Awards and citations:


1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for investdrinks.org

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award




Tuesday, 22 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: First stage in Pyrénées

Stage 16: 237.5 kms from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon

Today is the longest stage in this year's Tour – 237.5km. It's a savage introduction to three tough mountain stages in the Pyrénées. Of the five categorised climbs – two are significant: Col de Portet d'Aspet (Cat 2) and the final Port de Balès (HC). It was on the descent from the Portet d'Aspet that Fabio Casartelli had his fatal crash in the 1995 Tour. 

Although this stage isn't a mountain top finish, it is straight down to Bagnères-de-Luchon from the top of the Port de Balès, so virtually no chance of making up any time lost on the climb. The Port de Balès has recently started to be popular in the Tour. It made its first appearance in the 2007 edition, after the road had been resurfaced then in 2010 and 2012. The famous chaingate incident occurred in 2010 when Andy Schleck shipped his chain when attacking Alberto Contador, who was criticised by some for not waiting for Schleck. Had they been riding together it might have been reasonable for Alberto to wait but as Andy had put in an attack I can't see why Contador should have been expected to wait for Schleck to sort out his chain. In the event Andy Schleck won the 2010 Tour because of Contador's drugs offence. 

Fortunately the forecast is good for the next two days with the possibility of showers on Thursday afternoon. 

Will Vincenzo Nibali show any weakness today – I doubt it. Instead it looks to be a battle for 2nd and 3rd places. 

See video preview of Stage 16 here.



 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Why are the Douro trains so dirty?


 Port vineyards through the streaks of grime 



The ride up the Douro from Porto São Bento
is recognized as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Unlike the road the train hugs the river from around Aregos (a little over an hour from Porto) right up to Pocinho, the train’s terminus. The landscape, classified by UNESCO, is increasingly magnificent, especially after Pinhão, with the vineyards (Port and Douro reds) playing a starring role. Sadly many of the windows of the Douro train are engrained with dirt, spoiling both the landscape and any photos you take.
 

Curiously the other suburban trains that operate around Porto are very modern and clean as are the ALFA trains running from Porto to Lisbon. Why doesn't Portuguese Railways bother to clean their Douro trains? Equally shouldn't the Portuguese Tourist Board put pressure on the railway to present their wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site in its best possible light?

It is true that train ticket prices are low but they are throughout Portugal and the trains are often clean. I understand that the Douro line is under pressure due to dwindling traffic because of the move away from the country to towns. Presumably improved road links have also played their part as have the popularity of Douro River cruises.





The Douro train@Pocinho


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Eating in Porto: Rui Paula's DOP or O Paparico?


Porto 


One immediate conclusion after three nights in Porto - you can eat very well here.

On our first night we went to the very traditional Casa Aleixo near to the Campanha railway station. Crowded, popular restaurant need to book to avoid long queues said the guide books, so it was somewhat of a shock to arrive at an empty restaurant. True the road outside is currently closed to traffic, while major works is done to the sewage pipes. We ate quite well with some delicious presunto to start. Carole had the speciality merluza (hake) with sq
Visits to Port Houses, Portuguese gastronomy, uid rice - tasty but a little dry, while I went for the roast veal, potatoes and greens. This was a good match for our bottle of Julia Kemper 2011 Dão. But it was sad to be in a restaurant which, over the evening, only had eight customers. Apparently the road works have been going on for two months - the owners must be hoping that business will pick up once it finishes. Warning Casa Aleixo does not take cards.

Rui Paula: DOP

In complete contrast we ate on Thursday and Friday evenings in two of Porto's best and most popular restaurants: firstly Rui Paula's DOP in the centre of the city housed in the Palacio das Artes, Largo de S.Domingo and then O Paparico in the Northern suburbs. Although perhaps it shouldn't be a contest, comparisons are inevitable. In the end it comes down to which restaurant would we go back to if we had to choose one?

In two respects they are similar and equal - the food in both is very good as are their extensive wine lists.

DOP is buzzy - a modern restaurant with hard edges making it noisy. We were seated close to a large group and, although they weren't loud, it was impossible not to be very aware of them and to hear their conversation. Initially the service was excellent including an impressive piece of decanting by the sommelier of our delicious and complex bottle of 2005 Mouchão (Alentejo) @43€. Our wine was at the perfect, cool temperature.

Unfortunately later in the evening the level of service fell off and I had to reach out for our wine and water housed on a separate table. Fortunately within my easy reach but far more difficult for a nearby couple tucked away in the corner. If a restaurant insists on exiling wine from its customers then they should ensure good service right the way through the meal. If not leave the bottle or the decanter on the table as I'm very happy to pour our own wine.

At DOP we started by sharing a carpaccio of bacalhau and a really delicious scrambled egg with  traditional Portuguese sausage. For main course Carole took the perfectly cooked turbot, while I had the equally fine roast cabrito with its crispy skin and moist inside accompanied by an excellent cabrito risotto. We missed desserts finishing with good expresso. It took a while to find someone to bring us the bill - 114 euros.

O Paparico was the strong recommendation of Gabriella Opaz. On the Rua Cabral and north of the ring road it was a good 15 minute taxi ride from the centre of town. From outside the restaurant gave the impression of being closed but on a sharp rap on the metal knocker the door was swiftly opened and we were immediately welcomed inside. "A drink in the bar first or straight to your table?" We opted to go straight to our table - cosily tucked into a corner at the far end of the restaurant.

This welcome set the tone for the evening - the service was brilliant - friendly, efficient but discreet. On Gabriella's insistence we introduced ourselves to Sergio, who runs the restaurant, but I'm sure this made no difference to the high quality of the service. It was clear from watching and admiring the staff serve the other customers.

The decor of O Paparico is homely and rustic with elements of a mythical rural past with stone walls and various accoutrements on the walls. The tables are a little more spaced than at DOP and coupled with the better sound proofing meant that we could talk normally and not hear our neighbours' conversations.

At O Paparico the first courses are already selected and await your arrival but you change any you don't want or order more if you are greedy! We had a very fine carpaccio of octopus, a superb terrine of calves liver in a Port wine sauce and a sheep's milk cheese plus some interesting bread and special biscuits with the terrine.

Having had a red from the Alentejo the night before we looked for a Douro red this time and went for the 2008 Vinhas Velhas (45€) from Quinta do Crasto (www.quintadocrasto.pt/). The sommelier tells it is their last bottle.  More powerful and butch than the Mouchão but less complex, it needed time in the decanter and glass to really open up. It was, however, a very good match with the veal.

The principle of the main courses is that they are for two people but you can opt to have two half portions to share and this is a good way get to try more dishes. We opted for tenderloin of pork with apple sauce first and followed this with veal in a mushroom sauce. Both dishes were very fine with the pork tenderloin beautifully tender and slightly pink. Although called veal in Portugal in the UK we would class this as beef as we experience veal as a white meat. Whatever it was rare and delicious!

We normally do without desserts, especially in Portugal where they are often oversweet. However, as the food was so good here we decided to break this habit. Carole chose the chocolate and I opted for a crème brulée. Made from bitter chocolate, the chocolate was a real standout dense and concentrated – just lovely!

Rich chocolate mousse  

A couple of coffees bought the bill to 134€ in line with DOP (even fractionally cheaper) as we only had two courses there and took a glass of the 2008 LBV from Noval with a chocolate mousse. And yes it was a good match!

I’d go back to O Paparico before DOP mainly because the service was much better – more attentive and professional.

For lunch on Friday we followed a recommendation from the Catavino site – the rooftop terrace of Porto Cruz (http://www.myportocruz.com) in Vila Nova da Gaia. It was ideal for a snack – a capaccio of bacalhau, scrambled egg with Portuguese sausage and some little green pimentos accompanied by a glass each of 2013 Alvarinho Muros Antigos. A peaceful oasis with great views. 

Table view from Porto Cruz



              

2014 Tour de France: Kristoff takes 2nd stage win in Nîmes


It was so near for the two-man breakaway with Jack Bauer caught within 50 metres of the line after they had been out in front for almost all of the 222 kilometres of the stage. Had they just ridden for the line then they might have just made it but they started fencing and that was just enough for the peloton to swallow them. Fine second stage win for Alexander Kristoff with Peter Sagan taking third place and racking up yet more Green Jersey points but still no stage win this year. Surely there is no stage left in this Tour that will suit Sagan. André Griepel featured in 4th place, while Marcel Kittel was surprisingly only 11th. Perhaps reflects that the sprint teams were rather disorganised at the run-in or Kittel may just be tired after mountains.

See updated list of Tour de France stage winners – 1903 to 2014 as Norway finds a rider to follow on from the great Thor Hushovd.  


No change in the overall classification with Vincenzo Nibali leading by 4:37. In the Green Jersey competition Peter Sagan now leads Bryan Coquard by 402 points to 226 points. Short of crashing Sagan has won the jersey he doesn't need any more points!

Tomorrow is a rest day before three tough days in the Pyrénees where the battle is likely to be for 2nd and 3rd place with Valverde, Bardet, Pinot, Van Garderen and Peraud being the main contenders.