In an uncertain world, I like to remember that February has long been the month to celebrate romance and love.
Heart branch on beach in Vancouver
Since the Middle Ages and more particularly since Victorian times, St Valentine, Cupid and Aphrodite have been celebrated with romantic cards and images of hearts; like this wooden heart made by the Heart Man and placed on the beach in Vancouver.
Not only do we celebrate love and romance with hearts, roses and chocolates but also with champagne!
This year we celebrated with a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Champagne. This is in keeping with my interest in smaller bottles with high quality wines. Billecart-Salmon is a small champagne house started in the 1880s, is still run by the family in Mareuil sur Ay and has a devoted following among champagne aficionados. One quote is that…“Billecart Salmon is perhaps the best representative of a Champagne house that has chosen finesse over brute strength.”
We discovered Billecart-Salmon on a wine tour of the Champagne region in 2013. Here are two photos from that visit including the line up of champagne bottles we sampled during a tasting.
Chateau Billecart-Salmon, Mareuil-sur-Ay
Billetcart-Salmon champagne tasting 2013
here is our half bottle (375ml) of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne 12.0%alc./vol.
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.
Illustrations of Mosaics made by Sharen
Sharen Taylor with her mosaics
Sharen making us coffee in her studio
Sharen Taylor in her studio demonstrating how to cut tesserae
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.
The Lemba cult bowl and figurines on which Sharen conducted conservation work. On display at the Cyprus Archaeological Museum, Nicosia
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 explains the historical analysis she conducted of the Roman wine harvest mosaics at the House of Dionysius, Paphos Archeological Park.
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)
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.
Nea Pafos Archeological Site, Paphos
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…
Mosaic made by children aged 7-11 years for the opening of the new Centre in Paphos.
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)
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.
Memorial for the Fallen of Canada, Westminster Abbey grounds, 2019
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.
Westminster Abbey 2019
Westminster Abbey 2019
Westminster Abbey 2019
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”.
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.
Goats grazing in Cyprus
“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.
Award winning Xynisteri white wine from Vouni Winery
Xynisteri wine from Vouni Winery in Panayia
Barba Yiannis from Maratheftiko grapes
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
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.
Archbishop Macharios, first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus, outside the Macharios Museum, Panayia.
The doorway into the courtyard and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios
Archbishop Macharios’ childhood home in Panayia, Cyprus
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
Inside the Macharios family home
The door opening into the animal barn: childhood home of President Macharios.
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.
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.
Frosinone Province, Lazio showing Cassino and Anagni
Modern town of Cassino
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
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.
Cassino Cemetery graves
Canadian war graves
Canadian war graves, 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 view from the Abbey
Abbey of Montecassino from the Gari River
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.
Abbey of Montecassino
The Abbey from the town of Cassino
Across the street, our hotel in Cassino
The Abbey from our hotel
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 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.
Cesanese wine from Lazio
Cesanese Del Piglio
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.
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.