Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Haunting Wines

With Halloween around the corner I decided to find some haunting wines – there are plenty of New World ones to choose from: Gray Ghost Gewurztraminer from Virginia, and Savannah-Chanelle Pierre's Ghost Red Table Wine from California's Central Ghost, sorry, Central Coast. Australia has its own quota of supernatural activity amongst the vines and Cockfighter's Ghost Pinot Noir from Western Australia commemorates the vineyard's ghost and there is also Hermitage Hideaway Estate Ghost Riders Vineyard Shiraz in the Hunter Valley.

However when it came to Old World wines the best I could come up with were those named for Sirens and Witches: La Sirène de Giscours (the Second Wine of Chateau Giscours (Margaux), Domaine du Clos des Fees Les Sorcières (Languedoc Roussillon) and Gewurztraminer les Sorcières (Alsace).

La Sirène translates as The Siren and I wonder if the wine was named after château's famous muse: Eugénie, the last Empress of the French? The Château was built in order to receive her by the Count de Pescatore, a great Parisian banker, in 1847. Eugénie was the wife of Napoleon III and she was renowned for her beauty, elegance, style, intelligence and charm. Her story is an interesting one (see Nick's Blog Château Giscours and Eugénie, the Last Empress of the French).

In French the word for a witch is Sorcière, which gave us the English "sorcerer" and "sorceress". Bordeaux is well known for its infamous judge Pierre de Lancre who conducted a massive witch hunt in Labourd in 1609. Witches were accused of flying through the air and plundering wine cellars. De Lancre turned Labourd upside down and in less than a year some 70 people were burnt at the stake. De Lancre wasn't satisfied: he estimated that some 3,000 witches were still at large (10% of the population of Labourd in that time). However he was eventually dismissed him from office – much to the relief of the French countryside.

Vestiges of witchcraft still hold on in the rural south of France where black cats are referred to as matagots, "magician cats", that bring good luck to owners who feed them well and treat them with the respect they deserve. The earliest known image of a witch flying on a broomstick comes from France and is in a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Martin Le Franc's Le Champion de Dames dates to 1440, and shows two witches, one on a white stick (apparently a common mode of transport for French witches), and the other on the familiar broomstick.

One notorious witch trial in France implicated none other than the Madame de Montespan, one of the most celebrated mistresses of Louis XIV. When Louis's affections showed signs of cooling, Mme de Montespan is alleged to have resorted to Black Magic in order to get him back. The incident is known as the Affaire des Poisons and Mme de Montespan was accused of using poison and witchcraft to dispose of her rivals. She visited the so-called witch Catherine Monvoisin, known as La Voisin, in 1665. Mme de Montespan supposedly went so far as to allow a priest, Etienne Guibourg, to perform a black mass in a blood-soaked ceremony. La Voisin was executed and Mme de Montespan ended her days in a convent.

Well, I have yet to find a wine called Poison but I have found a wine called Spellbound, made in California by Robert and Lydia Mondavi, Patti McKiernan and Geoff Whitman! Can you think of any others?


lostpastremembered said...

What an interesting article. I do love all those names, since I am a sucker for a great name and a great label... sorcerers and witches?? Perfect for a dinner party on Halloween! The story of Madame de Montespan was particularly delightful... thanks for the great info!

Sue said...

My pleasure Deanna - thanks for your kind words!