Each Sunday join Lee as he samples the weekly features or new arrivals, it’s his choice. The tasting runs noon to 4 so stop by.
Each Sunday join Lee as he samples the weekly features or new arrivals, it’s his choice. The tasting runs noon to 4 so stop by.
If you follow anything that I write about wine you will always see the caveat with each description, “decant this wine for _____ minutes before serving.” I try with many write-ups to explain why this is important but I feel it is important enough to devote an entire article on the subject.
It starts with a very simple premise about wine: oxygen builds flavor. When alcohol comes in contact with oxygen a series of complex chemical reactions occur and the result, in the most simple terms, is two-fold. The first is that compounds called esters are formed which are what create the aroma of wine. This same reaction occurs in nature, as fruit ripens the sugars begin to break down and also ferment, at very low levels. This is why strawberries that are past their prime often show a slightly alcoholic flavor. If allowed to continue to react to alcohol then acetic acid is formed, which is what creates vinegar. (A little known fact is that fruit flies are not attracted to ripe fruit but to the vinegar that forms as it decays.)
The other thing that happens when wine comes in contact with air is the structural change in the wine. This gets into some pretty heavy organic chemistry concepts but here is the gist of it. The color compounds in wine are called anthocyanins. These are the same antioxidants that are found in all dark fruit, from blueberries to blackberries. In wine they appear as long chemical chains. Think of them as a long line dance partners at an all girls school. Sure they don’t like dancing with themselves but without any men around it is the best option. Now comes oxygen, which in this case is a bus carrying dance partners from the all boys school down the street. Once the oxygen arrives then they basically don’t like dancing with each other and they start looking for better, more attractive partners. In the wine this is another compound called tannin. Tannin is the part of wine that makes the sides of your mouth dry. Well as the color compounds and the tannins dance, they form longer and longer chains, like a conga line. Eventually the conga line gets so long that it is bigger than the receptors on your tongue that perceives tannin, and the wine appears to be smoother.
This also happens to a bottle of wine that has been cellared for a length of time, usually a few years. A small amount of oxygen wiggles it’s way through the cells in the cork, or around the cork if the seal is bad, and works it’s way to the wine. This causes the same precipitation of color compounds in the bottle and they end up as sediment in the bottom, or on the sides, of the bottle. By decanting you will also remove these, which won’t hurt you but do leave a grainy residue in your mouth.
Now when I use the term “decanting” it means to actually pour the wine out of the bottle. Some people like to pull the cork and let the wine “breathe” but the surface area in the neck of the bottle is too small. You need to get the wine out of the bottle and expose as much of it as possible to air.
As for equipment, this does not mean you have to run out and buy a fancy, cut crystal decanter. Any glass or pottery piece will work, as long as it doesn’t absorb flavors. If the wine is young you don’t have to be delicate, just dump it in. Remember, the more oxygen you get into the wine, the faster the reaction. If the wine is older, say seven years or more, then you may want to take your time. A fine layer of sediment has probably formed on the sides or the bottom of the bottle and you want to try not to pour that out with the wine. It doesn’t hurt you if you drink it but it can be a bit gritty.
So when you read about how a wine needs little time in the decanter, take those directions to heart because it will greatly improve your enjoyment of that bottle.
The first two selections this week are both good values from South Africa, a country that is collectively making better wine every year. This probably surprises many of you because I have not been an advocate before for many wines from this country but as is becoming apparent in my tastings, the wine world is rapidly expanding. This is a phenomenon that is not just limited to South Africa, but we have recently been very impressed with wines from Bulgaria, Lebanon and Portugal, all of which you will probably see as weekly features in the months to come. What is behind this transilience is the free flow of information between winemakers and an understanding in many countries that wine is a much more profitable agricultural product than traditional farming. Of course there are always requirements for growing good quality grapes that do not occur in all countries but don’t feel limited to drinking wine only from countries you know. Within 20 years I predict you will be drinking a lot of wine from places that are just now entering the game.
2011 Excelsior Chardonnay ($10)
2009 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon ($10)
I was looking for a new “party wine” and to my surprise these stood out in a relatively crowded field. What’s cool about them is that they come from a family owned farm in South Africa and are produced only from grapes grown on their estate. The De Wet family traces their ownership back to the colonial period of SA but the current family has divided the estate, in what I am told is an ugly split. One half of the estate makes their wine under the Excelsior brand, the other side under a different label. I met Freddie De Wet of Excelsior a couple of years ago and he still harbors a good deal of resentment towards his brother. (Sad how money divides families.)
The Chardonnay is from their three best blocks and is Robertson appellation. The growing conditions in this are are cool, often compared to Carneros, and is still heavily planted to fruit trees like apples and pears. Seventy-five percent of this Chardonnay was fermented and aged in tank on it’s lees, the remaining quarter in French oak barrels (all neutral) on lees too. The result is a wine that shows an exotic, orange marmalade, lemon curd, magnolia blossom and pastry cream aroma and nicely focused fruit on the palate. Although not technically “un-wooded” this one is more minerally and Chablis-like, a killer value for anyone looking for a wine to compliment seafood or light, creamy cheeses.
Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon is surprisingly good, not only because it is inexpensive but also because it is South African! The fruit for this wine is hand harvested and was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Once dry, forty percent of the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for nine months.
I was impressed with this wine’s color and the nose is a charming combination of raspberry and blackberry jams, some fresh blueberry, toasted wheat bread, French roast coffee beans and black peppercorns. The feel in the mouth is surprisingly forward and bright, more fresh fruit than jammy, with good length, soft tannins and low acidity. If you gave me this wine blind there is no way I would put it into South Africa.
2009 Isenhower Last Straw Red Blend
LAST CHANCE $19
For the past couple of years this has been one of our more successful blends so the distributor gave us a little deal to help clean up the last of the 2009 before the 2010 arrives later this month. Unlike prior bottlings where Brett Isenhower used Last Straw for a vehicle to sell his press wine, the 2009 was made from young vines not deemed ready for the $35 level. As a result this wine is a much more normal blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petite Verdot and 5% Merlot, all grown in their estate Walla Walla Vineyard.
When you pour a glass the first thing that will grab you is the sweet caramel and espresso notes, complimented by hints of cooked black cherries, dried red plums, black currant jam and black peppercorns. Take a sip and you will get hit with a wave of dense, black fruits framed by soft and integrated wood tannins, that persist into the finish. Good now, this wine will age nicely for three to five years. Serve with a big, thick T-Bone or grilled pork tenderloin.
If what I am hearing and reading about the California wine supply is even remotely accurate, fans of big, rich reds under $15 better start looking for some new sources. After four consecutive small crops and strong demand, prices are going to go up. So I am trying to be proactive in showing customers that the US doesn’t have a monopoly on this type of wine, but the sources are not always traditional either. The modern producers of Portugal understand what the new wine consumers want and many of them are producing wines that fill the niche.
The selections this week both come from a family winery with over 300 years of winemaking history. They are definitely a player in the production of traditional Portuguese wines but the current generation also realizes how the market is changing. I encourage you to try these selections and see if you find something you love, at a price below what you are used to paying. The white wine has great appeal for anyone who is part of the ABC club (anything but Chardonnay.) Their red wine will appeal to Cab drinkers, as well as fans of Spain, Bordeaux and Rhone wines.
Buy the solid case for $8.50 per bottle
Club members buy the solid case for $8.00 per bottle
Those familiar with Vinho Verde may be surprised to see one that sells for $10 a bottle. Not that many years ago they were all $5, slightly fizzy and not particularly interesting wines. Late last year I had the opportunity to taste this one, with it’s new, modern package, and I was terribly impressed. No fizz, but an aroma that leaps out of the glass! It is produced using indigenous grapes of the Vinho Verde area (an appellation in Portugal) a blend of 60% Loureiro, 30% Trajadura and 10% Alvarinho (Albarino in Spain.) As you would expect for a modern winery, fermented and aged in tank at very low temperatures to preserve natural acidity and aroma. The results are an eye opener, especially if you like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
The nose of their 2010 bottling is a dramatic combination of magnolia blossom, melon, red apple, tangerine and oyster shell. In the mouth it is round and soft to start, then finds a frame of acidity that stretches out into the finish. Traditionally this wine is served as an aperitif but you can serve this one with broiled oysters or clams, shrimp scampi or roast chicken.
Buy the solid case for $10.20 per bottle
Club members buy the solid case for $9.60 per bottle
This wine is hard to put into one category but has qualities that make it very appealing to a lot of you looking for a big red under $15. The Touriga Nacional (one of the most important grapes grown in Northern Portugal) gives this wine a powerful, deep sense of fruit not unlike Syrah or Shiraz, but with none of the olive or herbal qualities. The Cabernet provides it’s typical character but with a Bordeaux-like quality from a really ripe vintage. So I might call this a Cotes du Rhone meets Bordeaux by way of Barossa or Washington State? So let’s just call it what it is, a wine mutt, but a delicious one at that.
The attention to detail that went into making this wine is a testament the attention to detail at Aveleda. All of the grapes were hand harvested, destemmed and sorted before going into the fermentor. After alcoholic and malolactic were complete the wine was racked to French and American oak barrels and aged for a year. The winery then bottled and aged the wine for an additional eighteen months before releasing, to let the flavors harmonize and to round the edges. I don’t think there are many wineries in the world that put that much work into a $12 wine.
When you open this wine, make sure to put it into a decanter for a half hour to let the aroma develop. When you pour a glass you will get hit with a big nose of cherry jam, dried mission fig, espresso grounds, black plums and cocoa powder. In the mouth this wine is shockingly rich and low in acidity, with smooth edges define the fruit into a long finish. This is a really useful wine, good for serving with everything from steak fajitas to smothered pork chops. You can also age this wine for three to five years.
There has been a lot buzz about Eric Asimov’s NYTimes article about a new $410 corkscrew, Code-38 Stealth. At first I was shocked that someone would charge so much for simply redesigning the tried-and-true technology. Then I started thinking about the cost of designer shoes, handbags, the latest golf club and a custom made dress shirt and it sort of, in a crazy sort of justification, makes sense. Since I have not used this corkscrew myself I will reserve judgment on it’s usefulness.
Wednesday, April 20th, I had lunch at the Ravenous Pig with a representative from Billecart-Salmon Champagne, their Florida distributor and a few key account restaurants from around Orlando. The meal was delicious, as always and the wines were certainly stunning. To me the most amazing was the 1999 Blanc de Blanc, which sports an eye-popping $189 price tag. Impressive with my mussels cooked with orange juice, wheat beer and roasted garlic (see my TWM-Orlando Facebook post), so far it may be the food/wine pairing of the year.
I have been on an “old school” kick with my drinking habits lately, and that means French wines, specifically selections from importer Kermit Lynch. My two most recent favorites are the 2009 Domaine de Prebende Beaujolais ($19) which was absolutely delicious with a maple/mustard grilled pork tenderloin. It needs a half hour in the decanter and a light chill to show best, but there is nothing like the wild strawberry and raspberry flavor of Gamay. This bottling is simple but delicious, would probably have worked great with roast chicken too.
My other favorite is the 2009 Petite Chablis from Roland Lavantureux ($25). Real Chablis used to be the benchmark for Chardonnay in the late 1800′s. Then two world wars, California impostors, overproduction and a general lack of attention by the producers of Chablis led to four decades of consumer malaise regarding the wines of the area. Now we are seeing all sorts of good examples, this particular version showing stunning notes of magnolia blossom, kumquat, lemon drops and oyster shells in the nose and a precise, balanced sense of fruit into the finish. I served this with cod baked en papillote with zucchini, fresh thyme and lemon zest. OK, it may be the best food/wine pairing of the year.
If you garden, or not, take note that magnolias and Confederate jasmine are blooming right now and they give you a chance to expand your wine description vocabulary. You have to put your nose down into a magnolia blossom but when you do the aroma is delicately citrus (lemons and Buddha’s hand) with a hint of green apple. Cut the blossoms and put them in water, you can smell them around the dinner table. Confederate jasmine is one of my wife’s favorites, a more dramatic scent that fills our back yard every April. This is a richer, sweet, slightly musky aroma that is hard to describe any other way than “jasmine.” I mention both of these because their scents are often used to describe wines; magnolia appearing in Italian whites and some Sauvignon Blanc. Confederate jasmine is a note I often find in Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley of California and Santa Lucia Highlands.
March 2, 2011
It is hard to schedule appointments on travel days, so for our final stop I took all the franchises to visit Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, the legendary retail store in Berkeley, California. Kermit Lynch is not only the grandfather of modern wine importers, but also a brilliant retailer who embodies the spirit we try hard to emulate; the most amazing wines are made by passionate people from special vineyard sites. The store only sells wines that Kermit imports from France and Italy, with no shelving but over 400 stacks of wine in the building. Their neighbors are Acme Bread and Cafe Fanny, the casual concept of Chez Panisse named for Alice Water’s daughter.
Our plan was to visit Cesar, a tapas bar owned by Chez Panisse alums. Sadly they don’t open until noon, which would not work with our 3 pm flight. We instead chose Saul’s Deli, a 25 year old establishment that produces some of the yummiest food, Kosher or otherwise, this side of Brooklyn. After a fantastic Rueben (they were out of brisket) and a fantastic latke, we headed for airport.
March 1. 2011
We woke up to temperatures in the mid-30s but they rose quickly between our drive from Sonoma to the Dry Creek Valley. While on our way to Sbragia Family Vineyards, at the base of Lake Sonoma, we passed hundreds of acres of vineyards, so we stopped and had a quick lesson in training, trellising and pruning a vineyard. From there we moved to the winery, a few minutes late, to catch up with what seemed to be the whole Sbragia family including the patriarch, Ed. For those who don’t recognize the name, Ed was winemaker at Beringer for thirty-five years and is one of the greatest living winemakers in America. I thought our visit would be with his son Adam, the official winemaker of SFV, but Ed joined us and gave plenty of input.
For those who have not experienced the wines from Sbragia, they are dedicated to producing single vineyard wines from parcels owned by the family and long time relationships that Ed has with growers. All of the family estate vineyards are in Dry Creek, the remaining sources being mountain vineyards that Ed used to make Beringer Private Reserve. I won’t list the wines separately but I found all of the wines to show good balance and well integrated tannins. Ed and Adam are driven to make big wines, with dad saying several times, “I never made a wine with too much tannin.” While they are certainly are built to age, they show well now and it proved to be a very enjoyable tasting.
We only had time for a quick lunch, so at the suggestion of Adam Sbragia we stopped at the Dry Creek General Store for sandwiches. I visited this location years ago and it must be under new management because it is a lot different. The sandwiches are all made fresh and they have a nice selection of prepared salads too. The prices were very reasonable and the quality was superb. There is also a nice selection of wine country stuff that turned out to be a good spot to pick up souvenirs for my girls.
Our last stop of the day was to Flowers Vineyards, which is north of the town of Jenner on the Sonoma Coast. It turned out to be a ninety-minute drive, but along the Russian River so the scenery was beautiful and we also saw our first real redwoods. Jenner is a small town at the point where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. It is so cold and windy that it is hard to believe that only a couple of miles away, at the top of the mountain, would lie vineyards. Our GPS told us we rose 1300 feet in five minutes, winding along the cliffs, trying to take in the view and keep the car on the right side of the hairpin turns. Once at the top the temperature was freezing. We learned that it had snowed at the vineyard just two days earlier!
The tour of Flowers emphasized change. This is a property that had been a superstar in the 1990′s, only to produce good but somewhat humdrum wines since the millennium. It is now owned by Agustin Huneeus, who in addition to Flowers also recently purchased Prisoner and Saldo from Orin-Swift. His dedication to quality is amazing and it would appear that great things are coming from this winery, starting with the 2009′s. We sampled a number of barrels of the 2010′s and then sat down to their current releases the 2007′s. I did find a couple of enjoyable wines but I think the prices seem high for what is currently in the bottle.
For our final meal we saved the best for last, reservations at The Girl & The Fig on the square in Sonoma. This iconic Sonoma establishment is one of the first “farm to table” restaurants in the US, supporting dozens of local farms in Sonoma County for everything from meat to produce. What I found most interesting is their wine list, which with the exception of sparkling wines, is completely dedicated to Rhone varietals, both domestic and imports. The meal was spectacular with all of us agreeing it was a meal to be remembered. If in Sonoma this is not a meal to miss!
February 28, 2011
Today we had the chance to spend almost three hours sitting at the foot of the great wine sage, David Ramey, tasting his wines and listening to his explanation of what makes great wine. I have met Dave a few other times, always over lunch, and know that he is outspoken and opinionated, but I also feel he is the best winemaker in America. No one else does as good a job of making red and white wine, that not only drink well young but also age. I summed it up for my franchises before the visit this way, “when it comes to wine, if Dave Ramey told the sun wasn’t coming up tomorrow I would go out and buy batteries.”
The Ramey winery is nothing fancy. Sitting on the edge of Healdsburg it looks like all the other neighboring commercial warehouses except you smell the heady nose of wine in the parking lot. We immediately go to their conference room where nine wine glasses await. He started with his history, as a kid with a literature degree waiting tables in Mexico in the late 1970′s. By his own admission he was directionless when he discovered wine and decided it might be fun to learn more about making it. A science BS and UC Davis Master’s degree later he embarked on a career that would carry him to France, then he worked for Simi, Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd. After leaving Simi, at each stop he was charged to either build the wine program or fix one that was really broken. During these years I crossed his path several times, admiring the wines but never knowing the genius behind them.
What I love about Ramey wines is their amazing sense of place and balance. Dave sources grapes from several vineyards and firmly believes that a winery must have a hierarchy of what goes into each one. His process for making the appellation Chardonnays, Russian River and Sonoma Coast, is similar for both wines so the character of each region shines through. His single vineyard wines receive a little different treatment, and the process of selecting the sites is more precise, but the character shines through. I won’t bore you with individual tasting notes but if you love Chardonnay that works with food, or red wines that drink young and age well, you should discover Ramey wines.
Lunch was a quick stop in Oakville Grocery on the square in Sonoma for a sandwich on our way to Napa and a visit to the production facility of The Other Guys. As the producers of Hey Mambo, Plungerhead, White Knight, Pennywise and Moobuzz, this is a very important producer for us and also one that produces a lot of wine. I felt it was important for the franchises to see what a big production winery looks like and this one, as part of the Don & Son’s empire, bottles over 2 million cases per year. The production manager, John Nicholette, showed us around the facility and allowed us to take way too many pictures of cool, wine geek toys like cross-flow filtration devices, the bottling line and their “unitizer”, which is used to wrap and prepare cases for shipping, sans pallet.
After almost two hours of learning the ins-and-outs of aging, storing and bottling wine we jumped in the car and headed to The Bounty Hunter, a retailer of small production, mostly California wines. This store is now mostly restaurant as most of his retail trade is mail order, but we ordered a couple of bottles of their private label wines and talked shop. After a bottle of Pinot Noir and a Cabernet blend we moved across the street to Back Room Wines, another retailer who specializes in small production Napa wines as well as a really nice selection of imports. We stopped to drink a bottle of 2007 Domain de Trevallon, one of my favorites from Provence, before leaving to visit the local Trader Joes.
I personally have never understood the allure of this business and this trip did nothing to change my mind. We always hear about how cheap the wines are at TJ, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a steal and most of their lower end are private labels, which rarely excite. After determining that the Whole Foods next door had a much better selection we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
We finished the night at Carneros Bistro, with August Sebastiani (President) and Keith Casale (CFO) of The Other Guys. The food was excellent, the wine was flowing and conversation was lively; thank heavens for only a half mile drive back to the our hotel, MacArthur Place.
As a franchisor I feel it is imperative that my franchises know and understand wine country. To that end, for the second year in a row I have organized a three day, “field trip” to Northern California, this time with a focus on Sonoma County. For the next three days I will be posting a little travel blog about our adventure.
February 27, 2011– Day One
One of the great things about visiting northern California is the United flight 37, which departs Orlando very early but arrives in San Francisco at 9:30, so we have a full day. As this is a franchise education trip I try not to plan only winery visits, but also things that they can use to help run their individual stores. One of my favorite non-wine places to visit is Draeger’s of San Mateo, a grocery/wine/housewares/restaurant/cooking school that is only a few minutes south of the airport. We wandered the store for an hour, admiring their housewares and cookbook displays, the wine shop and of course my favorite part, the bakery. While we have no plans to be as big as this, it certainly gives us food for thought about what non-wine related items we may be carrying in the future.
I always like to make sure we are all fortified before we start the wine tasting portion of the trip, so of course that means a quick stop at In and Out in Mill Valley. If you haven’t been, it’s worth the stop. Remember these words, Animal Style. My standard order is a 2×2 animal style, with animal style fries and a Neapolitan shake. With this much grease and fat lubricating my veins I am now ready to taste wine.
Our first wine stop is to an Australian importer, Wine Trees. Here we taste 12 wines and find several potential WOM selections, as well as a few potential, weekly email features. We also take a few minutes to admire our host’s garden. If you have never visited California this time of year it is amazing how much is blooming as spring has not quite started. Everywhere you look are blooming plums, something that looks like dogwoods, as well as poppies, lilies and rosemary. For a gardener like me it is a true bonus.
The second stop for the day was high in the hills of Bennet Valley, at a new, tiny producer, Flanagan Vineyards. I met Eric a few weeks ago in Orlando and was knocked out by his Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is easy to see why after visiting the site. His vineyards are thirty-five degree slopes, twelve to fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor. With virtually no top soil the vines struggle to yield even two tons of fruit per acre (Napa Valley floor will often yield eight to ten tons). Phillipe Melka makes the wines for this property and his signature, elegant style is perfect fit for this amazing site. These wines are expensive but worth it for a special night. The Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will be in stock in the Orlando store by mid-March.
At Eric Flanagan’s recommendation we finished the night at Zazu, a farm to table restaurant that appears to be in the middle of no where. The wine list is very affordable and the food is fantastic, with pork products made from their own herd of black strip pigs, peppered across the menu. Chef Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart have a great operation going, well worth the visit.
In the early 1990′s I was one of the lucky few people to see the very first Terry Theise Grower Champagne catalog. At the time I was running with a few small Champagne houses but his offering was revelation to me. Here were Champagnes producers that did not try and homogenize the region and vintage variation, but rather accentuate it. At that time we made the decision to host a blind tasting of the best known Champagne houses versus the up start, “farmer fizz” examples. The results were stunning.
The big names like the one with the orange label and the other with the white star, they just tasted sweet and clumsy. The small guys by comparison shows depth, dimension and complexity. At the time they were cheaper but soon the world discovered them and the prices climbed. You see, unlike the big boys these estates cannot simply open the tap and make more, they are limited by what their land can produce. (This is not a problem for the big boys as they don’t grow many grapes, they purchase them.) After a couple of tastings where the big boys took beating after beating I made the decision. We would stake our fortune on producers with passion, not mega-corporations looking to make as much money as possible at the expense of their workers.
So twelve or thirteen years later here you go, the offering, 2010. None of these are in big supply so email or call us first so we can make sure you get what you want. If you have any questions, just ask.
New Champagne Arrivals
Jacquesson Cuvee 734 Brut $67
Jacquesson Millesime 2000 $159
Although not well known trivia, the founder of this estate, Memmie Jacquesson and his son Adolphe, were two of the greatest innovators in France for their time (late 1700’s to mid-1800’s.) Adolphe was the first vigneron to train vines on wires, working directly with Dr. Guyot (whose trellising system is still the most prevalent in Europe to this day), use a measured dosage to prevent bottles from exploding and he patented the muselet , the wire cage still used to this day to hold the cork in the bottle. The estate left family hands in the late 1800’s and in 1974 was bought by the Chiquet family who have managed it ever since.
The current managers, brothers Jean-Herve & Laurent Chiquet, oversee all aspects of production and marketing after working their way up from the cellar. The family own 31 hectares of vines in Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages and also source from 11 hectares they farm but do not own. They are unusual in Champagne in that they severely prune at bud break to reduce yield, use no pesticides or herbicides and add only organic fertilizer to their vines. Although not technically a “grower Champagne” this small house (less than 30,000 cases) is a true standard bearer of quality in the region.
At Jacquesson they ferment all their base wine in old foudre and do not block malolactic fermentation. The result are weighty Champagnes that also show great finesse. The Cuvée 734 was disgorged in February and released in March, 2010. This cuvée is based upon the 2006 vintage (73%) with reserve from the 2005 vintage (22%) and the 2004 vintage (5%). Because of the difficult nature of the 2006 vintage a severe selection was made, and the final blend resulted in 54% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Pinot Noir. Cuvee 734 displays a nose of cocoa powder and baked pears, superb concentration on the palate and long, very polished acids into the finish.
The extremely rare Vintage (Millesime) 2000 is composed of 50% Chardonnay from Avize “Champ Caȉn” and Pinot Noir from Verzenay (20%), Dizy (20%), and Ay “Vauzelle Terme” (10%). The growing season had the highest average temperature recorded since 1956. June was hot, July wet and cold with hailstorms, while August was hotter but still on the wet side. The end of August saw good weather at last, and this held throughout September. Jacquesson began its harvest on September 18th. This is big Champagne, broadly textured with finely tuned acids. The nose shows hints of fresh-from-the-oven brioche, baked apples, juniper berries and lemon grass.
Barnaut Grande Reserve $55
Barnaut Grande Reserve 375 ml $30
This wine has been a staple of our Champagne selections for several years. Barnaut is one of the oldest Champagne houses located outside of Reims and Epernay, owning 17.5 hectares (43 acres) in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy and in the Marne Valley. The estate is currently under the direction of Philippe Secondé, a 5th generation descendant of founder Edmond Barnaut, who took over in 1985 and quickly modernized the cellars and the vineyards. Vineyards are farmed using a lutte raisonnée approach, meaning no herbicides, only organic fertilizers and commercial fungicide only when needed. At harvest all of the grapes go through a sorting table before going into the fermenter, a very rare process in Champagne.
This estate is planted mostly to Pinot Noir (88% of the vineyards) and consequently the wines are softer and easier to enjoy without food. Fermentation is done in stainless tank and all cuvees undergo malolactic in tank. Half the wine held as reserve wine each year and their non-vintage wines are aged twenty-four months before disgorgement.
For the Grand Reserve cuvee (yellow label) the blend is approximately two-thirds Pinot Noir and the balance Chardonnay. For the reserve portion of the blend they use the same solera that was begun by Edmond 1874 (roughly half the blend) and the balance is from the current vintage, in this case 2007. In the nose this wine displays aromas of yellow apple, green apple, green cardamom and juniper berry. The palate of this wine is rich and generous, with a deep core of fruit that rolls across the palate, framed only at the end by integrated acidity. This is a very nice drinking Champagne without food but also compliments young cheeses and smoked salmon.
Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Hugues Coulmet $55
Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Hugues Coulmet 375 ml $32
I intentionally placed this wine after the Barnaut as Moncuit is the yin to their yang. If Barnaut’s style could be described as soft like a Peter Paul Rubens painting, Moncuit’s is the chiseled definition of Michelangelo’s David. It is here that you see the precise structure of Grand Cru Chardonnay from the most hallowed site in Champagne, Les-Mesnil-sur-Oger. This is the village from which both Krug and Salon produce their celebrated wines and here is a chance to sample a grower version for a fraction of the price.
This estate was founded in 1889 by Pierre Moncuit and has been run by his great-grand daughter Nicole since 1977. They farm 16 hectares (37 acres) all in the Grand Cru village of Les Mesnil-sur-Oger and own the oldest vines in the area. In a region that rarely lets a vine reach 30 years old, theirs are at least 45 years old and they possess two parcels of vines nearing 100 years of age.
At this property all of the wine is fermented in stainless tank for alcoholic and malolactic fermentations. Also, all wine is from a single vintage even if not designated on the label, with this wine being from the 2007 vintage. This cuvee also spends thirty-six months on the lees before disgorgement, and three months in bottle prior to release.
When you pop this Champagne you see the intensity of Grand Cru Chardonnay immediately in the nose, with notes of celery heart, lemon verbena, coriander and toasted nut shells. In the mouth this wine is precise and cut, with a firmness to the fruit from beginning to end. You will want to serve this wine with oysters (best raw but cooked are fine too) or cold shrimp with a lemon herb dressing.
Dosnan-Lepage Recolte Blanche $66
Dosnan-Lepage Recolte Brute $66
Unlike the other estates of this offering Dosnan-Lepage is only a few years old. Davy Dosnan and Simon-Charles Lepage grew up together in Champagne and after a few years in other endeavors returned to launch their own label. They own only two hectares so they buy from other growers in the Aube Valley. This area, one hour north of the town of Chablis, is unique in that the soils give the wine great minerality but the warmer climate gives them a riper quality than is traditional.
All of the wines of D&L are fermented in used barrels from Puligny-Montrachet for alcoholic and malolactic. Each harvest they hold back a considerable amount of wine for their reserve program and they use virtually no dosage to adjust the wines.
The Recolte Blanche is 100% Chardonnay and 40% of the blend is Reserve wine. The nose is exciting, with notes of nectarine, green apple, coriander and oyster shells exploding from the nose. In the mouth this wine starts with what appears to be a generous presence of fruit but it is quickly wound up by firm, chalky acidity that runs all the way to the finish. This is another great sparkling for seafood or soft cheeses.
D&L’s more textured Recolte Brute is made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, with 40% of the blend coming from reserve wine. This wine shows a warmth in the nose, with notes of fresh raspberries, green plums and a touch of dried straw. On the palate this wine is intense but generous, with the broad fruit framed near the finish by some fairly vivid acidity. The dosage of this wine is an almost completely dry 4 grams per liter and it is completely transparent on the palate. Serve this wine oil poached salmon with preserved lemons.
Tarlant Cuvee Louis $115
If D&L is the newbie of this offering, Tarlant is the grand, old man. The estate was founded in 1687 by Pierre Tarlant and it remains in the family today, with the 12th generation ready to assume leadership from current president, Jean-Mary Tarlant, who took over in 1972. The family farms 14 hectares across four different villages in the Valley of the Marne.
Wine making at Tarlant is also different than the other properties of this offering. All parcels are pressed and vinified separately, in new and used oak barrels with batonnage throughout the winter. They block the malolactic for all their wines and age all reserve cuvee in oak barrels.
The current Cuvee Louis is a blend of the 1996, 1997 and 1998 vintages, blended and bottled in 1999. The wine kept on the lees for ten years and disgorged this spring. Because of the incredible time in bottle the dosage of this wine is a minuscule 3 grams per liter. When you pop a cork of this wine you will see a deep golden color and a profound nose of dried apricots and apples, enoki mushroom and grilled bread. In the mouth this wine is unbelievably broad and rich, with the deep, earthy/fruit running deep into the palate. While this is a great wine to drink without food it also works great with roast duck and braised, stuffed veal breast.