Preparations for Christmas

November 27, 2009


Although most of us will not commence our preparations for Christmas until the beginning of Advent, without doubt we are already being bombarded with the shops and other commercial operations via TV, newspapers, the mail, and the Internet, all trying to attract our attention to but this and that since the beginning of November, and some even earlier.

The preparation for this religious festival and the season of goodwill has changed dramatically since the end of WW2

Then, cakes, puddings, mincemeat, pickles and even decorations were more often ‘home made’ from October onwards with only the final touches left to the week leading up to the ‘big day’. Oh yes, how we of mature years remember! But that is history and unlikely to return.

It is time to look ahead to the festivities in this, the 8th (or is it the 9th.) year of the new millennium. What preparations can we, or should we, be making NOW?
Presents are one of the priorities, but they are more of a personal item. Selection should be left to the individual and the influence of the sales staff concerned and not from the interference of this newsletter. Cards are mainly an Anglo-American habit, but with rising postal costs, postal strikes etc. may well decline this year in favour of the Internet (unless you are a famer in the heart of rural Wales, Scotland or the American outback).

Some of the traditional preparations have been resurrected due to necessity, like the making of the pudding and making of mincement, and even cakes which may be difficult to obtain in some areas. (Recipes are readily available -. The United Kingdom BBC Good Food website is well worth a look)

Possibly the largest headache is in selection of the main course – what to have and with what to accompany it to make a memorable Christmas feast. To cover all the possibilities would need the writing of yet another book on food. Even in Europe, – country, regional and even area variations abound, so where to begin?

This year the proposal is a change from the traditional turkey to – ROAST GOOSE. Goose was the vogue in many parts of the United Kingdom long before turkey was introduced and became commercially available.

This year our suggested Bill of Fare for 2009 consists of:-

Aperitif –
Nuts (salted cashews, peanuts, walnuts or other types of nut), partnered by Brut Champagne NV. It makes the ideal accompaniment but can be expensive. Any Brut Traditional Method (once called Methode Champenoise) is acceptable. A good choice here is Crémant d’Alsace (Chardonnay- Pinot Blanc blend) from France or one of the many Traditional Method Italian sparklers.

– a choice of two –
1.Fois Gras – ours will be from Alsace and not the traditional South West of France
Accompanied by:-
Gewurztraminer Tradition 2006 – Hugel
Although fairly expensive, an aromatic, rich, spicy, and lasting wine is necessary to accompany the locally produced fois gras from this region.
Website – (available in English)
2. Oysters
Accompanied by:-
Gros Plant du Pays Nantais or Muscadet sur lie. My favourites are from Château du Cléray – Sauvion et Fils.
Website.- (available in English)

‘Fat’ oysters – is one of the few dishes that make the highly acidic Gros Plant remotely drinkable. Many people refer to this wine as ‘the nearest thing there is to paint stripper’ It is surprising that when partnering ‘fat’ oysters it is perfect.
With oysters the wine partner must be both dry and fairly acidic. Whilst the Muscadet grape (Melon de Bourgogne) is excellent, Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate is also very acceptable.

Main Course –

Roast Goose – There are many recipes on offer for making the most of a Christmas goose, but the art of preparing and cooking it is seldom included. Reading the magazine ‘The Poultry Keeper’ a year ago, Melanie Daniels’s article, gave a no fuss, traditional, old fashioned, but simple set of instructions on how to prepare and cook a goose. To her I am very grateful – it works!!! Here it is. The only item missing was the plucking of the bird; my advice – let the supplier do it for you.


Goose produces a huge amount of fat and therefore the roasting dish MUST have a draining tray to catch this fat and enable it to be drained off (and reserved) from time to time.
1. Remove the giblets and excess fat from the inside of the bird.
2. Pinch and prick the skin (Do not stab the meat). This helps with the running off of the fat.
3. Rub the skin with sea salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence.
As geese come in many sizes, the following instructions are quoted in minutes per kilo (2.25 pounds)
1. Place the prepared bird in a large dish (or double casserole). Place it into the pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C (440 degrees F) for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Reduce to 190 degrees C (370 degrees F) and cook for a further 25 – 30 minutes per kilo. (This will make for a ‘medium’ cooked bird. If you like the meat ‘well done’ a few more minutes will be necessary).
3. Remove the bird about every 30 minutes and drain off the fat. (The fat should be retained for cooking the potatoes). Baste the bird at the same time.
4. At any sign of scorching, cover that part with foil.
5. At the end of the cooking period, allow to rest for 30 minutes turning the bird upside down to allow for the breast meat to remain moist.

Stuffing and Accompaniments
Keep them simple, roast goose is very rich and is best shown to perfection when not overwhelmed with too many side dishes.
Parsley and thyme stuffing – home made adding in some of the giblets, finely chopped, and a little goose fat to bind. Cook separately from the bird or it may go soggy.
Redcurrant jelly, apple sauce, or whole cooked chestnuts could also be considered.
Finally, (and in my opinion a MUST)
Potatoes – roasted in the oven in goose fat until golden brown.

This is a main dish to satisfy a king.


Wines to accompany
This is a rich meal; therefore the wines need to have flavour, depth and acidity.

From France – I would suggest –
Brouilly or Cote de Brouilly from the Beaujolais.
Château Thivin en Beaujolais 2006 or 7. Their Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly have all the flavour of the gamay grape plus good acidity. Both are produced on the granitic soils of the area with the Cote having a hint of volcanic heat on the palate. Mount Brouilly is the site of an ancient and now extinct volcano.
The Geoffrey family have been making wines here for 5 generations.
Contact – Claude Geoffrey, 69460 Odenas
Website – (English available)


St. Estephe or Haut Medoc from Bordeaux
Côte de Nuits from Burgundy.
Try to avoid the softer wines from Southern France.
In the United States and Canada, the Pinot Noirs from Oregon and Washington State are highly recommended
From Italy – The Piedmont family of wines from the Nebbiolo grape (Barbaresco, Barolo etc.) or a quality DOC Barbera also pair well with the goose.

Cheese and Dessert

Cheese – If you are having a cheese course, select your cheeses to match the wines chosen to accompany the goose.
Blue cheeses – Stilton and Roquefort are rich and tasty but need to be accompanied with a sweet botrytised wine (or Vintage Port).
The Loire – Coteaux de Layon (again available under the Sauvion label) is not only botrytised but also, with the cooler climate, has better acidity

Dessert – Although many Brits will insist on their Christmas pudding at this stage and continuing with the port, the more weight conscious may prefer fresh fruit to clean the palate.
With the latter and again as a real refresher, the recommendations are:-
Brut or Demi-Sec Champagne
Asti (Moscato grape) from Italy (ideal as it in lower in alcohol – circa 7.5% abv)
Eiswein from Canada or Germany – (pricey, but well worth it – normally in half-bottle)

Coffee with Armagnac or a VSOP cognac.

Author’s Note on Availability of Wines

The wines specifically mentioned ABOVE are available in the UK, the USA and Canada, but naturally not everywhere. A quick look at the web for any of them, or at the site of the company itself, may give a satisfactory answer.
As stated in previous articles I prefer to search out my wines from small independent growers, not just from the super- and hypermarkets; the latter cannot be expected to stock lines that may have a production of a few hundred bottles. For example in the Beaujolais alone there are more than 400 producers. Some produce under their own label but the majority sell wine or grapes or both to the ‘larger’ companies throughout the whole of Burgundy. They, in turn, blend the producers wine, or make the grapes to suit their own house style.
This has led to one well known wag of a grower referring to Beaujolais wines blended and bottled in the Cote d’Or around the town of Beaune as BEAUNE-JOLAIS.

From our family to yours wherever you are

Happy Christmas – Joyeux Noel


Bouké Wines of North Fork – Long Island

November 5, 2009

Bouke Wines

lisa-donnesonLisa Donneson, having gained her Wine and Spirit Education Trust Diploma in 2006, set up Bouké wine to promote the wines of Long Island NY. Yes you have it correct – Long Island (NY) wines, – from internationally known vitis vinifera grape varieties. In French terms Lisa became a négotiant – éleveur (a person who buys grapes, – it could be wines, but not in her  case -, for the purpose of making and selling wines under her own name) With many of the French major red and white vine varieties represented (as they are grown commercially in the area around Long Island), what better name for her company than a play on the French word ‘Bouquet’ for the name of her company.

The wine making expertise comes from Giles Martin (no relation to yours truly) who hails from the Rhône Valley in France and honed his expertise with the likes of Roederer and Delas Frères. Together they select the grapes from the local growers and then produce some excellent quality wines.

Due to the complexity (and I put it mildly) of the US state and national wine laws, most of the wines are sold within New York and New York State, although some representation has been negotiated with merchants outside of this region.

Promotion and advertising of her wines is mainly through hotels, restaurants, and specialist functions – often allied to the fashion industry. Full details of these events can be found on her website (

nicole-and-christia-tasting-bouke-red-seot-2009I only wish that I had the opportunity to attend some of these promotions, especially those that are food related. That is not possible as I live in a small village situated in the Hautes Alpes region of France. Lisa and I go back in time to her study days when I was given the task of marking some of her ‘dummy’ essays from past WSET Diploma papers. It was obvious from the research she made before going into print with her essays that it was only a matter of time before she became fully involved with wine. Her strength of character was also indicative of ‘going it alone’ rather than be involved in some multi-national operation.

It is these ‘boutique’ operations that keep variety, quality, and variation in this wonderful world of wine and for those of us that enjoy, without wine snobbery entering the lists, long may it continue. Personally I try to avoid branded wines, produced at a price point, and launched through every major supermarket group.

Tasting Notes on Bouké wines
There are 4 wines currently in the range – a red, a rosé, a white and a white dessert wine that is fortified. By keeping the individual wine varieties separate, the blender can adjust them to suit not only the style of the wine but also the variations in the growing conditions from year to year. It is here that the true ‘art’ of the wine maker comes into its own.

Bouké – White –  2007 – Carefully selected grapes, well blended produce this excellent wine (What a change from just another Chardonnay). The make up here is Chardonnay (of course) but with substantial contributions from Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and to give a hint of spiciness, 7% Gewurztraminer. Faintly aromatic, crisp and well balanced, make this wine  the perfect aperitif. It will also match with poultry and fish dishes, provided the latter is not too bland.

bajun-mutton-curry-sept-2009Bouké Red – 2007 – A blend of the Bordeaux grape varieties with the addition of 15% Syrah. The latter adds depth to the colour and a hint of spiciness and liquorice to the taste. Using the produce of vines around 15 years of age ensures that there is a maturity in the wine from the onset. Full bodied, around 13% by volume alcohol, makes it a perfect marriage with full bodied red meat dishes, and venison. I accompanied it with a mutton, fruit curry with Caribbean vegetables – the recipe based on a traditional goat meat and fruit curry from Barbados (see photo) was accompanied by okra, plantain, sweet potato mash and Basmatti rice.

Bouké Rosé – 2008 – With the huge revival in the popularity of rosé wine, production of such a wine has become a necessity rather than a fad. Bouké rosé combines both accepted methods of producing ‘pink’ wines – purpose made – short term skin contact and the ‘saignée’ (bleeding) method that is so popular in France. (Taking away some of the juice at an early stage allows more colour to develop for the red wines).
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – the major constituents of the Bordeaux blend – , Bouké rosé is salmon pink in colour, with soft summer berry fruits on both nose and in the taste. It is an ideal aperitif, but also pairs well with barbecued fish and chicken, crab or fish cakes and the lighter styles of cheese.

Bouquet Dessert Wine – NV
– 17% by vol alc – (37.5cl bottles) – This is a true bit of innovation. Using Gewurztraminer, mellowed with a small percentage of Chardonnay, fortifying the wine to stop the fermentation (Port style) with chardonnay based grape spirit, the result is a delightfully sweet, spicy wine that still retains a crisp acidity (one advantage of the cool temperatures of Long Island).

Ideally, this is a wine to accompany the ‘petits fours’ at the end of the meal, but try it with ‘fois gras’ (if you like it and can get it!)

If you are around the New York area contact Lisa for her list of up and coming events, or ask for your nearest stockist. Failing that, contact Bouké Wines on their website. ( or email  –

Grahame Martin AIWS
October 2009 ©

Mollard – Preservation of a Vine Variety

April 24, 2009

Mollard by Grahame Martin

Try to find the name of the grape variety – Mollard – in any book of vine varieties even in those by Pierre Galet and you will be unlucky. It is one of those vines that have almost passed into oblivion. But like the Phoenix, it is now beginning to rise from the ashes thanks to a few dedicated individuals and ENTAV (The National Technical Establishment for the Improvement of Viticulture).

Mollard was well known in the Hautes-Alpes prior to the invasion of phylloxera in the 1870s. At this time the Hautes Alpes had nearly 6000 hectares under vine, today it is under 200. For Mollard the decline has been even worse; even as late as 1958 there were still nearly 300 hectares grown in this French Department. Currently there are just 25 hectares under cultivation.

Its origin is the Hautes-Alpes (05) and it is believed to be a mutation from the Goulais Blanc. Mollard is a red skinned variety vitis vinifera that adapts itself well to the cooler climates of the Alpes. (Embrun is over 860 metres and Gap 740 metres above sea level). Back in 1868 Dr. Guyot in his book “Studies on French Grape varieties” stated “I find it (Mollard) fresh, with moderate alcohol, a good garnet colour and easy to drink. It is somewhere between a Mondeuse (Savoie) and a Gamay Noir (Beaujolais) in terms of aroma.”

The characteristics of this vine are:
1. Its ability to adapt itself to the soil conditions and the climate of this mountainous area and in the rift valley of the River Durance.
2. It is late in bud-break, thus avoiding many of the problems of late spring frost and snowfalls.
3. It ripens fairly late in the season, loving the long warmish autumn days.
4. It is only a little sensitive to coulure and is easily treated against both oidium and mildew.
5. The bunches are close knit and most commonly almost cylindrical, whilst the berries are of medium size and round in shape.
6. The wine produced is rich, with aromas black plums, a little tar, and some earthiness. (The term used locally is ‘rustique’).
7. The younger vines produce grapes that are well suited to the production of the ‘Vin de l’Année’ wines, whist the grapes from older vines produce wines that are best drunk after 2 – 4 years.

Marc Allemand of Domaine Allemand in Theus (05) in collaboration with ENTAV has just completed a 10 years study on this old vine. 2005 saw the beginning of the results of this study with the acceptance of a ‘mother vine’ with which to produce grafts to begin the preservation of the species. Two of the dozen or so clones were accepted by ENTAV and in 2007, 2000 ‘new’ vines were produced – most of which have been planted in his own vineyards. The production is guaranteed as ‘virus free’. In 2009 it is hoped that a ‘small’ number of grafted vines will become available commercially.

Marc Allemand

Speaking with Marc Allemand he told me, “I started getting the ‘bug’ about Mollard when I was still at school, and it developed further when I joined my farther after graduation. It has become my second ‘wife’, what with all the meetings, discussion groups, seminars etc. that it was necessary to attend to get as far as we have done until now. My greatest joy is that now ‘Cepage Mollard’ is allowed to be stated on my Vin de Pays wine label for my ‘vieilles vines’ red wine, I am currently the only one but it will not be long before a few of my fellow Vignerons will follow. There is another grower in the next village also producing a 100% Mollard wine.”

Question – “What do see as the future for Mollard?”

Answer – “It is an ideal grape variety for those wishing to produce red wines in the cooler climates of the world. It is certainly nowhere near as temperamentally difficult, shy bearing, or as prone to mutation as the pinot noir. Being virtually unknown it offers a new choice to both producer and, hopefully, consumer. Mollard is already being regarded with interest by the Swiss, and in a small way by other small northern producing countries who wish to offer something different to the cabernets, merlots, syrahs and grenaches. But my main interest is in the preservation of ancient varieties that can produce quality wines. So many have already been lost and our ‘big brother’ in Bruxelles is not easy to convince that some tiny varieties of anything are worth retaining. I am also a qualified distiller producing spirits from both grape pomace and fruit ‘eaux de vie’ so I understand it from both the vine and fruit grower’s point of view”.

Question – “Could this be another viognier?”

Answer – “I would love it to be, but somehow I don’t think so. For Mollard there are too many attributes that are similar, some in a tiny way, to other red wine varieties. But with more countries further north in Europe, perhaps Canada and higher regions in Chile and Argentina, and others in hilly regions, wanting to produce red wines with a difference, hopefully there may be a few that will give the Mollard a chance.”

Question – “Is anything being done to publicize the Mollard and its acceptance?”

Answer – “A film, due for release in late October in French, has been made about the vine varieties of the Hautes Alpes. Part of the film was shot here in my vineyards. I will ensure you are invited to its premiere”.

Question – What date and what is the quantity and quality of the 2008 harvest?

Answer – “The best example I can show you is where I have three ages of Mollard in a small parcel of wines at Espinasses (the next village). Harvest will be later than usual as we have not had a great deal of sun (unusual for the valley). The Mollard has lived up to its reputation of not having too many problems with rot and I have done only a limited amount of spraying. The quantity is around average and the quality – good to very good – if we get some late afternoon sunshine. The vintage will start in early October.”

Visiting the one remaining wine co-operative in the Department at Valserres (05), I enquired of the new manager, M. Millot, a young graduate oenologist from Montpellier, if any of the members produce a listed Molllard wine. He told me, “At present there is only one co-operative producer in the Hautes Alpes, producing a 100% Mollard wine, the rest of the members only have tiny amounts of Mollard remaining, so therefore it is it blended into our Vin de Pays des Hautes Alpes rouge.

The one area where there is the opportunity for expansion of Mollard wines is in the growth of the ‘all the year round’ tourist market, but are the ‘powers in office’ capable (or willing)’ to back the small vineyard industry of this department, or will the French anti-drink lobby fire another shot in the foot of the country’s wine industry?

Article and photographs copyright Grahame Martin.