Entries Tagged as 'Europe'

French Food & Wine Pairing Masterclass



White wine pairing

“(Def.) Masterclass noun – a class, especially in music, given by an expert to highly talented students”

I chuckled when I looked up the above definition in a first attempt to recap a Food and Wine Pairings Masterclass with expert sommelier Douglas Blyde as part of Sopexa‘s very aptly named Absolutely Cracking Wines series.

But before I delve into that, a little background:

I guess you could say I’ve grown up surrounded by wine. One of the first work trips I can remember my Dad going on was a tour of Australian vineyards in the Barossa Valley. As a college student, we visited Saint-Emilion (Dad jokingly disowned me because I made it before he did.) My college boyfriend grew up close to the fantastic wine region surrounding Geneva (Switzerland has stunning wines, just doesn’t export much.) I’ve coerced friends to drink Pinotage in Stellenbosch and my parents now live in Washington State’s up and coming wine region. And that’s not touching on years of “home study,” but I digress…

Despite having wine all around me, most of the time, I only pretend I understand what is going on. I love drinking it. But do I really understand it?

There are two particular moments that have given me pause to remember it is fun to get caught up in the hype of wine but not be intimidated by it. The first was when my Dad told me US wine expert Robert Parker has joked he is only “one nose” (I’m paraphrasing…but basically he said something to the effect of “everyone’s tastes are and should be different – mine is but one highly educated opinion”). And the second was Douglas Blyde’s Masterclass.

I do not say this lightly or because I was invited. I say it because I honestly didn’t feel out of my depth and I didn’t want it to end. I couldn’t scribble down notes on Douglas’ unique banter quickly enough or savor the wines long enough.

View from Paramount

The evening – held at Paramount high above London’s Tottenham Court Road – was titled the “Grand Tour of L’Hexagone”. L’Hexagone is a commonly used description of France’s shape (if you squint, it looks like it has 6 sides).

We were to sample wines from across the country – paired alongside a complimenting dish and dryly amusing anecdotes from Douglas that made the wines sparkle independently of one another.


Pairing 1 (in which we embrace coriander and learn about “scarf wines”)

We started with two lovely spoonfuls of Ceviche paired with AOP Alsace Morrison’s Signature (Cave de Turckheim) Gewurztraminer 2013 and AOP Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Plaimont Producteurs, Saint Albert 2011. Douglas explained that many consider ceviche to be a light weight dish, but that it is actually quite bold when you think about the sugar, salt, coriander and chili added to the fish. The “white wines of pedigree” from completely opposite ends of France – Alsace and the Pyrenees – gave off two distinctly different tastes and yet both brought out fresh flavors from the fish.

And this is where Douglas hooked me with his descriptions: The Alsatian Gewurztraminer tasted of rose, lychee and chalk – “much like you might find in the sweetest grandmother’s drawers”. The Pacherenc was “a good scarf wine” with flavors of honey and marmalade.

Thai Crab Cakes

Pairing 2 (in which we sample Provence, hear of taxidermy & mention tabasco)

Thai Crab Cakes were paired with AOP Savennières, Domaine des Beaumard, Clos du Papillon 2006 and AOP Côtes de Provence, Château Miraval, Rosé 2013. I personally preferred the delicacy of the Rosé, and not only because Douglas threw out that the vineyard’s nearest neighbor is a lady who does taxidermy (these asides are thrown out so casually you have to listen closely just to catch them.)

Douglas also made a statement that years of eating in France hadn’t made me realise: “if there wasn’t wine in France, I’d need a bottle of Tabasco.” And he has a point. French food needs help. Its not the boldest. It thrives on its sauces. It gets support and is boosted by wine.

Looking at the colors

Pairing 3 (in which we learn about abbreviations and politics)

Mushroom Risotto was accompanied by AOP Cote Roannaise, Domaine Sérol, Vielles Vignes 2013 and AOP Alsace, Domaine l’Agapé, Hélios 2012. Here is where I have to apologise to Douglas because just as he mentioned “this is where we get into the soil”, I got involved in a delightful side conversation with one of the organisers, Chris, on why “AOP” (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) was put in front of the wines we were tasting instead of “AOC” (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) I’d known in the past. (The most commonly recognized “appellation” is probably Champagne. It can’t be called Champagne unless it comes from France’s Champagne region.)

The evolution from AOC to AOP comes as the result of EU regulations passed in 2009 in an effort to keep European wines competitive faced with New World wines. AOC doesn’t go away. A producer who is unable to get an AOP will lose its AOC, but a wine can be both AOC and AOP. (Is that like the ‘a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t a square’ equivalent in wine? You can read more about it here. Just don’t believe Douglas if he tells you AOP stands for the Association of Otters of Provence.)


Pairing 4 (in which we talk about the importance of acidity and make a tannins vs Dracula comparison)

Feeling guilty from being distracted, I snapped back to attention at the mention of a 2009 Saint-Julien from the Domaine Henry Martin, Château Haut-Beychevelle Gloria, accompanied by Roast Beef with Yorkshire Puds and a (mouthwatering) Horseradish Sauce. I am a red wine fiend and the Saint-Julien tasted of cigar smoke and pheasant in the best kind of way, though it was actually a bit too young to drink. This was followed by a Corsican Vin de France, Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Faustine Rouge Vielles Vignes 2011 which was quite possibly the star of the evening. Douglas explained that while the AOP wines get a lot of the attention, wines classed as “Vins de France” are attracting many “maverick producers” and this wine was no exception.

He told us that “acidity is a sommelier’s greatest weapon” as it can cut right through the fat in a pork belly and is a reason why wine is so often perfectly paired with the food it is. Then he pulled out a gem about tannins (the molecular compounds that bring out an astringency in red wine that can leave your mouth feeling dry and rough) “the tannins in this wine are like Dracula has been on a binge.”


The finale (cheese. and maple syrup in a glass. enough said.)

This pairing surprised me. Douglas explained that red tannins can actually get in the way of cheese and that sometimes dessert wines can be more complementary. Being endlessly found of red wine, I scoffed at this idea. And was proven wrong.  The AOP Rivesaltes, Domaine Cazes, Ambré 2000 tasted like maple syrup or, as my delightful companion for the evening, Emma sweetly put it: “this wine is me in a glass”. It was like the first time I’d paired a French melty cheese with jam all over again.

For many of the night who were experts, this was a regular occasion and likely part of a work outing. But for me, it was simply one of my favorite Mondays in London thus far.

It is a rare thing to be able to engage experts and novices simultaneously like Douglas did, with just the right blend of knowledge, detail and humor to keep everyone’s attention through the evening. I would highly recommend a tasting spent in his company (made all the sweeter with a handful of great French wines).

Douglas in coversation

Full disclosure: I was kindly invited by Douglas to participate in his tasting, would delightfully take part in one again and almost kept this to myself in an attempt not to share him with others. If I had to pick two wines I’d recommend you try, they would be the AOP Rivesaltes, Domaine Cazes, Ambré 2000 which you can find here for £13.04 (37.5cl) and the Vin de France, Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Faustine Rouge Vielles Vignes 2011 which you can find here for £25.50. I have a reference book if anyone wants more recommendations!

How to stroll in Amsterdam



Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

We have already discussed how I was so naively and delightfully surprised by how beautiful Amsterdam is.

Lindsay had been to Amsterdam before but I’ll admit it took me awhile to make friends with my map. The architecture is so beautiful, it felt a shame to have my head buried in a guidebook so I often found myself going around in circles (take a look at the map below and you might see why this easier to do than you might think). I spent the days strolling the canals, popping in little cafes and shops and trying to get my bearings as to how the city is laid out. I let the canals take me around. I turned right when a building caught my eye. I crossed a bridge when curiosity told me I should.

That’s what you’ll spend a good amount of your time doing in Amsterdam. Don’t let the tales everyone tells you about the Red Light District and coffee shops make you think the city is just its “alternative” side. The city has 165 canals and over 1200 bridges (that is more than Venice). If it is your first trip, get a feel for the layout of the city on foot and then if you are daring, rent a bike. But be warned, the locals zoom around as only a population who is raised on them can and there are still a fair amount of cars. (More cars than I expected; in fact, a friend told us that there is a waiting list you need to sign up to essentially before you are born in order to get a parking permit for the city.)

Which is why I think, as much as I wish I’d taken a bike out, I’m going to state that Amsterdam is a city for strolling. There are so many triangular rooftops to look at, shop windows to admire and old storefront signs to interpret that you’d simply miss them if you were moving any other way. So my advice? Slow down and take in the details.

Window in Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

De Weldaad antique store, Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames


Flea market in Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam locks // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

We stayed in an adorable little houseboat at the top of the Jordaan area – an old warehouse district with buildings dating from the Golden Age (17th century). We’d wander in and out of the little boutique shops of the Nine Streets, I bought amazing sunglasses, we struggled to finish what I’m to endorse as the world’s best apple pie and numbed our tired feet with a mid-afternoon glass of white wine. We’d come back in the evenings to get ready for dinner and watch as all the Dutch brought chairs out to their front stoops to have a drink. None of them seemed to have front porches but everyone would just drag a stool out front and sit on the sidewalk. It was charming.

I can’t wait to go back.

Apple pie at Cafe Papeneiland in Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames

Amsterdam // Jess-On-Thames


Some favorite addresses –

Food & drink

Cafe Papeneiland by Browersgracht (apple pies to put what Americans call apple pie to shame)

Cafe Duende in the Jordaan (casual and delicious tapas restaurant decorated with beautiful tiles)

Cafe Hoppe by Spui (wood-paneled jenever bar on the site since 1670)

STACH food (lovely little deli chain around town – great for a breakfast on-the-go to eat outside)


The Nine Streets (a must for wandering in and out of adorable little stores)

Anna + Nina (jewelry, accessories, stationary & decoration – visit their online shop too)

de Weldaad (antiques and craftsmen home goods with a bit of quirkiness – visit their two stores, both worth a visit and completely distinct from each other)

Droog (studio, hotel & pop-up concept store – gorgeous selection of Ace & Tate eyewear when we were there that looked flattering on everyone that tried them on)




One year in: London



Little Venice // Jess-On-Thames

It has been just over one year since I moved from Brussels to London. I’ve recorded a few thoughts on moving to London thus far… but one year in, I thought it only fitting to confirm:

1. It is addicting to live somewhere where so many people love what they get up to on a regular basis.
2. It can feel like a gigantic metropolis or a little village.
3. It can be comforting.
4. It can be overwhelming.
5. I am still not cool enough for Shoreditch.
6. I gloat a little bit when I’m smart enough to check for weekend Tube closures.

London // Jess-On-Thames

7. British television is amazing: the documentaries, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Honorable Woman, Luther, Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Bake Off, anything with David Attenborough or Simon Reeves in it… I can keep going.
8. I have only ventured south of the river a handful of times (because Southbank doesn’t count). There is no excuse.
9. Londoners can be very territorial (see point above).
10. There is such a thing as historical monument overload. (But one can recover very quickly.)
11. Trains are expensive. And why on earth they need to give you so many tickets every time you travel is beyond me.
12. Half my salary has gone to London bookstores.
13. You can pay for virtually anything by card.
14. I respectfully decline to start calling a garbage truck a “dustbin lorry”.

Portobello Road // Jess-On-Thames

15. Eating out is just as much about the experience as the food.
16. I’m still chuckling about a menu that offered “Braised English Kid” on it.
17. You can get carded. I did. (It was ridiculous.)
18. London is a charitable city. But most of the time likes to pretend it isn’t.
19. Everyone talked to me about tea… but the coffee to be found is amazing.

Parliament Hill // Jess-On-Thames

20. London’s green spaces are very possibly more special than its concrete ones.
21. The NHS is hard to get your head around.
22. If someone says “Hallo, y’aright?” they are not actually curious to know if you are alright.
23. London squirrels = town jesters. Seagulls = menaces. October spiders = absolutely terrifying.
24. Even just thinking about the V&A lowers my blood pressure.
25. I love it.

I’m surprised how quickly London has come to feel like home… if home also happens to be a place where you often can’t wait to get out and explore something new.

Photos by Jess-On-Thames – Little Venice, The Shard, Portobello Road and Parliament Hill.

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