Posts Tagged ‘Champagne’
I attended a really fun Sparkling Wine Comparison Tasting of Champagne vs. The Rest at the Hill Center as part of the Barracks Row Culinary Crawl on Sunday, February 17th, 2013. There were actually 2 speakers at the event: Burnie Williams of Chat’s Liquors who did most of the educational component of the event and a French gentleman I only remember as “Charles” who spoke about the specifics of the 4 wines we tasted because he imported them.
The Wine: There were 4 sparkling wines poured of which 2 were non-Champagne (one Italian, one French Cremant) and two “true” Champagnes. (I’ve included “suggested retail price” which usually means you can get them for a bit less..)
- Ca’ dei Zago DOC Proseccor Coi Fondo 2010 – Prosecco is actually made in a less expensive method than traditional Champagne – the Charmat method, where the second fermentation is done in tank. This was also a pretty dry version of Prosecco – they usually are a bit more sweet.
- Klein “Cremant d’Alsace” Chardonnay Extra Brut (Alsace, France), $29.99 – very nice Chardonnay based sparkler – pretty good value.
- Champagne Francois Diligent Rose Cote de Bar, NV (Champagne, France), $36.99- this wine was a bit funky, but I think the cork had ruined it..
- Laherte Freres “Les Vignes d’Autrefois-A Chavot” Extra Brut, 2006 (Champagne, France) $74.99 – My favorite by a long shot – price doesn’t always determine quality, but this wine had the wine on the lees for 3 years in bottle and this created that nutty, smokey, yeasty complexity that I LOVE in Champagne – by this one for me!
The Education: Burnie Williams, the owner of Chat’s Liquors did an excellent job of covering a pretty involved and complex topic. You see, sparkling wines are created different from other wines – they must go through a second fermentation to create the bubbles, the first fermentation creates the “wine” and alcohol. He did an excellent job of covering both the history (yep, Dom Perignon was NOT the inventor of sparkling wine!) and the process of making sparkling wines. I’ve attended many sparkling wine classes so rather than bore with you with all the details, the most interesting parts of making this type of wine are:
Lees – these are the dead yeast that drop to the bottom of the barrel or bottle, depending on how you’re aging your wine. If you let them stay with the wine and age, they create a yeasty/nutty flavor and aroma, if you take them away (slightly different than “filtering” a wine, but similar process), then the wine will have a cleaner more fruit-driven expression.
Riddling – this is the process of turning the bottles a few turns every so often for maybe a year or two to get the dead yeast from the 2nd fermentation out of the wine. This was once done by humans wearing cages on their face to prevent chards of glass from cutting their faces if the bottles exploded (19th century bottles had poor technology!), but now often done by machines.
Disgorging – After riddling, the dead yeast/lees are now upside down in the bottle and form a plug of..dead yeast! This has to be removed or “disgorged” – the way it’s done today is by freezing this gook but putting the bottles part way into an ice bath with salted water – the low temperature freezes only the plug and thus it is pulled out.
Dosage – This is after the dead lees are taken out, the final flavor and sugar level is added back – Brut is less sugar than Extra Dry, so the type of flavor/sweetness is determined at this point.
Overall, had a really fun time at this event and it was a helluva deal at such a low price! I’m chatting it up with Chat’s Liquors to do more tasting events – DC has very few wine tastings right now, and the demand is there. As always, keep drinking good sparkling wine, Champagne or whatever is in your glass..you only live once – Cheers!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler
6 Courses of Pleasure Champagne and Sparkling Wine Dinner – A Celebration with Mayfair & Pine and Thibaut-Janisson
This dinner showcased how sparkling wines make flavors shine..
The meal began with an aperitif which was the sparkling wine served also with the first course – Virginia Fizz. It’s a good starter wine which is light, crisp and not too minerally and with a touch of sweetness to get your taste buds going! The first course was a delicious slightly sweet pumpkin soup that Chef Sprissler said was “like pumpkin pie in a bowl”..it also had a nice aromatic touch of truffle oil, this was a very nice starting dish. Afterward we had the goat cheese which were little balls (I thought they were quail eggs!) like Mozzarella bocconcini with a spicy tomato almost salsa which contrasted nicely – creamy/sweet to spicy/savory..and of course those little toast squares! The third course was Chef Emily Sprissler’s own take on the bar food she ate when she worked as a chef in London and had little money for food – The samosas had handmade puff pastry (once a rarity, but great chefs like Sprissler are really starting to raise their game – one of the things Foodies can credit to both the TV show Top Chef and the fact that chefs travel the world to perfect their craft). The first 3 courses were paired with Virginia Sparkling Wines by Thibaut-Janisson – the speaker for the first 3 VA wines was owner Claude Thibaut who explained about the challenges of growing grapes and making wine in Virginia’s climate vs. in the Champagne region of France.
The last three dishes were paired my Manuel Janisson who is the Champagne side of this wine producer – as you may or may not know, Champagne is actually a region and unlike American wines, the French tend to label according to region/appellation (like Bordeaux and Burgundy). Interestingly, it was difficult to tell the wines were French vs. Virginian – although acidity levels and minerality tend to be higher in the cooler region French Champagnes, these winemakers are so expert that they know how to make great wines from their respective vineyards.
6-Course Champagne Dinner Menu
Tomato Goat Cheese Napoleon
Thibaut-Janisson Cuvee d’etat 2008, Virginia
Janisson et Fils Tradition Brut NV, Champagne
Chocolate Pear Tart
Janisson et Fils Brut Rose NV, Champagne
Embassy of France – TasteDC Beaujolais Celebration 2004
Living in Washington, D.C. has many benefits, especially the fact that almost every country in the world has an Embassy in our city – and many either organize or allow for events such as wine tastings. I’m not exactly sure which was my first Embassy wine tasting experience, but I do remember sometime in the 90’s attending an “Opera and Wine Tasting” at the Spanish Embassy..or was that the Spanish Ambassador’s Residence? What I remember is that it was very dressy, the Ambassador was not there, and the opera singer kept forgetting the words to the opera..oh, and there was plenty of wine to sample! Since that time, I personally have organized over 40 events at Embassies through my company TasteDC and I’ve learned quite a bit about the do;s and dont’s of organizing an event at an Embassy?
1) Choose Wines from a Variety of Growing Regions in the Country
This seems like common sense, but unless I’m organizing a region specific event like the Champagne event or the Beaujolais Nouveau events I’ve held at the French Embassy, it’s best to have a broad cross section of wines from various regions.
2) Hire a Caterer Who Understands the Cuisine and Preparation
I’ll tread on this one lightly – I once hired a French caterer to prepare the cheese fondue at a Swiss Embassy Chocolate, Cheese and Wine Event..and the fondue clumped together! Wow, did the Embassy official who looked at the mess get upset – it was also very hard to get on people’s plates, oh well. It also took us almost 2 hours to figure out how to turn on their oven in the basement kitchen, it needed an old-fashioned match to light the pilot..I could go on and on about mis-haps with Embassy kitchens (food ending up in the purses of Embassy staff, chefs not showing up,etc..), but I also want to include that most of the time things have worked out well. If you’ve ever organized a large event, things will go wrong, that’s to be expected.
3) Be Ready to Bear the Financial Risk
After 10 years of organizing these events for 200+ people, I just decided that it took too much energy to continue to run these hectic events – not only are they time-consuming and difficult, but I was at financial risk. Normally, an embassy charges some kind of rental fee, and of course, the caterer, food, wine and staff are all fixed costs, so many events don’t even break-even until 100 tickets are sold. When I first began holding events at embassies in 1998, there were very few organizations doing so for profit. Of course, once my business took off, every other event promoter in DC began to contact the embassies and do the same or similar events. Sales declined, prices came down, and frankly the amount of sweat and effort it took to make a successful event just didn’t make sense.
OK, this was fun going down memory lane..I think I’ll write more about Embassy tastings in the D.C. area – if you are curious about what it’s like to work with an Embassy, leave me a comment or email me – oh, here are some more photos of an Austrian wine tasting at the Austrian Embassy – – Cheers!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler
I love chocolate..I love wine..but can the two come together to make a great match? This is the dilemma of writing a chocolate and wine pairing article – it is not a “traditional” pairing, meaning, it is neither a regional pairing (Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Chevre) nor a dish pairing such as steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chocolate and wine pairing was created primarily to satisfy the need for accentuating and justifying the obvious connection between being amorous and enjoying the sensual pleasures of chocolate and vino!
Actually, the pairing can work, so here’s my take on the combination. First, the assumption is you’ll be tasting dark chocolate, in other words, chocolate with say 60% or more Cacao percent. Dark chocolate or “bittersweet” chocolate has two components to think about: tannin (from the cacao bean) and sugar. The basics of food and wine pairing are either to pair similar or contrasting components. For example, since chocolate has tannin and red wine has tannin, you could pair those flavors. The effect of pairing similar tastes is actually to lessen each, also known as “1+1=1/2”. Take too similar “tastes” paired together and that component will be lessened. Tannin and tannin reduce the effects of each other. This same principle works with the sugar in chocolate and the sugar in a glass of wine, again the same thing, this will ultimately make both seem less sweet. This is a weird phenomenon, but try something basic like orange juice and a sweet morning muffin, and it becomes obvious.
If you contrast with your pairing, the most obvious is to pair a highly acidic wine with chocolate to counterbalance the tannin and/or sweetness. In my opinion, this won’t work very well because it would be an unnecessary overload of the senses. Plus, I’ve tried it, and it tastes pretty awful or neutral at best!
So you have a choice: you can either pair the sweetness with a dessert wine such as a French Sauternes or a German dessert Riesling or you can pair the tannin in chocolate with a red wine with tannin. For whatever reason, many Merlots and also fruity medium tannin wines work with chocolate. Merlot is generally medium tannin, but also has softer, lusher tannins that don’t seem to clash with chocolate.
So what’s my conclusion after evaluating the chocolate and wine pairing principles? Frankly, it’s better to just go with the romantic mood, forget the pairing and enjoy some delicious Champagne or sparkling wine with chocolate! My reasoning is the power of suggestion: sparkling wine suggests a special occasion, from the popping of the cork to the effervescence of the wine, and it promotes the romantic occasion.
You could play with the sparkling wine a bit by serving a Rosé which often is made from lightly pressed and fermented Pinot Noir. The best pairing might be Port which has both tannin from the red grapes as well as sweetness from sugar. My issue with Port is that from experience, many Americans aren’t fond of it, especially at tastings I’ve held, it is often over powering to an unaccustomed palate.
Conclusion: wine and food pairing shouldn’t get in the way of a romantic moment, they should accentuate it. Dessert wines work great with the sugar of chocolate, Port is even better, but medium tannin wines like Merlot also work well..still, Champagne or sparkling wine wines. Celebrate love and romance with a bottle of bubbly and share the moment!
I’ve probably opened more than 2,000 bottles of sparkling wine – that excludes Belgian beers and Real Ciders.
Believe it or not, the secret is in the knees – bend them just a bit..for whatever reason, whether it’s psychological or physics, this makes easing the cork out less cumbersome. I have to admit – sometimes the cork does fly out – even when you use the precautions mentioned in the video – ironically, this happened to me at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. when I attempted to open some VERY fizzy Swiss wines.
Enjoy the video – I think you’ll find that opening a bottle of sparkling wine is relatively easy and care-free!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler
When I first began putting this article together, I really wanted to understand cider – no, not the stuff you drank as a kid, and not really the “hard cider” concoction mass-marketed in the U.S. for people who want alcohol but have a sweet tooth – I’m talking about the “artisanal” ciders produced in Brittany, France, parts of Britain and now the U.S. Farnum Hill Ciders seemed like a good place to start and the fact that they were willing to “donate” some samples to my tasting cause (tax man-I drank them as a “charity” to my spirits!) certainly made the journey to understanding worth it. I tasted (more like consumed!) the Kingston Black Reserve and the Extra Dry. Yes, both of them had aromatics reminiscent of apples, but just as in wine, there is so much more to the nose. Well-made artisanal products have intense aromas and I noticed quite a bit of spice – or was that the fact that I associate apples with cinnamon and clove? Ahh, the brain, such a wonderful organ, it adds immense complexity to everything, especially when it comes to olfactory powers! What screamed out of the glass (mug?) of the Kingston Black was a yeastiness reminiscent of Belgian Lambics. The finish was dry as a bone on both products and you could see right through each glass of cider – they are obviously filtered. Conclusion: I need to learn more about cider before I evaluate them, so I contacted Farnum Hill’s Corrie Martin (Director of Marketing and Strategy).
Cider: Closer to Wine or Beer?
My conclusion from the interview is that “cider” is a great product and has a significant “potential” audience, the problem is getting the message to them! The dilemma is whether cider is more like beer or wine when it comes to marketing the product? Farnum Hill uses the same yeast strain that is used to make Champagne – so check-mark on the the wine side. Corrie mentioned that the market for the product and the retail shelf location tends to be near Belgian beers in the refrigerated section – two check-marks for beer. Much of the marketing is geared towards Champagne lovers – another check-mark for wine. Apples have “terroir” like wine grapes do, but apples are grown generally in cooler regions where beer is consumed as in Britain and northern France – check-marks on both side. When it comes to pairing, wine, beer and cider all have their pluses and minuses. In other words, cider has some image hurdles to jump before it can reach its intended audience.
So after the interview, I have some thoughts about cider and it’s place in American consuming culture. As Corrie mentioned: “cider is a farm drink”, it’s an agricultural product, a product of the earth. I think this is an important point: wine is portrayed to the American consumer as a “cultural” product. Yes, vines are grown in the fields and grapes ripen based on sun, heat and other elements, but there’s a bit of the “liquid poetry” and the expression of the earth story line. I don’t picture wine makers in overalls, even though that’s probably how they do their job, I picture them in a tasting room, evaluating. If you’ve ever been to France at wine trade tastings, it’s coat and tie, and frankly it’s a bit stuffy. Add the English culture to the wine equation with connoisseurs, sommeliers, and Clarets and wine is part of the aristocratic tradition. Even the British wine critics are bery, bery British, I mean watch your P’s and Q’s, thank you very much!
Beer on the other hand, is a more industrial product, and even on the “micro”/craft level, I picture engineers in jeans playing with test tubes, measuring the hops and talking about ABV. Even high-end beers are enjoyed by jean-clad, t-shirt wearing beer geeks who often produce the product in their cellars at home. You never hear the term “craft” relating to wine, it’s “craft beer” – you can make this stuff, buy the right ingredients, get your yeasts, a few instruments and heck, you can make the good stuff! The biggest differentiation is when you attend a premium wine festival vs. a beer festival. Wine is more dressed-up, beer is more casual in dress as well as attitude. You “have” a beer, never wine. Wine has plenty of accessories: corkscrews, glassware, stoppers, aerators, preservation systems and the list goes on; beer needs a church key and a glass, you’re good to go!
So where does cider fit – and is that “hard cider”? My conclusion is that cider’s strength’s are closer to beer’s. Yes, apples vary from year to year like the quality of grapes, but cider is not a product that needs aging, and it preserves better refrigerated, so it most likely will be found in your retail outlet either in the domestic beer section or near the Belgian beers. Most cider will probably be marketed as dry or off-dry (that’s another consideration – how many people “perceive” cider to be sweet – that’s a marketing hurdle all by itself!) and possibly even looks similar to Champagne in color and bubble, but it just drinks more like beer! The alcohol level is in the 6-8% range (generally, very generally!) so that makes it a consumable closer to beer for practical purposes – you can have a mug of cider/beer of 12 to 16 oz. and still walk-away – the equivalent consumption of wine might take you over the legal limit, again, another consideration.
So now I add the weird question: when would I drink cider? Does it replace some of my wine consumption, or more of my beer drinking? I drink wine with food – period. Beer to me is an excellent stand-alone beverage, something I often drink when smoking meats, in fact, I use it as a cooking timer – ribs are ready after 2 or 3 beers, brisket the same, but add a 1-hour nap. I’m basing the beer equation on an approximate 12 oz. beer, many of the ciders are sold in 750 ml’s which is just over 25 oz..oh, that’s 2 beers, right! I often add beer and apple cider vinegar when I braise my BBQ to finish it for an extra hour or two – hey, again, cider is perfect, it saves me one step! Oh, and I love to make wine vinegar with any leftover wine, now I can make artisanal cider vinegar. Another double benefit for me. Cider will take away some of my beer consumption, but virtually none of my wine consumption. I drink beer maybe once a week, but wine literally every day, usually lunch and dinner, so a few bottles of cider a month suffice for my personal consumption. Another plus, is it doesn’t effect my Scotch/Rum/Bourbon consumption – a true relief to me!
Image is everything when it comes to marketing a product, especially when you are trying to reach the “up market” demographics that cider is reaching. The bottle shape, size, closure (cork or cap?), the location in the store, the design and text of the label will all have an enormous effect on the perception of cider. The trick is to be associated with a competitive product that has the high-end image the producer is seeking. Champagne has this image as well as wine, but so does craft beer. If I pour cider in a fancy thin flute, you might sip it differently than you would if I poured it in a 16 oz. pint glass, in fact, I guarantee you will treat it differently. Still, Belgian beers have been relatively successful at marketing themself, and the consumer will drink Belgians in pints or in special glasses, I’m not sure if it makes significant difference in the products perception? Personally, I like the idea of a group of casually dressed people in a Pub with old-fashioned blue-collar ceramic mugs drinking frothy ciders and singing old English songs of a time gone by. I actually like the blue-collar image of cider – it’s sort of a nostalgia thing, kind of like the return of the Hamburger joint in the U.S. – yes, the hamburger’s recipe has been updated with better cheeses, Kobe beef, homemade ketchup and fries fried in olive oil, but it still brings back memories of a simpler more casual time. When I drink my Champagne, I want my Champagne, but when I drink my cider, I want to just be cave-man me!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler