Friday, 28 November 2008

The Sheffield Carols

The mass singing in some of the pubs in North Sheffield and North Derbyshire, which takes place in the second half of November and all December, and which is often referred to as The Sheffield Carols, has been described as one of the most remarkable instances of popular traditional singing in the British Isles.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mince Pies and Wine To Listen to Carols With

What could be better than listening to the soft echo of carols whilst savouring a fragrant mince pie and a velvety rich glass of wine? Mince pies have been made since Medieval times and up until the Victorian era they did actually contain meat. The origins of the mince pie begins with the medieval pastry called chewette which was either fried or baked. The chewette actually contained liver or chopped meat mixed with boiled eggs and ginger. Dried fruits, sugar and spices would be added to the chewette's filling for variety. Nowadays the only remnant of the meat they used to contain is suet.

Oliver Cromwell actually made the eating of Mince Pies on Christmas Day illegal in the 17th century and this law has never been rescinded – so technically it is against the law to eat Mince Pies at Christmas!

Illegal or not I shall be making my own Mince Pies, drinking Sainte Hélène and singing carols this year ( I have a musical family!). Château de Sainte Hélène is the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle (see Discovering M de Malle). Sainte Hélène has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey.

Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Château Sainte Hélène can accompany fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as Roquefort cheese. Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine. Sainte Hélène is one of my all time favourite wines. Cheers!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Christmas Carols

Carols have been sung since the 4th century but it was Saint Francis of Assisi who introduced carols to church services in 1223, during a Christmas Midnight Mass in a cave in Greccio, in the province of Umbria in Italy. That night, the songs and music that accompanied this sacred event were not hymns but carols. Ever since then, carols caught on with the masses and were at their prime in the Middle Ages, when they were almost always a part of the mystery plays.

Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called Waits. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the only power in the towns and villages to take money from the public. They were called Waits because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This was sometimes known as watch night or wait night because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.)

The word carol comes from the Greek dance choraulein, which was accompanied by flute music. It later became popular with the French, who replaced the flute music with songs. They called it caroller, which means dancing around in a circle to song. As the years rolled by, music and lyrics were included and hence the modern Christmas carols.

One of the urban legends states that carol singers were named after a little girl named Carol Poles. The story begins that Carol was reported missing around Christmas in 1888 in the Whitechapel district of London. Many people went searching for her that night. At that period people were scared of Jack the Ripper, an unidentified serial killer who was active in that largely impecunious area. Therefore the group would sing Christmas carols when they knocked at each door to declare their good purpose. Thus it came to pass, that the tradition was followed from then on in the Christmas Eve.

It is more likely that Christmas carols were derived from folk songs or wassailing songs and that early carols were performed by bands of men and boys who went house-to-house, singing for mulled cider or wine.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Christmas Elves

Father Christmas's helper takes its origins from the story that St Nicholas liberated an Ethiopian slave boy called Piter from a Myra market. The boy was so grateful that he decided to stay with the Saint as his helper. In Northern European folklore Father Christmas is helped by elves – mythical creatures from Norse mythology.

Elves include all kinds of fairies, especially tiny humans that are somewhat young and mischievous. Formerly belonging to a line of minor gods of nature and fertility, elves are frequently pictured as young-looking men and women of great beauty living in forests and other natural places, underground, or in wells and springs.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Reindeer at Christmas

The Reindeer that pull Father Christmas' sleigh have their roots in ancient Norse mythology which tells of the legend of Thor, the God of Thunder. Thor was known to fly through the stormy skies pulled in a chariot by magical goats named Gnasher and Cracker. Over time the goats evolved into Reindeer and the traditional gift bringer in Finland is Joulupukki, which translated means “Yule buck”.

In 1823 Clement Clark Moore wrote the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and the myth of the 8 Reindeer was born - Dasher; Dancer; Prancer; Vixen; Comet; Cupid; Donder; and Blitzen. “Donder” means “thunder” in Dutch and “Blitzen” means “lightning” in German. Moore wrote the poem on Christmas Eve in 1822 during a sleigh ride home from buying a turkey for his family.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer!
now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid!
on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away!
dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,


And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night"


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is perhaps the most modern of all Christmas symbols and certainly the most familiar of Reindeer, even though he was not a member of Santa's original team. Rudolph was created in 1939 by a 34-year old copywriter named Robert L. May, Rudolph was the product of a request made by May's employer, Montgomery Ward, which wanted a Christmas story it could use as a promotional tool for its chain of department stores. The Chicago-based company had been buying and distributing colouring books for children at Christmas for many years and the idea of creating a give-away booklet of its own was perceived to be an excellent means of saving money. May, who had a penchant for writing children's stories and limericks, was called upon to create the booklet. In 1949 the singer Gene Autry recorded a musical version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer composed by Johnny Marks.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Yule Logs, Christmas and Wine by the Fireside

Yule Logs are not just log shaped chocolate cake eaten at Christmas – in the past it was traditional to light a Yule Log on Christmas Eve and keep it burning through the 12 nights of Christmas until Twelfth Night. The Celts believed that, for 12 days at the end of December, the sun stood still (which is why the days grew shorter and shorter). If they could keep yule logs burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer. If a Yule Log went out, then it forbode bad luck. For Christians, the symbolism of the Yule log was that it represented the need to keep the stable warm for the Infant Christ.

Traditionally, a huge log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, and dragged back to the home. This was known as 'Bringing in the Yule Log'. The magical properties of the Yule Log were said to ensure good fortune in the coming year to all those who lent a hand at pulling it over the rough ground. Once it was brought to the fireplace, a blessing was said over the log and wine was poured over it as a libation. It was then placed on the fire and lit with a torch made from a piece of wood left over from last year's Yule Log.

The Yule Log is called the Ashen Faggot in the West Country. The ancient custom was that a faggot (a bundle of ash sticks) was burnt on Christmas Eve. The Christianised version of the use of ash was that it was the wood that Mary used to light the fire in order to wash Jesus. In Romany lore it was thought that Jesus was born in a field and that he was kept warm by the heat of an ash fire.

Not everyone has a fireplace these days and in the USA you can play a dvd of a Yule Log burning in a real fireplace. This trend started in 1966 when Fred Thrower, a former TV programming director for WPIX in New York City, wanted to offer a Yule Log for the majority in New York City who had no real fireplace of their own.

Either way there is nothing like sitting in front of a fire at Christmas sipping wine and cracking nuts. One of my favourites is Chateau Toumalin (£9.49) – a shining, ruby red wine with flavours of blackcurrant, blueberry and a hint of roasted wood. It's a fine, strong, silky and ageable wine that you can pair with game birds, wild boar and venison as well as – vegetarian dishes based on aubergines, peppers and cheeses.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Myrrh, Fernet Branca and After Dinner Drinks

Everyone knows that Myrrh was one of the gifts that the Three Wise Men gave the infant Christ but I didn't know it is used to make an alcoholic drink! It's used in the production of Fernet Branca which is an Amaro (bitter liqueur) made in Italy. Amaros are often drunk as a digestif (after dinner drink). You'll often find that herbs are added to digestifs to help settle your meal.

Fernet Branca is made from over 40 spices, including Myrrh, with a base of grape distilled spirits. The recipe is a secret, and was created by the young Maria Scala in 1845 in Milan as a medicine. Scala's name became Maria Branca through marriage, and the product's name was born. The Fernet Branca is still produced in Milan by the company Fratelli Branca, overseen by the Branca family.

The drink has been popular in San Francisco since before prohibition but is enjoying a new surge in popularity after being named the favourite drink of the 2007 US Open winner Angel Cabrera. The drink was also the subject of a comedy routine of the same name from Bill Cosby's album Fat Albert, in which he describes his own experiences with the drink.

Myrrh is a yellowish-red sweet-smelling resin and is often used as incense. It oozes from damaged bark of certain trees in the genus Commiphora which grow in Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia. It was said that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a year's worth of Myrrh at the funeral of his wife and Pliny the Elder refers to myrrh as being one of the ingredients of perfumes. Myrrh was also used to fumigate wine jars before bottling in Roman times.

If you prefer a lighter and less medicinal digestif then try Sauternes. Although these wines are known as dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity which makes them great aperitifs and digestifs. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey and the finish lasts on the palate for a long time. Their colour is gold which darkens with time to a deep copper. The wine should be served chilled at around 11ºC. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades. Try Chateau Sainte Hélène (£15.49) – it is a lovely Sauternes with a real orange tang to it. It has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey and is a wine that you will really savour.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Christmas Rose and Domaine du Ricaud Bordeaux Blanc

The Christmas Rose isn't a rose at all but a Hellebore that blooms in the depths of winter. Legend has it that it sprang from the frozen soil of Bethlehem in the midnight hush that attended the Nativity. A little shepherdess named Madelon was tending her sheep that night and the wise Men and Shepherds passed her carrying their gifts for the Christ Child. Madelon began to weep as she had nothing to give. An angel, seeing her tears, brushed away the snow revealing the most beautiful white flower tipped with pink - the Christmas rose.

Especially in Germany, the rose is an emblem of Christ and this 15th century poem refers to the legend:

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
as those of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Gardening Express has the Christmas Rose – amongst many other plants to give at Christmas – and you can order online. You can also send Christmas gifts from www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk - Domaine de Ricaud Bordeaux Blanc is a lovely white wine: the aromas from this slightly pale, golden coloured, easy drinking white, are all of ripe soft fruits and blossoms. In the mouth it offers a good, full, taste of soft juicy fruits. It has well balanced acidity and one glass will simply not be enough!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Christmas Poinsettias and Château Puyanché

Poinsettias have become traditional Christmas plants in the UK and their red bracts (leaves) have become associated with Father Christmas's coat and robins' breasts. They actually come from Mexico and the Christmas connection to poinsettias comes from a Mexican legend. The symbol of Christmas in Mexico is the Nativity – the reproduction of the stable and manger where Christ was born. This beautiful custom is said to have been originated, using real people and animals, by Saint Francis of Assisi on Christmas Eve in AD 1224. The legend says that once upon a time a child grieved because she had no flowers to take to the manger of the Nativity. As she cried, an angel appeared and said: "Lovely child, weep no more. Go pluck a weed from the roadside, bring it to the altar, and wait." The little girl arose, did as the angel had commanded, and when she had placed her weed before the altar it was transformed into a tall beautiful plant bearing a whorl of brilliant scarlet flowers at the top. They gave the flower the name of Flores de Noche Buena which means "Flower of the Holy Night". That is why the poinsettia is prized above all Mexican flowers at Christmas.

The Poinsettia was brought to the USA by amateur botanist and first Ambassador to Mexico, Dr Joel Poinsett, in 1825 – who gave his name to the plant. They were used by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes and for making dye. Poinsettias are 'short day plants', meaning they flower when there are less than 12 hours' daylight, to ensure the minimum of competitors of pollinating insects.

If you are thinking of giving a gift at Christmas why not give a bottle of Château Puyanché with your poinsettia? It's a lovely claret - dark garnet in colour with the aromas of blackberry and plum compotés, leather and spices. Château Puyanché is a supple and complex wine, well balanced and silky. As an aromatic wine it will go well with many Christmas dishes including your turkey!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Holly and Wine – Le Roc du Chateau Pellebouc

Holly was brought by the Romans to Britain and it was a popular Saturnalia gift. In Medieval times holly was often used to decorate the Wassail Cup. It was said to have originated with the 5th century legend of the beautiful Saxon Rowena, who toasted the health of the Brythonic King Vortigern with the words Wæs hael (your health!). In early times the Wassail would have been made with mead and spices but in Medieval times it resembled mulled wine.

If you are going a-wassailing this festive season then a bottle of Le Roc du Chateau Pellebouc £8.75 – (a saving of £3.30 on the recommended price at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk) would not go amiss. It's a beautifully balanced, gold medal winning wine. It has notes of spice, raspberries, damsons and blackcurrants and has a deep, intense purple colour.

The word holly is derived from the Saxon word 'holen' meaning holy and some say that the sharp leaves symbolized the crown of thorns and the red berries symbolized the blood of Christ. It is also said that holly wood was used to construct Christ's cross. One legend says that the berries the holly bore were once white but turned red in remembrance of Christ's blood, whilst the leaves became symbolic of everlasting life.

In olden days Holly was brought into the house variously to protect the home from malevolent faeries or to allow faeries to shelter in the home without friction between them and the human occupants. Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year. (Good job we have both in the garden!)

Hollies were frequently left uncut in hedges when these were trimmed. A more arcane reason for this was to obstruct witches who were known to run along the tops of hedges, though more practically farmers used their distinctive evergreen shapes to establish lines of sight during winter ploughing. Apparently the Duke of Argyll even had a prospective road rerouted to avoid cutting down a distinctive old holly in 1861.

Holly trees were traditionally known for protection from lightning strikes, to which end they were planted near a house. In European mythology, holly was associated with thunder gods such as Thor and Taranis. We now know that the spines on the distinctively-shaped holly leaves can act as miniature lightning conductors, thereby protecting the tree and other nearby objects. Modern science occasionally catches up with an explanation for what may previously have been dismissed as superstitious lore!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Ivy and Wine – Chateau Pessan

Bacchus, the Roman God of wine, traditionally wears the leaves of the grape vine as a garland on his head but this is only his summer attire. In winter he wears the ivy. Ivy was thought to bring good luck and joy. Like other evergreens, ivy was seen as a symbol of eternal life. Growing the plant on the outside walls of a house was believed to be a deterrent against misfortune. However, if it died, it was thought that financial trouble was approaching.

I don't know what Bacchus's favourite wine was but I am guessing it was red. If he had the chance to sample Château Pessan 2005 £12.99 I think he would have loved it! It's a sumptuous and sensuous red which ages very well indeed – if you can resist the urge to drink it straight away! It is a velvety wine, deep and dense, perfectly balanced with hints of black fruits, spice, coffee, smoke, eucalyptus, pepper and oak. Perfect for Christmas! (You can save £3.50 off the recommended price at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk)

Ironically perhaps, despite being the symbol of Bacchus, ivy did manage to find its way into church buildings where holly and mistletoe didn't. Look carefully at decorative leaf patterns in churches - you are more likely to find ivy than any of the other evergreen varieties.

Westminster Abbey is home to a fine example, as is Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire where visitors can see a stone goat tucking in to an ivy leaf lunch.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Mistletoe and Wine - Chateau Sainte Hélène

Nowadays the Christmas decorations are glittering in the shops well before the beginning of December but in times past winter greenery was not allowed over the threshold of many houses until Christmas Eve for fear of ill luck. Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire is holding its annual Mistletoe Auctions on 25th November, 2nd and 9th December and the Mistletoe Festival starts 6th December. You'll find the traditional Holly and Ivy there too. If you can't get there then try shopping online with Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise. Luckily for us the old apple orchards around here are festooned with spherical balls of mistletoe so provided Nick is happy to hop up the ladder we can gather own.

As for a wine to drink under the mistletoe why not try a luscious sweet Sauternes? Chateau Sainte Hélène is a lovely one which retails at £15.49 (£4.50 cheaper than the recommended price). It has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey and you can buy it at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk with free delivery until Christmas.

Mistletoe is connected to wine via the Romans and their bacchanalia during the festival of Saturnalia which celebrated the Winter Solstice. This festival honoured Saturn and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.

In the 18th century the bough was transformed into a 'kissing ball' under which hopeful young women waited for a kiss. The girl who received 7 kisses from 7 different men would marry one of them within the year. In Victorian times the kissing continued but for every kiss a berry had to be removed and when there were no more berries there were no more kisses.

The common name, Mistletoe, is derived from Old English—“mistle” meaning drizzle or mist (quite appropriate for our weather at the moment !) plus “tan” which means twig. As the Roman Empire crumbled and Christianity spread, a rumour began in France that the cross upon which Jesus died was made of mistletoe. Mistletoe is also associated with peace making - during the time of the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers would lay down their arms under the mistletoe and embrace their enemies.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Fireworks and Fizz

The ritual of fireworks is inextricably linked with Guy Fawkes' Night, but their origin is 6th-century China where, it is said, a cook had accidentally mixed and lit three common kitchen ingredients (potassium nitrate or saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal) within a bamboo shoot. (They don’t like common kitchen ingredients to me!) The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486. They became very popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and have been a tradition of Guy Fawkes' Night since 1677.

Interestingly the most dangerous fireworks-related tragedy in the world occurred in France on May 16th in 1770, during the marriage of King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette. After the celebratory fireworks show, there was a stampede where approximately 800 people where killed.

Fireworks were not the only fizz that the royal couple enjoyed – the Champagne saucer is said to have been modelled on Marie Antoinette's breast and it's rumoured that both the King and Queen drank a glass of Champagne with their final meal before facing the guillotine. Champagne is actually best drunk out of a flute glass as it tends to go flat in the saucer. Why not try Phillipe Seconde’s Champagne Vintage Brut Millesimes - it is produced just down the road from Moët and Chandon and is half the price! It's a fantastic Champagne full of fruity bubbles – a golden glassful of nectar.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Guy Fawkes, Toffee Apples and Sparklers

Did you know that until 1959, it was illegal not to celebrate the date of Guy Fawkes arrest in England? The guy on top of your bonfire was not originally put there to commemorate Guy Fawkes as you would think but Pope Paul V, who after the Gunpowder Plot refused to allow Catholics to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. So, presumably, the traditional cry of 'Penny for the guy, mister?' was never uttered by children until relatively recently.

Centuries ago children were allowed free rein at this time as the night before Guy Fawkes' Night was known as Mischief Night, when groups of young children roamed their neighbourhood looking for mischief and playing pranks. Children would also blacken their faces as Guy Fawkes might have done when he waited to blow up Parliament. The bonfire was originally known as a 'bone fire', to signify the 'bones' of the effigy. However, bonfires had been burnt at this time of year long before Guy Fawkes' day as they were an essential part of Halloween, which falls less than a week earlier.

Here's a straight forward recipe for Toffee Apples – and as for Sparklers . . . why not try a glass of sparkling wine? Crémant d’Alsace is a sparkling wine from the north of France cremant is the French word for "creaming" - this means that it is made with slightly more than half the pressure of champagne. This doesn’t give it any less sparkle but makes a wine with a fizzy mousse of bubbles and a delicious refreshing tingle on the tongue. Crémant d’Alsace is the market leader in at-home sales of AOC sparkling wines in France. It’s an undiscovered gem here in the UK. It’s a favourite of those vintners who make Champagne and you’ll find it gracing most celebrations and parties in France.

Toffee Apples

6 Coxes apples
6 wooden sticks (like ice-lolly sticks)
225g granulated sugar
100ml water
30g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp mixed nuts, finely chopped

Push the wooden sticks halfway into the apples at the stalk end. Put the sugar and water in a thick-bottomed pan and dissolve the sugar over a gentle heat.

Add the butter and syrup and bring to the boil. Boil without stirring until the toffee reaches the soft-crack stage or 290F. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the nuts. Dip each apple into the toffee, one by one. Make sure each apple is well coated and leave to harden on a baking try lined with baking parchment.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bonfire Night, Meteors and Champagne!

This is the night when Dads all over the world come into their own. I think there must be an in-built pyromaniac inside every man on the planet. In the Summer they are the Kings of the Barbeque and in Winter they are the Lords of the Bonfire - and any other incendiary device they can lay their hands on. This year – if you are lucky – you might catch sight of a celestial display taking place in space between the glittering bursts of fire works. The Taurid meteor shower is expected to be particularly good this year with meteors shooting across the sky and fire balls brighter than Venus.

The Taurid meteors are named after the constellation Taurus, because their paths can be traced back to that area of sky. They are sometimes known as Halloween Fire Balls and could have been responsible for the Star of Bethlehem.

So, given this dazzling display in the heavens what wine would you drink under the stars? Why, Champagne of course! Dom Perignon, the French Benedictine Monk credited with creating the first Champagne cried out “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” when he saw the bubbles sparkling in his wine.

Champagnes to toast the shooting stars with are the Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut made from the red grape Pinot Noir. It is the colour of gold with fine bubbles with the intoxicating scent of spices, wheat, fresh flowers, plums and white fruits. Alternatively Champagne Grand-Reserve Brut has a drier, lighter taste being made with 33% Chardonnay and 72% Pinot Noir. It has an intense bouquet of fruit and a lovely lingering full bodied dry aftertaste.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

New Wines for Christmas – Fleur de Luze

Little did I realise that the trip to Bordeaux Nick and I made last summer would lead us to find Fleur de Luze – a lovely, lively, fresh and fruity white wine. The wine is made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown on clay and limestone soils. Fleur de Luze is a clear, crystalline pale gold colour with a very clean citrus, lychee, and mango bouquet. It has a long, fruity after taste which follows through with a slight hint of ripe grapefruit and a refreshingly slight touch of fizz.

Fleur de Luze is made by The Grands Vins de Gironde Group which co-incidentally owns Château Senailhac where Sue and I stayed. The GVG was formed in 1991 by the merger of several Bordeaux wine merchants and is made up of 8 firms and subsidiaries derived from original wine merchants, and each has its own special features. Maison de Luze is one of these and was founded in 1820 by Baron Alfred de Luze, Grand Duke of Hessen. At the time, the port of Bordeaux was expanding rapidly and the wine trade brought great wealth to the city. A large number of merchants established themselves at the heart of the business activity on the Quai des Chartrons, on the north side of Bordeaux, facing the Garonne, and Alfred de Luze was one of these. He soon became a big name in the trade, one of the pioneers without whom Bordeaux wines would not have acquired such a reputation.

Fleur de Luze can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with a seafood platter, Mediterranean prawns or grilled fish such as shad grilled on a barbecue or scampi. It's best served well-chilled at around 9°-10 °C. Why not visit the Recipes at Bordeaux-Undiscovered to discover some great food and wine pairing ideas for this wine?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

New Wines for Christmas – Chateau Sainte Helene

Nick is really delighted to have this Sauternes at Bordeaux-Undiscovered. Château de Sainte Hélène is the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle (see Nick's Blog Discovering M de Malle). Sainte Hélène has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey. It is made by the same team as the first wine and the cultivation of the vineyard is carried out with the same measure of rigorous attention and meticulous care. The wine is made following the same classical tradition as for great Sauternes and is the result of a draconian selection process.

Château de Sainte Hélène is produced from vines that are 10 to 15 years old and the grapes are 68% Semillon, 29% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle. However the variations in proportion used in the final blend may fluctuate between 10% and 15 %, depending upon the vintage, in order to benefit from the various characteristics desirable in the wine : youthfulness, freshness and finesse. Only grapes fully infected by Noble Rot, botrytis cinerea, are vintaged by successive selective pickings.

Sauternes is 25 miles south east of the city of Bordeaux and is in Graves and is famous for producing sweet dessert wines. Sauternes lies in the hollow where the river Garonne and its tributary the Ciron converge and the different temperatures from the two river meet to produce mist that descends upon the vineyards from dusk till dawn. The mist helps the development of the botrytis cinerea fungus (known as noble rot). Noble Rot makes the the grape concentrate the flavours and sugars whilst keeping a high level of acidity. To learn more about Sauternes visit Interest In Wine – our sister site – which has lots of information on Bordeaux and its appellations.

Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Château Sainte Hélène can accompany fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as Roquefort cheese. Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine. Why not visit the Recipes at Bordeaux-Undiscovered to discover some great food and wine pairing ideas for this wine?