John Keats’ (1795-1821) hauntingly beautiful description of ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ in his poem celebrating autumn come to mind as I look across the Dordogne valley in SW France on a chilly November morning.
Autumn mists over the Dordogne Valley
On this day, the mists over the Dordogne Valley are celebrated at the same time as the roses are blooming at the end of lines of vines at Chateau Court les Muts. Roses are planted near vines as an early warning signal of mildew: if the roses have mildew then it’s likely the vines will too. These roses look very healthy!
Red roses at the edge of the vineyard
This beautiful imagery of roses and vines with their striking and complimentary colours are part of the inspiration for this silver and enamel decanter wine label made to celebrate Saussignac and its wines of the area. It was created by English silversmith and enameller, Jane Short, MBE.
Silver and Enamel Saussignac label by Jane Short MBE
Silver and enamel wine label by Jane Short MBE
Saussignac Appellation d’origine Controlée (AOC) is one of the 13 AOCs of the Bergerac wine region and one of the six sweet white Bergerac wines including Côtés de Bergerac White, Côtés de Montravel, Haut Montravel, Monbazillac, Rosette and Saussignac.
Saussignac AOC is a liquoreux wine that can be served young or kept for many years. The grapes, Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle are harvested late when they are partially dried and this gives the wine its sweetness.
For wine and food pairing, it can either be served chilled as an aperitif or with foie gras or later in the meal with blue cheese like Saint Agur or Roquefort. That juxtaposition of sweet and salt is always delicious, or it can be served with a dessert.
The Saussignac wine in this decanter is from Chateau Monestier La Tour, 2013. The Chateau advises drinking this 2013 wine, which has been barrel aged, from 2019 through to 2025.
Saussignac is a little known AOC, often overshadowed by Monbazillac wines, or by Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. However, Saussignac wine has its own remarkable merits and is a recommended choice for the festive season.
When a story hooks you, you go deeper…at least I do with topics like wine, history, geography… This post is another look at the wines listed for sale by Mr. Christie in 1822, as illustrated by these beautiful enamel labels, which would have adorned decanters to identify and serve the wines.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
This is my second post about this intriguing Mr. Christie sale advertisement, which put me on the path of discovery. That is, discovering more about the wines listed for sale nearly two hundred years ago.
In my last post, the focus was on Frontiniac, Sack, Calcavella.
This post is about Malaga, Cape, Paquaret/Pacaret and Lisbon wines. These wine names are beautifully illustrated in this photo-collage of enamel labels that are in the collection of enamel expert, Dr Richard Wells. Richard kindly put together this grouping to reflect the wines from the cellar of Mrs. D’Oyly and I greatly appreciate his generosity in doing so.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
Several of these label names, like Malaga, Cape and Lisbon are generic in nature for the particular geographic regions.
Malaga, for example, is the term that was applied generically to any variety of heavy sweet, usually red fortified wines that originated in the Malaga area in southern Spain, including certain kosher wines served at Jewish celebrations. Spanish Malaga is made from Muscat grapes, and from a variety known as Pedro-Ximenez and these grapes are usually sun-dried to concentrate sweetness. Vineyards are in the Malaga Mountain Range and in the Ronda Mountain Range. These are liqueur wines with a fairly high sugar content.
This area with its Mediterranean climate is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, since the arrival of Phoenicians almost 3,000 years ago.
Its not surprising that Mrs. D’Oyly’s 19th century cellar contained Malaga wines as they were at their greatest quality around that time before the phylloxera louse so badly affected vineyards in Europe.
Dr Wells tells me that the Malaga enamel wine label is French from the second half of the 18th Century.
Pacaret, Paquaret (also spelled as Paxarete)
This is another Spanish dessert wine. It’s a wine of the deep south of Spain, like Sherry, from the Andalusia area. It was made in different styles, both dry and sweet and was also made from the Pedra Ximenez grape.
A note of interest: in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sherry was known in England as Sack and this is described in my last post.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Pacaret was generally considered to be a “ladies” wine, and suited to the American custom of drinking wines mainly after dinner.
Pacaret is listed in Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Wine Cellar list of 1787 and he continued to order Spanish wine, including Pacaret after he became the third President of the United States in 1801.
The Paquaret enamel label is English from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
The Pacaret enamel label is French from the same period.
Wine growing area around Lisbon: Carcavelos (previously Carcavella), Colares and Bucelas
The reference to Lisbon on the auction sale poster refers to the historic Denominaçâo de Origem Controlada, (DOC) wine region west of Lisbon, or Estremadura as it used to be known, and can include wines such as Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas. This area was known for fortified wine production; off dry topaz coloured wines that have nutty aromas and flavours. The grape varieties appear to have been Arinto and Ramisco. When fortified, using distilled grape spirit, the wines were world renowned in the 19th Century. Again, it’s not surprising that these wines would have been in Mrs. D’Oyly’s cellar. While similar to Port, these wines are not Port, which is only produced in the Douro river valley area and according to present law is only shipped from Oporto.
The manner in which wine names change over time is worth noting and the name of Carcavelos is a good example. Wine labels from the 18th and 19th centuries would be made for Calcavallo or Calcavello wine, which is the older name for Carcavellhos or Carcavelos wine as it is presently called. The change was to move away from Spanish spelling, which was a hold over from the Spanish occupation of what is now Portugal in the 17th century.
In a letter dated May 26, 1819, Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1801 – 1809), wrote to his wine agent in Marseilles referring to sweet wines including Frontignan from France and Calcavallo from Portugal. He clearly appreciated wine and designated both wine and friendship as a, “True restorative cordial”.
Another quote from Thomas Jefferson about Calcavella wine is in my previous post.
Moving to the 21st century, the name for the wine area around Lisbon was changed in 2009 from Estremadura to Lisboa VR (Vinho Regional), again to focus on the Portuguese language.
In the modern era, the wine areas of Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas have been affected by real estate development in the suburbs of Lisbon and the coastal town of Estoril. There is apparently some interest and activity in reviving the historic legacy and indigenous grapes of the area. We will wait and see.
The Lisbon enamel label in the photo collage is English, again from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Many people will have visited these areas of southern Spain and the Lisbon area of Portugal and not necessarily known anything about the 19th century history of these wine areas. I’ve flown into Malaga and driven up the coastal mountain highway to Ronda, little knowing this history. I stayed in the area 20 years ago and did some early morning runs as I prepared for the BC Arthritis Society Marathon in Hawaii!
Similarly, as a child my family spent many holidays in the Portuguese coastal areas of Cascais and Estoril at a time when Cascais was still a fishing village and the area was on the cusp of real estate development. Little could I imagine then that years later I would be commenting on the wine history of the areas in the context of a George 1V era sale of Lisbon wines!
Cape: this is the generic term for the geographic area around Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
The Cape wine producing area.
A noteworthy three-century viticulture tradition exists in the area originating when the Dutch arrived and South Africa became an important staging post for both Holland and England for trade with the East.
At the end of 1654, the first cuttings of vines arrived at the Cape from Holland and were probably young vines from the Rhineland. Wine was pressed for the first time in 1659. In 1688, French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and extended the vineyards and improved the quality of the wine. By 1711, South African wines were becoming known and travellers spoke of the ‘world famous Constantia wines”, which were sweet wines. In 1805, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain took possession of the Cape. Around the time that Mrs. D’Oyly’s wine cellar was developed probably from the late 1700s on, the export of Cape wine to Great Britain flourished.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Constantia Valley was known for its legendary dessert wines. These were the halcyon days of these wines, which were fortified for overseas patrons in order to survive the long voyage and generally unfortified for local consumption. The original grape varieties were probably Muscat, Pontac and maybe Chenin Blanc.
The Groot Constantia winery dates from 1685 and has a museum section on their website, which provides the chronology of their history.
These Cape wines took on a fame of their own as they were mentioned in at least two books that we might know. In Jane Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility, Cape wine was mentioned as a cure for a broken heart! Charles Dickens referred to it as a way to lift a character’s spirit in The Mystery of Edward Drood. Were they writing from experience? Perhaps tips worth noting!
The next post in this series about the Mr. Christie 1822 wine auction poster will be to share some history of Mrs. D’Oyly, whose generous wine cellar prompted these discoveries.
References: Alexis Lichine’s Encylopaedia of Wines and Spirits and various references.
Last month, the fascinating poster for the sale of choice old wines on February 7, 1822, together with the images of the Cyprus enamel labels sparked interest.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Dr Richard Wells, my collaborator in identifying enamel wine labels, has kindly created this montage of labels from his collection, that represent the wines listed on the sale poster.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
Most of the wines represented by these labels, with the exception of Rum, are no longer consumed or popular, as they once were, so it’s interesting to know a bit more about them. Apart from knowing more about the wines, the shapes and designs of the individual labels are really worth further examination for the colours, the floral motifs and in some cases grapes! and the shapes: beautiful craftsmanship from another era.
All these wines were sweetish, a style of wine popular in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Some of the labels and the wines are described below, more will be noted in the next blog.
Frontiniac label: this is an English late 18th/early 19th century enamel label. Frontiniac is a sweet muscadine wine made in Frontignac, France. A reference to this wine in a collection of old plays refers to Frontiniac in this way: ” One more Frontiniac and then a walk”. With difficulty perhaps!
Sack label: this is an English late 18th /early 19th century enamel label. Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands. Most Sack was predominantly sweet. Sack is commonly but not quite correctly quoted as an old synonym for sherry. In modern terms, typical sack may have resembled cheaper versions of medium Oloroso sherry. As a literary reference, William Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff, introduced in 1597, was fond of sack, and the Falstaff character said, “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack”.
Calcavella label: this is probably an English label, again late 18th/early 19th century and unusually made from Mother of Pearl. Calcavella is a Portuguese sweet wine that was noted in a wine sale in 1769. Calcavella was noticed by Thomas Jefferson ( 1743 – 1826 and 3rd US President) when he was the US Ambassador to France from 1784 – 1789, right at the time of the French Revolution. Later on, he would order Calcavella several times while living in the United States. When writing about wine, Thomas Jefferson said, ” I would prefer good Lisbon; next to that Sherry, next to that Calcavallo: but still a good quality of the latter would be preferable to an indifferent quality of the former”.
The remaining labels will be commented on in my next blog, together with an insight into the life and times of Mrs. D’Oyly, the widow highlighted in the sale poster and the late owner of these wines.
More to come…
Reference: Dr. Richard Wells www.drrwells.com
Various references to the wines and to Thomas Jefferson.
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.
Bronte silver wine label, made by Reilly and Storer, London, 1830
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.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
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.
Bronte community in the shadow of Mount Etna, Sicily
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.
Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, Hampshire
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.
The Herculaneum Funerary Dish which commemorates the death of Vice Admiral Horatio 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.
I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people. Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.
Davy’s Portfolio Tasting
I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established. A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later. Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature. I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years. Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.
So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team. It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London. 31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.
It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.
I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France. Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.
I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.
Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany
Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it. I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014. There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas. At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine. Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto. Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.
As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW. I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.
Fine Wine Collection
The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.
I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion. Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.
When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.
It says it all.
When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.
On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot. What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm. I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château. In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors. That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.
Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.
It’s always the people who make the difference.
Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence some time in advance. I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.
All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.
Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people. It’s a time machine in a bottle.