Recap of the 2014 San Francisco #ChampagneTasting

I attended the Champagne region’s official annual United States tasting in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 21st.   The  tasting was held at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square.

The event celebrates Champagne: the sparkling wine produced in the French region of the same name. Only after strict appellation regulations are followed – from harvesting entirely by hand to how much juice may be extracted when grapes are pressed to minimum time in the wine spends aging in bottle on its lees before release– can a wine be labeled Champagne.

The event is part of an October full of festivities celebrating America’s love of Champagne, concluding with the fifth annual Champagne Day on Friday, October 24.

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The event was organized by the Comité Champagne (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne – “C.I.V.C.”), which represents all the grape growers and houses of Champagne. The C.I.V.C. promotes and supports the growers and producers through vineyard management and winemaking research and development, international protection of the Champagne name, and of course promoting Champagne

This was the fifth time the tasting was held in the United States, and the second time San Francisco was chosen to host the event.

Recap of the 2014 SF #ChampagneTasting

Now this is the way to start one’s sunny San Francisco afternoon…flute in hand and an embarrassment of Champagne riches ahead!

The Tasting

The event was held  in the Alexandra Ballroom on the 32nd floor of the Westin with breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Bay.  There were 37 brands represented and over 100 wines available for tasting.

It was a very well organized event that included an comprehensive and accurate booklet of the wines being poured.

Each brand had a table around the perimeter of the ballroom. And each brand presented three wines – a Multi-vintage Brut, a Vintage, and a wine of their choice.

Additionally there was what I’d call “Champagne Island” in the middle of the room with a bunch of tables strung together to create what appeared to be two very long tables – One each for the multi-vintage wine and the vintage wine.

Perfect for the “power” tasters, and/or folks who wanted to avoid the marketing spiel.

Since I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t have a tasting plan…but that didn’t last long.

First, I decided to taste all the multi-vintage Brut wines on Champagne Island first because those are the most affordable, and the most widely available (multi-vintage wine represent about 80% of all Champagne sold).  Next, I tasted all the Rosé Champagne. Those were available at the tables of the producers who decided to show a Rosé. And finally, it was back to Champagne Island to taste as many of the Vintage wine as time and my, by then, tired palate would permit.

Recap of the 2014 San Francisco #ChampagneTasting

Champagne Island – where Champagne wishes do come true!

I used a simple scoring system – a scale of 1-5.

Okay, let’s keep it real.  It is Champagne after all – it was more like 3.75 – 5 because there wasn’t a dud in the bunch.

I ended up tasting 70 wines.  My favorites, which I scored at least 4 points are listed below by category:

Recap of the San Francisco #ChampagneTasting

A couple of my favorite multi-vintage blends

Multi-Vintage

  • Delamotte Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • J. Lassalle Champagne Brut Reserve Cachet d’Or
  • Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier
  • Michel Gonet Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
  • Moutard Père et Fils Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée
  • Nicolas Maillart Champagne 1er Cru Brut Platine
  • Philipponnat Champagne Royale Réserve Brut
  • Pol Roger Champagne Brut Réserve
  • Taittinger Champagne Brut Réserve / La Française
Recap of the San Francisco #ChampagneTasting

A few of my favorite vintage Champagne including a couple of Prestige Cuvee!

Vintage

  • 2002 Charles Ellner Champagne Brut “Seduction” Millésimé
  • 2002 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé
  • 2006 Drappier Champagne Grande Sendrée
  • 2007 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Vintage
  • 2002 Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Cuvée Palmes d’Or
  • 2004 Paul Goerg Champagne Cuvée Lady
  • 2002 Pol Roger Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill
  • 2006 Taittinger Champagne Brut Millésimé
Recap of the San Francisco #ChampagneTasting

A few of my favorite Rose Champagne

Rose

  • Ayala Champagne Cuvée Rosé Nature
  • Bruno Paillard Champagne Rosé Brut Première Cuvée
  • Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Rosé Reserve
  • Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut Rose Prestige
  • Gosset Champagne Grand Rosé Brut
  • 2008 Louis Roederer Champagne Rosé Brut
  • Michel Gonet Champagne Brut Réserve
  • Philipponnat Champagne Réserve Rosée
  • Pierre Paillard Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru
  • Taittinger Champagne Brut Prestige Rosé
  • Vollereaux Champagne Rosé de Saignée

Conclusion

This is the best time to a Champagne lover and consumer. There are more choices available then ever, and the quality of Champagne is the highest it’s ever been across the board.

As I tasted through the wines, I couldn’t help but wonder how individual wines would pair with food.  Champagne is one of the most food friendly wines you can drink. Don’t limit your consumption of Champagne to a cocktail or aperitif.  Given a bit of thought you can pair it throughout a meal. While I was in Champagne last month (see below) , I enjoyed several Champagne wine pairing meals. What a treat!

Happy #ChampagneDay!

Related posts you might enjoy:

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Martin Redmond is a San Francisco Bay Area based 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 3

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

  • Day 1 - Guided tour of Reims Cathedral and Champagne dinner
  • Day 2 - C.I.V.C., Roger Coulon, and Veuve Clicquot

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Last month, I 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 they 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 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.

Our itinerary for Day 3 included:

Champagne Louis Roederer

Louis Roederer is one of the last great independent and family run Champagne houses. The family has been managing the business since 1832.  Today it is managed by Frédéric Rouzaud, who represents the seventh generation of the Roederer lineage.

Their vineyards (all Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) cover about 70% of the company’s needs, which is rare for large Champagne houses.  They produce about 3 million bottles annually.

The Roederer portfolio includes Champagne DeutzChâteau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Ramos Pinto Port in Portugal, Domaines Ott in ProvenceRoederer Estate and Scharffenberger in California.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Chef de Cave, and Assistant General Director of Roederer.  After giving us an overview of the Roederer vineyards, he took us on tour of their cellars, and lead us through a tasting of a few vin clair.  It’s obvious the man has a passion for wine.  We then adjourned to the beautiful Roederer tasting room to taste their current releases:

It just so happened I’d tasted the same wines a couple of weeks before my trip (click here for detailed notes)

After our tasting, it was time for lunch.  Much to my surprise and delight we were greeted by, and dined with the man in charge himself - Frédéric Rouzaud!

And lunch? It was a gastronomic and vinous delight!

How this for lunch? L-R; 2006 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut (magnum), 1993 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, 1995 Ramos Pinto Porto Vintage

It’s a tough call, but my favorite was the 1993 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut one the wines we had with lunch.  It’s a beautifully mature, full-bodied Champagne with intense, complex, savory aromas and flavors including brioche, baked apples and peach, roast hazelnut, citrus, and a bit of caramel that harmoniously and seamlessly coalesce with energetic acidity and a smoky minerality. And it’s such fantastic food wine! 

Learned about: Roederer is the largest organic grower in Champagne with 65 of their 240 hectares farmed biodynamically.  They began converting their vineyards to biodynamic in 2000. Between 60-70% of the fruit for Cristal is biodynamic.  In fact, the current release – 2006 is the first vintage they released with primarily biodynamic fruit.  The first 100% biodynamic Cristal will be the 2011 vintage

Insider’s tip: Roederer will be launching their first Brut Nature (the driest style of sparkling wine – with less than 3g/L residual sugar) in the US this month! The 2006 Brut Nature cuvée, was developed by Louis Roederer and Philippe Starck.

Notable Quote: The secret to Cristal is Pinot Noir and Chalk” - Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

See below for gallery of Champagne Louis Roederer visit

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Champagne René Geoffroy

“The Geoffroy family have been winemakers since the seventeenth century and the property has stayed in the family for almost 400 years, uninterrupted.  In addition to prime parcels in Cumières,  the family has holdings  in Damery, Hautvillers, and Dizy. They aim for the highest possible quality and ferment the wines in oak barrels for their Cuvée Sélectionnée [now called Cuvée Empreinte] and Brut Prestige [now called Cuvée Volupté].  The wines don’t go through malolactic fermentation, which gives them the nerve and aging potential that most Cumières Champagnes lack.  When you talk to the well-educated young Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, you understand that this is a family that cares passionately about wine.” (Source)

Geoffroy is a grower that produces its own wines.  They are the No. 1 grower in Cumières, where they farm 14 hectares of  sustainably grown grapes.  Cumières is the most sun-drenched and earliest ripening village in Champagne, and is known primarily for its pinot noir.  They produce generous, vivacious Pinot Noir led wines that can age. Their production is about 140,000 bottles a year

We were greeted by fifth generation winemaker Jean-Baptist Geoffroy, who lead us on tour of the family’s three-story gravity flow winery and cellar.

After the tour we tasted:

  • René Geoffroy  Expression Brut Premier Cru
  • 2007 René Geoffroy  Empreinte Brut Premier Cru
  • René Geoffroy  Rosé de Saignée Brut 1er Cru
  • René Geoffroy  Blanc de Rose Extra Brut
  • 2004 René Geoffroy  Millésimé

Geoffroy is doing my favorite was the 2007 Empreinte Brut Premier Cru. It’s a blend of 76 % pinot noir, 13%chardonnay, and 11% Pinot Meunier that were all fermented in large oak foudres.  It’s a well-balanced wine with apple, pear, and bread dough aromas, and apple, toasted almond, and mineral flavors and a long finish.  It’d be fantastic with seafood dishes!

Insiders tip: Look for the yet to be released “Houtrants” cuvée. It’s an interesting multi-vintage, field blend, old vine (minimum age of 50 years) wine cuvée composed of five of the permitted grapes (rather than the typical three) with lovely aromatics, and a rich, creamy, slightly autolytic tart apple and mineral character and a long finish.

See below for gallery of Champagne René Geoffroy visit

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Champagne Jacquesson

“Jacquesson is one of Champagne’s most venerable houses, not only predating Krug, but giving birth to it, when in 1843 Johann-Joseph Krug left Jacquesson to form his own house.  But despite more than 200 years of history, Jacquesson has become a revolutionary among Champagne’s established houses, under the leadership of brothers Laurent and Jean-Hervé Chiquet, who took over from their father in the 1980′s.

Since then, the house has adopted a herbicide-free, terroir-based philosophy. It also retired, after 150 years, its non-vintage blend and replaced it with a groundbreaking single-vintage-based cuvée, which changes yearly. And next came its terroir-based cuvées, an unprecedented move for a traditional house.” (Source)

They are based in the Dizy region of Champagne. They farm 28 hectares of grapes (10 are certified organic) located in the Grand Cru villages of AÿAvize and Oiry and in the Premier Cru villages of Dizy, Hautvillers and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.   They currently produce about 270,000 bottle annually with approximately 15% of the fruit sourced from growers in these villages as well as the Grand Cru village of Chouilly and the Premier Cru village Cumières.  The house makes the claim it is the oldest independent Champagne house.

We were greeted by Jean-Hervé Chiquet who lead us on a tour of the winery, cellars and guided our tasting.

It was a blowout tasting!

  • Jacquesson & Fils  Cuvée No. 733
  • Jacquesson & Fils  Cuvée No. 733 Dégorgement Tardif
  • Jacquesson & Fils  Cuvée No. 736
  • Jacquesson & Fils  Cuvée No. 737
  • Jacquesson & Fils  Cuvée No. 738
  • 2008 Jacquesson & Fils Dizy Terres Rouges Rosé
  • 2004 Jacquesson & Fils  Dizy Corne Bautray
  • 2004 Jacquesson & Fils  Brut Avize Grand Cru Champ Caïn
  • 2004 Jacquesson & Fils  Ay Vauzelle Terme
My favorite was the 2004 Ay Vauzelle Terme one of the ”lieu-dit” (single-vineyard) wines.(all of which were outstanding). It’s 100% Pinot Noir sourced from 2,500 vines planted in 1980 on 0.30 hectare that grow in limestone mixed with a little clay, on chalk bedrock. Aged 8 years on lees.  It’s pale salmon color with intriguing cherry, raspberry, tangerine, roast nut, and floral aromas.  On the palate it It’s medium-bodied, and superbly balanced with a creamy mousse and great finesse. It shows cherry, strawberry and a hint of tangerine flavors and lingering, satisfying finish
After our tasting made our way to the Jacquesson dining room on the second floor of their property another fantastic meal expertly paired with more wines awaited!
Learned: “Fils” means “son’ in French, which is why you see it so often in the name of French wineries

Insiders tip: Look for the 2008 Terres Rouges Rosé.  It’s among the best rosé Champagne I’ve tasted.  It has an exotic floral, berry, pomegranate, slightly earthy character.

Notable Quote:We favor excellency over consistency” - Jean-Hervé Chiquet

See below for gallery of Champagne Jacquesson visit

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What an awesome day!  As if the continued brilliance of Louis Roederer  and the revelations of Geoffroy and Jacquesson weren’t enough. I was blown away by the superb lunch and dinner expertly paired with wonderous wines!

Stay tuned for Day 4, which featured visits to Bereche & Fils, Billecart-Salmon, and Bruno Paillard!

 

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.
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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!