Cyprus mosaics – the cultural tradition continues…

“ To carry on the cultural heritage of mosaic making in modern materials”, is the vision of Sharen Taylor, mosaic artist in Paphos, Cyprus.

Mosaics, particularly antique mosaics, always fascinate me.

Here are some reasons:

  • The sense of wonder I feel when I look at antique mosaics made in Roman times;  around the 2nd Century AD or about 1,800 years ago, and that they have survived,
  • The artistry in the designs, whether geometric, non figurative or figurative – which still appeal to the modern viewer and are influential in today’s decorative styles,
  • The craftsmanship in making polychromatic illustrations from tiny cubes – 1 cm each side – of natural stone (called tesserae); usually limestone or marble of different colours which remain as vibrant today as the day the stones were laid.   In particular, the skill in applying the stones to the mosaic design in such a way as to provide perspective, texture, and nuance of colour, size and scale,
  • The size of either floor or wall mosaics, which provide the opportunity to tell a story in stone; reflecting contemporary interests in nature, flora and fauna, spectacle, myths, gods and goddesses,
  • The way in which mosaics inform us about the lifestyle, the social and economic standing of the people who lived so long ago  in houses and communities decorated in such beautiful ways; where beauty was a value they appreciated.

In other words, antique mosaics are masterpieces of the ancient world.

In today’s world, Sharen Taylor is inspired to help people appreciate the mosaic art form and also create mosaics with modern materials.   While this is her focus, her creative approach is grounded in the depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience of art history and archeological conservation that she brings to her modern expression of an ancient art.

Sharen graduated from Exeter University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture.   An interest in antiquities and conservation work led her to a job with the British Museum in London.   While working there, she was sponsored for a Diploma in Archeological Conservation at the Institute of Archeology, London University.

Coming to Cyprus in 1987, she worked on the excavation work at Lemba, near Paphos.   She conducted the conservation work on the cult bowl and figurines found at Kissonerga, which are on permanent display at the Archeological Museum in Nicosia.   During a recent visit to that museum, I took this photograph, thinking how fortunate I am to know the person who did the conservation work on these important artifacts dating back over 4,000 years.

Following this exciting work, Sharen stayed on in Cyprus and worked for the Department of Antiquities as a consultant, including with the Leventis Museum, focusing on metal work and mediaeval pottery.   She also worked for various foreign missions coming to Cyprus on archeological expeditions.   Through this work, Sharen joined the Getty Conservation Institute as a Consultant and Coordinator for Site Conservation training, which focused on conservation on site; important for the integrity of archeological expeditions.   Because of Cyprus’s location at the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean with major archeological finds throughout this geographic area, site conservation training was centred in Cyprus.

Sharen’s professional interest shifted to mosaics when she was asked to conduct a historical survey of the wine harvest mosaic in the atrium of the House of Dionysius at the Nea Pafos Archeological Site, a World Heritage Site, adjacent to the Paphos old Port.  She analyzed each stone in that mosaic! In this photo, she shows her detailed mapping and analysis of those mosaics.

Sharen presented her findings at a conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Arles, France in 1999.

She started her mosaic workshop in 2000 and moved to the beautiful, light and airy new building in the Hani Ibrahim Khan Centre near the Municipal Market in Paphos in 2018.   As soon as we entered to workshop to meet with Sharen, I could feel the good energy there.  She focuses on commissions for organizations and private individuals and also teaches children and adults mosaic making, which is how I first became aware of her work.

Coincidentally, in 2013, I wrote about the wine harvest mosaics in a series of 5 posts about Cyprus in which I made the connection between my interest in wine expressed through my wine blog and the wine harvest mosaics!   ( See: Cyprus Wine Making – the ancient world meets the 21st Century: Part One)

http://elizabethsvines.com/2013/01/27/cyprus-wine-making-the-ancient-world-meets-the-21st-century-part-one/

Earlier in this post, I outlined the main reasons that ancient mosaics fascinate me.

A visit to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site illustrates all these aspects.   Each time I visit Cyprus, I take time to enjoy these mosaics, both those in the open air and those in the various excavated houses, including the House of Dionysius, where the wine harvest mosaics pave the atrium.

Imagine welcoming guests to your house if you were the prosperous citizen of Paphos living in this Roman villa.     Your guests would admire these and other mosaic illustrations as they walked across the floor.

Sometimes, I wish I could be a time traveller to quietly observe these scenes!

Any visitor to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site is privileged to be able to see these world heritage mosaics in situ.

Prior to the 1960’s, geometric and non-figurative mosaics were frequently considered of little importance.     Generally, there has been ongoing deterioration and loss of mosaics.   There was a view that there are so many antique mosaics in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are numerous that conservation wasn’t important.

Now there is recognition that cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing physical and geopolitical currents around the world and this emphasizes the need to protect antique sites.

Under the authority of the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus, systematic excavations started at Neo Pafos in 1962.   In 1980, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.  Nea Pafos continues as a centre of excavation and research by many foreign archeological missions from universities and schools.

As mentioned previously, Sharen presented her paper on the Paphos wine harvest mosaics at The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) Conference in 1999, entitled: Mosaics, Conserve to Display.     The ICCM, founded in Rome in 1977, is a voluntary organization registered in Cyprus as a legal entity.   Their role and objectives are, “promoting the broader evolution in the philosophy and practice of heritage conservation in the field of mosaics”.       It is an organization that brings together conservators, archeologists, art historians and architects.       I am grateful to Sharen for making me aware of this organization and its work.

Experiencing antique mosaics connects us to the ancient past at various levels: physical, emotional and at the level of beliefs and values through the stories they tell and the designs they illustrate.

Sharen Taylor, through her knowledge, experience and creativity pays that cultural heritage forward by teaching children to appreciate and create mosaics.     The Hani Ibrahim Khan colourful and imaginative wall mosaic created by children with aged 7 – 11 is a great illustration of this.

Past, present and future:  the cultural tradition of mosaics continues…

References:

Sharen Taylor Mosaics, 15 To Hani Ibraham Khan, 40 Konstantinou Kanari Paphos

Accessible Website via Facebook  Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.

Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus www.mcw.gov.cy see this site for lots of relevant information including the Neo Paphos Archeological Park

International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)

http://www.iccm-mosaics.org

Getty Conservation Institute   http://www.getty.edu

Exploring the Isle of Wight, UK and enjoying Rosé wine!

The Isle of Wight (IOW) s one of my favourite places in Great Britain.  I love being by the sea and there’s lots of opportunity for that on this island off the south coast of England.

We arrive by ferry from Lymington.  After a 40 minute mini cruise during which we meander past the Lymington Yatch Haven with the many sailboat masts gently swaying in the breeze, we cross the strait and reach the Isle of Wight.

We dock at Yarmouth, where we visit the 16th Century Yarmouth Castle, one of King Henry V111’s defensive castles built to protect England from invasions from the Continent (!)

We’ve come to spend a few restful days on the Island and have no expectations other than chilling out in the relaxed atmosphere of a place that seems moored to an earlier, less frenetic era.  Part of the chilling out process is to enjoy seafood at The Hut at Colwell Bay and also to explore Isle of Wight history by visiting Queen Victoria’s seaside home at Osborne House in East Cowes.

The Hut at Colwell Bay is our gastronomic beachside destination located right on the edge of the sea.  We visit several times!   Sitting out on the deck enjoying the view is all part of the pleasure of the place.    Lobster, sea bass, crayfish, prawn, hake: it’s all freshly available.

The Hut features rosé wine, which they like to offer in large bottles such as magnums and jeroboams!

If Miraval Rosé Côtés de Provence rings a bell, it may be because it is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in partnership with the Perrin family.  It’s not clear if this ownership structure is still the case.   It’s a crisp and dry wine with a good rating among the top 10 rosés from the area.    Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation of Provence wine in south-eastern France.    80% of Côtés de Provence wine is rosé and the relevant grapes are Grenache and Cinsaut, standard for the area.

Domaine de Saint Mitre Rosé Côteaux Varois is highly rated as a dry rosé and is a blend of Syrah which gives the wine structure and colour with Grenache and Cinsaut which add the aromatics.  This is a classic Provençal blend of grape varieties that work well together.  Côteaux Varois is a key Provençal appellation in the far south eastern area of France.

Rosé is now such a cool and crisp characteristic of summer gatherings of families and friends and seems more popular than ever.

To follow up on our interest in local history, one day we drive to East Cowes to explore Island royal history.

Queen Victoria, on the British throne from 1837 to 1901, made Osborne House in East Cowes her seaside home with Prince Albert and their children.   Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria continued to visit Osborne for the rest of her reign and died there in 1901.

Osborne House was built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert between 1845 and 1851 by the famous British builder Thomas Cubitt, whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace in 1847.    The grand design of the house in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo was the brainchild of Prince Albert.

Visitors can tour the house, walled garden and other parts of the property.    I enjoy seeing the private sitting room which the Queen shared with Prince Albert with adjoining desks and from where she wrote her diary and much of her voluminous correspondence.    The walled garden also celebrates their relationship with entwined initials part of the garden trellis.  

There’s a lot to explore! 

We leave the Isle of Wight after a few days feeling refreshed by the sea air and slower pace of life.  Perfect for a summer pause.

References:    The Hut at Colwell Bay  reservations@thehutcolwell.co.uk

Osborne House, East Cowes, IOW   Managed as a tourist venue by English Heritage:      english-heritage.org.uk/osborne

History and Hospitality: wine and food stories told in silver. Part 2.

Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history.    “What is their history?”;   ” Who used them and where?  “Tell me more…”

These sauce labels are part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery in Alton in Hampshire  and were viewed  in October.  I wrote the story of the Bronte wine Label in my last post.

Silver labels for sauces, herbs and spices such as those illustrated for Tarragon, Oude, Cherokee, Cayenne, Anchovy  were made by silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries in England to be used to identify the contents of glass condiment bottles on the dining tables of the growing middle class in Britain.

Of those shown, the Tarragon label was made in1798, the Cherokee label made in 1780 and the Oude label made in 1841.   We know this because the hallmarks on each label identify the date in recognized and regulated letter code.

 

Apart from the craftsmanship demonstrated in the making of these single pieces of silver, these sauce, herb and spice labels represent different approaches to cuisine in this period of history and the diversity that came from their origins.

Herbs such as Tarragon, one of the four herbs named as “fine herbes” (parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives) was home grown and was, and is, used in classical French cuisine. Spices were more exotic and imported from many areas of the world and brought different culinary inspiration.    Both approaches to cuisine represent the march of history, global exploration and the corresponding impact on cuisine.

The history goes back a long way, including ancient times.   More recently Marco Polo, the great Venetian 13th century explorer mentions spices in his travel memoirs.     He wrote about sesame oil in Afghanistan, he described plantings of pepper, nutmegs, cloves in Java and cinnamon, pepper and ginger on the coastal area of India.

When Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage in 1493, he revisited the West Indes and Americas, still hoping to go on to China, and brought back red pepper spices and allspice.

All the sea-faring exploration, military actions and colonization around the world over many centuries affected food tastes and cooking styles when people returned to their home countries with their new found food and flavour experiences..

The availability and access to spices in particular was often a function of economic wealth.   For example, the price of pepper served as a barometer for European business well being in general.

As is always the case, language reflects culture and how people live.  The phrase “peppercorn rent’, an expression used today to indicate a nominal amount, reflects the fact that pepper was used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rent. Similarly, in 1393, a German price list identified that a pound weight of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen!

Researching sauce names reveals some interesting information!   I found Cherokee recipes from the southern United States referring to chicken recipes with chilies.   Béarnaise Sauce, the famous tarragon flavoured derivative sauce of Hollandaise, was referenced in 1836 culinary materials.

Oude was more difficult to track down. I did find a reference to a Crosse and Blackwell’s Oude Sauce used in a sausage pudding recipe from the 1800s.   Crosse and Blackwell, a British company making sauces since 1706, no longer make this sauce although they continue to make other condiment products.

Oude sauce has also been referred to as King of Oude sauce.    For example, an 1861 list of supplies included Crosse and Blackwell sauces: Essence of Anchovies, and King of Oude sauce, as well as Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, Mushroom Catsup etc.

Looking further into the Oude reference, my research indicates that the Oudh State (also known as Kingdom of Oudh, or Awadh State) was a princely state in the Awadh region of North India until 1858. Oudh, the now obsolete but once official English-language name of the state, also written historically as Oude, derived from the name of Ayodhya.

Joining the dots, I assume then that Oude Sauce would be spicy in a Northern Indian cuisine style, possibly with spices such as chilies, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander.

Sauce recipes, then as now, are typically not divulged..   While the ingredients for the generic Worcestershire sauce are known and include such items as barley malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, garlic, spices, which may include cloves, soy, lemons, the precise recipe for Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce from 1835 is still a closely guarded secret after more than 200 years.   Tabasco Sauce, another well-loved spicy condiment, has been made in Louisiana in the United States since 1868 by the same family business.  The spice business and extraction of flavours from herbs and spices has been commercially active since the 18th century in line with the illustrated sauce labels.

McCormick is another maker of condiments in the United States that has been in this business since 1889.   The company has established a McCormick Science Institute (MSI).   “The MSI research program sponsors research which is focussed on advancing the scientific study of the health enhancing properties of culinary herbs and spices in areas which are considered to have the potential to impact public health.  MSI released a research paper in March 2018 identifying how herbs and spices increase the liking and preference for vegetables among rural high school students.”  Marco Polo and other early explorers would be pleased!

Thinking about the silver sauce labels on the condiment bottles on the 18th and 19th century dining tables, I wonder about the wine selection in those days to accompany foods using these sauces, especially the spicy ones.

No doubt the advice would be similar to that offered today.   For example, with a curry dish, I might consider a chilled white wine such as pinot gris or perhaps a gewürztraminer:  among rosé wines, I might consider a lightly chilled wine, but not too floral, a Côte de Province appellation comes to mind.   Among red wine choices, considering a lighter red wine and staying away from too tannic a wine would be a good idea to complement the spicy notes of the food.   Côte du rhône, Gigondas come to mind or perhaps an Alsace Pinot Noir.   I could apply these considerations to wines from other parts of the world in making a choice of wine to accompany a spicy food dish.

Viewing these 18th and 19th century silver sauce labels opened up a Pandora’s box of questions for me,  as the unknown name of Oude particularly caught my eye.  So much history and information evoked by a small, beautiful example of silver craftsmanship from over 200 years ago.

References:  websites for:  McCormick and the McCormick Science Institute, Hampshire Cultural Trust/Allen Gallery,  British Library.  Christopher-Columbus.eu, Lee and Perrin, Crosse and Blackwell, Tabasco.

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

The Art of Springtime Inspiration: Dinton Folly English Sparkling Wine

 

Whenever I am in London and have a few hours to spare, I do the things I love the most here: walking and looking at art. I am always uplifted and inspired by these experiences.

Yesterday, I walked in Green Park and captured this daffodil laden view of Buckingham Palace.

Daffodils are one of my favourite flowers.  Partly because they are cheerful, yellow harbingers of spring and partly because they bring back my childhood memories of playing in a spring garden at dusk, inhaling their lovely scent.  Seeing them in full bloom in Green Park surfaced all these connections.

For my art fix, I came across a magical small exhibition of mainly pastels with some oils by the Impressionist artist, Degas (18 34- 1917) at the National Gallery.  This collection on loan from Glasgow in Scotland, features Degas’s well-known subjects of ballerinas, racehorses and women attending to their toilette.   If only one could draw or paint movement as he did!

I have also been inspired recently hearing about a new vineyard in Buckinghamshire:  Dinton Wines, which was started in 2013.

Dinton Folly, an English sparkling wine, is the brainchild of retired countryman Laurie Kimber, who planted 15 acres with the classic varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on a south-facing slope with chalky soil and temperate climate.  The neighbours of Mr. Kimber, and his family including his children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren harvest the grapes.    The first harvest was ready in 2016.

Dinton Folly is so named because of its proximity to the ruins of a nearby castle and also refers to the idea of taking on such a challenging project later in life.     Dinton Wines is an inspiring testament to the fact that it’s never too late to start making wine!

Dinton in Buckinghamshire is close to the Chiltern Hills, a famous place for hiking in the English countryside with picturesque villages and friendly pubs!

Grape picking neighbours of Mr Kimber introduced me to this wine recently. I was delighted by the refreshing, dry, balanced, sparkling wine with its appealing lower range alcohol level of 11.5% ALC.

Perfect to enjoy on an English spring day:  Inspirational!

References

Dinton Wines       dintonwines.com

National Gallery:   Nationalgallery.org.uk

Maps courtesy of Dinton Wines and local tourist information.

 

Cyprus: Goats, wine and local history

I’ve decided I like goats.

Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets.   More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago.   Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us.   Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now.   The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.

“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.

The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me.   It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.

Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen.    The  Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.

From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.

We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.

Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes.   Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties.   Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.

Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.

Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains.       Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing.   The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus.   The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate.    Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.

Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977.   The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.

We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life.   Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of  Cyprus.

As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news.   Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.

Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!

We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago.     Its early February, cool yet sunny.   Perfect winter weather.     Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty.   We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…

Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.

At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way.       In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.

 

References:

vounipanayiawinery.com

Map of area:

 

Christmas Wrappings 2016

Life is to be lived forward, helped by looking backward from time to time.

This seems to be the common wisdom, certainly if one looks at all the retrospectives written around this time of year.    Whether we learn anything by looking backward and attempt to apply the lessons to the future is another matter…

What’s this got to do with writing a blog about wine and how it opens the door to other related and interesting subjects?

Well, I guess my aim is to deepen and broaden my knowledge about wine and then express it in different ways.

This year I pushed the envelope with three different initiatives:

  •  I gave a brief presentation to an interested group about antique Madeira wine labels in the context of social history,
  •  I created a video about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in SW France with the help of professional film maker, Joanna Irwin, and,
  • I conducted a wine tasting for the Wine Appreciation group at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

As I plan forward for elizabethsvines in 2017, I’ll be looking backward as well, to see what can be learned from these experiences.

I appreciate comments and suggestions from my kind readers who are located all over the world;  the magic of the Internet.   There is a warm feeling when someone says: ” …I liked your recent blog…”

The great thing for me about my blog, which I have now been writing for four years, is that it isn’t a job.   The only expectations and deadlines are self imposed ones.

Oh! And by the way, before I forget to mention it:   I enjoy writing elizabethsvines.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, best wishes for the festive season and thank you for reading elizabethsvines, from

elizabethsvines

References from elizabethsvines archive:

elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

elizabethsvines October 2016  video:   Celebrating French Culture, Wine and food:  https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-Wine-and-food/

Bordeaux wine region: Loupiac AC : a hidden gem

 

From my perspective, one of the many pleasures of exploring the world of wine is to enjoy a new wine experience and its environment.  Attending a gathering of the Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac is a perfect example of this.

Roman history and a hidden gem of vins liquoreux come together in the Loupiac wine area near the city of Bordeaux in SW France.

Loupiac is named for the wolves which once roamed this area and the Roman heritage is in the original name of Lupicius, the wolf.

Loupiac AC and the town of Loupiac is situated 40 km to the south west of Bordeaux, nestled up against the better known Barsac and Sauternes Appellations yet on the right side of the Garonne River.  Look at the map of the Bordeaux wine region too quickly and Loupiac is nearly invisible.

Loupiac AC is one of the grouping of Graves and Sweet Bordeaux wines including vins liquoreux in the Bordeaux wine region.

Sweet wines and vins liquoreux from Bordeaux wine region

60 winegrowers cultivate the 370 hectares of Loupiac appellation vineyards in small parcels of land, none of them larger than 10 hectares.

As with vins liquoreux in other areas of SW France, the grape varieties are: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle and the blending percentages in Loupiac AC are generally 80%, 15%, and 5% respectively.  All grapes are harvested by hand, in several consecutive passes.

It is the proximity to the Garonne River which produces the morning mists followed by hot, sunny afternoons.   This climate in turn contributes to the creation of the noble rot or botrytis cinerea which concentrates the sugars in the ripe grapes and results in these honeyed, complex wines.

Increasingly, people are recognizing that these wines can be enjoyed with a variety of foods, not just the old fashioned view of sweet wine with sweet puddings.

At the Confrérie meal, the varied menu included pâté, rabbit, cheese as well as dessert.

As we progressed through the menu, we sampled a range of Loupiac AC wines from different chateaux and different vintages, from 1995 to 2015 demonstrating how well these vins liquoreux age.  I was intrigued by the unfolding aromas and tastes across the years.   As one of the winemakers explained, the wines develop their mellow, honeyed almost fortified intensity over time not because they become sweeter with age but because the acidity drops with the ageing process thus bringing the sweetness to the fore.

I found this visit to Loupiac and the vin liquoreux and food pairing to be inspirational, especially with the aged wines.

Other wine and food pairing suggestions include chicken roasted in Loupiac wine, duck breast prepared with soy sauce and Loupiac wine, and lemon puddings.  And, of course, as an apéritif.   All served with chilled Loupiac AC wine, between 4-8’C.

I have already experimented making up a recipe for the foie gras and Granny Smith Apple starter with a biscuity base.

Experimentation is the order of the day, encouraged by the day of discovery at Loupiac.

References.   http://www.vins-loupiac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portfolio Tasting, London: something new, something remembered

I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people.   Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.

Davy's Portfolio Tasting

Davy’s Portfolio Tasting

 

I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established.   A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later.   Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature.   I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years.     Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.

So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team.   It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London.   31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.

It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.

I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France.   Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.

I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it.     I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014.   There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas.   At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine.  Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto.   Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.

As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW.   I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.

Fine Wine Collection

Fine Wine Collection

The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.

I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion.   Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.

When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.

It says it all.

When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.

On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot.   What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm.   I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château.   In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors.   That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.

Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.

It’s always the people who make the difference.

Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence  some time in advance.   I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.

All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.

Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people.  It’s a time machine in a bottle.

 

 

References:

Davy’s Wine Merchants:    www.davy.co.uk

Domaine Jean Becker:    www.alsace-wine.net – Becker

Azienda Agricola Montauto:   http://www.montauto.org.

Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja:   http://www.miguelmerino.com

Chateau Figeac:  www.figeac.com

Chateau Tailhas:  www.tailhas.com

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot:   http://www.beausejour-becot.com

Monbazillac: http://www.cave.chateau-monbazillac.com

 

 

 

 

Cyprus: Wine and mythology

We’re back in Cyprus, land of mythology, of Aphrodite rising from the waves. The goddess of love, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans,  was believed to have risen from the sea foam near Paphos at Pétra tou Romioú.

Aphrodite's sea foam?

Could this be Aphrodite’s sea foam?

I remember seeing Sandro Botticelli’s renowned painting of the Birth of Venus (mid 1480’s) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and am delighted to think I have seen both the painted interpretation and the physical site of the legend.

In this ancient land of Cyprus, where there are records of settlement at the site of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Kouklia, site of Old Paphos, dating from the 15th century BC, and where it seems that often the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea merge into one, the imagination can take flight and anything seems possible.

Cyprus is a treasure trove of archeological sites with their ancient history. We enjoy visiting these places, and stand in awe of the work and artistry of the people who accomplished so much in those ancient times. In January and March 2013, I wrote about the history of wine making in Cyprus and the mosaics in New Paphos at the Archaeological Park by the sea and those posts are in elizabethsvines archives.

Well preserved and in situ, the Paphos mosaics provide insight into life on the island mainly in the Roman period although there are also examples of pebble mosaics from the much earlier Hellenistic period. Not only do the mosaics illustrate flora and fauna, they also illustrate work related to wine making.

I am so interested in mosaics as an art form that I am learning the basics of mosaic making with Sharen Taylor, a highly skilled mosaic artist and conservationist resident in Cyprus.  First coming to the island to undertake professional conservation work, she subsequently conducted a two year historical research project of the Paphos mosaics. Now she dedicates herself to the “cultural heritage of mosaic making” working on commissions and teaching students at her studio in Paphos.

I have been spending hours practising the seven most used cutting techniques for tesserae ( a small block of stone, glass or wood used in mosaic making) and making a sample board, in much the same way my grandmother would have made a sample project of various needlework stitches. My grandmother was an accomplished needlewoman, as I think the expression goes. I won’t make the same claim for my tesserae/glass cutting skills but it’s fun to learn and try: more importantly it’s humbling to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to make the mosaics of people, animals, and life scenes evident at the archeological sites.

All this thinking about mythology, archeology and mosaic making hasn’t dulled my interest in local wines and the local grape varieties of Xinisteri, white grapes and Maratheftiko, black grapes. We will be visiting some local wineries to see how wine making is progressing on the island. In keeping with the art of the possible, the wine industry in Cyprus is enjoying a renaissance and I will share Cyprus wine experiences next time I write.

References

Mosaic artist and conservationist:   Sharen Taylor.  www.sharentaylor.com

Paphos Archeological Park    www.visitpafos.org.cy

Kouklia Archeological Site       http://www.visitpafos.org.cy

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.  www.uffizi.org ( I found it worth checking several sites including Wikipedia to learn more of the story of the painting)

elizabethsvines 2015 through the rear view mirror

 

We are in the in-between zone, that time between Christmas and the New Year: recovering from the wonderful festive time and not yet in the grip of New Year resolutions. Sometimes, these few days can provide an opportunity to catch up on outstanding items. For now, it’s a time for reflection.

This includes reflecting on elizabethsvines. I look back at my 10 published postings over the year. My aim is always to write about wine in the context of art, music, literature, science, recipes for cooking, history, restaurants and about wine as an expression of culture, as in the Confréries in France.

In 2015, my wine repertoire includes the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France, a specific British Columbia wine and references to particular South African wine, to Champagne, Port and hot punches (aka the Dickensian Smoking Bishop). It’s a personal focus.

Here are a few updates related to wine stories I have written about in 2015.

JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls in British Columbia has mentioned to me that their Pinot Noir is now available in 169 stores across the United Kingdom with Marks and Spencer, the food retailer. This is an exciting development for this British Columbia winery. Last February, I wrote about their wine in: “ From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wines from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair in one leap”.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance and Warre’s Port which I wrote about last January in “The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)”, were featured in the menu for the October 20th State Dinner at Buckingham Palace for the President of China, Xi Jinping. More specifically, the Palace menu includes Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 and Warre’s Vintage Port 1977.

In April, when I wrote, “Bergerac Wine Region – Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests”, I jokingly referred to Bertie Wooster of P G Wodehouse fame and his apparent love of “half bots” of wine and commented on a noticeable consumer interest in smaller bottles of wine. This consumer interest was brought home to me again the other day in a supermarket in Paphos, Cyprus when I saw on display a large selection of wine being sold in small wine bottles between 187 ml to 200 ml.

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests - Paphos , Cyprus

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests – Paphos , Cyprus

I hope you have found the 2015 posts informative, interesting, perhaps entertaining. I am always interested to know.

In the spirit of Robbie Burns 1788 poem, Auld Lang Syne, let’s raise a cup of kindness.  Best wishes for 2016.

elizabethsvines

Bergerac Wine Region: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès: : late harvest wine meets Gâteau Basque


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London calling with champagne and sparkle

A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations.   Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year.   My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:

Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The  Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour,  enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.

Royal Academy of Art - Ai Weiwei's man made forest installation

Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation

Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.

Ceremony at St James's Palace

Ceremony at St James’s Palace

Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century.   Another favourite haunt,  this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed  Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.

Berry Bros and Rudd - wine merchants in St James's since the 17th century

Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century

Berry Bros and Rudd - part of their own selection

Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection

In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings.    The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider.  While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or,  I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar:  delicious.   Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.

In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list,  I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.

I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.

After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area,  a post-jet lag treat seems in order.  What better than a glass of champagne.   I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites.  A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.

This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure.   The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference.    We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts:  characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing.  A champagne that really stands on its own.

As always, London calls, appealing to the senses.

 

References

Royal Academy     http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Berry Bros and Rudd   http://www.bbr.com

Zamabartas Wineries   http://www.zambartaswineries.com

Bollinger Champagne    www.champagne-bollinger.com

Chateau Thénac   http://www.chateau-thenac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès: Reaching Out

We are having coffee with a friend in Vancouver; sitting outside at our regular haunt putting the world to rights as usual.   Our friend comments, “ Well, you know the big thing nowadays for organizations is “reaching out”.     We talk about this “reaching out” and what it means or implies: communicating, engaging with interested parties.

Later on, I reflect on  “reaching out” and my thoughts turn to the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in South West France and the efforts that they make to reach out to many groups in the course of their activities during the year.

Confrérie du Raisin D'Or de Sigoulès

I wrote about the history and current role of Confréries in France and in particular about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the July 2014 article on my website.     In summary, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.

UNESCO has recognized the gastronomic heritage of France as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.

Tourism plays a major role in the French economy and the Confréries, with their links to the past and involvement with the gastronomy of the area are usually associated with a tourism organization in the vicinity.

In some ways, this feels like a lot of words on a page and high-level policy. On the ground, what is the value proposition?   It’s about promoting the local area, culture, food and wine to residents and visitors.   Aside from the annual major event for each Confrérie called the Chapitre, and attending the Chapitres of other Confrèries, local events are organized that reach out to others.

The magic of the work of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès of which I am so fortunate to be a member, albeit from a distance much of the time, comes alive for me in particular ways.

One way is in walking with people who take part in the summer time Confrérie organized hikes, which focus on the discovery of the local countryside.   I pass the time of day with other hikers: why do they come? What’s it all about for them?

Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie

Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie

Consistently, the response is that they love the countryside, the opportunity to explore the area with other people with similar interests. They appreciate the fellowship offered by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès.     Often they are people who live in Bergerac, the local main town, and sometimes they have recently retired there after a career in Paris or overseas. They want to connect with the soil, the trees, the birds, the mushrooms, the wild flowers; these things are important to them.

Hiking with the Confrérie

Hiking with the Confrérie

At the end of each hike, there is an opportunity to enjoy refreshment with others.   On offer is a glass of local wine or juice and a savoury biscuit.     Un pot d’amitié, a cup of friendship,  to which participants are invited to donate a small amount to cover costs.   All this is organized and brought to the assembly point by members of the Confrérie.

At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship

At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship

This is the magic of the countryside and fellowship.

Another expression of this magic is attending concerts organized by the Confrérie in local mediaeval churches.

How good can it get to listen to talented musicians in this kind of setting?

One example from this summer is a concert held at the church in Sigoulès featuring a flautist and guitarist playing music from both sides of the Pyrénées. These musical pieces are by composers who originated from different regions of the French and Spanish Pyrénées: Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Georges Bizet, Pablo de Sarasate, and Isaac Albeniz.   These are some of my favourite composers.   Afterwards, we stand and chat in the shade of the plane trees and enjoy un pot d’amitié – a glass of wine from a Sigoules winemaker.

Concert with the Confrérie

Concert with the Confrérie

Another example is a concert of young talented musicians from the Conservatoire de Bergerac. In this instance, two young guitarists.   On the programme, which I have shown here, I circled the pieces I particularly enjoyed.   At the end of the performance, as an encore, they played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s famous song:   “Isn’t She Lovely”.   I loved the repetoire, the imagination and the skill of these two young people.

Concert with the 2 guitarists

Concert with two guitarists

Afterwards, there is an opportunity to meet other concertgoers and enjoy a cup of friendship again: wine or juice with a slice of ham and cheese cake offered by Confrérie volunteers.   We stand, smile and chat in the warm, early evening sunshine outside the church at Puyguilhem in the Commune of Thenac from where it is possible to see in the distance where the 100 years began and in another direction where it ended.

This is the magic of time and place, music and fellowship.

Who does all this reaching out?   Committed members of the Confrérie who give countless hours of their time to promoting this region of France that they love and value, to engaging with local residents and visitors and to using their skills and talents in the interests of others.

For me, all this effort is about getting to the heart of matters in ways that people value.   This is “reaching out” at its best.  As our friend in Vancouver suggests, reaching out is a big thing.

Bergerac Wine Region: A time of roses and wine

Warm summer evenings encourage wandering through the country lanes and villages of SW France.   All the senses are engaged: the heat of the sun on a bare arm, the sound of crickets and birds in the fields, the rich colours and patterns of the landscape, the smell of late summer in the air and, with no one looking, the already sweet taste of the ripening dark merlot grapes on the vines.

Roses, their beauty fading in the late summer heat, still bloom and tumble over fences and catch my eye as I walk by.

Roses also stand guard like sentries at the end of vineyard rows, perhaps planted to act as an early warning of any plant diseases that could affect the vines.   Roses typically require the same type of soil and have similar sunshine requirements as vines. Roses and grapevines are also both prone to powdery mildew (oidium) yet roses are more susceptible to this disease than vines.   An outbreak of powdery mildew on the roses planted at the end of the row of vines can alert the vine grower of potential trouble for the vines.   In this way, roses perform a role similar to the traditional “canary in the coal mine”.

In discussion with several wine makers, I discover that not everyone is convinced that roses are the best early indicator of mildew disease.    One wine maker I talk to thinks that oak leaves are more reliable; if the oak leaves on trees at the edge of his vineyards turn grey, he is on the alert for mildew.

Another wine maker I talk to assures me that using roses to identify mildew is a technique from another century!   Many wine makers see roses in the vineyards as purely decorative and that a more sophisticated use of science has overtaken the traditional and somewhat romanticized role of roses.

Risk management models have now been developed to anticipate the possibility of mildew on the vines.   This is business language I relate to. In pursuing this further, I discover that the website for the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of British Columbia has a comprehensive description of the two major types of mildew and references the risk management model developed by the University of California, Davis Campus. I provide the link below for those interested in reading more.   The roses in our garden always seem very healthy. Yet, perhaps I can apply the principles to anticipating mildew on them.   A topic for another day and further thought.

I am always amazed how writing about wine and related subjects opens doors to other topics.     Thinking about roses and wine leads me to switch the words around and think about wine and roses.   Doesn’t that ring a bell?

A little bit of googling leads me to the 1962 Blake Edwards sad and dramatic film, The Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick with the music of Henry Mancini.     Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s theme song won an Oscar and the film received four other Oscar nominations. Little is recalled today of the poet who wrote his poem, Vitae Summa Brevis Spem nos Vetet Inchoate Longam, in English thankfully,  and in it coined the phrase “the days of wine and roses” which infers a period of happiness and prosperity.  Ernest Dowson, (1867 – 1900) an English, Oxford University educated poet wrote this poem in 1896.    His call to action is powerful as he cautions us: “ They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”

I reflect on this after my walk among the vineyards as I enjoy a glass of award winning Chateau Court Les Muts  ” L’Oracle”, one of their best red wines with black berry, white pepper overtones in a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Early warning signal or decorative pleasure, the vineyard roses enhance the wine experience, even as they start to shed their now early autumn petals.

References :

http://www.wineserver.ucdavis.edu            University of California, Davis Campus   Viticulture and Enology, and site regarding Integrated Pest Management.

http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca :                         Ministry of Agriculture, Grape Diseases, Powdery Mildew (Uncinula necator)

http://www.court-les-muts.com            Chateau Court Les Muts

The Days of Wine and Roses film:  see wikipedia.org.

Henry Mancini composer          www.henrymancini.com

Ernest Dowson poet:                many sites, including wikipedia and poem hunter  including a reading by Richard Burton on YouTube

Bergerac Wine Region: jazz and wine

The heat wave in South West France, with temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40 degrees C, has thankfully cooled.      Sunflowers continue to salute the sun and lavender hedges are buzzing with the sound of many bees and other pollinators doing their work.

In the vineyards it’s work as usual.  The tractors are in the fields by 5.00 am getting a start on the work before it gets too hot.   Vine trimming is complete and new vines are planted where the vignerons are making changes to their vineyards.

Amid all the flurry of vineyard work, there is still time to enjoy music and wine!   More particularly jazz, performed at a wine chateau, in the barn or chai as it is called here, where the wine is made.

The Jazz En Chais, Cru 2015, a series of 5 jazz concerts held in the Pourpre Perigord area of South West France from March to November is very popular and offers live music, wine tasting at the host wine chateau as well as a farmer’s market where people can buy food and eat in situ before the concert.

Our most recent Jazz en Chais concert was held at Chateau Court Les Muts situated about 20 minutes from Bergerac and set in the gently rolling countryside of rural Dordogne, surrounded by the chateau’s own vineyards.   The wines of this Chateau are highly regarded in the area.

First of all, we enjoy a glass of Chateau Court Les Muts ‘L’Oracle’, their premier red wine:  50% Malbec, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all black fruits, violets, chocolate and touch of white pepper.  Then, we find our seats in the chais and settle down to listen to the Serge Delaite Trio play a concert called Comme Bach… in which the classical music of Bach is harmonized with jazz classics by Duke Ellington, Bart Haward and others and played with talent, style and energy.  These concerts are a well attended and popular expression of South West France wine culture.

Being a fan of such music as Fly Me to The Moon, the Jazz En Chais series of live music partnered with high quality wines of the region ticks all the boxes for me for an enjoyable summer evening

References:  Les Jazz en Chais concerts, Cru 2015.  www.jazzpourpre.com

Chateau Court Les Muts,  www.court-les-muts.com.   See also their vine jewellery made on site.

Serge Delaite Trio. “Comme Bach”.

Bergerac Wine Region: cherries and wine

We are sitting outside in the warm early evening.  We hear music and talking coming from a nearby cherry tree.  First of all we think people working in the vineyard opposite have the radio on.  A little later that evening we are told that the music and chat show discussions are emanating from the radio placed in the tree as it is the only way to keep the starlings from robbing the tree of all its ripening fruit.    From then onwards we call this the singing cherry tree.

A couple of days later, we are rewarded for our patience in listening to heated debates coming from the heart of the tree with this box of ruby red cherries.

Dordogne cherries

Dordogne cherries

I decide this number of cherries calls for more than eating them as they are.  Making the French custard cake Clafoutisi seems an appropriate baking choice.

Cherry clafoutis

From the oven, Cherry clafoutis

I search the Internet for clafoutis recipes and choose the Allrecipes.com  recipe for Brandied Cherry Clafoutis   To date, I have made three; each one better than the last and all “successful”.  This particular recipe identifies canned cherries but I use fresh, pitted ones from the singing cherry tree. A couple of other variations based on ingredients on hand:  I marinate the cherries in Armagnac and instead of allspice use a mixture of nutmeg and ginger.

Cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis

To verify that I am not straying too far from a French approach to making clafoutis, I consult a book from my late Mother, herself an accomplished cook:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie and Julia Child. This Pengiun Handbook was published in 1961 and my Mother’s copy is dated November 22, 1966.

Here is what these ladies said about fruit flans or Clafoutis: ” The Clafouti (also spelled with a final ‘s’ in both singular and plural) which is traditional in the Limousin (region) during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine:  a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven.  It looks like a tart, and is usually eaten warm”.

This baking choice looks better and better.

The Allrecipes.com recipe lists this general comment:  ” Clafouti is a traditional French dessert with brandied cherries baked with a custard topping creating a warm and sweet dessert that goes well with a cup of tea”.

This is where we part company as I see clafoutis as an ideal lunchtime dessert, served if appropriate for the occasion with a vin liquoreux.   A local choice would be a wine from the Bergerac wine region: a vin liquoreux which would be either a Monbazillac AOC or Saussignac AOC late harvest wine.

Vin Liquoreux, Saussignac AOC from Chateau Lestevenie

Vin Liquoreux, Saussignac AOC from Chateau Lestevenie

In this instance, I pair the Brandied Cherry Clafouti with a 2003 Chateau Lestevenie Saussignac AOC Vin Liquoreux.  Chateau Lestevenie is in Gageac Rouillac, one of the four communes permitted to make Saussignac AOC wines.  The fruit aromas and flavours together with the honeyed ripeness of this fully mature wine complements the cherry, vanilla, baked custard of the clafoutis.

Chateau Lestevenie

Vin Liquoreux: Chateau Lestevenie

To position both Monbazillac and Saussignac vins liquoreux in the wine lexicon, think broadly in Sauternes terms.   These are late harvest wines made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot.  The predominantly Semillon grapes are picked late in the season when the grapes have been touched by the morning Autumn mists and the afternoon sunshine.   A major distinction between Saussignac vin liquoreux and other sweet wines, is that this is the only sweet wine produced in France that forbids the addition of sugar or “chaptalization” under its AOC rules.    It’s the Semillon grapes which allow the wine to age well.

Pairing cherries from the singing cherry tree and wine from a local winemaker is a way to celebrate the summer culture of SW France.

References:

allrecipes.com:  Brandied Cherry Clafouti

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie, Julia Child, Published by Penguin Books in 1966

Jancis Robinson; Oxford Companion to Wine re Monbazillac wine

Chateau Lestevenie wines: chateau-lestevenie.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wine from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair, London in one leap.

We arrive at the Wild Honey restaurant in Mayfair on Monday around 12.15 p.m. with no reservation.   It’s a spur of the moment decision to come here for lunch.   This restaurant has been on our list for some time and suddenly the opportunity presents itself.

And here we are.   We open the door, walk through the semi-circular red curtained area between the outer door and the restaurant, which protects the clientele from winter drafts, and step inside.

One look within the comfortable, well appointed restaurant with paneled walls resounding with lively lunchtime chat and I know we made the right decision to come here.

Immediately, we are ushered to a round table from which we can people watch in comfort. A favourite pastime. Through the window overlooking the street, we can see the elegance of the Corinthian columns of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square opposite. This church, built between 1721 – 1725 was a favourite of the composer and musician, Georg Friedrich Händel, (1685 – 1759)  where he was a frequent worshipper in the 18th century. The church is now home to the Annual Händel Festival.

To digress for a minute, I am struck by the coincidence of being close to “Händel”s church” as the waiter described it and the other morning hearing one of his four Coronation Anthems,  ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’ which Händel was commissioned to write for the coronation of George II of England and Queen Caroline in 1727.  The anthem was  performed the other day in the context of Accession Day, February 6, which this year celebrates the Queen’s 63rd year on the throne.

Back to our lunch at Wild Honey restaurant and the choice of wine.

The wine waiter approaches and asks us what we would like to drink.   We look at the wine list and order two glasses of Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay (which was offered by the glass when we visited. It is now available by the bottle).

South Okanagan Meyer Family Chardonnay in London

Okanagan Falls,  Meyer Family Chardonnay comes to London at Wild Honey restaurant, Mayfair

“ Oh! You will enjoy this Canadian wine”, he says.

“Yes”, I respond, “we’re from Vancouver. We know the wine and like it and have visited the vineyard.   We’ve come today as we know you offer Meyer Family wine.“

This revelation is met with great interest.

The Chardonnay does not disappoint and we enjoy this with our selection from the working lunch menu: Amuse-bouche of mushroom purée on a small pastry round; Radicchio salad with orange slices and pomegranate seeds; grilled monk fish with small roasted beetroots and parsnips, followed by Wild Honey ice cream  (home made) with crunchy honeycomb and pistachio pieces, coffee and petits fours. As a wine pairing choice, the Chardonnay is successful.  We take our time to savour the different courses, flavours and combinations of this working lunch menu, which are served with great attention to detail and courtesy.

Wild Honey ice cream

Wild Honey ice cream with honeycomb crunch and pistachio

While enjoying this lunchtime experience, we take a mental leap back to our visit to the Meyer Family Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia.

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

It’s September and our second visit to the Meyer Family Vineyards where we meet JAK Meyer, Co-Proprietor.   JAK tells us their focus is on traditional French burgundy style wine with small case lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls,

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada

We taste five wines: the 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay, the 2012 Tribute Series Chardonnay, the 2012 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2012 McLean Creek Pinot Noir.     I enjoy them all in different ways.       My notes from the visit indicate that I am impressed by the 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay with its smooth citrus with a touch of melon flavours; a very accessible wine.   This Double Gold and Best in Class winner at the Great Northwestern Invitational Wine Competition and Silver Medal winner, National Wine Awards of Canada wine is what we are enjoying at Wild Honey.

Chris Carson, the Winemaker/Viticulturist at Meyer Family Vineyards writes interesting and informative notes on each wine, its vintage, as well as descriptions of the terroir and winemaking process. He also suggests wine pairing ideas and we are on track with the Chardonnay and monkfish.   The notes are worth reviewing.   I appreciate this attention to detail, which seems to represent the Meyer Family approach to winemaking.

We chat with JAK Meyer about the lack of Canadian wines in the UK and he mentions that Meyer Family Vineyards wine is represented in London and their wines are starting to appear in different London restaurants.       This is how we first hear about Wild Honey, the restaurant that opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation.

As we finish our coffee and think about heading out into the February afternoon, I reflect on how we are experiencing time and space.   It feels like the present, past and perhaps future converge as we enjoy this wine from British Columbia in this historic area of London in the shadow of Hãndel and his music.   Following a wine from terroir to table certainly opens the door to new experiences.

References:

Meyer Family Vineyards   http://www.mfvwines,com

Wild Honey Restaurant, 12 St. George Street, Mayfair, London: http://www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk

Georg Friedrich Handel and the Coronation Anthems including ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’.    Search for Handel Coronation Anthems for several You Tube video recordings.

The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)

Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me.   So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.

Warre's 2000 Port

Warre’s 2000 Port

A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port.   This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.

December in Cyprus

December in Cyprus

 

If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by.     In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.

The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history.  Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal.   The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations.   Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today.     The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.

Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia.   This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce.   We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.

The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries.   Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.

The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.

It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine.   Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape.  Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.

Tsangarides Wines

Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines

The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon.     A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine.      We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one.   In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”.   Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.

We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings.   Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.

Canapes with sparkling wine cocktails

Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails

Baking tin for individual soufflés

Baking tin for individual soufflés

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.

The question is:  Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past?   I think the answer has to be: Yes.

References:

http://www.warre.com

http://www.kleinconstantia.com

http://www.epicurious.com     Classic Cheese Soufflé

http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

http://www.punchdrink.com  – Smoking Bishop recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London Lights, Rembrandt and wine

 

Walking through central London, we look  towards Piccadilly as we cross the Haymarket, and there they are: the magical Christmas Lights suspended across the road. White bright, shaped liked antlers, and proclaiming this particular area of London: St James’s.   As we gaze up the street, a double-decker bus turns onto the road and transforms the view into an iconic vision of nighttime pre-Christmas London. Out comes my camera in a flash…and click.

Christmas Lights, St. James's, London

Christmas Lights, St. James’s, London, December 2014

A friend says this photo brings back nostalgic childhood memories when his Mother would take him as a young boy to London to see the lights and look in all the shop windows. Photographs have that power of recall.

Powerful images are what our afternoon and early evening are all about.     The Rembrandt exhibition of Late Works at the National Gallery catches our attention and we spend one and a half hours towards the end of the December afternoon viewing the works of art.

In an age of instant, mobile phone camera generated images, we catch our breath looking at the detail, size and scope of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, trying to comprehend the extent of his talent and skill in capturing texture, light and emotion in paint and wondrous colours.

Rembrandt, The Late Works

The poster for the exhibition shows a portion of his painting “The Jewish Bride”, painted about 1665 just a few years before his death.     Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669.   This exhibition covers the period of his life from 1650 – 1669.

We slowly make our way around the exhibition, headphones clamped over our ears, listening to the commentary about key works of art among the 91 on display.    The paintings of faces, including the self-portraits, their complexions and eyes and the paintings of richly textured fabrics resonate with me.   “An Old Woman Reading”, oil on canvas painted in 1655, particularly catches my eye.

To spend time lost in the contemplation of art in this way is a great joy and escape from the rest of the world.

We decide that when we come to the end of the exhibition we will head straight to the National Gallery Dining Room for a glass of wine with something to eat and take the time to decompress from this experience.

The food menu is comprehensive and contemporary with selections such as quiche, soups, salads, grilled sandwiches and many other options.   We decide to have their plate of Artisan Cheeses, selecting Berkswell (sheep) and Tickelmore (goat) cheeses with apple chutney and crackers.   These are good.

We examine the wine list, which is varied and all reasonably priced. There are no English wines on offer but English beers and ciders are featured.

The flagship menu offering for the exhibition is called the Rembrandt Special featuring a grilled sandwich and a glass of their red or white house wine, priced at 10 GBPounds.

I decide to try the white house wine, a Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012, which I find overly acidic for my palate. My husband chooses a Pinot Grigio, Alisios from Brazil, 2013 and that is more to our liking: refreshing and with mineral flavours.   This Brazilian Pinot Grigio, which is sometimes blended with Riesling, is a new experience for us. We like it and feel resuscitated after our wine and cheese interlude.

The National Gallery, London, Rembrandt -The Late Works

We step out of the National Gallery and to our surprise find winter darkness has already descended.    We entered a different world for a time.   Coming across those white bright Christmas lights as we cross the street intensifies our experience of London magic.

 

References:   The National Gallery     www.nationalgallery.org.uk/rembrandt

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: Post Script

Royal Academy of Arts, London,

We returned recently to the Royal Academy of Art in London to attend the Anselm Kiefer exhibition and, as suggested in my last post, to follow it up with a tasting of the new RA English wine selection of Davenport Limney Estate sparkling wine.

A quick refresher about this English wine is that it is produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois grapes. Davenport Vineyard is an organic winery in East Sussex and the 2014 winner of the United Kingdom Vintners Association (UKVA) Vintners Trophy for their sparkling wine.

Limney Davenport Sparking Wine

We enjoy a glass of Will Davenport’s Limney Estate sparkling wine with a light lunch of green bean salad in the newly opened Grand Cafe at the Royal Academy..  Perhaps not a conventional wine and food pairing yet it worked well and we enjoyed both.   This light gold coloured English sparkling wine has substance;  is dry, smooth, and rich in flavour with just the right amount of bubbles.  As I drink this wine, with its apple aromas on the nose,  it opens up to the classic baked biscuity taste.  Enjoying all these characteristics, I  immediately have that joie de vivre feeling.

A successful and light-hearted conclusion to our visit to the grand scale and diverse exhibition of works by this contemporary painter, sculptor and prolific artist.

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition at RA References:   Royal Academy of Arts, London  www.royalacademy.org.uk

Davenport Winery   http://www.davenportvineyards.co.uk

United Kingdom Vintners Association    www.ukva.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès …..promoting cultural heritage and economic opportunity

July is the month of summer celebrations, including in this corner of south west France.  Advertising  notices drop into my email inbox about wine promotions, new books – including Saving our Skins,  the latest book by Caro Feely who I mentioned in my last posting, – firework exhibitions, theatre productions, jazz concerts. It’s all there on offer over the summer months.  Organizers work double time to attract and welcome tourists and local residents to their events.

In the village of Sigoulès in the Dordogne volunteer members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès prepare for their annual major event over the July 19 /20 weekend to coincide with the area wine festival.   The wine fair and tastings are on Saturday July 19th, the parade of all the visiting Confréries and the annual general assembly or Chapitre on Sunday, July 20th..        

A complementary series of guided walks and concerts organized by the Confrerie take place in the area during July and August.   Adding to the excitement in the area this summer is that the Tour de France Stage 20 passes through the Dordogne and Bergerac the following weekend.

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d'Or event

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event

The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.   The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès particularly focuses on the wines of the area.

The origin of these confréries dates back to the Middle Ages to the 12th and 13th centuries when occupational groupings were more likely called companies/corporations or guilds. Possibly the most famous of these early organizations was the “La Jurade de Saint Emilion”, created in 1199 and responsible for controlling many aspects of the wine industry in Saint Emilion (Bordeaux).

Similar organizations of apprentices and masters existed until the time of the French Revolution when they were declared illegal in 1791 in the spirit of the free movement of labour.

In the 20th Century, there has been a resurgence of local organizations or confréries which, by reinstating traditional pageantry, costume and ritual are celebrating the gastronomic heritage in the many different regions of France.     Their existence has increased since the 1960’s with the development of tourism.    The Confrérie Saint Emilionnaise took the name of “Jurade” in honour of the earlier organization when it was recreated in 1948.

Confréries are generally linked to a tourism bureau, the local mayor’s office, local festival and/or agricultural initiatives as part of a broader promotional imperative. Not only are the confréries linked locally, they are also aligned regionally and nationally.

For example, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès partners locally with the wine fair organization and local wine-maker communities: Foire aux Vins de Sigoulès and the Communauté de Communes des Coteaux de Sigoulès; regionally it is a member of the Chancelleries des Confréries d’Aquitaine, plus the Union des Confréries du Périgord and nationally is a member of the Conseil Français des Confréries.

The Confrérie organizations

The Confrérie organizations

Sometimes, confréries twin with other confréries.   By way of illustration, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is twinned with the Confrérie du Pâté de Périgueux.   I wrote about the pâté competition I attended last November in an earlier posting. Many different types of food and gastronomy are represented in the world of confréries: strawberries, cherries, pink garlic, fish, grilled food, mushrooms and so on.

The gastronomic heritage of France is so highly valued that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.     The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) identification is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage designation which focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture.

The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage or living heritage as:

“The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage…”

A subtext of confrérie activities includes promoting economic opportunity in the areas through links to tourism.    At the international level, some members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès recently facilitated and conducted a series of events with local wines for Cuisine et Chateau, a Canadian organization from Calgary, Alberta which brings groups of visitors to the area each year for a week of culinary and wine experiences.

Marnie Fudge, co-proprietor of Cuisine et Chateau mentioned to me that their experience was “fabulous” and they valued the professionalism and expertise of the Confrérie members they dealt with during their visit.       As Canada works towards finalizing the details of its trade agreement with the European Union, it feels like we are making a small contribution to that effort!

A comment about the word confrérie whose literal translation is brotherhood.   In a 21st century context, I translate this to mean a group of men and women who associate with each other in a congenial way for a common purpose.   A confrère in French means colleague which underscores this broader interpretation. Collegiality and congeniality in support of cultural heritage are core confrérie values.

This all sounds quite serious, whereas the confréries and their events are also about the joyful celebration of culture with food, wine, music, pageantry and fellowship.

The colourful parade of confréries

The colourful parade of confréries

This joyful celebration will be the cornerstone of the events in Sigoulès over the July 19 and 20th weekend and all the other events organized by the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès and community partners in July and August.

The confrérie events, whether this one in Sigoulès or similar events elsewhere in France are a wonderful way to learn more about the culture and history of France, local gastronomic products and, importantly, meet local people.   I have attended several wonderful confrérie events where I’ve met delightful people.

The band accompanies the parade

The band accompanies the parade

Last year, I was delighted to be invited to join the Confrerie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in the role of Ambassadrice, one of two from Canada at present.    The Ambassador initiative includes Confrérie members in other regions of France as well as other countries including Australia and Canada.

My blog is about how wine opens the door to history, culture,food,science…   For me, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of those doors.

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

References:

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage   www.unesco.org/culture/ich

http://www.pays-de-bergerac.com/english/assos/confrerie-du-raisin-d-or

http://www.confreries-france.com

http://www.federation-grand-est.fr/histoiredesconfr/

http://www.cuisineetchateau.com/culinary-tours/

Tour de France Bergerac 2014   http://www.letour.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Haut Garrigue/Terroir Feely – …..creating a biodynamic virtuous circle

 

I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business.     On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.

Terroir Feely

Terroir Feely

Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005.   That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France.      It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.

Autumn view from Terroir Feely


Autumn view from Terroir Feely

Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind.     Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges.   Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management.   These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead.   On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.

Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”.  They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially.   This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard.   Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.

Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines.   Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009.  In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013.    Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:

“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people.   We share common interests with our visitors.   We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”

We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.

Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status.   Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system.   It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon.     She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity.   She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!

Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”.     To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants.    There is a lot of material about the subject.

In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian  philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926.   He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature.   One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.

The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education.   Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are  in evidence today in about 60 countries.

From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner.   These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.

Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US.      While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes.   Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.

In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches.   Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.

Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification.   From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer.   Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.

Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”

All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.

It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne.   Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011.     I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes.    It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.

 

 Bergerac Wine Region

Bergerac Wine Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:     http://www.hautgarrigue.com,   http://www.feelywines.com,    www.tripadvisor.ca….saussignac,    www. rudolfsteinercollege.ed,   http://www.rsarchive.org/lectures      www.steinerbooks.org,  www.demeter.net, http://www.waldorf.ca,   http://www.bbr.com/knowledge (Berry Bros & Rudd)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyprus Wines: Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosios, Limassol. The stars have aligned…!

It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January.    Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.

We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries.   I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently.  My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.

Map of Cyprus

Map of Cyprus

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery.     The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.

Father and son are highly qualified scientists.   Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology.    Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program.  Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus.   He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.

Dr. Akis Zambartas

Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit

After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team.   We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties.  We enjoy them all.    The ones that capture our attention are:

Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine.   It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc.   This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.

Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape.   I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio.    The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.

Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine.     These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers.    There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets.   It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.

In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing.  They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets.   Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.

Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at  No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.

Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.

We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms.   We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.

I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus.   He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos.  This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.

The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns.   The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.

The arrival of Spring - Paphos area

The arrival of Spring – Paphos area

Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.

Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event.  These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern.   Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.

We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis.   Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.

 

References:    www.zambartaswineries.com.,    www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)

http://www.ted.com

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 is reputedly the #1 best selling wine guide and is widely available.

Visitors’ Map of Cyprus courtesy of the Department of Lands and Surveys, Cyprus – Tourist Information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 3 of 3

It’s our second day in the Champagne region and another sunny day.  In Reims, we arrive at the House of Roederer and pull up to the main gate, which slowly opens to let us into the parking area.    There to greet us is our guide for the visit, Martine.   Chic in black and white with natural elegance and a straight back that would have merited a Good Deportment Badge at my old school, Martine is the quintessential wine professional; knowledgeable, confident and attentive to her guests.

This style typifies our experience at the House of Roederer whose mantra is “Quest for Perfection”.   Originally established in 1776, it was renamed in 1833 and has built its strength from this 19 Century organization.  Roederer remains a private company under the leadership of Frédéric Rauzaud, the seventh generation of the Roederer family.

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

We are shown into the entrance hall, which immediately speaks to the illustrious, past and present of Roederer.   The bronze bust of Tsar Alexander 11 has pride of place.   He was the Tsar for whom Roederer created Cristal Champagne in 1876.   Already a fan of Roederer champagne, the Tsar requested a new champagne to be unique in style and bottle for his personal consumption only.  It is said the clear crystal bottle with a flat base was designed so that nothing could be hidden either within or underneath the bottle.   This was to forestall any assassination attempt on the Tsar.

Then we enter the spacious, pale wood paneled tasting room where the 19th and 20th century Royal Warrants of several devoted European royal families are displayed around the room.   There are other contemporary symbols of recognition and awards on display.  They all demonstrate the high esteem in which Roederer has been widely held over the centuries.

Tasting Room at Roederer

Tasting Room at Roederer

Martine guides us through a tasting of several Roederer champagnes.  She talks about each champagne and as she does so, in true connoisseur style, silently opens each bottle with a gentle twist of her wrist.  No popping of corks here.

Roederer champagnes are known for acidity and fruitiness, which together develop the refreshing citrus and biscuity characteristics with a subtle explosion of bubbles in the mouth.   An unsophisticated yet definite “Wow” exclamation was my response to those bubbles.  We particularly liked the Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Chardonnay) and a primarily Pinot Noir 2006 vintage from the Montagne de Reims vineyards.  We also enjoyed the non-vintage Brut Premier for its fresh style.

Cristal champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

Cristal Champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

For the finale, we tasted Cristal.   While all the champagnes we tasted were memorable, there was something special about Cristal, perhaps an added silkiness. Cristal is made from Pinot Noir (60%), Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from the seven finest vineyards on the estate and is only created in the best years. The vines for the grapes for Cristal have to be a minimum of twenty-five years old. The champagne is aged in the cellars at Roederer for six years and can be kept for many years before it is drunk.

We leave Roederer before lunch and drive on to the House of Bollinger, arriving at the imposing former home of the family and present day premises in Ay.  The House of Bollinger was established in 1829 and named for one of the founders, Jacques Bollinger.  There are currently three branches of the Bollinger family involved in managing the business.

House of Bollinger, Ay, Champagne, France

House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.

Bollinger has been a popular champagne in Great Britain for many decades and one third of their sales go to Britain.  The House has been providing champagne to the Royal Family since the time of Queen Victoria.  The Royal Warrant was granted in 1884 and it is said that it was Edward V11 who originally coined the phrase:  “…a bottle of Bolly”.  In addition to their royal connection, Bollinger is, of course, known in the world of film, for over four decades now, as James Bond’s favourite champagne. These long standing connections are a source of immense pride to the company.

Champagne Bollinger

Champagne Bollinger

Behind all the publicity and fun there is a deep respect for tradition at Bollinger, which has received the first award given to a champagne house for their efforts in preserving and handing on the best of the traditional techniques and heritage.  This is the Living Heritage Company award – EPV or Entreprise du Patrimonie Vivant.   At the same time, modernization and innovation have been encouraged.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bollinger with paired champagnes.  Lobster in a soup of tomatoes and zucchinis/courgettes, guinea fowl with truffles, cheese, followed by a warm apricot and peach fruit soup with apricot sorbet.  We started with Bollinger Rosé, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2004 and finally, Bollinger Special Cuvée. Bollinger’s style is distinctive for its full bodied toasty characteristics, possibly as a result of the higher percentage of Pinot (60%) typically blended in their champagnes.  Like all the Champagne Houses,  they have adapted to the   changing tastes of customers over the centuries;  from the sweeter style of the 19 Century to the current preference for dry (brut) champagne.

The pairings, needless to say, are excellent.  Bollinger recommends the Grande Année 2004 for duck breast, quail or quinea fowl. The Rosé is recommended for both seafood and fruit dishes.  Bollinger Special Cuvée, the third champagne we taste, is regarded by many connoisseurs as one of the finest of all French champagnes.

'007' and Bollinger

‘007’ and Bollinger

After this unforgettable lunch we are shown the extensive Bollinger cellars.  During this time we are reminded of Mme. Jacques Bollinger’s interview with the Daily Mail newspaper during a visit to London in 1961.  When asked: “When do you drink champagne?” she replied:

“ I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty”.

When it came to choosing champagne to drink on New Year’s Eve, we would have been delighted to enjoy a bottle from any of these Houses.   As it turned out, we selected Roederer Brut Premier.

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

We enjoyed that characteristic taste of medium acidity, lemony-citrus, biscuit/almond flavour and its refreshing style with soft yet pronounced bubbles, and savoured the moment.  We drank the champagne as an apéritif and paired it with smoked salmon on rye toast. The appetizer was prepared with toasted rye bread cut into slices and spread with cream cheese, and then topped with smoked salmon, capers, chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander), and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Sublime.

Our visit to the Champagne region and these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses has provided us with lasting memories. Our stories about the people and their pursuit of excellence, the historic places and delicious champagnes that we tasted will linger on.

References:    www.champagne-bollinger.com          www.louis-roederer.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger – Optimism in a Bottle Part 2 of 3

There’s a sense of excitement in the air as we start our drive last October through the vibrant green vineyards of the rolling Champagne countryside.   We are going to visit four of the Grande Marque Champagne Houses, see their premises, taste their champagnes and have the opportunity to feel the ambience of these historic businesses.  

Caravans of the grape pickers - Champagne

Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne

It’s harvest time and everywhere we see grape pickers at work. 

We arrive at Billecart-Salmon,  a medium sized Champagne House based in Mareuil sur Aÿ. 

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

  It was established in 1818 through the marriage of  Nicolas-François Billecart to Elizabeth Salmon and is carried on by their descendants.  I was first introduced to their champagne a year ago and enjoy the restrained, elegant style.   Billecart-Salmon are known particularly for their rosé champagne but offer the full range of styles.  

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

 At a tasting lunch, we experience their different champagnes with a corresponding range of savoury and sweet bouchées (bite sized offerings) from smoked salmon to chocolate, all elegantly presented in ‘silver-service’ style.   We are impressed by their gracious hospitality and their pleasure in providing a full tasting and pairing experience.  

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

   We visit the cellars where we are interested to see the chalk board listing the different plot harvests. The magic of the grape growing areas come to mind as we read Chardonnay from Cramant, Mesnil, Chouilly;  Pinot Noir from Äy, Le Clos Hilaire, Verzenay,  Mareuil sur Äy. 

We also meet some of the younger generation of staff being groomed for senior positions and it is encouraging to see this kind of organizational development in place.

Krug premises in Reims

Krug premises in Reims

We continue our drive through the vineyards towards Reims, the famous Gothic Cathedral town and important hub of the Champagne industry. Our second visit is to Krug at their establishment in Reims.

Established in 1843, Joseph Krug, founder,  watches solemnly over the  present day proceedings from his centrally positioned portrait in the main Salon.    Krug has its own allure and dedicated client following supported by the marketing arm of the LVMH, Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, purveyors of luxury goods.    Krug aficionados are invited to “share your unforgettable experiences at kruglovers.com.’

Joseph Krug and his famous notebook

Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook

At Krug, the extraordinary attention which is paid by all the great Champagne Houses to sampling, assessing and recording the year’s wines is emphasized to the extent that  we understand the skill, expertise and patience that is in every top quality Champagne.     At Krug itself,  they sample and assess the year’s wines from nearly 250 plots.   They also taste again 150 reserve wines from previous years.    Each year over 5000 tasting notes are collected and recorded.      This work of the Cellar Master, with Olivier Krug – who we had the opportunity to meet – and other members of their Tasting Committee sets the stage for the blend of wines for the year’s Non Vintage Champagne.  We visit their cellars and see the large number of individual vats for the fermentation of wine from the individual plots, secure within a special space in the cellars.  This is before we taste their formidable suite of champagnes.

Krug - individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

By the end of the day our minds are buzzing with the experience of it all: the countryside, the people we met and their stories, the  exhilarating taste of a number of champagne styles, the sights and sounds of the Champagne Region.

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

More than anything it’s the sense of being there, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the Champagne heritage.    It’s been a great day.

Fast forward to January, 2014 and France’s culture ministry has proposed the vineyards, houses and cellars of Champagne for world heritage status (UNESCO) along with those of Burgundy.   The proposal will go before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2015.   If approved, they will join Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux) representatives of French winemaking on the UN body’s list.  We applaud this proposed recognition of talent and tradition.

 In Optimism in a Bottle post 3 of 3,  I describe our visit to Roederer and Bollinger.

Reference:   Champagne Billecart-Salmon: http://www.champagne-billecart.fr

Champagne Krug:    www.krug.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Four Grande Marque Champagne Houses: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

Champagne – the great celebratory sparkling wine.    For me, it’s optimism in a bottle;  an immediate feel-good emotion.

A recent trip last October to the Champagne region of NE France about 130 kms from Paris was an experience in geography, history, tradition, science and an exploration of champagne style and tastes.

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Eperney

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Epernay

While drinking champagne epitomizes fun and frivolity and the marketing is conducted with great hyperbole and lyrical language, the wine making production behind this façade is serious, detailed, patient, professional and exacting.     As they say at Billecart-Salmon:  “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence.”

In each of these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses  of Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer and Bollinger, we were impressed by the infinite attention to quality and detail.   This was particularly evident in the precise knowledge of hundreds of individual small plots of vines throughout this most northerly wine region of France.     It is the nuances of soil composition, orientation to the sun, topography and other details which singularly or together create the subtle differences in the wine from each plot which is so important in the essential blending process to make top quality champagne.

The Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controllée (AOC) designation governs all aspects of the production of champagne from planting to labeling and production in the Champagne delineated area of over 35,000 hectares.    Only sparkling wine produced in this area can be called champagne and the Champagne Houses are relentless in their protection of this name.

Three main grape varieties are permitted in champagne making:  Chardonnay,  Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Generally, champagne is white although most Houses create a rosé.    There are exceptions to the standard approach:  Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The four most important wine growing areas are Montaigne de Reims (mainly black grapes) ,  Côte des Blancs (mainly Chardonnay),  Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Bur .  These areas are outlined on the Wine Spectator map included.   It identifies the “heart of Champagne” around Epernay and Reims, however, there is a Champagne area further to the south which is not visible on the map.

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

So where do the champagne bubbles come from?   The quick answer is that they are made through a natural process in the bottle. The Champagne AOC requires that the traditional method of champagne production is used which requires both the mandatory secondary fermentation in the bottle and minimum periods of maturation on the lees (dead yeast molecules) of 15 months for non vintage champagne and 3 years for vintage.  The top Champagne Houses allow for much longer maturation periods – 10 years is not unusual – to create their signature styles.

Champagne is made in several complex steps which I won’t attempt to elaborate.  Some key elements only are referred to below.  Each Champagne House uses their own specific approaches to create their Champagne House signature style and flavour.   An important fact to note is that the grapes are harvested according to the plot where they are grown and the still wine produced from each plot is kept separate until the blending stage.   This means that the nuances from the individual plots are retained.

This individuality is important in the detailed and exacting process of sampling and assessing the still wine from each of hundreds of plots.   In non-vintage wine where consistency across years is the objective, the chosen individual wines are blended together with reserved wines from previous years to create the assemblage (blend) for that year.

The reputation of each Champagne House rests significantly on this sampling, assessing and blending of different wines.   It’s the alchemy of champagne making and the responsibility of the cellar master and the blending committee.   It is after bottling and with the addition of a liqueur de tirage  ( including sugars and yeast nutrients) that the bubbles are made during the secondary fermentation.

The mystery and sophistication of champagne has been carefully nurtured over time.   The four Champagne Houses we visited were founded in the 19th century although Roederer has its origins in the 18th C.   Apart from Krug which is part of the LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, the Houses are independent and have passed from generation to generation.   Even at Krug, Olivier Krug, 6th generation of the Krug family is still actively involved in the business.

Reims Cathedral - the west portal with rose window and tympanum

Reims Cathedral – the west portal with rose window and tympanum

The Champagne region is steeped in history.     Much of the area was significantly affected by World War 1.  Half the Louis Roederer vineyards were destroyed in that war.  During that period the Bollinger cellars were used as a hospital, courtesy of Mme. Bollinger.    The history of Reims, a major hub in the Champagne industry goes back to the Roman times.   For more than one thousand years the sovereigns of the Franks and then France came to the Cathedral or its predecessor to be crowned (816 – 1825).     Keeping pace with more modern times, the great Gothic Cathedral is home to stained glass designed by Marc Chagall and installed in 1974.

With only time for a brief visit, we walked from the bright October afternoon sunshine into the shadowy, chiaroscuro atmosphere of Reims Cathedral.   Our footsteps sounded heavy as we walked up the aisle admiring the vaulting and the brilliance of blue and red shafts of light from the stained glass.    Before leaving this inspiring place we followed our usual practice of lighting a wax taper, casting our own pencil of light into the shadows.

In the Part 2 of 3,  I will write about our visit the same day to Billecart-Salmon and Krug.

References:  With thanks to Wine Spectator for the map of the Heart of Champagne

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: ‘Jack Frost’ in the vineyards.

Jack Frost in the vineyards

Jack Frost in the vineyards

December weather in the Dordogne is often sunny yet cold.  White frosts cover the ground and spiders’ webs freeze on the vines.    It’s Jack Frost’s favourite time of year.

A largely 19th century mythological figure in literature with roots in Anglo-Saxon and Norse winter customs,  Jack Frost is the personification of frost and cold weather.    This generally friendly sprite is a regular winter visitor to the Dordogne valley vineyards.

Fog creating an ethereal landscape

Fog creating an ethereal landscape

It’s chilly and fog often covers the Dordogne river valley in the mornings.  Sometimes it rolls up the hills creating an ethereal landscape.  Later in the morning, the sun usually bursts through on the higher ground and the blue sky returns.

Winter sunshine

Winter sunshine

With the harvest completed, the hard work of pruning begins in earnest and will last through January.    When we see a car parked at the edge of a vineyard we know we’ll see a lone figure working his way along the rows of vines checking each vine carefully.

By now the vines themselves have lost most of their leaves.   They are taking a well deserved rest.   I hope my readers will be able to do the same over the holiday season.

In the next post, I’ll write about champagne – the great festive drink – and our recent visits to several notable champagne houses.

In the meantime, best wishes for Merry Christmas/ Joyeux Noel/Happy Holidays.

Bergerac Wine Region: SW France. November 11, Remembering …with a Vin D’Honneur

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

On November 11, Armistice Day,  we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly  in front of the War Memorial in our village.   We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars.  At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem,  ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.   We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row…….

Here, when the national anthems are played,  the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.    Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally.   I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat.   Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.

Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the  cornflower; Le Bleuet –  since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both.   These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.

The Poppy and Le Bleuet - Remembrance Symbols

The Poppy and Le Bleuet – Remembrance Symbols

This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze.   After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.

This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized.    We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community.   It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.

Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor.   This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.

Wine is such a flexible beverage.    It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011    Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011 Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

References:

Les Bleuets de France:   http://www.Bleuet de France

In Flanders Field:    www.greatwar.co.uk

Poppy Appeal:    www.britishlegion.com

Chateau Plaguettes:  www. vignobles-gazziola.com

Bergerac Wine Region: South West France – Wine and Pâté pairing

Driving through the Dordogne on a sunny November day highlights the autumn colours of the vines: varying shades of gold, russet and brown which signal the twilight of the wine season for the year.

This day we are driving to Périgueux to attend a gathering of Confréries at the pâté de Périgueux competition.

The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition

The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition

When we arrive the judges are busy tasting the pâtés and forming their opinions. Its tense work and important for the pâté makers of the area.  The results are delivered at a ceremony in the market square later in the morning.

The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux

The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux

In the meantime, the Confréries,  the local voluntary organizations with historic origins that promote the region and its gastronomic products such as wines, cheeses, pâtés, strawberries  parade through the streets in the old town of Périgueux They are preceded by musicians and folk dancers who entertain people going about their regular shopping in the markets.

Folk dancing in Périgueux

Folk dancing in Périgueux

After the results of the competition are announced in the market square there is a tasting of the pâtés accompanied by white wine.    This is a 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts.

Chateau Court-Les-Mûts - the white wine served with the pâte

Chateau Court-Les-Mûts – the white wine served with the pâte

We know the red wines from this winemaker but aren’t so familiar with the whites.    The fruit aromas of this lightly sweet wine make it an excellent complement to the pâtés.

After the ceremony in the square, we are fortunate to attend a lunch which highlights the gifts of the terrain including pâté, foie gras, mushrooms and truffles.

My favourite dish was the starter of Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce.    The small amount of foie gras in the middle of the pâté was balanced by the pastry and the sauce.

Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce

Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce

A late harvest Monbazillac wine was on offer.   The late harvest wines are frequently paired with foie gras.   However, this day we enjoyed the Pécharmant red wine:  Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Jour de Fruit. A robust, full balanced wine it was a good counterpoint to the richness of the pâté and foie gras.

The Pécharmant AOC area is to the north east of Bergerac.   It is a small area known for iron elements in the terrain.   Only red wines are produced under this AOC.  Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pécharmant AOC wines are known as robust, well structured and approachable.

This day in Périguex was a tremendous opportunity to participate in a very special French gastronomic event that gave great pleasure to everyone going about their Saturday shopping in this historic town.

Reference:  Chateau Court-Les-Mûts

Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure – Pécharmant AOC

For more information about the Confréries of France recognized by UNESCO in 2011, visit http://www.confreries-france.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Vignobles des Verdots

The tall and imposing Tasting Room is the first thing we noticed as we drove along the high plateau driveway to Vignobles des Verdots in the community of Conne de Labarde, south east of Bergerac and not far from the Bergerac Regional Airport.   The building is contemporary yet monumental in style and makes a bold statement of optimism and confidence that mirrors the same characteristics of wine-maker and proprietor David Fourtout, named Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the Bergerac Wine Region.

Tasting Room and cellars:  Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting Room and cellars: Vignobles des Verdots

As we made our introductions and agreed in which language we would conduct our conversation and tour (English this time), we were conscious that the forecourt of Vignobles des Verdots was a hive of activity.   A large truck arrived to pick up cases of wine and deliver them  in Belgium, a couple drove up in their estate car to collect wine to drive home to the Netherlands and so it went on.    This led to a discussion about the markets for the Verdots wine and David said that they sell their wine in 20 countries:  50% is sold in France and 50% is sold internationally with Belgium, Holland and Germany being key markets as well as the Scandinavian countries.   We asked about sales to Canada:  Vignobles des Verdots is sold in Quebec through SAQ, the Quebec Liquor Control Board; the buyers for the Ontario Liquor Control Board had visited the day before but sadly it has been a long time since any wine has been sold in British Columbia.

David started our tour in the cellars beneath the Tasting Room and we descended to the large, cavernous area to see where the wines are aged in oak barrels.  This cellar has exposure to the surrounding limestone rock through large openings that have been cut into the concrete on all sides of the cellar.   The openings in the wall are backlit and the rock surface is both visible and touchable.   There is also a large opening cut into the floor, covered by a metal grid, showing the underground Verdots stream that continues on under the vineyard and nourishes the vines.   The water is crystal clear and fast flowing over yellow-gold sand.   We had an immediate sensation of being part of the earth, rock and ‘terroir’ of the place.

 Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des VerdotsVerdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des Verdots

We then had a tour of the winery or ‘Chai’ and were shown the investments that the Fourtout family has made  in the purchase of various winemaking equipment as part of a process of continuous quality improvement.   These investments are in addition to the recent construction of the Tasting Room and cellars.

David Fourtout talked to us about his philosophy and approach to winemaking.  He practices organic styles of winemaking.   He prefers to remain flexible in his approach and use interventions according to the needs of the vines.   Similar to the message we have heard in other wineries in the area, David emphasized that the use of sulphites, a natural wine preservative, has been much reduced at Vignobles des Verdots.

Geologically and climatically, the area is simllar to Saint Emilion with respect to the soil but has more of a continental climate with colder weather in winter, hotter weather in the summer but less rain.

We are always interested in the marketing and promotion of wines and found that David Fourtout is committed to these functions and, with others, takes a leadership role in the advancement of the Bergerac wines.   He is currently leading a committee in the Bergerac Wine Region to look at the promotion of their wines including recommending changes to the appellation controlee regulations.   There is an initiative to advocate changing the name of the Cotes de Bergerac appellation to Grand Cru de Bergerac to be reflective of the quality of these levels of wines.   It will be interesting to follow this and see what unfolds.

There is a virtuous circle of wine tourism practised at Vignobles des Verdots: from the five euro summer vineyard brunches and the significant farm gate wine sales in July and August to the B & B accommodation in one of the towers of the Tasting Room, there is a lot of promotional activity.   All the family gets involved: his wife and his parents who also live on the property help out with the Tasting Room activity.  His Father was the power behind the Tasting Room construction.

Talking about the Tasting Room…. we had a comprehensive tasting of the suite of Verdots wines.   They make wines under 6 different appellations:  AOC Cotes de Bergerac Rouge and AOC Bergerac Rouge, AOC Bergerac Rosé, AOC Bergerac Blanc Sec, AOC Sweet Cotes de Bergerac and AOC Monbazillac.  These are blended wines from the estate and the red wines consist of predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the sweet whites are from Semillon and Muscadelle; the Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by ‘bleeding’ off the juice during the fermentation process; and finally, the Monbazillac or liquoreux wine is made by blending Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been hand picked taking only those grapes which have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea also known as Noble Rot.   The different wines together with tasting notes are well documented on the informative Vignobles des Verdots website noted below.

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

In addition to making wine according to 6 appellations, the Verdots wines are made in 4 different levels:  Clos des Verdots,  Chateau Les Tours des Verdots, Grand Vins les Verdots and Le Vin Selon David Fourtout.   All the wines are of a high quality.   For Canadian readers,  the Chateau les Tours des Verdots Blanc is available through the Quebec liquor stores.

For us, the Grand Vin “Les Verdots Selon David Fourtout” was the most delicious: balanced, complex, textured and fruit forward.  It has all the flavours and depth we enjoy in a Bergerac style red which, dare we say it, seems to us to be of similar quality and style but better value than its Bordeaux cousins.

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

As we prepared to leave and say our goodbyes and thanks for an interesting and informative visit, several people arrived all at once to taste wines.   David called over to his Mother to come and help.  At its heart,  this is still a family farm growing grapes and making wine over four generations with its focus firmly on the future.

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Reference:    Vignobles des Verdots     http://www.verdots.com

The Bergerac Wine Region, South West France: An Introduction

Bergerac Wine Region,  SW France

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

The Bergerac wine region in SW France takes its name from the 11th Century town of Bergerac which is situated on the banks of the Dordogne River 175 km from the Atlantic Coast and 590 km southwest of Paris in the Dordogne Department in the Administrative Region of Aquitaine.

The Dordogne is one of the great rivers of France.  It arises in the Massif Central and flows westwards to Bordeaux where it joins with the Garonne to make the Gironde Estuary leading to the Atlantic.    The Dordogne was essential for the transportation of Bergerac wines in the past by “Gabares” which are large flat-bottomed boats used for taking wine barrels down river en route to foreign markets.   Now tourists are the cargo of choice.   The river has also created the rich alluvial river valley soil which along with other geological and climatic elements has created excellent wine growing conditions.

The Bergerac wine region adjoins the Bordeaux region, one of the best known wine areas of the world.    After much debate about the boundaries for the Bordeaux region, it was decided in the early 20th Century that they would coincide with those of the Gironde local government department.   This left the Bergerac wine area outside these limits yet with many of the same or similar geological and climatic characteristics.   For many years,  Bergerac has been in the shadow of its famous neighbour and this has affected its position in the market place.   Fortunately, due to the determined pursuit of quality and the consistent efforts of dynamic wine makers in the region,  this lack of confidence is diminishing and the excellent wines that are available from this area are gaining greater recognition.

At the western edge of the Bergerac wine region, the vineyards are a continuation of the Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon and St. Emilion on the right bank of the Dordogne and the Entre-Deux-Mers south of the river in terms of vine growing conditions.   The geology within the region varies for each of the individual Appellation d’Origine Controlée areas.   The geological possibilities are sandy clay, limestone, iron-rich clays, gravels, clay-limestone, Agenais molasse and some specific areas have marl and clay soils with fossilized oyster deposits.   Climatically, the Bergerac region has a less maritime and more continental climate than Bordeaux.    It has marginally less rain and more sunshine and has about a 10 day longer ripening season which can be critical in some years.

Key facts about the Bergerac wine region are that it has approximately 12,000 hectares under vines, encompasses 93 villages and has approximately 1,000 wine makers creating wine in accordance with Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) guidelines.

There are 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) areas in this region which link to 5 wine colours as described by the Maison des Vins de Bergerac:

Rosé wines:  Bergerac rosé AOC,

Red wines: Bergerac rouge, Côtes de Bergerac rouge,  Pécharmant and Montravel rouge AOCs

Dry white wines: Bergerac sec, Montravel AOCs

Semi-sweet white wines:  Côtes de Bergerac blanc, Côtes de Montravel, Haut-Montravel, Rosette AOCs

Late Harvest/Botrytis – Liquoreux wines:  Monbazillac,  Saussignac AOCs

Each AOC has its particular requirements as to vine planting density, alcoholic content, grape varieties and blends and so on. The AOC is identified on bottle wine labels.

Increasing numbers of wine makers are following organic wine making practices which may have more stringent demands.   Easy drinking, young wines known as vins de plaisir are made in the area as well as vins de terroir which are richer, more structured and generally aged longer.   Similar to the Bordeaux area, the red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec and the same varieties are used in rosé wines.    The white grapes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and in some areas small amounts of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

The wines are paired with local produce and favourites such as duck, foie gras, various pâtés and cheeses together with local vegetables and fruits, all sold in the colourful and popular street markets.

The Bergerac wine region is picturesque and characterized by hills, forests, fortified villages and towns (Bastides) and is agricultural with vineyards, plum and apple orchards, walnuts and more recently sunflowers.

In addition to producing quality wines and other produce, the area has a rich and varied past.   Gallo-roman remains from the 1st Century A.D. have been found locally.   More recent history includes the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between the French and English regarding English claims to Aquitaine;  the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants or Huguenots in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the World Wars 1 and 2.    For most of WW 2, the Bergerac area was in the “Free Zone”.

The Hundred Years War began and ended in Aquitaine within a 80 km radius even though it included well known battles in other parts of France – think of English King Henry V and Agincourt (1415):  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”   (Shakespeare: Henry V).    Even though the English were finally defeated in 1453, the area has been popular with English people for many years.    Bergerac became a protestant stronghold during the 16th Century and established wine trading links with protestant countries, especially when Huguenots from the area fled to other protestant northern European countries in the 17th Century.   Holland remains a key market today for Bergerac wines.    As always, historical context informs not just the past but also the present.

On a recent visit to the area, we had the opportunity to visit 5 wine chateaux/wineries and they and their wines will be featured in upcoming weeks.

Aquitaine

Aquitaine

References:

History of Bergerac:  www.bergerac-tourisme.com

Historical background:  www.bbc.co.uk/history

Various references including:   Maison des Vins de Bergerac:  www.vins-bergerac.fr

View of Bergerac in the distance and local  vineyards

View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards

The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River

Vancouver International Wine Festival, British Columbia, Canada, February 25 – March 3, 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

The double doors open into a dimly lit meeting room of the Vancouver Convention Centre and in pour 100 wine aficionados, eager to taste the best of the pick at the Meet Your Match wine seminar hosted by Anthony Gismondi, wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun newspaper.

This is day 6 of the 35th Annual Vancouver International WIne Festival, this year celebrating California Wines and Chardonnay from around the world.

At the Meet Your Match seminar 10 international winery principals with their chosen wines sit at individual tables to greet the seminar participants divided into groups of 10.   Argentina, Australia, Canada (British Columbia), France, Germany, the United States (California) are represented here.    The event is choreographed so that the groups circulate clockwise from table to table after 8 minutes with each winery principal;  each rotation signaled by the ringing of a bell.    Standing to one side, it feels as though I am watching people dancing in slow motion around the perimeter of the room.   Modelled on speed dating concepts, where people move from table to table meeting new people, it’s a popular event;  fast paced and lively with great wines presented by the winery principal and often the winemaker.    The sound of clinking glasses and general laughter increases with each rotation around the room.

This is my third event this day as a volunteer wine pourer.   I’m asked to assist at the Sebastiani table where Mark Lyon, Winemaker is going to present Sebastiani’s Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.   The first group of 10 people approach the tasting table where each small group will take up 2 rows in front of the winemaker.   Mr. Lyon asks me to pour tasting glasses for the people in the 2nd row for each of the 10 groups he will present to during the event.   This gives me a unique opportunity to learn about the Sebastiani Winery and the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon by listening to his presentation about the history of the parcels of land, the cherry orchard pedigree, the grape varieties and the soil type.

The original block of old vines was planted on 10.8 acres of Sonoma Valley countryside in 1961 and 1962 by August Sebastiani.    In 1985,  Mr. Sebastiani renamed the estate Cherryblock with reference to its former life as a cherry orchard.    Replanting of sections of the vineyard that succumbed to phylloxera commenced in 1997.    The vines grow on Terra Rosa soil which is volcanic, rocky with low fertility yet good natural drainage.

Originally a single-vineyard designation, the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon is now a proprietary blend supported by vines from nearby vineyards with similar Terra Rosa soils.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend:  Cabernet Sauvignon (80 – 90%), with other Bordeaux varieties,  Malbec (0 – 15%), Merlot (0 – 10%), Petit Verdot (0 – 5%) and Cabernet Franc (0 – 5%).   The percentages vary relative to the vintage.    The blend produces a dense, structured wine with aromas of cherries, cassis, cranberries, cedar, leather, dried leaves. The Sonoma Valley climate is warm enough to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon yet cool enough to retain the balance and acidity necessary for great wines.

Beneath these descriptions,  I hear Mark Lyon’s passion for his craft, his knowledge and attention to the science of winemaking and the art and perhaps alchemy of each year’s

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

vintage together with his enthusiasm for making beautiful wine.   At the end of the event, when the participants have drifted happily away, I taste the Cherryblock – a sublime experience of tasting a dense, greatly satisfying wine that according to Mr. Lyon will be even better in 5 years time.

The 2013 Vancouver International WIne Festival was attended by over 25,000 consumers.  175 wineries from 15 countries were represented together with 62 wineries from the theme region, California.

References:

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery:    www.sebastiani.com

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: http://www.vanwinefest.ca