Galettes des Rois (king cakes) and the Nabatean Spice Route

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In January 2014 I visited vineyards in the Negev desert and the archaeological remains of the ancient Nabatean kingdom. Splendid remains of buildings and extensive evidence of large scale agriculture, complex irrigation systems and large scale winemaking, indicate the richness of this area in ancient times.

Avdat

Remains of the Nabatean city of Avdat, looking out over the Spice Trail across the Negev

The 1st century BCE historian Strabo described the Nabateans as being ‘temperate and industrious,’ although the king enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, dressed in purple (a luxury in those days), drinking wine in golden beakers and being entertained by dancing girls. Continue reading

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Christmas in Provence: Vin Cuit and the 13 Desserts

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Vin cuit and the 13 desserts are a traditional combination served at Christmas in Provence. Today, however, the 13 desserts are often only symbolically represented – with baskets filled with a selection of dried and glacé fruits and nuts, available in most food shops around Christmas – and few people know of vin cuit.

Cooking Vin Cuit at Ch Beaulieu

Cooking Vin Cuit at Ch Beaulieu

Vin cuit, meaning “cooked wine”, has a tradition going back to antiquity, with the method for making this largely unchanged for over 2000 years. Vin cuit wine is made by slowly heating the grape must over a direct fire in a cauldron, and allowing it to simmer, sometimes over two days. Care must be taken not to overcook it, to avoid a burnt or strong caramelised taste. Some 30 to 55% of the juice will evaporate. After cooking, the boiled must is encouraged to ferment. Traditionally fermentation was allowed to continue to a level of 20% alcohol. Now this rarely exceeds 14.5%, where the wine can be considered a table wine, with a lower level of tax. Fermentation can be long, usually 2 weeks to 3 months, but may take up to a year. Continue reading

Roman Wine at Mas de Tourelles and Glanum

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It was a particularly interesting visit to Mas de Tourelles. Compared to most vineyard visits, where I talk about varieties, terroir, temperature control, yeasts and filtration, this tasting concentrated on how the Roman recipes were followed in an attempt to re-create the style of wines made during Roman times.

The domaine has been a wine producing domaine since Roman times. It lies along the Roman road, via Domitia, which connected Italy to Spain and was once upon a time part of a thriving commerce.

In 1991, when Herve Durand, a wine maker and archaeologist, discovered a Roman cellar in the south of France. He then met up with Andre Tchernia, a research director from the prestigious Social Studies High School, who is familiar with all that Roman authors have written on this subject and Jean-Pierre Lebrun who manages the French Archaeology Centre of Napoli, and has excavated many Roman villas with wine cellars.

tourelles pressing grapesArchaeological excavations at Tourelles have found evidence of the Roman villa and cellar and the domaine has whole-heartedly thrown itself into the Roman world. They have re-created a Roman press and have a Roman wine press day with volunteers dressed in white tunics pressing the grapes.

 

 

Vines trained on pergolas, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained on pergolas, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained up trees, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained up trees, Mas de Tourelles

 

It is possible to walk around the vineyards and see the different forms of trellising being trialled. Vines climbing up the trees looks very picturesque but maybe less practical. Vines trailed high on trellis was an Etruscan method. The grapes hanging down below the leaves were sheltered from the burning sun and there was space below for other crops, making as much use of the land as possible.

 

 

 

 

Roman press and amphorae at Mas de Tourelles

Roman press and amphorae at Mas de Tourelles

After ten years of research, they studied the recipes and the methods for making Roman wine. Work was done to re-create a Roman vineyard and wine cellar and to apply the vinification recipes found in Roman works including those of ApiciusCato the Elder and Columella. Three different wines are made, Turriculae, Carenum and Muslum.

One of Cato’s recipes includes the additions of sea water, but if the vineyard is too far from the sea, he suggests making up a brine to mix with the wine and then letting the wine age in amphorae placed in the sun for two years. The resulting wine will taste like the wine of ‘Coan’. Tourelle use a similar recipe from Columelle which also includes fenugreek and iris root. The resulting wine, Turriculae, tastes similar to a fino sherry or vin jaune.

Carenum, a white wine blended with defrutum (grape must, with the addition of a few quince, boiled down to a third of its original volume, like vin cuit), is rich and sweet.

Muslum is wine sweetened with honey and spices.

 

Fumarium at Glanum

Fumarium at Glanum

 

At the Roman town of Glanum, east along the via Domitia, on the other side of the Rhone river, we saw evidence of another style of Roman wine making, with the remaining pillars which supported the floor of the fumarium. Wine would be stored in amphorae in the room above the smokers and smoked to create a mellow, mature tasting wine.