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

Wine walks and tastings in the Dordogne, SW France with the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules

Stop Press!

Do you have vacation plans in the Dordogne this summer?   If you have your sun hat, comfortable walking shoes and a bottle or two of water, then the above agenda of walks in the Dordogne has your name on it!

Each summer, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès organizes walks through the bee-buzzing, bird-singing rolling countryside of the Dordogne, always ending with a wine tasting.  The starting point is the village of Sigoulès.

Other local opportunities to enjoy casual, friendly wine tasting events take place each Monday evening in the nearby village of Saussignac.   Apéro Vigneron offers wine tasting and al fresco food in the village main square.

These are memorable vacation opportunities to meet local wine makers and taste their selections of Bergerac Region wines in casual, village environments, far from work-a-day city crowds.

Enjoy!

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.

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/

(Video) Celebrating French culture, wine and food in SW France #2

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(VIDEO) Celebrating French culture, wine and food in SW France

Driving down the winding road under a sunny blue sky towards Sigoulès, a village in SW France, I see in the distance coloured paper decorations stretched over the road at the village entrance and the large sign SIGOULES in yellow and gold letters.

 

 

It’s mid-summer and early in the morning. I parallel park in the field-cum-parking lot and feel the festive mood in the air as I walk over to the large central village square. People are up and about getting the place ready for the annual Wine Fair, including the gathering of the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Stallholders are setting out their wares for sale: wines, olive oils, lavender oils and soaps, food items and all manner of regional products. They are anticipating the bustling crowds of visitors who will come over the weekend to celebrate and enjoy the local wine and food culture of the area.

I meet Joanna Urwin, a local film-maker who has generously offered to make a video of the festivities and we discuss “photo-opps”, where she can best position herself to film public events and where I will talk about Confréries and their activities.

Confréries have their origins in the guilds of the Middle Ages.  Today, they are an integral part of local tourism, economic development and cultural initiatives supporting regional products.   They were recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as an intangible cultural heritage; an aspect of the “Gastronomic meal of the French.”   Confréries also encourage the discovery of regions through such initiatives as well-attended music concerts and popular guided walks in the areas. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès also provides a bursary to a student engaged in wine studies, thus helping to support the education of the next generation of wine professionals.

Confréries operate in a reciprocal manner and members visit other confrérie events across France and in other areas of Europe.   This is representative of their value of conviviality and social connection.   Members of 45 other Confréries,  both in France and as far away as Belgium attend the event in Sigoulès.

The attached video, created by Joanna Urwin of VideoProFrance, provides an insight into this local Foire aux Vins and the annual public celebration of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in SW France.

 

References:    To see video:

https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-wine-and-food/

UNESCO:  List of Intangible Cultural Heritage  2010   http://www.unesco.org

Conseil Français des Confréries,  www.conseil-francais-des-confreries.com

Monbazillac wine: Chateau Cluzeau.   http://www.chateaucluzeau.com

Joanna Urwin, http://www.videoprofrance.com

Welcome

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