Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Burgundy

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“Sangliers sur la ligne,” said the announcement as the TGV, France’s high-speed train, ground to a halt somewhere between Paris and Burgundy. We got a good view of the wild boar, about a dozen of them, as they left the tracks and sauntered across a field before disappearing into some forest. Then we were on our way again. Read More...
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Taste of Tuscany

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Oh, to be a crow in Tuscany, land of the rolling hill and the ever-winding road. Your destination is glimpsed long before you reach it, particularly if it is a hilltop town such as the multi-towered San Gimignano. Read More...
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Forget Sherry!

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Say instead: Fino, manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso… Can any other wine style or region boast such a splendid a quintet of evocative, mellifluous names as this? Roll them on your tongue, savour them, hear how they resonate. To lump them all together under the prosaic term ‘sherry’ seems such a travesty. Read More...
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The Douro Valley

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As befits the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, the Douro Valley makes mincemeat of any descriptive superlative hurled at it, no matter how poetic it might be. Established only by dint of soul-destroying toil in torrid summers and bitter winters, it can safely be asserted that if it was still virgin territory today nobody in their right mind would think of planting vines there. Read More...
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Meursault Mass

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The church bells boomed out over Meursault yesterday morning, just prior to the weekly mass at 10.30, as a dazzling sun vied with a brittle breeze to warm or chill any exposed flesh. Inside, the congregation ranged from youngsters of just a few vintages to stooped old-timers whose memories stretched way back into the last century. Read More...
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Burgundy UNESCO Bid

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Readers familiar with John B Keane’s play The Field have an advantage when it comes to understanding the wine region that can easily claim to be the world’s most fabled: Burgundy. Burgundy is a state of mind as much as a name on a map and its citizens are characterised by a visceral attachment to the land; you could be forgiven for thinking that if some of them stood still for long enough they would put down roots. Read More...
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Argentina Part II

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Despite appearances there’s wine beyond Mendoza, Argentina’s principal region that accounts for the lion’s share of production, and garners most of the attention from trade and consumers in the process. Down south there’s Patagonia, which, between its sub regions, Río Negro and Neuquén, is home to about 4,500 hectares of vineyard. Read More...
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Argentina Part I

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Remember the Renault 12? The small family saloon with the funny, ski-slope boot that has all but disappeared from Irish roads? Well, it still rules in Argentina, specifically the city of Mendoza, capital of that vast country’s eponymous principal wine region – as I had plenty of time to observe when stuck in early morning traffic on my way to the Luigi Bosca winery recently. Read More...
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Champagne

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Champagne. There is no other name or phrase in the whole world of wine that can generate the same response as enunciation of that single word: ‘Champagne’. Thoughts of celebration, images of carefree bounty, success, romance, good fellowship all bubble to the surface at the mention of it, just as surely as the bubbles in the wine itself. Read More...
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World Gourmet Summit - Singapore


The double-decker Airbus A380 really is a big plane and you only realise how big as you wait in the departure lounge ready to board, along with hundreds of other passengers who, you tell yourself, must obviously be destined to board three or four separate flights. Not a bit of it. The plane easily swallows up a crowd that looks as if it could go a long way towards filling the Aviva Stadium. Apart from that it is pretty ordinary, much like any other plane, unless, that is, you are sequestered in luxury up front, a treat that will have to wait for the day I win the Lotto. Read More...
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Buenos Aires Dining


“We will be interested to hear what changes you notice.” I arrived back in Buenos Aires for the first time since 1999 just two days ago and I have already lost count of the number of people who have said that to me. The first and most obvious change is the dining scene. My memory of 12 years ago is of an avalanche of doorstop steaks and little else. Today, an avalanche of new restaurants sees steak still on the menu but it has been joined now by a host of other delectable dishes. Read More...
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Montrachet for Breakfast


If I said that this bunch of Montrachet grapes fell off the back of a passing truck no one would believe me but that is what happened last Saturday afternoon. I picked them up and hollered, sotto voce, after the driver but he didn't hear me (that's the untrue bit). Could I make a few centiliters of wine with them? What to ferment it in? The bowl of an unused pipe made of oak? No, I didn't think so either. And they taste so good. Perfect for breakfast, in fact, intensely juicy and mouthwatering, sweet ‘n’ sour all in the one bite. Impossible to stop eating them. Read More...
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Burgundy Dawn


These 6.00am starts are not easy, particularly now with the days shortening and the sky still dark at that hour – save for a scattering of stars on a clear morning. But I was rewarded yesterday as I drove through Chassagne-Montrachet, crossing the D906 that links Saint-Aubin with Chagny, before climbing up the small hill between Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet on the right and Blanchot-Dessus on the left. Cresting the rise, the colours changed from muted greys to opulent reds, pinks and oranges and the vineyards went up a few notches in quality too; Bâtard-Montrachet now to the right and Le Montrachet on the left. Read More...
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Burgundy Harvest Begins


After a growing season that witnessed extraordinarily variable weather, harvest is gradually getting underway in the Côte d’Or. It is an early harvest, about three weeks earlier than last year, mainly thanks to the summer-like weather experienced in April. This continued through May and into June, with the mercury creeping towards a furnace-like 40ºC at times, leaving the ground parched and the vines badly in need of a drink. Which they certainly got in July, when the temperature plummeted and the rain came down, and down. Read More...
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McDonalds in France

At a recent wine tasting in the Ramonet cellars in Chassagne-Montrachet I met a gentleman from Beaune who protested vigorously when I casually mentioned that the historic old town now boasted its own McDonalds. He set me straight by pointing out that it was not IN Beaune but on the outskirts. Once that hair had been split we settled down to tasting the wines but it set me thinking for, contrary to what might be expected, McDonalds is phenomenally successful in France. A few days later I was in the city of Dijon, hungry at lunchtime and in need of a casual bite. Eschewing a thronged McDonalds on rue de la Liberté I searched instead for something more Gallic. Read More...
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Beaune Market


One of the most sacred rituals for holidaymakers in France is a visit to the local market to stock up on fruit and vegetables, bread and cheese, meat, fish and fowl. Critical judgement will usually be abandoned and in its place will come a dewy-eyed Arcadian vision, which always results in first time visitors buying far more than they need. Arms will be dragged nearly from their sockets as ton-weight bags are lugged laboriously between stalls and the throng of other shoppers. And that is when you spot the clever market shopper, nonchalantly pulling a trolley bag, stopping to examine everything carefully before making a purchase. Read More...
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Bordeaux Lunch


Last Friday in Bordeaux the weather was doing a quickstep between snippets of sunshine and cascades of rain. The former showed the city to perfection, gloriously restored and barely recognisable now from the drab, sad metropolis that presented a tired face to the world in the 1990s. The latter sent the crowds scurrying for shelter under awnings and umbrellas or, more effectively, the portico of the splendid opera house. There I stood, peering grimly across to the Regent Hotel, as the Porsches and BMWs divested guests and luggage for a short, wet sprint to the lobby. Read More...
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Ma Cuisine - Beaune


Any lady who has successfully negotiated the cobblestones of Trinity College Dublin’s Front Square in high heels should have no difficulty making her way along the Passage Sainte-Hélène in Beaune (off the Place Carnot) to dine at Ma Cuisine. Others may wish to approach from the Rue Poterne end where the traverse across the cobbles is but a few paces. Either route shouldn’t be too much of a trial for the gentlemen and both will lead you to this gem of a restaurant, long-time favourite of wine producers, merchants and writers. Read More...
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Bastille Day Food & Wine


What to eat and drink on Bastille Day, or ‘quatorze juillet’ as the French usually refer to their national holiday? You could spend a whole year debating that topic, and I suspect that some people do, but for me it is a no-brainer: it has to be a poulet de Bresse with haricots vert, ratte potatoes and, dare I say it, my own wizard gravy, made with a half-litre of frozen stock extracted from the bones of the last poulet. It is a simple meal, without much elaboration or ‘make up’, so the basic ingredients have to be top-notch, starting with the poulet de Bresse.

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Lunch in Beaune


The Wednesday market in Beaune, wine capital of Burgundy, is not the grand affair that takes over the heart of the town every Saturday. Come Wednesday, it has shrunk back on itself, out of the adjoining streets and the Place Carnot, and huddles outside the Place de la Halle, venue for the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction. For the auction the hall is robed in scarlet, and every Saturday it is crammed with stalls, but yesterday the solitary butcher’s stall belonged to Pascal Gravelais, the best butcher in town. With a steady drizzle falling from a pewter sky we were not tempted to linger; the necessary purchases were made and after a brief confab under dripping brollies it was agreed that we should cheer ourselves up with a light lunch in Le Gourmandin. Read More...
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Mayday Brunch in Singapore


Having made do with nothing more than an orange for breakfast I was ready for something more substantial by the time I entered the Capella Hotel, Singapore yesterday for the mother of all brunches. On arrival, I caught the unmistakable, gentle but insistent, whiff of white asparagus on the air. Following the trail to source I came across a steaming urn of soup manned by Jan Touschil, head chef at the Magma German wine bistro. It was splendid stuff, delightfully subtle and judiciously seasoned by a light hand. Read More...
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Gourmet Abu Dhabi


Terror, pure and refined, is not what you expect when attending a gourmet festival. When that festival takes place in Abu Dhabi, however, and when a visit to Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster is on the programme, that is precisely what you get. An agonising 92 seconds on this vicious, snaking monster brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘white knuckle ride’. Enough said. Read More...
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World Gourmet Summit - Singapore


I have just landed in Singapore where I will be spending five days, most of it reporting on the World Gourmet Summit, which is now in its 15th year. The summit is an ambitious, two-week-long, event that brings together a legion of celebrated chefs and winemakers from across the globe. It is the brainchild of Peter Knipp who hails originally from Germany. Read More...
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Needle... Haystack... La Ruchotte


My first attempt to find La Ferme de la Ruchotte, buried deep in the Burgundian countryside, almost ended in failure a few years ago. It lies between the villages of Bligny-sur-Ouche and Bessey-en-Chaume, about 15 kilometres north west of Beaune. It was well worth the search for it is one of France’s gastronomic jewels. Read More...
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Gambal Expands


The latest news from Burgundy’s Côte d’Or is that Alex Gambal, originally from the Washington DC area, but with his own domaine and negociant business in Beaune since 1997, has completed the purchase of some prized parcels of vineyard in the grand cru Bâtard-Montrachet, along with Puligny-Montrachet ‘Les Enseignères’ and Chassagne-Montrachet ‘L’Ormeau’. Read More...
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Volnay Visit



Obtaining an entrée to the cellars of top winemakers in Burgundy is notoriously difficult. Many of them operate on a tiny scale and simply are not set up to receive visitors. Others simply like playing the cussed curmudgeon and, anyway, “We have no wine to sell.” Read More...
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Gourmet Abu Dhabi: 2nd-17th February

If the words ‘Gourmet’ and ‘Abu Dhabi’ don’t exactly fit together in your mind then think again. I was the same myself until my first visit late last year. The first evening I dined on a splendid rib eye steak, accompanied by a tasty Erath Pinot Noir 2007 from Oregon, in Marco Pierre White’s recently opened restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel. Not every restaurant is as good, but this Emirate is certainly a place on the move in culinary terms. Beware the wine prices, though, they will bring your credit card to its knees. Read More...
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Burgundy Harvest 2010


Harvest, or la vendange, is the summit of the year’s work, a period of frantic activity that is curiously at odds with the normally well ordered pace of life and work on the Côte d’Or. It follows on from one of the quietest periods in August when vineyard work ceases, holidays are taken and winery equipment is cleaned and checked. There is nothing to do but wait. Then, the normally sedate villages come alive with activity and noise. Read More...
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The Douro Boys



There is nowhere like the Douro Valley. Nowhere. Words and superlatives are stretched to breaking point to describe it and then discarded when found to be totally useless. The message is simple: if you are going to visit only one wine region in your life and you want stunning, rugged, raw, primal beauty then get yourself to the Douro. The vistas here are not picture postcard pretty. The vineyards are not manicured. No make-up has been applied. Read More...
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Veneto - One Coin, Two Sides


The coin that is the Veneto region of Italy presents two radically different faces to the world. Firstly, there is Soave, fruity and perfumed and all too easily dismissed as bland and insipid. Secondly, and way out at the other end of the style spectrum, is Amarone, Valpolicella’s ultimate expression. They could hardly be more different, one from the other. Read More...
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Breakfast in Pommard



It is 8.50am on Thursday 28th January last in the Burgundy village of Pommard and the mercury is tucked two or three degrees below freezing. A needle-sharp wind makes it feel a lot colder and the mothers dropping their children off to school don’t tarry for a chat. Read More...
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Mosel Magic


Exactly six years ago I wrote: “…to evince an interest in wine in general while ignoring German Riesling is like claiming to study literature while disregarding poetry.” Those words remain as true today as they were then, yet an alarming number of wine drinkers continue to disregard the poetry. In Germany’s Mosel region (also known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) the poetry reaches a peak of perfection that is unmatched by any other wine region in the world. Reaching such heights, however, is no easy task and calls for a high-wire balancing act between sweetness and acidity. Veer in favour of the former and you end up with sugar-water. Over-emphasise the latter and the result is a teeth-jarring concoction utterly devoid of charm. Get it right and every sip of your wine tingles with excitement. Read More...
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Driving to Burgundy



Those vineyards qualify as some of the most fragmented and parcellated in the world. Thanks to the Napoleonic code of inheritance, holdings are continuously divided between all heirs. Add to this changes of ownership through marriage and purchase and the whole patchwork becomes baffling in the extreme. Read More...
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Herreth???

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“Herreth?” is the usual response when you mention to people in this part of the world that you are going to visit Jerez, the capital of sherry country. Sherry. Was there ever a wine more misunderstood and ill-served by its reputation? Read More...
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Turner by Turns

Early January traditionally ushers in a wave of resolutions that would do a monastery proud. A week or so later, however, most of them have bitten the dust, abandoned as far too strict and ambitious. They needn’t all be like that, though. Here’s a suggestion for a ‘resolution’ that demands nothing more than a bit of get up and go, some forward planning and a liking for a pleasant weekend away with spouse or partner. Read More...
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St Petersburg - World Orchestra for Peace



It is May 2003 and St Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Theatre is getting a facelift. An ocean of mint green paint has been applied to the vast exterior and now the finishing touches, in the form of white highlights, are being daubed on by a lady with a minute brush. She’s probably still there. Read More...
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