St Valentine’s Day celebration

As I walk to the restaurant table at Minthis Hills Golf Club to enjoy a St Valentine’s Day lunch near Paphos in Cyprus, I am already anticipating having a glass of something sparkling.   I know I will be the only one at our table making this choice today, so I am pleased to see on offer a 200ml bottle of Familglia Zonin Prosecco.   This is a good start as I am a fan of small bottles of wine for individual consumption.

St Valentine's choice: Prosecco from Zonin

St Valentine’s Day choice: Prosecco  Zonin.

While I await the arrival of the flute glass and the mini bottle, I remind myself that I am quite cautious about Prosecco in general as I have experienced some overly sweet examples in the past.   Also, I have to admit to not being familiar with the Famiglia Zonin wines.

All reservations are set aside as I taste this dry, slightly almondy, fresh sparkling wine.   It was exactly what I was looking for to celebrate St Valentine’s Day.  Sparkling wines are so versatile with food selections that  I continue to drink this with my meal of ravioli filled with halloumi cheese, ground almonds and walnuts served with a mint pesto sauce.  An interesting menu selection which captures my eye and translates into a successful food and wine pairing.

St Valentine’s Day belated best wishes to the readers of elizabethsvines.

A rose for St Valentine's

A rose for St Valentine’s

 

Reference:   Casa Vinicola Zonin SPA –   Zonin Wines     zoninprosecco.com

Minthis Hills Golf Club.  www.minthishills.com

‘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

 

 

Cyprus: Wine and mythology

We’re back in Cyprus, land of mythology, of Aphrodite rising from the waves. The goddess of love, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans,  was believed to have risen from the sea foam near Paphos at Pétra tou Romioú.

Aphrodite's sea foam?

Could this be Aphrodite’s sea foam?

I remember seeing Sandro Botticelli’s renowned painting of the Birth of Venus (mid 1480’s) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and am delighted to think I have seen both the painted interpretation and the physical site of the legend.

In this ancient land of Cyprus, where there are records of settlement at the site of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Kouklia, site of Old Paphos, dating from the 15th century BC, and where it seems that often the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea merge into one, the imagination can take flight and anything seems possible.

Cyprus is a treasure trove of archeological sites with their ancient history. We enjoy visiting these places, and stand in awe of the work and artistry of the people who accomplished so much in those ancient times. In January and March 2013, I wrote about the history of wine making in Cyprus and the mosaics in New Paphos at the Archaeological Park by the sea and those posts are in elizabethsvines archives.

Well preserved and in situ, the Paphos mosaics provide insight into life on the island mainly in the Roman period although there are also examples of pebble mosaics from the much earlier Hellenistic period. Not only do the mosaics illustrate flora and fauna, they also illustrate work related to wine making.

I am so interested in mosaics as an art form that I am learning the basics of mosaic making with Sharen Taylor, a highly skilled mosaic artist and conservationist resident in Cyprus.  First coming to the island to undertake professional conservation work, she subsequently conducted a two year historical research project of the Paphos mosaics. Now she dedicates herself to the “cultural heritage of mosaic making” working on commissions and teaching students at her studio in Paphos.

I have been spending hours practising the seven most used cutting techniques for tesserae ( a small block of stone, glass or wood used in mosaic making) and making a sample board, in much the same way my grandmother would have made a sample project of various needlework stitches. My grandmother was an accomplished needlewoman, as I think the expression goes. I won’t make the same claim for my tesserae/glass cutting skills but it’s fun to learn and try: more importantly it’s humbling to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to make the mosaics of people, animals, and life scenes evident at the archeological sites.

All this thinking about mythology, archeology and mosaic making hasn’t dulled my interest in local wines and the local grape varieties of Xinisteri, white grapes and Maratheftiko, black grapes. We will be visiting some local wineries to see how wine making is progressing on the island. In keeping with the art of the possible, the wine industry in Cyprus is enjoying a renaissance and I will share Cyprus wine experiences next time I write.

References

Mosaic artist and conservationist:   Sharen Taylor.  www.sharentaylor.com

Paphos Archeological Park    www.visitpafos.org.cy

Kouklia Archeological Site       http://www.visitpafos.org.cy

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.  www.uffizi.org ( I found it worth checking several sites including Wikipedia to learn more of the story of the painting)

Bergerac Wine Region: Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès: Reaching Out

We are having coffee with a friend in Vancouver; sitting outside at our regular haunt putting the world to rights as usual.   Our friend comments, “ Well, you know the big thing nowadays for organizations is “reaching out”.     We talk about this “reaching out” and what it means or implies: communicating, engaging with interested parties.

Later on, I reflect on  “reaching out” and my thoughts turn to the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in South West France and the efforts that they make to reach out to many groups in the course of their activities during the year.

Confrérie du Raisin D'Or de Sigoulès

I wrote about the history and current role of Confréries in France and in particular about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the July 2014 article on my website.     In summary, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.

UNESCO has recognized the gastronomic heritage of France as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.

Tourism plays a major role in the French economy and the Confréries, with their links to the past and involvement with the gastronomy of the area are usually associated with a tourism organization in the vicinity.

In some ways, this feels like a lot of words on a page and high-level policy. On the ground, what is the value proposition?   It’s about promoting the local area, culture, food and wine to residents and visitors.   Aside from the annual major event for each Confrérie called the Chapitre, and attending the Chapitres of other Confrèries, local events are organized that reach out to others.

The magic of the work of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès of which I am so fortunate to be a member, albeit from a distance much of the time, comes alive for me in particular ways.

One way is in walking with people who take part in the summer time Confrérie organized hikes, which focus on the discovery of the local countryside.   I pass the time of day with other hikers: why do they come? What’s it all about for them?

Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie

Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie

Consistently, the response is that they love the countryside, the opportunity to explore the area with other people with similar interests. They appreciate the fellowship offered by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès.     Often they are people who live in Bergerac, the local main town, and sometimes they have recently retired there after a career in Paris or overseas. They want to connect with the soil, the trees, the birds, the mushrooms, the wild flowers; these things are important to them.

Hiking with the Confrérie

Hiking with the Confrérie

At the end of each hike, there is an opportunity to enjoy refreshment with others.   On offer is a glass of local wine or juice and a savoury biscuit.     Un pot d’amitié, a cup of friendship,  to which participants are invited to donate a small amount to cover costs.   All this is organized and brought to the assembly point by members of the Confrérie.

At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship

At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship

This is the magic of the countryside and fellowship.

Another expression of this magic is attending concerts organized by the Confrérie in local mediaeval churches.

How good can it get to listen to talented musicians in this kind of setting?

One example from this summer is a concert held at the church in Sigoulès featuring a flautist and guitarist playing music from both sides of the Pyrénées. These musical pieces are by composers who originated from different regions of the French and Spanish Pyrénées: Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Georges Bizet, Pablo de Sarasate, and Isaac Albeniz.   These are some of my favourite composers.   Afterwards, we stand and chat in the shade of the plane trees and enjoy un pot d’amitié – a glass of wine from a Sigoules winemaker.

Concert with the Confrérie

Concert with the Confrérie

Another example is a concert of young talented musicians from the Conservatoire de Bergerac. In this instance, two young guitarists.   On the programme, which I have shown here, I circled the pieces I particularly enjoyed.   At the end of the performance, as an encore, they played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s famous song:   “Isn’t She Lovely”.   I loved the repetoire, the imagination and the skill of these two young people.

Concert with the 2 guitarists

Concert with two guitarists

Afterwards, there is an opportunity to meet other concertgoers and enjoy a cup of friendship again: wine or juice with a slice of ham and cheese cake offered by Confrérie volunteers.   We stand, smile and chat in the warm, early evening sunshine outside the church at Puyguilhem in the Commune of Thenac from where it is possible to see in the distance where the 100 years began and in another direction where it ended.

This is the magic of time and place, music and fellowship.

Who does all this reaching out?   Committed members of the Confrérie who give countless hours of their time to promoting this region of France that they love and value, to engaging with local residents and visitors and to using their skills and talents in the interests of others.

For me, all this effort is about getting to the heart of matters in ways that people value.   This is “reaching out” at its best.  As our friend in Vancouver suggests, reaching out is a big thing.

Bergerac Wine Region: Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests

I have been musing for some time about the size of bottle in which wine is sold.   There are more options for buying wine in a wine bar or restaurant: new technology like wine on tap and different size glasses of wine, yet there appear to be fewer options to buy smaller volumes in a wine store.  That appears to be the case in Vancouver at any rate.

If we want to enjoy one or maybe two glasses of wine at home, we are faced with opening a regular sized 750 ml bottle and then trying to keep the remainder fresh for a couple of days, sometimes using tools like the vacuum pump.   Most likely we forget about it and then end up pouring it into my special “left-over-wine-for-cooking” bottle.     I am thinking about checking out the availability of half bottles of wine.

My mental antennae are on alert for smaller bottles when we eat lunch at Chez Alain, a favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch in Issigeac, a medieval village in the Dordogne, SW France.   At five tables around us on this particular Sunday, I count five smaller sized bottles of Chateau Le Tap organic white wine; it’s their Bergerac Sec; a Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend.

Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec

Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec, 750 and 500 ml bottles

We talk to the restaurant staff and they tell us that these 500 ml bottles of Chateau Le Tap wine are popular, particularly for two people having lunch or dinner.     This makes perfect sense to me and I am determined to visit Olivier Roches, the Proprietor at Chateau Le Tap.

Chateau Le Tap, a family run winery in the Bergerac Wine Region, is located at the edge of Saussignac, a small, rural village south of the Dordogne River.   Olivier and his wife Mireille and their children have lived there since 2001.   They are part of a long established winemaking family from the Pécharmant appellation wine making area of the Périgord Poupre.

Château Le Tap

Château Le Tap in its rural setting, Dordogne

After the usual pleasantries and introductory chitchat, I ask Olivier about the 500 ml bottles.   He tells me he sells these mainly to restaurants.   He has been bottling his Bergerac Sec white wine in the 500 ml size for about 10 years.   As he also makes Saussignac appellation late harvest wine, which is mainly sold in 500 ml bottles, he has the capacity to also bottle his Bergerac Sec wine in the same fashion.   He says that while the regular size 750 ml bottle of wine is the norm, there is definitely a market for the smaller size bottles as people increasingly pay attention to their wine drinking habits.

As I am visiting Olivier Roches and his winery, it is interesting to explore Chateau Le Tap wine production in general.   Chateau Le Tap was certified as Bio, an organic producer, in 2007. Echoing the comments of all the wine-makers I have met, Olivier Roches’s focus is always to improve quality.   In pursuit of this goal, this year he is restructuring his vineyards. He tells me his approach to wine making is practical and guided by scientific principles.   He sells his wines mainly in other parts of France and to several Northern European countries as well as to local clients.   Guests at his two well-appointed Gites on the property can also buy wine and enjoy it on their doorstep.

Beyond this Bergerac Sec Blanc that I like with its aromatic, long and fresh taste, I sample other offerings in the Chateau Le Tap suite of wines. Another white wine is the Bergerac Sec Cuvée 3G, named for his three sons/garçons. This 2011 wine is an interesting blend of Sauvignon Gris (10%), Semillon (20%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Muscadelle (30%). The description on the website is silent on the remaining 10% of the blend.   This wine won the Médaille D’Or Concours des Vignerons Indépendants de France 2013 and the Selection Guide Hachette 2014, clear recognition of Olivier Roches’s wine making skills.

Olivier’s top of the line red is the Cuvée JulieJolie named for his daughter.   With 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this has the hallmarks of blackcurrant and cherry, soft tannins and all the subtleties of a good quality wine. Chateau le Tap do not at present market their red wines in smaller bottles.

If my observation of the Chez Alain customer interest in enjoying lunch with a smaller bottle of wine is anything to go by, it seems to me that Chateau le Tap is meeting customer interests at the restaurant with their 500 ml offering of white wine.

As I leave Chateau Le Tap and think about what I have learnt, I remind myself that a book I have just finished reading has further stimulated my interest in smaller bottles.       The story, “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” is the author Sebastian Faulks’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975), the English humourist and prolific writer.   Wodehouse’s books about the funny, fantastic, fictional antics of Bertie Wooster and the famous Jeeves, his Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman, set in pre-World War II English upper class society have amused generations of readers.

The Bertie Wooster character in Sebastian Faulks’s tribute book makes various references to food and particularly wine, including “something chilled and white”, “having a nice half bottle of something from the cellar”, together with references to claret, possibly his preferred wine choice and several references to a half bottle or a “half bot.”   My favourite Bertie W. wine and food description in the book reads like this:

“. the half bot. was a loosely recorked red of a most fruity provenance; the solids included a wedge of veal and ham pie that could have jammed open the west doors of Salisbury Cathedral”.

Salisbury Cathedral, which houses one of the four originals of the 13th century Magna Carta, is in my hometown of Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Salisbury Cathedral, West Front

Salisbury Cathedral, West Front

Being born and bred in Salisbury, my imagination is certainly stimulated by Bertie Wooster’s reference to the wedge of veal and ham pie.

All humour aside, it’s interesting to note that in the fictionalized world of Bertie Wooster in the early 20th century, that a half bottle of wine was commonplace.

To follow up on my earlier thought of checking availability of smaller or half bottles of wine, I set off one morning in Vancouver on a fact finding mission.   Limited in scope, I visit two wine stores. A BC Liquor Store and an independent wine store.     The BC Liquor Store is one of the 195 retail stores in the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Distribution Branch network operated across the Province of British Columbia. The other store is privately owned and operated.

In the BC Liquor Store, I am advised that the few half bottles in stock are displayed near the cash register along with small bottles of spirits and liqueurs. The selection is six red wines from different countries and four whites, including a prosecco.   In the independent wine store, a varied and larger stock of half bottles is prominently arranged together at the front of the shop under a sign indicating Half Bottles, creating an eye catching display.       In discussing these wines with the sales person, who mentions that people buy the half bottles both to limit wine consumption and also to try new wines, we agree that buying half bottles is for drinking fairly soon, as the wine ageing process is accelerated in smaller bottles.

It’s funny how disparate thoughts can pull together. My interest in finding out about the availability of smaller bottles of wine was piqued by our experience at the Restaurant Chez Alain, the work of Olivier Roches at Chateau Le Tap and the humour created by fictional Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, followed by some Vancouver-based fact finding.

Inspired by this information, I’m off to choose a couple of “half bots.”   We’ll see how we get on. I think Bertie Wooster would approve.

 

Reference:

Chez Alain, Issigeac:   See trip advisor.    Phone: +33 5 53 68 06 03

Chateau le Tap:  www.chateauletap.fr

Sebastian Faulks:  www.sebastianfaulks.com

PG Wodehouse:  www.wodehouse.co.uk

Salisbury Cathedral:  www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

For anyone interested in this year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, one of the four originals can be viewed in Salisbury Cathedral:  www.magnacarta800th.com

The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)

Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me.   So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.

Warre's 2000 Port

Warre’s 2000 Port

A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port.   This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.

December in Cyprus

December in Cyprus

 

If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by.     In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.

The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history.  Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal.   The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations.   Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today.     The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.

Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia.   This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce.   We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.

The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries.   Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.

The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.

It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine.   Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape.  Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.

Tsangarides Wines

Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines

The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon.     A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine.      We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one.   In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”.   Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.

We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings.   Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.

Canapes with sparkling wine cocktails

Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails

Baking tin for individual soufflés

Baking tin for individual soufflés

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.

The question is:  Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past?   I think the answer has to be: Yes.

References:

http://www.warre.com

http://www.kleinconstantia.com

http://www.epicurious.com     Classic Cheese Soufflé

http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

http://www.punchdrink.com  – Smoking Bishop recipe