Family Winemakers Recap – Best of the Newbies!

I attended the Family Winemakers of California (“FWC”) Grand Tasting at the San Mateo County Event Center on August 17th.  The FWC is the trade advocate for California’s “small family” wineries (although behemoth wineries like Kendall Jackson and Gallo are also considered family wineries most are in fact smaller family run wineries ). And a huge tasting like this brings in trade, media, and wine lovers from across the country.

Family Winemakers Tasting - The Best of the Newbies

After twenty-three years in San Francisco, I wondered what was behind the change in venue.   According to the FWC the change in venue was driven by “a reflection of our vintners’ desire to reach the broader wine market on the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley”.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best Of The Newbies

With 160 wineries pouring over 450 wines, it’s the single largest tasting of California wines in the world!

It’s my favorite big event because it’s a chance to taste so many different types and styles of wines from throughout California, from so many producers, large and small, old and new.  If you’ve ever wanted to taste wines back to back, this event is a great opportunity to do so.

Artistry and passion are the hallmark of FWC wineries at these tastings…

If ever there was a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this.  With so many wineries pouring, I needed a plan to maximize my time at the tasting.

My initial thought was to check out the 32 wineries that were pouring at the event for the first time.  But when I checked out the Tasting Program, that yielded about 130 different wines…

Clearly, that wasn’t going to work.  Not if I intended to drive home!

So I narrowed my focus and decided to taste Chardonnay, and Cabernet (both Sauvignon and Franc) from the first-timers.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best of the Newbies

Nate and Lauren Belden of Belden Barns

I tasted around 50 wines from the first-timers.  My favorites (which I rated 90+ points – wines that I considered distinctive and memorable) were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2012 Belden Barns Grüner Veltliner
  • 2013 Belden Barns Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Cuvee Wine Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
  • 2013 Pence Ranch Chardonnay
  • 2012 Pellegrini Family Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2013 Xurus Sauvignon Blanc

Reds

  • 2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir
  • 2011 Chaix Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Chaix Vineyard
  • 2010 Encanto Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Madrigal Red Wine Sonnet 63
  • 2009 Madrigal Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2007 Martin Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Thérèse Vineyards
  • 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard
  • 2009 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard

After tasting through the first-timers,  it was time for “Taster’s Choice…Um..basically, I’m “off the clock” and taste whatever strikes my fancy.  I tasted another 40 wines.  My favorites from were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2011 Robert Young Estate Winery Chardonnay
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc
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The “wine-up” at Tablas Creek. You can’t go wrong!

Reds

  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Franc
  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2011 Frank Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Cook’s Flat Reserve
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Mourvedre
  • 2009 Taplin Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Terra 9
  • 2012 Siduri Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard

It was a fabulous tasting.  It’s always such a thrill to discover new to me wineries, and of course revisit some always favorites.

On balance, I was pleased with the change in venue.  Parking is easier, it’s closer to home for me, and the crowd (though attendance seemed down compared to prior years) seemed more well-behaved.  I hope the event continues at the San Mateo location.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend a FWC tasting, I highly recommend checking it out! Your next opportunity is schedule for March 15, 2015 at Fairplex in Pomona.

Wine of the Week: 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  My Wine Of The Week is the 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

The Winery

Faust Winery is the creation of Augustin Huneeus and it continues to satisfy his long-held desire to produce a wine that embodies the most seductive characteristics of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Agustin is one of the few vintners who has dedicated his entire professional life to wine.  With a career spanning 50 years, he has produced wine in more than 15 countries.  Perhaps best known today for creating Quintessa, the stunning biodynamic vineyard and winery estate he and his wife Valeria own in Rutherford, Napa Valley, Agustin is recognized as a driving force in how fine wine is produced, recognized, sold and marketed in the United States.  The philosophy that great vineyards make great wine is his guiding principle.

The Faust vineyard is located in Coombsville, Napa Valley’s newest appellation located in the eastern foothills south of Atlas Peak.  It consists of 110 acres of mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines, with small plantings of Petit Verdot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.  The vineyard is farmed in ten distinct blocks, all of which have a unique character.  Yields on the property are especially low as extra care is put into practices such as winter pruning, green harvest and selective picking.

Faust also seeks small lots from family growers in other unique Napa Valley growing districts including Yountville, Atlas Peak, Mount Veeder, St. Helena and Rutherford.

In addition to this wine, Faust also produces two other wines which are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – “The Pact” (sourced from Napa Valley’s newest appellation – Coombsville), and “The Lure” (sourced from the renowned Stagecoach Vineyard).

Faust is certified under the Napa Green Certified Land Program.

The Wine

The wine is a blend of all five of the six Bordeaux grape varieties featuring 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc.  The grapes are sourced from throughout the Napa Valley including estate vineyards in Coombsville, and Rutherford and Yountville, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak, and St. Helena.

All grapes were hand-picked, double-sorted and crushed, then cold-soaked and fermented in both French oak and stainless steel tanks.  After an extended maceration, Faust was aged for 19 months in French oak.

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc; 14.2% Alcohol

Faust
My tasting notes follow:
Dark ruby color with enticing dark cherry, dark chocolate, dried herb and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied,  and concentrated, with harmonious fruit, acidity, and tannins and a supple texture.  It shows delicious dark cherry, cassis, spice flavors with a subtle minerality.  Long finish.  Drink now, but will age for 5-7 years  >>Find this wine<<
Rating: A: A delicious and harmonious Bordeaux blend!

Pair with: Lamb chops, Korean Sizzling Beef,  Slow cooked Beef Brisket or Meatloaf

Wine provided as a sample for review.  Many thanks to Fineman PR

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Champagne Chronicles-Day 2

I recently had the privilege of traveling to the Champagne region in France as a guest of the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip.  Here’s what the Champagne Bureau said about the trip…

The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities, as well as what the region is doing to protect its name in the United States.  The week-long trip… will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole…you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.

This is the second in what will be a series of five posts about my visit to Champagne (Click here for Day 1)

Our itinerary for Day 2 included:

Visit to C.I.V.C.

On what was a glorious day weather-wise, first up on our itinerary was a visit with the C.I.V.C., the governing body of the Champagne region.  The purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of the mission of the C.I.V.C., and share some specifics about the region.  The presentation by Philippe Wibrotte, Head of Public Relations was information.  A few of my takeaways were:

  • What makes Champagne unique is the combination of climate, the predominately limestone sub-soil, and topography.
  • 100% of grapes in Champagne are harvested manually
  • There are 15,000 growers in Champagne, and 5,000 of those make Champagne from their own grapes.
  • Classification of grapes in Champagne is based on villages rather than specific vineyards. There are 17 villages ranked Grand Cru, and 42 ranked Premier Cru.
  • Champagne houses(there are 320)  account for two-thirds of all Champagne shipments and represent 90% of the export market.
  • There are 34,000 hectares of vines in Champagne.  38% of those are Pinot Noir, 32% are Pinot Meunier, and 30% are Chardonnay. There is a miniscule amount of 4 other permitted grapes - Pinot Gris (sometimes known as Fromenteau), Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane.
  • 98% of Champagne sold is multi-vintage (that explains why vintage tends to be more expensive)
  • 1.4 billion bottles, about 3.5 years of production are in storage.
  • The C.I.V.C. is ferocious when it come to protecting the Champagne name and image of Champagne.  In the past, the C.I.V.C. has successfully barred the use of ‘Champagne’ in toothpastes, mineral water for pets, toilet paper, underwear and shoes.
  • Champagne producers have been using lighter bottles since 2011.
  • Production in Champagne is measured in bottles, not cases as it is here in the U.S.
  • The C.I.V.C. determines the dates harvest can begin for the 350 villages in the region. As announced the day after our visit, the 3-week window for picking grapes began on September 8th.
photo

C.I.V.C Headquarters in Epernay, France

After the presentation there was an educational tasting lead by C.I.V.C. enologist Marie-Pascale Do Dihn Ty

See below for gallery of C.I.V.C. visit

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Lunch

We dined at the restaurant in Les Grains d’Argent, a beautiful hotel surrounded by vineyards for lunch. 

See below for gallery from lunch

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“More than any other wine, Champagne unlocks wine’s archetypal promise:joy” – Karen MacNeil

Visit to Champagne Roger Coulon

Champagne Roger Coulon is a great example of Grower Champagne.  Grower Champagne comes directly from the families who own the vineyards, and make the wine. Located in the village of Vrigny, in the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne, the Coulon family has been winegrowers since 1806.  The family has gradually increased its holdings so that there are now 11 hectares under vine, spread over 70 parcels of land in 5 villages, most of which benefit from South-east facing slopes on sand, chalk and clay. Their Premier Cru vineyards are composed of  approximately 35% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay with an average vine age of 38 years. Using only wild yeasts, they produce about 90,000 bottles per year. The Coulon’s practice of lutte raisonée (reasoned agriculture) – the minimal use of herbicides and pesticides.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Isabelle Coulon, wife and partner of Eric Coulon, an eighth generation winegrower. After introduction and brief tour, Eric took us on a vineyard tour.

After the vineyard tour we returned their family home, which includes an amazing B&B - Le Clos des Terres Soudées, before settling down for a quick tasting. We only tasted three wines because we were strapped for time.

My favorite was the Réserve de L’Hommée Cuvée which is made with family’s oldest grapes. It’s intentionally made less sparkling(4.6 atmospheres instead of the typical 6) in order to get tiny bubbles that last a long time.  An equal blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, it’s aged five years before disgorgement. It’s yeasty, and generous with apple, roast hazelnut, spiced orange and mineral character with a long finish. >>Find this wine<<

Learned about: Sexual confusion (er…this relates to moths, not humans) – A treatment against the grape moth, in which small packets of synthetic pheromones of female moths are distributed among the vines to confuse male moths and prevent them from mating. It’s considered a much more eco-friendly solution, albeit more expensive alternative to spraying vines with various chemical products.

Insider’s tip: Their B&B is awesome!  If I ever go back to Champagne, I know where I’m going to stay!

See below for gallery from visit to Champagne Roger Coulon

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Visit to Champagne Veuve Clicquot

When I saw a visit to Veuve Clicquot (“VC”) on our itinerary, it needed no introduction. The Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut (a.k.a. Yellow Label) seems to be the most popular Champagne sold in the U.S., and is certainly the most marketed brand of Champagne in the U.S. It’s currently the second largest house in Champagne producing about 14 million bottles a year. Approximately  20 % of their fruit comes from their own vineyards.  The other 80% is purchased from growers, with most of whom they have long-term (20-25 year) contracts.

Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron,VC has played a pivotal role in establishing Champagne as a luxury product. They are credited with many firsts including the riddling rack, and being the first Champagne house to produce rosé Champagne.

When we arrived at the Veuve Clicquot facility, we were met by their Chef de Cave (cellarmaster) Dominique Demarville, and winemaker Cyril Brun for a tour of one of their vineyards.  It’s clear that V.C. is laser-focused on working towards more natural viticulture for both estate and purchased grapes.

We must never forget that Champagne is a wine, and the quality is in the vines. – Dominque Demarville

After our vineyard tour we headed into Reims to V.C.’s private residence L’Hotel du Marc for dinner.  It’s a spectacular 19th century mansion that underwent a complete remodeling after V.C. was acquired by luxury group LVMH.

Inside the mansion, we tasted through eight still wines (vin clair in French) from various vintages that were both base and reserve wines used to make V.C Champagnes.  The wines were tart and very acidic, and I could barely discern the subtle differences the wines.  Though, the final vin clair we tasted was a multi-vintage blend with a 2013 base wine that showed the grapefruit profile I associate with the V.C. Yellow Label.  I came away from the experience with a whole new respect for the art of blending. 

Vins clairs tastings are a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wine before the bubbles, and to imagine their development over time; they are a unique foray into the magical kingdom of champagne. – Caroline Henry

After the vin clair tasting, we tasted four more wines including a 2003 Bouzy Rouge, an outstanding still red wine not for sale to the public, and had dinner in the magnificent dining room.

My favorite was the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rosé Vintage – It has a harmonious, refreshing, slightly savory, strawberry, raspberry, citrus and mineral character. And it paired very well with the second and third courses of our meal.

Learned about: Inspired by the discovery of 47 bottles of Veuve Clicquot from 1839 to 1841 at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in 2010, that were in great condition, VC is experimenting with a “Cellar in the Sea“.

Insider’s tip: With about two-thirds of VC Yellow Label being composed of black grapes, it’s a great example of a medium-bodied Champagne that will work well not only as an aperitif, but also with a diverse selection of main courses, especially seafood!

See below for gallery from visit to Champagne Veuve Clicquot

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After dinner we found ourselves hanging out on the patio outside the stately Hotel du Marc, and I found myself savoring what was a deeply satisfying day on all levels.  What a fantastic day!

Stay tuned!

Wine of the Week; 2010 Stage Left Cellars – The Emcee

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  My Wine Of The Week is the 2010 Stage Left Cellars – The Emcee.

The Winery

Stage Left Cellars is an urban winery located in Oakland, California not too far from Jack London Square. By urban winery I mean their winemaking facilities are located in an urban setting, rather than in a rural setting near the vineyard.

The winery is owned and operated by Melinda Doty and her husband, Rich Williams who is the winemaker.   Melinda and Rich both had corporate gigs before they decided to exit “Stage Left” and pursue their dream of opening a winery.  Like so many winemakers, they were making wine in their garage before taking the plunge into commercial winemaking.  Their first commercial effort was the 2004 “Day Job” a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre.

Stage Left is focused primarily on Rhone varietals and Rhone blends.  They source their grapes from throughout California and Oregon. Case production is about 1,200/year.  The wines are available by signing up for The List.

Stage Left is open the first Saturday of each month, and by appointment.  The tasting fee is $5.  Stage Left was voted the “Best San Francisco” area winery for 2011 on the ABC 7 “A” List.  I highly recommend visiting.  You’ll enjoy the wine and they’re great hosts!

The Wine

The fruit for wine comes from the Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA, in the extreme eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.
It is called The Emcee because it was the 1st time Stage Left made a stand alone Mourvedre (so it finally took the stage on its own). They typically use Mourvedre as a blending wine in other bottlings such as The Breadwinner, The Day Job, The Globetrotter, The ExPat, etc…
Don’t let the alcohol % fool you. There’s enough acidity here to keep this wine from being flabby or jammy….

100% Mourvedre – 14.9% Alcohol; Retail – $26

photo (59)

My tasting notes follow:

Nearly opaque black red color with very appealing mixed black and red fruit, eucalyptus, leather, spice and lavender aromas. On the palate,  it’s medium bodied and well-balanced with very good acidity, a velvety mouthfeel and blackberry, red plum, red currant, and a bit of spice flavors that is underscored with an appealing minerality and earthiness.  Long satisfying finish. Drink now, but can age

Rating: A:  Every time I have a bottle of Stage Left Cellars, I ask myself why I don’t have more of their wines. This is an outstanding example of a refined, nicely balanced Mourvedre.   Wish I had more!

Pair with: We enjoyed this with a weeknight burger, but as fall approaches this wine would pair well with grilled and roasted meats, stews, root vegetables, mushrooms and dark fowl such as duck.  Step away from the Cab and into Mourvedre!

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Wine of the Week; 2011 Kokomo Pinot Noir Gopher Hill Block Peters Vineyard

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  My Wine Of The Week is the 2011 Kokomo Pinot Noir Gopher Hill Block Peters Vineyard.

From The Winery

Perched on 120 acres of prime Dry Creek Valley east benchland vineyards known as Timber Crest Farms, Kokomo Winery concentrates on small production, single-vineyard wines. Started in 2004 with the production of a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Kokomo Winery focuses their terroir-driven philosophy on Sonoma County and its distinct appellations. Owner and Winemaker Erik Miller named the winery after his hometown of Kokomo, IN, and decided on a Coastal Cypress Tree for the logo to signify his move out west. Joined by his best friend from Purdue, Josh Bartels, as Kokomo’s assistant winemaker, Erik partnered with legendary grower Randy Peters, who has over forty years of wine grape growing experience under his belt. The three have formed quite the successful alliance, as Kokomo Winery has now joined the elite boutique wineries of Sonoma County, gaining more 90+ ratings and Gold Medals with each anticipated release. 

I know them more for their Zinfandel and Rose than Pinot Noir.  However, I picked up a bottle of this Pinot Noir when I visited for Passport To Dry Creek in April because I really enjoyed it.

The Wine

The fruit for this wine was sourced from a vineyard is located where a former Gravenstein apple orchard stood, 10 miles from the Pacific Coast.  It is 100% Pinot Noir – the Pommard clone.  It was aged in 100% French Oak, 30% new.

The 2011 Vintage of this wine retails for $42. 13.8% alcohol

Wine of the Week; 2011 Kokomo Pinot Noir Gopher Hill Block Peters Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Garnet color with appealing rose petal, pomegranate,strawberry, damp earth and baking spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with wonderful acidity, supple tannins and strawberry, pomegranate, a bit of caramel and spice flavors with a lingering finish

Rating: A-:  This wine was such a treat!

Pair with: We paired with grilled salmon and a homemade tomato salad.  It was a fantastic pairing.

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Champagne Chronicles – Day 1

Dreams do come true. When I first got into the “wine thing”, as I call it, I dived head first into the pool of knowledge. One of my resources was Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. And one of my favorite chapters in that tome is “Champagne“.  Ever since then, the Champagne region has been on my bucket list of wine regions to visit.

Few wines captivate us to the extent Champagne does.  But then Champagne is not simply a wine; it is also a state of mind – Karen MacNeil

Imagine my surprise (shock really…slaw-jawed, I almost fell out of my chair!) and euphoria when I received an invitation from the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip that read…

The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities, as well as what the region is doing to protect its name in the United States.  The week-long trip is exclusively reserved for a small group of leading food and wine journalists from across the U.S., and will be scheduled for the first week of September, departing the US on August 31, and returning September 6. This trip will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole. As a guest you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.

This is the first in what will be a series of five posts about my visit to Champagne

After the 12 hour direct flight from San Francisco to Paris, I took the TGV (high-speed train) from Charles de Gaulle airport to Reims (click here for the tricky pronunciation).  It’s a quick 30 minute ride that gives you a taste of the bucolic French countryside with its undulating hills, farmland, crops and trees.  And to my surprise – not a vineyard in sight!

A filtered photo of the beautiful and historic Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral

A filtered photo of the beautiful and historic Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral

I arrived in Reims around 1:30 and got settled.  Our itinerary for Day 1 included a guided tour of the Reims Cathedral at 5:00p; followed by dinner.

After deciding against a nap, I decided take a walk to get acquainted with my surroundings, and see what I could see.

About Reims

Reims, the cultural capital of the Champagne region,  is a lovely town best known for its historical significance and its role in the production of Champagne.

Twenty-five French kings were crowned in its Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims  and celebrated in the adjacent Palais de Tau. These monuments, along with the  Abbey of Saint-Remi are included as UNESCO world heritage sites. Another historical site is the Porte de Mars, which dates back the third century AD, remains as the oldest artifact of Reims from the Gallo-Roman era.

The city was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War I.  At least 70% of the city was destroyed including The Cathedral which sustained heavy damage including the roof, hundreds of sculptures and the destruction of many of the arched stained-glass windows. The centenary of the World War I is being held this year.

Some of the most famous Champagne makers maintain their headquarters in Reims, including Taittinger, G.H. Mumm, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot.

Photos from my walk about and visit to the Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral are in the gallery that follow:

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Dinner

Dinner was at Le Millénaire, a chic first rate restaurant a short walk from the Cathedral. One of the things I most looked forward to during this trip was the chance to experience Champagne served with each course of a meal.  And my experience at Le Millenaire exceeded my expectations!

“I have yet to discover a dish that will not come alive in the presence of Champagne.” Anistatia R Miller, author of Champagne Cocktails 

Photos from my first Champagne pairing dinner!

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Wine(s) of the Day:

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru.  My tasting note follows:

Vivid dark pink color with rich cherry, strawberry, damp earth and mineral aromas that bring to mind a still wine. On the palate it shows ample body with rich cherry flavors and an appealing minerality.  100% Pinot Noir.  A unique expression of Rosé Champagne that I very much enjoyed with my dessert.

Insider’s tip:

  • Reims is a great city where one can enjoy modern French culture in a sizeable city that isn’t Paris. There are plenty of things to do, and I could have easily spent an entire day exploring the city.
  • If you do plan to visit the Champagne houses in the area, plan to make your reservations many weeks in advance!

What a way to start my time in Champagne!  And it only got better…Stay tuned!

A Taste of Louis Roederer Champagne

I recently attended a private tasting of Louis Roederer Champagne at my favorite wine store – K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City. It was my first taste of Louis Roederer Champagne.

The House

Louis Roederer Champagne is one of the last great independent and family run Champagne houses.  The family has been managing the business since 1833.  Today it is managed by Frédéric Rouzaud, who represents the seventh generation of the Roederer lineage.

According to Gary Westby, the Champagne buyer at K&L Wine Merchants…They are now the largest organic grower in Champagne with 162.5 of their 600 acres farmed bio. They farm these acres as 410 separate little farms, with three full-time vineyard managers and a huge team of workers.Each one of the vintage wines comes from plots that are farmed specifically to make that wine; they farm the plots destined for rose differently than the blanc de blancs and the regular vintage differently than the Cristal plots. Champagne Louis Roederer is doing some of the most serious work in Champagne, and are setting themselves apart from the more marketing driven big houses that they compete with.

Even though it was the first time I’d tasted Champagne Louis Roederer, I was familiar with the brand, primarily because of their prestige tête de cuvée ”Cristal” bottling, which is legend in the hip-hop/rap community as a symbol of success.

The story behind Cristal is interesting.  Louis Roederer II, son of the founder, fashioned an exclusive champagne for the Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and launched a novel concept: the very first Cuvée de Prestige.  It was created in 1876 and named ‘Cristal’ because it was bottled in crystal at the request of the tsar.  It was strictly for the private consumption of the tsar, and wasn’t was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage (for that reason some consider Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage the first publicly available prestige cuvée). 

While no longer bottled in crystal, Cristal is still uniquely packaged.  It’s bottled in a flat-bottomed clear, “crystal” bottle, with an anti-UV cellophane wrapper (to protect the wine which would actually age better in a darker bottle).

On the other hand,  I’m very familiar with their U.S. outpost Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley.  Their Anderson Valley property is a great place to visit, and their Estate Brut is a perennial favorite that made my Top 20 Wines Under $20.  And I have a few bottles of their “Tête de Cuvée - L’Ermitage.

The Wines

The tasting featured the Roederer Champagne entry-level multi-vintage (I prefer multi-vintage to non-vintage, it’s more accurate and doesn’t suggest inferiority to “vintage”) wine, a few vintage dated bottling, along with their recently released prestige tête de cuvée, the 2006Cristal“.

My tasting notes follow:

photo 3 (5)

N.V. Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier - Pale yellow color with plentiful active tiny bubbles and yeasty, almond, apple, and a hint of smoke aromas. On the palate, it’s refined, clean and fresh with a delicate creamy mousse, and mixed tart apple, and pear flavors with an appealing minerality, and a lingering finish. Rating: A-

A Taste of Louis Roederer Champagne

2008 Louis Roederer Champagne Blanc de Blancs - Pale yellow color with plentiful active tiny bubbles and appealing roasted nut, orchard fruits, citrus and white flower aromas. On the palate it elegant, and fresh with a very creamy texture and refined acidity with apple, lemon , and hazelnut flavors with a chalky minerality. Long finish. Made at a lower pressure, about 4 atmospheres than most Champagne. Rating: A

A Taste of Louis Roederer Champagne

2007 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Vintage - Pale gold color with plentiful active tiny bubbles and toasty, apple, pear, hazelnut, and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it’s approaches full-bodied with a creamy mousse and apple, pear, subtle citrus, raspberry and vanilla flavors. Long finish. Blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, 30% of which is wine matured in oak without malolactic fermentation. Rating: A

A Taste of Louis Roederer Champagne

 2008 Louis Roederer Champagne Rosé Brut - Beautiful salmon color with plentiful active tiny bubbles and intriguing complex red fruits, orange peel, subtle spice, floral and chalk aromas. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, creamy, well structured, and charming with tart cherry, raspberry, orange peel, a bit of spice flavors complemented by a savory minerality. Long finish. 67% Pinot Noir – colored via saignee method. Rating: A

A Taste of Louis Roederer Champagne2006 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut - Very pale gold color with plentiful, active, pin prick sized bubbles. On the nose it shows layered aromas. Initially there is lemon, orange and roasted nut aromas, followed by apple, peach, ginger and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s focused, and suave with an exceedingly creamy delicate mousse and pear, apple, citrus zest flavors with spicy top note, and an alluring chalky minerality. Long finish.  It’s a baby now is will only get better! Blend: 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay Rating: A

All the wines were fabulous (the Brut Premier offers damn fine value for $40).  The tasting certainly piqued my interest Champagne Roederer.  I’m looking forward to visiting the House of Champagne Louis Roederer in person as part of 2014 Champagne Harvest Media trip tomorrow!

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings. Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Cognitive Dissonance And Champagne

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.  I don’t know why, but was the first thing to pop into my head when I was contemplating my first trip to the Champagne region as part of the 2014 Harvest Media Trip (more on that later).

The term perfectly describes my relationship with Champagne, which might also be described as, ”It’s complicated

Let me explain…

I have a bunch ‘o wine (my guess would be a couple of hundred bottles) in my “cellar” (a term admittedly used loosely here for the sake of brevity – the wine is all over the house!).

I adore Champagne. It’s my deathbed wine (a Rosé Champagne to be exact)

Yet I have zero, absolutely none in my cellar.

Clearly there’s a disconnect between my belief that I love Champagne, and my purchasing and laying down of wine behavior, since I don’t have any in my “cellar”.  

Before I proceed further, you should know that in my mind, while Champagne is sparking wine, sparkling wine is not Champagne. And Champagne comes from one place in the world, the Champagne region in France.

Why yes...I will have some Krug Champagne!

Why yes…I will have some Krug Champagne!

I have exactly 2 bottles of sparkling wine that I’m laying down (both are Roederer Estate L’Ermitage)

So, I have to ask myself why?  Why, if you love sparkling wine do you only have two bottles in the cellar?

This is where it gets a bit “complicated” (i.e. excuses for my purchasing behavior vis-a-vis my beliefs) Here are a few excuses…

I like to try before I buy….this one is kinda sorts true…it’s only in the last year or so I’ve made a concerted effort to taste Champagne on a regular basis.  Oh, I’ve had plenty of sparkling wine (blogged about it weekly, and have hit all the wineries on the Napa/Sonoma Sparkling Wine Trail). Still, I’m well aware of the fabulosity that is Champagne and my favorite wine store has got plenty of it…

Got a late start…meaning I’ve been buying  and laying down wines for years (95%  of it reds), and my affection for Champagne is relatively new….hmmm…the reality is that ever since I got “into” wine, I’ve alway considered Champagne (along with Sherry to a lesser degree) to be one of the wonders of the wine world and deserving of my full attention…why haven’t I acted on that knowledge?

It costs too much…I know better.  There are some very good entry level Champagne in the $25-$40 range.  And truth be told,  I’ve got plenty of bottles of red wine in that same price range…

I’m sure I  could come up with more excuses, but you get the gist.

There’s no purely rational reason why I don’t haven’t purchased and laid down more Champagne.  Of course, buying decisions aren’t always purely rational.

Still as a (mostly) logic driven, left-brained kinda guy…I would feel better if I could reconcile my beliefs to my behaviors

That’s why the opportunity to be part of the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media trip is such a blessing to me.

Per the invitation…

The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities…this trip will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole…As a guest you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.  You will also have the opportunity to speak with officials from the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade association that represents all the houses and grape growers of the Champagne appellation.

Hmmm…I don’t know about you, but I think a week in Champagne and my cognitive dissonance, as it relates to Champagne, will be a thing of the past;-) And as I sit here in my hotel room in Reims ready to embark upon this journey, for the first time in my life therapy…Champagne therapy that is sounds appealing!

Chin, chin…and stay tuned…I let you know how it goes!

Wine of the Week; 2005 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, since today is #CabernetDay my Wine Of The Week is the 2005 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection.

The Winery

Caymus Vineyards is a part of the Wagner Family of Wine along with Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos and the newest label, Emmolo.

The Wagner family has a long history in the Napa Valley that dates back to 1906 when Carl Wagner, an immigrant from Alsace, and grandfather of Chuck Wagner, purchased farmland in Rutherford in the Napa Valley.

Chuck was just 19 when he joined his parents in 1972 to create Caymus Vineyards, and they produced their first Cabernet Sauvignon.  In 1975, the Wagners produced their first Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (click here for the Caymus timeline).

The Wagners are serious about the ‘family” in the Wagner Family of Wine moniker. Chuck’s children, Charlie II, Joseph, and Jenny perpetuate a proud family tradition of farming and winemaking.

The Wine

This bottle of wine was a gift from my most generous boss – Phil.  Prior to opening the wine last week, it had been in my “cellar” for about 3 years waiting for the right time.  We opened it and it enjoyed it with a friend who is convalescing from knee surgery.

Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is the only wine in the world twice honored as “Number one wine in the world” by Wine Spectator Magazine….In addition, this wine was honored with the highest average score rating by the same magazine over the last 15 years. – Caymus Vineyards

One of the most allocated and collectible Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, Caymus Vineyards Special Selection is crafted from the outstanding barrels of the vintage. Special Selection is produced only in vintages that proprietor Chuck Wagner feels are suitable for this designation. >>Find this wine<<

The 2011 Vintage of this wine retails for $130. 15.2% alcohol

Wine of the Week; 2005 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Select

 My tasting notes follow:

Garnet color with very appealing plum, cassis, blueberry, a hint of leather, and sweet oak aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, focused, intense and refined with a lush texture and well-integrated oak, and soft sweet tannins. It shows plum, blackberry, mineral and a bit of vanillin spice flavors. Long finish.

Rating: A:  This wine is drinking beautifully now, but it has plenty of years ahead of it! Beautiful now with plenty of years ahead of it.

Pair with: Of course a nice rib-eye comes to mind with a Cab, but other options include Slow-braised beef – or venison, a great burger (Gott’s anyone?), lamb or mushroom stroganoff!

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Wine of the Week: 2012 Zudugarai “Amats” Getariako Txakolina

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2012 Zudugarai “Amats” Getariako Txakolina.

The Winery

Bodegas Zudugarai  is a winery located in the Basque region in northern Spain, less than 20 miles from the French border.  It was founded in 1989, the same year the Denominación de Origen (DO)  of Getariako Txakolina was founded.  Getariako Txakoli is the oldest, largest, and most important of the three DOs that produced Txakoli.  The others are Arabako Txakolina and Bizkaiko Txakolina.

The Errasti family has been growing grapes and making wine from the region’s vineyards for over 40 years, working with the local varieties of Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza. The vineyards and winery are near the coast line among rolling hills at about 90 meters above sea level.  The sunniest and windiest slopes are the ones planted to vines so that the grapes can get ripe and also remain dry and avoid fungal and rot issues. All work in the vineyards is done by hand including harvest.

The winery produces Txakoli, (pronounced chock-oh-lee) or Txakolina (as far as I can tell the terms are used interchangeably).   Txakoli is a delicious, dry, very fresh, slightly petillant (fizzy), low alcohol wine that is consumed like water in Basque Country.

The Wine

This wine is made with 100% Hondarrabi Zuri, the native grape that dominates plantings in the Basque region. Most of the Txakoli produced is consumed by the local Basque people.

After hand-harvesting the grapes are fermented naturally in stainless steel tanks, then bottled young to retain its natural effervescence.

Amats is both the brand name of the Txakoli as well as one of Zudugarai’s vineyards.

I was introduced to Txacoli by Joe Manekin, the Spanish wine buyer at K&L Wine Merchants a few years ago.  I purchase a few bottles every year because it such a great summer sipper!

I also had the pleasure of spending a few days in San Sebastian last year, and you better believe I had at least one glass of Txakoli daily with a wide variety of pintxos.

10.5% alcohol. Retail – $13 

Amats Txakolina

My tasting notes follow:

Very pale green color with green apple, lime rind and a bit of mineral aromas.  On the palate, it’s light-bodied, dry and slightly fizzy with easy tart green apple, and lime rind flavors underscored by an appealing minerality. A serving note: The tiny, fleeting bubbles disappear quickly if you let your Txakoli sit out too long – which is why small, frequent pours is how this wine should be served. 

Rating: B+: This hard to pronounce, but easy drinking wine is a fabulous summer sipper – dry,fresh, fizzy, and low in alcohol.  It could be a challenge to find, but it’s definitely worth seeking out! 

Pair with: A classic pairing in Spain is marinated white anchovies (boquerones), we had it with a dish called Kokotxas (the cheeks of hake). What a great pairing!  Enjoy with raw oysters, grilled seafood, hard cheeses, or deep fried bites!

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.