A case of Serendipity: Victoria International Wine Festival

Completely by chance, we are in Victoria, British Columbia at the time of their annual international wine festival.   This has to be a case of serendipity.

After seeing an advertising banner stretched above a main road into the city,  we decide at the last minute to book tickets.  On another sunny Autumn Victoria afternoon, we head off to explore the wine festival; the first time we have attended this event.     Our first impression is amazement at the large number of people there.   In a city known to attract retirees, it’s fantastic to see so many young people exploring and enjoying the adventures of wine.   It’s clearly party time!

The choice of available wines is extensive although we are surprised not to see more Vancouver Island wines.   We decide to focus on red wines, mainly Canadian with a couple of exceptions – it is an International Wine Festival after all!

Stand out wines for us at the festival are mainly Bordeaux style blends (typically Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec in varying quantities and styles, sometimes referred to as Meritage) and include:  Gold Hill 2015 Meritage (winner of the Lt. Governor Award of Excellence),  Mission Hill Quatrain (for special occasions price-wise), Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin and Sunrock Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the International side, we enjoy an italian Sangiovese, La Mora Morellino di Scansano and particularly enjoyed the spanish rioja, Baron de Ley series, especially Baron de Ley Rioja Maturana, both good valu

What really caught my eye are innovative artisan wine products made in the Okanagan Valley from the wine crush.  Grape seeds and grape skins are dehydrated, ground and added to such products as cheese and sea salt, which are infused with the rich flavours from the wine grapes.  We tasted The Winecrush Gamay Goat Cheese, and the Malbec and Herb Sea Salt:  both are delicious. The Gamay Goat Cheese has been nominated for a Canadian cheese award.   I can imagine serving the Malbec and Herb Sea Salt with quails eggs, as one example.   It’s exciting to see new concepts and value added wine products being made by BC entrepreneurs.

We also discovered a new bistro to try on another visit to the Island:  Artisan Bistro in Broadmead Village, which is on the outskirts of Victoria.

We are big fans of Vancouver Island and the capital city, Victoria with its colourful gardens, cheerful water taxis ferrying people around the harbour communities and interesting local history well described and highlighted throughout the city.   Our chance visit to the Victoria International Wine Festival was an added bonus.

References  :   Winecrush    www.winecrush.ca

Artisan Bistro.  www.artisanbistro.ca

 

 

Summer Wrap Up -wine, cocktails and crime fiction.

It’s a picture perfect, blue sky September day on the West Coast of Canada.

We’re in the ferry line-up returning from the Sunshine Coast to Horseshoe Bay, the ferry terminal on the North Shore of Vancouver. Schools are back and yet the ferries are a two-ferry wait unless you have a reservation, which we do fortunately.

The Sunshine Coast, aptly named for its sunnier climate, is a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. It’s only accessible by ferry, boat or seaplane and is one of those places that support the province’s reputation as Beautiful British Columbia.

We visit friends here who make us Summer Pudding, the iconic late summer dessert with all the polyphenol-rich berries, including blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, and redcurrants.   Summer Delicious!

This summer we have tried two new BC wines: 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada gold medal winner, Averill Creek Pinot Noir from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and Liquidity Winery, Bistro and Gallery Pinot Gris from Okanagan Falls in the Okanagan Valley.     The choice of quality wines in British Columbia continues to expand. I believe there are now 280 wineries in B.C.   Who would have anticipated this 30 years ago?

Back home in Vancouver, we make a new summer cocktail, straight out of Donna Leon’s detective fiction novel: “Earthly Remains” set in Venice. The protagonist, Commissario Guido Brunetti creates a cocktail for his wife Paola from sparkling water, Campari and topped up with Prosecco.   We guess at the respective quantities by trial and error.    The resulting tall drink is definitely a popular and refreshing choice in the hot summer weather.

On the subject of crime fiction, Martin Walker, author of the popular Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police series based in the Dordogne in SW France, was made an honourary member of the Confrérie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules at their annual event in July.  Police Chief Bruno, who enjoys good food and wine while solving local crimes, has a growing following in North America and has featured in my blog posts in the past, as has the Confrérie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules, of which I am delighted to be a member.

Finally, a comment about the Cherry Clafoutis I mentioned in my previous blog.   I made two: we ate one and froze the other. A reader asked me how the frozen one turned out when we finally served it. I am happy to report it was equally as good as the first one, maybe because it was carefully and purposefully thawed at room temperature over a couple of hours.

It’s been a tough late summer in British Columbia due to the number of wildfires. Fortunately,  with the arrival of autumnal weather, lower temperatures and even snow flurries in the north east of the province, the situation is much improved.   However, many people have been affected and our thoughts are with them.   Thanks and appreciation goes to the firefighters here in BC and to those who came from other parts of Canada, Mexico and Australia to help.

References:   Averill Creek winery: averillcreek.ca

Liquidity Winery, Bistro and Gallery, liquiditywines.com

Donna Leon, detective fiction writer of Commissario Brunetti series;    Donnaleon.net

Martin Walker, crime fiction writer of the series, Bruno, Chief of                                   Police.  www.brunochiefofpolice.com   Learn all about Bruno, his favourite music,  history etc.

and search for the following article in http://www.nytimes.com.

 

 

 

 

Xynisteri: Cyprus white wine for sunny days

Xynisteri, an indigenous grape in Cyprus makes one of my all time favourite white wines for the summer.    Refreshing, with lemon/lime, grapefruit and apple notes and balanced on the acidic side with flavours of tropical stone fruits; think mango and also apricots and peaches.  On the nose, there are floral and fruity tones.

It’s a great sipping wine for the patio, yet also perfect in food pairings such as fish, white meat and even salads with fruit.

I have my favourite four producers: their wines are similar yet with nuanced, discernable differences.

Here is the line-up of these four producers including the name of their Xynisteri wine,

Vouni Panayia Winery, Alina Xynisteri.   I  have written about Vouni Panayia before.  They were awarded Decanter Platinum Award as best value Cypriot White wine for their Alina Xynisteri 2016.

Vasilikon winery, Xynisteri

Tsangarides Winery, Xynisteri  – I have written about Tsangarides Winery previously as well.

Kolios Winery, Persephone Xynisteri

I should add that there are other producers of Xynisteri wines who I am not yet familiar with.

Xynisteri is a robust grape variety that grows well at high altitudes.  Xynisteri is the main white grape variety grown in Cyprus.  It is one of the two indigenous grape varieties used in the production of Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet Cypriot dessert wine.    Commandaria’s heritage dates back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.  Xynisteri is also used for the production of the local spirit,  Zivania.

If you are in Cyprus as a visitor, or resident, I suggest you look for these Xynisteri wines on restaurant wine lists and try them all over time and see which you prefer.

This seems like a perfect occupation when enjoying sunny days in Cyprus.

 

References:   Vouni Panayia Winery  www.vounipanayiawinery.com

Vasilikon Winery,   http://www.vasilikon.com

Tsangarides Winery, Xnyisteri.   http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

Kolios Winery, Persephone.    www.kolioswinery.com

 

The Art of Springtime Inspiration: Dinton Folly English Sparkling Wine

 

Whenever I am in London and have a few hours to spare, I do the things I love the most here: walking and looking at art. I am always uplifted and inspired by these experiences.

Yesterday, I walked in Green Park and captured this daffodil laden view of Buckingham Palace.

Daffodils are one of my favourite flowers.  Partly because they are cheerful, yellow harbingers of spring and partly because they bring back my childhood memories of playing in a spring garden at dusk, inhaling their lovely scent.  Seeing them in full bloom in Green Park surfaced all these connections.

For my art fix, I came across a magical small exhibition of mainly pastels with some oils by the Impressionist artist, Degas (18 34- 1917) at the National Gallery.  This collection on loan from Glasgow in Scotland, features Degas’s well-known subjects of ballerinas, racehorses and women attending to their toilette.   If only one could draw or paint movement as he did!

I have also been inspired recently hearing about a new vineyard in Buckinghamshire:  Dinton Wines, which was started in 2013.

Dinton Folly, an English sparkling wine, is the brainchild of retired countryman Laurie Kimber, who planted 15 acres with the classic varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on a south-facing slope with chalky soil and temperate climate.  The neighbours of Mr. Kimber, and his family including his children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren harvest the grapes.    The first harvest was ready in 2016.

Dinton Folly is so named because of its proximity to the ruins of a nearby castle and also refers to the idea of taking on such a challenging project later in life.     Dinton Wines is an inspiring testament to the fact that it’s never too late to start making wine!

Dinton in Buckinghamshire is close to the Chiltern Hills, a famous place for hiking in the English countryside with picturesque villages and friendly pubs!

Grape picking neighbours of Mr Kimber introduced me to this wine recently. I was delighted by the refreshing, dry, balanced, sparkling wine with its appealing lower range alcohol level of 11.5% ALC.

Perfect to enjoy on an English spring day:  Inspirational!

References

Dinton Wines       dintonwines.com

National Gallery:   Nationalgallery.org.uk

Maps courtesy of Dinton Wines and local tourist information.

 

Dragons, Pirates and Wine: Château Quintus, Saint Emilion, France

I’ve seen a dragon in Saint Emilion.

Yes, really. I’m not kidding.

It’s about 3.30 p.m. on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in November. We walk uphill into a bosky, oak wood with sunlight filtering through the leaves. The ground is covered in acorns that crunch noisily under our feet in this quiet space.

There before us with wings spread wide is the Quintus Dragon

All two tons of bronze on a stone plinth.

“Why is there a dragon here?” we ask our host, François Capdemourlin, the Estate Manager at Château Quintus.

He tell us that, in mythology, dragons protect treasure or special places.   The proprietors of Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion consider that their 28 hectares of wine growing slopes are special. Hence the protective presence of the dragon, he says.

Commissioned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO, Domaine Clarence Dillon and created by Mark Coreth, a world renowned British sculptor, who specializes in large scale, dynamic animal and wildlife sculptures, the Quintus Dragon is spectacular.

The view from this wine property is also spectacular.   On a clear day such as we enjoy, its possible to see not only famous Saint Emilion chateaux, such as Chateau Angelus before us across the vineyards but also the areas of Pomerol and Fronsac, great wine areas in the distance.

Chateau Quintus is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac Leognan in the Bordeaux Wine Region.   I wrote about Chateau Haut Brion in January: see the Whisper of History.

Chateau Quintus represents a relatively new venture for Domaine Clarence Dillon as it  extends into creating the more merlot-centric wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine area through the acquisition of two existing but separate wine properties.  Merlot, as the predominant variety in Saint Emilion wines, is the grape variety that gives softer tannins to wines.

As we talk about Merlot based wines, we smile as we reminisce about the 2004 film ‘Sideways’ featuring proponents of Merlot and Pinot Noir and wonder how many people remember that film now.

Back at Château Quintus there is an aura of calm efficiency about the property. This is a working vineyard: no wine tourist shop or public tasting area in sight.   This is the norm in the Bordeaux wine area with only a few exceptions.   Visits are by appointment only.   Wine tourism centres for this area are located in the UNESCO heritage town of Saint Emilion.

We tour the new winemaking area in the renovated chai or vat room and then drive to the Chateau business centre in a different area of the property, where there is a small tasting room.   Behind the tasting area, we can look through the glass partition to the wine barrel ageing room where the wine is quietly and patiently ageing.

It’s in this tasting room that our host tells us the story about pirates!

Images of Pirates of the Caribbean and swashbuckling figures come to mind and I can’t wait to hear the tale.

This is what happened. On a diving expedition in the Indian Ocean, off the Island of Mayotte, some years ago, divers found a cache of treasure on the seabed.   In this cache, covered with the debris of years on the ocean bed, was a 19th century wine bottle, still intact. On the neck of the bottle was the raised seal of Chateau Haut Brion engraved on the glass, still visible after all these years. Inspired by this historic find, the wine bottles of Chateau Quintus are especially made in the same 19th century style, in this instance with the raised engraved seal of Chateau Quintus.

I’ve mentioned dragons and pirates, now its time to mention the wine!

Chateau Quintus focuses on red wines and these wines are part of the Saint Emilion appellation.   As mentioned, the grape variety grown is Merlot together with Cabernet Franc.    In terms of wine production, the vintage has been controlled by Chateau Quintus since 2011.

Out of interest, white wines made in the Saint Emilion wine region are characterized as Bordeaux Blanc.

We taste a Chateau Quintus 2014 and their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus 2014.     2014 was a challenging year with a hot Indian summer in the area that saved the vintage after difficult summer conditions.

The Chateau Quintus 2014 is made from 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc.   This is a smooth wine with red fruit and spicy notes.   It is a wine to age and enjoy over the next decade or so.

Le Dragon de Quintus 2014 is made from 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and is a wine with soft tannins and plum notes to fully enjoy now.

It is interesting to hear the Estate Manager talk about vineyard management and the wine making process used at Chateau Quintus as it benefits from the expertise of the teams at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, all part of the Domaine Clarence Dillon organization.

Several examples of this collaboration are discussed:

One example is that the vineyard workers have been specifically trained in the way that Domaine Clarence Dillon prefers to prune the vines.

Another is that Chateau Quintus benefits from the on site cooperage or barrel making service resident at Chateau Haut Brion.

Yet another example is that the staff from the three different chateaux gets together for the wine blending process to determine the percentages of varieties in the year’s vintage.  Team members share their expertise to arrive at the optimum blend. Once the blending has been determined the wine is put in oak barrels for ageing over approximately two years.

I am always interested to know about initiatives that develop talent and skill within an organization and enjoy hearing these examples given by François Capdemourlin, who is clearly enjoying his exciting role managing this integrated wine estate.    Chateau Quintus is a new name in the Saint Emilion wine world, finding its way and supported by the investment of resources from the Domaine Clarence Dillon.  Watch this space, as the pundits say.

We’ve enjoyed an interesting and informative visit to Chateau Quintus and its time to thank the Estate Manager for his time, find our car and drive off towards road D33..

D33 is the main road on the way from Bergerac to Libourne and the city of Bordeaux.   Up high on the right hand side sits the town of Saint Emilion with its vineyards spread over  the hillsides.   We frequently drive that road.

Now I know where the Quintus Dragon lives, in that bosky wood on the hill high above the road. I know where to look when driving by.

Next time, I will raise my hand in a silent salute.

References.

Château Quintus.   http://www.chateau-quintus.com

Mark Coreth:  Check his Facebook page.  There are several websites and galleries including Sladmore Gallery in London and Messums Wiltshire that refer to his work.

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