Grappling with Grapes

French wine harvest 2017 set for ‘historic low’ after frost, Italy faces ‘one of smallest wine harvests for 60 years’, Frost: Obstbauern und Winzer zittern um Ernte. The weather hasn’t been kind to European winemakers. Frost, hail, drought, heatwaves, you name it, they were visited by it. A major drop in production seems inevitable. Still, if you ask about this year’s harvest in France, for example, it is said to be weeks early due to a hot summer, and of promising quality. (Of course it is. Wouldn’t you say so too?)
I could turn this posting into a harrowing tale on climate change, but I’m not in the mood. I’d rather share with you my own harvest report.
The weather hasn’t been kind to me, either. Frost has damaged two thirds of the crops; yields, however, exceeded expectations. The one vine that was not affected (a Boskoop Glory), produced three topped colanders with healthy looking bunches, an increase of roughly 80%. The harvest was early (first half of September) and of excellent quality (of course).

For a non-winemaking household of two that’s a lot of grapes. Spouse had pondered on making verjuice but somehow we forgot it is made from unripe grapes. Not to worry. We found out that fresh grape juice is delicious, but quite a bit of work to make (destemming by hand; 1 kg makes about 450 ml). Making grape jelly is hardly more work. Stephanie Alexander’s suggestion to add grapes to an olive bread, proved to be a revelation. Here is her recipe (slightly changed):

600 g flour (preferably unbleached, organic and stone-milled); 20 g fresh yeast; 150 g stoned black olives or Calamatas, roughly chopped; 1,5 teaspoon salt (less if olives are salty); 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, olive oil; 300 ml warm water; two handfuls lightly crushed grapes; sea salt
Mix flour, salt, olives and rosemary in a bowl. Dissolve yeast in half of the water. Make a well in the flour, tip in oil, yeast and rest of the water. Knead with hands or in mixer until dough is elastic. Place in lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film or clean towel. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes (it should double in size), then spread dough gently onto large baking tray covered with baking paper. Press down (don’t knock back), push grapes into dough and allow to recover (10-15 minutes). Drizzle with olive oil, scatter some sea salt on top. Bake for about 25 minutes at 240 °C.
Eat with a green salad, a little (white) cheese, some charcuterie.
Share

On y boit une bonne bouteille

In the 1970s I saw a mango for the first time in my life and it must have taken another ten years before I tasted one. Spouse even remembers her first paprika. We have come far.
How far, is described in Primeurs en delicatessen. Hoe Nederland leerde eten (First Fruits and Delicacies. How the Dutch Learned to Eat), by culinary journalist Ronald Hoeben and Roselie Kommers (Nijgh & Van Ditmar 2015). In telling the history of Dikker & Thijs, a famous Amsterdam delicatessen and restaurant, they picture the development of Dutch ‘(haute) cuisine’ in the 20th century. For Dutch readers born before 1970 it is a joy to read about the then upcoming chefs, the clientele, and the food fashions of times not so long past.
If the Dutch needed to learn how to eat, the same held true for learning how and when to drink wine. And though the book title indicates that the focus is on eating, one does get an insight in the way Dutch drinking habits changed as well.
In an advertisement from the 1920s the restaurant claims (in the culinary lingua franca that appealed to the well-to-do): On y mange très bien; On y boit une bonne bouteille. That ‘good bottle of wine’ was not only available in the restaurant, but in the shop too (though I do not know to what extent). Think traditional French (Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Champagne) and the odd bottle of German Rhine wine. An indication is provided by the intriguing list of wines that Henry Thijs offered his guests for his wedding anniversary in 1938. Melon, lobster, celeriac, salmon, sweetbread, chicken, cheese, pudding, and strawberries were washed down by Oppenheimer Goldberg, natur 1934; Champagne Delamotte, sec ou brut 1928 (one could choose?); Château Pontet Pachau 1926; Château Gruaud Larose Sarget 1919; Charmes Chambertin 1923; and a Champagne Lanson père et fils of 1915. Note the vintages: the youngest wine by far is the 4 year old Oppenheimer Goldberg (Rheinhessen), the oldest the Lanson (for which Thijs functioned as their first Dutch importer).
Let’s jump to the 1950s, Amsterdam, my grandparents’ apartment, a birthday. As Dikker & Thijs was not the shop for the upper lower middle class, way too expensive, no Champagne or oysters here. Instead: ‘zoete Spaanse’, a sweet Spanish red, eggnog with whipped cream, raisins in rum, and bowl to accompany diced cheese and crackers with a slice of sausage and a small dollop of mayonnaise. Beer was considered vulgar. Sweet Spanish red was for many their first encounter with wine. Only slowly Dutch customers were exposed to other wines, for example during holidays in France. Portuguese rosés became popular, sherry became fashionable for women, supermarkets sold more and more wine and started to stock not only cheap pinard. The sweet Spanish red remained popular for decades with my grandparents. Change came with the next generation, be it via restaurants, holidays in southern Europe, grocers, or other (outlandish) influences. My mother as a young woman in the late 1950s, having a flirtatious fortnight with a dashing Australian émigré who took her places in her home town she did not know existed, ordered a glass of that same plonk in a pub but was gently corrected. Would she care for a different glass of wine?
As I wrote: we have come far. How far? Lanson, the Champagne brand that boasts their royal clientele, once imported by Henry Thijs for the happy few, is now available at our biggest grocer.

Share

Inspirerend chauvinistisch

Wijn die ruikt ‘zoals het in een ouderwets-goede groentewinkel ruikt die in het hoogtepunt van het seizoen is volgestouwd met exotisch fruit, groente en kruiden’, aldus de wijnmaker. Een neus vol was het inderdaad, herinner ik mij, al rook ik meer groente en kruiden dan exotisch fruit. Dit was geen ‘spoorlijnwijn’, geen makkelijk chardonnaytje, geen allemanswijn. We spreken 2004 en voor mij was deze witte wijn van De Linie in Made, de eerste Nederlandse wijn die ik proefde, een plezierige verrassing. Het was Diny Schouten die mij op de wijnmaker wees, in een van haar columns over de kwaliteit van ons eten en drinken voor Vrij Nederland, verzameld in Het spek van slager Blom (Bussum 2003). ‘We zijn zo rijk, maar waarom is ons eten dan zo armoedig?’, schrijft ze in haar nawoord. Om vervolgens de schuld bij zichzelf (onszelf) te zoeken: gebrek aan warenkennis, geen oog voor kwaliteit en dus doen we geen moeite.
Is er ook sprake van schuld, mijn schuld, dat ik weinig Nederlandse wijn heb gedronken? Gebrek aan warenkennis, geen oog voor kwaliteit, geen moeite willen doen? Een beetje wel. Gelukkig is er pas een boek verschenen dat het mij (en u) makkelijk maakt om die schuld in te lossen: Wijn van eigen bodem, door Mariëlla Beukers en Irene de Vette (Baarn 2015). Het is een inspirerend en vrolijk makend boek dat misschien niet heel diep gaat, maar daarvoor wel de volle breedte van de Nederlandse wijncultuur laat zien: wijnboeren, wijngaarden, wijntoerisme, wijnverkoop (waaronder in restaurants), wijn/spijs, adviezen voor de beginnende wijnboer en een bepaald niet obligaat hoofdstuk over de geschiedenis van de Nederlandse wijnbouw.

Le Coq Frisé, Epen

Rijpende druiven, Le Coq Frisé, Epen

Anno nu blijkt er meer wijnbouw onder Neerlands bleke zon te zijn dan ik voor mogelijk had gehouden, tot in Noord-Friesland en op Texel aan toe. Er blijken zelfs drie wijngaarden te zijn binnen een straal van 15 km van mijn huis. Wist ik niet. Waarom niet? Deels omdat ze nog maar net bestaan, deels omdat ze hun wijn (nog) niet/alleen ter plekke/alleen in die ene buurtbiowinkel verkopen. Je moet wel een beetje moeite willen doen.
En wat heb je dan in je glas, als het je toch gelukt is om ergens bij een leuk klein wijnboertje een fles op de kop te tikken? Over de kwaliteit van de wijn laten de auteurs zich niet erg uit, behalve in het algemeen: die is met sprongen vooruit gegaan. Niet alleen omdat er beter druivenmateriaal beschikbaar is dat het in ons klimaat goed doet (resistent tegen schimmels én smakelijk), maar ook omdat er bij de boeren meer kennis en ervaring is.
Maar waarom zouden we die moeite doen? Omdat, zo schrijven de auteurs, je ook lokaal vlees koopt, en kaas. En omdat de wijn lekker is. Proef zelf maar. Met dit boek in de hand, ga ik dat ook maar eens wat meer doen.

Share

Dao bie de ranke in Wahlwiller

At least once a year I drive through the small ‘wine village’ (as the entrance sign states) of Wahlwiller, in the south of the Netherlands, between Aachen and Maastricht. Even the smallest of villages have embraced city marketing nowadays, with more often than not rather odd if not downright pathetic slogans. ‘Do it in D’, ‘Always A’, ‘T, you’re here’, ‘F, Adventurously close’. But ‘wine village’ sounds different, more fact based. That troubled me too. Though wine is made in the region, and more so every climate changing year, there is not a single vine to be seen when driving through. So when I heard of Wahlwiller’s wine feast, I decided to make a stop.
And yes, when you cross the burn and walk 5 minutes up hill, there is a parcel of vitis vinifera. So there is a vineyard, the annual wine feast, an official wine song (‘Dao bie de ranke’/’At the vines’) and a wine queen. If that doesn’t qualify one as wine village, what does? Still, I got the impression that wine has not settled in the village’s identity, and until now has failed to reach the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.
I happened to be there when next year’s wine queen was presented at the tavern, escorted by Home Guard St. Sebastianus, with brass band, from a nearby village. It took a while before all guards were standing in the right position: ‘Private first class, two centimetres to the right!’ Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. ‘Second gunner, 1 centimetre forward!’ Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Etc. ‘Port arms!’, ‘Salute!’ ‘At ease!’ All meticulously performed. They deserved a drink all right, the master of ceremony decided. Trays with beer were awaiting them already…

Share