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One on One With Winemakers: Tasting The Stars

January 14, 2018 2 comments

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – whether Dom Perignon said these words or not is not really important – but if you thought that we will be talking about the Champagne, you got it right! Also, plural mention of “winemakers” in the title is not a mistake – today’s “one on one” post is actually a double-feature.

The story of Duval-Leroy Champagne goes almost 160 years back, to 1859, when Edouard Leroy, wine négociant, met Jules Duval, grape grower – the rest is a history which you can read for yourself here. Today Duval-Leroy farms 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of vines, mostly in Premier and Grand Cru appellations, also using sustainable viticulture – Duval-Leroy is known as a pioneer of the sustainable grapegrowing in Champagne.

In 1785, “Heidsieck & Cie” company was founded with one dream – to create a Champagne worthy of a queen. After tasting the stars, Queen Marie Antoinette became the first “brand ambassador” for the Heidsieck Champagne. I don’t want to try to regurgitate here the rich history of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, you would be far better of reading it for yourself, but for all these years, Piper-Heidsieck story always included royal families, fashion designers, and movies. The bottle of Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne to ever appear in the movie in 1933. Since 1993, Piper-Heidsieck is an official supplier of Cannes Film Festival, and many actors and producers were recognized with the special Piper-Heidsieck Award at film festivals around the world.

Now, let’s get to that double-feature interview I promised. I’m running this “one-on-one” series of the interviews for about 3 years now. Until now, there was always a unique set of questions, prepared specifically for the particular winery and the winemaker. This time, I decided to play it a bit differently – ask the same set of questions of two winemakers – however, in this case, there is a great “common space” between the subjects of the interview – they both make Champagne!

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck, and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: What is your approach to the blending of Vins Clairs? How many Vins Clairs are typically comprising your most standard NV house blend?

[DL]: It is necessary to first think about the flavor profile you would like to achieve: the aromatic notes with its intensity and its descriptors, its mouthfeel, its volume, its angles, its power and persistence as well as the volume: number of bottles to produce, volume of reserve wines to use and volume of wine to save for future ‘liqueur d’expédition’. The vins clairs are tasted several times (at least twice) after the malolactic fermentation to familiarize ourselves with their characteristics. The first approach to blending is always a minimal concept; which is what I call it my ‘accounting idea’. It is tasted, assessed and compared to our first and last blends of this wine made in previous years. The vins clairs are then improved by modifying only one character at a time. The same improvement is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the best result. We use about 45 to 55 vins clairs to produce our Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve.

[PH]: We blend over 100 crus to make Piper-Heidsieck’s NV cuvée: the Cuvée Brut. I think of the vins clairs (base wines) as spices stored in little boxes in her mind and I know exactly which boxes/spices (and proportions) I need to add to create the same taste every year.

[TaV]: Can you describe your “house style”?

[DL]: Our goal is to maintain the quality of our Brut  Réserve NV vintage after vintage:

  • A complex aromatic profile showing fruity notes of yellow peach, damson and subtle red berries along with notes of cocoa powder and toasted bread
  • An integrated, round and generous mouthfeel but yet elegant and fresh.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s wine style is fruity, structured and complex, with lots of deepness. It’s a champagne to treat yourself and to share with your loved ones. Champagne serves as a bridge between people. It triggers and enhances moments of sharing, complicity and joy. And we are the ones who strive to create memorable experiences. It is all truly wonderful!

[TaV]: Somewhat of a continuation of the previous question: I don’t know if you ever experimented with this, but I wonder if a panel of wine consumers (non-experts) would be able to identify your standard NV offering in a blind tasting?

[DL]: We have worked with a panel of French consumers who tasted our Brut Réserve NV. This panel was able to detect the fruity nose without going into details and recognize the roundness of the mouthfeel and the integrated acidity.

[PH]: The goal of our Cellar Masters is to maintain Piper-Heidsieck’s style, and make it recognizable. Our wines are fruity, structured and profound but also well balanced, straight and bright. In the case of the Cuvée Brut, it’s a seductive champagne that you can recognize on your palate right away. What gives it away is its notes of almond and fresh hazelnut that are very lively, subtle and light. It’s a very smooth an pure champagne with notes of fresh pear and apple with a delicate hint of citrus fruits (pomelo). You can also taste the blonde grapes and juicy white fruits that create the lightness of the champagne.

[TaV]: Similar question to the second one, only now for the vintage Champagne – can you describe your house style?

[DL]: Our vintage “house style” is given by the characteristics of that specific year which varies according to the weather, therefore, the quality of the grapes (acid-sugar balance – fruit richness). We do not look for our vintage cuvées to be identical year after year. We make the best vintage with what nature has to offer.

[PH]: The Cellar Masters’ goal when creating a vintage champagne is to put a special year in a bottle. They want to take a snapshot of this particularly great year to keep it as a memory and reward the hard work of our vineyard team without forgetting about the Piper-Heidsieck style. Every vintage is different but they all answer to the Piper-Heidsieck style: wines that are fruity, structured with great depth. Our Cellar Masters took the best grapes from 2008 to put it in our current vintage: Vintage 2008 is a precise, elegant and free-spirit wine that showcases the greatest wines 2008 had to offer.

[TaV]: I would assume all (many?) of the Champagne houses have their “secret stash” of Champagnes which had not been disgorged yet – and the wines are disgorged on one by one basis, maybe for the special clients. Do you have such a “secret stash”? What are the oldest, not yet disgorged wines you have in your cellars?

[DL]: Of course, Duval-Leroy has its secret reserve Champagnes that are not disgorged and waiting in the cellar for that special request. Vintages such as 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 … are kept in bottles and magnums (not systematically in each cuvée).

[PH]: We do have old cuvées in our Cellars, our “secret library” contains old NV from 1980 to now and different vintages from 1982 and on.

[TaV]: Are the Champagne styles changing to address the consumer demand? For instance, I would expect that people would like to drink more of Brut Nature/zero dosage and Rosé Champagne. What do you think?

[DL]: The Champagnes’ style may slightly vary depending on consumers demand, but not fundamentally change. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which defines production rules and style objectives of quality.
We have seen a greater demand for Champagne Rosé and 5 to 10% sales increase over the past 10 years.
Rosé Champagne is an accessible Champagne, more obvious in terms of taste, festive by its color and more enticing.
The growing demand is also linked to the fact that Rosé Champagne has more personality and a specific identity. It is definitely easier to produce due to warmer weather in recent years.
We find an equally interesting demand for low dosage Champagnes. These low dosages are made possible because of a better integrated acidity naturally due to the wines richness and roundness.

[PH]: We do see some trends in the industry, people tend to be more knowledgeable about what they consume and younger generations like to be more informed. They become more and more wine experts so they ask to question about dosage, disgorgement dates … We have our cuvée Essentiel that works really well with wine experts since they have all the information they need on the label (disgorgement date, bottling date, lot number…) and it’s an extra brut. At Piper-Heidsieck we have a wide range of champagnes to please everyone, we have Rosé Sauvage, Essentiel (extra brut) for wine experts and connoisseurs, our Cuvée Brut, a vintage and Cuvée Sublime (a demi-sec). Our range satisfies all consumers, from non-experts to wine lovers and our entire range has complimentary food pairings.

[TaV]: Champagne seems to enjoy higher popularity overall over the last few years. Do you expect that trend to continue? Are the challenges for Champagne which need to be overcome?

[DL]: Of course we want this trend to continue and Champagne to remain the leader sparkling wine out there. In order to overcome any challenges, the Champagne region needs to continue improving.

[PH]: This trend will continue for sure. As mentioned before, the younger generation tends to be more and more knowledgeable about what they consume, especially for wines. They gain interest and want to develop their palate and their knowledge about wine. With more educated consumers that know the quality of champagne and tend to pair champagne with food more and more often we will keep seeing an increasing popularity in champagne consumption in the upcoming years.

The biggest challenge we will be facing is climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and the climate is changing making it even more difficult for us to ensure the quality of grapes as the years go on. With the unpredictable weather, our vineyard team will have to work even harder to protect our vines and ensure a high quality. At Piper-Heidsieck we already took measures to protect the environment as much as we can with recycling measures, reducing our water consumption and gas emissions. It’s a global concern and a challenge that will affect all industries in one way or another.

Another challenge would be the increasing sales of other sparkling wine, but it’s not too concerning as sparkling wines and champagne are very different products consumed for different reasons. As the consumers are getting more knowledgeable they can tell the difference between sparkling wines and champagne and they consume one of the other at different occasions.

[TaV]: What is your most favorite Champagne you personally or your house overall ever produced and why?

[DL]: My favorite is our Femme de Champagne tête de cuvée and specifically the 1995 and 1996 vintages. Very great vintages with beautiful and precise balance and a great aging potential.

[PH]: I actually don’t have a favorite champagne! It all depends on the moment, when I will open it and with whom! I will choose the Cuvée Brut for a festive aperitif with friends. I love the Vintage 2008 for an intimate dinner and the Rosé Sauvage in the summer with a barbecue.

[TaV]: Champagne rules allow using 7 different grape varieties, yet absolute majority only uses 3 from that list. Have you ever experimented with using any of those 4 leftover grapes? If yes, did you get any interesting results?

[DL]: Since 1998, we regularly vinify one of the old grape varietal of Champagne called ‘petit meslier and produce a specific cuvée: Précieuses Parcelles. Petit Meslier is a white grape varietal that grows well in soils rich in clay (a natural cross between Gouais and Savagnin) in the right bank of Vallée de la Marne.
It is a varietal that struggles to ripen, therefore has a mouthfeel marked by sharp acidity and aromatic notes of rhubarb.
I chose to vinify it in barrels to add some fine oak and spicy notes. Currently, we are working on the 2007 vintage with a low dosage of 4 g / l.
It is a cuvée of curiosity, interesting for its rusticity and for an unusual “Taste” of Champagne.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s Cellar Masters never experienced with the other grapes, because they only focused on those 3 grapes and developed an expertise in those grapes.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are produced absolutely everywhere in the world today. Have you tried any of the Methode Classique sparkling wines produced outside of France (Italy, Spain, South Africa, USA,…), and if yes, did you find anything you liked? You don’t have to love them, but maybe you liked just a little, tiny bit? 🙂

[DL]: Fifteen years ago, the Duval-Leroy family contemplated purchasing vineyards in England but decided otherwise. They’d rather stay focused on the terroirs of Champagne.

[PH]: Today sparkling wines are developing, but  Champagne stays the luxurious sparkling wine of reference.
It’s always interesting to discover other regions – for example, I tasted high quality sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and Hungary and even if we are in the sparkling wine category they all had they own style and authenticity!

Time top drink some Champagne, isn’t it?

First, I wanted to try NV Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend) and NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay) side by side, as both are Rosé Champagne. There was a dramatic difference in appearance and taste profile. Duval-Leroy, in a word, was sublime. Delicate pinkish color, just a light salmon pink, whiff of the toasted bread, vibrant acidity on the palate, touch of lemon – seductive, and yes, sublime. Sauvage, on another hand, means “wild” in French – and that exactly how the Piper-Heidsieck was. Strawberry pink in the glass, fresh tart strawberries and a touch of yeast on the nose, and then generous toasted bread, granny smith apples and strawberries on the palate. Truly different and delicious in its own right.

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay, 10-20% reserve wines) was, in a word, classic – generous, voluptuous, touch of toasted bread and yeast, full mouthfeel, golden delicious apple sweetness, good minerality, very present and excellent overall.

Three Champagnes, three different wines, each delicious in its own right, each worthy to be a star of a special celebratory dinner or a quiet evening for two. And two conversations about the wines, the passion, the style, the stars. We spoke enough today; if you are still reading this, thank you and cheers!

A Puzzle of a Hundred Pieces

December 30, 2015 7 comments
This beautiful artwork is constructed from top wine foils. Picture courtesy of Ryan Sorrellof VinoMosaic.com

This beautiful artwork is constructed from tops of wine foils. Picture courtesy of Ryan Sorrell of VinoMosaic.com

Is there a person in this world who doesn’t like puzzles? You can save the “duh” exclamation for later – I’m sure there are some people who don’t, but an absolute majority enjoys the puzzles of some sort, whether expressed in the form of words, numbers, colorful picture pieces, link chains or whatever else.

So what if I tell you that you will be given a hundred of random pieces – not just you, but a group of people will receive a hundred of totally random pieces, but they all would have to build exactly one and the same picture out of those 100 random pieces – would you like to take part in such a challenge? Do you think you would be up for it?

While you still considering if you are up for a challenge, you are probably also wondering how puzzles relate to the wine and what you are still doing reading this nonsense where you were looking for the information on the wine, plain and simple. Actually, it appears that this type of puzzle with random pieces but the same resulting picture has very direct relationship with the world of wine. Not necessarily with the whole of it, but definitely with one of the most noble parts – the Champagne.

If you ever read the story of Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, often credited with creation of Champagne (”come quickly, I am drinking the stars”), many wine historians agree that major Dom Perignon achievement is not creation of Champagne itself, but perfection of the art of blending. If you think about it, blending resembles the process of putting together puzzle pieces. And to complete the picture, take a look at the description of any of the Champagne made by so called Champagne Houses – Veuve Clicquot, Moèt and Chandon, Bollinger, Perrie-Jouiet and hundreds of others – they all talk about a “signature taste” of their Champagne House, which is painstaking maintained exactly the same through the hundreds of vintages.

While I knew about significance of blending in production of Champagne, I never understood a true scale of an effort. A month ago (almost two month by the time I was able to finish this writing), I was lucky enough to attend a first ever Vins Clairs (give a few seconds – I will explain what this is) tasting hosted by the Champagne House of Piper-Heidsieck and Terlato Imports in the US – well, it was simply first ever Vins Clairs tasting conducted outside of France. The event was led by Régis Camus, Chef de Cave and Winemaker for Piper-Heidsick. And yes, we spent time learning about puzzles.

Let me give you a brief photo report for what was happening at the event first, and then of course we will go back to puzzles. When I arrived (early, to get a seat in front), the room was ready for the tasting:

mise en place - glassesAnd the expectations started building as the carts showed up:

Vin Clairs

Piper Heidsieck Vin Clairs BottlesThis is what went into our tasting glasses:

mise en place - Vin Clairs

mise en place vin clairs ready

Bill Terlato welcomed everyone to the tasting:

Bill Terlato opens the eventAnd then we started to learn about puzzle pieces. Of course, first talked about what Champagne is – “Champagne comes only from Champagne”:

About French ChampahneAll grapes used in production of Champagne come from 320 different vineyards, which are also called CRUs. Out of those 320, only 17 have a status of Grand Crus – as they produce distinctly better grapes. Just to give you few more fun numbers – there are about 19,000 grape growers in Champagne, out of which only about 2,100 produce their own wine. There are also about 50,000 Champagne labels – which, of course, explains that it is always possible to come across a champagne bottle you never saw before.

But let’s get to our puzzle, as we still need to solve it. Every year, the grapes are harvested (just a quick reminder – there are 7 grapes allowed to be used in Champagne, but only 3 – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are really used), pressed and fermented into the still wine, same as it would be done with any other wines – with the exception of color – red grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, still produce clear juice if not kept in contact with skins, and this is what typically done in production of Champagne – unless Rosé is in the making. Once fermented, these still wines now become foundation of Champagne, known as Vins Clairs.

As common with any still wines, the year is a year is a year – every year is unique and different. If the year was great, let’s say, for Chardonnay, the Chardonnay Vins Clairs will become a Reserve wine and will rightfully occupy the place in the cellar. If the year was just okay, the wine, of course, will be used, but will not be cellared for long. If the year was terrible, the wine simply might not be produced. But it is okay – remember, we got lots of pieces to play with.

Régis Camus conducts the Vin Clairs tasting

Régis Camus (on the left) explains what does it mean to create a Champagne wine

First, we tasted through 5 different Vins Clairs – each one a component in the Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, each one with its own role. Chardonnay brings fruit aroma, citrus, minerality. In reserve wines, Chardonnay will bring more aromas. Pinot Noir provides body and structure, and it is usually main component in Piper-Heidsieck Non-Vintage Champagne. Pinot Meunier brings fresh fruit. Below are my notes, almost verbatim, as I followed explanations and tasted the wines:

2014 Chardonnay Avize – Avize village is in the center of Côtes de Blanc, and it is one of the 17 Grand Crus. Straw pale color. Beautiful nose, minerality, fresh, citrus. Clean acidity on the palate, green apple, nice acidic finish. This wine was mostly used for vintage and reserve wines, and will be a part of non-vintage champagne in 5–6 years down the road.

2014 Pinot Noir Verzy – Verzy is also one of the 17 Grand Crus. Light golden color. Interesting nose, mostly white fruit, very serious acidity, lemon/lime level, very interesting. I would have to agree on structure. In a blind tasting I would say Muscadet.

2014 Pinot Meunier Ecueil (fleshy and fruity, red grape with white juice). Light golden color. Brings in fresh fruit to the blend. White fruit on the nose. Pinot Meunier rarely used for reserve wines. Still acidity, but acidity of the fruit, more of the green apples.

2009 Chardonnay Avize very interesting color – green into golden. Beautiful minerality, classic Chablis gunflint. Delicious. Creamy, medium body, white fruit, restrained acidity, long finish. I would gladly drink this wine by itself.

2008 Pinot Noir Verzy color similar to Chardonnay – green-golden. White fruit on the nose with touch of minerality. A bit more fruit on the palate, but still extremely pronounced acidity.

After we tasted through the 5 Vins Clairs, we were asked to refresh our palates with a sip of Pinot Meunier, and the final wine #6 was poured. Boy, what difference was that – mind boggling, starting from the color:

Vin Clairs and Piper-Heidsieck 2014 Assemblage

2014 Assemblage Piper-Heidsieck is to the right

2014 Assemblage Piper-Heidsieck – blend of 2014 (90%) and reserve wines (10%) – darkest color of all, beautiful nose with yeastiness, and fresh bread, good minerality. One would never guess that you can get that from individual wines. Color came from the fact that the wine was not stabilized yet. Delicious overall, excellent acidity. 55% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay, the rest is Pinot Meunière. There are 100–110 crus in this final assemblage, and the work on it was finished very recently. This wine was bottled in 2015, and will be released in 2018.

Someone asked if it is possible that the puzzle will not be solved in some years. Régis Camus gave us a little smirk, and said that no, this is not possible – the puzzle will be always solved.

What can I tell you? This was definitely an eye-opening experience – we were allowed to touch the magic, the magic of creation of one of the most revered wines in the world, and it definitely exceeded my expectations.

This was the end of the Vins Clairs tasting, but the beginning of “no-holds-barred” Piper-Heidsieck Champagne tasting -we had an opportunity to try all the major Champagne Piper-Heidsieck offers – 2006 Brut Vintage, 2002 Rare Millesime, Rosé Sauvage and Cuvée Sublime (Demi-Sec)

At this point, I was part exhausted, part excited, and stopped taking notes – I can only tell you that 2006 Brut and Rosé Sauvage were two of my favorites, but I would have to leave it only at that.

Here you go, my friends – the magic of Champagne, a puzzle of a hundred pieces – but the puzzle which is always solved. The New Year is almost here, and of course it calls for a perfect bottle of Champagne – but even if not a New Year, we can simply celebrate life, and every day is a good day for that. Pour yourself a glass of sparkles and let’s drink to the magic, and life. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #WBC14, Project Genome, What is in the Price

June 25, 2014 7 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #107, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 10.

This was the last quiz in the Blends theme of the grape trivia – we  are going back to the single grape quizzes for a while, before changing the subject of the quizzes to something else. But for now, here is the final set of the questions about blends – now with the answers.

Q1: Name the region in France, where total of seven of red and white grapes are permitted, but absolute majority of the wines is made out of three grapes, which includes both red and white. Blend and single grape wines are permitted, and majority of the wines (even made from single grape variety) are blended.

A1: Champagne. While  Arbane, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir are all allowed grapes in Champagne, absolute majority of wines is made out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Q2: Name region in France, where multiple red and multiple white grapes are allowed to be used in production of a single red wine.

A2: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 18 grapes are allowed to be used in production of this famous red wine, a mix of both reds and whites.

Q3: This wine in the old world wine region are traditionally made as a blend of 4 grapes (only 4 are allowed) , with one grape considered to be the major, and 3 others used in various proportions, or possibly none at all. These wines are known to have great affinity to oak and have classification based on the aging time in oak and in the bottle. Flavor profile often includes eucalyptus and cigar box, and wines have great ability to age, especially in the best years. Can you name this region?

A3: Rioja. Rioja wines are made out of the combination of Tempranillo, Mazuello, Garnacha and Graciano, with Tempranillo typically being the main grape.

Q4: This protected (trade mark protected) word came around a bit more than 25 years ago to designate the wine blend (can be both red and white) which resembles in its composition and grape usage one of the most prestigious and best known wines and overall wine styles in the world. Do you know what this word might be?

A4: Meritage! in 1988, Meritage Alliance was created in California by the group of winemakers, to promote creation of the Bordeaux-style blends, both red and white, without infringing on the Bordeaux protected name. According to Wikipedia, the red Meritage wine “must be made from a blend of at least two of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, or Carmenère, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend”. The same goes for the white Meritage wine: “must be made from a blend of at least two or more of the following varieties: Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend”. Another interesting fact is that Meritage is a trademark protected word, and any winery using it on their labels must pay the alliance a license fee.

Q5: Wine Spectator’s rating of 100 points ( an “absolute perfection” so to speak), is not easy to get – to the date, there are only 75 wines which got the 100 rating from Wine Spectator. Taking into account only the red wines on the top 100 list, which grape or grape-dominated blend got the score of 100 most often? Different vintages of the same wine should be counted as separate votes.

a. Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon based blend, b. Merlot or Merlot based blend, c. Nebbiolo, d. Pinot Noir, e. Syrah or Syrah based blend

A5: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon based blends are definitely in the lead among this elite group – 17 different wines received the coveted 100 points rating from the Wine Spectator. Merlot and Merlot based wines are trailing behind with 11 different wines receiving the honors.

When it comes to the results, looks like I can never estimate the difficulty of the quiz properly. I thought this was somewhat difficult, but I was proven wrong – today we have 3 winners! Jennifer Lewis (no web site), Gene Castellino (no web site) and benway69 (no web site) all correctly answered 5 out of 5 questions, so they are all the winners of this quiz and they all get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging right. Excellent Work! vinoinlove gets an honorable mention with 4 correct answers out of 5.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

In the mere two weeks, The Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, dubbed WBC14, will take place in Santa Barbara County in California. More than 300 people have signed up to attend the 3 days event, to meet, greet, talk, learn and of course, drink the wine. I’m very excited as this will be my first WBC event, and of course full report will follow. I’m looking forward meeting everyone there (I know that both SAHMMelier and the drunken cyclist will be in attendance), so if you are going, let’s connect! You can find all the details about the conference at the WBC web site.

While the next interesting read item is geared more towards the wine professionals, I think many of you will find it quite interesting. Constellations Brands, one of the biggest wine producers and distributors in the world, recently published the result of the multi-year study of the behavior of the wine consumers, under the name of the Project Genome. Based on the results of that study, all wine consumers are split into the 6 different categories (Price Driven, Everyday Loyals, Overwhelmed, Image Seekers, Engaged Newcomers, Enthusiasts), with the detailed analysis of buying patterns of all the people in each category. There is a lot of interesting info in this article, so I suggest you will go read it for yourself here.

Last one for today is an interesting article at Wine-Searcher, written by Tyler Colman (who is also known as Dr. Vino). In the article, Tyler is attempting to break up a price of a $100 and then a $2 bottles of wine, to identify  the price elements attributed to the different participants – the winery, distributor and the retailer, as the bottle of wine is making its way to the consumer’s hands. While it is not necessarily 100% precise, it gives you some food for thought. You can find the article here.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Magnum Marathon, #MalbecWorldDay, Can Wine Critic be Objective?, Pinot Noir #winechat

April 16, 2014 4 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #98, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 2.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one ), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: This grape was created as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. Can you name the grape?

A1: Pinotage, the famous grape of South Africa

Q2: Take a look at this list of the grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, ?, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris. Two questions:

a. Name the missing grape

A2a: Pinot Meunier. Listed above are the names of all grapes allowed to be used in the Champagne region in France, so the missing grape is Pinot Meunier

b. What wine is made most often by blending some of these grapes?

A2b: Champagne!

Q3: Which grape is missing?

– Tempranillo, Garnacha, ?, Graciano

A3: Mazuelo. This is the list of the grapes typically blended in production of the Rioja wines.

Q4: This dry red wine from California is related to famous Caymus, and made out of the unknown, secret blend of grapes. Can you name this wine?

A4: Conundrum. The famous Caymus wines are made by Wagner family in California. The same Wagner family produces the wine called Conundrum, both white and red, where the exact composition of the blend of grapes is kept secret.

Q5 Carménère to Merlot is the same as Douce Noir to ?

A5: Bonarda/Charbono. Carménère grape (originally from Bordeaux), was mistaken for Merlot for the very long time in Chile. Similarly, the popular Argentinian grape Bonarda, which happened to be identical to the Charbono grape in US, was actually the almost forgotten french grape called Douce Noir in Savoie region.

When it comes to the results, I’m glad to report that again there was good participation in the quiz. We also have a winner – Wayward Wine , who correctly answered all 5 questions, and thus gets the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights. Jeff the drunken cyclist and Suzanne of apuginthekitchen get honorable mention for correctly answering 4 questions out of 5. Well done all!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

WTSO is on it again- the time has come for the famous Wine Til Sold Out Marathon! Mark April 22nd in your calendar – it will be go big or go home day – WTSO Magnum Marathon. Starting from 7 AM Eastern until midnight, WTSO will be offering wines in the 1.5L or 3L format. Each wine will be available for 30 minutes or until it will be sold out. All new wines will be announced only on Twitter, so make sure you follow @WTSO if you want to get real time notifications about new wines.

Do you like Malbec? There is a good chance you do, as many other people around the world. Just two easy references for you – shipments of Argentinian Malbec to US increased from 1.9 million cases in 2008, to over 4 million in 2013. Argentinian wines are also most popular wines among people of 25-34 years old in UK – for more interesting details on Argentinian Malbec, here is an article for you to read. Why all of a sudden we are talking about Malbec in the news section? Because tomorrow, April 17th, is Malbec World Day! Get the bottle of your favorite Malbec, pour the glass and join the celebration! Oh yes, and don’t forget to tweet about your favorite Malbec using the #MalbecWorldDay hashtag.

With hundreds of thousands of different wines produced around the world every year, we need to have some guidance as to what is new, what might worth our attention, what might not. This is where the wine critics come into a play – to help us navigate that ocean of wine by writing the wine reviews and rating the wines. Here comes an interesting question – can the wine critic be 100% objective, or can her work be influenced by personal preferences? Here is an interesting post on Jamie Goode’s wine blog, which raises this question – be sure to read the post and all the comments, it is quite a lively discussion.

Few more updates regarding the #winechat (if you are not familiar with the concept of #winechat, here is the blog post which will explain it). Last Wednesday, the #winechat was focused on Lenné Estate Pinot Noir from  Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon. Continuing the Oregon Pinot Noir theme, the subject of tonight’s #winechat is biodynamics of Youngberg Hill vineyards. The next week’s #winechat subject is wines of J Wrigley Vineyards from Willamette Valley in Oregon. All #winechat take place on twitter on Wednesdays at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern time. You can always participate using the #winechat hashtag. Join the conversation, it is fun!

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Sparkling New Year Experiences

January 10, 2014 19 comments

My brain is limited – it can only support one obsession at a time. Generally, this blog wins, but last month I got hooked on the Doctor Who series (yes, I’m a science fiction junkie), and over the last couple of days, the Doctor Who was clearly winning over the blog writing, as I couldn’t stop watching. Taking the obsession under control, I will try to switch some attention to this beloved blog.

NY WinesNew Year’s day is a Sparkling wine time for me. It doesn’t have to be Champagne, but bubbles are indispensable part of the welcoming the New Year. And then January 1st is generally the day of bubbles – we have friends coming over for the small dinner and lots of bubbles on that first day of the New Year.

The 2014 was not an exception at all – so here are some of the Sparkling wines which added sparkle to our celebration. Oh yes, of course there were few other things to drink besides the sparkling wines.

If you look at the picture above, down on the right you will see… yes, this is beer! Somehow, I felt compelled to include it into the wine line up, as I was drinking it while we were cooking the day before the New Year. Also, when I see a French beer, there is almost a calling in my head “ahh, French beer, I must try it”. This was Brasserie Duyck Jenlain Winter Ale, a seasonal brew from France, produced using three French barley malts and three varieties of the most aromatic hops from Alsace (according to the back label). In style it was an Amber Ale, so it was round and delicate, with a spicy nose and very easy to drink, without any bite – in general Amber is one of my favorite beer styles, right next to the Porter.

Coming to the New Year’s day, we started our evening with 2012 Cecilia Beretta Brut Millesimato Prosecco Superiore Coneglian Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy (11% ABV) – yes, I already talked about this wine before (here is the post), and I think at this point this is my most memorable Prosecco out of many I tried. It is perfectly together, balanced, elegant, structured and refreshing – and unbeatable value on top of everything. Drinkability: 8-

Then we had two non-common sparkling wines – one from Russia, and one from Ukraine. The Russian Sparkler was NV Abrau-Durso Semi-Sweet Sparkling Wine, Russia (10.5%-12.5% ABV) – fine mousse, touch of sweetness, ripe apples on the palate with a hint of peach, good acidity, overall quite elegant. Drinkability: 7+

The 2010 Artemovsk Krim Semi-Sweet Sparkling Wine, Ukraine (12% ABV, blend of Pinot Blanc, Aligote, Chardonnay and Riesling) was a notch up compare to the Abrau-Durso – perfectly refreshing bubbles, supple nose of apples with touch of yeast, just a hint of sweetness on the palate with balancing, rounding up acidity. If off-dry sparkling wine is your style (or a craving of the moment), I would highly recommend this wine. Drinkability: 8

What can be better than a nice wine label? Of course, a nice wine behind that label! This was the case with this NV Tsarine Champagne Cuvée Premium, Reims (12% ABV, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Meunier, 33% Pinot Noir). I was so impressed with the bottle and overall packaging, that I even had a wine quiz dedicated to this wine. I was a bit worrying that behind a gorgeous, royal, flashy label will be a so-so wine. Once I popped the cork and pour the wine, the worry went away in the instant. Perfect fizz, lots of energy in the glass. The nose shows everything which signifies Champagne to me – freshly baked bread, touch of yeast, a touch of an apple. On the palate, it had all of the same toasted bread, yeast and apple, coupled with clean, vibrant acidity – and lots of pleasure. Needless to say that this wine was gone in no time. Drinkability: 8

Tsarine Champagne

Tsarine Champagne

Our last bottle of the evening was 2005 AR Pe Pe Grumello Riserva Buon Consiglio Valtelina Superiore DOCG (13% ABV, 100% Chiavennasca, a.k.a. Nebbiolo), which Stefano generously brought over. This was an absolutely delicious rendition of Nebbiolo – brick orange hue in the glass, delicate aromas of plums and violets, with may be a whiff of cinnamon, fragrant, earthy and delicate on the palate – very un-Barolo in style, but perfectly balanced with the long finish and lots of pleasure in every drop. Drinkability: 8

Ar Pe Pe Grumello

Ar Pe Pe Grumello

And then, of course, there was food – I will give you just a few pictures – lots of traditional Russian style dishes – cold cuts, red caviar, salads, lots of pickled vegetables. I might share some recipes later on.

That concludes my report on our New Year’s extravaganza. Cheers!

Of Great Wine and Whisky

December 9, 2013 4 comments

I’m sure everybody loves the holiday season – at least in the US, where the holiday season is typically the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While there are many reasons for that, I think the wine lovers can have their own additional reason. All things wine make the perfect gift, and the wine stores want you to remember that – particularly, by running a lot more wine tasting events and bringing out more interesting wines!

Along these lines, I had an opportunity to taste a few of the great wines and whiskies, which I want to share with you here. Let me start with the wines first.

NV Ayala Brut Majeur Ay Champagne, France (12% ABV, 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier ) – Champagne lovers, rejoice – as the New Year is getting closer, the opportunity to taste Champagne will be only increasing. But when it comes to this particular Champagne Ayala, this wine is a reason to celebrate on its own. Beautiful nose of everything you want in Champagne – baked bread, touch of yeast, a fresh apple. Considering concentration and complexity of all these flavors on the nose, it was more resembling a vintage Champagne than a regular NV (the fact that this AYALA Champagne ages for 2.5 years on the lees is probably a contributing factor). Fine mousse on the palate, light, effervescent, delicious – I had to ask for the refill of my tasting cup. At around $30, this well might be the best Champagne the money can buy. Drinkability: 8

2011 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury, New Zealand (14% ABV) – I know that not everybody like the pronounced grapefruitiness of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So If you still want to experience the bright and uplifting character of New Zealand SB, sans the grapefruit, this might be the wine for you. Light straw color in the glass, the nose of lemon with some grass notes, vibrant acidity, clear cut lemon with a bit of a lemon zest on the palate, medium to full bodied, refreshing and invigorating. This wine will be great with food and on its own. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand (13.5% ABV) – light garnet color in the glass, this wine was a quintessential Pinot Noir for me. First and foremost characteristic of this wine is a perfect balance and harmony, both on the nose and on the palate. Hint of cherries on the nose with the touch of mushrooms and earthiness – one of the wines you want to smell forever. On the palate, both red and black cherries, red plums, perfect acidity, soft tannins, medium body, overall extremely round and supple. Super dangerous – I’m sure the bottle will be gone in no time if you are just left alone with it. It is also a steal at $19.99. Drinkability: 8+

2010 Ferrari-Carano Siena Red Wine Sonoma County (14.1% ABV, 74% Sangiovese, 14% Malbec, 8% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) – dark garnet color int he glass, inviting nose of fresh dark fruit, very balanced on the palate with chewy cherries and touch of black plums. Good structure and acidity, overall very pleasant. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG (14% ABV, 20% aged in 225L Frenchbarriques, 40% aged in second use 225L French barriques, and 40% aged in 500L French tonneaux) – I would call this an ideal Pizza wine. Light cherries on the nose and the palate, with the addition of the tart blackberries, noticeable but balanced acidity. Drinkability: 7

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo Langhe DOC (14.5% ABV) – excellent rendition of the young and approachable Nebbiolo. Brick color in the glass, earthy nose, good amount of dark fruit on the palate withaddition of leather and tobacco. Very enjoyable. Drinkability: 7+

2009 Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo DOCG (14% ABV, aged for 24 month, 80% in 10,000L oak barrels, 20% in second use 225L French oak barrique) – this wine is a blend of fruit from 5 different vineyards, all from Barolo DOCG designated zone (Castellero in Barolo, Monvigliero in Verduno, Fossati in La Morra, Ravera in Novello and Cavourrina in Grinzane Cavour). This wine was [expectedly] similar to the previous Nebbiolo wine, but with “more of everything” – higher concentration of fruit, nice power, well integrated  after few hours of decanting, tobacco, leather, ripe cherries, hint of violet – a full package of an excellent Barolo. Also, at around $30, it is pretty much a steal. Drinkability: 8-

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And now, here comes Whisky. I will present to you 4 different whiskies – care to guess where they came from? I will give you a few seconds to think about it. So they actually came from … Scotland (of course), Japan and North Carolina!

Blue Ridge Distilling Defiant Whisky, North Carolina (41% ABV, 100% Malted Barley) – what a treat! This Whisky has a great story, which is well captured on the distillery’s web site and in this Huffington post article, so I will have to defer you to those sources for the full information. I can only tell you that this is a very young distillery (a bit older than one year), which uses a unique ageing process, where toasted white oak spirals are used instead of a cask to impart the color and character. This was a perfect whisky – smooth, round, with a touch of sweetness and perfect, oily, silky viscosity and texture, which is the trait of some of the best Scotland single malts. If you like whisky, this is something you have to experience to believe it. Outstanding.

Nikka Whisky Taketsuru Single Malt 12 Years Old, Japan (40% ABV) – Japanese Whisky are so hard to find! I have most of my experience with Yamazaki and Hibiki, both of which are some of my favorite. This Nikka Taketsuru 12 y.o. was nice but rather simple, without much of the explicit character. At around $70/bottle, this might not be the best choice for the money.

Nikka Whisky Yoichi Single Malt 15 Year Old, Japan (45% ABV) – this was a lot more interesting than the previous one – playful on the palate, with good power, hint of caramel, crisp acidity, nice and balanced. While this is a good dram, the pricing still makes the value somewhat questionable – at around $115, I’m not sure this would be the best investment.

The Lost Distillery Company Auchnagie Blended Malt Whisky (46% ABV) – in a word, spectacular! One of the best whisky I ever tasted, one of the very best! It also comes with the great story. The Lost Distillery Company has its mission to recreate the whisky made by some of the best distilleries in Scotland, which are long gone (actually, there are hundreds of those). Auchnagie, which existed for almost hundred years, 1812-1911, was a farm distillery located in Highlands. Recreation of the Auchnagie whisky was one of the first projects undertaken by The Lost Distillery Company – I can only direct you to their web site where you can read pages and pages of detailed research information. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t dare to describe this whisky from that few second I had to taste it (it was mostly a moaning session). I will hopefully get a bottle at some point and will write the whole dedicated post as this beverage deserves. But – if you are a whisky aficionado, I have only two words for you – find it! It is truly spectacular and you don’t want to miss it. Also, at around $65 /bottle, it worth every penny for the countless amount of pleasure it will bring.

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That’s all I have for you today. Happy Monday and a great week to all! Cheers!

Henri’s Reserve – The Art Of Boutique Champagne

October 28, 2013 9 comments

Did you know that every last Friday in October now has a designated “wine holiday”? Yep, and not just any wine holiday – it is actually a Global Champagne Day (Champagne and Friday perfectly go together, don’t they?)  My “problem” (may all of our problems be so hard) of choosing the bottle of Champagne to open to celebrate Global Champagne Day last Friday was taken care of by invitation I got from Henri’s Reserve – to come and celebrate Champagne Day in style at Southport Galleries in Connecticut.

Henri’s Reserve is a boutique Champagne purveyor, primarily focusing on the small, artisanal Champagne producers. Most of the common Champagne people buy in the stores come from so called Champagne Houses, such as Moët & Chandon, Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Veuve Cliquot and many others. For the most part, Champagne houses buy the grapes from the grape growers, and make (blend) their wines to have a persistent, chateau-specific taste.  At the same time, a number of grape growers (there are about 19,000 of them in Champagne) also produce their own wines. Until recently, those wines were literally impossible to find outside of France – but over the last 5-7 years, the situation changed and so called Growers Champagne became more available in US and other countries.

You might ask what is so special about Growers Champagne? While Champagne houses are mostly focused on blending to achieve their house-specific taste, growers are a lot more terroir-driven. Growers know their best vineyards and best parcels inside those vineyards, and that knowledge translates into unique wines with the sense of place – often at a lot more affordable price than the wine coming from the big houses. To give you one example, one of my favorite Champagnes from this tasting, Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru, comes form the village of Ambonnay. One of the most exclusive Champagne houses in the world, Krug, also produces the wine from the vineyards in the Ambonnay village. That Krug wine, called Clos de Ambonnay, would set you back at around $2700 per bottle (probably the most expensive Champagne on the market). While I’m not comparing Egly-Ouriet Champagne with Krug (never tasted Clos de Ambonnay), it costs almost 40 times less that that bottle of Krug, and at around $70, it is really an excellent Champagne.

Getting back to Henri’s Reserve – they actually make the Growers Champagnes available to the average wine consumer. If you look at Henri’s Reserve web site, you will find a lot of useful information about Champagne in general, pairing of Champagne with the food, how to open the Champagne bottle, entertaining with Champagne and a lot more. What is most important, though, is that you will be able to buy some of those excellent growers Champagnes.

Ruth Frantz of Henri's Reserve addressing the audience

Ruth Frantz of Henri’s Reserve addressing the audience

Now, let’s talk about our Global Champagne Day celebration. We had an opportunity to try 9 different Grower Champagnes. I didn’t focus on taking the detailed notes, as I was very busy mingling, so below is the list of the wines we tried with my brief notes. Don’t worry, it will be easy to figure out if I had any favorites.

NV Guiborat Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant (100% Chardonnay) – clean crisp acidity, a bit of brioche on the nose. Very good. Drinkability: 7+

NV Jacques Lassaigne Banc de Blancs Le Vignes de Mongueux (100% Chardonnay) – also perfectly clean and crisp, touch of yeast on the nose. Very good. Drinkability: 7+

2006 Guiborat Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant (100% Chardonnay) – has all the traits of vintage Champagne – brioche, toasted bread, apples, touch of yeast – but very delicately balanced, not over the top. Very good. Drinkability: 7+

NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, Ambonay (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – a beautiful wine. Touch of yeast on the nose, crisp acidity and noticeable fruit notes on the palate – not in the terms of sweetness, but just more pronounced white fruit sensation than it would be in the typical Champagne. Outstanding. Drinkability: 8+

NV H. Blin Brut, Vincelles (80% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay) – perfect acidity with somewhat of a medium body, nice mid-palate weight, very round. Excellent. Drinkability: 8-

NV Pierre Gimonnet & Fils 1er Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs Sélection Belles Anneés (100% Charodnnay) – very nice nose of brioche and touch of apple, same on the palate with some interesting mineral undertones. Very good. Drinkability: 8-

2002 H. Blin Blin’s Brut Edition Limitée Millésimé (40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – this wine was the last one in the tasting, and it didn’t reach the optimal serving temperature, unfortunately (was too warm).

NV H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut Rosé, Ambonnay (80% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay) – crisp, clean, may be a bit too acidic for Rosé. Or may be it was too cold (can Champagne be too cold?). Drinkability: 7

NV Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs, Celles-surOurce (100% Pinot Noir) – very nice, medium body, interesting complexity. Very good. Drinkability: 7+

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I have a confession to make. I’m not a Champagne guy. I appreciate a glass of a good bubbly, whether it is Champagne, or Prosecco, or Cava – but Sparkling wine is not my usual daily wine. Having said that, you know what happened after this tasting? I was craving Champagne! I resolve not to wait until the next Global Champagne Day to satisfy that craving – and you might expect to see more sparkles in this blog. Thank you, Henri’s Reserve, for the great time! Cheers!

Wine Videos: Don’t Do This At Home, Kids

June 14, 2012 4 comments

Last week we compared wine video commercials from some of the major Champagne brands (in case you missed that post, you can find it here). Today I’m not asking you to rate the videos. Just watch and learn… or not (one of the videos is definitely giving me an urge to actually try it at home). In these videos you will see how professionals deal (meaning: open) with champagne bottles. This method  of opening the champagne bottle is  called sabering, and if you never heard of it before, just watch the videos (you can also read about some history of champagne sabering here).

First one is showing champagne bottles being opened in a rapid succession to achieve a world record:

The second video shows how sabering can be done with just a regular glass instead of a sword. While it looks easy and effortless in this video, make no mistake – it does require good amount of skill.

If you will be brave and try it at home, let me know how you will make out! Cheers!

Wine Videos: Big League Sparklers Showdown

June 7, 2012 5 comments

Continuing the “sparklers” theme, I want to offer you three commercials from the big league Champagne.

First, a commercial for Veuve Clicquot:

I’m not sure if the next video is really a commercial, it looks more as a tribute by Dom Perginon to Andy Warhol – but in any case it is a wine video:

And last but not least is a commercial for my all times favorite Champagne – Krug:

What the verdict is going to be? Any preferences? Cheers!

 

Weekly Wine Quiz #11 – Bubbles, Big and Small

May 12, 2012 2 comments

It seems that my wine quiz #10 was a failure, as there were only 3 responses. Oh well – I wanted to make it “somewhat” difficult, but crossed the border into “very” difficult. Today’s quiz will be nothing like that.

Tomorrow is the Mother’s Day, which is a good reason to open a bottle of champagne (not that we need a special reason for that). Once the celebration liquid is in the glass, did you ever sit still looking at that glass and adoring the chains of tiny bubbles coming up, up and away?

Today’s test will require you to brush up high school or may be even college math curriculum, including Algebra 10, Trigonometry 12, Calculus 15 and …wait, don’t close this page – I’m only kidding. Today’s quiz will not require any math skills whatsoever, but you should put on your best guessing game (yes, check your answer with Google, please – but only after you will vote in your answer).

And the question is: how many bubbles are in a bottle of Champagne? Of course your answer should be only approximate, if you think it is 500,000 or 900,000, chose 700,000 from the list below, it should work just fine. Of course you can use the empirical approach and actually open the bottle of champagne and count all the bubbles, but you better be a very, very fast counter. Good Luck!

No matter what you answered, and sparkling or still, but don’t forget to open a great bottle tomorrow to celebrate Mom! Cheers!

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