Saint David’s Day falls on 1st March and heralds in the Spring. Saint David is the Patron Saint of Wales so let’s take a look at the Welsh connections to Bordeaux and its wines . . .
I’ve been wanting to write a blog for Saint David’s Day for some time. I have a dash of Welsh blood in me. My grandfather, who was taken prisoner after receiving machine gun wounds in both legs at the Somme, came from Tredegar. So Wales is close to my heart. As is Bordeaux.
Wales, past and present, does have connections to Bordeaux; the Welsh settled, traded and fought there. They also enjoyed its wines. The Welsh love of Bordeaux wine goes back many centuries and it was shipped from Bordeaux to the Welsh ports at Chepstow, Milford Haven, Haverford West, Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Newport and Carmarthen from the late 1300s onwards.
Ships often carried about 25 tuns of wine at a time (a medieval tun contains 252 gallons – the equivalent of 1008 bottles). Some vessels carried even more into the Welsh ports arriving in fleets of up to 9 ships, each carrying up to 49 tuns. That’s an awful lot of Claret!
Claret was the drink of choice amongst the Welsh nobility and the religious orders in the priories and monasteries. Welsh bards were commisioned to write poetry for their noble patrons and often spoke of Claret in their verses. Guto’r Glyn (1412 – ca 1493) wrote a famous poem where wine represented the leaders of the French Army. He talks of Clared (Claret), Bwrdiaws (Bordeaux wine) and Gwresogwin (Mulled Claret). Lewis Glyn Cothi’s poetry, written around the same time, is full of the names of the wines his patrons served from France, he even mentions Sant Miliwn (Saint Emilion) wine!
Of course the Welsh went to Bordeaux too; some to fight against the French in the Hundred Years War. The soldiers of the Black Prince, Edward III adopted the green and white colours of the leek for their uniform and Welsh archers wore these colours during the Battle of Crecy. Shakespeare mentions the wearing of leeks by Welsh soldiers (and the by the Tudor King) in his play Henry V set around the Battle of Agincourt.
Sadly there are no great Bordelaise chateaux that I know of that bear a Welsh legacy (unlike the Irish and Scottish Chateaux of Bordeaux). There is little history of the Welsh who decided to settle there all those years ago.
Today, however, Chateau du Seuil in Cerons (Graves AOC) proudly sports the red dragon on its label in homage to the land of its Welsh owners, the Watts family, who purchased it in 2001.
It seems the Welsh have dissipated amongst the ports and appellations of Bordeaux; scattered on the wind. One lingering reminder of them though comes about at this time of year. Cetain vineyards are peppered with wild daffodils. Chateau Coutet’s vineyards on the top of the Saint Martin de Mazerat plateau, are one of the rare places in Saint Emilion where these wild daffodils flourish amongst the vines and spinneys of sessile oaks. At Coutet, no weed killer or pesticide has ever been used.
Both the leek and the daffodil are emblems of Wales, and both are worn on Saint David’s Day. We may see the daffodil worn to honour the occasion more often now thanks to David Lloyd George (the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister) who championed the daffodil over the leek as the symbol of Wales in the early 1900s. Strangely enough daffodils and leeks both share the same Welsh name: Cennin. Daffodils are known as Saint Peter’s Leeks, Cennin Pedr.
You won’t find any chateaux bearing the emblem of the leek but there are one or two wines named for the daffodil and some Bordeaux Whites bear the fragrance of this narcissus – our organic white Chateau Rioublanc is a good example. Some chateaux have acknowledged this phenomenon by naming their white wines after the scented flowers – Chateau Tertre de Launay produces Cuvee Jonquilles des Launay, there is also the Cuvee Narcisse from the Entre Deux Mers.
If any wine lovers out there know of any Welsh connections to Bordealise chateaux I’d like to hear from you.
Happy Saint David’s Day!