A Plethora of Prosecco for the Holiday Season

One of my biggest (wine) pet peeves, is when people use the word Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine. But, while all Champagne is sparkling wine, only those bottles of bubbly that come from the Champagne region in France are entitled to that protected term.

Another well-known sparkler is Prosecco and, as my friend Dan lately noted, Prosecco has become a safe word. Admittedly, he wasn’t referring to the bedroom, but rather, to the bar, where Prosecco’s familiarity offers an easy way to order an effervescent option amidst the hustle and bustle of an overwhelming wine list.

Yet, despite its long history – mention of Prosecco dates as far back as Roman times – this Venetian sparkling wine hasn’t always been as popular as it is today. But, it is precisely this newfound fame that was almost its undoing.

In fact, given its broad name recognition, Prosecco had become a victim of its own success, with fraudulent products flooding the market and its name appropriated much like Champagne as a catch-all for a glass or bottle of bubbles. It was this proliferation of non-Prosecco Prosecco that prompted the consortium to radically revise its rules back in 2009.

Chief among these changes was the introduction of Glera as the name of the grape formerly referred to as Prosecco and the designation of a delimited area as the Prosecco territory: a swath of land that spans nine provinces within two Italian wine regions (Veneto and Friuli), formally codifying the historic and existing production zones and the production procedures themselves. Accordingly, Prosecco DOC is now a protected geographic indication (PGI) and wannabe wines are forbidden from affixing the term Prosecco to their labels. Additionally, a second designation, Prosecco Superiore DOCG was simultaneously created (See Promoting Prosecco, Parlare Prosecco Superiore and Slowing Down in Asolo). These new regulations have helped to protect Prosecco from copycats, but vigilance by the consortium is still required.

The continued growth in demand (and sales) for Prosecco has been met with a steady swell in supply from just under 1.5 million hectoliters in 2011 to just over 3.5 million hectoliters in 2016, with a current volume of over 400 million bottles annually. Three-quarters of these bottles find their way outside of Italy, namely the UK and the U.S.

As a fresh, fruit-driven sparkler, Prosecco gets its aromatic character from the Glera grape, which must make up 85% of the wine and the use of the Charmat, instead of the Traditional, Method of sparkling wine production. Charmat production relies exclusively on stainless steel and omits the lengthy ageing on the lees that Champagne and other similar wines undergo. In addition to preserving fresh and fragrant aromas, this process results in lower costs and speedier sparkles.

Not surprising, Prosecco’s pleasant fruity and floral aromas, low alcohol, lively acidity and persistent effervescence account for its wide appeal. Yet, despite its increased popularity, Prosecco should not be dismissed as merely a cheap and cheerful sparkler. Yes, these are relatively inexpensive ($15-20) compared with their costly ($40 and up) counterparts: Champagne, Franciacorta (page 17) and luxury Cava. But, they still offer complexity and balance on the nose and palate.

In fact, I was reminded of this diversity at a recent comparative tasting of ten Proseccos. While there was a common wine style of peach, pear and/or apple aromas among the selection, they differed in intensity, acidity and sweetness levels.

Admittedly, all of the wines showed well, but I did have a few favorites of the line-up which included: La Jara Prosecco di Treviso Frizzante, Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, La Marca Prosecco, Bianca Vigna Brut Prosecco, Astoria Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, and Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco di Treviso (tasting notes below).

With its crowd-pleasing characteristics, Prosecco is a perfect option for the holiday season, which can easily work as an aperitif, a food-friendly pairing at the table and as a toast to health, happiness and prosperity!

Just don’t call it Champagne. 😉

TASTING NOTES
La Jara NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC Frizzante, Veneto, Italy
While most Prosecco wines are fully sparkling, a small fraction is produced in a lightly fizzy (aka frizzante) style as is this one. Fresh aromas of peach and honeysuckle greet the nose. The dry palate displays bright acidity and a lighter body, with flavors of lemon curd and white flowers. This is a very fresh and pleasant wine with plenty of acidity to pair well with food. Medium+ length.

Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This Vegan wine is a bit shy on the nose, but its dry palate offers up ripe citrus and floral notes, along with medium+ acidity, nice, creamy mousse and long length with a slight fruitiness lingering in the finish coupled with some minerality and salinity. Good complexity.

La Marca NV, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pronounced pear aromas with some peach and floral notes on the nose give way to a dry, yet fruity palate with flavors of honey, honeysuckle and pear plus a hint of lime. There is a lovely richness on the palate, with a creamy mousse and medium+ length.

Bianca Vigna Brut NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
This wine is very floral on the nose with an interesting richness and complexity on the palate reminiscent of Riesling – displaying an oily/petrol character – joined by pear and apple flavors and culminating in long length.

Astoria Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
Aromas of pear and apple dominate the nose while the dry palate features apple, citrus and slight minerality, along with medium+ acidity, a very clean finish and medium+ length.

Villa Sandi Il Fresco NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This wine shows floral and peach aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate that is round and creamy, balanced by medium+ acidity. Its ripe peach and floral flavors are joined by honey in the finish, culminating in long length.

Fierce, fabulous and Femme!

Last week, my friend and Femme! Creator, Bernadette Pleasant, shot and produced a video to promote her amazing movement classes, Femme! This “fusion of sensual movement, dance, meditation, creative visualization and celebration of the feminine form” offers women a safe and sacred place in which to celebrate their bodies and themselves.

During the same week, in another feminine celebration, Carol Duval-Leroy was in New York to launch the re-release of Femme de Champagne 1996. Known as the “Lady of Champagne,” Carol has been at the helm of Duval-Leroy since 1991 and is now joined in the family business by her three sons. Duval-Leroy’s tête de cuvée (top wine) was named in Carol’s honor and was initially produced in 1990 to take advantage of the vintage’s unique weather conditions and the (then) newly built winery’s smaller tanks.

Femme de Champagne was next made in 1995, followed by the spectacular vintage of 1996. The 1996 vintage of Femme de Champagne was first released to rave reviews, garnering high scores from the wine media and prompting the Champagne house to hold back a substantial quantity for additional aging. These bottles were then carefully stored upside down in the caves to avoid any oxygenation. After spending 21 years on the lees (yeast), these wines were recently disgorged (had the lees removed) and are now ready to hit the U.S. market.

The 1996 vintage has repeatedly been hailed as one of the best Champagne vintages and one I have admittedly been partial to because it is also my anniversary year. But, the Femme de Champagne 1996 is worthy of the hype. It was a beautiful, breathtaking wine!

While I did not take formal tasting notes during the celebration, perhaps the most amazing characteristic of these wines (we also tasted the 1990 and 1995) was their youthful freshness. I know that their RD (recently disgorged) status lends itself to this fresh quality, but it was remarkable not to find any hint of age in the glass. There were no oxidative notes, no mushroom aromas; nothing to imply that these wines were as old as they were.

But, they did have spectacular elegance with laser sharp acidity, bright citrus fruit, complex yeast aromas, well-integrated bubbles and long length.

Established in 1859, Duval-Leroy is among the smaller Champagne houses in the Champagne region. With only 494 acres under its ownership, Duval-Leroy limits its production to estate grown grapes, which is quite unusual for a region in which the majority of large producers buy grapes from its many small growers.

Yet, despite its size, the House prides itself on its innovation and its number of “firsts” including Carol Duval-Leroy’s distinction of being the first and only woman to date to be appointed president of the Association Viticole Champenoise and having the first vat room in the world to use photovoltaic solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and a green wall for heat and sound insulation. A further hallmark of Duval-Leroy is that its wines are released when ready, even if that means that they are out of sequence.

The woman-only event was held at Air’s Champagne Bar, which opened earlier this year. The unique venue is owned by Ariel Arce, named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40 for 2017. In addition to having a deep menu of Champagne and other sparkling wines, Arce is also known for her Parlour Hour (5:00-7:00 PM daily) during which patrons can purchase three glasses of bubbly plus snacks for $30. Wednesday’s focus is on female winemakers, while Sundays offer a twist: serving up “one wine that we should never pour by the glass” along with snacks for the same $30. Not surprisingly, the menu includes an assortment of bubble-friendly food such as the oysters, caviar and charcuterie that were perfectly paired with the Femme de Champagne.

With a limited production, there won’t be much Femme de Champagne 1996 to go around, but it is currently availa ble at Morrell Wine for $295 if you wish to buy a bottle for yourself. After all, while Americans tend to save Champagne for a special occasion, Duval-Leroy’s export manager touted that the Champenois open a bottle of Champagne in order to create an occasion of the every day.

Certainly, enjoying a glass of Femme de Champagne will elevate any day of the year and we should always celebrate the feminine in all its forms!

Slowing down in Asolo

In an era of fast food and living life in the fast lane, we truncate words and distill whole phrases into three letters. With such high velocity living, we often lose sight of the good life and forget to slow down and take time to savor and enjoy.

Back in the day we were not always in such a hurry. In this vein, the upper class would take the Grand Tour and travel the world in search of new vistas and adventures. Among their various stops was the town of Asolo, which fittingly takes its name from the verb asolare, which translates as “to enjoy on the open air.” Upon my own arrival in Asolo, I was advised by the consorzio president that this was a precise state of mind in which to appreciate life.

In perfect harmony with this philosophy, we kicked off our visit with a welcome dinner featuring local Slow Food products. The Slow Food movement, founded in 1989, seeks to not only preserve local food cultures and traditions, but also to combat our fast food society, emphasizing food that is “Good, Clean and Fair”.

Situated in the Veneto’s Treviso province, Asolo has a lengthy history of savoring the good life. This picturesque town sits atop a hill with beautiful vistas in every direction. In fact, poet Giosue Carducci dubbed it, “The city of 100 horizons.”

Originally built in the fifth century BCE, the city was initially Roman, but it was during the Middle Ages that Asolo really made its mark. Whereas wealthy New Yorkers flock to the Hamptons and Bostonians head to the Cape, during this period, Venetians decamped to Asolo in which to enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer. Here, the renowned architect Palladio and his contemporaries were employed to build grand palaces such as the remaining Villa Barbaro, which now serves as a museum.

As the saying goes, Asolo is Venice and Venice is Asolo, with a strong link forged between the two for centuries. Not only did they share a similar architecture, but the oak forests of Asolo supplied the wood to build the homes of Venice and to craft boats to protect the region.

These woods offer great biodiversity and are home to wild boars and deer. They are presently protected and now belong to the people of Asolo instead of being solely for the use of the Venetians as they were in the past. Today, local residents enjoy hunting, foraging and nature walks within this natural preserve.

Moreover, while Venice certainly maintains its prestige, Asolo built a reputation in its own right, thanks to Queen Caterina Cornaro. Forced to marry the King of Cyprus for political reasons, Caterina was eventually exiled to Asolo in 1489 and took the opportunity to transform the city on a hill into a center for art. She established a humanist, renaissance court of writers and painters within the city, attracting the top artisans of the time.

With Asolo firmly recognized as a destination for culture, as noted, the town became a much beloved stop on the European Grand Tour, with many staying on instead of returning home. In more recent history, artists and musicians continued to find their way to the town such as Robert Browning, Igor Stravinsky and Ernest Hemingway.

Presently, the town’s population has dwindled to 8,000 –with only 400 of them living within the city walls –thanks to high rents and a lack of modern amenities. But, it still remains a top tourist destination due to its heritage and beauty.

As elsewhere in the Veneto or anywhere in Italy for that matter, Asolo has a long history of grape growing and winemaking. The most historic accounts date to the Middle Ages when such activities were in the hands of the Benedictine monks. During the second half of the 14th century, the wines were highly prized, commanding a higher tax than others due to their perceived quality.

Despite this early fame, wine production languished for decades and it wasn’t until 1985 that the Consortium Vini Asolo Montello was founded. Today, this single consorzio protects three separate quality wine denominations: the initial DOC of Montello e Colli Asolani, which has existed since 1977; Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, created in 2009; and Montello Rosso DOCG, added in 2011. Within these three appellations, local producers can make a wide range of still, sparkling, white and red wines.

The consorzio’s 35 members (representing 85% of producers in the region) oversee a small territory comprising 20,000 hectares, of which less than 2,000 hectares (less than 5,000 acres) are planted to grapes. The majority of plantings, approximately 1,350 hectares, are given over to Glera, which is grown for Prosecco Superiore production. The Montello Rosso DOCG has a much smaller land allocation with only 250 hectares planted.

As its name suggests, the territory can be split into two distinct areas: Asolo hills and Montello plains. Between the two, there are soil differences, with more stones found in Asolo and a higher clay content existing in Montello. Yet, similar wind conditions exist on both hills and the same unique microclimate prevails, permitting olive trees to survive here, but not a mere 20 km away.

The area boasts of tremendous biodiversity, with varied flora and fauna abounding. In an effort to preserve this diversity, the consorzio has begun to focus on sustainable agriculture with an eye toward reducing the use of chemicals in the area and lowering the impact of farming on nature and on the workers, all while also conserving the wineries’ economies.

To this end, they have instituted new regulations that come into effect with the 2017 vintage that forbid the use of 18 dangerous chemicals that are actually still permitted under Italian and/or EU law. The consorzio has also developed a secondary list of  substances that are allowed, but not recommended as a further inducement to minimize chemical use.

This nascent region is slowly finding its footing as it not only focuses on its sparkling wines, but also works to develop a reputation for Bordeaux-style reds and reclaims several local grapes. Given its youth and size, it is not surprising that there is a lot of cooperation among members as they experiment with old techniques and collaborate on new ideas.

Meanwhile, Consorzio President, Armando Serena, is supposed to be slowing down, having handed the reigns of his winery to the next generation. His wife is eager to have him home, but instead he violates his own rules, eschewing the injunction Asola! (Slow down!) and choosing instead to devote his time and energy to promoting Asolo.

Taking Solace in the Solstice

Astrologically, as we drift into winter, the period from late December to early February is a time for stillness and contemplation; a time to both relax and uplift your spirit.

As the old year draws to a close and the new one lingers on the horizon, the arrival of the Winter Solstice (on or about December 21) brings with it the shortest day – and longest night – of the year. From its Latin roots, we are reminded that on this day, the sun stands still; we can take a breath and look up at the stars.

Gazing upward, Orion greets us from his perch in this sky. Home to three of the 25 brightest stars, Orion’s gleaming placement among the stars permits him to be seen all over the world, regardless of hemisphere. This winter constellation, named for the myth of Orion, and seen so well amidst the darkness, poetically alludes to the regenerative powers of the sun as Orion’s own eyesight was restored by its healing rays. And, just south of his brilliant belt, Orion’s faithful companion, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, literally sparkles as brightest star in the sky.

In olden days, this moment in the calendar marked the end of harvest (and all of the hard work it entailed) and signaled instead a time to celebrate. The festival of Saturnalia celebrated in Rome took place from December 17 to 25 – those Romans knew how to party!

So it was with a festive spirit that we took our cue from these ancient holidays and headed out on New Year’s Eve in our finest and toasted to the dawn of a new year with Louis Roederer Champagne at the Metropolitan Opera‘s Black Tie Gala (we know how to party, too!).

Now that New Year’s has come and gone and 2017 has recently arrived, the days are fresh with promise; the sparkle of a brand new year. Just around the corner, Imbolc awaits with its portent of lighter days and lighter hearts as the sun slowly returns.

But for now, it is the perfect time to pause, reflect, raise a glass and count our blessings. May they be as numerous as the bubbles in your glass of Champagne or other sparkling wine.

Moscato d’Asti: A sparkling wine for the times

2016-11-15-11-20-05Back in the day (1966), Dionne Warwick sang that, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” Such words are particularly true today. While not quite love in a bottle, Moscato d’Asti isn’t too far from it with its floral and fruit notes, effervescence and beautifully balanced sweetness. Plus, the Moscato grape has high levels of terpenes, including linalool, a naturally occurring chemical, which is widely used in aromatherapy to reduce stress.

The Moscato (aka Muscat) grape has become quite popular recently, but the denomination of Moscato d’Asti is more than just a grape name and has a history that significantly precedes the current craze. Produced exclusively from the Moscato Bianco de Canelli variety, this grape arrived in the region over 800 years ago. Here, in Piedmont, the same region known for Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, 52 municipalities are granted the right to craft these special wines.

First designated in 1932, the denomination is carefully controlled with only the best sites planted; planting on damp or shaded slopes is forbidden. Specifically, this means that the vines are grown on steep vineyards and picked by hand. Moreover, the area itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

High in terpenes, the Moscato Bianco grape results in wines with distinct floral and fruit aromas and flavors of apricot, peach and white flowers, tasting nearly the same on the vine as it does in the glass. Thanks to its low alcohol (~5% abv) and softer pressure (2 bars of pressure compared to 5 to 6 atmospheres of many other sparklers), its frothy creaminess lends itself to food pairing and second (and third) glasses.

Lightly sweet, these are the perfect companion to a wedding toast, especially when wedding cake is involved. Yet, due to the diurnal shift and fog, the grapes keep their acidity and freshness, resulting in balanced wines that pair equally well with savory and salty foods.

A recent seminar and tasting included representation from Michele Chiarlo, Saracco, Coppo, Marenco, Ceretto and Caudrina to highlight the characteristics of these wines. At retail, consumers should expect to pay $13.00-$25.00 per bottle for high quality Moscato d’Asti.

While all of the wines showed well, my favorite were:
Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
Pronounced apricot on the nose, with pear, apricot and slightly candied note on the palate, yet finishing cleanly

Coppo, Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
With distinct floral aromas, this wine displays great acidity, a creamy mousse and lovely flavors of apricot and white flowers. It culminates with a zingy sweetness throughout its long length.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy Intense floral, pear and cotton candy aromas greet the nose, giving way to citrus and lemon candy on the medium sweet palate. Good acidity and a nice mousse, with long length.

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Valdivieso and Chile’s land of wine opportunity

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Brett Jackson was born and raised in the north-central area of New Zealand’s North Island, but, as a teenager, had the opportunity to work at Stony Ridge Vineyards on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland. It was there, in the nascent New Zealand wine industry, that he got the desire to pursue a career in wine and subsequently studied horticulture since the local schools didn’t have viticulture programs yet.

Once he was trained, Brett began to get hands on experience, working in the Napa Valley and Stellenbosch before landing a contract to make wine in the South of France for the Lurton brothers. Pleased with his performance, the Lurtons sent him to Chile in 1994 to oversee one of their projects there.

It was in Chile that he finally found his viticultural home and stopped wandering from wine region to wine region. He saw an energy and focus; Chilean wine was just starting to boom and was very open to new ideas. At the time, there were approximately 50,000 hectares of vines planted – inappropriate vines in inappropriate places (as he notes) – but over the next ten years, the industry began to get serious – adding an additional 50,000 hectares and really starting to understand its climate and soils.

At this point in his life, he has a spouse, children and a mortgage, so he isn’t going anywhere, but even if he had the freedom to roam, he doesn’t want to. He says that there is still so much going on. For him, Chile still represents tremendous opportunity and is a great place to make wine in a small area.

More specifically, Brett sees Chile as a mosaic with numerous pieces (places) to craft quality wines. Moving from East to West, the two mountain ranges – the ancient coastal ranges at 1,000 m and the more famous Los Andes at 4,000m – significantly impact the various climates. At the western edges, a cool climate offers an ideal location for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others, while the warmer, eastern areas are good for reds.

His present employer – Valdivieso – was established as early as 1869 and cemented a reputation as a producer of high quality sparkling wines. Today, 50% of their current production still centers around sparkling wines; they produce both Traditional Method and Charmat style wines. The former focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the latter blends in Semillon for a fresher, more aromatic result.

Among the winery’s extensive portfolio, they offer a terroir series – wines made from single vineyards / particular lots in smaller productions (500 to 3,000 cases each). They are bringing two of these wines to the U.S.: a Chardonnay and, refreshingly, a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc. These two wines seem to usher in the next phase of Chilean wines; elegant expressions of grape variety combined with traits of terroir, at reasonable price points (in this case the SRPs are $25.00).

Valdivieso also prides itself on its Caballo Loco range. Named for Jorge Coderch (known by his nickname which translates as Crazy Horse), who was instrumental in expanding the winery’s focus to include still wine production, these wines include Grand Cru blends and an intriguing flagship referred to by its iteration number.

This latter wine was “the first great wine from Chile,” initially produced in 1994 with the aim of showcasing the maximum expression of what a blend can be. And, it is a blend in every sense. Not only does it bring together numerous grape varieties, but it also incorporates a percentage of wine from each of the previous vintages. In this respect, the wine is fractionally blended. The result is a serious wine that is both powerful and elegant.

Tasting Notes

Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs NV, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is a bit shy on the nose, but opens up to a complex palate with citrus, pear and slight yeast notes; creamy and rich, with long length.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
On the nose, this wine offers apple, stone fruit, citrus and smoke. It is full-bodied, yet very elegant, with good acidity, nice fruit and only a subtle hint of oak from its 9 months in barrel. Brett advises that the apricot aromas and flavors will continue to develop with age.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile, $25.00
Made from vines planted in the 1920s, this is one of the first varietal Cab Francs in Chile. Aromas of wet leaves, plum and mulberry greet the nose and persist on the savory palate, with gentle tannins and good freshness.

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $35.00
A blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is rich and ripe, with nice herbal notes. It comes from a warmer climate and is more New World in style than many of the other wines.

Caballo Loco No. 16 Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile, $70.00
Bringing together 50% of No. 15 and 50% from the 2011 vintage, this is a unique, non-vintage wine. This wine displays black and red fruit on both the nose and full-bodied palate, with power and elegance, culminating in long length.

Champagne Fleury is a name to know

2016-09-20-12-59-20Representing the four generation of her family in the wine business, Morgane Fleury stopped by Racine’s to showcase her family’s portfolio of Champagnes for the wine press. Champagne Fleury’s market visit provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with this winery, which was new to me, despite its long history in the region

The boutique producer has racked up a lengthy list of noteworthy firsts: the first to graft Pinot Noir vines in the Côte des Bar area in 1894; the first Recolant-Manipulant (RM) in the Aube in 1929; and the first biodynamic producer in 1989 (presently certified by Demeter and Biodyvin). Situated in the village of Courteron, Champagne Fleury’s 15 hectares of vineyards are within the southernmost point of the Côte des Bar. Although this area is lesser known than others within Champagne, Fleury is showing that the microclimate and soils are very suitable for producing high quality Champagne.

Building on their ancestors’ pioneering spirit, the company is currently run by Jean-Sebastien Fleury in the cellar, Benoit Fleury in the vineyard and Morgane Fleury in Paris, who owns a wine shop in addition to establishing relationships with local restaurants and promoting the brand worldwide.

2016-09-20-12-08-15I was most impressed with the Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, which is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, a grape variety that does especially well in this area of Champagne. The wine offers up a pronounced nose of floral notes and bright, red fruit, with a lovely intensity on the palate.

The Notes Blanches Brut Nature was also quite interesting. This 100% Pinot Blanc, which has had some wood contact during the fermentation process, is very clean and bright, with high acidity, yeasty, bready, creamy notes and hints of citrus and floral on the palate.2016-09-20-12-56-15

Meanwhile, the Cepages Blancs 2006 Extra Brut, produced with 100% Chardonnay, was weightier with woody, yeasty and brioche aromas and flavors, culminating in long length.

Finally, the 100% Pinot Noir-based Bolero 2005 Extra Brut was essentially sex in a glass with its yeasty, sweaty and earthy aromas and flavors.

Not surprisingly, the Champagnes provided a nice range of food pairing possibilities during the seated lunch.

 

Le Dinner en Blanc: A (White) Night to Remember

It was a magical evening! Admittedly, some people just won’t get it. My sister is still scratching her head wondering why on earth I dragged a table, two chairs and tons of other stuff for an outdoor feast on the subway during rush hour.

But, for those 5,000 of us who made the list, donning our very best white attire, schlepping everything on public transportation and arriving at the secret location is worth all of the time and effort.

Le Dinner en Blanc (DEB) – The White Dinner – started nearly 30 years ago by a group of Parisian friends who met at the Eifel Tower for a picnic and decided to wear white so they could easily find one another. (Of course it was the French; New Yorkers would have definitely worn black!) Today, DEB dinners are held internationally and 2016 marked the 6th edition of the New York-based event.

I had been on the waitlist for four years and, after seemingly almost getting in last year, was able to swallow the bitter taste left by their multiple server crashes to try again this year. I was literally poised online at 11:59:30 AM for my high noon registration opening. By 12:07 it was official – we were in!

We spent the next week in a flurry of activity – tracking down our preferred options from among the strict specifications regarding tables, chairs, linens, etc. – adding to the already near-daily arrival of Amazon.com and other deliveries to our Manhattan apartment. Our house guest was quite amused. I turned to Pinterest and blogs for wisdom and inspiration and scoured the apartment for anything white, finding napkins, plates, bowls and flatware that fit the bill, along with crystal accents (a vase and votive holders) that would grace our table. I grabbed a framed photo of our recently-departed (white) pup; wisely choosing the less creepy option – leaving her white box of ashes at home. I also raided my craft box for silk flowers and silver curling ribbon. Additionally, we turned to our friend Amazon.com for other table décor that caught our eye: battery-operated tea lights (candles were forbidden) and twinkle lights.

While hubby kept adding to the shopping cart – white linen jacket, white satin bow tie, white driving loafers – I fortunately had a beautiful, white Catherine Malandrino lace-embellished dress in my closet, just waiting for an occasion. I tried to purchase a fascinator to adorn my hair, but the vendor couldn’t guarantee arrival in time for the event, so instead, I decorated my hair with white blossoms bought at the local market. I’ve never been a fan of white shoes, so I opted for my favorite pair of silver sandals; while off-white was strongly discouraged, metallic accessories were welcomed. My big “splurge” was new nail polish in a new pearlized white shade from Opi.

As suggested by previous attendees, we practiced putting together our new table and did a dry run with the tablescape. But one final challenge remained: figuring out how and in what to bring all of our gear to the site (yes, very, very First World problems). We settled on a white plastic hamper from the Container Store and a collapsible luggage cart, all of which worked perfectly when paired with a gaggle of bungee cords. We were ready to go.

On the actual day, we were blessed with crisp, clear weather and a stunning sunset (the event runs rain or shine), thanks to a change from previous years from an August to a September date.

In other U.S. cities, guests are often bused to the final destination, but in New York, participants meet up at one of dozens of meeting sites throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn before heading out via MetroCard to the secret location.

Given everything that we had to carry, we decided to purchase food through DEB’s catering partner (Great Performances, in collaboration with Todd English) rather than bring our own picnic. In addition, as per NYS laws, alcohol must be purchased through the caterer, with Apothic and Moet & Chandon serving as this year’s wine sponsors. We picked the Southern cuisine option and chose to kick off our meal with Moet’s Rosé Brut and selected the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir to accompany our main course of brisket. We somehow managed to remain spotless – no red wine or barbecue stains despite hubby’s disastrous run in with mustard at Nathan’s only a few weeks prior to the event.

While the event technically doesn’t start until you arrive at the site, the fun begins almost as soon as you step out of your apartment. We immediately attracted attention from strangers on our way to the meeting point and then met other diners on the subway.

Upon arrival at the event, it is a bit chaotic as all 5,000 folks must assemble their tables and set up their food and décor before waving their white napkins overhead as a signal that they are ready to dine. Once underway, live music, fire boats and the usual river traffic up the Hudson River provided additional entertainment to the already festive evening. But, the people watching was the number one attraction, with beautiful outfits, over the top tablescapes and lots of creativity evident everywhere. Overall, we found our friend, enjoyed our delicious food and wine, and danced the night away.

The DEB event itself is $80 per couple, but the actual expenditure is much higher, especially for your first year when you must literally and figuratively outfit yourself. I estimate that we spent $558 (Food & Wine: $$223; Attire: $93; Table, Chairs, Linens, Cart & Bungees: $134; Décor: $30; and Uber home: $78). Of course, experiencing a magical meal under the stars: priceless! But, you still may not get it.

The Land of Limoux: It’s Not Just for Sparklers Anymore

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The Languedoc-based Limoux region claims the distinction of being the first to produce a sparkling wine back in 1531. In fact, famed monk Dom Perignon is credited with visiting the area and bringing back the knowledge to Champagne. Unfortunately for Limoux, the Champenoise have been more assertive in their public relations campaign over the past several centuries, which is why Méthode Champenoise is much more familiar to the average consumer than Limoux’s Méthode Ancestrale.

However, despite Champagne’s better brand recognition, Limoux is now dialing up the volume on its message to market its wines. In this regard, a rooftop tasting held this month provided an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends.

The event kicked off with Limoux’s bubbles. For centuries, it was the Blanquette de Limoux and its Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale that dominated local production. These two wines earned appellation status in 1938 and harness the Mauzac grape’s floral and apple aromas. The Méthode Ancestrale wines undergo only partial fermentation and thus retain some sweetness on the palate.

Much more recently (1990s), the region added a Crémant de Limoux to its sparkling line up, which favors Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc over the indigenous Mauzac and requires a minimum of nine months of lees aging. In spite of its late arrival to the scene, this newer sparkler accounts for 40% of sparkling wine production in Limoux.

Priced below $20.00, the Limoux sparklers offer up great value for every day drinking with several different styles from which to choose, including drier, sweeter and rosé options.

Even more au courant, Limoux has diversified its portfolio with still whites and reds. While the whites focus on oaked versions of the same varieties as those employed for sparkling wines, the reds (which must include at least three different grapes) bring together an unusual mix of Bordeaux (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Rhone Valley (Syrah and Grenache). The still wines are a relatively small percentage of total production and are priced accordingly.

TASTING NOTES

Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Memoire Brut Nature 2010, $16.00
This wine is vinified in old oak barrels and sees 8 months of aging on the lees, with fresh citrus and apple aromas and flavors.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, $13.00
Thanks to a chance discovery many years ago, St. Hilaire was our house sparkler for a long time, providing us with affordable bubbles on a regular basis. Notes of Apple and apple peel greet the nose; fresh and lively with medium+ length on the palate.

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV, $15.00
This wine spends 12 months on the lees, showing aromas of berries and herbs. It is dry, yet slightly fruity and slightly yeasty on the palate with long length.

Antech Crémant de Limoux ‘Heritage 1860’ 2013, $19.00
A more serious sparkler, this wine is dry with citrus and yeast aromas and flavors; fresh and clean on the palate.

Sieur d’Arques Toques et Clochers Limoux Blanc Terroir Autan 2014, $17.00
This 100% Chardonnay offers up floral aromas with a rich palate of pear, apple and a balanced use of oak; long length.

Château-Rives Blanques Dédicace Limoux Blanc 2012, $21.00
Produced from 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine displays yeast and floral notes on the nose with a lovely richness and roundness on the palate.

Domaine de Baron’arques Limoux Rouge 2012, $39.00
Barrel aged in a combination of 50% new barrels and 50% first and second use, this Merlot-dominant wine blend provides berries, black fruit and herbal notes joined by earthy and oaky flavors on the palate.

Michel Capdepon Limoux Méthode Ancestrale Fruité NV, $16.00
Even though the wine’s residual sugar level is at 95 g/l, this wine is beautifully balanced with floral and apple notes on the off-dry palate and finishes cleanly.