Last month’s blog featuring the beautiful 18th Century Cyprus enamel wine labels generated more fascinating information. It is so interesting when wine intersects with social history!
18th Century enamel wine label.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Port style wines including Cyprus wine by auction in 1822.
Dr. Richard Wells, whose labels I included in my last post, kindly forwarded a photograph of this La Comenderie enamel label from his collection. This is a late 18th Century English label, made possibly for the French market or to use the French translation of the word. This label demonstrates how broadly the Cyprus fortified wine Commanderia was exported over the centuries and in this case in the late 1700’s.
Following the publication of my last blog post, a friend kindly sent me a photo of this fascinating poster that they have had for many years, of a wine auction to be held on Thursday, February 7th, 1822 to be conducted by Mr. Christie in Pall Mall, London. Yes! 199 years ago next week! Careful review of the list of, “excellent and well-flavoured Old Port” to be auctioned, identifies Cyprus among the 125 dozens to be sold, even though Commanderia isn’t technically a Port, but a fortified wine. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sold in Pint quantities, as that was the measure for wine at the time. A pint is 0.5 litres. The decanters used to serve these wines in the 19th Century would have been much smaller than those made today.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Port was a very popular drink. This was influenced by the Treaty of Methuen in 1703, which was a military and commercial agreement between Portugal and England, resulting in the import of various wines from Portugal including several listed on the auction poster, for example: Madeira, Lisbon, Calcavella.
During this period, Port became known as a drink with medicinal virtues, in particular for gout. Presumably, similar fortified wine was swept up in this popularity and Cyprus’s Commanderia wine benefitted from this fashion.
It was common at the time to drink these wines heavily every day and people became known as a ‘Three Bottle Man’ or a ‘Four Bottle Man’. A bottle contained 350 millilitres. Therefore, a Three Bottle Man drank slightly less than 2 pints of Port a day, or just over 1 litre in today’s terms.
An example of a Three Bottle Man in British history is William Pitt the Younger, who was the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783. He suffered from poor health and to address this problem, his physician recommended that he drink three bottles of Port a day!
Commanderia has been recognized as a popular wine since mediaeval times. Today, sadly,the market for Cyprus’ Commandaria wine has diminished, whereas Port continues to be widely enjoyed, even if far less than in the days of Three Bottle Men!
The beautiful La Comenderie enamel label together with the intriguing wine auction poster provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.
References: Thanks to Dr. R. Wells, drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels
With thanks to Suekatunda for permission to include the photo of the Christie’s poster.
Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.
Floral love art by the Heartman, West Vancouver
The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart. He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.
This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.
The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.
The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting. For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past. Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party. And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!
Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation. This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces. A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing. Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance. In France, the social distance is 1 metre. Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space. Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.
Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!
I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times. Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings. They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing. Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.
These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person. A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.
Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great. We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”
Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.
‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place. This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc. Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants. This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux. The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.
Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.
In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.
Thinking about small worlds reminds me of the time my late mother met Long John Silver.
Mum meets Long John Silver, Disneyland, 1980.
Mum had a great sense of fun and enjoyed every moment of this encounter.
It’s 1980 and we’re in Disneyland. Aside from meeting Long John Silver and other characters, we go on the rides including the one where we all end up singing, ‘It’s a small, small, small, small world’.
This is the refrain I remember every time I experience a small world story!
A small world story happened this summer, which seems like a long time ago now. We had the opportunity to attend Masterpiece, the art event held in London in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the same area where the Chelsea Flower Show is held.
We heard about Masterpiece during a serendipitous visit to the Kallos Gallery in Mayfair on the recommendation of a friend, who knows of our interest in the classical history and mosaics of Cyprus. The Kallos Gallery specializes in classical antiquities and is a supporter of archeological research.
We decide to visit Masterpiece and discover a treasure trove of paintings, antiques, jewellery, sculpture and much more.
We are interested to discover that the watchmaker and jeweller, Chopard, is sponsoring the educational program at this event. Interested not only to know that Chopard is supporting the learning and development of knowledge and appreciation of art for collectors at all levels but also to see that this approach is consistent with the ownership philosophy at Château Monestier La Tour in the Dordogne, where the family is engaged in organic wine making. I wrote about my visit to Château Monestier La Tour earlier this year. See:
Line drawing of Château Monestier La Tour with the Rodin quote
Château Monestier La Tour. Time and the passage of time: Auguste Rodin quote, the sundial symbolising the passage of time and the watchmaking career of the Proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and the Chateau Monestier la Tour emblem of the Crane.
That Disneyland famous refrain about small worlds written by Robert B and Richard M Sherman for Walt Disney in the 1960’s never seems to go out of date! It gave my mother a great deal of pleasure all those years ago in Disneyland. I’ll hum the tune the next time I enjoy a glass of wine from Château Monestier La Tour in the Bergerac wine region.
Walt Disney Music Company
Kallos Gallery kallosgallery.com
Chateau Monestier La Tour, Dordogne, France.
Much is written these days about the benefits of spending time in Nature. As an example, this year the Duchess of Cambridge’s Nature Garden will be a highlight of the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London (May 21-25, 2019). http://www.rhs.org.uk
What better way to spend time in Nature than to have a wine-tasting and walking holiday in the French countryside, in the Dordogne Valley near the small town of Bergerac? For time-out from the hurley-burley of city and work life, it would be difficult to find a better refuge for rejuvenating personal and family time.
Dusk at the end of a hike in the Dordogne – the outline of Chateau Saussignac
Within a defined radius around the communities of Saussignac, Monestier, Sigoules and Pomport, all within an easy drive of Bergerac Airport, there are many wineries where a visitor can happily indulge all three interests of Nature, Wine and Walking, or Randonnées as the French call walks in the countryside.
Bergerac Wine Region and adjoining wine areas
Locating Chateau Ladesvignes
Bergerac Wine Region, SW France
Aquitaine now expanded to Nouvelle Acquitaine, encompassing part of the Charente
Holidays in the French countryside often involve staying in self-catering Gites often attached to wineries. I’ve written in my blog about most of the wineries I am going to mention and will highlight the relevant blog posts. All the wineries offer wine tastings. In cases where I know the wineries offer accommodation I am mentioning this but not making any recommendations.
Walking maps are available in the villages, usually in the Mairies (Mayor’s office) or on a notice board in public areas. Another resource is Walking in the Dordogne: Over 30 walks in Southwest France by Janette Norton, available on Amazon.
The Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, an association which supports wine tourism in the area, organizes walks every Monday and Thursday in July and August. These walks always finish with a Vin d’honneur – wine tasting of local wines. At this time of writing, the Confrérie’s Randonnées program hasn’t yet been finalized for 2019 but will be available on their website: www.confrerieduraisindor.com
The Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès
Also available from March through November are jazz evenings offered in different wineries. The next concert will be held April 12 and in June, the jazz evening will be in Pomport. Check out the 2019 Jazz en Chais program: http://www.jazzpourpre.com
SAUSSIGNAC (4 km from Monestier and 12 km from Pomport and 12 km from Sigoules, 19.6 km from Bergerac Airport)
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Olivier Roche, proprietor of Château LeTap
Pierre Sadoux, father and son, Chateau Court les Mûts, Vigneron of the Year 2018, Bergerac Wine Region, Guide Hachette
Chateau Feely and Chateau Le Tap are adjoining wineries in this village. Both are organic wineries and both offer Gite accommodation.
Chateau Feely and associated business French Wine Adventures offers wine courses, walks and talks in the vineyard. Chateau Feely has been listed in the Top 100 wine estates in France, once for education and valorization of ecological practices and a second time for accommodation. Caro and Sean Feely have been pioneers in the area. www.facebook.com/chateaufeely
Chateau Le Tap wine information and Gite accommodation offered by Olivier and Mireille Roche is available on their website. Most recently, I mentioned Chateau Le Tap in the December 2018 post, Soirée Vigneronne. www.chateauletap.fr
Chateau Court Les Muts is also in Saussignac and offers wine tastings. We have been to a jazz evening offered in their winery in previous years. See elizabethsvines archive: December 2017 “Bred in the Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Chateau Court Les Mûts. Jeweller Annabelle Degroote offers her creative and hand made jewellery on site. The creative pieces are made from vine tendrils, pearls and stones.www.court-les-muts.com
Local accommodation is also available at Le 1500, a Chambre d’Hôtes (B&B) and Café offering tapas, lunch and dinner located in the centre of Saussignac village opposite Chateau Saussignac. Contact Mike or Lee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Gabriel Cuisset, co-proprietor with his brother and father of Château Grinou
Château Monestier La Tour. Time and the passage of time: Auguste Rodin quote, the sundial symbolising the passage of time and the watchmaking career of the Proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and the Chateau Monestier la Tour emblem of the Crane.
Three wine chateaux and a restaurant come to mind with respect to Monestier.
Chateau Monestier La Tour, which I wrote about in January 2019 with their herbarium and biodynamic agricultural practices. See my last blog post: “Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Chateau Monestier La Tour, Monestier”. I recommend phoning to book an appointment for a visit. www.chateaumonestierlatour.com
Chateau Lestevenie, which I have mentioned several times in various blog posts, most recently in the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne post. Chateau Lestevenie offer fun pop up dinners in the vineyard during the summer months. Sue and Humphrey Temperley can show you the variety of beautiful orchids growing on their property. It’s important to phone and book ahead for the popular (and delicious) pop up dinners.
Chateau Grinou – one of the early adopters of organic wine making practices in the area is located between Chateau Lestevenie and Chateau Monestier La Tour. I have not yet visited the winery but have met the co-proprietor Gabriel Cuisset and sampled their 2018 wine at the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne. www.chateaugrinou.com
We have enjoyed many lunches at the Relais de Monestier restaurant, located in the centre of Monestier very near to the Chateau Monestier La Tour. Le Relais de Monestier is on Facebook.
The Suite of wines from Château les Hauts de Caillevel
Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond
We have visited two wineries in this community, which is between Saussignac and Monbazillac.
Chateau Ladesvignes. I wrote about this winery in 2013, which seems a long time ago now! Apart from delicious white wines at this winery, the views from here over the Dordogne Valley looking towards Bergerac town are spectacular. www.ladesvignes.com
Another nearby location to experience this amazing view is the restaurant near Monbazillac: La Tour des Vents, one star Michelin restaurant and adjoining brasserie. We have enjoyed several meals here over the years. Important to reserve in advance. www.tourdesvents.com
Chateau Les Hauts de Cailleval: see elizabethsvines archive, December 2017 “Living the Dream, Chateau les Hauts de Caillevel. I have good memories of sitting by a wood burning stove on a cold December day, drinking hot coffee and listening to the proprietor tell his story about wine making. www.leshautsdecaillevel.com
Members of the Confrérie du Gateau Basque in Sigoulès
The colourful parade of confréries
In the nearby village of Sigoules, the annual wine fair (Foire aux Vins de Sigoules) has been held here on the third weekend in July for over 40 years. It’s organized together with the annual gathering of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, which attracts many Confreries from all over France. The confrerie members officially parade through the village on the Saturday morning in their charming and creative costumes symbolizing the gastronomique culture they represent. It’s a colourful and happy occasion held in the market square, near the Code-Bar and bistro frequented by many locals. Le Code Bar, Sigoules is on Facebook.
There’s much more that can be written about the pleasures of this area: its proximity to the city of Bordeaux, the great wine areas of the Medoc and St. Emilion, the nearby route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, the historic sites of the 14th/ 15th Century 100 years war. There are the many food markets to tempt the visitor with local delicacies and kayaking on the Dordogne River to burn off calories. The list goes on and on.
My focus here is about the opportunity for tranquility, for relaxing in nature, enjoying excellent local wine presented to the visitors by the wine-makers themselves in most situations and for walking among the vineyards and lanes of this peaceful, rural area; and, without doubt, rejoicing in the experience and having fun.
It’s that time when people attempt to make sense of the passage of time over the past year. We think about what’s been achieved, or perhaps not achieved or let slip and what to focus on in the following year.
Spending time each year in both Canada and Europe, I attempt to share information in a supportive way about wine from areas where I have some familiarity. In this way, wine can open doors to culture, art, geography, history, people and understanding. Having the opportunity to lead a tasting of Canadian wine in London is one example of this.
One of the major experiences shared this year by the areas I am familiar with has been the challenging effect of climate change: wildfires in Western Canada and hailstorms and diminished rainfall in parts of France. Addressing nature’s unpredictability through science, intellect, creativity, and imagination will be a major challenge for the wine industry going forward.
At the same time, I see the continual quest for improving wine quality. This is a topic of great interest to me that I discuss with an oenologue friend in France, who shares his knowledge and helps me increase my understanding of the subtleties of wine making.
This common search for insight, whether on a global level or personally in the glass, is one of the ongoing pleasures and challenges of deepening my learning about wine and winemaking.
A big thank you to the wine makers and many others who have generously given their time during the year to discuss wine making in its many guises with me and a big thank you to you, the reader, for joining me on the learning journey.
Best wishes for 2018 from,
Reflections on 2017:
Canadian Wine Tasting – London, UK
Tanners Wine Merchants, Shrewsbury – Burrowing Owl Estate Wines are available here.
Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets. More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago. Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us. Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now. The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.
Goats grazing in Cyprus
“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.
The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me. It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.
Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen. The Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.
From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.
We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.
Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes. Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties. Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.
Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.
Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains. Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing. The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus. The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate. Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.
Award winning Xynisteri white wine from Vouni Winery
Xynisteri wine from Vouni Winery in Panayia
Barba Yiannis from Maratheftiko grapes
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977. The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.
We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life. Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of Cyprus.
Archbishop Macharios, first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus, outside the Macharios Museum, Panayia.
The doorway into the courtyard and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios
Archbishop Macharios’ childhood home in Panayia, Cyprus
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
Inside the Macharios family home
The door opening into the animal barn: childhood home of President Macharios.
As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news. Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.
Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!
We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago. Its early February, cool yet sunny. Perfect winter weather. Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty. We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…
Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.
At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way. In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.
As I walk to the restaurant table at Minthis Hills Golf Club to enjoy a St Valentine’s Day lunch near Paphos in Cyprus, I am already anticipating having a glass of something sparkling. I know I will be the only one at our table making this choice today, so I am pleased to see on offer a 200ml bottle of Familglia Zonin Prosecco. This is a good start as I am a fan of small bottles of wine for individual consumption.
St Valentine’s Day choice: Prosecco Zonin.
While I await the arrival of the flute glass and the mini bottle, I remind myself that I am quite cautious about Prosecco in general as I have experienced some overly sweet examples in the past. Also, I have to admit to not being familiar with the Famiglia Zonin wines.
All reservations are set aside as I taste this dry, slightly almondy, fresh sparkling wine. It was exactly what I was looking for to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. Sparkling wines are so versatile with food selections that I continue to drink this with my meal of ravioli filled with halloumi cheese, ground almonds and walnuts served with a mint pesto sauce. An interesting menu selection which captures my eye and translates into a successful food and wine pairing.
St Valentine’s Day belated best wishes to the readers of elizabethsvines.
A rose for St Valentine’s
Reference: Casa Vinicola Zonin SPA – Zonin Wines zoninprosecco.com
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 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, 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Kouklia Archeological site
Kouklia Archeological site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological site
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.
Pafos Archeological Site – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Entrance to Pafos Archeological site
Pafos Archeological site – site map
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.
Mosaic tesserae/glass cutting techniques
Work in progress – learning mosaic making
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.
Mosaic artist and conservationist: Sharen Taylor. www.sharentaylor.com
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.
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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, 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 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
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 BertieWooster 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.
Chez Alain, Issigeac: See trip advisor. Phone: +33 5 53 68 06 03
Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me. So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.
Warre’s 2000 Port
A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port. This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.
December in Cyprus
If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by. In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.
The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history. Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal. The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations. Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today. The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.
Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia. This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce. We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.
The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries. Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.
The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.
It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine. Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape. Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.
Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines
The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon. A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine. We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.
Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé
The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one. In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”. Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.
We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings. Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.
Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails
Baking tin for individual soufflés
When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.
The question is: Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past? I think the answer has to be: Yes.
There’s a sense of excitement in the air as we start our drive last October through the vibrant green vineyards of the rolling Champagne countryside. We are going to visit four of the Grande Marque Champagne Houses, see their premises, taste their champagnes and have the opportunity to feel the ambience of these historic businesses.
Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne
It’s harvest time and everywhere we see grape pickers at work.
We arrive at Billecart-Salmon, a medium sized Champagne House based in Mareuil sur Aÿ.
Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon
It was established in 1818 through the marriage of Nicolas-François Billecart to Elizabeth Salmon and is carried on by their descendants. I was first introduced to their champagne a year ago and enjoy the restrained, elegant style. Billecart-Salmon are known particularly for their rosé champagne but offer the full range of styles.
Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon
At a tasting lunch, we experience their different champagnes with a corresponding range of savoury and sweet bouchées (bite sized offerings) from smoked salmon to chocolate, all elegantly presented in ‘silver-service’ style. We are impressed by their gracious hospitality and their pleasure in providing a full tasting and pairing experience.
Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch
We visit the cellars where we are interested to see the chalk board listing the different plot harvests. The magic of the grape growing areas come to mind as we read Chardonnay from Cramant, Mesnil, Chouilly; Pinot Noir from Äy, Le Clos Hilaire, Verzenay, Mareuil sur Äy.
We also meet some of the younger generation of staff being groomed for senior positions and it is encouraging to see this kind of organizational development in place.
Krug premises in Reims
We continue our drive through the vineyards towards Reims, the famous Gothic Cathedral town and important hub of the Champagne industry. Our second visit is to Krug at their establishment in Reims.
Established in 1843, Joseph Krug, founder, watches solemnly over the present day proceedings from his centrally positioned portrait in the main Salon. Krug has its own allure and dedicated client following supported by the marketing arm of the LVMH, Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, purveyors of luxury goods. Krug aficionados are invited to “share your unforgettable experiences at kruglovers.com.’
Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook
At Krug, the extraordinary attention which is paid by all the great Champagne Houses to sampling, assessing and recording the year’s wines is emphasized to the extent that we understand the skill, expertise and patience that is in every top quality Champagne. At Krug itself, they sample and assess the year’s wines from nearly 250 plots. They also taste again 150 reserve wines from previous years. Each year over 5000 tasting notes are collected and recorded. This work of the Cellar Master, with Olivier Krug – who we had the opportunity to meet – and other members of their Tasting Committee sets the stage for the blend of wines for the year’s Non Vintage Champagne. We visit their cellars and see the large number of individual vats for the fermentation of wine from the individual plots, secure within a special space in the cellars. This is before we taste their formidable suite of champagnes.
Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots
By the end of the day our minds are buzzing with the experience of it all: the countryside, the people we met and their stories, the exhilarating taste of a number of champagne styles, the sights and sounds of the Champagne Region.
The hills and vineyards of Champagne
More than anything it’s the sense of being there, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the Champagne heritage. It’s been a great day.
Fast forward to January, 2014 and France’s culture ministry has proposed the vineyards, houses and cellars of Champagne for world heritage status (UNESCO) along with those of Burgundy. The proposal will go before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2015. If approved, they will join Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux) representatives of French winemaking on the UN body’s list. We applaud this proposed recognition of talent and tradition.
In Optimism in a Bottle post 3 of 3, I describe our visit to Roederer and Bollinger.