Veuve Fourny

1/31/14 Veuve Fourny

In 2013 Charles Fourny came to Portland and did an event at Red Slate.  Due to the odd day of schedule shuffling, I had a some time at the end of the day and got lucky that Charles could see me.  It was interesting to visit another producer in Vertus, they're quite proud of their village, and definitely feel like they have something to prove since it's next to many famed grand crus, but is only premier cru itself.  

Charles took me out to the vineyards as well, but unlike my visit with Doquet, we toured the village's vineyards  as a whole rather than going in depth on a couple parcels.  Vertus has 3 distinct areas:  1.  Southern end which is more of a bowl or amphitheater with most southern exposure, this area is home to Les Rougemonts, Fourny's single vineyard rosė, as well as Doquet's parcels. Clay soils.  2. The midsection which is SE facing and parallels the southern end of the Montagne de Reims villages of Ambonnay and Bouzy.  Chalk based soils.  3. The northern end which borders Mesnil sur Oger.  East facing with lots of chalk.    Charles feels Vertus has lots of possibility due to these distinct areas and is underrated. Within all three of the sub zones, there were a lot of different. Hills and exposures, adding to the complexity and the need carefully select parcels.  That being said, Charles was quite proud of his parcels lower on the slope, whereas, Doquet thought this area to be lesser.   The final vineyard stop was at the Clos du Notre Dame, which is adjacent to the winery, it's one of the few Clos in champagne, and is planted with 70 chard, 30 Pinot.  Its plowed by horse, the same horse that plows Clos du Ambonnay, Clos du Mesnil, and Clos de Goisses, pretty serious group.  

After running around the vineyards, which have been organic since 1992, we went back to the winery which was quite modern and larger than I expected.  We tasted a bunch of vin clairs, both from the Cuvėe and the taillet the difference between the clay and chalk parcels were obvious the first being richer and more exotic, the later being more precise and salty.   Charles obviously had plenty of thoughts on winemaking but was less interesting in digging around in the details and just rattled of the facts that he thinks oxidization in bad, and likes a minimal approach with no lees stirring, racking, fining or filtering, and a low sulfur regime. ML happens for all rouge, but the other wines are on a year by year basis. As we talked and tasted, Charles thinks that most people under 35 in France are excited about the idea of terrior, etc whereas the parents just don't care much and want an easy champagne with a name they know.  

We moved on to the finished wines, and I was impressed.  Possibly because of the tour and barrel tasting, or possibly because of all of the visits but I found I really appreciated Fourny's wines this trip, particularly the basic wines.  The house style of fresh wines with high acid also became more obvious. A couple highlights:  Millėsime 2007 - the fruit comes from the northern end of Vertus and really showed the grey tones Roldophe Peters discussed in relation to Mesnil.   Millėsime 2008 - the 07 is good, and interesting, the 2008 was awesome! I can't wait for this wine to come to the states. Delicious, great acid, wow! Cuvėe R 08/07 base.  Impressive and compelling wine.  Another one I'm looking forward to seeing back home.  All oak barrels for 18 months but only 2-3 g/L dose so it was dense, creamy, and delicious but retained fantastic acid.   Unfortunately he was out of the Clos du Notre Dame, so I didn't get to taste it, but the visit was fantastic with lots of information on the terrior of Vertus. 


1/30/14 Krug

I wasn't sure what to expect going to krug, but I figured it would be great, and the team at Krug put on quite a show for me.  They offered me wonderful hospitality, yet they weren't stuffy or overly formal.  It was a very pleasant day.   It started off with a reception and a glass of Grande Cuvėe, which was quite welcome as I was fighting off a minor hangover.  After a brief discussion, we hopped in the car and went to Ambonnay for a tour of Clos d'Ambonnay and the press facility there.  The whole team was excited about this because the don't get to go to this vineyard very often, so it was a treat for us all.  Along the way I learned some interesting facts about Krug and champagne as a whole that I didn't know: There are 275,000 different parcels of vines in Champagne!  There are 19,000 growers. For the Grande Cuvėe Krug makes 305 different wines, and ultimately uses 100-150 for the final blend.  Clos du Mesnil is only 1.8 ha, about the same size as Romanėe Conti in burgundy. Within this walled vineyard, they've isolated 5 distinct parcels, depending on proximity to the walls, air flow, etc.  Clos d' Ambonnay is 3 times smaller with only .6 ha, and only 2 distinct parcels. This translates to only 20 barrels of wine, or 3000-4000 bottles when they decide to make this wine.  This limited quantity is their reason for the high cost of this wine. 

The Clos d'Ambonnay was tiny, I've seen backyards that are bigger.  The vines arent super old, being planted in the 1980's but are certainly reaching the necessary maturity to produce wines of such a high caliber. It was pretty cool to see all 20 barrels of CdA in front of me in the press house, however if they decide to declare 2013 a CdA vintage, we won't see it until around 2025.  Crazy. 

Back at the main facility in Reims, we went for a quick tour seeing the library reserves as well as vault of all the old vintages of Krug.  Pretty cool, but a big tease as the same time.  Finally we headed to the elegant yet understated tasting room, where 3 empty glasses were ready for us.  They took me through the star to the galaxy tasting as they call it, but added a twist and wonderful birthday surprise of starting with the Clos d' Ambonnay 1998!   Clos d'Ambonnay 1998 - shame this wine was just opened, because it feels like so much more will be going on in 1-2 hours.  Regardless, this wine is pretty incredible.  It had a powerful and complex nose that continued to evolve, highlights included coffee, raisins, saline, minerality, along with lots freshness. The palate was also quite complex and a dichotomy between aged flavors and youthful ones. Very elegant, but still a baby.  This wine was meant to be a single point in the "Krug galaxy" one vineyard, one vintage. The hospitality team was quite excited to open this wine, and all of them could only remember having once or twice in the past.   Millėsime 1998 - More open that at my tasting in December lots of length with fascinating fruit tones - cherry, apricot, lemon, orange marmalade, along with coffee and roasted nuts.  Nice chalkiness too. This wine is the mid point in the galaxy showing just one vintage but many terriors.   Grande Cuvėe - the whole of the galaxy, and the absolute focus of the house, it's designed to show many terriors and many vintages uniting into one harmonious wine.  I am gaining a better understanding and appreciation that this wine is the most important wine to them and should represent the best of the house.  I'm still not entirely convinced it's their best wine, but it was great to understand their commitment to that goal and how the work towards it.  Rather inspiring to have a such a direction and to constantly work toward that.   Overall, Krug was an amazing experience. And I'm beginning to see that wineries, like collectors, enjoy bringing out the good stuff when there are guests that will truly appreciate it.  

Bereche & Fils

1/30/14 Bereche & fils

To go from Krug to Bereche was quite a contrast. The reserved and hospitable compared with Raphael Bereche who is quite passionate, but seeming more comfortable in the cellar than the tasting room.  Raphael is fascinating to speak and taste with as he is very knowledgeable about the terriors of champagne and at the same time is also quite opinionated.  The bombshell opinion of the whole trip is his thought that meunier is more complex than Chardonnay!  Let that sink in for a few minutes.  

We started with a discussion of the terriors he works in the montagne de Reims and Vallėe de la Marne. He has 3 areas he works with, a trio of villages in the northern Montagne de Reims - Ludes, Chingy les Roses, and Mailly, for Pinot and chard.  Ormes which is west of Reims in the Petit Montagne, with all three grapes planted mid slope with southern exposure, and sandy soils. Finally the Vallėe de la Marne he has vines in Festigny, which is great for meunier, and Marueil-sur-Ay which has old vine Pinot and a bit of chard which he thinks is similar to the Macon due to it's richness.  The richness is because of the clay and sand.   In his line up of wines the Brut resrve and Reflet d'Antan have grapes from all 3 areas, while the rest are terrior specific.  Unfortunately Raphael has decided to discontinue the  extra brut reserve because he wants 1 cuvee with 1 dose per year, plus he didn't think the extra brut aged well as it doesn't have broad shoulders that the sugar helps provide.  

After the terrior discussion, we toured the winery, which included a lot of fascinating opinions about wine making.  One thing that had eluded me during all of my previous tours was the lack of sorting tables, they don't use them in champagne because they don't want to beat up the grapes and break the skins.  Obvious, yet after touring so many wineries in other regions they all had sorting tables, so I just assumed they did in champagne as well.  Without the sorting table it means the pickers have to be much more careful.   He has a modern Coquard press, which was the only one I saw in all of my visits, the updated version of the original champagne press.   Raphael doesn't like using old barrels, he thinks it's dangerous for the wine with too many potential bacteria and microbes. This being said he also doesn't use brand new barrels, prefers 2 year old, which he uses for 5-6 years.  He doesn't do any batonnage nor does he allow ML.  He believes the trend toward ML started in the 1980's by the larger houses because it helps reduce the amount of time they have to age their wine while still being drinkable. Additionally, he doesn't like stainless steel, preferring enamel. He thinks stainless has too much static electricity for the wine.  He stores his reserve wine as a perpetual blend in Demi-muid.  Finally we had a discussion about cork finished champagne, Raphael's father 20 years ago.  They believe it helps the wine develop more flavor, a creamier texture, and more balance.  They believe that they are a traditional winery and traditionally wines were finished with cork.  Metal caps are industrial, so can be used be industrial wineries.  Lots of opinions, but I've found passionate people with opinions often make much more interesting wines, Bereche included.  

The vin Clair tasted confirmed this, as did tasting his line up of finished wines.  A few highlights from the tasting:  Brut reserve 2011 base, was delicious, classic Bereche with loads of complexity.  I cant wait to glass pour this wine. Interestingly Raphael thought this was a harder year that 2010, but the 11 is much more compelling.  He thinks 2012 is going to be great,   La Cran 2006, showing beautifully with lots of complexity,  this wine is from the top of Ludes with chalky soils. I think I'm going to pour this from magnum on NYE.   Reflet d'Antan base 08 - serious and amazing wine. Amazing flavors but my notes focus more on the textures, this wine is superb.  Raphael feels champagne is refreshing due to it's texture not it's temperature.

Finally Raphael and his brother Vincent have started a negociant label, in which they buy finished wines from retiring winemakers and family friends that are very expressive of terrior.  It allows they to show terriors of the cotes de blanc and other areas where they lack vineyards.  At this point they have wines from Avize, Cremant, and Trepail.  All were delicious and I'm hoping to be selling them this year.   By the end of the tasting, Raphael seemed convinced that I was the real deal  and was more relaxed and laughing.  He was excited that I was so interested in learning about the terrior of champagne.  A great visit with yet another crazy man.  This theme continues through the entire trip.  

Pascal Doquet

1/29/14 Pascal Doquet

My first full day in champagne was dedicated to the Cotes des Blancs. Doquet was my first visit, and Pascal and his wife were fantastic.  Right off the bat Pascal took me out to the shed to see his tractors, which were clearly very important to him.  These tractors are much lighter and designed to have a much smaller impact on the ground in the vineyards than conventional tractors.

 After the tractors, we hopped in his van and went out to the vineyards in Vertus, which is just one of the villages he has vines.  Pascal's vines were impressive, he takes great care of them using organic and biodynamic practices.  When looking are his plots next to his neighbors' the results of his hard work were obvious. His vines have lots of vitality and plenty of ground crops growing between them.  everything looked fertile and green relative to the other plots which were grey and brown with  flecks of garbage from the poorly thought out 70's idea that trash could be used as fertilizer in the vineyards.  Most of these poorly cared for plots are owned by growers that are just interested in quantity, but even the large houses are taking better care of the vines they own.  

As we walked the vineyards and looked at different parcels, Pascal gave me a history of grape growing in Vertus and neighboring villages.  Vertus has a lot of clay soils, making it distinct from it's northern neighbors, which are mostly chalk.  Originally Vertus was a Pinot noir village, which Doquet feels that it should be still.  He thinks that clay is better for Pinot, and it makes the chardonnay too rich.  However, the maison and negociants liked the richness the clay gave the Chardonnay.  It makes it easier to blend with Mesnil and other chalk driven wines that are less friendly on the palate.  The governing body of champagne classified the Chardonnay of Vertus higher than the Pinot, so the grower received more money for the chard.  They ended replanting most of the village with Chardonnay and now only  about 10% of the village is pinot noir.  Pascal and a few other like minded producers are trying to change that by making Vertus Pinot noir champagnes. These won't be out for a while, but should be exciting to see.   From the vineyards, Pascal also pointed out his other vines in the neighboring Bergeres-Vertus, Mont Aime, Mesnil, and the lesser area of valley floor vines in Villeneuve.  

We returned to the winery for a tour, and it's always interesting to see wineries and their state of cleanness. Pascals was not the pristine lab that some wineries are, but it suited his personality.  He gave me a quick tour of his enamel tanks which he prefers over stainless and then we went to the barrel room which he uses for the better wines for fermentation and storage.  

We tasted a number of vin Clair from 2013, which already at this young point in there lives showed typicity.  Vertus was broad and round, Mesnil was chalky and lean, and Mont Aime was smoky and citrus driven.   After the vin clairs, we tasted through his line up, which was quite compelling, and most certainly showed his hand in the wine along with the oak.  However, this tasting was the most definitive tasting I've ever had to illustrate the quality between cru, premier cru, and grand cru in champagne.  The vintage Vertus, Mont Aime, and Mesnil all showed their terrior, and the Mesnil was significantly better.  All of them were good, but side by side was more compelling than any of them independently.  Overall a wonderful morning full of learning and delicious wine.  

Salon & Delamotte

1/29/14 Salon

After a hearty lunch, that actually included vegetables at  Le Bistro in Vertus, I took a quick trip up the Cotes des Blancs to Mesnil-sur-Oger. I had a bit of time to kill some I wandered around and found the park over looking Krug's Clos du Mesnil.  I didn't know what to expect, but I thought it to be rather small.   Apparently it's about the same size as Romanėe Conti in Burgundy.   A moment or two of awe, then up the hill for an equally awe inspiring viist with Salon.  

This is one of the storied producers in Champagne.  The started near the beginning of the 1900's, with their first official release being 1921.  Contrary to  popular belief they are not a single vineyard estate, rather they are a single village estate. Salon focuses solely on Mesnil-sur-Oger, certainly one of the best in all of Champagne.  Salon owes 2 ha and purchases fruit from another 6 ha to create 60,000 bottles when they decide to declare a vintage.  All of the parcels are mid slope, and in more or less a line starting from the wineries backyard,   2002 marks the release of the 38th vintage since the house began, and the next vintages will be 04, 06, 07, 08, and 12.  

In the other years the wine goes to their sister house, Delamotte, usually into the reserve library for blending, but sometimes in the vintage blanc de blanc.   The other big facts about the estate - generally no malolactic fermentation, 10 years minimum aging before release, and all bottles are hand riddled.  The hand riddling isn't for the luxury as with some estates, but rather due to the crest on the bottle being a trap for sediment and a person needs to make sure the yeast doesn't get stuck.  

It was interesting to visit Salon after two very passionate growers.  Salon is certainly more refined in terms of facilities and presentation, but couldn't match the enthusiasm of the growers.  I didn't expect them to, and the tour was very enjoyable with plenty of discussion of selling champagne and the world in general, but there was little discussion of the farming methods, etc.  Unfortunately, I wasn't offered the chance to taste vin clair, which would have been awesome.   However, after tasting through the Delamotte  wine, which continue to improve in recent years, my host brought out 2002 Salon!  I was expecting to taste the 1999, which is starting to show quite well after a dumb phase.  The 2002 was quite a treat, and apparently I'm about the 20th American to taste the wine, as it won't be released until April.   This is one of those sad and amazing wines that is from a well known vintage and is drinkable enough that too much of it will be drunk far too young.  The wine is built to last for decades. Already it was showing a more open and obvious side than any other young Salon I've had.  Tons of complexity, but quite tight.  Plenty of focus on chalk that is a texture as much as it is a flavor.  Other notes included a bit of peach, apricot skin, ginger without the burn, a touch of smoke.  Disgorged Q3 2013, 5 g/L, no wood, no malo.   I highly recommend buying this wine if you have the means.  It will treat you well, particularly if you allow it to spend some time in the cellar.  

Pierre Peters

Pierre Peters 1/29/14

A couple blocks from Salon is Pierre Peters, helmed by the feisty Roldophe Peters, who is quite a troublemaker, and I'm guessing probably a compete shit-disturber if you really got him going.  This was my third and final visit for the day, and was equally compelling as the previous two visits, but for different reasons.  

When I arrived, Roldophe informed me it's a very busy time of year and this would have to be a short appointment. 2 hours later I left. Funny what happens when you put two troublemakers in the same room and add champagne.  We ran through the hyper clean winery with a gleaming set of presses.  Peters' operation was larger than I expected, and was impressive with enamel, stainless, concrete and wood including Stockinger from Austria which apparently is the best for Champagne.  

Due to the rushed visit, we didn't taste any vin clair, but Roldophe pulled out some rad wines to taste, and mostly things I can't get or get small allocations of, see troublemaker.  First up was the Extra brut, 2010 base.  He makes extra brut in cold years and l'esprit in warmer ones. Delicious! Terry theise please bring this wine to the US.  

As we were tasting he gave me his thoughts on the only crus that matter in the cotes de blanc - Mesnil, avize, cramant, and oger.  Probably because these are the ones he uses.  Regardless, it was fascinating and useful to hear his descriptions: Mesnil - grey, winter, coastal, minerality, seaside Oger - white, spring no citrus, white fruit, floral, sweeter tones Avize - orange, summer, lots of body, ripe citrus, developed.  Cramant - brown, fall, sweet spices - cinnamon, saffron, vanilla when young, roasted nuts

2008 reserve Oubilėe - created as a challenge to prove that you can have bold, nutty, slightly oxidative tones without using oak.  Incredible wine, and it tastes like it's been in oak.  The 07 was great too!  Side by side of 06 and 08 l'Esprit these two wines were the first time I've tasted saffron in Champagne,  fascinating.  Also Roldophe feels that l'Esprit goes one of two ways, chocolate or coffee,  the 06 was chocolate and the 08 was coffee.  It was quite clear the difference.   Next up was a side by side of Chetillons from 06 and 07. Roldophe, myself and many other top sommeliers agree that these wines are drunk far too young, hence my killing babies tweet.  To help combat this he's starting an oenethque line next year starting with the 2000, can't wait to experience that! Both of these wines were great, but showed quite differently.  A spot on flavor that Roldophe pointed out in the 06 was caramel with sea salt, crazy.  The 07 was painfully young, but has all the components to be great in the future.   We finished on a pair of rosės from 10 and 11, delightful and thought provoking.   This was and awesome way to finish an amazing day.  

Georges Laval

1/28/14 George Laval 

Ironically I spent much of the day being lost finding my hotel in Epernay because my gps couldn't find it and I didn't have a map of the city.  However, one of the hardest producers to find was no problem.  The entrance really is poorly marked, but knowing that going in made it easy.  Also google street view has been a life saver, I know exactly what to look for.

Anyway, visiting Vincent as my first appointment was perfect.  He spoke little English, so it forced me to immediately work on my French.  His winery is tiny, and he truly only makes a small bit of wine, 6000-7000 bottles annually.  Frankly I'm amazed that I get any, and talking to him and the guys at 520, a serious wine shop in Epernay, I think I get more than most!  For such a small winery he really has a impressive network of caves under his building.  It was a perfect first visit because Vincent is a delightful man that truly is interested in making world class wine, but is down to earth and approachable.  None of the champagne marketing machine here, just honest and amazing wine.

His wines, between the vin clair and ones in bottle really showed a sense of place for Cumieres. Through all 10 wines I tasted in various states of their life, I truly noticed a thread that seemed more terrior driven than winemaker, but maybe vincent is just that good.  Through all the wines, including all 3 grapes and 4 vintages, Cumieres showed something fine.  I'm still trying to put my finger on it, but it was a classiness that was unexpected and I think often overlooked because Cumieres isn't grand cru.  The wines all sang in a voice that wasn't present in any of the cotes de blancs villages today.  Vincent planted the word fine in my mind, because the wines weren't quite elegant, but had a hidden majesty about them, particularly once I acclimated to the high acid.   One of my favorite quotes of the visits was when we were discussing acid, sugar, and balance and how he doesn't like to use much if any sugar. His thought is that if they don't add sugar to Corton Charlemagne than he doesn't need to add it to his wine either.  High sights indeed!  Vincent was also one of the few people that I've heard actively talk about the vineyards in terms of where on the slope they're located - top, mid , bottom, as well as the different soils.  It was very obvious talking to him that the folks in champagne are quite aware of whats going on with their land, it's just rarely discussed with the trade or consumers.  Tasting his wines opened my eyes about the quality and potential of Cumieres. It also showed me that 2013 is going to be a stellar year for champagne.  

Veuve Cliquot Carte Jaune

So of all the topics I didn’t think I’d write about, Veuve Cliquot was high on that list.  So, here’s to a bit of humble pie.  Thanks Champagne!

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Carte Jaune NV, better know as Veuve Yellow Label, is one of the wines that many wine professionals and connoisseurs love to hate.  Its available everywhere, its made by the largest Champagne company, and many feel that you’re paying a lot for marketing rather than what’s in the bottle.  The list goes on and becomes more derogatory depending on the level of intoxication and wine snobbery of the speaker. 

All of that being said, there are amazing things about this wine.  Its many people’s first taste of Champagne.  It helps promote Champagne as a whole and cements the idea that Champagne is a better product and worth paying for relative to other sparkling wines.  The history of the wine, the house, and the widow are fascinating.  The technical prowess required to blend wines from so many vineyards and vintages and have a consistent and enjoyable product is pretty awe-some. 

I really don’t care to write more about the pro’s and cons of this iconic wine.  I was prompted to write about yellow label because a few days ago one of their wine makers, Pierre Casenave, was in Portland and, along with some great folks from Moët Hennessey, hosted one of the best tastings I’ve been to in a long time.  Rather than a standard dog and pony show where the range of wines are opened and discussed, they decided to a comparative tasting of Yellow label from different base years. 

This was an unusual choice as the thought behind non-vintage wines is that they should always taste the same.  This is true when they’re released, but after years in the bottle all wine starts developing its own character.  Its one of the secrets that’s been kept quiet to help sales and avoid the difficult questions of “is this a good vintage” that plagues(and helps) other wines. 

This begs the question of what is a base year? If you look at my menu you’ll see a number of wines with a parentheses behind them with a vintage, for example –

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature (2010)

This tells us that the majority, if not the entirety of the wine is from that year but cannot be label as such due to the rules about vintage Champagne and labeling.

For this tasting we tasted(enjoyed), yellow label with base years of 2008, 2007, 2004, 2001, and 1990 all from magnum!  Yeah, that’s one awesome line up, particularly from magnum.  In magnums the wine age slower and beautifully.  You’ll find my tasting notes below, but here are my main take aways from this line up:

• This is exceptionally rare, the winemaker had only done similar tastings 5 times after years of working at Cliquot. 

• All of the wines showed distinct character while also showing the house style even after decades. 

• NV champagne does age quite well, particularly in magnum and I look forward to the producers being more transparent about base years and disgorgement dates so collectors can repeat tastings like this. 

• I love where vintages such as 04 and 07 that start off their lives lean and acidic add weight and become gorgeous over time.

• Bold rich vintages like 08 and 90, are incredible, but don’t seem to go through as much of a transformation as the leaner years. 

• If you can afford it, magnum is the only way to purchase Champagne you intend to cellar. 

Oh yeah, there was one other little thing, after the yellow label comparison we enjoyed a magnum of 1953 vintage Veuve Cliquot.  Fuck yeah 60 year old Champagne!  This wine was pretty amazing, distinctly aged nose, but fascinating and compelling.  The palate was still fresh and vibrant thanks to great acidity and a lively amount of bubbles. 

A big thanks to Veuve Cliquot and Moët Hennessey for adding significantly to my Champagne knowledge! 

Tasting notes:

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2008) Magnum – The nose is fresh with lots of minerality and apple tones and a bit of sulfur.  On the palate the wine is bright with lots of fresh apple tones.  It’s a very bold wine and is showing its youth..

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2007) Magnum – Immediately this wine is showing a softer, more elegant nose with brioche tones and a bit more age coming though.  The palate is gorgeous with more aged notes as well as intense citrus and minerality.  Very creamy texture with bright acid.

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2004) Magnum – The nose is fascinating, complex, and aged giving aromas of raspberries along with nutty notes.  On the palate the wine was richer with plenty of brioche, yeast, nuts, raspberries.  Like the 07, this wine has great acid and a beautifully creamy texture.

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2001) Magnum – The aged notes are really starting to shine here with rich coffee and almond notes.  On the palate the wine is simply gorgeous showing its age with honey, brioche and nuts.  Showing the family heritage, this wine too has fantastic acid and creamy palate feel. 

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (1990) Magnum – Unfortunately this wine was mildly corked.  I pushed past this and the wine still had traces of brioche and fruity notes.  It showed a wonderful balance between youthful and aged tones.  The wine was texturally the most balanced and delightful on the palate.  It’s a shame I couldn’t experience it in its full glory.

Veuve Cliquot Vintage 1953 Magnum – This wine is incredible, delivering a fascinating array of aromas including custard, coffee, and brioche along with a slew of others.  On the palate it was definitely aged, but very compelling with notes of coffee, mandarin orange, wood, and so much more.  It was a complex and fascinating with wonderful acidity, a vibrant mousse, and long finish. 

Champagne and Strawberries

Now that its late Spring/ early Summer, and strawberries are everywhere I thought I’d take a look at one of the most popular pairings with Champagne. – strawberries and Champagne. Why is this?  What makes these two items so complimentary? 

This question may have a good answer on a chemical or molecular level, but since I’m a sommelier and not a scientist, I’ll answer it from my experience. 

Strawberries and Champagne in their current form don’t actually pair that well together.  Strawberries for the most part have become flavorless, hard, and rather boring.  There are exceptions to this, particularly the strawberries in Oregon, as well as other places in the world that don’t use the new varieties that are designed to look pretty and have a long shelf life.  The old varieties of strawberries aren’t as uniform in shape and size, nor are they as pretty.  Their shelf life is horrible, but they are fantastically flavorful.  They also tend to have a great deal of sweetness, that is tempered by the acid in the fruit. 

Champagne in its current form is also not particularly friendly for this pairing. These days, Champagne tends to be quite dry, if not searingly dry.  Anytime you have something that has lots of acid, like Champagne, and you mix it with something sweet, you’ll end up with an unpleasant puckering sensation in your mouth.  Think orange juice right after brushing your teeth. 

Then how did this pairing come to be?  You have to look to history for the answer.  In the 1800’s and early 1900’s Champagne was much sweeter.  Historically, Brut Champagne didn’t even exist.  Most champagne had a dosage of  at least 30+ grams per liter of sugar. For the US markets it was higher, and for Russia, they used 200-300 grams per liter of sugar.  By comparison, today most Champagne has 6-12 grams per liter.   When you combine something sweet with something of equal or greater sweetness, it creates a very pleasant experience. 

Beyond the differences in Champagne, historically, strawberries were grown for flavor with less emphasis placed on visual appeal or shelf life.  So in older times, they had very flavorful berries with poor shelf life.  This means that only the people that grew the fruit and the very wealthy could truly enjoy strawberries due to the difficulty and cost of transporting and storing these delicate fruits.  This is where the luxury component of this pairing originates – people had to have significant means to have both fresh strawberries and Champagne at the same time. 

Now apply all of this information to this classic pairing.  These days the strawberries are boring and pretty but don’t have a lot of sugar or flavor.  When paired with modern Champagne, you’ll get that pucker from mismatched sugar and acidity.  Which has lead many people to believe this is actually a poor pairing.  However when you take very flavorful strawberries, like those from Oregon, and pair them with a sweeter style of Champagne like a extra dry or demi sec, the pairing is profoundly delicious!  The sweetness in the berries is fantastic with the sweetness in the wine creating harmony and delight. 

Finally, many people like to put the strawberries in the glass with the Champagne.  I don’t recommend this for a couple reasons.  First the strawberry flavors can over power the Champagne when left together, so you’re essentially neutering this fantastic wine.  Second, the berry in the glass gives more surface area for the bubbles to rise from, which will make the wine go flat more quickly.  Just have the strawberries on the side and enjoy a bite and a sip together. 

Should you want to enjoy this pairing yourself, Ambonnay is currently serving Viridian Farms strawberries with Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Extra Dry NV Champagne. 

Drinking in NYC

Obviously I did my best to experience the dining scene in New York, but I really went out of my way to experience the drinking cultures of the city.  Partly because I like to drink, but mostly for research as to how other bars do things, I felt compelled to punish my liver.  Here’s the run down of where I went and my thoughts, I’m not pulling punches as most of the places I went were awesome.  There were a couple duds though.  I’m going to list them in the order of my trip, so unfortunately some toward the end of the trip are competing with expectations set from the beginning of the trip.

Terrior E.Vil – Without a doubt my favorite wine bar in the City.  Everyone behind the bar knew their stuff, and knew how to have fun while doing it!  This place could easily fit in Portland, which might contribute to me liking it, but it did it with an attitude that Portlanders might find a bit off putting.  It was more in your face than most places here.  The wine list is, frankly, balls out crazy.  There were wines I hadn’t heard of and I go out of my way to taste obscure and esoteric wines.  If you are in Manhattan you need to go here.  I had more tastes of more awesome wine than I can recount here. Huge credit to Jeff and Russell.

Flute – One of the three Champagne bars in Manhattan. I went to the Gramercy location, they also have a midtown location.  This place wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.  I had been warned that the Champagne bars in New York were more nightclub/loungey than wine bar.  Its true.  Flute was a bit more of a lounge that looked like it was designed by a bored, middle aged housewife with too much money and an appreciation of Champagne.  The staffers were cute, but not particularly knowledgeable.  I had a glass of Lanson black label brut.  It was served in a horrible flute, even by flute standards - hotel brunch heavy weight with a short stem, yuck!  It’s a big producer that isn’t available in Portland.  It was as uninspiring as the surroundings. 

Proletariat – The gang at Terrior recommended this place for beer.  I hadn’t intended to drink much beer during my trip, but their singing recommendation prompted me to change plans.  I’m glad I did, it was awesome!  The passion and knowledge the bartender had for beer makes most beer places in Portland look like the junior varsity, which is saying quite a lot.  While I was there a few of the brewers of NYC came in, and the bartender, Cory, informed me I was looking at half of the NYC beer brain trust.  Amazing. If this place was in Portland it would be packed to the gills.  I had Del Ducato via Emilia lager, Thornbridge Kipling Pale, and Hitachino Nipponia.  Super Awesome! 

The Beagle – The cocktail list looked good, but I was there for Sherry.  They had a great sherry list, and lucky I was there for Happy Hour when it was half price.  Worth a stop if you have time.  I had the “I Think” en Rama Equipo Navaros Manzanilla and the “Solear en Rama” Barbadillo Manzanilla.  Both delicious.

Booker and Dax at Momofuku Ssäm – I didn’t think I’d actually get to go here but my new friend said it was right around the corner from the Beagle, and we popped over.  It was a cool bar, with some awesome cocktails.  I had the Gin and Juice which was a playful sparkling take on the “classic”.  Then I had the lechuga which is gin, lemon, and bibb lettuce.  Hell yeah!  That was delicious, and “healthy”! 

Corkbuzz – This is the big deal, newish wine bar in New York, run by one of my fellow F&W Sommelier of the Year recipients.  The list was impressive, and I wish I could have had more of the by the glass wines, but I was there with a friend and to hang out with one of the somms, so we went to the bottle list.  We did make a brief stop at Val de Mer Rosé from the glass list, which is made by a young gun of Chablis with the help of Moutard in Champagne.  Cool little wine.  After 10pm at Corkbuzz is Champagne Campaign, so all Champagne bottles are half off.  Worth going for that alone.  We had a bottle of Marguet Rosé 2007 from Ambonnay, pretty delicious juice.  I’m hoping someone brings this producer to town soon.  Beyond the wine, the space felt like it needs more time to settle into itself.  It felt a touch sterile, and I think more people having more fun over time will help this place develop a personality as a space rather than just letting the wine do all the work. 

Angel Share – I didn’t even know about this place but my friend took me there after Corkbuzz for a cocktail.  It’s a hidden bar, but it didn’t feel gimmicky.  For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what I drank.  Good conversation does that, plus I had quite a bit to drink by that point. I do remember it was tasty and well thought out.  If you have extra time its worth seeking it out behind the Japanese restaurant.  

Terrior Tribeca – I had some time to burn before going to Bubble Lounge, and this Terrior was right there.  I got there right when it opened so it was quiet.  The staff were nice enough, but not particularly engaging.  If I hadn’t had the E.Vil experience to bolster my view of Terrior I would have thought this place was fine, with a great list but blah other wise.  Actually the space itself was pretty cool, good bones. 

Bubble Lounge – Ugh.  I really don’t even want to write about this place.  It was a depressing place that showed a lot of wear and tear.  I was there when it first opened so it was hard to get a read on the clientele, but the staff was battle worn and could have given a shit less if I was there.  Their list was uninspired with a lot of big house plonk.  I had a glass of Alain Thienot Brut, it was fine.  The bathroom really sealed the deal – it reeked of bleach and had mirrors on 4 walls, it practically begged you to do drugs and have sex in there.  Given the industrial amount of bleach, I’m guessing people do that regularly all night every night.  Barf. 

Pearl and Ash – I ate and drank here, but saved it for the drinks section because I thought it was really more about the wine.  It was recently written up in the NYT and the reviewer talked about how people tend to buy bottles and share.  When I saw the list I understood why, the glasses were good and priced fairly by New York standards, but the bottle list was stupidly cheap!  I had a good discussion about the perlage preservation system with the somm/owner, Patrick. He’s super fun and knowledgeable.  I would definitely be happy to go have a drink with him.  I ended up ordering the Gaubicher & Chaussard You are so Bubbly from the Loire for $37!  Tons of fun, ended up sharing with my bar mates and getting some Foillard Morgon in return.  Great time eating and drinking fun wine. Highly recommended.  The food is not a second thought except in this write up, the octopus, skate, and “peas and carrots” were all awesome!  After Terrior E.Vil this was my favorite wine place in the city. 

Amor y Amargo – this is tiny bar dedicated to cocktails made with bitters.  It’s a ballsy concept and the drinks were good.  I ran into an old friend behind the bar, so she just poured me a couple fun drinks.  I liked it but didn’t completely understand the hype behind it. 

Death & Co – I’ve heard about this place, but again didn’t expect to go.  It just happened to be next door Amor y Amargo, so of course I had to go!  It was without a doubt cool inside.  I was impressed, sexy and dark, totally lived up to its name.  I just let the ladies behind the bar pour me whatever they thought was best which ended up being a Guns and Rose and Devil Inside.  I remember liking them but I was toasty by this point.  I’d go back for sure.  I’m glad they took such care of me because if I hadn’t be a buzzed, I would have been in a lot of pain on my walk home with the impressive blisters I had by that point. 

Bluebird Coffee – skipped breakfast the next day, just had coffee on the way to Le Bernadin.  Best coffee I found in the city.  These guys care and make good espresso. 

Bar Boulud/Boulud Sud – I tried to go to Bar Boulud but they were closed between lunch and dinner.  Lame.  I went next door to Boulud Sud.  Such a difference being in Midtown vs LES.  Everything was a bit more accessible and friendly for a older, wealthier crowd.  A bit tame for my taste.  Alfred Gratien Rosé was pleasant though. 

Ten Bells – Lots of people recommended this place to me, and frankly I didn’t quite get it.  The service was bad, the wine list was only on a chalk board that was hard to read, and the wine glasses were total crap.  They might as well have just used juice glasses, it probably would have been better.  They wines were good, not amazing.  Just naturally made.  I could see how people could have a really memorable night here if the server likes you and steers you well, but my experience was lacking.  Go to Terrior E.vil.  At least my drinking buddy was fun to hang out with, I can’t imagine going here alone.

Terrior E.vil – After dinner at Hearth, I went back because Jeff from Sunday night saw me at Hearth and made me promise to come back.  It was just as awesome as the first time, plus this time I got to meet Kim who also is a certified ass kicker.  Go here! 

Pouring Ribbons – My final bar in NYC, and it was a gem.  Both the guys behind the bar were great, one of whom was an owner who had been lured away from Death & Co.  They’re drinks were great.  I had a Mutiny Suppressor which as delicious and then the Sprezzatura Royale, which along with the lechuga from Booker and Dax were the two most memorable cocktails I had.  This one was made with lambrusco and amaro and was awesome!  The bar itself still felt like it was settling into itself and developing its personality.  I have no doubt that this place will develop a personality.  In the meantime just go and have some kick ass drinks. 

There you go, my liver abuse in full detail(not counting all the wine at lunch and dinner).