Wednesday 24 October 2012

Pomegranates and Quinces

Pomegranates along with Quinces are the last of the autumn fruits (not counting olives). It's rare in these latitudes to get a ripe specimen, invariably they're seedy, tart and split open before they ripen. This tree is in a sheltered valley and south facing, plus perhaps this year an August heatwave and autumn rains came at the right time to swell their flesh.

Quinces are quite common but the wild trees suffer from boring insect infestation, although this doesn't stop foragers racing to strip the trees before they fully ripen. Fortunately excellent ripe and perfumed specimens are available in markets.

Sunday 21 October 2012

2012 Vin Primeur

Nébian Cave
These days the Aspiran Cave Cooperative is part of Clochers and Terroirs, an enormous operation by any standards. Eleven central Hérault valley villages have combined forces and represent some 850 grape growers with 2,800 hectares of vines. Production is 200,000 hl that equates to over 26 million bottles, although most will go into popular 10 litre BIBs (bag-in-box).

Every other cooperative seems to make Vin Primeur these days, typically a red wine and made to be drunk within weeks of the harvest. At Clochers and Terroirs the launch of the new vintage is an opportunity for villagers to have a convivial apero or three and be subjected to mercifully brief thank you speeches.

I'm told the Aspiran cave hasn't hosted one of these for many years. Along with Paulhan, the cave at Nébian is the nearest Clochers and Terroirs outlet. Inside, the cave could easily host a tennis match plus audience in a space surrounded by dozens of now defunct double-decker cuves.

The wine itself mercifully doesn't overdo the fruit and has a pleasant dry adult finish. Given this year's harvest is down 25% in the commune it was a very generous event.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Aspiran the grape variety

The Béziers médiathèque is an impressive new building just to the east of the town centre. An exhibition "150 years of grape varieties in the Languedoc" has a display of lithographs of grape varieties by Henri Marès published in 1890. This is one of them.

My translation "Probably a very old variety originating from the Bas-Languedoc.
Long living, the aspiran variety displays an elegant poise and shape in its leaves and bunches. In the departments of the Bas-Languedoc it is [in 1890] usually the preferred table grape for eating. It is delicious and wholesome and very moreish, one can east vast quantities. No other variety is lighter, more agreeable and easier to digest".

To my knowledge this is the only French planted grape variety named after a local place, or at least a small village (Syrah derives from Shiraz in Persia, now Iran). Today Aspiran seems to be better known under the synonym Ribeyrenc, but that said the grape is seriously rare with just a handful of vines growing in a few Languedoc domaines. It seems following the phylloxera epidemic and frosts of 1956 the variety was not replanted.

Other references I have found are Wikipedia
And a fiche in French from INRA

The dossier on the médiathèque exhibition is here (for now) dossier-cepage.pdf

Sunday 14 October 2012

Migrating Buzzards

I saw these birds of prey soaring in thermals near the village in mid-September, sadly the pictures don't do justice to the majesty of the scene.

I've subsequently read they're most likely to be European Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) migrating back to Africa. Populations concentrate as they approach the Mediterranean with at least 40 birds in this flock already. This group should eventually make it to Gibraltar for the short sea crossing into Africa.