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 (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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Affordable White Burgundies - They do Exist!

Affordable White Burgundies .... Including a Sauvignon Blanc, yes, a Sauvignon Blanc!

There are a few things certain in life: taxes, Hollywood will soon release another comic book movie, and white Burgundies are expensive. Actually while this last claim is generally true, there are some very impressive white wines from Burgundy that won't result in you taking out a loan. Here are a few of the better examples I've tasted recently.

Goisot Saint-Bris "Exogyra Virgula" 2014
Everyone knows that Chardonnay is the white Burgundy, right? Well, there are a few exceptions and here is one that few people know, as it's made from Sauvignon. Saint-Bris is named for the small village of Saint-Bris-les-Vineaux in northern Burgundy, in the Yonne department south of Chablis. Here both Sauvignon Blanc as well as Sauvignon Gris are used to produce a medium-bodied, dry white; this particular example has textbook Sauvignon perfumes, with notes of hay and freshly cut grass, along with a subtle notes of melon. It's very well made and is quite refreshing and delicious and would be ideal paired with simple seafood.

Giraudon Bourgogne Aligoté 2014
Another white variety that performs well in Burgundy is Aligoté. While this is actually among the top 25 most widely planted varieties in the world (it's also grown in such countries as Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine), it is not that well known by most consumers. In Burgundy, it can be used in a sparkling wine known as Cremant de Bourgogne, but in this instance, it's the basis for a dry, very flavorful white wine with appealing apple flavors and lively, lip-smacking acidity. Giraudon, located in the town of Chitry in the Auxerre department near Chablis, specializes in Aligoté and makes a typical delicious example that would be perfect with shellfish. What's best about this wine - and the Saint-Bris mentioned above - is the reasonable price, less than $20 a bottle on US retail shelves.

Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2014
Now on to Chardonnay! Bourgogne Blanc is almost always an excellent value, as some of the most renowned producers of Burgundy produce a version of Bourgogne Blanc that is nowhere as expensive as their most famous offerings; even better is the fact that these offerings of Bourgogne Blanc are very impressive wines in their own right. J.J. Vincent is an excellent producer, best known for Pouilly-Fuisse; his versions are regularly excellent, but given the reputation of that wine, you have to pay a bit of a premium for his examples. Not so with his Bourgogne Blanc - this 2014 has aromas of yellow flowers, mustard seed and a note of vanilla; there is good richness on the palate, good acidity and persistence, and very nice Chardonnay character. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. 

Meurgey-Croses Viré Clessé "Vielles Vignes" 2014
If you must have white Burgundies from such AOC as Corton Charlemagne or Puligny Montrachet, you'll probably pay dearly for them. Head to the Maconnais area of southern Burgundy and you'll find any number of well made white Burgundies that are fairly priced. Examples include Macon, Macon Lugny and Saint-Veran. One wine from this area that should be better known is Viré Clessé, named for two towns in the appellation. The 2014 from Muergey-Croses is one of the finest white Burgundies in its price range I've tasted in years! Offering expressive aromas of fresh lemon, lilacs and a hint of grapefruit, this is medium-bodied with very good depth of fruit, and has excellent freshness and ripeness with very good acidity. 

This is a beautifully balanced wine with impressive varietal character and excellent complexity. What's most impressive about this wine is that this is a "vielles vignes" selection, meaning one from old vines; in this case, 65 years old. These older vines produce extremely flavorful fruit; this producer vinified most of this wine in steel, with a small percentage in wood, resulting in a multi-layered wine. For a retail price of around $30, this is an excellent value! Pair this with poultry, most seafood or goat cheese and enjoy this over the next 2-3 years, perhaps longer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Serious Rosé

I've always enjoyed a well made Rosé and I've loved a few of them. So it's been especially gratifying to see how many sommeliers and wine buyers across the country also favor these wines. Recently, I was at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, where wine director Jeff Kellogg had put together a marvelous selection of rosés, both still and sparkling. I sampled a glass of Ettore Germano "Rosanna", a sparkling Nebbiolo from Piemonte that is one of the best of its type (I have written about this wine in my upcoming book on Piemonte); I went back the next evening and with a few friends, thoroughly enjoyed the Chartogne-Taillet non-vintage Rosé from Champagne - just sublime!

So yes, rosés have arrived and have become sought after wines in many instances; the best are much more than simple summer sippers. Here is a list of some of the finest I've enjoyed over the past few months:


Ferrari non-vintage (Trento DOC) - There are some excellent metodo classico sparkling wines made in Trentino in northeastern Italy; the best examples from this cool climate area are labeled as Trento DOC. The firm of Ferrari, established in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, and managed by the Lunelli family since the 1950s, is the best known Trento DOC producer; it is also arguably the finest. Their classic rose is a blend of 60% Pinot Nero and 40% Chardonnay; it is aged slightly longer than 24 months on the lees. Medium-bodied with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and impressive persistence, this is very flavorful, and quite elegant, and will drink well for the next 3-5 years.

Another impressive Trento DOC rosé is from the firm of Revi; this 100% Pinot Nero is a new cuvée from this producer; it is a vintage-dated offering (millesimato) from 2009. This offers bright strawberry and plum aromas and flavors, along with good acidity and is round and quite elegant. It is a touch lighter in body than the Ferrari, but no less flavorful; this is delicious now and will drink well for another 3-5 years. 

Moving to Champagne, I've tasted so many great examples over the past few years. Two recent examples that impressed me are the previously mentioned Chartogne-Taillet and the Bereche "Campana Remensis", both non-vintage and made according to the more common assemblage method for rosé Champagne, where a small amount of still red wine is added into the blend. The Chartogne-Taillet is effusively fruity, with tantalizing flavors of strawberry and raspberry with very good acidity and an ultra-clean, very long finish. The Bereche offering is not as bright as the Chartogne-Taillet, but the complexity and finesse of this wine, along with its distinct earthiness, combine to make it a winner. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

One other rosé Champagne of note that caught my attention lately is from Christophe Mignon, whose firm is located in Festigny in the Vallée de la Marne, west of Epernay. Mignon specializes in Pinot Meunier and it's neat to see that he actually produces two separate rosés from this variety. The one I tasted was produced according to the assemblage method; Mignon also makes a saignée rosé in which the color of the wine is derived from the skins of the Pinot Meunier grapes. Medium-bodied with aromas of ripe strawberry and orange poppies, this is a sumptuous rosé Champagne!


You used to only hear about rosés from France, especially those from Provence or from Tavel in the Rhone Valley. But now, given the popularity of rosé, there are notable examples produced around the world. Here are a few examples:

Hacienda di Arinzano Rosé 2015 - From northern Spain, this is 100% Tempranillo, the principal variety of Rioja. Displaying a beautiful deep cherry color, with watermelon and pear aromas, this is clean, elegant, tasty and ideal for chicken or simple summer foods.

Chateau Les Crostes Rosé 2015 - Here is a textbook rosé from Provence, which to me is like saying that this is a classic rosé with its blush color, delicate nature and its pleasingly dry finish. What a lovely quaffer to enjoy during the hot weather or with lighter pastas or salads!

Masi "Rosa di Masi" 2015 - From one of Italy's most famous producers, this is 100% Refosco, which gives this rosé a distinctive character. With beautiful pink cherry fruit and a dry finish, this is medium-bodied and quite tasty. Lovely on its own or with lighter red meats.

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Domaine Thomas & Fils Sancerre Rosé "Terres Blanches" 2015 - Sancerre, from eastern Loire, is one of the world's most famous white wines. Few realize that many producers also release a Sancerre Rosé, made entirely from Pinot Noir. Displaying a pretty blush strawberry color and pear, plum and dried cherry aromas, this has excellent ripeness, very good acidity and impressive persistence. Nicely balanced, this is a beautifully made rosé to enjoy over the next year or two. This would be ideal paired with sautéed shrimp.

Domaine Lafond Tavel 2015 - Here is a first-rate example of one of the world's most famous and classic rosés. A blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 20% Syrah, this has a beautiful deep pink color and intense aromas of bing cherry and wild strawberry. Medium-full with rich complexity and a touch of meatiness (this will stand up to roast meats), this is an outstanding rosé to be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years. 

Schloss Gobelsburg "Cistercien" Rosé 2015 - From one of Austria's finest producers, this is made with a predominance of Zweigelt with a smaller percentage of Saint Laurent. Offering dried strawberry and dried orange peel perfumes and flavors, this has a rich mid-palate, backed by a delicate finish. Quite dry, with very good acidity, this is something special! Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tre Bicchieri Returns

The Tre Bicchieri tastings are returning to the United States! Organized by Gambero Rosso, the bible of Italian wines, these special tasting bring together dozens of producers from all over Italy, as they pour their top-rated Tre Bicchieri wine for the media and press.

The 2016 "Vini d'Italia" is the 29th edition of this guide, published by Gambero Rosso. For this year's guide, some 22,000 wines from a total of 2400 producers, there were 421 wines that were awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating. This rating is the highest given by the publication and it goes to the most outstanding wines from all over Italy. What's great about this award is that is it not only reserved for the most celebrated red wines, such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone, but also less famous reds such as Dolcetto, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Rosso Piceno, along with may stellar whites (Verdicchio, Vermentino, Timorasso, et al) and of course, several prominent sparkling wines from Franciacorta and Trentino, along with a few examples of Prosecco.

There will be three tastings in the US, starting on February 4 in Chicago at the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th Street. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of the participating producers who will be pouring their wines in Chicago.

The tasting in New York City will be held on February 9 at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W. 18th Street. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of participating producers who will be pouring their wines in New York City.

The tasting in San Francisco will be held on February 11 at Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of participating producers who will be pouring their wines in San Francisco.

I'll be attending both the Chicago and New York City tastings - hope to see you there!