Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Champagne Tasting 2006

You may think that all Champagnes taste the same — bubbly, yeasty, toasty — and are hard to differentiate from each other.

In our last wine club event that occurred last month just before the holidays, we tasted and compared 8 different Champagnes. Some were blends of several vineyards, varietals, and vintages, and some were made from a single cru, a single varietal, or a single vintage. Many of them were from small grower producers that farm their own vineyard and vinify their own Champagne, and direct-imported from K&L Wine Merchants.

As we were tasting them, it became obvious that they all had different characters and unique personalities. Some tasters enjoyed the elegance and finesse of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes, made with Chardonnay only, while others preferred the distinctive character of Premier or Grand Cru Champagnes.

We tasted the following wines:

• Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Brut: when Florens-Louis Heidsieck, the son of a Lutheran minister from Westphalia, discovered winemaking in Reims in 1780, he decided to found his own Champagne House. After his death, his nephew Christian Heidsieck and his cousin Henri Guillaume Piper took over the business, which quickly became known as the Piper-Heidsieck Champagne house. Ideal for cocktails, parties, and informal dinners, the cuvée Brut is a blend of 50 different growths of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine had a lively effervescence. The nose was a bit shy. On the palate, the wine had a sweet, fruity, yeasty taste.

• Champagne Launois Père & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée Réservée: founded in 1872 by the Launois family, the Launois Père & Fils house is located at the heart of the prestigious Côte des Blancs, an east-facing hill south of Epernay, producing Champagne's finest Chardonnays. The Cuvée Réservée is 100% Chardonnay sourced from Grand Cru vineyards. The wine was much drier than the Piper-Heidsieck, with finer bubbles, apple and pear aromas, and a crisp acidity on the palate, maybe too acidic for some tasters.

• 1999 Champagne Roederer Blanc de Blancs Brut: Champagne Roederer is one of the largest remaining independent champagne houses owned by the same family since its foundation, in 1776 by Louis Roederer. His son, also named Louis, was made official supplier to the Imperial Court of Russia by Tsar Nicholas II. The finest crus from the estate vineyard in the Côte des Blancs are selected for the Blanc de Blancs Vintage cuvée, which is only produced in small quantities. The wine had a nice creamy texture and less acidity than the Launois. It had a lot of elegance and balance, and quickly became a favorite for many tasters.

• Champagne De Meric Grande Réserve Sous Bois Brut: founded in 1843 by the Besserat family, Champagne De Meric continues to follow traditional vinification processes. It uses the traditional 4000-kilo vertical press and vinifies and ages 50% of its cuvées in oak barrels, Then, the wine is aged in deep chalk cellars, where each bottle is manually rotated every day (remuage). The Grande Réserve Sous Bois is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay, and 5% Pinot Meunier from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. It was less acidic than the two Blanc de Blancs, with a vinous character, rich Pinot flavors and a firm backbone. Definitely one of my favorite Champagne.

• Champagne Marguet Père & Fils Grand Cru Brut Réserve: Champagne Marguet Père & Fils is located in the grand cru village of Ambonnay, on the Montagne de Reims, one of the best areas in Champagne to grow Pinot Noir. The Grand Cru Brut Réserve is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from the Grand Crus Ambonnay, Bouzy and Mailly. We found that the wine had many similarities with the De Meric. It was dry, fruity, rich in flavors, with a round finish.

• Champagne Perrier Jouët Grand Brut: the Perrier Jouët house was established in 1811 by Pierre-Nicolas-Marie Perrier who decided to add his wife's maiden name, Jouët, to the name of the house. His son Charles introduced the concept of Vintage Champagne and build up the reputation of the family business. It is now one of the major Champagne brands. The cuvée Grand Brut is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinor Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay. it had subtle creamy and nutty flavors but seemed less distinctive than the De Meric and Marguet.

• Champagne Tarlant Brut Prestige Cuvée Louis: the Champagne Tarlant house was founded in 1687 by the Tarlant Family. The Cuvée Louis is named after Louis Tarlant, born in 1878 and instrumental in specifying the Champagne appellation in 1927. It is a 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir blend, vinified and aged in oak barrels with no malolactic fermentation. The fruit comes from the vineyard Les Crayons named for its chalky soil. The wine was distinctive and elegant, dry and crisp with a fresh nose of green apple and toasted aromas, and a slightly bitter finish.

• 1987 Champagne Leclerc Briant Rubis de Noirs Brut: Champagne Leclerc Briant is a 30 hectares estate that now follows biodynamic farming practices. The Rubis de Noir cuvée is not a blend of red and white wine like most Champagne Rosé (Champagne is the only French appellation allowed to make rosé by blending a red and a white wine), but it is a 100% Pinot Noir vinified as a rosé de saignée where the red grapes are fermented with their skins for a short amount of time. The wine had a wonderful copper color with a nose of cherry liqueur. On the palate, it was yeasty and smoky with an intriguing port-like finish. Truly amazing for such an old Champagne!

Next time, we will be tasting a selection of wines from Piedmont so stay tuned!

Other wine club tastings:
•  From Old World To New World
•  Champagne tasting 2005

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

WBW #29: Biodynamics in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

In 1990, the Domaine de Marcoux became the first in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to implement biodynamic farming practices. At the time, the domaine was run by Phillipe Armenier, a vigneron strongly inspired by the biodynamic principles developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

According to biodynamics, a farm as a whole is an organism that should be self-sustainable as well as healthy balanced in order to control pests and diseases. Earth and plant life have their own rhythms in respect to their position to the moon, sun and stars. Therefore, in order to enhance these rhythms, the work in the fields and the cellars takes into account the different phases of the solar and lunar cycles. Furthermore, specific field preparations are made to stimulate hummus formation, such as manure stuffed into the horn of a cow to be buried in autumn, or crushed powdered quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow to be buried in spring.

Weathercock showing astronomic symbols at Domaine de Marcoux

Philippe Armenier is now a biodynamic consultant in California but Philippe's sisters, Sophie and Catherine Armenier, are now efficiently running the 17.5 ha estate planted mostly with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. It's a family affair: the domaine has been run by the Armenier family since the 1300's.

The wine we drank tonight was the 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Marcoux. It had a deep red core, a light brick color on the trim, and a spicy and peppery nose. The palate was lush, full-bodied, and juicy with sweet berries aromas, leaving a finish of bitter cocoa powder. We drank this biodynamic wine in honor of the 29th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted this month by Jack & Joanne from Fork & Bottle.

I am not sure of the differences between organic and biodynamic wines but I am certain of one thing: I haven't found any bad biodynamic wine yet.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Winemaking step #6: after the malolactic fermentation

After the holidays, I got an update from Crushpad regarding our 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard that we had pressed last October. The wine had finished its malolactic fermentation and had been racked and moved to a brand new Sylvain barrel. So it was time to pay another visit to Crushpad and meet Kian, our winemaker to taste the wine.

I found our barrel in a heated room where all the wines were finishing their malolactic fermentation.

Cabernets finishing their malolactic fermentation in the barrel room

We tasted the wine. It had lost the thick purple texture that it had just after pressing. The nose had dairy notes with hints of vanilla from the new oak. The palate was amazingly well balanced for such a young wine. The tannins were present but well rounded. The finish was long and earthy. I was really pleased: the wine had evolved beautifully.

Our 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard in a new Sylvain barrel

Just to compare, we tasted another Ink Grade Cabernet made with different vinification parameters. The nose was pure fruit and the palate seemed very jammy and sweet. The tannins were tougher on the finish. Kian explained that the sweetness of the wine could be explained by its high alcohol content (more than 15%). We added water in ours to lower its alcohol level.

Kian proposed that we meet again in three months, when the wine is going to be racked again. It should have more pronounced flavors coming from the new oak. Actually, Kian recommended that we monitor the influence of the new oak and consider to move the wine into a neutral barrel if the new oak flavors become too predominant.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Croatia, Slovenia and Romania

The last session of Derrick' s Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class, gave us the rare opportunity to taste wines from Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania, three countries with ancient wine growing traditions, yet very little known in the United States.

Vineyards in Slovenia


Like the rest of Central Europe, Croatia has a long tradition of grape cultivation and winemaking that started well before the Romans. The country has two major wine growing areas: the Continental region and the Coastal region. The Continental region has a continental climate and produces mostly white wines. Grasevina, also known as Welschriesling in Austria, is the most widely planted variety in the area. The Coastal region runs along the Adriatic coast and enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate. The region produces both white and red wines from many indigenous varieties as well as imported Bordeaux varieties.

The wines we tasted:

• 2003 Daruvar Grasevina: The Daruvar Winery is one of the most modern wineries in Croatia. It has its own vineyards and a modern wine cellar and bottling plant. The wine comes from a traditional wine growing district in Croatia's continental region. It is made of Grasevina, the most planted white grape variety in Croatia. Grasevina is also called Welschriesling in Austria and Germany, Riesling Italico in Italy, Olasz rizling in Hungary, Laski rizling in Slovenia, and Vlassky rizling in Czech republic. When yields are moderate, it produces a style of wine that is floral and zesty with a pleasant bitter aftertaste. My notes: straw color, nose of cherry stone, nutty and citrusy on the palate with a tangy acidity. Tastes better than it smells.

• 2005 Kozlovic Malvazija Istria: The Kozlovic family founded the Kozlovic Estate four generations ago. The winery is located in the Istria peninsula, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes described as the New Tuscany, Istria's wine country is made of lush valleys surrounded by olive groves and steep hillsides terraced for vineyards. On the coast, picturesque seaside towns have preserved their Venetian colonial character. Malvazija or Malvasia Istriana, a white grape clone from the Malvasia family, is the most widely planted white grape in Istria. My notes: fragrant and floral nose, nice acidity on the palate with dried herbs and spicy flavors. Quite a distinctive wine.

• 2004 Dingac Plavac Peljesac Peninsula: wines made in the Dingac area of the Peljesac Peninsula on the Dalmatian Coast are well renowned in Croatia. The grape is Plavac Mali, an indigenous variety that has strong morphologic similarities with Zinfandel. Plavac Mali was first thought to be Zinfandel's ancestor but DNA results showed that a native grape called Crljenak Kastelanski, — actually a parent of Plavac Mali — was the true Croatian counter part of Zinfandel. My notes: this wine comes from the Dingac farming cooperative and winery. Dark brick color, medicinal nose, aromas of wet mushroom. On the palate, dried tannins, rather short finish.

• 2004 Ivo Skaramuca Dingac Plavac Mali Peljesac Peninsula: this is another Plavac Mali wine from the Dingac district. It is produced by the Ivo Skaramuca Estate, named after the owner and winemaker Ivo Skaramuca. My notes: dark red color, sweet fruit and burnt sugar aromas. On the palate, nicely balanced acidity and tannins, ripe banana flavor on the finish. For me, this was a much better wine than the previous Dingac.


According to archaeological findings, winemaking began in Slovenia some 2400 years ago. We suspect that Celtic tribes that lived in northeastern Slovenia knew how to make wine long before the Romans. They also knew how to make barrels from the local oaks. Located between the southern slopes of the Alps and the Mediterranean sea, Slovenia produces a wide range of wine styles, from aromatic German or Italian-inspired whites to full-bodied Bordeaux-style reds.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Movia Tocaj Gredic Goriska Brda:
The wine comes from the Goriska Brda region, along the Italian-Slovenian border. In Slovene, brda means hills and the region corresponds to the Italian appellation Collio in southeastern Friuli. In Brda, the Movia estate has been producing wine for more than three centuries. The current owner is the charismatic Ales Kristancic, who believes in a completely natural approach to grape-growing and winemaking and uses biodynamic principles to farm his vineyard. My notes: bright color, nose of pear and honey, crisp on the palate with caramelized apple flavors, refreshing finish. Very nice!

• 2001 Zlati Gric Laski Rizling Ledeno Vino: produced by the Zlati Gric Winery (means golden hill in Slovene), this is a Welschriesling (Laski Rizling) ice wine (Ledeno Vino) from the Maribor area, a region with a strong German influence and with the best white wines similar to those grown in the Rhine and Mosel valleys. For this wine, the grapes were harvested in November at -10ºC then pressed at the same temperature in order to keep the ice crystals formed inside the grape berries and only extract the sweet, concentrated juice. My notes: greenish color, smoky nose, sweet and meaty on the palate, slightly soapy finish. On its website, the winery recommends pancakes with chocolate stuffing, nut roll, or dried fruit with the wine.


Romania ranks tenth among the world's top wine producers by volume. Thanks to the country's mild Mediterranean climate and fertile Danube Delta, Romania produces many different types of wines, from dry, sparkling whites to full-bodied reds. After the phylloxera epidemic, many indigenous vines were replaced by varietals imported from Europe, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

The wines we tasted:

• 2003 Aurelio Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve Dealu Mare: the wine is produced by the Rovit Valea Calugareasca winery in the Dealu Mare appellation. Dealu Mare, which means big hill in Romanian, produces mostly red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, as well as the indigenous Black Feteasca. My notes: brick color, smoky nose of sweet caramel, green and tannic palate, seems oxidized.

• 2004 Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon Recas: the wine is produced by Vampire Wines, a winery that successfully exports its wines to the United States, Canada, and Europe. Not surprisingly, its best selling month is in October, just before Halloween! My notes: dark red color, nose of black fruit, spices and tar, balanced acidity and tannins on the palate, some greeness on the finish but overall, rather pleasant.

I really enjoyed taking this class. The company was great. Derrick was very knowledgeable and such a big fan of German Riesling! The wines were often delicious, sometimes surprising, always interesting. Highly recommended class for the curious minded who likes to experience uncommon flavors and wine styles.

Related stories:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau (Austria)
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Hungary

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