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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger – Optimism in a Bottle Part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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 and his famous notebook

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

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

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.

Reference:   Champagne Billecart-Salmon: http://www.champagne-billecart.fr

Champagne Krug:    www.krug.com