaille d’Anjou”. A bit of a specialty of our region although I’m sure it exists in other French regions too. It can be either a hot pork dish or, for an aperitif, a plate of saucisson, local rillauds (an Anjou speciallity, a sort of caramellised belly pork), and any other pork related items although we often use a lamb saucisson as well. How the dish is presented is, of course, entirely at the creators discretion and here at Le Clos des Guyons it gives us an opportunity to use tomatoes and herbs straight from the garden!