A Magical Musical Tour of the City of Hamburg

The Winetattoo goes on A Magical Musical Tour of Hamburg

Hamburg right now can claim to be Europe’s most musical city, from the live music bars of the Reeperbahn where the Beatles started playing in the early 1960’s…….hamburg blog-12

to the state-of-the-art Elbephilhamonie sitting on the bank of the Elbe riverhamburg b&w-10hamburg blog-26

But there is a lot more awaiting the visitor in this surprising, welcoming port that seems more Scandinavian than German.The cuisine ranges from the humble but delicious Curry Wurst and traditional Fish Sandwich with herrings and a cold beerhamburg blog-46hamburg blog-22

To a fabulous dish of smoked eel on scrambled egg at the Fischereihafen restaurant or smoked fish breakfast at the elegant Louis Jacob Hotel
hamburg blog-41hamburg blog-3

And then there is the exquisite 3 Star Michelin cuisine of Kevin Fehling at his exclusive 20 seat restaurant The Table
hamburg blog-52hamburg blog-2
And while the immense Unesco World Heritage docks of this historic Hanseatic port may seem sombre during the day…………
hamburg b&w-6hamburg b&w-4hamburg b&w-8
the city comes to life at night through till early morning Sunday morning market at the Old Fishmarket where the entertainment is provided by noisy street traders and rockabilly groups playing dance music through till midday
hamburg blog-29hamburg blog-30hamburg blog-32hamburg blog-31

and when it comes to drinking, Hamburg the best hipster barista cafe at Elbgold, brilliant craft beer pubs like Altes Madchen, cool cocktail lounges such as The Walrus and wine bars serving surprising vintages from Germany’s vineyards…..
Lots of Tourism info available at while bloggers can check
hamburg blog-38
hamburg blog-10hamburg blog-44hamburg_-2



slovenia wine-8

At the 2016 edition of Vinitaly, a comprehensive tasting of Slovenian wines was organised by Vino Magazine. I have known the editor of Vino Magazine, Barbi Mocivnik, since we were both of the jury of Vinitaly, but unfortunately I was overseas when she presented ‘Slovenia Wine Stars An Outside View’ in Vinitaly’s prestigious Tasting Ex platform. But being part based in Venice, I travel often to the vineyards in Friuli, and she proposed the chance to sample the entire selection of Slovenian Wine Stars, not in a formal, professional tasting, but at the Castello Zemono, accompanied by the unique cuisine of chef Tomaz Kavcic.
slovenia wine-52

I must humbly admit that although I am a regular visitor to the vineyards of Italy’s Collio and Colli Orientali, I have never organised a serious trip into Slovenia, apart from the occasional drive across the frontier to nearby Brda to follow the development of the orange wines made by Aleks Klinec. So Barbara’s offer was the perfect opportunity for an eye-opening tour of her Vipavska region, followed by a unique tasting of a dozen exceptional wines.
slovenia wine-43

We began with a 2012 Bjana Brut Rose NV accompanied by plump scampi, cooked tempura-style. The Rose went well with the scampi, but I actually preferred the 2010 Bjana Brut Zero we tried in Barbi’s office before the lunch. I was very interested to taste the Dveri-Pax 2015 Sipon, as I am a big fan of Hungarian furmint, and this sharp, clean wine lived up to expectations and we also tasted the equally excellent Gueril Zelen 2014 while Tomaz served a multicoloured plate of Istrian anchovies.
slovenia wine-22slovenia wine-37

Discovering wines made with indigenous grapes like sipon and zelen, and tasting them in the winemaking region itself, is always exciting, and I thought these were a stronger and more original representation of Slovenia’s potential than the following Verus Sauvignon 2015 and Goriska Brda Chardonnay 2011, which I felt were more ‘international’, especially the effect of oak ageing for the chardonnay. While Tomaz dazzled us with a succulent scallop cooked in clay atop a purple carrot puree, we progressed through three outstanding whites. I was delighted to try a Slovenian Malvasia – Vinakoper Istrski rubini Malvasia 2012 – subtely different from the Friuli Malvasia I know well – Marjan Simcic’s Opoka Rebula 2010, matched his increasingly renowned reputation, while the standout vintage was the blend of riesling, malvasia and ribulo of the Burja Belo 2012. Surprisingly, the dish paired with the Burja Belo was Tomaz’s modern interpretation of traditional Slovenian cooking; a subtle veal cheek tartare accompanied by a delicious beef ‘brodo’.
slovenia wine-40slovenia wine-25

The chef kept his biggest surprise – for me anyway – for the main course, bear cheek wrapped in a thin slice of lardo, on a hot stone, which was the perfect accompaniment of the three red wines of the Slovenian Wien Stars. I am always wary of how winemakers approach the pinot noir grape, but the 2008 Movia Modri pinot had developed very well during the aging process and was at the perfect moment to taste, while the Santomas Grande Cuvee 2009, aged in new barrique barrels, was a very intense refosco, which I would like to try a second time, perhaps not after tasting such a wide range of different wines. And the wine that surprised me most was Marof Modre frankinja 2011, a wonderful blau frankish, a grape that I can admit to never having tasted before.
slovenia wine-71slovenia wine-61slovenia wine-68
When I write about wines, the actual tasting is only a small part of understanding and appreciating, and this experience at Castello Zemono has now made me determined to return to Slovenia to meet the actual winemakers in their cellars and vineyards, and discover the different regions where the vines grow, their cuisine and culture. So, cheers with a final glass of Brut Rose……
slovenia wine-10


brasserie plateau de fruits de mer

brasserie plateau de fruits de mer


For the last 4 months I have been travelling through the vineyards of France and Italy working on a new book of wine routes that will be published later in 2015. All the details and timing of publication will be revealed soon……..when I have the permission of the publisher who is keeping everything secret for the moment. On these trips I have discovered brilliant wines and winemakers in regions as diverse and Puglia in the south of Italy and Alto Adige, up in the Italian Tyrol, to new producers in Alsace and makers of some of France’s greatest red wines in the Rhone valley……


Imbetween I had time to write a story for Business Traveller of my favourite brasseries in Paris, and there is no better time to visit one of these legendary institutions for either a huge seafood plateau or a steaming plate of choucroute heaped with smoked pork and sausages. I can’t share the link for the article as Business Traveller operate a PayWall protection, but here is the link for a tantilizing food, art deco and art nouveau picture Portfolio of five of the best – Au Pied de Cochon, Flo, Charlot, La Coupole and Chez Jenny…………

but everyone has their own favourite and I did not have the space to include the likes of Brasserie Lipp and Le Balzar, Julien or the majestic Bofinger. Bon Appetit and more news soon on the wine book plus regular posts of Twitter – @thewinetattoo


News from Venice – How to row Venetian style and the Voga Longa marathon rowing race

You will see below my article from Easyjet’s magazine explaining how after 20 years in Venice I finally learned how to row Venetian-style, standing up but not quite like a gondolier.

winetattoo voga-18

On 8 June Venice hosts the 40th edition of the Vogalonga, a marathon rowing race of almost a 1,000 boats around Venice and the islands of its lagoon. I have been invited to join a Dragon Boat from the Thames Dragon Boat Club in London, and I will be sending Twitter posts  of this unique spectacle throughout the 30 kilometres on @thewinetattoo

The Challenge: Learn to row Voga Veneta*

* That’s the traditional Venetian style of rowing standing up

Words by John Brunton / Photography By John Brunton 
The Challenge: Learn to row Voga Veneta*

“What on earth am I doing here?” is all I can think as I desperately try to keep my balance standing up at the front of a long, narrow rowing boat in the middle of one of Venice’s busiest canals. Wobbling as I attempt to avoid falling into the freezing depths, with water taxis speeding down one side and a vast vaporetto (water bus) chugging towards me, I hardly notice the grand palaces that line each side. Instead, I concentrate on gliding the long oar through the choppy waves. Somehow, we manage to edge in the right direction, avoiding disaster – for the moment.

If you’ve ever looked at a gondolier and wondered what it would be like to try the traditional Venetian standing-up style of rowing, known as Voga Veneta, I can tell you – it’s not as easy as it looks.

winetattoo voga-4

There are some things in life that you just never get round to doing. I have lived in Venice for 20 years now, and to my shame and endless teasing by local friends, had never tried – let alone mastered – this ancient skill. The city has a dozen active Voga Veneta rowing clubs, with brilliant courses for beginners, but there always seemed to be an easy excuse: bad weather, not enough time, not fit enough. Yet whenever I sat out on the waterside of my local bar in Cannaregio, I felt a twinge of regret as a sleek wooden sandolo (traditional, flat-bottomed boat) glided silently past, effortlessly propelled by two upright rowers. “Shouldn’t I be able to do that too?” I’d ask myself, before ordering another glass of Prosecco.

But this year, I vowed, things would be different – no more excuses.

So, when the chance came up to learn Voga Veneta, I grabbed the oar with both hands. I even had a goal in mind: participating in the ultimate rowing competition, the Vogalonga, which takes place in Venice every summer.

People have been practising the Voga Veneta since the founding of Venice in the fifth century, when the technique was perfected for a standing oarsman to propel a long flat boat through the shallow waters of the lagoon and  the narrow canals of La Serenissima.

For centuries, the Voga was an integral part of daily life. Then motorised boats arrived, turning Venice’s world upside down, and rowing was relegated to a poor man’s pursuit, while gondolas became strictly for tourists. All that changed in 1975, when a group of influential Venetians decided to do something to raise awareness about moto ondosa, the deadly waves created by motorboats, water buses and cruise liners that were slowly but steadily eroding the city’s foundations. Their idea was the Vogalonga, an annual non-competitive ‘race’, where anyone who rowed could take part, and motorised boats would be banned from Venice for the duration. A marathon-style course was set up, beginning in St Mark’s Basin and stretching for 30km across the lagoon, past the islands of Burano and Murano, before turning back to Venice for a triumphant last stretch along the Grand Canal. With no winner, it was just about getting people on the water. What started out in the inaugural event as 500 enthusiastic Venetians rowing their traditional boats has now ballooned into over 6,000 participants in 1,600 craft. Everything from kayaks and canoes to sleek Oxford and Cambridge-style racers, and gaudy Chinese dragon boats arrives from all over the world. While many now try to finish as fast as possible, Venetians still tend to take it slow, stopping off at the islands for lunch and a few glasses of wine, lazily coming into the Grand Canal by the end of the afternoon.

Vogalonga, Canal da Cannaregio

Vogalonga, Canal da Cannaregio


Vogalonga, Grand Canal

Vogalonga, Grand Canal

It would be easy to sign up for lessons at a nearby club, but I have so many Venetian friends who are Voga fanatics that I’ve asked three of them to be my teachers.

My first lesson is with Gigi Vianello, owner of the Mascaron, one of Venice’s oldest osterie (wine bars). Before even getting near the boat, Vianello insists on having lunch: baby artichokes from the nearby island of Sant’Erasmo, succulent masorini (wild duck) from Venice’s lagoon, and far too much Raboso, the favourite wine of Ernest Hemingway. As we head out, the Mascaron waiters look slightly concerned, rolling their eyes as if to say, ‘That’s the last time we’ll see him’. But Vianello, a giant of a man who resembles a bull in a china shop on dry
land becomes, like all Venetians, a different person when he steps into his boat: organised, attentive and immensely knowledgeable about manoeuvring through the city’s maze of canals. To understand the basics, he wants us far away from other boats and the wicked waves made by the motorised water taxis, or motoscafi, so we pass the Doge’s Palace, cross St Mark’s Basin and head out into the lagoon until we reach the island of San Clemente – once a quarantine refuge for Crusaders returning from the Holy Land and now the site of a soon-to-be opened luxury hotel. With no other boats here, there’s no one to see me look like an idiot, and the calm water is perfect for a first lesson.

My rowing maestro, Gigi Vianello

My rowing maestro, Gigi Vianello

We’re in a sanpierota, a big, heavy craft that my coach says is perfect for beginners as it’s very stable, so there’s little chance of me overbalancing and taking an unplanned dip in the lagoon – though he assures me that happens to everyone at some point. We start by popping in our fórcole: carved, open cradles that lock into the sides of the boat and hold the oars in place. Next, the rowing technique, which seems quite simple. Start with the oar out of the water, the thicker, ribbed side facing the sky, then lean forward while pushing the oar backwards through the water, before raising it and returning it to a position parallel with the body and doing it all again.

The forcole for the oars

The forcole for the oars


On the lagoon with Palladio's Chiesa Redentore behind

On the lagoon with Palladio’s Chiesa Redentore behind

“The crucial thing,” says Vianello, “is not to try too hard, because the harder you try to push, the more errors you’ll make.” Easier said than done, as every few strokes my oar pops out of the cradle. Soon, however, the movements begin to feel more natural. I can finally look ahead, rather than concentrating on my oar, to enjoy the spectacular wetlands rising out of the water as the tide goes down and, in the distance, the sunset silhouette of Palladio’s Redentore Church.

I’m in the front, where all I theoretically have to do is propel us forward, while Vianello is sitting at the rear, steering the boat. We end up rowing for about an hour, by which time he reckons I’ve grasped some of the basics. But just when I’m beginning to feel comfortable, we change places to see how I handle steering. Again, it sounds easy: “Use the oar as if you are slicing a knife through butter,” says Vianello, but this is a total disaster, as all I succeed in doing is directing us around in circles.

Of course, that famous regatta is only the showboating side of this rejuvenated pastime. Today, there are clubs all over the city, and they’re proving a great hit with young and old alike, both in Venice and in the countryside, where there are many more. Not only do they cost less to join than a gym, but the workout you get from an hour’s Voga is far more strenuous than jogging – once you get past the blisters. And, although the Vogalonga is the big event, there are also dozens of other, fiercely competitive, regattas. You don’t even need your own boat, as the clubs have stock for members to choose from and many, such as the Settimari (, welcome tourists to come along and have a go.

Rowing solo

Rowing solo

But back to the final lesson of my challenge – and my biggest test yet – which comes with Giorgio Crovato, founding member of the Settemari rowing club and respected author on Venice. His boat is moored in the heart of the city, by the Misericordia Canal. This is where I live, so the stakes feel raised somehow. Fortunately, I start well, managing to avoid making a fool of myself as we negotiate the Misericordia and duck under low bridges, with local friends shouting encouragement from the busy fondamenta. I even hear Gino, a grumpy retired vaporetto captain, shouting that I’m rowing too slow as he can see crabs hanging onto my oar. Rowing in the heart of Venice is another ball game altogether. At times it’s so narrow you simply have to pull your oars in. Then, suddenly, Crovato shouts, “Da mi venti come un regatta,” challenging me to row fast for the next 20 strokes as if this were a race. This works until the oar pops out of the fórcola.

I’m about to curse my luck when, suddenly, the waterway opens out and we are smack in the middle of the Grand Canal. All ill feeling is forgotten. Nothing, in all my years of living in Venice, compares to this moment, standing up in this tiny boat rowing past the city’s splendid palaces and churches. Despite the busy traffic, even the vaporetto and transport boats have to give us priority. I’ll admit I don’t last long, but Crovato, the typically effusive Venetian, declares I am a natural. I’m not sure about that, but I realise now what I’ve been missing. The next step is to find a boat willing to take me for the Vogalonga. So… anyone looking for a crew member?

Armenian monks from San Lazzaro island in the Vogalonga - no place in their boat

Armenian monks from San Lazzaro island in the Vogalonga – no place in their boat

Dragon boat in the Vogalonga

Dragon boat in the Vogalonga


A real surprise in the City of Light to compete with all the wine events –  there is now the first ever Paris Beer Festival, running from  24 May to 1 June, and the star of the show are artisan craft beers, including a host of new breweries in the French capital and surrounding suburbs.


La Baleine is a small microbrewery situated in the 20th arrondissement, while up in the multi-ethnic La Goutte d’Or near Montmartre, they are inspired to brew exotic beers with chillies, dates and hibiscus

Brasserie-de-La-Goutte-d’OrCraft beers are really big news in the North of Italy, particularly around the town of Treviso – normally more known for as the home of Benetton, and there will be several events to taste the latest brews of the avant garde Birra 32EnoliaBirra-32

La-Moustache-BlancheOne event not to miss has to be at the specialist beer bar, La Moustache, whose logo is  a lot better than Guinness

Provence Wineroute – new Guardian article plus Provence Slideshow with extra adresses to discover

The Guardian has just published  my latest Top Ten Wineroute on Provence – – a journey that took me along the Cote d’Azur from Toulon, past the grand town of Hyeres, a favourite resort of Queen Victoria and the unspoilt island of Porquerolles, up as far as Saint Tropez and the spectacular vineyards of Ramatuelle that lie right at the edge of the Mediterranean. Then inland, through the wild landscapes of the Massif des Maures and the classic Provencal scenery of La Dracenie where vines grow alongside olive groves and fragrant fields of lavender. But there is a lot more than my Top Ten to see in this region, so here is a Slideshow that shows many of the other winemakers and bistros to discover –

winetattoo provence

A foodie trip to Lyon in search of Paul Bocuse

turin b&b  Desperately Seeking Paul Bocuse

a gastronomic tour of Lyon

The grand old man of French cuisine, already feted as Chef of the Century – the 20th Century that is – is still going strong at the age of 88, so I thought this was a good time to make a gourmet pilgrimmage to see Paul Bocuse in Lyon and check out what is new in the city that the French proudly call their Capital of Gastronomy.

One thing is certain, you cannot escape Paul Bocuse, or Monsieur Paul as everyone reverentially refers to him, when you visit Lyon. I was there during the judging of the French awards of the  prestigious Bocuse d’Or, the competition he set up to recognise young culinary talents that has grown into a worldwide event. Then I discover that his renowned culinary school, L’Institut Paul Bocuse, has just opened a smart new restaurant in the centre of town where the cuisine and service is carried out by aspiring students under the watchful eye of their teachers. Fabulous dishes, with surprises like lamb sweetbreads paired with cuttlefish and baby artichokes.

Institute Paul Bocuse restaurant

Institute Paul Bocuse restaurant

Bocuse has just opened his fourth Lyon brasserie, Le Sud, where a hearty three-course lunch menu is priced at 23 euros, and no trip to Lyon is complete without  a visit to the ultimate foodie market, Les Halles de….you guessed, Paul Bocuse. This big, modern covered market certainly has every epicurian temptation you can imagine, from foie gras to oysters, truffles, a panoply of cheeses, including the local favourite Saint-Marcellin, charcuterie, like the tasty Saucisse de Lyon, and quenelles de brochet, the pike-dumplings so loved by the Lyonnais. But prices are not cheap and I found the place lacking a bit of atmosphere, apart from the numerous bars and restaurants – the one not to miss is l’AOC, whose owners, Christophe and Dominique have a great selection of Beaujolais and Rhone wines, including some interesting no-sulphite Vins Naturels.

saucisse de lyon

saucisse de lyon

But no sign anywhere of Monsieur Paul himself. I took the classic foodie Selfie, snapping myself alongside a mural painting of the great chef, but was beginning to get a bit desperate, so decided to take a twenty minute cab out to his legendary gastronomic restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, where he has held the Holy Grail Michelin Three Stars since 1965.

Dining room of L'Auberge

Dining room of L’Auberge

I was met by Madame Bocuse, who still patrols the elegant dining room every day, and had a long chat with Chef Christophe Muller, who has been with Bocuse for over 20 years, and is the man who runs the kitchens on a daily basis.

chef Christophe Muller with a selection of desserts

chef Christophe Muller with a selection of desserts

Although Monsieur Paul had popped in for his regular morning meeting, he was resting that day at home, so I was obviously fated not to meet him this trip. But Chef Muller wouldn’t let me leave without trying two of Bocuse’s signature dishes – Quenelle de Brochet aux Ecrevisses, sauce Nantua, and Soupe aux Truffes Noires VGE, famously created for French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1975 when Bocuse was awarded the Legion d’Honneur.

quenelle de brochet sauce Nantua

quenelle de brochet sauce Nantua

They were not simply good, they were unforgettable. Eating at L’Auberge really is something special, transporting you back into time when Michelin chefs held sway in their sumptuous Temples of Gastronomy. There is no point coming here expecting surprises or innovations, but rather a perfect execution of the basics of classic French cuisine. So forget about calories, let the staff pamper you, and you will be stunned at just how delicious the cuisine is – the fluffy, souffle-like Quenelle was utterly memorable –  even if many of the dishes have been on the menu for 30 years.

Lyon itself certainly lives up to its billing at the Food Capital of France – where else do you see pretty much every restaurant fully-booked on a sleepy Monday evening. As a local told me, ‘some people go out in the evening to a concert or to see a movie, here in Lyon, we go out to a restaurant.’ The old centre is filled with traditional ‘bouchon’ restaurants, serving traditional Lyonnais cuisine, lots of nose-to-tail dishes, where the set menu is so lengthy that each evening there is only one ‘service’ as it takes a few hours to finish all the food. Unfortunately for tourists, many ‘Bouchons’ are not at all authentic, serving average food at over average prices, so it is best to check the list of 22 official ‘bouchons’. For a contrast in styles, I would recommend the Bouchon des Filles, where young chef Agathe is creatively reinterpreting old-fashioned recipes, and Bouchon le Jura, where the wonderful Brigitte has been meticulously preparing the same regional dishes for over 30 years.

Le Bouchon des Filles, chef Agathe

Le Bouchon des Filles, chef Agathe

Le Bouchon du Jura, chef Brigitte

Le Bouchon du Jura, chef Brigitte

There are some hip new ‘bistronomie’ spots too, with Le Palegrie definitely worth a look. In his open kitchen, Guillaume Monjure, conjures up light, exciting dishes like asparagus with haddock and safron, while the sommelier has some terrific natural wines, like the intense Cotes du Rhone,  Sierra du Sud by Domaine Gramenon.

Don’t restrict yourself to Lyon’s picturesque city centre, and take the Metro up to the gritty Sainte-Croix neighbourhood, once the centre of the famous silk industry, now the hippest part of town. The enormous morning food market is spectacular, much more fun that the formal Halles, and come back in the evening to discover O Vins d’Anges, a ‘Cave a Manger’ where food and wine buffs gather to feast off tapas and choose a bottle from the hundreds of different wines on display.

O Vins d'Anges

O Vins d’Anges

Later on, check out the retro Bistro Fait sa Broc, and end the night at the tiny but wild bar that has to have the best name in town – Cassoulet, Whiskey, Ping Pong – not the kind of place you’re likely to bump into Paul Bocuse.

Cassoulet, whiskey, ping pong

Cassoulet, whiskey, ping pong


Singapore skyline

Read more…

Brunton’s Bars: Veracruz Mexico

Veracruz is a steamy, tropical city, hot and humid, sweaty and sleazy. At the packed tables of the Bar Palacio on the main square, a waiter delicately balances a tray stacked with tall, iced glasses of Cuba Libre, 95% rum with a dash of Coke. A fisherman’s wife hawks delicious plates of freshly caught prawns which she liberally sprinkles with fiery chilly powder and the sharp zest of a squeezed lime. Music is everywhere – merengue, salsa, rumba, mambo – as dozens of bands, marimba players, trumpeters and guitarists wander from table to table, vying for business.

vera cruz bw low-4

Read more…

South Africa’s Cape wine route: top 10 guide

The vineyards outside Cape Town offer superb value, with bottles for under £3. From sunset tastings against a backdrop of mountains to renting a thatched cottage overlooking the vines, we have the lowdown on where to drink, eat and stay.

Cape wine route, South Africa

The Cape wine route offers stunning mountain views, while you drink. Photograph: John Brunton
Just a half an hour drive outside Cape Town you are already at the beginning of the Cape vineyards, where cultivation of grapes dates back to the 1600s. Today this is the largest winemaking region in SouthAfrica, and organised wine tourism has become a big business. Estates are large, and every winery seems to offer cosy accommodation, fine dining, casual bistros, gourmet wine pairings and elaborate tastings, which in the more established regions are not free but still don’t break the bank at around R50 (£2.80) per session. Most importantly, there is a young generation of winemakers that are producing better and better wines, not just the classic chenin blanc and robust pinotage, but complex bordeaux blends, elegant shiraz and what the locals would call seriously “quaffable” bubbly.

The best plan is to travel independently, call wineries first so you meet the people actually making the wine, and spend time in established wine valleys, such as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, then explore further afield, including the lesser-known but very welcoming vineyards in the Swartland, Wellington and Tulbagh. The South African rand is weak right now, which means that prices often begin at £2.80 a bottle, while restaurant prices are very affordable – dishes such as tender springbok braised in red wine or freshly-caught seared tuna cost around £5.50–£7.

Read more…