Browsing the archives for the Champagne tag

#Champagne Day – October 28

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Mark October 28th on your calendar now!  International #Champagne Day is just around the corner.  Join this worldwide celebration of all things sparkling!  Run out to the wine shop or rummage through your cellar to find that favorite Grand Marque or your best bottle of farmer fizz!

Wanna take part?  All you have to do is drink a great bottle of Champagne and tell the world about it.   Use the #Champagne “hash tag” on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and many other social media sites.  Use the same hash tag to see what the rest of the world is up to.

Enjoy!

Maison Alain Soutiran – Brut Perle Noire N.V.

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Tasting Note

The Soutiran family has made Champagne since the late 1950′s.  Based in Ambonnay, one of the seventeen grand cru villages in the Champagne district, Maison Alain Soutiran produces a variety of fine Champagnes including their Vintage Cuvée, Brut Grand Cru, Brut Blanc de Blanc, Cuvée Alexandre and last but not least, their Brut Perle Noire.

The quality of Ambonnay’s pinot noir is the reason that it was granted grand cru status, making Soutiran’s Brut Perle Noire ($60), a blanc de noir made from 100% pinot noir, all that more special.

What makes it even more special is that I was lucky to pick up several bottles at Grapes and Grain’s closing sale last year.  And to make things even better, I got them at 60% off the retail price!  Who says you can’t drink well in a down economy?

Tasting Notes:

Perle Noire’s rich golden hue has a wonderfully expressive bouquet of strawberries and tart cherries with mild earthy aromas.  The flavors are full-bodied flavors with a delicate structure that only pinot noir can give.  The yeasty character of fresh brioche adds further complexity to the cuvée.  The fine mousse and crisp acidity keep the intense flavors alive and dancing on your palate.  The dry finish is refined and long-lasting making this sparkler perfect for rich seafood like lobster or scallops.

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 7

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Rendell Thomas led the seventh class of the WSET Intermediate Level course,   The topic for this session – Sparkling wines and sweet dessert wines!  Admittedly, I have a weak spot for Champagne and sparkling wine so this was a particularly fun class for me.  The addition of the sweet dessert wines made for a fun night!

Rendell started the evening with a brief rundown on the history of sparkling wine and its origin, now believed to be from southern France (What? It wasn’t invented in Champagne?!). We also received a primer on the proper terminology with regards to sparkling wine and its production.

Many times we hear the terms Champagne and sparkling wine used interchangeably.  This has always been a point of contention, especially for the French who guard the term Champagne like it was their first born child, and rightfully so.  For centuries, France has pioneered and perfected the methods used to make Champagne.  From the vineyard to the cellar, painstaking and labor intensive process are used to make the so called “drink of kings.” They have the right to protect what they have worked so hard for.  Just to be clear, if it’s not from the Champagne region of France it is a sparkling wine.  There are many alternate terms used around the world.  In Spain, they call it Cava.  In Germany they call it Deutscher Sekt (or just plain Sekt in rest of the European Union).  In Italy you’ll hear it called Proseco or Asti. Within France it’s called Crémant when it comes from outside of the Champagne region.  In the US and most of the English speaking countries it’s called sparkling wine with just a few legal exceptions.

The primary grapes used to make sparkling wines are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, especially in France.  However there are variations, such as, muscat, riesling, macabeo or shiraz, just to name a few.

The labor intensive process used to make Champagne and top quality sparkling wines is called the méthode champenoise (“Champagne method”) or méthode traditionnelle (“traditional method”). Even this terminology is closely protected by the French AOC laws and can only be used sparingly.  There are other processes that are less labor intensive, such as the tank method or transfer method, that create lower quality sparkling wines, but the upside is that they are more affordable for the average consumer.

The last part of the evening was spent discovering sweet wines, such as Eiswein and Sauternes, just to name a few.  There are so many different types of sweet wines (and I’m not talking about white zinfandel) it’s hard to describe them all.  To make things simple, Rendell broke them down into three broad categories:

  • Interrupting the fermentation process (Vin Doux Naturels, etc.)
  • Adding a sweet component to the blend like unfermented grape juice (Oloroso sherries, etc.)
  • Concentrate the sugars in the grapes, either through drying or noble rot (Tokaji Aszú, Sauternes, etc.).

The styles vary greatly but you can guarantee they are all very rich and decadent.  Like Champagne, the processes used to create many of these liquid treasures are laborious and expensive.  Luckily many sweet wines, like late harvest rieslings and gewürztraminers, are affordable and easy to enjoy as or with any number of desserts.

Jessica Bell returns next week for our final class…Fortified wines & spirits!

Wines Tasted (Class 7):

  1. Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV (New Mexico)
  2. Jaillance Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Burgundy, France)
  3. Marqués de Gelida Cave (Catalunya, Spain)
  4. Taittinger Brut NV (Champagne, France)
  5. Robertson Winery Special Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2008 (Breede River Valley, South Africa)
  6. Château Haut Mayne Sauternes 2006 (Bordeaux, France)

Good Things Come In 3′s – A Sparkling New Year!

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Tasting Note

With 2009 being a year full of ups and downs, Sue an I were determined to start 2010 off right.  And what better way to start the new year than with Champagne and sparkling wine!  For this year we selected three very different wines from three very different places, each with it’s own unique style.  One with a distinguished pedigree; one from a small, rural producer; and one from an up-and-coming estate in a place you would not expect to find great sparkling wines.

The first sparkler of the evening was from Point Reyes Winery in Point Reyes Station, California, one of the few wineries in Marin County. This non-vintage blanc de blanc is made according to the traditional methods pioneered in Champagne, France.  The winemakers and owners, Steve and Sharon Doughty make their sparkling wines from all estate-grown fruit, and it shows.  Their location on the Pacific coast is well suited to growing chardonnay, where ocean breezes keep the grapes from ripening too quickly, allowing the fruit to retain its fresh acidity.  As the name implies, blanc de blancs are 100% chardonnay and this one exploded with all of the fresh, crisp flavors you might expect from a young, cool weather chardonnay.  The appley, citrus flavors were quite refreshing with prickly acidity delivered by a froth of fine bubbles.  This sparkler didn’t have the biscuity undertones that you would normally expect and the finish is short and clean, making it little one-dimensional, but still very delicious, especially for $25!  If you are looking to buy a bottle, your best bet is to contact the winery directly or stop in and visit their tasting room.

The next bottle of bubbly was a fantastic Champagne produced by Gonet-Medeville.  “Tradition,” as it is called, is a brut style, premier cru Champagne from the village of Bisseuil, France. Sue and I were fortunate enough to try this one at a Champagne tasting hosted by the Waterford Wine Company two days earlier, so we had a good idea what to expect. What we didn’t expect was how much better it was going to get! “Tradition” is a blend of the three grapes normally associated with fine champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and an obscure grape called pinot menuier.  The winemaker, Xavier Gonet, has blended these three grapes (70% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 5% pinot meunier) into a fine cuvée that evokes romantic images of rustic French villages on the chalky hillsides of Champagne.  Complex flavors and aromas of ripe apples, zesty citrus and fresh baked brioche meld seamlessly with the creamy, almond infused mousse.  The lengthy finish leaves you wanting more long after the bottle is empty!  Pricey ($52) but well worth it!

Last, and certainly not least, we finished our New Year’s celebration with an elegant vintage sparkling wine from the east coast.  The 2004 Kluge Estate Blanc de Blanc comes to us from Albemarle County in the state of Virginia, a location you would not normally associate with great sparkling wines. Kluge Estate Winery is a relatively new winery (1999) nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia and is doing some great things with sparkling wines.  Winemaker Charles Gendrot and wine consultant Laurent Champs (owner of Vilmart et Cie in Champagne, France) painstakingly crafted this blanc de blanc from Kluge’s best chardonnay. The end result is a vibrant wine with finely focused apple and pear flavors and complex hints of warm toast and roasted almonds. It has a creamy mouthfeel with tight bubbles and a clean, zesty finish.  As an American sparkling wine, I found this blanc de blanc to be just as thought provoking and delicious as the Gonet-Medeville at fraction of the price ($32)!

This might be a good time to make a New Year’s resolution – Try one new Champagne or sparkling wine each month throughout the year.  There are so many great wines out there it seems a shame to relegate sparkling wines to only holidays or special events. Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we drank champagne just for the fun of it?

Here’s to a bright and promising new year. Cheers!

Ten for 2010 – Sparkling Wines on a Budget

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The economy has effected all of this year in one way or another.  Job losses and pay cuts are commonplace, but that is no reason to stop your next holiday celebration.  We can still embrace the new year and celebrate the promise of a brighter future, even if we find ourselves on a limited budget.

My recommendation this year is to buy domestic!  As much as  I enjoy French Champagne, there are plenty of American sparkling wines that a just as enjoyable at a fraction of the price. Let’s create our own stimulus package by supporting the wineries and vineyards here at home!

The following are ten budget-friendly sparkling wines (all under $25) that will fit in nicely at your next celebration.  Enjoy!

Korbel Brut Rose ($10) – From California’s Russian River Valley, this is a light-tasting and crisp, strawberry-flavored bubbly has just a hint of sweetness.

Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine ($14)- This is one of the more unusual wines on the list. Not because of how it is made or how it tastes, but where it is made – New Mexico!  This brut style sparkler is crisp, and full-bodied with fine bubbles and sophisticated apple and citrus flavors.

Domaine Ste Michelle Non-Vintage Blanc De Blanc ($15) - Blanc de Blancs are made from chardonnay and this one shows it off beautifully, with gorgeous pear and pineapple aromas and crisp green apple flavors.  A very affordable choice from the Columbia Valley in the state of Washington.

Domaine Chandon Brut ($15) - This wine scored highly with both the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator.  It has rich and intense flavors of pear and citrus with a fine texture of crisp bubbles.

Gloria Ferrer Brut ($15) – Listed as one  Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2009, this is a lively sparkler with soft pear and citrus aromas.  Yeasty flavors of apples, spice, and minerals dance on your palate.

Piper Sonoma Brut Non-Vintage ($16)- This brut is crisp and bright, with distinct yeasty character. Packed with rich pear and apple flavors, it has a little more acidity than its peers.  This blend is primarily pinot noir, giving this wine nice body and good aging potential.

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($19)- Northern California’s soil and cool climate are well suited for sparkling wine, good reasons for French champagne house, Louis Roederer, to expand operations to the US. Roederer’s style of sparkling wine offers rich apple aromas with hints of yeast and spice.  Complex flavors of vanilla and strawberries are laced with minerals and firm acidity.

Schramsberg “Mirabelle” North Coast Rosé ($20)- One of California’s oldest estates, started in 1862, Schramsberg make numerous styles of sparkling wine.  This rosé sparkler has a delicate pink hue with floral aromas of strawberry and spice. Crisp flavors of raspberries and apples, match well with undertones of toast and creamy vanilla.

2005 Domaine Carneros Brut  ($20)- Domaine Carneros, like Roederer Estate,  is also operated by a famous champagne house, Taittiger.   The brut style sparkling wine is a sophisticated blend of apple and raspberry aromas.  Crisp flavors of lemon and lime finish with lingering notes of yeast and minerals.

J Vineyards“Cuvée 20″ ($22) - Cuvée 20 was made in celebration of J Vineyard’s 20th anniversary.  Aromas of  lemon peel and honeysuckle  fill out the bouquet. Crisp green apple and tart grapefruit flavors are followed with notes of toasty almonds and finishes with a great balance of fruit and acidity.

2006 Clérotstein Crémant d'Alsace – Symphonie en "P"

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Tasting Note

I know you are probably looking at the title, shaking your head and saying – What??!!  In short, this is a tasty and affordable sparkling wine made in the Alsace region of France.  Clérotstein is the producer and “Crémant d’Alsace” says it is a sparkling wine from Alsace.   Crémants are sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method.  France’s strict wine and food laws (AOC) only allow sparkling wines made in the Champagne region to be called “Champagne.”  In terms of quality, the AOC laws are just as strict for crémant, but the producers are allowed to use different grapes along with some other variations. Real Champagne’s usually command a hefty price tag ($40-$100 or more).  Crémants offer a wide array of affordable wines from many different regions of France.

Tasting Notes:

Symphonie en “P” is made from a trio of grapes that are well adapted to the cool Alsatian climate: pinot noir, pinot gris, and pinot blanc.  The final result is an effervescent blend of floral and citrus aromas combined with flavors of minerals, lemon peel, and toasty biscuits.  The idea of toast and biscuits in a sparkling wine may seem strange, but it is quite common and desired in Champagne and crémant.  These yeasty flavors come from the time the finished wines spend resting on lees. The cool climate keeps the acidity in the grapes high and it shows in how the bubbles and flavors dance around in your mouth for a lengthy finish.  Although this wine is labeled as “brut” or a dry style of wine, it still carries a little sweetness, but not at all unpleasant. Very good for $28.

If you are looking to find this wine, your best bet is to try Cinega Imports (DeRose Vineyards). They have several other Clérotstein wines that you may find interesting. Due to our pesky and antiquated shipping laws, call ahead or check their website to make sure they can ship to your location.

Wine Selection Tips for Thanksgiving

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The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time for friends and family break bread together. The traditional Thanksgiving feast has a large selection of foods, all with their own unique flavors and textures. Selecting a wine or wines to go with this wide variation of dishes can be a daunting task. One thing is certain; there is no right or wrong answer. If you and your guests enjoy the meal (and the wine), that is all that really matters!

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are a popular choice for most holiday meals. Crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and yeasty undertones help make these wines extremely food-friendly. A good Blanc de Noir (a sparkling wine or Champagne containing Pinot Noir) pairs well with many courses, from cheeses to salads to turkey and potatoes. The bubbles, combined with the natural acidity, work to cleanse the palate for each course.

White Wines

Fruity white wines with lively acidity work well with any number of dishes. Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, apples and pear compliment everything from butternut squash to the turkey and stuffing. Chardonnay, on the other hand, with its richer flavors and fuller body, goes better with creamy dishes. Gewürztraminer has an inherent spiciness that begs to be paired with cranberries or spicy pumpkin or squash soups.

Red Wines

Pinot Noir is probably one of the most versatile wines for the Thanksgiving meal. Flavors of tart cherries and strawberries, along with a nice balance of acidity and tannins, supports most courses without overpowering them. If dark meat is on the menu, consider a Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend from the Côtes du Rhône. Their ripe, dark fruit flavors and rich tannins work well with fat in the meats.

Dessert Wines

Selecting a dessert wine can be a little problematic. Depending on the level of sweetness in the dessert, some wines may or may not work. If the dessert is not too sweet, consider a sweet wine like Muscat or an effervescent Moscato d’Asti. If your dessert is very sweet, look for a Port (ruby or tawny) or a late-harvest Riesling. These wines are very sweet and rich and will stand up to the sugar in the dessert. Of course all of these wines could be considered “dessert” just by themselves.

These are just a few hints and suggestions to help select a wine (or wines) that will compliment your Thanksgiving meal. The best part is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes time to choosing a wine. If you like the wine, and it enhances your dining experience, that’s all that matters! The important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is about friends and family. They are the ones that truly make Thanksgiving great!