Daffodils in Green Park with Buckingham Palace beyond
Whenever I am in London and have a few hours to spare, I do the things I love the most here: walking and looking at art. I am always uplifted and inspired by these experiences.
Yesterday, I walked in Green Park and captured this daffodil laden view of Buckingham Palace.
Daffodils are one of my favourite flowers. Partly because they are cheerful, yellow harbingers of spring and partly because they bring back my childhood memories of playing in a spring garden at dusk, inhaling their lovely scent. Seeing them in full bloom in Green Park surfaced all these connections.
For my art fix, I came across a magical small exhibition of mainly pastels with some oils by the Impressionist artist, Degas (18 34- 1917) at the National Gallery. This collection on loan from Glasgow in Scotland, features Degas’s well-known subjects of ballerinas, racehorses and women attending to their toilette. If only one could draw or paint movement as he did!
The Degas exhibition at the National Gallery
Degas exhibition poster at the National Gallery
I have also been inspired recently hearing about a new vineyard in Buckinghamshire: Dinton Wines, which was started in 2013.
Enjoying English sparkling wines
Enjoying English sparkling wine
Dinton Folly, an English sparkling wine, is the brainchild of retired countryman Laurie Kimber, who planted 15 acres with the classic varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on a south-facing slope with chalky soil and temperate climate. The neighbours of Mr. Kimber, and his family including his children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren harvest the grapes. The first harvest was ready in 2016.
Dinton Folly is so named because of its proximity to the ruins of a nearby castle and also refers to the idea of taking on such a challenging project later in life. Dinton Wines is an inspiring testament to the fact that it’s never too late to start making wine!
Dinton in Buckinghamshire is close to the Chiltern Hills, a famous place for hiking in the English countryside with picturesque villages and friendly pubs!
Grape picking neighbours of Mr Kimber introduced me to this wine recently. I was delighted by the refreshing, dry, balanced, sparkling wine with its appealing lower range alcohol level of 11.5% ALC.
Perfect to enjoy on an English spring day: Inspirational!
Dinton is near Aylesbury in the county of Buckinghamshire in the Chiltern Hills
Map from Dinton Folly website showing Dinton near Aylesbury
Dinton Wines dintonwines.com
National Gallery: Nationalgallery.org.uk
Maps courtesy of Dinton Wines and local tourist information.
“My inbox is full of compliments about the amazing evening of Canadian wines; the participants loved the event”: so comments the organizer of a Canadian Wine Tasting event in London in October.
Canadian Wine Tasting – London, UK
For those who know Canadian wines, this response is not surprising but nevertheless it’s good to hear.
A couple of months ago, I was asked to advise on wines for a Canadian wine tasting at a private function in London. I am happy to support Canadian wine export efforts in even a minor way and so I was delighted to help and have the opportunity to lead this wine tasting event.
First of all, I established my criteria for recommending wines for the tasting:
1, The wines had to represent Canada as a whole, not just British Columbia or Ontario but coast to coast, which meant including Atlantic Canada.
2. The wines had to be available in the UK. No point in presenting wines that couldn’t be accessed locally.
3. To the extent possible, I wanted to be familiar with the individual wines and wineries.
Meeting these criteria was interesting in itself. Figuring out which wineries were represented in the UK and by whom took some digging. Given the peculiarities of interprovincial trade within Canada, identifying suitable wine choices from Atlantic Canada and Ontario involved some risk taking as I didn’t taste my wine recommendations from these two areas in advance. I relied upon my network to suggest appropriate Nova Scotia and Ontario wines. I kept hearing about Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines from Nova Scotia and I knew that Peller Estates in the Niagara Peninsular consistently win awards for their Riesling Ice wine.
Here are the five Canadian wines I recommended and which we tasted together with the name of the UK organization where they can be purchased
We tasted them in the following order:
Benjamin Bridge Brut Sparkling Wine 2011. Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Handcrafted from 100% Chardonnay. With maritime freshness and soft bubbles, this ‘methode classique’ sparkling wine set the tone for excellence. Regarded by many as the best Sparkling wine in Canada. benjaminbridge.com. Available from Friarwood com.
Meyer Family Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Apples, plums, pears, and other flavours roll into yellow fruit, smoky spices and mineral elements. Recognized as #2 small winery in Canada in 2017. We enjoy both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made by this Okanagan Falls winery and are members of their wine club. I have got to know JAK Meyer, proprietor over the past few years. mfvwines.com Available from Davy.co.uk and also from Marks and Spenser.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada
Clos du Soleil Signature 2012. Certified organic winery produces their flagship red wine from their vineyards in the Similkameen Valley and in Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley. Old world elegance and new world edge is how they describe their style. Hand harvested, gently fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. We visited Clos du Soleil a few years ago and met the founder, Spenser Massie. We admire their wine making values and the grandeur of the location. clos du Soleil.ca. Available from Cellier.co.uk
Clos du Soleil Winery
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Meritage 2012. This is their Bordeaux style red wine with layers of complexity. Red and black fruit, sweet spices and chocolate. We have been visiting Burrowing Owl Winery for many years and also enjoy the hospitality at their on site guest house. We enjoy the wines, the ambience of the place, and support their efforts for the preservation of the burrowing owl species and conservation of the habitat of this endangered underground nesting bird. Located in Oliver, Okanagan Valley. burrowingowlwine.ca. Available from Drayman.co.uk. On a weekend in Shropshire, West Midlands we also discovered Burrowing Owl wine in the historic town of Shrewsbury at Tanners Wine Merchants. tanners-wines.co.uk
Burrowing Owl Winery, Oliver, BC
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Tanners Wine Merchants, Shrewsbury – Burrowing Owl Estate Wines are available here.
Peller Estates Winery, Ice Wine Riesling 2013. Picked at the coldest moment on a winter’s night, each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine. Smooth, luxurious, honeyed, captivating. Our hosts provided a generous selection of crackers and cheeses, including blue cheese which enabled me to demonstrate the magical pairing of Ice Wine and blue cheese, and made the point better than any description. Located at Niagara-on-the-Lake. peller.com. Available from Majestic.co.uk.
There are many excellent Canadian wine choices and these wines that I have selected may tempt the wine enthusiast to further exploration. I also suggest checking out the listed websites for further insights into dynamic Canadian approaches to wine tourism.
It has been a pleasure and privilege to introduce these excellent Canadian wines to a group of wine enthusiasts in London. The wines speak for themselves and we had fun tasting and chatting about them. One of the participants was from Nova Scotia and described the beauty of the Gaspereau Valley where Benjamin Bridge is situated.
This is the 60th posting on my blog. It feels like a milestone to me and somehow appropriate to be writing about Canadian wines because Canada is where I live.
Not bad, eh!
To Davy Wine Merchants for their assistance in the final sourcing of the wines.
To the Canadian Trade Commission for supplying information about Canadian wine regions for wine tasting participants..
We returned recently to the Royal Academy of Art in London to attend the Anselm Kiefer exhibition and, as suggested in my last post, to follow it up with a tasting of the new RA English wine selection of Davenport Limney Estate sparkling wine.
A quick refresher about this English wine is that it is produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois grapes. Davenport Vineyard is an organic winery in East Sussex and the 2014 winner of the United Kingdom Vintners Association (UKVA) Vintners Trophy for their sparkling wine.
We enjoy a glass of Will Davenport’s Limney Estate sparkling wine with a light lunch of green bean salad in the newly opened Grand Cafe at the Royal Academy.. Perhaps not a conventional wine and food pairing yet it worked well and we enjoyed both. This light gold coloured English sparkling wine has substance; is dry, smooth, and rich in flavour with just the right amount of bubbles. As I drink this wine, with its apple aromas on the nose, it opens up to the classic baked biscuity taste. Enjoying all these characteristics, I immediately have that joie de vivre feeling.
A successful and light-hearted conclusion to our visit to the grand scale and diverse exhibition of works by this contemporary painter, sculptor and prolific artist.
References: Royal Academy of Arts, London www.royalacademy.org.uk
It’s our second day in the Champagne region and another sunny day. In Reims, we arrive at the House of Roederer and pull up to the main gate, which slowly opens to let us into the parking area. There to greet us is our guide for the visit, Martine. Chic in black and white with natural elegance and a straight back that would have merited a Good Deportment Badge at my old school, Martine is the quintessential wine professional; knowledgeable, confident and attentive to her guests.
This style typifies our experience at the House of Roederer whose mantra is “Quest for Perfection”. Originally established in 1776, it was renamed in 1833 and has built its strength from this 19 Century organization. Roederer remains a private company under the leadership of Frédéric Rauzaud, the seventh generation of the Roederer family.
House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre
We are shown into the entrance hall, which immediately speaks to the illustrious, past and present of Roederer. The bronze bust of Tsar Alexander 11 has pride of place. He was the Tsar for whom Roederer created Cristal Champagne in 1876. Already a fan of Roederer champagne, the Tsar requested a new champagne to be unique in style and bottle for his personal consumption only. It is said the clear crystal bottle with a flat base was designed so that nothing could be hidden either within or underneath the bottle. This was to forestall any assassination attempt on the Tsar.
Then we enter the spacious, pale wood paneled tasting room where the 19th and 20th century Royal Warrants of several devoted European royal families are displayed around the room. There are other contemporary symbols of recognition and awards on display. They all demonstrate the high esteem in which Roederer has been widely held over the centuries.
Tasting Room at Roederer
Martine guides us through a tasting of several Roederer champagnes. She talks about each champagne and as she does so, in true connoisseur style, silently opens each bottle with a gentle twist of her wrist. No popping of corks here.
Roederer champagnes are known for acidity and fruitiness, which together develop the refreshing citrus and biscuity characteristics with a subtle explosion of bubbles in the mouth. An unsophisticated yet definite “Wow” exclamation was my response to those bubbles. We particularly liked the Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Chardonnay) and a primarily Pinot Noir 2006 vintage from the Montagne de Reims vineyards. We also enjoyed the non-vintage Brut Premier for its fresh style.
Cristal Champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876
For the finale, we tasted Cristal. While all the champagnes we tasted were memorable, there was something special about Cristal, perhaps an added silkiness. Cristal is made from Pinot Noir (60%), Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from the seven finest vineyards on the estate and is only created in the best years. The vines for the grapes for Cristal have to be a minimum of twenty-five years old. The champagne is aged in the cellars at Roederer for six years and can be kept for many years before it is drunk.
We leave Roederer before lunch and drive on to the House of Bollinger, arriving at the imposing former home of the family and present day premises in Ay. The House of Bollinger was established in 1829 and named for one of the founders, Jacques Bollinger. There are currently three branches of the Bollinger family involved in managing the business.
House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.
Bollinger has been a popular champagne in Great Britain for many decades and one third of their sales go to Britain. The House has been providing champagne to the Royal Family since the time of Queen Victoria. The Royal Warrant was granted in 1884 and it is said that it was Edward V11 who originally coined the phrase: “…a bottle of Bolly”. In addition to their royal connection, Bollinger is, of course, known in the world of film, for over four decades now, as James Bond’s favourite champagne. These long standing connections are a source of immense pride to the company.
Behind all the publicity and fun there is a deep respect for tradition at Bollinger, which has received the first award given to a champagne house for their efforts in preserving and handing on the best of the traditional techniques and heritage. This is the Living Heritage Company award – EPV or Entreprise du Patrimonie Vivant. At the same time, modernization and innovation have been encouraged.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bollinger with paired champagnes. Lobster in a soup of tomatoes and zucchinis/courgettes, guinea fowl with truffles, cheese, followed by a warm apricot and peach fruit soup with apricot sorbet. We started with Bollinger Rosé, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2004 and finally, Bollinger Special Cuvée. Bollinger’s style is distinctive for its full bodied toasty characteristics, possibly as a result of the higher percentage of Pinot (60%) typically blended in their champagnes. Like all the Champagne Houses, they have adapted to the changing tastes of customers over the centuries; from the sweeter style of the 19 Century to the current preference for dry (brut) champagne.
The pairings, needless to say, are excellent. Bollinger recommends the Grande Année 2004 for duck breast, quail or quinea fowl. The Rosé is recommended for both seafood and fruit dishes. Bollinger Special Cuvée, the third champagne we taste, is regarded by many connoisseurs as one of the finest of all French champagnes.
‘007’ and Bollinger
After this unforgettable lunch we are shown the extensive Bollinger cellars. During this time we are reminded of Mme. Jacques Bollinger’s interview with the Daily Mail newspaper during a visit to London in 1961. When asked: “When do you drink champagne?” she replied:
“ I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty”.
When it came to choosing champagne to drink on New Year’s Eve, we would have been delighted to enjoy a bottle from any of these Houses. As it turned out, we selected Roederer Brut Premier.
Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon
We enjoyed that characteristic taste of medium acidity, lemony-citrus, biscuit/almond flavour and its refreshing style with soft yet pronounced bubbles, and savoured the moment. We drank the champagne as an apéritif and paired it with smoked salmon on rye toast. The appetizer was prepared with toasted rye bread cut into slices and spread with cream cheese, and then topped with smoked salmon, capers, chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander), and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Our visit to the Champagne region and these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses has provided us with lasting memories. Our stories about the people and their pursuit of excellence, the historic places and delicious champagnes that we tasted will linger on.