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.

Cave de Tain coming soon to a shelf or list near you

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The Rhône Valley is well known as a distinguished wine region, but perhaps less well known is the fact that the region actually lumps together the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. More importantly, there is a big distinction between the two, not exclusively, but especially, in terms of volume. The Northern Rhône represents only 5% of all Rhône Valley production, with all eight of its crus being equal in size to the production of the Southern Rhône’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But, in spite of its small size, it manages to produce big, bold, beautiful wines.

Within the Northern Rhône, leading producers, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Chave and Delas Freres, have made their mark on the American market, but Cave de Tain is only now turning its full attention to external markets. Established in 1933, the Cave de Tain cooperative currently has 359 members and is ready to hit the ground running now that they have signed with the U.S.-based Hand Picked Selections.

The winery is situated within Tain Hermitage, capital of the Northern Rhone and home to only 6,000 people. They produce wines within five of the crus along with a small production of IGP wines. All of the vineyards are intentionally no more than 15 km from the winery since the winery is Certified Sustainable, which means that everything they do is based on observation rather than according to a set plan. In this regard, they can carefully monitor the vineyards and only do things, such as spraying for mildew, when necessary.

Here, in the birthplace of Syrah, all of the reds they produce are 100% Syrah. Similarly, they have a mono-varietal focus when it comes to whites, championing Marsanne as their signature white grape. Both grapes play respective starring roles in Cave de Tain’s IGP Colline Rhodaniennes wines, which they hope will serve as an introduction to the Northern Rhône varieties. The company’s further philosophy is to use older and larger barrels, which accounts for the subtler oak influence in the resulting wines.

We tasted through a selection of seven wines beautifully paired with a family-style lunch at Rotisserie Georgette. Many of the wines hailed from 2015, which was a great vintage, one with balanced maturity and acidity, which is relatively rare to have high levels of both. The 2010 vintage was similar in nature, but 2015 is felt to be the better year. Today, the 2015s are drinking well now, but have sufficient fruit, acidity and tannins for aging. Of note, 2015 was a good vintage for both reds and whites. Admittedly, due to climate change, the last truly difficult vintage was 2008.

The IGP wines were very nice expressions of their respective grapes, displaying good fruit character and balance. The Marsanne 2015 (~$12.00) showed some complexity, with salty and nutty notes, along with pear and almond, while the Syrah 2015 (~$12.00) offered up blackberries, bright acidity and soft tannins.

Moving up the range to the Grand Classique wines from Crozes-Hermitage, the increased quality was immediately evident, while the price point remained reasonable. Presenting more noticeable fruit than its IGP counterpart, the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015 was beautifully rich, with aromas of peach and apricot, along with elegance and long length. Similarly, the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 had lush black fruit notes, with medium+ acidity and only a hint of oak influence.

The Grand Classique Hermitage wines are much pricier, which is to be expected given Hermitage’s reputation for long-lived wines of character and strength, but they deliver for the money and are worth the occasional splurge. The Grand Classique Hermitage Blanc 2010 was stunning! Rich and complex, it displayed a pronounced nuttiness, along with baking spices and dried stone fruit. Interestingly, we were advised that Marsanne takes only a few years to develop in bottle, but then will hold that development for some time. The Grand Classique Hermitage Rouge 2011 (~$76.00) is a gorgeous wine with spice, blackberry and dried herbs, silky tannins and lovely richness on the palate.

At the top of the range, the Gambert de Loche Hermitage Rouge 2011 – a plot selection named for the founder of the cooperative – offered more body and power than the straight Hermitage Rouge.

 

NB: Retail prices are noted when the wine appeared available in the U.S. market as per Wine Searcher. Since these wines are just hitting the U.S. trade now, it will take some time before they become widely available. We were advised that the wines were being priced fairly, yet assertively, so they will represent great value for the quality.

 

Make Mine A Malbec

2016-09-27-19-08-03Malbec is a grape variety better known for its time spent in Argentina, but the variety got its start in Southwest France, where it continues to not only survive, but also thrive. In fact, it presently accounts for nearly 9,000 acres in the southwest, making it one of the most planted grapes in the region.

Given the grape’s popularity in the market, these wines are making their way to the U.S. under the varietally-labeled option as well as its more traditional appellation of Cahors. Here are two wines to try.

Château Lagrézette Malbec 2010, France, $30.00
Château Lagrézette was built by Adhémar de Massaut in the 15th century on a hill overlooking the Lot River. Purchased by Alain Dominique Perrin in 1979, by 1982 the chateau was classified as a historical monument and a full restoration was completed. The property now boasts 90 hectares of vines. Deep purple in color, this wine offers up smoke, black and blueberry fruit with oak notes. Its dry, medium+ acid palate is full bodied with medium, fully ripe tannins, black and blue fruit, plum, smoke, oak, light heat, powerful yet balanced. Still young and fresh. Long length.

Domaine de Cause La Lande Cavagnac 2013 Cahors, France, $17.00
Owned by the Durou-Costes family, the care and management of Domaine de Cause was resumed by Serge and Martine Costes in 1994 in order to maintain Martine’s family’s legacy. Today, they utilize sustainable farming practices to craft the Malbec-based wines of Cahors. The La Lande Cavagnac is produced from a selection of the oldest vines on the estate. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry greet the nose and persist on the palate, along with vibrant acidity and firm tannins.

 

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.

 

Chili with a side of Chile and SW France

2016-09-14-14-21-40With Labor Day behind us and Columbus Day still several weeks away, we are in the last days of summer as we count down to the Autumnal Equinox. With shorter days, cooler temperatures and busier schedules, dragging out the slow cooker is the perfect way to welcome guests for a relatively easy home-cooked meal.

Accordingly, my husband crafted a New York Beef Chili (from a friend’s award-winning chili recipe) for his cycling race team to gather everyone together to talk about this recently completed season and begin planning for next year. Of course, he turned to me for some wine to share with his teammates and I was happy to oblige.

Such a meal cries out for robust reds, the kind I had been avoiding all summer, but am now ready to relish in my glass. I chose two Chilean wines to accompany his one dish dinner, both of which were red blends.

Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile, $13.00
Owned by the Olivier family group, Mayu stems from an ancient Inca name for the Milky Way, literally translating as creek of stars. Mauro Olivier Alcayaga was among the pioneers to plant Carmenere and Syrah in the Elqui Valley, first for other ventures and now for his own Mayu project. There are leather, animal, earthy and musk notes on the nose, which give way to bright, ripe red and black fruit, with a hint of iron on the fruity, medium bodied palate.

Erasmo 2010 Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, $20.00
This organic farm is named for a local farmer, Don Erasmo, who shared his wisdom with the current owner and is situated in the oldest wine region of Chile. The wine itself is a dry-farmed blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 5% Syrah from a single vineyard on the ancient estate of la Reserva de Caliboro. Blackberry, dried herbs, slight spice and wood greet the nose and persist on the elegant, yet full-bodied palate.

For good measure, I also opened up a wine from southwest France.
Chateau Peyros, Vieilles Vignes, 2011, Madiran, $16.00
This blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc comes from an organic vineyard that is home to a herd of 300 sheep. Situated on a property that dates from the 17th century, Peyros means “stony place” in Gascon and was acquired by current owner, Jean Jacques Lesgourgues, in 1999. This wine is dark and brooding with baking spice, black fruit and bramble fruit aromas and flavors and an undercurrent of earth and smoke. The full-bodied palate is dry with medium acidity and tight tannins, needing more time in bottle to soften. Buy now, but hold.

The two Chilean wines are among the nine being featured at Whole Foods Market stores in conjunction with Wines of Chile USA. Through this unique retail partnership, the wines will be available at 300+ Wholes Foods stores throughout the U.S. The specific wines were chosen to represent the diversity of Chilean wines – regionally and varietally – and were vetted by Whole Foods Market global wine experts Doug Bell and Devon Broglie MS.

The full list of Whole Foods Market’s featured wines includes:

  • Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile
  • Vina Errazuriz MAX Chardonnay 2015, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
  • Autoritas Pinot Noir 2014, Valle Central, Chile
  • Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile
  • Criterion Carmenere 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Erasmo Reserva de Caliboro 2010, Maule Valley, Chile
  • De Martino 2014 Estate Organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley
  • Casa Silva 2014 Los Lingues Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

On a previous occasion, I had the opportunity to taste two other of these wines:
Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $13.00
This winery was established over 25 years ago by Norwegian ship owner Dan Odfjell who fell in love with Chile. The business is presently run by his two sons: Laurence and Dan Jr. With a pronounced nose of grassy notes and tropical fruit, this wine displays ripe citrus and peach fruit on its palate, culminating in a very clean finish.

Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile, $15.00
Created by the Garcés Silva family, Boya is the Spanish word for “buoy” which makes sense given that the Ledya Valley-based vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean. This is a very nice Pinot Noir for the price, with notes of earth, cherry, mulberry and dried herbs, along with vibrant acidity on the medium-bodied palate.

Both Chile and Southwest France offer up good quality wines for their respective prices and are generally food friendly options worth seeking out.

A Summer for Sauvignon Blanc

2016-06-20 19.14.52While Riesling and rosé are highly touted for the summer season, Sauvignon Blanc is equally well-suited for sipping this time of year. This citrus-scented grape variety is cultivated worldwide, resulting in a broad range of wine styles from which to choose.

However, among the most well-known areas associated with this grape is New Zealand and, in particular, the region of Marlborough. New Zealand producer Nobilo brings two Sauvignon Blancs to the table this season: its Regional Collection and Icon. Icon is the company’s flagship wine, having been established by the Nobilo family in 1943.

The grapes for Icon presently come from the Castle Cliffs Vineyard, planted in 2002 in the Awatere Valley. Conversely, while the grapes for the Regional Collection wine are primarily sourced from Awatere, they are supplemented with those from the Wairau, Southern and Waihopai valleys within the region and then blended together to create a more consistent wine each year.

A side by side tasting permitted a comparison of the two:

Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, NZ, $10.00
This wine is very fruity with bright, tropical fruit predominating the nose and palate. Although it has the same acidity level as the Icon wine, the perception is that it is lower in acidity on the palate due to its higher level of sweetness. Light and refreshing; perfect for an aperitif and light fare.

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, NZ, $18.00
The Icon has a leaner profile than the Regional Collection, displaying much more citrus aromas and flavors, along with a slightly grassy note. It is drier with more acidity, permitting it to pair more easily with a wider array of cuisine.

Although Sauvignon Blanc is less closely connected with Spain, this variety is slowly, but surely, finding a home here as well. Pago los Balancines, a winery within the Spanish region of Extramadura, about 200 km north of Seville, produces several wines with this grape. Its wines fall under the Ribera de Guadiana DO.

Pago los Balancines, Balancines Blanco Sobre Lias 2015, Ribera de Guadiana, Spain
This entry-level wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura and offers up a bright and fresh wine with citrus, tropical fruit and melon notes on the round palate.

Pago los Balancines, Alunado Sauvignon Blanc 2013 The Bootleg Wines vol. 0, Ribera de Guadiana, Spain
This full-bodied wine has clearly been oaked, with its citrus and pear aromas and flavors wrapped in oak and vanilla.

2016-06-20 19.15.21Alunado

 

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.

Always a good idea: Champagne and caviar

2016-07-12 18.12.23At its The Art of Celebrating the Holidays event, Tattinger’s corresponding event booklet proclaimed that, “Champagne is always a good idea.” It’s hard to disagree, especially given that the event also featured a smorgasbord of raw oysters, chilled shrimp and… caviar.

The picture perfect evening, held on the Hotel Eventi’s South Veranda, showcased a lovely line-up of Tattinger’s Champagnes, many of which were matched with a specific caviar from Calvisius.

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Vitalie Tattinger

Welcoming us at the beginning of the seminar portion of the event, Vitalie Taittinger called the marriage of Champagne and caviar “A pure pairing.”

Although the event’s emphasis was on the palate, it was interesting to note the similarities in these two products – both of which require long aging processes and an attention to quality and detail.

As we began to taste through the pairings, John Knierim, National Sales Manager for Calvisius USA, directed us to place the caviar on the back of our hand to enjoy it without the flavor or distraction of the spoon and then crush the eggs on the roof of the mouth to get the full sensation.

An Italian-based company, Calvisius started its foray into farm-raised caviar with the importation of six fish from UC Davis as part of the University’s plan to repopulate the earth with sturgeon. Not surprisingly given its heritage, Calvisius has earned Friends of the Sea certification and follows sustainable fishing practices.

Among some of the fun facts gleaned during the seminar:

  • Sturgeons are older than dinosaurs.
  • The different styles of caviar can be attributed to sturgeon variety as well as egg size.
  • The front half of the egg sac differs from the back half in that the front portion has a much higher fat content.

TASTING NOTES

Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française NV, $60.00
Beautiful aromas of yeast and apple peel with long length.
→Calvisius Caviar Tradition Prestige: From white sturgeon females aged 7 to 22 years, this caviar takes 11 years to produce; salty and buttery, delicate, saline/marine.

Champagne Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus NV, $95.00
An intense nose of brioche and nuts with a fuller mouthfeel than the Brut La Française.
Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Classic: Nuttier and less salty than Tradition Prestige.

Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006, $199.00
This vintage wine displays lovely citrus and toast aromas and flavors.
Calvisius Caviar Siberian: Produced from a Russian species of sturgeon; sticky texture with slightly salty notes; bold; an intense, yet enjoyable, combination.

Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2006, $262.00
Also a vintage wine, this offers up berries and yeast, with a hint of peach on the delicate palate.
Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Royal: Differs from the Oscietra Classic since this features eggs from the front 10-20% of the egg sac; very rich and salty.

Not paired with caviar, but also available for tasting that evening were the Prestige Rosé NV ($84.00), Nocturne NV ($82.00) and the newly launched Nocturne Rosé NV ($84.00), due out this holiday season. The Nocturne range are Sec Champagnes with a slight sweetness (17.5 g/l of dosage) that add a hint of sweetness, but are still well balanced.

To purchase Calvisius caviar, see Foody Direct’s website.

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The fries have it

2016-06-16 15.57.23Pairing food and wine can be quite complicated – finding the perfect combination of flavors and textures on both the plate and in the glass that harmonize with one another.

But, it can also be rather simple: salted, buttered popcorn with a glass of Brut Champagne!

Of course, most frequently, the reality lies somewhere in the middle as was the case at the 2nd Annual Southwest Wines of France Gourmet French Fries Competition held in June. The Wine Enthusiast-sponsored event brought together a wealth of wines from Southwest France, a wide swath of land that includes numerous appellations. Here, internationally renowned grapes co-mingle with lesser known varieties. In this regard, Cabernet Franc and Malbec rival Fer Servadou and Gros Manseng in acreage among the top 12 planted varieties. The result of these diverse plantings produce nearly every style of wine from still and sparkling to white, rosé and red.

Frankly, like the simple popcorn and fizz pairing noted above, unadorned French fries are a tasty companion to many wines. But, the assembled chefs brought their A-game to elevate the humble potato stick.

Ricky Camacho, Anejo
Carnita Fries: Confit pork shoulder, poblano lime aioli, garlic crisps, cilantro and pickled onions
Served alongside a selection of dry white wines

Christopher Stam, Spice Market
Thai Fry: Hand-cut French fry with kaffir lime, garlic crumbs, Nouc cham mayonnaise, house made chili sambal, scallions and cilantro
Served alongside a selection of dry rosé wines

Greg Rubin, American Cut
Beef Fat Fries: Hand cut fries, fried to perfection. Tossed with parsley, rosemary salt and dry aged beef fat.
Served alongside a selection of fruity red wines

Pedro Duarte, Sushisamba
Crispy Potato Confit: Chicharrón de pato (duck crackling), black garlic, balsamic, rosemary and sea salt.
Served alongside a selection of 100% Malbec wines

Aaron Lamonica, Seamstress + Belle Shoals
Freedom Fries: Slow smoked brisket folded into a pork based gravy. Kennebeck potatoes blanched twice, topped with grated Midnight Moon Goat cheese, chives and orange zest.
Served alongside a selection of full-bodied, red wines

I tasted through many of the wines and found a few favorites of the bunch.  Most of the wines hailing from this region are well priced, making them an affordable pleasure, whether or not you hold the fries.

TASTING NOTES

WHITES
Alain Brumont Les Jardins de Bouscasse 2011, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, $15.00

Rich and waxy with nutty and pear aromas and flavors.

Château Tour des Gendres Cuvée des Conti 2014, Bergerac Sec, $16.00
Fresh, with lots of citrus notes; bright and pretty.

Cave du Marmandais Château La Bastide 2014, Côtes du Marmandais, $15.00 Grapefruit, slight oak, toast, rich and round on the palate.

ROSÉS
Domaine des Terrisses Grande Tradition Rosé 2015, Gaillac, $16.00
Pale in color with berries and floral notes.

Domaine de Pellehaut Hamonie de Gascogne Rosé 2015, Côtes de Gascogne, $11.00
Slightly more color, redolent of peaches and plums.

Producteurs Palimont Colombelle L’Original Rosé 2015, Côtes de Gascogne, $15.00
A really lovely wine with floral and citrus notes.

REDS
Domaine du Moulin 2013 Gaillac, $12.00
Complex, yet fruity, with red and black fruit and an herbal undercurrent.

Domaine Guillaman Les Hauts de Guillaman 2012, Côtes de Gascogne, $25.00
Displaing a rich and intense nose, with depth on the full-bodied palate; black fruit and floral notes.

Domaine des Terrisses Grande Tradition 2014, Gaillac, $18.00
Rustic in character, yet fresh and lively, with red fruit and slight bitter note in finish.

Château Flotis Si Noire 2011, Fronton, $24.00
Offers up a really interesting, somewhat funky nose, with concentrated and rich red and black fruit on the palate.

Alain Brumont Château Bouscasse 2010, Madiran, $25.00
Beautiful nose with fresh, spicy, red fruit and tobacco on the palate.