All CHAMPAGNES are sparkling wines but not all sparkling wines are Champagne!

Have you ever thought what could be in a glass of Champagne when you drinking it?

No? Well, it’s either the Chardonnay grape, the lesser known Pinot Meunière grape, and/or the Pinot Noir. And that is about it.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Mainly, due to the grapes being grown in the geographic area of “Champagne“.

The area itself is about 160 kms east of Paris. It encompasses the towns of Reims and Epernay; and the vineyards are in the Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. All around.

No other sparkling wine has the right to call itself Champagne or anything resembling that now. Up to about 15 years ago there were champagne wines coming from areas in Australia and California. Nowadays, so as not to confuse the consumer, ONLY wines grown in the Champagne region in France are allowed to put that name on their labels.

So why the huge difference in price?

Mainly, supply and demand. (It would be that wouldn’t it) …and tradition!

Other areas produce very, very good quality fizz, but just knowing you have a glass of Champagne in your hand makes it feel so luxurious! You know, the flavour that means you know exactly when it’s a glass of Champagne and when it’s not.

The Champagne area is relatively small. Champagne is their only wine production.

The interesting thing about Champagne is the link with history.

During the Middle Ages, the Champagne region was beset with wars, trouble and strife and was a crossroads for wars in other regions. Apparently, Napoleon wouldn’t go to war without going via Champagne to collect several cases of his favourite tipple!

It was not until the middle of the 17th century that Champagne was able to make itself well-known under the rule of Louis XIV when there was a large increase in personal wealth. The then Champagne houses tended to prefer catering for royalty and the nouveau riche by increasing the luxury and quality of their packaging and of course advertising!

Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Pérignon did not invent Champagne, but he did make important contributions to the production and quality of that wine. The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks near Carcassonne in 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called “méthode champenoise”, in 1662. Merret’s discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength. The internal pressure in a bottle of Champagne today is the same as that in the tyre of a double-decker bus!!!

In France the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet (muzzle) to prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the only fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthode champenoise until the 19th century, about 200 years after Christopher Merret documented the process. The 19th century saw an explosive growth in Champagne production, going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.

At Amanda’s Wines we stock some very exciting Crémants and Méthode Traditionnelles. All are made in the traditional way of making Champagne wines. Please take a look!

SUPERMARKETS do “CHEAP” very well!

The title says it all!

Supermarkets do do cheap extremely well.

To such a degree that no one, and I mean no one, can compete.

We all say we want better quality wines.

We all say we want to discover something else but, when push comes to shove, we always go back to buying in supermarkets!

-        Whether or not we know the producer on the label.

-        Whether or not we think we know the wine.

We don’t really care.

As long as the colour is right and the price is cheap!

AND… don’t kid yourself. Convenience has little to do with it.

Many off-license chains have set up in the same commercial centre as a large supermarket and they do not sell more just for that.

The supermarkets even started setting up separate shops next door to themselves in a commercial centre and their sales plummeted as well all thought they were selling more expensive wines. (or even the same wines dearer).

Have you asked yourself WHY we buy wine from supermarkets?

  • We don’t always like what they sell.
  • We don’t always think the flavour is what it should be.
  • We often end up with a massive hangover the next morning!

So, WHY?

Let me answer that in one short line.

Supermarkets are cheap.

In fact, they are so cheap that they sell some lines under their cost price.

Did you know that?

Yes, amazing but true.

Selling under cost to engage consumers to come into the store and BUY OTHER PRODUCTS  is called using a “loss leader”.

The average over-spend in a supermarket in the UK is £30.

£30!!!!

Just for a bottle of cheap wine! (or whatever…)

So they, the supermarkets, know that you are going to spend £30 minimum because you want to buy a bottle or two of wine.

They know that you will probably spend more.  They have lots of tricks like TFT offers and nice smells of baking bread. (Never go to a supermarket before a meal!)

They know you will kid yourself into liking the wine…

Because it is cheap!

Recently there has been a move by the supermarkets to add more quality wines into their stock.

Apparently, even the supermarkets are beginning to feel the pinch of the “loss leader” syndrome and think it is time to ask people to pay up for a better quality wine. The more expensive the wine, the larger the margin!

But, we the people do not really want to do that.

We do not want a more expensive bottle of wine from the supermarket.

That’s for people who really know what they are buying, isn’t it?

So the supermarkets are losing money on their cheap wines because they are still selling them as “loss leaders” and they are also losing money on their more expensive lines as – who in their right mind would buy a bottle of “quality” wine in a supermarket?

What a conundrum!

I really cannot wait to see how they get themselves out of this predicament.

If anyone has any ideas on this please email me, amanda@amandaswines.co.uk and put the title of this blog into the subject line.

VINTAGES and the Year of the Harvest!

A lot is said in the press about the vintage of wines.

Do they matter?

Well… actually, yes.

The vintage is the year the grapes are harvested.

The quality of the wine depends largely on the weather in the year leading up to the harvest.

A winemaker can do what he likes in a middling or bad year but the wine will never stand up for long.

Vines need:-

  • a very cold preceding winter.At least -8°C for 3 days in a row. This kills off the little bugs caught in the wood. Maximum -18°C…Colder weather totally kills the vines!
  •  a relatively rainy spring with lots of patches of sun, wind, even hail. At this time of the year nothing has grown yet so hail is OK. Hail won’t harm the buds as there aren’t any yet. Rain is needed to build up reserves in the soil for the warmer weather later on in the year.
  •  a warm, sunny early summer. Rain is OK but not too much.
  •  a very warm and dry-ish mid-summer.
  •  a very, very dry late summer
  •  a very, very, very dry September and October (these are the harvesting months in Europe).

When the whole year has had perfect weather AND the harvest went singingly along without upset, the vintage will be fabulous!

In fact it almost doesn’t really matter how the good the winemaker is it will probably still be a fabulous year. 

The very best recent years in which the weather followed the above were:

1990

2005

2009

Remember the weather conditions for these years?

Check the prices of wines for these years and you will see what a difference it all makes.

http://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/wine-topics/bordeaux-wine-buying-guide-tasting-notes-ratings/bordeaux-wine-vintage-chart/

Amanda’s Wines still has some of these wonderful vintages for sale.

Discovery Case Unoaked Red Wines

Touraine Gamay 2009

Touraine Cabernet Vieilles Vignes 2009

Organic Wines, Natural wines and others…

Much is being said in recent times about the pros and cons; the taste, flavour and the wheres or whyfores of “sustainable farming”, “organic farming” and “natural wines”.

I am sure you are dying to understand the difference so let me help you.

 Sustainable Farming (Agriculture Raisonnée)

This is basically what all wine producers have done in France since the Middle Ages. “Putting back into the soil what you take out of it”.

If we look back to the end of the 20th century the growers in France, Italy and Spain raised their vines taking great care of the soil. Destroying the soil would have been tantamount to destroying their main working tool. No income, no food!

Can you imagine owning a car which you needed for business purposes and not looking after it? Eventually the car would get mechanical problems and then finally you would have to change it.

This was not an option for growers in Europe.

Tending the vines was always done manually and mainly still is. Pruning is still totally manual.

The use of horses in the vines only ended in the early 1970s when tractors took over.

Larger scale wine production as seen in the New World today started in France on a much, much smaller scale in the late 1980s.

Sustainable farming practices are used virtually across the board in France whether or not the grower pays an organisation to be able to say on the label that he uses sustainable farming.

Most small and medium sized wine growers would not bother to pay an organisation to tell them they can do what they have done for centuries. It would not make sense to them.

Sustainable Farming as defined by Wikipedia:

 “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fibre needs
  • Make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Organic Farming (Agriculture Biologique)

It is the farming of the vines, not the winemaking, which is organic. (There is much confusion on this point.) “Organic wines” currently do not exist in Europe today although there is a lobby to include wines as such under that label.

More and more French growers are going organic so that they can compete in world markets today.

It should be pointed out that, although the theory is quite commendable,

-        The production specifications are extremely hefty.

-        There are very, very active controls in the vines.

-        All the bodies involved with granting this sought-after accreditation charge a lot of money.

It still sounds very attractive, other than the fact that the wines are “fragile” (albeit expensive and guess who ends up paying!)

BUT… due to the fact that the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides is not allowed, the only treatment for vines under the Organic Farming charter is …“Copper Sulphite”.

            Copper, being a heavy metal, eventually kills the soil.

This is the main problem today for any wine grower who is changing from traditional farming methods to Organic.

 “Mildew” and “oidium” are types of fungi which produce a powdery mildew on the grapes. These diseases can wipe out a total harvest in a matter of days. In warm, wet summers the organic farmers use 5 times more copper sulphite than the traditional farmers!

They are, thank Heavens, actively looking for an alternative to Copper Sulphite.

 Natural Wines (Vins Naturs)

The name “Natural Wine” is extremely controversial and misleading as all wines are “natural”.

There appears to be more and more of a following of this type of wine, however.

This is basically where the vines and the wines are made with as little intervention as possible. They are left to their own devices and we should like them whether or not they taste good!

When they are young the wines are often cloudy (no filtration), still fermenting in the glass (fizzy but not in a nice way) and, or tasting of vinegar (contaminated vines or wine).

A well-known UK wine critic recently said “at best they taste like off cider”

When they get older there is no knowing which way the wines will go. So opening a bottle is always a surprise – Sometimes not so nice, sometimes very nice!

I very much understand the current “back to nature” leaning of these wine growers and their customers.

However, I am somewhat bemused that wine, a beverage which is no longer necessary to disinfect our food, is being raised in such a way with total disregard to the feel and taste.

Wine today is a pleasure and in some cases a luxury. Surely, we should not have to go through the process of putting on a nice face to front these wines.

In fact, probably the only way they can really succeed in making “natural wine” is by furnishing the cellar as if it were an antiseptic laboratory where no microbe could possibly contaminate the wine. Then we would get some palatable wines!

(A small number of American and French growers are currently putting this theory to the test.)

First published February 2011

ROSÉ WINES – How they are made?

Before we even start to explain how rosé wines are made, we need to dispel a myth:

ROSÉ WINES ARE NOT MADE BY MIXING RED AND WHITE WINES.

Rosé wines are made of red grape varieties.

Most quality red grape varieties have red skins and white flesh.

In the Loire Valley the most usual varietal used for rosé wine is Cabernet, followed closely by Gamay. There are some varietals which are used just for rosé wines such as Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau.

The traditional way of making rosé wine in France came about with the need to “bleed” the red wines by removing the surplus juice just after bringing in the harvest. Say, about 24 hours after bringing in the harvest depending on the varietal and the year.

Once this surplus juice is removed the red wine remaining in the tank becomes more deeply coloured, stronger flavoured, and fuller-bodied.

The surplus juice is not deep enough in colour to be called a red wine so the name rosé wine became predominant.

There you have your rosé wine.

An alternative, modern way of making rosé is by putting the red grapes through the grape-press, just like white wines, and pressing them until there is just enough colour to put a blush on the wine.

Rosé wine made in this manner is called “gris” wine. The word “gris” in French means grey. This is not really considered to be “rosé” wine.

A second myth to be dispelled is that rosé wine is easy to make.

It is not.

It is probably the hardest wine to make of all.

It is extremely fragile.

Therefore, lots of things can go wrong.

As a general rule of thumb, rosé wines are generally not put through the malolactic fermentation. (The 2nd fermentation usually reserved for red wines).

However, rosé wine loves to catch the wine-maker out and do the malolactic fermentation all by itself before it can be stopped.

Another fragility is the wine turning the residual sugar into alcohol.

In many regions, Anjou being one, a small amount of residual sugar is left in the wine to make it softer on the palate. Rosé wines love turning this residual sugar into alcohol once the wines have been bottled and there is nothing you can do about it other than uncork all the bottles and wait until the wine settles down again.

In both cases, the wine-maker just sits it out.

However, the wines will never be top quality again. They will be “flat”.

When rosé wine is successfully made it is light on the palate and very easy to digest in hot climates. It is generally consumed relatively young.

For this reason, it is the main wine to accompany barbecues and grills, cold cuts, and salads. In fact, all summer dishes.

It goes down well in the autumn too with roast chestnuts.

First published September 2008

Oaked Wines or UNOAKED Wines – A potted history of why wines are oaked or not oaked

To understand the flavours of the various wines you taste, you have to understand the flavour of oak in wine and the reason oaking exists.

The first thing to know about wine is that oak barrels do not grow in vineyards and that the flavour is not intrinsic to the natural flavour of wine.

The flavour of oak is introduced by contact with barrels used for storage and/or transport made from that wood. Sometimes, actually, quite often, the oak flavours overpower the other wine flavours, in which case it is considered to be “overoaked”. Barrels made of new oak contribute a very strong flavour to wine. In fact, up until the 1980s no French wine grower worth his salt would ever, ever have put good wine into barrels made of new oak!

In red wines, the oak flavour components include “vanillin” or vanilla, and so-called “toasty”, “charred” or “roasted” or “caramelised” elements. In white wines, the flavour component is generally “buttery”. Vanillin and butter comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the “charring” of the barrel that occurs from the flaming of the interior of the barrel to be able to bend the staves into place.

The second thing to know is that the reason oak barrels came into existence was mainly for the transport of wines and the storage of wines.

To understand how this came about, I shall take you back in time to the Roman period when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul (as France was then known) in AD 52.

As the Roman army invaded deeper into Gaul and went more northwards towards the Benelux countries and onwards to England and Scotland (where they stopped) two things became apparent:

  1. That they needed large amounts of wine for the Roman army, and
  2. That there were not enough vineyards in Gaul. (There were only a few small vine regions planted by the Greeks around the Mediterranean basin.)

This was a bit of a worry as wine was particularly revered by the Romans for its digestive and medicinal qualities, its ability to disinfect food, as well as being very pleasant to drink! Pliny the Elder wrote a lot about wine. Unfortunately, the names of the varietals he mentioned are not known today.

The Romans set about importing wine from the best vineyards in the world, the slopes just outside Pompeii, and the Etruscan vineyards.

Initially, the transport was by boat. They loaded wine-filled amphorae onto boats and then onto donkeys on arrival. As they travelled into the hinterlands of Gaul, much of the wine was lost. This was mainly due to the amphorae falling off the donkeys and breaking; also due to the native Gaulois (pronounced gol-wah) who loved wine so much, they couldn’t get enough of it. They would hijack the caravans whenever they could.

By the end of the 2nd century the boats were constructed in such a way that they were like floating tanks. The inner tanks which held the wine were made of clay and sealed with molten lead. The wine was then transferred into large wooden containers of up to as much as 1200 litres or into animal skins or bladders and transported up river.

The Romans noticed that the Gaulois used barrels made of yew wood for the transport and storage of their ales. They started to use this for wines but it was not a success. In AD 70 Pliny denounced the “deadly effects of these strange recipients of yew wood made in Gaul”.

It is thought to be soon afterwards that the first oak barrels would have carried wine.

When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 it wiped out all the vineyards surrounding Pompeii. It was from this date that the Legions planted vineyards in France in earnest, starting with the Rhone Valley, Aquitaine, the South-West, and Bordeaux regions, moving north towards the Loire Valley. There is evidence that the vineyards of Sancerre and some parts of Muscadet date from the Roman occupation. Also a stone grape-press dating back to the 2nd century was found just south of Tours indicating that the Touraine vineyards could date back to that period.

When Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1153, after having tasted the local English wines she set up the commerce and transport of her own favourite wines from the South West of France though the port of Bordeaux.

The containers used for this transport were, of course, oak barrels.

Later on in the Middle Ages the Dukes of Burgundy set up a transportation network of their wines to the Benelux countries, again, in oak barrels.

In the areas up and down the Loire Valley, the wine grower only had to take their wines 4 or 5 kilometres up the road to the local château or castle. He would transport his wines in oak barrels or vats, tip them out into storage tanks, and always brought the oak barrels back home again.  In the Touraine region, excavations beneath the Château of Chaumont found wine tanks dating back to the Middle Ages hewn into the Tufa rock face and lined with glass tiles.

Today, it is still traditional to age the wines in glass; we use bottles.

First published June 2008

Astonishing Dinner Parties

It is a known fact that as cash gets tighter good, old-fashioned dinner parties come back into fashion?

In the old days, we would all pull together and do a dinner party fit for a king.

But in the old days (20-30 years ago), we girls didn’t know much about wines.

We left it all up to you guys.

Haven’t we all changed?

We girls know so much more about wines, these days.

Not only about wines, but about our own personal taste in wines.

We are no longer afraid to say what we like and what we don’t like.

So, I am putting together some really good-value, easy-preparation dinner parties for 5/6 people, with hints for recipes, and their matching wines to please both us girls and you guys.

The French spend a lot of time and energy on cooking and preparation as you know.

Wine is always a vital part of a dinner party being a success.

A carefully chosen, matching wine is always served with each dish.

The French would never serve the same wine throughout the whole dinner.

(However, please do so if you personally prefer it, after all wine is a pleasure and should be savoured as such.)

Assume 6 glasses per bottle 75cl.

Fill the glass 2/3 full, no more. You must be able to swirl the wine around the glass!

Wine is taste and pleasure.

If you prefer a different wine, feel free to change it. My wines are suggestions which, I know from experience, work well with these dishes.

Remember, you drink the wine, not the label!

All the recipes ideas I am going to give you have been passed to me over the years by friends, or friends of friends, both in the UK and in France; or real recipes from cookbooks which I ticked around with because they were too time consuming or finicky.

My heartfelt thanks go to all of you. I have used most of these recipes over and over and over again.

COCKTAILS

As people arrive and have deposited their coats somewhere, it is nice to put a glass of something delicious and out-of-the-ordinary into their hands.

Touraine METHODE TRADITIONNELLE

Sparkling Rosé Brut Touraine Sparkling Rosé

This is an absolutely stunning dry sparkling rosé made in exactly the same way Champagne is made.

In fact, all Crémant wines and Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wines are made in the same manner in France. They just come from different regions.

That is the only difference, other than the price, which is about ½.

Serve very chilled. 8°c.

It is soft on the palate and goes down a treat with just a good mixture of dried fruit and nuts. Pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. A selection of raisins & sultanas, dried pawpaws, dried mangos, dried bananas. You can usually buy the mixture already done for cocktails in a good supermarket. Easy!

However, if you like doing complicated cocktail bits; please feel free to do so.

STARTERS

I must admit I always find the best and easiest starters are fishy.

At this time of the year, and after such a chilly spring, shellfish is lovely!

If you have a good fishmonger; fish section of your supermarket; or a farmers’ market, get prawns and shrimps.

Fishmongers usually have a selection of different types of prawns, or shrimps.

Snip off the long whiskers from the prawns.

On each small plate put:

A few leaves of nice quality lettuce, lambs lettuce is nice,

2 or 3 cherry tomatoes, halved,

4 or 5 fresh prawns,

A few fresh shrimps,

If you enjoy making a good fish terrine or mousse, then a small portion of homemade terrine or mousse is lovely with a couple of fresh prawns and a bit of salad.

Make a sauce for it of crème fraiche, a couple teaspoons of water, and chopped chives, mixed well.

A few drops of good quality vinaigrette (not too strong, balsamic vinegar is nice) on the lettuce.

A small blob of good quality mayonnaise on the side to dip the prawns into.

Chunky white and brown bread. Butter.

A spare paper napkin per person.

A plate in the middle of the table to put the shells on


ALTERNATIVE STARTERS

Fresh asparagus.

Not everyone can get these and they can be very expensive. They come into season in May.

You might have some growing in your garden! (They grow wild in our vines.)

The green ones have a stronger flavour than the white ones.

Scrape off the woody outer part of the stem (with a potato peeler).

Boil slowly in a large open pan (frying pan) for about 15-20 mins. Be careful the little tender head doesn’t fall off. This can be done well in advance.

Serve with good quality vinaigrette (not too strong); lemon mayonnaise; or hollandaise sauce.

Same accompaniments as above.

2 spare paper napkins per person.

Fresh asparagus is always eaten with the fingers!

Both the above dishes are a dream with a really good, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.

Young and zesty.

Not many people know that Sauvignon goes with asparagus. But now you do.

MATCHING WINES FOR STARTER COURSE

Either: Touraine Sauvignon Vieilles Vignes 2006    

Or:      Sancerre White

MAIN COURSE

Butter chicken.

Sorry to tell you this but using butter is the tastiest way to cook. Any French chef will tell you this. The dishes you do will taste that little bit more exciting if you use real butter. Yes, I know, we are all trying to lose weight. But if you are going to do a dinner party, you might as well make sure the food is tasty!

So, take 200 gr. butter salted or unsalted (I use unsalted) out of the fridge early afternoon so that it can soften to room temperature.

Then mix it with a couple cloves of crushed garlic and some parsley.

Fresh, if poss, free range Chicken 1.8 kgs. If you get it from the butcher he will truss it for you.

Heat the oven to 200° Celsius.

Loosen gently the breast skin from the chicken and very carefully push the butter up between the skin and the breast. Very, very carefully so as not to break the skin.

Rub the rest of the softened butter all over the chicken.

Make sure every part of it is covered with a thick layer of butter. Especially the wings and legs.

Put in the cavity a few sprigs of whatever fresh herbs you can get.

Thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence.

Also, a few whole cloves of garlic, peeled. A couple of shallots.

Salt & pepper to taste. Just pepper if you have used salted butter.

Cook for about 1½ – 2 hours. Baste it occasionally.

Make gravy out of residue in dish. Adding water and a spoon of dry sherry to it.

Veggies: Roast parsnips; roast Swedes; roast red and yellow bell peppers;

steamed or boiled new potatoes.

ALTERNATIVE MAIN COURSE

8-10 Chicken breasts done the French Asian way.

Slash the breasts in a couple of places acrosswise so that the flavours penetrate the flesh.

Sprinkle each side with flour, whole cumin seeds, black onion seeds, salt & pepper.

Pat onto the breast to make it stick.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use olive), a walnut of butter; 4 chopped shallots, 4 chopped cloves garlic, salt & pepper. Sauté until just soft.

Add the chicken fillets. 2 heaped teaspoons garam masala

Sauté until a lovely golden colour.

Mix in a bowl:

50cl. Crème fraîche

150ml. approx water;

A very large heaped tablespoon of very lazy ginger. Chili to taste.

Mix it all up and add to the chicken fillets.

Cover and cook for about 20 mins.

If you don’t want to use crème fraîche you can use undiluted thin coconut milk but it is not quite as nice.

This is tastier if it is all done in advance. Add water if sauce gets too thick.

When reheating, make sure not to “overcook” the fillets in the microwave as they go tough.

Veggies: steamed Basmati rice; steamed broccoli.

MATCHING WINES FOR MAIN COURSE:

Either: Chardonnay (white)                                           Chardonnay

Or: Touraine-Mesland White 2006                                Mesland White

Or: Touraine Gamay (red)                                             Gamay

CHEESE COURSE

The French always keep a little place for a little cheese and it is served after the main course.

A good cheese board in France usually has a selection of:

A hard cheese such as Comté or Cantal;

A blue cheese such as Bleu d’Auvergne or Roquefort;

A cheese that goes straight to the hips such as Brie or Camambert or Reblochon;

A goats cheese (unfortunately good French goats cheese is still difficult to find in the UK)

Served with a salad of mixed lettuce leaves and vinaigrette (not too strong).

Good quality UK cheeses work well, too.

MATCHING WINES FOR CHEESE COURSE:

 Either: Touraine Côt 2005 (red)                        Touraine Côt 2007

 Or: Touraine-Mesland 2005 (red)                    Touraine-Mesland 2005

 

Or: Sauvignon Blanc with the goats cheese as per starter course.

Or: All of the above

PUDDINGS

Apple Crumble is just lovely at any time of the year.

8-10 eating apples such as Golden Delicious which make the best apple crumble of all. Peeled, cored, cut into quarters or smaller.

Put into greased, high sided tart dish and put into microwave for 10 mins. Or until they are soft and watery.

Turn oven to high 250° Celsius.

Make crumble from a large cup of sifted flour,

large cup of golden brown cane sugar crystals (cassonade),

130 gr. butter.

Crumble it all up by rolling it around and through the fingers.

Put on top of apples. Cook on high for about 10 mins or until the crumble begins to turn pale golden, then turn right down to 120° Celsius for another 35 mins. You will see the water turn syrupy in the dish.

Chocolate mousse, no butter, no sugar:

6 eggs separated.

200 gr good quality cooking chocolate.

Melt chocolate in a bain marie or in microwave. Mix with yolks.

Beat egg whites. Fold altogether. Put in fridge.

WINE FOR DESSERTS

The French always open a bottle of sparkling wine for dessert.

The sparkling rosé Touraine you had for cocktails would be lovely – but that is entirely up to you.

If you have a sweet tooth our medium/dry and sweet Vouvray wines are just yummy!

I can offer mixed cases of some of the wines above to make the choice easier for you:

You can also mix your own online. I have made it very easy.

Mixed Case Reds

First published April 2008

Grape Vine Pruning – The Next Stage – Lowering The Branch

Summer is a-comin’ in

Loud sing cuckoo!

Anon

All you happy gardeners have come back over and over and over again to look at my article about Pruning Grape Vines which I posted earlier. Actually it was my first article.

The May bank holiday is over. A bit of a wash-out this year, really. However, all this rain is very good for the plants. You just have to be a little careful of the “mildiou” which appears when the weather is warm and wet. So far, so good, though.

At this moment we are way past the pruning stage, so I decided to do a follow-up article to the next stage so you can see how the vines progress.

First thing you need to do after the pruning, is to pull off all the dead wood from the vine and make nice little bunches of faggots. They burn very well for winter fires and are very useful for barbecues in the summer.

The vines which have been pruned following the “Guillot” (Guyot) system have a long branch. This branch needs to be lowered onto the bottom wire, so that the spring shoots can sprout upwards. There are 3 wires on a grape vine. One on the same level as the top of the vine, and 2 above which are used to entrap the vines as they get thick and heavy.

(I took a photo of this earlier this month. This gives you an idea as to how the vines are looking at the moment.)

The long branch is quite bendy. Better to do this when the temperature no longer freezes and the Spring frosts are out of the way otherwise the young shoots are susceptible to being frozen and easily knocked off.

If possible, the lowering of the branch should be done after the “Saints de Glace” on or around the 15th May. The 3 days of the “ice saints” are always a lot colder than the other days. (No one puts their window boxes out until after these dates.)

Most of the growers, however, lower the branch beforehand due to the timescale. Once the warm weather starts, the vegetation grows very, very fast.

Lowering the branch is backbreaking. Occupational hazard!

Once this has been done and clipped onto the bottom wire, the little shoots need to be removed from the base of the plant. When they are very young they come off very easily. In fact, they can just be brushed off. These are called “les gourmands”.

Then, the vegetation starts to grow very, very fast.

The vines start to get heavy.

The two upper wires should be placed on the ground until the vines have grown enough to put them back up again thereby entrapping the vines between the two upper wires.

Some grape varieties grow a lot faster than others. The Chardonnay varietal is easily the fastest, followed by the Pinot Noir, the Cabernet Franc, the Côt and the Cabernet Sauvignon varietals – the Touraine reds; then lastly the Sauvignon Blanc.

In France, all this care for the vines is still done by hand!

First published April 2008

UNDERSTANDING “TERROIR”

The notion of “Terroir” (pronounced tair-hwah).

To understand the flavours, complexity and typicity of French wines, you must understand the notion of terroir. The word “terroir” does not translate into the English language. So it needs to be explained.

The root of the word is “terre” which means earth.

Terroir is based on a geographic area, including the geological structure of the soil in any given region, however small. This is then combined with the region’s micro-climate, the traditional way the soil is cultivated, and the grape variety. These factors make up a terroir.

The structure of the soil could be sandy, or clayey, or flinty, or chalky, or even irony, or a combination of several elements. Whatever the structure, it is the soil which gives the indigenous flavour to the finished product. i.e. the wine. The vines are grown in the soil. The roots often go down as much as 20 meters or more in search of water. In France, the irrigation of vines is not allowed. The plant’s roots are totally steeped in the soil, suck up the water from deep, deep down, and pour all this flavour into the grapes.

If you have the time to visit lots of different wine producing areas in France, you will, as time goes by, understand the different flavours of the different areas.

Never be afraid to ask the grower about his terroir. He will then spend many happy hours explaining it all to you.

Take our area on the left bank of the Loire River. Our soil is clay and flint. There is a lot of flint in the soil. Therefore, the wines come up tasting very smokey, especially when they are young. Smokiness is one of the flavours of a flinty soil. It is very pleasant in the Sauvignon blanc which is our benchmark wine. (The Loire Valley probably produces the best Sauvignon blanc wines in the world.)

Now take the area about 30kms due south from us on the Cher valley. The soil is very sandy. Sandy soil makes very light wines. Therefore, the flavours of the wines are much lighter and fruitier than ours. They are extremely good “summer drinking” wines.

Then, there is the micro-climate to consider. The aspect of the vineyard has to be taken into account to get the most out of the climate. You must always plant vines so that they get as much sun from the south and south-west as possible. While driving through the South of France, you may have noticed vineyards on the tall, steep banks of rivers, facing south or south-west. This makes sure that the parcel of vines gets as much as possible out of the micro-climate. The steeper the slope, the better the aspect, as long as it gets lots of sun. There is an appellation in the south of France called Côte Rôtie where the slopes are so steep that the only way to access the vines is by helicopter. Of course, this is a very expensive way of caring for the vines but the wines are out of this world. (So are the prices!).

While we are on the subject of appellation, you need to understand that an appellation is the official name of a particular terroir. “No terroir, no appellation”.

An appellation is basically a rubber stamp (or trade mark, if you like) of a geographical region which produces products to set standards which make up the terroir, i.e. a geographical area, the micro-climate, the grape variety, local history and man’s know-how.

I was recently taken to a restaurant in the UK who only had wines on their wine list which were mass produced from somewhere in the new world. They tasted like an alcoholic version of Ribena.( I used to like Ribena when I was 9 years old.) There was no terroir in the flavour of the wines whatsoever. The grapes were probably bought in from half a dozen different countries.

When you get used to drinking terroir wines, you find the rest totally boring! But that is another story…

First published March 2008

Celebrating with our Wine Guild “Les Grandgousiers”

From the early Middle Ages until the general distribution of refrigeration, food in France was stored in salt, pork or duck fat, (fruit) alcohol or dried.

Food did not keep very well. There were lots of illnesses during the winter months due to poor conservation. Meals were often scarce and were always washed down with a glass or two of wine, diluted or not, to kill any bacteria and aid the digestion. (In northern parts they washed food down with ales).

At the end of the long winter, food was beginning to taste very, very ropey; as were the wines. There were no modern methods of storing wines in those days and it was invariably oxidized and sour. So they added honey, spices and herbs to give it some palatable flavouring.

By early spring, the new wines, which had been harvested the previous autumn, were just beginning to be really good. They were young, fruity, easily drinkable, palatable and above all pleasurable!

So, from the Saint Vincent (end January) patron Saint of wine growers, to Easter there was much jubilation and celebration of the new wines. People could eat, drink and be merry again in the knowledge that the worst of the winter was over and spring on its way.

The end of February is the time we have our “Grandgousiers” celebration.

The full name of the Grandgousiers is “La Confrérie des Compagnons de Grandgousier”. This translates as « The Fraternity of the Companions of Grandgousier ». It is a fraternity, or brotherhood, or guild, whose sole purpose is to promote the wines of Touraine sector Chaumont and Touraine-Mesland.

The character, Grandgousier, was a giant in the book by Rabelais, Gargantua (1534), who liked peace, easy living and all things good in life. His son, at birth, opened his eyes, felt thirsty and asked for a drink!

Our promotion is basically a big lunch once a year. The lunch takes place on the last Sunday in February.

Sunday morning Mass is held in the local church and all the winegrowers give thanks for the good, new wines by offering bottles of it to the vicar.

After Mass we proceed around the little town with our musicians, dressed in all our splendid robes, dispensing cake (brioche) to the locals and inviting them to the next step which is the enthronisations or enthronements.

Anyone who is deemed to have promoted our wines over the year can be enthroned, (accepted into the Guild) but he must be supported by one of the board. A short synopsis of his life is read out in front of the audience. He must then swear to drink at least 100 bottles of our best cru every year and generally adopt our wines as his own.

The enthronements are humorous and light-hearted. The enthroned person then gets a sash, a plastic bunch of grapes to wear around his neck, a diploma and a few bottles of wine.

There are usually about 20 enthronements. When they are over we all go and have an aperitif accompanied by a small selection of wines and some local rillettes which are pork scratchings mixed with pork fat and made into a sort of pâté. It is really lovely. It sounds rich and greasy. It is not.

Then we go to our local “Relais-Château” hotel and restaurant and continue our slap-up lunch which lasts from 1pm to about 8pm. Our local Relais-Chateau’s restaurant has 2* Michelin stars. The lunch is FABULOUS!

There are 4 courses interspersed with little nibblies of exquisitely prepared “things”. The wines have been carefully selected to properly match each dish.

When lunch is over, anyone who feels like it can then go on to dance the night away.

And the French do… They can pasa doble, and waltz, and tango, and cha-cha-cha, and rock-and-roll, all to the music of our small band whose main instrument is …the accordion.

First published February 2008