Celebrating ....

* CELEBRATING OUR 40th YEAR! * www,junto.blogspot.com * Richard Carreño, Editor * PhiladelphiaJunto@ymail.com * 1.215.385.3512

Monday, 25 June 2012

Fly on the Wall

France: Wine Central
By Don Merlot
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]

We in the West know how important first impressions go. We know we cannot make a first impression on the second encounter. When it comes to wine we have a perception too and we want to see what France has done for the world of oenology. France advertises itself as the wine standard of the world, and wine is considered by most wine connoisseurs as the matrix of modern wine. When we study the wine since the evolution of France.

Let’s start with Caesar and the Roman Empire, we can almost call France the brain of the wine world. Like psychology and the brain there appears to be right side and a left side and it is the amazing that a dual system evolved. This is not to say that Wine in France is schizophrenic but as I have experienced life it is like fraternal twins, and not identical twins, and the fraternal twins I know are dissimilar and not similar.

France has two famous centers of wine that have evolved over the last two millennia. The province in the
 west goes by the name of Aquitania and today it is most famous as the world calls it Bordeaux. The wine in the East that we have experienced since the beginning of the Anno Domani and is in mid France on the Western side; and running from the Belgian & German border along to south of Lyon and is the East side that is dominated by the province of Burgundy. Bordeaux and Burgundy are as far apart as Macy’s and Gimble's was back before in the mid twentieth century in New York. Aquitania became an English taste and Burgundy became the taste of the princes of the Church.

The raison d’etre is not the same. The original clients were not the same, and yet for the next 300 years these wines became the zenith of red and White wines, dry and sweet. Fine wine is the final destination, but the paths to the end user were totally different.[1]

Both sides have rich histories and reasons for being who and what they are. In this story, I am going to focus on Bordeaux. When one jumps to post World War Two, fine Bordeaux was the most renowned fine wine area in the world. But how did it start? What was Aquitania? It started when it came under Roman control in 55 BC. Bordeaux’s first name became Burdigala and it was made the capital of the Roman Province of Acquitania. Roman knowledge of wine cultivation was brought into the area when it was first occupied. [2]

The 20th Century US Baby Boomers who watched those Robin Hood movies with Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone that were made in the 1940’s, 1950’s remember the names of Richard the Lion Hearted and King John and the facts are that they are brothers and shared a common mother: Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitania. History writes that she was a beautiful young girl and prime candidate to become the Kings consort. She was impetuous and left her traditional female role often that offended the social protocols of the noble class that she should have followed. She had a reputation for challenging the female role in current social system.[3]

Well, it was here when England started its 300 year dominance over Aquitania. In 1137 Eleanor the Duchess of Aquitania married Louis the VII of France. We talked about Louis VII in last month’s Fly on the Wall, discussing Burgundy and Bernard of Clairvaux when he launched the Second Crusade from Vézelay in Burgundy. Louis and Eleanor together ran off to the Second Crusade; and after seeing Louis’s indifference to her, she got bored as he preferred the spiritual side of life and fighting Islam; she seemed to interfere with his plans and put up with most of the Crusading meanderings but Louis’s lack of attention caused her to seek that the marriage be annulled.

The reason she was able to convince the Pope to annul the wedding was that Louis and she were related, so they were distant cousins.After being released from this state, she then married Henry Plantagenet, Who was the Duke of Normandy and the Count of Anjou. He himself had a reputation as a philanderer womanizer. (Her land incorporated Southwest of France from the Pyrenees to the Loire, and his land from Normandy to the Loire; this matrimony divided France in half with two different owners – Eleanor took her lands to the new Marriage. Louis her first husband controlled the East of France and Henry who became the King of England controlled the West of France. Henry and Eleanor were distant cousins too but the wedding went forward.[4]
Henry was the son of Geoffrey who inherited the English crown and was recognized by Stephan, a nephew of Henry I, as the heir to the English throne. Henry ruled over Normandy to the Pyrenees, and all of England that William the conqueror had acquired in 1066. With the marriage annulment, Louis and France found that the western portion of France had become part of England. It took 300 years to sort this out. There was constant conflict between England and France.

This history is important because Aquitania was influenced by England. Whereas Burgundy supplied the Princes of the church, Bordeaux became under English control and supplied major customers in England. The consumer demand was different. This does not mean that Bordeaux is not French; it means the gestation and product appealed to an English taste. The growers met those tastes. When we say Bordeaux is for English tastes, it is because the Bordeaux growers were keen on supplying England with fine wine. Yes, the French noble class drank Bordeaux, but the highest volume customer was England (Britain – eventually the United Kingdom) the buyers of fine wine were English.

The grapes or varietals are different. In Burgundy the pinot noir for reds and the Chardonnay for whites wines. Bordeaux had several regions and the most prominent red was Cabernet Sauvignon – which was blended with other red varieties. In St.Emilionand Pomerol developed a strong red that we know as Merlot which was blended with other fragrant and flavorful varietals. The white wines were blends of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. The Tannins in Reds from Bordeaux are heavier and account for the fine wines resting and maturing to 20 years, and in Burgundy the Pinot Noir has to thinner skins and the maturing process maximum is seven years.

A map of Bordeaux will show that two rivers join in Bordeaux and drain as one into the Atlantic: The Dordogne meets the Gironde after flowing past Bordeaux and forms the estuary into the Atlantic. The weather is tempered by the Gulf Stream that offers an ideal season for growing wine.

Keeping in mind that these wines have traditionally traveled by sea, they are shipped by Négociants (wine brokers warehouses).By 1885 the accords created a classification and fine wines were graded and a global wine culture was developed. After all Britannia ruled the world and the seas. All wine growers had an expectation to meet or surpass great wines. The grape or varietal is key to the fine wines. The grower has an oenologist who comes up with the right combination for blending the grapes to produce the pride of the vineyard. There is the Appellation Contrôlée that sets the standards to meet to designate the wine from that part of the province.

Not only are the wines different and the clients different, the glass bottles are different as is the glass or crystal ware. The Bordeaux bottle has a high shoulder; the Burgundy bottle has low shoulders. The stemware for Burgundy a full ballon shape and Bordeaux imitates the bottle if you put the glass upside down.

Burgundy has a Méthode Champenoise style wine that is an effervescent wine; nomenclature was change to Crémant de Bourgogne. This wine is served with appetizers.

Bordeaux has a sweet wine : Sauternes, Barsac and Ste Croix du Mont. The process is known by the Botrylis cinerea, pourriture noble, or noble rot. This is traditionally served as a dessert wine.

In 1453 England lost control of Aquitania after 300 years and all claims in western France. The French rulers at first treated the Bordelaise as an occupied territory. The sense of being part of something else other than France lingered. The English occupied Bordeaux again during the Napoleonic wars when Wellington came up from France.

When Spain opened up the passage to the west that would be called America and Columbus found the New World (after 1492) there was an expansion for Bordeaux by reaching new markets and the ports of Bordeaux became quite busy. In 1678 the British blocked the French ports and cut off their supply of Bordeaux wines. Portugal a longtime ally of England offered to supply red wine to England. Through an interesting development in the Portuguese supply process, brandy was added to the wines (called fortified) and the birth of Port came about, another British taste was created. The town of Oporto became the new supply center to England, hence the name of Port wine.

British involvement and supply of wines from France, Spain, and Portugal formed new opportunities to meet the gastronomic marriage for food and wine of the growing European empires that expanded in to the new worlds andnew markets.
In Northern France Champagne became an English favorite and England consumes more Champagne than any other market. Application of champagne can be a gastronomic rainbow, from dry (Brut) tosweet (doux).English taste are dry and French enjoy sweet champagne with dessert.
In Spain the process of Sherry or fortified wines from Jerez de la Frontera has applications for as aperitifs and desserts digestifs. Sherries became most popular in England and Holland. Sweet sherries are an English taste and dry sherries are a Spanish taste. Many English families who were involved with the growing, purchase or representation of Sherries and Ports moved to the country of origin.

In the New World – America and Australia andNew Zealand the English markets adapted those English tastes to their foods. In New France – Canada, the Caribbean and Louisiana the French colonies incorporated French tastes into their cuisine. In Spanish America the growth of the Roman Church in the new conquered lands encouraged vineyards for sacraments and the Creole or European born in the New World brought grapes from Europe and started vineyards where wine could grow and flourish.

From the Roman world of Aquitania through the development of Europe and the expansion of the New World over two millennia the wine culture flourished.

The Burgundy grapes of the Cote d’Or that the AOC (Appellation de Origen Controlee) specifies are for Red Wines – the Pinot Noir; and for the White Wines they are the Chardonnay; (small amount of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Beurot are used). In the Chalonnais and Beaujolais the red wine includes the Gamay and the some white wines include the Aligoté. The Burgundian oenologists did not blend their wines according to AOC regulations. The Roman Church was the largest land lord and customer of the best Burgundian wines. Following the French Revolution the new State (of France) expropriated the Church possessions and the land was parceled out to individuals and the estates were broken up. The great wines continued under private owners. Burgundy is made up of small vineyards versus Bordeaux which has large estates.[5]

The Bordeaux oenologist blends the wine to reach a specific style. Bordeaux is made up of regions which have their own specifics. There are 24 Bordeaux AOC’s. Bordeaux is 10 times larger than Burgundy. The grape varieties have anAC application. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Muscadelle, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon. [6]

In England a red Bordeaux wine is called Claret. That is very English.

In the 21st Century Haute Cuisine and fine wines will find their origins in the development of wine culture of France and the Customer expectations of the British Empire. Many countries have mirrored the French Cuisine and French wine process, while keeping their own cuisine and wine culture intact.
The French perspective of Burgundy and Bordeaux is summed by Brillat-Savarin La Physiolgie de Goût –“The magistrate , asked he preferred Claret or burgundy, answered: this is a case , Madam, in which it is so pleasant to examine the evidence that I always reserve my judgment for another week.' [7]

The English Perspective on Claret is stated by Keats in a letter 1819. –“ How I like claret!… It fills one’s mouth with a gushing freshness, then goes down cool and feverless; Then, you do not feel it quarreling with one’s liver. No; ‘tis rather a peacemaker, and lies as quiet as it did in the grape. Then it is fragrant as the Queen Bee, and the more ethereal part mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral compartments, like a bully looking for his trull…but rather walks like Aladdin about his enchanted palace, so gently that you do not feel his step. [8]

[1]A Wine Tour ofFrance by Frederick S. Wildman, Jr. pp.176 – 186.
[2]Ibidpp 2 - 4
[3]Holy War by Karen Armstrong p. 215
[4]Wikipedia – Eleanor of Aquitania
[5]Wine Buying Guide 2000. By OZ Clarke’s PP. 157 - 158
[6]The Wines of Bordeaux by David Peppercorn PP 14 - 16
[7]The Wine Quotation Book – edited by Jennifer Taylor. p 75.
[8]Ibid. p. 72.

Don Merlot, without pen in hand, is better known as Ron Alonzo, a writer based in New Orleans.

The J U N T O depends exclusively on reader support. Please help us continue by contributing directly via PayPal, or by contributing editorial content via WritersClearinghouse@yahoo.com. Empowered by Writers Clearinghouse | S.P.Q.R. 1976 Richard Carreño, Editor

Philabooks|Booksellers