Waste Not, Want Not

farmhousefareI have wanted to write about this wonderful recipe book since this summer, when I found it in the much-loved Scottish cottage spouse and I usually spend our holidays: Farmhouse Fare. Recipes from Country Housewives by Farmers Weekly, originally published in 1935, reprinted in 1976.

Before typing these lines, I wondered if, and as I supposed the answer would be yes, how in our difficult economic times housewives (male and female) are trying to make ends meet. But then my computer screen started to scream: ASK JAMIE, STUPID!

Yes, the row has reached the Dutch shores all right. For those not in the know: Jamie Oliver, famous British chef, has made some less sensible remarks about poor people, big tellies and bad eating habits while promoting his new book and TV series Save with Jamie. Shop smart. Cook clever. Waste Less. He has apologized and said that, though he doesn’t always say the right thing, he has the best intentions. Let’s believe him, even if it’s a pity the book is well above the means of those for whom it is intended (£26). (When is the last time you have done something for the poor? Or I, for that matter?)

In the 1930s country housewives made ends meet without much of a fuss. Everything was used: berries, drippings, the pulp left in a jelly bag, a sheep’s head, rooks (breast and legs only, the other parts being way too bitter). Farmhouse Fare provides numerous recipes for meat dishes (see, e.g., the chapter on Pig Curing and By-Products), preserves, cakes and other sweet bits, but no luxury here and no fancy ingredients. Sultanas, nutmeg, and ginger are the main flavourings. Maybe you consider cream a luxury. They sure didn’t. They almost drowned in dairy products. Puddings are always said to be ‘delicious with hot milk poured over it.’ Mind you, they even put milk in their tea.

Before revealing their drinks business, let me share with you one recipe by Miss H. Stuart of Wigtownshire, Scotland: Hatted Kit. Do not despair if you don’t happen to have a cow at hand.

‘Warm slightly over the fire two pints of buttermilk. Pour it into a dish and carry it to the side of a cow. Milk into it about 1 pint of milk, having previously put into the dish sufficient rennet for the whole.

After allowing it to stand for a while, lift the curd, place it on a sieve, and press the whey through until the curd is quite stiff. Season with sugar and nutmeg before serving. Whip some thick cream, season it also with a little grated nutmeg and sugar, and mix gently with the curd. This dish can quite well be made without milking the cow into it, although direct milking puts a better “hat” on the Kit.’

I rest my case. Let’s focus instead on some non-lactose drinks that are more in line with the theme of this blog. As nearby off licences were rare, the country housewives brew the booze themselves. Not from grapes but from, well, what not: agrimony, red clover, crab apple, elderflower, parsnip (‘an excellent imitation of champagne’) and the outside pieces of celery:

‘There is always a waste of the outside pieces of celery: here is a recipe which makes from them an excellent wine, and is also good for those who suffer from rheumatism. (…) leave for a year and bottle off when it will be ready for use.’

For some reason I didn’t pen down Mrs. Scarlett’s instructions but you need not worry. ‘Celery wine’ gives almost 6,000 hits. The tradition is still thriving, so it seems, though I bet whole celery stalks are used nowadays, not just the outside pieces.

Farmhouse Fare is for sale via Amazon, for £2.81 (that is inclusive of £2.80 UK delivery). Hope to receive mine soon.

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, September 2013)

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A Dance to the Music of Wine

holzappelIf you think tasting wine is fun, read the following instructions (from Wijnproeven voor beginner en gevorderde [Wine Tasting for Beginners and Advanced] by Robert Leenaers and Albert Holtzappel (2000)—silly title, by the way, it’s either or):

‘One tastes better with an empty stomach (…) a serious tasting should preferably start in the morning, before lunch. (…) Coffee before the tasting is not recommended. (…) Eating during the session is out of the question. (…) Bread is less dangerous due to its lighter taste, but remains undesirable.’

And on they go about the right place (kitchen), light (daylight), colours (white, walls too), odour (none whatsoever) and sound (talking is allowed during ‘designated moments’ only, no music, no other noises). Needless to say swallowing is prohibited and the spittoon should not contain sawdust (odour!).

Not an event to invite one’s friends to.

Some of these prohibitions are quite understandable. One cannot taste next to someone smoking a cigar or exuding whiffs of Chanel No. 5. Not to swallow the wine is good advice and not only because of that empty stomach. And people talking can be a nuisance (‘Have you tasted that red one, nr. 7, no, nr. 8, yet? Oh, you’re still doing the whites? Well, I thought this one to have way more tannins than the last one and that’s odd, as…’). One needs to concentrate.

Music not only undermines your ability to concentrate but also interferes with other sensory perceptions. It may even cause irritation and lead to a negative judgement, Leenaers and Holtzappel argue.

Prof. Adrian C. North goes one step further. In his ‘The Effect of Background Music on the Taste of Wine’ (2011, on which I stumbled via an article in the WSJ) he shows that students rated a wine more Zingy/Fresh while listening to Zingy/Fresh music and more Mellow/Soft if listening to Mellow/Soft music.

So a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau with Nirvana in my ears would taste like an oak-barrelled Australian monster, I guess. But would it to everyone? You may want to be careful if you think you have just found a way to upgrade your lesser-quality wines. According to North ‘music can only be an effective influence on perception to the extent that its communicative intent is understood by participants’. That means that an average, OK wine tasted to the sound of Byrd’s ‘Mass for Five Voices’ would be rated ‘rather dull’ by someone who is more into symphonic music and ‘subtle, refined’ by an admirer of so-called early music.

But then it is not just music that influences one’s appreciation of a wine. In March this year I was offered a Pinot Grigio with a Vitello Tonato (see my A Perfect Wine List). Though it paired all right with the Vitello, I thought not much of it. Last month I was poured the same wine. Same restaurant, same company, same ‘after a day of hard work’, but this time it was a gorgeous summer evening and we were sitting outside. The Pinot Grigio turned out to be an almost frivolous, zesty wine with a fresh-fruity nose.

Leenaers and Holtzappel do have a point—for the professional taster, that is.

(Previously published on my blogspot site, August 2013)

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The Colour Purple

This is the sort of posting one should write three weeks before Passover, to help those who don’t give kashrut a second thought but find themselves confronted with beloved friends who do. At least on Passover. Compared to cleaning the house and getting hold of kosher-for-Pesach dishware, finding dry, affordable and religiously as well as politically kosher-for-Pesach wine may seem peanuts. But the Netherlands aren’t Israel or the States, so one does need to spend some time searching the Internet.

This year I was in charge of the Passover preparations and all went well except for the pork sausage that I somehow left hanging on the wall. (Did I mention this was a vegetarian happening?) At WijnBox.nl I found a choice of kosher Israeli wines, from which I selected a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Muscat and a red blend of Merlot and Argaman.

Argaman (Hebrew: ארגמן‎), as in the purple yarn God wants to be endowed with (Exod. 25:4), as in the fine purple linen tied with silver rings to pillars of marble of Ahasuerus’ palace in Shushan (Esther 1:6) and the hair of the beloved, in which kings get entangled (Songs 7:6). The name of this royal grape may be old, the variety itself is not. Grown in Israel since the 1970s it is a crossing of Carignan and, well, here the Wikipedia’s differ and I am sorry to admit I do not yet possess Jancis Robinson’s grape bible. Would she have given this grape a favourable review? I doubt it, as I read somewhere that her Oxford Companion to Wine states that the Argaman is used primarily for low quality jug wines.

Some of my Passover guests would agree. They thought the blend of Merlot and Argaman green (!) and poor. They even demanded a different (if need be non-kosher) wine instead of this plonk. Which of course I provided. No problem at all. The strange thing was, I happened to like the Merlot Argaman. How come they didn’t? Could it be that they are used to full-bodied, fruity, easy-to-drink new-world wines? Compared to such ‘family friends’, the Merlot Argaman indeed is a bit of an acquired taste.
barkanmerlotargaman2

Barkan Merlot Argaman 2011, Galil, Israel (12%vol, € 8,45)
A light-bodied wine (60% Merlot/40% Argaman) with soft tannins and a hint of dried plums. Its animal bouquet reminded me of a Swiss Dôle (I know, different grapes, but that same dustiness). Not really a bargain. Pairs well with charcuterie.

Barkan Segal White 2011, Hulda, Israel (11,5%vol, € 6,30)
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Muscat. ‘Dry white wine’, the bottle screams. Still, the Muscat in this blend does give it a sweet tone. Nothing wrong with that, except that the wine lacks acidity, which does not inspire one to pour another glass.

By the way, did you know argaman is also a handy word to memorize the names of the archangels? ARGaMaN: Uriel (OK, that one works better in Hebrew), Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and Nuriel. Now you know a little Zohar too.

(Previously published on my blogspot site, July 2013)
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Wine&Dine: To Soothe the Frazzled

Nigel Slater, of whom we speak in my house only with due respect, as he is a genius according to two (!) blurbs on his book Appetite, is none too fond of cauliflower. Though he admits one can do more than boil it and serve it with a cheese sauce, he continues by saying: ‘Resist the temptation to undercook. The raison d’être of a cauli is to end its days as a soft and gentle supper to soothe the frazzled and overworked’ (p. 103). He gives no recipe.

Are you frazzled in any way, or a bit overworked? Let me help you out with a soothing and reviving supper. Let’s even resist the temptation to cook the cauli at all.

Dine: cauliflower couscous with fish
Wash and drain the cauliflower, cut it in not too big chunks. Put the chunks into a food processor and chop them till they have the size of couscous (that will take a few seconds only). Put the ‘couscous’ in a bowl (yes, the smell is not pleasant right now, but that will change). Add generous amounts of olive oil and lemon juice and a bit of salt. This is the basis. We need a few more ingredients to turn this into a tasty salad. For example some herbs: chives, parsley, mint, all chopped. A small red (or less sharp green) chilli pepper cut into rings to give it a bit of pungency. Or fennel leaves and a few (black) olives (be careful with the salt in that case). Or…, well you probably got the picture by now. Let the couscous rest for a while so that all flavours blend. In the meantime you can fry or (char)grill the fish (monkfish, sardines or red mullet would be great). It might be a good idea to add some garlic to the fish (the salad has none).

If you’re in desperate need of carbs, do take a break between preparing the couscous and cooking the fish and settle yourself on the couch with a piece of bread and olive oil. If both are of good quality, that’s a real treat.

Wine: Verdicchio
Azienda Santa Barbara, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, 2011, 12,5%vol, by Stefano Antonucci, € 7,25, for sale here.
This Italian white from the Marche region presents itself as going well ‘per cibi poco grassi’, i.e., with low fat courses, and of course with fish. And it paired really well with the couscous. Its mellowed acidity could more than cope with the lemony freshness and the velvety saltiness of the cauliflower couscous with herbs and olives. It did not much for the tilapia I served it with, but I wouldn’t recommend that fish anyway.
Stefano Antonucci has more choice in Verdicchio’s. This one is his cheapest.

(Previously published on my blogspot site, May 2013)

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Making Moor of History

The relevance of history can hardly be underestimated. Still, in wine education, be it in my SWEN 2 text book or various digital or print media, I often wonder why authors bother at all. They usually come up with sentences like ‘The Romans brought the vine grape to [fill in almost any area in France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria]. After the collapse of the Roman empire the church took over. Nothing much changed till in the nineteenth century the Phylloxera blah blah blah blah.’ No real harm is done, but one can do without.

In the case of Spain it’s often even worse. Let me cite my textbook: ‘After the Roman era the Islamic Moors invaded the country. The Moors didn’t forbid winegrowing but they did discourage it. After the last Moors in 1492 had left (…).’ (Michel van Tuil, De wijnwereld, 2011, p. 117 [my translation])

And Wijnbloggers says (in my translation): ‘After the fall of Rome, Spain is occupied by the Moors. Under Moorish rule alcohol is forbidden, but may be used in other products (perfume, cosmetics) and winegrowing comes to a halt, until it starts flourishing again in the Middle Ages with the return of Christian culture in Spain.’

This hurts. After the Roman era/fall of Rome? Islamic? Moors? Left? Forbidden? Halt? Middle Ages? Return of Christian culture?

Let me start by saying that in world history there is only one Moor. His name is Othello and he lived and died in Venice. Furthermore, there are a few centuries between not so much the fall as the crumbling down of the Roman empire and the invasion of the Umayyads in 711. In these seemingly chaotic times (Migration Period) Vandals, Suevi and Visigoths settled in Spain. In time the latter two established kingdoms of which the Visigothic kingdom ruled Spain from 507-711. After 711 all of Spain comes under Umayyad control, except for some smaller kingdoms of indomitable Christians that hold out against the Umayyads. This is more or less the status quo for about 300 years. Then the Berber Almoravids are called in to help the Umayyads against Alfonso VII of Castile. After another hundred years, we’re somewhere around 1170 now, the Almohads, a Berber coalition, take over Andalusia. The Reconquista, the Christian ‘recapture’ of Spain that started in the eleventh century, is said to have come to an end in 1260. Still, Granada remained a flourishing Arabic state until 1492.

So much for ‘After the Roman era the Islamic Moors invaded the country.’ Let’s now focus on ‘Islamic.’

The Umayyads were Muslims alright, but above all they were Arabs, more interested in Arabic culture than in Islamic religion. In the famous lush gardens of their palaces, far away from pious Mecca, Arab courtiers (and some Jews as well) assembled, passing time with politics, gossip, poetry contests and, yes indeed, wine parties. The Almoravids, Berbers, not Arabs, were less worldly. They, for example, made Abū Hārūn Mūsā, a Jewish poet at the court of Granada, flee the city to northern Spain (there lamenting the loss of his cultural home). The Berber Almohads, who were quite puristic, instituted religious persecutions once they occupied Andalusia.

So was Muslim rule bad for business? Not so much in Umayyad times, but wine parties were surely out of fashion from the mid-eleventh century onwards.

I could go on correcting the two cited texts, but I’m not sure you can bear with me that long. Let me instead finish with a poem by Abū Hārūn Mūsā, also known as Mozes ibn Ezra, when he was still at Granada’s court. The translation is Raymond P. Scheindlin’s (in his Wine, Women, & Death. Medieval Hebrew Poems of the Good Life. Philadelphia 1986, p. 65).

Drink up, my friend, and pour for me, that I
May to the cup surrender all my pain.
And if you see me dying, tell the boy,
‘Revive him! Quick! Take up your lute again.’

(Previously published on my blogspot site, May 2013)
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Anyone for Pudding?

In Perswijn 2, 2013 Lars Daniëls wrote on Grenache, a grape with a bright future. Not only because it loves high temperatures and isn’t bothered by fierce winds but also because it comes in three varieties (Noir, Gris and Blanc) and makes different styles of wines. To name but a few: the red one is the first grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (along with many others), loves to share a bottle with Syrah and Mourvèdre (the so-called GSM-blends), goes rosé in Provence, plays a prominent part in Rioja, has a solo in Sardinia’s Cannonau and has crossed the oceans to California and Australia. It’s white brother is a popular grape in Spain and the South of France, is allowed in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape too and blends well with Rousanne and Marsanne. Their natural high sugar levels and lack of tannins have led to extensive use in fortified wines, for example the Vins Doux Naturels (VDN, see also my previous posting). Daniëls admits he hardly ever drunk a VDN before, but that has changed.

He doesn’t tell if he always keeps a bottle of VDN in the fridge, as Carlos Badia of Arnaud deVilleneuve does. “You never know what happens,” he says, suggesting that beautiful brunettes knock on his door on a regular basis.

I know, Badia works for Arnaud de Villeneuve and had he worked for Veuve Clicquot his fridge would have been filled with yellow labelled Champagne bottles, as you never know what happens. Still, I think it’s a sound advice as these VDN are truly incredible. For pudding, definitively, but also as an aperitif.

These are fortified sweet wines, yes, but they are not sticky and as fortified wines go, not very alcoholic (16%). Think ripeness, nuttiness, dried fruit (dates, figs, raisins), orange peel. They go well with chocolate, old yellow cheeses and dried fruit. The older they are (and they should be), the softer the tones.

The 1969 (bottled three years ago) is the oldest one I tasted, and the most expensive (ca. € 70; the 80s are around € 20). Matureness is its middle name. This one doesn’t need any accompaniment. Just some attention.

catalogue_1969Rivesaltes Ambré 1969
Made of Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Muscat. Pardon my (i.e., Arnaud de Villeneuve’s) French: Vinification traditionnelle des blancs mais seul les jus de gouttes sont sélectionnés. Longue maturation en cuve, puis élevage en barriques et petits foudres. Mis en bouteille en 2010.

You can keep it open in the fridge for a few months. But you won’t.

The wines of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve are for sale here.

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)
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Pink for Grown-Ups

I don’t know about other countries, but here in the Netherlands little girls wear pink dresses, have pink toys and ride pink bicycles. Till they are 10 years old. A few years later they (boys too now) start drinking pink breezers. The wine trade has realized that from breezer to Bordeaux is too big a step for this generation. They need an in between, affordable wine-like sweet and pink drink. Different wine regions come up with different answers. Pink port, served chilled, preferably with ice or as a cocktail or long drink, is one I have heard of. Another, one that I have actually tasted, comes from the Rivesaltes.

catalogue_rivesaltes-rose-instant-plaisir_4f885e6618d76_VLast March Carlos Badia of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve, a big cooperation of 350 farmers in Rivesaltes, hopped over from Düsseldorf (ProWein fair) to present his wines to a small group of Dutch connoisseurs. The Caves’ problem is not so much ‘from breezer to Bordeaux’ as ‘anyone for pudding?’, as their traditional sweet wines (Vins Doux Naturels, VDN) are less asked for nowadays. Dry whites and reds (Chardonnay, Grenache) have become more important but they have not forgotten to ‘Think pink’ either, judging by their Rivesaltes Rosé Instant Plaisir 2011. This step-in Vin Doux Naturel of 100% Grenache Noir tastes of strawberry and raspberry sweets. It’s not my style (nothing pink is, really), but I can imagine drinking a small glass on a hot day with a piece of strawberry cake. You could also pour a little over a bowl of red berry fruits and let it chill for a few hours. Some icing sugar to taste and lashings of whipped cream to top it off (not my style either, but that shouldn’t stop you).

Pink is in the air, it seems. Enjoying a delicious dinner lately at Vandemarkt’s, we were poured a sparkling Muscador rosé (Muscat grapes grown in the South of France, made into wine in Alsace at Cave de Wissembourg) with our starter of pâté de foie gras. The sommelier called it a little joke, but it’s a nice one: the soft sweetness (roses) of the wine paired quite well with the pâté, pieces of beetroot, streaks of (farmed!) eel and apple compote.

I’m almost convinced now.

(The wines of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve are for sale here.)

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)
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Wine&Dine: Loire Cabernet Franc & Bavette

I love red Loire wines, be they made of Gamay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc. They often combine a pleasant fruitiness with soft earthy tones, representing a certain light-heartedness, without being unserious. Of these three the Cabernet Franc is the more full-bodied and a bit sterner.

Though Cabernet Franc can be harsh and green, certainly if harvested too early (it’s a difficult grape), Jean-Noëlle Millon’s La Source du Ruault 2007 offers softness and ripeness. This unfiltered and un-fined Saumur Champigny has a fruity and herbal scent, a fruity palate and ripe tannins. It contains some depot (as an unfiltered and un-fined wine should), so you better leave the last sip in the bottle.

The website tells me Jean-Noëlle shifted to biodynamic wine making in 2007 (some years after taking over the business from Millon père) and has been certified since 2010. Grapes are hand-picked, fermentation takes place in concrete vats with natural yeasts, maturation in ‘barriques’.

sourceduruaultWine
La Source du Ruault 2007, Saumur Champigny (AOC), 12,5% alc. I was able to buy it at a discount (€ 7,60 instead of € 10,80) as the distributor needed space for new vintages.

Dine
We paired the Cabernet Franc with bavette, zucchini fritters, slow-cooked tomatoes from the oven and unmucked-about-with rocket. Having enough tannins for the bavette, fruitiness for the tomatoes and lightness to never overshadow the zucchini fritters, the La Source du Ruault proved to be a good choice.

Bavette? Yes, one of the cheaper and tastier steaks (popular nowadays in restaurants—crisis?). Maybe not to be found in the supermarket, but on offer at any decent butcher’s. Cut into small slices (0,5-1 cm) across the grain (otherwise the meat will fall apart), heat a frying (or even better: grill) pan till it’s very hot, fry a minute or so (no need to cook them through) on each side, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper (and if you like a few drops of lemon juice).

 

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)

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Maar: attention

Ik was eigenlijk op zoek naar een boek van wijnschrijver Harold Hamersma, maar de lokale bibliotheek had niet hem, maar wel Ilja Gort grijpklaar liggen. En ach, waarom ook niet. Een Nederlandse wijnboer in Frankrijk (Bordeaux) kan vast een interessante blik achter de schermen geven. Zo kan ik meteen zien wat hij de geïnteresseerde leek op wijngebied te bieden heeft.

U kent Ilja Gort vast wel: een karakteristieke verschijning met alpinopet en peijes langs zijn kin. Zijn wijn ligt in de schappen van Albert Heijn, zijn boeken liggen in de (internet)winkel en zijn kop was afgelopen jaar op tv. In de anderhalve aflevering die ik van zijn programma Wijn aan Gort heb gezien, heb ik hem leren waarderen als iemand die met verstand, nieuwsgierigheid en ironische distantie het wijnbedrijf bekijkt.

wijnsuvivalboekZijn Wijnsurvivalboek is wat lolliger en gek genoeg oppervlakkiger dan zijn tv-programma. Om van beginnende wijnliefhebbers echte ‘wijntijgers’ te maken, geeft Gort de lezer een inleiding in het kiezen, proeven, kopen en praten over wijn. En onder ‘praten over’ moet zeker ook ‘een goed weerwoord hebben tegen’ worden verstaan. Tegen hautaine obers bijvoorbeeld, die tegenstribbelen als je zegt dat de wijn kurk heeft.

Aardig zijn de verhalen over het leven tussen de wijnboeren in Frankrijk. Soms nogal gewild lollig zijn de leesadviezen bij elke paragraaf (‘lezen en onthouden’, ‘overslaan’, ‘lezen en vergeten’) en zijn voorbeelden van over-the-top wijnvocabulaire. Onbedoeld (?) grappig is hij dan weer als hij in het stukje over wijnetiketten zegt dat ‘Grand vin’ als kwaliteitsaanduiding ‘dus drie keer niks’ zegt, getuige de tekst op zijn eigen etiketten.

Raad ik u aan dit boek te lezen? Alleen als u nog niets van wijn weet en een uurtje of twee kunt missen. U hebt het zo uit en steekt er ongetwijfeld iets van op. Maar: attention, om het op zijn Gorts te zeggen, de wijnwereld is vele malen groter en veelzijdiger dan hij u laat zien. Voor hem komt wijn uit Frankrijk, dat wil zeggen: uit een beperkt aantal delen van Frankrijk. De Beaujolais vindt hij niet interessant, uit de Corbières komt volgens hem niets goeds en de Elzas noemt hij slechts in het voorbijgaan. Hij gaat af op zijn eigen smaak. Daar is niets mis mee. Sterker nog: doet u dat vooral ook. Maar wees iets avontuurlijker.

 

Ilja Gort, Het wijnsurvivalboek. Een handleiding tegen foute wijn, katers en ander wijnverdriet, Baarn: Tirion 2005

 

(Eerder gepubliceerd op mijn blogspotsite, maart 2013.)

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S’mores, Gorp and Nova Scotian Wine

Having dinner with perfect strangers in a Scottish B&B, what do you talk about after having discussed the weather conditions? The stomach content of a certain snail variety that is to be found only on Skye is a subject that has come up in quite some detail, as is faith. “Do you believe in the resurrection of the Christ?” I was once asked over a delicious pan-fried halibut. I am always grateful if we can stick to non-gastric food issues.

Being Dutch, the most popular question in this kind of situation, “What would you say is your national dish?,” is easier asked than answered, though I am more confident since I’ve learned the Canadian answer: s’mores and gorp. There is not much wrong with gorp (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), but to call it a dish is slightly exaggerated. S’mores (some more) are probably something one must have grown up with to appreciate. This girl-scouting bonfire treat is made of roasted (or microwaved if you’re not outdoors) marshmallows dipped in milk chocolate and mashed between sweet biscuits.

So when I read about wine from Nova Scotia I had to get rid of (a) bias and (b) blatant geographical ignorance. Can a country that considers s’mores as their gift to world cuisine be trusted when it comes to wine making? Bias was quickly put aside as I remembered I had tasted a few Canadian wines from Pelee Island Winery at a small distributors’ wine fair in April last year. The island in Lake Erie itself I had seen before from air on my way to Cleveland via Detroit, not knowing what kind of agriculture the green fields represented. Some of the grape varieties (Riesling, Zweigelt) and the owner’s diction give away its Austrian background. I tasted a fresh blend of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer with tones of exotic fruit and spices (2010) and a Pinot Noir of the same year that could compete with some of its Burgundian nephews.

Npeleeow, Lake Erie is on the same latitude as Rome and has a microclimate similar to Burgundy, though with more heat units. But Nova Scotia is arctic. It’s the nearly uninhabitable place where poor Scots—driven by circumstances or their landlords—were shipped in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only to find themselves in even worse climatological and economic conditions. ‘Cool climate’ is a euphemism. Here I must admit I thought Nova Scotia to be in the same league as Newfoundland. And indeed the first settlers had a hard time, as winters over there are quite cold. But Nova Scotia is a few miles south of Newfoundland. The summers must have been a revelation to the Scottish settlers. The climate is ‘continental’, the temperature extremes moderated by the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the winter is a force to be reckoned with. As a result wine making is heavily dependent on non-vinifera vines: hybrids as New York Muscat, Vidal and Nova Scotia’s own L’Acadie Blanc. But there is some real vitis vinifera too. The wines of the only appellation, Tidal Bay, are low in alcohol, but not so low in price. They are said to be crisp and pair well with the local sea food. If those first settlers just had known.

For Dutch readers: The wines of Pelee Island Winery are for sale here. For the wines of Nova Scotia one has to go to, well, Nova Scotia.

 

(Previously published on my blogspot site, March 2013.)

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