On Friday, December 5 2008 I attended another great wine class at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors in Waltham, MA. As previously mentioned in my last post, I was quite impressed with the ‘house’ cuvee of Champagne Henriot, the Brut Souverain NV, at a wine tasting at The Spirited Gourmet. Not that I am any great champagne expert, mind you. I just know what I like.
The class was given by Champagne Henriot New England Sales director Mark Bell. Mr. Bell was formerly a sommelier at Jean Georges, a very fine restaurant in New York City. Clearly he has opened a couple few thousand bottles of champagne in his career(s). He even demonstrated how he would perform Sabrage, which I had never even heard of. This is the art of opening a champagne bottle with a saber. Don’t try this at home. You could shoot your eye out. (Just watched ‘A Christmas Story’ a few days ago).
Photo at left is of Mark Bell, Gordon’s Wine & Culinary Directory Lindsay Cohen, and her assistant at the door. In this class Mr. Bell discussed champagne making at Henriot, and we tasted 5 champagnes from the venerable House. They are a family-owned winery in Rheims, Champagne, France, and have been making champagne since 1808. In France you can only label sparkling wine as champagne if it is from a winery in the Champagne apellation, France, and is created by the Méthode Champenoise, a labor- and time-intensive process. This is described pretty succinctly in this web page, Making Champagne, by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D. Those poor yeast cells literally spill their guts so that we may detect that toasty yeastiness in our champagne.
The winery in Champagne (the region) is located some 95 miles northeast of Paris. The weather is not warm and the wines before fermentation(s) are low in sugar and quite high in acidity. They are so acidic as to be basically unpalatable. The soil in the region is full of limestone chalk and this chalkiness and minerality is reflected in the champagnes. Three types of grapes are used in making Champagne (the drink): chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot munier. Henriot however chooses not to use any pinot munier in their champagnes. They also do not use any wood at all to age the wines in: all toastyness comes from the lees (champagnes aged on lees/sur lie). All champagnes are aged in stainless steel.
The 5 champagnes we tasted are as follows, with some of my notes:
Brut Souverain NV: “House” style champagne, reflects the approach, style, and taste of the Maison Henriot. Aged 30 months on lees. Blended from 35 crus, from several vintages, 40% chardonnay, 60% pinot noir. Light, crisp, toasty, redolent of brioche and stone fruits. Lovely.
Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay NV: 100% chardonnay (blanc de blancs), aromatically more intense and interesting than Brut Souverain, also fuller bodied and rounder in mouth. My personal fave. Fabulous.
Rose Brut NV: 42% chardonnay, 58% pinot noir. Still pinot noir part of blend to make color pinkish-orange, saignee method not used. Dried red fruits, spice and earth.
Brut Millesime 1996: 48% chardonnay, 52% pinot noir. 1996 was a great vintage in Champagne hence this vintage effort. Primary notes of truffles and fig.
Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1995: The house “tete de cuvee”, their top of the line cuvee. Majority of blend is chardonnay. After 13 years of aging, this shows great richness and complexity. The nose is port-like and smells *very* strongly of truffles. Personally, I prefer the brighter, younger, crisper, not very aged champagne style.
So this was very fun and Mr. Bell was very entertaining and a gracious presenter. Kudos yet again to Gordon’s for offering such a variety of fun wine classes.
Last night with Richard A.’s (A Passionate Foodie) wine interest group The North Shore Winers I attended a wine tasting at a neat little boutique wine store called Wine-Sense in Andover, MA. It’s really a tiny store but each wine for sale is carefully chosen by ebullient and personable owner Samanta Turner, shown below.
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Dr. Debs over at Good Wine Under $20. The theme this month is summery white wine varietals generally associated with the Rhone Valley in France, to quote:
“The varieties that I think best exemplify summer are white varieties associated with the Rhone: Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, and Viognier.”
The varietals can be combined in a blend or not, and don’t need to actually be grown/vinified in the Rhone Valley. So this month on one of my recent trip to Gordon’s in Waltham (my wine class Mecca), I selected the 2006 Domaine Roger Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc for this month’s assignment. This is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Roussanne.
This wine is very pale yellow in color, and also is light-bodied and crisp. It is citrusy and simple. This would be excellent sitting on a deck outside with a nice lobster dinner. If I were a wine critic using a 100-point scale I’d probably give it an 86 for general competence, but for $23.96 it’s not the greatest QPR in the world.
A ‘New World’ wine with white Rhone varietals I had a few months ago that rocked my world a bit more was the 2006 The Black Chook VMR McLaren Vale & Langhorne Creek (Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne blend). This wine had quite a bit more going for it in terms of aromatics, fruitiness, finish, and overall deliciousness, and I agree with Stephen Tanzer’s 90 points on the 100-point scale. In fact, I recall in January when I opened this bottle I didn’t manage the sort of reasonable restraint a petite lady should strive to maintain when enjoying a potent potable :-).
Last night I attended a pleasurable tasting/class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center featuring winemaker/producer Olivier Humbrecht (pronounced oom-bresht) of very well regarded winery Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim, Alsace, France. Gordon’s really is one of the neatest places in my area to attend a formal tasting, wine class, or culinary class (no, I don’t work there). It is so beautifully outfitted for the purpose. Here’s a photo showing the 2 overhead screens. I like this pic as it shows the old nag dragging the plow through one of the vineyards in the domaine:
Olivier Humbrecht is one very smart (and tall) French wine producer who can claim to be have passed the very difficult Master of Wine examination, the first French man to do so. His winery produces a really impressive range of classic Alsation white wines including generic varietal wines, village-level (5), vineyard-level, and 4 Grand Cru level. Varietal wines are made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat a Petit Grains, and Pinot Gris. There is also a wine called Pinot D’Alsace which is made from Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.
The Domaine practices organic and biodynamic grape growing practices. It produces about 180,000 to 200,000 bottles per vintage and employs 25 people (not including more at harvest times). Alsation white wines are generally more spicy, aromatic, and rich than the German counterparts. He explained that his idea of terroir not only includes the land and growing conditions, but the people and culture who inhabit the land. As far as biodynamic practices, he does indeed pay attention to moon cycles, homeopathic practices, and maintaining biodiversity. I’m pretty sure he stated that they do the buried cow manure in the horn thing, and believes that plants communicate with each other in a natural system that is not totally understood. He believes in a lot of up-front effort in the vineyards, and the simplest most non-interventionist vinification possible after harvest. He stated that machine-harvesting of grapes is a completely heinous process (although 6x less expensive than hand-harvesting) which produces ‘pulpy wine mush’ which includes a lot of stems and extraneous stuff that then has to be dealt with by the winemaker (all Domaine Z-H wines are produced from hand-picked fruit).
I managed to, well, ingratiate myself to Olivier by asking if he implemented malolactic fermentation in his winemaking. This is a secondary fermentation process by which tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid and CO2 post alcohol fermentation. I thought the 2006 Pinot Gris varietal wine tasted kind of round and buttery. He wanted to know why I asked, and then explained that all the wines we tasted had undergone malo *except* for the Pinot Gris. Well, I knew it was SOMETHING about the Pinot Gris that was different! (I’m telling myself to feel better). There’s a cool presentation of the malolactic fermentation process from Ellen Butz of Purdue University Dept. of Food Science.
In a Q&A session, someone asked Mr. Humbrecht his opinion of Finger Lakes NY wines, and he thought the grapes were grown in the wrong plots of land – the grapes are planted where the potatoes should be and vice-versa. Someone else asked about global warming, and he stated a general trend towards earlier and earlier harvests at his Domaine. When asked about optimum grape ripeness, he stated that the grapes are fully ripe when the pips can grow more vines!
We tasted 10 wines that were all delicious and aromatically extremely exciting. My favorites were the generic 2006 Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot D’Alsace. I didn’t love the Pinot Gris, but was sitting near someone who thought that was the most outstanding, so of course everyone’s palate, opinions, and life experiences are different. The 2005 Riesling Gueberschwihr and Turckheim (2 village-level wines) were extremely delicious. The 2005 Riesling Herrenweg was extremely spicy and perfumed and had a super long finish. The 2005 Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim was so pungent and extracted it reminded us of a liquor, almost.
All in all it’s probably obvious I found this a very interesting and informative tasting. Also Gordon’s had some special pricing which was also quite nice and appreciated.
There are some reviews of some of these wines at the example issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar for those interested.
Yesterday I stopped in at Ourglass Wine Co. in Saugus, MA on Route 1 to taste 3 wines of Clos Triguedina of Cahors, France and also 2 other wines from French wine importer Cynthia Hurley. Clos Triguedina specializes in wines made from Malbec, which most people associate with wines from Argentina. As she explains on her website in this article, the grape was originally vinified in France and exported to Argentina, where it has been very successful. I super enjoyed the tasting, especially the exquisite Clos Triguedina Prince Probus Cahors 2005, a 100% Malbec cuvee which reminded me of liquid red silk. Too pricey for me at this point though – I walked away with the Clos Triguedina Le Petit Clos Cahors 2005, which is an easy-drinking 80% Malbec/20% Merlot blend which still showcases its terroir.
Next Saturday, Ourglass Wine Co. will have its huge grand Spring tasting of 70 wines from 3-7PM which I’m attending with the North Shore Winers. Should be a fun time!
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday entry is hosted by an obscure wine store owner named Gregg Vandercharles or somesuch? heh no, Gary Vaynerchuk of course the ridonculously popular host of video blog Wine Library TV. This month’s theme is Cabernet Franc from France. I had some help selecting a wine during my visit to Wine Library this past weekend from an accommodating distributor whose name I didn’t catch. I was aware that this varietal had a reputation for having overly vegetal flavor characteristics and wasn’t wild about drinking liquid broccoli, so he selected one for me where the fruit was generally expected to be more forward. Not sure if that has to do with the appellation of Saumur-Champigny in general or the producer Thierry Germain in particular. The wine he picked out for me: 2005 Thierry Germain Saumur-Champigny. 100% Cab Franc. Saumur-Champigny is an appellation in the Loire Valley. Label says: Mis en bouteille a la propriete pour Thierry Germain Selection (49).
So I took the bottle out of my handy new 28-bottle wine refrigeration unit, popped and poured it. I think I know what broccoli and bell pepper smell like, but I don’t sniff any here. More like black cherries and maybe leather and perhaps a bit of minty herbal eucalyptus. Mouth drying tannins but not too much. Medium-bodied, or maybe a little lighter. Nice drink. I’d give it an 87 in CellarTracker.
Thanks to GV for an interesting choice.
On Saturday I attended an interesting class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center in Waltham, MA: The Rhone: Evolution in the Face of Global Warming. The instructor was Nick Cobb, “Food and Wine Guy” (wine broker). We tasted 9 wines of the Southern Rhone – 5 Côtes du Rhône (1 Rose and 4 Red) and 3 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (all Red). He talked about the distinctive rocky terroir in CndP and the problems producers are facing with global warming. Higher sugar and alcohol levels are affecting the traditional elegance and minerality in CndP wines. He talked of the traditional method of fermenting wine in cement used in wines of the Southern Rhone, and why that isn’t a bad thing. These wines are primarily Grenache and Syrah based, with some added Cinsault, Carignan, and Mourvedre (but up to 13 varietals allowed).
I want to mention the wine of the day – Domaine de Deurre Vinsobres Côtes du Rhône 2005. This wine is the best seller in Cobb’s portfolio and that is completely unsurprising. 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 100% hand-selected and de-stemmed berries. 100% fermented in steel – all the tannins are from the fruit. On the nose, burnt orange, cherry licorice, and lavender. Totally excellent mouth-filling fruity midpalate and a long, pleasant finish. Sooooo good. And sells for ridiculous $15.99. Tastes like a million bucks. Cobb mentioned that it tastes like CndP used to taste like ….!
Another Wine Blogging Wednesday already! The theme this month is Comfort Wine – wine that is an old standby, an old faithful, an old reliable. This theme was introduced by Joel at Wine Life Today. Since I’m a newbie, I really have no such animal yet. So… I chose a wine that someone else felt comfortable recommending to me. I was looking to try a Beaujolais and was looking at the Georges Duboeuf selections at Gordon’s (see link) and this was recommended to me: Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes 2006. Beaujolais is a lighter shade of Burgundy. This wine has a light body, some evidence of aging in oak, cherries on the nose, and bit more of a tannic structural attack than I expected. Quite dry, this stuff is refreshing and light but not wimpy, and would probably go with a variety of foods as a thoroughly comfortable choice.