Exploring the Isle of Wight, UK and enjoying Rosé wine!

The Isle of Wight (IOW) s one of my favourite places in Great Britain.  I love being by the sea and there’s lots of opportunity for that on this island off the south coast of England.

We arrive by ferry from Lymington.  After a 40 minute mini cruise during which we meander past the Lymington Yatch Haven with the many sailboat masts gently swaying in the breeze, we cross the strait and reach the Isle of Wight.

We dock at Yarmouth, where we visit the 16th Century Yarmouth Castle, one of King Henry V111’s defensive castles built to protect England from invasions from the Continent (!)

We’ve come to spend a few restful days on the Island and have no expectations other than chilling out in the relaxed atmosphere of a place that seems moored to an earlier, less frenetic era.  Part of the chilling out process is to enjoy seafood at The Hut at Colwell Bay and also to explore Isle of Wight history by visiting Queen Victoria’s seaside home at Osborne House in East Cowes.

The Hut at Colwell Bay is our gastronomic beachside destination located right on the edge of the sea.  We visit several times!   Sitting out on the deck enjoying the view is all part of the pleasure of the place.    Lobster, sea bass, crayfish, prawn, hake: it’s all freshly available.

The Hut features rosé wine, which they like to offer in large bottles such as magnums and jeroboams!

If Miraval Rosé Côtés de Provence rings a bell, it may be because it is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in partnership with the Perrin family.  It’s not clear if this ownership structure is still the case.   It’s a crisp and dry wine with a good rating among the top 10 rosés from the area.    Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation of Provence wine in south-eastern France.    80% of Côtés de Provence wine is rosé and the relevant grapes are Grenache and Cinsaut, standard for the area.

Domaine de Saint Mitre Rosé Côteaux Varois is highly rated as a dry rosé and is a blend of Syrah which gives the wine structure and colour with Grenache and Cinsaut which add the aromatics.  This is a classic Provençal blend of grape varieties that work well together.  Côteaux Varois is a key Provençal appellation in the far south eastern area of France.

Rosé is now such a cool and crisp characteristic of summer gatherings of families and friends and seems more popular than ever.

To follow up on our interest in local history, one day we drive to East Cowes to explore Island royal history.

Queen Victoria, on the British throne from 1837 to 1901, made Osborne House in East Cowes her seaside home with Prince Albert and their children.   Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria continued to visit Osborne for the rest of her reign and died there in 1901.

Osborne House was built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert between 1845 and 1851 by the famous British builder Thomas Cubitt, whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace in 1847.    The grand design of the house in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo was the brainchild of Prince Albert.

Visitors can tour the house, walled garden and other parts of the property.    I enjoy seeing the private sitting room which the Queen shared with Prince Albert with adjoining desks and from where she wrote her diary and much of her voluminous correspondence.    The walled garden also celebrates their relationship with entwined initials part of the garden trellis.  

There’s a lot to explore! 

We leave the Isle of Wight after a few days feeling refreshed by the sea air and slower pace of life.  Perfect for a summer pause.

References:    The Hut at Colwell Bay  reservations@thehutcolwell.co.uk

Osborne House, East Cowes, IOW   Managed as a tourist venue by English Heritage:      english-heritage.org.uk/osborne

Enjoying Nature, Wine and Walking: holiday ideas in the Bergerac Wine area, SW France

Much is written these days about the benefits of spending time in Nature.   As an example, this year the Duchess of Cambridge’s Nature Garden will be a highlight of the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London (May 21-25, 2019). http://www.rhs.org.uk

What better way to spend time in Nature than to have a wine-tasting and walking holiday in the French countryside, in the Dordogne Valley near the small town of Bergerac?   For time-out from the hurley-burley of city and work life, it would be difficult to find a better refuge for rejuvenating personal and family time.

Within a defined radius around the communities of Saussignac, Monestier, Sigoules and Pomport, all within an easy drive of Bergerac Airport, there are many wineries where a visitor can happily indulge all three interests of Nature, Wine and Walking, or Randonnées as the French call walks in the countryside.

Holidays in the French countryside often involve staying in self-catering Gites often attached to wineries.      I’ve written in my blog about most of the wineries I am going to mention and will highlight the relevant blog posts.   All the wineries offer wine tastings.   In cases where I know the wineries offer accommodation I am mentioning this but not making any recommendations.

Walking maps are available in the villages, usually in the Mairies (Mayor’s office) or on a notice board in public areas.     Another resource is Walking in the Dordogne: Over 30 walks in Southwest France by Janette Norton, available on Amazon.

The Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, an association which supports wine tourism in the area, organizes walks every Monday and Thursday in July and August. These walks always finish with a Vin d’honneur – wine tasting of local wines.   At this time of writing, the Confrérie’s Randonnées program hasn’t yet been finalized for 2019 but will be available on their website: www.confrerieduraisindor.com

Also available from March through November are jazz evenings offered in different wineries.   The next concert will be held April 12 and in June, the jazz evening will be in Pomport. Check out the 2019 Jazz en Chais program:  http://www.jazzpourpre.com

SAUSSIGNAC    (4 km from Monestier and 12 km from Pomport and 12 km from Sigoules,  19.6 km from Bergerac Airport)

Chateau Feely and Chateau Le Tap are adjoining wineries in this village.   Both are organic wineries and both offer Gite accommodation.

Chateau Feely and associated business French Wine Adventures offers wine courses, walks and talks in the vineyard.     Chateau Feely has been listed in the Top 100 wine estates in France, once for education and valorization of ecological practices and a second time for accommodation. Caro and Sean Feely have been pioneers in the area.   www.facebook.com/chateaufeely

Chateau Le Tap wine information and Gite accommodation offered by Olivier and Mireille Roche is available on their website.    Most recently, I mentioned Chateau Le Tap in the December 2018 post, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateauletap.fr

Chateau Court Les Muts is also in Saussignac and offers wine tastings.    We have been to a jazz evening offered in their winery in previous years.     See elizabethsvines archive: December 2017 “Bred in the Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Chateau Court Les Mûts.   Jeweller Annabelle Degroote offers her creative and hand made jewellery on site.   The creative pieces are made from vine tendrils, pearls and stones.   www.court-les-muts.com

Local accommodation is also available at Le 1500, a Chambre d’Hôtes (B&B) and Café offering tapas, lunch and dinner located in the centre of Saussignac village opposite Chateau Saussignac.  Contact Mike or Lee:   saussignac@yahoo.com

MONESTIER

Three wine chateaux and a restaurant come to mind with respect to Monestier.

Chateau Monestier La Tour, which I wrote about in January 2019 with their herbarium and biodynamic agricultural practices.  See my last blog post: “Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Chateau Monestier La Tour, Monestier”.   I recommend phoning to book an appointment for a visit.   www.chateaumonestierlatour.com

Chateau Lestevenie, which I have mentioned several times in various blog posts, most recently in the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne post.   Chateau Lestevenie offer fun pop up dinners in the vineyard during the summer months.   Sue and Humphrey Temperley can show you the variety of beautiful orchids growing on their property.       It’s important to phone and book ahead for the popular (and delicious) pop up dinners.

www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Chateau Grinou – one of the early adopters of organic wine making practices in the area is located between Chateau Lestevenie and Chateau Monestier La Tour.   I have not yet visited the winery but have met the co-proprietor Gabriel Cuisset and sampled their 2018 wine at the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateaugrinou.com

We have enjoyed many lunches at the Relais de Monestier restaurant, located in the centre of Monestier very near to the Chateau Monestier La Tour.     Le Relais de Monestier is on Facebook.

POMPORT

We have visited two wineries in this community, which is between Saussignac and Monbazillac.

Chateau Ladesvignes.       I wrote about this winery in 2013, which seems a long time ago now!     Apart from delicious white wines at this winery, the views from here over the Dordogne Valley looking towards Bergerac town are spectacular.     www.ladesvignes.com

Another nearby location to experience this amazing view is the restaurant near Monbazillac: La Tour des Vents, one star Michelin restaurant and adjoining brasserie. We have enjoyed several meals here over the years.   Important to reserve in advance.   www.tourdesvents.com

Chateau Les Hauts de Cailleval:  see elizabethsvines archive, December 2017 “Living the Dream, Chateau les Hauts de Caillevel.     I have good memories of sitting by a wood burning stove on a cold December day, drinking hot coffee and listening to the proprietor tell his story about wine making.   www.leshautsdecaillevel.com

SIGOULES

In the nearby village of Sigoules, the annual wine fair (Foire aux Vins de Sigoules) has been held here on the third weekend in July for over 40 years.   It’s organized together with the annual gathering of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, which attracts many Confreries from all over France.   The confrerie members officially parade through the village on the Saturday morning in their charming and creative costumes symbolizing the gastronomique culture they represent.     It’s a colourful and happy occasion held in the market square, near the Code-Bar and bistro frequented by many locals.   Le Code Bar, Sigoules is on Facebook.

There’s much more that can be written about the pleasures of this area: its proximity to the city of Bordeaux, the great wine areas of the Medoc and St. Emilion, the nearby route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, the historic sites of the 14th/ 15th Century 100 years war.    There are the many food markets to tempt the visitor with local delicacies and kayaking on the Dordogne River to burn off calories.    The list goes on and on.

My focus here is about the opportunity for tranquility, for relaxing in nature, enjoying excellent local wine presented to the visitors by the wine-makers themselves in most situations and for walking among the vineyards and lanes of this peaceful, rural area; and, without doubt, rejoicing in the experience and having fun.

Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Château Monestier La Tour, Monestier, Bergerac Wine Region, France

In the first few moments of visiting Chateau Monestier La Tour, in Monestier, SW France near the town of Bergerac, I discover that the motto chosen by the proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, is a quotation from Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), the eminent 20th French sculptor.

Rodin said that: “However you use time, time will respect that”.   The exact quotation is: “Ce que l’on fait avec le temps, le temps le respecte”.     In other words, the decision of how to spend time is up to us; time itself is neutral.

I remember seeing Rodin’s great sculpture: “The Thinker”: the seated man with elbow on knee, fist on his chin, deep in thought.   Rodin is still famous for this sculpture, which is often used to represent philosophy.

This quotation and the remembered image sets the tone for the visit.

We can probably all remember our parents saying things like: “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time!” or words to that effect, while we, as teenagers, lollygagged around!

At Chateau Monestier La Tour, one of the ways in which time is figuratively measured is by the illustration of the sundial, or Cadran, over the entrance to the winery office and chai, showing the subdivision of time and the changing of the seasons. This illustrates another aspect of time; the time and patience required for goals and aspirations to manifest once set in motion.    These symbols reflect the career expertise of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele as a watchmaker and Co-President of Chopard, famous Swiss watchmakers.

A way in which time is literally measured at Chateau Monestier La Tour is in the development and execution of short and long-term plans.   A long-term strategic plan relates to the winery restructuring program to be completed by 2025.  This has included the redevelopment of the vat room and barrel cellar, all ‘state-of-the-art’ and designed for quality results, effectiveness and the convenience of the winery employees.

In the shorter term, the quest has been for Chateau Monestier to become certified as an organic farm.   This, after several years’ effort and hard work regenerating the land, the vines, the farming processes and transitioning to an organic framework, has been achieved in 2018 from Ecocert.

When the Scheufele family became owners of Chateau Monestier in 2012 they made the decision to improve the existing domaine and its winemaking and pursue biodynamic viticulture. These improvements included grubbing up some of the plots and replanting vines.

One key initiative has been the planting of a specific garden with herbs to nourish and support the soil and vines.   The herbarium contains drying and storage facilities for the plants as well as to make the tissanes or teas with which to treat the soil and vines.

Stéphane Derenoncourt, consultant and his team, who have biodynamic viticulture expertise, oversee the vineyards and wine making at Chateau Monestier La Tour.  They use this expertise for making the tissanes from the different herbs, which require different temperatures to release their oils.

It’s this focus on using herbs to treat plants and soil as part of the biodynamic agricultural practices at Chateau Monestier La Tour that fascinates me.   The opportunity to see where the plants are dried and the description of their uses is of particular interest. By way of example, I have described below three commonly known plants from the nine listed in the herbarium,  the description of their uses, as well as the description of biodynamic compost.

Dandelion, known as Pissenlit in French (a very descriptive reference to its diuretic qualities) is used to support the vines in resisting diseases by strengthening the cellular structure of the plants.

Nettle, known as Ortie in French, (yes, those nettles that sting aggressively if you brush by them) full of nitrogen and iron is used to stimulate plant growth.   Nettles are used to prevent mildew.

Comfrey, known as Consoude in French, full of potassium and iron is used as an insect repellent.

Biodynamic Compost.  Use of quality compost to fertilize the soil is key to biodynamic agriculture. Composting works with manure from organic farms and is used usually with six specific mineral elements supplied by plants.

As a side bar comment, all this sounds reminiscent of the work of Nicholas Culpeper, (1616 – 1654), botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer.   He was the best-known astrological botanist of his time, pairing plants and diseases with planetary influences.     I was brought up with the idea of acknowledging the power of plants and a copy of “Culpeper” was readily available in our home for reference.

I feel on familiar ground here.

Back to winemaking and the impact of these practices on the wine produced within this regime. These practices are regarded as homeopathy for plants, preventative not curative and the impact takes time so that the wine produced shifts over time as the biodynamic practices create beneficial change.

Five wines are produced using 6 grape varieties in the various blends. Two levels of red blends of Cabernet Franc and Merlot; white wine blend of Sauvignon and Sémillon, a rosé which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the special late harvest wine particular to the area, Saussignac AOC which is a blend of Sémillon, Muscadel and Sauvignon. As a fan of red wines, their grand vin, Chateau Monestier La Tour, Côtes de Bergerac AOC, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, particularly catches my attention.   I immediately appreciate the fine quality of this wine, which is full bodied but not heavy with good structure and with the Cabernet Franc will age well.

I have visited Chateau Monestier La Tour twice now and each time I am conscious of the timeless nature of the place. It feels very grounded. Each time, I have felt a sense of calm and peacefulness here.   I feel this especially in the barrel cellar room, where I can almost feel the wines breathing and in the herbarium with the subtle fragrances of the herbs. The warm welcome from the Administrator at the Chateau is very much appreciated.   I will be returning to look at the herb garden in bloom and thinking about what ideas I can use in our garden!

Chateau Monestier La Tour and the Scheufele family are making a significant values-driven investment in money and time in this small village in the Dordogne.

“A rising tide lifts all boats”.

 

References:   Chateau Monestier La Tour   http://www.chateaumonestierlatour.com     Contact details are on the website to arrange a visit.

Stéphane Derenoncourt Consultant     http://www.dereroncourtconsultants.com

Nicholas Culpeper:   www. famousscientists.org    Copies of his book are available on Amazon

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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