Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Oenophile has returned!

Greetings, fellow Oenophiles!

Hubby and I just returned from our trip to Belgium. The reason was ostensibly so we could attend my mother's family reunion and he could meet the Belgian side of the family. However, we had our own agendas. He planned to drink his way across the country by sampling as many Belgian beers as possible, and I planned to take advantage of access to a greater variety of European, specifically French, wines.

I've only given one restaurant website because it's the only one that had a version in English.

We spent the first couple of days in Brussels, and, I found out later from my cousins, managed to eat at somewhat touristy restaurants while we were there. The first night, we had moules frites (mussels steamed with white wine served with Belgian -- not French -- fries) at Restaurant Vincent. The tour guides had advertised this as a meat place, but the menu was half seafood, and about three fourths of the other people in the restaurant were eating mussels as well. We shared a bottle of the 2007 de La Chapelle Sauvignon (no type of Sauvignon given, I assume Blanc). It was very light and mineral with a floral nose, kind of like a Pinot Gris, but a little fruitier like an Oregon Pinot Gris.

The next night, we took advantage of the Prix Fixe menu at Aux Armes de Bruxelles to have some of our favorite Belgian foods. These included Belgian endives steamed, wrapped in ham, and baked in a Gruyere sauce with a hint of nutmeg, and Flemish Stew, which is beef stew made with beer (of course). We had the 2004 La Bastide Dauzac (Margaux appellation), made by Andre Lurton. It had a fruity nose with a hint of green-ness and was medium-bodied with soft tannins. The web site gave the following blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 58%, Merlot 37%, Cabernet Franc 5%. Yes, it played well with the food.

We did make a very nice wine discovery in Blankenberge, a small coastal town where the Belgians like to take holidays. We got very lucky in that the weather was good all weekend. Odette, the proprietor of the Belle Epoque Hotel, served an excellent red wine the night of the reunion as well as the following night for after-dinner drinks. It was the 2007 La Sartan from the Cotes du Ventoux region of France. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault, it was full-bodied, fruity with enough oak and butter to make it silky, and nicely balanced, as it went well with food and on its own. I had never heard of the Cotes du Ventoux region of France, which is essentially between Rhone and Provence, but I will definitely be looking for more reds from this area!

On Monday, it was off to Brugge, a town that is known for its medieval architecture, canals, and lots of tourists.


Another canal with swans:

Main square with tourists:

Beer at the Halve Moon Brewery in Brugge:

We heard more English spoken there than Dutch, but I wanted to go with Hubby because it's where my parents honeymooned, so they brought me and my sister there many years later, and I remembered it as being really pretty. We ate dinner at Bistro Arti's, which is known for its modern take on Belgian food. We drank the 2006 Monfil Tinto (Carinera, Spain), a blend of 70% Grenacha, 30% Tempranillo. The nose is smoky currant, and the wine itself had nice dark fruit and good acidity. It went very well with the mushrooms that came with my duck and the peppercorn sauce with Hubby's steak.

Tuesday found us in Ghent, which is also famous for medieval architecture and canals, but not quite so many, and, honestly, it was a bit of a letdown after Brugge. It was also under construction with cranes mixed in with the historic towers:

We may have felt differently had we actually been staying in the historic part, where we found a cafe that resonated with our math geekiness:

Being in the 'burbs allowed us to discover the Restaurant Patyntje, which is in a mansion in a residential area on the river. Once we had walked and walked and walked to get there, we felt we had earned our dinner. We had the house wine, a 2007 Louis de Jolimont Cabernet Sauvignon (Vin de Pays d'Oc). Nice nose with a hint of butter/oak, black currant, and a spicy finish. We found it to be nicely full-bodied for a French wine.

Antwerp was the next stop. By that time, our feet were worn out from walking on cobblestones, and we'd seen a bunch of historic stuff, so we kept the educational part to a minimum with the Cathedral and the Reubens House. I got to go shopping, not for diamonds, but for clothes because the European clothes actually fit me. We stumbled into the Cafe/Restaurant De Kaai our second night there while looking for one mentioned in the guidebooks that had closed, but we didn't mind. Restaurant De Kaai is on the river, and we sat on the heated patio and enjoyed watching the boats go in and out of the harbor. There, Hubby was able to eat pheasant, which was only allowed to be served after October 15, and we shared a bottle of 2006 Martino Biscardo Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Veneto, Italy). This was the best Valpolicella I've ever tasted. A blend of Corvino and Rondinella, the nose is incredibly fruity, and there is a little spice, chocolate, and vanilla on the palate. (Note: when I did a search on this wine, I found it available here in the 'States. It's worth a taste if you find it!)

In Antwerp, there's a bar called the Eleventh Commandment that salvaged statues from old churches. I think that they all look quite happy in their current home, although the large statue of St. Therese of Lisieux in the women's W.C. (not pictured) was a little creepy:

Our final day took us back to Brussels in anticipation of flying out the following day. Hubby had been looking forward to fish in the Place Saint Catherine area, where the fish markets used to be when Brussels had a river and port. We ate at La Belle Maraichere, where we finished off the trip with a 5-course dinner and a bottle of 2006 Chateau de la Roulerie Chenin Sec (Loire Valley). This could qualify as a Big Ass White, all floral with some lychee and lime. My note is that it's great with fish.

One thing we really enjoyed about European restaurants was that the pace of dining isn't as all rushed. In other words, the focus is on the experience for the diner, not on turning tables. When we reserved a table, we came in to see a little "Reserve" sign on the table, and dinner frequently took two to three hours. Although we liked it, I wonder how many American diners would enjoy that.

I have to give one beer comment. Thanks to Mike from the Brick Store for the recommendation to seek out the Bierhuis Kulminator in Antwerp. We've all heard of cellaring wine, but they cellar and age beer as well as keep a large amount of beer on hand. The menu is huge, so I asked for a recommendation from Leen Boudewijn, one of the owners. I had and loved the Malheur 12, and then Hubby and I had an Orval, a Trappist beer, from the year we got married (2004). It's kind of depressing to think that we're now going to have to pay $10 for beers we were paying 3-4 Euros for over there.

Here's a picture of the bar at the Bierhaus Kulminator:

Their beer fridge is way better than your beer fridge (Brick Who?):

Finally, a couple of Belgian sommeliers followed us home:


Unknown said...
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Cecilia Dominic said...

The oenophile does NOT accept advertisers, especially sneaky freeloading ones. The previous comment will be deleted as soon as I get to a computer.