The Wine Show: Episode 6
Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys star in this series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wines. From their villa HQ in the Italian hills they travel to visit a vineyard once owned by Michelangelo and try their hand at designing their own wine label. Joe Fattorini heads to Israel to look at how wine came to be at the heart of Judaism and where it’s made today on the border of a warzone. 3 Star Michelin Chef Clare Smyth from Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road shares her wedding day memories of a very special wine and creates a beautiful dish to complement it. And Gizzi Erskine visits the Napa Valley for a trip on the Wine Train, where she’s also put in charge of the stove to create lunch for two of California’s best winemakers.
The Ancient and Modern of Wine in Israel
“When was the last time a wine merchant stood in this cellar?” I ask Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau. Dr Yasur-Landau is leading the archaelogical dig at Tel Kabri; a palace and capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite kingdom in western Galilee. “About three and a half thousand years ago,” says Assaf with a smile. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Wine is woven into the history and symbolism of cultures around the world. But rarely for so long and so deeply as in Israel. Tel Kabri has the largest and oldest cellars in the Ancient Near East. At some point around 1500BC the palace was abandoned, leaving more than 2000 litres of wine in 40 large amphorae. We don’t know why they left. But we do know why they had the wine. The same reason we do, explains Dr Yasur-Landau. To host dinner parties, win friends and influence people.
Down the coast I visit the ancient Port of Jaffa, arguably the starting point for the global wine trade, from where wine was shipped to Ancient Europe. Then to the Golan Heights where you can see the controversial home for the modern Israeli wine business. ‘Heights’ is important. The climate is mild even in the summer. It feels Tuscan, with rolling hills and neatly coiffed vineyards. In the breeze, silver-backed olive leaves glimmer like shoals of herring. Yet look through the groves and you see a tank. Then another. And in the distance you hear a boom. Possibly a practice shot. Possibly ISIS, just three kilometres away in Syria. “This is wine-making on the border of the middle ages,” says Victor Shonefeld of Golan Heights Winery.
Why plant a vineyard in such a precarious place? Because here winemakers’ connection with the land makes the French notion of terroir seem flimsy. This is wine-making in the ‘Promised Land’. Of course not everyone agrees. In the last year the European Commission issued ‘an interpretative notice on the indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967’. The EU considers settlements built on territories occupied by Israel in 1967 to be illegal under international law. But Israel disputes this position. Even so, wines from the Occupied Territories sold in EU member states must now have clear labels showing their place of origin.
Later I see the deep interconnection between Judaism and wine at a Shabbat dinner. Or an almost-Shabbat. This is a sacred ceremony, not something to be filmed. But the Gold family take me through a ‘dress rehearsal’ on a Thursday night in their home in Tel Aviv. Yitzhak recites kiddush over a goblet of wine. He takes a sip and then passes the cup around the table and we all take a drink; parents and children. Over a delicious supper Yitzhak and I discuss the place of wine in The Torah and Judaism. It is a gift from God, but one that must be used wisely. What makes wine so wonderful, also makes it dangerous. A metaphor for so much in life. All The Wine Show films taught me something. But none sent me away as thoughtful and with as many unanswered questions as this one.
Château Musar Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
It’s not the unique Cabernet Sauvignon blend that makes this special, or even coming from the Bekaa Valley. It’s Musar’s unique smokey, pungent twist on the cassis and currants of Cabernet; the added cigar box and prune aromas. One of the world’s great wines, thriving in a sometime war zone. Truly extraordinary in all respects.
The Napa Valley and its Wine Train
There are vineyards in all but one state in the USA: Washington DC (which isn’t technically a state) is the only state in the Union not to grow grapes for winemaking. And yet when most people are asked to name an American wine region they will say California, and more specifically, Napa.
Having already visited Arizona, one of the USA’s emerging wine regions, The Wine Show decided that I should meet two of America’s best wine makers in the Napa Valley.
David Mahaffey has been making wine for the Miss Olivia Brion vineyard at Heron Lake for more than 30 years. Since its very first vintage, he’s been known for making very elegant wines. But who is Olivia Brion and how did her French name come to grace this most American wine? You can read more about her here but her skills were in the making and selling of bicycles in France in the 19th century. But her ‘Haut-Brion’ wine-making roots and spirit act as an inspiration for the wine and winemakers at Heron Lake.
In 1905 Olivia, wearing trousers and sporting short hair, shocked the sporting world by beating a train travelling from Canterbury to Maidstone in Kent on her bicycle. Later in life she caused a scandal by publishing passionate letters from her many lovers, including Warren Harding, Paul Gauguin, Charles Chaplin and Isadora Duncan. She was also part of the suffragette movement and all-round woman of substance. Dare I say it, not unlike me!
I also meets Loren Trefethen from the family-owned-and-run Trefethen Vineyard. Loren’s grandparents moved to Napa in the late 1960s. At that time there were only 20 mostly struggling vineyards in what was then considered an agricultural backwater. But by 1979 John Trefethen, Loren’s father, had begun producing wines of such great quality that their chardonnay was named the best in the world at the Gault-Millau Wine Olympics in Paris.
My ‘date’ with Loren and David is aboard the Napa Wine Train which travels along the same route as laid out by Samuel Brannan, an early Californian pioneer who brought tourists including writer Robert Louis-Stevenson to the region from San Francisco. The Napa Wine train has been running since 1989 and features lovingly restored Pullman carriages in which passengers can travel through the valley past some of the most famous vineyards in the world.
As a thank you for sharing their stories about Napa and their wines, I decide to cook some lunch on board the train – another first for me! Chef Kelly Macdonald kindly allows me into the kitchen where I cook a lunch to complement the wine David and Loren have brought. For inspiration, I look back to France however, preparing a beautiful Coq au Vin, (chicken in red wine) using local ingredients and herbs that I feel bring out the subtleties in the wine. Both winemakers are very happy with their lunch; I’d like to think I did The Wine Show and the UK very proud indeed.
Stag’s Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon
Anyone looking for the perfect steak-chips- wine combo should head here. The blend of ripe currants and vanilla, oaky spice is delicious, whilst there is a good heft of ripe tannin to work with your (ideally, rare) steak. On the finish look for all the mocha, coconut and vanilla aromas from the barrels as they evolve.
THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge SIX
From Tintaretto to Titian, Bernini to Botticelli, Italy has given the world some of the most famous artists of all time. So it is no surprise when Joe Fattorini challenges Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys to find a wine that captures the spirit of Italy’s artistic heritage.
Joe sends Matt and Matt to the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany to meet his friends the Canali-Femerts on the Nittardi Estate. Once home to Michelangelo, the Estate’s current owners are as passionate about art as they are about wine. Peter Femert owns art galleries in Germany and his wife, historian Stefania Canali, shares his enthusiasm. Son Leon has also joined the family business having studied wine-making around the world.
Today Nittardi is home to a collection of modern art and sculpture, but it is to the 16th century that we look to see the roots of this connection. In 1569, while Nittardi’s owner Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he sent a message to his nephew asking for wine from Nittardi for Pope Julius II. Even today the first bottles of one of Nittardi’s wines, Nectar Dei, are sent to the Pope.
Evoking the memory of Michelangelo and his many benefactors, the Canali-Femerts have for several years commissioned an artist to create a label and wrapping paper for their Casanuova di Nittardi. This wine is a Chianti Classico made from grapes grown in the single vineyard; the Vigna Doghessa. As a 100% Sangiovese wine it is known for its minerality and fresh fruits and is the epitome of a fine Chianti Classico.
The artists that have created work for the wine include world-famous artists such as, Horst Jannsen, Yoko Ono and Gunther Grass. So it was surprising when Stefania agreed to let Matthew and Matthew have a stab at creating their own labels.
Whilst prolific by the end of the drawing session, Matt and Matt’s attempts may not be regarded as amongst the finest of the works to have adorned this fine wine. But Matthew and Matthew did not shame The Wine Show totally. Having each chosen their best piece of work, it’s up to Joe to choose the one that he feels best fulfilled the brief. Who wins? Wait and see…
Chianti Classico, Casa Nuova di Vigna Dehesa, Nittardi
There’s artistry on this wine’s labels – even if the Matts’ were a little basic. And artistry in the Michelangelo-owned history and the statuary filled vineyards. But also artistry in the deft winemaking, the palate a dense palette of cherry fruit, confident tannins and aromas picked out with violet, herbs and mature oak.