History and Hospitality: wine and food stories told in silver. Part 1

 

I love a good story, especially one that involves wine!  Who would have thought I would stumble across a story that involves not only wine but Sicily and the British naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson when visiting the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.

It all began as I looked at a silver wine label marked “Bronte”…

This label is part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery.

Silver and enamel wine and sauce labels were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the growing middle class in England when wine was decanted from barrels into glass decanters and the identity of the wine was described by a silver label.    Condiments or sauces for food were also served in glass jars or bottles and similarly labelled.

So what is the connection between this Bronte silver wine label, Sicily and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson?

The latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century was the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815) between Britain and France and involving many other nations in Europe.   It was a time of major land and sea battles, which are still commemorated.

The Napoleonic Wars ended with the great victory of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.   The Napoleonic Wars include the mighty naval battles of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) and Trafalgar under the leadership of Admiral Nelson.     It is the history of Nelson that relates to our Bronte wine label.

As part of the naval battles in the Mediterranean, Nelson protected Naples from the French. At the time, Naples was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of which Ferdinand 1st was King.     In 1799, King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services to his kingdom by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte together with an estate in Bronte, an agricultural area in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Etna.

A famous wine from Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine similar to sherry which became popular in Britain in the 18th century.     This popularity was partly due to the trading activities of the 18th Century importer John Woodhouse and the British Royal Navy, which became a big consumer of Marsala wine.   Vice Admiral Lord Nelson used Marsala as the official wine ration for sailors under his command.   A manuscript exists, dated March 19, 1800, and carrying the signature of the importer John Woodhouse and the Duke of Bronte, Nelson’s Sicilian title, stipulating the supply of 500 barrels, each with a capacity of the equivalent of 500 litres for the fleet stationed in Malta.

After Nelson’s victories, especially at Trafalgar and his death there, Nelson was held in great esteem by the British people for saving Britain from possible invasion. Many landmarks were created in his name, including Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in London.

The British people were keen to taste the wine that had so fortified Nelson and his sailors’ spirits in battle and this added to its popularity.

Back to the wine label marked “Bronte”.     This fine piece of craftsmanship was made in London by the silver makers Reilly and Storer in 1830.  It was just fifteen years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.    The label would have been used on a decanter of Marsala wine, possibly produced on the Bronte estate in Sicily or elsewhere on the Island but called Bronte in recognition of Nelson’s Sicilian title.

The Bronte estate remained in Nelson’s line of descendants, now called Nelson-Hood until 1981 when the last remaining lots of land were sold to the Municipality of Bronte.    There remains a Nelson Museum in the town of Bronte, which is now known for its pistachio nut harvests and the delicacies made from them..

Marsala wine is grown in the region DOC Marsala in Sicily and produced from three white wine varieties.     It is a fortified wine usually containing around 17 % ALC – alcohol by volume.   The ‘in perpetuum’ process used to make the fortified wine is similar to the solera process used for Sherry produced in Jerez, Spain, in which old wines are blended with new wines and the barrels never emptied. Marsala wines are classified on an eight-point scale according to their colour, sweetness and duration of their ageing.      Usually served as an aperitif, Marsala can also be served with a cheese course.     It is often used in cooking and this is how I remember it being used by my Mother.  Dry Marsala is used in savoury cooking. One of the most popular savoury Marsala recipes is chicken Marsala.   Sweet Marsala is used in the preparation of delicious desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.

Every story has an ending.   Our story about the Bronte wine label ends with our visit later that same day to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, about two miles from Alton.

For most of Jane Austen’s ( 1775 – 1817 ) life, Britain was at war with many countries including America, France, Spain, and others, including the Napoleonic Wars.    Many of her books include characters with a naval or army background.   While jokingly hoping to see Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame walk through the garden in Chawton, we did in all seriousness read the stories of Jane Austen’s brothers,  who both rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and were contemporaries and admirers of Admiral Nelson.

 

A fitting end to our visit was to see on display in Jane Austen’s house, the Herculaneum Funerary Dish in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, immortalized for me in that silver Bronte wine label.

 

References:

British National Archives   http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Various websites about Bronte, Italy and the Castello Nelson Museum

Hampshire Cultural Trust and Allen Gallery. http://www.hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/allen-Gallery

Wine Label Circle   http://www.winelabelcircle.org

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.