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