Bergerac Wine Region: SW France: Chateau Lestevenie: A Wine in Progress tasting

It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne;  cozy coat and sunglasses weather.  A great day to be outdoors!    Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about  a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.

Chateau Lestevenie

Chateau Lestevenie

We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress.    This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process.  These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop.   Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.

For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming.   Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making.  Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.

Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process.  He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science.    It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”

We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100%  Sauvignon Blanc which has  finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast).   It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled.    Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.

Bergerac White in process (before filtering)

Bergerac White (Sauvignon Blanc) in process (before filtering)

An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process.  The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank.  The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.  Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank.  He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency.   It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the white wine fermentation is complete.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the Moelleux white wine fermentation is complete.

Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching.   As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry,  our wine glasses are ready for each tasting.  We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.

The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm.   After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie.   Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards.   Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines.    The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife. 

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and  attracts many visitors.    Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting.    Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.

 Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website.  Her post:  “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.

The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices.    An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet.   About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:

“On the palate:  full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal.   Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol.   Good depth of flavours and body.   Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing.   Conclusion:  Ready to drink with decanting.  Will benefit from further ageing.   Good quality with lots of potential.   Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently.    Very good value.”

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week.  Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.

The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.

References:  Chateau Lestevenie:   wwwchateau-lestevenie.com

Wine Tours:     http://www.BergeracWineTours.com

Bergerac Wine Region: SW France. November 11, Remembering …with a Vin D’Honneur

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

On November 11, Armistice Day,  we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly  in front of the War Memorial in our village.   We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars.  At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem,  ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.   We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row…….

Here, when the national anthems are played,  the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.    Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally.   I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat.   Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.

Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the  cornflower; Le Bleuet –  since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both.   These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.

The Poppy and Le Bleuet - Remembrance Symbols

The Poppy and Le Bleuet – Remembrance Symbols

This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze.   After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.

This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized.    We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community.   It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.

Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor.   This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.

Wine is such a flexible beverage.    It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011    Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011 Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

References:

Les Bleuets de France:   http://www.Bleuet de France

In Flanders Field:    www.greatwar.co.uk

Poppy Appeal:    www.britishlegion.com

Chateau Plaguettes:  www. vignobles-gazziola.com

Bergerac Wine Region: South West France – Wine and Pâté pairing

Driving through the Dordogne on a sunny November day highlights the autumn colours of the vines: varying shades of gold, russet and brown which signal the twilight of the wine season for the year.

This day we are driving to Périgueux to attend a gathering of Confréries at the pâté de Périgueux competition.

The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition

The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition

When we arrive the judges are busy tasting the pâtés and forming their opinions. Its tense work and important for the pâté makers of the area.  The results are delivered at a ceremony in the market square later in the morning.

The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux

The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux

In the meantime, the Confréries,  the local voluntary organizations with historic origins that promote the region and its gastronomic products such as wines, cheeses, pâtés, strawberries  parade through the streets in the old town of Périgueux They are preceded by musicians and folk dancers who entertain people going about their regular shopping in the markets.

Folk dancing in Périgueux

Folk dancing in Périgueux

After the results of the competition are announced in the market square there is a tasting of the pâtés accompanied by white wine.    This is a 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts.

Chateau Court-Les-Mûts - the white wine served with the pâte

Chateau Court-Les-Mûts – the white wine served with the pâte

We know the red wines from this winemaker but aren’t so familiar with the whites.    The fruit aromas of this lightly sweet wine make it an excellent complement to the pâtés.

After the ceremony in the square, we are fortunate to attend a lunch which highlights the gifts of the terrain including pâté, foie gras, mushrooms and truffles.

My favourite dish was the starter of Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce.    The small amount of foie gras in the middle of the pâté was balanced by the pastry and the sauce.

Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce

Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce

A late harvest Monbazillac wine was on offer.   The late harvest wines are frequently paired with foie gras.   However, this day we enjoyed the Pécharmant red wine:  Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Jour de Fruit. A robust, full balanced wine it was a good counterpoint to the richness of the pâté and foie gras.

The Pécharmant AOC area is to the north east of Bergerac.   It is a small area known for iron elements in the terrain.   Only red wines are produced under this AOC.  Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pécharmant AOC wines are known as robust, well structured and approachable.

This day in Périguex was a tremendous opportunity to participate in a very special French gastronomic event that gave great pleasure to everyone going about their Saturday shopping in this historic town.

Reference:  Chateau Court-Les-Mûts

Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure – Pécharmant AOC

For more information about the Confréries of France recognized by UNESCO in 2011, visit http://www.confreries-france.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Ladesvignes

Chateau Ladesvignes sits on a plateau high above the Dordogne Valley on the D7 road, the wine route between Pomport and Monbazillac and 10 to 15 minutes from the centre of Bergerac.

Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond

Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond

As we turn into the courtyard directly off the D7, the first thing we notice is the stone archway inscribed with the name Chateau Ladesvignes and the great cedar tree beyond.   The tree is a natural magnet and we are soon standing beneath its outstretched limbs gazing at the panorama that unfolds beneath and beyond us of fields, farms, vines, cattle, hamlets, villages and the spires and rooftops of Bergerac.    The tree stands above old fortified walls surrounding the property on one side and we discover that many of the winery buildings are probably 15th century;  no one knows for sure.  We linger a few minutes to take in the expansive view and breathe in the history of the place.

The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes

The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes

We’re here to meet Véronique Monbouché, wife and co-proprietor with her husband Michel.      Mme. Monbouché tells us she and her husband acquired 35 hectares in 1989 and subsequently took over other family vineyards to farm the 60 hectares that they cultivate today.   Being fourth generation winemakers, they hope their two children will carry on the family tradition one day.

Entering the wine tasting room, Mme. Monbouché guides us through a tasting of their wines.     It’s a warm day and we particularly enjoy their everyday white Bergerac Blanc Sec.  It is fresh, delicious, made mainly from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and is competitively priced.   We enjoy the range of wines we taste and notice that many of them have won awards.

Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes

Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes

Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec

Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec

I particularly appreciate their tri-fold brochure.   For each of their wines there is a photograph of a bottle of the wine with a brief tasting description.   Also included are recommendations for serving temperatures and wine ageing, as well as the prices and ordering details.    The medals and awards are noted.   The information is practical, helpful and easy to read.   It is a well designed marketing tool.

We ask Mme. Monbouché about wine tourism at the Chateau and she disarmingly tells us that marketing is not their strong suit!   Our impression is that the wine sells itself through quality and value.

Véronique Monbouché explains that the main market for their wines is France and especially the restaurants in Bergerac and the vicinity.    Similar to the other wineries in the area, they sell their wines to Northern Europe, mainly Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom.    While we are there cases of wine are being loaded on a large truck for delivery to Belgium.   Chateau Ladesvignes is represented in Québec where their award winning Monbazillac dessert wine is available.

Chateau Ladesvignes is a perfect place to visit if touring the Bergerac area.   It is easy to locate off the main road to Marmande.  In addition to the quality of the wines and the tasting experience, there is the added bonus of the panoramic view of Bergerac and the Dordogne Valley from the shade of the grand old cedar tree.

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

References:      Chateau Ladesvignes www.ladesvignes.com

Québec Liquor Board www.saq.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Tour des Gendres

The physical approach to the wineries  we visit usually gives us a clue to the nature of our impending experience.   It’s like opening a book, reading the first page and forming an opinion as to whether this is a story we will enjoy.   We had no doubts we would enjoy our visit as we approached Chateau Tour des Gendres.

The route gives us the first clue:  the road there is off the beaten track,  an upside-down sign points the way through the treed and hedgerow lanes and a narrow driveway between farm buildings beckons us as though through an archway to the winery which opens up before us.    As we drive into the winery courtyard through this narrow entrance we feel a great sense of calm and tranquility in this magic circle of house, chai, tasting room and offices, tucked away in the countryside.   If a unicorn had suddenly appeared it would not have come as a surprise!

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Chateau Tour des Gendres is owned by the de Conti family, two brothers, a cousin and their wives,  and has been in operation at three different family properties from 1981.   Yet wine has been made on this land for at least 800 years.  Luc de Conti, the wine maker and a co-proprietor, greeted us warmly and immediately invited us to walk among the vines.   As he says,  the vines are the heart of their operation.   Monsieur de Conti is articulate and passionate about his vines and generous in the time he spent with us.    Influential in the Bergerac wine region, he is a past President of the Syndicat des Vins in Bergerac.    As we stood among the neat rows of vines, Luc explained the Chateau Tour des Gendres farming and winemaking ethos which is to work in harmony with nature.

Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed

Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Tour des Gendres is an organic winery operation and was certified “Bio” by AGROCERT  (Agricultural Products Certification) in 2005.   The decision to pursue the organic route to wine making is health related and started in 1994.  Luc explained they do not use any chemicals in the vineyard.   They use very small amounts of the substances, such as sulphites, which are allowed under the organic wine making regulations.    Luc and his team prefer to use emulsions in the vineyard made from plants such as nettles, horsetail and heather.    Luc described how birds from the neighbouring oak forests are also part of their arsenal against certain insects in the vineyard.    He showed us how the vines are pruned to limit the number of buds and hence manage the yield per vine to support the high quality of their wines.

After time among the vines, Luc invited us to the tasting room to sample the Tour des Gendres Appellation D’Origine Controlée (AOC) Bergerac wines.   We tasted 7 wines in total:  4 white wines and 3 reds.   The wines are blended from their own grapes in accordance with the AOC guidelines.   Luc also makes a couple of single varietal wines:   a cabernet sauvignon and a muscadelle.   Since these two wines do not conform to the AOC guidelines, he bottles these in the distinctive sloping shoulder Burgundy style bottles to differentiate them from the AOC Bergerac wines.

Chateau Tour des Gendres - Tasting Room

Chateau Tour des Gendres – Tasting Room

Always interested in the marketing of wines, we asked about the market for the Tour des Gendres wines.   As we have heard in other wineries, Holland and Belgium are key markets.   Interestingly, Québec represents a significant overseas market for their wines and three of them are listed on the Société Alcohol Québec (SAQ) website:  Cuvée des Conti (white), Gloire de Mon Père (red) and Moulin des Dames (white).      The Cuvée des Conti white wine is particularly popular in Québec where the predominantly Semillon blend of this wine (Semillon 70%, Sauvignon Blanc(20%, Muscadelle 10%) is favoured to accompany food.

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

The main white wine grape varieties grown in SW France are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.   These are the significant varieties permitted in AOC Bergerac Sec wines and the AOC wines must be blended from at least two of the permitted grape varieties.   What creates the subtleties and differences in the wines are the varying percentages of grape varieties used by wine makers.   These might further vary year by year depending upon weather, geology, harvest conditions and other ‘terroir’ elements.

In this tasting, we particularly paid attention to the discernable difference that a shift in varietal percentages in this classic Bergerac white wine can make.   A Sauvigon Blanc focus may provide more of a sipping wine or a Vin de Plaisir. Whereas the Semillon focus of the Cuvée des Conti gives the wine a combination of a honeyed texture and complex flavours  and this is what supports its suitability to accompany food as opposed to being a sipping wine.

We experienced an illustrative food pairing first hand a few days later when we had lunch at the Restaurant Chez Alain in the historic market village of Issigeac following a visit to Issigeac’s popular Sunday morning market.    The Cuvée des Conti is on the Restaurant Chez Alain wine list.    We selected it to accompany a chicken dish and were immediate converts to this Semillon style of Bergerac white wine with food.

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

Not only is Luc de Conti a good teacher about wines and wine making, he is also whole-heartedly committed to natural wine making methods.   The excellent range of Tour des Gendres wines live up to the family’s vision of wine making on three distinct geological properties in a style that exemplifies fruit, balance, strength and freshness.   The press reviews and awards consistently recognize the quality of the de Conti wines and Luc de Conti’s wine making skills which were acknowledged by his nomination as Wine Maker of the Year in the region in 2012.

As our visit to Chateau Tour des Gendres drew to a close, we thanked Luc de Conti for his time and kindness in explaining so much to us and promised to return.     We drove away reflecting upon the new insights about winemaking gained from our experience in this tranquil place.

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Chateau Tour des Gendres   http://www.chateautourdesgendres.com

AGROCERT:  The organic standard.   see  www.organicstandard.com

Restaurant Chez Alain, Issigeac and Issigeac Sunday Morning Market, SW France

Société Alcohol Québec – SAQ

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Vignobles des Verdots

The tall and imposing Tasting Room is the first thing we noticed as we drove along the high plateau driveway to Vignobles des Verdots in the community of Conne de Labarde, south east of Bergerac and not far from the Bergerac Regional Airport.   The building is contemporary yet monumental in style and makes a bold statement of optimism and confidence that mirrors the same characteristics of wine-maker and proprietor David Fourtout, named Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the Bergerac Wine Region.

Tasting Room and cellars:  Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting Room and cellars: Vignobles des Verdots

As we made our introductions and agreed in which language we would conduct our conversation and tour (English this time), we were conscious that the forecourt of Vignobles des Verdots was a hive of activity.   A large truck arrived to pick up cases of wine and deliver them  in Belgium, a couple drove up in their estate car to collect wine to drive home to the Netherlands and so it went on.    This led to a discussion about the markets for the Verdots wine and David said that they sell their wine in 20 countries:  50% is sold in France and 50% is sold internationally with Belgium, Holland and Germany being key markets as well as the Scandinavian countries.   We asked about sales to Canada:  Vignobles des Verdots is sold in Quebec through SAQ, the Quebec Liquor Control Board; the buyers for the Ontario Liquor Control Board had visited the day before but sadly it has been a long time since any wine has been sold in British Columbia.

David started our tour in the cellars beneath the Tasting Room and we descended to the large, cavernous area to see where the wines are aged in oak barrels.  This cellar has exposure to the surrounding limestone rock through large openings that have been cut into the concrete on all sides of the cellar.   The openings in the wall are backlit and the rock surface is both visible and touchable.   There is also a large opening cut into the floor, covered by a metal grid, showing the underground Verdots stream that continues on under the vineyard and nourishes the vines.   The water is crystal clear and fast flowing over yellow-gold sand.   We had an immediate sensation of being part of the earth, rock and ‘terroir’ of the place.

 Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des VerdotsVerdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des Verdots

We then had a tour of the winery or ‘Chai’ and were shown the investments that the Fourtout family has made  in the purchase of various winemaking equipment as part of a process of continuous quality improvement.   These investments are in addition to the recent construction of the Tasting Room and cellars.

David Fourtout talked to us about his philosophy and approach to winemaking.  He practices organic styles of winemaking.   He prefers to remain flexible in his approach and use interventions according to the needs of the vines.   Similar to the message we have heard in other wineries in the area, David emphasized that the use of sulphites, a natural wine preservative, has been much reduced at Vignobles des Verdots.

Geologically and climatically, the area is simllar to Saint Emilion with respect to the soil but has more of a continental climate with colder weather in winter, hotter weather in the summer but less rain.

We are always interested in the marketing and promotion of wines and found that David Fourtout is committed to these functions and, with others, takes a leadership role in the advancement of the Bergerac wines.   He is currently leading a committee in the Bergerac Wine Region to look at the promotion of their wines including recommending changes to the appellation controlee regulations.   There is an initiative to advocate changing the name of the Cotes de Bergerac appellation to Grand Cru de Bergerac to be reflective of the quality of these levels of wines.   It will be interesting to follow this and see what unfolds.

There is a virtuous circle of wine tourism practised at Vignobles des Verdots: from the five euro summer vineyard brunches and the significant farm gate wine sales in July and August to the B & B accommodation in one of the towers of the Tasting Room, there is a lot of promotional activity.   All the family gets involved: his wife and his parents who also live on the property help out with the Tasting Room activity.  His Father was the power behind the Tasting Room construction.

Talking about the Tasting Room…. we had a comprehensive tasting of the suite of Verdots wines.   They make wines under 6 different appellations:  AOC Cotes de Bergerac Rouge and AOC Bergerac Rouge, AOC Bergerac Rosé, AOC Bergerac Blanc Sec, AOC Sweet Cotes de Bergerac and AOC Monbazillac.  These are blended wines from the estate and the red wines consist of predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the sweet whites are from Semillon and Muscadelle; the Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by ‘bleeding’ off the juice during the fermentation process; and finally, the Monbazillac or liquoreux wine is made by blending Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been hand picked taking only those grapes which have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea also known as Noble Rot.   The different wines together with tasting notes are well documented on the informative Vignobles des Verdots website noted below.

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

In addition to making wine according to 6 appellations, the Verdots wines are made in 4 different levels:  Clos des Verdots,  Chateau Les Tours des Verdots, Grand Vins les Verdots and Le Vin Selon David Fourtout.   All the wines are of a high quality.   For Canadian readers,  the Chateau les Tours des Verdots Blanc is available through the Quebec liquor stores.

For us, the Grand Vin “Les Verdots Selon David Fourtout” was the most delicious: balanced, complex, textured and fruit forward.  It has all the flavours and depth we enjoy in a Bergerac style red which, dare we say it, seems to us to be of similar quality and style but better value than its Bordeaux cousins.

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

As we prepared to leave and say our goodbyes and thanks for an interesting and informative visit, several people arrived all at once to taste wines.   David called over to his Mother to come and help.  At its heart,  this is still a family farm growing grapes and making wine over four generations with its focus firmly on the future.

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Reference:    Vignobles des Verdots     http://www.verdots.com

Bergerac Wine Region, S W France: Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Driving into the courtyard of Chateau Moulin Caresse in Saint Antoine de Breuilh our immediate reaction is to exclaim at the natural charm of the place.   In the attached map below, look at the top left quadrant in green to the west of Ste Foy La Grande to get a sense of the location near Vélines.

 Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

The property is on the right bank of the Dordogne River and is at the eastern end of a large plateau that begins in St. Emilion which is 20 kms away.

The gravel driveway where we enter is surrounded by trees and shrubs on one side, the office and tasting room straight ahead and the long, low building of the chateau is on our right hand side, on the south slope with a view over the expanse of the Dordogne Valley.   It’s a landscape of trees, river, vineyards and orchards.

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

Mme. Sylvie Duffarge, co-owner with her husband Jean-Francois and responsible for the marketing of the wines, greets us and invites us to the tasting room to talk about their wines.   She emphasizes that her husband’s family has been making wine here since 1749 and their sons are now in the business with them.

We contemplate the enormity of the changes that successive generations of this wine making family have faced over the centuries.   In 1749, Louis XV was on the throne in France,  George II in England and the revolutions in America and France were in the future.    Musically, it was the time of Handel and Gainsborough was painting his pastoral portraits of English families.   All this gives us a sense of historical perspective.   Chateau Moulin Caresse is one of many examples of family run businesses in France where successive generations build and evolve the business over time.

Mme. Duffarge expains that Chateau Moulin Caresse makes wine according to the Bergerac and Montravel AOC guidelines.   They make 5 levels of wine:  Cuvée Cépages – young, everyday wines;  Cuvée Magie d’Autonne – wines matured in barrels and can be laid down for 5 – 8 years;  Cuvée Cent Pour 100 – superior wines that can be laid down for 7 – 15 years and Cuvée Coeur de Roche – their grand cru de domaine red wines that can be laid down for 15 – 20 years.   They also make a sparkling wine:  Perles d’Ecume.

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

We tasted most of the wines and focussed more on the Cuvée Cépages and Cuvée Magie d’Autonne.   In the Cuvée Cépages range, we particularly enjoyed the rosé which is Cabernet Sauvignon based.   This is an excellent vin de plaisir (everyday wine) for the summer.   In the Magie d’Autonne range, we very much enjoyed the white.  It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and some Sauvignon Gris, a grape not generally used but Mme. Duffarge advises us that it adds texture to the wine.    The wine is a brilliant crisp pale yellow colour with substance and texture.   The Magie d’Autonne range is made according to the rigorous Montravel AOC guidelines.

The Duffarge family have 52 hectares under vines planted mainly on the plateau which has sandy clay soil with pockets rich in iron deposits.   The soils here can give a minerality to the white wines characteristic of the Montravel AOC wines.  The hillsides or coteaux are clay limestone which is best suited to the Merlot and Cabernet France vines.

A new chai or winery was built two years ago with mainly stainless steel and some cement vats.   The white wine is fermented in oak casks and rolled to stir the lees.   When asked about the use of sulphites, a preservative used in wine making since antiquity, Mme Duffarge mentions that they are using significantly less sulphites than several years ago due to better technology and improved wine making practices.   This was a common message we heard in our visits to Bergerac wine makers.

New Chais,  Chateau Moulin Caresse

New Chai, Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse wines are award winners.   The Cuvée Cent Pour 100 Montravel AOC wine has been a consistent winner of awards including Decanter World Wine Awards.   The Magie d’Autonne Montravel AOC white wine is a well regarded white wine of the region.

For Canadian readers,  Chateau Moulin Caresse Magie d’Autonne 2007 red is available through the Quebec Liquor Stores.

The visit to Chateau Moulin Caresse was particularly interesting as we had little previous contact or knowledge of this corner of the Bergerac wine region.   Meeting Sylvie Duffarge and hearing the family story highlighted for us the ongoing commitment of multi-generational wine making families in this region both to the land and to quality wine making.

Reference:    www.saq.com    Société des alcools du Quebéc (Quebec liquor stores)

http://www.pays-de-bergerac/vins/chateau-moulin-caresse

The Bergerac Wine Region, South West France: An Introduction

Bergerac Wine Region,  SW France

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

The Bergerac wine region in SW France takes its name from the 11th Century town of Bergerac which is situated on the banks of the Dordogne River 175 km from the Atlantic Coast and 590 km southwest of Paris in the Dordogne Department in the Administrative Region of Aquitaine.

The Dordogne is one of the great rivers of France.  It arises in the Massif Central and flows westwards to Bordeaux where it joins with the Garonne to make the Gironde Estuary leading to the Atlantic.    The Dordogne was essential for the transportation of Bergerac wines in the past by “Gabares” which are large flat-bottomed boats used for taking wine barrels down river en route to foreign markets.   Now tourists are the cargo of choice.   The river has also created the rich alluvial river valley soil which along with other geological and climatic elements has created excellent wine growing conditions.

The Bergerac wine region adjoins the Bordeaux region, one of the best known wine areas of the world.    After much debate about the boundaries for the Bordeaux region, it was decided in the early 20th Century that they would coincide with those of the Gironde local government department.   This left the Bergerac wine area outside these limits yet with many of the same or similar geological and climatic characteristics.   For many years,  Bergerac has been in the shadow of its famous neighbour and this has affected its position in the market place.   Fortunately, due to the determined pursuit of quality and the consistent efforts of dynamic wine makers in the region,  this lack of confidence is diminishing and the excellent wines that are available from this area are gaining greater recognition.

At the western edge of the Bergerac wine region, the vineyards are a continuation of the Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon and St. Emilion on the right bank of the Dordogne and the Entre-Deux-Mers south of the river in terms of vine growing conditions.   The geology within the region varies for each of the individual Appellation d’Origine Controlée areas.   The geological possibilities are sandy clay, limestone, iron-rich clays, gravels, clay-limestone, Agenais molasse and some specific areas have marl and clay soils with fossilized oyster deposits.   Climatically, the Bergerac region has a less maritime and more continental climate than Bordeaux.    It has marginally less rain and more sunshine and has about a 10 day longer ripening season which can be critical in some years.

Key facts about the Bergerac wine region are that it has approximately 12,000 hectares under vines, encompasses 93 villages and has approximately 1,000 wine makers creating wine in accordance with Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) guidelines.

There are 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) areas in this region which link to 5 wine colours as described by the Maison des Vins de Bergerac:

Rosé wines:  Bergerac rosé AOC,

Red wines: Bergerac rouge, Côtes de Bergerac rouge,  Pécharmant and Montravel rouge AOCs

Dry white wines: Bergerac sec, Montravel AOCs

Semi-sweet white wines:  Côtes de Bergerac blanc, Côtes de Montravel, Haut-Montravel, Rosette AOCs

Late Harvest/Botrytis – Liquoreux wines:  Monbazillac,  Saussignac AOCs

Each AOC has its particular requirements as to vine planting density, alcoholic content, grape varieties and blends and so on. The AOC is identified on bottle wine labels.

Increasing numbers of wine makers are following organic wine making practices which may have more stringent demands.   Easy drinking, young wines known as vins de plaisir are made in the area as well as vins de terroir which are richer, more structured and generally aged longer.   Similar to the Bordeaux area, the red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec and the same varieties are used in rosé wines.    The white grapes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and in some areas small amounts of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

The wines are paired with local produce and favourites such as duck, foie gras, various pâtés and cheeses together with local vegetables and fruits, all sold in the colourful and popular street markets.

The Bergerac wine region is picturesque and characterized by hills, forests, fortified villages and towns (Bastides) and is agricultural with vineyards, plum and apple orchards, walnuts and more recently sunflowers.

In addition to producing quality wines and other produce, the area has a rich and varied past.   Gallo-roman remains from the 1st Century A.D. have been found locally.   More recent history includes the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between the French and English regarding English claims to Aquitaine;  the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants or Huguenots in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the World Wars 1 and 2.    For most of WW 2, the Bergerac area was in the “Free Zone”.

The Hundred Years War began and ended in Aquitaine within a 80 km radius even though it included well known battles in other parts of France – think of English King Henry V and Agincourt (1415):  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”   (Shakespeare: Henry V).    Even though the English were finally defeated in 1453, the area has been popular with English people for many years.    Bergerac became a protestant stronghold during the 16th Century and established wine trading links with protestant countries, especially when Huguenots from the area fled to other protestant northern European countries in the 17th Century.   Holland remains a key market today for Bergerac wines.    As always, historical context informs not just the past but also the present.

On a recent visit to the area, we had the opportunity to visit 5 wine chateaux/wineries and they and their wines will be featured in upcoming weeks.

Aquitaine

Aquitaine

References:

History of Bergerac:  www.bergerac-tourisme.com

Historical background:  www.bbc.co.uk/history

Various references including:   Maison des Vins de Bergerac:  www.vins-bergerac.fr

View of Bergerac in the distance and local  vineyards

View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards

The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River

The Colours of Rose: Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose, Languedoc-Roussillon, S. France

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

It’s hard to recall at what point we decided to serve this salmon pink sparkling rose with Milk Chocolate Semifreddo but that’s what we did, with positive results.

Good friends regularly offer this Cremant de Limoux rose as an aperitif.  The aromas of summer berries and flowers followed by a sustained mousse and a long fruit finish consistently put everyone in a festive mood.   This rose made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc seemed a good candidate to pair with a milk chocolate dessert;  light, summery, not sweet and with the gentle joyfulness of the bubbles.   The maxim of when in doubt serve Champagne, or in this case, sparkling wine, seemed apt.

Cremant de Limoux is an appellation for the modern styled sparkling wines from vineyards around the town of Limoux.    It is in the Pyrenean foothills of Southern France,  south of the walled city of Carcassonne.   Typically,  the grapes used are Mauzac, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.

Mauzac, a variety not commonly known was the grape used almost exclusively in the past to make local wines in the area.    This traditional variety is also known as Blanquette and is found currently in the Blanquette de Limoux wines and the Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale wines.

The Cremant de Limoux appellation was created in 1990 to attempt to allow modernization of local winemaking while preserving the traditional Languedoc Roussillon wine styles of the area.   Limoux is further from the Mediterranean climate than other Languedoc Roussillon appellations and this influences its style which has lower acidity than wines in the eastern Languedoc areas.    Roche Lacour’s rose sparkling wine is the result of the wine-maker successfully petitioning the authorities to permit the making of a rose sparkling wine under the Cremant de Limoux AOC rules.

Milk Chocolate Semi-freddo

Milk Chocolate Semi-freddo

The recipe for this Milk Chocolate Semi-freddo was found on the Canadian Food Network website.     Lindt and Sprungli Milk Cholocate was used.    Two bars provide the required 7 oz with one square left over – a suitable reward for the cook.    Good chocolate together with all the other ingredients including roasted almonds creates a wonderfully rich yet refreshingly chilled chocolate dessert.    Subsequently,  I have made a lower calorie version by substituting plain greek yoghurt for the whipped cream.

Either way,  the Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut,  Cremant de Limoux,  Methode Traditionnelle complements this chocolate semi-freddo where a little goes a long way.

References:     Roche Lacour

Milk Chocolate Semifreddo recipe:    www.foodnetwork.ca

Lindt and Sprungli:   http://www.lindt.com

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Vancouver International Wine Festival, British Columbia, Canada, February 25 – March 3, 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

The double doors open into a dimly lit meeting room of the Vancouver Convention Centre and in pour 100 wine aficionados, eager to taste the best of the pick at the Meet Your Match wine seminar hosted by Anthony Gismondi, wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun newspaper.

This is day 6 of the 35th Annual Vancouver International WIne Festival, this year celebrating California Wines and Chardonnay from around the world.

At the Meet Your Match seminar 10 international winery principals with their chosen wines sit at individual tables to greet the seminar participants divided into groups of 10.   Argentina, Australia, Canada (British Columbia), France, Germany, the United States (California) are represented here.    The event is choreographed so that the groups circulate clockwise from table to table after 8 minutes with each winery principal;  each rotation signaled by the ringing of a bell.    Standing to one side, it feels as though I am watching people dancing in slow motion around the perimeter of the room.   Modelled on speed dating concepts, where people move from table to table meeting new people, it’s a popular event;  fast paced and lively with great wines presented by the winery principal and often the winemaker.    The sound of clinking glasses and general laughter increases with each rotation around the room.

This is my third event this day as a volunteer wine pourer.   I’m asked to assist at the Sebastiani table where Mark Lyon, Winemaker is going to present Sebastiani’s Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.   The first group of 10 people approach the tasting table where each small group will take up 2 rows in front of the winemaker.   Mr. Lyon asks me to pour tasting glasses for the people in the 2nd row for each of the 10 groups he will present to during the event.   This gives me a unique opportunity to learn about the Sebastiani Winery and the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon by listening to his presentation about the history of the parcels of land, the cherry orchard pedigree, the grape varieties and the soil type.

The original block of old vines was planted on 10.8 acres of Sonoma Valley countryside in 1961 and 1962 by August Sebastiani.    In 1985,  Mr. Sebastiani renamed the estate Cherryblock with reference to its former life as a cherry orchard.    Replanting of sections of the vineyard that succumbed to phylloxera commenced in 1997.    The vines grow on Terra Rosa soil which is volcanic, rocky with low fertility yet good natural drainage.

Originally a single-vineyard designation, the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon is now a proprietary blend supported by vines from nearby vineyards with similar Terra Rosa soils.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend:  Cabernet Sauvignon (80 – 90%), with other Bordeaux varieties,  Malbec (0 – 15%), Merlot (0 – 10%), Petit Verdot (0 – 5%) and Cabernet Franc (0 – 5%).   The percentages vary relative to the vintage.    The blend produces a dense, structured wine with aromas of cherries, cassis, cranberries, cedar, leather, dried leaves. The Sonoma Valley climate is warm enough to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon yet cool enough to retain the balance and acidity necessary for great wines.

Beneath these descriptions,  I hear Mark Lyon’s passion for his craft, his knowledge and attention to the science of winemaking and the art and perhaps alchemy of each year’s

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

vintage together with his enthusiasm for making beautiful wine.   At the end of the event, when the participants have drifted happily away, I taste the Cherryblock – a sublime experience of tasting a dense, greatly satisfying wine that according to Mr. Lyon will be even better in 5 years time.

The 2013 Vancouver International WIne Festival was attended by over 25,000 consumers.  175 wineries from 15 countries were represented together with 62 wineries from the theme region, California.

References:

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery:    www.sebastiani.com

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: http://www.vanwinefest.ca

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st Century – Part Five

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

The wine is poured and we are ready to taste the Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose.

At the end of our recent visit to the winery, Angelos Tsangarides, Managing Director and Co-Owner asked us to try their latest rose.  We gladly accepted the invitation as this is an interesting wine for two reasons.   It is made with organic wine making processes and is a blend of Maretheftiko, a Cyprus indigenous grape with Shiraz, a well known international variety.    Organic wine making and blending of indigenous and international grape varieties are two particular interests of this winery.

We decide to work our way through a systematic approach to tasting and consider colour, nose and palate.   This rose is a clear, bright red.   It’s clearly a youthful wine with fruit aromas and medium intensity on the nose.   On the palate, this wine is medium dry on the sweetness continuum with low acidity.   It is a balanced, smooth wine with other characteristics of body, intensity, length in the medium range.    Flavours of strawberries and cherries with light vegetal overlays of green pepper are noted.

Our conclusion:  a pleasant, easy to drink,  balanced rose. Ready to enjoy now.   A good accompaniment for appetizers or as an aperitif, served chilled.

Wine experts claim that the black Maretheftiko vine has the greatest potential to produce quality wine among the indigeous varieties on the Island.   They consider that it could produce wines with the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The challenge is that it is a difficult vine to grow commercially since it is one of the few non-hermaphrodite vines in the world and must be planted in vineyards of mixed varieties to ensure good pollination.   At Tsangarides, they are experimenting with how to increase their Maretheftiko yield by trying different approaches to planting.

Angelos mentions to us the growing interest in indigenous grape varieties among wine producers and consumers.    A major project sponsored by one of the large Cyprus wine producers was conducted to research and identify traditional Cyprus varieties.  Much work was conducted by the internationally known expert, French ampelographer, Dr. Pierre Galet from Montpelier.    Ampelography is not a familiar term.   It comes from the Greek ampelos for the vine and graphe for writing.  It is the science of describing and identifying vine varieties using such characteristics as leaf shape and lengths and angles of the leaf veins as well as other elements.    It is a field of botany that requires specialized training.  This important study identified several indigenous Cyprus vine varieties, including Maretheftiko.

Wine writer Oz Clarke mentions Cyprus in his new book and in his summary of European wines writes:  “Even Cyprus is waking up”.    Faint praise yet encouraging recognition for the work and innovative practices of Cyprus wine makers.

References:  Oxford Companion to Wine:  Jancis Robinson MW

My Top Wines 2013:  Oz Clarke

Tsangarides Winery.

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st century – Part Four

Tsangarides Winery

Tsangarides Winery

Almond tree outside Tsangarides WineryA slight breeze accompanied the rhythmic chatter of the wine bottling machine as we sat in the spring morning sunshine on the deck of the Tsangarides Winery.  This family owned winery is in the village of Lemona at the south end of the Troodos Mountains and about half an hour from Paphos.    Angelos Tsangarides offered us our favourite Cyprus coffee,  Metrios with its usual glass of water, as we joined him to chat and catch up winery news.

Over the past few years we’ve had the good fortune to meet  Angelos and his sister Loukia who both run this boutique winery started by their great, great grandfather.  We were introduced to them by a retired businessman friend who lives in the village. A few years ago he  bought a couple of parcels of land with old Cabernet Sauvignon vines which are now being brought into production by the Tsangarides Winery.   We have visited these parcels of vines situated in a silent sun drenched valley near the village.   Since then,  these rejuvenated vines have been joined by recently planted Xinisterii vines also being nurtured in the same way.

On a previous visit with our friend, we had the opportunity to taste the Tsangarides suite of wines which were offered with a plate of local feta cheese on top of slices of cool cucumber,  a delightfully fresh combination of flavours to cleanse the palate between tastings.  The Xinisteri Dry White is a particlar favourite and it won a silver medal in the 2012 Cyprus wine competition.   Xinisteri (sometimes spelt Ynisteri) is a local Cyprus grape which can produce mouth-wateringly crisp and fruity wine with hints of green apple, apricot and lemon.   Agios Efrem, a red wine, is another favourite with a combination of berries, coffee and pepper aromas.  This is a blend of Mataro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

On this day, as we sip our Metrios, the conversation turns to the innovative approaches being taken by the Tsangarides winery.    Their aim is to produce ever higher quality wines through modernization, greater efficiencies,  certified organic wine making approaches and the use of ancient Cyprus local grapes with international grape varieties.   This integration of the winery legacy with new approaches is a particular interest of the Tsangarides family.   These approaches seem to be the way forward in an increasingly competitive and global industry.

It feels invigorating to sit outside in the warm February sunshine taking in the sights and sounds of the village and the winery and hear the enthusiasm of Angelos as he talks about their business.    We enjoy the view of palm and olive trees surrounding the winery with the Troodos mountains in the distance.  The almond tree opposite the entrance is in full pink splendour.    Our visit provided an interesting and enjoyable insight into contemporary wine making in Cyprus.

View from the deck of Tsangarides Winery, Lemona

Tsangarides Winery

Tsangarides Winery

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st Century Part 3

Bush planting of vines - a common sight in Cyprus

Bush planting of vines – a common sight in Cyprus

High trellis planting of vines - mainly for table grapes

High trellis planting of vines – mainly for table grapes

It’s February and pale pink, delicately scented almond blossom is suddenly opening on the almond trees. The soft scent encourages a deep inhalation of the perfumed air.   The island seems to be bursting with colour.  The Cyprus countryside between Paphos and Polis on the west side of the island  is a vision of mandarin and citrus orange, almond and cyclamen pink, olive tree silver-grey,  broom yellow and winter wheat  green.   The gnarled brown bush planted vines still appear dormant and the high trellis vines mainly for table grapes show the occasional touch of green.   Nature is responding to the warmth of the sun after two months of cool and rainy weather and is reawakening.

The same could be said of the Cyprus wine industry.    It is going through a renaissance after several centuries of decline and more recently the production of  bulk, inexpensive wines. Cyprus produced much of the  sweet sherry- like fortified wine consumed in the UK and also a large volume of blended wines for the eastern block countries.    Markets have changed significantly and now  Cyprus wine makers are responding to the global demand for higher quality wines by paying greater attention to the handling of  grapes and the production of the wine.

Cyprus appears well positioned to make this transition.  Along with Chile,  Cyprus claims to a country whose vineyards are entirely phylloxera-free and vines are cultivated on their own root stock as opposed to being grafted onto american root stock as is the case in many countries.     Cyprus is also fortunate to have several indigenous grape varieties which are heavily relied upon in its wine industry.    While more international grape varieties are increasingly being planted their percentage of the total acreage cultivated is much smaller.    The red grape Mavro has the highest acreage followed by the white grape Xynisteri.  Next in line are Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.   Another popular Cypriot vine,  Maratheftiko is further down the list.      Xynisteri makes popular white wines but they must be drunk young – one year at most after production.

While much of the wine industry has been dominated by four major producers,  smaller  regional wineries  with lower production capacity are being encouraged within the industry.       Further initiatives to support improved quality have included the appellation system.   There are three wine denominations based on European Union laws.   The three categories are:  Table Wine;  Local wine, similar to the French Vin de Pays; and introduced in 2007 is the Protected designation of origin which is modelled on the French  Appellation d’Origine Controllee.   Each of these denominations has specific requirements which must be met.

The wine industry is a significant contributor to the Cypriot economy through cultivation, production, employment, export and tourism.   It’s  a demanding business in a highly competitive market.     Modernizing and improving quality in line with the industry world- wide is the way forward while building upon the legacy of  local grape varieties and island history.

Almond Blossom - early February

Almond Blossom – early February

Cyprus wine making: Commandaria where the Ancient World meets the 21st Century – part two

Etko Centurion 1991 Vintage on the left and KEO St. John on the right.

Etko Centurion 1991 Vintage on the left and KEO St. John on the right.

KEO St John Commandaria

KEO St John Commandaria

Etko Commandaria "Centurion" 1991 Vintage Cuvee

Etko Commandaria “Centurion” 1991 Vintage

Cyprus is known on the international wine scene for Commandaria, the fortified sweet wine that is associated with the 13th Century history of the Island and the Knights of St. John.

A little adventure seemed in order to become acquainted with this historic wine.  Early one evening as the setting sun was painting a wintery crimson sky, we headed off into the hills above Paphos to the bar at the Minthis Hills Golf Club to conduct our own Commandaria tasting.

An earlier reconnoitre had identified that Minthis Hills offers two Commandarias on their wine list:   KEO St. John and Etko Centurion Vintage 1991 and these two seemed suitable candidates to help us increase our knowledge of this fortified wine.

Notebook and pen in hand,  we tasted the two wines individually and then made a comparison, looking at the key tasting areas of appearance, nose and palate.  Both wines are clear in colour with different shades of chestnut brown;  the vintage wine being darker and having a tinge of red in the brown. On the nose, the St John was clean with pronounced intensity and aromas of burnt raisins, nuts with a touch of caramel and hint of tartness.  The Centurion was also clean on the nose with more pronounced aromas of nuts, figs, warmth and oak.  On the palate,  they were both sweet with medium acidity and medium intensity.  While clearly a fortified wine with alcohol levels at 15% each,  neither was syrupy nor overly sweet or overpowering.    The flavours of sultanas and figs came through and the Centurion, with the advantage of 22 years of ageing, also brought forth buttery, caramel oak flavours with a pronounced spiceness, with pepper and a touch of coffee.    Both wines are very pleasant and given their high alcohol levels,  we assessed them as more accessible  than, say,  an equivalent 15% Syrah.   The Centurion Vintage 1991 delivered extra smoothness and flavour and came with a commensurate higher price.

Both wines are made with indigenous grape varieties.   The KEO St. John is made with Xynisteri, a white grape,  and the Etko Centurion is made with Mavro, a black grape.

Sitting in the comfort and warmth of the candlelit bar and relaxing as we tasted these wines, the conversation turned to history.  The Commandaria wine traces its roots back to the Knights of St John, one of the monastic Hospitalier Orders which undertook both religious duties and the protection and care of travellers.  When the Hospitaliers arrived in Cyprus after leaving Jerusalem in late 13th Century, a king of Cyprus conferred on them  the right to acquire land and they developed their Commanderies.  Over time, the wine they developed on their land around Limassol was called Commandaria.     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.    Its high alcohol levels are due to naturally high levels of sugar from the sun dried grapes and the fortification process of adding pure grape spirit.   Some Commandarias are made using the solera method of blending wine batches from different years as is used in the production of Sherry in Jerez.   There are occasionally single vintage cuvees produced in exceptional years and the Centurion Vintage 1991 is an example.

Sweet wines have largely declined in popularity over the years which is sad as their complexity and full flavours have a lot to offer.  Our conclusion:  it would be very easy to enjoy drinking a glass of Commandaria with a Creme Brûlée,  Tiramisu,  a coffee semifreddo or to accompany a coffee after a meal, or to take a leaf from late harvest wines, to enjoy with blue cheese.

This historic wine can now be bought on line through Amazon;  what better example of the Ancient World meeting the 21st Century!

References:   KEO wines     http://www.keogroup.com

Etko wines     http://www.etkowines.com

Wines of Cyprus    www.cypruswines.com

Minthis Hills Golf Club    www.minthishills.com

Cyprus wine making – the ancient world meets the 21st century – part one

Late 4th/early 3rd century B.C. This pebble mosaic floor belongs to an earlier Hellenistic building and depicts Scylla, the mythical sea-monster who is part -woman, part-fish and part-dog. She is illustrated holding a ship mast and a trident and is surrounded by illustrations of sea life.

Late 4th/early 3rd century B.C. This pebble mosaic floor belongs to an earlier Hellenistic building and depicts Scylla, the mythical sea-monster who is part -woman, part-fish and part-dog. She is illustrated holding a ship mast and a trident and is surrounded by illustrations of sea life.

Floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. Roman period 58 B.C. - 400 A.D.

Floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. Roman period 58 B.C. – 400 A.D.

Paphos Archeological Site - Roman town 58 B.C to approx. 400 A.D. A World Heritage SitePaphos Archeological Site – Roman town 58 B.C to approx. 400/500 A.D. A  UNESCO World Heritage Site

Late 2nd/early 3rd century A.D. This panel represents the story of Icarios. Dionysos and Acme are depicted to the left of the panel. In the centre, Icarios is seen holding the reins of an ox-driven double wheeled cart, filled with sacks of wine. Further to the right, there are two shepherds in a state of inebriation. , A sign identifies them as, " The First Wine Drinkers."

Late 2nd/early 3rd century A.D. This panel represents the story of Icarios. Dionysos and Acme are depicted to the left of the panel. In the centre, Icarios is seen holding the reins of an ox-driven double wheeled cart, filled with sacks of wine. Further to the right, there are two shepherds in a state of inebriation. A sign identifies them as:”The First Wine Drinkers.”

A good starting point for considering Cyprus wine-making is in its classical history as illustrated in the archeological site in the old port area of Paphos, a town situated on the south west coast of Cyprus.  Paphos is included in the official UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures of the world heritage.    The Cyprus Department of Antiquities manages this site where the past merges with the present day particularly through the medium of the ancient Hellenistic and Roman mosaics.

Walking through the entrance-way and up the wide, stone steps to the archeological site, visitors arrive at the open, broad area of excavation of this promontory.    The remains of the town with walkways, broken pillars and stone outlines of rooms are expansive and open to the blue sky which merges on the horizon with the blue, rolling Mediterranean Sea.  This strategic site bordering the harbour provides an uninterrupted 180′ view of passing ships.   What better way for the Romans to guard their Island of Aphrodite where they remained from about 58 B.C. to approximately 400/500 A.D.

There are two areas of mosaics that always draw my attention and wonder.   First of all the uncovered circular mosaic floor which is open to the elements.  It seems like a contemporary, beautiful carpet that I would love to own.   The blues, mauves, pinks, browns are still fresh to the eye in spite of rain and sun over the centuries.

For wine lovers, the mosaic floors around the atrium of the so called House of Dionysos,  2nd – 4th century A.D.,  are possibly the most intriguing.   The remains of this villa are so named after the figural scenes inspired by the Dionysos mythological circle which decorate the reception hall.   Here are mosaic patterns depicting the wine harvest with carts overflowing with sacks of wine and there are inebriated shepherds in the picture too!    The contemporary appearance of the mosaics and their clarity of colour seem to contradict their antiquity and are a tribute to the skill and creativity of the artisans who made them.

Interested visitors often lean over the rails of the raised boardwalk silently and intently gazing at the mosaics.    Perhaps they feel as though they are in a time warp.  Maybe they imagine that they can hear the sounds of the Roman household going about its daily routine and listen to the untold stories of the people who lived here beside the dark blue sea 1,700 years ago or even in earlier times, as illustrated by the pebble mosaic created centuries before.

Fast forward to the 21st century and grapes and grape growing remain an integral part of the Cyprus economy and society.   The modern Cyprus wine industry produces a large variety of white, red and rose wines and undoubtedly draws its inspiration from these earlier times.   More to come in the next Post.

Reference:  Cyprus Island Archeology       http://www.cyprusisland.com

The Colours of Rose – South Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Okanagan Valley vineyards

Okanagan Valley vineyards

IMG_2984  Road 13 Winery, South Okanagan

Driving up the hill on Road 13 to the eponymous Winery in the South Okanagan Valley, we were in for quite a surprise.    This wasn’t the usual West Coast timber and glass winery tasting room.   A whimsical, tongue-in-cheek building that looks like a “cardboard castle” awaited us – a take-off on the classical wine chateau.   As the photo shows,  its all castellations, rounded and pointed towers and even the front door looks like a draw bridge!.   We loved the humour of it.

Once inside, it’s clear there’s no joking about the quality of wine.   The same innovative approach to its building seems evident in the Road 13′s winemaking practices.

We had decided to go in search of this winery after tasting their Rose earlier in the summer last year.   The name was added to the list of “Must Sees” for the annual visit to the Okanagan.

Road 13’s Honest John’s Rose has that vibrant, crimson colour of merlot based Rose wines,  reminiscent in a way of the Bergerac region Rose that we like.   Honest John’s presentation is upbeat and optimistic from its colour and bottle labelling to its intriguing and refreshing flavours not only of soft fruit but also of spice!.

Spending time in the Tasting Room and exploring the Rose further provided the answer to our question of what was the blend of grapes used.  It turned out that Merlot was only a part of the picture.  The main components of the blend are Gamay and Pinot Noir followed by Merlot. Road 13 also adds white grapes to their blend with Viognier and just a hint of Chenin Blanc.  Syrah, Rousanne and Malbec are also included in small percentages.  Perhaps this is an unconventional blending and no doubt adds that “something interesting” to the taste that we liked.

While Rose is typically thought of as a great summer sipper,   Rose delivers on flavour and freshness at any time of year, if it is served lightly chilled so the range of flavours comes through.   This wine would be no exception.

Outside Canada,  blank looks are the usual reaction to information about British Columbia’s wine areas.   Surely BC is known for its skiing not its wine!   Little do people know that beyond the coastal mountains surrounding Vancouver lies the spectacular  Okanagan Valley with its vast lakes, ponderosa pines, fragrant sagebrush and desert areas where vineyards share the land with cherry, apricot and peach orchards.  It’s a magical place.   No wonder the whimsical castle at Road 13 Winery feels right.

References

Road 13 Winery: check out the website and tasting notes

http://www.road13vineyards.com

British Columbia Wine areas.   Super, Natural British Columbia Canada.  check out the extensive information.

http://www.hellobc.com

The Colours of Rose – Provence wine region, South of France

Noix de St Jacques, Virage Restaurant Bar, Monaco

Noix de St Jacques, Virage Restaurant Bar, Monaco

View of Monaco

View of Monaco

Much is written about wine and food pairing.  At the end of the day, most agree its a matter of personal choice although there are some guidelines to avoid mismatches between food and wine.    Choosing appropriate wine to accompany  delicate seafood and fish flavours can be a challenge.

The mouth-watering image above was taken minutes before I tucked into this lunch time dish.    Sauteed scallops on a bed of poached fennel with a garnish of grapefruit and italian parsley flavoured with a citrus sauce.    The verdict:- delicious – delicate seafood flavour of the scallops enhanced by the grapefruit and italian parsley piquancy.

We decided we would like a Rose wine with our lunch.   Our helpful server at Virage Restaurant Bar in Monaco recommended a pale strawberry coloured provencal Rose.  We found it dry without being acidic, refreshing, lightly floral with a hint of red fruit and citrus.   This Rose was delicate enough to complement the scallop and fennel flavours and created a memorable wine and food pairing experience.

This pale pink, subtle wine was a Chateau de Saint-Martin, cuvee Eternelle Favorite 2011, AOC Cotes de Provence, VAR.    Not only does the wine taste good, it also comes in an elegant bottle with a distinctive label.     The grapes used in the wine are Tibouren, Carignan and Grenache.

A brief visit to the South of France took us to the Principality of Monaco.    Lunch was recommended at Virage Restaurant Bar, a smart yet casual restaurant tucked alongside the marina.   The white tablecloths and white/grey colour scheme of the busy restaurant, its open glass fronted entrance metres away from impressive yatchs, and friendly, prompt service created a relaxed and happy atmosphere.    We noticed that the Eternelle Favorite certainly was a popular choice among the clientele who seemed to be smart, younger people working in the area.

This wine and food combination was so delicious and a highlight of our visit that I have attempted to replicate it at home. The fennel was quickly sautéed then poached in a light chicken stock.   I am still working on the sauce.   For now it is my own version of a citrus spicy mayonnaise:  any suggestions to create a sauce similar to that in the photo would be welcome.     All presented as in the photo,  with spinach as a side dish and, of course, accompanied by a glass of pale, subtle Rose!.

Bon Appetit!

Reference:  Virage Restaurant Bar,   http://www.virage.mc

Chateau de Saint-Martin,  www.chateaudesaintmartin.com

The Colours of Rose – Bergerac Wine Region

IMG_3157 Vitrine du Pays Foyen – wine tourist office

IMG_3155Snowman – Le Bonhomme de Neige at Pineuilh, Ste Foy La Grande, Gironde, Aquitaine, SW France

This Snowman reminds me of a business trip to Quebec City years ago just before the Christmas holidays.    Amid the grey-brown foggy gloom of an eastern Canadian winter day, the Quebecois Bonhommes de Neige spread cheer wherever they appeared around the city and in all the Christmas decorations.   I’ll never forget them.

The cheerful chap in this photo comes from his french roots in France.  He can be spotted  towering over the new shopping centre in Pineuilh, outside Ste Foy La Grande in Gironde, SW France and almost opposite the new Pays Foyen tourist and wine shop with its tasting bar established right in the shopping centre.   That’s what the other photo is about:  the Vitrine du Pays Foyen meaning the window on the local area run by the regional tourist office to promote the area and is products.

More modern approaches to wine tourism are starting to catch on in the Bergerac wine region as increased competition forces wine makers to become more extravert in their ways.   This wine area “Vitrine” is a good start and many local winemakers from the Bergerac Wine Region;  from Monestier,  Sigoules and many other villages and communes are represented with photos of the winemakers and their products.   The different appellations that constitute the Bergerac Wine Region are:  Bergerac, Monbazillac, Montravel, Pecharmant, Rosette and Saussignac.

Chateau Lestevenie is one of the many chateaux represented at the “Vitrine” and it produces Bergerac ‘appellation controlle’ wines.   I particularly mention this winery from Monestier because their Rose is one of the best we have tasted and the colour is so festive – Merlot crimson I call it.    A wonderful cherry red to look at and taste!

Humphrey and Sue Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie make one Rose from old merlot vines and another Rose from younger merlot with some malbec.  Supporting our enthusiasm for their Rose,  the Chateau Lestevenie 2011 Rose won a coveted silver medal in the Vin de Bergerac Concours!.

Between the Bonhomme de Neige in Pineuilh and Chateau Lestevenie’s Rose,  its enough to put anyone in the festive mood.

Felicitations pour la Nouvelle Annee.

Reference:   Chateau Lestevenie    www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Office de Tourisme du Pays Foyen (the area between Saint-Emilion and Bergerac)       http://www.tourisme-dordogne-paysfoyen.com

 

 

The Colours of Rose – Bordeaux style

IMG_3159Le 8 restaurant, Ste Foy La Grande

The varying colours of Rose wine fascinate me.  The degree to which, in simplistic terms, the length of time that the black grape skins are left in contact with the Must or unfermented grape juice and affect the colour and flavour of the wine is intriguing.  The colours can range from pale strawberry to vivid crimson and shades in between:  all encourage exploration!

A recent lunch at “Le 8 ” In Ste Foy La Grande, a 13th Century bastide town in the Bordeaux wine region and located on the edge of the Gironde and Dordogne Departments in SW France presented an opportunity to drink Le Rose de Laregnere,  a Bordeaux Rose.

Red peach in colour, its pleasant dry style with subtle aromas of red fruit, citrus fruits and flowers was a flexible accompaniment to a varied four course menu of artichoke soup, pate de maison,  duck with olives, chocolate cake (light and cut from freshly made sponges on the chef’s counter) and local cheeses all for 42 euros for 2 people.

Recently opened, “le 8”, was bustling at lunchtime.  An open plan yet intimate interior where the chef was in full view of the tables gave a sense of dynamism to the place.  The busy pace of the restaurant, the hum of happy lunch time chat was made all the more enjoyable by the good quality of the food and Le Rose de Laregnere.

Reference:   Restaurant Le 8,  8 Rue Marceau,  33220 Ste Foy La Grande,  05 57 41 31 49

Le Rose de Laregnere,   See http://www.cavelaregnere