Mini-meze and wine: entertaining friends and supporting wine-growers

Entertaining friends, one or two at a time in a responsible social distancing way, is still something we enjoy hosting on the patio.   Offering what I call a mini-meze feels like an easy, no fuss option.

A meze in eastern Mediterranean countries involves quite a few different and delicious dishes.   I prepare an abbreviated version with roasted vegetables, slices of local feta with olive oil drizzled over and chopped herbs, either oregano or fresh basil from the garden, sliced tomatoes and various cheeses including the greek cheese, Kefalotyri. I add some form of protein, sometimes smoked salmon, or as in the photo above, a paté of sardines, anchovies and almonds – quite delicious with toasted black bread or crackers.

A photo of the rapidly growing Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) is included.   The planter is covered to protect it from a neighbourhood cat!

This mini-meze Is served in the context of enjoying a chilled white wine, usually an indigenous Cyprus white grape called Xinisteri, which is similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris – in that continuum of freshness but not too acidic.   As mentioned previously, a favourite of ours is the Zambartas Xynisteri.

I read in a French wine publication that a gloomy autumn, ‘ un automne morose’ is anticipated, in which bad news about the financial health of organizations is starting to become a reality and could affect the whole wine sector including sales for the upcoming festive season.  It’s probably a time to look out for great prices of choice still and sparkling wines.

Offering a mini-meze with wine is one way to continue to support our local/and or favourite winegrowers during these challenging times.

Reference:  Zambartas Wineries. http://www.zambartaswineries.com

Winery visits in the Time of Covid

Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.

The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart.     He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.

This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.

The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.

The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting.     For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past.       Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party.   And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!

Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation.   This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces.  A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing.   Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance.   In France, the social distance is 1 metre.   Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space.   Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.

Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!

I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times.   Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.

Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings.   They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing.   Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.

Website: chateau-lestevenie.com         email: temperley@gmail.com

These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person.   A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.

Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.

Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great.   We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”

Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.

Website: chateaufeely.com      email: caro.feely@chateaufeely.com

‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place.   This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc.   Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants.   This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux.  The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.

Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.

In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.

Food and Wine Pairing: testing and tasting the theory

Tasting the aromatic wines of Riesling and Gewürztraminer with spicy foods in the comfort of home has been a plan for some time.  It’s a follow-up to my wine and food pairing comments in the April elizabethsvines.

Selecting wine for a wine tasting and especially a wine and food pairing is an adventure! Somewhat constrained by availability of choice yet an enjoyable shopping expedition!

It’s fun in the BC Liquor Store checking out the choices and having sidebar conversations with other customers about our individual wine selections!  People are curious about the idea of the food and wine tasting!

Two objectives are at the root of this food and wine pairing: to confirm the pairing of Chardonnay with a rich, creamy food choice and then to evaluate Rieslings and Gewurztraminers with spicy food.   With the aromatic wines, I also want to consider   different wine regions.    The Rieslings and Gewürztraminers  include wines from Alsace and Germany; I also include a British Columbia wine.   For the Chardonnay, I include one from my current go-to local Chardonnay wine maker, Meyer Family Vineyards in B.C.

Here’s the list of wines to be tested and tasted in the order of tasting.

 1. Chardonnay: Meyer Family Vineyards, Chardonnay Okanagan Valley 2017, McLean Creek Road Vineyard, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Canada. 13.5% alc./Vol $28.80

2.Riesling: Schloss Reinhartshausen, Riesling 2017, Rheingau, Germany.   11.5% alc./VOL $23.99

3.  Riesling: Trimbach Riesling 2017, Ribeauville, Alsace. France  12.5% alc./VOL $33.99

4.   Gewürztraminer: Pfaff Gewürztraminer 2016, Pfaffenheim, Alsace, France 13.5% alc./VOL   $21.99                                                                                                                                             

5.  Gewürztraminer: Tinhorn Creek, Gewürztraminer 2018, Oliver,(Golden Mile sub region) B.C. Canada 13.5% alc./VOL $17.88

 

In my April blog, I quote the famous American cook, Julia Child and her advice to be fearless, try new recipes and above all to have fun. I take this to heart in planning this whole food and wine pairing exercise.   Her comments influence my menu selection too.

To accompany the Chardonnay tasting, I make one of my personal recipes of chicken breasts poached in white wine and chicken stock with sautéed shallots.   The sauce is made by adding cream with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the reduced wine and chicken stock broth.   I always slice the chicken breasts when cooked and serve on a heated platter with the sauce poured over the top of the chicken slices. This is a favourite dish, simple to make and always delicious.

The challenge is in choosing a chicken dish that would be spicy and also manageable to prepare and keep warm while the first chicken dish is being enjoyed with the Chardonnay.

After a nostalgic and interesting time reviewing various recipe books in my collection, I rediscover the SoBo Cookbook my husband bought me after a visit some time ago to the SoBo Restaurant in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

To my delight,  I find a recipe that I feel is appropriate: Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce.   The chicken thighs are marinated for 24 hours in a special sauce from the recipe and then the cooked dish is served with a Peanut Sauce also included in the recipe.   This Peanut Sauce is amazing, lasts up to 2 weeks in the fridge and I continue to enjoy it with items like avocado long after the Thai Chicken is finished!     This Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce dish seems to have to right amount of spiciness to taste with the aromatic wines without being “over the top”.   I enjoy making the recipe and encourage checking out The SoBo Cookbook.

Something to cleanse the palate between the two chicken dishes seems like a good idea and a salad is selected as an entremets.   As it turns out, the salad is eaten after the two chicken dishes rather than in between and is perfect  – oh well! one has to go with the flow!

Here’s how the menu lines up:

  1. Sliced, poached chicken breast with cream and white wine sauce. (Personal recipe).

Entremets: Arugula with Parmesan Reggiano Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette, which includes lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, olive oil, mayonnaise, Parmesan Reggiano, salt and pepper.

  1. Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce (The SOBO Cookbook – Recipes from the Tofino Restaurant at the end of the Canadian Road: Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison and photography by Jeremy Koreski, Random House 2014).

Vegetables for both dishes: small roasted potatoes with sea salt and fresh rosemary from the garden, steamed asparagus.

Raspberries and Blueberries with a dash of Grand Marnier and cream.   Lindt Chocolate (90% and Sea Salt)

Manchego Cheese

In terms of process, we taste all the wines first and then taste them again with the food.

The Chardonnay is in a class of its own as it is chosen for the creamy chicken dish.   It is enjoyed for dryness, citrus, biscuity notes and really comes into its own and is very good with the chicken and cream sauce and demonstrates that this grape is well suited to rich and cream based dishes.       The Alsace Gewürztraminer is also enjoyed with this chicken dish.

In the tasting of the four aromatics, the Rheingau Riesling is a stand out with its acidity, floral style and characteristic slightly petrol aroma.   It is the most popular of the aromatics and is very well suited to the Thai Chicken and also with the Manchego cheese.

The Alsace Riesling is less defined than the Rheingau but good with the fine fruit characteristics of pears and apricot.   It is also well suited to the Thai Chicken and the Manchego.

The Alsace Gewürztraminer is considered a versatile wine. The characteristic nose of lychees, violets, mango, slight curry, ginger is delightful. This is also enjoyed with the Thai Chicken and the Manchego cheese.

The B.C. Gewürztraminer from Tinhorn Creek is a bit of a puzzle to begin with as it took some time to open up to its full Gewürztraminer characteristics.     Its honeyed, fruit forward spiciness made it a particularly good selection with the salad.  We also wonder if we could taste a hint of sage brush, as this is a characteristic herb in the area.   This suitability with the salad was quite a revelation as salads are typically difficult to pair with wine but there is enough sweetness in the vinaigrette that it worked.

All the aromatic whites were enjoyed with the fruit salad and chocolate.

In terms of a popular vote for the four aromatics, the German Riesling and the Alsace Gewürztraminer were the most popular and the others two were enjoyed also.

The geographic areas of the wine growing areas is interesting to note and the impact on the individual terroirs, that magical mix of climate, soil, drainage, sunshine, and aspect that makes such a profound difference to the expression of the grapes in difficult locations.

Alsace is in the N E corner of France, in a valley between the Vosges Mountains and the  Rhine River, which is the boundary with Germany.   Alsace was part of the German Empire for a period of time after the Franco Prussian War but returned to France at the end of the First World War in November 1918.   The area is known primarily for Riesling and Gewürztraminer.   The Vosges Mountains cast a rain shadow over the wine growing area which results in low rainfall and a continental climate.  The soils range from sandstone in the foothills to clay rich limestone on the plains.

The Rheingau area of Germany is near Frankfurt.  At 50’N it is at the northern edge of Europe’s wine belt.  The climate is cool and continental and the soil type differs throughout the area so there is great diversity within the region.  Over 80% of the grapes grown are Riesling.

The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is between the Columbia Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, which together protect the valley from both the maritime influence of the Pacific and the frozen Arctic winds.  It has a continental climate and mainly sand and clay glacial soils which are well drained. It is a semi-arid area with some areas experiencing very high temperatures in the summer. The vineyards are typically on the hillside of the valley.  There is great diversity of terroir, especially with respect to mesoclimates represented in 5 subregions:  Black Sage/Osoyoos,  Golden Mile, Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls.  This diversity of terroir results in a wide range of wine styles being produced.

The great diversity in wine growing environments highlights the  skill and knowledge needed by wine makers to maximize the wine growing potential of their individual wine regions.

As a result of the tasting and wine and food pairing, I now feel that I will be more inclined to select either a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer in a restaurant if choosing a spicy meal and it confirms my inclination to choose a Chardonnay to balance a rich creamy sauce as in the example of the Chicken with White Wine Sauce selection.

The benefit of a wine and food tasting event, however small, is that it expands wine tasting horizons and encourages us to be curious and try different wines and foods.   It’s also fun!.

Julia Child would be proud of us!

References:   Alsace and German wine area maps from the WSET course material.

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Lessons in Wine Tourism

Caro Feely walks through the Marche de Noel in Saussignac with her usual friendly and confident air.

We smile and greet each other.  I congratulate Caro on her recent important win in the world of wine tourism.   Chateau Feely, of which she is Co-Proprietor with her husband Sean, is one of the 9 Gold Trophy winners in the first French National Wine Tourism Awards: Trophées de l’Oenotourisme.  Chateau Feely won Gold for the Category: Education and Valorization/Recognition and Valuing the Environment.

This trophy award is significant as it puts the achievements of Caro and Sean at Chateau Feely on the national scene.   With their January 2020 inclusion in the Forbes Travel Magazine list of 5 best places to learn about wine, they are now on the international map.    This is tremendous recognition for their hard work and commitment.

In addition to the sale of their organic and now biodynamic wines, Chateau Feely situated in the village of Saussignac, part of the Bergerac Wine Region, offers the visitor a broad repertoire of activities and events.   Wine and Spirit Education Trust wine courses, the organic/biodynamic learning and education trail through the vineyard, ecologically built holiday accommodation are available.   Wine tours and events such as wine harvesting days, the wine club and recently added yoga lessons taught by Caro, a qualified yoga teacher, round out the vacation experiences.   There are also Caro’s three books providing a personal and entertaining insight into their experiences at Chateau Feely over the years.

I ask Caro if I can take her photo and write about what Chateau Feely has achieved in my blog.   She is happy with both suggestions.

I’ve known Caro since about 2007.   When we first met Caro and Sean, with their two young daughters, they were starting to make their way in the wine world in this beautiful part of SW France with their wine farm on the edge of the small village of Saussignac, about 20 mins from Bergerac.

Sean focuses on the farming side of the enterprise and Caro, with her background in marketing in the world of technology, moved the business forward in terms of visibility.   Her leadership skills of focus, strategic thinking, perseverance, entrepreneurship and commitment to action have all contributed to where they are today.

Saussignac, this small village of about 420 residents, resting in the shadow of the 17th Century Chateau with 12th Century and earlier roots, is very much a part of the local wine community, having its own Saussignac Appellation for a late harvest delicious wine made by various wine makers in the area.

The village of Saussignac plays a leading role in wine tourism in the area and highlights the importance of community engagement and collaboration.   Led by a dynamic group of local people, the village hosts weekly wine tastings on Monday evenings in July and August presented by a different wine chateau each week. The Confrérie du Raison d’Or de Sigoulès organizes weekly walks in the surrounding countryside during July and August.   The village supports periodic Art Shows, theatre and music productions.   A new restaurant in the village, Le 1500, with its welcoming courtyard, offers delicious and interesting meals.   Le 1500 and Chateau Le Tap, an organic winery adjoining Chateau Feely offer excellent accommodation.

The Bergerac Wine Region has seen a steady growth in organic and biodynamic wineries, certified or following organic farming principles.   I have written about several of them in the past: Chateau Le Tap, Chateau Lestevenie, Chateau Court les Muts, Chateau Monestier La Tour, Chateau Grinou, Chateau Hauts de Caillevel, Chateau Moulin Caresse, Chateau Les Plaguettes, Chateau Tour des Gendres, Vignobles des Verdots and Chateau Feely.

So what does wine tourism mean?   In France, it is interpreted to encompass the countryside, heritage, history, culture, wine of course and all the people involved. It’s a broad perspective.

The objective of the Trophées de l’Oenotourisme is to shed light on initiatives taken by these winning wine chateaux and their proprietors, who like everyone in the wine industry, work hard every day to put in place strong and attractive wine tourism offerings to suit the changing demands of clients and to encourage others through these examples.

The opportunity to share wine tourism ideas is particularly important as the market for wine changes due to various issues including a gradual change in consumption, the effects of climate change on the grape varieties grown in wine growing areas and the positive focus on quality not quantity.  It’s a sector under pressure and the sands of the wine industry are shifting.

This first national award scheme of Trophées de l’Oenotourisme for wine tourism is a collaborative initiative of the French wine and lifestyle magazine, Terre de Vins and Atout France, France’s national tourism development agency.

The list of the 9 Gold Trophy winners is noted at the end of this article.   I have looked at the websites of each of the winning chateaux and found that exercise interesting and informative.  In addition to these 9 chateaux, there are many others throughout France pushing the envelope on wine tourism.

When considering how people choose to spend their discretionary money, it is interesting to look at the world of retail.   It appears people are buying fewer ‘things’ and spending their money on experiences.   This seems to be a trend in vacation planning.   As Caro says: “Our clients are looking for more, that extra something, when they go on vacation, and we provide that through our educational and environmental approach”.

We live in an age of increasing stress with the many diverse demands place on individuals and families.   Mental health is a significant workplace safety and wellness consideration for individuals and organizations.   A vacation in the countryside where one can have enjoyable experiences learning about nature, the environment, benefit from exercise, fresh air, good fresh food and excellent wine sounds like a healing proposition.

What are the lessons one can take away from observing what is happening in the world of wine tourism?   These include:

  • Keeping up to date on trends, particularly about the evolution of the mature wine market.
  •  Learning new skills and expanding knowledge of relevant topics
  • Using technology effectively to communicate with potential visitors
  •  Investing time, energy and money (sourcing development funds where possible) to remain current
  •  Adaptability. **
  • Collaboration and networking
  • Community engagement

To benefit from this awards initiative, one way of looking at these Wine Tourism Trophies and their 9 categories is to see them as case studies of success and adaptability.   In this way, they offer value to students and observers of wine tourism. One new idea can have far reaching results.  In an era of change in the wine industry, these learning opportunities take on greater significance.

Congratulations, Caro!

References:

Here’s the list of the 9 Gold Trophy winners:

Les lauréats des premiers Trophées de l’Œnotourisme:

Catégorie Architecture & paysages –Château de Pennautier (11610 Pennautier), 
Catégorie Art & culture – Maison Ackerman (49400 Saumur), 
 Catégorie Initiatives créatives & originalités – Château Vénus (33720 Illats)
, Catégorie Œnotourisme d’affaires & événements privés – Champagne Pannier (02400 Château-Thierry)
, Catégorie Pédagogie & valorisation de l’environnement – Château Feely (24240 Saussignac)
, Catégorie Restauration dans le Vignoble –Château Guiraud (32210 Sauternes)
, Catégorie Séjour à la propriété – Château de Mercuès (46000 Cahors)
, Catégorie Valorisation des appellations & institutions – Cité du Champagne Collet (51160 Aÿ-Champagne)
, Catégorie Le vignoble en famille – La Chablisienne (89800 Chablis). I googled the chateau names to look at the websites.

 

Chateau Feely                                              www.chateaufeely.com

Chateau Le Tap                                           www.chateauletap.fr

Chateau Lestevenie                                               www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Chateau Courts les Muts                           www.court-les-muts.com

Chateau Monestier La Tour                      www.chateaumonestierlatour.com

Chateau Moulin Caresse                          www.moulincaresse.com

Chateau Hauts de Caillevel                      www.chateauleshautsdecaillevel.com

Chateau Tour des Gendres                      www.chateautourdesgendres.com

Vignobles des Verdots                               www.verdots.com

Le 1500                     https://www.le1500.rocks     (restaurant and accommodation)

Terre de Vins   www.terredevins.com

Atout France     www.atout-france.fr

Forbes Travel Magazine                             stories.forbestravelguide.com

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

It’s a small world where wine and art connect: Bergerac wine region

Thinking about small worlds reminds me of the time my late mother met Long John Silver.

Mum had a great sense of fun and enjoyed every moment of this encounter.

It’s 1980 and we’re in Disneyland.   Aside from meeting Long John Silver and other characters, we go on the rides including the one where we all end up singing,  ‘It’s a small, small, small, small world’.

This is the refrain I remember every time I experience a small world story!

A small world story happened this summer, which seems like a long time ago now.    We had the opportunity to attend Masterpiece, the art event held in London in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the same area where the Chelsea Flower Show is held.

We heard about Masterpiece during a serendipitous visit to the Kallos Gallery in Mayfair on the recommendation of a friend, who knows of our interest in the classical history and mosaics of Cyprus.   The Kallos Gallery specializes in classical antiquities and is a supporter of archeological research.

We decide to visit Masterpiece and discover a treasure trove of paintings, antiques, jewellery, sculpture and much more.

We are interested to discover that the watchmaker and jeweller, Chopard, is   sponsoring the educational program at this event.   Interested not only to know that Chopard is supporting the learning and development of knowledge and appreciation of art for collectors at all levels but also to see that this approach is consistent with the ownership philosophy at Château Monestier La Tour in the Dordogne, where the family is engaged in organic wine making.    I wrote about my visit to Château Monestier La Tour earlier this year.  See:

https://elizabethsvines.com/2019/01/31/philosopher-watchmaker-winemaker-chateau-monestier-la-tour-monestier-bergerac-wine-region/

That Disneyland famous refrain about small worlds written by Robert B and Richard M Sherman for Walt Disney in the 1960’s never seems to go out of date!  It gave my mother a great deal of pleasure all those years ago in Disneyland.    I’ll hum the tune the next time I enjoy a glass of wine from Château Monestier La Tour in the Bergerac wine region.

References:

Walt Disney Music Company

Chopard    Chopard.com

Kallos Gallery   kallosgallery.com

Chateau Monestier La Tour, Dordogne, France.
chateaumonestierlatour.com

 

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!

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

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019 …with Champagne!

Chelsea Flower Show!  This show in London is an annual and powerful magnet that attracts gardeners, garden designers and all the associated businesses and artisans.

Great excitement for me as I manage to buy an evening ticket to ‘Chelsea’, having almost given up on the possibility of going this year.  Tickets are like gold dust!    My preferred time slot is 5.30 pm to 8.00 pm, when it is cooler and less crowded around the popular gardens and exhibits.

Once in through the gates, I decide to focus on three gardens as well as the Great Pavilion and to treat myself to a glass of champagne!

First up is the Harmonious Garden of Life designed by French designer, Laurélie de la Salle.  This garden appeals to me for two reasons.  Laurélie uses her knowledge and experience to create environmentally friendly gardens.   Secondly, the gardens she designs are primarily in hot and dry areas where water conservation is important, which in turn influences her choice of plants and garden materials.  One small example is that instead of a traditional lawn, a clove meadow is featured which provides blooms for pollinators and enriches the soil as clover is rich in nitrogen.

Next on my list is the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED)’s garden: Giving Girls in Africa a Space to Grow designed by Jilayne Rickards.  Created on a restricted budget, the garden demonstrates some techniques for gardening sustainability such as inexpensively constructed growing beds.  It particularly highlights the CAMFED focus on helping girls in rural Africa stay in education and teaching them sustainable agricultural techniques to help them and their families thrive.   All the plants grown provide food.  Apart from appreciating the goals of this garden, I really like the energy and vibrancy of the design and colours.

To mix it up a bit I then visit the Great Pavilion to get my Chelsea ‘fix’ of roses, hydrangeas and clematis.    I look at many of the exhibits and am always drawn to these dramatic, mood enhancing displays.   Who can resist walking among the roses:  it feels like walking into a parallel world of different fragrances, colours and textures.

Coming towards the end of my tour of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea this year,  I head to the champagne bar!

Fortnum and Mason of Piccadilly are the official supplier of champagne to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.   I select a glass of their Brut Reserve, made by Louis Roederer, which is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.    Also on offer is the Fortnum and Mason Rosé NV, made by Billecart Salmon, which is again the blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier but this time rosé.   Fortnum and Mason also offer a Blanc de Blancs which is 100% Chardonnay and made by Laurent Hostomme.

Happy with my champagne choice of Brut Reserve, I wander off to join the queue for my last but not least garden choice.

This is the RHS Back to Nature Garden, co-designed by The Duchess of Cambridge and landscape architects Davies White.  The brochure and accompanying plant list states that the objective of this garden is: “to highlight the benefits of the great outdoors on our physical and mental wellbeing and inspire children, families and communities to connect with and enjoy nature – which is core to the charitable work of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society).”

I enjoy the stroll through this compact, choreographed garden.    The use of a winding path through the predominantly green landscape featuring fun places, like the wooden tent, the tree house and the great ball of string swing, provides that magical mix of adventure and calm that would interest the child in us all.

There are so many wonderful exhibits at ‘Chelsea’ and I appreciate all the hard work, time and effort put in by the many exhibitors.  Thousands of people come each day to the show, which is spread over 11 acres (4.45 ha). I am writing about a very small percentage of what can be seen and enjoyed there.

Experience has taught me that less is more when visiting such a magnificent flower show as ‘Chelsea’ and my feet thank me for this approach.   The experience is always enhanced by a glass of champagne!

References:     The Harmonious Garden of Life      Laulérie de la Salle

http://www.laureliedelasalle-paysages.com

CAMFED Giving Girls in Africa a Place to Grow     http://www.camfed.org  www.jilaynerickards.com

RHS Back to Nature Garden  www.davieswhite.co.uk

Fortnum & Mason   http://www.fortnumandmason.com

Royal Horticultural Society.  www.rhs.org.uk

Photographs tell the story: remembering Châteaux and winery visits.

Photographs can be a great distraction:  enjoyable, sometimes surprising and inevitably stacked with memories.   When recently ‘decluttering’ an attic full of memorabilia and photos it was difficult not to be become absorbed in looking  at the old photos.   Subsequently, I looked at my blog photo collection and found myself reminiscing about various Châteaux and wine related visits.   Here are several photos that remind me of those times.

Every photo represents a story to me and I am grateful to many people for making these wine related visits possible.

Happy Spring!   Vancouver is looking beautiful in warm, sunny, springtime weather.    I hope it’s similar wherever you are!

Enjoying Nature, Wine and Walking: holiday ideas in the Bergerac Wine area, SW France

Much is written these days about the benefits of spending time in Nature.   As an example, this year the Duchess of Cambridge’s Nature Garden will be a highlight of the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London (May 21-25, 2019). http://www.rhs.org.uk

What better way to spend time in Nature than to have a wine-tasting and walking holiday in the French countryside, in the Dordogne Valley near the small town of Bergerac?   For time-out from the hurley-burley of city and work life, it would be difficult to find a better refuge for rejuvenating personal and family time.

Within a defined radius around the communities of Saussignac, Monestier, Sigoules and Pomport, all within an easy drive of Bergerac Airport, there are many wineries where a visitor can happily indulge all three interests of Nature, Wine and Walking, or Randonnées as the French call walks in the countryside.

Holidays in the French countryside often involve staying in self-catering Gites often attached to wineries.      I’ve written in my blog about most of the wineries I am going to mention and will highlight the relevant blog posts.   All the wineries offer wine tastings.   In cases where I know the wineries offer accommodation I am mentioning this but not making any recommendations.

Walking maps are available in the villages, usually in the Mairies (Mayor’s office) or on a notice board in public areas.     Another resource is Walking in the Dordogne: Over 30 walks in Southwest France by Janette Norton, available on Amazon.

The Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, an association which supports wine tourism in the area, organizes walks every Monday and Thursday in July and August. These walks always finish with a Vin d’honneur – wine tasting of local wines.   At this time of writing, the Confrérie’s Randonnées program hasn’t yet been finalized for 2019 but will be available on their website: www.confrerieduraisindor.com

Also available from March through November are jazz evenings offered in different wineries.   The next concert will be held April 12 and in June, the jazz evening will be in Pomport. Check out the 2019 Jazz en Chais program:  http://www.jazzpourpre.com

SAUSSIGNAC    (4 km from Monestier and 12 km from Pomport and 12 km from Sigoules,  19.6 km from Bergerac Airport)

Chateau Feely and Chateau Le Tap are adjoining wineries in this village.   Both are organic wineries and both offer Gite accommodation.

Chateau Feely and associated business French Wine Adventures offers wine courses, walks and talks in the vineyard.     Chateau Feely has been listed in the Top 100 wine estates in France, once for education and valorization of ecological practices and a second time for accommodation. Caro and Sean Feely have been pioneers in the area.   www.facebook.com/chateaufeely

Chateau Le Tap wine information and Gite accommodation offered by Olivier and Mireille Roche is available on their website.    Most recently, I mentioned Chateau Le Tap in the December 2018 post, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateauletap.fr

Chateau Court Les Muts is also in Saussignac and offers wine tastings.    We have been to a jazz evening offered in their winery in previous years.     See elizabethsvines archive: December 2017 “Bred in the Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Chateau Court Les Mûts.   Jeweller Annabelle Degroote offers her creative and hand made jewellery on site.   The creative pieces are made from vine tendrils, pearls and stones.   www.court-les-muts.com

Local accommodation is also available at Le 1500, a Chambre d’Hôtes (B&B) and Café offering tapas, lunch and dinner located in the centre of Saussignac village opposite Chateau Saussignac.  Contact Mike or Lee:   saussignac@yahoo.com

MONESTIER

Three wine chateaux and a restaurant come to mind with respect to Monestier.

Chateau Monestier La Tour, which I wrote about in January 2019 with their herbarium and biodynamic agricultural practices.  See my last blog post: “Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Chateau Monestier La Tour, Monestier”.   I recommend phoning to book an appointment for a visit.   www.chateaumonestierlatour.com

Chateau Lestevenie, which I have mentioned several times in various blog posts, most recently in the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne post.   Chateau Lestevenie offer fun pop up dinners in the vineyard during the summer months.   Sue and Humphrey Temperley can show you the variety of beautiful orchids growing on their property.       It’s important to phone and book ahead for the popular (and delicious) pop up dinners.

www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Chateau Grinou – one of the early adopters of organic wine making practices in the area is located between Chateau Lestevenie and Chateau Monestier La Tour.   I have not yet visited the winery but have met the co-proprietor Gabriel Cuisset and sampled their 2018 wine at the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateaugrinou.com

We have enjoyed many lunches at the Relais de Monestier restaurant, located in the centre of Monestier very near to the Chateau Monestier La Tour.     Le Relais de Monestier is on Facebook.

POMPORT

We have visited two wineries in this community, which is between Saussignac and Monbazillac.

Chateau Ladesvignes.       I wrote about this winery in 2013, which seems a long time ago now!     Apart from delicious white wines at this winery, the views from here over the Dordogne Valley looking towards Bergerac town are spectacular.     www.ladesvignes.com

Another nearby location to experience this amazing view is the restaurant near Monbazillac: La Tour des Vents, one star Michelin restaurant and adjoining brasserie. We have enjoyed several meals here over the years.   Important to reserve in advance.   www.tourdesvents.com

Chateau Les Hauts de Cailleval:  see elizabethsvines archive, December 2017 “Living the Dream, Chateau les Hauts de Caillevel.     I have good memories of sitting by a wood burning stove on a cold December day, drinking hot coffee and listening to the proprietor tell his story about wine making.   www.leshautsdecaillevel.com

SIGOULES

In the nearby village of Sigoules, the annual wine fair (Foire aux Vins de Sigoules) has been held here on the third weekend in July for over 40 years.   It’s organized together with the annual gathering of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, which attracts many Confreries from all over France.   The confrerie members officially parade through the village on the Saturday morning in their charming and creative costumes symbolizing the gastronomique culture they represent.     It’s a colourful and happy occasion held in the market square, near the Code-Bar and bistro frequented by many locals.   Le Code Bar, Sigoules is on Facebook.

There’s much more that can be written about the pleasures of this area: its proximity to the city of Bordeaux, the great wine areas of the Medoc and St. Emilion, the nearby route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, the historic sites of the 14th/ 15th Century 100 years war.    There are the many food markets to tempt the visitor with local delicacies and kayaking on the Dordogne River to burn off calories.    The list goes on and on.

My focus here is about the opportunity for tranquility, for relaxing in nature, enjoying excellent local wine presented to the visitors by the wine-makers themselves in most situations and for walking among the vineyards and lanes of this peaceful, rural area; and, without doubt, rejoicing in the experience and having fun.

Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Château Monestier La Tour, Monestier, Bergerac Wine Region, France

In the first few moments of visiting Chateau Monestier La Tour, in Monestier, SW France near the town of Bergerac, I discover that the motto chosen by the proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, is a quotation from Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), the eminent 20th French sculptor.

Rodin said that: “However you use time, time will respect that”.   The exact quotation is: “Ce que l’on fait avec le temps, le temps le respecte”.     In other words, the decision of how to spend time is up to us; time itself is neutral.

I remember seeing Rodin’s great sculpture: “The Thinker”: the seated man with elbow on knee, fist on his chin, deep in thought.   Rodin is still famous for this sculpture, which is often used to represent philosophy.

This quotation and the remembered image sets the tone for the visit.

We can probably all remember our parents saying things like: “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time!” or words to that effect, while we, as teenagers, lollygagged around!

At Chateau Monestier La Tour, one of the ways in which time is figuratively measured is by the illustration of the sundial, or Cadran, over the entrance to the winery office and chai, showing the subdivision of time and the changing of the seasons. This illustrates another aspect of time; the time and patience required for goals and aspirations to manifest once set in motion.    These symbols reflect the career expertise of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele as a watchmaker and Co-President of Chopard, famous Swiss watchmakers.

A way in which time is literally measured at Chateau Monestier La Tour is in the development and execution of short and long-term plans.   A long-term strategic plan relates to the winery restructuring program to be completed by 2025.  This has included the redevelopment of the vat room and barrel cellar, all ‘state-of-the-art’ and designed for quality results, effectiveness and the convenience of the winery employees.

In the shorter term, the quest has been for Chateau Monestier to become certified as an organic farm.   This, after several years’ effort and hard work regenerating the land, the vines, the farming processes and transitioning to an organic framework, has been achieved in 2018 from Ecocert.

When the Scheufele family became owners of Chateau Monestier in 2012 they made the decision to improve the existing domaine and its winemaking and pursue biodynamic viticulture. These improvements included grubbing up some of the plots and replanting vines.

One key initiative has been the planting of a specific garden with herbs to nourish and support the soil and vines.   The herbarium contains drying and storage facilities for the plants as well as to make the tissanes or teas with which to treat the soil and vines.

Stéphane Derenoncourt, consultant and his team, who have biodynamic viticulture expertise, oversee the vineyards and wine making at Chateau Monestier La Tour.  They use this expertise for making the tissanes from the different herbs, which require different temperatures to release their oils.

It’s this focus on using herbs to treat plants and soil as part of the biodynamic agricultural practices at Chateau Monestier La Tour that fascinates me.   The opportunity to see where the plants are dried and the description of their uses is of particular interest. By way of example, I have described below three commonly known plants from the nine listed in the herbarium,  the description of their uses, as well as the description of biodynamic compost.

Dandelion, known as Pissenlit in French (a very descriptive reference to its diuretic qualities) is used to support the vines in resisting diseases by strengthening the cellular structure of the plants.

Nettle, known as Ortie in French, (yes, those nettles that sting aggressively if you brush by them) full of nitrogen and iron is used to stimulate plant growth.   Nettles are used to prevent mildew.

Comfrey, known as Consoude in French, full of potassium and iron is used as an insect repellent.

Biodynamic Compost.  Use of quality compost to fertilize the soil is key to biodynamic agriculture. Composting works with manure from organic farms and is used usually with six specific mineral elements supplied by plants.

As a side bar comment, all this sounds reminiscent of the work of Nicholas Culpeper, (1616 – 1654), botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer.   He was the best-known astrological botanist of his time, pairing plants and diseases with planetary influences.     I was brought up with the idea of acknowledging the power of plants and a copy of “Culpeper” was readily available in our home for reference.

I feel on familiar ground here.

Back to winemaking and the impact of these practices on the wine produced within this regime. These practices are regarded as homeopathy for plants, preventative not curative and the impact takes time so that the wine produced shifts over time as the biodynamic practices create beneficial change.

Five wines are produced using 6 grape varieties in the various blends. Two levels of red blends of Cabernet Franc and Merlot; white wine blend of Sauvignon and Sémillon, a rosé which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the special late harvest wine particular to the area, Saussignac AOC which is a blend of Sémillon, Muscadel and Sauvignon. As a fan of red wines, their grand vin, Chateau Monestier La Tour, Côtes de Bergerac AOC, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, particularly catches my attention.   I immediately appreciate the fine quality of this wine, which is full bodied but not heavy with good structure and with the Cabernet Franc will age well.

I have visited Chateau Monestier La Tour twice now and each time I am conscious of the timeless nature of the place. It feels very grounded. Each time, I have felt a sense of calm and peacefulness here.   I feel this especially in the barrel cellar room, where I can almost feel the wines breathing and in the herbarium with the subtle fragrances of the herbs. The warm welcome from the Administrator at the Chateau is very much appreciated.   I will be returning to look at the herb garden in bloom and thinking about what ideas I can use in our garden!

Chateau Monestier La Tour and the Scheufele family are making a significant values-driven investment in money and time in this small village in the Dordogne.

“A rising tide lifts all boats”.

 

References:   Chateau Monestier La Tour   http://www.chateaumonestierlatour.com     Contact details are on the website to arrange a visit.

Stéphane Derenoncourt Consultant     http://www.dereroncourtconsultants.com

Nicholas Culpeper:   www. famousscientists.org    Copies of his book are available on Amazon

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

Summer Wrap Up -wine, cocktails and crime fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:   Averill Creek winery: averillcreek.ca

Liquidity Winery, Bistro and Gallery, liquiditywines.com

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Cherry Clafoutis Celebration: Vive La France 🇫🇷

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

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

Ingredients

2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted

2 tablespoons of blanched slivered almonds

3 eggs

3/4 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1/2 cup of an all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of milk

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

Powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit

 

Reference

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

 

 

 

Dragons, Pirates and Wine: Château Quintus, Saint Emilion, France

I’ve seen a dragon in Saint Emilion.

Yes, really. I’m not kidding.

It’s about 3.30 p.m. on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in November. We walk uphill into a bosky, oak wood with sunlight filtering through the leaves. The ground is covered in acorns that crunch noisily under our feet in this quiet space.

There before us with wings spread wide is the Quintus Dragon

All two tons of bronze on a stone plinth.

“Why is there a dragon here?” we ask our host, François Capdemourlin, the Estate Manager at Château Quintus.

He tell us that, in mythology, dragons protect treasure or special places.   The proprietors of Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion consider that their 28 hectares of wine growing slopes are special. Hence the protective presence of the dragon, he says.

Commissioned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO, Domaine Clarence Dillon and created by Mark Coreth, a world renowned British sculptor, who specializes in large scale, dynamic animal and wildlife sculptures, the Quintus Dragon is spectacular.

The view from this wine property is also spectacular.   On a clear day such as we enjoy, its possible to see not only famous Saint Emilion chateaux, such as Chateau Angelus before us across the vineyards but also the areas of Pomerol and Fronsac, great wine areas in the distance.

Chateau Quintus is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac Leognan in the Bordeaux Wine Region.   I wrote about Chateau Haut Brion in January: see the Whisper of History.

Chateau Quintus represents a relatively new venture for Domaine Clarence Dillon as it  extends into creating the more merlot-centric wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine area through the acquisition of two existing but separate wine properties.  Merlot, as the predominant variety in Saint Emilion wines, is the grape variety that gives softer tannins to wines.

As we talk about Merlot based wines, we smile as we reminisce about the 2004 film ‘Sideways’ featuring proponents of Merlot and Pinot Noir and wonder how many people remember that film now.

Back at Château Quintus there is an aura of calm efficiency about the property. This is a working vineyard: no wine tourist shop or public tasting area in sight.   This is the norm in the Bordeaux wine area with only a few exceptions.   Visits are by appointment only.   Wine tourism centres for this area are located in the UNESCO heritage town of Saint Emilion.

We tour the new winemaking area in the renovated chai or vat room and then drive to the Chateau business centre in a different area of the property, where there is a small tasting room.   Behind the tasting area, we can look through the glass partition to the wine barrel ageing room where the wine is quietly and patiently ageing.

It’s in this tasting room that our host tells us the story about pirates!

Images of Pirates of the Caribbean and swashbuckling figures come to mind and I can’t wait to hear the tale.

This is what happened. On a diving expedition in the Indian Ocean, off the Island of Mayotte, some years ago, divers found a cache of treasure on the seabed.   In this cache, covered with the debris of years on the ocean bed, was a 19th century wine bottle, still intact. On the neck of the bottle was the raised seal of Chateau Haut Brion engraved on the glass, still visible after all these years. Inspired by this historic find, the wine bottles of Chateau Quintus are especially made in the same 19th century style, in this instance with the raised engraved seal of Chateau Quintus.

I’ve mentioned dragons and pirates, now its time to mention the wine!

Chateau Quintus focuses on red wines and these wines are part of the Saint Emilion appellation.   As mentioned, the grape variety grown is Merlot together with Cabernet Franc.    In terms of wine production, the vintage has been controlled by Chateau Quintus since 2011.

Out of interest, white wines made in the Saint Emilion wine region are characterized as Bordeaux Blanc.

We taste a Chateau Quintus 2014 and their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus 2014.     2014 was a challenging year with a hot Indian summer in the area that saved the vintage after difficult summer conditions.

The Chateau Quintus 2014 is made from 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc.   This is a smooth wine with red fruit and spicy notes.   It is a wine to age and enjoy over the next decade or so.

Le Dragon de Quintus 2014 is made from 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and is a wine with soft tannins and plum notes to fully enjoy now.

It is interesting to hear the Estate Manager talk about vineyard management and the wine making process used at Chateau Quintus as it benefits from the expertise of the teams at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, all part of the Domaine Clarence Dillon organization.

Several examples of this collaboration are discussed:

One example is that the vineyard workers have been specifically trained in the way that Domaine Clarence Dillon prefers to prune the vines.

Another is that Chateau Quintus benefits from the on site cooperage or barrel making service resident at Chateau Haut Brion.

Yet another example is that the staff from the three different chateaux gets together for the wine blending process to determine the percentages of varieties in the year’s vintage.  Team members share their expertise to arrive at the optimum blend. Once the blending has been determined the wine is put in oak barrels for ageing over approximately two years.

I am always interested to know about initiatives that develop talent and skill within an organization and enjoy hearing these examples given by François Capdemourlin, who is clearly enjoying his exciting role managing this integrated wine estate.    Chateau Quintus is a new name in the Saint Emilion wine world, finding its way and supported by the investment of resources from the Domaine Clarence Dillon.  Watch this space, as the pundits say.

We’ve enjoyed an interesting and informative visit to Chateau Quintus and its time to thank the Estate Manager for his time, find our car and drive off towards road D33..

D33 is the main road on the way from Bergerac to Libourne and the city of Bordeaux.   Up high on the right hand side sits the town of Saint Emilion with its vineyards spread over  the hillsides.   We frequently drive that road.

Now I know where the Quintus Dragon lives, in that bosky wood on the hill high above the road. I know where to look when driving by.

Next time, I will raise my hand in a silent salute.

References.

Château Quintus.   http://www.chateau-quintus.com

Mark Coreth:  Check his Facebook page.  There are several websites and galleries including Sladmore Gallery in London and Messums Wiltshire that refer to his work.

Bred-in-the-Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Château Court les Mûts, Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

The Sadoux family, father and son, both called Pierre, are leaders in the wine region of Bergerac.

I’m not just saying that.

They have been elected Vigneron of the Year 2018 in the Guide Hachette, the French guidebook for wines and champagnes.   It’s not the first time they’ve been recognized in this way.

Five generations have been in the wine business including a grandfather/great grandfather who was a ‘tonnelier’, that is a barrel maker or cooper, a key artisanal occupation in the wine industry.

I think of this family background as expertise that is bred-in-the-bone: formal oenology education enhanced by family mentoring.   Similar to an excellent apprenticeship program, it’s probably the best way to learn and achieve mastery in a chosen field.

It’s this mastery that I hear when I listen to both Pierre Sadoux, father and son, describe wine–making approaches at Château Court les Mûts in Razac de Saussignac, Dordogne, SW France.

On a sunny December day with autumn sunshine playing on the vine leaves that are multi-coloured from soft faded green to gold and scarlet, we head off to Château Court les Mûts to meet with Pierre Sadoux fils/son for a tasting of their suite of wines.

We’ve been enjoying their wines for several years now.   I find it interesting to revisit the winery and have a refresher on their range of wines as well as learn more from Pierre about their approach to wine making.

It’s the skill in blending different varieties that is one key to the traditional AOC wines made in the Bergerac Wine Region, as it is in the Bordeaux Wine Region to the west of the area.   Single varietal wines are not produced here.   The blending of the different varieties and the decision making that goes into that process to create a wine is one of the key differentiating factors in wines from different chateaux in the same region.     The wine subtleties arise from the different percentages of individual wine varieties used by different wine makers to make a particular wine type.

It’s a bit like several people making The Best Chocolate Cake but each person changing the mix of ingredients with the result that the individual cakes taste different yet still calling each one The Best Chocolate Cake.

The Sadoux family make a range of seven wine categories: Bergerac Dry White, Bergerac Rose, Bergerac Rouge, Côtes de Bergerac Red, Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux (semi sweet) and Saussignac, a late harvest wine.

We taste our way through the range starting with the dry white and finishing with the Saussignac late harvest.

It’s in the discussion with Pierre of each wine we taste that his wine mastery comes to the fore.   His detailed knowledge of each parcel of land; its history, soil structure including the varying depths of clay and limestone, and suitability for specific grape varieties is expressed with an intensity and concentration that commands attention.   As he is talking, I can see he is seeing each parcel of vines in his mind’s eye, as he tastes the different wines and talks about the different elements that went into creating the particular wine.  I know where the Malbec parcel is that he talks about and walk past it frequently.

Pierre describes the fluctuations in the grape harvest timing and quantities due to weather patterns, topography, rainfall, and all the interventions of nature, which are only some of the challenges facing a wine maker.   He gives one example of the unpredictability of the weather as the April hailstorm damage that could affect one area of a particular parcel of vines but not the whole area.   The hailstorm was devastating for some vine growers throughout the region and because of its time in the growing season, its effect will be felt over several years..

Wine production including the blending of the various varieties permitted under the AOC regulations for the Bergerac Wine Region is a major topic of discussion.

We take our time tasting the range of wines.   I enjoy the crispness of the 2016 Bergerac Sec white wine with 40% Sauvignon Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Good with fish; I also like it as an aperitif wine.   The 2015 Cuvée Annabelle with 30% Semillon, 25% Muscadelle as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris is more of a gastronomique wine suitable with a range of dishes.

In the red wines, anyone who enjoys the Malbec in South American wines will enjoy the Côtes de Bergerac red wine with 40% Merlot, 35% Malbec and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.   Dedicated Malbec fans will really appreciate L’Oracle 2014 which is blended with 60% Malbec, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.   This rich wine with depth and resonance of black fruits, pepper, chocolate and toast will give pleasure for several years.   Pierre tells us he believes his 2014 reds will age particularly well as they have more structure than the 2015 year, which has been heralded as a great year.

As we prepare to leave Château Court les Mûts, I remember to ask Pierre about his spouse Annabelle and the jewelry she makes from specially treated vine stalks decorated with pearls, crystals and various stones. He tells me she will be exhibiting her jewelry at the upcoming Saussignac Christmas Fair.    I have bought several pieces of her unique jewelry already and always receive positive comments when I wear them so a visit to the Marché Noël will be in order.   Annabelle sells her work through different craft fairs across France.

For me, this wine tasting and visit to Château Court les Mûts is about more fully recognizing the breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding of soil, land, terroir, as well as the vine growing and wine making processes that a successful wine maker must have.   That’s not factoring in the marketing know-how that is also required and essential in an increasingly competitive global industry.    It’s a formidable mix of knowledge, skills, temperament and in this case, legacy.

It’s not unusual to find multi-generational wine making families in the Bergerac Wine Region as in any agricultural area.

The expression bred-in-the-bone may be known to some as the title of a book by the late Canadian author Robertson Davies: What’s Bred in the Bone. That’s how I first became aware of it. It is an expression quite widely used by authors and means, “firmly instilled or established as if by heredity. “   It is traced back to a 15th century phrase: “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh”.

References

Château Court les Mûts     http://www.court-les-muts.com

Les Bijoux Caprice de Vigne – Annabelle de Groote. Phone + 06 11 60 66 71

Guide Hachette      www.hachette-vins.com

Anyone for Rain Dancing in SW France Vineyards?

The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year.   Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.

I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.

There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery.  I call him the Cemetery Cat.

At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.

Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected;  in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area.   The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down.  2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.

The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie?     In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”

Perhaps.

Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes.   In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.

The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.

Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.

Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic.   Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines.  Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit.     Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices.       Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another  consideration.

There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward.   This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.

In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.

So, what to do?

Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing.   Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea.   It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions.   What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year.   It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.

Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed.     Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.

Rain dancing?   Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.

References

Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.

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/

“Wines from my blog”: wine tasting at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft, October 2016

The tables are set, the food is prepared and the wine is poured.   All we are waiting for now are the guests.

Wine tasting event 2016

Wine choices – wine tasting event October 2016

Special guests that is; members of The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft Wine Appreciation Group:  30 women who enjoy wine.

In July this year, a friend who is a member of this group asks me to conduct a wine tasting for them, perhaps talking about the Confrérie I belong to in SW France; the Confrérie  du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, which focuses on wines from the Bergerac Wine Region.

A reality check is that hardly any wines from the Bergerac wine region are represented in British Columbia.   This encourages me to refocus the tasting more broadly to present wines from my blog or employing a little lateral thinking, a good facsimile of a wine from my blog.  These become the criteria for deciding on wines for the tasting event.

My challenge in presenting a wine tasting to a discerning group who regularly attend tastings is to make the event interesting.

I decide to start with a chilled Sauternes as an aperitif, to have one other white wine and three red wines of varying intensity to pair with the chosen menu.

The choice of menu created by the chef for the buffet dinner is Mediterranean or Spanish. I select the Spanish style buffet with Catalan fish stew, paella with prawns and chorizo sausage, Spanish omelet and a salad.    This menu offers a variety of flavours to pair with wine.     Perhaps surprisingly, I do not present a Spanish wine.    Although I enjoy Spanish wines,  I have not yet written about a Spanish wine on my blog so they don’t fit my criteria for this event.

The list of wines I presented is below with an explanation of why I chose each wine and how they meet the “Wines from my Blog” criterion.

Dundarave Wine Cellar in West Vancouver was helpful in my selection of most of the specific wines,   Not wanting any unwelcome surprises on the wine tasting evening, I arranged an informal tasting of two of the red wines before the event to make sure I was happy with them and I also tasted the Sauternes and white Bordeaux in advance.

Here are the “Wines from my Blog”.  

  1. Chateau d’Armajan des Ormes, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 2010 Sauternes, France

            14% alc/vol     $32.99 x 375 ml + tax 

 It is common practice in SW France is to drink a chilled late harvest botrytized wine as an apéritif.   Other ways to enjoy this type of wine include:  with pâté, with blue cheese as well as with sweet desserts.

I served this wine chilled as an aperitif to welcome the group to wine tasting event.

I have written several times about the great late harvest wines in the Bergerac wine region, namely, Monbazillac and Saussignac.   I also recently  wrote about  Loupiac, a Bordeaux region late harvest wine.  see “Loupiac AC: a hidden gem”.

Sémillon is the predominant grape used in these wines. It is blended with a small amount of sauvignon Blanc that adds the touch of acidity and the refreshing note.

The aromas include blossom, apricot, honeysuckle, which is the trademark of botrytized wines. The taste of honey and apricot is also very evident.   I found this wine to have sufficient acidity to be fresh in spite of the sweetness.   This particular wine was awarded a gold medal at the Challenge International du Vin in 2013.

 2.   Les Mireilles, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 2011   75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon, France

            12% alc/vol     $21.99 + tax 

White Bordeaux, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc – with almost the opposite  of the percentages in Sauternes – is typically described as “crisp, elegant and fresh”.

I chose this wine with the Catalan Fish Stew in mind.

This wine is regarded as one of the best example of a White Bordeaux  available in British Columbia and compares to the white wines from the Bergerac Wine Region which I written about frequently.

3.  La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, DOC, 2011, Italy

               13% alc/vol         $26.99 + tax     

 I enjoy lighter and medium body red wines and find they pair well with many foods,       including fish.   So to encourage this flexibility and move away from the red wine with meat and white wine with fish approach,  I served two red wines that suit both meat and fish.

The softer Italian wines suit this approach well.   I chose this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as an alternative to the Cesanese red wine we had drunk in Italy earlier this year and which I wrote about in  “War Heroes and Wine”.     Only a small quantity of Cesanese wine is produced and therefore it is not exported.     An alternative was required.   I have tasted Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines before and really enjoyed them.     This grape variety comes from  near the Adriatic coast and is not be confused with the VIno Noble Di Montepulciano from Tuscany.

The Montepulicano d’Abruzzo wine is softly fruity, slightly sweet sour and paired well with many of the foods from the Spanish menu.

4.   McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir, 2014, Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, B.C.  Canada

            13.55 alc/vol     $40.00 incl. tax

 This wine is truly a “wine from my blog” as I have written about the Meyer Family Vineyard wines several times, enjoying them both at home in Canada and also in London, where they  are selling through  Marks and Spencer food stores.  See “From Terroir to Table”.

Pinot Noir is such a flexible wine and I enjoy it with a variety of foods in a lighter palate including fish, chicken, duck etc.   And it can hold its own when paired with our British Columbia Sockeye Salmon.

To quote Vancouver wine writer Anthony Gismondi who has written about the 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir:  “…the nose is a mix of rhubarb and strawberry with a touch of forest floor”.     For those who follow the points system, Gismondi gives the 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 90 points.   The grapes are also grown using organic principles.

The Meyer Family pinot noir is a particularly fine example of Burgundy style wine and is  recognized by Britain’s Decanter wine magazine in April 2016 as one of the best      expressions of Burgundy style wine outside Burgundy.   Praise indeed.

 In the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada, Meyer Family Vineyards was named #5 winery in Canada, #3 in BC and #3 small winery in Canada.

Special thanks to JAK Meyer for donating three bottles of this wine to the tasting event.    

5.  Finca Las Moras Reserva, Tannat 2014, San Juan, Cuyo, Argentina

            14% alc/vol       $16.99 + tax

Lastly, I wanted to present a wine that could stand up to a garlicky, spicy Chorizo sausage in the Paella.    Looking for a dark, feisty wine from SW France, and thinking about a Tannat, Dundarave Wine store suggested this Argentinian expression of this grape variety.     I was first introduced to Tannat wine through a Confrérie visit to Tursan deep in SW France.

Tannat is a red-wine grape variety with origins in the Basque country on the border between France and Spain.   The most famous Tannat wine in France is made in Madiron.     More recently, Tannat has been grown and made into popular wines in both Argentina and Uruguay.     Tannat is typically a rich, intense wine, tannic with jammy blackberry, stewed berries, autumnal aromas and tastes.     The South American expressions are softer in terms of tannins and perhaps more approachable for today’s consumer.

The 2014 vintage, which we taste, was awarded Bronze from Britain’s Decanter World Wine Awards.

By now, the food has been eaten and all the wines tasted.

There has been lots of chat, laughter and good humour among those present.

So what’s the verdict of the Wine Appreciation Group after tasting this range of wines: two whites, three reds, and four countries represented: France, Italy, Canada and Argentina?

I ask them to fill out a feedback survey.

Positive feedback received.   The group enjoyed the chilled Sauternes as an aperitif together with the variety of wines presented and the information about food and wine pairing.

Whew.

I enjoyed myself as well.

I pack up my corkscrews, my wine apron and head home.

(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

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Inspector Bruno’ and the women winemakers of Bergerac

Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets.     He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.

Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.

Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.

While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker.  For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.

Inspector Bruno

Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker

I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne.    After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website.  He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.

‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.

Chateau Feely

Chateau Feely, home of Caro Feely, one of the women wine makers of Bergerac

I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’

A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:

Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International.  He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.

References

Inspector Bruno novels    www.brunochiefofpolice.com

Château K          www.chateau-k.com

Les Hauts de Caillevel     http://www.caillevel.fr

Château La Robertie        www.chateau-larobertie.com

Château Feely       http://www.feelywines.com

Château Le Raz      www.le-raz.com

Château  Moulin Caresse    www.pays-de-bergerac.com

Domaine de Perreau      www.domainedeperreau

TV Series   Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Vine)

 

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

 

 

 

 

Hot off the UK press: Canadian wine and French bubbly

Perusing the newspapers in London on Valentine’s Day weekend, I noticed two recommendations of wines I have written about in elizabethsvines.

Wine recommendations

UK Telegraph Magazine with Hamish Anderson’s wine recommendations

That certainly caught my attention.

Hamish Anderson, a wine writer known for his work as wine buyer for the collection of Tate Museum sites in the UK, publishes his tasting notes in the Food and Drink section of the Telegraph Magazine.

His three wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day included the Meyer Family 2014 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Bollinger Rosé Brut.

I like both these wines and have written about them in previous posts so I am pleased to read Mr Anderson’s comments.

It’s amazing the gems one finds casually glancing through the weekend papers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests

I have been musing for some time about the size of bottle in which wine is sold.   There are more options for buying wine in a wine bar or restaurant: new technology like wine on tap and different size glasses of wine, yet there appear to be fewer options to buy smaller volumes in a wine store.  That appears to be the case in Vancouver at any rate.

If we want to enjoy one or maybe two glasses of wine at home, we are faced with opening a regular sized 750 ml bottle and then trying to keep the remainder fresh for a couple of days, sometimes using tools like the vacuum pump.   Most likely we forget about it and then end up pouring it into my special “left-over-wine-for-cooking” bottle.     I am thinking about checking out the availability of half bottles of wine.

My mental antennae are on alert for smaller bottles when we eat lunch at Chez Alain, a favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch in Issigeac, a medieval village in the Dordogne, SW France.   At five tables around us on this particular Sunday, I count five smaller sized bottles of Chateau Le Tap organic white wine; it’s their Bergerac Sec; a Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend.

Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec

Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec, 750 and 500 ml bottles

We talk to the restaurant staff and they tell us that these 500 ml bottles of Chateau Le Tap wine are popular, particularly for two people having lunch or dinner.     This makes perfect sense to me and I am determined to visit Olivier Roches, the Proprietor at Chateau Le Tap.

Chateau Le Tap, a family run winery in the Bergerac Wine Region, is located at the edge of Saussignac, a small, rural village south of the Dordogne River.   Olivier and his wife Mireille and their children have lived there since 2001.   They are part of a long established winemaking family from the Pécharmant appellation wine making area of the Périgord Poupre.

Château Le Tap

Château Le Tap in its rural setting, Dordogne

After the usual pleasantries and introductory chitchat, I ask Olivier about the 500 ml bottles.   He tells me he sells these mainly to restaurants.   He has been bottling his Bergerac Sec white wine in the 500 ml size for about 10 years.   As he also makes Saussignac appellation late harvest wine, which is mainly sold in 500 ml bottles, he has the capacity to also bottle his Bergerac Sec wine in the same fashion.   He says that while the regular size 750 ml bottle of wine is the norm, there is definitely a market for the smaller size bottles as people increasingly pay attention to their wine drinking habits.

As I am visiting Olivier Roches and his winery, it is interesting to explore Chateau Le Tap wine production in general.   Chateau Le Tap was certified as Bio, an organic producer, in 2007. Echoing the comments of all the wine-makers I have met, Olivier Roches’s focus is always to improve quality.   In pursuit of this goal, this year he is restructuring his vineyards. He tells me his approach to wine making is practical and guided by scientific principles.   He sells his wines mainly in other parts of France and to several Northern European countries as well as to local clients.   Guests at his two well-appointed Gites on the property can also buy wine and enjoy it on their doorstep.

Beyond this Bergerac Sec Blanc that I like with its aromatic, long and fresh taste, I sample other offerings in the Chateau Le Tap suite of wines. Another white wine is the Bergerac Sec Cuvée 3G, named for his three sons/garçons. This 2011 wine is an interesting blend of Sauvignon Gris (10%), Semillon (20%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Muscadelle (30%). The description on the website is silent on the remaining 10% of the blend.   This wine won the Médaille D’Or Concours des Vignerons Indépendants de France 2013 and the Selection Guide Hachette 2014, clear recognition of Olivier Roches’s wine making skills.

Olivier’s top of the line red is the Cuvée JulieJolie named for his daughter.   With 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this has the hallmarks of blackcurrant and cherry, soft tannins and all the subtleties of a good quality wine. Chateau le Tap do not at present market their red wines in smaller bottles.

If my observation of the Chez Alain customer interest in enjoying lunch with a smaller bottle of wine is anything to go by, it seems to me that Chateau le Tap is meeting customer interests at the restaurant with their 500 ml offering of white wine.

As I leave Chateau Le Tap and think about what I have learnt, I remind myself that a book I have just finished reading has further stimulated my interest in smaller bottles.       The story, “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” is the author Sebastian Faulks’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975), the English humourist and prolific writer.   Wodehouse’s books about the funny, fantastic, fictional antics of Bertie Wooster and the famous Jeeves, his Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman, set in pre-World War II English upper class society have amused generations of readers.

The Bertie Wooster character in Sebastian Faulks’s tribute book makes various references to food and particularly wine, including “something chilled and white”, “having a nice half bottle of something from the cellar”, together with references to claret, possibly his preferred wine choice and several references to a half bottle or a “half bot.”   My favourite Bertie W. wine and food description in the book reads like this:

“. the half bot. was a loosely recorked red of a most fruity provenance; the solids included a wedge of veal and ham pie that could have jammed open the west doors of Salisbury Cathedral”.

Salisbury Cathedral, which houses one of the four originals of the 13th century Magna Carta, is in my hometown of Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Salisbury Cathedral, West Front

Salisbury Cathedral, West Front

Being born and bred in Salisbury, my imagination is certainly stimulated by Bertie Wooster’s reference to the wedge of veal and ham pie.

All humour aside, it’s interesting to note that in the fictionalized world of Bertie Wooster in the early 20th century, that a half bottle of wine was commonplace.

To follow up on my earlier thought of checking availability of smaller or half bottles of wine, I set off one morning in Vancouver on a fact finding mission.   Limited in scope, I visit two wine stores. A BC Liquor Store and an independent wine store.     The BC Liquor Store is one of the 195 retail stores in the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Distribution Branch network operated across the Province of British Columbia. The other store is privately owned and operated.

In the BC Liquor Store, I am advised that the few half bottles in stock are displayed near the cash register along with small bottles of spirits and liqueurs. The selection is six red wines from different countries and four whites, including a prosecco.   In the independent wine store, a varied and larger stock of half bottles is prominently arranged together at the front of the shop under a sign indicating Half Bottles, creating an eye catching display.       In discussing these wines with the sales person, who mentions that people buy the half bottles both to limit wine consumption and also to try new wines, we agree that buying half bottles is for drinking fairly soon, as the wine ageing process is accelerated in smaller bottles.

It’s funny how disparate thoughts can pull together. My interest in finding out about the availability of smaller bottles of wine was piqued by our experience at the Restaurant Chez Alain, the work of Olivier Roches at Chateau Le Tap and the humour created by fictional Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, followed by some Vancouver-based fact finding.

Inspired by this information, I’m off to choose a couple of “half bots.”   We’ll see how we get on. I think Bertie Wooster would approve.

 

Reference:

Chez Alain, Issigeac:   See trip advisor.    Phone: +33 5 53 68 06 03

Chateau le Tap:  www.chateauletap.fr

Sebastian Faulks:  www.sebastianfaulks.com

PG Wodehouse:  www.wodehouse.co.uk

Salisbury Cathedral:  www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

For anyone interested in this year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, one of the four originals can be viewed in Salisbury Cathedral:  www.magnacarta800th.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: Chateau Lestevenie: A Wine in Progress tasting

It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne;  cozy coat and sunglasses weather.  A great day to be outdoors!    Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about  a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.

Chateau Lestevenie

Chateau Lestevenie

We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress.    This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process.  These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop.   Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.

For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming.   Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making.  Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.

Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process.  He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science.    It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”

We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100%  Sauvignon Blanc which has  finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast).   It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled.    Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.

Bergerac White in process (before filtering)

Bergerac White (Sauvignon Blanc) in process (before filtering)

An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process.  The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank.  The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.  Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank.  He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency.   It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the white wine fermentation is complete.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the Moelleux white wine fermentation is complete.

Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching.   As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry,  our wine glasses are ready for each tasting.  We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.

The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm.   After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie.   Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards.   Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines.    The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife. 

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and  attracts many visitors.    Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting.    Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.

 Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website.  Her post:  “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.

The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices.    An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet.   About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:

“On the palate:  full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal.   Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol.   Good depth of flavours and body.   Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing.   Conclusion:  Ready to drink with decanting.  Will benefit from further ageing.   Good quality with lots of potential.   Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently.    Very good value.”

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week.  Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.

The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.

References:  Chateau Lestevenie:   wwwchateau-lestevenie.com

Wine Tours:     http://www.BergeracWineTours.com

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 winnin