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  • Writer's pictureErin

British Baroque: Power and Illusion with a glass or two of Burgundy

Updated: Mar 21, 2020

With the current situation in the UK, galleries, museums, and pretty much everything else in-between have shut down. I was very lucky to get to Tate Britain the day before their decision to close. With the sole aim to go and see the (then) current exhibition British Baroque: Power and Illusion.

I thought about not writing about it, as I can hardly recommend you to go and visit now, and who knows what will happen when (whenever when is) it reopens. But I might as well share my experience with you as well as some photographs of the exhibition in case you miss out. And there's never a bad time to recommend wine is there!

This is another one of my blog posts where I match wine and art, and as it's an exhibition I decided to pair it with a red and white. This time I went to the area of Burgundy in France. Famous for its' white wines from the Chardonnay grape, and its' red wines from Pinot Noir.

The exhibition explores art during the Stuart period, from the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 up until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. This was a time of great change in Britain, we finally had a King back on the throne which meant the Royal Court was back, and quickly became the epicentre of our nation. From inspiring the latest fashion, the period witnessed a real shift in art including influencing the style of portraits for decades to come and of course a new style of architecture which swept through the country. This change really came from Rome and is linked with the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Italy, as well as its neighbour France saw a more amplified shift in style, and it seems over here across the English Channel, we just about received the tail end of it, hence why the exhibition is clearly marked British Baroque.

So how did I pair a wine with British Baroque? When you think of Baroque, you'll no doubt think of the dominating church facades in Rome, the swirling heavenly ceilings in Parisian churches, Bernini's sculptures, slightly closer to home the ceiling of the Banqueting House by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and of course the portraits of King Charles II and his court by Sir Anthony Van Dyck. This was a style which displayed wealth with its flamboyant and dynamic features oozing confidence.

And this exhibition enters this period, giving us an insight into how royalty lived and were perceived. From British artists such as William Dobson, Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Sir James Thornhill and Grinling Gibbons. To those from across the Continent who came over to Britain to paint for the Royal family and the aristocracy including Louis Laguerre, Henri Gascar, Willem Wissing and Jacob Huysman.

I chose the area of Burgundy for this pairing and they do work really well with the exhibition. Some of the greatest wines in the world come from this area, with matching price tags as well, and these painters were only working for those who had the means to pay them, primarily the royal family, or at least those very close to them. Despite being one of the most famous areas in the world in regards to winemaking, Burgundy is only famous for two grapes - one for the reds, and one grape for the whites. But despite this, there's an incredible amount of variation - from light, fresh, fruit Chardonnay's perfect to drink now, to the rich, heavy, full bodied and oaked whites which have the ability to age for a phenomenal amount of time. And you'll find the same in the reds. Most being fairly light colour, medium bodied, low tannins yet many have the the ability to age, creating savoury notes, mushrooms, leather and "barnyard aromas" adding to the complexity of the wine. And this variation matches with the exhibition itself. There's an incredible amount of diversity in the art here, from portraits of nobility, birds eye views of manor houses and their impressive gardens, trompe l'oeil (optical illusions), designs for buildings, altarpieces, models and battle scenes.

Both the wines are from Domaine Collotte in Marsannay which is one of the most northerly appellations in the region, with the winemaking being overseen by Isabelle Collotte.

Starting with the white, the Chardonnay is best not served too cold (c. 12-14 degrees), which I know 90% of the population won't agree with (the 10% work in wine) but it really is a completely different experience. Too cold and most white Burgundy just tastes of acid, and some citrus fruit - but warm them up a little and the real character comes through. It's vinified half in tank, half in barrel (10% new oak) for around 13 months, so as well as that lovely sharp acidity, citrus and floral notes, you also get a lovely round full mouth feel, with subtle hints of toast and warm spices.

For the red I enjoyed a bottle of Domaine Collotte's En Combereau Pinot Noir (grapes from that certain parcel of vineyards). It's one of five owned by the winery, with these grapes coming from some of the most northerly vines. All wines are destemmed and for this particular wine and 100% is aged in oak and 25% of the barrels are new). It's a Pinot Noir that certainly packs a punch, it's heading towards a medium plus body, with complex notes of dried red fruits and you can certainly sense the beginnings of some more savoury notes developing here.

Matching the wine with the exhibition

I've mentioned the previously that choosing wines from Burgundy first seemed the right pairing due to the huge variety in style which is seen coming from the area, and the variation in the exhibition itself, but there's plenty more to pair between the wine and art on show.

You may remember that the wine is by a women, which very exciting in a male dominated profession. And a major theme for the exhibition certainly is women, yet it's celebrating them in a very different way. Beauty was considered a valuable quality in the Stuart society for women, celebrated in poetry and paintings to not only flatter individuals but to honour families. In the exhibition you'll find some examples of the Hampton Court Beauties painted by Godfrey Kneller, a set of eight portraits commissioned by Mary II of the most beautiful women other court. They are lavished with expensive silks, swirling around them, positions in grand settings reflecting their beauty and morals, as well as their families and connections. I also love the fact that they were displayed with mirrors in-between, so as you wander around admiring them, you suddenly get a reflection of yourself, in amongst the most beautiful women of the day!

I love how the dresses these women wear are so remnant of a swirling glass of wine. The luxurious silk, reminiscent of the rich Chardonnay, and the red gown representing the silky, smooth texture of the Pinot Noir.

Heading towards the £35 per bottle mark, I understand the price is a little steep for your everyday wine, but you really have to go towards this price band to enjoy a good Burgundy - everything else below just isn't worth the money, so I truly do believe it's worth it. I purchased both wines from Amathus wine shop in Soho (which as I write this is still open, so go and give them some support!). And we can keep our fingers crossed that when the world turns back to normal, and Tate Britain reopens, the exhibition will still be on for you to go and enjoy.

Heard in London


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