Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me. So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.
A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port. This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.
If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by. In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.
The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history. Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal. The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations. Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today. The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.
Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia. This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce. We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.
The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries. Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.
The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.
It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine. Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape. Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.
The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon. A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine. We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.
The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one. In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”. Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.
We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings. Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.
When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.
The question is: Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past? I think the answer has to be: Yes.
http://www.epicurious.com Classic Cheese Soufflé
http://www.punchdrink.com – Smoking Bishop recipe