Champagne. Possibly the most enchanting liquid on the planet. Joie de vivre in a glass. Is there anything better? Well, perhaps…if it is Champagne with a story and a great pairing.
This month the French #Winophiles are diving into the “Unexpected Pleasures of Champagne”. We are led for this discussion by Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator. You can read her invitation post here.
So “Unexpected Pleasures”. What does that mean? I think you will find a variety of interpretations in the pieces by the #Winophiles. It will definitely be an fun and interesting conversation when we gather on Saturday, June 20th, on twitter to discuss! Join us that morning (8am PST/ 11am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles on twitter and join in the conversation. It’s a Saturday morning, so sipping bubbles will be appropriate!
I went in search of a wine that would suit this topic. I have newly discovered a wine bar/shop in our Las Vegas downtown Arts District called “Garagiste LV“. Owned by Somms Mario Enriquez and Eric Prato, who are carrying so many wines that are outside the box that I really want to taste. You may have heard me rant before of the Vegas wine desert and how the only 2 local wine shops are all the way on the other side of the valley. Well, now I have a go to shop, with a really fantastic list.
I pulled up their online list and ran through each of the Champagnes and researching for the story. I settled on the Chartogne-Taillet Sainte Anne from Merfy.
Merfy in Montagne de Reims
This village is northwest of Reims in the Marne department and is known for it’s clay and sand soils. (This is in the yellow section of the map below in Montagne de Reims) The region has been making amazing wines since the Middle Ages as far back as the monks of the Saint-Thierry monastery in the village next door. Vineyards are south of the village between Merfy and Chenay. Vineyards here are flat with a slight southern exposure. These slopes were planted soon after the Romans arrived. In the 9th century, the vines around the Abbey of Saint-Thierry were the largest concentration of vines in Champagne. Chartogne-Taillet is the only RM winery in the region.
The winery has Cru sites in the Montagne de Reims region, which is the Northernmost region in Champagne. They have cru sites in Merfy, Chenay and Saint Thierry.
Wines here are made by Alexandre Chartogne, who makes wines from his 12 ha family estate. While the vineyard does not hold a certification, he uses organic practices. There are no chemicals here. He uses cover crops and often ploughs by horse. He uses indigenous yeast and chooses his fermenting containers depending on the wine. These might be oak, stainless steel, amphorae or concrete eggs.
He is trying to convey a feeling of the place in his wines. He works with Claude and Lydia Bourguignon the renowned microbiologists to analyze his soils. 1/2 of his site is ploughed by horses and most of the work is done by hand.
Jancis Robinson tells us that there is a Commonwealth War Grave cemetery near by. These cemeteries were mass graves for soldiers or perhaps the bodies were buried where they fell in the battle. This brings a somber note and a bit of risk to any ploughing nearby. It reminds us that the history of Champagne is not all joyful.
Chartogne-Taillet Sainte Anne from Merfy
This is a village wine that is non-vintage, but it is based on the 2016 vintage. The idea is to express the different terroirs of Merfy. This is his introductory wine and shows how wonderful a village wine can be if made with expertise.
The total hectares for the estate is 12. With the amount of this wine available, it obviously is not all from the estate. The wine is well distributed in the US.
The blend is determined, not by formula but on the vintage. This wine is 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier and is made from parcels within Merfy that average 25 years old. It spends 10 months in stainless steel and 3 years on it lees and has a low dosage of 4-5 g/l. This particular wine was bottled on July 26, 2017 and disgorged in December of 2018. Most of this fabulous information can be found easily on the back label.
My tasting notes
In the glass this was a medium intensity, with a lemon color that seemed almost a bit rosy to me. On the nose I got white flowers, almond, yellow apple and just a hint of bread. It was a very integrated and comforting nose. It was brighter on the palate with Green apple, starfruit and citrus. Over all this was a wine that I found it difficult to pick out individual notes, because everything was so well integrated and harmonious. It had a medium to long finish.
This wine was 12.5 abv and ran $49.99.
As if this wine was not in itself, enough of an unexpected pleasure, we went searching for a pairing that we had not tried before.
Pairing with Champagne
We had a wonderful pairing the other evening, where the weight and balance of the wine matched perfectly with the weight and balance of the dish. Michael suggested we do something similar for our Champagne pairing. On a side note, we were watching Food Network and started binging Michael Symon and Bobby Flay’s “BBQ Brawl”. In the middle of this, I thought “Champagne & BBQ!” This low brow, meets highbrow pairing seemed just right. Now, on to find a local BBQ spot to support (NO, I am not doing my own BBQ. There are experts for this!)
Rollin Smoke BBQ
We googled local BBQ and found Rollin’ Smoke BBQ. They had a Pit Special that was perfect with Brisket, Pulled Port, 1/4 chicken, Spare Ribs and Hot Links with 3 sides and bread. We added burnt ends and chose Bacon Potato Salad, Collard Greens with Brisket and Corn nuggets. There were also 3 sauces, a honey mustard (heavy on the mustard), a mild sauce and a spicy sauce.
How did it pair?
The blowout best pairing, strangely enough was the bacon potato salad. Something with the eggs and the bacon mixing with the wine was just comforting and spectacular. Michael doesn’t like the texture of potato salad and had to be convinced to try it. He agrees. While many of the pairings were really delicious, this was the best of them.
Don’t bother with the greens. I love these greens, but eat them separate from the Champagne. It’s not a match.
The wine elevated the sweetness in the corn nuggets, it highlighted the char on the burnt ends. It was also good with the sauces. The hot links and hotter sauce were amped up a little heat wise by the alcohol. Really, this was a great match all around.
I think the depth of fruit in this wine helped the pairing. If it had been a Blanc de Blanc it might not have worked. The mixture of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier (have I mentioned that I am a sucker for a Pinot Munier?) helped to blend with the mix of sweet and tart in the BBQ sauces. Of course it is a given that the Champagne would cut through the fat in the meats and clean your palate for the next bit. The wine just seemed to blend and accentuate the smokey flavors.
The French #Winophiles
As I mentioned before, the French #Winophiles will gather on twitter on Saturday June 20th at 11 am EST or 8 am PST to talk about Champagne and its “Unexpected Pleasures”. Join in the conversation! Share your story! Just follow #Winophiles.
Be sure to check out all the pieces below and discover more of Champagne’s Unexpected Pleasures!
- From Martin: “Champagne Drappier’s Blanc de Quatre Blancs; A Taste of Champagne’s White Heirloom Grape Varieties” www.enofylzwineblog.com aka @martindredmond
- Cam gives us: “Pour un Pique-Nique Sur le Patio: Roasted Citrus Tart + Jacquart Brut Mosaique” on Culinary Adventures with Camilla https://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com/ aka @Culinary_Cam
- From Cindy: “A Stroke of Serendipity – Discovering Champagne Louis Brochet Brut 1er Cru in London” aka @GrapeExp_Cindy on grape-experiences.com
- Nicole shares: “A Super Fancy Pants Grilled Cheese Pairing: Salmon Caviar Croque-Monsieur with Charles Dufour Bulles de Comptoir 6 La Benjamine 2.0 Champagne” on SommsTable.com
- From Terry: “Champagne and Sticky Asian Chicken Thighs: Whoa!” on Our Good Life Www.terristeffes.com
- Jeff gives us: “The Polar Opposite of House Style at Champagne Coessens” on “Food Wine Click!” https://foodwineclick.com/ aka @Foodwineclick
- From Katrina: “Seven is a Charm with Laherte Freres Les 7 Champagne” on https://thecorkscrewconcierge.com/ aka @corksconcierge
- Susannah shares: “Falling In Love with Champagne: My First Visit to a Wine region” on avvinare
- From Gwendolyn and Sue: “10 of Champagne’s Unexpected Pleasures: 24 Hours in and around Reims, France for #Winophiles” and “Tasting Biodynamic Champagne with Philippe Lancelot” on winepredator.com aka @artpredator
Sources & Resources
- Tomas’s wine blog Champagne village profile: Merfy in the Massif de Saint-Thierry
- Skurnik – Champagne Chartogne-Taillet
We have written about Champagne before…
- Champagne – a history beyond the bubbles
- Where are the Women in Champagne? #Winophiles
- the wines of Champagne France
- Farmer Fizz? An exploration of Grower Champagne with the French #Winophiles
- Sparkling wine or Champagne
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.