Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Champagne Insight


My recently published book The Essence of Champagne: In the Glass and at the Table focuses on 50 producers, ranging from large, well-known houses, such as Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouet, to small growers, such as Cédric Bouchard, David Léclapart and others. I wrote chapters about each producer, so the book is a collection of essays about these vintners, including not only technical information such as vineyards and blending, but also personal philosophy on their Champagnes.


Here are a few excerpts from the book:

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"I don't think that owning your vineyards, which is a sign of richness, is a necessary evil to make quality Champagne." - Gilles Dumangin, J. Dumangin, Chigny-Les-Roses (Montagne de Reims)

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"I learned that finesse and elegance are the most important things in creating a great wine." - Odilon de Varine, chef-de-caves, Gosset, Epernay (Vallée de la Marne)

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"The public has little awareness of our company, yet you have the Champagne fanatics that have high respect and love for our wines." - Cyril Brun, chef-de-caves, Charles Heidsieck, Reims (Montage de Reims)

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Dominique Demarville (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

"They (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) have wonderful potential for aging, especially when the year is good. Of course, from year to year, sometimes the Chardonnay is better, sometimes the Pinot Noir. In reality, it depends mostly on the area and climate - essentially rainfall - that we have."  - Dominique Demarville, chef-de-caves, Veuve Clicquot, Reims

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"We try to make something quite natural, preserving the balance of nature, which of course, is the approach of biodynamic. Put a lot of love in your vineyards, and your vineyards will give back to you." - Frédéric Zeimett, managing director, Leclerc Briant, Epernay

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Pierre Larmandier (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

"I think that with biodynamic, the wines are a little more intense. What we think also is that we are never tired. We have energy from biodynamic." - Pierre Larmandier, Champagne Larmandier Bernier, Vertus (Cote des Blancs)

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"My philosophy is that Champagne should deliver a combination of elegance, energy, complexity - it's very complex at times. Energy, complexity, tension, minerality, elegance. That is what I want to create, because I think the trust of our terroir in Champagne is a very simple philosophy. I just want to be loyal to my land." - Bruno Paillard, Champagne Bruno Paillard, Reims

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The Essence of Champagne is available at amazon (click here)


Monday, January 30, 2017

Louis Jadot 2015 Burgundies


Recently in Chicago, I attended a sit-down lecture and tasting presented by Frédéric Barnier, technical director and winemaker for Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy's most esteemed houses. The topic was the newly released wines from the 2015 vintage.

2015 has received a lot of hype, as a great vintage; we surely hear the word great being used too often in the wine world (and elsewhere), yet we don't often hear that for Burgundy, as it is a bit of a razor's edge climate, as every year growers and producers hope for cooperation from Mother Nature. Is 2015 truly a great vintage for Burgundy?

Barnier, who succeeded long-time Jadot winemaker Jacques Lardiere a few years ago, addressed the topic of "greatness" as applied to the 2015 vintage in Burgundy. He commented that 2015 was "less difficult than past vintages," but also noted a lack of rainfall, which made for concentrated wines, but of course, a very small crop. The yields were 85%-90% normal for the whites, but only 30%-35% for the reds.

While it was hot and dry in June and July, August saw normal temperatures, so Barnier was quick to point out that 2015 would not be like 2003 in Burgundy. That year, the wines lacked proper acidity, which is thankfully not a problem with the 2015s.

There were 18 wines presented at this seminar - I will give tasting notes for most of them.


WHITES


Chablis Premier Cru "Fourchame" - Brilliant light yellow color; classic wet stone aromas with additional notes of golden apple. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, very good acidity and complexity, with beautiful varietal character. Beautiful representation of terroir and ideal varietal purity. This wine is fermented in steel tanks and wooden barrels and is matured in 30% new oak; which seems perfect for this wine. 7-10 years of life ahead of this wine. Outstanding (****1/2)

Meursault Premier Cru "Genevrieres" - Distinctive aromas of anise and golden apples. Medium-full; very good ripeness and acidity. Nicely balanced with excellent varietal character. A nicely refined example of a cru Meursault, with impressive persistence. 7-10 years. Excellent (****)

Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru "La Garenne" - Straw/light yellow; aromas of ripe Bosc pear and citrus; slightly closed nose. Medium-full, good acidity, excellent persistence and complexity; quite stylish. This vineyard is one of the highest in the appellation; due to the small crop in 2015, wine from two domaines were blended together for this cuvée. Peak in 10-12 years, perhaps longer. Excellent (****)




Batard-Montrachet - Light yellow; nutty aromas (roast almonds), lemon zest and ripe apple notes. Full-bodied with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, outstanding persistence, very good acidity. Powerful, yet with a fine sense of grace. Best in 12-20 years. Barnier noted that the Batard-Montrachet vineyard is situated in both the commune of Puligny-Montrachet as well as Chassagne-Montrachet; this wine is from rows of the vineyard located entirely in Puligny. Fermented in oak and then matured in barrels for 18 months. Superior (*****)



REDS


Santenay, Clos de Malte (Monopole) - Bright young garnet; very appealing aromas of pink carnation and maraschino cherry. Medium-bodied, tart acidity, very good depth of fruit and lovely balance. Nice finesse- a charming wine in which the varietal fruit is the focus. Best in 5-7 years. Very Good to Excellent (***1/2)

Beaune Premier Cru "Boucherottes" - Deep garnet (crimson); aromas of black cherry cough syrup, tar, black mint and iris. Rich mid-palate, medium-weight tannins, good acidity, earthy finish (Barnier labeled this as "slightly rustic"), very good persistence. Best in 10-12 years. This cru is very close to the border with Pommard, and is situated between "Clos de Mouches" and "Les Epenottes" on the lower portion of the southern slope of Beaune. Fermented in tanks, then matured in barrels for 12-15 months. Excellent (****)

Corton Pougets Grand Cru - Very deep garnet; rich aromas of red cherry, a subtle note of coffee, tar and dried red flowers. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Ideal ripeness, excellent persistence, good acidity. Superb expression of terroir; outstanding varietal purity. Powerful wine, but balanced, and displaying great style! Best in 15-20 years, but extremely appealing now. Jadot is one of only two producers to make a Corton Pougets; the other being Domaine Rapet. The cru is directly adjacent to the famed Corton-Charlemagne plot. The wine was fermented for 3-4 weeks in vats and then aged 18-20 months in oak barrels. Outstanding (****1/2, perhaps Superior ***** in another 5 to 7 years?)

Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru "Les Boudots" - Enticing aromas of red cherry, strawberry and red poppies. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Delicious wine! Quite ripe, but not forward or jammy; rich tannins, excellent persistence, subtle wood notes. Peak in 12-15 years. This vineyard borders the Premier Cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée, at the northern limits of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This wine was fermented in vats for 3-4 weeks and then aged for 15 months in oak barrels. Outstanding (****1/2)

Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru "Clos-Saint-Jacques"- Young, deep garnet; aromas of ripe strawberry, red roses, red poppies and red cherries. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate. Big tannins, but balanced; firm structure, excellent persistence. Peak in 12-20 years. Produced from 90 year-old vines. Barnier commented that Clos-Saint-Jacques is "a Premier Cru more like a Grand Cru." The wine was fermented in vats for 3-4 weeks and then matured in oak barrels for 18-20 months. Outstanding (****1/2), perhaps Superior ***** in another 7-10 years).




Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru - Lovely young garnet; ripe red cherry, cough syrup and carnation aromas. Full-bodied with excellent concentration. Rich, generous mid-palate. Rich finish with ample fruit; outstanding persistence. Beautiful structure, quite stylish! Notes of black spice and red flowers in the powerful finish, firm tannins. Superb expression of terroir and varietal purity. Beauitful wine! Peak in 15-25 years, perhaps longer. Chapelle-Chambertin is one of nine Grand Cru plots in the Gevrey-Chambertin commune; it is situated immediately underneath Clos de Beze, with Griotte to the south. Jadot owns 0.96 acres of this cru. Fermented in vats for 3-4 weeks and matured for 18-20 months in oak barrels. Superior (*****)

Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - Young, deep garnet; aromas of black cherry, tar and cough syrup. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, quite round and supple. Firm tannins, slightly meaty finish, excellent persistence. Give time to round out. Peak in 15-20 years. Jadot is second largest owner of the Clos Vougeot vineyard, with a little more than five acres. The wine was fermented for 3-4 weeks in tanks, and then matured in barrels for 18 months. Outstanding (****1/2)


The tasting concluded with two Beaujolais from Jadot; normally this would be unthinkable, but not for the 2015 Beaujolais, which are anything but simple, quaffable wines. The lack of water was especially critical in Beaujolais, resulting in powerful wines, somewhat atypical for this district. Both wines were quite rich, and your opinion of these wines would depend on how "big" you want a Beaujolais to be.

Chateau de Jacques Morgon "Cote de Py" - Deep purple, almost black color, which is quite typical of the 2015 Beaujolais. Aromas of black plum, violets and blackberry jam. Big, big tannins! Notable persistence. Far removed from most individuals's idea of Beaujolais; best in 5-7 years. Very Good (***)

Chateaus de Jacques Moulin-a-Vent "Clos de Rochegres" - Inky purple, as dark a color as I have ever seen on a Beaujolais. Blackberry, iris and violet aromas. Full-bodied, excellent persistence. Very ripe, almost lush approach. Quite powerful, although you couldn't drink much more than a glass for some time, as this is all guts and body with little charm. Peak in 7-12 years. This was aged for a short time in 100% new oak. A controversial style of Beaujolais, to say the least. Excellent (****)


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Essence of Champagne - available at amazon


My new book The Essence of Champagne is now available at amazon.com (click here)

In the book, I feature 50 Champagne producers, ranging from large houses to small growers. There no points for any of the estates or their cuvées, but rather I use a star system to rate the producers, from 2 (good) to 5 (superior). For each chapter, I feature one or two wines from a particular producers and include my tasting notes along with a specific food recommendation for that cuvée.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Essence of Champagne -My New Book



Just in time to ring old the old year and celebrate the new year, my new book The Essence of Champagne has been published. It is initially available on the Kindle site of amazon.com (click here). The physical copy will be available very soon (I will follow up with details when it is published).

I realize there are several books about Champagne on the market, so why did I write this and why should you purchase it? Well to answer that, let me tell you what this book is NOT. It is not a book with tasting notes on 500 or 1000 (or more Champagnes). There are a few books that offer these features and I find them fascinating; if you are looking for that, by all means, go for it.

But I wasn't interested in offering hundreds of tasting notes; that wouldn't be the book that best represents my interest in Champagne. I wrote this book as a journalist, and not as a critic. There are no point ratings in this book; I'll save my argument against points for another day. What I've done in this book is to feature 50 Champagnes producers, ranging from some of the most famous houses (Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, Taittinger, Louis Roederer, et al) to some of the smallest growers (David Léclapart, Chartogne-Taillet, Cedric Bouchard, et al). I profile these producers and features quotes from the chef-de-caves or proprietor about their methods and reasoning, as well as their philosophy.

For each producer, I feature one or two wines - these do have personal tasting notes, often with detailed technical information - and follow those notes with a recommended food pairing. Some of these are personal recommendations, while some are from the proprietor or winemaker himself or herself. For example, with his prestige Cuvée Josephine, proprietor Jean-Claude Fourmon of Champagne Joseph Perrier recommends a hard goat cheese or Comté chese from the Jura. He told me that "You lose finesse with intense foods with this cuvée."

I do rank the producers on a personal level with star ratings, from 2 (Good) all the way up to 5 (Superior). A few 5-star producers include such famous labels as Dom Perignon and Pol Roger to some smaller growers, such as Larmandier-Bernier (arguably the best price/quality relationship in Champagne) and Cedric Bouchard (his wines are labeled as Roses de Jeanne).

Along the way, I learned many things about Champagne that I wasn't that aware of. For example, I learned that while aging in wood was common in the 19th century, most producers used only steel tanks for much of the 20th century; it wasn't until the last 20-30 years that more and more producers have once again started to use wooden barrels for vinification. One producer told me that this has come about as a result of making more cuvées more adaptable for many types of food.

If you love Champagne, I think you'll greatly enjoy this book, especially as this is a fresh look at this great wine and its finest producers.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Quincy and Friends


Photo ©Tom Hyland


France's Loire Valley is one of the country's greatest, but least publicized wine regions. Much of that has to do with the fact that it's primarily a white wine territory, while the more famous Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone regions get the attention for their red wines. There are some delightful reds in the Loire, but it's the whites from here that are the superstars, namely Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, both produced exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc.

There are other whites here that deserve your attention, one of them being Quincy. First thing you need to know it that it's not pronounced kwin-see, but rather kahn-see. Secondly, it's also 100% Sauvignon Blanc, just as with the better known Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The Quincy zone is located in southern Loire, a bit southwest of Sancerre. While a typical Quincy does not have the weight of a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, it does have that lovely Sauvignon Blanc character - a touch of melon along with a bit of grassiness. They make for lovely wines with shellfish, chicken with rosemary or goat cheese, and best of all, they're priced less than a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé.

Here are notes on a few examples of Quincy I tasted recently:

Domaine la Commanderie 2014 - Light yellow with a touch of petillance; aromas of Bosc pear, snap pea and melon. Medium-bodied with tasty, succulent fruit, good persistence and very good acidity (a trademark of the challenging 2014 vintage). Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. Very Good to Excellent

Guillaume Sorbe "Les Poete" 2014  - Aromas of freshly cut hay, Bosc pear and a hint of yellow pepper. Medium-bodied, very good persistence and acidity; well-balanced with impressive varietal purity. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. Very Good to Excellent

Domaine Adele Rouze 2014 -Light yellow with expressive aromas of dried pear, hay and a note of hazelnut. Medium-full with excellent depth of fruit, very good acidity and impressive persistence. Excellent harmony and outstanding varietal character. Very good ripeness, but the fruit is downplayed, as there is a lovely earthiness to this wine (a note of green olive in the finish). Beautifully made and a wonderful sense of place! This would be heavenly with a trout or river fish with a sauce with olives or mushrooms. Drink now and over the next three years - perhaps longer. At an average retail price of $18 in the US, this is an excellent value. Outstanding!





Briefly, two other lovely Loire Valley whites are Muscadet and Vouvray. The best examples of the former are known as Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie (sur lie, being aged on its own lees in the cellar); the wine is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, sometimes referred to as Muscadet.

Vouvray, from central Loire, is made from the Chenin Blanc grape and can be made in numerous styles from dry to slightly sweet to dessert sweet; some examples age for a decade or more.

Tasting notes:

Le Fresnay Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2015 - Aromas of dried yellow flowers, quince and lilacs, along with a hint of pastry cream. Dry with good acidity, this is elegant and easy-drinking now, but will reveal greater complexity in another year or two, peaking in three or four years. Very Good to Excellent

Vigneau-Chevrau Vouvray "Cuvée Silex" 2014 - Attractive aromas of Bosc pear, jasmine and dried yellow flowers. Medium-bodied with excellent depth of fruit, good acidity and notable persistence. Excellent varietal purity and harmony. Very appealing, with a light juiciness and delicate white spice (ginger) in the finish. Enjoy now and over the next 3-5 years. Excellent