Where does the time go? I have been writing Elizabethsvines since 2012 and have now written 100 posts! A big Thank You to everyone who has ever read my blogs and encouraged me in this endeavour! I appreciate the support!
In particular, I would like to dedicate this post to my wine friend and mentor, CC, who is bravely recovering from a stroke earlier this year. Bon Courage et Bon Rétablissement!
Here follows a selection of photos from blog post # 01 to #100!
Now starting the next 100 posts! More wine stories and pairings to come!
Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.
Floral love art by the Heartman, West 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.
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
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.
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.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
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.
‘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.
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.
Hedonism Wines, London
Hedonism Wines, London
The large format wine bottles really attract my attention!
Hedonism Wines: Nebuchadnezzar of Château Palmer 2010.
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.
Large format wine bottles
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.
Jeroboam of Merlot 2014, Burrowing Owl Winery, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
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
The tables are set, the food is prepared and the wine is poured. All we are waiting for now are the guests.
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”.
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.
I enjoyed myself as well.
I pack up my corkscrews, my wine apron and head home.
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.
Part of the Bordeaux wine region showing Loupiac AC near Cadillac
Loupiac AC is one of the grouping of Graves and Sweet Bordeaux wines including vins liquoreux in the 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.
Foie gras with apple
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.
Clos Jean 1995
Domaine de Noble 2015
Domaine des Pins de Pitcha 2005
Clos Jean 2011
Ch Loupiac Gaudiet 2013
Loupiac AC Vin Liquoreux
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.
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
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
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
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.