You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Champagne’ tag.

To celebrate another hundred wines down, this time, whizzing by the 200-bottle mark, I went with an old standby, uncorking Champagne to sample. Looking back, the last hundred have been interesting, I have tasted lots of Bordeaux, Meritage blends, South American wines and had one amazing stint with Gigondas all in the last few months. My eye remains trained on the bigger prize of completing the five hundred-bottle mission with plenty of time to spare, even as I applaud my current efforts, constantly thinking of how I can up the ante with special wines as I near the finish line. That’s the future though; let’s take a closer look at this Champagne (#200).

My first time tasting a wine from the Rosenthal portfolio—a notable importer from the East Coast—and I was eager to open it, selecting Premier Cru à Vertus Champagne from Guy Larmandier. After purchasing the bottle on a whim, really the imported-by-tattoo sold the bottle since there was no information posted about the producer—there was a reasonable expectation of a good outcome. I went home and searched the web to see if I had done well. To my surprise (not really that surprising), the bottle had a favorable professional review from Josh Raynolds.

I chilled the bottle of fizz, and tried to press on with my hackneyed (everything seems that way when something special is approaching) routine before the bottle was cooled to around fifty degrees. Cold to the touch but not too cold that the bouquet would be closed.

When I poured the Champagne into the flute, I paid attention to the coloring, the straw, almost celery soda (Celray from Dr. Brown’s) like tinge to the wine with fine, persistent bubbles was enough to make me pause and appreciate the beverage without tasting it. I sniffed it aggressively, detecting a moderate perfume of pippin apple, lemon rind and a little nuttiness. Charming but nothing special. I took the flute to my lips and took in a mouthful, swooshing the liquid around like a spin cycle until there was an overwhelming froth forcing me to swallow. I tasted it again and discovered a dry, crisp wine with sharp acidity and a tart finish that lingered intriguingly.

The more I tasted the Premier Cru the more I enjoyed it, like spinning a record that grows on you with each successive listen, the sparkler was getting better with each sip. The wine’s body and acidity combined impressively on the palate. I started craving some fried chicken. For fewer than fifty dollars I had hit a home run and capped three hundred wines before the end of summer; my work is still cut out for me as I creep closer to the finish line before the year’s end.

Going forward I look to incorporate a few more Neil Rosenthal wines into the mix because the Larmandier showed finesse for a reasonable price and made me wonder what other good fortune might befall me from the gems in his portfolio. Two hundred left. What’s next?

Recently I spent some time in Orange County, visiting my cellar and an old friend I had not seen for half a decade, and was set on cultivating newfound food appreciation for sushi. Fresh off of my burger high, I was resolved not to eat another one too soon after—respecting Adam Fleischman’s creation. Instead, I would be jonesing for some foreign fare, flirting with the possibility of nigiri, the authentic sushi experience (let’s not have that debate here). I was also eager to test some theories on harmoniously pairing wine and sushi, since I was late to the game. This is the story of wine number 326.

I can remember my first sushi experience, painfully, when I was younger (about ten years old) and not being able to stomach the cylindrically rice-laden edibles that were laid before me. I could not get past the idea of what I was eating, no matter in retrospect, how mild. My palate has developed immensely in the last fifteen years since my first encounter and I am much more receptive to food in general. A parallel could be drawn to the first time I heard a single from TV on the Radio back in 2003, I was not in the right place to properly receive the band, and instead, I preferred Doug Martsch and J Mascis… TV on the Radio vanished from my radar. It would be another five years before Dear Science made me a believer.

I met my friend in Irvine at the cellar where he helped me usher in the four cases of premium California Pinot Noir among other vinifera. We caught up as I repacked the cellar, shuffling newer vintages to the back while older vintages inched closer to being opened. I also pilfered the cellar, taking two separate bottles of indie Champagne out, one for the sushi dinner and the other for another blog. I do not make it down to Orange County too often so it was imperative I take advantage of my being there by grabbing any bottle I was remotely interested in drinking.

We were done in the cellar and enjoyed some of the amenities of being a member of the Irvine Wine Cellar Club, playing pool, sampling some wines, noshing on a baguette and charcuterie and watching a bit of the final four—though basketball ain’t my sport, especially when UCLA had been ousted in an earlier bracket of the tournament. We were complacent on killing time and reminiscing until my stomach flashed the bat symbol.

It was time to eat, no longer could the salami and other cured meats suppress my appetite. I began to comb my phone (Yelp app) for highly recommended places to eat Japanese in the nearby Irvine area. There was a paucity of acclaimed sushi bars. I made a few calls to check the wine lists, being polite, though I was met with resistance by a few of the restaurants when asking about the wine. I immediately pined for LA where an innocuous question would be happily answered.

The phone calls were awkward at best, I kept hearing the phrase “standard wines” that these restaurants provided, and I could feel the irritation on the phone about having to run through a wine list. What the F*&k does “standard” mean? How can that be a sufficient answer to a customer? After a little probing, I discovered that standard meant stripped down to the basic functioning wine list, and in terms of Champagne, it meant no creativity. Our restaurant (notice how there is no name written), winner by default, served Möet & Chandon White Star, Veuve Clicquot yellow label and Dom Perignon all the brainless but high margin wines to round out a sub-par wine list. I felt that my quest for premium fish would be held off until I was back in LA.

I was happy to bring a bottle of Ployez-Jaquesmart Extra Brut to the table for two reasons; I knew that it would provide an exciting flavor profile against the comparable Veuve Clicquot and that it would be a good introduction to life outside major house Champagne. The idea behind the pairing was that the high acidity found in Champagne would be able to cleanse the palate, leaving the taste buds perked and ready for another roll. Acidity is one of the main attributes that can help make a pairing successful. Sushi rolls are packed with chunks of fatty tuna, or salmon, which add a lot of richness in flavors that need to be reeled in. The acidity cuts the fat and melds the flavors, the ideal situation in any pairing scenario. Sushi rolls some times come tempura-ized and as I can attest—Champagne’s natural affinity for fried foods makes it the perfect match on paper.

After our four rolls were ordered we waited and discussed more life. Ducks hockey dominated the conversation; we were up in the air if the Ducks could dismantle the Sharks—a Pacific Division nemesis—as the hockey season dwindled down to a crucial stage for Anaheim making the playoffs.

The food arrived and the presentation was busy but pleasant. The rolls were inviting, packed with fish and fresh vegetables, waiting to be plucked by our chopsticks. The first few bites were enjoyable and exactly what I had wanted, until my hand navigated to the tempura roll—that was rough. Erring on the fried side, it was the least agreeable roll on the table and it definitely called for some Champagne to erase the heavy coating of oil that came with it. The Ployez-Jaquesmart was up to the task of assuaging the grease but not as bright as I would have liked. The vibrancy was downplayed, offering toastier and autolysis notes of baked brioche and toasted nuts. I was hoping to see more citrus and Pippin apple on the palate to counteract the fresh squeezed lemon juice atop the Cohiba rolls—which were the darlings of the four rolls. The Champagne did not mesh perfectly but it was still able to restart the palate and play the setup man to the sushi.

After dinner, my Japanese craving was slaked, I had successfully spent the day in Orange County, visited my cellar and was looking forward to capping the night with the Ducks game; it had been an active day and I was happy with the results of the Champagne and food pairing, even though this particular bottle was not the best match, the components behaved expectedly. In the future I hope to incorporate more sushi bars (with the help of my readers’ suggestions) from Los Angeles with wine, maybe even pop a few bottles of Riesling—another high acid wine—and eventually graduate to nigiri. I said goodbye to my old friend and invited him up to LA to enjoy another round of catch up and sushi, hopefully years wont pass before that transpires. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday night I continued my mission to five hundred, with my new schedule of courses I would be studying the old world wines, exclusively, tasting up to 10 wines a night and learning a lot about a few regions in France, Italy and Spain.

We began by getting the lowdown on Champagne: Timelines of important events in the region like detailing the church’s role and chronologically making our way to Prohibition. After an intense amount of history was condensed into an hour, we jumped into the climate and specificities of the region; this was in hopes of getting the class acquainted with an historic region and then being able to taste our way through a couple selections the professor had imported.

We tasted two variations on a theme, both being Champagne, the first from Agrapart & Fils “Les 7 Crus” was a co-operative effort, and the second bottle hailing from R.H. Coutier, a smaller producer (Récoltant Manipulant, or RM, as it appears on the label), growing their own grapes as well as making their own wine.

Agrapart & Fils “ Les 7 Crus” blanc de blancs was straw in color with a moderately intense nose of green apples, vanilla, some toasted notes and a fainter smell of ripe pear. On the palate it was dry with medium high acidity, medium body and lengthy finish, yielding more apple and toasted bread notes.

R.H. Coutier’s Champagne was a mixture of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, showcasing a little more development in the bottle as the straw colored sparkler was redolent of mushroom (fungal notes) and ripe red apple. On the palate, it was dry with a touch of residual sugar, teeming with medium acidity painted on the sides of my tongue and medium finish length showcasing more ripe apple, bit of crushed rock and some almond.

A good caliber of Champagne in this sampler and definitely a lot more wonderful wines to come from the class as I look forward to another eleven classes left in the course—it should also help me achieve the five hundred mark a little easier than making up a lot of tasting ground late in the year.

Deuxième Classe:  Bordeaux

On Wednesday, I had my second course of the week and this one tested me on all things Bordeaux, as well as my ability to catch any of the Ducks game (vs. St. Louis), it is as if the classes have little regard for my hockey games. Luckily, I have many phone apps to help me to follow my team.

The class is four weeks long, each class showcasing six different Bordeaux and tailoring all imparted knowledge from the region’s topography, to the climate of the different appellations—and everything in between.

After copious notes were jotted down, it was time to taste; six glasses filled with wines ranging from hue/clarity to vintage (2005 -2008). The wines included: 08 Chateau Mylord, 05 Chateau Croix-Mouton, 05 Chateau Plaisance, 08 Chateau Haut Sociondo, 05 Chateau Cap de Faugeres and 08 Chateau Les Tours Seguy.

The lineup was designed as an introduction for the sake of our innocent palates, however it proved to be overwhelming. By the end of the tasting, the drying tannins roughed up my tongue, with a feeling similar to scraping your tongue in between your teeth vigorously.

I have too many tasting notes to bore you with, but some of the wines, even at the introductory level were interesting, like the nose of the “Cuvee Alix” by Chateau Plaisance which fell victim to Brettanomyces (not that I have a problem with the funk but it can be considered a flaw). Brettanomyces is a yeast strand that provides an odor equivalent of barnyard, bandages, and other off odors. Another standout was the Chateau Cap de Fagueres, which had the body of a heavyweight boxer with pronounced notes of dark chocolate, vanilla and blackberry on the nose and an even greater concentration on the palate of black cherry—still youthful after six years of bottle age.

By the end of the course, my teeth turned a darker shade of purple and my tongue had been fatigued, but I know I must work harder on combating palate fatigue if I am going to stand a chance at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting next Saturday. As for the hockey game it finished on a big note too—the Ducks won 7-4 and Bobby Ryan had an at-home hat trick. I now see a vision of 487 wines in my future like a mountaineer pulling into view of a target peak after getting over the first low hill.

From Kimmeridgean soils to a second fermentation in the bottle, every facet of Champagne is enrapturing. The perennial celebratory beverage is quickly ditching its association with high price tags of ‘house style’ tête de cuvée, as I found out upon my recent discovery of grower’s Champagne.

Not too long ago I caught an episode of Wine Library TV—a video blog of Gary Vaynerchuk, the director of operations at Wine Library in New Jersey, and his trials-by-palate from super market wines to the cult variety—covering, or rather exposing me to ‘grower’s Champagne.’ In that particular webisode (#891) he compared José Dhondt NV to Moutardier Brut NV, urging his faithful following to drink bubbles more often and to carve out a space in the Champagne ‘n food debate.

After viewing, I quickly performed a quest on wine-searcher.com to see who had the wines advertised and in stock. I stumbled upon Wine Expo, not my preferred wine retailer but a good source for Champagnes that fly low on the radar.

While at Wine Expo I loaded up on a bounty of lesser-known producers, at a fraction of the price of the leading nègoçiants—those Champagnes that dominate the US Market. It was an informative trip and especially eye opening, like I had taken the red pill.

When I got home and tried one of my first bottles of Champagne—the least expensive of the galère— my tongue perked, heart pounded and eyes widened, I immediately felt the veil had been lifted and I realized that the world was much larger than Veuve Clicquot. The flavors were explosive with subtle notes of nutmeg and baked bread rounding out the tightly packed bubbles. This has since been my experience with farmer’s fizz, a truly astonishing experience with each of my selections. Hard to hit a wrong note.

Grower’s Champagne stems from the farmers independent productions, unlike those of the big name Champagne houses that most consumers are aware—Piper-Heidsieck, Mumm, Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon to name a few. They are boutique sparkling wines that possess a lot of character and may yield better expressions of place. Though farmers are a majority in Champagne, accounting for 88% of vineyards, only a select few choose not to sell their grapes to the larger houses. It makes the dauntless few, the proud Gallic farmers worth seeking out because the quality and lower yields of fruit create small batches of Champagne with meticulous oversight in the production from growing the grapes to bottling the wine.

Aside from pushing grower’s Champagne, it is important to become acquainted with Champagne, in all its endearing aspects from color to second fermentation. 

Geography, Soil Composition, Climate and Grapes

Champagne is located east of Paris, and is roughly 84,000 acres in area. The most northern wine-making region in France, it was officially outlined for wine purposes in 1927 by the INAO (a French organization responsible for oversight of agricultural products). It is comprised of only one AOC—one of the largest in the country.

Champagne sits in Kimmeridgean soil—a sub-period of time during the upper Jurassic period where the ocean use to cover Champagne, leaving traces of broken shells and lots of clay deposits behind—that is very chalky. Champagne’s chalky soil is a desirable environment for the vine, allowing good drainage and humidity, an impetus of healthy vines.

The cool continental climate of Champagne—with little influence from large oceans to regulate temperature, makes these areas susceptible to cold winters and warm summers—can barely ripen the grapes, preserving high acidity, which lends itself to the blending of varietals.

The only allowable grapes of Champagne (the region) are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the latter two of which are red varietals, which begs the question: how do they get that golden shimmer from red grapes?

Color

The color of most Champagne is white-golden—unless it’s a Rosé—and the more common straw-hued liquid can be achieved by using only red grapes to produce the wine, as is the case with a variety of producers. If you have ever seen ‘Blanc de Noirs’ tattooed on a label, a consumer is being informed of exactly this sort of combination of varieties, whereas ‘Blanc de Blancs’ indicates Champagne comprised purely of Chardonnay. That title will bear some weight on the buyer’s selection since each grape variety contributes unique features to the wine’s structure or perfume. The color is crafted by applying different winemaking techniques. In the case of red grapes rendering a blonde fizz, the winemaker is limiting the contact of the skins with the wine.

Bubbles

The defining characteristic of Champagne is what looms in the glass, making those gassy pearls? The bitty bubbles are formed under a second fermentation via, most famously, a “traditional method.”  This method sees a base wine combined with another wine, from a previous harvest, with added sugar and yeast—to spark a chemical reaction in the bottle, ergo carbon dioxide bubbles. This painstaking method can be seen here.

Fun Facts

Dom Pérignon did exist, a Benedictine monk in charge of the cellars of the Abbey of Hautvillers.  During his tenure as treasurer he oversaw the collection of grapes, wine making and blending of wines, creating wines that outsold the surrounding abbeys.

Madame Clicqout-Ponsardin did exist! She was the widow of François Clicquot. She was dubbed the inventor of Remuage/ riddling—a process to remove the excess sediment from the neck of an overturned bottle after the second fermentation—after she converted her table into a customized riddling rack to help ease the painstaking process.

Nègoçiants and coopératives—these groups create over three quarters (80%) of Champagne production in the world, and between them, only own a sliver of the vineyards. Instead, they buy the grapes for blending from farmers in the surrounding region.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Champagne; a coarse daub of paint a la Renoir, but there is no better way to familiarize yourself with the esteemed beverage than to immerse your palate in a good bottle of grower’s Champagne.

If you are looking for more sources, then consider these links:

http://www.champagne.us/

http://www.champagneinfo.net/

Jancis Robinson

Terry Theise

Click to subscribe to the Maverick Palate and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 855 other followers

Wine of the Month

Roumier Morey St. Denis 'Clos de la Bussiere' 2008

Eatery of the Month

aguachile

Jesse's Camarones Restaurant

Musical Accompaniment

Glenn Kotche’s ‘Ping Pong Fumble Thaw’  by The Brooklyn Rider Almanac