Tag Archives: Ian Blackshaw’s Wine Blog

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” »

Cheese and Wine

by Ian Blackshaw

In my younger days, cheese and wine parties were de rigueur. And they seem to be coming back and regaining popularity. During the Festive Season, for example, we were invited to a number of them.

Of course, their success depends upon matching the cheese with the wine. It is a myth to suggest – as some commentators do – that cheese and wine were made for one another – a sort of marriage made in heaven! That is not so. For example, fine reds lose out ‘big time’ with strong cheeses. In fact, contrary to the generally accepted wisdom, white wines tend to go better with cheese. However, cheese and wine do have this in common: they both have an extensive and prestigious history; they both are created naturally; and they both tend to age well. Not bad for starters!

The general rule of thumb to be followed in choosing the right wine for the right cheese is this: the harder the cheese, the more tannin that is required in the wine; the creamier the cheese, the more acidity the wine needs to make the perfect match.

At Christmas, we enjoyed a good Stilton with a glass of 10-year Tawny Port. As far as blue cheeses go, a good Roquefort goes well with a Sauternes – the sweeter, and, therefore, older, the better!

Here are a few other suggested pairings of cheese and wine for you:

  • Mature English Cheddar with a Sauvignon Blanc
  • Camembert with a Chenin Blanc.
  • Boursin with a Gewurztraminer, which also goes well with Goats Cheese (Chevre) – so also does Sancerre.
  • Maroilles, our local cheese, with a Cahors or a Muscat to match the saltiness.
  • Tomme de Savoie with a Chardonnay, especially a spicy Chablis, or a Pinot Gris from Alsace.
  • Chaource, which comes from the town of the same name in the Aube and is produced in the Champagne-Ardenne region, and which we tend to serve at our dinner parties, goes very well with a fruity St Emilion – perhaps my favourite red.

And, last by no means least, Champagne goes very well indeed with a mature Brie (say a Brie de Meaux). All those who read my wine articles will know my penchant for Champagne, and will not, therefore, be surprised that I just had to include Champagne in this article! And, incidentally, a Rose Champagne and cheddar shortie cheese biscuits (home made, of course!) together make a wonderful aperitif.

    Decanting Wine

    Ian Blackshaw explains the Whys and the Wherefores

    As Shakespeare once said, but in another context: To decant or not to decant? That is the question!

    In the old days, before wine filtration became a normal part of the wine-making process before bottling the wine, filtration was necessary to remove sediment that had settled in the barrel.

    Nowadays, decanting may be necessary, especially in the case of old wines, particularly reds, to remove any sediment that has collected in the bottle – a natural part of the bottle aging process – before serving the wine.

    Not only do old red wines need to be decanted but so also do some fine whites, such as an old Montrachet or Rully. This not only enhances the taste of the wine, but also its appearance, which is also an important part of the drinking experience.

    Even young wines – both whites and reds – benefit from decanting, which introduces air into the wine, thus letting the wine breathe and, in so doing, releasing the aromas and enhancing the flavours. This is particularly useful for red wines that, on first opening, are a little harsh or stringent in flavour. Young wines should be decanted several hours before they are due to be served to give the wine a chance to breath, simulating a stage of development that might normally be acquired after several years of aging in the bottle. The received wisdom is to pour the wine quickly, even up-ending the bottle: the idea being to expose the wine to the air.

    Also, apart from the above reasons, it is fun to decant wine and serve it in a fine clear glass decanter, of which there are many nowadays to choose from, rather than having the bottle on the table, which is less elegant. So, if you have some nice decanters, why not use them and show them off to your guests – or just enjoy using them yourselves!

    Decanters come in many shapes and sizes

    A decanter can also be used to serve wine from a box, which is not necessarily an inferior wine, if the wine comes from, say, a good wine region, such as the Pays d’Oc, and has been selected by a well-known and highly respected vigneron, such as Pierre Chanan! Again, the effect is to enhance the wine drinking experience, although some might argue that this practice is a bit sleight of hand!

    Again, having a decanter or two on the table makes it easy for the diners to help themselves to the wine, and adds to the conviviality of the occasion!

    So, how do you decant wine?

    According to the experts, in the case of old wines with sediment, you need to be very careful when pouring the wine into the decanter. First, stand the bottle up for several hours to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom. Fine sediment takes longer to settle.

    Use a lit candle if you cannot see where the sediment is in the bottle. Hold the bottle so that the area just below the neck can be seen through the light while pouring. Ever so slowly begin pouring the aged wine into the decanter. Be patient and hold the bottle as much as possible perpendicularly to the candle. As the last one-third of the wine is poured, carefully watch for the sediment. Stop pouring when any sediment appears in the neck of the bottle. Never try to get the last drop of wine out of the bottle; always leave some in the bottle; otherwise you will probably need to start all over again.

    In the case of young red wines, splash the wine into the decanter. The more it splashes, the more it oxygenates. Then, allow the wine to settle and rest for a short time.

    The real skill in decanting is judging how long to decant the wine to get the best results. So, if you are decanting your wine in order to let it breathe, you will usually want it to sit in the decanter no longer than an hour or so before drinking. Your aim is to get the wine to give off aromas.

    However, there comes a point when you can let your wine decant for too long, which, of course, needs to be avoided. The result will be that the wine will become oxidized and begin to taste vinegary! Also, in this connection, remember that room temperature in the past was much colder than nowadays and you do not want the wine to be cooked as a result of standing in a modern centrally-heated room for too long!

    Of course, you can always let your wine breathe by just taking the cork out of the bottle, but very little air touches the surface of the wine and so it will take much longer to achieve the desired results. Some wine connoisseurs prefer to let the wine breath in the glass, but most of us, I suspect, will be too impatient to try the wine once it has been poured rather than to let the air get to it!

  • Chablis: a fine wine for all tastes and pockets

    by Ian Blackshaw

    We have just spent a few days in the Chablis wine region, visiting various wineries, tasting and, of course, buying their wares.

    Chablis is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region. It lies about 160 kilometres north of Beaune, and is closer to the southern Aube district of the Champagne wine area than the rest of Burgundy. Of France’s wine-growing areas, only Champagne and Alsace are more northerly located. The Chablis wine region is centred on the delightful town of Chablis and covers 15 kilometres by 20 kilometres, stretching across 27 communes located along the Serein river, which flows into the Yonne.

    The main grape variety (cepage) is chardonnay, and the cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavours less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer parts of France, such as those of the pays d’oc. The wines often have a “flinty” note; sometimes described as “goût de pierre à fusil”, tasting of gunflint; and sometimes as “steely”. Chablis makes a perfect aperitif wine and is characterised by its pale yellow colour with greenish tint. The ‘La Chablisienne’ wine co-operative produces almost a third of all the Chablis wine sold today.

    Compared with the white wines from the rest of Burgundy, Chablis has – on average – much less influence of oak. Most basic Chablis is completely unoaked, and vinified in stainless steel tanks. The amount of barrel maturation, if any, is a stylistic choice, which varies widely among Chablis producers. For example, Corinne and Jean Pierre Grossot of Fleys, just outside the town of Chablis, produces an oaked Chablis, and we tried their 2006 vintage, which had a flinty and smoked taste. Not to everyone’s liking, however. Many Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines receive some maturation in oak barrels, but typically the time in the barrel and the proportion of new barrels is much smaller than for white wines of the Côte de Beaune.

    The Grand Crus, the best vineyards in the area, all lie in one small southwest facing slope, located just north of the town of Chablis.

    The Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis. From left to right - Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouilles (around the house), Valmur, Les Clos, Blanchots and in the far distance across the Vallée de Brechain, the Premier Cru of Montée de Tonnerre.

    All of the Chablis Grand Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil, composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells! This soil is believed to impart more finesse and structure to the wine.

    The Chablis appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) (the guarantee of the wine’s origin) was established on 13 January, 1938, and the junior appellation of Petit Chablis on 5 January, 1944. In fact, the main objective of the AOC system was to protect the name “Chablis”, which, by that time, was already being inappropriately used to refer to almost any white wine made from any number of white grape varieties across the world. The Chablis vineyards under plantation total 4820 hectares. Chablis is sold all over the world and is particularly popular in Japon!

    The summers in the Chablis wine region are hot and the winters can be quite harsh, with frosts. The use of so-called ‘smudge pot heaters’, such as the one illustrated, is an important tool in protecting the Chablis vineyards from frosts, especially in the spring – a critical time in the grapevine’s annual growing cycle.

    No visit to Chablis is complete without a visit to the cave of Lamblin Fils, which is probably the oldest Domaine in the Chablis wine region dating from 1690.

    The cave is located in the village of Maligny, near Chablis, and is well worth a visit. They offer a wide range of styles of Chablis wine to suit all tastes and pockets and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly.

    Why not take a trip to Chablis and find out for yourselves!

  • The summers in the Chablis wine region are hot and the winters can be quite harsh, with frosts. The use of so-called ‘smudge pot heaters’, such as the one illustrated, is an important tool in protecting the Chablis vineyards from frosts, especially in the spring – a critical time in the grapevine’s annual growing cycle.

    No visit to Chablis is complete without a visit to the cave of Lamblin Fils, which is probably the oldest Domaine in the Chablis wine region dating from 1690.

  • Enhancing the wine experience with appropriate glassware

    by Ian Blackshaw

    Wine is to be enjoyed with several of our senses and not just taste: smell and sight also play an important part in the process. So, it is very important to use glassware that accommodates these senses and shows off the wine to its greatest advantage, especially its colour, which, in any event, tells you quite a bit about the kind of wine it is and also its vintage. Plain, rather than coloured wine glasses, which were all the rage fifty years ago, should, therefore, be used. Such glasses also allow you to appreciate ‘the legs’ and ‘the tears’ on the inner wall – a sign of the quality of the wine – as you swirl the wine in the glass before tasting! All part of the wine experience.

    Not only is it important to choose the right wine glass, known technically as ‘stemware’ and consisting of three parts, the bowl the stem and the foot, but also to know how to hold it. A chilled white wine should be held by the stem and never the bowl, because the heat from your hand(s) will affect the temperature of the wine and spoil the drinking experience. On the other hand, a red wine can benefit from a warm caressing hand – so also a good Cognac or Armagnac, which, according to the received wisdom, should be served in a warmed glass to bring out the flavour!

    A little bit of history for you! Wine has, in fact, been served in glasses since ancient times.

    For example, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) (AD 23–79), the author, naturalist, natural philosopher and naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, wrote about gold and silver drinking vessels being abandoned in favour of glass, which were – quite often – priced as highly as the precious metal versions. Also, Bonifacio Veronese’s sixteenth-century ‘Last Supper’ painting includes modern style wine glasses – with a stem and foot!

    The oldest surviving European wine glasses with a stem and foot are fifteenth-century enameled goblets (technically, a glass holding more than four ounces of liquid).

    Near the end of the sixteenth-century in Germany sophisticated engraved decoration was applied to covered wine glasses. The practice exists today and also is followed in Austria.

    The earliest surviving English wine glasses are diamond-engraved glasses, produced near the end of the sixteenth-century by Verzelini. Plain straight stems gained popularity around 1740, with air twist stems being introduced about the same time. Ten years later, a twist incised on the exterior of the stem also became popular.

    In France, quality crystal wine glasses were produced towards the end of the eighteenth-century.

    Cordial glasses in the eighteenth-century had bowls of the same shapes that were typical for wine glasses, but they were much smaller, holding about one ounce of liquid.

    Toast masters’ glasses were made with a thicker bottom and walls so that they would hold less; the custom being that a toast master had to drain every glass and still be able to remain standing until all the toasts were completed! A tall order. Incidentally, I once met a toast master at La Chartreuse du Val Saint Esprit in Gosnay (near Bethune), a convivial fellow, who, true to his ancient and noble profession, could imbibe like a trooper and still remain coherent!

    Wine glasses during the nineteenth-century were often produced in sets — with a dozen each of port and sherry, burgundy and claret, champagne glasses and liqueur glasses. Oh to own such a set of antique glasses!

    The play of light on the wine, the “legs” and “tears” on the inner wall when you swirl the wine and the way that aromas are captured within the wine glass — and presented to your nose while drinking — are things to consider when choosing wine glasses.

    It is obvious – if you think about it – that a bigger glass is required for wine at dinner than would be needed for a sip of sherry before or after. Traditionally, wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with bigger bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used to concentrate the more delicate aromas of lighter white wines.

    Champagne is best served in a tall slender tulip glass. Visual enjoyment of the bubbles (the smaller the bubbles, incidentally, the better the Champagne!) that distinguish a sparkling wine from a still one is enhanced by the height. The once popular shorter version of the Champagne glass — whose design was reputedly based on a particular aspect of Marie Antoinette’s anatomy! — is too likely to spill and does not show off the rising bubbles to their best advantage or prolong the chill like a tall wine glass does.

    If your budget, or available cabinet space, limits your stemware collection to a single size, a number of producers have made all-purpose designs, which are quite attractive and relatively inexpensive.

    You may wish, for example, to choose a design similar to the California Wine Institute all-purpose wine glass. It is five and a half inches tall with a one and three-quarter inch stem. It has a clear, tulip-shaped bowl, with a capacity of eight fluid ounces!

    Here is a complete set of Reidel stemware to illustrate the range:

    Vinum Classic Burgundy/Pinot Noir; Vinum Classic Bordeaux/Cabernet/Merlot; Vinum Classic Chardonnay; Vinum Extreme Champagne; Sommelier Burgundy/Pinot Noir; and Sommelier Sauternes/Dessert Wine.

    So now you know! And enjoy your wine – but in the right glass, which will make all the difference and enhance the bibulous experience!

  • MAURY: A DESERT WINE WITH A DIFFERENCE

    by Ian Blackshaw

    A very good friend of mine loves French food and wine and likes to end a dinner with a good desert wine. So, I set out to trick him on one occasion when he was having dinner with us by telling him that I was going to serve a rather special desert wine. I duly charged his glass with the wine concerned, which was red in colour. But, Ian, he said, are you sure this is a desert wine because of its colour; have you not made a mistake? No, I told him, not all the best desert wines are white. He tasted it and liked it immediately, but could not identify it.maury 1

    It was, in fact, a wine from Maury, a village in the Pyrénées Orientales in the Languedoc-Roussillon region located in the upper Agly valley, inland from Perpignan.

    Maury is one of the communes of the Côtes du Roussillon, but differs from much of the Roussillon wine area by the presence of schist, which is also found innearby Rasiguères, Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet and Tautavel. These four communes qualify for the Maury appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), a guarantee of geographical origin, distinguishing these fortified wines from those of the Rivesaltes wine denomination.

    Incidentally, Rivesaltes is the birthplace of the vin doux naturel, a creation of Arnaud de Villeneuve, the eminent 13th Century physician.rousillon He discovered the process of halting the alcoholic fermentation by adding spirit to the must, thus giving rise to a new kind of wine. With the advent of the development of the appellation system in the 1930s, the first regulations were laid down in 1936 governing the production of sweet fortified wines from Rivesaltes, Côtes d’Agly and Côtes de Haut-Roussillon.

    Incidentally, Rivesaltes is the birthplace of the vin doux naturel, a creation of Arnaud de Villeneuve, the eminent 13th Century physician. He discovered the process of halting the alcoholic fermentation by adding spirit to the must, thus giving rise to a new kind of wine. With the advent of the development of the appellation system in the 1930s, the first regulations were laid down in 1936 governing the production of sweet fortified wines from Rivesaltes, Côtes d’Agly and Côtes de Haut-Roussillon.

    Under the regulations, the red Maury wine – there is also a white Maury – must comprise at least 75% Grenache Noir, the other principal grapes are Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu, the latter not exceeding 10%. In addition, the grape varieties of Carignan and Syrah, up to a maximum 10%, are also permitted. Both colours see twelve months in wood before bottling.

    Maury red is the nearest French equivalent of a port wine, with a distinctive deep mahogany colour, but is not as strong as port. Maury has a lower alcohol by volume of 15.5%/16% and, apart from deserts, goes extremely well with cheese at the end of the meal, if you prefer the English way to the French way of having the cheese before the desert. If, however, you prefer the French way, Maury goes well with after dinner plain chocolate.

    The 2007 Maury vintage is now drinking well, having won a silver medal at the Paris wine competition in 2009. This Maury is from the Agly wine cooperative. Another Maury to look out for is that from the Mas Amiel, which is reputed to be the best. If, however, you really wish to push the boat out and can afford to do so, you might go for the 1928 vintage Maury, which commands a price of £720 per case.

    In any case, according to the wine expert and Financial Times wine correspondent, Jancis Robinson, “Maury must be the finest co-op wine in the world, and one of the best-value French wines available anywhere.”

    My friend would certainly agree with that assessment! And so would I! A desert wine with a difference and well worth trying!

  • Tips on choosing the right wine in a French restaurant

    by Ian Blackshaw

    One of the delights of living in France is going out to eat. In our region, there is such a wide choice of eating places to suit every taste and every pocket from the humble Estaminet to the Michelin Starred Restaurant, of which there are many. Someone one said – and I would heartily agree! – that there are three decisions to be made each day: where to eat; what to eat; and what to drink!

    Choosing a wine in a restaurant need not be such an intimidating task. Of course, one can always rely on the recommendations of the sommelier, who, if he or she – and there are some well-trained, knowledgeable and experienced female sommeliers around – is worth their salt, they will not, generally speaking, rip you off! After all, they – and their bosses – will want you to enjoy their choice and for you to come back. However, don’t be intimidated by them. Some can be quite pushy and condescending. Also, they are usually in a hurry rushing from table to table. In such cases, get their attention and keep it until your questions have been answered satisfactorily!

    The first tip is to take your time looking at the wine list (la carte des vins). Depending on the establishment, this will be well laid out and informative. In some places, it is voluminous and known as ‘la Bible’! If you like wine from a particular region, say, Burgundy, then look at what is on offer. If, by chance, there is no vintage indicated, ask the sommelier to bring you a bottle and check the year for yourself. Remember, generally speaking, with reds the older the better; and with whites the younger the better. Never be rushed into making the final selection.

    Again, if you are not sure of a particular wine that takes your fancy on the wine list, ask the sommelier to tell you about its particular characteristics, especially whether it will go well with what you have chosen to eat. Matching the wine and the food is so important, if the culinary experience is going to be satisfying and memorable!

    Don’t go, necessarily, for the cheapest bottle in the category selected. For example, in the Burgundy category a ‘Passe-Tout-Grains’ may well be the cheapest, but is usually pretty horrible compared, for example, with a ‘Gevrey-Chambertin’! Also, ask about the year in order to compare prices. Why is one bottle more expensive than its counterpart? There will be a reason for this and you will need to find out what it is to make an informed choice! Incidentally, when the French dine out, they generally tend to choose the best wines irrespective of the price. They are out to enjoy themselves! Perhaps we should follow their example and leave ‘Scrooge’ behind!

    In some restaurants, they feature the ‘wines of the month’, which are usually offered at a reasonable price. Again, find out about them before choosing one of them. But also, don’t be guided solely by price.

    As far as an aperitif is concerned, a glass (coupe) of the house Champagne is often a good bet! And talking of ‘house wines’, again depending on the standard of the establishment, these often represent good value for money and should not, necessarily, be shunned! Once again, ask about them and don’t be embarrassed in doing so and choosing one.

    As for dessert wines, which can be expensive, be careful and ensure that they are available by the glass and, depending on the number of takers, compare the price of a glass with that of the bottle.

    One final word of warning: wines in French Restaurants – as, indeed, is the case elsewhere – are subject to high mark-ups. It is often said that the profit of the Restaurant is in the alcohol! Realise this and don’t let this hold you back or spoil your enjoyment of the wines you choose.

    In some French Restaurants, the practice is growing of bringing your own wines to drink with the meal. Known in the trade as ‘BYOB’ – bring your own bottle! There is always a small fee (corkage) for this privilege. Always find out in advance whether this is permitted and what the charge is. This reminds me of a story of the Theatre Royal Stratford in East London. At the beginning of the interval, an actor comes onto stage to announce that the bar is now open, whereupon there is a cheer from the audience. He then makes a further announcement, with a great flourish, that the drinks are free! This produces an even louder cheer from the audience! Following this, the actor then announces that a nominal charge, however, is made for the use of the glasses!

    Enjoy choosing your wines and quaffing them!

  • CARTON WINES: TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY?

    A few years ago, I had a run-in with The Times Wine Correspondent, Jane Macquitty, over an article she wrote berating carton wines – known in the trade as ‘bag-in-box’ wines. And, incidentally, these packages have now reached a high technical standard in terms of preserving the wines in them!

    She was quite adamant, that carton wines were absolutely not worth buying and represented the dregs in wine. Rather an extreme view, I thought, so I challenged her! I pointed out that not all carton wines were rubbish, but there were many on sale in wine shops and supermarkets in France that were worth buying. Such as those selected by Pierre Chanan, a well-known and well-respected French vigneron. For example, a cabernet sauvignon from the pays d’oc sold in 3 and 5 litre cartons. As many of my readers will know, the pays d’oc is probably the best vin du pays wine in France (a medium ranking wine); and certainly this red is well worth buying.

    Likewise, the Roche Mazet Cabernet Sauvignon from Paul Valmeras, another vin de pays d’oc, is a very acceptable red wine; and, as Valmeras says it is “rounded and well- balanced, with fine aromas of vanilla, red fruits and spices”. It also has a deep red robe and so looks very well when served from a plain decanter. So, why not impress your dinner guests, especially those who are more interested in quantity than in quality!

    Again, I pointed out to Macquitty that the Roche Mazet Sauvignon Blanc, also a vin de pays d’oc, sold in 3 litre cartons (providing 24 glasses) is also an acceptable white wine, with a clear lemon yellow robe, dry and fruity, with delicate aromas of white flowers and also a hint of pear.

    Roche Mazet sells other red and white wines in cartons, which they market as their ‘Wine Fountains’ (‘Fontaines a Vin’)

    Roche Mazet ‘Fontaines à Vin’

    Roche-Mazet ‘Fontaines à Vin’

    Now, of course, I fully agree that these are not great wines, but for every day drinking to accompany a meal, they are ‘glug-able’ and quite acceptable; and, if pared with the right food – for example, the white wine mentioned above goes down extremely well with fish and is also very nice by itself as an aperitif – add to the overall gourmet experience. In any case, as someone once said: there are at least two important decisions to make each day – what to eat and, just as important if not more so, what to drink!

    Macquitty would have none of my special pleading on behalf of French carton wines, rubbishing the lot! So, we agreed to disagree on the subject. So why not try some of these carton wines for yourself, if you do not already know them, and add your comments on them on the Frogsiders blog!

    COTES DU ROUSSILLON VILLAGES – AN UP AND COMING MEDIUM RED

    by Ian Blackshaw

    My younger brother-in-law, who is something of a wine buff too, introduced me a few years ago to an up and coming red wine of quality, which comes from the Roussillon, probably the sunniest wine region of France, which is located between the hills of Corbières and the Pyrénées Mountains, centred on Perpignan. The climate, terroir and the winemaking traditions of this region produce a wine which is closer in nature to Spanish wine rather than the wine of the Languedoc wine region. And perhaps this is the reason why the wine is less well-known than that from the Languedoc, whose vin du pays d’oc is well-appreciated throughout France.

    The Roussillon wine concerned is the Côtes du Roussillon Villages, a denomination granted in 1977 to 25 villages along the Agly river, just south of Corbières. This area only produces red wine, which reflects its sunny terroir, making this particular wine stronger than the wine from the Roussillon in general.

    Rousillon wine map

    The main grape varieties are carignan, grenache and cinsault, giving the wine a distinctive spiciness as well as a medium body. The wine has notes of black and red fruits, with a tantalising hint of licorice! The best vintages are 2001 and 2006 and are well worth trying. The wine goes down well with a casoulet offering a foil to the fattiness of this hearty French dish and complementing the Toulouse sausages – an essential ingredient. The wine is also a fine accompaniment to a French Comté cheese.

    The Roussillon wine region produces 27 million bottles a year – 70% red; 28% Rosé; and 2% white. 13,800 acres (5,600 hectares) of vines are under cultivation; and the soil is largely limestone, which is good for drainage.

    The vineyard to look out for is Chateau Montner. The 2006 is currently drinking well. Try this wine for yourself – you will not be disappointed!

    ENGLISH CHAMPAGNE: A MISNOMER OR A REALITY?

    by Ian Blackshaw

    In a recent blind tasting of English ‘Champagne’ and the real McCoy, the French champagne growers and tasters chose the English version over the French one! This goes to show that English winemaking, which was revived around the middle of last Century, has come a long way since the Romans planted vines in Britain and since then vineyards had been an integral part of rural England.

    But for all kinds of reasons, they slowly declined until by the 19th Century only one or two remained. The annexation of the Bordeaux vineyards during the reign of Henry II provided wine aplenty and hundreds of little ships with their quota of casks in the hold plied their way up the Channel and beyond. Later the monastic vineyards suffered under Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and were abandoned. As time went by transportation of goods to and from Europe became easier and viticulture declined even further. The need for a home-based wine industry had disappeared.

    But then, around the middle of the 20th Century, Edward Hymes and Ray Barrington-Brock began experimenting with grapevine trials and started the re-birth of viticulture in England. Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones planted the first commercial vineyard in 1951 at his estate in Hambledon, Hampshire.

    There are now about 400 vineyards across the south of England and into Wales producing acceptable and, in many cases, exceptional wines, mainly white, of course.

    But what about English ‘Champagne’ – or to be more precise, English sparkling white wine produced by the Champagne method – methode champenoise? This too has blossomed and competes, as mentioned above, very favourably with the French Champagnes, often outbeating them in terms of quality and price, although the better English ‘Champagnes’ do not come very cheap.

    But who invented Champagne? The French? No, surprisingly in fact, it was the English in the 17th Century!

    The first French documents that refer to Champagne date from 1718, which report that the first time sparkling wine was produced was around 20 years earlier (bringing the date to circa 1698). In England, however, Sir George Etheredge mentioned sparkling wine as early as 1676. And, in 1662, a Mister Christopher Merret, explains in an article, entitled: “Some observations concerning the ordering of wines” by the Royal Society, how sugar was added on purpose in order to achieve a sparkling wine. In other words, the second fermentation.

    On the other hand, the French version of the history of Champagne is that Dom Perignon, a merry French Benedictine monk from Hautvillers (1638-1715) was the one who invented Champagne in 1668.

    Another French version of the origin of Champagne is that the monks of St. Hilaire in the south of France had begun making sparkling wine as early as 1531. The substance was made following the rural method. The second fermentation using this method is made in the vat. In fact, technically, it is not so much a second fermentation as a prolonging of the first. Nowadays, the wine made in this fashion is called Blanquette de Limoux.

    Ridgeway English Champagne

    Ridgeview English "Champagne"

    Ridgeview produce very good English ‘Champagne’ marketed under the trademark ‘Cuvee Merret’ by the ‘methode traditionale’ in their winery on the chalky South Downs. Last year, they won the award ‘Winemaker of the Year and Best Wine in England’ for their Knightsbridge 2006 (Blanc de Noir), a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

    Naturally, their sparkling wines are very much in demand and Ridgeview are embarking on ambitious expansion plans to increase their annual production to around 350,000 bottles by 2012.

    So, to answer the question posed in the title to this article: yes! English ‘Champagne’ is a reality and goes from strength to strength. But, what all this does to the ‘Entente Cordiale’ and ‘Gallic Pride’, I would rather not answer!

    Wine Bottle Sizes

    by Ian Blackshaw

    When I was European In-House Legal Counsel for The Coca-Cola Company, the aim was to increase volume sales of Coke by increasing the sizes of the ‘packages’ and this continues to be their corporate objective!

    With wine, production and volumes also count, but wine growers and producers are also very conscious of maintaining the quality of their products – over quantity. Over the years, various sizes of ‘packages’ – in other words, bottles – have been developed and are on sale.

    We are all familiar with the standard bottle size of 750 ml and also half-bottles, which hold 375 ml and which are not, generally speaking, in such plentiful supply, except for desert wines, such as Sauternes. Likewise, even smaller bottles of 187ml, which are curiously known as ‘Splits’, are difficult to find.

    bottle-sizes

    Champagne bottles come in ten different sizes: Split, Half, Standard, Magnum, Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah, Salmanazar, Balthazar and, the mother of all champagne bottles: Nebuchadnezzar!

    However, a Magnum, which holds two bottles or 1.5 litres are much more common and in demand for dinner parties and special occasions. However, watch out because – perhaps surprisingly – they cost more than the price of two bottles. One is paying for convenience!  The Double Magnum, as its name suggests, is twice the size of a Magnum, and holds 3.0 litres, or the equivalent of 4 bottles.

    There are two sizes of Jeroboams: the sparkling wine Jeroboam holds 4 bottles, or 3.0 litres; whilst the still wine Jeroboam holds 6 regular bottles, or 4.5 litres.

    The next size up is for Champagne only and is the Rehoboam, which holds
    4.5 litres or 6 bottles.

    Next comes the Imperial, which holds 6 litres of wine or the equivalent of 8 bottles. And this bottle tends to be Bordeaux-shaped.

    On the other hand, the Methuselah, which is the same size as the Imperial,
    holding 6 litres, is usually used for sparkling wines and is Burgundy-shaped.

    Next, in order of size, is the Salmanazar, which holds 12 regular bottles (equivalent to one case): that is, 9.0 litres.

    Then there is the Balthazar, which holds the equivalent of 16 bottles or 12.0 litres.

    And last and by no means least, there is the Nebuchadnezzar. This monster holds the equivalent of 20 standard bottles of wine or 15.0 litres. The Concise Oxford Dictionary does not mention the word; whilst the Encarta World English Dictionary refers only to the Babylonian King! It is certainly a king size wine bottle and clearly for a regal occasion!

    It is possible for special occasions, say a significant wedding anniversary, to have one of these big bottles with a special label marking the event. A nice touch and souvenir!

    Have fun with these bottles!