Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wine - we taste alot of it on our holidays in France & Italy - here's a potted history!

An introduction to Italian and French viniculture by Celestine Bridgeman of
The Oxford Wine Company.  

In September, we exhibited at the Tetbury Food & Drink Festival, and hosted a talk and wine tasting during the event in association with The Oxford Wine Company. For those who are wine lovers (aren't we all?) this is a potted history of French and Italian viniculture and the wines we tasted. We had a great evening - a good crowd of interesting people who loved hearing about our adventures, our new cooking holidays and the kind of wine we will be tasting and enjoying with our meals.

A view from Castelnau des Fieumarcon, the estate where we stay in France.
John Brough, far left, MD with Linda Kember far right, Operations Manager with our group outside Chateau Monluc which sells wine and Armagnac, in S.W France.

Italy is home to some of the oldest wine making regions in the world – it has been producing wine longer than France!

French wine originated in the 6th century BC, with the colonization of Southern Gaul by Greek settlers. (A large area that included France)

Wine making developed in Europe with the expansion of the Roman empire throughout the Mediterranean, when many major wine producing regions that still exist today were established. During the Middle Ages, monks maintained vineyards and, more importantly, conserved wine-making knowledge and skills during an often turbulent period.
Monasteries had the resources, security, and motivation to produce a steady supply of wine both for celebrating mass and generating income.

Improved production techniques in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in the emergence of finer qualities of wine, glass bottles with corks began to be used, and the corkscrew was invented.

The French wine industry took off at this point, racing ahead of the Italians, with particular recognition being given to the clarets of the Bordeaux region. The French have since worked hard to improve their wines, with huge success. (cultural, economic etc)

In 1935 numerous laws were passed to control the quality of French wine. They established the first AOC system (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which is governed by a powerful oversight board. (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, INAO)

Consequently, France has one of the oldest systems for protected designation of origin for wine in the world, and strict laws concerning winemaking and production.

In contrast, the Italian classification system although developed around the same time, was far less strict resulting in quantity rather than quality wines. With improved rules and adherence this is now changing.

However there is a general acceptance that the French produce some of the best wines in the world. In terms of a wine economy this is hugely important.

A view across the vines from Domaine d'Arton - a vineyard you will visit if you come on a cooking holiday in France with us!


A proud region in South West France

Today comprises of Armagnac country and wines such as Madrian, Jurancon and those we are tasting.

The name Gascony appears on labels of the highly successful Vin de Pays

South West France is a rather heterogeneous region in terms of its wines and how they are marketed.

It is rare to see wines being sold as Vins du Sud-Ouest. Rather, the smaller areas and individual appellations market their wines under their own (smaller) umbrella, in contrast with common practice in e.g. the Bordeaux region.

Gascony covers a large area with different climatic conditions. The areas closest to Bordeaux produce wines in a style similar to those of Bordeaux, and largely from the same grape varieties.

Further south, wines are still rather similar to those of Bordeaux, but several grape varieties not used in Bordeaux are common, such as Tannat.

Finally, in the areas closest to the Pyrenees (where the French wines tonight are from) wines are made from local varieties, such as Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng.

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Colombard 10.5% (Domaine Tariquet)

Domaine Tariquet lies at the foot of the Pyrenees in the Armagnac region in Gascony in the village of Ercé.

The region has a temperate climate that plays a crucial role, its mid-August warm days and cool nights encouraging the development of aromatic precursors.

Domaine Tariquet has been independent hands since 1912.  It started life in the tradition of Armagnac making Bas Armagnac brandies.  In 1982 the family diversified and started producing quality white wines – forerunners in the region

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Italy) (also known as Clairette Ronde) is France’s most planted white grape variety, far outnumbering Chardonnay’s area. 

Globally, this variety produces more wine than any other.  It was imported from Italy, probably during the 14th Century.

This copious, thin, acidic dry wine also washes through the stills of the Cognac (Charentais north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac regions.

Colombard produces a fruity white wine of both dry and sweet characters.

It would take some sorcery to transform this into an exciting wine on its own, but pleasantly lively innocuouness is well within reach for those equipped with stainless steel and temperature control.

It is used as a blending grape for its tropical light fruity flavours and citrus aromas.


Superbly intense for a dry fruity white, its bouquet reveals floral and citrus aromas with nice touches of tropical fruit. Light and well-balanced, this wine is a thirst-quenching pleasure.

Serve chilled. Very refreshing at any time of the day, as an aperitif or with starters, seafood or fish.

Les Premières Grives, 11.5% (Domaine Tariquet)

Gros Manseng

Gros Manseng is a Basque grape, brought to the region by the Basques who originally  inhabited Gascony.

It is a large yielding white grape that produces a less rich wine that that of its relation, Petit Manseng.

On its own it has the potential to produce intensely flavored wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes.

The time of harvest will play a large role in the type of wine that the grape will produce – lower alcohol levels (11.5 – 12%) produce characteristics of fresh fruit and flowers and if picked later (with higher alcohol levels) the flavours will be much more intense and powerful.


Harvested in autumn, mature grapes packed with sweetness produce an elegant wine with good typicity.

Medaille d'Or, Berliner Wine Trophy February 2013.


Ugni Blanc and Clombard, two of the ten different grapes authorised for use in the production of Armagnac.  Indeed, Domaine Tariquet started life in the tradition of Armagnac.

Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes that including, Colombard, and Ugni blanc.

The production of Armagnac uses column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of Cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release.
John Brough (left) and Didier Billes (middle) in the wine cellar at Chateau Monluc, S.W France, with guests.
Oak wine barrels in the original cellars at Chateau Monluc, S.W France.
If you are interested in cooking and wine tasting, please have a look at our new cooking holidays: