Author Archives: Blackshaw

Slovenia Red Wine Challenges French!

by Ian Blackshaw

Kabaj Winery

My wife and I have just returned from a pleasant few days in Slovenia, where I was a keynote speaker at the first ever Sports Law Symposium in the Country, which was held in the delightful Slovenian lake-side resort of Bled.

During our visit, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of this pocket-size, but beautiful country, including the fine sea-side resort of Portoroz on the Adriatic coast, bordering Croatia. Our Slovenia lawyer host also took us for lunch at a winery in Goriska Brda, not far from the Italian border. Slovenia borders Austria in the North, Hungary in the North East and Italy and Croatia in the South.

Underground amphoras for maturing wine at Kabaj

Overlooking the vineyards and in warm sunshine and blue skies, we had an excellent lunch comprising several local specialities, many of which are influenced by the Italian cuisine, including pasta dishes and fluffy omelettes served with local truffles. The winery, which boasts a fine restaurant and well-appointed bedrooms, with en suite facilities, is owned by Katja Kabaj and Jean Michel Morel.

Following lunch, we visited the Cellars and enjoyed a wine tasting of some of their whites and reds. The whites are stored in oak barrels and the reds in underground amphoras. We were not disappointed with the offerings that we sampled!

However, for me, the highlights of the tastings were the reds! As many readers of my wine articles will know, I am particularly fond of red wines, especially those from the Bordelais region of France.

Of the reds we tasted was an outstanding Merlot of 2009, a good year throughout Europe, with an abv of 13.5%, which compared very favourably with an equivalent Bordelais. In fact, we were told by the winemaker that the aim of this winery is to produce red wines of the same quality and standing as the clarets from Bordeaux, using French winemaking techniques. The Kabaj Merlot – made from 100% Merlot grapes – has a fine ruby red colour and ripe plum notes, with a long finish in the mouth. This wine is very satisfying indeed and goes down very well with a hearty Winter stew.

The Kabaj winery also produces another good red comprising a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which we also tasted. Again, challenging its French Bordeaux equivalent in quality and taste!

We were told that wine stored in amphoras is not a new craze, but goes back some eight thousand years and has its origins in Georgia, which claims to be the ‘cradle of viticulture’. Certainly, to my knowledge, the Georgian reds are excellent, having sampled them on several occasions. The practice of using amphoras was also followed by the Ancient Greeks, so it has a respectable history.

We left the winery fully satisfied – if not replete – and spent the night in Ljubljana, the historic Slovenian Capital, and needless to say we slept very well.

These days, French vignerons not only face stiff competition from the ‘New World’, but also from wine makers nearer home in other parts of Europe, particularly Slovenia, as we discovered during our recent visit!

Storing Wine ~ A Novel Idea

A bottle of Muscadet aged for 2 years under the sea

by Ian Blackshaw

As a French wine buff, the underground chalk wine cellar in our fermette was the deciding factor when buying our French property. There was no contest, in fact!

Having built up a collection of good French wines, storing the wine is very important indeed as part of the maturing process. Wine badly stored is an abomination! For wine to age properly in the bottle, the wine needs to be out of the sunlight; in a place with a constant temperature and humidity; and lying on its side horizontally on wine racks – in other words, off the ground.

People without wine cellars, store their wine in a variety of places – in garages; under the stairs; and in cupboards, for example. And wine makers themselves, when they run out of cellar space, face the same question: where is the best place to store their wines?

Now an Italian wine maker, Pierluigi Lugano, who faced the same problem, has come up with a novel idea. He stores his surplus wine under the sea in stainless steel cages on the sea bed at a depth of some 200 feet off the Italian Riviera in the north western region of Liguria – some two miles off the town of Chiavari!

He claims that this method is particularly good for storing sparkling wines – much better, he says, than storing them traditionally in an underground cellar! If that is true, it is perhaps a pity that Champagne is a long way from the sea!

“The temperature is perfect, there’s no light, the water prevents even the slightest bit of air from getting in, and the constant pressure keeps the bubbles bubbly” Pierluigi explains.

An Oyster Bar at Larmor Baden, Brittany, where you can buy Muscadet in bottles which have been aged for two years under the sea.

The wine he keeps under the sea for three or four years; the first batch of his wine was put there in 2009 – generally a good vintage all round – and has just been raised and tasted!

Wine critics, in fact, have concurred with him and acclaimed the quality of his wines; so there must be some truth in storing wine under the sea.

Perhaps, Geoff Dobson, Frogsiders Science Correspondent, who is no mean wine connoisseur himself and an aficionado of sparkling wine, in particular, might like to comment on the science involved in storing wine under the sea!

Editor’s Comment

I bought a couple of bottles of Muscadet Sur Lie which had been matured for two years under the sea, when I was on a sailing holiday in Brittany last May.  It was claimed that the very steady temperature of the water, and the lack of any sudden changes in temperature or light, had been found to give the wine a smoother rounder character.  My crew and I drank one bottle there and then, and were rather easily convinced.  I brought another bottle home with me and still have it in the cellar.

I can supply any interested reader with the telephone number of the shop in Brittany where it can be bought.

Comments on wine storage in the sea – the scientific perspective, from Dr. Geoffrey Dobson

The sea heats up and cools down far less than the land, also as you get deeper there is far less light. Once you get down to about 600 feet deep there is virtually no light at all and the temperature at any given depth is relatively constant throughout the year. At European latitudes it stays between about 15°C and 10°C at 600 feet dropping to about 5°C at 1500 feet deep. The light falls off as you go deeper until at about 600 feet it is completely dark.

At 200 feet where he is storing his wine the temperature is likely to vary between 10°C and 18°C winter to summer. There will only be about one third of normal light (a bit like a house with heavy curtains drawn).

Wine experts recommend that the optimal temperature for storing wine is between 13°C and 15°C. It would seem that at 200 feet the temperature may vary a bit more than ideal. I don’t know if he has actually measured the temperatures but it seems from his results that any variation is quite acceptable.

He needs to be careful about the pressure on the bottles.  At 200 feet the pressure on the bottles is almost 7 atmospheres.  They could implode if there are any flaws

Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year, once again, when the major French supermarkets, such as Auchan, Carrefour and Intermarche, have their wine fairs (foire aux vins) and tempt punters in with all kinds of offers. For example, buy two cartons of a particular wine and get the third one free!

It is also that time when, amongst the well-known French wines, such as those from Bordeaux and Burgundy, they often feature less well-known, but also Continue reading “Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer” »

Rouge Sucette: Whatever Next?

by Ian Blackshaw

According to the latest statistics, wine drinking amongst the French is on the decline. Only 17% of the French claim to drink wine on a daily basis. And the number of people, who never drink wine, has doubled to 38%. Whilst, the young people of France prefer to drink beer or spirits rather than wine.

To try to reverse this downward trend and to interest young people, in particular, in drinking wine, a Bordeaux wine maker, Hausmann Famille, part of Chateaux en Bordeaux, has introduced a new wine called ‘Rouge Sucette’ – in English, ‘Red Lollipop.’

Whatever is that, you may ask? Well, it is bottle of wine comprising 75% red wine and 25% sugar, water and cola flavouring. It has an ‘abv’ of 9% and, according to the makers, it is best served straight from the fridge. So far, the introduction of this new wine has drawn mixed reactions amongst the French youth.

As an aficionado of wine in general and French wine in particular, I regard this so-called new wine as an abomination and would be very surprised if it takes off! But, as they say, there is no accounting for taste!

Although I have not tried it, I am definitely with one French wine drinker who has remarked: “the very thought makes me cry in my chateauneuf-du-pape!” Whilst, on the other hand, another has said: “I’m always up for something new in the alcohol department!” But is wine all about alcohol, when all is said and done?

So, what do Frogsiders’ readers think about this new product? Please let us know your thoughts!

Savoyarde Wines: Not To Be Underestimated

by Ian Blackshaw

My wife and I have just spent a few days staying in a friend’s apartment in Le Grand Bornand, a winter and summer resort in the Haute Savoie, and actually enjoyed some warm sunny weather (30+ degrees centigrade!), unlike the Pas de Calais, where the weather pattern continues to be rain, rain and more rain! When will Summer arrive the locals cry in despair?

The Haute Savoie and the Savoie (Departements 74 & 73), which are located in the French Western Alps and form part of the Rhone-Alps Region, produce a wide range and style of wines, including sparkling wines. The one from Ayze, which bears its name and grown above Bonneville in the Arve valley, is particularly interesting, if a little stringent for some palates.

The traditional capital of the Savoie is Chambery, which is an important centre for the Continue reading “Savoyarde Wines: Not To Be Underestimated” »

Chateau de Fleury La Foret: Worth a night’s stay!

by Ian Blackshaw

My wife and I have just returned from a few days in Chartres, where, naturally, we visited its fine Cathedral with its magnificent medieval stained glass windows. We were fortunate to be there on the first evening of their ‘son et lumiere’ season and it was most impressive and well worth seeing!

On our way back, we visited the beautiful ‘Pays de Lyons Foret’ in Haute Normandie (Departement de l’Eure), at the centre of which is the finely-preserved medieval village of Lyons la Foret, which claims to be one of the most beautiful villages of France, a claim that is well justified, with its typical colombage houses and fine timber market hall, which dominates its main square. It is a relaxed place, where time seems to have stood still!

Our trusty Guide Michelin pointed us for our overnight stay in the direction of the Chateau de Fleury la Foret, about 3 miles from Lyons la Foret situated in verdant countryside, typical of Continue reading “Chateau de Fleury La Foret: Worth a night’s stay!” »

Henri Krug dies

Henri Krug

by Ian Blackshaw

I have just learned that Henri Krug of the famous Champagne House died at the beginning of March at the age of 76, and, as a Champagne aficionado, I thought that a few words to mark his passing might be appropriate, even though, generally speaking, I cannot afford to drink his famous products.

The Champagne House of Krug was founded in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, in 1843 by Continue reading “Henri Krug dies” »

Terra d’Or Wine: A Great Discovery

As an Easter treat, my wife and I have just been to one of our favourite restaurants in Northern France: ‘Le Cygne’ in St Omer.

As usual, we were warmly greeted by Stephanie, who supervises front-of-house operations so charmingly and efficiently and also Continue reading “Terra d’Or Wine: A Great Discovery” »

An Exceptional Wine for Easter

by Ian Blackshaw

Two years ago, my wife and I celebrated our Ruby Wedding, and our two boys gave us a 1970 Bottle of Haute-Medoc from the Chateau de Camensac, which is located in Saint Laurent in the Gironde. The wine was accompanied by some tasting notes.

For various reasons, we have not yet drunk it. However, it so happens that, according to the tasting notes, it should be drunk in 2013. So, we are going to drink it with our Easter dinner this year and with the traditional roast lamb served at this season. Our elder son and his wife with be with us to enjoy it, but, unfortunately, our younger son and his wife will not, as they are in Zambia.

The Haut-Medoc wine, which is my favourite of the Bordelais wines, comes from an area which Continue reading “An Exceptional Wine for Easter” »

Haggis And Wine: Finding The Perfect Match

by Ian Blackshaw

Haggis with neeps and tatties

It is that time of the year again – coming up to Burns’ night, celebrated on or around 25 January, the birthday of the Scottish Bard Robbie Burns – for the Blackshaw’s, who, as far as we know are not Scottish, to indulge in some Haggis!

This has become an annual ritual, although one can – and we do – enjoy Haggis at other times of the year. Having visited, at the beginning of December, my wife’s younger brother, who lives in Continue reading “Haggis And Wine: Finding The Perfect Match” »

New Year Wine Resolution: Quality Not Quantity!

by Ian Blackshaw

New Year is traditionally the time for making resolutions – and, indeed, breaking them. But, when it comes to wine, one of the pleasures of life and reputedly good for you – at least in moderation – it is not the time, if ever, to be giving it up! Chocolates, perhaps, but wine certainly not.

However, one wine resolution that is worth making – and keeping! – and one that I made some years ago and have kept ever since is to drink less but better. Unlike some of our friends in Northern France, who also enjoy wine and they know who they are, it is not a case of quantity not quality, but one of quality not quantity. And this goes for whatever your preference in wine styles – red, rose, white or sparkling. It also goes for the wine types and regions and there is so much to choose from in France. Whether, it is Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Cotes du Rhone, Loire or the Pays D’Oc, to mention but a few. But there is also a lot of poor quality wine available (‘plonk’), definitely designed to give you a hangover and serve you jolly well right!

As regular readers of my wine articles will know, I am very much a red wine person and particularly, in my opinion (and wine is very much a matter of personal taste and choice!), fond of the fine ones that come from the Bordeaux wine region.

One such example of a fine Bordelais red that has recently been released and that is well worth trying is from the Chateau de l’Orangerie. This comes from the AOC Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux wine area and is a 2007 vintage, which has been aged in oak barrels. It has an ABV of 13% and won a silver medal in the 2010 Bordeaux Wine Competition. Incidentally, I should like to know which wine won the gold medal in that Competition!

This wine will not disappoint and is made from a blend of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties. It is a traditional claret with a fine ruby colour and a spicy after taste. It goes well with meat dishes and hearty stews and also a variety of French cheeses, including the distinctively tangy maroilles of our region. Its description as a ‘Grand Vin de Bordeaux’ is not marketing hype, but is fully justified, and the wine is very typical of its genre.

The Chateau de l’Orangerie is located in the small village of Saint Felix de Foncaude in the ‘Entre-Deux Mers’ area, and the Chateau has been in the Icard family for several centuries. The wine is produced by the present proprietor, Jean-Christophe Icard, whom I note has two sons to carry on the family tradition and is to be warmly congratulated on his fine wine-making skills!

This is a quality wine and one that does not break the bank either; so fits in very well with my New Year Resolution to drink well and go for quality not quantity!

Christmas Pudding Wine: A Fitting End To The Christmas Dinner

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year again – the run up to Christmas when mail boxes are bombarded with supermarkets’ publicity for all kinds of Christmas fare, including wine suggestions for the festive season.

There is always a good selection of Champagnes on offer to suit all tastes and pockets, including multi-buy offers, which, incidentally, are now being outlawed in Britain in an attempt to combat and reduce binge drinking! No fear of that in France, where we are constantly reminded to drink in moderation.

But in this article, I want to put on one side my favourite tipple and recommend a good pudding wine to accompany the traditional British Christmas Pudding. This year, we are spending Christmas with friends in ‘Blighty’ and the New Year with family in France.

It is not easy to match a pudding wine with such a rich end to the traditional British Christmas dinner, but I think that a Maury from the Agly valley (inland from Perpignan) in the Roussillon wine region of South Western France will fit the bill. Maury, which was granted its ‘appellation d’origine controlee’ (AOC) status in 1936, is a fortified wine and the French equivalent of Port. It is a red wine, mahogany-coloured and made essentially from Grenache grape varieties, at least 75% of the wine being composed of Grenache Noir.

Maury: Vieille Reserve

Maury is a ‘vin doux naturel’ and is vinified in a process which is similar to that of Port, except that its initial aging is in large glass jugs, known as ‘les dames jeannes’. The wine also benefits from later aging in old oak casks for up to 15 years, as well as some bottle aging. It has an ABV of 16%.

My younger brother-in-law, who is a connoisseur of and introduced me, a number of years ago, to the delights of the Languedoc-Roussillon wines, gave me, for my Birthday last year, a couple of bottles of a 1992 ‘vieille reserve’- produced and bottled by the ‘Vignerons de Maury’ described by the celebrated Master of Wine writer, Jancis Robinson, as the finest wine co-operative in the world – and I shall be opening one of them to accompany this year’s Christmas Pudding. I cannot wait to do so and I shall open the other bottle at New Year!

So, why not try some Maury yourself and ensure a fitting and memorable end to the Christmas Dinner, with an explosion of flavours from the combination of the richness and spiciness of the pudding and the robustness of the wine, which will not fail to delight the taste buds!

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