Friday, 30 May 2008

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to Settle in Chateau Miraval

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are settling down in a château on the French Riviera. Rumour has it that the couple have decided on Chateau Miraval – a £3.5 million estate in the tiny village of Brignol in the Var. The château has 35 bedrooms, 20 fountains, aqueducts, a lake, a swimming pool and a thriving vineyard. It's got a rich history too . . .

Miraval dates back to pre Roman times and is sited closed to the Via Aurelia - one of the five main roads radiating from Rome. In the 13th century Miraval was a monastery, attached to the Pignans Monastery and in 1252, it seems probable that St. Thomas Aquinas broke his journey here en route to the University of Paris from the University of Naples.

In the 1400s the Prince of Naples joined the French Court and settled at Miraval. At the turn of the twentieth century, Miraval was home to the celebrated inventor of reinforced concrete - Joseph Lambot.

In the 1970s Jacques Loussier, the well-known jazz pianist, created one of the world's foremost recording studios – Studio Miraval - where many great musicians including Pink Floyd, Sting, Sade and the Cranberries have all recorded their music.

Last year the couple had looked at the Chateau Val Joanis in the the Luberon region north of Aix-en-Provence which also had a vineyard. I wonder if the lure of wine making has caught the couple?

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Thursday, 29 May 2008

Bordeaux and Tequila?

What do Bordeaux and Tequila have in common? Not a lot. However the oak barrels which have been used to age red Bordeaux wine are now finding another lease of life. AsomBroso La Rosa Tequila is advertised as the first Bordeaux barrel aged tequila and comes in a range of rosy hues. The colour comes from the wine stained barrels and the flavour is imparted by the lingering essence of the claret.

It's an interesting concept that has attracted a lot of attention in the USA and the tequila is appealing to people who like a richer flavoured, more aromatic kick. The tequilas come in versions aged 3 or 11 months and the bottles are collectable.

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Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Bordeaux Château - Château Giscours

Château Giscours is a magnificent stately building and can be dated to 1330 as a deed from that time refers to it with a fortified keep. Records of Château Giscours' vineyards go back to 1552 and Louis XIV was said to have enjoyed its wines. The Château is located in the commune of Labarde and is one of the largest Margaux properties. It's near the Bordeaux wine route and is worth taking a detour as it is a really impressive sight.

The Château that we see today was built by the Count de Pescatore, a great Parisian banker, in 1847 in order to receive the Empress Eugénie (France's last Empress and wife of Prince Louis Napoleon). The estate was purchased by Nicolas Tari after the Second World War – who was one of the 11 judges to take part in the historic Judgement of Paris wine competition in 1976. The château is the home of Bordeaux Cricket Club and is also open to the public with a bed and breakfast, shop and vast exhibition areas, with terraces, hall rooms, and of tasting rooms. It has 198 acres of vines and a 740 acre nature reserve made up of century-old poplar trees, grassland and ponds.

I hope this has given you an insight into the beautiful buildings and places where these wonderful wines have been made!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Bordeaux Châteaux - Château Cos d'Estournel

Château Cos d'Estournel is an amazing château and sits on a ridge immediately North of the Pauillac border and Château Lafite, separated by the stream known as La Jalle du Breuil (The Breuil Brook). The hill of Cos dominates the Gironde from the height of almost 65 feet. The Château takes its name from “cos” which translates as a “hill of pebbles “ in Gascon dialect and d'Estournel from its owner Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel, who was born in the reign of Louis XV and died under Napoleon III. Cos d 'Estournel is acknowledged to be the most outstanding cru of St Estephe.

Cos's first harvests were sold in India where these wines graced the sumptuous tables of Maharajahs and Nabobs. Louis became known as “the Maharajah of Saint-Estèphe” as a symbol of his pioneering exports of his wines to the Far East and the château and vineyards were bedecked with exotic pagodas. The famous Pagodas which surmount Cos's cellars and their door, sent from the palace of Zanzibar and symbolize this pioneering break out into the world trade.

Cos d'Estournel was favoured by Jules Verne, Karl Marx, Queen Victoria, the Tsar of Russia and the Emperor Napoleon III loved this wine so much that he had several thousands bottles sent to the Palace of the Tuileries. In a letter to Friedrich Engels dated 1857 Karl Marx wrote:

I have had a case of wine sent to Manchester. It will do your wife good. There are6 bottles of Bordeaux,3 of Port and3 of Sherry…The Bordeaux bears the label of COS D’ESTOURNEL,I have just had it delivered.

There is a Museum at the Château which is dedicated to the history of Cos and is well worth a visit and also a shop as well as tours and wine tastings.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Bordeaux Châteaux - Château d'Agassac

Château d'Agassac is a splendid château dating back to feudal times in the 14th century, which rests on an even earlier site. According to local tradition, a Latin inscription indicates that Château d’Agassac’s underground tunnels date back to the 11th century. The Château and vineyards are located in Ludon, in the southern part of Ludon Medoc. It takes its name from the first known lord of the manor, Gaillard de Gassac. These vast underground tunnels are still used to day to cellar the wines. Before the French revolution Château d'Agassac was named Château Pomiès but it has reverted to its more ancient name in recent times.

The motto of the Château is “the irreverent Bordeaux” due to its free thinking and open spirited principles. The château holds various events including open air concerts, cinema, adventure trials, themed wine and chocolate tasting and even paints itself with flowers for the traditional Fête de la Fleur celebrating the flowering of the vine. (Not literally – it's a light display!). The château has received the Best of Wine Tourism Award for excellence and is definitely worth looking up if you are on holiday in Bordeaux.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Bordeaux Châteaux - Château Palmer

Château Palmer once belonged to the Gascq family and was part of the ancient estate of Château Issan. Its wines were known as Château de Gascq and were served at the court of Versailles under Louis XV.

Charles Palmer was a friend of the Marquis of Bath and Lord Cambden while studying at Eton and Oxford. In 1808, he succeeded his father as Mayor of the spa town of Bath and was elected a Member of Parliament. Palmer purchased a commission in the prestigious 10th Regiment of Hussars, commanded by the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He was appointed the Prince's aide-de-camp.

The Napoleonic period was drawing to a close in 1814 when General Charles Palmer arrived in France with the future Duke of Wellington after the Peninsular War between Napoleon and England. Parliament decided to reward him with a large sum of money in gratitude for his father's military services, and he acquired Château de Gascq, on which he left his mark as well as his name.

A gentleman, officer, and aide-de-camp of the Prince of Wales, Charles Palmer was famous at the English court as a ladies man and also for his military victories. He fell under the spell of Bordeaux as well as the charms of Marie de Gascq. The beautiful widow convinced him, during a stagecoach ride delicately referred to as "turbulent" according to legend, to buy her estate.

Palmer expanded the vineyards and thanks to his influential relations "Palmer's Claret” was much sought after by London clubs, and was particularly appreciated by the future King George IV.

In June 1853, the brothers Isaac and Emile Péreire, famous Second Empire bankers and rivals of the Rothschilds, bought Palmer for 413,000 francs, a very considerable amount at the time. They asked the Bordeaux architect Burguet to build the present château in 1856, taking the project begun by General Palmer to its logical conclusion.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Bordeaux Châteaux – Pichon Lalande

Château Pichon Lalande is the sister château to Château Pichon Baron and its full name is Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. The château takes its name from Virginie Comtesse de Lalande whose strong personality and passion for her vines have left her mark on the estate to this day.

Virginie anticipated the dynastic split which was to separate the estate into the 2 châteaux and married Count Henri de Lalande, which gave her a title, independence and ultimately control over the domaine. She ordered the Bordeaux architect, Duphot, to design the château inspired by the Hôtel de Lalande in Bordeaux where her husband had spent his childhood. The Château itself is stunningly beautiful – as is its sibling Pichon Baron – and its wines are famously sought after.

The château has been devoted to culture ever since the 17th century. In the early 19th century, Sophie de Pichon Longueville, student of the painter Gérard (who was Napoleon's official painter), decorated the family home with paintings. Today the château's current owner May-Eliane de Lencquesaing has a superb glass collection which she accumulated over 20 years on display in the Orangerie.

She feels that there is a similarity between the modesty of the origins of glass and those of wine: glass is made from the humble raw material, sand, and wine from a wild creeper, the vine. Both are utterly transformed by human intelligence and expertise to create something which is not merely a product, but a work of art.

Some of the of elegant antique glassware is over 3000 years old. There are wine glasses and goblets as well as Greek, Roman, and Syrian carafes. There are incredibly old Afghani and Chinese glass displayed alongside glasses from Venice and Bohemia, as well as French and English glasses from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries including blue opaline, and Bohemian red glassware. The crystal and vermeil Fabergé ewer made in Moscow in 1894 is one of the collection's finest pieces.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Bordeaux Châteaux – Pichon Baron

Bordeaux's Châteaux hold a rich history not only in making great wines but also in the magnificent buildings themselves. There are grand imposing buildings with great edifices and fairy tale châteaux which look as if they are straight from the tales of magical story books.

Château Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville – commonly known as Château Pichon Baron – was built in 1851 by Raoul de Pichon-Longueville who had the old manor house demolished. The wine cellars extend beneath the fish pool which allows the cool waters above to moderate the temperatures below. Château Pichon Baron was once part of a larger estate and in 1850 the estate was divided into the 2 current Pichon estates: Château Pichon Baron and Château Pichon Lalande.

The château lies at the southern end of Pauillac near border with the Saint Julien and it's wines are one of Bordeaux's most illustrious "super seconds". Paulliac is sandwiched between Saint Estèphe to the north and Saint Julien to the south on the River Gironde as it widens into its estuary. The town of Pauillac itself is a small port which has shipped wines since ancient times.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Last Night At the Races

There are two appropriately named Champagne Cocktails for your post Ascot drinks – Goodnight and Pick Me Up.


1 sugar cube
1 drop Angoustura Bitters
1 splash Campari

Splash a drop of angostura bitters onto a sugar cube. Place it at the bottom of a champagne flute. Top up with champagne and add a splash of campari.


This drink is believed to have been created in The Ritz Bar in Paris roundabout 1936
1 measure cognac
3 measures freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes grenadine

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the first three ingredients and shake well. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top up with champagne. Serve garnished with a twist of orange peel.
Enjoy – but remember that these cocktails whilst being delicious do pack a good punch of alcohol so be careful. Being ‘tipsey’ at Ascot I am sure will also be frowned upon alongside bare midriffs and short dresses.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Refreshing Champagne Cocktails for a Scorching Ascot 2008

With the temperature soaring to 22ºC in Ascot today I am hoping – along with thousands of others – that the weather will be kind. If it's hot then there are two Champagne Cocktails that will cool you down: the Venus Flower and the Raspberry Champagne Cocktail.

Venus Flower

Elderflower Cordial
Apple Schnapps
Lime Juice
topped with ice cold Champagne.

Raspberry Champagne Cocktail

3 fresh raspberries
1 tsp raspberry liqueur
dash of vodka
2 ice cubes
champagne, to fill

Place 2 raspberries in a cocktail shaker. Add in the raspberry liquor, vodka and ice. Cover and shake together until well blended. Carefully strain into a champagne flute, top with champagne, then the remaining raspberry and serve at once.

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Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Ascot Fashion Colours for 2008

If the classic black and white colour theme doesn't grip you then there are alternatives. Luckily the big "My Fair Lady" hat is back in fashion this year with fashion designers Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta making them the focal points for their Spring collections. With the Olympics being held in Beijing this year there is an oriental theme reflected in the clothes with Prada using Eastern designs in many of their styles. Skirts are swishy, blouses are ruffled and evening dresses are reminiscent of Ancient Greece with drapes and ruches. Colours are Gold, Purple and Blue – rather a regal theme really.

If you want a colourful Champagne Cocktail to go with your outfit then Kir Royale and Lady Macbeth will suit Purples, Ritz Fizz will pair with Blues and California Dreaming with go with Golds.

Kir Royale

Kir Royale is a cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with champagne. Originally the wine used was Bourgogne Aliqoté, a lesser white wine of Burgundy. It is named after Félix Kir (1876 – 1968), Mayor of Dijon in Burgundy, who as a pioneer of the twinning movement in the aftermath of the Second World War popularized the drink by offering it at receptions to visiting delegations. Besides treating his international guests well, he was also promoting two vital economic products of the region.

7 parts Champagne
1 part crème de cassis

If you cannot be bothered with mixing this cocktail simply have Nick's Rosé Champagne. No mess, equally as refreshing and fashionably ‘in’!

Lady Macbeth

1 measure port

Pour champagne into a flute glass. Slowly add the port. Don't stir! Serve garnished with a twist of orange peel.

Ritz Fizz

½ measure almond liqueur
½ measure Blue Curaçao

Pour the almond liqueur and Curaçao into a chilled champagne flute. Add the lime juice and stir. Top up with chilled champagne, stirring gently.

California Dreaming

3 measures pineapple juice
3 dashes cherry liqueur such as Kirsch
1 dash lemon juice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the first three ingredients. Shake well, then strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top up with champagne. Garnish glass with a chunk of pineapple.

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Monday, 12 May 2008

The Ascot

The Ascot is fast becoming a fashion trend this Spring. Designer Tommy Hilfiger says that retro ties are cool - American Idol contender Michael Johns sports one, so does David Beckham.

The Ascot is descended from the earlier type of cravat widespread in the early nineteenth century, most notably during the age of Beau Brummell, made of heavily starched linen and elaborately tied around the neck. Later in the 1880s, amongst the upper-middle-class in Europe men began to wear a more loosely tied version for formal daytime events with daytime full dress in frock coats or with morning coats.

Although such dress cravats were no longer worn with morning dress at the Royal Ascot races in the Edwardian era the Ascot was still commonly worn for business with morning dress in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. The day cravat was worn in the early decades of the twentieth century as casual wear, often as sports wear such as when playing golf. The Duke of Windsor often wore one in this manner. It was regarded as an elegant form of casual dress. Ascots did make a come back in fashion in the mid-to-late 1960s – and it seems that the winds of change are swinging back in their favour again this year.

Champagne Cocktails that won't clash with your cravat are the Bellini, the Valencia and the Champagne Julep.


The classic Bellini was invented at Harrys Bar in Italy in 1931 in honour of the painter Geovani Bellini. Giuseppi Cipriani was the inventor. The original recipe was made with fresh puréed white peaches with a bit of raspberry or cherry juice to give the drink a pink glow.

It will take you back to a time when Ernest Hemingway, Orsen Wells and Sinclair Lewis enjoyed this drink canal side in Venice while the USA was locked in Prohibition.

1 parts Peach Scnapps
3 parts Champagne


½ measure apricot brandy
1 measure freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes orange bitters

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the first three ingredients and shake well. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top up with champagne. Serve garnished with a strip of orange peel.

Champagne Julep

Mint Julep is a popular summer drink based on whiskey (traditionally Bourbon) and mint. For a Champagne Julep a splash of whiskey is optional. Take a chilled highball glass. Place in it two sprigs of mint and a sugar cube. Add a few ice cubes and fill, pouring slowly, with chilled sparkling champagne. Garnish with a fresh strawberry.

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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Philip Treacy Launches Royal Ascot

The master milliner Philip Treacy is launching Royal Ascot this year with a striking image featuring one of his iconic hats. The image is of Martha Sitwell, wearing Alexander McQueen, against a background scene of Ascot Opening Day, which was painted by James Pollard and dates back to 1836.

As well its world-class racing, for the second year running Royal Ascot will also be hosting the Royal Ascot Fashion Show in the Bessborough Restaurant, bringing together top designers from around the world - Vivienne Westwood has already confirmed - to showcase the very latest male and female couture on the catwalk.

Keeping within Philip Treacy's black and white theme I think that a Black Velvet Champagne Cocktail is probably the best choice although a Classic Champagne Cocktail would fit the bill as far as taste is concerned.

Black Velvet

Black Velvet was invented at the Brooks Club in London in 1861 and was served as the nation mourned the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort. It’s rather suitable for racing fans given that Guiness is used in it – the Irish love it!

A Black Velvet is made by filling a tall champagne flute halfway with chilled stout (usually Guiness) and floating the Champagne on top of the stout. The differing densities of the liquids cause them to remain largely in separate layers.

Classic Champagne Cocktail

Drop of Angostura Bitters
1 Sugar Cube

Place a drop of angostura bitters on a sugar cube and drop into a champagne flute. Add champagne.

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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Ascot Dress Code and Champagne Cocktails

Champagne is a must for Royal Ascot so I thought it would be fun to include some Champagne Cocktails that are stylish and tasteful – as well as some useful tips. By the mid 1800s the Champagne Cocktail was all the rage at dinner parties and soirees in genteel society – and who needs bling when you have got style?

Ascot is being held on Tuesday 17th June to Saturday 21st June 2008 and I shall be glued to the coverage of Ladies Day on Thursday goggled eyed by the good, the bad and the ugly – I am talking about the hats! Some go in for the chique and the sublime but some go in for the ludicrously daft monstrosities just to get noticed – but then when all you can see around you is a sea of hats you have to do something to stand out.

The governing body at Ascot issued guidelines for dress this January as it seems standards have been slipping. The ultimate Ascot faux pas, the miniskirt, is now officially non grata and "considered unsuitable". Shoulder straps should be no thinner than an inch, no bare midriffs or mismatching trouser-suits are acceptable and a decree from on-high that all women should cover their heads by wearing a "substantial fascinator [an ornate lace or feathered head covering]". Or a hat.

If you are going, here are some tips to help you pick a winner:

The sun will hopefully be out, so make sure you pick a hat that looks good with sunglasses! Or if not remember you may have to negotiate an umbrella if your hat is vulnerable and turns into a soppy mess if not protected.

If you're short, don't wear a hat that's too wide. If you're tall you can get away with more.

Unless you have the character to get away with it, the brim of the hat shouldn't be wider than your shoulders. Don't let your hat drown you. If you feel comfy with your chosen hat, you will automatically look confident and good!

Before the day, experiment with hairpins, combs and elastic so that your hat will stay on your head.

Hairspray helps to stop your hat slipping in the wind.

Other top tips are that the dress code for women is to keep their shoulders covered, skirts below the knee, that bear legs are a definite “no no” (the late Princess Diana got away with it but we won’t), that showing your midriff is definitely not on and to wear sensible shoes that match the outfit - walking on grass in stilettos is no easy task.

Chewing gum and using your mobile phone are frowned upon and tradition holds that as soon as the reigning monarch finishes eating lunch in the Royal Box, everyone else must stop.

As for a Champagne Cocktail to accompany your “look” then a French 75 will fit the bill. Given that the Cocktail may take its name from a breed of horse, known as “cock-tail” it’s rather fitting that we should have them at Ascot. The Cocktail – like the horse – was a mixed breed. The other possible origin of word came is that it came from the French word coquetier meaning egg-cup which were used to serve the drinks in New Orleans in the early 19th century.

French 75

1½ measures dry gin
Juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon icing sugar

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the first three ingredients and shake well. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top up with champagne. Serve garnished with a strip of lemon peel.

Images Courtesy of

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Bordeaux Wine and Barbeques - Gadgets

They say only Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Mid-day Sun. If it is hot - how do you keep your wine cool? No wine tastes great if you leave it out in the sun so keep all your bottles, even reds, in the shade. The main problem with barbecues is keeping white wine - and other drinks - cool. You can have the best white wine in the world but it'll taste as dull as ditchwater if you serve it lukewarm. A couple of large buckets filled with iced water should do the trick.

You may like the romantic idea of keeping your drinks cool by dangling the bottles in a nearby stream, but for a modern alternative try an insulated jacket like the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice (available from

You keep the jacket in the freezer and simply pop it over the bottle once you take it out of the fridge. You can find them in larger supermarkets and most high-street wine shops. Or chill the bottles well and put them in their own insulated bag.

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