St Valentine’s Day celebration

As I walk to the restaurant table at Minthis Hills Golf Club to enjoy a St Valentine’s Day lunch near Paphos in Cyprus, I am already anticipating having a glass of something sparkling.   I know I will be the only one at our table making this choice today, so I am pleased to see on offer a 200ml bottle of Familglia Zonin Prosecco.   This is a good start as I am a fan of small bottles of wine for individual consumption.

St Valentine's choice: Prosecco from Zonin

St Valentine’s Day choice: Prosecco  Zonin.

While I await the arrival of the flute glass and the mini bottle, I remind myself that I am quite cautious about Prosecco in general as I have experienced some overly sweet examples in the past.   Also, I have to admit to not being familiar with the Famiglia Zonin wines.

All reservations are set aside as I taste this dry, slightly almondy, fresh sparkling wine.   It was exactly what I was looking for to celebrate St Valentine’s Day.  Sparkling wines are so versatile with food selections that  I continue to drink this with my meal of ravioli filled with halloumi cheese, ground almonds and walnuts served with a mint pesto sauce.  An interesting menu selection which captures my eye and translates into a successful food and wine pairing.

St Valentine’s Day belated best wishes to the readers of elizabethsvines.

A rose for St Valentine's

A rose for St Valentine’s

 

Reference:   Casa Vinicola Zonin SPA –   Zonin Wines     zoninprosecco.com

Minthis Hills Golf Club.  www.minthishills.com

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

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

Wine tasting event 2016

Wine choices – wine tasting event October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the “Wines from my Blog”.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            12% alc/vol     $21.99 + tax 

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

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

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

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

               13% alc/vol         $26.99 + tax     

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

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

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

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

            13.55 alc/vol     $40.00 incl. tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            14% alc/vol       $16.99 + tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ask them to fill out a feedback survey.

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

Whew.

I enjoyed myself as well.

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

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.

 

Wine and perfume: olfactory cousins

 

We are sitting in a rooftop restaurant in Rome, enjoying a glass of Prosecco while we read the dinner menu in a leisurely manner and enjoy the view.

Rooftop view of Rome

Evening rooftop view of Rome

Our reverie is interrupted when we observe the people at the next table reject the bottle of wine they have just ordered. I haven’t seen this too many times and I am intrigued by what occurred. Was it the aroma or the taste of the wine that was not to their liking or both? I don’t want to add to their dining drama by asking what happened, so the reason will remain a mystery as far as we are concerned.

The scene runs through my head and I think about an amusing article I read recently by British wine writer Matthew Jukes about Viognier and the reactions his readers described of their past experience of tasting this type of wine. Aromas and taste experiences ranged from: “bubble-bath, loo spray, tinned fruit salad, plug-in air freshener or pick’n’ mix”.  I wonder if our dining neighbours experienced these or similarly disagreeable aromas when their eagerly awaited bottle of wine arrived. Matthew Jukes tells his readers that his recommendations of Viognier will not result in these unpalatable conclusions but rather lead them on an exotic and rewarding odyssey. I feel reassured.

About the same time that I noted Mr Jukes’ comments, I read an article in the Style section of Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper about perfume entitled:  Message in a bottle, in which writer Nathalie Atkinson describes how perfume evokes memories. I have made similar comments previously about how wine evokes memories and past experiences for me. It seems the perfumes we wear and the aromas of wine we drink must be olfactory cousins.

In her article, Ms Atkinson refers to the work of psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Rachel Herz who says: ” Emotion is a central and fundamental feature of odour perception, odour learning and odour memory.” Dr Herz explains that the sense of smell is intrinsic to the most important dimensions of our lives.

Ms Atkinson also describes situations in which individuals have commissioned perfumes to replicate those worn by dead loved ones. The resulting perfume builds a bridge to a past memory. A very poignant reference is made to French actress, Catherine Deneuve who commissioned a perfume similar to that worn by her sister who died at an early age. This perfume became her personal bridge to her late sister.

In an airline duty free shopping magazine, a scent guide provided by an industry expert refers to the following perfume characteristics: floral, oriental, woodsy, aromatic and fresh.

Inflight magazine scent guide

Inflight magazine scent guide

The Wine and Spirit Educational Trust (WSET), refers to aroma characteristics of wine using similar language: fruit, floral, spice, vegetal, oak, other.

These similarities further emphasize this familial relationship between perfume and the aromas of wine. No wonder people are asked not to wear perfume to wine tastings.

Refining one’s sense of smell and developing a ‘nose’ to fully appreciate perfume and wine takes years of training and practise.

I am continuing my apprenticeship.

 

References:

Matthew Jukes, wine writer.   http://www.MatthewJukes.com

Globe and Mail   http://www.globeandmail.com

Nathalie Atkinson, journalist     http://www.nathalieatkinson.com

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)   http://www.wsetglobal.com

Dr Rachel Herz, neuroscientist,     http://www.rachelherz.com

 

 

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