The Shoebox Under the Bed and Other Stories

On a lazy summer’s day in Vancouver, the shoebox under the bed calls out to me for attention.

A shoebox into which I have tossed letters, post cards (when we still sent and received them!) and other memorabilia that I wanted to keep or at least not throw out upon receipt.  You know the sort of thing.

The jewel lay quietly at the bottom of the box – an anonymous rough brown envelope addressed to my decades-ago address in London and post-marked August 25, 1972!

50 years ago!!

With great anticipation, I look inside  the envelope and find a tourist guide to France, The Traveller in FranceLove France for her thousand beautiful faces, [1]  January 1972 and pictured below!     It’s a true jewel and I love the cover illustration.

In this time traveller envelope I also discover tourist brochures about places we had visited, including Avranches and amazingly, I find a travel diary for a particular road trip to France, September 6 – 17, 1972, entitled, “Holiday, 72 France, Diary”.

Reading a diary from 50 years ago is when the past becomes the present. From the diary, I can see I was as interested in wine and food in those days as now and several meals are described.   One in particular stands out.   On the first day of our trip we drove to Avranches in Normandy and my diary provides the following   tempting details:

“We drove onto Avranches.  Booked into Croix d’Or.  Hadn’t changed at all.  Had magnificent meal of eight courses:  potage, pâté, fruits de mer, moules, truites Croix d’Or, Canard/Entrecôte, fromage et meringue pudding and coffee.  ½ bot. Chablis, and bottle Chateau Neuf du Pape.”

Wow, some meal!

 I remember those multi-course meals at the Croix d’Or and although it sounds like a lot of food, the portions were small and you take your time and savour the experience and flavours.  I commented in the diary that it hadn’t changed because I had been to the Croix D’Or on several memorable, previous  occasions with my family when my father, someone who really appreciated good food and wine,  was alive.

The Croix d’Or in Avranches is a 17th century coaching inn [2]and from looking at their website, it is still going strong.  I’m delighted!

Avranches is an interesting, historic town, near Mont St Michel on the Normandy coast.   The brochure from the 1970’s outlines at least three facts of interest for history enthusiasts.

–  In 1172, the excommunicated Henry II of England received absolution in Avranches for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury committed by others following Henry’s famous comment, “Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?”  He made public penance before the Cathedral (which was razed as unsafe in 1794).  The paving stone on which he knelt is marked by chains on a small square locally called La Plate-forme and is featured in the Avranches brochure.

–  General Patton, the World War II American military hero is recognized in the Monument Patton for his role in liberating Avranches in July 1944 and for his famous breakthrough of enemy lines ultimately making possible the liberation of France.

–  Mont St Michel – A Benedictine Abbey founded in the 10th Century or earlier and built on an island in the bay that connects Brittany and Normandy.   Subsequent to our visit in 1972, it was identified in 1979 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   It’s accessible at low tide and I’ve made that crossing in the past.   The Traveller in France , 1972 magazine p.17, mentions, “ At Mont-St-Michel the town’s festival is held on the first Sunday in May, while at the end of July there is a colourful pilgrimage across the sands”.    It would be interesting to know if that pilgrimage still takes place.

The Croix D’Or Inn at Avranches as well as the town and its interesting sites are on my list now for a return visit!

Sometimes I wonder about keeping memorabilia from years gone by.   We seem to be endlessly encouraged to declutter, get rid of paper and streamline.    It might be easy to just throw it all away.  And yet, there would be no gems to give such pleasure, to remind us of places and people otherwise forgotten, to connect the past with the present and help us make plans for the future.

I’m keeping the shoebox!

Elizabethsvines

[1] The Traveller in France, Love France for her thousand beautiful faces, No 255 Published since 1925, January 1972 by The French Government Tourist Office in Piccadilly, London.

[2] The Croix D’Or Hotel and Restaurant,   Avranches,   Website: https://www.hotel-restaurant-avranches-crois-dor.com

 

Want A Holiday Adventure in SW France this 24th July?

After so much time dreaming of holidays during lockdowns, here’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with the wine community in Sigoulès, near Bergerac in SW France by signing up for the summer event on July 24th of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès.  A parade, a lunch and much fellowship awaits when you step outside your comfort zone and into a wonderful traditional event.

Taste Vin – Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, SW France  near Bergerac.

 

Check out the Confrerie website for all the details, menu and registration.

confrerieduraisindor.com

facebook: confrérie du raisin d’or

Enjoy!

Bordeaux Wine Release in Vancouver BC., Merlot dominant Ste Emilion, Pomerol

What an invitation! To time travel to the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with these images of wine bottle labels from Bordeaux wines!

These labels and others, carefully removed from the bottles and kept over the years, are a wonderful and much appreciated gift.

The Bordeaux wine area consists of two main geographic areas on the banks of the Garonne, Dordogne and the Gironde, which is the estuary where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet:  left bank for Medoc and right bank for St Emilion and areas.

The world famous Bordeaux wines are a blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot together with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.    What’s interesting about the Bordeaux area is that the percentages of the wines in the blend vary according to geography.    For example, the Medoc area wines generally feature more Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the St Emilion areas feature more Merlot.

The roles that these predominant varieties play in the wines is important in considering which type of wine to buy from personal preference and to pair with different dishes.  

Cabernet Sauvignon provides more structure to the blend, considering tannins and acidity.    It also provides dark-fruit flavours of blackcurrant and bell pepper.  

Merlot is usually juicier and adds some softness with more fruit flavours.   These two varieties complement each other and provide long term potential for ageing when made by skilled winemakers.

Given that winemakers create their own preferred ratios of Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot depending on soil, climate, and all the aspects of terroir, it is important to always look at the back label to see the percentages of the varieties in the Bordeaux wines one is buying, because this will give an indictation of the ambiance of the wine.     In addition to this, also factoring in the geographic area within the Bordeaux area that the wine is coming from is important.

The Bordeaux Medoc and left bank wines (those typically with a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon) were featured on my earlier December blog with a chart comparing the assessment of Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent with the wines available through the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Stores for the 2018 wine release available in September this year.  

As I highlighted in that earlier blog, Jane Anson wrote her En Primeur Report in the Decanter Magazine June 2019 issue, with not only an assessment of the 2018 vintage overall but she also assessed each individual château and identifies those châteaux she considered at the time to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).

The chart below compares the Decanter Magazine assessment of the Bordeaux St Emilion and other right bank appellations (typically those wines with a higher percentage of Merlot) with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores.

It’s interesting to note that 2018 was a year of high sugars and high tannins for the Bordeaux right bank wines.

The chart demonstrates where the opinions of Jane Anson MW coincide with the opinions of the BC Liquor Store Masters of Wine buyers.    Again, only the chateaux highlighted by Jane Anson as Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points for the St Emilion right bank wines are included in the chart.  It’s a smaller list than the Medoc and Left Bank comparison list and none of Jane Anson’s Producer to Watch category made it to the BC Liquor Stores list.

For me, a second opinion from a valued source is always helpful.

 

2018 Bordeaux Right Bank

Jane Anson, MW

Decanter Magazine

June 2019, En Primeur Report for 2018

BC Liquor Stores

BC Price $C per bottle

Potential 100

 

 

 

St Emilion

Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse

Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse

97 points Wine Advocate

Drink: 2024 – 2044

$280

St Emilion

Château Cheval Blanc

Château Cheval Blanc

100 points Decanter

Drink: 2028 – 2042 Decades!

$1,800

Pomerol & Lalande de Pomerol

Vieux Château Certan Pomerol

Vieux Châteaux Certan Pomerol

99 points Wine Advocate,

Drink: 2027 – 2057

$675

Pomerol & Lalande de Pomerol

Château Trotanoy

Château Trotanoy

100 points Jeb Donnuck,

Drink: 2025 – 2065

$500

Top Value

 

 

 

St Emilion

Château La Serre

Château La Serre

94 points Jeb Dunnuck

Drink: 2026 – 2040

$125

Pomerol & Lalande

de Pomerol

Château Lafleur – Gazin

Château Lafleur-Gazin

94 points James Suckling

Drink: 2024 – 2038

$85

tes de Bordeaux & St Emilion Satellites

Château Joanin Bécot, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Château Joanin Bécot, Castillon

Côtes de Bordeaux

93 points Jeb Dunnuck

Drink: 2022 – 2036

$50

 

There are, of course, many more Bordeaux 2018 wines than those listed here available in the BC Liquor Stores.

The two charts of what was anticipated about the 2018 Bordeaux vintage in the En Primeur tastings in 2019 compared with the availability of wines in British Columbia Liquor Stores are helping me build an expanded list of possible wine producers to consider and watch for in future vintages.

Bordeaux wines are fascinating in their complexity and subtleties.  I applaud the magic of the winemakers in producing superb wines and appreciate the efforts of the highly skilled Masters of Wine in presenting these wines and relevant information to consumers.

Wishing all a happy and healthy 2022,

elizabethsvines

References:

Decanter Magazine June 2019

BC Liquor Stores  2018 Bordeaux Release Guide

Elizabethsvines December 2021 blog post: Bordeaux Release

Bordeaux Wine Release in Vancouver, BC

2018 Bordeaux Release, September 2021

The end of summer in Vancouver coincides with the annual Bordeaux wine release by the BC Liquor Stores.  September is the important month.

Excitement builds as aficionados wait for the online and print catalogues as well as notification of the prebooking opportunities. It looks like the 2018 vintage will be a very good year, like 2015 and 2016.

The Bordeaux Release is quite the show!  Especially when you see shopping carts loaded down with multiple cases of wine being wheeled out to nearby parked cars.

For me, the catalogue of wine is not just about the wine.   The catalogue is like a travel brochure as each name that I know conjures up the place:  the countryside, the beautiful chateaux themselves, and the rows of vines and the sense of history – the whole ambiance is like magic for me.

  I have visited the Bordeaux wine region – left bank, right bank – several times either on arranged tours or one-off visits to a particular chateau.    Seeing the names is like reading poetry that you know well, there’s a rhyme to the words:  Chateaux Margaux, Palmer, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages, La Dominique,
Quintus…  

Some are chateaux I have visited for the first time in the last few years, often with my wine expert friend.   Yet others like Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer I first visited decades ago with my parents and have happy memories of those introductions to the world of Bordeaux wines !

Putting aside these fine memories, I got down to the business of modestly buying some of the 2018 Bordeaux Release!

When the wine is released in the ‘liquor stores’ run by BC Liquor Stores, there is a mad rush of people swooping in with determination written on their faces as they grab a copy of the catalogue, which is an excellent reference guide with helpful information, and decide what they will buy!   

I have to admit I probably had that same look of determination on my face as we decided what to buy.    I didn’t have time to do any research before buying.   I know from previous experience that if you dither, the choices you would like will have gone!

The wines in the 2018 Bordeaux Wine Release were selected at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux in 2019, and are now released for sale in 2021.  

After we bought some wine at the release, I serendipitously rediscovered my Decanter magazine issue of June 2019, in which Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent gave her En Primeur Report for Bordeaux 2018.

Not only does she write about the vintage overall but she also assesses individual chateau and interestingly, identifies those chateaux she considers to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).

I compared  this list with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores and prepared the following chart of those wines which appear both on Jane Anson’s three criteria list from 2019 and the BC Liquor Store release in 2021 for left bank Bordeaux wines.  Here it is, rather a short but informative reference list.

2018 Bordeaux

Jane Anson MW  – Decanter Magazine

BC Liquor Stores

BC Price $Can

Top Value

 

 

 

Medoc-

Chateau d’Escurac

Chateau d’Escurac

$40

Haut Medoc

Chat. Belle-Vue

Chat. Belle-Vue

$45

Haut Medoc

Ch. Cambon La Pelouse

Ch . Cambon La Pelouse

$40

St. Estephe

Ch. Ormes de Pez

Ch. Ormes de Pez

$75

Pauillac

 

 Les Tourelles de Longueville

 

 

 Les Tourelles de Longueville

 

 

$90

 

 

St. Julien

Ch. du Glana

Ch. du Glana

$55

St. Julien

Ch. Leoville Poyferré

Ch. Leoville Poyferrê

$225

 

Producer to Watch

 

 

 

Pauillac

Ch. Clerc Milon

Ch. Clerc Milon

$210

Potential 100

 

 

 

Pauillac

Ch. Lafite Rothschild

Ch. Lafite Rothschild

$1,600

Pauillac

Ch. Mouton Rothschild

Ch. Mouton Rothschild

$1,500

Pauillac

Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde

Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde

$380

Margaux

Ch. Palmer

Ch. Palmer

$900

Needless to say, both the Decanter article and the BC Liquor Store catalogue list many more wine choices.

The above chart is a very short list of those Bordeaux left bank  red wines which were assessed as either Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points of Left Bank Bordeaux 2018 red wines and were also available in the BC Liquor Stores 2018 Release. These were the criteria for inclusion.

The value to me of this comparison chart is that it fine tuned the information in the BC Liquor Store catalogue and has introduced us to some vineyards we didn’t know about at the lower end of these price points that we will keep an eye on for future purchases.

Enjoy the magic of Bordeaux!

References:   Jane Anson MW, Decanter Magazine June 2019, Vintage Preview: Bordeaux 2018

And

2018 Bordeaux Release – BC Liquor Stores.com

and with recognition to my wine expert friend who always encourages my interest in Bordeaux wines.

Quoi de Neuf? Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès

Quoi de Neuf?  What’s new?

This year in summer 2021,  the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France was innovative in fulfilling its mandate of promoting local winemakers.

Instead of hosting its annual Confrerie wine event attended by Confrerie members from across France, it creatively switched to participating in the local Festival for Winemakers of Sigoulès-Flaugeac.   The Confrérie hosted a wine tasting event of local wines in which the public voted for the wines of their choice.  Great Idea!

Wine Fair in Sigoulès

Sigoulès

Awards were then given by the Commandeur Guy Bergeron, representing the Confrérie, to the winners in the 5 wine categories of  Red, Rose, Dry White, Sweet White, and Late Harvest Liquoreux.   All 19 winemakers who participated in the public tasting were thanked for their participation.

And the five winners were…

Rouge/Red wine:   Stephanie et Philippe Barré-Perier in Saint Pierre D’Eyraud

Rosé/ Pink:  Jean Philippe Cathal, Domaine Petit Marsalet, St. Laurent des Vignes

Blanc Sec/ Dry White:  Pascal Pomar, Domaine du Sarment Doré, Bergerac

Blanc Moelleur/Sweet White:  Durand Frères, Château Haut Lamouthe, Lamonzie St Martin

Blanc Liquoreux/ Late Harvest Liquoreux: Stéphane Dumoulin, Chateau le Cluzeau, Sigoulés-Flaugeac

Congratulations to the winners of the people’s votes!

All these community names are very familiar to me and I am so pleased to acknowledge the work and effort that went into this event.

Given the COVID restrictions in place, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, under the leadership of the Commandeur and the support of the members, continues to be active in the community upholding its role as part of the UNESCO World Heritage recognition of Confréries in France as a fundamental aspect of French Gastronomie.

Bravo!

Magnums and Jeroboams: what’s in a name?

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

The large format wine bottles really attract my attention!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes for 2020.

 

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

New Wine for a New Year: Soirée Vigneronne, Bergerac Wine Region, France

The low barrel ceiling of the cellar area of the old Château in Saussignac in South West France is home to the 2018 New Wine presentation by local winemakers.

We walk beside the dark stone exterior wall of the Château, using a powerful torch to prevent us slipping into muddy pot holes or against large rocks or tree roots.   We open the outer door and are greeted by a burst of yellow light and the sound of cheerful chatter as we step down onto the old stone-flagged floor of this cavernous area.

An informal gathering of over 100 people of all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren, is here to sample some new wines.  It’s a casual opportunity to meet neighbours and friends in this small village nestled in the vineyards of the Bergerac Wine Region near the town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River.

Stretched along the middle length of the long, narrow room are picnic tables, the sort that get stacked in village halls for events, joined end to end to accommodate the community meal this evening.   It’s organized as an “Auberge Espagnole” which for the uninitiated is a gathering in which every person or family bring their own food, drink and utensils and generally share what they bring.  It’s basically Bring Your Own and Clear Up Afterwards!  A fantastic, civilized and practical way for communities to socialize and share a meal together.     After all, food, and in this case wine, is at the heart of most convivial community initiatives all over the world.    So forewarned is forearmed: if you see a poster for an “Auberge Espagnole”, don’t try to reserve a room, start cooking and pack up your picnic basket!

Circulating around the room, we talk to three local winemakers who offered some of their new wines for tasting:

Gabriel Grinou from Château Grinou in nearby Monestier

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from Château Lestevenie, also in Monestier

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap in Saussignac

Each winemaker mentioned that 2018 has been a challenging year due to the weather and the mildew.   There was a wet spring followed by a hot summer that turned into the hottest summer in France since 1947.   Mildew is a fungal disease that can affect the grapes and needs to be managed very carefully throughout the growing season and around harvesting time.  For farmers such as these, who practise organic or near organic farming methods, there are bigger challenges dealing with mildew, as there are fewer options for fighting diseases.

in spite of the inherent challenges in farming, which vary year to year, the winemakers are overall positive about the 2018 harvest with better grapes and higher yield in general than in 2017, which was a very difficult year.   I certainly see smiling faces among the group!

What we tasted:

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from award-winning Château Lestevenie offered their 2018 Bergerac Rosé.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon providing strawberry flavour with a hint of spice, Humphrey says ”…their best ever”.    In the photo below, the bottle is empty!  And as Sue says,  “…unfortunately, you can’t see the amazing colour”.    You can check out their website at: http://www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap, certified organic in 2010, offered his 2018 Bergerac White Sec.  Consistently a good quality wine, this is our “go to” white wine.    Olivier and Mireille Roche also offer gîte accommodation at their vineyard for wine tasting holidays!   http://www.chateauletap.fr

Gabriel Grinou from certified organic vineyard Château Grinou generously offered a basket of new wines for tasting.  The team of father and two sons are known for their high quality wines.    I tasted several from the wine basket and found their new and still developing red to be sunny and rich with lots of potential.   http://www.chateaugrinou.com

Farming and wine making are challenging endeavours at the best of times.    We greatly enjoyed the Soirée Vigneronne organized by the Cafe Associatif in Saussignac and wish all the winemakers a successful New Year with their New Wines.

In closing our last post for this year,  we extend best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year!  See you in 2019.

elizabethsvines