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Iceland!

Iceland thoughts

 Blue galciers in Glacier Lagoon near Höf   

Blue galciers in Glacier Lagoon near Höf

 

Iceland is an amazing place to see some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. The Gullfoss waterfall is truly epic. Hiking the mini canyons of Þingvellir National Park was a bunch of fun. The blue glaciers at the glacier lagoon are incredible and worth the long drive out of Reykjavik. If you like nature and outdoor adventures, Iceland is incredible.  Dress warm, and prepare for a lot of wind.

 Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle

Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle

Beyond the nature, I thought Iceland had a vibrant food scene. We had an incredible meal at Dill in Reykjavik, which focuses on new Nordic cuisine. The amuse of pickled carrots with sour cream and caraway was eye opening given the simplicity and commonality of the ingredients. The herbed lamb fat instead of butter served with the bread was delicious.  All 7 seven courses plus 6 “snacks” were complex, fascinating, at points slightly challenging, but overall delicious. Sticking with the Champagne theme, we did enjoy some of Christophe Mignon’s delicious Brut Nature, along with 7 more natural wines paired with the food. I highly recommend it.

 Herbed lamb fat and bread at Dill Restaurant in Reykjavic

Herbed lamb fat and bread at Dill Restaurant in Reykjavic

After we visited the blue glaciers we went to the village of Höf and found a delightful, and some what touristy, langoustine restaurant called Humarhofnin. Piles of langoustine served with a local beer that has artic thyme in it. Well worth the stop, just skip the langoustine pizza. Back in Reykjavik, we also managed to track down some of the native meats of Iceland, puffin and minke whale. I’m glad I tried them, but I can’t say as I’d rush back for more, and given the scarcity of them on Icelandic menus I’d say the Icelanders feel the same. Puffin was a bit like duck, but gamier while minke whale was like ahi tuna crossed with duck.

We did make it to Bæjarins beztu, the famous hot dog stand of Reykjavik. The dogs were pretty tasty, all lamb meat served with a nice collection of sides including fried onions which gave great texture. We enjoyed the hot dogs sober, but I have a feeling they’d be better late night food with some booze on board.  For morning time, and pre-driving trip stop at Sandholt Bakery in Reykjavik, fantastic pastry, bread, and sandwiches.

The soaking pools and hot springs in Iceland are not to be missed! We went to a variety pack from neighborhood ones to fancy tourist ones. All were great and really helped make me feel better after long hours in a plane or car. The neighborhood ones were very affordable, just a few bucks to soak and steam with towels available for rent. The touristy ones were nicer, but didn’t give me the same feel as hanging out with all the natives and realizing that soaking is part of everyday life for them. Makes me wish we had a lot more of this in the states. The other nice thing was there was little to no body shame, people of all ages and sizes were all soaking and not feeling self confident about it.

 Mini canyons at Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle.

Mini canyons at Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle.

A few other observations, Icelandic wool is not soft. The Reykjavik Cathedral is amazing for its stark simplicity rather than the stain glass and carving of the ones in continental Europe. During summer hours it never gets dark, sunset is around 11:30pm, but its still light until sunrise. You really can burn the midnight oil there. We were out playing and doing things until we were too exhausted to do anymore.

I would highly recommend Iceland, particularly as a stop over to Europe. Iceland air is perfectly fine, and its nice to have a shorter flight and a layover of a couple days rather than one long haul flight.

Jacques Selosse and Les Avizés

Selosse is one of those producers that has so much hype built up around him, it's inevitable to wonder whether he and his wines truly live up to the legend.  I decided to splurge and stay at Les Avizés, his hotel and eat at his restaurant to experience it all for myself.   The hotel is gorgeous, well designed but with plenty of quirks that will prevent it from becoming a tired but very luxurious hotel.  It was a fascinating mix of traditional and modern design elements that was inspiring and made me want to stay longer.

 I had the entire hotel to myself, I was the only guest, which is unfortunate because it would have been nice to see some life there.  I also had the whole restaurant to myself, which was a bit sad but I got over it.  It did make me feel a bit better about my slow days at Ambonnay, even one of the most well known places in Champagne still has slow nights.     The restaurant was smaller than I expected and very integrated into the hotel.

 The husband wife duo of Stephanė and Natalie that run the restaurant are delightful and certainly made the best meal I had in champagne. One of my favorite courses was a veal dish, but it was the accompanying vegetables that truly impressed me.  The dish combined shitake mushrooms, roasted turnips, and mashed sweet potatoes in a soy reduction that was very flavorful and showed me new things to do with winter veggies.  In fact all the courses had a fantastic vegetable component, which I rarely found in France. The cheese course is not to be missed, without a doubt the best cheeses I had in France.  

Since I ordered bottle of Champagne, which I'll discuss in a moment, Natalie was kind enough to share a bit of red wine with the veal course.  Apparently Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet had been in for lunch and brought a bunch of interesting wines with him.  Natalie gave me a glass of his 2004 Coteaux Champagnois Rouge.  It was an interesting wine that reminded me of an aged Oregon or California Pinot more than a burgundy.  Pretty cool to experience it and it was fun with the food.  The wine list was truly impressive with great names from across France and prices that ranged from reasonable to expensive.

As I was at his house I decided to treat myself to a birthday present of one of Selosse's lieu-dit or single vineyard champagnes.  It was a tough choice, but ultimately I decided on the Bout de Clos from Ambonnay, and I'm glad I did because I learned a lot from this wine.   In typical Selosse fashion the wine was bold, intense, packed with flavor, a bit oxidized, and very fascinating. Throughout the evening it changed and evolved giving me a broad range of flavors always complimented by great acidity.  More important than the flavors though was the experience of the wine.  

The more of the world's top wines that I drink, the more I convinced that to truly appreciate many of them you have to sit with them over the course of an evening. Much like getting to know someone, a long conversation up front helps cement the bond that can be revisited in the future.  Had I enjoyed this wine with a group, I would have missed out on many important pieces of the wine that took a while to truly express themselves.  Due to this wine, I was able to understand that Ambonnay has a core of elegance in the same way Mesnil has a core of precision.  This realization was confirmed during my time in Ambonnay tasting through those wines.  

In addition to the pleasure and new understand of Ambonnay, I gained a better understanding of Selosse's wines.  As you move up his ladder of pricing, I feel that his wine become very much like Miles Davis during the late 60's.  As I drank the Bout de Clos I couldn't help thinking of the times I've listened to the Complete Bitches Brew, it's obviously amazing, but I'm not sure that I am truly understanding it, or at least not getting as much as others might get out of it.   I feel this way about Selosse's wines, which is saying something because my champagne knowledge is far great than my knowledge of jazz. I think it best to view his wines as an experience, or a journey rather than a destination.  All of this being said, this wine exhibited the one true trait of an amazing wine, after the last sip I still wanted more.

The next morning I was fortunate enough to meet Anselme and spend a bit of time with him.  We talked about the Bout de Clos, he first got access to the grapes in 02, but didn't make the lieu-dit until 2004 which is the one I enjoyed the previous night. The vineyard is mid slope and at the foot of one of the walls in the vineyards. It butts up to Bouzy on the western side of Ambonnay, but still showed the grace and elegance of Ambonnay but maybe some of the power of Bouzy.   He then took me on a tour, via maps, of where all 6 of the lieu-dits are located and told me about the 7th in Oger which won't be out for another 7 years. We both had things to do so we said out good byes and I went and ate breakfast, which was an awesome spread, totally worth €20, and then grabbed my bags and went to the car.  When I got to the car, I discovered Anselme out scrapping the ice off my windshield.  It was a bit odd to have a world class winemaker scrap my car, but it also showed me the humility of a man that has not been overcome by his fame.   If you are in Champagne I highly recommend staying at Les Avizės!