Friday, 25 February 2011

On The Rocks or Over Ice?

Ice is popular – big brands have all created wines and champagnes that you can drink on the rocks. It began on the back of the Cider over Ice craze that hit the UK back in 2007 which triggered a rash of products hoping to cash in on this growing trend. We had Champagne over Ice with Piper Heidsieck's Piscine, and Moët & Chandon's Moët Ice Imperial . . . and Rosé over Ice with Stormhoek's Couture and Rosemount Estate's Rosemount O – and most recently a Red Over Ice with E & J Gallo's Summer Red (see Nick's Blog Red Wine Over Ice – A Must or a Must Not?).

I read recently that there is even an Ice Cider (Cidre de Glace) which is the cider equivalent of ice wine, made from the frozen juice of apples. Ice Cider was invented by Frenchman Christian Barthomeuf, a pioneer of Québec's small wine industry. He planted the first vineyard in Dunham in the 1970s, and by the 1980s was making Ice Wine (from grapes).

Last year's Bordeaux Wine Festival paid tribute to its francophone twin city, Quebec and this year Quebec will be the next city to host a carbon copy of the event. The date set is September 2012, during the Grand Prix cycling race (when the International Pro Tour will be passing through the city), which coincides with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the twinning of Bordeaux with Quebec.

Quebec has it's own wine industry and in 1995 the Association des Vignerons du Québec and the Syndicat viticole des Graves et Graves supérieures of the Bordeaux region united in a professional partnership. The St. Lawrence river valley, south of the province, is a fertile region where wild grapes and other fruits grow naturally and abundantly. When presence of wild grapes (vitis riparia) on Île d'Orléans and for this reason named it Île de Bacchus, in honour of the Roman God of wine.

Quebec has a four-month long winter which freezes the land deep enough so that most varietals of European vines do not survive. In the 1980s, Quebec wine growers started planting varietals known for their resistance to below-zero temperatures and in certain cases made use of modern techniques to heat up the soil during the coldest days of winter. Quebec wine makers have 6 months to accomplish what in warmer wine regions takes 11 to 12 months to do.

In 1989 Christian Barthomeuf created the first Ice Cider. The orchard and vineyard occupy 35 hectares at Clos Saragnat which sits at an altitude of 220 metres on the south flank of Mount Pinnacle, a mile away from Vermont. The late season apples are left on the trees, at the mercy of Quebec's freezing winters. They are picked when the temperature hovers around -8°C to -15°C, and then pressed and left to cold ferment for months.

Ice Cider first became available in shops in 1996 and today it accounts for about 70% of all sales of Quebec products. There are now about 50 producers. Ice Cider can be drunk as an aperitif or paired with cheeses, grilled fish and apparently goes well with spicy food.

Interestingly an Ice Perry (Poire de Glace) has also now been created. Domaine de Salamandres make a Pear Ice Wine and Philion produce Gaia.

In the UK Dragon Orchard in Putley, Herefordshire make both Ice Cider and Ice Perry. This is a small traditional fruit farm that has been tended by the Stanier family for over 80 years. Without the freezing winters of Quebec their Ice Cider and Ice Perry are made from the frozen juice of the pressed fruit. Their Blenheim Superb Dessert Cider uses Blenheim Orange and Laxtons Superb apples and their Wonder Dessert Pear Wine uses Conference and Comice pears.

I have yet to taste Ice Cider and Ice Perry and would be interested to hear if any of you have and what you think about it!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Chocolate, Fleur de Sel and Cabernet Franc

I recently spotted that the Swiss chocolatier, Lindt, has launched, and I couldn't resist taking a look at what they were up to – especially as they have suggested wine and chocolate pairings. LindtExcellence is running a “Perfect Pairing” sweepstakes and the grand prize is a trip for two to California's wine country which includes a private chocolate and wine pairing experience and a stay at Vintner's Inn in Santa Rosa, a wine tasting tour at Ferrari Carano vineyards, and tickets to the exclusive Taste of Sonoma Festival. They also have 150 daily instant win prizes which include subscriptions to Wine Spectator Magazine. I thought some of you in the States might be interested!

Lindt is one of my favourite chocolatiers and my favourite chocolate (apart from the little chocolate reindeer that you give the children at Christmas) is their A Touch of Sea Salt, made with Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt). The best Fleur de Sel is Fleur de Sel de Guérande from Brittany. This is hand harvested from the salt marshes and only the top layer of sea salt is used.
Salt harvesting in this region dates back to 868 and in ancient times only the women could undertake the delicate work of raking the salt as men were thought to be too heavy handed. Guérande is Gwenrann in old Breton, which means “white furrow”, which shows that salt harvesting could have gone back to Celtic times.

Apparently flavouring chocolate with Fleur de Sel has long been practiced in France (heavily salted butter caramels are a traditional treat in Brittany) but pairing it with chocolate became very popular in the USA in 2008. Pierre Hermé, the Parisian pastry chef known for his experimentation, invented a salted caramel macaron that inspired a small cult among American food professionals in the late 1990s – and he is responsible for popularising chocolate and salt in the late 2000s.

There are an amazing variety of salts now on the market – you can find Pink Himalayan Salt, Smoked Salts – even a Fumee de Sel - Chardonnay Oak Smoked Fleur De Sel – and Salts that have infused flavours of vintage Merlot! (Salt Works is a good site with a wide variety available).

Talking of wine, Lindt suggests that the best pairing for their Sea Salt chocolate is Cabernet Franc Ice Wine. Ice Wine is a sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes which are left on the vine well into the winter months and then pressed in their cold state. The water in the juice remains frozen as ice crystals, and only a few drops of sweet, concentrated juice is obtained, making the wine much more expensive than traditional red and white wines. It was discovered accidentally in the 1700's in Germany. Currently Canada is the largest producer of Ice Wine but this may change as a small town in north eastern China is also producing this rare, rich ambrosia. Huanren, a picturesque, mountainous county in Liaoning province, is currently building the largest ice wine estate in the world.

Due to the environmental conditions needed to grow the grapes for Ice Wine, there are only a few countries which are able to produce the luxury product – as a result, supply falls far short of current demand. As you can imagine this offers quite an impetus if you can produce it and countries such as Israel, Australia and New Zealand are also starting to make Ice Wine. However Ice Wines (vins de glace) are also made in Alsace – where they are less common but most of the major wine makers produce them from time to time. The riesling is the favoured grape, but Ice Wines are also made from gewurztraminer and pinot gris grapes.

A Cabernet Franc Ice Wine paired with the Sea Salt Chocolate is a pairing that I am definitely going to try . . . I wonder if Lindt know that the legend has it that the variety was selected by Cardinal Richelieu and introduced to the vineyard at the Abbaye de St Nicolas de Bourgueil by an abbot named Breton, which perhaps explains why “Breton” remains a local synonym for the variety? It's rather a nice idea to pair a wine made from “Breton” with a chocolate flavoured with salt from Brittany!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Rosé Champagnes for Valentine's Day

How the colour pink became associated with Valentine's Day is lost in the annals of time (Nick has a theory in Why Pink on Saint Valentine's Day?). But pink it is, so I thought that I'd take a look at Rosé Champagnes as the perfect wine to share with your loved one.

Rosé Champagnes are made in the brut style: they might be fruitier than other types of Champagne, but they're typically quite dry to fairly dry. They come in a wide spectrum of colours - ranging from pale onion skin, amber, copper or salmon to deep pink, bordering on pomegranate. The deeper coloured Rosé Champagnes tend to be fruitier than the lighter coloured.

Madame Clicquot (1777-1866) of the Champagne House Veuve Clicquot (Veuve means Widow) was the first to produce and export Rosé Champagne in 1775.

Rosé Champagne has become associated with romance and glamour. Pommery produced a Rosé Champagne for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth at which occasion her sister, Princess Margaret, took quite a fancy to it. Subsequently, she was photographed in Paris with other members of the chic international set, a cigarette in one hand, a flute of Rosé Champagne in the other.

Feeling the pressure of a rarefied demand, the Champagne houses responded. Pol Roger started making a Rosé in 1955 with Laurent Perrier following in 1968, Bollinger in 1976, and Krug in 1983.

Most Rosé or Pink Champagnes are made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Some producers also use Pinot Meunier, a black grape relative of Pinot Noir. Producers who prefer a lighter, more elegant style use more Chardonnay in their cuvées, while those looking to make a more full-bodied, fruitier champagne use mainly black grapes and sometimes make 100% Pinot Noir Rosés.

Nick's recommendation is Philippe Secondé's Champagne Authentic Rosé Brut which is made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay grapes. It is almost strawberry in colour and has plenty of tiny fine, lively bubbles. It is very aromatic and on the nose it is full of fruit and berries. In the mouth it has a full bodied, fruity, almost Kir Royale taste, with notes of wild cherry, rose, and quince. Superb and dry you can drink it as an aperitif but it also goes well with food.

There is more to Rosé Champagne than meets the eye and one of the more unusual Rosés is Oeil de Perdrix . This is an old name for very pale Rosé wine made by the Saignée method. Its name means "eye of the partridge" in French, after the pink-copper colour of the bird’s eye. The history of the wine style dates back to the Middle Ages in the Champagne region of France.

Oeil de Perdrix initially started off as a still wine. During the Middle Ages the Champenois were in competition with the Burgundy wine region for the favour of the Royal court and the lucrative Paris market. Red wine was particularly popular during this period and the northern location of the Champagne region had difficulties competing with the more fuller bodied wines of Burgundy. Wine makers in Ay Marne began experimenting with creating a fuller bodied white wine from red wine grapes that the Champenois could uniquely market. Despite their best efforts, the Champenois did not have the technical expertise to make a truly "white" wine from red grapes, and the result was Oeil de Perdrix.

Oeil de Perdrix spread to Switzerland where it would become a popular dry Rosé made from Pinot Noir. An interesting fact is that the early origins of the American wine White Zinfandel can be traced to a California winemaker's attempt at making an Oeil de Perdrix style wine. In 1975 Sutter Home Winery experienced a stuck fermentation, and the pink, sweet style of White Zinfandel, that would go on to enjoy massive commercial success, was thus accidentally born. Bob Trinchero originally planned to name the new wine Oeil de Perdrix, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) demanded that Trinchero translate the name, so he added White Zinfandel to the label.

Rosé Champagnes were known as Oeil de Perdrix in the 19th century and this has been making a come back as an alternative style to the more robust, fruit driven Rosé Champagnes. You can now find Oeil de Perdrix Champagnes for sale – Champagnes Audoin de Dampierre, Doyard, Joel Micel, Veuve A. Devaux and Jean Vesselle are a few. The colour of these champagnes varies from the palest salmon pink to a blushed amber and have the flavours of brioche, blackcurrants, toast, quince and apricot.
These Champagnes are usually made with the Pinot Noir grape but there is actually an extremely rare grape named Pé de Perdrix that hails from the opposite end of France, towards the foothills of the Pyrenees.

No wine has yet been made from this grape but it has the most delicate pink bloom to its grapes. Pé de Perdrix vines have been found in the Jurançon, Tarn and Gers and it's thought that it may have originated in Spain. The vine has been saved by Pascal Labasse, the owner of Domaine Bellegarde in Monein and Pierre Blanchard (former Head of the Wine Chamber of Agriculture of the Pyrenees Atlantic) who have set up a repositiry of ancient vines at Chateau de Franqueville at Bizanos.

The repository contains old grape varieties such as Lercate, Penouilh, Graisse, Camaraou Blanc, Cœ de Baco, Miousat, Pédauque, L'ahumat, Raffiat de Moncade, Blanc Dame, Claverie, Printiu Aigut and Pé de Perdrix. All these varieties have been collected from old plots in Monein, Gan, and Lasseube Lasseubetat and were donated by the Chamber of Agriculture.

I wonder if there are any treasures amongst these old varieties that will throw up some interesting wines for the future?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Chinese New Year 2011 – Yu Sheng

Chinese New Year begins on 3rd February this year and 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit (or Hare). Celebrations can last from the new moon on the 3rd until the full moon on the 18th when the Lantern Festival is celebrated. My Singaporean friends celebrate the New Year with a dish called Yu Sheng for good luck, which is found on the menu of just about every Singapore Chinese restaurant over the Lunar New Year period. Traditionally it is served as an appetizer to raise 'good luck' for the new year and is usually eaten on Renri, the seventh day of Chinese New Year.

“Yu” literally translates as “fish" but it sounds the same as "abundance” and Sheng means "raw" but also sounds like "life". So Yu Sheng implies "abundance of wealth and long life". The dish itself is a lavish fish salad which includes fresh salmon, white radish, carrot, red pepper (capsicum), ginger, kaffir lime leaves, Chinese parsley, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers or fried dried shrimp and five spice powder, with the dressing primarily made from plum sauce. The custom is to give good luck wishes as the dish is assembled and then all the diners at the table then stand up and on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortunes.

It's thought that the dish originated as part of Teochew cuisine which comes from a region of China in the north easternmost area of the Guangdong province. Teochew cuisine is particularly well known for its seafood and vegetarian dishes. The modern Yu Sheng dish originated during Lunar New Year in 1964 in Singapore's Lai Wah Restaurant and was invented by master chef Than Mui Kai (Tham Yu Kai, co-head chef of Lai Wah restaurant) as a symbol of prosperity and good health amongst the Chinese. In Singapore, government, community and business leaders often take the lead in serving the dish as part of official functions during the festive period or in private celebrity dinners. Some have even suggested that it be named a national dish.

Yu Sheng

75g salmon fillet, thinly sliced – you can use smoked salmon
30g white fish fillet, thinly sliced – you can use lobster, prawns, monkfish or scallops
1 tbsp garlic oil (see below)
25 cm of root ginger, finely shredded
½ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
To make garlic oil you need 10 – 15 cloves of garlic and 1 cup of oil. Peel and slice the garlic finely. Heat the oil and deep fry the garlic until golden brown and crisp. Take care not to burn them or the flavour will be bitter. Drain and cool. This is a useful oil for seasoning dishes.
1 carrot
1 white radish – you can use western radishes
1 red pepper
½ sweet melon
handful spring onions


4 tbsp garlic oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6 tbsp blackcurrant syrup (optional)
3 tbsp plum sauce


4 tbsp fried peanuts, crushed
½ tbsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1 tbsp fried sesame seeds

Prepare the salad by cutting the vegetables into matchsticks (or shredding them) and place on a large plate for presentation at the dinner table. Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside. When ready to serve mix the fish with the garlic oil, ginger, pepper and lime juice. Pour the sauce over the top of the salad ingredients and sprinkle the garnish ingredients on top. The diners must all help mix the salad ingredients to ensure good luck!
As for a drink to accompany your Yu Sheng I would crack open the Champagne!