Supporting the wine industry with wine and food pairing

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.

 

 

 

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,

BE FEARLESS,

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.

Dragons, Pirates and Wine: Château Quintus, Saint Emilion, France

I’ve seen a dragon in Saint Emilion.

Yes, really. I’m not kidding.

It’s about 3.30 p.m. on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in November. We walk uphill into a bosky, oak wood with sunlight filtering through the leaves. The ground is covered in acorns that crunch noisily under our feet in this quiet space.

There before us with wings spread wide is the Quintus Dragon

All two tons of bronze on a stone plinth.

“Why is there a dragon here?” we ask our host, François Capdemourlin, the Estate Manager at Château Quintus.

He tell us that, in mythology, dragons protect treasure or special places.   The proprietors of Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion consider that their 28 hectares of wine growing slopes are special. Hence the protective presence of the dragon, he says.

Commissioned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO, Domaine Clarence Dillon and created by Mark Coreth, a world renowned British sculptor, who specializes in large scale, dynamic animal and wildlife sculptures, the Quintus Dragon is spectacular.

The view from this wine property is also spectacular.   On a clear day such as we enjoy, its possible to see not only famous Saint Emilion chateaux, such as Chateau Angelus before us across the vineyards but also the areas of Pomerol and Fronsac, great wine areas in the distance.

Chateau Quintus is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac Leognan in the Bordeaux Wine Region.   I wrote about Chateau Haut Brion in January: see the Whisper of History.

Chateau Quintus represents a relatively new venture for Domaine Clarence Dillon as it  extends into creating the more merlot-centric wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine area through the acquisition of two existing but separate wine properties.  Merlot, as the predominant variety in Saint Emilion wines, is the grape variety that gives softer tannins to wines.

As we talk about Merlot based wines, we smile as we reminisce about the 2004 film ‘Sideways’ featuring proponents of Merlot and Pinot Noir and wonder how many people remember that film now.

Back at Château Quintus there is an aura of calm efficiency about the property. This is a working vineyard: no wine tourist shop or public tasting area in sight.   This is the norm in the Bordeaux wine area with only a few exceptions.   Visits are by appointment only.   Wine tourism centres for this area are located in the UNESCO heritage town of Saint Emilion.

We tour the new winemaking area in the renovated chai or vat room and then drive to the Chateau business centre in a different area of the property, where there is a small tasting room.   Behind the tasting area, we can look through the glass partition to the wine barrel ageing room where the wine is quietly and patiently ageing.

It’s in this tasting room that our host tells us the story about pirates!

Images of Pirates of the Caribbean and swashbuckling figures come to mind and I can’t wait to hear the tale.

This is what happened. On a diving expedition in the Indian Ocean, off the Island of Mayotte, some years ago, divers found a cache of treasure on the seabed.   In this cache, covered with the debris of years on the ocean bed, was a 19th century wine bottle, still intact. On the neck of the bottle was the raised seal of Chateau Haut Brion engraved on the glass, still visible after all these years. Inspired by this historic find, the wine bottles of Chateau Quintus are especially made in the same 19th century style, in this instance with the raised engraved seal of Chateau Quintus.

I’ve mentioned dragons and pirates, now its time to mention the wine!

Chateau Quintus focuses on red wines and these wines are part of the Saint Emilion appellation.   As mentioned, the grape variety grown is Merlot together with Cabernet Franc.    In terms of wine production, the vintage has been controlled by Chateau Quintus since 2011.

Out of interest, white wines made in the Saint Emilion wine region are characterized as Bordeaux Blanc.

We taste a Chateau Quintus 2014 and their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus 2014.     2014 was a challenging year with a hot Indian summer in the area that saved the vintage after difficult summer conditions.

The Chateau Quintus 2014 is made from 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc.   This is a smooth wine with red fruit and spicy notes.   It is a wine to age and enjoy over the next decade or so.

Le Dragon de Quintus 2014 is made from 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and is a wine with soft tannins and plum notes to fully enjoy now.

It is interesting to hear the Estate Manager talk about vineyard management and the wine making process used at Chateau Quintus as it benefits from the expertise of the teams at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, all part of the Domaine Clarence Dillon organization.

Several examples of this collaboration are discussed:

One example is that the vineyard workers have been specifically trained in the way that Domaine Clarence Dillon prefers to prune the vines.

Another is that Chateau Quintus benefits from the on site cooperage or barrel making service resident at Chateau Haut Brion.

Yet another example is that the staff from the three different chateaux gets together for the wine blending process to determine the percentages of varieties in the year’s vintage.  Team members share their expertise to arrive at the optimum blend. Once the blending has been determined the wine is put in oak barrels for ageing over approximately two years.

I am always interested to know about initiatives that develop talent and skill within an organization and enjoy hearing these examples given by François Capdemourlin, who is clearly enjoying his exciting role managing this integrated wine estate.    Chateau Quintus is a new name in the Saint Emilion wine world, finding its way and supported by the investment of resources from the Domaine Clarence Dillon.  Watch this space, as the pundits say.

We’ve enjoyed an interesting and informative visit to Chateau Quintus and its time to thank the Estate Manager for his time, find our car and drive off towards road D33..

D33 is the main road on the way from Bergerac to Libourne and the city of Bordeaux.   Up high on the right hand side sits the town of Saint Emilion with its vineyards spread over  the hillsides.   We frequently drive that road.

Now I know where the Quintus Dragon lives, in that bosky wood on the hill high above the road. I know where to look when driving by.

Next time, I will raise my hand in a silent salute.

References.

Château Quintus.   http://www.chateau-quintus.com

Mark Coreth:  Check his Facebook page.  There are several websites and galleries including Sladmore Gallery in London and Messums Wiltshire that refer to his work.

Christmas Wrappings 2016

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

elizabethsvines

References from elizabethsvines archive:

elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

elizabethsvines October 2016  video:   Celebrating French Culture, Wine and food:  https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-Wine-and-food/

‘Inspector Bruno’ and the women winemakers of Bergerac

Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets.     He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.

Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.

Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.

While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker.  For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.

Inspector Bruno

Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker

I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne.    After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website.  He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.

‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.

Chateau Feely

Chateau Feely, home of Caro Feely, one of the women wine makers of Bergerac

I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’

A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:

Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International.  He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.

References

Inspector Bruno novels    www.brunochiefofpolice.com

Château K          www.chateau-k.com

Les Hauts de Caillevel     http://www.caillevel.fr

Château La Robertie        www.chateau-larobertie.com

Château Feely       http://www.feelywines.com

Château Le Raz      www.le-raz.com

Château  Moulin Caresse    www.pays-de-bergerac.com

Domaine de Perreau      www.domainedeperreau

TV Series   Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Vine)

 

Wine and perfume: olfactory cousins

 

We are sitting in a rooftop restaurant in Rome, enjoying a glass of Prosecco while we read the dinner menu in a leisurely manner and enjoy the view.

Rooftop view of Rome

Evening rooftop view of Rome

Our reverie is interrupted when we observe the people at the next table reject the bottle of wine they have just ordered. I haven’t seen this too many times and I am intrigued by what occurred. Was it the aroma or the taste of the wine that was not to their liking or both? I don’t want to add to their dining drama by asking what happened, so the reason will remain a mystery as far as we are concerned.

The scene runs through my head and I think about an amusing article I read recently by British wine writer Matthew Jukes about Viognier and the reactions his readers described of their past experience of tasting this type of wine. Aromas and taste experiences ranged from: “bubble-bath, loo spray, tinned fruit salad, plug-in air freshener or pick’n’ mix”.  I wonder if our dining neighbours experienced these or similarly disagreeable aromas when their eagerly awaited bottle of wine arrived. Matthew Jukes tells his readers that his recommendations of Viognier will not result in these unpalatable conclusions but rather lead them on an exotic and rewarding odyssey. I feel reassured.

About the same time that I noted Mr Jukes’ comments, I read an article in the Style section of Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper about perfume entitled:  Message in a bottle, in which writer Nathalie Atkinson describes how perfume evokes memories. I have made similar comments previously about how wine evokes memories and past experiences for me. It seems the perfumes we wear and the aromas of wine we drink must be olfactory cousins.

In her article, Ms Atkinson refers to the work of psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Rachel Herz who says: ” Emotion is a central and fundamental feature of odour perception, odour learning and odour memory.” Dr Herz explains that the sense of smell is intrinsic to the most important dimensions of our lives.

Ms Atkinson also describes situations in which individuals have commissioned perfumes to replicate those worn by dead loved ones. The resulting perfume builds a bridge to a past memory. A very poignant reference is made to French actress, Catherine Deneuve who commissioned a perfume similar to that worn by her sister who died at an early age. This perfume became her personal bridge to her late sister.

In an airline duty free shopping magazine, a scent guide provided by an industry expert refers to the following perfume characteristics: floral, oriental, woodsy, aromatic and fresh.

Inflight magazine scent guide

Inflight magazine scent guide

The Wine and Spirit Educational Trust (WSET), refers to aroma characteristics of wine using similar language: fruit, floral, spice, vegetal, oak, other.

These similarities further emphasize this familial relationship between perfume and the aromas of wine. No wonder people are asked not to wear perfume to wine tastings.

Refining one’s sense of smell and developing a ‘nose’ to fully appreciate perfume and wine takes years of training and practise.

I am continuing my apprenticeship.

 

References:

Matthew Jukes, wine writer.   http://www.MatthewJukes.com

Globe and Mail   http://www.globeandmail.com

Nathalie Atkinson, journalist     http://www.nathalieatkinson.com

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)   http://www.wsetglobal.com

Dr Rachel Herz, neuroscientist,     http://www.rachelherz.com

 

 

Portfolio Tasting, London: something new, something remembered

I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people.   Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.

Davy's Portfolio Tasting

Davy’s Portfolio Tasting

 

I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established.   A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later.   Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature.   I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years.     Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.

So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team.   It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London.   31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.

It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.

I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France.   Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.

I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it.     I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014.   There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas.   At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine.  Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto.   Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.

As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW.   I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.

Fine Wine Collection

Fine Wine Collection

The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.

I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion.   Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.

When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.

It says it all.

When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.

On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot.   What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm.   I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château.   In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors.   That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.

Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.

It’s always the people who make the difference.

Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence  some time in advance.   I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.

All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.

Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people.  It’s a time machine in a bottle.

 

 

References:

Davy’s Wine Merchants:    www.davy.co.uk

Domaine Jean Becker:    www.alsace-wine.net – Becker

Azienda Agricola Montauto:   http://www.montauto.org.

Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja:   http://www.miguelmerino.com

Chateau Figeac:  www.figeac.com

Chateau Tailhas:  www.tailhas.com

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot:   http://www.beausejour-becot.com

Monbazillac: http://www.cave.chateau-monbazillac.com

 

 

 

 

Cyprus wines: Tsangarides Winery and a portrait of happiness

 

I open the car door outside the Tsangarides Winery and savour the fresh February village air of Lemona, this small hamlet in the Troodos foothills.

Tsangarides Winery

Tsangarides Winery, Lemona on a chilly February morning

It’s been a year since our last visit and we’re looking forward to renewing our acquaintance with Angelos Tsangarides, co-proprietor with his sister of the winery. We are introduced to Angelos’s father who is also at the winery this day. We follow Angelos upstairs to a large tasting room overlooking almond and clementine trees. Today the room is warmed by a wood burning stove, necessary on this chilly morning.

Over a Cyprus coffee, metrios style, like a medium sweet thick expresso served with a glass of water on the side, we chat about wine, wine making, local grape varieties, tourism and developments at Tsangarides. Over the past year, Angelos has been consolidating winery activities, investing in new equipment and restructuring operations by taking on the role of wine maker himself with the advice of a wine consultant. He is very much enjoying this development.

Angelos is a keen advocate of the local grape varieties, Xinisteri white grapes and Maratheftiko black grapes. He explains that Xinisteri is typically blended with a small percentage of either Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. He favours Chardonnay in the blend.

A new development is that Angelos is now producing a Muscat dessert wine.

Tsangarides Winery Muscat wine

Tsangarides Winery Muscat wine

After our metrios coffee and chat, Angelos takes us to visit the cellars and

Tsangarides Winery Maratheftiko organic wine

Tsangarides Winery Maratheftiko organic wine

the bottling area. We buy some wine to enjoy over dinner with friends and he generously gives us a bottle of his Shiraz Rosé bottled this very day to taste.

Angelos tells us that he woke really early this morning, excited about the prospect of bottling the 2015 Rosé. As he tells us this, his face lights up and he is smiling the smile of someone who loves what he is doing. He says that he is very happy that he made the switch from the strictly business world he was working in previously to work in the family winery, that he loves what he does and finds it rewarding and satisfying.

As we say farewell to Angelos so he can get on with the rest of his busy day, he asks me to let him know what we think of these wines and we promise to share our wine tasting notes with him.

Here are the tasting notes I emailed to Angelos after we enjoyed the wines one evening soon afterwards with friends:

Hello Angelos, We have tasted the wines from our visit to you and here are some comments:

2014 Maratheftiko organic wine

Good colour and clean on the nose with some fruit/floral aromas.

While young, a very drinkable smooth wine now. Soft tannins, some drying from the tannins but what one wants in this kind of wine, with complex black fruit and floral tones.

It’s the tannins which provide the health enhancing characteristics of red wine apparently, so good to be aware of the tannins.

One of our guests said that the wine would benefit from ageing – yes, undoubtedly but very drinkable and enjoyable now.

Given the fairly high alc 14.5% VOL, I feel it has a freshness and lightness to it.

We all enjoyed it. Very good flavours for an organic wine which sometimes produce different flavours to what one expects

Muscat 2014

One of our guests said. ‘I adore this wine’

What I particularly liked about this wine is that it has fresh and robust acidity so that although the wine has the characteristic aromas and flavours of a sweet wine, it wasn’t sweet. This is important when enjoyed with cheese as well as a dessert and it means that it complements rather than overwhelms the food flavours

Very popular and all drunk very quickly by our guests

2015 Shiraz Rosé

Bright rich red colour, clean on the nose with light fruit aromas

Delicious taste with dark fruit with touch of peach and quite spicy. Almost has a bit of fizz /bubbly effect so a lighthearted wine but I could feel the heat of the wine.

Very enjoyable. Will be a popular choice for the spring and summer

Thanks, Angelos.  We enjoyed these wines as you can see and also the Xinistiri which is a favourite on the white wine side. “

We subsequently enjoy lunch one day at Minthis Hills Golf Club and restaurant in the countryside above Paphos.  We order a glass of Tsangarides Xinisteri each and it arrives in aviation bottles of 187 ml. which we really appreciate as this is preferable to having a glass poured from an already open bottle. I have written before supporting smaller bottle sizes as options for wine lovers so I really am pleased to see this Tsangarides offering.  Angelos subsequently mentions to me that these aviation bottles of Xinisteri are extremely popular.

In reflecting upon our visit to Angelos and his comments about the rewarding nature of his work, I wonder if this is the portrait of a happy man:  working in a business alongside his family, in a beautiful rural setting, learning new skills, feeling he is making progress, being his own boss and doing something he loves, which is making wine.

Much has been written recently about this elusive emotion called Happiness and how to achieve it. After reviewing several sources in search of a succinct statement to describe the connection between work and happiness that would resonate with Angelos’s comments, the following statement by the late Steve Jobs of Apple Corporation seems to fit the bill:

“ Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do…”

Sounds like Angelos Tsangarides – a fortunate man.

 

Reference: Tsangarides Winery.  www.tsangarideswinery.com. Organically produced wine

Metrios Cyprus wine    www.cyprusisland.net

Minthis Hills Golf Club.  www.minthishills.com.
Quote from the late Steve Jobs: Stanford Commencement Speech 2006

Hot off the UK press: Canadian wine and French bubbly

Perusing the newspapers in London on Valentine’s Day weekend, I noticed two recommendations of wines I have written about in elizabethsvines.

Wine recommendations

UK Telegraph Magazine with Hamish Anderson’s wine recommendations

That certainly caught my attention.

Hamish Anderson, a wine writer known for his work as wine buyer for the collection of Tate Museum sites in the UK, publishes his tasting notes in the Food and Drink section of the Telegraph Magazine.

His three wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day included the Meyer Family 2014 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Bollinger Rosé Brut.

I like both these wines and have written about them in previous posts so I am pleased to read Mr Anderson’s comments.

It’s amazing the gems one finds casually glancing through the weekend papers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès: : late harvest wine meets Gâteau Basque


Continue reading

London calling with champagne and sparkle

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:

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 Art - Ai Weiwei's man made forest installation

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

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 – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century

Berry Bros and Rudd - part of their own selection

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.

As always, London calls, appealing to the senses.

 

References

Royal Academy     http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Berry Bros and Rudd   http://www.bbr.com

Zamabartas Wineries   http://www.zambartaswineries.com

Bollinger Champagne    www.champagne-bollinger.com

Chateau Thénac   http://www.chateau-thenac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: jazz and wine

The heat wave in South West France, with temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40 degrees C, has thankfully cooled.      Sunflowers continue to salute the sun and lavender hedges are buzzing with the sound of many bees and other pollinators doing their work.

In the vineyards it’s work as usual.  The tractors are in the fields by 5.00 am getting a start on the work before it gets too hot.   Vine trimming is complete and new vines are planted where the vignerons are making changes to their vineyards.

Amid all the flurry of vineyard work, there is still time to enjoy music and wine!   More particularly jazz, performed at a wine chateau, in the barn or chai as it is called here, where the wine is made.

The Jazz En Chais, Cru 2015, a series of 5 jazz concerts held in the Pourpre Perigord area of South West France from March to November is very popular and offers live music, wine tasting at the host wine chateau as well as a farmer’s market where people can buy food and eat in situ before the concert.

Our most recent Jazz en Chais concert was held at Chateau Court Les Muts situated about 20 minutes from Bergerac and set in the gently rolling countryside of rural Dordogne, surrounded by the chateau’s own vineyards.   The wines of this Chateau are highly regarded in the area.

First of all, we enjoy a glass of Chateau Court Les Muts ‘L’Oracle’, their premier red wine:  50% Malbec, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all black fruits, violets, chocolate and touch of white pepper.  Then, we find our seats in the chais and settle down to listen to the Serge Delaite Trio play a concert called Comme Bach… in which the classical music of Bach is harmonized with jazz classics by Duke Ellington, Bart Haward and others and played with talent, style and energy.  These concerts are a well attended and popular expression of South West France wine culture.

Being a fan of such music as Fly Me to The Moon, the Jazz En Chais series of live music partnered with high quality wines of the region ticks all the boxes for me for an enjoyable summer evening

References:  Les Jazz en Chais concerts, Cru 2015.  www.jazzpourpre.com

Chateau Court Les Muts,  www.court-les-muts.com.   See also their vine jewellery made on site.

Serge Delaite Trio. “Comme Bach”.

Bergerac Wine Region: cherries and wine

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.

Dordogne cherries

Dordogne 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.

Cherry clafoutis

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.

Cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis

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

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.

Chateau Lestevenie

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.

References:

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

Chateau Lestevenie wines: chateau-lestevenie.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wine from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair, London in one leap.

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).

South Okanagan Meyer Family Chardonnay in London

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

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

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,

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.

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.

References:

Meyer Family Vineyards   http://www.mfvwines,com

Wild Honey Restaurant, 12 St. George Street, Mayfair, London: http://www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk

Georg Friedrich Handel and the Coronation Anthems including ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’.    Search for Handel Coronation Anthems for several You Tube video recordings.

London Lights, Rembrandt and wine

 

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

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.

Rembrandt, The Late Works

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.

The National Gallery, London, Rembrandt -The Late Works

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.

 

References:   The National Gallery     www.nationalgallery.org.uk/rembrandt

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: Post Script

Royal Academy of Arts, London,

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.

Limney Davenport Sparking 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.

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition at RA References:   Royal Academy of Arts, London  www.royalacademy.org.uk

Davenport Winery   http://www.davenportvineyards.co.uk

United Kingdom Vintners Association    www.ukva.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: A First Glance

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

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

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

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.

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 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

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.

References:

Royal Academy of Arts  and the Keeper’s House  Restaurant

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Chapel Down Winery   http://www.chapeldown.com

Davenport Winery     http://www.davenportvineyards.co.uk

Fairyhill, Reynoldston, Swansea

http://www.fairyhill.net

Ancre Hill Vineyard    www.ancrehillestates.co.uk

United Kingdom Vineyard Association  www.ukva.org.uk

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Haut Garrigue/Terroir Feely – …..creating a biodynamic virtuous circle

 

I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business.     On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.

Terroir Feely

Terroir Feely

Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005.   That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France.      It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.

Autumn view from Terroir Feely


Autumn view from Terroir Feely

Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind.     Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges.   Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management.   These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead.   On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.

Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”.  They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially.   This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard.   Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.

Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines.   Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009.  In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013.    Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:

“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people.   We share common interests with our visitors.   We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”

We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.

Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status.   Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system.   It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon.     She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity.   She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!

Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”.     To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants.    There is a lot of material about the subject.

In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian  philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926.   He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature.   One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.

The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education.   Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are  in evidence today in about 60 countries.

From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner.   These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.

Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US.      While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes.   Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.

In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches.   Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.

Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification.   From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer.   Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.

Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”

All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.

It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne.   Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011.     I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes.    It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.

 

 Bergerac Wine Region

Bergerac Wine Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:     http://www.hautgarrigue.com,   http://www.feelywines.com,    www.tripadvisor.ca….saussignac,    www. rudolfsteinercollege.ed,   http://www.rsarchive.org/lectures      www.steinerbooks.org,  www.demeter.net, http://www.waldorf.ca,   http://www.bbr.com/knowledge (Berry Bros & Rudd)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyprus Wines: Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosios, Limassol. The stars have aligned…!

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

Map of Cyprus

Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries

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.

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

Wine tasting room, Zambartas Wineries, Agios Amvrosias, Limassol

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

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.

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

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)

http://www.ted.com

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 is reputedly the #1 best selling wine guide and is widely available.

Visitors’ Map of Cyprus courtesy of the Department of Lands and Surveys, Cyprus – Tourist Information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Okanagan Valley Wines, British Columbia, Canada: Letting the photos tell the story

“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.

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.

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.

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.

Champagne Region, NE France: Four Grande Marque Champagne Houses: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

Champagne – the great celebratory sparkling wine.    For me, it’s optimism in a bottle;  an immediate feel-good emotion.

A recent trip last October to the Champagne region of NE France about 130 kms from Paris was an experience in geography, history, tradition, science and an exploration of champagne style and tastes.

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Eperney

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Epernay

While drinking champagne epitomizes fun and frivolity and the marketing is conducted with great hyperbole and lyrical language, the wine making production behind this façade is serious, detailed, patient, professional and exacting.     As they say at Billecart-Salmon:  “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence.”

In each of these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses  of Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer and Bollinger, we were impressed by the infinite attention to quality and detail.   This was particularly evident in the precise knowledge of hundreds of individual small plots of vines throughout this most northerly wine region of France.     It is the nuances of soil composition, orientation to the sun, topography and other details which singularly or together create the subtle differences in the wine from each plot which is so important in the essential blending process to make top quality champagne.

The Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controllée (AOC) designation governs all aspects of the production of champagne from planting to labeling and production in the Champagne delineated area of over 35,000 hectares.    Only sparkling wine produced in this area can be called champagne and the Champagne Houses are relentless in their protection of this name.

Three main grape varieties are permitted in champagne making:  Chardonnay,  Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Generally, champagne is white although most Houses create a rosé.    There are exceptions to the standard approach:  Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The four most important wine growing areas are Montaigne de Reims (mainly black grapes) ,  Côte des Blancs (mainly Chardonnay),  Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Bur .  These areas are outlined on the Wine Spectator map included.   It identifies the “heart of Champagne” around Epernay and Reims, however, there is a Champagne area further to the south which is not visible on the map.

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

So where do the champagne bubbles come from?   The quick answer is that they are made through a natural process in the bottle. The Champagne AOC requires that the traditional method of champagne production is used which requires both the mandatory secondary fermentation in the bottle and minimum periods of maturation on the lees (dead yeast molecules) of 15 months for non vintage champagne and 3 years for vintage.  The top Champagne Houses allow for much longer maturation periods – 10 years is not unusual – to create their signature styles.

Champagne is made in several complex steps which I won’t attempt to elaborate.  Some key elements only are referred to below.  Each Champagne House uses their own specific approaches to create their Champagne House signature style and flavour.   An important fact to note is that the grapes are harvested according to the plot where they are grown and the still wine produced from each plot is kept separate until the blending stage.   This means that the nuances from the individual plots are retained.

This individuality is important in the detailed and exacting process of sampling and assessing the still wine from each of hundreds of plots.   In non-vintage wine where consistency across years is the objective, the chosen individual wines are blended together with reserved wines from previous years to create the assemblage (blend) for that year.

The reputation of each Champagne House rests significantly on this sampling, assessing and blending of different wines.   It’s the alchemy of champagne making and the responsibility of the cellar master and the blending committee.   It is after bottling and with the addition of a liqueur de tirage  ( including sugars and yeast nutrients) that the bubbles are made during the secondary fermentation.

The mystery and sophistication of champagne has been carefully nurtured over time.   The four Champagne Houses we visited were founded in the 19th century although Roederer has its origins in the 18th C.   Apart from Krug which is part of the LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, the Houses are independent and have passed from generation to generation.   Even at Krug, Olivier Krug, 6th generation of the Krug family is still actively involved in the business.

Reims Cathedral - the west portal with rose window and tympanum

Reims Cathedral – the west portal with rose window and tympanum

The Champagne region is steeped in history.     Much of the area was significantly affected by World War 1.  Half the Louis Roederer vineyards were destroyed in that war.  During that period the Bollinger cellars were used as a hospital, courtesy of Mme. Bollinger.    The history of Reims, a major hub in the Champagne industry goes back to the Roman times.   For more than one thousand years the sovereigns of the Franks and then France came to the Cathedral or its predecessor to be crowned (816 – 1825).     Keeping pace with more modern times, the great Gothic Cathedral is home to stained glass designed by Marc Chagall and installed in 1974.

With only time for a brief visit, we walked from the bright October afternoon sunshine into the shadowy, chiaroscuro atmosphere of Reims Cathedral.   Our footsteps sounded heavy as we walked up the aisle admiring the vaulting and the brilliance of blue and red shafts of light from the stained glass.    Before leaving this inspiring place we followed our usual practice of lighting a wax taper, casting our own pencil of light into the shadows.

In the Part 2 of 3,  I will write about our visit the same day to Billecart-Salmon and Krug.

References:  With thanks to Wine Spectator for the map of the Heart of Champagne

Bergerac Wine Region: SW France: Chateau Lestevenie: A Wine in Progress tasting

It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne;  cozy coat and sunglasses weather.  A great day to be outdoors!    Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about  a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.

Chateau Lestevenie

Chateau Lestevenie

We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress.    This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process.  These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop.   Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.

For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming.   Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making.  Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.

Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process.  He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science.    It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”

We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100%  Sauvignon Blanc which has  finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast).   It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled.    Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.

Bergerac White in process (before filtering)

Bergerac White (Sauvignon Blanc) in process (before filtering)

An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process.  The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank.  The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.  Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank.  He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency.   It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the white wine fermentation is complete.

The inside of the fermentation tank after the Moelleux white wine fermentation is complete.

Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching.   As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry,  our wine glasses are ready for each tasting.  We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.

The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm.   After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie.   Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards.   Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines.    The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife. 

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie

The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and  attracts many visitors.    Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting.    Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.

 Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website.  Her post:  “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.

The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices.    An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet.   About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:

“On the palate:  full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal.   Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol.   Good depth of flavours and body.   Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing.   Conclusion:  Ready to drink with decanting.  Will benefit from further ageing.   Good quality with lots of potential.   Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently.    Very good value.”

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet

We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week.  Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.

The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.

References:  Chateau Lestevenie:   wwwchateau-lestevenie.com

Wine Tours:     http://www.BergeracWineTours.com

Bergerac Wine Region: SW France. November 11, Remembering …with a Vin D’Honneur

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)

On November 11, Armistice Day,  we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly  in front of the War Memorial in our village.   We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars.  At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem,  ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.   We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row…….

Here, when the national anthems are played,  the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.    Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally.   I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat.   Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.

Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the  cornflower; Le Bleuet –  since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both.   These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.

The Poppy and Le Bleuet - Remembrance Symbols

The Poppy and Le Bleuet – Remembrance Symbols

This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze.   After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.

This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized.    We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community.   It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.

Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor.   This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.

Wine is such a flexible beverage.    It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011    Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011 Fleur de Cuvée Blanche

References:

Les Bleuets de France:   http://www.Bleuet de France

In Flanders Field:    www.greatwar.co.uk

Poppy Appeal:    www.britishlegion.com

Chateau Plaguettes:  www. vignobles-gazziola.com

Bergerac Wine Region: South West France – Wine and Pâté pairing

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reference:  Chateau Court-Les-Mûts

Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure – Pécharmant AOC

For more information about the Confréries of France recognized by UNESCO in 2011, visit http://www.confreries-france.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Ladesvignes

Chateau Ladesvignes sits on a plateau high above the Dordogne Valley on the D7 road, the wine route between Pomport and Monbazillac and 10 to 15 minutes from the centre of Bergerac.

Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond

Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond

As we turn into the courtyard directly off the D7, the first thing we notice is the stone archway inscribed with the name Chateau Ladesvignes and the great cedar tree beyond.   The tree is a natural magnet and we are soon standing beneath its outstretched limbs gazing at the panorama that unfolds beneath and beyond us of fields, farms, vines, cattle, hamlets, villages and the spires and rooftops of Bergerac.    The tree stands above old fortified walls surrounding the property on one side and we discover that many of the winery buildings are probably 15th century;  no one knows for sure.  We linger a few minutes to take in the expansive view and breathe in the history of the place.

The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes

The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes

We’re here to meet Véronique Monbouché, wife and co-proprietor with her husband Michel.      Mme. Monbouché tells us she and her husband acquired 35 hectares in 1989 and subsequently took over other family vineyards to farm the 60 hectares that they cultivate today.   Being fourth generation winemakers, they hope their two children will carry on the family tradition one day.

Entering the wine tasting room, Mme. Monbouché guides us through a tasting of their wines.     It’s a warm day and we particularly enjoy their everyday white Bergerac Blanc Sec.  It is fresh, delicious, made mainly from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and is competitively priced.   We enjoy the range of wines we taste and notice that many of them have won awards.

Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes

Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes

Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec

Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec

I particularly appreciate their tri-fold brochure.   For each of their wines there is a photograph of a bottle of the wine with a brief tasting description.   Also included are recommendations for serving temperatures and wine ageing, as well as the prices and ordering details.    The medals and awards are noted.   The information is practical, helpful and easy to read.   It is a well designed marketing tool.

We ask Mme. Monbouché about wine tourism at the Chateau and she disarmingly tells us that marketing is not their strong suit!   Our impression is that the wine sells itself through quality and value.

Véronique Monbouché explains that the main market for their wines is France and especially the restaurants in Bergerac and the vicinity.    Similar to the other wineries in the area, they sell their wines to Northern Europe, mainly Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom.    While we are there cases of wine are being loaded on a large truck for delivery to Belgium.   Chateau Ladesvignes is represented in Québec where their award winning Monbazillac dessert wine is available.

Chateau Ladesvignes is a perfect place to visit if touring the Bergerac area.   It is easy to locate off the main road to Marmande.  In addition to the quality of the wines and the tasting experience, there is the added bonus of the panoramic view of Bergerac and the Dordogne Valley from the shade of the grand old cedar tree.

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

References:      Chateau Ladesvignes www.ladesvignes.com

Québec Liquor Board www.saq.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

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

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.

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Chateau Tour des Gendres   http://www.chateautourdesgendres.com

AGROCERT:  The organic standard.   see  www.organicstandard.com

Restaurant Chez Alain, Issigeac and Issigeac Sunday Morning Market, SW France

Société Alcohol Québec – SAQ

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Vignobles des Verdots

The tall and imposing Tasting Room is the first thing we noticed as we drove along the high plateau driveway to Vignobles des Verdots in the community of Conne de Labarde, south east of Bergerac and not far from the Bergerac Regional Airport.   The building is contemporary yet monumental in style and makes a bold statement of optimism and confidence that mirrors the same characteristics of wine-maker and proprietor David Fourtout, named Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the Bergerac Wine Region.

Tasting Room and cellars:  Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting Room and cellars: Vignobles des Verdots

As we made our introductions and agreed in which language we would conduct our conversation and tour (English this time), we were conscious that the forecourt of Vignobles des Verdots was a hive of activity.   A large truck arrived to pick up cases of wine and deliver them  in Belgium, a couple drove up in their estate car to collect wine to drive home to the Netherlands and so it went on.    This led to a discussion about the markets for the Verdots wine and David said that they sell their wine in 20 countries:  50% is sold in France and 50% is sold internationally with Belgium, Holland and Germany being key markets as well as the Scandinavian countries.   We asked about sales to Canada:  Vignobles des Verdots is sold in Quebec through SAQ, the Quebec Liquor Control Board; the buyers for the Ontario Liquor Control Board had visited the day before but sadly it has been a long time since any wine has been sold in British Columbia.

David started our tour in the cellars beneath the Tasting Room and we descended to the large, cavernous area to see where the wines are aged in oak barrels.  This cellar has exposure to the surrounding limestone rock through large openings that have been cut into the concrete on all sides of the cellar.   The openings in the wall are backlit and the rock surface is both visible and touchable.   There is also a large opening cut into the floor, covered by a metal grid, showing the underground Verdots stream that continues on under the vineyard and nourishes the vines.   The water is crystal clear and fast flowing over yellow-gold sand.   We had an immediate sensation of being part of the earth, rock and ‘terroir’ of the place.

 Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des VerdotsVerdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des Verdots

We then had a tour of the winery or ‘Chai’ and were shown the investments that the Fourtout family has made  in the purchase of various winemaking equipment as part of a process of continuous quality improvement.   These investments are in addition to the recent construction of the Tasting Room and cellars.

David Fourtout talked to us about his philosophy and approach to winemaking.  He practices organic styles of winemaking.   He prefers to remain flexible in his approach and use interventions according to the needs of the vines.   Similar to the message we have heard in other wineries in the area, David emphasized that the use of sulphites, a natural wine preservative, has been much reduced at Vignobles des Verdots.

Geologically and climatically, the area is simllar to Saint Emilion with respect to the soil but has more of a continental climate with colder weather in winter, hotter weather in the summer but less rain.

We are always interested in the marketing and promotion of wines and found that David Fourtout is committed to these functions and, with others, takes a leadership role in the advancement of the Bergerac wines.   He is currently leading a committee in the Bergerac Wine Region to look at the promotion of their wines including recommending changes to the appellation controlee regulations.   There is an initiative to advocate changing the name of the Cotes de Bergerac appellation to Grand Cru de Bergerac to be reflective of the quality of these levels of wines.   It will be interesting to follow this and see what unfolds.

There is a virtuous circle of wine tourism practised at Vignobles des Verdots: from the five euro summer vineyard brunches and the significant farm gate wine sales in July and August to the B & B accommodation in one of the towers of the Tasting Room, there is a lot of promotional activity.   All the family gets involved: his wife and his parents who also live on the property help out with the Tasting Room activity.  His Father was the power behind the Tasting Room construction.

Talking about the Tasting Room…. we had a comprehensive tasting of the suite of Verdots wines.   They make wines under 6 different appellations:  AOC Cotes de Bergerac Rouge and AOC Bergerac Rouge, AOC Bergerac Rosé, AOC Bergerac Blanc Sec, AOC Sweet Cotes de Bergerac and AOC Monbazillac.  These are blended wines from the estate and the red wines consist of predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the sweet whites are from Semillon and Muscadelle; the Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by ‘bleeding’ off the juice during the fermentation process; and finally, the Monbazillac or liquoreux wine is made by blending Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been hand picked taking only those grapes which have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea also known as Noble Rot.   The different wines together with tasting notes are well documented on the informative Vignobles des Verdots website noted below.

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots

In addition to making wine according to 6 appellations, the Verdots wines are made in 4 different levels:  Clos des Verdots,  Chateau Les Tours des Verdots, Grand Vins les Verdots and Le Vin Selon David Fourtout.   All the wines are of a high quality.   For Canadian readers,  the Chateau les Tours des Verdots Blanc is available through the Quebec liquor stores.

For us, the Grand Vin “Les Verdots Selon David Fourtout” was the most delicious: balanced, complex, textured and fruit forward.  It has all the flavours and depth we enjoy in a Bergerac style red which, dare we say it, seems to us to be of similar quality and style but better value than its Bordeaux cousins.

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker

As we prepared to leave and say our goodbyes and thanks for an interesting and informative visit, several people arrived all at once to taste wines.   David called over to his Mother to come and help.  At its heart,  this is still a family farm growing grapes and making wine over four generations with its focus firmly on the future.

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Reference:    Vignobles des Verdots     http://www.verdots.com

Bergerac Wine Region, S W France: Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Driving into the courtyard of Chateau Moulin Caresse in Saint Antoine de Breuilh our immediate reaction is to exclaim at the natural charm of the place.   In the attached map below, look at the top left quadrant in green to the west of Ste Foy La Grande to get a sense of the location near Vélines.

 Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

The property is on the right bank of the Dordogne River and is at the eastern end of a large plateau that begins in St. Emilion which is 20 kms away.

The gravel driveway where we enter is surrounded by trees and shrubs on one side, the office and tasting room straight ahead and the long, low building of the chateau is on our right hand side, on the south slope with a view over the expanse of the Dordogne Valley.   It’s a landscape of trees, river, vineyards and orchards.

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

Mme. Sylvie Duffarge, co-owner with her husband Jean-Francois and responsible for the marketing of the wines, greets us and invites us to the tasting room to talk about their wines.   She emphasizes that her husband’s family has been making wine here since 1749 and their sons are now in the business with them.

We contemplate the enormity of the changes that successive generations of this wine making family have faced over the centuries.   In 1749, Louis XV was on the throne in France,  George II in England and the revolutions in America and France were in the future.    Musically, it was the time of Handel and Gainsborough was painting his pastoral portraits of English families.   All this gives us a sense of historical perspective.   Chateau Moulin Caresse is one of many examples of family run businesses in France where successive generations build and evolve the business over time.

Mme. Duffarge expains that Chateau Moulin Caresse makes wine according to the Bergerac and Montravel AOC guidelines.   They make 5 levels of wine:  Cuvée Cépages – young, everyday wines;  Cuvée Magie d’Autonne – wines matured in barrels and can be laid down for 5 – 8 years;  Cuvée Cent Pour 100 – superior wines that can be laid down for 7 – 15 years and Cuvée Coeur de Roche – their grand cru de domaine red wines that can be laid down for 15 – 20 years.   They also make a sparkling wine:  Perles d’Ecume.

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

We tasted most of the wines and focussed more on the Cuvée Cépages and Cuvée Magie d’Autonne.   In the Cuvée Cépages range, we particularly enjoyed the rosé which is Cabernet Sauvignon based.   This is an excellent vin de plaisir (everyday wine) for the summer.   In the Magie d’Autonne range, we very much enjoyed the white.  It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and some Sauvignon Gris, a grape not generally used but Mme. Duffarge advises us that it adds texture to the wine.    The wine is a brilliant crisp pale yellow colour with substance and texture.   The Magie d’Autonne range is made according to the rigorous Montravel AOC guidelines.

The Duffarge family have 52 hectares under vines planted mainly on the plateau which has sandy clay soil with pockets rich in iron deposits.   The soils here can give a minerality to the white wines characteristic of the Montravel AOC wines.  The hillsides or coteaux are clay limestone which is best suited to the Merlot and Cabernet France vines.

A new chai or winery was built two years ago with mainly stainless steel and some cement vats.   The white wine is fermented in oak casks and rolled to stir the lees.   When asked about the use of sulphites, a preservative used in wine making since antiquity, Mme Duffarge mentions that they are using significantly less sulphites than several years ago due to better technology and improved wine making practices.   This was a common message we heard in our visits to Bergerac wine makers.

New Chais,  Chateau Moulin Caresse

New Chai, Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse wines are award winners.   The Cuvée Cent Pour 100 Montravel AOC wine has been a consistent winner of awards including Decanter World Wine Awards.   The Magie d’Autonne Montravel AOC white wine is a well regarded white wine of the region.

For Canadian readers,  Chateau Moulin Caresse Magie d’Autonne 2007 red is available through the Quebec Liquor Stores.

The visit to Chateau Moulin Caresse was particularly interesting as we had little previous contact or knowledge of this corner of the Bergerac wine region.   Meeting Sylvie Duffarge and hearing the family story highlighted for us the ongoing commitment of multi-generational wine making families in this region both to the land and to quality wine making.

Reference:    www.saq.com    Société des alcools du Quebéc (Quebec liquor stores)

http://www.pays-de-bergerac/vins/chateau-moulin-caresse

The Bergerac Wine Region, South West France: An Introduction

Bergerac Wine Region,  SW France

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

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.

Aquitaine

Aquitaine

References:

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

View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards

The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River

The Colours of Rose: Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose, Languedoc-Roussillon, S. France

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

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

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.

References:     Roche Lacour

Milk Chocolate Semifreddo recipe:    www.foodnetwork.ca

Lindt and Sprungli:   http://www.lindt.com

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Roche Lacour Rose 2010 Brut

Vancouver International Wine Festival, British Columbia, Canada, February 25 – March 3, 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

The double doors open into a dimly lit meeting room of the Vancouver Convention Centre and in pour 100 wine aficionados, eager to taste the best of the pick at the Meet Your Match wine seminar hosted by Anthony Gismondi, wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun newspaper.

This is day 6 of the 35th Annual Vancouver International WIne Festival, this year celebrating California Wines and Chardonnay from around the world.

At the Meet Your Match seminar 10 international winery principals with their chosen wines sit at individual tables to greet the seminar participants divided into groups of 10.   Argentina, Australia, Canada (British Columbia), France, Germany, the United States (California) are represented here.    The event is choreographed so that the groups circulate clockwise from table to table after 8 minutes with each winery principal;  each rotation signaled by the ringing of a bell.    Standing to one side, it feels as though I am watching people dancing in slow motion around the perimeter of the room.   Modelled on speed dating concepts, where people move from table to table meeting new people, it’s a popular event;  fast paced and lively with great wines presented by the winery principal and often the winemaker.    The sound of clinking glasses and general laughter increases with each rotation around the room.

This is my third event this day as a volunteer wine pourer.   I’m asked to assist at the Sebastiani table where Mark Lyon, Winemaker is going to present Sebastiani’s Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.   The first group of 10 people approach the tasting table where each small group will take up 2 rows in front of the winemaker.   Mr. Lyon asks me to pour tasting glasses for the people in the 2nd row for each of the 10 groups he will present to during the event.   This gives me a unique opportunity to learn about the Sebastiani Winery and the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon by listening to his presentation about the history of the parcels of land, the cherry orchard pedigree, the grape varieties and the soil type.

The original block of old vines was planted on 10.8 acres of Sonoma Valley countryside in 1961 and 1962 by August Sebastiani.    In 1985,  Mr. Sebastiani renamed the estate Cherryblock with reference to its former life as a cherry orchard.    Replanting of sections of the vineyard that succumbed to phylloxera commenced in 1997.    The vines grow on Terra Rosa soil which is volcanic, rocky with low fertility yet good natural drainage.

Originally a single-vineyard designation, the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon is now a proprietary blend supported by vines from nearby vineyards with similar Terra Rosa soils.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend:  Cabernet Sauvignon (80 – 90%), with other Bordeaux varieties,  Malbec (0 – 15%), Merlot (0 – 10%), Petit Verdot (0 – 5%) and Cabernet Franc (0 – 5%).   The percentages vary relative to the vintage.    The blend produces a dense, structured wine with aromas of cherries, cassis, cranberries, cedar, leather, dried leaves. The Sonoma Valley climate is warm enough to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon yet cool enough to retain the balance and acidity necessary for great wines.

Beneath these descriptions,  I hear Mark Lyon’s passion for his craft, his knowledge and attention to the science of winemaking and the art and perhaps alchemy of each year’s

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

vintage together with his enthusiasm for making beautiful wine.   At the end of the event, when the participants have drifted happily away, I taste the Cherryblock – a sublime experience of tasting a dense, greatly satisfying wine that according to Mr. Lyon will be even better in 5 years time.

The 2013 Vancouver International WIne Festival was attended by over 25,000 consumers.  175 wineries from 15 countries were represented together with 62 wineries from the theme region, California.

References:

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery:    www.sebastiani.com

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: http://www.vanwinefest.ca

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st Century – Part Five

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose

The wine is poured and we are ready to taste the Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose.

At the end of our recent visit to the winery, Angelos Tsangarides, Managing Director and Co-Owner asked us to try their latest rose.  We gladly accepted the invitation as this is an interesting wine for two reasons.   It is made with organic wine making processes and is a blend of Maretheftiko, a Cyprus indigenous grape with Shiraz, a well known international variety.    Organic wine making and blending of indigenous and international grape varieties are two particular interests of this winery.

We decide to work our way through a systematic approach to tasting and consider colour, nose and palate.   This rose is a clear, bright red.   It’s clearly a youthful wine with fruit aromas and medium intensity on the nose.   On the palate, this wine is medium dry on the sweetness continuum with low acidity.   It is a balanced, smooth wine with other characteristics of body, intensity, length in the medium range.    Flavours of strawberries and cherries with light vegetal overlays of green pepper are noted.

Our conclusion:  a pleasant, easy to drink,  balanced rose. Ready to enjoy now.   A good accompaniment for appetizers or as an aperitif, served chilled.

Wine experts claim that the black Maretheftiko vine has the greatest potential to produce quality wine among the indigeous varieties on the Island.   They consider that it could produce wines with the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The challenge is that it is a difficult vine to grow commercially since it is one of the few non-hermaphrodite vines in the world and must be planted in vineyards of mixed varieties to ensure good pollination.   At Tsangarides, they are experimenting with how to increase their Maretheftiko yield by trying different approaches to planting.

Angelos mentions to us the growing interest in indigenous grape varieties among wine producers and consumers.    A major project sponsored by one of the large Cyprus wine producers was conducted to research and identify traditional Cyprus varieties.  Much work was conducted by the internationally known expert, French ampelographer, Dr. Pierre Galet from Montpelier.    Ampelography is not a familiar term.   It comes from the Greek ampelos for the vine and graphe for writing.  It is the science of describing and identifying vine varieties using such characteristics as leaf shape and lengths and angles of the leaf veins as well as other elements.    It is a field of botany that requires specialized training.  This important study identified several indigenous Cyprus vine varieties, including Maretheftiko.

Wine writer Oz Clarke mentions Cyprus in his new book and in his summary of European wines writes:  “Even Cyprus is waking up”.    Faint praise yet encouraging recognition for the work and innovative practices of Cyprus wine makers.

References:  Oxford Companion to Wine:  Jancis Robinson MW

My Top Wines 2013:  Oz Clarke

Tsangarides Winery.

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st century – Part Four

Tsangarides Winery

Tsangarides Winery

Almond tree outside Tsangarides WineryA slight breeze accompanied the rhythmic chatter of the wine bottling machine as we sat in the spring morning sunshine on the deck of the Tsangarides Winery.  This family owned winery is in the village of Lemona at the south end of the Troodos Mountains and about half an hour from Paphos.    Angelos Tsangarides offered us our favourite Cyprus coffee,  Metrios with its usual glass of water, as we joined him to chat and catch up winery news.

Over the past few years we’ve had the good fortune to meet  Angelos and his sister Loukia who both run this boutique winery started by their great, great grandfather.  We were introduced to them by a retired businessman friend who lives in the village. A few years ago he  bought a couple of parcels of land with old Cabernet Sauvignon vines which are now being brought into production by the Tsangarides Winery.   We have visited these parcels of vines situated in a silent sun drenched valley near the village.   Since then,  these rejuvenated vines have been joined by recently planted Xinisterii vines also being nurtured in the same way.

On a previous visit with our friend, we had the opportunity to taste the Tsangarides suite of wines which were offered with a plate of local feta cheese on top of slices of cool cucumber,  a delightfully fresh combination of flavours to cleanse the palate between tastings.  The Xinisteri Dry White is a particlar favourite and it won a silver medal in the 2012 Cyprus wine competition.   Xinisteri (sometimes spelt Ynisteri) is a local Cyprus grape which can produce mouth-wateringly crisp and fruity wine with hints of green apple, apricot and lemon.   Agios Efrem, a red wine, is another favourite with a combination of berries, coffee and pepper aromas.  This is a blend of Mataro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

On this day, as we sip our Metrios, the conversation turns to the innovative approaches being taken by the Tsangarides winery.    Their aim is to produce ever higher quality wines through modernization, greater efficiencies,  certified organic wine making approaches and the use of ancient Cyprus local grapes with international grape varieties.   This integration of the winery legacy with new approaches is a particular interest of the Tsangarides family.   These approaches seem to be the way forward in an increasingly competitive and global industry.

It feels invigorating to sit outside in the warm February sunshine taking in the sights and sounds of the village and the winery and hear the enthusiasm of Angelos as he talks about their business.    We enjoy the view of palm and olive trees surrounding the winery with the Troodos mountains in the distance.  The almond tree opposite the entrance is in full pink splendour.    Our visit provided an interesting and enjoyable insight into contemporary wine making in Cyprus.

View from the deck of Tsangarides Winery, Lemona

Tsangarides Winery

Tsangarides Winery

Cyprus wine making – the Ancient World meets the 21st Century Part 3

Bush planting of vines - a common sight in Cyprus

Bush planting of vines – a common sight in Cyprus

High trellis planting of vines - mainly for table grapes

High trellis planting of vines – mainly for table grapes

It’s February and pale pink, delicately scented almond blossom is suddenly opening on the almond trees. The soft scent encourages a deep inhalation of the perfumed air.   The island seems to be bursting with colour.  The Cyprus countryside between Paphos and Polis on the west side of the island  is a vision of mandarin and citrus orange, almond and cyclamen pink, olive tree silver-grey,  broom yellow and winter wheat  green.   The gnarled brown bush planted vines still appear dormant and the high trellis vines mainly for table grapes show the occasional touch of green.   Nature is responding to the warmth of the sun after two months of cool and rainy weather and is reawakening.

The same could be said of the Cyprus wine industry.    It is going through a renaissance after several centuries of decline and more recently the production of  bulk, inexpensive wines. Cyprus produced much of the  sweet sherry- like fortified wine consumed in the UK and also a large volume of blended wines for the eastern block countries.    Markets have changed significantly and now  Cyprus wine makers are responding to the global demand for higher quality wines by paying greater attention to the handling of  grapes and the production of the wine.

Cyprus appears well positioned to make this transition.  Along with Chile,  Cyprus claims to a country whose vineyards are entirely phylloxera-free and vines are cultivated on their own root stock as opposed to being grafted onto american root stock as is the case in many countries.     Cyprus is also fortunate to have several indigenous grape varieties which are heavily relied upon in its wine industry.    While more international grape varieties are increasingly being planted their percentage of the total acreage cultivated is much smaller.    The red grape Mavro has the highest acreage followed by the white grape Xynisteri.  Next in line are Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.   Another popular Cypriot vine,  Maratheftiko is further down the list.      Xynisteri makes popular white wines but they must be drunk young – one year at most after production.

While much of the wine industry has been dominated by four major producers,  smaller  regional wineries  with lower production capacity are being encouraged within the industry.       Further initiatives to support improved quality have included the appellation system.   There are three wine denominations based on European Union laws.   The three categories are:  Table Wine;  Local wine, similar to the French Vin de Pays; and introduced in 2007 is the Protected designation of origin which is modelled on the French  Appellation d’Origine Controllee.   Each of these denominations has specific requirements which must be met.

The wine industry is a significant contributor to the Cypriot economy through cultivation, production, employment, export and tourism.   It’s  a demanding business in a highly competitive market.     Modernizing and improving quality in line with the industry world- wide is the way forward while building upon the legacy of  local grape varieties and island history.

Almond Blossom - early February

Almond Blossom – early February