Driving down the winding road under a sunny blue sky towards Sigoulès, a village in SW France, I see in the distance coloured paper decorations stretched over the road at the village entrance and the large sign SIGOULES in yellow and gold letters.
It’s mid-summer and early in the morning. I parallel park in the field-cum-parking lot and feel the festive mood in the air as I walk over to the large central village square. People are up and about getting the place ready for the annual Wine Fair, including the gathering of the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Stallholders are setting out their wares for sale: wines, olive oils, lavender oils and soaps, food items and all manner of regional products. They are anticipating the bustling crowds of visitors who will come over the weekend to celebrate and enjoy the local wine and food culture of the area.
I meet Joanna Urwin, a local film-maker who has generously offered to make a video of the festivities and we discuss “photo-opps”, where she can best position herself to film public events and where I will talk about Confréries and their activities.
Confréries have their origins in the guilds of the Middle Ages. Today, they are an integral part of local tourism, economic development and cultural initiatives supporting regional products. They were recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as an intangible cultural heritage; an aspect of the “Gastronomic meal of the French.” Confréries also encourage the discovery of regions through such initiatives as well-attended music concerts and popular guided walks in the areas. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès also provides a bursary to a student engaged in wine studies, thus helping to support the education of the next generation of wine professionals.
Confréries operate in a reciprocal manner and members visit other confrérie events across France and in other areas of Europe. This is representative of their value of conviviality and social connection. Members of 45 other Confréries, both in France and as far away as Belgium attend the event in Sigoulès.
The attached video, created by Joanna Urwin of VideoProFrance, provides an insight into this local Foire aux Vins and the annual public celebration of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in SW France.
References: To see video:
UNESCO: List of Intangible Cultural Heritage 2010 http://www.unesco.org
Conseil Français des Confréries, www.conseil-francais-des-confreries.com
Monbazillac wine: Chateau Cluzeau. http://www.chateaucluzeau.com
Joanna Urwin, http://www.videoprofrance.com
It’s early morning and I am vaguely listening to the CBC news. My concentration is suddenly focused on the announcement of the earthquakes in Italy and the tragic loss of life and destruction of the mediaeval town of Amatrice, north west of Rome.
In my mind, I am visualizing the towns and villages that we saw on our recent trip to Italy and in particular, the area around Cassino, where the famous World War 2 battle of Montecassino took place in 1944.
Our visit was to pay homage to a relative who died at the battle of Montecassino in 1944 and whose final resting place is in the Cassino War Cemetery.
Beneath a clear blue sky, crisp lines of cream coloured gravestones softened with plantings of yellow and red roses stop us in our tracks and bring a lump to our throats. Here lie thousands of young war heroes: their names, biographical and regimental details etched on the gravestones. Small family groups of visitors, like us, quietly walk around the Cemetary, touching the gravestone of their family relative in silent respect. An atmosphere of calm and peacefulness pervades this place which lies in the shadow of the Abbey of Montecassino that is situated on a hill top high above the town of Cassino.
We spend the day with Dr. Danila Bracaglia, a local historian and licensed, professional guide. She is very knowledgeable about the WW2 Italian campaign and we visit relevant areas in the vicinity including the Abbey itself. We feel as though we are re-living the history as we stand in these places and absorb the surroundings of mountainous terrain, valleys, rocks, trees and plants, rivers and bridges and listen to Danila recount details of the campaign.
The intense day is followed by a restful stay at a small family run hotel in the middle of Cassino. At dusk, we hear church and Abbey bells ringing out and look up to the Abbey above the town, both completely rebuilt after the war and now very much alive and vibrant.
To regain our equilibrium after our unforgettable pilgrimage, we spend the following day visiting mediaeval towns, including Alatri with the ultimate objective of lunch in Anagni at the Ristorante Del Gallo.
Fortunately, our reservation at this family run, generations old restaurant, was booked well in advance. The restaurant is packed with locals for Sunday lunch. We are the only foreigners having lunch there that day. It’s just as we prefer it: no other tourists in sight.
The atmosphere is lighthearted, exuberant, loud with laughter, smiles and warm welcomes and chat in broken Italian and English as we are asked and we respond about where we are from. Vancouver seems a long way away.
We anticipate a good meal accompanied by local wine. The experience doesn’t disappoint and exceeds our expectations for a memorable occasion.
The piece de resistance, the starter course, is the specialty of the Lazio region. It is wheeled out of the kitchen on a waiter’s trolley and taken to each table for examination and appreciation. Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111, named for a Pope, is a fettuccine based pasta dish enveloped in prosciutto ham. It is prepared and baked in a mould then served upside down and freestanding. The Timballo is irresistible with its aromas of cooked cheese, tomatoes, prosciutto. Inevitably, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs as we enjoy this taste of Lazio, made according to the Ricette TRadizionali. I have looked at a number of Timballo recipes in Italian and have the general idea of what’s involved. At some point, I will make a brave attempt at creating this very Italian dish.
Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 is the traditional pasta dish of the area, and Cesanese is the local wine. The grape variety and wine by the same name has its roots deeply planted in this area. Cesanese is indigenous to the Lazio region with very old origins and may have been used by the Romans in their wine making activities. Cesanese wine has long been associated with the ancient town and commune of Anagni where we are having lunch.
The bottle of Cesanese Del Piglio DOCG, DOCG being the highest classification of Italian wines, is perfect for the occasion. The Cesanese grape variety produces a red wine which we found paired perfectly with the regional food: soft, velvety, light bodied wine yet rich in flavour. A very drinkable and enjoyable wine.
Sadly, winemaking in the Lazio area is in decline due to the urban sprawl. We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy Cesanese wine on this visit as it is not readily available outside the area.
When I attempt to make make the Timballo, I will serve it either with a Sangiovese wine since this grape is widely grown in the area or my preference would be a Montepulciano d’Abrozzo DOCG from nearby on the Adriatic coastal area. This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape variety. While each of these wines is generally richer in colour and texture than the Cesanese, I think either would complement the Timballo.
Our time in Cassino visiting the grave of our relative and other war heroes, together with the WW2 sites and the mediaeval towns and villages in the area will always have a special place in our memories. And, how could we forget the Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 accompanied by Cesanese wine?
Back to the present and our historian, Dr Danila Bracaglia emails me that fortunately her family were not in the area of the Italian earthquakes. However, they heard and felt them and knew this would mean tragedy for those involved.
Our thoughts are with those affected by the earthquakes and aftershocks.
Dr Danila Bracaglia. www.montecassinotours.com and http://www.viaromatour.com
Ristorante Del Gallo. http://www.ristorantedelgallo.it
Lazio region www,italia.it There are many websites about Lazio.
From my perspective, one of the many pleasures of exploring the world of wine is to enjoy a new wine experience and its environment. Attending a gathering of the Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac is a perfect example of this.
Roman history and a hidden gem of vins liquoreux come together in the Loupiac wine area near the city of Bordeaux in SW France.
Loupiac is named for the wolves which once roamed this area and the Roman heritage is in the original name of Lupicius, the wolf.
Loupiac AC and the town of Loupiac is situated 40 km to the south west of Bordeaux, nestled up against the better known Barsac and Sauternes Appellations yet on the right side of the Garonne River. Look at the map of the Bordeaux wine region too quickly and Loupiac is nearly invisible.
Loupiac AC is one of the grouping of Graves and Sweet Bordeaux wines including vins liquoreux in the Bordeaux wine region.
60 winegrowers cultivate the 370 hectares of Loupiac appellation vineyards in small parcels of land, none of them larger than 10 hectares.
As with vins liquoreux in other areas of SW France, the grape varieties are: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle and the blending percentages in Loupiac AC are generally 80%, 15%, and 5% respectively. All grapes are harvested by hand, in several consecutive passes.
It is the proximity to the Garonne River which produces the morning mists followed by hot, sunny afternoons. This climate in turn contributes to the creation of the noble rot or botrytis cinerea which concentrates the sugars in the ripe grapes and results in these honeyed, complex wines.
Increasingly, people are recognizing that these wines can be enjoyed with a variety of foods, not just the old fashioned view of sweet wine with sweet puddings.
At the Confrérie meal, the varied menu included pâté, rabbit, cheese as well as dessert.
As we progressed through the menu, we sampled a range of Loupiac AC wines from different chateaux and different vintages, from 1995 to 2015 demonstrating how well these vins liquoreux age. I was intrigued by the unfolding aromas and tastes across the years. As one of the winemakers explained, the wines develop their mellow, honeyed almost fortified intensity over time not because they become sweeter with age but because the acidity drops with the ageing process thus bringing the sweetness to the fore.
I found this visit to Loupiac and the vin liquoreux and food pairing to be inspirational, especially with the aged wines.
Other wine and food pairing suggestions include chicken roasted in Loupiac wine, duck breast prepared with soy sauce and Loupiac wine, and lemon puddings. And, of course, as an apéritif. All served with chilled Loupiac AC wine, between 4-8’C.
I have already experimented making up a recipe for the foie gras and Granny Smith Apple starter with a biscuity base.
Experimentation is the order of the day, encouraged by the day of discovery at Loupiac.
Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets. He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.
Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.
Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.
While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker. For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.
I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne. After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website. He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.
‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.
I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’
A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.
Inspector Bruno novels www.brunochiefofpolice.com
Château K www.chateau-k.com
Les Hauts de Caillevel http://www.caillevel.fr
Château La Robertie www.chateau-larobertie.com
Château Feely http://www.feelywines.com
Château Le Raz www.le-raz.com
Château Moulin Caresse www.pays-de-bergerac.com
Domaine de Perreau www.domainedeperreau
TV Series Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Vine)
We are sitting in a rooftop restaurant in Rome, enjoying a glass of Prosecco while we read the dinner menu in a leisurely manner and enjoy the view.
Our reverie is interrupted when we observe the people at the next table reject the bottle of wine they have just ordered. I haven’t seen this too many times and I am intrigued by what occurred. Was it the aroma or the taste of the wine that was not to their liking or both? I don’t want to add to their dining drama by asking what happened, so the reason will remain a mystery as far as we are concerned.
The scene runs through my head and I think about an amusing article I read recently by British wine writer Matthew Jukes about Viognier and the reactions his readers described of their past experience of tasting this type of wine. Aromas and taste experiences ranged from: “bubble-bath, loo spray, tinned fruit salad, plug-in air freshener or pick’n’ mix”. I wonder if our dining neighbours experienced these or similarly disagreeable aromas when their eagerly awaited bottle of wine arrived. Matthew Jukes tells his readers that his recommendations of Viognier will not result in these unpalatable conclusions but rather lead them on an exotic and rewarding odyssey. I feel reassured.
About the same time that I noted Mr Jukes’ comments, I read an article in the Style section of Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper about perfume entitled: Message in a bottle, in which writer Nathalie Atkinson describes how perfume evokes memories. I have made similar comments previously about how wine evokes memories and past experiences for me. It seems the perfumes we wear and the aromas of wine we drink must be olfactory cousins.
In her article, Ms Atkinson refers to the work of psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Rachel Herz who says: ” Emotion is a central and fundamental feature of odour perception, odour learning and odour memory.” Dr Herz explains that the sense of smell is intrinsic to the most important dimensions of our lives.
Ms Atkinson also describes situations in which individuals have commissioned perfumes to replicate those worn by dead loved ones. The resulting perfume builds a bridge to a past memory. A very poignant reference is made to French actress, Catherine Deneuve who commissioned a perfume similar to that worn by her sister who died at an early age. This perfume became her personal bridge to her late sister.
In an airline duty free shopping magazine, a scent guide provided by an industry expert refers to the following perfume characteristics: floral, oriental, woodsy, aromatic and fresh.
The Wine and Spirit Educational Trust (WSET), refers to aroma characteristics of wine using similar language: fruit, floral, spice, vegetal, oak, other.
These similarities further emphasize this familial relationship between perfume and the aromas of wine. No wonder people are asked not to wear perfume to wine tastings.
Refining one’s sense of smell and developing a ‘nose’ to fully appreciate perfume and wine takes years of training and practise.
I am continuing my apprenticeship.
Matthew Jukes, wine writer. http://www.MatthewJukes.com
Globe and Mail http://www.globeandmail.com
Nathalie Atkinson, journalist http://www.nathalieatkinson.com
Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) http://www.wsetglobal.com
Dr Rachel Herz, neuroscientist, http://www.rachelherz.com
I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people. Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.
I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established. A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later. Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature. I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years. Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.
So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team. It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London. 31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.
It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.
I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France. Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.
I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.
Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it. I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014. There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas. At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine. Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto. Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.
As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW. I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.
The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.
I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion. Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.
When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.
It says it all.
When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.
On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot. What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm. I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château. In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors. That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.
Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.
It’s always the people who make the difference.
Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence some time in advance. I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.
All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.
Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people. It’s a time machine in a bottle.
Davy’s Wine Merchants: www.davy.co.uk
Domaine Jean Becker: www.alsace-wine.net – Becker
Azienda Agricola Montauto: http://www.montauto.org.
Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja: http://www.miguelmerino.com
Chateau Figeac: www.figeac.com
Chateau Tailhas: www.tailhas.com
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot: http://www.beausejour-becot.com