Anyone for Rain Dancing in SW France Vineyards?

The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year.   Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.

I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.

There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery.  I call him the Cemetery Cat.

At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.

Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected;  in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area.   The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down.  2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.

The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie?     In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”

Perhaps.

Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes.   In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.

The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.

Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.

Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic.   Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines.  Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit.     Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices.       Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another  consideration.

There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward.   This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.

In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.

So, what to do?

Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing.   Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea.   It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions.   What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year.   It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.

Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed.     Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.

Rain dancing?   Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.

References

Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.

Canadian wine tasting in London, UK: “Amazing!”

“My inbox is full of compliments about the amazing evening of Canadian wines;  the participants loved the event”:  so comments the organizer of a Canadian Wine Tasting event in London in October.

For those who know Canadian wines, this response is not surprising but nevertheless it’s good to hear.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to advise on wines for a Canadian wine tasting at a private function in London. I am happy to support Canadian wine export efforts in even a minor way and so I was delighted to help and have the opportunity to lead this wine tasting event.

First of all, I established my criteria for recommending wines for the tasting:

1,  The wines had to represent Canada as a whole, not just British Columbia or Ontario but coast to coast, which meant including Atlantic Canada.

2.   The wines had to be available in the UK.  No point in presenting wines that couldn’t be accessed locally.

3.    To the extent possible, I wanted to be familiar with the individual wines and wineries.

Meeting these criteria was interesting in itself.    Figuring out which wineries were represented in the UK and by whom took some digging.   Given the peculiarities of interprovincial trade within Canada, identifying suitable wine choices from Atlantic Canada and Ontario involved some risk taking as I didn’t taste my wine recommendations from these two areas in advance.   I relied upon my network to suggest appropriate  Nova Scotia and Ontario wines.   I kept hearing about Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines from Nova Scotia and I knew that Peller Estates in the Niagara Peninsular consistently win awards for their Riesling Ice wine.

Here are the five Canadian wines I recommended and which we tasted together with the name of the UK organization where they can be purchased

We tasted them in the following order:

Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Brut Sparkling Wine 2011.  Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia,   Handcrafted from 100% Chardonnay.   With maritime freshness and soft bubbles, this ‘methode classique’ sparkling wine set the tone for excellence. Regarded by many as the best Sparkling wine in Canada.    benjaminbridge.com.  Available from Friarwood com.

British Columbia

Meyer Family Vineyard Chardonnay 2013   Apples, plums, pears, and other flavours roll into yellow fruit, smoky spices and mineral elements.  Recognized as #2 small winery in Canada in 2017.    We enjoy both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made by this Okanagan Falls winery and are members of their wine club.  I have got to know JAK Meyer, proprietor over the past few years. mfvwines.com  Available from Davy.co.uk and also from Marks and Spenser.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2012.   Certified organic winery produces their flagship red wine from their vineyards in the Similkameen Valley and in Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley.  Old world elegance and new world edge is how they describe their style.    Hand harvested, gently fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.   We visited Clos du Soleil a few years ago and met the founder, Spenser Massie.   We admire their wine making values and the grandeur of the location.   clos du Soleil.ca.  Available from Cellier.co.uk

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Meritage 2012.    This is their Bordeaux style red wine with layers of complexity.  Red and black fruit, sweet spices and chocolate.  We have been visiting Burrowing Owl Winery for many years and also enjoy the hospitality at their on site guest house.   We enjoy the wines, the ambience of the place, and support their efforts for the preservation of the burrowing owl species and conservation of the habitat of this endangered underground nesting bird.  Located in Oliver, Okanagan Valley.  burrowingowlwine.ca.   Available from Drayman.co.uk.   On a weekend in Shropshire, West Midlands we also discovered Burrowing Owl wine in the historic town of Shrewsbury  at Tanners Wine Merchants.  tanners-wines.co.uk

 

Ontario

Peller Estates Winery, Ice Wine Riesling 2013.  Picked at the coldest moment on a winter’s night, each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine.  Smooth, luxurious, honeyed, captivating.  Our hosts provided a generous selection of crackers and cheeses, including blue cheese which enabled me to demonstrate the magical pairing of Ice Wine and blue cheese, and made the point better than any description.  Located at Niagara-on-the-Lake.   peller.com.   Available from Majestic.co.uk.

There are many excellent Canadian wine choices and these wines that I have selected may tempt the wine enthusiast to further exploration.    I also suggest checking out the listed websites for further insights into dynamic Canadian approaches to wine tourism.

It has been a pleasure and privilege to introduce these excellent Canadian wines to a group of wine enthusiasts in London.  The wines speak for themselves and we had fun tasting and chatting about them.   One of the participants was from Nova Scotia and described the beauty of the Gaspereau Valley where Benjamin Bridge is situated.

This is the 60th posting on my blog.  It feels like a milestone to me and somehow appropriate to be writing about Canadian wines because Canada is where I live.

Not bad, eh!

_________

With Thanks:

To Davy Wine Merchants for their assistance in the final sourcing of the wines.

To the Canadian Trade Commission for supplying information about Canadian wine regions for wine tasting participants..

Award winning wines – Decanter World Wine Awards 2017

A large package arrives from Decanter Magazine. 

It’s the ledger of winners of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

In equal measure, I feel interested to see the results and dismayed at the size of the package: 306 pages of dense information.     How to make sense of the results without spending hours and hours reading the ledger word for word?

Going back to basics makes the most sense.  I ask myself: what are the key messages from the wine awards?

Here are my three take-aways from the report

1.

The value placed by Decanter magazine on the consumer benefits of identifying and promoting wine quality,

and,

spotlighting lesser known wines and/or wine regions.

2.

Recognizing the expansion of the wine industry into many more countries and wine regions than I would generally consider.       Literally A to Z  from Albania to Veneto.   I count 68 countries and wine regions in total.  (Countries and wine regions are counted separately, for example: New Zealand is 1 entry and there are 6 French wine regions noted).

Who would have thought a few years ago about wines from new and exciting regions, or “lesser known areas” as Decanter discreetly states, entering these global competitive processes?

This point is exemplified in the list of countries represented in the description of Platinum Best in Show wines.  In the Decanter World Wine Awards, Platinum Best in Show is the highest accolade possible.   All Platinum Best in Category winners from around the world are pitted against each other to win the Platinum Best in Show.   There are 34 wines in this category which triumphed over 17,229 entrants to the competitive process.   Some of the countries these wines are from are:  Moravia (Czech Replublic), Canada, England, Uraguay, Austria, Portugal, Corsica, Luxembourg as well as the usual suspects France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand.

3.

Acknowledging the rich diversity of grape varieties and wine styles around the globe together with the complexity of wine production with issues of sustainability and environmental considerations in an ever changing world.

In this context, the wine industry is an increasingly crowded market place with all that it implies in terms of running a business and succeeding; the risk and reward considerations are daunting.

As I continue reviewing the report, I recognize many wines in the ledger of winners.   One I am particularly delighted to see is the Best Value Cypriot White;  Vouni Panayia, Alina  Xynisteri, from the Paphos region, Cyprus that I wrote about in my most recent post after our visit there in the early Spring this year.

At the end of the day, over dinner, we discuss the report and in general the challenges of making wine and running a Winery.   Clearly, the imperative is to make the highest quality wine possible and this is all good news for the consumer.

Our choice of wine to accompany dinner is new to us:   Painted Rock Estate  Winery from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.   We enjoy one of their acclaimed reds,  a  Merlot:  dark fruit flavours with a touch of spice and chocolate that lingered well on the palate and paired well with a small tenderloin steak with sautéed mushrooms in a red wine and mustard sauce.

The 306 pages of the DWWA 2017 report don’t look so intimidating now and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to discover more about the diversity of award winning wines, wine makers and wine making trends. For me, the real value in this competitive process is the increasing emphasis on and encouragement for high quality wines.

Reference:

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 competitive process together with all tasting notes and related information can be found at http://www.Decanter.com/dwwa

September 2017

Cyprus: Goats, wine and local history

I’ve decided I like goats.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

 

References:

vounipanayiawinery.com

Map of area:

 

Inspired by Chelsea Flower Show, sustained by champagne

I am inspired by the magnificent displays of flowers and plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year in London and sustained by a memorable glass of Louis Roederer Brut champagne.

Not just roses catch my eye but hostas, dahlias, alliums and succulent plants all attract attention.   Thoughts turn to where I can squeeze in another plant in my garden;  what about that Restless Sea hosta?

We spend three plus hours at Chelsea, looking at the model gardens, enquiring about various plants in the Pavillion and admiring the garden sculptures in stone and wood.   Such creativity and talent on display.

We are impressed by the Royal Bank of Canada model garden, inspired by the Boreal forests of northern Canada.   RBC wins a gold again this year.

On a hot afternoon, a visit of several hours is the best way to enjoy Chelsea Flower Show in my view.   In previous years, I have attended for the whole day and my feet have not appreciated my efforts.

In the last half hour before closing, we find our way to the champagne tents where both Louis Roederer and Billecart Salmon champagne are on offer.  I enjoy both and have visited each of these champagne houses in France.  In 2014,   I wrote a series about champagne and associated visits, which are listed in my archives. Here are a couple of photos from the 2014 elizabethsvines archives:

Today, we choose the Louis Roederer Brut.   The classic, dry, biscuity, refreshing flavour with subtle bubbles is just what we need to celebrate another Chelsea visit.   I even forgot to take a photo…

 

 

Cyprus: wild flowers and local markets

Enjoying a morning coffee at our regular coffee bar in the Port area of Paphos is one of our favourite Sunday morning pastimes when in Cyprus.

Needless to say, this is after a good walk along the roughly paved sea walk that surrounds the Paphos Archeological Park.

Buying fruit and vegetables from the friendly stall holders at the Saturday morning Paphos market is another pleasure.

We have been shopping here for years now and there is always a sense of mutual satisfaction when we return:  the same warm, comforting smiles and gestures reciprocated as we recognize each other.   “Ah, you are back/ Ah, you are still here”,  we collectively murmur from the heart.

This year during our visit I pay more attention to the wild flowers increasingly in bloom from February on.  The tall, spikey Asphodels that I see everywhere.   The anemone,  a loner elegant in lilac blue.   The mandrake, purple blue amid shiny leaves,  reminiscent of spooky stories.   The stately giant orchid. Perhaps above all I am drawn to the pink or white almond blossom buzzing with all manner of pollinators.  For me, the sweetly scented flowers are the harbinger of spring.

But what about wine?

Next time, I will write about a Cyprus wine we enjoy that I haven’t mentioned before.

Now back in Vancouver, with a rain-filled charcoal grey sky overhead, its good to bring these memories of Cyprus back to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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St Valentine’s Day celebration

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

St Valentine's choice: Prosecco from Zonin

St Valentine’s Day choice: Prosecco  Zonin.

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

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

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

A rose for St Valentine's

A rose for St Valentine’s

 

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

Minthis Hills Golf Club.  www.minthishills.com