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!

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.

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!

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.

 

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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Rose dreaming on a winter’s day

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Certainly, a bottle of bubbly makes any occasion special – an instant upgrade from blah to ta-dah! It can brighten days and elevate moods as evidenced on a recent vacation.

Specifically, on said vacation, we were asked to wait in the restaurant’s lounge while they found us a table for dinner. About 15 minutes later, the manager brought over two complimentary glasses of Cava for us, immediately ensuring happy guests, made even happier when we were ushered to the best table in the house only a short while later.

And, every evening at 6:00 PM, the St. Regis Bahia Beach continues the tradition of sabering a bottle of sparkling wine to mark the transition from day to night, as the sun sinks below the horizon and the coqui frogs begin their song.

Moreover, if looking at the world through rose-colored glasses brings a change in attitude, just imagine what a glass of pink-hued, sparkling wine can do for you in the middle of a dreary winter!

Thinking pink, a recent tasting brought together a beautiful range of salmons, pinks and pale reds, all bursting with bubbles and imbuing the day with beauty and brightness.

Thankfully, while a winter vacation might be just a dream, enjoying a glass of sparkling rosé wine just requires an easy trip to your local retailer. Here are a few options to get you in the mood.

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Mionetto Prestige Gran Rosé (SRP: $14.00)
While not technically a Prosecco, since it is both a rosé and a blend of Raboso and Lagrein, this wine hails from the same area where Prosecco is produced. Medium salmon in color, this fresh and fruity wine offered up berry, floral and cotton candy aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate (fittingly, since it is labeled Extra Dry).

Mionetto Luxury Cuvée Sergio Rosé (SRP: $19.00)
Much darker hued than its fellow rosé from Mionetto, this deep pink wine displayed aromas of roses, cherries and strawberries on the nose, all of which persisted on the off-dry palate.

Ruffino Sparkling Rosé (SRP: $15.00)
Ruffino is a well known Tuscan producer, but they have begun to branch out to other Italian regions and recently released this sparkling wine made from the Glera grape of Prosecco fame. It has a pronounced nose of floral and red fruit (raspberry and strawberry) notes, joined by a hint of cotton candy on the slightly off-dry palate.

Cavas Hill 1877 Rosado Cava (SRP: $13.00)
A blend of Garnacha and Monastrell, this Traditional Method sparkler hails from Spain and was deep salmon in color.  Notes of ripe, dark berries and a hint of earthiness dominate both the nose and palate.

Alfred Gratien Brut Classique Rosé Champagne (SRP: $65.00)
Light and ethereal, this pale hued rosé Champagne presented classic yeasty, bready/brioche notes with a touch of strawberry and minerality on the brightly acidic palate, culminating in long length.

Pieces of the Puzzle: Putting Together a Glass of Champagne

2015-11-05 15.04.50Once upon a time (also known as several years ago), we found a scrap of plastic film that read, “Assembly of Dust. Some Assembly Required.”

Not knowing what it was or what is meant, it was one of the strangest and most confusing things we ever found on our kitchen counter. After much scratching of our collective heads, we finally identified the scrap as having come from the wrapper of a music CD that a houseguest had opened earlier that day. (It turns out that Assembly of Dust is the name of a band).

The creation of Champagne is truly like that moment – perplexing and puzzling – with lots of assembly required. In fact, lots is an understatement as evidenced by a recent visit from winemaker Régis Camus of Champagne House, Piper-Heidsieck.

During his trip to New York, Camus offered up a unique glimpse into this creation process, known as assemblage, with a tutored vin clairs tasting. A vin clair is a still wine (not sparkling) that has been produced in anticipation of making the blend that will ultimately be bottled for the secondary fermentation; in essence, each vin clair is the equivalent of a single puzzle piece.

Within the Champagne region, there are hundreds of puzzle pieces to be considered. First, there is grape variety; the permitted grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Then, there are the approximately 100 different crus (top vineyards) from which the grapes are sourced. Third is a Champagne House’s Reserve wines – wines saved from previous vintages (and kept distinctly by individual vintage). And finally, there is the time that the wine is aged on its lees as the last piece of the puzzle, which is dictated in part by law (a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage and three years for vintage) and by house style, which typically exceed the minimums.

After each harvest, the winemaker and his team start with a blank canvas as the grapes are brought to the winery. Each parcel is fermented separately into wine, becoming the multitude of puzzle pieces – or vin clairs – available to the team. Their mission, which they choose to accept each year, is to taste through the individual wines and build the puzzle based upon the given vintage.

There is no printed box to follow, instead, the “picture” for these puzzle pieces comes in the shape of a bottle – the bottle of the wine produced the year before (and the year before that…). More specifically, the goal is to replicate the house style for each of the House’s wines. By achieving this goal, consumers can be sure that each and every time they buy a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV, it will taste precisely the same.

At Camus’ tasting, we were given five different samples that had been part of the 2014 assemblage for the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV: Chardonnay Avize Cru 2014, Pinot Noir 2015 Verzy Cru, Pinot Meunier 2014 Ecueil Cru, Chardonnay 2009 Avize Cru and Pinot Noir 2008 Verzy Cru.

As in working to piece together a visual puzzle, each vin clair provides a sought-after characteristic that helps to shape the resulting wine; each piece adding something that would be missing without it. For instance, the Chardonnay 2014 Avize Cru was particularly prized for its structure and tension as well as its freshness, fruit and minerality. Meanwhile, the older Chardonnay provided more pronounced minerality and was richer, giving some needed depth to the final blend.

In all, the 2014 assemblage contained 55% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Meunier, representing approximately 110 different puzzle pieces, inclusive of 10% Reserve wines. It’s enough to make one dizzy (and that’s not accounting for the alcohol). However, the vin clair tasting did offer some insight into this complex process and gave me a renewed respect for these master tasters.

I prefer to leave the assembly to the Chef du Cave and drink the finished product; perhaps it will sustain me as I pour over my next 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

NB: At the conclusion of the formal tasting, we had the opportunity to enjoy several of Piper-Heidsieck’s Champagnes along with passed canapés. Given the informal format, I didn’t take tasting notes, but I was especially fond of the Rosé Sauvage and the prestige cuvée, Rare Millésime 2002. I may even have been willing to pose with the latter bottle’s laser cut label worn as a tiara.

Grand Cru Grapevine: Through Rose-colored Glasses (January 2013)

2012-12-05_14-20-58_380In keeping with an optimistic spirit, Rosé Champagne is the perfect wine to kick off the new year! As Ed McCarthy exclaimed at the Wine Media Guild’s annual Champagne luncheon in December, “Rosé Champagne is ‘in’!” Its success has been a bit surprising to everyone, including the Champenois, given that Rosé Champagne was considered an afterthought only 12 years ago. Now, it makes up 8% of the market and is on the rise. This continued trajectory is equally surprising considering that it is more expensive than regular (non-rosé) Champagne. But, it is also more intensive and, at least according to Ed, “Everybody loves it!” Whether this latter statement is fact or hyperbole, what is true is that Rosé Champagne has a fuller body than regular Champagne, due to the increased ratio of Pinot Noir grapes and is extremely food friendly.

As Champagne, Rosé Champagnes are produced using the Méthode Champenoise, referred to as the Traditional Method for similar wines produced elsewhere. These wines spend considerable time aging in contact with dead yeast cells that give the wines their yeasty, leesy, bready aromas and flavors. In addition, Rosé Champagnes also have fruitier aromas and flavors that are derived from the heavier reliance on Pinot Noir and the deliberate creation of color. While Pinot Noir is a component of most Champagnes —the obvious exception being the blanc de blancs (white from whites) style—Champagne producers are careful to avoid extracting color from the grapes’ skins. However, when creating a Rosé Champagne, the focus shifts and some color attainment is permitted. Such color may be produced through the saignée method (as is often used for still rosé wines), or by creating a cuvée that includes red wine in the blend to produce a pinkish base wine. However, red wine may be blended in at the end with the dosage instead to avoid potential browning during the lees aging period. Regardless of when it occurs, sparkling wine production is the only time that adding red wine to a white wine is acceptable in creating a rosé-style wine.

The wines featured in this month’s newsletter are some of my favorites from the December lunch at which we tasted a total of 15 wines. As noted, these are pricey wines, but, thankfully, many of my preferred wines were on the lower end of the spectrum. 

TASTING NOTES

Ayala Brut Rosé NV, $48-54.00
We’ve featured Ayala, the sister brand of Bollinger, before, but as it is always continues to perform well in comparative tastings it is worth featuring again. With rich fruit aromas of floral and ripe strawberry and slight yeasty notes, this wine was elegant on the palate with a delicate mousse.

Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé NV, $62-75.00
At the luncheon, Ed noted that he was very impressed with this wine, as was I. It displayed a very yeasty character on the nose with melon aromas and flavors. It was dry with very high acidity, finishing quite cleanly on the palate.

Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé Premier Cuvée NV, $70-75.00
As a rosé, this wine is very pale, dislaying an onion skin color. On the nose, it has yeast, slight floral and strawberry aromas, similar to, but more subtle than those found on the Ayala. Its palate was very pretty with extremely dry palate, high acidity and floral and strawberry flavors.

Henriot Brut Rosé NV, $58-62.00
Henriot has a long history as a Champagne house, but has been less known in the U.S. Offering a light and elegant style, this wine has raspberry, yeasty and slight toast aromas giving way to riper fruit on the front palate, with the toasty notes lingering in the finish.

Moët & Chandon Brut Rosé 2002, $80.00
From the highly regarded 2002 vintage, this is a big, yet austere wine that still needs some time to evolve to truly shine, although it was showing beautifully already. Toast and biscuit aromas dominate the nose, along with a slightly oxidative note. The dry palate is lean with yeast, toast and fresh berry flavors.

Perrier-Jouët Cuvée Belle Epoque Rosé 2004, $300.00
Admittedly a big splurge, this is a wine I frequently drawn to even in blind tastings and, in Ed’s words, it is the “epitome of elegance,” likely due to high proportion of Chardonnay. Yeast and strawberries greet the nose and persist on the dry palate where they are rich and concentrated, culminating in long length.