Farmer Fizz? An exploration of Grower Champagne with the French #Winophiles

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

Grower Champagne, Farmer Fizz it’s been called. Why do we want to drink it? Why would I prefer “a dirt to glass story” to go with my bubbly? Who wouldn’t?

Quick breakdown on Champagne

You are probably already aware that just because it is fizzy wine, doesn’t mean you can call it Champagne. That title is reserved for sparkling wines made in the Methode Champenois in the Champagne region of France. (for more on what makes Champagne different dive into our piece “Sparkling Wine or Champagne“.)In the US in California they labeled bubbly as Champagne for a bit, (something to do we us not ratifying the Treaty of Versailles, back in 1919. When we then signed the wine trade agreement with France in 2006, Korbel was grandfathered in to be allowed to use the name Champagne) and France put the kibosh on that.

So to be called Champagne you must come from the Champagne Region in France. Now within that there are more distinctions and here is where “Grower Champagne” comes in.

Most Champagnes come from large Champagne Houses or Maisons.  These houses may have estate vineyards, but they also source from all over the region, pulling grapes from small growers.  They then blend the juice and often blend in some previous vintages.  The goal?  To create a uniform wine NV (non vintage) that will have consistent flavor and quality from year to year.  A noble pursuit!  And many fine Champagnes come from these houses.

 

The Champagne AOC is one of the largest in France covering 340,000 hectares with over 300 Villages. 

80% of the wine coming out of this AOC is produced by Négociants and Coopératives.

They can pull from anywhere in the AOC AND they can purchase not only grapes, but pressed juice or in some cases sur-lattes (that is pre-made sparkling wine).

 

Grower Champagne

Picture the small winery, one that has maybe been in the family for generations, growing grapes and now, rather than selling those grapes to someone else to blend, they keep those grapes and make their own wine.  This is a wine that speaks of their land, their soil and their style.  We love this in wineries, don’t we?  It’s tougher to do in Champagne, because the bubbly, well… the equipment is expensive and the process is time consuming.

For those who don’t have the money to invest in the equipment you find Cooperatives, places where smaller vineyard owners can get together and make a Champagne from a village. These vineyards bring their grapes together and one winemaker will often make a cuvée.  These are often vintage Champagnes. These are noted on the bottle with “CM” for Coopérative Manipulant.

True Grower Champagne comes from a Vigneron.  Someone who owns the land, farms the land, harvests the grapes and makes the wine.  They are typically vintage Champagnes and the best part about this (IMHO) is that they taste different from year to year.  As with good still wines, you are able to taste the terroir.  It makes tasting much more exciting in my opinion.

Types of Champagne Producers

So a quick breakdown on the one set of codes that you will find in fine print on the Champagne Bottle that can help you determine the origin of your Champagne.

ND Négociant Distributeur

  • These guys are the labeler/marketers.  They buy a Champagne, label it and sell it.

MA Marque d’Acheteur

  • Kinda like ND’s, they just buy a wine and private label it with their brand.

(So I don’t have alot of use for these top two.  If you need to buy a whole bunch of Champagne for a celebration and no one is going to notice quality…well maybe then.  I mean bubbles are bubbles, but if you have a choice…look for the codes below)

NM Négociant Manipulant

  • They may buy all or some of their grapes from others.  Deal is that anything under 94% estate fruit puts you in this category.  While big houses are typically in this class, it’s easy for others other to get lopped in also.

CM Coopérative Manipulant

  • These are the Co-ops we talked about above.  This is a group of growers that work together to make a single wine or brand.

RC Récoltant Coopérateur

  • This is a small grower, who rather that purchasing their own equipment, has it made at a co-op facility (we see lots of this style of co-op popping up in California for wineries)

SR Sociéty de Récolants

  • This is a group of growers who get together to buy the equipment to share and then each produce their own wine.  (These spots are popping up in California too for still wines.  The Buellton Bodegas that Michael Larner started is a great example, they have separate warehouses for each winery, but they share the larger more expensive equipment)

RM Récolant Manipulant

  • This is where it’s at in my book.  They grow the grapes (a minimum of 95% must be estate)

Where do you find this on the label?  Well, it varies, but typically it is in small print on the back label.

RM Récolant Manipulant

RM Récolant Manipulant

Vintage Champagne

Just because you are a grower, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are making “Vintage” Champagne.  You can be a grower and still blend previous vintages and make a cuvée.  And truth be told, if you want to sell a Vintage Champagne, there are a few more hoops for you to jump through regulation wise.  Vintage Champagnes must spend a minimum of 3 years aging on the lees in bottle, where as non-vintage only need 15 months.

Some Growers choose to put the vintage on the label.  Others, while adhering to the standards for a vintage, prefer to focus on the vineyard and site.  You will see this below with the Chartogne-Taillet I tasted.

Regions within the Champagne AOC

Within the Champagne AOC there are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Bars.

Map of the regions within the Champagne AOC

Map of the regions within the Champagne AOC

Overall, the Paris Basin is Jurassic sediment covered in Cretaceous Chalk and the Chalk is the key to the terroir in this region.  Chalk can hold water, so the roots struggle to dig down up to 30 meters to tap into this moisture.  The average precipitation in the Champagne region is just 26 inches each year, so this moisture stored in the soil is critical to keeping the vines going.

Each of the regions within the Champagne AOC have slightly different soil breakdowns and each grow a slightly different mix of wine grapes.

Montagne de Reims

This region in the Northwest of Champagne has cretaceous chalk with clay and sand for soil.  The breakdown for grapes in the region is 56% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Meunier.  You might see village names on the label also.  The Grand Cru Villages include: Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, Puisieulx, Sillery, Verzenay and Verzy.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bezzanes, Billy-la-Grand, Chamery, Chigny-les-Roses, Eceuil, Jouy les Reims, Les Mesneux, Ludes, Montebré, Pargny les Reims, Rilly-la-Montagne, Sacy,Taissy, Tauxières-Mutry, Trépail, Troi Puits, Vaudemanges, Villiers-Allernad, Villier-aux-Noeuds, Ville-Dommange and Villiers Marmery.  Vineyards here face multiple directions (northeast, southeast, southwest and west). The tops of the hills have deposits of lignite that nourishes the chalk soils below.

Vallée de la Marne

South West of Montagne de Reims along the Marne River you find the Vallée de la Marne region.  Here Pinot Meunier is king, with 63% of the grapes grown.  Pinot Noir comes in at 27% and Chardonnay at 10%.  The sub soil is Cretaceous chalk with a top soil mix of clay, flint, limestone, marl and sand.  There are 2 Grand Cru Villages: Aÿ, and Tours-sur Marne.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bisseuil, Champillon, Cumières, Dizy, Huatvillers, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Mutigny.  The best vineayrds here face south.

Côte des Blancs

South of the Vallé de la Marne you find the Côte des Blancs.  There is a reason for the name, 96% of the grapes grown here are Chardonnay with a mere 3% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Meunier.  The soil here is Cretaceous Chalk.  There is a bit of clay and sand, but really it is overwhelmingly chalk.  Vineyards are typically east or southeast facing.  Grand Cru Villages include: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Oiry.  Premier Cru Villages include: Bergèrese-les-Vertus, Coligny, Cuis, Etréchy, Vertus, Villeneuve-Renneville and Voipreux.

Côte des Sézzane

Step a little further south of Côte des Blancs and you find Côte des Sézzane.  Like Côte des Blancs, it is mostly Chardonnay that is grown here.  The vineyards here are about 64% Chardonnay and tend to face southeast which allows them to get a little riper than the grapes of the Côte des Blancs. The soils here are clay and clay silk with pockets of chalk.

Côte des Bars or The Aube

The furthest south you find The Aube or Côte des Bars.  Here the grapes are primarily Pinot Noir (83%) and the soil is marl. Almost half of the PInot Noir grown in the Champagne AOC is grown in this region. While not as well known, this area has some of the prettiest country side.  It includes the 3 communes that make up Les Riceys; Ricey-Bas, Ricey-Haut and Ricey-Haut-Rive.

How does this all affect the flavor?

For the most part you will notice the wines of Côtes des Sézzane and Côte de Bars are more aromatic and have less acidity.  The wines of the Vallée de la Marne are unctuous and fruity (due to the pinot meunier) and the Côtes des Blancs are higher in acidity and racy.

As I was researching I found that the big wine mega shops don’t typically have staff that will recognize the term “Grower Champagne”.  I had a couple of less than pleasant phone and face to face conversations that left me frustrated.  I reached out to the smaller wine shops that, sadly, are all the way on the other side of the valley from me (45 minute to an hour one way trip).  Incredibly, I missed out on a tasting event with Jean-Remy Rapeneau, who’s family owns Chateau Bligny at Khoury’s.  I found out about it too late to manage to go.  I did also contact Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson.  They had over 20 different grower Champagnes in stock.  We went to look and picked up one bottle and found that they were doing a Champagne Class.  So…you will get to hear about that at the bottom of this piece.

When in Vegas…my go to wine shops are Khoury’s and Valley Cheese and Wine.

From our trek across the valley to Valley Cheese and Wine we picked up a bottle of Grower Champagne from Pierre Péters.  This was their Rosé for Albane Brut NV.  This comes through the Terry Thiese Estate Selection.

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

Pierre Péters Champagne Rosé for Albane

A little about Pierre Péters

So Gaspar Péters, was from Luxembourg.  In 1858 he married Miss Doué who owned vineyards in Le Mesnil.  They started their operation with about 2 hectares. Their son Louis Joseph continued the business.  Louis’ son Camille, was one of the first growers in 1919 to sell bottles under his name.  In 1930 Camille acquired “Le Chétillons” which was 2.5 hectares.  Pierre was Camille’s oldest son.  At the ripe old age of 12 they had him out traveling on his own developing sales.  He evidently took the branding to heart and when his father passed he took over operations and released the first vintage under Pierre Péters.  In 1967 the estate passed to François, his second son who ran the estate until 2008.  In 2007 Rodolphe Péters joined the family estate.  He came with 12 years of experience as an oenologist/winemaker in the wine world. (information from http://champagne-peters.com/en/historical)

This Champagne is from the Côte des Blancs region and within that Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  This is a 20 hectare vineyard, so around 50 acres and produces 14,000 cases annually.  Soils here are Cretaceous Chalk and they grow 100% Chardonnay.  They are known for their Blanc de Blancs.  So…hmmm how do they make a rosé?  Well, they moved into the rosé market in 2007 adding this “Rosé for Albane” which adds some saignée Pinot Meunier to Chardonnay.  This wine is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Meunier.

Champagne & Sushi

Sushi with Grower Champagne

Sushi with Grower Champagne

We paired this first with some takeout sushi, we were hungry and it was what was for lunch!  And really, you can’t go wrong with sushi and Champagne.  Rosé Champagne is great against melt in your mouth fish and soy.  We always talk about salt and fat with Champagne (popcorn, potato chips, caviar & créme fraiche) you get that same fat from the fish and salt from the soy.  And for me, the festive atmosphere a sushi platter creates goes great with bubbles.

A selection of cheeses with Grower Champagne

A selection of cheeses with Grower Champagne

I did dive deeper into pairings and later we paired the Champagne with a selection of cheeses.  We visited our friendly Murray’s Cheese counter and picked up a couple cheeses to pair.

Swiss Emmentaler

Swiss Emmentaler cheese

Swiss Emmentaler cheese

I was hoping to pair the buttery and nutty notes of this wine with the Champagne.  It was okay, but I honestly liked the cheese better on it’s own.  This is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Emmental region of Switzerland.  When you say swiss cheese, this is what you mean.

Grand Margaux

Grand Margaux cheese

Grand Margaux cheese

Brie and Champagne.  No brainer right?  This cheese is double creme and is similar to Brie and leans towards buttery flavors.  It paired as perfectly as expected.

Comte

Comte cheese

Comte cheese

Alpine cheese is a great pairing for Champagne.  We waffled between Comte and Gruyere and thought we were picking up the Gruyere.  No worries, this cheese went very well.  As firm as this cheese can be on it’s own, the Champagne makes it seem lighter in your mouth.  This cheese is cut from 90 pound wheels from the France’s Jura.  It is made from raw, mountain pasture fed cow milk.

Fourme d’Ambert

Fourme d'Ambert cheese

Fourme d’Ambert cheese

Typically I would have chosen this to go with a sweeter wine, but I wanted to see how it would do.  Topped with a bit of honey, it was heaven.  Without the honey, Meh.  Made from pasteurized cows milk in Auvergne, this cheese is made from unpressed curds inoculated with a blue mold.  They start a bit crumbly, but then after 4 months in cave you get a smoother softer blue with notes sweet cream and mushrooms.

We garnished with champagne grapes.  No they are not really the grapes that you make champagne from, but they are cute sweet little grapes that are tasty and look adorable on the cheese plate.  That sweetness was a great offset to the savory cheeses.

We also paired with a fresh cheese bread and quite honestly that was one of my favorite pairing.  All the yeastiness was happy to play together in my mouth.  Bread and Champagne….yeah, I could happily try to live on that.

Bread with Champagne

Bread with Champagne, yeast and more yeast

Now for a brief rundown of my Champagne Class at Valley Cheese and Wine.

A Champagne Tasting

So I spent an evening around a table with a dozen or so people at, Valley Cheese and Wine, tasting through some Champagnes with Bob, who focus’ on the wine here.  We were tasting through 6 Champagnes all but one were Grower Champagnes.

They did provide us pairings for the tasting (after all they are a cheese shop also and Kristin brings in an amazing array of cheeses)  The platter of cheeses included Cremèux de Diteaux with truffle (a cow’s milk cheese from France), Clochette (goat’s milk cheese from France) and Regal de Bourgogne with raisins (cow’s milk from France).  There were blueberries, strawberries, dried apricots, raspberries and bread, plus Jamon Serrano from Spain, Chorizo from Spain and Speck from Italy.  Later in the evening, hot fries and baked macaroni and cheese with crumb topping were served.  The salt the fat the richness, was perfect for the Champagne to cut through.

Duval-Leroy

Run by a family team of mother Carol and her 3 sons Julien, Charles and Louis, this is a Champagne House, not a Grower Champagne. They produce about 4.5 million bottles annually.  The Duval-Leroy Champagne house was formed in 1859 between two families; the Duval family of Vertus in the Côtes des Blancs and the Leroy family, merchants from Reims.  It has been passed down father to son for 6 generations.  Carol Duval-Leroy took over the company in 1991, when her husband unexpectedly passed at just 39 years of age.

2006 Duval Leroy Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

2006 Duval Leroy Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

Duval-Leroy Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2006 Prestige

100% Chardonnay, 2,000 cases produced.  This is made from grapes from the Grand Cru Villages that include: Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, le Mesnil sur Oger and Oiry in the Côte des Blancs.   This goes under malolactic ferementation to give it a smoothness and that bit of bready yeastiness on the nose.  These wines age in chalk cellars for a minimum of 6 years.  This wine ages on the lees for 6 years.

This was a good Champagne, but it sat as our control.  It was a bright Blanc de Blanc.  Each of the wines we tasted after this were much more intense both in the nose and in flavor on the palate.

Champagne Doyard

Located in Vertus in the Côte des Blancs, this is a family farm. Champagne Doyard has 10 hectares of Chardonnay spread over Vertus, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Cramant and Avize.  They also have 1 hectare of Pinot Noir in Vertus and Aÿ.  The vineyards average 40 years in age.  They can trace their family roots in Champagne to the 17th century. They farm biodynamically and the vineyards are worked by horse rather than tractor to keep the ground in the vineyards from compacting.

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de l'Abbaye Grower Champagne

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de l’Abbaye

2011 Champagne Doyard Clos de L’Abbaye Premier Cru Extra Dry

“Clos” indicates wall, and this wine is made from a little walled vineyard behind the winery that was planted in 1956.  It spent 4 years on the lees. This is a vintage champagne and it is 100% Chardonnay.

I found this wine to be more fragrant than the first.  There were fruits and florals on the nose and the flavors floated in my mouth and had a lovely length.

Marc Hébrart

Located in the Vallée de la Marne, Jean-Paul Hébrart took over the reins from his father in 1997. With 15.5 hectares of vineyard they produce 8,750 cases annually.  Calculated in acres that is 37 acres, which is made up of 70 different parcels in 10 villages.  They do 6 or 7 cuvées here.  The soil here is chalk and they grow 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  Jean-Paul is experimenting with indigenous yeast and barrel fermentation.  Everything here is organic and sustainable and they hand riddle the bottles.

2010 Marc Hébrart Rive Gauche Rive Droite Grower Champagne Extra Brut

2010 Marc Hébrart Rive Gauche Rive Droite Champagne Extra Brut

Rive Gauch Rive Droite 2010 Grand Cru Champagne Hébrart Extra Dry

This wine is named for the vineyards that comprise this blend which sit on both the left and right sides of the Marne River.  This wine is 50% chardonnay and 50% pinot noir, natural yeast, unfiltered and made in barrels. This wine is part of the Skurnik Portfolio.  This aged 6 years on the lees and the pinot noir is old vine.

As we went through the tasting I felt like the aromas in each wine became more intense.  The nose on this wine is intense.  It hit me with notes of apple cider, that type of sweetness, that is tangy on the nose.  This wine was served with the baked macaroni and cheese with a crumb topping.

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet

From the Montagne de Reims region.  This winery has 11.5 hectares of vineyards and produces 7,500 cases of wine annually.  They grow 40% chardonnay, 38% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier and 2% arbanne.  They are located in the village of Merfy and have been growing wine there for over 500 years.  Alexandre Chartogne now runs things and is delving into biodynamics.  He uses stainless steel, neutral barrique and concrete eggs and allows for natural malolactic fermentation. Another from the Skurnik Portfolio, you can find more information here.

The vines in this vineyard go deep to look for water, some digging down as much as 65 feet.  They are also ungrafted vines (which is risky for phylloxera, an aphid which in the early 1900’s took out over 70% of the vines in France.  Since then most French vines are grafted to American root stock which those little aphids evidently don’t like to eat).  They believe that the ungrafted vines pull more terroir and varietal character into the wines.

We tasted 2 wines from this producer, which were made from a single vintage, but they chose not to label them as vintage Champagnes, but rather to focus on the single vineyards each came from.

*Bob did a follow up to confirm the reasoning for Chartogne-Taillet not releasing as vintage.  The answer was “Chartogne wants to have flexibility and to release them as he wants rather than by regulation. The vintage in which the wines were harvested is on the back label.”

NV Chartogne Taillet Les Barres GrowerChampagne

NV Chartogne Taillet Les Barres

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres Extra Dry

This wine is made from grapes from the 2012 vintage, but they chose not to label it by vintage. The first vintage of this wine was produced in 2010. It is 100% Pinot Meunier.

This wine was fragrant and unctuous. I got an herbal-bramble note lightly on the nose.  This wine felt a little more wild to me.  I had not had a 100% Pinot Meunier Champagne before, and it was exotic to me and I liked it!

NV Chartogne Taillet Couarres Château Grower Champagne

NV Chartogne Taillet Couarres Château

Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Couarres Chateau Extra Dry

They make a Couarres Champagne also, but this is the Couarres Château Champagne, a distinction that indicates the specific vineyard.  This is a single parcel wine with vines planted in 1987.

This wine is 100% Pinot Noir.  It was a lovely wine, but quite honestly, I was so enamoured by the Les Barres….

Champagne Geoffroy

Located in the Vallée de la Marne in Cumières the Champagne Geoffroy vineyards span 14 hectares (just over 34 acres) and they produce 10,400 cases anually.  Soils here are calcareous, sandstone and clay.  The family has been rooted in Cumières since the 17th century, but it was in the 1950’s when Roger and Julienne Geoffroy decided to start making their own wine.  René Geoffroy took the reins when his father passes all to soon and together with his wine Bernadette they continued the brand.  Today, Jean Baptiste Geoffroy runs the estate and they have moved the winemaking facilities to Aÿ.  The vineyards are made up of 35 plots of 24% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Meunier and 42% Pinot Noir.

NV Geoffroy Rosé Saignée of Pinot Noir Grower Champagne

NV Geoffroy Rosé Saignée

Champagne Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée

The Rosé de Saignée Brut is hand harvested and sorted and they avoid malolactic fermentation.  This wine is 100% Pinot Noir and you get that Pinot funk the minute you dip your nose in the glass.  This is a Saignée, and we have talked about this in terms of rosé before, where a winemaker will bleed off some of the juice of a red wine to intensify the flavors and then use this bled off juice to make a rosé.  In this case they let the juice sit on the skins for about 4 hrs to get this vivid color and intensity and then bled off all of the juice to use to make this Champagne.  It spends 3 years on lees.

You get bright BRIGHT red fruit on this and some savory notes.  It is cheerful in color and intense with flavor.  (Think Tavel intensity with bubbles)

The Grower Champagne Community

As Bob talked about the winemakers, most of whom he has met.  He talked about what a small community they are and how they help each other out.  The Pinot Meunier that is used in the Pierre Péters Rosé that we started with comes from either Geoffroy or Hébrart.  These growers all know each other and work together, sharing knowledge.  It was heartwarming to know that the type of wine community that we have seen in Oregon and Santa Barbara, winemakers working together and supporting each other, exists across the pond.

And I mentioned hand riddling, horses plowing fields, organic and sustainable farming and really all of these producers are doing that.  Most in fact are gravity flow in their winemaking.  They differ in sites, and in styles, but overall growing philosophies are similar.

Global Warming as it impacts Champagne

They are seeing the signs of Global Warming on  a very locale scale.  They and other Champagne makers are finding each year that they are cutting back on the dosage (the sweetness added to the bottle after disgogement that determines the sweetness of the Champagne).  This is because the grapes are getting riper earlier.  Within their lifetime they are watching tremendous change in the climate and ripening times in the vineyards. Bob mentioned that one wine maker had said “If they tell you Global Warming is not happening, send them to my vineyard, they can see.”

How Much?

Now if you are heading out to buy a bottle of Grower Champagne, be aware that these wines are not cheap.  They run from $85 to $175 retail and there are many in the shop that run $200-$300 each.  You can find Grower Champagnes that are less expensive, and you may find a great deal, but keep in mind, that Grower Champagne is all the rage these days, and many people are jumping into the market without proper experience.  Do a tasting if you can, before settling on splurging on a bottle.

The French Winophiles on Grower Champagne

We are lucky enough to get to associate with some wonderful people in the French # Winophiles group and this month we all dove into Grower Champagne.  So if this has wet your whistle, you can dive into more great information and pairings for Grower Champagne.  And…join us on Twitter on Saturday Morning 11 am EST or 8 am PST!  Just follow #Winophiles to join in the conversation!  And it’s Saturday morning, pop a bottle of Grower Champagne while you join us!

Here are the links to all the other great articles the #winophiles have out there on the subject!

 

And don’t forget to check back here with us  at Crushed Grape Chronicles , you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

We will be continuing our journey through Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the winemakers we met there and…next month with the French #Winophiles we will be diving into Cahors!


Bubbles to start the day – at Gloria Ferrer

So we find ourselves on the Vista Terrace at the beautiful Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. It’s a comfortable morning where the clouds have not yet burned off, so the view is soft and the vines look happy.  And it’s time to get down to some tasting.  5 flights were available on the list including the Winery Exclusive Flight which included 3 sparkling wines that were exclusive to the winery (you can’t purchase them anywhere else), a 90 Point flight of their sparkling wines that have been rated at 90 points or about, the Glorious Flight which comes with a chocolate pairing, a Pinot Flight and a Ferrer Family Passport which includes 3 still red wines.  There are other wines available by the glass.

We chose the Winery Exclusive Flight.  I mean why wouldn’t you?  If we can taste the other wines elsewhere, this was the flight to go with.  This flight included the 2009 Extra Brut, the 2013 Brut Rosé and the 2005 Carneros Cuvée.

2009 Extra Brut

This is a blend that is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  This is a “late disgorged” wine.  This wine cellar aged for 7 years.  The “late disgorging” enhances the bubbles.  This vintage, 2009 started mild, with ideal summer temperatures so the fruit was able to ripen and develop deep flavors.

With Green apple and brioche for your nose and then, citrus, honey and black cherry for your taste buds.

$50

2013 Brut Rosé

92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay. This wine has strawberry and brioche on the nose, Watermelon and peach on the palate with some ginger notes at the end.  This is a festive wine that is a real crowd pleaser.

$50

2005 Carneros Cuvée

53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay.  This is their flagship sparkling wine.  The 2005 vintage started out cool and wet with a late bud break.  The summer was sunny and dry and the temperature were mild going into harvest which meant more hang time between veraison and harvest.

This is made from the premium estate fruit.  It has 9 years en tirage, and 6 months on the cork.  It was indeed our favorite wine of the tasting. What is en tirage you ask? this is the French term for how long the wine rests in the bottle on the lees (the dead yeast sediment) from the secondary fermentation. This allows the flavor of the autolyzed yeast to develop in the wine.

This was my favorite from this tasting, with floral notes, apple, honey, ripe pear and a bit of mineral which keeps it clean even with it’s long finish.

$75

2014 Blanc de Blancs

We were lucky to taste the newest Blanc de Blancs their 2014.  It was a beautiful bright color and was crisp with green apples and pears and meyer lemon.  It had some lovely yeasty brioche and a creamy mouthfeel.

$50

In Addition we tasted the 2008 Royal Cuvée and the 2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay ($40).

2008 Royal Cuvée

The Royal Cuvée has a history.  The inaugural vintage of the “Royal Cuvée” was in 1987 and was first served to King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain when they visited California.

It is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  These grapes are handpicked and brought to the winery in small bins and only the first press of gentle whole-cluster press is used.  It ferments in stainless steel.  It is blended after 6 months then bottled and aged sur-lie in the wine caves for 7 years.  It is then disgorged and finished with a dry dosage and aged an additional 6 months before being released.

This has peach, ripe apple and honey on the nose with black cherry and pear on the palate.  It is bright and crisp with a hint of ginger at the end.

$37

2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay

The only still wine that we tasted, this 100% Estate Chardonnay, is whole cluster pressed very gently.  It is barrel fermented and aged in French oak with 25% of that being new oak, for 9 months.  They put a third of the wine through malolactic fermentation.  The barrels were stirred monthly for 6 months to mix the lees and create the full mouthfeel of the wine.

This wine had some tropical fruit and green apple, but what stood out to me was the spice.  When I described the wine at the tasting, my first thought was “spicy”.  This is not heat or pepper, but more baking spices.

$40

The wines were lovely.  On our next visit I look forward to tasting the olive oil also.  They have multiple tastings to choose from as well as experiences.  I was tempted by a flight that had a chocolate pairing.  They also have 3 guided tours daily that should be reserved in advance.  There are several other experiences: Pinot Journey, Bubbles and Bites, A Taste of Spain, Glassware Exploration, Gloria’s Wine Country Picnic and Reserve Tour that are available with advanced reservations.

This beautiful winery is definitely the perfect way to start a day in Sonoma. If you missed our post on some of the history of Gloria Ferrer, you can find it here Gloria Ferrer – A little history.

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Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.

Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.

We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

Watch for the next Key Weekend event coming up in December as well as other great events at the Santa Barbara Vintners site.  sbcountywines.com

The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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Wiens, Barrel Tasting Room

Wien's Front Entrance

We have long been members of Wiens Wine Club.

Wien's Barrel Room from main room

Wien’s Barrel Room from main room

On our first trip to Temecula it was the last stop of our second day and we loved their wines.   Not trusting ourselves, we went back the next day in the morning to be sure that our consumption of wine the day before had not swayed our thoughts and were reassured that these were wonderful wines.  So…we stop by whenever we are in Temecula but of course we are always there through the week and never had the opportunity to taste in the Barrel Room whichis open exclusively for members on the weekend.  So….since we had a weekend…..

Wien's Barrel Room

Wien’s Barrel Room

The barrel room is stunning, it is warm and intimate and Susan who poured with us felt free to give us lots of information.  We began our tasting with their new sparkling wine done in the traditional medod. The Chanson de Soliel (Song of the Sun) is a beautiful Blanc de Blanc that is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir and it is done in a Brut style.  I got citrus and lime and a little yeast.  This is leaps and bounds above their Amour de L’Orange in style and sophistication.

Next we tasted the 2011 Solace which is a white blend with Roussane.  It had a dusty nose and nice acid. They mention camomile and lemon grass in their description and I definitely got that.

Now on to my favorite…the 2011 Verdelho.  Another one of those wines that you hear multiple pronunciations of it’s name.  I had been pronouncing it ver-DEY-ho but Susan said ver-DEL-oh, so I guess this ranks right up there with my learning curve for pronouncing Paso Robles (it’s ro-buhls), I was getting too fancy for myself.  Maybe that was just the tricky little joke that this wine started me out with to prime me.  This wine has all the tartness of a Savignon Blanc on the nose and lots of grapefruit ont he palate and it is completely “playful” as Susan put it and unexpected.  This wine also has pear on the nose and it is not overpoweringly tart or sweet.  When you take a sip it rolls up the center of your tongue and dissipates in the back of the palate.  It was enchanting and made me giggle!  I am infatuated with this wine.

We moved on to the 2011 Pinot Noir which is loamy on the nose like soil, green and earthy with good pepper and silky tannins.  It was cool in the mouth with cranberry and tart red fruit.  Yumm…

The 2011 Tempranillo-Petite Sirah Blend was plummy with strawberries and earth.  It was very smooth but had a thick mouth feel.  This is a lovely sipping wine that is warm in the mouth without being hot.  Complex with what felt like low tannins.

Now on to the Crowded (always one of my favorites) and the Reflection.  The 2010 Crowded is a blend of 38% Zinfandel, 26% Barbera, 18% Pinot Noir, 9% syrah, 6% Sangiovese, 3% Petite Sirah.  This leans Italian and is cool and smooth.  The Reflection Michael tasted more tannins.  I really enjoyed the Reflection (and look forward to drinking the 2 bottles that just arrived with the last wine club shipment).

Even though we were already feeling very VIP (there was a cheese tray on the side for everyone and Susan was taking very good care of us) Susan then went to pull a Cabernet Franc for us to taste.  This was cool with fresh black fruit and very soft tannins.  Like a well behaved Cab Franc this wild beast likes to nestle in velvet.

When we had entered the barrel room there were just a few people, by the time we left it was full, but still quiet and thoughtful.  Filled with people who really wanted to taste the wines and learn about them.  The public tasting room outside was packed when we left filled with people, who, if they like good wines, will soon be joining us as members.

Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Champagne-splash

 

I had the opportunity to go to a Sparkling wine tasting last month.  Michael doesn’t do the sparkling wines so off I went on my own.  The tasting was seated and set up like a class and I did my research ahead of time to brush up on sparkling wines and learn a bit more.  I was prepared to travel the globe tasting Espumante from Portugal, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta, Trento and Asti from Italy, some Champagne and Cremant from France and maybe even some Sekt from Germany or Austria!  This tasting however drifted only briefly outside of France with the start being a Cava, the well known Rondel.  Not what I was expecting, but pretty spectacular none-the-less and as a result I probably tasted a great deal more champagne than my ticket price allowed for!

So…some sparkling wine basics to start with.  The bubbles were first looked at as a flaw, but the Brits got a taste and liked it!  During the 17th century the English glass production used coal ovens rather than wood like the French and were able to create a more durable bottle that could better withstand the pressure in sparkling wine.  Prior to this it was not unusual for a cellar to loose 20-90% of their bottles to instability.Champagne splash

How did it get to England and hook the Brits you ask?  Well Champagne is a cold region and sometimes the fermentation process would be prematurely halted due to the cold temperature leaving dormant yeast and some residual sugar in the bottle.  They would box up the wine and ship it to England, where it would warm up and begin a second fermentation in the bottle and thus when opened in jolly old England it would be bubbly!

There are two methods of making Champagne or sparkling wine.  The first is the Methode Traditionnelle and the second is Charmat.  Let’s hit the 2nd first because it is quick and easy to explain.  In this method the Champagne is made in large tanks and CO2 is added to add the bubbles.  This method is used for less expensive sparkling wines.  The bubbles tend to be larger and “rule of thumb”, the larger the bubbles the bigger the headache.  These bubbles tend to disperse quickly also.  Now onto the more complicated method “Methode Traditionnelle”

The Traditional method “Methode Traditionnelle” is much more complicated and time consuming and therefore much more expensive.  After harvest the grapes are put in vats for the first fermentation which can be up to a year.  Then the wines are carefully blended and may be blended with previous years wines to create the house style.  This is known as assemblage.  The idea for French champagne makers is to create a champagne that is consistent from year to year.  After assemblage the liquer de tirage is added.  This mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast is what will trigger the second fermentation.  The wines are then bottled and capped (with simple bottle caps (anyone remember those?).  Then the 2nd fermentation begins and can take 10 days to 3 months.  After the 2nd fermentation the next step is Remuage.  The bottles are transferred to “pupitres” which are rectangular boards where the bottles can rest almost upside down.  This allows the lees and sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle.  A process known as “riddling “ is applied here.  Originally “Riddlers” would slowly turn the bottles, a bit of a turn gently each day to get all the sediment to settle in the neck, now there are machines that assist with this.  After the riddling the wine will be aged again on its lees for a minimum of one year for non-vintage champagnes and at least 3 years for vintage champagnes.  This aging allows the lees to breakdown which is what gives Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wines their bouquet and flavor.  But we are not done yet…you don’t want all that lees clouding up your beautiful sparkling wine!  The next step is Degorgement where the sediment is removed.  The neck of the bottle is put into a nitrogen solution to freeze it.  Then the bottle is opened and the solid frozen plug of lees is removed.  How in the world did they figure out how to do this?  Well for this tradition thanks the Veuve Clicquot.  Veuve in French is widow and Madame Clicquot’s husband died during the bottling process.  Legend says that she could not figure out how to get the lees out of the bottles and in her frustration threw them out into the snow, where….the necks froze first allowing them to easily remove the lees.  The final stage is to add more sugar and still wine to again fill the neck where the lees was removed.  This last “dosage” as it is called, determines the wines sweetness which goes from Brut to Sec.  Strangely enough, Extra dry is not as dry as Brut.  The Brut labels were added later to indicate a dryer wine.  So there you go the quick version of making Champagne.  It is a bit of work!

ORondel Cava Brutkay on to the tasting.  We began as I mentioned with a Rondel Brut Cava.

This is a great sparkling wine from Spain made in the Methode Traditionnelle.  It is lovely on it’s own or in mimosas and is exceedingly affordable at around $7.99 per bottle.  We tasted a Brut which was lovely, but it is also available in a Demi-Sec if you lean toward sweeter wines.  I picked up a Demi-Sec to take home for Michael to mix in Mimosas.

Our next wine was a Cremant de Bourgongne.  So…a little explanation.  As of 1985 the sparkling wine regions outside of Champagne in Loir, Alsace and Burgundy agreed to no longer use the term Champagne.  This would be reserved only for the Champagne region.  Instead they would now use the term “Cremant”.  Cremant de Bourgogne can by law only be made with  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.  The Cremant we tasted was a Louis Bouillot Brut NV.  This was creamy yet dry with a nice finish.  At $15.99 it is a great value.

Now we stepped into Champagne.  The first we tasted was a Paul Goerg Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs.  Goerg is names after a respected 19th century Mayor of Vertus.  The chalky soils of Vertus lend a refreshing mineral quality to this wine.  3 years of aging adds to the wine’s complexity.  I loved the bubbles in this.  The bubbles were very fine and refreshing and the bit of minerality made it very refreshing.  It also had a lovely floral note to the nose.  Blanc de Blancs means white from whites in French, and as such this wine is 100% chardonnay (a white grape).  This was the wine I took home with a sensible $29.00 price tag.

Our next venture was into Grower Champagnes.  Now I have been hearing about these and was anxious to taste one!  To give a little perspective on this style of Champagne it’s good to know that there are 261 Champagne houses in Champagne.  There are 19,000 growers.  So for a grower to produce a Champagne is a rare thing.  We tasted a Georges Vesselle Grand Cru Brut.  There are 17 Grand Cru Villages with 100% ratings, 38 Premiere Cru Villages with 90-99% ratings and the remaining villages in Champagne are rated at 80-89%.  The ratings are depended on the Village and the soil type there.  This changed the system from one where price was based on the Champagne house to one based on where the grapes were grown. This wine was a bit toastier and had a nutty creamy quality to it.  This particular grower is in Bouzy and it is a small production with 42 acres planed n 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.  It is a small family production.  This wine sells for around $40 per bottle.

The next wine was by the same grower and was a DeMargeire Grand Cru Burt Rose.  Champagne roses are like regular roses in that they can be made in two ways, you may allow the grapes to have contact with the skins early on to impart the pink color and some additional flavor or you may add pinot noir (or pinot meunier) in the final dosage.  This wine uses the former method and is a light salmon in color.  As with many roses you immediately get strawberry on the nose.  It had a lengthy finish and more than a little toast on the nose.  Roses are only about 3-5% of the Champagne Export so they are a little harder to come by.  This one retails at around $43.

From here we moved on to a Franck Bonville Grand Cru Vintage Brut. (I know there were a lot of wines to taste!).  This estate consists of 50 acres in the  Cremant, Aviz and Oger areas which are all classified as Grand Cru.  It is 100% Chardonnay and was aged for 5 years on it’s lees before release.  This was heavier on the yeast and had more light fruit.  It was medium in body.  More complex than the previous wines.  It goes for $49.99

The last of our dry Champagnes was Mailly Exception Blanche.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay.  This champagne will be great through 2022. It has flavors of tangerine and almond with a hint of minerality.  The bubbles are fine and the texture smooth.  This lovely Champagne will set you back $70.

Our final taste (well of Champagne) was a Mailly Delice Demi-Sec Grand Cru.  As a Demi-Sec it is sweeter so we finished with it.  It is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  It is a blend of the latest harvest with 40% being 10 years of reserve wines.  It is aged 2 yeas more on the lees than the Brut NV.  The extra aging makes this a fuller champagne.  It runs around $45 per bottle.

champagne glassesWe finished the night with some Georges Deboeuf As it was the 3rd Thursday of November and officially Beaujolais Nouveau day!  This seasons had hints of grape candy to me.  Reminded me of the tart smell of the Lik a Stik powdered candy.  Fun and fruity it is a gulping wine!  What a down to earth way to end the evening of sipping Champagnes!

So…I have a new understanding of Champagnes.  Time to make some Bellini’s and Caviar!  And Champagne and sparkling wines go with everything, so…If you don’t know what wine to take to that Thanksgiving dinner… pick up something with bubbles (smaller bubbles to make your head happier) it will go with everything and is bound to bring a smile!

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