Dinner with Ruth

Ruth has been in our minds for many years, in thoughts from long distance as well as closely in real life. We have strolled by. We have tried to visit. However, it was not until this year, during Skagen’s Blue September, that it became a reality. And we, we got enchanted.

Now Ruth is not a woman, but the last name of the family that 110 years ago opened the “Badepensionatet Vesterhus” in Gl. Skagen, the Old Skagen, in Denmark. Today the establishment carries the name Ruths Hotel and comprise several beautiful houses, huddling just behind the dunes, a short distance from the tremendously long beach on the northern tip of Jylland.

The beach in Old Skagen

Old Skagen is flat, wrapped in sand and dunes. The calm reigns. Holiday houses and hotels. Most houses are plastered in yellow with red tiled roofs, characteristic with their white stripes of cement keeping ridge and border tiles in place.

The big black navigation mark watches over the village, a given spot to visit, before or after the beach walk, where attention is caught by loads of beautifully formed round stones and the hope to find precious amber.

In August 2013 the Swedish business magazine DI Weekend gave Ruths Hotel the maximum score in their hotel top list followed by the heading “five star hit between two seas”. At the same time as we gnashed our teeth (well, it was “our” pearl, that we wanted to explore by ourselves), we became more informed and got the full picture. There, on the other side of the Kattegatt sea, waited not just a cosy atmosphere, but also a remarkable experience in the gourmet restaurant. Luckily for us we have energetic friends, but even so there was a couple of DI Weekend 16 aug 2013attempts before calendars eventually were synchronised with each other, with rooms and with the very limited number of seats in the restaurant.

Ruths has two restaurants; a more “simple” brasserie with French focus, and then our target for the evening, the restaurant named “Ruths Gourmet v/Malling & Schmidt”.

There was a little bit of excitement involved in the visit. Since DI’s critique a new face had assumed the responsibility of Ruths’ kitchen, Thorsten Schmidt. We were however not a bit worried. Thorsten’s CV within the higher cuisine is dazzling.

We opt for the five course menu, which turnes out to be ten when we count all extra servings, and to drink the recommended wine package. A choice that turns out to be very good. The wines pair beautifully with the food. And the food? One word is enough. Excellent.

We only have one single objection and that concerns the dessert wine. Lovely in itself, but we perceive it a bit too sweet in combination with the presentation on the plate. Some other wine selection is slightly surprising, but is perfectly understood when the course arrives to the table. We cannot wish for more.

Some wines we remember a little extra. First the champagne A. Robert Brut with its distinct minerality. From Les Vins des Viennes, Sotanum 2008, Syrah precisely as we like it: dark berries, meaty and some peppery notes. And the grand treat of the night, a delicous Beaujolais Village, superbly balanced, light and at the same time packed with a spectrum of beautiful berry flavours, from Julien Sunier; Raisins Sauvages 2010.

The overall experience of food and wine combined is exceptional, perfected by the relaxed and attentive service. The pace is calm, yet five hours pass quickly. A dream, a exquisite experience.

Ruths is just as cozy as we had imagined. The village is pleasantly quiet. But even so time runs too fast. We take a couple of walks on the beach. Would have liked them to be longer. We sleep very good in our beautiful room in “Strandhotellet”. Would have liked to spend some more time there, just relaxing. The wellness center, with its tropically heated pool, we just watch it from distance. The brasserie, it is still to be explored.

After a hectic summer we want more time to just be. So the words we write in the guest book are actually a promise to ourselves;
“We will be back.”

Thanks N and R for a wonderful experience together!

This is a translation of “Middag med Ruth“, originally posted 25 September 2014 on my Swedish blog Ljuva Druvor.

Smörrebröd, Bröndums and Skagen in blue

The beautiful nordic light plays over the beach, over dunes and sea in the Danish village Skagen all the year around. However, in September it is said to be extraordinary blue. So blue that this month has been announced to be the Blue September with many activities on the tourist agenda.

At the very north end of Jylland, at Grenen, where you can stand with one foot in the Skagerack sea and with the other one in Kattegatt and look out over heaven and an endless sea, we know that it is exactly so blue. This time we content ourselves with the beach in Gl. Skagen, the Old Skagen, where we can conclude that the light is very blue, deep September blue.

Stranden Gamla Skagen

In the late nineteenth century, it was the beautiful light that attracted the artists. Today we are the ones seeking light and culture, primarily in the culinary field.

It is time for lunch. We ask in the wine store on Skagen’s pedestrian street about the best place for smörrebröd, the delicious Danish variation of sandwiches. The answer comes quickly and of course it is Bröndums. We have been there before, we should have known. So, we walk some hundred meters north, according to our advisor (and His recollection) exactly 534. We did not measure. A short stroll in exchange for a genuine Danish experience.

Bröndums Hotel, beautiful in typical style, comprise several houses of red bricks and big white paned windows. The closest neighbour is Skagens Museum, with their large collection of art made by the Skagen painters.

Today the late summer heat stretches into the beginning of September and warms the garden. Every one of the white garden furniture sets are occupied by guests. However, we are happy to be seated inside. The ceiling is high in the dining room. Large windows, much light and atmosphere. Crowded with a low buzz around us.

The list with smörrebröd is not that long, but it is still hard to choose. A Danish smörrebröd is big, so we have to restrict ourselves. We take a couple of them. In the glass we pour the Danish beer “Skawskum” from Skagen’s own brewery, Skagens Bryghus. And of course a small snaps; “en lille en”.

Smörrebröd Bröndums

The smörrebröd are brought to us on thin plates in white and blue, the classic dinner set “Musselmalet”.  First a fried and pickled herring with onion and capers. Then a liver pate with crispy bacon and small mushrooms. Both delicious.

Smörrebröd Bröndums

This lunch alone would have been worth the trip. But we will head on for our next stop. We have a date with Ruth for dinner.

Note: Skagens Museum was closed for renovation and expansion on September 15. Reopening is planned in May 2015. Many of the paintings are available to be seen on the internet; Google Cultural Institute; Skagens Museum.

This is a translation of the post “Smörrebröd, Bröndums och Skagen i blått” originally posted the 23 September 2014 in Swedish on my blog Ljuva Druvor.

Spritzy Basque Geology, Flysch Txakolina

Lively gestures are used when the guys show me. Do not keep the bottle near the glass when pouring! Oh no, not so. One of them demonstrates and his arm makes a movement upwards in a wide curve. There must be a good distance between glass and bottle. The other one nods confirmingly. I measure with my eyes. That is at least 50 centimeters. How are we going succeed with this?

Flysch Txakolina

“Tjackowhat?” said He when I showed the bottle and told about the very specific user guide. “Txakolí”, I repeated. But what I really said was something like tschackaulii, a pronunciation I earlier that afternoon had got approval for.

Perhaps not that peculiar that the penny didn’t drop immediately. Txakolí is hardly mentioned at the classes hold by Munskänkarna, the Swedish wine amateur organisation, and the sommelier training just rushed through the subject. We had never tried, so this gift from the donor’s homelands was highly appreciated.

We opened the wine atlas from Johnson and Robinson (2013). Oh yes, there is a very short text about the Basque country and three small areas for the wine named Txakolí in Basque and Chacolí in Spanish. The paragraph ends with “They are served locally by pouring from a great height into tumblers.” There it was again. We had better to be outdoors for this pouring.

Said and done, a sunny evening we walk down to the harbour. What could be a better setting for a wine so closely associated with sea and seafood? And we have some rock around us, even if we cannot match the fantastic formations that has given this wine its name.

Flysch TxakolinaFlysch Txakolina 2013. DO Getariako Txakolina.
Light yellow, frothing rims. Youthful, a little shy on the nose, fresh of citrus and a sense of wet rocks. On the palate, relatively light bodied with lively acidity and gentle fizziness. Very fresh fruitiness from citrus and lime and with a distinct minerality. The aftertaste stays for an eternity with palate filling fresh and sweet ripe citrus fruitiness, wet stones and a delightful touch of saltiness.

An invisible bubble has emerged over the quayside where we sit, a bubble that  shut out the sounds of murmur, yachts and waves from the sea. We look at each other over the top of the glasses. Words lingers. Perhaps our expectations were not that huge, as this type of wine is almost unknown here. Is this why we feel slightly stunned?

The Flysch Txakolina is very good. It leaves an exciting impression: lively, appetizing and very enjoyable.  We like the low 11,5% alcohol. And that gorgeous length. It just never disappears. And we who just have this one single bottle…

Flysch turns out to be the brand of a recently established producer with 2011 as the first vintage on the market. Although Juan Mª Etxabe, the man behind the wine, is not new in wine, but the fourth generation of txakolí-producers. In 2008 he planted Hondarribi zuro vines in an area of what is called “the Basque Coast Geopark”. The bodega, named Gorosti, is located in Elorriaga, right next to the coast line, between the small cities Itziar-Deba and Zumaia. Most people would probably just shake their heads hearing all these names, but if we say between Bilbao and San Sebastian it is easier to locate.

In the area for DO Getariako Txakolina, 95% of the vineyards consist of the grape Hondarribi zuro. The remaining percentage holds the black Hondarrabi beltza. This is an area with great humidity and the vines are traditionally trained high, usual is about two meters above the soil as pergolas, which makes it easy for the wind to blow into the vines and dry the grapes.

The wine has a high acidity and a gentle fizziness that originates from the time it spent on the lees, i.e. “sur lie”, during several months until it is time to bottle. It is made to be enjoyed young. The very specific method of pouring is to enhance the fizziness of the wine and at the same time give it a little air.

Well, we must confess that it was not easy to pour as advised. Some came outside the glass, but the fizz was fine.

Flysch, Zumaia. Photo credit: Etchecolonea (wikimedia)
Flysch, Zumaia. Photo credit: Jean Michel Etchecolonea (wikimedia)

The Basque Coast Geopark extends 13 km along the coast. It was inaugurated in 2010 and is a part of an European network of geologically interesting locations. (In Sweden there is not any geoparks yet, but we are in the starting blocks.) Geologists and tourists come to the Basque Coast to study and experience the unique rock formations, known as flysch. These were formed under the sea 60 million years ago and are fascinating to look at with their layers upon layers of rock. The inner part of the geopark offers interesting formations of limestone, called karst.

Flysch at Ermita de San Telmo. Photo credit: Simoncio (wikimedia)
Flysch at Ermita de San Telmo. Photo credit: Simoncio (wikimedia)

Sea, geology and stunningly beautiful views. If we want more culture, Bilbao is offering renowned architecture and art. The gastronomy is known to be on top, including both fine dining and simple bars where tasty pintxos, the local form of tapas, are presented on the counter and the txakolí flows. Exploring the wine and vines are easily done by travelling the Txakolí Route through Getaria and Rioja is not far away if anyone wants further adventures in wine country.

Oh, this sounds like some kind of tourist advertisment. But after a beautiful bottle of Txakolína and some net surfing it feels very tempting; a place to put on the wish list.

 

This is a translation of a post from my Swedish blog “Ljuva Druvor”, originally posted on 26th August 2014: “Spritsande baskisk geologi, Flysch Txakolina”.

Stairway to heaven

A black box. An unexpected content. One of the best gifts I have ever received. He had been to Mallorca, just before harvest. Seen the staircase to heaven up close.

This black box does not differ that much from other boxes holding six bottles of wine. Most wine boxes are of course not made of elegant shiny black cardboard, but otherwise it is quite an ordinary box. Black, with the name of the producer, Castell Miquel, printed in large white letters.

The difference was found inside. There were only five bottles of wine. And it was not due to fear of overweight on the plane, that the sixth bottle was missing. No, there was better stuff.

Castell Miquel grows many varieties, among them Cabernet Sauvignon. And that was what occupied the sixth place. Several bunches of small, small intense blue grapes of the variety Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicous, small, stuffed with fruit, amazingly sweet.

It is almost three years since I, for the first and up till now the only time, tasted fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. I will gladly do it again. The black box, it went down in the cellar, waiting for the right time to come, and was only this summer picked up again. Time to taste the Stairway to Heaven.

Castell Miquel is located just North of Palma, on the border to the  rugged mountains Sierra de Tramuntana, just beside the little village Alaró. Here, in the middle of a steep slope, was a small, picturesque white castle built in the 60ies for a sister in law to Franco. Today, the estate is in German hands and well known for its high quality wines. The appellation is Vi de la Tierra Mallorca and six different wines are produced, among them a Cava. International grape varieties rule: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

The stairway to heaven relates to the estate’s steep terarces of vineyards, above and below the little castle and does not allude to Led Zeppelin’s mega hit. No, the origin is much more devout than that.

The legend says that an angel pointed out this place to a farmer and asked him to plant vines. The wine made from the grapes became the best ever from Mallorca. As a gesture of thankfulness the farmer placed a Madonna statue in a still unlocated cave nearby. The present owner, Professor Michael A. Popp, gave the vineyards the name Stairway to Heaven when he had renovated and replanted the old terraces. A name related to the legend.

If the wines are the best of Mallorca today, we don’t know. We have not tasted any other. But we do know now, that Castell Miquel is really, really good.

Castell Miquel Rosado and Blanco
Stairway to Heaven Blanco.
Based on Sauvignon Blanc, that is what the website states, and that is also the only grape name present in His notes from the visit. However, here ought to be something more. The characteristic Sauvignon markers are gentle and complemented by spicy and floral notes.
Yellow, with a light greenish hint. Developed on the nose with a vegetative character of hay, a bit boxwood and some waxy notes. To that a floral impression of honeysuckle and a layer of spicy nuances: mint, white pepper and a sprinkle of vanilla. On the palate dry, the body is medium plus with balanced acidity. Fruity with citrus, light vegetative notes and a small handful of wet stones. Very good length, round, some complexity and nice mouthfilling fruitiness.
Very good, catches our interest with the nice layer upon layer experience in the aroma palette.

Stairway to Heaven Rosado. A rosé of the more powerful kind, made of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Syrah.
Dark strawberry lemonad in colour, almost medium intensity. Developed to mature pronounced nose, dominated of nearly dry fruit; ripe, concentrated red berries, strawberries, wild strawberries and raspberries, all soaked in black currant juice and spiced with dry herbes. Light body, with medium acidity, hardly noticeable tannins and a very light delicious fruitsweetness on the palate, where the impressions from the nose returns. Fine length dominated by strawberry jam.
Beautiful rosé with potent character.

Castell MiquelStairway to Heaven Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.
The estate’s premium wine. Fermented on tank, where some are lined with oak, then matured twelve months on small French and Hungarian barriques.
Intense, red-tawny colour. Pronounced, developed to mature bouquet with some complexity. Blackcurrant, dried fuit, raisins, light spicyness, leather and well integrated oak. Almost fullbodied, well balanced with lively acidity and clear, round tannins and very good structure. Excellent length with juicy blackcurrant fruitiness.
Delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, approaching the end of best drinking window. We will happily enjoy the other bottle this autumn.

Monte Sion Cuvée 2008.
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah and 20% Merlot.
Medium intensity, red to tawny. On the nose, developed to mature pronounced, delicous bouquet of blackcurrent, blackberries, a bucket of root vegetables and oak. Almost fullbodied with lively acidity and balanced tannins. Fruity character of blackcurrant, prunes and roots. Excellent length with ripe, sweet fruits.
Beautiful wine, vigorous with mature notes. Also this wine approaching the end of best drinking window.

Castell Miquel wine box

The wine enthusiast passing Mallorca should definitely spend some time at winery visits. Decanter’s quite recently publiced travel guide can give some good advice. Castell Miquel is found among the recommended visits together with seven other producers, most of them within “spitting distance” from each other.

This is a translation of a post originally published 2 September 2014 on my Swedish blog “Ljuva Druvor”; Stairway to Heaven.

Rosebushes, greaseproof paper and Terras Gauda

When we collect the O Rosal it is wrapped in a kind of good old-fashioned greaseproof paper. Not any fancy print, just white; rustles loudly and the waxy feeling stays on the finger tips. The label barely visible behind the paper.

We are in Galicia, in Rías Baixas. To be more precise, in the area O Rosal. Rosal, the name sounds beautifully. A look in the dictionary confirms the impression; translated from Spanish it will be rosebush. It was here, in the country of the rosebushes, that Terras Gauda started as late as 1990. Today, with three bodagas and 160 hectar of vineyards, a big player.

Albariño plays the leading part and dominates the vineyards. Other local varieties, such as Loureiro and Caiño Blanco, keep it company. The outcome? Fresh, fruity wines with a beautiful sense of minerality.

Terras Gauda

Terras Gauda O Rosal 2013. A blend of 70% Albariño, 18% Lourero and 12% Caiño Blanco, fermented and raised on steel tanks.
Light golden hue with green hints. Pronounced, fresh and fruity nose with citrus and minerality; blackboard chalk. On the palate rather light bodied, dry with fine acidity. Fruity of green apples, pears and lime. Minerality towards limestone and chalk. Very good length, gorgeously complex, dominated by green apples, lime and chalk. Excellent, multifacetted, light and fresh. Just as rose petals slowly swirling in the summer breeze. Drink and enjoy now!

The O Rosal experience calls for more. From the cellar we pick its sister, bought almost exactly one year ago.

Terras Gauda

Terras Gauda, Abadia de San Campio, Albariño, Rías Baixas, 2012. Albariño in splendid isolation. Stainless steel too.
Shimmering yellowgreen hue. Large, developed, very fruity nose with sweet sour notes; ripe apricots, yellow plums, spiced by some smokey hints. On the palate, just above medium bodied, dry with lively acidity. Nice mouthfilling fruitiness of ripe yellow plums, a touch of mango and quite a bit lime. Sense of minerality in terms of wet stones and a little chalk. Long, fresh fruity aftertaste dominated by lime. Yummy, beautiful fruitiness.

Excellent wines, both of them. If we have to choose glass, the O Rosal wins our favor due to a larger dose of complexity.

Mediterranean spiced fish dishes, langoustine and shrimps will pair wonderfully, as well as vegetarian with grilled squash, pepper and fresh red onions.

Terras Gauda

This is a translation of a post from my Swedish blog “Ljuva Druvor”, originally posted on 24th July 2014: “Rosenbuskar, smörpapper och Terras Gauda“.