Fine Wine has always, in my mind, been connected to Fine Art.
It’s partly what I mean when I write that, for me, wine opens the door to other interests; culture, food, art etc.
Along these lines it’s interesting to see wineries make this connection when they commission artists to design paper labels for their wine bottles.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild is a perfect example of this creative practice. They started commissioning artists to design labels in 1924 – nearly a century ago – and Jean Carlu, a graphic designer who made an enormous contribution to commercial art, was the first artist to have this honour.
After a pause before and during the Second World War, Chateau Mouton Rothschild re-ignited this approach and have commissioned an artist designed label every year since 1945.
A few of the impressive list of artists commissioned by Chateau Mouton Rothschild since 1945 include Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Dali, as well as Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, now King Charles 111. The complete list of artists with illustrations is published on the Ch. Mouton Rothschild website.
The most recent artist to work with the Chateau is the acclaimed figurative artist, Peter Doig. Peter Doig is a ‘man of many nations’ (Christie’s). He was born in Edinburgh in 1959, moved to Trinidad as a baby, yet he grew up mostly in Canada. He studied in London, England. He lives between Trinidad, London and New York. His paintings now sell for double digit multi, multi million £ prices.
In his label painting for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2020 vintage Pauillac first growth wine, Peter Doig uses the vineyard as the setting to celebrate the work of the people involved in making wine before it is bottled.
I really applaud this twinning of wine and art by Chateau Mouton Rothschild and I am on the hunt to find a bottle of the 2020 vintage Pauillac and see this painting on the label in real time!
John Keats’ (1795-1821) hauntingly beautiful description of ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ in his poem celebrating autumn come to mind as I look across the Dordogne valley in SW France on a chilly November morning.
Autumn mists over the Dordogne Valley
On this day, the mists over the Dordogne Valley are celebrated at the same time as the roses are blooming at the end of lines of vines at Chateau Court les Muts. Roses are planted near vines as an early warning signal of mildew: if the roses have mildew then it’s likely the vines will too. These roses look very healthy!
Red roses at the edge of the vineyard
This beautiful imagery of roses and vines with their striking and complimentary colours are part of the inspiration for this silver and enamel decanter wine label made to celebrate Saussignac and its wines of the area. It was created by English silversmith and enameller, Jane Short, MBE.
Silver and Enamel Saussignac label by Jane Short MBE
Silver and enamel wine label by Jane Short MBE
Saussignac Appellation d’origine Controlée (AOC) is one of the 13 AOCs of the Bergerac wine region and one of the six sweet white Bergerac wines including Côtés de Bergerac White, Côtés de Montravel, Haut Montravel, Monbazillac, Rosette and Saussignac.
Saussignac AOC is a liquoreux wine that can be served young or kept for many years. The grapes, Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle are harvested late when they are partially dried and this gives the wine its sweetness.
For wine and food pairing, it can either be served chilled as an aperitif or with foie gras or later in the meal with blue cheese like Saint Agur or Roquefort. That juxtaposition of sweet and salt is always delicious, or it can be served with a dessert.
The Saussignac wine in this decanter is from Chateau Monestier La Tour, 2013. The Chateau advises drinking this 2013 wine, which has been barrel aged, from 2019 through to 2025.
Saussignac is a little known AOC, often overshadowed by Monbazillac wines, or by Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. However, Saussignac wine has its own remarkable merits and is a recommended choice for the festive season.
Looking at trends is key to effective marketing. Being aware of wine trends is no exception.
Recently a few articles have appeared about low or lower alcohol wines as consumers consider their alcohol intake for all sorts of health and safety related reasons.
This trend leads me to consider the importance of the label on all bottles of wine, which must identify the alcohol percentage by volume of the wine, described as …%alc./vol. or sometimes …%vol.
Interestingly, most articles giving advice on wine don’t give the % alc./vol. of wine they write about. I too have neglected to do this in the past!!
The range of % alc./vol values in different wines is surprising.
I did a quick check on the wines in my “cellar” and purposefully selected wines with less than 14% alc./vol., which is quite a common figure for many red wines, in particular.
7 wines with lower alcoholic values
The 7 wines in the photo demonstrate an alcohol range from 10.5 % to 13.5% alc./vol The scale of difference is worth considering as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at 13.5% alc./vol. is 28% more alcoholic than the Riesling at 10.5% alc./vol.
The alcohol level in wines is not a static measure and will vary year by year as a factor of the terroir where the vines are grown: influenced by weather, sunlight, soil, latitude, altitude, vineyard management etc. Alcohol production in wine is a natural fermentation process of the interaction of yeasts on the sugar in the must (pressed grapes and often stalks) producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The greater the sugar the higher the alcohol.
In general terms what this can translate to, if choosing wines with a lower alcoholic value, is choosing wines from cooler climates.
White wines from Northern Europe will likely have less alcoholic content: consider a Riesling from Germany, a Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy or a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, the Bordeaux area or British Columbia. Champagne is always a good choice for a lower alcoholic wine!
Red wines from Burgundy like a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais are not only generally lower in alcohol but they are also a good flexible choice to pair with a number of dishes. Pinot Noir from British Columbia also fits the bill.
The list below itemizes the 7 wines in the photo and their alcoholic levels, for illustrative purposes only.
Toni Jost: Bacharacher Riesling, 2016 Kabinett Feinherb, MittelRhein, Germany
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon
Lock and Worth Winery, 2019, Poplar Grove, Naramata, BC.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Reims, France
Beaujolais – Village 2016, Joseph Drouin, Beaune, Burgundy, France
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve, 2020, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Black Hills Estate Winery, 2017
Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Valley 2018, Maclean Creek Rd Vineyard, Okanagan Falls, B.C.
I’m not advocating only drinking wines lower than 14%. Many of the beautiful Bordeaux wines that I wrote about in the last couple of blog posts as well as other wines I enjoy are in that range.
I am advocating carefully checking the bottle labels to be better informed about the wines we select.
Last month, the fascinating poster for the sale of choice old wines on February 7, 1822, together with the images of the Cyprus enamel labels sparked interest.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Dr Richard Wells, my collaborator in identifying enamel wine labels, has kindly created this montage of labels from his collection, that represent the wines listed on the sale poster.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
Most of the wines represented by these labels, with the exception of Rum, are no longer consumed or popular, as they once were, so it’s interesting to know a bit more about them. Apart from knowing more about the wines, the shapes and designs of the individual labels are really worth further examination for the colours, the floral motifs and in some cases grapes! and the shapes: beautiful craftsmanship from another era.
All these wines were sweetish, a style of wine popular in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Some of the labels and the wines are described below, more will be noted in the next blog.
Frontiniac label: this is an English late 18th/early 19th century enamel label. Frontiniac is a sweet muscadine wine made in Frontignac, France. A reference to this wine in a collection of old plays refers to Frontiniac in this way: ” One more Frontiniac and then a walk”. With difficulty perhaps!
Sack label: this is an English late 18th /early 19th century enamel label. Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands. Most Sack was predominantly sweet. Sack is commonly but not quite correctly quoted as an old synonym for sherry. In modern terms, typical sack may have resembled cheaper versions of medium Oloroso sherry. As a literary reference, William Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff, introduced in 1597, was fond of sack, and the Falstaff character said, “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack”.
Calcavella label: this is probably an English label, again late 18th/early 19th century and unusually made from Mother of Pearl. Calcavella is a Portuguese sweet wine that was noted in a wine sale in 1769. Calcavella was noticed by Thomas Jefferson ( 1743 – 1826 and 3rd US President) when he was the US Ambassador to France from 1784 – 1789, right at the time of the French Revolution. Later on, he would order Calcavella several times while living in the United States. When writing about wine, Thomas Jefferson said, ” I would prefer good Lisbon; next to that Sherry, next to that Calcavallo: but still a good quality of the latter would be preferable to an indifferent quality of the former”.
The remaining labels will be commented on in my next blog, together with an insight into the life and times of Mrs. D’Oyly, the widow highlighted in the sale poster and the late owner of these wines.
More to come…
Reference: Dr. Richard Wells www.drrwells.com
Various references to the wines and to Thomas Jefferson.
Last month’s blog featuring the beautiful 18th Century Cyprus enamel wine labels generated more fascinating information. It is so interesting when wine intersects with social history!
18th Century enamel wine label of Cyprus wine, Commandaria
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Dr. Richard Wells, whose labels I included in my last post, kindly forwarded a photograph of this La Comenderie enamel label from his collection. This is a late 18th Century English label, made possibly for the French market or to use the French translation of the word. This label demonstrates how broadly the Cyprus fortified wine Commanderia was exported over the centuries and in this case in the late 1700’s.
Following the publication of my last blog post, a friend kindly sent me a photo of this fascinating poster that they have had for many years, of a wine auction to be held on Thursday, February 7th, 1822 to be conducted by Mr. Christie in Pall Mall, London. Yes! 199 years ago next week! Careful review of the list of, “excellent and well-flavoured Old Port” to be auctioned, identifies Cyprus among the 125 dozens to be sold, even though Commanderia isn’t technically a Port, but a fortified wine. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sold in Pint quantities, as that was the measure for wine at the time. A pint is 0.5 litres. The decanters used to serve these wines in the 19th Century would have been much smaller than those made today.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Port was a very popular drink. This was influenced by the Treaty of Methuen in 1703, which was a military and commercial agreement between Portugal and England, resulting in the import of various wines from Portugal including several listed on the auction poster, for example: Madeira, Lisbon, Calcavella.
During this period, Port became known as a drink with medicinal virtues, in particular for gout. Presumably, similar fortified wine was swept up in this popularity and Cyprus’s Commanderia wine benefitted from this fashion.
It was common at the time to drink these wines heavily every day and people became known as a ‘Three Bottle Man’ or a ‘Four Bottle Man’. A bottle contained 350 millilitres. Therefore, a Three Bottle Man drank slightly less than 2 pints of Port a day, or just over 1 litre in today’s terms.
An example of a Three Bottle Man in British history is William Pitt the Younger, who was the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783. He suffered from poor health and to address this problem, his physician recommended that he drink three bottles of Port a day!
Commanderia has been recognized as a popular wine since mediaeval times. Today, sadly,the market for Cyprus’ Commandaria wine has diminished, whereas Port continues to be widely enjoyed, even if far less than in the days of Three Bottle Men!
The beautiful La Comenderie enamel label together with the intriguing wine auction poster provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.
References: Thanks to Dr. R. Wells, drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels
With thanks to Suekatunda for permission to include the photo of the Christie’s poster.
These beautiful late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wine illustrate that the wine industry has a long and elegant history.
Late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wines, courtesy of Dr. R Wells
The four enamel labels most likely are for Commandaria wine, which is a Cyprus sweet dessert wine, sometimes fortified but always with a high alcohol level. The label marked Malvoisie de Chipre refers to ancient grape varieties, known as malvoisie, used for dessert wines. Commandaria wine dates back to approximately 800 BC and was popular during the time of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries and subsequently exported widely within Europe.
I wrote about Commandaria wine in a 2013 blog and described it as follows:
‘As a fortified wine, Commandaria travelled well and was exported throughout Europe. It was popular in England, for example, not only in the 13th century but later and was a favourite of the Tudor Kings including King Henry V111.
Commandaria is made only in a defined region of 14 wine producing villages in the Troodos foothills about 20 miles north of Limassol. The wine production for Commandaria has remained true to traditional methods. The production is small and it maintains its ranking among the world’s classic wines. In 1993, the European Union registered Commandaria as a protected name and geographic origin.
Commandaria is regarded as an eastern mediterranean equivalent of its western mediterranean cousins, Port and Sherry. We found it had both similar and different characteristics and was more refreshing and lighter with higher acidity. ‘
For a fuller description of this fortified wine please look at my earlier blog post:
The various spellings of Cyprus on the four enamels in the photograph suggest a robust export of Cyprus wines in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Chypre is the french spelling for Cyprus and this label is early French in origin and the Chipre and Malvoisie de Chipre are early English. The Cyprus label is more recent.
2020 will surely be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult year for wine makers. From my conversations with several over the years, including members of Confrèries, I realize that they are used to overcoming a variety of challenges including weather, soil and pest conditions as well as market changes. This year they have again demonstrated their ability to tackle a new challenge with innovation and creativity.
These exquisite and historic Cyprus enamel labels, shown courtesy of Dr. Richard Wells, help to remind us of the longevity and resilience of the wine making industry and the pleasure it brings to so many people: past, present and future.
I wish all wine makers and their families everywhere a successful year in 2021.
Happy New Year!
Reference: http://www.drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels: refer to Dr Well’s blog for a full description of enamel labels.
Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history. “What is their history?”; ” Who used them and where? “Tell me more…”
Oude sauce label made in 1841
These sauce labels are part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery in Alton in Hampshire and were viewed in October. I wrote the story of the Bronte wine Label in my last post.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
Silver labels for sauces, herbs and spices such as those illustrated for Tarragon, Oude, Cherokee, Cayenne, Anchovy were made by silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries in England to be used to identify the contents of glass condiment bottles on the dining tables of the growing middle class in Britain.
Of those shown, the Tarragon label was made in1798, the Cherokee label made in 1780 and the Oude label made in 1841. We know this because the hallmarks on each label identify the date in recognized and regulated letter code.
Tarragon label made in 1798
Anchovy, Cayenne and Cherokee silver labels
Apart from the craftsmanship demonstrated in the making of these single pieces of silver, these sauce, herb and spice labels represent different approaches to cuisine in this period of history and the diversity that came from their origins.
Herbs such as Tarragon, one of the four herbs named as “fine herbes” (parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives) was home grown and was, and is, used in classical French cuisine. Spices were more exotic and imported from many areas of the world and brought different culinary inspiration. Both approaches to cuisine represent the march of history, global exploration and the corresponding impact on cuisine.
The history goes back a long way, including ancient times. More recently Marco Polo, the great Venetian 13th century explorer mentions spices in his travel memoirs. He wrote about sesame oil in Afghanistan, he described plantings of pepper, nutmegs, cloves in Java and cinnamon, pepper and ginger on the coastal area of India.
When Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage in 1493, he revisited the West Indes and Americas, still hoping to go on to China, and brought back red pepper spices and allspice.
All the sea-faring exploration, military actions and colonization around the world over many centuries affected food tastes and cooking styles when people returned to their home countries with their new found food and flavour experiences..
The availability and access to spices in particular was often a function of economic wealth. For example, the price of pepper served as a barometer for European business well being in general.
As is always the case, language reflects culture and how people live. The phrase “peppercorn rent’, an expression used today to indicate a nominal amount, reflects the fact that pepper was used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rent. Similarly, in 1393, a German price list identified that a pound weight of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen!
Researching sauce names reveals some interesting information! I found Cherokee recipes from the southern United States referring to chicken recipes with chilies. Béarnaise Sauce, the famous tarragon flavoured derivative sauce of Hollandaise, was referenced in 1836 culinary materials.
Oude was more difficult to track down. I did find a reference to a Crosse and Blackwell’s Oude Sauce used in a sausage pudding recipe from the 1800s. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company making sauces since 1706, no longer make this sauce although they continue to make other condiment products.
Oude sauce has also been referred to as King of Oude sauce. For example, an 1861 list of supplies included Crosse and Blackwell sauces: Essence of Anchovies, and King of Oude sauce, as well as Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, Mushroom Catsup etc.
Looking further into the Oude reference, my research indicates that the Oudh State (also known as Kingdom of Oudh, or Awadh State) was a princely state in the Awadh region of North India until 1858. Oudh, the now obsolete but once official English-language name of the state, also written historically as Oude, derived from the name of Ayodhya.
Joining the dots, I assume then that Oude Sauce would be spicy in a Northern Indian cuisine style, possibly with spices such as chilies, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander.
Sauce recipes, then as now, are typically not divulged.. While the ingredients for the generic Worcestershire sauce are known and include such items as barley malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, garlic, spices, which may include cloves, soy, lemons, the precise recipe for Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce from 1835 is still a closely guarded secret after more than 200 years. Tabasco Sauce, another well-loved spicy condiment, has been made in Louisiana in the United States since 1868 by the same family business. The spice business and extraction of flavours from herbs and spices has been commercially active since the 18th century in line with the illustrated sauce labels.
McCormick is another maker of condiments in the United States that has been in this business since 1889. The company has established a McCormick Science Institute (MSI). “The MSI research program sponsors research which is focussed on advancing the scientific study of the health enhancing properties of culinary herbs and spices in areas which are considered to have the potential to impact public health. MSI released a research paper in March 2018 identifying how herbs and spices increase the liking and preference for vegetables among rural high school students.” Marco Polo and other early explorers would be pleased!
Thinking about the silver sauce labels on the condiment bottles on the 18th and 19th century dining tables, I wonder about the wine selection in those days to accompany foods using these sauces, especially the spicy ones.
No doubt the advice would be similar to that offered today. For example, with a curry dish, I might consider a chilled white wine such as pinot gris or perhaps a gewürztraminer: among rosé wines, I might consider a lightly chilled wine, but not too floral, a Côte de Province appellation comes to mind. Among red wine choices, considering a lighter red wine and staying away from too tannic a wine would be a good idea to complement the spicy notes of the food. Côte du rhône, Gigondas come to mind or perhaps an Alsace Pinot Noir. I could apply these considerations to wines from other parts of the world in making a choice of wine to accompany a spicy food dish.
Viewing these 18th and 19th century silver sauce labels opened up a Pandora’s box of questions for me, as the unknown name of Oude particularly caught my eye. So much history and information evoked by a small, beautiful example of silver craftsmanship from over 200 years ago.
References: websites for: McCormick and the McCormick Science Institute, Hampshire Cultural Trust/Allen Gallery, British Library. Christopher-Columbus.eu, Lee and Perrin, Crosse and Blackwell, Tabasco.
I love a good story, especially one that involves wine! Who would have thought I would stumble across a story that involves not only wine but Sicily and the British naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson when visiting the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.
Bronte silver wine label, made by Reilly and Storer, London, 1830
It all began as I looked at a silver wine label marked “Bronte”…
This label is part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
Silver and enamel wine and sauce labels were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the growing middle class in England when wine was decanted from barrels into glass decanters and the identity of the wine was described by a silver label. Condiments or sauces for food were also served in glass jars or bottles and similarly labelled.
So what is the connection between this Bronte silver wine label, Sicily and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson?
The latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century was the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815) between Britain and France and involving many other nations in Europe. It was a time of major land and sea battles, which are still commemorated.
The Napoleonic Wars ended with the great victory of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Napoleonic Wars include the mighty naval battles of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) and Trafalgar under the leadership of Admiral Nelson. It is the history of Nelson that relates to our Bronte wine label.
As part of the naval battles in the Mediterranean, Nelson protected Naples from the French. At the time, Naples was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of which Ferdinand 1st was King. In 1799, King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services to his kingdom by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte together with an estate in Bronte, an agricultural area in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Etna.
Bronte community in the shadow of Mount Etna, Sicily
A famous wine from Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine similar to sherry which became popular in Britain in the 18th century. This popularity was partly due to the trading activities of the 18th Century importer John Woodhouse and the British Royal Navy, which became a big consumer of Marsala wine. Vice Admiral Lord Nelson used Marsala as the official wine ration for sailors under his command. A manuscript exists, dated March 19, 1800, and carrying the signature of the importer John Woodhouse and the Duke of Bronte, Nelson’s Sicilian title, stipulating the supply of 500 barrels, each with a capacity of the equivalent of 500 litres for the fleet stationed in Malta.
After Nelson’s victories, especially at Trafalgar and his death there, Nelson was held in great esteem by the British people for saving Britain from possible invasion. Many landmarks were created in his name, including Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in London.
The British people were keen to taste the wine that had so fortified Nelson and his sailors’ spirits in battle and this added to its popularity.
Back to the wine label marked “Bronte”. This fine piece of craftsmanship was made in London by the silver makers Reilly and Storer in 1830. It was just fifteen years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The label would have been used on a decanter of Marsala wine, possibly produced on the Bronte estate in Sicily or elsewhere on the Island but called Bronte in recognition of Nelson’s Sicilian title.
The Bronte estate remained in Nelson’s line of descendants, now called Nelson-Hood until 1981 when the last remaining lots of land were sold to the Municipality of Bronte. There remains a Nelson Museum in the town of Bronte, which is now known for its pistachio nut harvests and the delicacies made from them..
Marsala wine is grown in the region DOC Marsala in Sicily and produced from three white wine varieties. It is a fortified wine usually containing around 17 % ALC – alcohol by volume. The ‘in perpetuum’ process used to make the fortified wine is similar to the solera process used for Sherry produced in Jerez, Spain, in which old wines are blended with new wines and the barrels never emptied. Marsala wines are classified on an eight-point scale according to their colour, sweetness and duration of their ageing. Usually served as an aperitif, Marsala can also be served with a cheese course. It is often used in cooking and this is how I remember it being used by my Mother. Dry Marsala is used in savoury cooking. One of the most popular savoury Marsala recipes is chicken Marsala. Sweet Marsala is used in the preparation of delicious desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.
Every story has an ending. Our story about the Bronte wine label ends with our visit later that same day to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, about two miles from Alton.
Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, Hampshire
For most of Jane Austen’s ( 1775 – 1817 ) life, Britain was at war with many countries including America, France, Spain, and others, including the Napoleonic Wars. Many of her books include characters with a naval or army background. While jokingly hoping to see Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame walk through the garden in Chawton, we did in all seriousness read the stories of Jane Austen’s brothers, who both rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and were contemporaries and admirers of Admiral Nelson.
The Herculaneum Funerary Dish which commemorates the death of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson
A fitting end to our visit was to see on display in Jane Austen’s house, the Herculaneum Funerary Dish in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, immortalized for me in that silver Bronte wine label.