Friday, 27 August 2010

Bordeaux-Undiscovered at Moreton-in-Marsh Show – Saturday 4th September 2010

We are going to take our wines to our first Show on Saturday 4th September at the Moreton-in-Marsh Agricultural and Horse Show in Gloucestershire . . . so please come and have a chat with Nick, Sue and the team! We will have all our wines there for you to sample and we would love to see you!

Moreton-in-Marsh is a traditional one day Agricultural and Horse Show which is the UK's biggest one-day agricultural show and attracts around 18,000 visitors each year. The show grounds sit on part of the Batsford Estate (famous for its arboretum) and Moreton-in-Marsh is a pretty market town situated right on the junction of the Fosse Way and the A44 with the Four Shires Stone (marking the historical boundaries between the counties of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire for 12 centuries).

The Show is a superb day out and there is lots to see and do. There are around 250 trade stands at the Show selling everything from farm equipment and gardening gear to designer clothes and toys, as well as a wide selection of food and drink. All of this is complemented by a full day of family entertainment including a Vintage Motorcycle and Tractor Parade, Duck Herding, the Batsford Falconry and Terrier Racing.

This year the Romans will be returning (the remains of a Roman Settlement lie under one of the fields adjacent to the show ground) to entertain the crowds. Roman Tours Ltd ( will present and illuminate the life of Roman soldiers, who were an integral part of Moreton-in-Marsh heritage. Visitors to the Moreton Show will be able to explore a Roman Encampment to experience what life would have been like in Roman times. Children will have the opportunity to participate by becoming soldiers for the day and take part in the battles and marches that will take place in the Attractions Arena.

To add to the excitement there will be a display in the Grand Arena by Guido Louis and his Rockin’ Horse Stunt Team. A mixture of medieval style riding and post apocalyptic showmanship, this group of highly skilled stunt men and women have entertained the Sultan of Oman and King of Bahrain, as well as having trained film crews in the art of horsemanship.

You can see horses, cattle (including the National Show of Poll Hereford Cattle), sheep (including the National Show of Cotswold Sheep), goats, poultry, dogs, crafts, flowers and even scarecrows. Horses have been an important part of the Show for many generations and there are a diverse range of classes in recognition of the many types of horses within the county. The Show offers competitors the chance to qualify for national championships and also the prestigious Horse of the Year Show.

The Countryside & Heritage Area includes ancient craft demonstrations, hedging and walling demonstrations, the Land Rover Experience and a digger driver competition, as well as a "Field to Plate" display - a grain chain where visitors can follow wheat through to bread, barley through to beer, and oilseed rape through to cooking oil. Maybe we should suggest grape to wine!

The Home and Garden Section is the one area of the Moreton Show which allows local people of all ages and skill levels to come and display what they have produced with their own hands during the year. The range of classes includes handicrafts, home cooking, art, photography, floral displays, wines and WI.

So please come and join in! The Moreton-in-Marsh Show ground is situated off the A429 north of the town. You can buy tickets and get travel directions from their website here.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Béarn: The Wines

The wines of Béarn are rarely found outside France which is a shame. Some of Béarn's vineyards overlap with some areas also covered by the Madiran and Jurançon appellations but Béarn produces reds, whites and rosés. The group of communes around the village of Bellocq, (Lahontan, Orthez, Salies and Bellocq itself) may add the name Bellocq after the title AOC Béarn, giving AOC Béarn-Bellocq.

Béarn has some interesting grapes that go into the wine – for reds Tannat, Fer Servadou, Manseng and Courbu Noir as well as the more well known Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tannat (named after its forceful tannins) is thought to have originated in the Basque region and produces powerful wines which age very well. The wines are usually deeply and darkly coloured, full bodied and have flavours of raspberry, plum, smoke, spice and tobacco. In 1870, Basque immigrants brought the grape to Uruguay, where it adapted perfectly to the local soil and climate. It has since become the national red grape variety of Uruguay, accounting for about 1/3rd of all wine produced in that country; more Tannat is grown in Uruguay than in its native France.

The Tannat grape has also been identified as the grape with the greatest concentration of the anti-oxidant chemical procyanadin. Research, led by Dr. Roger Corder, makes the case for oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) as the source of red wine's health benefits. Dr Corder's book The Wine Diet covers the health benefits of red wine based on his research into the French Paradox and the Mediterranean Effect (why people who live there have longer lives – see Nick's Blog Is Red Wine The Elixir of Life?).

Fer Servadou (sometimes known as Pinenc, Braucol or Mansois) is thought to take its name from the French word Fer meaning Iron. I don't think this relates to the wine the grape produces but to the fact that the vine is noted for its hard wood and difficulty in pruning. Another theory is that the grape's name is derived from the Latin word Ferus meaning Wild. The wine that Fer makes is noted for its flavours of blackcurrant, green pepper, red fruits and spice (a little similar to Cabernet Sauvignon).

The white wine grapes of Béarn are Raffiat de Moncade, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Courbu Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet. Raffiat de Moncade is an old grape that it is really hard to find much about – partly because of the different spellings of its name!

It is mentioned that its name refers to the Tour Moncade built at Orthez in 1242 by Gaston VII de Moncada, Viscount of Béarn. This unusual pentagonal tower was once the keep of a castle but is now used as a meteorological observatory. This makes me think that the grape's origins lie here but other sources say that it originated in Italy and that it is sometimes known as Rousselet and Portugal. It is believed to be a descendant of Gouais Blanc.

The wine from Raffiat de Moncade is equally difficult to source but Domaines Lapeyre et Guilhemas offer a 100% single varietal wine amongst their interesting selection.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Béarn, Berets, Béarnaise Sauce, Salt and . . . Wine

Béarn is a former province of France and lies at the feet of the Pyrenees mountains. It's bordered by the Basque provinces Soule and Lower Navarre to the west, by Gascony (Landes and Armagnac) to the north, by Bigorre to the east, and by Spain (Aragon) to the south. Béarn is the home of the beret - you can find the Beret Museum (Musée du Béret) at the entrance to the village of Béarn itself. The Béarn and the Basque regions are mountainous areas, and herders had to travel this rocky terrain with their flocks of sheep. Knitting wool berets would have helped them keep their hands busy while watching their sheep. Once the berets were knitted, the shepherds beat them with "hammers" to turn the cloth into felt. Because the sheep provided brown wool, the early berets were probably brown.

Today, only two companies in France produce berets, and both of them are located in Béarn. It was not until 1280 that the first reference to berets appeared in France - a barely discernible stone figure on a Notre Dame church portal near Orthez, France wears what is unmistakably a beret!

You might think that Béarnaise sauce originated in Béarn but is so named as it is thought to have been first created by the chef Collinet, the inventor of puffed potatoes (pommes de terre soufflées). Collinet had it served at the 1836 opening of Le Pavillon Henri IV, a restaurant at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, not far from Paris. It was named Béarnaise in Henry IV's honour as he was born in Béarn, at the Château de Pau. When Henri IV succeeded to the throne of France in 1589, he was King of Béarn and Navarre. Knowing that his proud people would not relish being absorbed by the French, he declared to them: "I am not giving Béarn to France. I am giving France to Béarn!”

The Romans planted vines in Béarn on the hillsides between Bellocq and Salies-de-Béarn in the second century AD and Béarn owes its origins to the Roman town of beneharnum, (destroyed in 840 by the Vikings) which now lies under Lescar just North of Pau. The discovery of remains of pottery, amphorae, ceramics and kilns for heating salt water to remove salt give a glimpse into Roman life at the time. You may be wondering what salt has to do with it – well, the town of Salies-de-Béarn developed because of salt.

The town has a unique salt water source created by a geological oddity formed 200 million years ago. A legend tells that the salt was discovered when a wild boar killed by hunters fell into the marsh. The boar's corpse was miraculously preserved thanks to the salt contained in the marshes. The salt is thought to be essential to the taste of nearby Bayonne hams (for more information see my blogs Bayonne Ham and Bayonne Ham, the Basque and Gascon Pigs and Recipe.) Béarnais cuisine includes the favourite local dish poule au pot, which, it is said, Henry IV wanted every French family to eat once a week! It is essentially a chicken and vegetable stew, the chicken having first been stuffed with breadcrumbs and preferably Bayonne ham.

Presumably the best wine to accompany the poule au pot would have been the wines of Béarn as both Henry IV and his mother Queen Jeanne d'Albret were extremely fond of them . . .

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Wines Made With the Lauzet Grape: Jurançon

Having discovered that Château Palmer had made an unusual white wine with the Lauzet grape in the blend I thought it would be a good idea to see what other wines are made from this grape. Lauzet is used in 2 neighbouring AOCs: Jurançon and Béarn.

Lauzet contributes to the dry white and sweet wine blends (Jurançon Vendanges Tardives) in Jurançon, which lies at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Jurançon boasts a long wine-making history, with a famous royal connection. Henri of Navarre (Henry IV) was born in 1553 at Château de Pau near Jurançon. When he was christened he had his lips rubbed with a clove of garlic and moistened with a drop of Jurançon wine from which he allegedly derived great vigour and a fervent spirit which were never to leave him.

The Château de Pau is not only famous for being the birthplace of Henry IV but was once used by Napoleon as a holiday home during his period of power. It has a small garden that was tended by Marie Antoinette when she spent much of the summers in the city.

We know that the Romans planted vines in Jurançon 2000 years ago and the remains of a Roman villa lie in the commune. It was also the first place to attempt a wine classification in France long before its conception in any other French wine region. In the 14th century. The Princes of Béarn introduced the concept of "Jurançon cru", that reflected the value of the individual vineyards, aimed to safeguard the authenticity and the quality of the local wines.

Today, the steep slopes hills of Jurançon are covered with more than 1,000 hectares of vines, some at an altitude of 300 metres. The ruggedness of the nearby mountains means that vines must be trained high to escape damaging spring frosts. However the warmth of southern France and the effects of the southerly Pyrenean Fohn winds allow the grapes to become overripe for the production of great sweet white wines.

The soils of the area are largely alluvial clay and sand, being located between the rivers Gave d'Oloron and Gave de Pau and there is limestone to be found at higher elevations. There is also a soil type known as “poudingue” which is characterized by round stones of sedimentary rock, which take their name from the old English fruit pudding as they resemble a Christmas Pudding in shape and weight.

The grapes grown are Lauzet, Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Courbu and Camaralet de Lasseube. Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng are the white grape variation of Manseng. A Charter drawn up in 1220 (the Fors de Morlaas) by Viscount Guillaume-Raymond de Moncade is the first written record of the Manseng grape (Mansenc). The name Manseng could come from “le cépage de la maison” meaning the grape variety of the House.

Gros Manseng is used mainly for the dry Jurançons and young mellow wines and its berries are larger than the Petit Manseng. On its own, Gros Manseng does have the potential to produce intensely flavoured wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes.

Petit Manseng makes wine that is aromatic with the fragrances of cinnamon, peaches and pineapple. As Petit Manseng has a high sugar content and acidity the grapes are often left to hang on the vine until December to make sweet dessert white wines.

The wines of Petit Manseng were a favourite of the French poet Colette, who called the wine séduction du vert galant meaning “the seductive green gallant”. Winemakers in Jurançon picked up on this endorsement and began advertising their wines with posters with the slogan "Manseng means Jurançon means Sex”! Given that Henry of Navarre was nicknamed le Vert galant ("the Green gallant") which was a reference to both his dashing character and his attractiveness to women, maybe there is something in the Jurançon wine after all!

The name Courbu, without suffix, can refer to both Petit Courbu, Courbu Noir and Courbu Blanc, and not all sources differ between the two. The Courbu grape referred to in Jurançon seems to be Courbu Blanc and is a native of the area. I can not find out much about this grape at all apart from the fact that one of its synonyms is Corbeau (French for Raven), that it is susceptible to botrytis cinerea and that it has flavours of lemon, green apple, acacia and grape!

Camaralet de Lasseube is also quite rare and takes its name from the Gascon La Seube meaning forest (also the name of a commune in the region). It is also susceptible to botrytis cinerea and has flavours of cinnamon, fennel and peppermint.

The dry wines of Jurançon are golden in colour, tinged with green and have flavours ranging from lemon, sweet hay, white peach, passion fruit, toasted almonds, acacia and broom flowers. They can be similar in style to those of Vouvray.

The sweet wines of Jurançon Vendanges Tardives are said to have earned a place among the great sweet wines of France, rivalling even Sauternes. The harvest for these wines may not legally begin until 5 weeks after the harvest for the dry Jurançon wines, when the grapes have achieved a very high natural sugar levels. The Vendanges Tardives title applies only to wines made from grape must with sugar levels higher than 281 grams per litre, 50% more than is required for the Jurançon Sec wines. With age, these wines become golden and develop aromas of flowers, honeysuckle, coconut, candied fruit. apricot, mango, pineapple, beeswax, banana, cinnamon, clove and vanilla.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Chateau Palmer and an Unusual White Bordeaux

The Third Growth Chateau Palmer is famed for its red wines but in 2007 it produced a rare experimental white wine to revive the past of the chateau. Only 75 cases were produced and the wine (classified as a vin de table) is not for sale, having been made for the chateau's shareholders. It is known that Chateau Palmer produced a white wine in the 1920s – although the chateau itself has no records of doing so. However some Chateau Palmer Blanc did exist, the proof being in the few rare bottles which the preceding generations have left in their wine cellars. The 1920s label design is the same as that of Château Palmer; only the colours are different, with a black image on a white background.

It's not known on what ground the vines that produced this white wine were grown on but the chateau was owned by the brothers Isaac and Émile Pereire at this time. They were two powerful bankers, rivals of the Rothschilds, who contributed to modernizing France during the Second Empire. They took an active part in Napoléon III's rebuilding of the “new Paris” and built rail road lines throughout the country. Their foremost achievement in the Aquitaine region was the creation of Arcachon, a seaside resort near Bordeaux.

Émile and Isaac made numerous significant improvements to the estate and in 1856 they commissioned Burguet to construct the beautiful chateau we see today. By 1870 the estate covered 177 hectares, with 109 of these planted to vines. Nowadays the chateau has 52 hectares of vines so it is possible that these white grape varieties were on land sold off in troubled times.

The Pereire brothers and their descendents fought off mildew and phylloxera, survived the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and then World War I. Only the great economic crisis of the 1930s eventually forced them to let go of the estate.
The modern Chateau Palmer Blanc is made from a blend of 65% Muscadelle, 25% Sauvignon Gris with the remaining 10% a mix of Merlot Blanc and Lauzet.

Merlot Blanc is one of the permitted white grape varieties that Bordeaux allows in its blend and although no new plantings have been done since 1995 it can be found in the wines of the Entre deux Mers, Côtes de Bourg, Graves de Vayres, Fronsac, Sainte-Foy, Cremant de Bordeaux and Côtes de Blaye. It is said to have been brought to Bordeaux in 1891 by a gentleman named Guinaudie who planted the vines at his Château de Geneau in Virsac.

It was thought that Merlot Blanc was no direct relation to its famous namesake, Merlot, and was named after it due to a resemblance in the leaves. However in 2009, it was discovered that its parents were indeed Merlot and Folle Blanche. The Merlot Blanc grapes are a greenish yellow and can produce wines with a hint of raspberry flavour but are low in alcohol.

Lauzet is an almost extinct grape from the Béarn and Jurançon AOCs (the foothills of the Pyrenees) and is also known as Lercat Blanc and Laouset. A study published in 2007 demonstrated that the varieties Courbu, Courbu Noir, Gros Courbu, Lauzet and Petit Courbu are very closely related. Lauzet grapes tend to be small and are a green colour that becomes amber toned when ripe – they are also very sensitive to botrytis. They produce fruity, spicy wines with strong acidity.

I am not sure why Chateau Palmer used Lauzet in their blend for this unusual white wine as it seems to hail from outside Bordeaux. However old records show that this grape was once known Doset or Corbin Blanc centuries ago in Sauternes so maybe it was once grown there, especially as it is a good grape for encouraging Noble Rot!