Wine Book review : Wine & War

My posting schedule has been a little bit irregular lately and not as assiduous as I would have liked. I was a little preoccupied by professional matters which made it hard for me to focus on writing blog posts. Hopefully my work situation is all worked out now so I can get back on track.

First order of business, a review of another wine book, Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup.  My trusty sidekick lend me the book a while ago and I finished it last month. It’s definitely worth a review. I guess the subtitle of the book would work as a summary: The French, the Nazis & the battle for France’s greatest treasure. Anybody interested?


Good. As I was saying, it’s a pretty great book, I might be biased because it’s about History and wine, arguably my two favorite things, but bear with me. Basically the book is a series of vignettes, in chronological order, about what happened to some wine producers WWII. Not only during the Phoney War and the actual war, but mostly during the Occupation.

I’m into History and I never realized how bad French people actually had it during the occupation. I mean I knew that being occupied and ruled by a puppet dictator was bad, but I didn’t realize how much people were actually starving. See, the Germans wanted to treat France as their national pantry, shipping all food production to Germany. And that included wine. They actually set up a dedicated organization to manage the plundering of French wine production with actual weinfurhers set up for each wine producing region.

Wine, as a prestige product and a symbol of French culture was a target of the Nazi occupants and the pillage of the best vintages was organized. Luckily, French producers and negociants acted fast, burying their best bottles, walling them inside cellars, switching labels with bad quality wine… All those measures helped but could not prevent the damage.

One of the most touching episodes told in the book takes place in a prisoner camp in Germany. French POWs are cold, worried, half-starved and homesick. One of the POWs, an ex-wine producer decides to organize a wine dinner for the whole camp with care packages from their families. It turns into a huge, month long project and culminates in a day long wine seminar topped by a tasting. For a day, wine helped prisoners forget about the stalag and enjoy a bit of their culture. That was definitely my favorite passage.

You’ll learn a few wine terms and some bit and pieces about winemaking and classic bottles and vintages, but for wine lovers, the fun part will be picking up names of producers they have heard of. Most of those names still live on today in the wine business: Huet at Vouvray, Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Drouhin in Burgundy, Piper in Champagne… The most marking name, in my opinion was the Hugel family from Alsace. One of their son ended up conscripted in the German army and the other one fled to London to join the Free French Forces. That is some Greek tragedy material right here. Luckily, it ended well.

There you have it. I thought it was a great book but I am 1) a student of History and 2) French so I have a vested interest in the subject matter. I wonder if someone who is “just” a wine lover would enjoy it too.

A tart Summer red, Le Fraghe Bardolino

Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012

Region: Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy

Grape: Corvina / Rondinella

Price: $14

Summer finally decided to come to Massachusetts, and thank God for that. The thing, is, when Summer comes, it does not pretend, it’s really, really hot. Obviously, this is not a problem but rather an opportunity, when it’s warm, you’re thirsty, when you’re thirsty, you drink wine, easy and delicious solution to an easy problem.

Now most people will think that summer calls for white or rose wines and will leave their stock of reds almost untouched until Fall. I believe that’s a mistake, but only because I have been made aware of the power of the Summer Red! Summer reds are those red wines that you can serve lightly chilled (an hour or so in the fridge) and that will refresh you like a nice crisp white. It’s one of my favorite type of wine and it can come from various places. I trotted out my first summer red of the season last night, here’s the result.

The Bardolino DOC is located in Northeastern Italy, in the Veneto region, near Lake Garda. It’s made with Corvina and Rondinella grapes, two local varieties that can also be found in the neighboring, more famous DOC of Valpolicella.

Eye: Medium ruby with purple hints

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Lots of red fruits (cherries)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, very angular. Medium plus body, medium length of finish

Lots of fresh red fruits notes, mostly sour cherry and redcurrant that transition into darker notes of brambles and black pepper. The wine feels tart and refreshing but still has some body. It has certain elegance, if I had to compare it to anything it would be a red Burgundy with and added spiciness (black pepper notes).

Food pairings: It’s a summer red, perfect for sipping on the terrace with some cheese and lunchmeat

Overall opinion: I love Summer reds, this one is on the tart side which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes it particularly refreshing. It’s also quite affordable and I think it has good value for the price.

Grade: 6.5/10

Red, white and black : The Chook Shiraz/Viognier

The Chook Shiraz Viognier 2012

Region: MacLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia

Grape: Syrah / Viognier

Price: $18


As I was going through the wine list at a restaurant, my eyes got drawn to an original wine, a red and white blend, this can seem counter-intuitive until you remember that many champagne wines are a blend of white and red grapes, or that white grapes can be blended in Chateauneuf du Pape wines. Contrary to popular belief, mixing red and white will not make a rose! Here the two varieties are Shiraz and Viogner. I love Shiraz, and I love Viognier, so there are chances I will enjoy the blend.

MacLaren Vale in South Australia offers a climate similar to the Mediterranean one with the benefit of cooling breezes from the ocean. The Chook is collaboration between some producers that wanted to make bold wines from the region. They also produce a sparkling Shiraz on which I’d like to put my hands. Oh, and Chook is Australian for “chicken”

Eye: Very deep ruby, are you sure there are some white grapes in there?

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Blackberries and black pepper notes

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, round tannins, long finish

At first glance, this wine appears to fall more under the Shiraz than the Viognier blueprint. Dark berries and pepper with a deep ruby color is pretty Shiraz-like. I think the Viognier contributions are on the more subtle side, with the body, smoothness and acidity that help support the Shiraz aromas. I didn’t get any of the traditional Viognier notes such as peach or apricot. It is possible they were there but buried underneath pepper and berries.

Food pairings: I had it with chicken, I mean, there is a chicken on the bottle, what was I supposed to do? It would work great with grilled meat in general.

Overall opinion: I really enjoyed it. The combination of Viognier smoothness and the spicy, flavorful Shiraz made for a great combination. You get the bold Shiraz flavors but the wine remains refreshing and smooth. I will buy a couple bottles and look for the sparkling.

Grade: 7.5/10

#MWWC10 Time to vote!