Thursday, January 31, 2008

Champagne Tasting

In December, we had our traditional annual Champagne tasting. Tasting several Champagnes at the same time is a great way to learn and compare these wines that can have so many distinctive flavors. During the evening, we tasted seven different wines, including some made exclusively from Chardonnay, some exclusively from one single harvest, some exclusively from Premier/Grand Cru vineyards, the last one being a Champagne Rosé.

Champagne is a sparkling wine from the Champagne region produced with a carbonation method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle: after primary fermentation and bottling, a second fermentation is induced by adding yeast and sugar in the bottle. The bottle is then sealed and the wine continues to age for a minimum of 1.5 years to add complex toasty and yeasty flavors. When the aging process is complete, the dead yeast cells are removed and the bottle is corked.

Champagne is typically a blend of the three official varietals of Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. They are generally assembled from different vineyards and harvests. Still red wine from Champagne can be added to produce a Champagne rosé. Blanc de Noirs is a white sparkling wine produced entirely from black grapes. Conversely, Blanc de Blancs is made only from Chardonnay grapes and mostly produced in the Côte des Blancs.

The wines we tasted:

• Champagne Zoémie de Sousa Brut Cuvée Merveille. Champagne de Sousa is a 5.5 hectare property located in the heart of the prestigious Côte des Blancs with some vineyards classified as Grands Crus. Planting is 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier, and 50% Chardonnay. Erick de Sousa who has been managing the Domaine since 1986, is now part of the absolute elite of Champagne growers-producers and his production is now been sought out by many gourmet restaurants. My notes: aromatic nose, fruity, assertive bubbles, good acidity. Great for the aperitif.

• Champagne Philippe Gonet Brut Blanc de Blancs: Champagne Philippe Gonet is a family champagne house with 19 hectares of vineyards in the heart of the Cotes de Blancs that are farmed using sustainable agricultural methods. This cuvée is 100% Chardonnay from the 2004 and 2003 harvests. Half the blend is made of fruits sourced from Grand Cru vineyards. My notes: light color, sour apple aromas on the nose, fine bubbles, crisp acidity. I found this one more mono-dimensional than the other Champagnes.

• Champagne Franck Bonville Brut Prestige Blanc de Blancs: Champagne Franck Bonville is a family enterprise making Champagne from fruit grown in the Grand Cru villages of Avize and Oger. This wine is a blend of the 2002, 2000 and 1998 vintages, all sourced from old vines from the estate Grand Cru vineyards. My notes: lighltly colored, aromatic nose, rich complexity on the palate, mineral finish. This crowd pleaser was indeed the winner of the evening!

• Champagne Leclerc Briant Les Crayères: Champagne Leclerc Briant cultivates 30 hectares of vineyards between the Montagne de Reims and the Marne valley, using biodynamic farming methods. The maturing cellars are made of over 1 km of galleries dug in solid chalk 30 metres underground. This blend is 38% Pinot Noir, 37% Meunier and 25% Chardonnay sourced from a single vineyard called Les Crayères (The chalk mine), an exceptional terroir: vines have deep roots in that very shallow soil followed by a deep subsoil layer of chalk. My notes: our first bottle was unfortunately flat, the second one was much better. Light golden color, apple cider aromas on the nose, a toasty and winey palate, dominated by Pinot flavors.

• Champagne Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut: when no sugar is added during the second fermentation in the bottle, the Champagne is labeled Ultra Brut. This cuvée is produced by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, the largest family-owned Champagne House. The blend is 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir sourced from Grand cru vineyards, and exclusively coming from very ripe harvests, in this case, 1995. A rigorous selection ensures that only grapes with both high sugar levels and low acidity are used. My notes: forward fruits on the nose with mineral notes, very distintive palate with a lot of depth, long finish. One of my favorite wines of the evening.

• 2000 Champagne Louis Roederer Vintage Brut: when the harvest is exceptional, a Millesimé or Vintage wine is declared. A Vintage cuvée is made with fruits from a single harvest and has to mature for at least 3 years in bottle. This wine is produced by Champagne Louis Roederer, one of the largest remaining independent Champagne Houses, owned by the same family since its foundation in 1776. It is a blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay sourced almost exclusively from the Roederer estate Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. My notes: expressive fruity nose, good acidity, clean flavors on the finish, but I have to say, I was slightly disappointed by this wine.

• Champagne de Castellane Brut Rosé: Champagne de Castellane was founded in 1895 by Vicomte Florens De Castellane, member of one of the oldest noble families in France. This wine is a blend of three grapes dominated by Pinot Noir, 15% of which being still red wine. My notes: light salmon color, pleasant fruity nose, fresh and delicate palate, slightly bitter finish.

For our next tasting event, we'll be pairing cheese and wine. Soft, hard, blue, cow, goat, sheep cheese: which wines will work the best with all these cheeses? Stay tuned!

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Tasting the wines of South America
•  Tasting Summer Wines from around the Mediterranean Sea
•  Guess the wine tasting
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Après-ski: 1995 Vosne-Romanée Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur

Last weekend, we went skiing with our friends Virginie and Christophe. Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny and cold and the snow was pretty good. At the end of the day though, we were tired and hungry and ready for a hearty meal. We were also eager to taste the 1995 Vosne-Romanée Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur that Christophe had brought.

Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur is one of the three wine estates owned by the Gros family, wine growers in Vosne-Romanée since 1830. Bernard Gros, who runs the domaine, is one of the top growers in Burgundy. His approach to wine-making is traditional. The vines are 10-20 years old on average, yields are strictly limited to obtain the required density and concentration of fruit, and the wines are lightly fined, but not filtered.

1995 was a fine vintage for reds in Burgundy. They were expected to age beautifully with velvety tannins and a good balance. This wine was no exception. It showed a bright light cherry color and an expressive nose of sweet raspberry. The palate was all finesse with aromas of forest berry fruits, a smooth mouthfeel and a vibrant acidity. Now we feel so lucky to have such good friends!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

WBW #41: the exciting wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia region

I can't believe today is already Wine Blogging Wednesday, the first of 2008! Time flies! This is the 41st edition of this popular event and it is hosted this month by Jack and Joanne of Fork & Bottle. They believe that Friuli, this month's theme, has become the most exciting wine region in the world. I almost agree: I think it is one of the most exciting wine producing regions and I really love the Friulian white wines.

The problem is that it is not easy to buy a white wine from Friuli that is not from the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio but I did find one that looked interesting: the 2005 Marco Felluga Collio Bianco Molamatta. It is a blend of local grapes — Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla , and Pinot Bianco — from the Collio DOC. Collio is naturally protected by the Alps on the North and open to the Adriatic Sea on the South, and it is generally considered Friuli's finest wine producing area. The Marco Felluga estate has been making wines since the 19th century and Marco Felluga is today one of the leading producers in the region.

The wine kept its promises. It had a bright golden yellow color and a rich nose of white blossom, honey, and pear. On the palate, it was full-bodied with mouth-coating flavors and a sappy mineral finish. Superb with baked spice-rubbed salmon fillets.

Joanne and Jack, I am sure you'll get many fine wines for your round-up but this one is highly recommended!

Previous WBW posts:
•  WBW #39: a wine from Silver Burgundy, the 2005 Viré-Clessé Maison Chanson
•  WBW #38: 2001 Periquita Classico
•  WBW #37: Hello Teroldego!

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Congrats Rebecca and all the Menu for Hope winners!

Congratulations to all the winners of this year's Menu for Hope and particularly Rebecca Bennett who wan the prize donated by Purple Liquid, a Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Sampler.

Thanks to the generosity of wine and food blog readers from around the world, Menu for Hope has raised $91,188.00 this year — a 50% increase from last year — for the UN World Food Programme.

If you made a donation, you're maybe one of the winners, so check the raffle results. And Rebecca, please contact me (purpleliquid at so I can ship your prize to you.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Hillary, Obama, and a 1972 Zinfandel

I am with Hillary, Obama, and a co-worker of mine in the countryside somewhere in the Bay Area. Everybody is smiling and in a good mood: my co-worker had brought a 1972 Zinfandel from a local winery that she wants us to taste. In the glass, the wine has a beautiful light red color and a mild perfume of violets and raspberry. On the palate, it has a soft, velvety texture —almost like an old Burgundy — but with a distinctive Zinfandel character. We are all blown away by how good the wine is and decide to pay a visit to the winery, which happens to be close by.

I wake up. I guess I'd been browsing the web too much the night before!

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