Alsace I

Last Autumn I was luckily enough to be in London for work, and despite our mixed experiences last year in the Loire, we decided to do another wine trip to France. This time, however, we got as close to Germany as possible, and went to Alsace.

For those not familiar with the area, Alsace is in the far east of France, bordering on Germany and Switzerland. Ownership of the area has switched back and forth between Germany and France, but now it seems firmly settled in the latter. It has a moderate climate, and the Rhine river runs through it.

Most importantly for me, and thus Clō Wines, is that I studied in Strasbourg for a year at university, and will bore anyone with how much I love the city. Luckily Rachel has a soft spot for sweeter wines, balanced with acidity and minerality, and there is arguably no better region for them than Alsace.

A fair amount of Googling and consulting of wine magazines and books resulted in the discovery of the very best vineyards, emails were written and appointments were booked (definitely our number one recommendation when visiting the region). However, no amount of research prepared us to be standing on the street of Strasbourg at 5pm on a freezing Saturday trying to find a glass of wine!

As a side note I have to take complete responsibility for the Strasbourg part of the trip. I’d insisted a weekend in the city, so that I could revisit all of my favourite places, but then, if they truth be told, some of them had closed, and some looked a little less appealing 9 years later.

Anyway, eventually we found this little wine bar, which met all of our needs and so much more. It was called Terres à Vin and served a wide range of local wines, with delightful small plates and an incredibly knowledgeable staff. The place was charming and definitely comes with Clō Wines seal of approval.

Anyway, the next day we took off into the countryside, with me behind the wheel, just hoping to avoid some of the road traffic issues we faced the year before!

Before, we go too much further into the trip, a little background on the winemaking history of the region might be of use.

Alsace and the Noble Grapes.

Alsace is the smallest of the wine regions in France, and is divided into Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, the majority of the really good wine comes from Haut-Rhin. Alsace is separated from France by the Vosges Mountains, which results in one of the driest and sunniest climates L’Hexagone. The vines are planted on the lower slopes of the Vosges on soil which varies from granite to limestone, from clay to chal to gravel, and not forgetting the local pink sandstone.

In Alsace white grapes reign supreme, with 90% of the AOC being white wine. There are 3 major AOCs (a post for a different day).

  • Alsace AOC (92% white still wines)
  • Crémant d’Alsace AOC (Sparkling white and rosé wines)
  • Alsace Grand Cru AOC (Limited special vineyard wines)

The four “noble” grapes of Alsace are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer and they are to be found everywhere. They account for the majority of vines planted, and are (almost) the only grapes planted in the grand cru vineyards of the region.

Riesling is what the region is most famous for, it has a steely taste, but it nothing like the sweet Rieslings that may spring to mind. When done well, which it often is in Alsace, it is incredibly well-balanced and incredibly drinkable.

Pinot Gris was the real surprise for me. I’d all too frequently thought of it as a ‘nothing’ wine, but a skilled winemaker can make an amazing full-bodied-yet-dry wine, that could be drunk with strong flavoured foods or sipped on its own.

Muscat smells like grapes. No other way to put it. It’s a pleasant wine, and a great aperitif on a hot day.

Gewurztraminer is probably high on the list of grapes that people know from Germany/Alsace. It’s full-bodied and frequently a little sweet (though Rachel wouldn’t like me saying that, maybe I should say it is off-dry!) It smells like potpourri and roses.These aren’t the only grapes that you will find growing as you drive through the vineyards. Pinot Blanc. Sylvaner, Auxerrois,  and Alsace’s only red grape, Pinot Noir are also scattered over the hills. The Pinot Noir contributes towards the creation of Crémant d'Alsace, the sparking white wine of the region, which makes a delightful change after the still wines

One final thing to note is the propensity to taste what is referred to as “Vendange Tardive” or late harvest wines. No quibbling about here, these are sweet wines. With minimum ripeness, and sugar, levels being set. Traditionally these wines are drunk with foie gras.

But that’s probably enough information on Alsace, let’s get down to the tastings!

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime, Sunshine ... WINE TASTING!

You guys, it has been a cold and nasty winter over here in the Mid-Atlantic. I know, I know, all the New Englanders are all like, "9 feet of snow!" but in response I have some half-hearted comment about how you all are used to it and how DC IS PRACTICALLY THE SOUTH AND ANYTHING BELOW 45F MAKES MY BONES FREEZE AND I CAN BARELY GET OUT OF BED. Plus the entire city shuts down over one inch of snow-like precipitation. The drama of winter is intense around here, people. Wikipedia gives us credit for "SnOMG" for a reason.

ANYWAY. All of that to say that it's finally getting warm enough to climb out of the hibernation hole and head out to Virginia for a little wine tasting.

We've written about Glen Manor Vineyards before, and it still remains one of our favorite local wineries (and maybe favorite, ever? In any case, they are friendlier than the French).

This past weekend, Jeff White, Glen Manor's vigneron, hosted a special barrel tasting with his 2014 vintages.

Barrel tastings are literally what they sound like - the wine is still aging in the barrel, and is tasted for quality (or for fun!) by inserting a wine thief (a long, glass metal tube that pulls up the wine) into the bunghole (this is the hole in the barrel - yes, it's called a bunghole. I know, I snicker every time. Sometimes wine is unintentionally irreverent and therefore hilarious) and pulling wine out into the glass. Vintners do this periodically to taste how the wine is aging, test the acidity and chemical levels, and also to get a sense of which barrel will be their base for a blend.

In this case, Jeff offered us the opportunity to taste some key differences in a wine as it ages - a first for me. We tasted the differences in yeast strains, the differences in grapes from two different plots in the vineyard, and also the differences in barrel treatments. Cognitively, I know all of these things make a difference in how a wine develops. But I'd never experienced them outside the classroom before. Turns out there is something to the whole "learning and then doing" thing. I guess I should have focused more on that in my physics lab...

Anyway, a word about how these factors impact wine development.

Yeast. We all know that yeast is a basic component to making wine. Yeast eats grape sugar, and the result is alcohol. Poof! Science. (See, I did pay attention in lab! To the important stuff, anyway.) Winemakers can change certain variables about their wine with the strain of yeast they choose to use. It's not too far off to say that yeast changes everything.

Allow me to whip out some of my utterly mundane wine trivia - the most frequent yeast strain used in winemaking is a cultured yeast known as saccharomyces cereviseae. (I made a flashcard on this type of yeast for my last wine exam. This marks exactly the second time I've ever applied this knowledge).

Cultured yeast means it's packaged and ready to go - it's inoculated into the must (must is the almost-wine), and when applied, issues predictable results. However, there are all types of yeast that can be used to influence wine development. A lot of them are cultured, but some winemakers are rebels about it and use ambient yeast in their winemaking. Ambient yeast is the yeast that's indigenous to the area and basically what the name implies - wild. Ambient (or indigenous) yeast is everywhere. It is on surfaces in the winery, blowing around in the air, and sitting on vegetation near the vines. Instead of being manually added to the must (almost-wine), it colonizes naturally and begins its work turning juice into wine. (For you Upstate New Yorkers, a fabulous winery that excels at using ambient yeast in their wine is Freedom Run. Take a visit.)

At Glen Manor, we were able to sample two Cabernet Francs that were fermenting with two different strains of yeast. The difference in taste and texture was remarkable. There's a whole lot of science that goes into how a yeast strain impacts the development of tannin chains, flavor profiles, and the whole 9 wonky yards. I'll spare you the re-hash and just leave you with the idea that if you're every able to chat with a winemaker about it (and taste some samples!), do it.

Site Selection. Site selection is another really big factor in wine development. It boils down to this: you don't want your grapes to get too hot or too cold, too wet, or too shady. Basically, winemaking grapes are the mother of all Goldilocks. They want everything just right. Generally, the ideal layout for a vineyard is on a south-facing slope, so the vines get the most direct sunlight. (As with any rule, there are many exceptions to this.) Why is this important?

When you distill it down, grape vines are just plants. And plants love sun. Remember photosynthesis? (Yes, science class. Again.) Sunlight spurs the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into sugar. In the case of vines, the sugar is stored in the grapes. And the grapes make the wine. The amount and intensity of the sunlight influences the sugar production in the wine - the hotter the climate, the sweeter the grapes, generally speaking. More grape sugar also leads to higher alcohol wines (recall what I refer to as the "happy hour equation": sugar + yeast = alcohol. The more sugar in the grapes, the more alcohol is produced). This is one of the reasons why a wine from Lodi, California, where the grapes sit in the hot sun, tastes different than a wine from the Niagara Escarpment, up by Canada, which gets fewer warm days and less sun.

At Glen Manor, we tasted Cabernet Sauvignon grown from vines planted north-to-south, and east-to-west. The differences weren't nearly as drastic as a comparison between California and New York, but they were noticeable in subtle differences in the length, ripeness and viscosity of the wine.

Barrel Selection. One of the last steps in the creation of a wine is selecting what type of barrel to age it in. Think of it like the final step in a long recipe - the barrel is where the wine will bake for the next several years, and the type of oak selected can impart different textures and flavors. In the States, we are most familiar with barrels made of new French Oak. Have you ever sucked down a big, buttery Chardonnay? Then you've tasted wine aged in new French Oak - it imparts those flavors of vanilla, caramel and toast. (It also occasionally comes with the overly done up, aggressive older women whose fondness for heavily-oaked Chardonnay has given us the delightful moniker of "cougar juice.")

Lots of wineries - American and otherwise - use barrels made from American oak, which can impart notes of sweet coconut and dill. Hungarian and Eastern European oak barrels are also used for nuttier, richer flavors. Some oak doesn't taste at all. That's called neutral oak.

Jeff had us taste two Petit Verdots aged in French oak barrels that had been seasoned over different time periods - the first over 36 months, and the second over 24 months. ("Seasoning" means that the barrel are toasted to attain a char that imparts flavor.) The differences in the wine were most noticeable in the aromas and the integration. By that I mean, the Petit Verdot aged in the 36 month barrel had stronger aromas, which makes sense - the char on the barrel is longer. The 36 month wine was also a little bit more integrated. The tannins were smoother, because barrels allow the interplay of oxygen with tannin, which causes the tannin to soften. Either way, I am a fanatic about Petit Verdot from Glen Manor, so both went down quickly!

And thus ended this lovely day in Virginia wine country.  In the meantime, it's ROSÉ season, people!

Korean Wine Dreams: Gamgyul Wine & Omija Wine

We've about reached the end of my odyssey through various forms of Korean alcohol. Up today is more wine. Not rice wine, not soju, but actual wine, fermented from ... well, I'm not sure exactly. That's the thing with Korea. Sometimes what you're eating and drinking is something of a mystery, and the thrill comes from consuming tons of it while desperately hoping it agrees with you later.

What I do know is that these two wines constituted my most pleasurable drinking experience on the peninsula.

Actually, I was off the peninsula itself when I had these wines - we were visiting the island of Jeju, off the southern coast of Korea. The island is Korea's largest, and it's a popular spot for vacations, honeymoons, and general relaxation. While there, we stayed in a traditional Korean hanok (house), with floor mats. There were also communal showers that we shared with the rest of the little hanok village. Just a big room, with a bunch of shower heads. No, I don't want to talk about it.

We also climbed Mount Hallasan, South Korea's highest peak (and also a volcano). As I mentioned previously, makkoli is the mountain climber's drink of choice. We weren't quite as brave as the Korean ajishis, who share a bottle at the top of the peak before they climb down the extremely steep and slippery rock paths. (Traveling with your mother does put certain restrictions on your questionable and probably stupid more adventurous inclinations.) However, we did all share a bottle upon reaching the base of the mountain (with a plateful of jeon, of course!).

Gastronomically, Jeju is famous for hallabong, an orange-like fruit, and the black pig. The black pig - so named because, well, it's a pig that's black - makes delicious, juicy, succulent Korean barbecue. If you ever find yourself in Jeju, a top priority must be to find and consume this pork (and also to not accidentally rent a hanok which requires you to use a communal shower).

We were feasting on this black pig when we tried one of Jeju's other specialties - Gamgyul (citrus) wine. This is wine made with Jeju's citrus fruit. It's similar to Japanese sake, but it has a much sweeter, refreshing finish. Also, it's cheap.

Prior to that, we had whet our pallets with something called Omija wine. Omija is a Korean berry, whose name means "five." The five represents the five flavors you're supposed to taste in Omija based beverages: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. The Koreans use it to make a medicinal tea, and also to press with wine. On the palate it was ... interesting. It had salinity and saltiness reminiscent of sake, but with hints of berries. I can't say I was wild about it, but after days of soju and beer, I thoroughly appreciated sipping something that didn't taste like rubbing alcohol.

Next up - I milk this trip for just a little bit longer and talk about what wines to PAIR with Korean food (or other spicy dishes). Pop back on Thursday for that delicious conversation.

Korean Wine Dreams: Makkoli

Let's talk makkoli. Makko - what? Makkoli (Mock-oh-lee) is Korean rice wine - almost as ubiquitous in Seoul as the infamous cleaning solvent, but more hipster. It's been around forever - try the fourth century - as a traditional farmer's drink, but it's lately become the drink of choice for hipsters across the peninsula. There are tons of makkoli brands, bars and microbreweries throughout Seoul. Interestingly, makkoli is also a traditional "mountain-climbing" drink. It's not unusual to see Korean ajishis (old men) camped out off a path or at the peak enjoying some of this milky white goodness. (Makkoli is only 6-7% alcohol, so in moderation it won't make you fall down the mountain or pass out on the street.)

Makkoli itself is fermented rice. It's opaque and unfiltered, and looks sort of like milk, with a slightly sour taste.  In Korea, you drink makkoli out of bowls, and traditionally it's paired with jeon, a crazy delicious Korean pancake that's made with leeks, vegetables and seafood.

My brother, Sam, has been living in Seoul for the past two years and has become something of a makkoli aficionado and makkoli home brewer. He knows makkoli WAY better than I do, so I've asked him to fill in some of the blanks. Enjoy.

Makkoli -- or makgeoli, or heck, 막걸리, if you're very cool -- is not milk. It has never been milk, nor will it evolve into milk if you bless it with three rubs of Buddha's belly. (Though you're very welcome to pour it over your cereal, anyway). Its (ahem) milky-hued appearance is instead the product of weeks of rotting rice, a bit of wheat cake, water, and love. You're confused. You're still on milk, aren't you. I will explain. 

Until it became the hipster brew of choice in Seoul, makkoli was, in essence, farmer's hooch. It's very easy to make, and takes little care. The primary recipe consists of three basic ingredients: a vast quantity of cooked rice, a daft substance called "nuruk," and water. The amount of rice used varies, but it's typically more than a pedestria rice cooker can produce in one go. Korean rice is best, as it's stickier than most other Asian varieties, but more brittle long-grain rice is fine. If it's a special variety of makkoli, like chestnut or ginseng (two of my favorites), this is when it's added -- while the rice cooks, to infuse the grains.

"Nuruk" requires its own paragraph. I've described it as "wheat cake," but what the heck is that, really. A more technical explanation is provided by the FAO: "Nuruk is wheat, rice, barley (whole grain, grits or flour) with the fermenting microorganisms, Aspergillus, Rhizopus, [and] yeasts packed together into a large cake, and then incubated for about three weeks, dried for two, and aged for about two months." So, uh, basically, it's the stuff that makes the rice ferment. It also looks and crumbles like dirt cobblerf that helps. If it's a sweeter makkoli, some yeast will be added; if it's sour (the better choice), no yeast.

So, once the rice, nuruk and water are mixed by hand in a big plastic tub, it's covered and left to sit and do its thang (with the occasional fondle). Temperature determines the speed of fermentation -- if the mixture is sitting at 18 degrees Celsius, it'll take about a week and a half to look and smell vaguely horrifying. Three layers should form of indeterminate grey poo-poo, and that's when it's ready to strain and serve.

The best brews are natural and don't have any gross-ass aspartame. Unfortunately, most mass-brewed bottles are riddled with artificial sweetener. If you want the real stuff, when choosing your bottle, make sure it doesn't have any 아스파탐 listed in the ingredient, feel me? You're also gonna want to drink it out of a bowl. Just do it. And for the last time, do not ask if it's one-percent or skim, or I will grow a bushy beard and shave in your sink and NEVER clean it up.

Korean Wine Dreams: Soju

For such a small country, there is a lot of alcohol in Korea. And it comes in many forms. Maybe because Korea was relatively isolated for so long, or maybe they're just an inventive bunch, but for whatever reason, the Korean natives have come up with some very creative ways to get their drink on.

Today, we're considering the most ubiquitous liquor of them all - soju. (I'd give you the spelling of it in Korean, but I am not that fancy.) This harsh little spirit sold in the green bottles is everywhere in Korea. Everywhere. Bottles of soju are ubiquitous in every restaurant, home, grocery market, even sold at 7-11, and they are available for alarmingly low prices. We're talking "cheap as free," here, people. You can get Soju for under 3 won, which is around $3. Sometimes it goes for $1.

Koreans love their soju. For the natives, it's not a true Korean-style meal unless there is an abundance of empty soju bottles littering the table. Their enthusiasm for this liquor has made soju the top selling alcohol in the world.

So what is this feisty little drink? The word "soju" literally means "burned liquor." And trust me, that's an apt statement. Soju is traditionally distilled from rice, wheat, or barley, but ends as straight up ethanol and water. It's around 19% alcohol (but I've seen some as high as 25% and rumor has it that Adong Soju, a traditional family recipe, has 45% alcohol content. Hey, let's all burn holes in our tongues!). To me, soju tastes like weak vodka. It has a small oily burn to it, and definitely finishes with a little aftertaste of ethanol. Kind of like a cleaning solvent (dying to try it, yet?). Some soju varieties (the ones you can get for $1...) have a distinctive aftertaste of diesel. Because why wouldn't you want your drink to taste like Windex that's been pumped through a gas tank?

The soju itself is served in small glasses (slightly larger than shot glasses) and people sip from them - unless someone at your table shouts "ONE SHOT!" and then, well. It's party time. There are other ways to serve soju, including by mixing it with beer - an unholy combination known as "somaek." You can also drop a shot of soju into beer, which is called "poktanju" or "bomb liquor."

Just like "anytime" is the right time for soju, "anything" is also the right thing to pair it with. There really isn't any etiquette when it comes to drinking soju, except when it's being served. You NEVER pour your own soju - someone else always pours it for you, while you hold your glass with two hands.  When you pour it for others, you should hold the bottle with two hands.

As soju has become more international, it seems that people are trying to class it up a bit. Mandu, a local Korean place here in DC, serves a variety of soju-tinis. The Momofuku empire in New York city will serve you a lychee-soju slushy or an apple-soju aperitif. I'm honestly not super sold on soju cocktails, yet. Soju, to me, is one step up from drinking rubbing alcohol. I drink it in Korea because....when in Rome and all that. But, I doubt you'd find me pounding ONE SHOT! anywhere outside of Seoul.

As a little bit of soju-based trivia, Pyongyang Soju is the only North Korean product available for sale in the U.S. It's made of "73% maize, 25% rice, and 2% glutinous rice." It's slogan is "Well-known soju" and it's 23% alcohol. How good is it? I'll never know. I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Virginian Wine Travels: The Winery at Bull Run

In the interests of full disclosure, this was our second stop of the day, read into that what you will. We were either a little worn out from previous wine tastings, or more predisposed to the wine!

Anyway, the Winery at Bull Run has only been open for a couple of years. It’s notable for the fact that it grows the Norton grape as well as being situated next to a civil war battlefield. (See there is something for everyone in wine!)

So, the Norton grape is the true American grape. It is cultivated primarily in the Midwest, but it was first grown in Richmond, Virginia during the early 19th century. It was first available commercially in the 1830’s, but the wine industry in the US was impacted/stopped/driven underground by prohibition (incidentally something that we English school children do learn about, unlike the Civil war) and unfortunately the vineyards in the Midwest never recovered to the same extent that Napa did. However, it is now seeing somewhat of a resurgence, it is now the official grape of Missouri and more and more wines in Virginia are being made from Norton.

As for the grape itself it is particularly appropriate for making dry wines. It can provide a breadth of aromas and flavors in the wine; from herbal to smooth chocolate, with both red fruit and black fruits present. The largest plantation of Norton is found just outside DC, at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg.

Now for the history, I’m less clear on the precise details of the civil war battlefield, given that we skip over that in English school history lessons. But what I do know is that the Manassas National Battlefield Park was the site of 2 civil war battles, unsurprisingly called the first and second battles of Bull Run in 1861 and 1862. And it was here that Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson acquired his nickname "Stonewall." The house on the grounds of the winery served as a hospital during the battles and you can still see a number of historical artifacts in the tasting room. I’m sure that the website, staff at the winery and general American education system will make many of you much more knowledgeable about this period in American history than I, but it was fascinating all the same.

The wine here was good, we obviously managed to buy some to take home as well as drinking some on the grounds. The wines, like Paradise Springs are still young. But they had some nice reds, particularly the Meritage. And the whites were pretty good too.

Definitely an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon, you can also bring a picnic here to enjoy outside in the grounds. And in the winter there are fireplaces inside, so really a visit at any time of year would work!

Virginian Wine Travels: Paradise Springs Winery

It was sunny and it was a Sunday and that was all we needed to decide that we should head out to Virginia for some wine tasting. Obviously we were a little nervous given that some wine in Virginia isn’t great, so we took precautions and picked out some wine for our return, but we needn’t have worried. We headed out of the city towards Clifton, VA and after about an hour we made it to Paradise Springs.

Paradise Springs Winery was founded in 2007 and a year later the first estate vineyard was planted, the tasting room was open for business in 2010 and it has been fully operational since then.  They have a good selection of wines to taste and obviously we tried all of them and then some.

Their wines tasted young (as they are) but had potential. They lacked a little complexity but that’s not to say that they won’t get there. The wines that we tried are listed below, given their youth it would be unfair to mark them, all we can say is that they seem to be on the right track.

Whites

2012 Chardonnay - good but a little too oaky for my liking. The 2009 vintage won the VA  Governor's Cup for the "Best White Wine in VA"

2012 Viognier - Nice and melony

2012 Petit Manseng - Too sweet for me and not complex enough for Rachel

2013 Sommet Blanc - Good, my favourite of the whites

Reds

2012 Cabernet Franc - Minerally and good, lacks some complexity

2012 Mélange - pretty good, would drink again

2012 Norton - So this is the traditional American grape that has been grown in Virginia since 1830. It’s pretty distinctive, when you’ve tried it once you will recognize it going forward.This wine is a double gold medal winner.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Pretty good again, would also have another glass or two

And then this happened: Swagger, Edition I. A classic example of if you ask enough questions and show enough interest you often get more wine. My feelings on port are mixed, I’m really trying though. But Rachel was pretty sold on this one. It is aged in Bourbon barrels for 17 months and has a good port taste with a long finish without being overly sweet.

All in all it was a good experience, the staff were knowledgeable, the surroundings were pleasant and the wine has potential. We got a bottle and sat in the vines and spent an entirely enjoyable couple of hours.

Just to note, it’s worth getting there early, it was pretty busy when we arrived and you don’t want to wait too long for your wine!

The UK Government’s Wine Collection

So at the end of my last post on the Royal Cellar, I mentioned that it wasn’t the only wine collection curated on the British Isles for the enjoyment of domestic and visiting dignitaries. In fact the UK Government has its own collection. Whilst the Royal Cellar is the responsibility of the Clerk of the Royal Cellars, who is appointed by the Queen, the Government Hospitality department maintains the Government Wine Cellar.

The cellar was established in 1908 and is located at Lancaster House in London, it houses 35,632 bottles of wine, valued at over $5 million.

In 2010, at the height of the economic crisis, the new Government considered the idea of closing the cellar. Thank heavens cooler heads prevailed and instead it was decided that the cellar could remain open provided that it began to support itself. This is now done through the sale of high-value wines that had been bought when they were young.

In 2013 the cellar sold some of its stock, French wines proved the most popular, and sales totaled £44,000.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now required to report to Parliament on the contents of the Government Wine Cellar. During the past year the Government served 4,730 bottles of wine (none of which I saw I might add!). Much more white than red is served and there is a trend towards English sparkling wines in the cellar.

Some incredibly lucky people, who operate without an expense budget, stock the cellar! They meet 3 times a year to discuss purchases and TASTE THE WINES. You can see the notes, along with the complete list of wines in the cellar here.

In terms of the stock the cellar is heavy on classified Bordeaux reds, and white Burgundies. Of particular note in the cellar, and I say this having never actually tasted ANY of them. They have 1961 Château Latour, priced at £4,000 per bottle, but the notes state that it can be saved for another 50 years, so we won’t be getting our hands on that anytime soon. The cellar also boasts a magnum of 1964 Krug, and for dessert wine enthusiasts Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1967. These tend to be reserved for Royal weddings and important state visits, or may I humbly suggest anytime Rachel and I stop by?!

The English Royal Cellar

So for those of you who haven’t guessed by the spelling, or by reading the bios section of the blog, I’m English. Honestly, I’d never given too much thought to the Royal family before I moved to America, they were just there, and always had been. But since I moved to the US a few years ago I have found myself talking about the Queen at least once a week. So when I came across a story that combined wine and Royalty, I had to look into it a little more.

So it will come as no surprise that the Queen has a pretty extensive wine collection, in fact in 2007 it was valued at £2 million and it will have only increased in value. The cellars themselves are also quite old, having been built in 1703. The wine is drunk at royal banquets and state dinners, so there is little chance of us getting to try any. However, we do know that the cellars store some of the most famous and desirable vintages. And it’s not just whites, reds and roses that they have down there, there’s also champagne, beer and I would hazard a guess, a fair amount of port.

Now, a side note about port. I’d never had it until I started to ‘dine’ as part of my training to be a barrister.

Warning, it gets even more English here (and maybe a little less relevant to the wine)!

So to be a barrister you have to attend 13 dinners at one of the Inns of Court, it dates back to when the Inns were responsible for legal training. Anyway, you go, you eat, you drink (a lot) and you may or may not be wearing black akin to Harry Potter when you do this. So during my first dinner, they filled my glass up with port without me knowing, I assumed it was still wine. At the end of the meal is a toast, to "the Queen, the church and this honourable society" at which point I took a rather large sip of wine, or port as it turned out to be, and almost choked (well, actually choked and made a small scene would be a more accurate description of what happened!) Port is definitely an acquired taste, and needless to say after that surprise it has taken me a little while to come back around. However, the English do love some port and so the fact that a lot of it has found its home in the Royal Cellar is not a shock.

But how do the cellars get stocked, well that’s the entirely enviable job of the Royal Household Wine Committee. They taste a few times a year, both to see how the wines in the cellar are aging as well as to choose new wines. Surprisingly, it’s not just the expensive wines that they are buying, they shop in Waitrose too! (A UK equivalent to Whole Foods) They have New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, and the basic Bordeaux just like we do. Obviously, they also have a lot of wines that we don’t, they buy young Bordeaux for aging and have a relatively free hand when it comes to buying better wine for more exclusive and discerning guests. Apparently they also have a good selection of red and white Burgundies.

All of this comes from Internet research, the opportunity to tour the cellars isn’t offered to the public, but should the occasion arise I am more than ready!

I should also note that this isn’t the only exclusive wine cellar that is funded by the taxpayer. The UK Government also has a wine collection for state dinners, this one is located under Lancaster House and houses another enviable selection of wines, but that’s for a later post. For now enjoy the weekend and if you have some wine remember to toast to Queen and country!