Perhaps it’s remembering mediterranean holidays and city streets lined with fruit trees covered with oranges that resemble vibrant holiday decorations. Sweet memories in lockdown times.
All these thoughts of clementines inspire me to consider an orange cake to start the holiday celebrations. When a friend sends a recipe for Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake the culinary decision is easy! It’s a great recipe for anyone watching their gluten intake, as it calls for almond flour. I limit the amount of sugar in any cooking I do and so substitute stevia for the sugar in the recipe. (A quick google check suggests the ratio of 8:1 sugar to stevia.) Another adjustment is to make mini cakes rather than a loaf cake. This makes it so easy to have a just a small taste of something sweet to finish a meal.
Clementine mini cakes
These mini cakes are moist and have the flavour of orange. I still want more orange flavour and decide an orange syrup is essential! I combine a couple of recipes to make this syrup which is essentially: juice of 4 oranges and 1 lemon, Agave syrup to taste instead of sugar. I simmer that combination and allow it to reduce in volume and add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier – the aromatic cognac and orange liqueur combination – and some candied orange peel. Result: yummy combination of mini clementine cake and orange syrup!
Delicious orange syrup
Clementine Mini Cakes with orange syrup
In wine and food pairing terms, a glass of Sauternes or another late harvest wine would be excellent or to start the celebrations, maybe continue with the taste of Grand Marnier Liqueur!
Entertaining friends, one or two at a time in a responsible social distancing way, is still something we enjoy hosting on the patio. Offering what I call a mini-meze feels like an easy, no fuss option.
Mini-meze with pâté of sardines, anchovies and almonds
Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) growing up a storm and protected from local cat!
A meze in eastern Mediterranean countries involves quite a few different and delicious dishes. I prepare an abbreviated version with roasted vegetables, slices of local feta with olive oil drizzled over and chopped herbs, either oregano or fresh basil from the garden, sliced tomatoes and various cheeses including the greek cheese, Kefalotyri. I add some form of protein, sometimes smoked salmon, or as in the photo above, a paté of sardines, anchovies and almonds – quite delicious with toasted black bread or crackers.
A photo of the rapidly growing Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) is included. The planter is covered to protect it from a neighbourhood cat!
This mini-meze Is served in the context of enjoying a chilled white wine, usually an indigenous Cyprus white grape called Xinisteri, which is similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris – in that continuum of freshness but not too acidic. As mentioned previously, a favourite of ours is the Zambartas Xynisteri.
Zambartas Xynisteri 2017
I read in a French wine publication that a gloomy autumn, ‘ un automne morose’ is anticipated, in which bad news about the financial health of organizations is starting to become a reality and could affect the whole wine sector including sales for the upcoming festive season. It’s probably a time to look out for great prices of choice still and sparkling wines.
Offering a mini-meze with wine is one way to continue to support our local/and or favourite winegrowers during these challenging times.
My favourite culinary endeavour right now is making salsa, in particular mango salsa.
Delicious Mango Salsa with Cilantro on the side
Just the name feels festive and so does the taste with the combination of sweet and contrasting flavours from the spring onion, red pepper, lemon juice and cilantro together with the mango. Chopping all the ingredients up into small pieces and mixing with the lemon or lime juice makes this a really easy summer garnish.
There are many recipes on the internet but this is the combination I have been making with success and I really like it. In consideration of friends who may not like cilantro, I serve that separately so people can add it to their taste. We enjoy this salsa with prosciutto, cheeses, smoked salmon, roasted vegetables and the list goes on. I have tried making the salsa with nectarines as that fruit has less natural sugar than mangoes but it didn’t really measure up from my perspective.
Rosé seems to be the perfect wine match and we have recently tried two that are new to us: Zambartas Wineries 2018 Rosé from Lefkada, a Greek grape and Cabernet Franc, and Vouni Panayia Winery 2019 Rosé from local grapes, Mavro and Xinisteri.
Two summer Rosés
The Zambartas Rosé won a gold medal in the 2019 International Rosé Championship and is a darker rosé colour from the Cabernet Franc grape, similar in colour to the rosés from South West France. 13% ALC by volume.
The Vouni Panayia Rosé from the local grapes of Mavro (black) and Xinisteri is paler, more similar to the rosés from the South of France. 13.5 % ALC by volume.
Both wines offer red fruit flavours including pomegranate and are refreshing, good as a summer aperitif as well as with seafood or Asian style food. We enjoy them both but in balance my favourite is the paler rosé from local grapes.
It’s time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer, with socially distanced outdoor eating and fresh and refreshing flavours.
Lamb and feta cheese seems an unusual combination when I first hear of this a few years ago from Swiss/Austrian friends who serve us delicious lamb and feta burgers.
Lamb and Feta Meatloaf with Tomato Sauce
In a Covid culinary moment, I decide to see if I can replicate this combination and search for a recipe for a meatloaf with lamb and feta. To my amazement, I discover a January 1997 recipe for Lamb Meat Loaf with Feta Cheese on the Southern Living website, a magazine I haven’t seen for many years in Vancouver but I see is still very active and interesting.
I made this meatloaf twice, the second time with great success. The first time, it does a belly flop when I turn it out of the pan.
Lamb and Feta Meatloaf slices well and freezes perfectly
Here’s how I modify the recipe to my taste: replace the green bell pepper with red pepper, added more fresh herbs, particularly rosemary, add chopped black olives and make a fresh tomato sauce, ‘Classic Tomato Sauce’ from the Epicurious site, rather than a bought sauce as suggested. Additionally, to avoid the belly-flop routine, I make the full recipe, which is for 8 servings and put all the ingredients including the toasted pine nuts but not the feta cheese and olives, in the food processor for two spins to fully integrate all the ingredients before I layer the pan with the mixture and the feta cheese and olives. A big bonus with this recipe is that it freezes really well, so I slice the meatloaf and individually pack slices for the freezer.
The big decision, of course, is what wine to serve with it.
Ktima Karipidis Nebbiolo
Ktima Karipidis Nebbiolo
My thoughts turn to a Nebbiolo wine from Greece that we enjoy in Nicosia, Cyprus earlier in the year. This delicious Nebbiolo from the organic vineyards of Ktima Karipidis in Thessalia, Greece with its full body tannins, high acidity and distinctive scent of fruit and liquorice would be a good match with the lamb and feta meatloaf with its tomato sauce. In my mind’s eye, I see myself enjoying this Greek Nebbiolo with my newly discovered meatloaf!. Fantastic!
I have not been to the Thessaly area of Greece but I read that the area is bordered by Greek Macedonia and the Aegean Sea and has a thriving viticulture industry. The wine waiter at Beba Restaurant, Nicosia, recommends this wine to us. It was a good recommendation, which we thoroughly enjoy. The Nebbiolo grape is usually associated with high quality wines from the Piedmont area of Italy.
Closer to home here on the West Coast, we enjoy the meatloaf with our house Pinot Noir, which is from the Meyer Family Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, B.C: also a good choice with the lamb and feta.
Taking time to discover new recipes and imagining wine pairings is enjoyable and creative in these unusual times and brings a smile to my face.
Perhaps the Heartman says it best with his inspiring ♥️ heart creations.
The Heartman creates an inspiring flower heart. Photographed with his permission.
We’re all spending so much more time at home these days. It’s inevitable that someone will ask, “How are you spending your time?” That is, in addition to whatever work one might be doing at home and/or looking after children.
Painting for pleasure – Almond tree in blossom
A Heron out fishing
Growing lettuce and chives
Pots and pans – everyone’s cooking
For myself, in addition to observing all the social distancing rules here in British Columbia and usual responsibilities at home, I am painting, gardening and growing lettuce and chives, walking in nature and cooking!
Cooking seems to be the main preoccupation for people I talk to. Not just the every day stuff but getting creative. As a friend said to me, “…after years of not bothering much with cooking, I’ve got all my old recipe books out and I am enjoying making good meals. It fills some time and I eat well!”
Other friends have said they are enjoying watching reruns of the charismatic American cook, Julia Child (1912 – 2004) and her cooking shows; great entertainment! Julia Child is recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her television programs were and clearly are, very popular.
One way that we can support the wine industry is through buying more wine! How about exploring new combinations of wine and food or selecting great wine by itself that we haven’t tried before?.
If we live in wine growing areas, we have the opportunity to support our local wineries through their wine-clubs and/or buying local wines at our local wine stores. It all helps the industry that has been through tough times for a few years.
Here in British Columbia, the wine growers in the Okanagan Valley struggled with fierce wild fires two years ago and now are facing loss of wine tourism and loss of sales to restaurants and bars.
Wherever we live, whether in North America or Europe, or elsewhere, it’s important that we support the local agricultural wine-growing sector if they are to survive.
In the spirit of practicing more wine and food pairing, here are some tips:
Think about the component parts of both the dish and the wine. When considering the food dish, consider whether or not there is a sauce with the food. This can make a big difference as to which wine is chosen. For example, chicken prepared with a creamy sauce would pair well with a chardonnay, which fuses with the creaminess of the cream sauce. Chicken prepared with a spicy sauce would pair better with a Gewurztraminer.
Balance the power of the food dish and power of the wine. Be careful not to kill the wine or dish with too powerful a wine or dish. If big red wines appeal, then drink with roast meats or stews.
Consider the complexity of the food, i.e. the number of ingredients – this can make selecting an appropriate wine more challenging. Considerations would be the level of acidity, the spices/herbs in the dish, whether there is saltiness or sweetness. Having considered these elements, decide which aspect of a multi ingredient dish is to be “activated’ with the wine choice.
Consider that specific regional menus often pair well with corresponding regional wines. After all, they’ve grown up together! For example, Italian dishes often contain tomatoes and olive oil. Tomatoes are very acidic. A characteristic of Italian wine is noticeable acidity. If you are preparing an Italian dish, select a wine with acidity. If you choose a regional dish from another area, see if you can find a suitable wine to complement that particular regional food.
If some old sweet wines appear in your wine storage area, enjoy with aged, strong cheeses.
The idea is to experiment and keep good notes, so the successful and not so successful pairings can be noted!
The most important objective for wine and food pairing in these challenging times is to bring enjoyment to the table. Sometimes, a really good bottle of wine is best enjoyed on its own before or after the meal, if an obvious pairing doesn’t come to mind.
Let’s do what we can to support our local wine industry, our local wine growers and local wine shops!
Finally, to quote Julia Child:
“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes,
And above all have fun”.
This sounds like perfect advice for experimenting with wine and food pairing.
Bon Appétit et Bonne Continuation!
Reference: Julia Child 1912-2004. Lots of information and YouTube material on the web.
Walking through Green Park in central London, between Piccadilly and the Mall – think Buckingham Palace – I discover an elegant, powerful yet somber memorial to Canadians and Newfoundlanders who fought alongside their British compatriots in the First and Second World Wars.
Canada Memorial, Green Park, London, made of Canadian Shields Granite with maple leaves in bronze.
I’ve walked through Green Park many times over the years. For whatever reason I have not discovered this memorial before made of Canadian Shields granite, water and bronze maple leaves. It radiates a sense of calm underneath a canopy of horse chestnut trees.
The description of the memorial says:
”Designed by Canadian sculptor, Pierre Grenache and unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994, this memorial pays tribute to the nearly one million Canadian and Newfoundland men and women who came to the United Kingdom to serve during the First and Second World Wars. In particular it honours the more than 100,000 brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace and freedom.
The monument, made of polished red granite from the Canadian Shield is inset with bronze maple leaves arranged in a windswept pattern. Set at an incline.”
A quick catch up on Canadian history explains why the description differentiates between Canadians and Newfoundlanders. Newfoundland joined the Canadian Federation in 1949, four years after the end of World War 11. As the description also states, the military forces going to join the two world wars left from the port of Halifax in Newfoundland.
The easiest way to find this monument which hugs the ground, is to locate the Canada Gate, which is marked on London maps showing Green Park. If you are facing Buckingham Palace, the Canada Gate is on your right towards Piccadilly. The monument is ahead.
Canada Gate, The Mall, London
Canada Gate, The Mall, London
I find this memorial very moving, particularly as we approach the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, centred around the date of invasion, 6 June, known as D-Day.
Another opportunity to walk through Green Park presents itself when I stand in line outside Buckingham Palace to photograph the formal announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby. Lots of young people are queuing, excited to be in London outside the gates of the Palace and connecting in some way to Prince Harry and Megan’s baby. On this particular day, it is a public holiday that day, so schools are out!
The formal announcement placed outside Buckingham Palace to announce the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby.
The line up outside Buckingham Palace to read -and photograph – the formal birth announcement. I joined the queue!
We take advantage of this time in London to catch up with some friends for lunch at one of the Côte Restaurants; known for good value and convenient locations. The one we eat at being near Trafalgar Square. Imagine our delight at discovering a Bergerac Region wine on their list! Needless to say this is what we order and all enjoy. It is a classic Bergerac white wine blend made from mainly Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon grapes. Both varieties well established in South West France. The refreshing acidity and citrus flavours makes this aromatic dry wine an excellent pairing with our fish entrée. Château Laulerie, part of the Vignobles Dubard operation started in 1977, is situated in the Montravel area of the Bergerac Wine Region. In London, this is competitively priced at an average price of £9 (15.37 C$ or 10.21 Euro).
Château Laulerie, Bergerac Wine Region
Bergerac Wine Region and adjoining wine areas
One of the many things I enjoy about visiting London is the mix of culture, history, food, wine, and events. Always something to engage the spirit and imagination.
References: Chateau Laulerie, vignoblesdubard.com
Canada Memorial – Green Park – The Royal Parks www.royalparks.org.uk
Photographs can be a great distraction: enjoyable, sometimes surprising and inevitably stacked with memories. When recently ‘decluttering’ an attic full of memorabilia and photos it was difficult not to be become absorbed in looking at the old photos. Subsequently, I looked at my blog photo collection and found myself reminiscing about various Châteaux and wine related visits. Here are several photos that remind me of those times.
Château Margaux, Medoc
Château La Dominique, Saint-Emilion: the new chai designed by architect Jean Nouvel.
Pierre Sadoux, father and son, Chateau Court les Mûts, Vigneron of the Year 2018, Bergerac Wine Region, Guide Hachette
Burrowing Owl Winery, Oliver, BC
Chateau Haut-Brion, looking out to the vines, Pessac, Bordeaux
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
The Quintus Dragon, Château Quintus, Saint-Emilion.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
Château Monestier La Tour. Time and the passage of time: Auguste Rodin quote, the sundial symbolising the passage of time and the watchmaking career of the Proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and the Chateau Monestier la Tour emblem of the Crane.
La Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac
The colourful parade of confréries
House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.
Every photo represents a story to me and I am grateful to many people for making these wine related visits possible.
Happy Spring! Vancouver is looking beautiful in warm, sunny, springtime weather. I hope it’s similar wherever you are!
Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history. “What is their history?”; ” Who used them and where? “Tell me more…”
Oude sauce label made in 1841
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.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
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.
Tarragon label made in 1798
Anchovy, Cayenne and Cherokee silver labels
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.
The French people had lots to celebrate over the past weekend: the victory of the French national football team, commonly known as Les Bleus, in the FIFA finals as well as their traditional July 14 Bastille Day holiday. Invited to celebrate over dinner with friends, I couldn’t resist making the quintessential French dessert of Cherry Clafoutis.
Surprised to not find a recipe in my library of cookbooks I turned to the internet and found one I liked by SimplyRecipes. Here’s their recipe:
2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons of blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2 cup of an all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk
3/4 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
Butter and flour baking dish, scatter with cherries and slivered almonds. Preheat oven to 350’ F
Make batter with eggs, sugar, salt and flour
Add the milk, almond extract and vanilla extract
Pour batter into the baking dish over the cherries and slivered almonds
Bake at 350’ F for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned
Remove from oven and cool
Dust with powdered sugar to serve.
I tweaked the recipe a little by reducing the amount of sugar, adding the almonds to the food processor and puréeing them with the batter ingredients, and using half cream and half milk. I used an apple corer to remove the cherry pits, which left much of the cherry intact and looking good. The result was a creamy and not too sweet baked cherry custard and the verdict was overwhelmingly positive: delicious in fact!
This is the season for cherries. British Columbia cherries are so sweet and full of flavour at this time of year that a Cherry Clafoutis is a great way to enjoy them cooked.
The question is: what wine would I select to serve with this? In keeping with the celebration, my inclination would be a French wine, either a sparkling rosé or a light Beaujolais, fruity and lively.
I made two Cherry Clafoutis with one in the freezer, ready to be enjoyed at a later date. When I serve that one I will decide on which of these wine choices to serve. Other wine suggestions are welcome!
Victoria, British Columbia offers that mix of Western Canadian history and urban charm itself. This is why we enjoy our summertime visits there so much.
Iconic Empress Hotel, Victoria
Munro’s Books, Victoria
Elegant 19C architecture: Union Club, Victoria
Rogers Chocolates : Delicious chocolates since 1885
Only in Canada: moose humour
Inner harbour, Victoria
Captain Cook who sailed into Nootka Sound in 1778 with MidShipman George Vancouver
These photos represent all the things we look forward to when visiting Victoria: browsing and buying books at Munro’s books, always a highlight of our visits; sampling delicious chocolates at Roger’s Chocolates, and generally taking in all the small town charm of British Columbia’s capital city. Each visit, I re-read the history of the early explorers on the statues around the inner harbour; quite often there is a seagull perched on Captain James Cook’s head.
On our most recent visit in June we discovered a restaurant new to us: 10 Acre Kitchen, one of three 10 Acre restaurants in downtown Victoria. This enterprise offers local farm to table imaginative cuisine and serves interesting wine. A definite recommendation for future visits.
We enjoyed beet salads and Dungeness crab cakes – light and delicious with a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend white wine from Lock and Worth Winery in Penticton, British Columbia; also new to us!
10 Acre restaurants in Victoria BC
Lock and Worth Winery, BC : a new discovery
Lock and Worth Winery: Sauvignon blanc and semillon
I particularly enjoy this Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend. To me, this is the classic Bordeaux White wine blend that I am familiar with in SW France. It’s another opportunity to think about the wine related connections between SW France and Western Canada! What I enjoy about this blend and find very drinkable is that the Semillon gives depth and gravitas to the acidity of the Sauvignon blanc. At Lock and Worth, the winemakers produce wine that is un-fined and un-filtered so the wine is slightly cloudy. The winemakers say they make wines without pretense and this approach is behind their plain label bottles I will definitely plan to visit this winery on a future visit to the Okanagan Valley and taste more of their wines.
It’s always fun to discover new restaurants and wines and incorporate those experiences into familiar venues. I am looking forward to a return visit already!
References: 10Acres.ca Group of restaurants, Victoria BC
lockandworth.com. Lock and Worth Winery, Penticton BC
Meet two women wine and food entrepreneurs who, in different ways, connect SW France and Western Canada: Caro Feely in SW France and Marnie Fudge in Alberta, Canada.
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Marnie Fudge is co-proprietor of Cuisine and Château Culinary Centre
Caro Feely is an organic wine farmer and producer with her husband Sean at Chateau Feely, an organic wine estate located in the Dordogne in SW France. She has just returned from a book tour in British Columbia, Canada where she presented to Canadian audiences the latest of her three books, which describes the challenges and triumphs of building an organic wine business and raising a family while learning a second language.
I feel exhausted just thinking about it!
Caro’s books are called: Grape Expectations, Saving our Skins and her latest book Glass Half Full was released in April 2018.
In addition to writing about her family’s experiences, Caro and Chateau Feely offer organic wines made on site, Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 2 wine courses, Wine Weekends and luxury ecological accommodation. Check out Caro’s books and all information about Caro and Sean’s initiatives at Chateau Feely on their website below.
I have known Caro for many years and admire her hard work and innovative ideas.
Marnie Fudge is the co-proprietor with her partner, Thierry Meret, of Cuisine and Chateau, an interactive culinary centre in Calgary, Alberta. Marnie and Thierry offer cooking classes in Calgary, corporate team-building workshops based on teams cooking together and culinary tours. The culinary tours are a gastronomical weeklong adventure through the Périgord region of SW France enjoyed while staying in a 16th Century chateau.
I met Marnie on a business related course some years ago and subsequently introduced her to the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules as they share common interests in the presentation of local wines and wine and food pairing.
I will quickly add here that the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès is about to start their summer program of guided hikes and wine tastings in the Bergerac Wine Region. These are listed on their website below.
For many years, Marnie and Thierry have been bringing Canadians to enjoy the wine and food of SW France on a foodie adventure. During this stay, the group enjoys an evening with the Commander of the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules who describes local wines and conducts a wine tasting focussed on a gastronomic dinner. I have been fortunate to attend one of these excellent events when, by chance, I was in France at the same time as the group.
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès
Marnie and Thierry are bringing their 2018 tour group to France this month in June. Their 2019 Culinary Tour dates are posted on their cuisine and chateau website below.
Chateau Feely and Cuisine and Chateau are great examples of the international nature of the wine and food culture and sector. Bravo and Hats Off/Chapeaux to Caro and Marnie; these two women entrepreneurs are connecting SW France with people from Canada, and around the world.
Château Feely chateaufeely.com
Cuisine and Chateau cuisineandchateau.com
Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules confrerieduraisindor.com
Xynisteri, an indigenous grape in Cyprus makes one of my all time favourite white wines for the summer. Refreshing, with lemon/lime, grapefruit and apple notes and balanced on the acidic side with flavours of tropical stone fruits; think mango and also apricots and peaches. On the nose, there are floral and fruity tones.
Four Cyprus wine producers of Xynisteri White wine
It’s a great sipping wine for the patio, yet also perfect in food pairings such as fish, white meat and even salads with fruit.
I have my favourite four producers: their wines are similar yet with nuanced, discernable differences.
Here is the line-up of these four producers including the name of their Xynisteri wine,
Vouni Panayia Winery, Alina Xynisteri. I have written about Vouni Panayia before. They were awarded Decanter Platinum Award as best value Cypriot White wine for their Alina Xynisteri 2016.
Vasilikon winery, Xynisteri
Tsangarides Winery, Xynisteri – I have written about Tsangarides Winery previously as well.
Kolios Winery, Persephone Xynisteri
I should add that there are other producers of Xynisteri wines who I am not yet familiar with.
Xynisteri is a robust grape variety that grows well at high altitudes. Xynisteri is the main white grape variety grown in Cyprus. It is one of the two indigenous grape varieties used in the production of Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet Cypriot dessert wine. Commandaria’s heritage dates back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production. Xynisteri is also used for the production of the local spirit, Zivania.
If you are in Cyprus as a visitor, or resident, I suggest you look for these Xynisteri wines on restaurant wine lists and try them all over time and see which you prefer.
This seems like a perfect occupation when enjoying sunny days in Cyprus.
It’s the ledger of winners of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.
Decanter World Wine Awards 2017
In equal measure, I feel interested to see the results and dismayed at the size of the package: 306 pages of dense information. How to make sense of the results without spending hours and hours reading the ledger word for word?
Going back to basics makes the most sense. I ask myself: what are the key messages from the wine awards?
Here are my three take-aways from the report
The value placed by Decanter magazine on the consumer benefits of identifying and promoting wine quality,
spotlighting lesser known wines and/or wine regions.
Recognizing the expansion of the wine industry into many more countries and wine regions than I would generally consider. Literally A to Z from Albania to Veneto. I count 68 countries and wine regions in total. (Countries and wine regions are counted separately, for example: New Zealand is 1 entry and there are 6 French wine regions noted).
Who would have thought a few years ago about wines from new and exciting regions, or “lesser known areas” as Decanter discreetly states, entering these global competitive processes?
This point is exemplified in the list of countries represented in the description of Platinum Best in Show wines. In the Decanter World Wine Awards, Platinum Best in Show is the highest accolade possible. All Platinum Best in Category winners from around the world are pitted against each other to win the Platinum Best in Show. There are 34 wines in this category which triumphed over 17,229 entrants to the competitive process. Some of the countries these wines are from are: Moravia (Czech Replublic), Canada, England, Uraguay, Austria, Portugal, Corsica, Luxembourg as well as the usual suspects France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand.
Acknowledging the rich diversity of grape varieties and wine styles around the globe together with the complexity of wine production with issues of sustainability and environmental considerations in an ever changing world.
In this context, the wine industry is an increasingly crowded market place with all that it implies in terms of running a business and succeeding; the risk and reward considerations are daunting.
As I continue reviewing the report, I recognize many wines in the ledger of winners. One I am particularly delighted to see is the Best Value Cypriot White; Vouni Panayia, Alina Xynisteri, from the Paphos region, Cyprus that I wrote about in my most recent post after our visit there in the early Spring this year.
At the end of the day, over dinner, we discuss the report and in general the challenges of making wine and running a Winery. Clearly, the imperative is to make the highest quality wine possible and this is all good news for the consumer.
Our choice of wine to accompany dinner is new to us: Painted Rock Estate Winery from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. We enjoy one of their acclaimed reds, a Merlot: dark fruit flavours with a touch of spice and chocolate that lingered well on the palate and paired well with a small tenderloin steak with sautéed mushrooms in a red wine and mustard sauce.
Painted Rock Merlot, British Columbia
The 306 pages of the DWWA 2017 report don’t look so intimidating now and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to discover more about the diversity of award winning wines, wine makers and wine making trends. For me, the real value in this competitive process is the increasing emphasis on and encouragement for high quality wines.
The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 competitive process together with all tasting notes and related information can be found at http://www.Decanter.com/dwwa
As I walk to the restaurant table at Minthis Hills Golf Club to enjoy a St Valentine’s Day lunch near Paphos in Cyprus, I am already anticipating having a glass of something sparkling. I know I will be the only one at our table making this choice today, so I am pleased to see on offer a 200ml bottle of Familglia Zonin Prosecco. This is a good start as I am a fan of small bottles of wine for individual consumption.
St Valentine’s Day choice: Prosecco Zonin.
While I await the arrival of the flute glass and the mini bottle, I remind myself that I am quite cautious about Prosecco in general as I have experienced some overly sweet examples in the past. Also, I have to admit to not being familiar with the Famiglia Zonin wines.
All reservations are set aside as I taste this dry, slightly almondy, fresh sparkling wine. It was exactly what I was looking for to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. Sparkling wines are so versatile with food selections that I continue to drink this with my meal of ravioli filled with halloumi cheese, ground almonds and walnuts served with a mint pesto sauce. An interesting menu selection which captures my eye and translates into a successful food and wine pairing.
St Valentine’s Day belated best wishes to the readers of elizabethsvines.
A rose for St Valentine’s
Reference: Casa Vinicola Zonin SPA – Zonin Wines zoninprosecco.com
I am looking at this exciting modern architecture on the banks of the Garonne river in Bordeaux and my imagination runs away with me.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
I can’t help thinking that this building reminds me of the Mother Goose children’s story of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, albeit a golden shoe when the sun shines upon it. As in the nursery rhyme, there are even people in the “Shoe” as the building is a hive of activity of visitors engaging with the various exhibits about wine.
In all seriousness, it’s a building with a sense of liquidity, that reflects the curves in the river as the Garonne and then the Dordogne rivers join together as the Gironde estuary and empty into the Atlantic. This waterway has been the key transportation link for centuries between the Bordeaux wines and their thirsty markets abroad, in particular the United Kingdom with its love of claret.
Architects Anouk Legendre and Nicholas Desmazières from XTU Architects in Paris have created this elegant building to showcase the international wine culture which celebrates and explores the place of wine in culture from the time of the Egyptians to the modern day. It is said that not only does the colour of the building change daily and hourly with the weather but also with the changing light of the seasons, in the same way that the leaves on a vine change colour to mirror the seasons.
The mission of La Cité du Vin is to promote and share the cultural, universal and living heritage that is wine with the broadest possible audience.
It’s an ambitious focus but achievable in this beautiful and elegant city of Bordeaux whose very name is synonymous with great wine. Building upon the City’s legacy of greatness, this modern conceptual building reflects the future orientation of the City and its wine industry.
La Cité du Vin is the initiative of the Fondation Pour La Culture et Les Civilisations du Vin. It is heralded as a place of play and exploration – no wonder I recognize the playfulness of a children’s nursery rhyme. All the senses are engaged as a friend and I explore the exhibits on display.
The founding principles of La Cité du Vin are: passing on knowledge interactively, experiencing things at your own pace, learning according to your own wishes. These principles are demonstrated in the accessible way the information is presented.
Historical figures tell the story of wine
A novel way to learn wine aromas
Displaying the ancient history of wine
Progress and technology are demonstrated in the Hi-Tech/Hi-Touch systems used to animate and personalize displays about wine districts around the world. I am delighted to see film footage of the Okanagan Valley In British Columbia as the film illustrates wine areas around the world.
There are many interesting and fun opportunities to learn about wine, wine aromas, wine history, wine in the arts, history – even Thomas Jefferson is present in the name of the Auditorium – and, of course, to enjoy wine tastings, wine and food pairings and even cooking classes. I look forward to experiencing these latter offerings on a future visit.
Thomas Jefferson Auditorium
One of the many great things about visiting Bordeaux is that it is very easy and inexpensive to get around using the modern, clean and efficient, Canadian, tram system. Getting to La Cité du Vin is no exception as there is a special tram station just outside the entrance. In addition, the higher speed TGV train service has started between Paris and Bordeaux, making the journey in just over two hours.
At the end of our tour, which took several hours as there are so many interesting things to see and play with, we headed up to the tasting bar, Latitude 20, which has a spectacular ceiling made of wine bottles. While tasting wine from distant countries, visitors can look out over the city rooftops.
Spectacular Latitude 20 tasting room with views over Bordeaux
La Cité opened on June 1, 2016 and excited interest and articles around the world. Writers haven’t been quite sure how to describe this endeavour. It’s been called variously: a wine theme park for adults, a museum, a cultural facility, an exhibition park, a museum-theme park hybrid, the Guggenheim to Wine, a cultural centre of wine, a world-beating wine museum, an over-the-top mega project, a playground for wine lovers.
La Cité du Vin is young and offers many opportunities for learning, for fun and entertainment. In a way, it is refreshing that it defies precise definition and labelling. For me, for now, it will just be La Cité du Vin.
La Cité du Vin – experiencing the scale and colours
La Cité du Vin has an ambitious agenda of showing wine in the context of history, social customs, geography, geology, food and agriculture, oenology and the arts. In this way, La Cité emphasizes all the reasons I am interested in wine as it opens the door to these subjects.
To quote La Cité du Vin text: “…whether mythical, sacred, religious or magical, experience the culture of wine as a formidable epic which has shaped mankind and the way we live, which as been a source of inspiration in both past and present”.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux http://www.laciteduvin
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Life is to be lived forward, helped by looking backward from time to time.
This seems to be the common wisdom, certainly if one looks at all the retrospectives written around this time of year. Whether we learn anything by looking backward and attempt to apply the lessons to the future is another matter…
What’s this got to do with writing a blog about wine and how it opens the door to other related and interesting subjects?
Well, I guess my aim is to deepen and broaden my knowledge about wine and then express it in different ways.
This year I pushed the envelope with three different initiatives:
I gave a brief presentation to an interested group about antique Madeira wine labels in the context of social history,
I created a video about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in SW France with the help of professional film maker, Joanna Irwin, and,
I conducted a wine tasting for the Wine Appreciation group at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.
As I plan forward for elizabethsvines in 2017, I’ll be looking backward as well, to see what can be learned from these experiences.
I appreciate comments and suggestions from my kind readers who are located all over the world; the magic of the Internet. There is a warm feeling when someone says: ” …I liked your recent blog…”
The great thing for me about my blog, which I have now been writing for four years, is that it isn’t a job. The only expectations and deadlines are self imposed ones.
Oh! And by the way, before I forget to mention it: I enjoy writing elizabethsvines.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, best wishes for the festive season and thank you for reading elizabethsvines, from
References from elizabethsvines archive:
elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.
The tables are set, the food is prepared and the wine is poured. All we are waiting for now are the guests.
Wine choices – wine tasting event October 2016
Special guests that is; members of The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft Wine Appreciation Group: 30 women who enjoy wine.
In July this year, a friend who is a member of this group asks me to conduct a wine tasting for them, perhaps talking about the Confrérie I belong to in SW France; the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, which focuses on wines from the Bergerac Wine Region.
A reality check is that hardly any wines from the Bergerac wine region are represented in British Columbia. This encourages me to refocus the tasting more broadly to present wines from my blog or employing a little lateral thinking, a good facsimile of a wine from my blog. These become the criteria for deciding on wines for the tasting event.
My challenge in presenting a wine tasting to a discerning group who regularly attend tastings is to make the event interesting.
I decide to start with a chilled Sauternes as an aperitif, to have one other white wine and three red wines of varying intensity to pair with the chosen menu.
The choice of menu created by the chef for the buffet dinner is Mediterranean or Spanish. I select the Spanish style buffet with Catalan fish stew, paella with prawns and chorizo sausage, Spanish omelet and a salad. This menu offers a variety of flavours to pair with wine. Perhaps surprisingly, I do not present a Spanish wine. Although I enjoy Spanish wines, I have not yet written about a Spanish wine on my blog so they don’t fit my criteria for this event.
The list of wines I presented is below with an explanation of why I chose each wine and how they meet the “Wines from my Blog” criterion.
Dundarave Wine Cellar in West Vancouver was helpful in my selection of most of the specific wines, Not wanting any unwelcome surprises on the wine tasting evening, I arranged an informal tasting of two of the red wines before the event to make sure I was happy with them and I also tasted the Sauternes and white Bordeaux in advance.
Here are the “Wines from my Blog”.
Chateau d’Armajan des Ormes, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 2010 Sauternes, France
14% alc/vol $32.99 x 375 ml + tax
It is common practice in SW France is to drink a chilled late harvest botrytized wine as an apéritif. Other ways to enjoy this type of wine include: with pâté, with blue cheese as well as with sweet desserts.
I served this wine chilled as an aperitif to welcome the group to wine tasting event.
I have written several times about the great late harvest wines in the Bergerac wine region, namely, Monbazillac and Saussignac. I also recently wrote about Loupiac, a Bordeaux region late harvest wine. see “Loupiac AC: a hidden gem”.
Sémillon is the predominant grape used in these wines. It is blended with a small amount of sauvignon Blanc that adds the touch of acidity and the refreshing note.
The aromas include blossom, apricot, honeysuckle, which is the trademark of botrytized wines. The taste of honey and apricot is also very evident. I found this wine to have sufficient acidity to be fresh in spite of the sweetness. This particular wine was awarded a gold medal at the Challenge International du Vin in 2013.
2. Les Mireilles, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 2011 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon, France
12% alc/vol $21.99 + tax
White Bordeaux, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc – with almost the opposite of the percentages in Sauternes – is typically described as “crisp, elegant and fresh”.
I chose this wine with the Catalan Fish Stew in mind.
This wine is regarded as one of the best example of a White Bordeaux available in British Columbia and compares to the white wines from the Bergerac Wine Region which I written about frequently.
3. La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, DOC, 2011, Italy
13% alc/vol $26.99 + tax
I enjoy lighter and medium body red wines and find they pair well with many foods, including fish. So to encourage this flexibility and move away from the red wine with meat and white wine with fish approach, I served two red wines that suit both meat and fish.
The softer Italian wines suit this approach well. I chose this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as an alternative to the Cesanese red wine we had drunk in Italy earlier this year and which I wrote about in “War Heroes and Wine”. Only a small quantity of Cesanese wine is produced and therefore it is not exported. An alternative was required. I have tasted Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines before and really enjoyed them. This grape variety comes from near the Adriatic coast and is not be confused with the VIno Noble Di Montepulciano from Tuscany.
The Montepulicano d’Abruzzo wine is softly fruity, slightly sweet sour and paired well with many of the foods from the Spanish menu.
4. McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir, 2014, Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Canada
13.55 alc/vol $40.00 incl. tax
This wine is truly a “wine from my blog” as I have written about the Meyer Family Vineyard wines several times, enjoying them both at home in Canada and also in London, where they are selling through Marks and Spencer food stores. See “From Terroir to Table”.
Pinot Noir is such a flexible wine and I enjoy it with a variety of foods in a lighter palate including fish, chicken, duck etc. And it can hold its own when paired with our British Columbia Sockeye Salmon.
To quote Vancouver wine writer Anthony Gismondi who has written about the 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir: “…the nose is a mix of rhubarb and strawberry with a touch of forest floor”. For those who follow the points system, Gismondi gives the 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 90 points. The grapes are also grown using organic principles.
The Meyer Family pinot noir is a particularly fine example of Burgundy style wine and is recognized by Britain’s Decanter wine magazine in April 2016 as one of the best expressions of Burgundy style wine outside Burgundy. Praise indeed.
In the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada, Meyer Family Vineyards was named #5 winery in Canada, #3 in BC and #3 small winery in Canada.
Special thanks to JAK Meyer for donating three bottles of this wine to the tasting event.
5. Finca Las Moras Reserva, Tannat 2014, San Juan, Cuyo, Argentina
14% alc/vol $16.99 + tax
Lastly, I wanted to present a wine that could stand up to a garlicky, spicy Chorizo sausage in the Paella. Looking for a dark, feisty wine from SW France, and thinking about a Tannat, Dundarave Wine store suggested this Argentinian expression of this grape variety. I was first introduced to Tannat wine through a Confrérie visit to Tursan deep in SW France.
Tannat is a red-wine grape variety with origins in the Basque country on the border between France and Spain. The most famous Tannat wine in France is made in Madiron. More recently, Tannat has been grown and made into popular wines in both Argentina and Uruguay. Tannat is typically a rich, intense wine, tannic with jammy blackberry, stewed berries, autumnal aromas and tastes. The South American expressions are softer in terms of tannins and perhaps more approachable for today’s consumer.
The 2014 vintage, which we taste, was awarded Bronze from Britain’s Decanter World Wine Awards.
By now, the food has been eaten and all the wines tasted.
There has been lots of chat, laughter and good humour among those present.
So what’s the verdict of the Wine Appreciation Group after tasting this range of wines: two whites, three reds, and four countries represented: France, Italy, Canada and Argentina?
I ask them to fill out a feedback survey.
Positive feedback received. The group enjoyed the chilled Sauternes as an aperitif together with the variety of wines presented and the information about food and wine pairing.
I enjoyed myself as well.
I pack up my corkscrews, my wine apron and head home.
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.
Part of the Bordeaux wine region showing Loupiac AC near Cadillac
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.
Foie gras with apple
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.
Clos Jean 1995
Domaine de Noble 2015
Domaine des Pins de Pitcha 2005
Clos Jean 2011
Ch Loupiac Gaudiet 2013
Loupiac AC Vin Liquoreux
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.
A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations. Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year. My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:
Christmas lights in Mayfair
Christmas holiday decorations
Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour, enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.
Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation
Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.
Ceremony at St James’s Palace
Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century. Another favourite haunt, this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.
Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century
Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection
In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings. The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider. While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or, I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar: delicious. Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.
In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list, I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.
I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.
After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area, a post-jet lag treat seems in order. What better than a glass of champagne. I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites. A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.
This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure. The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference. We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts: characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing. A champagne that really stands on its own.
We are sitting outside in the warm early evening. We hear music and talking coming from a nearby cherry tree. First of all we think people working in the vineyard opposite have the radio on. A little later that evening we are told that the music and chat show discussions are emanating from the radio placed in the tree as it is the only way to keep the starlings from robbing the tree of all its ripening fruit. From then onwards we call this the singing cherry tree.
A couple of days later, we are rewarded for our patience in listening to heated debates coming from the heart of the tree with this box of ruby red cherries.
I decide this number of cherries calls for more than eating them as they are. Making the French custard cake Clafoutisi seems an appropriate baking choice.
From the oven, Cherry clafoutis
I search the Internet for clafoutis recipes and choose the Allrecipes.com recipe for Brandied Cherry Clafoutis To date, I have made three; each one better than the last and all “successful”. This particular recipe identifies canned cherries but I use fresh, pitted ones from the singing cherry tree. A couple of other variations based on ingredients on hand: I marinate the cherries in Armagnac and instead of allspice use a mixture of nutmeg and ginger.
To verify that I am not straying too far from a French approach to making clafoutis, I consult a book from my late Mother, herself an accomplished cook: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie and Julia Child. This Pengiun Handbook was published in 1961 and my Mother’s copy is dated November 22, 1966.
Here is what these ladies said about fruit flans or Clafoutis: ” The Clafouti (also spelled with a final ‘s’ in both singular and plural) which is traditional in the Limousin (region) during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven. It looks like a tart, and is usually eaten warm”.
This baking choice looks better and better.
The Allrecipes.com recipe lists this general comment: ” Clafouti is a traditional French dessert with brandied cherries baked with a custard topping creating a warm and sweet dessert that goes well with a cup of tea”.
This is where we part company as I see clafoutis as an ideal lunchtime dessert, served if appropriate for the occasion with a vin liquoreux. A local choice would be a wine from the Bergerac wine region: a vin liquoreux which would be either a Monbazillac AOC or Saussignac AOC late harvest wine.
Vin Liquoreux, Saussignac AOC from Chateau Lestevenie
In this instance, I pair the Brandied Cherry Clafouti with a 2003 Chateau Lestevenie Saussignac AOC Vin Liquoreux. Chateau Lestevenie is in Gageac Rouillac, one of the four communes permitted to make Saussignac AOC wines. The fruit aromas and flavours together with the honeyed ripeness of this fully mature wine complements the cherry, vanilla, baked custard of the clafoutis.
Vin Liquoreux: Chateau Lestevenie
To position both Monbazillac and Saussignac vins liquoreux in the wine lexicon, think broadly in Sauternes terms. These are late harvest wines made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. The predominantly Semillon grapes are picked late in the season when the grapes have been touched by the morning Autumn mists and the afternoon sunshine. A major distinction between Saussignac vin liquoreux and other sweet wines, is that this is the only sweet wine produced in France that forbids the addition of sugar or “chaptalization” under its AOC rules. It’s the Semillon grapes which allow the wine to age well.
Pairing cherries from the singing cherry tree and wine from a local winemaker is a way to celebrate the summer culture of SW France.
allrecipes.com: Brandied Cherry Clafouti
Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie, Julia Child, Published by Penguin Books in 1966
Jancis Robinson; Oxford Companion to Wine re Monbazillac wine
We arrive at the Wild Honey restaurant in Mayfair on Monday around 12.15 p.m. with no reservation. It’s a spur of the moment decision to come here for lunch. This restaurant has been on our list for some time and suddenly the opportunity presents itself.
And here we are. We open the door, walk through the semi-circular red curtained area between the outer door and the restaurant, which protects the clientele from winter drafts, and step inside.
One look within the comfortable, well appointed restaurant with paneled walls resounding with lively lunchtime chat and I know we made the right decision to come here.
Immediately, we are ushered to a round table from which we can people watch in comfort. A favourite pastime. Through the window overlooking the street, we can see the elegance of the Corinthian columns of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square opposite. This church, built between 1721 – 1725 was a favourite of the composer and musician, Georg Friedrich Händel, (1685 – 1759) where he was a frequent worshipper in the 18th century. The church is now home to the Annual Händel Festival.
To digress for a minute, I am struck by the coincidence of being close to “Händel”s church” as the waiter described it and the other morning hearing one of his four Coronation Anthems, ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’ which Händel was commissioned to write for the coronation of George II of England and Queen Caroline in 1727. The anthem was performed the other day in the context of Accession Day, February 6, which this year celebrates the Queen’s 63rd year on the throne.
Back to our lunch at Wild Honey restaurant and the choice of wine.
The wine waiter approaches and asks us what we would like to drink. We look at the wine list and order two glasses of Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay (which was offered by the glass when we visited. It is now available by the bottle).
Okanagan Falls, Meyer Family Chardonnay comes to London at Wild Honey restaurant, Mayfair
“ Oh! You will enjoy this Canadian wine”, he says.
“Yes”, I respond, “we’re from Vancouver. We know the wine and like it and have visited the vineyard. We’ve come today as we know you offer Meyer Family wine.“
This revelation is met with great interest.
The Chardonnay does not disappoint and we enjoy this with our selection from the working lunch menu: Amuse-bouche of mushroom purée on a small pastry round; Radicchio salad with orange slices and pomegranate seeds; grilled monk fish with small roasted beetroots and parsnips, followed by Wild Honey ice cream (home made) with crunchy honeycomb and pistachio pieces, coffee and petits fours. As a wine pairing choice, the Chardonnay is successful. We take our time to savour the different courses, flavours and combinations of this working lunch menu, which are served with great attention to detail and courtesy.
Wild Honey ice cream with honeycomb crunch and pistachio
While enjoying this lunchtime experience, we take a mental leap back to our visit to the Meyer Family Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC
It’s September and our second visit to the Meyer Family Vineyards where we meet JAK Meyer, Co-Proprietor. JAK tells us their focus is on traditional French burgundy style wine with small case lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada
We taste five wines: the 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay, the 2012 Tribute Series Chardonnay, the 2012 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2012 McLean Creek Pinot Noir. I enjoy them all in different ways. My notes from the visit indicate that I am impressed by the 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay with its smooth citrus with a touch of melon flavours; a very accessible wine. This Double Gold and Best in Class winner at the Great Northwestern Invitational Wine Competition and Silver Medal winner, National Wine Awards of Canada wine is what we are enjoying at Wild Honey.
Chris Carson, the Winemaker/Viticulturist at Meyer Family Vineyards writes interesting and informative notes on each wine, its vintage, as well as descriptions of the terroir and winemaking process. He also suggests wine pairing ideas and we are on track with the Chardonnay and monkfish. The notes are worth reviewing. I appreciate this attention to detail, which seems to represent the Meyer Family approach to winemaking.
We chat with JAK Meyer about the lack of Canadian wines in the UK and he mentions that Meyer Family Vineyards wine is represented in London and their wines are starting to appear in different London restaurants. This is how we first hear about Wild Honey, the restaurant that opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation.
Wild Honey Restaurant, Mayfair, London
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, British Columbia
As we finish our coffee and think about heading out into the February afternoon, I reflect on how we are experiencing time and space. It feels like the present, past and perhaps future converge as we enjoy this wine from British Columbia in this historic area of London in the shadow of Hãndel and his music. Following a wine from terroir to table certainly opens the door to new experiences.
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.
Warre’s 2000 Port
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.
December in Cyprus
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.
Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines
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.
Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé
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.
Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails
Baking tin for individual soufflés
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.
Walking through central London, we look towards Piccadilly as we cross the Haymarket, and there they are: the magical Christmas Lights suspended across the road. White bright, shaped liked antlers, and proclaiming this particular area of London: St James’s. As we gaze up the street, a double-decker bus turns onto the road and transforms the view into an iconic vision of nighttime pre-Christmas London. Out comes my camera in a flash…and click.
Christmas Lights, St. James’s, London, December 2014
A friend says this photo brings back nostalgic childhood memories when his Mother would take him as a young boy to London to see the lights and look in all the shop windows. Photographs have that power of recall.
Powerful images are what our afternoon and early evening are all about. The Rembrandt exhibition of Late Works at the National Gallery catches our attention and we spend one and a half hours towards the end of the December afternoon viewing the works of art.
In an age of instant, mobile phone camera generated images, we catch our breath looking at the detail, size and scope of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, trying to comprehend the extent of his talent and skill in capturing texture, light and emotion in paint and wondrous colours.
The poster for the exhibition shows a portion of his painting “The Jewish Bride”, painted about 1665 just a few years before his death. Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669. This exhibition covers the period of his life from 1650 – 1669.
We slowly make our way around the exhibition, headphones clamped over our ears, listening to the commentary about key works of art among the 91 on display. The paintings of faces, including the self-portraits, their complexions and eyes and the paintings of richly textured fabrics resonate with me. “An Old Woman Reading”, oil on canvas painted in 1655, particularly catches my eye.
To spend time lost in the contemplation of art in this way is a great joy and escape from the rest of the world.
We decide that when we come to the end of the exhibition we will head straight to the National Gallery Dining Room for a glass of wine with something to eat and take the time to decompress from this experience.
The food menu is comprehensive and contemporary with selections such as quiche, soups, salads, grilled sandwiches and many other options. We decide to have their plate of Artisan Cheeses, selecting Berkswell (sheep) and Tickelmore (goat) cheeses with apple chutney and crackers. These are good.
We examine the wine list, which is varied and all reasonably priced. There are no English wines on offer but English beers and ciders are featured.
The flagship menu offering for the exhibition is called the Rembrandt Special featuring a grilled sandwich and a glass of their red or white house wine, priced at 10 GBPounds.
I decide to try the white house wine, a Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012, which I find overly acidic for my palate. My husband chooses a Pinot Grigio, Alisios from Brazil, 2013 and that is more to our liking: refreshing and with mineral flavours. This Brazilian Pinot Grigio, which is sometimes blended with Riesling, is a new experience for us. We like it and feel resuscitated after our wine and cheese interlude.
We step out of the National Gallery and to our surprise find winter darkness has already descended. We entered a different world for a time. Coming across those white bright Christmas lights as we cross the street intensifies our experience of London magic.
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
I am idly glancing at the Cyprus Mail newspaper one day earlier this year and come across an article about English sparkling wines. In a moment of quiet reflection, I realize that I am mainly writing about French, Canadian and Cyprus wines but not paying attention to what is happening with wines in my homeland! With United Kingdom wines now on my radar, I decide to look for an opportunity to try English and maybe Welsh wines on our next trip to the UK.
Such an opportunity presents itself this spring. A visit to a favourite place in London, The Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768 and housed at Burlington House in Piccadilly, followed by lunch with a long time friend at their new restaurant, The Keeper’s House, provides the perfect occasion.
An example of exhibitions at the RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London
We each have a glass of Chapel Down white wine, a clear, shining white with good acidity and full of apple flavours as befits a wine from the great English apple growing area of South East England. This Pinot Blanc 2010 was a refreshing complement to our fish lunch.
Subsequent exploration of Chapel Down winery reveals that it is one of the top English wineries. It won several trophies in the annual wine industry 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition. This competition is organized by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), and apparently is the only competition in the world judged entirely by Masters of Wine.
Chapel Down Winery – an English winery
The United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) website is a mine of information. In reviewing it, I learn an important definition when considering wines from the United Kingdom.
“English or Welsh Wine is made from fresh grapes grown in England or Wales and produced in UK wineries. All of the UKVA members grow grapes to produce this type of wine.
British Wine, however, is not the same thing at all. It is the product of imported grapes or grape concentrate that is made into wine in Britain. “British” wines are not wines as defined by the EU which specifies that wine can only be the product of fermented freshly crushed grapes.” (UKVA website)
An important distinction to avoid making an unintentional wine faux pas when either buying or ordering UK wine.
But I digress.
Back to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy. A conversation with an employee reveals an interesting twist to their menu preparation and wine and food selection. They not only design their menus to reflect the changing seasons but also in some small way to reflect the essence of Royal Academy exhibitions. Like most major art galleries, the Royal Academy restaurants take great pride in presenting good value food and wine selections.
The new seasonal menu is being developed and fine-tuned. Along with the seasonal change in food selections, comes a change in wine offerings which helps showcase different wineries.
The new wine selection includes two wines from Davenport Winery in East Sussex. The Davenport Horsmonden 2013, is a dry white made from a blend of 5 grape varieties. The wine notes indicate that there are nuances of lemon and nettles; I can’t wait to taste this!
The selection also includes the Davenport Limney Estate sparking wine produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois. Davenport is an organic winery and another prizewinner in the 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition with their sparking wine the first organic sparking wine to win a trophy.
Davenport Vineyards – an English winery
The next major Royal Academy exhibition runs from September 27 to December 14, 2014 and features the works of contemporary German artist, Anselm Kiefer who is an Honorary Royal Academician. Some say his art is rooted in his beginnings: the end of the Second World War and the start of the new era in which we are still living.
Regarded as a colossus of contemporary art, and “one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive” (RA Website/The Guardian), this exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer has all the hallmarks of an intriguing visit. A post-visit glass of quintessentially English wine will surely encourage a stimulating discussion.
So having had a brief introduction to English wines what about trying some Welsh wine I ask myself?
Our visit to the UK includes a brief visit to Wales and in particular to the wind swept beaches of the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.
The wine swept Rhoshilli Beach, Gower Peninsular, S. Wales
What better place to taste some Welsh wine! We do this at Fairyhill hotel and restaurant located in Reynoldston, Gower. A review in Moneyweek Magazine/The Guardian recently noted: “for foodies and wine lovers, delightfully informal Fairyhill is a Welsh institution”.
Fairyhill hotel nestled in the woods in the Gower Penninsular, S Wales
Fairyhill Hotel terrace garden
Fairyhill is famous for their deep-fried cockle canapés which are served in a small dish in the same way as one would serve peanuts. These are a favourite of mine not only because they are delicious but also because they remind me of my childhood visits to Wales. We enjoy the cockles as we decide on a wine to drink with dinner. To pursue the idea of sampling Welsh wines, we order a bottle of Rosé from Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, a more recent winery whose grapes were first planted in 2006. A light (11% ALC/VOL) wine with strawberry overtones, this Rosé could be a summer sipping wine.
Ancre Hill Vineyard – Monmouth, Wales
Fine Wines Direct UK, who represent Ancre Hill Vineyard, describes the winery as follows:
“The Ancre Hill Estate, which is situated in Monmouth has a unique micro/meso climate, on average it gets a quarter of the rainfall of Cardiff and plenty of sunshine hours to ripen the grapes. With huge plans to farm Bio-dynamically and with plans to build a state of the art winery, this award winning Welsh vineyard continue to grow from strength to strength, with the first vintage of the Pinot Noir now available on allocation.”
As we finish our visit to the UK, I realize my window on English and Welsh wines has been opened by a couple of inches only. There is clearly much more to learn and appreciate to get the full view of this industry.
History indicates that vineyards were first established in Britain during the 300 years of Roman occupation. Organizations such as the Royal Academy of Arts, Fairyhill and others are providing wine lovers with the opportunity to taste contemporary English and Welsh wines. They are increasingly getting the recognition they deserve.
Royal Academy of Arts and the Keeper’s House Restaurant
It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January. Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.
We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries. I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently. My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.
Map of Cyprus
Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries
Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery. The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.
Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.
Father and son are highly qualified scientists. Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology. Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program. Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus. He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.
Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit
After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team. We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties. We enjoy them all. The ones that capture our attention are:
Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine. It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc. This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.
Xynisteri white wine
Lefkada-Cabernet Franc Rosé
Maratheftiko red wine – indigenous variety
Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape. I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio. The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.
Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine. These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers. There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets. It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.
In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing. They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets. Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.
Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.
Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.
We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms. We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.
I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus. He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos. This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.
The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns. The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.
The arrival of Spring – Paphos area
Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.
Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event. These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern. Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.
We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis. Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.
References: www.zambartaswineries.com., www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)
“Tell me more about B.C wines”, a friend said recently. “Funny you should ask”, I say to myself as I put fingers to the keyboard to add a post about wines from the South Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The tourist industry marketers call B.C.: “Super, Natural British Columbia.” The Okanagan Valley is such an area of natural beauty that this time I’ve decided it’s easier to let the scenery tell its own story and that of the wines. We have some particular wine favourites and I am going to mention these as well as mention some new wine acquaintances as we progress with a few photos.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to go to the Okanagan twice: once to the Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Penticton on Lake Okanagan and again for our annual September visit to the South Okanagan around Oliver and Osoyoos. The South Okanagan is about a four to five hour drive eastwards towards the Rockies from Vancouver. Once we drive beyond Hope, literally the name of the last small town, where we have a coffee before starting the main part of the journey, it’s mountains, forests, grassland, and wild sage hillsides until we finally see the vast Okanagan Lake.
Many people don’t realize that the Okanagan is home to a desert. The Sonoran Desert extends from Mexico all the way into British Columbiia in the South Okanagan, continuing past Osoyoos Lake to Skaha Lake and west up the Similkameen Valley. This “Osoyoos Arid Biotic Zone” accounts for the semi arid climate and hot and dry summers where it can reach 104 degrees in Oliver and mild winters making Osoyoos Lake the warmest fresh water lake in Canada. The desert has plants and animals that are found nowhere else in Canada. The Okanagan Valley is home to the First Nations of the area and Osoyoos is an Aboriginal word meaning the narrowing of the Lake.
Grapes have been grown in the South Okanagan as far back as the late 1800s but it is only in the recent past that the 100 miles of the Okanagan Valley have gained international attention for the quality of the wines produced here. The arid climate with sunny days and cold nights is ideal for the wine industry. With typical Canadian low-key friendliness, the many wineries welcome visitors to their tasting rooms.
These photos tell the story of the geography and start with a map of the area.
Okanagan Valley Corridor
Lake Okanagan from Penticton
View from See Ya Later Ranch Winery
South Okanagan view
Clos du Soleil,Similkameen
The Okanagan is known not only for wines but also for the quality of restaurants and fresh produce; peaches, apricots, cherries, and many vegetables. We have several favourite restaurants in the area that are attached to wineries. At the Terrafina restaurant at Hester Creek we like their Merlot. At the Miradoro restaurant at Tinhorn Creek, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red, a Bordeaux style wine, is a new find adding to our good experience of Tinhorn Creek wines and is excellent paired with Miradoro’s flank steak. At the Sonora Restaurant at Burrowing Owl, we have discovered their Athene red – a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – a delicious, rich wine. Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Gris has long been a favourite of ours.
Terrafina at Hester Creek, South Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
The View from Miradoro
Sonora Room, Burrowing Owl
The patio at Burrowing Owl
Food pairing ideas
Finally, a few more photos from wine tastings in the South Okanagan last year. A long time favourite is Osoyoos Larose, a classic Bordeaux blend made through a partnership between Groupe Taillan in Bordeaux and Constellation Brands in Canada. The “Le Grand Vin” is a bold red with hallmark Bordeaux structure and complexity. We only recently discovered See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls and their wines. I particularly enjoy their rosé which is a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir with lots of fruit aromas. Back on the bench lands, we visited Black Hills Winery. Noted for their Note Bene red, we also liked their very drinkable Alibi, a white wine blend of Sauvignon Bland and Semilllon with citrus and tropical fruit flavours. A new discovery last year has been Clos Du Soleil, a certified organic winery in the Similkameen Valley making a small quantity of high quality wines.
Black Hills Tasting Room
Wine Tasting, See Ya Later
Rosé at See Ya Later Ranch
Clos de Soleil Winery
The South Okanagan continues to develop as a destination for its natural beauty and related outdoor activities and wine tourism. It is popular with both British Columbians and Albertans and visitors from across North America and increasingly from other parts of the world. Our verdict: an area we really enjoy that is definitely worth a visit.
References: See Ya Later Ranch www.sylranch.com
Burrowing Owl www.bovwine.ca Tinhorn Creek www.tinhorn.com
Hester Creek www.hestercreek.com
Osoyoos Larose www.osoyooslarose.com
BC Official Tourism and Travel website: http://www.hellobc.com Map of the Okanagan Corridor courtesy of the Tourism website.
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.
There’s a sense of excitement in the air as we start our drive last October through the vibrant green vineyards of the rolling Champagne countryside. We are going to visit four of the Grande Marque Champagne Houses, see their premises, taste their champagnes and have the opportunity to feel the ambience of these historic businesses.
Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne
It’s harvest time and everywhere we see grape pickers at work.
We arrive at Billecart-Salmon, a medium sized Champagne House based in Mareuil sur Aÿ.
Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon
It was established in 1818 through the marriage of Nicolas-François Billecart to Elizabeth Salmon and is carried on by their descendants. I was first introduced to their champagne a year ago and enjoy the restrained, elegant style. Billecart-Salmon are known particularly for their rosé champagne but offer the full range of styles.
Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon
At a tasting lunch, we experience their different champagnes with a corresponding range of savoury and sweet bouchées (bite sized offerings) from smoked salmon to chocolate, all elegantly presented in ‘silver-service’ style. We are impressed by their gracious hospitality and their pleasure in providing a full tasting and pairing experience.
Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch
We visit the cellars where we are interested to see the chalk board listing the different plot harvests. The magic of the grape growing areas come to mind as we read Chardonnay from Cramant, Mesnil, Chouilly; Pinot Noir from Äy, Le Clos Hilaire, Verzenay, Mareuil sur Äy.
We also meet some of the younger generation of staff being groomed for senior positions and it is encouraging to see this kind of organizational development in place.
Krug premises in Reims
We continue our drive through the vineyards towards Reims, the famous Gothic Cathedral town and important hub of the Champagne industry. Our second visit is to Krug at their establishment in Reims.
Established in 1843, Joseph Krug, founder, watches solemnly over the present day proceedings from his centrally positioned portrait in the main Salon. Krug has its own allure and dedicated client following supported by the marketing arm of the LVMH, Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, purveyors of luxury goods. Krug aficionados are invited to “share your unforgettable experiences at kruglovers.com.’
Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook
At Krug, the extraordinary attention which is paid by all the great Champagne Houses to sampling, assessing and recording the year’s wines is emphasized to the extent that we understand the skill, expertise and patience that is in every top quality Champagne. At Krug itself, they sample and assess the year’s wines from nearly 250 plots. They also taste again 150 reserve wines from previous years. Each year over 5000 tasting notes are collected and recorded. This work of the Cellar Master, with Olivier Krug – who we had the opportunity to meet – and other members of their Tasting Committee sets the stage for the blend of wines for the year’s Non Vintage Champagne. We visit their cellars and see the large number of individual vats for the fermentation of wine from the individual plots, secure within a special space in the cellars. This is before we taste their formidable suite of champagnes.
Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots
By the end of the day our minds are buzzing with the experience of it all: the countryside, the people we met and their stories, the exhilarating taste of a number of champagne styles, the sights and sounds of the Champagne Region.
The hills and vineyards of Champagne
More than anything it’s the sense of being there, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the Champagne heritage. It’s been a great day.
Fast forward to January, 2014 and France’s culture ministry has proposed the vineyards, houses and cellars of Champagne for world heritage status (UNESCO) along with those of Burgundy. The proposal will go before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2015. If approved, they will join Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux) representatives of French winemaking on the UN body’s list. We applaud this proposed recognition of talent and tradition.
In Optimism in a Bottle post 3 of 3, I describe our visit to Roederer and Bollinger.
Driving through the Dordogne on a sunny November day highlights the autumn colours of the vines: varying shades of gold, russet and brown which signal the twilight of the wine season for the year.
This day we are driving to Périgueux to attend a gathering of Confréries at the pâté de Périgueux competition.
The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition
When we arrive the judges are busy tasting the pâtés and forming their opinions. Its tense work and important for the pâté makers of the area. The results are delivered at a ceremony in the market square later in the morning.
The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux
In the meantime, the Confréries, the local voluntary organizations with historic origins that promote the region and its gastronomic products such as wines, cheeses, pâtés, strawberries parade through the streets in the old town of Périgueux They are preceded by musicians and folk dancers who entertain people going about their regular shopping in the markets.
Folk dancing in Périgueux
After the results of the competition are announced in the market square there is a tasting of the pâtés accompanied by white wine. This is a 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts.
Chateau Court-Les-Mûts – the white wine served with the pâte
We know the red wines from this winemaker but aren’t so familiar with the whites. The fruit aromas of this lightly sweet wine make it an excellent complement to the pâtés.
After the ceremony in the square, we are fortunate to attend a lunch which highlights the gifts of the terrain including pâté, foie gras, mushrooms and truffles.
My favourite dish was the starter of Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce. The small amount of foie gras in the middle of the pâté was balanced by the pastry and the sauce.
Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce
A late harvest Monbazillac wine was on offer. The late harvest wines are frequently paired with foie gras. However, this day we enjoyed the Pécharmant red wine: Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Jour de Fruit. A robust, full balanced wine it was a good counterpoint to the richness of the pâté and foie gras.
The Pécharmant AOC area is to the north east of Bergerac. It is a small area known for iron elements in the terrain. Only red wines are produced under this AOC. Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pécharmant AOC wines are known as robust, well structured and approachable.
This day in Périguex was a tremendous opportunity to participate in a very special French gastronomic event that gave great pleasure to everyone going about their Saturday shopping in this historic town.
The physical approach to the wineries we visit usually gives us a clue to the nature of our impending experience. It’s like opening a book, reading the first page and forming an opinion as to whether this is a story we will enjoy. We had no doubts we would enjoy our visit as we approached Chateau Tour des Gendres.
The route gives us the first clue: the road there is off the beaten track, an upside-down sign points the way through the treed and hedgerow lanes and a narrow driveway between farm buildings beckons us as though through an archway to the winery which opens up before us. As we drive into the winery courtyard through this narrow entrance we feel a great sense of calm and tranquility in this magic circle of house, chai, tasting room and offices, tucked away in the countryside. If a unicorn had suddenly appeared it would not have come as a surprise!
The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres
Chateau Tour des Gendres is owned by the de Conti family, two brothers, a cousin and their wives, and has been in operation at three different family properties from 1981. Yet wine has been made on this land for at least 800 years. Luc de Conti, the wine maker and a co-proprietor, greeted us warmly and immediately invited us to walk among the vines. As he says, the vines are the heart of their operation. Monsieur de Conti is articulate and passionate about his vines and generous in the time he spent with us. Influential in the Bergerac wine region, he is a past President of the Syndicat des Vins in Bergerac. As we stood among the neat rows of vines, Luc explained the Chateau Tour des Gendres farming and winemaking ethos which is to work in harmony with nature.
Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed
Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres
Tour des Gendres is an organic winery operation and was certified “Bio” by AGROCERT (Agricultural Products Certification) in 2005. The decision to pursue the organic route to wine making is health related and started in 1994. Luc explained they do not use any chemicals in the vineyard. They use very small amounts of the substances, such as sulphites, which are allowed under the organic wine making regulations. Luc and his team prefer to use emulsions in the vineyard made from plants such as nettles, horsetail and heather. Luc described how birds from the neighbouring oak forests are also part of their arsenal against certain insects in the vineyard. He showed us how the vines are pruned to limit the number of buds and hence manage the yield per vine to support the high quality of their wines.
After time among the vines, Luc invited us to the tasting room to sample the Tour des Gendres Appellation D’Origine Controlée (AOC) Bergerac wines. We tasted 7 wines in total: 4 white wines and 3 reds. The wines are blended from their own grapes in accordance with the AOC guidelines. Luc also makes a couple of single varietal wines: a cabernet sauvignon and a muscadelle. Since these two wines do not conform to the AOC guidelines, he bottles these in the distinctive sloping shoulder Burgundy style bottles to differentiate them from the AOC Bergerac wines.
Chateau Tour des Gendres – Tasting Room
Always interested in the marketing of wines, we asked about the market for the Tour des Gendres wines. As we have heard in other wineries, Holland and Belgium are key markets. Interestingly, Québec represents a significant overseas market for their wines and three of them are listed on the Société Alcohol Québec (SAQ) website: Cuvée des Conti (white), Gloire de Mon Père (red) and Moulin des Dames (white). The Cuvée des Conti white wine is particularly popular in Québec where the predominantly Semillon blend of this wine (Semillon 70%, Sauvignon Blanc(20%, Muscadelle 10%) is favoured to accompany food.
Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres
The main white wine grape varieties grown in SW France are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. These are the significant varieties permitted in AOC Bergerac Sec wines and the AOC wines must be blended from at least two of the permitted grape varieties. What creates the subtleties and differences in the wines are the varying percentages of grape varieties used by wine makers. These might further vary year by year depending upon weather, geology, harvest conditions and other ‘terroir’ elements.
In this tasting, we particularly paid attention to the discernable difference that a shift in varietal percentages in this classic Bergerac white wine can make. A Sauvigon Blanc focus may provide more of a sipping wine or a Vin de Plaisir. Whereas the Semillon focus of the Cuvée des Conti gives the wine a combination of a honeyed texture and complex flavours and this is what supports its suitability to accompany food as opposed to being a sipping wine.
We experienced an illustrative food pairing first hand a few days later when we had lunch at the Restaurant Chez Alain in the historic market village of Issigeac following a visit to Issigeac’s popular Sunday morning market. The Cuvée des Conti is on the Restaurant Chez Alain wine list. We selected it to accompany a chicken dish and were immediate converts to this Semillon style of Bergerac white wine with food.
Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac
Not only is Luc de Conti a good teacher about wines and wine making, he is also whole-heartedly committed to natural wine making methods. The excellent range of Tour des Gendres wines live up to the family’s vision of wine making on three distinct geological properties in a style that exemplifies fruit, balance, strength and freshness. The press reviews and awards consistently recognize the quality of the de Conti wines and Luc de Conti’s wine making skills which were acknowledged by his nomination as Wine Maker of the Year in the region in 2012.
As our visit to Chateau Tour des Gendres drew to a close, we thanked Luc de Conti for his time and kindness in explaining so much to us and promised to return. We drove away reflecting upon the new insights about winemaking gained from our experience in this tranquil place.
The Bergerac wine region in SW France takes its name from the 11th Century town of Bergerac which is situated on the banks of the Dordogne River 175 km from the Atlantic Coast and 590 km southwest of Paris in the Dordogne Department in the Administrative Region of Aquitaine.
The Dordogne is one of the great rivers of France. It arises in the Massif Central and flows westwards to Bordeaux where it joins with the Garonne to make the Gironde Estuary leading to the Atlantic. The Dordogne was essential for the transportation of Bergerac wines in the past by “Gabares” which are large flat-bottomed boats used for taking wine barrels down river en route to foreign markets. Now tourists are the cargo of choice. The river has also created the rich alluvial river valley soil which along with other geological and climatic elements has created excellent wine growing conditions.
The Bergerac wine region adjoins the Bordeaux region, one of the best known wine areas of the world. After much debate about the boundaries for the Bordeaux region, it was decided in the early 20th Century that they would coincide with those of the Gironde local government department. This left the Bergerac wine area outside these limits yet with many of the same or similar geological and climatic characteristics. For many years, Bergerac has been in the shadow of its famous neighbour and this has affected its position in the market place. Fortunately, due to the determined pursuit of quality and the consistent efforts of dynamic wine makers in the region, this lack of confidence is diminishing and the excellent wines that are available from this area are gaining greater recognition.
At the western edge of the Bergerac wine region, the vineyards are a continuation of the Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon and St. Emilion on the right bank of the Dordogne and the Entre-Deux-Mers south of the river in terms of vine growing conditions. The geology within the region varies for each of the individual Appellation d’Origine Controlée areas. The geological possibilities are sandy clay, limestone, iron-rich clays, gravels, clay-limestone, Agenais molasse and some specific areas have marl and clay soils with fossilized oyster deposits. Climatically, the Bergerac region has a less maritime and more continental climate than Bordeaux. It has marginally less rain and more sunshine and has about a 10 day longer ripening season which can be critical in some years.
Key facts about the Bergerac wine region are that it has approximately 12,000 hectares under vines, encompasses 93 villages and has approximately 1,000 wine makers creating wine in accordance with Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) guidelines.
There are 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) areas in this region which link to 5 wine colours as described by the Maison des Vins de Bergerac:
Rosé wines: Bergerac rosé AOC,
Red wines: Bergerac rouge, Côtes de Bergerac rouge, Pécharmant and Montravel rouge AOCs
Dry white wines: Bergerac sec, Montravel AOCs
Semi-sweet white wines: Côtes de Bergerac blanc, Côtes de Montravel, Haut-Montravel, Rosette AOCs
Late Harvest/Botrytis – Liquoreux wines: Monbazillac, Saussignac AOCs
Each AOC has its particular requirements as to vine planting density, alcoholic content, grape varieties and blends and so on. The AOC is identified on bottle wine labels.
Increasing numbers of wine makers are following organic wine making practices which may have more stringent demands. Easy drinking, young wines known as vins de plaisir are made in the area as well as vins de terroir which are richer, more structured and generally aged longer. Similar to the Bordeaux area, the red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec and the same varieties are used in rosé wines. The white grapes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and in some areas small amounts of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.
The wines are paired with local produce and favourites such as duck, foie gras, various pâtés and cheeses together with local vegetables and fruits, all sold in the colourful and popular street markets.
The Bergerac wine region is picturesque and characterized by hills, forests, fortified villages and towns (Bastides) and is agricultural with vineyards, plum and apple orchards, walnuts and more recently sunflowers.
In addition to producing quality wines and other produce, the area has a rich and varied past. Gallo-roman remains from the 1st Century A.D. have been found locally. More recent history includes the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between the French and English regarding English claims to Aquitaine; the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants or Huguenots in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the World Wars 1 and 2. For most of WW 2, the Bergerac area was in the “Free Zone”.
The Hundred Years War began and ended in Aquitaine within a 80 km radius even though it included well known battles in other parts of France – think of English King Henry V and Agincourt (1415): “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…” (Shakespeare: Henry V). Even though the English were finally defeated in 1453, the area has been popular with English people for many years. Bergerac became a protestant stronghold during the 16th Century and established wine trading links with protestant countries, especially when Huguenots from the area fled to other protestant northern European countries in the 17th Century. Holland remains a key market today for Bergerac wines. As always, historical context informs not just the past but also the present.
On a recent visit to the area, we had the opportunity to visit 5 wine chateaux/wineries and they and their wines will be featured in upcoming weeks.
History of Bergerac: www.bergerac-tourisme.com
Historical background: www.bbc.co.uk/history
Various references including: Maison des Vins de Bergerac: www.vins-bergerac.fr
View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards
It’s hard to recall at what point we decided to serve this salmon pink sparkling rose with Milk Chocolate Semifreddo but that’s what we did, with positive results.
Good friends regularly offer this Cremant de Limoux rose as an aperitif. The aromas of summer berries and flowers followed by a sustained mousse and a long fruit finish consistently put everyone in a festive mood. This rose made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc seemed a good candidate to pair with a milk chocolate dessert; light, summery, not sweet and with the gentle joyfulness of the bubbles. The maxim of when in doubt serve Champagne, or in this case, sparkling wine, seemed apt.
Cremant de Limoux is an appellation for the modern styled sparkling wines from vineyards around the town of Limoux. It is in the Pyrenean foothills of Southern France, south of the walled city of Carcassonne. Typically, the grapes used are Mauzac, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
Mauzac, a variety not commonly known was the grape used almost exclusively in the past to make local wines in the area. This traditional variety is also known as Blanquette and is found currently in the Blanquette de Limoux wines and the Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale wines.
The Cremant de Limoux appellation was created in 1990 to attempt to allow modernization of local winemaking while preserving the traditional Languedoc Roussillon wine styles of the area. Limoux is further from the Mediterranean climate than other Languedoc Roussillon appellations and this influences its style which has lower acidity than wines in the eastern Languedoc areas. Roche Lacour’s rose sparkling wine is the result of the wine-maker successfully petitioning the authorities to permit the making of a rose sparkling wine under the Cremant de Limoux AOC rules.
Milk Chocolate Semi-freddo
The recipe for this Milk Chocolate Semi-freddo was found on the Canadian Food Network website. Lindt and Sprungli Milk Cholocate was used. Two bars provide the required 7 oz with one square left over – a suitable reward for the cook. Good chocolate together with all the other ingredients including roasted almonds creates a wonderfully rich yet refreshingly chilled chocolate dessert. Subsequently, I have made a lower calorie version by substituting plain greek yoghurt for the whipped cream.
Either way, the Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut, Cremant de Limoux, Methode Traditionnelle complements this chocolate semi-freddo where a little goes a long way.
Much is written about wine and food pairing. At the end of the day, most agree its a matter of personal choice although there are some guidelines to avoid mismatches between food and wine. Choosing appropriate wine to accompany delicate seafood and fish flavours can be a challenge.
The mouth-watering image above was taken minutes before I tucked into this lunch time dish. Sauteed scallops on a bed of poached fennel with a garnish of grapefruit and italian parsley flavoured with a citrus sauce. The verdict:- delicious – delicate seafood flavour of the scallops enhanced by the grapefruit and italian parsley piquancy.
We decided we would like a Rose wine with our lunch. Our helpful server at Virage Restaurant Bar in Monaco recommended a pale strawberry coloured provencal Rose. We found it dry without being acidic, refreshing, lightly floral with a hint of red fruit and citrus. This Rose was delicate enough to complement the scallop and fennel flavours and created a memorable wine and food pairing experience.
This pale pink, subtle wine was a Chateau de Saint-Martin,cuvee Eternelle Favorite 2011, AOC Cotes de Provence, VAR. Not only does the wine taste good, it also comes in an elegant bottle with a distinctive label. The grapes used in the wine are Tibouren, Carignan and Grenache.
A brief visit to the South of France took us to the Principality of Monaco. Lunch was recommended at Virage Restaurant Bar, a smart yet casual restaurant tucked alongside the marina. The white tablecloths and white/grey colour scheme of the busy restaurant, its open glass fronted entrance metres away from impressive yatchs, and friendly, prompt service created a relaxed and happy atmosphere. We noticed that the Eternelle Favorite certainly was a popular choice among the clientele who seemed to be smart, younger people working in the area.
This wine and food combination was so delicious and a highlight of our visit that I have attempted to replicate it at home. The fennel was quickly sautéed then poached in a light chicken stock. I am still working on the sauce. For now it is my own version of a citrus spicy mayonnaise: any suggestions to create a sauce similar to that in the photo would be welcome. All presented as in the photo, with spinach as a side dish and, of course, accompanied by a glass of pale, subtle Rose!.