New Wine for a New Year: Soirée Vigneronne, Bergerac Wine Region, France

The low barrel ceiling of the cellar area of the old Château in Saussignac in South West France is home to the 2018 New Wine presentation by local winemakers.

We walk beside the dark stone exterior wall of the Château, using a powerful torch to prevent us slipping into muddy pot holes or against large rocks or tree roots.   We open the outer door and are greeted by a burst of yellow light and the sound of cheerful chatter as we step down onto the old stone-flagged floor of this cavernous area.

An informal gathering of over 100 people of all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren, is here to sample some new wines.  It’s a casual opportunity to meet neighbours and friends in this small village nestled in the vineyards of the Bergerac Wine Region near the town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River.

Stretched along the middle length of the long, narrow room are picnic tables, the sort that get stacked in village halls for events, joined end to end to accommodate the community meal this evening.   It’s organized as an “Auberge Espagnole” which for the uninitiated is a gathering in which every person or family bring their own food, drink and utensils and generally share what they bring.  It’s basically Bring Your Own and Clear Up Afterwards!  A fantastic, civilized and practical way for communities to socialize and share a meal together.     After all, food, and in this case wine, is at the heart of most convivial community initiatives all over the world.    So forewarned is forearmed: if you see a poster for an “Auberge Espagnole”, don’t try to reserve a room, start cooking and pack up your picnic basket!

Circulating around the room, we talk to three local winemakers who offered some of their new wines for tasting:

Gabriel Grinou from Château Grinou in nearby Monestier

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from Château Lestevenie, also in Monestier

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap in Saussignac

Each winemaker mentioned that 2018 has been a challenging year due to the weather and the mildew.   There was a wet spring followed by a hot summer that turned into the hottest summer in France since 1947.   Mildew is a fungal disease that can affect the grapes and needs to be managed very carefully throughout the growing season and around harvesting time.  For farmers such as these, who practise organic or near organic farming methods, there are bigger challenges dealing with mildew, as there are fewer options for fighting diseases.

in spite of the inherent challenges in farming, which vary year to year, the winemakers are overall positive about the 2018 harvest with better grapes and higher yield in general than in 2017, which was a very difficult year.   I certainly see smiling faces among the group!

What we tasted:

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from award-winning Château Lestevenie offered their 2018 Bergerac Rosé.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon providing strawberry flavour with a hint of spice, Humphrey says ”…their best ever”.    In the photo below, the bottle is empty!  And as Sue says,  “…unfortunately, you can’t see the amazing colour”.    You can check out their website at: http://www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap, certified organic in 2010, offered his 2018 Bergerac White Sec.  Consistently a good quality wine, this is our “go to” white wine.    Olivier and Mireille Roche also offer gîte accommodation at their vineyard for wine tasting holidays!   http://www.chateauletap.fr

Gabriel Grinou from certified organic vineyard Château Grinou generously offered a basket of new wines for tasting.  The team of father and two sons are known for their high quality wines.    I tasted several from the wine basket and found their new and still developing red to be sunny and rich with lots of potential.   http://www.chateaugrinou.com

Farming and wine making are challenging endeavours at the best of times.    We greatly enjoyed the Soirée Vigneronne organized by the Cafe Associatif in Saussignac and wish all the winemakers a successful New Year with their New Wines.

In closing our last post for this year,  we extend best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year!  See you in 2019.

elizabethsvines

History and Hospitality: wine and food stories told in silver. Part 2.

Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history.    “What is their history?”;   ” Who used them and where?  “Tell me more…”

These sauce labels are part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery in Alton in Hampshire  and were viewed  in October.  I wrote the story of the Bronte wine Label in my last post.

Silver labels for sauces, herbs and spices such as those illustrated for Tarragon, Oude, Cherokee, Cayenne, Anchovy  were made by silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries in England to be used to identify the contents of glass condiment bottles on the dining tables of the growing middle class in Britain.

Of those shown, the Tarragon label was made in1798, the Cherokee label made in 1780 and the Oude label made in 1841.   We know this because the hallmarks on each label identify the date in recognized and regulated letter code.

 

Apart from the craftsmanship demonstrated in the making of these single pieces of silver, these sauce, herb and spice labels represent different approaches to cuisine in this period of history and the diversity that came from their origins.

Herbs such as Tarragon, one of the four herbs named as “fine herbes” (parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives) was home grown and was, and is, used in classical French cuisine. Spices were more exotic and imported from many areas of the world and brought different culinary inspiration.    Both approaches to cuisine represent the march of history, global exploration and the corresponding impact on cuisine.

The history goes back a long way, including ancient times.   More recently Marco Polo, the great Venetian 13th century explorer mentions spices in his travel memoirs.     He wrote about sesame oil in Afghanistan, he described plantings of pepper, nutmegs, cloves in Java and cinnamon, pepper and ginger on the coastal area of India.

When Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage in 1493, he revisited the West Indes and Americas, still hoping to go on to China, and brought back red pepper spices and allspice.

All the sea-faring exploration, military actions and colonization around the world over many centuries affected food tastes and cooking styles when people returned to their home countries with their new found food and flavour experiences..

The availability and access to spices in particular was often a function of economic wealth.   For example, the price of pepper served as a barometer for European business well being in general.

As is always the case, language reflects culture and how people live.  The phrase “peppercorn rent’, an expression used today to indicate a nominal amount, reflects the fact that pepper was used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rent. Similarly, in 1393, a German price list identified that a pound weight of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen!

Researching sauce names reveals some interesting information!   I found Cherokee recipes from the southern United States referring to chicken recipes with chilies.   Béarnaise Sauce, the famous tarragon flavoured derivative sauce of Hollandaise, was referenced in 1836 culinary materials.

Oude was more difficult to track down. I did find a reference to a Crosse and Blackwell’s Oude Sauce used in a sausage pudding recipe from the 1800s.   Crosse and Blackwell, a British company making sauces since 1706, no longer make this sauce although they continue to make other condiment products.

Oude sauce has also been referred to as King of Oude sauce.    For example, an 1861 list of supplies included Crosse and Blackwell sauces: Essence of Anchovies, and King of Oude sauce, as well as Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, Mushroom Catsup etc.

Looking further into the Oude reference, my research indicates that the Oudh State (also known as Kingdom of Oudh, or Awadh State) was a princely state in the Awadh region of North India until 1858. Oudh, the now obsolete but once official English-language name of the state, also written historically as Oude, derived from the name of Ayodhya.

Joining the dots, I assume then that Oude Sauce would be spicy in a Northern Indian cuisine style, possibly with spices such as chilies, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander.

Sauce recipes, then as now, are typically not divulged..   While the ingredients for the generic Worcestershire sauce are known and include such items as barley malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, garlic, spices, which may include cloves, soy, lemons, the precise recipe for Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce from 1835 is still a closely guarded secret after more than 200 years.   Tabasco Sauce, another well-loved spicy condiment, has been made in Louisiana in the United States since 1868 by the same family business.  The spice business and extraction of flavours from herbs and spices has been commercially active since the 18th century in line with the illustrated sauce labels.

McCormick is another maker of condiments in the United States that has been in this business since 1889.   The company has established a McCormick Science Institute (MSI).   “The MSI research program sponsors research which is focussed on advancing the scientific study of the health enhancing properties of culinary herbs and spices in areas which are considered to have the potential to impact public health.  MSI released a research paper in March 2018 identifying how herbs and spices increase the liking and preference for vegetables among rural high school students.”  Marco Polo and other early explorers would be pleased!

Thinking about the silver sauce labels on the condiment bottles on the 18th and 19th century dining tables, I wonder about the wine selection in those days to accompany foods using these sauces, especially the spicy ones.

No doubt the advice would be similar to that offered today.   For example, with a curry dish, I might consider a chilled white wine such as pinot gris or perhaps a gewürztraminer:  among rosé wines, I might consider a lightly chilled wine, but not too floral, a Côte de Province appellation comes to mind.   Among red wine choices, considering a lighter red wine and staying away from too tannic a wine would be a good idea to complement the spicy notes of the food.   Côte du rhône, Gigondas come to mind or perhaps an Alsace Pinot Noir.   I could apply these considerations to wines from other parts of the world in making a choice of wine to accompany a spicy food dish.

Viewing these 18th and 19th century silver sauce labels opened up a Pandora’s box of questions for me,  as the unknown name of Oude particularly caught my eye.  So much history and information evoked by a small, beautiful example of silver craftsmanship from over 200 years ago.

References:  websites for:  McCormick and the McCormick Science Institute, Hampshire Cultural Trust/Allen Gallery,  British Library.  Christopher-Columbus.eu, Lee and Perrin, Crosse and Blackwell, Tabasco.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

References:

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

Various websites about Bronte, Italy and the Castello Nelson Museum

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

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

(Video) Celebrating French culture, wine and food in SW France #2

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Italy, Lazio Region:War Heroes and Wine

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.

Cassino War Cemetery

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.

Ristorante del Gallo

Ristorante del Gallo in the 19th century

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.

References:

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.