Magnums and Jeroboams: what’s in a name?

Walking in central London, I see the sign for Hedonism Wines. I’ve read the name of this shop in a magazine article and decide to drop in to have a look.   I am greeted with a cornucopia of wines and spirits in a modern, dynamic environment. It’s a great find for anyone interested in wine.

The large format wine bottles really attract my attention!

The bottle with the gold coloured label  (bottom left) contains 15000 milliliters of Chateau Palmer 2010, Margaux, Bordeaux.   It’s the equivalent of 20 bottles, called a Nebuchadnezzar.

The use of large format wine bottles interests me for several reasons: the names given to these outsize bottles, the impact of large format bottles on the wine ageing process, and the trends in their use.

To help remember the names and dimensions, here’s a chart I prepared.

With the exception of Magnum, the names used for these large format bottles all refer to kings in the Bible’s Old Testament.   After some research into this, it seems the reason that biblical names are used has been lost in the mists of time, other than that the names relate to powerful kings. For example, Nebuchadnezzar is the Babylonian king famous for the hanging gardens of Babylon, who lived approximately between 605 BC and 562 BC.

It is thought that the use of these biblical names originates in the 1700s.   I don’t know if the use of these names originated in France or elsewhere.   Assuming the use may have originated in France, a link to the notion of powerful kings is that the early years of the 1700s were the latter years of the reign of an absolute monarch, Louise X1V.     French historians generally regard the Age of Enlightenment (think Voltaire and Rousseau with their revolutionary ideas) as commencing with the death of Louise X1V in 1715 and ending with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. This ended the Ancien Regime, however, the biblical names have stuck!

The wine ageing process is complex based on a variety of chemical reactions in the wine as it ages.   It is also somewhat controversial.

Wine ageing pays tribute to the skills of the vine grower and the wine maker.   The vine grower’s responsibilities in the vineyard with respect to managing the terroir, soils, weather and grape varieties form the platform for the wine maker’s approaches to producing quality wine.   The appellation rules apply by region in terms of blends of allowable varieties and length of time for winemaking processes.

The value of ageing wine beyond the typical period of 12 – 24 months for red wines is often a factor of the grape varieties in the wine.   For example, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah red grape varieties, which have high levels of flavour compounds or phenolics such as tannins, can benefit from further bottle ageing.  Various grape varieties have recognized ageing potential.   For example, Cabernet Sauvignon has from 4 – 20 years, Merlot 2 – 10 years.

So, if some wines can benefit from further bottle ageing, what is the advantage of using large format bottles, such as Magnums or Jeroboams or even Nebuchadnezzars?

It’s about the rate of ageing.   In all large format wine bottles, wine ages more slowly than in a smaller-size container.   The wine generally retains fresher aromas for a longer period of time as less oxygen enters the bottle through the cork relative to the volume of wine in the bottle.   Oxidization, light and temperature can all degrade a wine if not managed carefully.     It also means that if you buy a half bottle of wine, enjoy it and don’t keep it for a rainy day!

The controversy around wine ageing is that some authorities suggest that wine is consumed older than is preferable.   Ageing changes wine but whether it improves it or worsens it varies.    Certainly, ageing will not improve a poor quality wine.

An economic factor that impacts the winemaking choices around ageing wine is the cost of storage. It certainly is only economical to age quality wine and many varieties of wine do not appreciably benefit from ageing regardless of quality.

Personally, as a general practice, we don’t keep white wine longer than two years beyond the vintage and drink it within one year by preference.   We buy red wine that we can cellar for another 2 – 5 years and that is as far out time-wise as we select.   All this affects our purchasing approach, as we have learnt from experience that buying beyond one’s capacity to enjoy the wine is not a good idea!

Factoring in the economics means that the current trend is to make wine that can be enjoyed in the shorter term.     Added to this is the fact that less wine is consumed these days due to health considerations including driving restrictions.

When discussing large format bottles recently with a wine maker in the Pécharmant area of the Bergerac Wine Region, I was told that the demand for large format bottles is declining.   Apart from the decline in consumption, people live in smaller homes and entertain differently. The benefit of having that large Jeroboam or Nebuchadnezzar on hand is less evident!   Today, these large format bottles are used more commonly for celebrations and gifts.   Magnums of champagne are commonly bought for weddings and other celebrations.   Magnums, Jeroboams, Salamanzars and even Nebuchadnezzars of fine wine are used as gifts and are generally specially ordered from the relevant chateau or winery.

A friend recently sent me this photo of a Jeroboam of Merlot 2014 from Burrowing Owl winery in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. This was a gift from a client.   Another great example of a fine wine in a large format bottle.

Its good to see old traditions continue in the spirit of generosity. I like to think that those old kings would be amused.

Best wishes for 2020.

 

References:  various sources,
Hedonism Wines:  hedonism.co.uk

Beautiful British Columbia and my summer sipping picks

The summer on the coast of British Columbia (BC) has been great this year.  Lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid to high 20s.

It’s hot but not too hot with refreshing periods of rain for the gardens and forests to cool off.  Perfect weather for enjoying the sea, beaches and mountains around Vancouver.

There is a collective sigh of relief and appreciation expressed by residents here that this year BC hasn’t suffered the forest fires of the last couple of years.

We enjoy picnic suppers on the beach nearby and watch the marine life from commercial shipping and pleasure boats going in and out of the port to individual stand up paddle boarders confidently navigating the busy waters, as well as birds and seals going about their business.

My menu for beach picnics consists of different ways of preparing chicken thighs, which then get placed in individual foil parcels and taken to the beach together with individual parcels of roasted vegetables.  Easy to empty onto a plate and easy to clean up; important considerations for beach picnics!

A really easy preparation is to roll chunks of Greek feta cheese in dried oregano and stuff them under the skin of the chicken thighs, which I then bake til cooked in the oven.  Sometimes, I add some fruit to bake as well, and on this occasion, fresh peach sections from the Okanagan Valley.

A delicious combination.

A variation is to combine Prosciutto di Parma with the feta in stuffing the chicken thighs.   Also popular!

My summer sipping picks for patio entertaining this year are a Rosé from British Columbia and an Italian White.

My rosé choice is from Quails Gate Winery in the Okanagan Valley here in BC.  Quails Gate have a reputation for reliable quality and they don’t disappoint with their 2018 Rosé: a blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Herbal, dry. refreshing wine at 14% Alc./Vol. and reasonably priced at C$17.99.

My white wine choice is Italian:  Ruffino Orvieto Classico.   For me, the blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Verdelho from the Umbria area of Italy is excellent value at C$13.99 and 12%Alc./Vol.   This dry, crisp light bodied wine with tones of citrus and green apple is perfect on a hot day.

September is here already, the summer holidays are over, children go back to school this week and the days of beach picnics are almost over…but not quite!!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian wine tasting in London, UK: “Amazing!”

“My inbox is full of compliments about the amazing evening of Canadian wines;  the participants loved the event”:  so comments the organizer of a Canadian Wine Tasting event in London in October.

For those who know Canadian wines, this response is not surprising but nevertheless it’s good to hear.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to advise on wines for a Canadian wine tasting at a private function in London. I am happy to support Canadian wine export efforts in even a minor way and so I was delighted to help and have the opportunity to lead this wine tasting event.

First of all, I established my criteria for recommending wines for the tasting:

1,  The wines had to represent Canada as a whole, not just British Columbia or Ontario but coast to coast, which meant including Atlantic Canada.

2.   The wines had to be available in the UK.  No point in presenting wines that couldn’t be accessed locally.

3.    To the extent possible, I wanted to be familiar with the individual wines and wineries.

Meeting these criteria was interesting in itself.    Figuring out which wineries were represented in the UK and by whom took some digging.   Given the peculiarities of interprovincial trade within Canada, identifying suitable wine choices from Atlantic Canada and Ontario involved some risk taking as I didn’t taste my wine recommendations from these two areas in advance.   I relied upon my network to suggest appropriate  Nova Scotia and Ontario wines.   I kept hearing about Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines from Nova Scotia and I knew that Peller Estates in the Niagara Peninsular consistently win awards for their Riesling Ice wine.

Here are the five Canadian wines I recommended and which we tasted together with the name of the UK organization where they can be purchased

We tasted them in the following order:

Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Brut Sparkling Wine 2011.  Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia,   Handcrafted from 100% Chardonnay.   With maritime freshness and soft bubbles, this ‘methode classique’ sparkling wine set the tone for excellence. Regarded by many as the best Sparkling wine in Canada.    benjaminbridge.com.  Available from Friarwood com.

British Columbia

Meyer Family Vineyard Chardonnay 2013   Apples, plums, pears, and other flavours roll into yellow fruit, smoky spices and mineral elements.  Recognized as #2 small winery in Canada in 2017.    We enjoy both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made by this Okanagan Falls winery and are members of their wine club.  I have got to know JAK Meyer, proprietor over the past few years. mfvwines.com  Available from Davy.co.uk and also from Marks and Spenser.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2012.   Certified organic winery produces their flagship red wine from their vineyards in the Similkameen Valley and in Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley.  Old world elegance and new world edge is how they describe their style.    Hand harvested, gently fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.   We visited Clos du Soleil a few years ago and met the founder, Spenser Massie.   We admire their wine making values and the grandeur of the location.   clos du Soleil.ca.  Available from Cellier.co.uk

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Meritage 2012.    This is their Bordeaux style red wine with layers of complexity.  Red and black fruit, sweet spices and chocolate.  We have been visiting Burrowing Owl Winery for many years and also enjoy the hospitality at their on site guest house.   We enjoy the wines, the ambience of the place, and support their efforts for the preservation of the burrowing owl species and conservation of the habitat of this endangered underground nesting bird.  Located in Oliver, Okanagan Valley.  burrowingowlwine.ca.   Available from Drayman.co.uk.   On a weekend in Shropshire, West Midlands we also discovered Burrowing Owl wine in the historic town of Shrewsbury  at Tanners Wine Merchants.  tanners-wines.co.uk

 

Ontario

Peller Estates Winery, Ice Wine Riesling 2013.  Picked at the coldest moment on a winter’s night, each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine.  Smooth, luxurious, honeyed, captivating.  Our hosts provided a generous selection of crackers and cheeses, including blue cheese which enabled me to demonstrate the magical pairing of Ice Wine and blue cheese, and made the point better than any description.  Located at Niagara-on-the-Lake.   peller.com.   Available from Majestic.co.uk.

There are many excellent Canadian wine choices and these wines that I have selected may tempt the wine enthusiast to further exploration.    I also suggest checking out the listed websites for further insights into dynamic Canadian approaches to wine tourism.

It has been a pleasure and privilege to introduce these excellent Canadian wines to a group of wine enthusiasts in London.  The wines speak for themselves and we had fun tasting and chatting about them.   One of the participants was from Nova Scotia and described the beauty of the Gaspereau Valley where Benjamin Bridge is situated.

This is the 60th posting on my blog.  It feels like a milestone to me and somehow appropriate to be writing about Canadian wines because Canada is where I live.

Not bad, eh!

_________

With Thanks:

To Davy Wine Merchants for their assistance in the final sourcing of the wines.

To the Canadian Trade Commission for supplying information about Canadian wine regions for wine tasting participants..

Award winning wines – Decanter World Wine Awards 2017

A large package arrives from Decanter Magazine. 

It’s the ledger of winners of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

In equal measure, I feel interested to see the results and dismayed at the size of the package: 306 pages of dense information.     How to make sense of the results without spending hours and hours reading the ledger word for word?

Going back to basics makes the most sense.  I ask myself: what are the key messages from the wine awards?

Here are my three take-aways from the report

1.

The value placed by Decanter magazine on the consumer benefits of identifying and promoting wine quality,

and,

spotlighting lesser known wines and/or wine regions.

2.

Recognizing the expansion of the wine industry into many more countries and wine regions than I would generally consider.       Literally A to Z  from Albania to Veneto.   I count 68 countries and wine regions in total.  (Countries and wine regions are counted separately, for example: New Zealand is 1 entry and there are 6 French wine regions noted).

Who would have thought a few years ago about wines from new and exciting regions, or “lesser known areas” as Decanter discreetly states, entering these global competitive processes?

This point is exemplified in the list of countries represented in the description of Platinum Best in Show wines.  In the Decanter World Wine Awards, Platinum Best in Show is the highest accolade possible.   All Platinum Best in Category winners from around the world are pitted against each other to win the Platinum Best in Show.   There are 34 wines in this category which triumphed over 17,229 entrants to the competitive process.   Some of the countries these wines are from are:  Moravia (Czech Replublic), Canada, England, Uraguay, Austria, Portugal, Corsica, Luxembourg as well as the usual suspects France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand.

3.

Acknowledging the rich diversity of grape varieties and wine styles around the globe together with the complexity of wine production with issues of sustainability and environmental considerations in an ever changing world.

In this context, the wine industry is an increasingly crowded market place with all that it implies in terms of running a business and succeeding; the risk and reward considerations are daunting.

As I continue reviewing the report, I recognize many wines in the ledger of winners.   One I am particularly delighted to see is the Best Value Cypriot White;  Vouni Panayia, Alina  Xynisteri, from the Paphos region, Cyprus that I wrote about in my most recent post after our visit there in the early Spring this year.

At the end of the day, over dinner, we discuss the report and in general the challenges of making wine and running a Winery.   Clearly, the imperative is to make the highest quality wine possible and this is all good news for the consumer.

Our choice of wine to accompany dinner is new to us:   Painted Rock Estate  Winery from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.   We enjoy one of their acclaimed reds,  a  Merlot:  dark fruit flavours with a touch of spice and chocolate that lingered well on the palate and paired well with a small tenderloin steak with sautéed mushrooms in a red wine and mustard sauce.

The 306 pages of the DWWA 2017 report don’t look so intimidating now and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to discover more about the diversity of award winning wines, wine makers and wine making trends. For me, the real value in this competitive process is the increasing emphasis on and encouragement for high quality wines.

Reference:

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 competitive process together with all tasting notes and related information can be found at http://www.Decanter.com/dwwa

September 2017