Know Your Wine Part 3 - Champagne

Posted on Friday 14th December 2018

The third in the series from our 1958 Estate Magazine.

(click image for full pdf)

 

KNOW YOUR WINE

By DAVID GUNSTON
Wine of the Month: 3. Champagne

 

OF all the wines drunk in this country, champagne needs the least introduction. Its very name is synonymous with high life and the special celebration of humbler folk; yet, paradoxically, and of course partly due to its high price, it is a wine really known to very few. For most of us it is the essence of the special occasion, an indispensable adjunct to elation. Yet, this conventional use apart, it is a fine wine in its own right, with many virtues. Many wines have bubbles in them, but champagne has something more. It has character.

So much has already been written about the fantastic history of the champagne wine, and its almost ritualistic method of manufacture, that the ordinary wine-drinker is befogged from the start: he recalls vaguely that this wine ferments in its own bottle - hence the wired-on cork to prevent an explosion - and that it is tricky stuff to make. If he has a head for geography, he may also recall the place-name of Reims.

But through all the fog of champagne publicity only a few salient facts need emerge into the memory. Vines have grown around the city of Reims, in the heart of Champagne, since very ancient times, and the area was always recognized as a special source of clear, light, slightly fruity (but not what we would call white) wines, all of them still. A source of general delight in the Middle Ages, champagne wines had by the seventeenth century become the wines of princes and kings. During the next century they were the favourites of lesser mortals, rich men of taste, connoisseurs and dandies, but it was not until the end of the seventeenth century that their tendency to sparkle was analysed and exploited. The famous Dom Pérignon, working in the 1670's, the discovery of how to encourage the sparkle, how to keep it in the bottle, with a cork instead of the hitherto used wooden staple wrapped round with oil-soaked hemp and, of equal importance, how to mix and blend - to "marry "various local wines so that the general quality of all was improved, is attributed to the famous Dom Pérignon.

The rest of the story is familiar enough. Champagne is always a blended wine, with the best qualities of its constituents overcoming the weakness of others. It results from the pressing mainly of white grapes and sometimes black which ferment first in the cask and, much later, for the second time, in the bottle, when a little syrupy liqueur is added to help matters and to keep up the lasting pressure of carbonic acid gas.

The soil in the Champagne country is mostly chalky and the vineyards are surprisingly small. Hot summers and fine, long autumns are the hoped-for norm, the day-to-day tending is endless, and the harvest takes place between mid-September and mid-October. The original fermentation in the casks, or the "boiling "is aptly named, but the approach of cold winter weather eventually checks its exuberance. Now comes the "cuvee," the homogeneous high quality blended whole, made with the greatest skill and care, upon which the future of the wine entirely depends. After this operation in huge vats the young champagne enters the familiar stout bottles. It is now about May, and the ferments start to become active again in the wine, the more slowly the better. Eventually, this strange secondary fermentation, peculiar to the wine, is complete, and the bottles must stay in the cool cellars, heads downwards in huge racks for at least another year. Good wines stay four to six years, even more. Throughout this time the bottles have to be watched, and periodically shaken to lodge the growing sediments into the necks, whence it is finally removed by the most tricky operation of all, the "degorgement." The cork is removed and sufficient frothy wine to remove all sediment is allowed to escape in a split second. The loss of liquid is made good by the addition of syrupy liquor, composed of old wine and sugar, the actual quantity depending upon the eventual dryness or otherwise of the finished wine. The permanent cork must then be inserted without delay, carefully wired on, and covered with its handsome foil. By French law all such corks must be stamped CHAMPAGNE on the surface of the end in the bottle.

All this care and continual labour accounts for the relatively high cost of champagne which, however, is never unjustifiably high when the bottle bears the name of a sound shipper - always the champagne-drinker's greatest safeguard.

Champagne should always be drunk from the ice, but never adulterated with lumps of ice. It is an excellent aperitif, and a superb accompaniment to fish and all white meats, indeed to almost any good dinner. Furthermore, it is the ideal pick-me-up, and the only wine that may be drunk with pleasure at any hour of the day - or night - which is no small virtue in a wine.

(The C.G.A. London Trading Department, 54--62 Regent Street,W.1 and the C.G.A. Edinburgh Shopping Service, 30 Melville Street, Edinburgh 3, will be glad to supply any of the wines mentioned in this series of articles at special prices.)


Know Your Wine, Part 2: Red Burgundy

Posted on Friday 9th November 2018

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KNOW YOUR WINE

By DAVID GUNSTON

Wine of the' Month: 2. Red Burgundy

 

IF claret is the king of beverage wines, burgundy is the queen. In fact, there would be a good deal of unqualified support among wine lovers everywhere for the view that for sheer richness, warmth, suavity of taste, majesty of bouquet and unadulterated joy in the drinking there is nothing to touch a fine burgundy. But it must be a fine one, carefully matured, and it must be drunk patiently, and held long in the mouth. Burgundy wine is a classic example of the name of a region having been transmitted to its product and thence becoming universally known as a type of wine only - to the detriment of burgundies of quality. More than any other French wine, burgundy must be supported by the shipper's name and standing, or the name of the vineyard inside the commune. Even then the quality tends to be variable, even with wines of the same year.

All genuine burgundies come from the rich area in the very centre of France south of Dijon and around Beaune. The finest of all originate in the so-called Côte d'Or, presumably named after its golden hue in autumn when the vine leaves turn, although it could equally apply to the area's immense value. The Côte d'Or is really a chain of low hills running southward for some 35 miles from Dijon. The vine-yards, famous since Roman times, face south-east to catch the sun, while the soil is a curious mixture of gravel and clay, not easy to work but containing considerable quantities of ironstone. It is largely the iron content that gives burgundy its distinctive body and flavour. Incidentally, too high a proportion of iron, or at least an under-matured proportion, imparts to the wine its one great occasional fault: an earthy, raw tang more associated with medicine than wine.

Two main types of vine are grown, the Pinot, delicate, difficult to cultivate, shy to prosper, and the Gamay, as prolific and hardy as a weed. The former produces quality and gives us all the great burgundies, as well as many soft round wines of worth, but the latter produces more ordinary red wines in abundance. Inside the Côte d'Or are the two famous regions, the Côte de Nuits, and the Côte de Beaune, each producing their own wines. Nuits tend to be fuller, more robust and longer-lasting than Beaunes, which, however, have qualities of softness, bouquet and speed of maturing. Outside the Côte d'Or, but still within the burgundy region, lie the Côte Chalonaise, famous only for its deep red, rich, pleasantly tangy Mercurey, and the Côte Maconnaise, with its full, famous and yet usually inexpensive Macon. The only other area of importance is Beaujolais, with its easily-imitated soft fruity wines, ideal for longer drinking than usual. The red wine served in restaurants and inns in France is usually an everyday Beaujolais, by the way.

The Burgundy vintage results in a fairly slow fermentation in the vats (4-8 days, according to the weather), and in some cases a little sugar or extra alcohol is added, the latter for wines to be exported. Burgundy has for many centuries been a favourite wine, and that sold to us by reputable shippers is of uniformly higher quality than that drunk young in France. These additions, and all the various conditions of sale and labelling in France are strictly controlled by law, which means that everything depends on the shipper and the merchant handling the exported product. The really first-rate burgundies, like the renowned Chambertin, Vosne-Romané and Clos de Vougeot, are inevitably dear, since production is limited by the smallness of the areas with these names, and the demand is always greater than the quantities available each year. With burgundy it is always safe to assume that the best merchant will always buy the best of the best wines.

Burgundy need not be old for perfection in drinking: 20 years make or mar even the most velvety, and many 1953 wines make excellent drinking now.

But drink them all with game, strong-flavoured meat or savoury cheese dishes, and allow both flavour and bouquet full absorption by the thereby stimulated palate. "Bottled satin and velvet "was one connoisseur's verdict on a fine burgundy, and such stuff is never to be approached casually.

 


Over 50 years providing Winter Sports Insurance

Posted on Thursday 8th November 2018

Not a scintillating read, but a timely reminder from our 1963 Estate Magazine that we have been providing travel, including winter sports, insurance for over 55 years!

(click image for pdf)

WINTER SPORTS INSURANCE

 

ONCE MORE winter is approaching and many members will no doubt be making plans for a winter holiday abroad. We therefore feel that this is an apt time to bring to notice the importance of arranging adequate insurance, especially if it is intended to participate in winter sports.

Whilst in the United Kingdom medical attention can, of course, be obtained through the National Health Service, but once one ventures abroad this service is no longer of use, except in a few cases where reciprocal arrangements have been agreed, so that if medical attention is required the fee incurred has to be met out of one's own pocket. This, of course, can mean considerable expense and with this in mind the Association have an insurance policy available to members at a very reasonable premium.

During the past we have found that an all-embracing policy covering baggage, medical expenses, personal accident, etc. at a given premium has been most acceptable to members and this year we have been able to negotiate a particularly comprehensive contract which, in addition to including the above-mentioned cover, also includes skis and ski sticks, personal money (subject to its loss being reported to the police within 24 hours), public liability and curtailment expenses.

The policy is designed to cover holidays of up to 17 days at a cost of £3 per person, or 18-21 days at £5 per person. It is divided into five sections, each of which has a maximum sum insured: baggage (including skis and ski sticks) and personal money, medical and other expenses, personal accident, public liability and curtailment expenses. Should any member require increased benefits or cover for an extended period this can easily be arranged. A prospectus is enclosed which gives full details of the cover afforded under each section, and the exclusions applicable. One should note in particular that personal money losses are not insured unless reported to the police within twenty-four hours of discovery, and note the excesses of £2 10s. under Sections 1 and 2 (baggage and medical and other expenses).

Any member wishing to arrange cover need only complete and return this prospectus to the C.G.A. (Insurance Brokers) Ltd., 54-62 Regent Street, London, W1, who will gladly give members any further information they require.

A policy to cover cancellation and loss of deposits is also available and details of this can be forwarded on request. One should bear in mind that this particular policy has to be arranged at least twenty-one days before departure.

 


Gardening Notes from 1933

Posted on Thursday 1st November 2018

Following this year's scorching summer, we look back 85 years to our November 1933 Estate Magazine for some gardening tips. 1933 was similarly hot, still holding high temperature records in some parts of the country

 

(click image for pdf)

 

Gardening Notes.

 

A Remarkable Summer and After.

 

The driest and sunniest summer on record, though thoroughly enjoyed by holiday folk, has been rather disastrous for gar-dens. There are many gaps to be filled. As might be expected, the greatest mortality has occurred among herbaceous perennials with shallow roots. It was formerly the practice to grow such plants as polyanthuses in exposed beds or borders during the winter and spring and after they had finished flowering to move them to cooler positions for the summer, but owing to the shortage of labour they have of late years been in many cases left undisturbed, with the result that few of these have survived. The Spanish broom was one of the few plants that really seemed to like the hot weather. Accustomed to arid conditions, it has learned its lesson, and with its leafless stems and long taproot deep in the moist subsoil, it flowered profusely though, like everything else, earlier than usual. The Alpines in the rock garden were also affected comparatively little by the drought. They, too, have long roots and nestling among the stones they were able to keep fairly cool, especially those with grey foliage like aubrietias. Trees and shrubs planted last autumn had a bad time. If it was possible to water them heavily at frequent intervals some of them may recover in time, but many have been so crippled that, even if they do not actually die, they will be useless. Shallow ponds in gardens dried up early in summer. In those with puddled clay bottoms, water lilies retained their green leaves longer than they did in concreted ponds with only a thin layer of soil, and even if some parts of them should die, this may not be a disadvantage, for many of them spread so rapidly that they cover the whole surface of the water. Except for a very large pond some of the beautiful dwarf hybrids introduced by M. Marliac should be preferred. The pink James Brydone, which is of American origin, is also a very fine plant.

 

Around the Herbaceous Border.

 

One of the effects of the long drought was that stable manure and vegetable refuse, such as withered leaves dug into the ground in winter, did not decay as they would have done in the presence of moisture, and in con-sequence the plants have derived little benefit from them. It may, therefore, be unnecessary to add any more to the border, though a dressing of basic slag applied now may be useful, followed in spring by another of nitrate of soda. While digging or forking care should be taken not to injure bulbs. To lessen the risk, daffodils should be planted about six inches deep. Pæonies should not be disturbed, but large clumps of Michaelmas daisies should be divided, the outer and younger portions being replanted and the inner and older ones thrown away. Phloxes are also better for being divided, as they then bear finer flowers. If ashes are strewn round delphiniums they will help to keep slugs at a distance. Many visitors to the autumn shows, accustomed in their own gardens to seeing delphiniums only in early summer, were surprised at finding long blooms of the magnificent blue flowers on a number of the stands. These were obtained by cutting off the first shoots in spring, thus causing others to start later, if necessary cutting off these also, and allowing the next lot to develop. In gardens in which many delphiniums are grown some of them might be treated in this way in order to get a succession of their handsome flowers. If any additional plants are wanted for the border, here are two or three of exceptional merit:- Platycodon grandiflorum (2 feet) and its dwarfer variety, P.g. Mariesii, the Chinese Bellflowers, blue or white; Romneya Coulteri (4 feet or more), the Californian Bush Poppy, large silky white with a central brush of golden anthers; and Ostrowskia magnifica ( 4 feet), very large, pale blue, bell-shaped flowers-not very easy to manage, but well worth a little trouble.

 

Roses and the Drought.

 

It was not possible for bush roses to make much growth this year; the climbers with their deeper roots and more vigorous habit have done better. But in every case the growth is well ripened, so, except among very weak plants, failures this winter should be fewer than usual. In-sect pests have been uncommonly few, one of the worst being the leaf-rolling sawfly. As this insect pupates in the ground in winter, the top two inches of soil round the plants should be skim-med off and either buried deeply or burned on the bonfire. Except for a few cases of mildew in susceptible varieties, there has been little or no fungoid disease. Among the roses that were least affected by the trying conditions were Ophelia and its variety, Madame Butterfly. The flowers were smaller than usual, but they lasted well. Betty Uprichard flowered magnificently, and though the loose petals soon dropped - this is the fault of many of the newer roses - it must be considered an indispensable variety. In a list of the best garden roses selected by leading growers and amateurs and drawn up by the National Rose Society, it is placed second, Etoile de Hollande being first. They are followed by Emma Wright, Mrs. S. McGredy and Madame Butterfly (all bracketed equal), and these by Shot Silk and Mrs. A. R. Barraclough (also equal). In a list of the newer roses Barbara Richards is first and Julien Potin second. As there is likely to be a great demand for these varieties, they should be ordered early, for the rule with nurserymen is ''First come, first served.''

 

Sweet Peas.

 

It may seem early to talk about sweet peas, but many gardeners are already selecting the kinds they intend to grow with the object of trying to win prizes at shows in the coming year. For most of them the season was a short one. It showed the advantage of digging a deep trench and putting a layer of stable manure at the bottom, so that the plants might get their roots into this moist material when the soil near the surface of the ground was dried up. Those that were so grown lasted much longer than others for which no such preparation was made. One of the most remarkable of the newer varieties is the white Sextet Queen, so called because it often bears six fine flowers on its long stalk and sometimes even seven. If this multiplication of the flowers continues, sweet peas will presently look more like delphiniums, in which case they will no longer be suitable for the decoration of the dinner-table. If another white is wanted there is none better than Model. Flamingo, rather a difficult colour to describe, but called in catalogues orange-cerise, is another fine variety with many flowers (five) and with it may be classed Welcome. Mayfair is one of the best pinks, Susan is a delightful cream-pink and Ambition and Gleneagles are noteworthy among the lavenders. Blue Shadows and Blue Bell are the best of their colours, while Debutante may represent the salmons and either Sybil Henshaw or Captain Blood the crimsons.

 

Rock Garden Work.

 

It has been stated that, as a rule, Alpines, especially those with grey foliage, withstood the heat and drought better than many others of greater vigour. This may seem surprising, but in their native habitat, though the summer is short, it is often excessively hot, and though the rocks help to retain some of the moisture left by the melting snow, most of it soon escapes as the result of evaporation and of drainage down the slopes, so that the surface soil is quite dry. These plants have, therefore, acquired the habit of producing long deep roots, and to put them, as is sometimes done, in shallow pockets of soil, is to ensure for them a speedy death. If they are to thrive they must be in positions in which their roots can get deep enough not to be exposed to extreme changes of temperature or drought. If they have grey foliage they are evidently inured to strong sunshine for it reflects many of the sun's rays, but if they have tender green foliage they should be pro-vided with shade-at any rate during the middle of the day. The botanical name of London Pride (Saxifraga umbrosa) suggests its need of shade. It is one of the few plants that will flower well without sunshine. For this reason it is sometimes grown among shrubs, but their fibrous roots so completely fill the ground that there it has little chance. No plants are more effective in the rock garden in spring than aubrietias when in large groups, especially some of the newer and brighter varieties. But early bulbs - snowdrops, crocuses leucojums, chionodoxas and Scilla sibirica - should not be forgotten.

 

In the Shrubbery.

 

Shrubs were seriously affected by the drought. Some died, but not all completely, so these may send up fresh shoots in spring; others merely lost some of their branches. The dead wood should be cu.t off. It may not be actively injurious, but as it would offer a convenient jumping-off ground to insect pests and parasitic fungi, it should be removed and burned. Very little other pruning should be done at this season. As a rule the best time for it is immediately after the flowers wither, before the new growth starts. The exceptions are hardy shrubs that flower in spurs in the old wood. In their case any of this year's wood that is not wanted for extension can be cut off now. If, however, the shrubs cannot be considered quite hardy, it may be safer to wait until the risk of severe frost is past - that is, until April or the end of March, when roses are usually pruned. For the sake of tidiness fallen leaves are often cleared away from the shrubbery. That is a mistake, however, for in winter they act as a protective mulch to the roots, and afterwards, when they decay, they provide a valuable top dressing, often the only one the shrubs ever get. It is not advisable to dig close around any that have long been planted, but if the leaves are left on the ground and a little soil is thrown over them, they are not likely to cause much trouble by being blown about the garden.

H. C. DAVIDSON.


Know Your Wine, Part 1: Claret - CGA Estate Magazine 1958

Posted on Friday 26th October 2018

(click on image for pdf)

KNOW YOUR WINE

By DAVID GUNSTON

Wine of the Month: 1. Claret

CLARET-or Red Bordeaux, as the more strictly accurate cata-logues term it-is for many people the greatest wine of all. Certainly it is the king of beverage wines. It has been drunk in England since the Middle Ages-when in the time of the Black Prince part of Gascony came by marriage under the British Crown. The links between Bordeaux and Britain are still very strong, for apart from the French themselves, the British are good customers for, and lovers of, claret. The name, by the way, derives from the French clairet, meaning a light wine, and as such is unknown outside this country.

But good claret is clear, in every sense of the word. No purer, less acid, less adulterated, more natural wine exists in any part of the world, although simplicity is far from its major virtue. For half the enjoyment of claret lies in its complex shades of refinement, character, and breeding. It is rather a shy wine, a little diffident on the untutored palate, becoming truly understood only with perseverance and experience. Then, and only really fully then, does its unique, glorious subtlety become apparent. Claret is a deep wine for study, for its nuances are infinitely varied, and its appeal often attractively veiled. Nevertheless it is an ideal wine for any beginner to start with, for it can be drunk often without expense, and its many varieties may be sampled over a comparatively short period of trial. Indeed a good working knowledge of claret puts one more than half-way towards a fine appreciation of all wines.

At the same time, not even the most expert can hope to know claret inside out before very many years of close study and appraisal. Some would maintain that claret offers sufficient for a lifetime's study.

Claret comes from the great wine-producing county of the Gironde, in south-west France, where the great river of that name spreads out into the Atlantic. All along the peninsula, and around the lower waterlands where the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers join the long estuary, fine wine is made in abundance, both red and white, thanks to the ideal climate, the lie of the multitudinous vineyards, the soils, and the centuries-old experience of the vignerons. The vintage is in September as a rule, and the grapes are pressed in vessels of oakwood. The vats are also of oak, and the young wine takes about a year to become just that. Some cheaper wine is then bottled for early consumption, but the bulk of each vintage will remain in the oak casks for two or more years before it reaches the bottle. No other wine has gained so much from the invention of the cork: for claret matures and improves in bottle to an extraordinary degree, until an old claret (not old when compared with a vintage port, or Madeira, by the way) is superb in balance, body, flavour, aroma, and vinosity.

No hard and fast rule regarding the age for drinking claret can be laid down. Some are ready at five years, others may remain good at 50 years. Experience, and the guidance of a good merchant, will tell with each variety of wine. Since the war clarets have been drunk much younger than formerly - before, in the view of many older wine-lovers, they have anywhere near matured to their peak of perfection. Yet in Bordeaux they often drink their own wines young. Probably most 1947 vintage clarets are now mature, but 1945 vintage is nothing like yet at its best, and it is a crime that so much of this vintage should have been consumed. The very range of claret is always bewildering, without the tortuous byways of classified growths, studded with puzzling châteaux names. There are so many hundreds of growers in the Bordeaux region, most of whom press their own wine, that official recognition had to be given to the pick of them all. Hence the famous 1855 classification, which lists under five growths (or vineyards) 60 top-flight wines, each designated with the name of the château where it is made, and the commune, or district in the area, like Château Lafite, Pauillac, or Château Lascombes, Margaux. These 60, all but one from the Médoc region, are the cream of the red Bordeaux wines, but outside them are dozens, if not hundreds, of first-class wines, worthy of drinking in England, known as bourgeois, or artisan growths. Today, when by reason of extremely short vintages and failures spread over the last two or three years, claret prices are soaring, these bourgeois growths are coming more and more into general demand and are extremely good. They can be offered at a price within the range of the average pocket, whilst the price of classified growths has increased to an extent beyond the pocket of many people. It is a mistake to despise a good wine not in the first 60: many, like Château Laujac, Bégadan, are very fine. In any case, claret knowledge must always advance slowly, and perplexity about classifications is unnecessary.

In the classical order, claret accompanies entrees, roasts, and game. In practice it goes well with any meat, and many savoury dishes, while the unorthodox experts who ostentatiously drink it with fish seem to find nothing strange in so doing. As that great connoisseur, King Edward VII, used to say about these red wines: "You admire their colour in the glass, you inhale their flavour, you sip them, and then ... you talk about them." That is claret.