History and Hospitality: wine and food stories told in silver. Part 1

 

I love a good story, especially one that involves wine!  Who would have thought I would stumble across a story that involves not only wine but Sicily and the British naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson when visiting the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.

It all began as I looked at a silver wine label marked “Bronte”…

This label is part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery.

Silver and enamel wine and sauce labels were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the growing middle class in England when wine was decanted from barrels into glass decanters and the identity of the wine was described by a silver label.    Condiments or sauces for food were also served in glass jars or bottles and similarly labelled.

So what is the connection between this Bronte silver wine label, Sicily and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson?

The latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century was the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815) between Britain and France and involving many other nations in Europe.   It was a time of major land and sea battles, which are still commemorated.

The Napoleonic Wars ended with the great victory of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.   The Napoleonic Wars include the mighty naval battles of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) and Trafalgar under the leadership of Admiral Nelson.     It is the history of Nelson that relates to our Bronte wine label.

As part of the naval battles in the Mediterranean, Nelson protected Naples from the French. At the time, Naples was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of which Ferdinand 1st was King.     In 1799, King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services to his kingdom by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte together with an estate in Bronte, an agricultural area in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Etna.

A famous wine from Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine similar to sherry which became popular in Britain in the 18th century.     This popularity was partly due to the trading activities of the 18th Century importer John Woodhouse and the British Royal Navy, which became a big consumer of Marsala wine.   Vice Admiral Lord Nelson used Marsala as the official wine ration for sailors under his command.   A manuscript exists, dated March 19, 1800, and carrying the signature of the importer John Woodhouse and the Duke of Bronte, Nelson’s Sicilian title, stipulating the supply of 500 barrels, each with a capacity of the equivalent of 500 litres for the fleet stationed in Malta.

After Nelson’s victories, especially at Trafalgar and his death there, Nelson was held in great esteem by the British people for saving Britain from possible invasion. Many landmarks were created in his name, including Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in London.

The British people were keen to taste the wine that had so fortified Nelson and his sailors’ spirits in battle and this added to its popularity.

Back to the wine label marked “Bronte”.     This fine piece of craftsmanship was made in London by the silver makers Reilly and Storer in 1830.  It was just fifteen years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.    The label would have been used on a decanter of Marsala wine, possibly produced on the Bronte estate in Sicily or elsewhere on the Island but called Bronte in recognition of Nelson’s Sicilian title.

The Bronte estate remained in Nelson’s line of descendants, now called Nelson-Hood until 1981 when the last remaining lots of land were sold to the Municipality of Bronte.    There remains a Nelson Museum in the town of Bronte, which is now known for its pistachio nut harvests and the delicacies made from them..

Marsala wine is grown in the region DOC Marsala in Sicily and produced from three white wine varieties.     It is a fortified wine usually containing around 17 % ALC – alcohol by volume.   The ‘in perpetuum’ process used to make the fortified wine is similar to the solera process used for Sherry produced in Jerez, Spain, in which old wines are blended with new wines and the barrels never emptied. Marsala wines are classified on an eight-point scale according to their colour, sweetness and duration of their ageing.      Usually served as an aperitif, Marsala can also be served with a cheese course.     It is often used in cooking and this is how I remember it being used by my Mother.  Dry Marsala is used in savoury cooking. One of the most popular savoury Marsala recipes is chicken Marsala.   Sweet Marsala is used in the preparation of delicious desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.

Every story has an ending.   Our story about the Bronte wine label ends with our visit later that same day to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, about two miles from Alton.

For most of Jane Austen’s ( 1775 – 1817 ) life, Britain was at war with many countries including America, France, Spain, and others, including the Napoleonic Wars.    Many of her books include characters with a naval or army background.   While jokingly hoping to see Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame walk through the garden in Chawton, we did in all seriousness read the stories of Jane Austen’s brothers,  who both rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and were contemporaries and admirers of Admiral Nelson.

 

A fitting end to our visit was to see on display in Jane Austen’s house, the Herculaneum Funerary Dish in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, immortalized for me in that silver Bronte wine label.

 

References:

British National Archives   http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Various websites about Bronte, Italy and the Castello Nelson Museum

Hampshire Cultural Trust and Allen Gallery. http://www.hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/allen-Gallery

Wine Label Circle   http://www.winelabelcircle.org

A case of Serendipity: Victoria International Wine Festival

Completely by chance, we are in Victoria, British Columbia at the time of their annual international wine festival.   This has to be a case of serendipity.

After seeing an advertising banner stretched above a main road into the city,  we decide at the last minute to book tickets.  On another sunny Autumn Victoria afternoon, we head off to explore the wine festival; the first time we have attended this event.     Our first impression is amazement at the large number of people there.   In a city known to attract retirees, it’s fantastic to see so many young people exploring and enjoying the adventures of wine.   It’s clearly party time!

The choice of available wines is extensive although we are surprised not to see more Vancouver Island wines.   We decide to focus on red wines, mainly Canadian with a couple of exceptions – it is an International Wine Festival after all!

Stand out wines for us at the festival are mainly Bordeaux style blends (typically Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec in varying quantities and styles, sometimes referred to as Meritage) and include:  Gold Hill 2015 Meritage (winner of the Lt. Governor Award of Excellence),  Mission Hill Quatrain (for special occasions price-wise), Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin and Sunrock Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the International side, we enjoy an italian Sangiovese, La Mora Morellino di Scansano and particularly enjoyed the spanish rioja, Baron de Ley series, especially Baron de Ley Rioja Maturana, both good valu

What really caught my eye are innovative artisan wine products made in the Okanagan Valley from the wine crush.  Grape seeds and grape skins are dehydrated, ground and added to such products as cheese and sea salt, which are infused with the rich flavours from the wine grapes.  We tasted The Winecrush Gamay Goat Cheese, and the Malbec and Herb Sea Salt:  both are delicious. The Gamay Goat Cheese has been nominated for a Canadian cheese award.   I can imagine serving the Malbec and Herb Sea Salt with quails eggs, as one example.   It’s exciting to see new concepts and value added wine products being made by BC entrepreneurs.

We also discovered a new bistro to try on another visit to the Island:  Artisan Bistro in Broadmead Village, which is on the outskirts of Victoria.

We are big fans of Vancouver Island and the capital city, Victoria with its colourful gardens, cheerful water taxis ferrying people around the harbour communities and interesting local history well described and highlighted throughout the city.   Our chance visit to the Victoria International Wine Festival was an added bonus.

References  :   Winecrush    www.winecrush.ca

Artisan Bistro.  www.artisanbistro.ca

 

 

Summer Wrap Up -wine, cocktails and crime fiction.

It’s a picture perfect, blue sky September day on the West Coast of Canada.

We’re in the ferry line-up returning from the Sunshine Coast to Horseshoe Bay, the ferry terminal on the North Shore of Vancouver. Schools are back and yet the ferries are a two-ferry wait unless you have a reservation, which we do fortunately.

The Sunshine Coast, aptly named for its sunnier climate, is a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. It’s only accessible by ferry, boat or seaplane and is one of those places that support the province’s reputation as Beautiful British Columbia.

We visit friends here who make us Summer Pudding, the iconic late summer dessert with all the polyphenol-rich berries, including blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, and redcurrants.   Summer Delicious!

This summer we have tried two new BC wines: 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada gold medal winner, Averill Creek Pinot Noir from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and Liquidity Winery, Bistro and Gallery Pinot Gris from Okanagan Falls in the Okanagan Valley.     The choice of quality wines in British Columbia continues to expand. I believe there are now 280 wineries in B.C.   Who would have anticipated this 30 years ago?

Back home in Vancouver, we make a new summer cocktail, straight out of Donna Leon’s detective fiction novel: “Earthly Remains” set in Venice. The protagonist, Commissario Guido Brunetti creates a cocktail for his wife Paola from sparkling water, Campari and topped up with Prosecco.   We guess at the respective quantities by trial and error.    The resulting tall drink is definitely a popular and refreshing choice in the hot summer weather.

On the subject of crime fiction, Martin Walker, author of the popular Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police series based in the Dordogne in SW France, was made an honourary member of the Confrérie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules at their annual event in July.  Police Chief Bruno, who enjoys good food and wine while solving local crimes, has a growing following in North America and has featured in my blog posts in the past, as has the Confrérie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules, of which I am delighted to be a member.

Finally, a comment about the Cherry Clafoutis I mentioned in my previous blog.   I made two: we ate one and froze the other. A reader asked me how the frozen one turned out when we finally served it. I am happy to report it was equally as good as the first one, maybe because it was carefully and purposefully thawed at room temperature over a couple of hours.

It’s been a tough late summer in British Columbia due to the number of wildfires. Fortunately,  with the arrival of autumnal weather, lower temperatures and even snow flurries in the north east of the province, the situation is much improved.   However, many people have been affected and our thoughts are with them.   Thanks and appreciation goes to the firefighters here in BC and to those who came from other parts of Canada, Mexico and Australia to help.

References:   Averill Creek winery: averillcreek.ca

Liquidity Winery, Bistro and Gallery, liquiditywines.com

Donna Leon, detective fiction writer of Commissario Brunetti series;    Donnaleon.net

Martin Walker, crime fiction writer of the series, Bruno, Chief of                                   Police.  www.brunochiefofpolice.com   Learn all about Bruno, his favourite music,  history etc.

and search for the following article in http://www.nytimes.com.

 

 

 

 

Cherry Clafoutis Celebration: Vive La France 🇫🇷

The French people had lots to celebrate over the past weekend:  the victory of the French national football team, commonly known as Les Bleus, in the FIFA finals as well as their traditional July 14 Bastille Day holiday.    Invited to celebrate over dinner with friends, I couldn’t resist making the quintessential French dessert of Cherry Clafoutis.

Surprised to not find a recipe in my library of cookbooks I turned to the internet and found one I liked by SimplyRecipes.  Here’s their recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted

2 tablespoons of blanched slivered almonds

3 eggs

3/4 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1/2 cup of an all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of milk

3/4 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

  1.  Butter and flour baking dish, scatter with cherries and slivered almonds. Preheat oven to 350’ F
  2. Make batter with eggs, sugar, salt and flour
  3. Add the milk, almond extract and vanilla extract
  4. Pour batter into the baking dish over the cherries and slivered almonds
  5. Bake at 350’ F for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned
  6. Remove from oven and cool
  7. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

I tweaked the recipe a little by reducing the amount of sugar, adding the almonds to the food processor and puréeing them with the batter ingredients, and using half cream and half milk.    I used an apple corer to remove the cherry pits, which left much of the cherry intact and looking good.    The  result was a creamy and not too sweet baked cherry custard and the verdict was overwhelmingly positive: delicious in fact!

This is the season for cherries.   British Columbia cherries are so sweet and full of flavour at this time of year that a Cherry Clafoutis is a great way to enjoy them cooked.

The question is:  what wine would I select to serve with this?  In keeping with the celebration,  my inclination would be a French wine, either a sparkling rosé or a light Beaujolais, fruity and lively.

I made two Cherry Clafoutis with one in the freezer, ready to be enjoyed at a later date.    When I serve that one  I will decide on which of these wine choices to serve.   Other wine suggestions are welcome!

Bon Appétit

 

Reference

For full recipe details check out the Cherry Clafoutis Recipe at http://www.simplyrecipes.com

 

 

 

From Farm and Vineyard to table: Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia offers that mix of Western Canadian history and urban charm itself.   This is why we enjoy our summertime visits there so much.

 

These photos represent all the things we look forward to when visiting Victoria:  browsing and buying books at Munro’s books,  always a highlight of our visits;  sampling delicious chocolates at Roger’s Chocolates, and generally taking in all the small town charm of British Columbia’s capital city.    Each visit, I re-read  the history of the early explorers on the statues around the inner harbour;  quite often there is a seagull perched on Captain James Cook’s head.

On our most recent visit in June we discovered a restaurant new to us:   10 Acre Kitchen, one of three 10 Acre restaurants in downtown Victoria.   This enterprise offers local farm to table imaginative cuisine and serves interesting wine.   A definite recommendation for future visits.

We enjoyed beet salads and Dungeness crab cakes – light and delicious with a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend white wine from Lock and Worth Winery in Penticton, British Columbia; also new to us!

 

I particularly enjoy this Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend.  To me, this is the classic Bordeaux White wine blend that I am familiar with in SW France.   It’s another opportunity to think about the wine related connections between SW France and Western Canada!    What I enjoy about this blend and find very drinkable is that the Semillon gives depth and gravitas to the acidity of the Sauvignon blanc.  At Lock and Worth, the winemakers produce wine that is un-fined and un-filtered so the wine is slightly cloudy.  The winemakers say they make wines without pretense and this approach is behind their plain label bottles   I will definitely plan to visit this winery on a future visit to the Okanagan Valley and taste more of their wines.

It’s always fun to discover new restaurants and wines and incorporate those experiences into familiar venues.    I am looking forward to a return visit already!

References:   10Acres.ca   Group of restaurants, Victoria BC

lockandworth.com.     Lock and Worth Winery, Penticton BC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two women wine and food entrepreneurs connect SW France and Western Canada

Meet two women wine and food entrepreneurs who, in different ways, connect SW France and Western Canada:  Caro Feely in SW France and Marnie Fudge in Alberta, Canada.

Caro Feely is an organic wine farmer and producer with her husband Sean at Chateau Feely, an organic wine estate located in the Dordogne in SW France.    She has just returned from a book tour in British Columbia, Canada where she presented to Canadian audiences the latest of her three books, which describes the challenges and triumphs of building an organic wine business and raising a family while learning a second language.

I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

Caro’s books are called:  Grape Expectations, Saving our Skins and her latest book Glass Half Full was released in April 2018.

In addition to writing about her family’s experiences,  Caro and Chateau Feely offer organic wines made on site,  Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 2 wine courses,  Wine Weekends and luxury ecological accommodation.  Check out Caro’s books and all information about Caro and Sean’s initiatives at Chateau Feely on their website below.

I have known Caro for many years and admire her hard work and innovative ideas.

Marnie Fudge is the co-proprietor with her partner, Thierry Meret, of Cuisine and Chateau, an interactive culinary centre in Calgary, Alberta.      Marnie and Thierry offer cooking classes in Calgary, corporate team-building workshops based on teams cooking together and culinary tours.    The culinary tours are a gastronomical weeklong adventure through the Périgord region of SW France enjoyed while staying in a 16th Century chateau.

I met Marnie on a business related course some years ago and subsequently introduced her to the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules as they share common interests in the presentation of local wines and wine and food pairing.

I will quickly add here that the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès is about to start their summer program of guided hikes and wine tastings in the Bergerac Wine Region.  These are listed on their website below.

For many years, Marnie and Thierry have been bringing Canadians to enjoy the wine and food of SW France on a foodie adventure.    During this stay, the group enjoys an evening with the Commander of the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules who describes local wines and conducts a wine tasting focussed on a gastronomic dinner.      I have been fortunate to attend one of these excellent events when, by chance, I was in France at the same time as the group.

Marnie and Thierry are bringing their 2018 tour group to France this month in June.  Their 2019 Culinary Tour dates are posted on their cuisine and chateau website below.

Chateau Feely and Cuisine and Chateau are great examples of the international nature of the wine and food culture and sector.      Bravo and Hats Off/Chapeaux to Caro and Marnie;   these two women entrepreneurs are connecting SW France with people from Canada, and around the world.

References

Château Feely        chateaufeely.com

Cuisine and Chateau    cuisineandchateau.com

Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules    confrerieduraisindor.com

 

Xynisteri: Cyprus white wine for sunny days

Xynisteri, an indigenous grape in Cyprus makes one of my all time favourite white wines for the summer.    Refreshing, with lemon/lime, grapefruit and apple notes and balanced on the acidic side with flavours of tropical stone fruits; think mango and also apricots and peaches.  On the nose, there are floral and fruity tones.

It’s a great sipping wine for the patio, yet also perfect in food pairings such as fish, white meat and even salads with fruit.

I have my favourite four producers: their wines are similar yet with nuanced, discernable differences.

Here is the line-up of these four producers including the name of their Xynisteri wine,

Vouni Panayia Winery, Alina Xynisteri.   I  have written about Vouni Panayia before.  They were awarded Decanter Platinum Award as best value Cypriot White wine for their Alina Xynisteri 2016.

Vasilikon winery, Xynisteri

Tsangarides Winery, Xynisteri  – I have written about Tsangarides Winery previously as well.

Kolios Winery, Persephone Xynisteri

I should add that there are other producers of Xynisteri wines who I am not yet familiar with.

Xynisteri is a robust grape variety that grows well at high altitudes.  Xynisteri is the main white grape variety grown in Cyprus.  It is one of the two indigenous grape varieties used in the production of Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet Cypriot dessert wine.    Commandaria’s heritage dates back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.  Xynisteri is also used for the production of the local spirit,  Zivania.

If you are in Cyprus as a visitor, or resident, I suggest you look for these Xynisteri wines on restaurant wine lists and try them all over time and see which you prefer.

This seems like a perfect occupation when enjoying sunny days in Cyprus.

 

References:   Vouni Panayia Winery  www.vounipanayiawinery.com

Vasilikon Winery,   http://www.vasilikon.com

Tsangarides Winery, Xnyisteri.   http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

Kolios Winery, Persephone.    www.kolioswinery.com