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.
  • Champagne, as a region, is does
  • 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!

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!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…NV Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut De Bruyne

I was in Costco, and saw they had a “Kirkland” branded Champagne for $19.99.  That’s the lowest price I’ve seen on the real stuff from France, and Costco has a good track record for wines in my book,  so I decided to pick up a bottle.

This Champagne is made by Manuel Janisson of Champagne Janisson & Fil  in the village of Verzenay, which is designated a Grand Cru village, located in the Cote de Sezanne region.  This wine is comparable to a second label Champagne,  meaning it’s a less expensive wine made from grapes, or wine not considered worthy of the winery’s primary label.  For example, in this case Champagne Janisson & Fil which used very few of their Grand Cru (their best vineyard), or Premier Cru ( second best vineyards) for this wine.  The grapes are sourced from other vineyards.  This is a common practice at wineries, so no heartburn for me there.  Frankly, that’s why it can be sold for $20.

NV Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut De Bruyne – Janisson

Where it’s from: FranceChampagneCote de SézanneChampagne

The grape(s) Chardonnay (45%), Pinot Noir (40%), Pinot Meunier (5%)

Production method: Traditional Method 

Alcohol: 12%

Dosage: Brut

Aging: 20 months on lees

Retail: $19.99

My tasting notes follow:

Light golden-yellow straw color with lots of tiny, but dispersed bubbles, accompanied by toasty yeast, stone fruit and citrus aromas. On the palate, it’s pleasantly creamy, but simple with tart stone fruit and cherry flavors.

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-).  This one will work both as an aperitif, and with lighter main course dishes without heavy sauces.  I bet this would be great with salty treats such as Ranch flavored potato chips, or side dish like mac and cheese,  or fish tacos.

Recommendation:  This is a good sparkling wine, that had some of the characteristics unique to Champagne such as a creamy mousse, and a nice pin-prick sized bubbles, but I found it lacked complexity.  The challenge for me is that I can think of several Cavas, American Sparklers, Crémants, etc. that are priced similarly, or below that I’ve enjoyed more.  This won’t be a repeat purchase for me.

Wine Words Demystified: Crémant

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is Crémant (cray mahn)

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

…crémant is reserved for French sparkling wines made outside the Champagne region using the METHODE CHAMPENOISE…it was once used to describe a Champagne with about half the usual effervescence, often called a creaming wine.

Crémant is French for “creamy”.  I’m more familiar with how the word is used these days – for French sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region.  By French law, they can’t be called champagne and no reference can be made to that region.  For example, Crémant de Limoux, or Crémant de Bourgogne, which are sparkling wines made in the Limoux and Burgundy regions of France respectively. Currently there are seven appellations in France that are allowed to use the designation crémant in their name.  In my experience, if you’re looking for value in sparkling wine from France, look to one of those regions.  They are made from high-quality hand-picked grapes like Champagne, using the same traditional painstaking method used to produce Champagne, but priced much more reasonably!

I recently came across this sparkler from Schramsberg (click here to read my review)…

2007 Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

It’s a great example of a crémant in the more traditional sense –  it refers to a sparkling wine with less pressure and softer effervescence ((less carbon dioxide equals fewer bubbles).  Traditional Champagne, and other sparkling wines are bottled at 5-6 atmospheres, whereas this wine is bottled at 2-3 atmospheres.  The lower pressure results in the wine having a creamier, softer feel in your mouth.

Cheers!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…Piper Sonoma Brut

This week’s sparkler is from Piper Sonoma.  I’m not sure why I haven’t tried this wine before, but it’s the only Northern California sparkling wine producer whose bubbly I’ve not had the pleasure of trying.

Piper Sonoma was founded in 1980 by the Piper-Heidseick Champagne house.  This brand seems to be lagging behind other California sparking wine houses established by French Champagne houses like Chandon, Mumm,  Taittinger and Roederer.  It’s exchanged hands a few times.  Last year it,  along with Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck brands from the Champagne region of France, was sold by  Rémy Cointreau to the Société Européenne de Participations Industrielles, or EPI.  Prior to that, Rémy Cointreau USA sold the winery to J Vineyards & Winery in 1997 and continued to make wine under contract there until 2007.  Then the brand was sold to Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services in Hopland, followed by Rémy brand Bearboat.

This cuvée is a typical blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier that includes 20-25% reserve wines. Between 75-80% of the fruit is from Sonoma with the balance being from Dry Creek, and Carneros.

Piper Sonoma Brut

Where it’s from: California>Sonoma Valley

The grape(s) Chardonnay (60%), Pinot Noir (15%),  and Pinot Meunier (25%)

Production method: Traditional Method 

Alcohol: 13.5

Dosage: Brut

Aging: 18 months on less

 Retail: $18 (I purchased on sale for $12 – it’s frequently on sale at my local Safeway)

My tasting notes follow:

Light yellow straw color with lots of tiny bubbles with toasty biscuit, apple, and hints of floral and citrus aromas. On the palate, it’s between light, medium-bodied, and crisp with a surprisingly creamy mousse and green apple, vanilla, anise and mineral flavors. Medium finish. – 86pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This one would be wonderful as an aperitif ,  and with first courses, such lobster rolls, crab cakes, or deviled eggs or salads.

Recommendation: This is a very good sparkler.  I see it as a step up from many of the Korbel sparklers, but sold at a price point just below comparable entry-level sparklers from Mumm, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, etc.  It’s a “tweener” that offers good value at the sale price of $11.99.

Cheers!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like….Cazanove Brut Rose Champagne

This week’s bubbly is a Rosé Champagne produced by Champagne Charles de Cazanove.  It’s a brand with which I was not familiar until I did a post on their Brut Premier Cru Champagne a couple of weeks ago.  They have a rich history.  The house was founded in 1811 by Charles Gabriel de Cazanove.  However it was his son Charles Nicolas de Cazanove that contributed most to the growth of the brand.  They are the #2 selling brand in France behind Nicolas Feuillate.  They offer a full rangeof Champagne.  This bottling is one of five in their entry-level “Tradition Père & Fil” range. Sometimes a wine make a first impression then fades as you spend more time with it.  Sometimes, the last sip is the same as the first in terms of how you feel about it.  And sometime a wine grows on you with each sip.  This was one of those wines for me.  I enjoyed it more with each sip.

Charles de Cazanove Brut Rosé

NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Brut Rosé

Where it’s from: FranceChampagne

The grape(s) Pinot Noir (75%); Pinot Meunier (15%); Chardonnay (10%)

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged about 3 years on lees

Alcohol: 12% Retail: $35 

My tasting notes follow:

Pink with an orange hue color with a steady bead of pin-prick bubbles and fruity candied cherry and subtle yeast aromas. Medium bodied with a soft mousse, good balance and cherry, mandarin orange, and a hint of baking spice  flavors. Medium finish. 75% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier and 10% Chardonnay - 90pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This one would make a very good aperitif, especially with mixed charcuterie.  Believe it or not, I had this with Jerk-Spiced Baby Back Ribs from B Side BBQ, and it was a very good match!  Since it’s medium-bodied it will fare well with a variety of dishes.

I really enjoyed this.  It was outstanding! You could easily spend a lot more on a Rosé Champagne.  This is a very good value at $35.  I highly recommend!  If you’re looking for an impressive bottle of Rosé Champagne that won’t break the bank for a hostess/host gift, or (dare I say it) an excellent V-Day Champagne, check this one out! (Click here to find this wine)

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Brut Premier Cru

This week’s bubbly is a Champagne produced by Champagne Charles de Cazanove.  It’s a brand with which I was not familiar.  They have a rich history.  The house was founded in 1811 by Charles Gabriel de Cazanove.  However it was his son Charles Nicolas de Cazanove that contributed most to the growth of the brand.  They are the #2 selling brand in France behind Nicolas Feuillate.  They offer a full range of Champagne.  This bottling is one of five in their entry-level “Tradition Père & Fil” range.  This bottling is labeled “Premier Cru”, which is the second tier of Champagne classifications behind Grand Cru.  The classification system in Champagne is based on the what village the vineyards are located in, rather than the vineyard itself, or the estate as in Burgundy, and Bordeaux respectively.  You won’t find much Champagne classified as “Premier Cru” for $35, as such it represents good value price-wise.

NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Brut Premier Cru

Where it’s from: FranceChampagne

The grape(s) Chardonnay (50%), and Pinot Noir (50%)

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged about 3 years on lees

Alcohol: 12%

Retail: $35 

My tasting notes follow:

Golden yellow color with persistent bead of pin prick bubbles, and fresh bread dough, floral, and fruity aromas. On the palate, it has a soft mousse, is light-bodied with apple, fresh apricot and mineral flavors. Medium finish Pinot Noir (50%), and Chardonnay (50%) - 87pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This one would make an excellent aperitif, but would also be a good match with lighter foods like seafood, or  pasta or risotto dishes, especially those creamy sauces rather than tomato sauce.

I really enjoyed this, but at $35, it won’t be a repeat purchase for me. (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Of The Week: NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé

My wine of the week for March 17-23 is the NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé.  Franciacorta, refers both to the territory, located in the Lombardy region of Italy, and the sparkling wine produced from grapes grown within the boundaries of the territory.  Since 1995, Franciacorta has had DOCG status, the highest echelon of Italian wine classifications, applied solely to the sparkling wines produced in the region.  Here’s a quick rundown on the main regulations that come along with that DOCG status:

  • Franciacorta is the only region in Italy that requires sparkling wine be made by the traditional method (“metodo classico” in Italian)
  • Grapes are grown in strictly delimited vineyards from within 19 different communes
  • Permitted grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, with 85% planted Chardonnay, 10% to Pinot Nero, and 5% to Pinot Bianco
  • Non-vintage (NV) Franciacorta must aged at least 25 months after harvest, with at least 18 months in contact with the yeast in the bottle
  • Vintage Franciacorta must be aged at least 37 months after harvest, with a least 37 months in contact with yeast in the bottle
  • Franciacorta rosé must contain at least 15% Pinot Nero
  • Dosage levels(i.e., the level of sweetness) are exactly as they are in Champagne

You’re probably pretty familiar with the most popular kinds of Italian bubbly (a.k.a “spumante” in Italian), Prosecco, and Asti Spumante, which are often described as alternatives to Champagne. Think of Franciacorta as Italy’s answer to Champagne!  So while Prosecco and Asti are almost always produced using the less expensive Charmat bulk process, Franciacorta is produced using the same traditional method used in Champagne.

Here’s an interesting factoid.  The producer of this wine, Contadi Castaldi, is the only winery to have vineyards in all 19 communes permitted to grow grapes for production of Franciacorta.

My tasting notes follow:

Beautiful copper color with steady bead of pin-prick bubbles, and brioche, fruity, fresh red fruit aromas. On the palate, it displays a creamy mousse, and is approaching medium-bodied with fresh strawberry, raspberry flavors, and a hint of spice flavors. Medium finish.  65% Chardonnay, and 35% Pinot Nero

It’s always fun for me to try something new.  As I like to say, I’m very much still in the “promiscuous” phase of my oenophilic journey, and I’m glad I’ve had the pleasure of Franciacorta.  It’s got me thinking of an Italian mènage à trois…Prosecco as an aperitif, Franciacorta for the entrée, and Asti for dessert.  That my friends will be bubblelicious!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…NV Nicolas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne

Have you ever wondered what’s the best-selling brand of Champagne in France?  Sure, all the big names in Champagne are there, but I’m thinking the average middle-class French consumer doesn’t have the coin for Moet and Mumm on a regular basis.   The answer is the maker of this week’s bubbly, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte.  Feuillatte hit my radar on the on the strength of favorable staff reviews at my favorite wine retailer K&L Wines Merchants.

Last year Feuillatte celebrated their 35th anniversary. That makes them a baby when compared to  brands such Moet & Chandon,or Veuve Clicquot, which are 200+ years old.  Not only is Feuillatte the best selling brand of Champagne in France, it is also the number three brand in world-wide sales behind Moet and Veuve Clicquot.

Surely some of their meteoric rise is due to savvy marketing, like their “One Fo(u)r Fun” mini bottles of Champagne with a wrist strap, or their iPhone App with a  virtual toast where the user can pop a bottle of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and pour it in to a friend’s virtual flute, but make no mistake, they source high-quality fruit for their Champagne. Additionally, Feuillatte has been making quarter bottles of Champagne since 1990, and today is the market leader in the segment.

This week’s Champagne a.k.a. Brut Resèrve Particulière  is their entry level offering.  In addition to this Champagne they offer six other in the “Essentials” line, four “Gourmet” Champagnes, and the aforementioned One Fo(u)r Fun mini bottles.

NV Nicolas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne

Where it from: FranceChampagne

The grape(s)  40%Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$25 – Retail , 12% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode Champenoise;  Aged just under 3 years on lees

My tasting notes follow:

Pale gold color with brioche, spice, and dried fruit aromas. On the palate it is creamy, and light-medium bodied with apple, and pear flavors with a hint of honey. Medium finish

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was very nice as an aperitif, and just as nice with food.  Pair with fish tacos, light pasta dishes, or just for fun popcorn!

This is a very good sparkler. I prefer it to the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot  and it cost $20 less!  I recommend!  89pts   (Click here to find this wine) 

What Are The Most Food Friendly Wines?

It’s my pleasure to share this post of mine recently published by 12most.

12 Most Food-Friendly Wines

In my recent post entitled “12 Most Practical Wine and Food Pairing Guidelines”, one my recommendations for sensibly pairing food and wine is to get to know “food-friendly” wines. Food-friendly wines have three primary characteristics 1) Palate-cleansing acidity, 2) Lots of fruitiness with low tannins, and 3) Balanced components (i.e. fruit, acidity, and tannins).

Try these wines for those times you don’t want to put a lot of thought into what wine you’re having with weeknight meals, or more casual gatherings. There’s something here for everyone — Whites, Reds, Sparkling and Rosé. Keep in mind that each of the wines come in broad range of styles. Let your palate be your guide for the style you prefer.

Reds

1. Beaujolais

This wine, made from the Gamay grape is named for the region from which it hails. Think Beaujolais when you want a red that you’d normally have with a white wine. Many top crus go for around $20
Recommended Region(s): France – Cru Beaujolais (non-Nouveau)
Profile: Light-bodied with moderate to high acidity, and low tannins with aromatic red plum, cherry, raspberry, hints of black pepper aromas/flavors.

2. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most well-known food friendly red wine.
Recommended Region(s): France – Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with aromatic with floral, cherry, red currant, raspberry, and sometimes gamey aromas/flavors when young, aging to vegetal and mushroom when mature

3. Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh)

Generally speaking, Italy makes a plethora of food friendly wines, especially reds. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy, and the most important grape used in the great wines of Tuscany. It is one of the wine world’s great gifts to the culinary world! It’s a natural for dishes containing tomatoes, or acidic tomato sauces
Recommended Region(s): Italy (Tuscany), California
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with black cherry, spice, smoky, herbal savory aromas/flavors.

4. Zinfandel

Zinfandel can go far beyond burgers and BBQ. I’ve enjoyed with Mexican, and Pakistani dishes. The style of Zinfandel is crucial for matching it with food. Look for lighter “Beaujolais” style Zinfandel at around 14% a.b.v, and “Claret” style between 14% and 15% a.b.v. for maximum food pairing versatility. If prefer “bigger” Zinfandels, then opt for pairing with richer foods.
Recommended Region(s): California
Profile: Medium/Full bodied moderate to high acidity, and strawberry, raspberry, plum, blackberry, pepper, bramble, and spice aromas/flavors

5. Syrah

Syrah and Syrah based blends do a great job of striking a balance between finesse and power. It can be full-bodied and complex like Cabernet Sauvignon, but tend to be less tannic. Cool climate Syrah is especially food friendly. And many very good examples can be found for less than $20.
Recommended Region(s): France (Rhône), California, Washington, and Australia
Profile: Medium/full-bodied with moderate to high acidity, with blackcurrant, plum, blackberry, earthy, herbal, chocolate, and violet aromas/flavors

Whites

6. Riesling

Riesling is the most well-known white food friendly wine. Thanks to its food loving nature, it’s on the upswing. If you’re looking for one wine to serve with many dishes, Riesling is an excellent choice, especially if you’re not into red wine. Look for dry and off-dry styles
Recommended Region(s): Germany, France (Alsace) Washington, New York, California
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and Intensely aromatic with floral, green apples, light spice aromas/flavors when you ageing to petrol and honey when mature

7. Sauvignon Blanc

Stylistically, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be the opposite of Chardonnay. That’s because it tends not to see as much oak as Chardonnay and its acidity is more apparent. It’s very versatile food wine, especially with dishes emphasizing, or enhanced with fresh herbs. Try it with guacamole!
Recommended Region(s): France (Loire, and Bordeaux), U.S., New Zealand,
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and aromatic, grassy, herbaceous, tropical, citrus, and gooseberries aromas/flavors

8. Grüner Vetliner

Grüner Vetliner (GROO-ner FELT-leen-ner) is indigenous to Austria, where it accounts for about a third Austria grape production. It’s a favorite of many sommeliers because of its versatility with foods. Here in the US we often reach for red wine to accompany meat dishes, but in Austria, Grüner is served with game, beef, pork, poultry and veal. Looking for a wine for tough food matches like asparagus, and artichokes? Try Grüner. And it’s great with fried chicken!
Recommended Region(s): Austria
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, with vanilla-dipped peach, grapefruit, and aromas/flavors with a distinctive spicy finish.

9. Chardonnay

This most popular wine has very good “foodability” if it is not overly oaked. In fact, more unoaked Chardonnay is being produced these days. While unoaked Chardonnay may be a bit more versatile food partner, oaked (used judiciously) Chardonnay typically makes a more full-bodied wine.
Recommended Region(s): France (Chablis, and Burgundy), California, Australia, Chile, and Argentina
Profile: Light/Medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, and floral, ripe apple, pineapple, butterscotch, lemon, vanilla, and custard aromas/flavors.

10. Sherry

Hear me out on this one. I’m not referring to your grandmother’s Cream Sherry. I’m referring to dry Sherry. And thanks to adventurous wine geeks, and passionate sherry lovers, this fortified wine is gaining in popularity because of its food friendly nature and exceptional quality/price ratio.
True Sherry, is only produced in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”. It’s a singularly unique beverage because of its terroir, and the method by which it is produced. With its unique tangy, sometimes oxidative and saline flavors, it can be polarizing. It was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but I think it’s fabulous with food!

The principles of pairing Sherry with food are like other wines, according to weight and texture. For Fino and Manzanillo think appetizers, seafood, and sushi, and sashimi. Pair Amontillado, with its rich nuttiness, with stronger flavored foods (including spicy foods) like oily fishes and chicken dishes. Serve chilled.

Recommended Region: Spain

Profile: The main styles of Sherry are light-bodied, straw colored, dry Fino, and fuller bodied darker Oloroso. Between Fino and Oloroso in body, and dryness are Manzanillo, and Amontillado.  Typical aromas and flavors of Finos are yeasty, toasted almond, green apples, and slightly oxidative.  Oloroso tend to be more aromatic with fresh mixed nuts, dried fruit, and citrus peel.

11. Rosé

Rosés (in particular dry Rosé) combine the best of white and red wines, while maintaining their own unique charm. They possess the crisp acidity, delicacy and freshness of white wines, and the body, and flavors of red wines. Rosés are diverse bunch, produced from a wide range of grapes, in various styles ranging from simple quaffable wines to complex gems in a wide palette of colors. Don’t relegate these babies to warm weather months. Because of their versatility they’re wonderful year-round!
Recommended Region(s): France, Spain, Italy, and U.S.
Profile: Light/medium bodied with strawberry, melon, and cherry aroma/flavors

Sparkling

12. Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are very versatile and food friendly because of their innately high acidity levels, and their palate cleansing “scrubbing bubbles” effect. They can be served throughout the day, and throughout a meal too. The driest ones are excellent as an aperitif and with shellfish and caviar. Off-dry bubbly is suitable for brunch, lunch, salads, and many dinner entrees. The sweeter ones pair nicely with fruit- based desserts.
Recommended Region(s): France, US, Spain (Cava), Italy (Prosecco)

Profile: Light to medium-full bodied, and bone-dry Extra Brut to sweet “doux”.  Typical aromas and flavors are yeast, apple, citrus, stone fruit, and cherry depending on the blend of grape varieties used

With these 12 wines in your vinous arsenal, you’ll overcome many a gastronomic challenge! Are there any favorites of yours that I left out?

Featured image courtesy of jinhai via Creative Commons.