Monet's London and a glass of Fizz
A glass of Casa Coste Piane's Prosecco paired with Monet's The Thames below Westminster
The painting depicts a foggy London seen from a view at the bank of the River Thames. It gives us a view of what would have been the newly constructed Houses of Parliament, but it's through the city's dirty air, the smog has completely enveloped the scene, yet the artist has seen the beauty of it. It's probably in fact daytime but the fog that encapsulates the city never lifts. It's painted by Claude Monet, most commonly associated with his vivid use of colour, his waterlilies, his outdoor scenes, so this actually comes as quite a surprise.
This depicts a new London, the boats on the river give a nod to the period of Industrialisation, Westminster Bridge would have only been completed nine years previous, and Victoria Embankment which reclaimed some land from the Thames for a new sewage system would have been new too. It's dirty, it was no doubt smelly, the air heavy with the fumes, yet Monet was inspired. The fog was beautiful to him, magical, and he loved it.
I came up with the idea of pairing this with a Prosecco because to be honest, it does get a bit of a hard time. It's either viewed as cheap and nasty, perhaps a little sweet, and too good for a lot of people. But then on the other hand as soon as a producer does something cool and funky, asking for a little bit more than the £6 we're used to down the supermarket, so many people turn their nose up.
In regards to the painting, Monet is depicting a scene which many people would have turned their nose up at. Not just in terms of the scene he's depicting but also his style. Today he's known as an Impressionist artist, but early on in his career he couldn't sell a single painting. This style was new and people didn't like it. In 1874, an exhibition showcasing this new style of art was held in Paris. A group of artists who were rejected by the art establishment for their radical approach, including Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sezanne. But not everybody warmed to this new art style and this exhibition, and Monet's' piece “Impression, Sunrise” was particularly singled out and ridiculed. A prominent art critic and humorist Louis Leroy wrote a scathing review on the exhibition, making a wordplay with the title of Monet's piece declaring that his “Impression;Sunrise” was at most a sketch, and could hardly be termed a finished work. Yet the artists carried on what they were doing, and today their paintings are world famous and loved by us all.
The prosecco I have chosen is unusual, it's different, and won't be for those looking for a standard run of the mill prosecco. And perhaps those who love Monet for his vivid use of colour, the open countryside won't like this painting either. One made difference with the wine is the fact that it's unfiltered (more bout that below) which means it takes on a cloudy, hazy appearance, just like how Monet saw London through the fog...
Monet, his wife and three year old son had moved to London, finding a small flat above Shaftesbury Avenue in the winter of 1870/1. Now we all know how bleak December can be London, but imagine it being a last minute decision, and a new arrival not knowing the language.
The small family had made the decision to move over here from Paris, after hearing France declare war on Prussia on the 19th of July 1870, Monet dodging conscription.
But Monet saw something in London that perhaps others did not. From the Reading Room at the British Museum, with its free heating, lighting, pens and ink, to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Gallery, and choux buns from Maison Bertaux, which can still be visited today (and incidentally serve some of the best eclairs in London).
And Monet painted. He painted his wife looking bored out the window, Hyde Park and Green Park. He fell in love with fog, the that dirty haze kept drawing him back again and again in subsequent years.
‘This morning I believed the weather had totally changed,’ he wrote fretfully in March 1900. ‘On getting up I was terrified to see that there was no fog, not even the shadow of a fog; I was devastated and saw all my canvases ruined, but little by little, the fires kindled, and the smoke and fog returned.’
And it's a painting I love, I get completely absorbed into, so it only seems natural to pair it with my Prosecco from Casa Coste Piane.
This wine is from a producer going against the grain, and in my opinion is still an absolute bargain at around £15.
Casa Coste Piane is a small estate in the heart of the Valdobbiadene area, home to where some of the best Prosecco is made. The winery had actually sold their wine in bulk until 1983, when they decided it was time for a change and bottled the production themselves.
The vines average 60 years, some of them are even pre-phyoxera which is pretty cool. What's also cool is that it's made using the champenoise method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle like Champagne. Most Prosecco get's its bubbles from the second fermentation taking place in tanks, so you already know this will be something a little bit special.
The still wine is bottled without the addition of yeast and sugar, relying on indigenous yeast to start a second fermentation, and disgorgment doesn't take place, two things which mark this sparkling wine apart from Champagne. More often than not, a sugar and yeast mixture would be added to start the second fermentation, and disgorgement is also a fundamental part of making Champagne. Leaving the dead yeast cells in a wine adds complexity, savouriness, but also it means the wine, or at least the last dregs of the bottle will be a little cloudy (bits are never a bad thing, think orange juice and yoghurt!).
There's barely any residual sugar, it's clean, elegant, with some intense lemon characteristics. It's complex, but also worryingly easy to drink, and unlike most Prosecco, you can come back to it time and time again, just like Monet did to London, and just like we do to Monet.
Heard in London