Archive for the ‘French Wine’ Category
By Katherine Parker
The weekend before New Years’ I found myself tasting Champagnes in a Paris apartment with a friendly group of wine aficionados. The tasting was put together by Camilla Macfarlane, a California expat living in Paris, with a background in the wine industry. Camilla put together a wonderful lineup of Champagnes in the holiday spirit, with generous hors d’oeuvres by Kent Keatinge to highlight the wines.
Six Champagnes – all Brut style from esteemed houses – were on the menu. Brut is a medium-dry Champagne and the most popular style sold today. You may find an Extra Dry (slightly more sugar) or an Extra Brut (slightly less) but most of what you see on the market is Brut. Four of the six were from the region of Reims in France.
The first two were contrasting varietals: A Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, and a Philipponnat Brut Grand Blanc made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. I found the Laurent Perrier the most aromatic of all wines poured, with a distinct nose of fresh wild strawberry-raspberry and an appetizing peach color. Little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches went well with these small bubbles. The wine comes in a plump dark bottle – the green glass indicating the “black” pinot grapes. The curvy shape and pink collar clearly brand this as a feminine wine.
Also, the Laurent Perrier is a Cuvée – a blend of grapes from 10 different villages, all in the Reims region known for Champagne. The wine is
aged for at least 4 years and is 12% alcohol – another thing I enjoy about Champagne.
The Philipponnat comes in a white bottle to indicate the all-white Chardonnay grapes. A small pastry appetizer topped with tiny shrimps was perfect with this creamy, smooth Blanc de Blanc-style wine.
Next Camilla brought out 2 magnums, each a Brut NV blend of all 3 grapes used in classic Champagne: Veuve Clicquot with at least 50% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier grapes, and Taittinger with 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Taittinger captivated me with crispness and structure based on balanced acidity. That this
wine is a blend of grapes from 35 different “crus” or villages, attests to the winemaking skill of the family-owned Taittinger house.
Drinking from a magnum offers a higher quality wine, because there is less oxygen in the bottle relative to the surface area of the wine. This is also said to favor the creation of small bubbles, which enhance the tactile experience of drinking Champagne.
About this time, we moved on to an appetizer of fish breaded into lollipops, with an apricot-mustard sauce. Whether it was the magnums or the fabulous food and conversation that made the evening so agreeable is hard to say. I think by this time we were all having a great time.
The near-final Champagne was a Ruinart Brut from the same blend of grapes as the Taittinger but made to be even more crisp, acidic and refreshing. The Ruinart undergoes full malolactic fermentation, which is not noted for the Taittinger. Our group thought this might account for the difference between the two wines.
The Grand Finalé was a vintage Dom Perignon 2003 Champagne. I enjoyed the minerality and structure of this taste. The bubbles were the most perfect of the evening – a fountain of tiny bubbles pulsing up from the center of the flute. Paired with beef chili on mini wheat tortilla squares – Mexican with Champagne goes great!
This event was a great opportunity to compare and contrast. I favored the tastes and textures of Ruinart and Taittinger. At the end of the day between the two, it would probably be decided on price. If price were no object, I would go with the Ruinart.
If you are living in Paris, or even if you are visiting like I was, check Camilla’s Paris Wine Meetup Group for tasting dates.
It’s a bit ironic as a blogger and now small vintner, well known for love of Rhône wines, that I regularly come to the defense of Chardonnay.
Several years ago for #ChardonnayDay, when others scoffed at such a concept, I held a tasting for 10 producers of varied styles that people raved about later. The tasting accomplished my goal of demonstrating that Chardonnay is perhaps the most widely varied varietal in profile of any I know, based on where its from, and wine making techniques.
Stop Thinking of California Chardonnay As THE Representative Of The Varietal
The biggest mistake consumers make is when they write off Chardonnay because of the classic California oaky butter ball/bomb (think Rombauer.)
The style has the illusion of defining Chardonnay because many of the large brands produce these styles by the millions of cases.
Let’s be clear, these wines are often vinified (aka manipulated) to achieve this flavor and texture, including extra Malic acid added to convert to Lactic acid, for the big butter texture. Lower end wines have oak chips added, higher priced ones get over oaked in new French barrels.
However, there are a number of small vintners who make excellent chardonnay not in a classic non California style. This, however, is not my focus today. I encourage you to taste from producers like, Inman Family Wines, Ryme, Donelan, to name only a few.
I generally encourage domestic wines, and supporting local vintners, where possible, as many high quality small Vintners are often missed.
However to win over the jaded Chardonnay pundit, I often find it necessary to make a radical palate shift, and taste a consumer through the Chardonnay’s from Burgundy – and when I want to make the most impact, if I think their palate will appreciate, I go right to the north of Burgundy – for Chablis.
Jug Wine Names From Decades Past – No Connection
Unfortunately wine consumers sometimes hear ‘Chablis’ and “White Burgundy’ and unfortunately may conjure up the images of old Ernest & Julio Gallo or Carlo Rossi white jug wines. It’s a tragedy the names of generations of stunning French white wines were connected with these jug wines, as they bear no resemblance.
The fact that Carlo Rossi STILL sells a 4.0 Liter jug wine called ‘Chablis’ is support for why we globally trademark and protect wine regions. This is not ‘Chablis’ just as Barefoot Bubbly is not ‘champagne’ – Grandfathering be damned in the latter case.
What Defines & Distinguishes Chablis
Chablis is sometimes referred to as the ‘purest’ form of Chardonnay, because the vinification techniques are the least impacting on flavor profile.
Most of Chablis is fermented in stainless steel or neutral oak barrel, with aging in stainless, or a mix of used oak barrels, with minimal new. Chablis is the Northern most region in Burgundy, thus cooler, so the wines are generally quite high in acid and bright. Most Chablis, that I have tasted anyway, generally go through Malolactic fementation, which helps give another layer of complexity to these bright wines.
However, wine making alone can not account for Chablis being so different than other Chardonnay from Burgundy.
The soils of Chablis are known as Kimmeridge clay which is a composition of limestone, clay and tiny fossilized oyster shells. All of Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil which imparts a distinctively mineral, flinty note to the wines.
You may scoff at concept of ‘terroir’, but the essence of seashells, salinity, and minerality are captured perfectly in the aroma and flavor profile of these delightful wines.
How Could You NOT Love These Wines
For the wine aficionado, the world of Chablis offers much. If your palate favors acid driven wines, mineral laden whites, there is much to love in Chablis, especially in the offers from the Premier and Grand Crus. White wines that have steely, mineral, saline notes, that scream for food, but are impeccably enjoyable solo. Great Chablis exists at all price points, with good quality as low as $20, but there is a difference when you pay for Premier & Grand Cru that can not be denied.
Don’t be a afraid to splurge for an older bottle on a fine wine list. Acid, more than tannin, is what preserves a wine and allows it to age, and indeed many Chablis benefit from a few years in bottle before releasing.
Chablis Media Tour
Last month I was invited to a small media tasting and lunch, hosted by the Chablis Wine Board and Pure Chablis. Winemaker & President Jean Francois Bordet, led the tasting personally. I have always been a fan of Chablis, but this tasting was the ‘ah ha!’ epiphany moment that made me wake up. Why am I not drinking more of these wines?!
I am now so smitten with Chablis that in ten days I am spending two days there touring, prior heading to my beloved Northern Rhone, and in fact at the expense of some Rhone tasting appointments. Those who follow my passion, know what a statement that is.
Look for an article series in the New Year as I tour vineyards, cellars, talk with Vintners, as well as updates on our Facebook page.
Tasting Notes: Chablis You Can Purchase In the US
- An incredible value for Chablis, at $20. A gorgeous yellow with a slight greenish hue. Nose of saline, green apple, pear. In the mouth its bright, fresh with classic flinty minerality, citrus, and a lingering finish. 92 Points.
2009 La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet
- Light yellow in color. Rich nose of saline, chalk, green melon. In the mouth its bright, well balanced, that lingers pleasantly on the finish. A good value for a Premier Cru, from 25 year old vines, aged in both stainless tanks and barrel. ~$30. 92 Points.
2009 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent
- An outstanding Chablis from hand picked fruit, gravity fed flow, natural yeast & ML fermentation. Light yellow color with a green tinge. Nose of wet stone, lemon. Very bright in the mouth with great flinty minerality, tart green apple, lemon. A young wine that will improve in bottle. ~$45. 93 Points.
2008 Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur
- Richer in style than other Chablis. Harvested from 50 year old vines, 50% stainless, 50% barrel: 10% New, 90% 1-3 year barrels, eight months. Light to medium yellow color. Nose of wet stone, lemon zest , kiwi. Rich in the mouth, tropical fruit, long finish. Use of oak detectable but not overwhelming. ~$50. 90 Points.
2008 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos Domaine de Vaudon
- A stunning Grand Cru Chablis from 37 year old vines, farmed Biodynamically since 2000. Medium yellow color. Expressive nose of lemon zest, wet stone, citrus. Complex & elegant on the palate; expressive pure fruit, saline, with a long finish. Still a baby, with many years ahead to develop. ~$55. 93 Points
From K&L Wine in San Francisco
2011 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux
- This is a great value at $20, The 2011 Champs Royaux is equal parts estate and purchased fruit, mostly from left bank sites. The nose is of crushed seashells, lime, grapefruit. The palate is clean, bright citrus on front, the mid palate has excellent wet stone minerality, the finish is long, with saline and wet rock notes. 90 Points.
2010 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume
- Nose is an opulent mix of white grapefruit, lime pith,, with an undertone of saline. In the mouth, its bright, tart, white peach, lime. The mid palate is pleasant, astringent with minerality, a long drying finish, with a hint of bitterness. Perhaps a bit young, and would benefit from another year in cellar to show at its best. $40. 91 Points.
2010 Domaine de L’Églantière (Jean Durup) Chablis
- A good value Chablis at $16. Fermented and aged in a mix of concrete and stainless. Pale light yellow color. A nose that gives it away as Chablis immediately with notes of seashells, wet rock, and grapefruit. In the mouth its an easy drinking wine – bright citrus, refreshing acid, nice mineral notes, with a clean, lingering finish. An excellent everyday drinking wine that is true to Chablis. 89 Points.
From Kermit Lynch Berkeley Store
2010 Domaine Costal Chablis Les Truffières
- A Kermit Lynch collaboration wine with Domaine Costal. Fermented
and aged 10 months in stainless steel, followed by 3 months in demi-muid barrels (600-Liter.)
A solid Chablis for $25. Yellow straw color. The nose is a classic Chablis – white grapefruit peel, tangerine, wet stone, lime zest. In the mouth it’s slightly lusher, more viscous, than expected, but pleasing, hardly over ripe. The front palate is orange & citrus, the mid palate has nice weight, with minerality and saline, the finish is tart citrus, medium length. 91 Points
2011 Francine et Olivier Savary Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume
- A mid priced Chablis from Domaine Savary, from a small .75 hectare vineyard, 30 year old vines. Fermented and aged in stainless, aged on the lees. Yellow straw color. A little less detectably ‘Chablis’ on the nose, notes of green apple and white pear. In the mouth its a bit more steely on the mid palate and finish. Slightly rounder front and mid palate with red apple and lime, a modest finish of tangerine. $25. 88 Points.