Cyprus mosaics – the cultural tradition continues…

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

Mosaics, particularly antique mosaics, always fascinate me.

Here are some reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Accessible Website via Facebook  Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.

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

International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)

http://www.iccm-mosaics.org

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

Lest We Forget: The Fallen of Canada

By chance, I am at Westminster Abbey in London on Saturday, November 9th around noon, meeting some school friends.     We come across all the small cross memorials for the individual fallen service men and women from British, Commonwealth and Allied forces.   We follow the long line of people  and hear many languages spoken softly as everyone quietly absorbs the reality of loss of life and reads the names and messages on the crosses.   In particular, I look for the Fallen of Canada.

An open air service takes place and when it ends, I notice the number of young men and women wearing their service medals.  Overhearing snippets of conversation, I hear people remember their colleagues who died in service and how they will soon go and raise a glass in their honour and memory.

Words feel inadequate.   It’s a solemn and important occasion that touches the heart.

References:  Lest we forget   Phrase used in an 1897 poem by Rudyard Kipling called “Recessional”.

 

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

Exploring London

Walking through Green Park in central London, between Piccadilly and the Mall – think Buckingham Palace – I discover an elegant, powerful yet somber memorial to Canadians and Newfoundlanders who fought alongside their British compatriots in the First and Second World Wars.

I’ve walked through Green Park many times over the years.   For whatever reason I have not discovered this memorial before made of Canadian Shields granite, water and bronze maple leaves.  It radiates a sense of calm underneath a canopy of horse chestnut trees.

The description of the memorial says:

Designed by Canadian sculptor, Pierre Grenache and unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994, this memorial pays tribute to the nearly one million Canadian and Newfoundland men and women who came to the United Kingdom to serve during the First and Second World Wars.  In particular it honours the more than 100,000 brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace and freedom.

The monument, made of polished red granite from the Canadian Shield is inset with bronze maple leaves arranged in a windswept pattern.  Set at an incline.”

A quick catch up on Canadian history explains why the description differentiates between Canadians and Newfoundlanders.   Newfoundland joined the Canadian Federation in 1949, four years after the end of World War 11. As the description also states,  the military forces going to join the two world wars left from the port of Halifax in Newfoundland.

The easiest way to find this monument which hugs the ground, is to locate the Canada Gate, which is marked on London maps showing Green Park.  If you are facing Buckingham Palace, the Canada Gate is on your right towards Piccadilly.   The monument is ahead.

I find this memorial very moving, particularly as we approach the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, centred around the date of invasion, 6 June,  known as D-Day.

Another opportunity to walk through Green Park presents itself when I stand in line outside Buckingham Palace to photograph the formal announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby.    Lots of young people are queuing, excited to be in London outside the gates of the Palace and connecting in some way to Prince Harry and Megan’s baby.  On this particular day, it is a public holiday that day, so schools are out!

We take advantage of this time in London to catch up with some friends for lunch at one of the Côte Restaurants;  known for good value and convenient locations. The one we eat  at being near Trafalgar Square.    Imagine our delight at discovering a Bergerac Region wine on their list!    Needless to say this is what we order and all enjoy.    It is a classic Bergerac white wine blend made from mainly Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon grapes. Both varieties well established in South West France.   The refreshing acidity and citrus flavours makes this aromatic dry wine an excellent pairing with our fish entrée.  Château Laulerie, part of the Vignobles Dubard operation started in 1977, is situated in the Montravel area of the Bergerac Wine Region.  In London, this is competitively priced at an average price of £9 (15.37 C$ or 10.21 Euro).

One of the many things I enjoy about visiting London is the mix of culture,  history, food, wine, and events.   Always something to engage the spirit and imagination.

References:   Chateau Laulerie,   vignoblesdubard.com

Canada Memorial  – Green Park – The Royal Parks  www.royalparks.org.uk

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History and Hospitality: wine and food stories told in silver. Part 1

 

I love a good story, especially one that involves wine!  Who would have thought I would stumble across a story that involves not only wine but Sicily and the British naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson when visiting the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.

It all began as I looked at a silver wine label marked “Bronte”…

This label is part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery.

Silver and enamel wine and sauce labels were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the growing middle class in England when wine was decanted from barrels into glass decanters and the identity of the wine was described by a silver label.    Condiments or sauces for food were also served in glass jars or bottles and similarly labelled.

So what is the connection between this Bronte silver wine label, Sicily and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson?

The latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century was the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815) between Britain and France and involving many other nations in Europe.   It was a time of major land and sea battles, which are still commemorated.

The Napoleonic Wars ended with the great victory of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.   The Napoleonic Wars include the mighty naval battles of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) and Trafalgar under the leadership of Admiral Nelson.     It is the history of Nelson that relates to our Bronte wine label.

As part of the naval battles in the Mediterranean, Nelson protected Naples from the French. At the time, Naples was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of which Ferdinand 1st was King.     In 1799, King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services to his kingdom by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte together with an estate in Bronte, an agricultural area in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Etna.

A famous wine from Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine similar to sherry which became popular in Britain in the 18th century.     This popularity was partly due to the trading activities of the 18th Century importer John Woodhouse and the British Royal Navy, which became a big consumer of Marsala wine.   Vice Admiral Lord Nelson used Marsala as the official wine ration for sailors under his command.   A manuscript exists, dated March 19, 1800, and carrying the signature of the importer John Woodhouse and the Duke of Bronte, Nelson’s Sicilian title, stipulating the supply of 500 barrels, each with a capacity of the equivalent of 500 litres for the fleet stationed in Malta.

After Nelson’s victories, especially at Trafalgar and his death there, Nelson was held in great esteem by the British people for saving Britain from possible invasion. Many landmarks were created in his name, including Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in London.

The British people were keen to taste the wine that had so fortified Nelson and his sailors’ spirits in battle and this added to its popularity.

Back to the wine label marked “Bronte”.     This fine piece of craftsmanship was made in London by the silver makers Reilly and Storer in 1830.  It was just fifteen years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.    The label would have been used on a decanter of Marsala wine, possibly produced on the Bronte estate in Sicily or elsewhere on the Island but called Bronte in recognition of Nelson’s Sicilian title.

The Bronte estate remained in Nelson’s line of descendants, now called Nelson-Hood until 1981 when the last remaining lots of land were sold to the Municipality of Bronte.    There remains a Nelson Museum in the town of Bronte, which is now known for its pistachio nut harvests and the delicacies made from them..

Marsala wine is grown in the region DOC Marsala in Sicily and produced from three white wine varieties.     It is a fortified wine usually containing around 17 % ALC – alcohol by volume.   The ‘in perpetuum’ process used to make the fortified wine is similar to the solera process used for Sherry produced in Jerez, Spain, in which old wines are blended with new wines and the barrels never emptied. Marsala wines are classified on an eight-point scale according to their colour, sweetness and duration of their ageing.      Usually served as an aperitif, Marsala can also be served with a cheese course.     It is often used in cooking and this is how I remember it being used by my Mother.  Dry Marsala is used in savoury cooking. One of the most popular savoury Marsala recipes is chicken Marsala.   Sweet Marsala is used in the preparation of delicious desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.

Every story has an ending.   Our story about the Bronte wine label ends with our visit later that same day to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, about two miles from Alton.

For most of Jane Austen’s ( 1775 – 1817 ) life, Britain was at war with many countries including America, France, Spain, and others, including the Napoleonic Wars.    Many of her books include characters with a naval or army background.   While jokingly hoping to see Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame walk through the garden in Chawton, we did in all seriousness read the stories of Jane Austen’s brothers,  who both rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and were contemporaries and admirers of Admiral Nelson.

 

A fitting end to our visit was to see on display in Jane Austen’s house, the Herculaneum Funerary Dish in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, immortalized for me in that silver Bronte wine label.

 

References:

British National Archives   http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Various websites about Bronte, Italy and the Castello Nelson Museum

Hampshire Cultural Trust and Allen Gallery. http://www.hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/allen-Gallery

Wine Label Circle   http://www.winelabelcircle.org

From Farm and Vineyard to table: Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia offers that mix of Western Canadian history and urban charm itself.   This is why we enjoy our summertime visits there so much.

 

These photos represent all the things we look forward to when visiting Victoria:  browsing and buying books at Munro’s books,  always a highlight of our visits;  sampling delicious chocolates at Roger’s Chocolates, and generally taking in all the small town charm of British Columbia’s capital city.    Each visit, I re-read  the history of the early explorers on the statues around the inner harbour;  quite often there is a seagull perched on Captain James Cook’s head.

On our most recent visit in June we discovered a restaurant new to us:   10 Acre Kitchen, one of three 10 Acre restaurants in downtown Victoria.   This enterprise offers local farm to table imaginative cuisine and serves interesting wine.   A definite recommendation for future visits.

We enjoyed beet salads and Dungeness crab cakes – light and delicious with a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend white wine from Lock and Worth Winery in Penticton, British Columbia; also new to us!

 

I particularly enjoy this Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend.  To me, this is the classic Bordeaux White wine blend that I am familiar with in SW France.   It’s another opportunity to think about the wine related connections between SW France and Western Canada!    What I enjoy about this blend and find very drinkable is that the Semillon gives depth and gravitas to the acidity of the Sauvignon blanc.  At Lock and Worth, the winemakers produce wine that is un-fined and un-filtered so the wine is slightly cloudy.  The winemakers say they make wines without pretense and this approach is behind their plain label bottles   I will definitely plan to visit this winery on a future visit to the Okanagan Valley and taste more of their wines.

It’s always fun to discover new restaurants and wines and incorporate those experiences into familiar venues.    I am looking forward to a return visit already!

References:   10Acres.ca   Group of restaurants, Victoria BC

lockandworth.com.     Lock and Worth Winery, Penticton BC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whisper of history: Château Haut-Brion,Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux,France

It’s mid November, on a cool yet hazy, sunny day when we navigate our way through Pessac on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux to find the entrance gates of Chateau Haut-Brion.   We have a 3.00 p.m. appointment for a visit to the wine estate.

The whisper of history murmurs to us as we enter the Chateau Haut-Brion driveway. Saying nothing, we listen to the echoes of nearly five centuries since wine has been made at Chateau Haut-Brion. Wine has been produced on this land for centuries before that.   Before finding our way to the parking area, we stop and take photos of gnarled vines in their closely planted rows.

The whisper of history tell us that:

In 1533, Jean de Pontac, by purchasing an existing noble house in Haut Brion united it with the vine growing land, leading to the birth of the Chateau Haut-Brion.

In 1660 – 1661, the cellar records of King Charles the Second of England, who was known to be a bon-viveur extraordinaire, note 169 bottles of “ Vin de Hubriono” (sic) are held for guests at the royal table.

In 1663, Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, wrote that he had drunk at the Royal Oak Tavern in London: “…I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan (sic) which had an especially good taste that I had never encountered before. “

In the 17th century, writers were commenting on the nature of the soil in the area of “white sand with gravel” and the particulars of the terroir.

In 1787, the American Ambassador to the French Court, Thomas Jefferson, later the third President of the United States, visited Chateau Haut-Brion.   A wine connoisseur, he also commented on the nature of the gravelly terroir.   In his writings, he identified four great wine houses of the area including Chateau Haut-Brion. In this, he anticipated the identification of Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Margaux in the official classification system of 1855, as Premiers Grands Crus wines of the Gironde. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was reclassified to Premier Grand Cru in 1973 and added to the prestigious list.

Chateau Haut-Brion changed hands several times during the centuries.   There is an apocryphal story about one of the owners in the Pontac family in the 17th Century.     It is said that he lived to over 100 years, an age almost unheard of at that time.   This gentleman attributed his longevity to his daily glass of Chateau Haut-Brion!

The present owners since 1935 are the Dillon family. The current head of the Domaine Dillon is Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is a great grandson of Clarence Dillon, the New York financier and purchaser of the property. Since the purchase, the family has invested significantly in the property through a program of continuous renovation, innovation and improvement both to the historic chateau building and to the winery facilities.

On this particular November afternoon, after ringing the intercom bell at the visitor entrance, our guide, who was informative about the estate and interested in our visit, joins us.   Following an introduction to the past and present owners through the medium of their portraits, we are given a detailed look at the topography of the vineyard and its proximity to the neighbouring estate, also owned by the Dillon family, which is Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion; a story for another time.

During our visit, the wine making process is explained to us. At Haut-Brion, our guide explains, traditional approaches are employed while at the same time using modern and efficient equipment with a program of regular reinvestment and improvement. For any aspiring wine maker, an opportunity to work at Haut Brion would seem a great privilege.   My impression is that wine making at a wine estate with such a historical context would be more a vocation than an occupation.

One of the things that I appreciate at Chateau Haut-Brion is that it has its own cooperage service or barrel maker on site.   Supporting and fostering these artisanal skills such as barrel making in the wine industry is important for their continuation.   This on-site barrel-making workshop is “the fruit of a partnership between Haut-Brion and Séguin Moreau” and has been in place since 1991.

All wine starts with the soil in the vineyards, the selection and management of the vines and the choice of particular varieties for individual parcels of land.     The high standard of care of these vineyards to produce grand cru wines has been consistent over the centuries.

The conclusion of most wine tours is to taste the wines produced on the property and our afternoon at Haut-Brion is no different.   We are guided to the 18th century Orangerie, which was renovated in 2001 and is used as the tasting room.

We are offered the 2011 vintage wines, which our guide tells us, are just being opened now.   Haut-Brion records indicate that 2011 was a very good year for their wine.   It was the driest year registered since 1949. With enough rain in the summer to allow the vines to work their magic, the harvest took place from August 31 to September 27.   All this data and more are recorded by Chateau Haut-Brion and available for review.

The typical blend of grape varieties in the red wine at Haut-Brion is Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Cabernet Franc 15% and Merlot 40%.   These wines are created for laying down and building a cellar for future enjoyment.   The Haut-Brion recommended life of the 2011 vintage is from 2020 to 2035.   In 2017, we are tasting this wine in its teenage years; in the process of ageing and developing its full expression of the terroir and all the wine making expertise that has gone into its production.

Standing in the Orangerie, tasting these magnificent wines and looking out at the garden and the old Chateau itself, has to be a memorable wine moment.   So much so that when I look back, I remember hearing the whisper of history and at the same time, tasting the richness of the red wine, the deep black fruit, the chocolate aromas with developing smoked tones and that sensation of enjoying a beautifully crafted wine.

A December 2017 article in the British weekly magazine, Spectator, written by their wine writer, Bruce Anderson, summed up this sentiment well when he wrote about “wines of a lifetime.”   Coincidentally, in that article he also refers to a Chateau Haut-Brion wine, in that case a 1959 vintage that he enjoyed with a friend.

In preparing to leave, we thank our guide for our visit.

For me, the visit to Chateau Haut-Brion will be up there in my list of chateaux visits of a lifetime.

References:

Chateau Haut Brion:   http://www.haut-brion.com

Note: A point of appellation detail: Chateau Haut-Brion retains its 1855 Premier Grand Cru classification although it is not in the Medoc area.   It is in the Pessac Leognan appellation, which was previously part of the Graves appellation. (See the attached map of Bordeaux and the Neighbouring Regions.)

Spectator magazine: http://www.spectator.co.uk

Cyprus: Goats, wine and local history

I’ve decided I like goats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.

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

 

References:

vounipanayiawinery.com

Map of area:

 

Italy, Lazio Region:War Heroes and Wine

It’s early morning and I am vaguely listening to the CBC news. My concentration is suddenly focused on the announcement of the earthquakes in Italy and the tragic loss of life and destruction of the mediaeval town of Amatrice, north west of Rome.

In my mind, I am visualizing the towns and villages that we saw on our recent trip to Italy and in particular, the area around Cassino, where the famous World War 2 battle of Montecassino took place in 1944.

Our visit was to pay homage to a relative who died at the battle of Montecassino in 1944 and whose final resting place is in the Cassino War  Cemetery.

Cassino War Cemetery

Cassino War Cemetery

Beneath a clear blue sky, crisp lines of cream coloured gravestones softened with plantings of yellow and red roses stop us in our tracks and bring a lump to our throats.   Here lie thousands of young war heroes:  their names, biographical and regimental details etched on the gravestones. Small family groups of visitors, like us, quietly walk around the Cemetary, touching the gravestone of their family relative in silent respect.   An atmosphere of calm and peacefulness pervades this place which lies in the shadow of the Abbey of Montecassino that is situated on a hill top high above the town of Cassino.

We spend the day with Dr. Danila Bracaglia, a local historian and licensed, professional guide.    She is very knowledgeable about the WW2 Italian campaign and we visit relevant areas in the vicinity including the Abbey itself.  We feel as though we are re-living the history as we stand in these places and absorb the surroundings of mountainous terrain, valleys, rocks, trees and plants, rivers and bridges and listen to Danila recount details of the campaign.

The intense day is followed by a restful stay at a small family run hotel in the middle of Cassino.   At dusk, we hear church and Abbey bells ringing out and look up to the Abbey above the town, both completely rebuilt after the war and now very much alive and vibrant.

To regain our equilibrium after our unforgettable pilgrimage, we spend the following day visiting mediaeval towns, including Alatri with the ultimate objective of lunch in Anagni at the Ristorante Del Gallo.

Ristorante del Gallo

Ristorante del Gallo in the 19th century

Fortunately, our reservation at this family run, generations old restaurant, was booked well in advance.  The restaurant is packed with locals for Sunday lunch.  We are the only foreigners having lunch there that day.  It’s just as we prefer it: no other tourists in sight.

The atmosphere is lighthearted, exuberant, loud with laughter, smiles and warm welcomes and chat in broken Italian and English as we are asked and we respond about where we are from.  Vancouver seems a long way away.

We anticipate a good meal accompanied by local wine.  The experience doesn’t disappoint and exceeds our expectations for a memorable occasion.

The piece de resistance, the starter course,  is the specialty of the Lazio region.  It is wheeled out of the kitchen on a waiter’s trolley and taken to each table for examination and appreciation.  Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111, named for a Pope, is a fettuccine based pasta dish enveloped in prosciutto ham.  It is prepared and baked in a mould then served upside down and freestanding.  The Timballo is irresistible with its aromas of cooked cheese, tomatoes, prosciutto.    Inevitably, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs as we enjoy this taste of Lazio, made according to the Ricette TRadizionali.  I have looked at a number of Timballo recipes in Italian and have the general idea of what’s involved.  At some point, I will make a brave attempt at creating this very Italian dish.

Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 is the traditional pasta dish of the area, and Cesanese is the local wine. The grape variety and wine by the same name has its roots deeply planted in this area.     Cesanese is indigenous to the Lazio region with very old origins and may have been used by the Romans in their wine making activities.  Cesanese wine has long been associated with the ancient town and commune of Anagni where we are having lunch.

The bottle of Cesanese Del Piglio DOCG, DOCG being the highest classification of Italian wines, is perfect for the occasion.  The Cesanese grape variety produces a red wine which we found paired perfectly with the regional food:  soft, velvety, light bodied wine yet rich in flavour.  A very drinkable and enjoyable wine.

Sadly, winemaking in the Lazio area is in decline due to the urban sprawl.  We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy Cesanese wine on this visit  as it is not readily available outside the area.

When I attempt to make make the Timballo, I will serve it either with a Sangiovese wine since this grape is widely grown in the area or my preference would be a Montepulciano d’Abrozzo DOCG from nearby on the Adriatic coastal area.  This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape variety.  While each of these wines is generally richer in colour and texture than the Cesanese, I think either would complement the Timballo.

Our time in Cassino visiting the grave of our relative and other war heroes, together with the WW2 sites and the mediaeval towns and villages in the area will always have a special place in our memories.  And, how could we forget the Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 accompanied by Cesanese wine?

Back to the present and our historian, Dr Danila Bracaglia emails me that fortunately her family were not in the area of the Italian earthquakes.   However, they heard and felt them and knew this would mean tragedy for those involved.

Our thoughts are with those affected by the earthquakes and aftershocks.

References:

Dr Danila Bracaglia.  www.montecassinotours.com and http://www.viaromatour.com

Ristorante Del Gallo.     http://www.ristorantedelgallo.it

Lazio region     www,italia.it   There are many websites about Lazio.

 

Portfolio Tasting, London: something new, something remembered

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

Davy's Portfolio Tasting

Davy’s Portfolio Tasting

 

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

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

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

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

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

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

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

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

Fine Wine Collection

Fine Wine Collection

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

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

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

It says it all.

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

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

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

It’s always the people who make the difference.

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

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

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

 

 

References:

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

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

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

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

Chateau Figeac:  www.figeac.com

Chateau Tailhas:  www.tailhas.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

Cyprus: Wine and mythology

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

Aphrodite's sea foam?

Could this be Aphrodite’s sea foam?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Paphos Archeological Park    www.visitpafos.org.cy

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

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

elizabethsvines 2015 through the rear view mirror

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests - Paphos , Cyprus

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests – Paphos , Cyprus

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

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

elizabethsvines

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Okanagan Meyer Family Chardonnay in London

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

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

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

This revelation is met with great interest.

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

Wild Honey ice cream

Wild Honey ice cream with honeycomb crunch and pistachio

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

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

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

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls,

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Warre's 2000 Port

Warre’s 2000 Port

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

December in Cyprus

December in Cyprus

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsangarides Wines

Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines

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

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

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

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

Canapes with sparkling wine cocktails

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

Baking tin for individual soufflés

Baking tin for individual soufflés

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

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

References:

http://www.warre.com

http://www.kleinconstantia.com

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

http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London Lights, Rembrandt and wine

 

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

Christmas Lights, St. James's, London

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

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

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

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

Rembrandt, The Late Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Gallery, London, Rembrandt -The Late Works

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: A First Glance

I am idly glancing at the Cyprus Mail newspaper one day earlier this year and come across an article about English sparkling wines. In a moment of quiet reflection, I realize that I am mainly writing about French, Canadian and Cyprus wines but not paying attention to what is happening with wines in my homeland!  With United Kingdom wines now on my radar, I decide to look for an opportunity to try English and maybe Welsh wines on our next trip to the UK.

Such an opportunity presents itself this spring.   A visit to a favourite place in London, The Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768 and housed at Burlington House in Piccadilly, followed by lunch with a long time friend at their new restaurant, The Keeper’s House, provides the perfect occasion.

An example of exhibitions at the RA - Royal Academy of Arts, London

An example of exhibitions at the RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London

We each have a glass of Chapel Down white wine, a clear, shining white with good acidity and full of apple flavours as befits a wine from the great English apple growing area of South East England.   This Pinot Blanc 2010 was a refreshing complement to our fish lunch.

Subsequent exploration of Chapel Down winery reveals that it is one of the top English wineries.   It won several trophies in the annual wine industry 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition.   This competition is organized by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), and apparently is the only competition in the world judged entirely by Masters of Wine.

Chapel Down Winery - an English winery

Chapel Down Winery – an English winery

The United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) website is a mine of information. In reviewing it, I learn an important definition when considering wines from the United Kingdom.

“English or Welsh Wine is made from fresh grapes grown in England or Wales and produced in UK wineries.   All of the UKVA members grow grapes to produce this type of wine.

British Wine, however, is not the same thing at all.   It is the product of imported grapes or grape concentrate that is made into wine in Britain.   “British” wines are not wines as defined by the EU which specifies that wine can only be the product of fermented freshly crushed grapes.”   (UKVA website)

An important distinction to avoid making an unintentional wine faux pas when either buying or ordering UK wine.

But I digress.

Back to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy.   A conversation with an employee reveals an interesting twist to their menu preparation and wine and food selection.   They not only design their menus to reflect the changing seasons but also in some small way to reflect the essence of Royal Academy exhibitions.    Like most major art galleries, the Royal Academy restaurants take great pride in presenting good value food and wine selections.

The new seasonal menu is being developed and fine-tuned.  Along with the seasonal change in food selections, comes a change in wine offerings which helps showcase different wineries.

The new wine selection includes two wines from Davenport Winery in East Sussex. The Davenport Horsmonden 2013, is a dry white made from a blend of 5 grape varieties.   The wine notes indicate that there are nuances of lemon and nettles;  I can’t wait to taste this!

The selection also includes the Davenport Limney Estate sparking wine produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois.   Davenport is an organic winery and another prizewinner in the 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition with their sparking wine the first organic sparking wine to win a trophy.

Davenport Vineyards - an English winery

Davenport Vineyards – an English winery

The next major Royal Academy exhibition runs from September 27 to December 14, 2014 and features the works of contemporary German artist, Anselm Kiefer who is an Honorary Royal Academician.  Some say his art is rooted in his beginnings: the end of the Second World War and the start of the new era in which we are still living.

Regarded as a colossus of contemporary art, and “one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive” (RA Website/The Guardian), this exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer has all the hallmarks of an intriguing visit.  A post-visit glass of quintessentially English wine will surely encourage a stimulating discussion.

So having had a brief introduction to English wines what about trying some Welsh wine I ask myself?

Our visit to the UK includes a brief visit to Wales and in particular to the wind swept beaches of the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.

What better place to taste some Welsh wine!   We do this at Fairyhill hotel and restaurant located in Reynoldston, Gower.   A review in Moneyweek Magazine/The Guardian recently noted: “for foodies and wine lovers, delightfully informal Fairyhill is a Welsh institution”.

 

Fairyhill is famous for their deep-fried cockle canapés which are served in a small dish in the same way as one would serve peanuts.    These are a favourite of mine not only because they are delicious but also because they remind me of my childhood visits to Wales.    We enjoy the cockles as we decide on a wine to drink with dinner.   To pursue the idea of sampling Welsh wines, we order a bottle of Rosé from Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, a more recent winery whose grapes were first planted in 2006.   A light (11% ALC/VOL) wine with strawberry overtones, this Rosé could be a summer sipping wine.

Ancre Hill Vineyard - Monmouth, Wales

Ancre Hill Vineyard – Monmouth, Wales

Fine Wines Direct UK, who represent Ancre Hill Vineyard, describes the winery as follows:

“The Ancre Hill Estate, which is situated in Monmouth has a unique micro/meso climate, on average it gets a quarter of the rainfall of Cardiff and plenty of sunshine hours to ripen the grapes. With huge plans to farm Bio-dynamically and with plans to build a state of the art winery, this award winning Welsh vineyard continue to grow from strength to strength, with the first vintage of the Pinot Noir now available on allocation.”

As we finish our visit to the UK,  I realize my window on English and Welsh wines has been opened by a couple of inches only.  There is clearly much more to learn and appreciate to get the full view of this industry.

History indicates that vineyards were first established in Britain during the 300 years of Roman occupation.    Organizations such as the Royal Academy of Arts,  Fairyhill and others are providing wine lovers with the opportunity to taste contemporary English and Welsh wines. They are increasingly getting the recognition they deserve.

References:

Royal Academy of Arts  and the Keeper’s House  Restaurant

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Chapel Down Winery   http://www.chapeldown.com

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

Fairyhill, Reynoldston, Swansea

http://www.fairyhill.net

Ancre Hill Vineyard    www.ancrehillestates.co.uk

United Kingdom Vineyard Association  www.ukva.org.uk

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

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

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

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

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d'Or event

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Confrérie organizations

The Confrérie organizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The colourful parade of confréries

The colourful parade of confréries

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

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

The band accompanies the parade

The band accompanies the parade

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

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

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

References:

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

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

http://www.confreries-france.com

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

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

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

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

 

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

Terroir Feely

Terroir Feely

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

Autumn view from Terroir Feely


Autumn view from Terroir Feely

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

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

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

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

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

 

 Bergerac Wine Region

Bergerac Wine Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Map of Cyprus

Map of Cyprus

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

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

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

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

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

Dr. Akis Zambartas

Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The arrival of Spring - Paphos area

The arrival of Spring – Paphos area

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

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

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

 

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

http://www.ted.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Room at Roederer

Tasting Room at Roederer

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Bollinger, Ay, Champagne, France

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

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

Champagne Bollinger

Champagne Bollinger

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

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

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

'007' and Bollinger

‘007’ and Bollinger

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

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

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

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

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

Sublime.

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

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

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

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

Caravans of the grape pickers - Champagne

Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne

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

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

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

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

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

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

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

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

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

Krug premises in Reims

Krug premises in Reims

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

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

Joseph Krug and his famous notebook

Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook

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

Krug - individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

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

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

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

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

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

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

Champagne Krug:    www.krug.com

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

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

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

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Eperney

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Epernay

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

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

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

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

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

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

Reims Cathedral - the west portal with rose window and tympanum

Reims Cathedral – the west portal with rose window and tympanum

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

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

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

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

Bergerac Wine Region, S W France: Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Driving into the courtyard of Chateau Moulin Caresse in Saint Antoine de Breuilh our immediate reaction is to exclaim at the natural charm of the place.   In the attached map below, look at the top left quadrant in green to the west of Ste Foy La Grande to get a sense of the location near Vélines.

 Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

The property is on the right bank of the Dordogne River and is at the eastern end of a large plateau that begins in St. Emilion which is 20 kms away.

The gravel driveway where we enter is surrounded by trees and shrubs on one side, the office and tasting room straight ahead and the long, low building of the chateau is on our right hand side, on the south slope with a view over the expanse of the Dordogne Valley.   It’s a landscape of trees, river, vineyards and orchards.

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

Mme. Sylvie Duffarge, co-owner with her husband Jean-Francois and responsible for the marketing of the wines, greets us and invites us to the tasting room to talk about their wines.   She emphasizes that her husband’s family has been making wine here since 1749 and their sons are now in the business with them.

We contemplate the enormity of the changes that successive generations of this wine making family have faced over the centuries.   In 1749, Louis XV was on the throne in France,  George II in England and the revolutions in America and France were in the future.    Musically, it was the time of Handel and Gainsborough was painting his pastoral portraits of English families.   All this gives us a sense of historical perspective.   Chateau Moulin Caresse is one of many examples of family run businesses in France where successive generations build and evolve the business over time.

Mme. Duffarge expains that Chateau Moulin Caresse makes wine according to the Bergerac and Montravel AOC guidelines.   They make 5 levels of wine:  Cuvée Cépages – young, everyday wines;  Cuvée Magie d’Autonne – wines matured in barrels and can be laid down for 5 – 8 years;  Cuvée Cent Pour 100 – superior wines that can be laid down for 7 – 15 years and Cuvée Coeur de Roche – their grand cru de domaine red wines that can be laid down for 15 – 20 years.   They also make a sparkling wine:  Perles d’Ecume.

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

We tasted most of the wines and focussed more on the Cuvée Cépages and Cuvée Magie d’Autonne.   In the Cuvée Cépages range, we particularly enjoyed the rosé which is Cabernet Sauvignon based.   This is an excellent vin de plaisir (everyday wine) for the summer.   In the Magie d’Autonne range, we very much enjoyed the white.  It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and some Sauvignon Gris, a grape not generally used but Mme. Duffarge advises us that it adds texture to the wine.    The wine is a brilliant crisp pale yellow colour with substance and texture.   The Magie d’Autonne range is made according to the rigorous Montravel AOC guidelines.

The Duffarge family have 52 hectares under vines planted mainly on the plateau which has sandy clay soil with pockets rich in iron deposits.   The soils here can give a minerality to the white wines characteristic of the Montravel AOC wines.  The hillsides or coteaux are clay limestone which is best suited to the Merlot and Cabernet France vines.

A new chai or winery was built two years ago with mainly stainless steel and some cement vats.   The white wine is fermented in oak casks and rolled to stir the lees.   When asked about the use of sulphites, a preservative used in wine making since antiquity, Mme Duffarge mentions that they are using significantly less sulphites than several years ago due to better technology and improved wine making practices.   This was a common message we heard in our visits to Bergerac wine makers.

New Chais,  Chateau Moulin Caresse

New Chai, Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse wines are award winners.   The Cuvée Cent Pour 100 Montravel AOC wine has been a consistent winner of awards including Decanter World Wine Awards.   The Magie d’Autonne Montravel AOC white wine is a well regarded white wine of the region.

For Canadian readers,  Chateau Moulin Caresse Magie d’Autonne 2007 red is available through the Quebec Liquor Stores.

The visit to Chateau Moulin Caresse was particularly interesting as we had little previous contact or knowledge of this corner of the Bergerac wine region.   Meeting Sylvie Duffarge and hearing the family story highlighted for us the ongoing commitment of multi-generational wine making families in this region both to the land and to quality wine making.

Reference:    www.saq.com    Société des alcools du Quebéc (Quebec liquor stores)

http://www.pays-de-bergerac/vins/chateau-moulin-caresse

The Bergerac Wine Region, South West France: An Introduction

Bergerac Wine Region,  SW France

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosé wines:  Bergerac rosé AOC,

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

Dry white wines: Bergerac sec, Montravel AOCs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aquitaine

Aquitaine

References:

History of Bergerac:  www.bergerac-tourisme.com

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

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

View of Bergerac in the distance and local  vineyards

View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards

The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River