Where are the Women in Champagne? #Winophiles

Nathalie Falmet Brut & Champagne, by the Artist RuBen Permel of Act2Art

Women in Champagne.  It’s a simple title.  I looked forward to learning and researching about Women in Champagne as we put together our piece for the Winophiles this month.  As I set forth to do some research, I found two stumbling blocks, Champagne and Women.  Do a search, try it now…I’ll wait.

Probably the first things that popped up were dresses or shoes in the color of champagne for women.  Ugh!

Dig deeper.

Once you’ve waded through the photos of ladies in champagne colored gowns sipping flutes of Champagne, you might come across pieces on “The Women of Champagne”.  Okay, this has a bit more merit.  It will discuss the Grand Dames of the Champagne region, beginning with the Widow Cliquot and moving on to the women in the industry who work for or are part of the families of the big Champagne houses.

Kudos to all of them!  You can read a great piece on them here at Food&Wine https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/champagne-sparkling-wine/future-women-in-champagne , but this was not what I was looking for.

I was looking for the boots on the ground women in Champagne.  Where were the female winemakers, owners of a small vineyards or women working with their families in Champagne for small wineries.  I wanted to talk about women on the ground getting their hands dirty, making delicious wine, not about a large corporation.

In my online research I did stumble upon the perfect piece to send me down the rabbit hole that I needed.  It was a research piece by Professors Lucia and John Gilbert of Santa Clara University in California.  (You can read it here https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/champagne.php) Researched and Written by Professors Lucia and John Gilbert [email protected] Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 2018

They discussed several organizations in Champagne for/by women including La Transmission and Les Fa’Bulleuses. Ahh….at last.  These were the women I was looking for.

Les Fa’Bulleuses

Les Fa'Bulleuses cartoon
Les Fa’Bulleuses (courtesy Les Fa’Bulleuses)

I reached out to Les Fa’Bulleuses for some information and Charlotte de Sousa of Champagne De Sousa was happy to provide me with some additional information.

Les Fa’Bulleuses are a group of women in Champagne who have gathered together to market their family wineries in Champagne.  More than that, this group has become an indispensable resource for each other. 

“Each of us comes from a different village and has a very singular history … But what unites us, above all, is this unconditional love that we have for our wines and our terroirs.
Versatile and dynamic, we practice the noble profession of winegrower in its entirety. At the same time present in our vineyards, in vinification and cav, we like to learn, observe, communicate and especially share.
Convinced that “unity is strength” we are a real team. Through our associate the Fa’Bulleuses of Champagne we wish to defend with femininity but without feminism our work, our values and our passion”

Courtesy Les Fa’Bulleuses de Champagne

Charlotte was kind enough to give me her thoughts on the group.

“There were seven of us at the beginning.  Two girls met during a wine fair and decided to create a group.  One girl called another, and they called another and soon we were 7 for the creation of the group in 2014. It is important to us, because we have the same questions, the same issues. It is important to have each other for advice, help etc… we are oxygen for each other, working in a family business every day is not easy. Here we know we are not alone. It is not always so easy to work in a world of men when you are a young woman, so we are happy to know that the other Fa’Bulleuses are here to help!””

Charlotte De Sousa of Champagne De Sousa

The group includes: 

Les Fa'Bulleuses  photo on Stairs
Les Fa’Bulleuses courtesy Les Fa’Bulleuses

Laureen Baillette of Champagne Baillet-Prudhomme

Hélène Beaugrand of Champagne-Beaugrand

Claire Blin of Champagne Mary Sessile

Mathilde Bonnevie of Champagne Bonnevie Bocart

Charlotte De Sousa of Champagne De Sousa

Sophie Milesi of Champagne Guy Méa

And

Delphine Brulez of Champagne Louise Brison

They have a map of 7 of the houses linking all the areas of Champagne.

Femmes de Vin Map of Les Fa'Bulleuses
Femmes de Vin Map of Les Fa’Bulleuses

I encourage you to check out the Les Fa’Bulleuses site and dig deeper into each of these houses!

Finding a wine made by a female Winemaker in Champagne

So I went to look for a bottle of Champagne.  The same issues as before came up. It’s hard enough to find Grower Champagne, but then one made by a woman?  I hit up wine.com.  They pointed me to Veuve Cliquot.  I explained that I was looking for a female winemaker. They pointed out that the Champagne houses typically have teams of winemakers that often change so finding and keeping track of a female winemaker there can be exciting for research (I would have said challenging).  I had to come back around to “Grower Champagne” and while they did not have any wines by the wineries of Les Fa’Bulleuses, they were able to find me one by Nathalie Falmet.

Nathalie Falmet, Vigneronne Oenologue

Champagne Nathalie Falmet - Vigneronne Oenologue
Champagne Nathalie Falmet – Vigneronne Oenologue

Nathalie Falmet was the first female oenologue in Champagne.  Her label proudly lists “Champagne Nathalie Falmet, Vigneronne Oenologue. I was able to find a piece written about Nathalie on the Scala School of Wine site.

With a degree in chemistry she went on to become an Oenologue. In addition to making her wines, she runs her Bar-sur-Aube consulting laboratory. The tiny estate (which is just 3.2 hectares is in the Côte des Bar in the Aube department. An area which has been getting more and more attention.

We tasted the Brut NV. Tim Hall with the Scala School of Wine spoke about the style and production method.

A perpetual solera-type reserve begun in 2009 provides the reserve wines, giving a growing complexity of options to a small producer who does not have the volume to store a high proportion of reserves each harvest.  The solera is replenished with about 20% of the assembled Brut NV (currently about 80PN 20CH) each year after 20% has been decanted for reserve wines. The Brut NV is thus based on a single year plus 20% solera reserves…

Champagne Nathalie Falmet – A Profile
Scalawine.com
Posted on February 21, 2015 by Tim Hall

Art, wine and Inspiration

Champagne by RuBen Permel  Act2Art.com
Champagne by RuBen Permel Act2Art.com

Champagne has always seem feminine to me. It is elegant, festive and comforting. The bubbles cheer you and that waft of yeast, like fresh baked bread, wraps you in a comforting aroma. A few years ago we did a project with my dear friend RuBen, where he created beautiful art inspired by wine and we did pairings. The event was called Crushed Grapes and Open Minds.

One of the pieces he painted, I am lucky enough to still have gracing a wall. This piece was based on his interpretation of Champagne. The painting is vivid, yet soft and I always have the impression of a mother cradling a child. This felt like an appropriate backdrop for this piece.

I encourage you to visit RuBen site at Act2Art. He is a brilliant artist, working in multiple mediums. His art, writing, costuming, photography and other design are amazing. I am truly lucky to call him a friend.

On to the pairings

We were popping this beautiful bottle from Nathalie Falmet on the day before my birthday, which happened (kizmet) to be International Women’s Day. So there was much to celebrate.

Elegant yet comforting

In looking for pairings, I wanted to span that gap of elegant and comfort. So we started with caviar and creme fraiche on a beautiful salty potato chip combining two classic pairings, caviar and potato chips.

Caviar Creme Fraiche on a potato chip
Caviar Creme Fraiche on a potato chip

It was a gleeful and blissful pairing. We also enjoyed some classic pairings, brie, raspberries, nuts and lobster pate (although the lobster pate did not go as well as I would have wished).

Classic Champagne pairings caviar, raspberries, brie, pistachios
Classic Champagne pairings

Then, we did a high brow mac & cheese. I found a recipe for lobster macaroni and cheese and dove into this! The recipe seemed manageable and still a little fancy. More than once I worried that I had done a step wrong, but in the end, it came out beautifully. You can find the recipe here.

Ingredients for our Lobster Mac & Cheese
Ingredients for our Lobster Mac & Cheese

And…we ended up with lots more than I expected! So the celebrating continued throughout the week. (Lobster mac and cheese makes for a spectacular leftover!) I did add some vivid green vegetables to make this a bit healthier of a dinner.

Lobster Mac & Cheese, green vegetables and a Nathalie Falmet Brut Champagne
Lobster Mac & Cheese, green vegetables and a Nathalie Falmet Brut Champagne

We finished it off simply with another great pairing for champagne…shortbread! Wrapped up with the mac & cheese, I didn’t bother to make this myself, but it was delicious and easy.

So that is my take on Women in Champagne. I cannot wait to read the perspectives by the other French Winophiles. I encourage you to dive in and enjoy some additional terrific reads below. And…you can join us to chat about the Women in Champagne on Saturday March 16th at 11 am EST on twitter! Just pop in #Winophiles and follow along, or join in! Tell us about your favorite Women of Champagne!

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!


Crushed Grapes & Open Minds – The Event

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

an interactive experience

Last August we held an event entitled “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”. My friend RuBen with Act2Art by RuBen is an accomplished artist and created some works specifically for this event. The idea connected scent memory and art, both in the creation of the pieces and peoples reactions to them.

We chose 5 wines, a Champagne (A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru), a Sauvignon Blanc (Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand) a Syrah (Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara), 2 Zinfandels (Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy & French Camp Zin) and a Dessert wine (Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010)

There was a station for each wine, with a pairing, aroma jars, the wine and of course the associated work of art. Cards to explain the pairings were located at each station.

Individuals bring their personal experiences and memories as they interpret a work of art. Scent memories are similar, an aroma can trigger a very personal memory. Mixing the two and stirring in a little wine and good food can make for a powerful experience.

We asked guests to smell the aroma jars, taste the wine, and look at the art, then jot down a word, a phrase or a memory that came to them.

A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

 

We chose this Champagne for the bread on the nose. When we were sampling Champagnes, Cremants and Sparkling wines, we dipped our nose in this glass and got hamburger buns. Yep, hamburger buns. That yeasty smell of bread came across in a very approachable way that we thought would make this wine less intimidating for those new to finding aromas in wine, so it made a great start. This Champagne is mostly Pinot Noir so you also get berries on the nose and so there were scent jars of hamburger buns and berries for people to smell. For a food pairing we matched it with Salty potato chips. The salt and fat are a perfect pairing, the salt making you crave another sip of the champagne and the champagne’s bubbles and acid clean the fat off of your palate after each bite, making every bit as delicious as the first.

 

The Art – Champagne

Champagne Painting by Act2Art

Champagne

Some of the responses to this piece:  “A perfect first date” “Crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon” “Happy – like a picnic at an apple orchard” “Fields of dandelions – fresh grass” “A beautiful sun shower in late April or Early May”

 

 

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

We had a bunch of Sav Blancs to choose from, but the nose on this one was just captivating! This wine, is not fancy, you can find it in your local grocery store. We had jars of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, stone fruit, and lemongrass and everyone found something different in the wine. We paired this with Guacamole and chips. The avocado is fatty which is nice with the acid in the wine and goes well with the lime and fresh greenness of the wine.

 

The Art – Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

“Blowing out candles on your birthday cake” “Very content and peaceful – smells like our smoothie day” “Blood splatter on the grass from when I split my lip” (I love this childhood memory)

 

Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara

We love the wines from this Winery and Syrah from Santa Barbara is almost always wonderful. These are the same “Carhartts” that make the work clothes. They owned a cattle farm in Santa Barbara that Mike Carhartt turned into a vineyard. His wife Brooke and their son Chase now make the wines and they have my favorite tasting room on the planet in Los Olivos.

Carhartt Syrah at Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

Carhartt Syrah

This wine has quite a bit going on with aromas of Black berries, dirt, allspice, tobacco, vanilla bean and beef jerky and we had scent jars with all of these. As to a pairing? Well there is a pig on the label, so bacon was the perfect pairing.

 

The Art – Syrah

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“The calm after a winter storm – perfect tranquility” Dark – cosmos – blanketing” “Thirsty – the kind of thirst when flying” “A very tempestuous sunset”

 

Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy and French Camp Zinfandels

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

We were members of Tobin James for a while and pulled these two older Zinfandels from the cellar to try. Tobin James is in Paso Robles California and their wines tend to be pretty big. The aromas on these were earth, pepper, fruit jam, leather and chocolate. We paired them with chocolate fountain mini cup cakes from Retro Bakery.

 

The Art – Zin

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“Making a picnic lunch for the family” “Costy – like a warm blanket wrapped around me during the winter” “tobacco warmth – a little earthy – comfortable”

 

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tokaj is an area in Hungary and this wine is made from a grape called “furmint”. This is a wine made through “noble rot” or “botrytis cinerea” a fungus that shrivels the grapes like raisins. The raisins are then made into a paste which is added to a dry base wine. This is a sweet wine with citrus, apricot and honey on the nose. We paired it with Brie and Comte cheese.

 

The Art – Tokaji

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

“Oceanside Cliffs on a summer evening” “My first visit to Montreal – wonder and excitement – Christmas eve” “Tending to my fathers garden”

 

In addition to the wine stations, there was more to eat with a table filled with delicious things with notes to suggest pairings to try with the wine as well as more of RuBen’s beautiful art around the space.

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

This was an evening of exploration, discovery and animated conversations.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wine and the people behind the wines!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

To have an evening like this created for you, contact 42Aspens Productions at…. 702.463.4242

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RuBen Permel – Act2Art – Wine Inspired Art

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds with Act2Art.com

RuBen Permel of Act2Art is an accomplished artist.  He’s actually quite the renaissance man, he is an actor and dancer, a puppeteer, a costumer, a painter, a writer, a film maker….and lucky for me, my friend.

Last year we worked together on a project called “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”.  I had this idea of finding wine that would pair with some of RuBen’s beautiful art.  RuBen, ever the overachiever, decided he would paint a piece for each wine we chose.  We chose 5 wines and he painted a piece to pair with each.

We spent an afternoon with RuBen while he painted, actually priming a canvas for what became the signature piece for the event.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

Sparkling wine or Champagne

In honor of #ChampagneDay…here is a little primer on Sparkling wines and Champagne that we put together as we planned our Sparkling pairing for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event.

The Sparkling Wine

As we planned for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds event we knew that we wanted to begin with a sparkling wine.  Bubbles are celebratory and a great way to get an event off to the right start.  We also knew that with our sparkling wine we would serve it in glasses rather than flutes, which would not keep the bubbles as much, but would allow guest to smell the aromas behind the wine. We looked at many different sparkling wines, and it was important to me to find something with some yeast or bread on the nose, to give us a chance to talk about how Sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method.

Quick lesson on Sparkling wine:

There are two methods of making a sparkling wine. One is the “Charmat” or “Tank” Method, the other is Methode Champenoise.

The Charmat Method

The Charmat method is a less expensive way to make a sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (the one that causes the bubbles) is done in a large pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. Because you can only get 2-4 atmospheres of pressure in this way, the bubbles tend to be larger. Prosecco and Lambrusco are made in this way.

Methode Champenoise

Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.

Popping a champagne cork!

Popping a champagne cork!

Sweetness levels in Sparkling wine

Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.

This is from Sweetest to driest:

Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)

Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)

Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)

Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)

Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)

Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)

Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)

This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)

We narrowed our choices to a California Sparkling Wine, a Cremant, and a Champagne and brought them home for a tasting.

The Finalists

3 sparkling wines

Three sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne and Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

The California Sparkling wine was a Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

I picked this one up because the description said “crisp” and “toasty”. This wine was hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (traditional Champagne grapes) from Sonoma County in California and specifically in the Carneros District. Carneros is the lower part of the Sonoma/Napa Region, closest to San Francisco. They have over 40 selections of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on their estate. This gives them some diversity in the grapes they are harvesting to create a consistent cuvee. With sparkling wines a Cuvee is a non-vintage blend, which means multiple years can be blended together. That means a warmer vintage can be blended with a cooler vintage to make a cuvee that matches the one you put out last year. So year after year, customers can be sure that the wine will taste the same. This blend is mostly Pinot Noir, which has little skin contact so that you don’t get any pink in the wine.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Louise Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

The nose on this said ”aromas of citrus and flowers, evolving into butter and brioche notes with age”.

So lets start with the “Blanc de Blanc” part. That indicates that it is a sparkling made from white grapes (blanc is white, so white of white). In this case it is mostly (85%) Chardonnay.

Now the “Cremant” .Cremant (“cray-mont”) is a method champenoise sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region. It can be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grapes. It originally indicated that the wine was less fizzy or bubbly than Champagne.

Onto the “de Bourgogne” part…so the region this wine is made in is Bourgogne (Burgundy), a region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

Champagne A. J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

This wine is from the Champagne region and is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The tasting notes said “Dry, cherry, berry, toast”.

It is from the famed Bouzy is a village in the Montagne de Reims Region of Champagne where Pinot Noir is mostly grown (there you go with why it’s 90% Pinot!)

Champagne AJ de Margerie

Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

And the winner is…

So we tasted and they were all very nice, but the Champagne had the bread I was looking for on the nose. It wasn’t quite toast and brioche was not a term that I felt would resonate with people. As I continued to smell the visual of hamburger buns came to me. When I mentioned this to Michael, he immediately could smell it. We had our sparkling wine.

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The Pairings for the Party

So now we had our Sparkling wine.  Time to move forward with the pairings!  Since we wanted to “Open Minds” to the aromas and then the emotions that the aromas brought with them, we wanted to set up scent jars, to let our guests compare the scents that they might be getting in the wine with the real thing.  We also needed a food pairing, something to munch on that would spark conversation and of course the art.

The Aromas

The aroma jars with this wine were cherries, berries and hamburger buns.  As cherries were not in season, I picked up a bag of frozen cherries and defrosted them.  Our berries were blueberries, cut strawberries and blackberries.

So why do you smell berries when this is a white wine?  Well, Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  They do very little skin contact so you don’t get the red color from the Pinot Noir grapes.  So the berries and cherries you smell come from the Pinot Noir as this is a 90% Pinot Noir Champagne.

And the hamburger buns…that would be the dying yeast.  The yeast is eating up the sugar in the wine making it ferment, much like what it does to make bread rise.  So you get that yeasty/bready nose, which on this wine hit me as hamburger buns.

Hamburger Buns

Hamburger Buns

The Food Pairing

Champagne can often seem pretentious, being paired with caviar and fancy things, but it’s really a beverage about celebrating..  The Champagne maker at Laetitia in San Luis Obispo says that his favorite pairing with Champagne was popcorn. So we had movie theatre popcorn and potato chips to pair.  Champagne is really the perfect pairing for food, going great with salt & fat.  Salt & fat are delicious, but the fat will coat your tongue and block up your taste buds, and the salt makes you thirsty.  The bubbles in Champagne are perfect for clearing all the fat of your tongue and quenching your thirst making every bite taste as good as the first.  So, when it doubt as to what to pair with a meal?  Go with something sparkling!

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

The Art Pairing

RuBen’s Painting for this wine evoked a warmth that for me brought out the bread on the nose.  The painting was bright but also warm and comforting and there was texture on the canvas evoking the texture and bubbles in the Champagne.

Champagne

RuBen’s spectacular interpretation of our Champagne – Act2Art by RuBen

What people had to say

We asked our guests for their thoughts, maybe a memory or phrase that came to mind as they smelled and tasted the wine, smelled the aroma jars, tasted the pairing and gazed upon the art.  Here were some of their thoughts…

A perfect first date.

happy – like a picnic in an apple orchard

a field with dandelions and fresh grass

early summer

A beautiful sun shower in late April, early May

movement of life

crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon

 

Of course after the Champagne it was time to move on to the Sauvignon Blanc.  Join us back here for more on that!

Note to wine geeks, I’m kinda excited about a new book coming out called “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”. It’s by David White (of the Terroirist the wine blog) with a forward by Ray Isle (of Food And Wine Magazine) and promises to be a perfect book for both the newbie and the longtime Champagne lover. It is available for pre-order on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/But-First-Champagne-World%C2%92s-Favorite/dp/1510711449 and will be coming out in about 8 weeks.

For more on Champagnes here is another blog post Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Oh and for this event I perfected my method of opening Champagne bottles!  Want to look extra cool and professional opening Champagne?  Do want I did and follow Madeline Puckette’s advice!  Visit her blog Wine Folly and check out “How to Open Champagne Safely”

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

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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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