Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Clos of Champagne

Definition: Clos, from the French for closure or enclosed, is a walled vineyard used to protect the grapes from theft as well as improving the mesoclimate. They are often founded by Cistercian monks and the word is often used in the name of famous wines even when the wall no longer exists.

I have been trawling through books and the internet trying to find the exact number of clos in the Champagne region, but haven't had much luck getting an answer. I could find around 16 but I'm sure there must be more. However many there are, they certainly only account for a tiny fraction of the 80,000 hectares of vines there are in the region. I'm only going to go through a few of the famous ones otherwise this could turn into an essay.

There is much debate as to how much difference having a wall around your vineyard actually makes, but it's hard to argue against the fact that walls protect against a number of evils. There are two vineyards in the whole region which have managed to survive the root-chomping phylloxera louse epidemic in the early 20th century. One is Clos St-Jacques and the other is Clos des Chaudes, both of which are under Bollinger's ownership. There is no doubt that they have managed to survive partly due to their high surrounding walls. It is the vines from these vineyards which make the fabled Vielle Vignes Francaises super-prestige cuvee which commands prices starting at £300 a bottle.

These walls also protect the vines from the cold winds which are also common in Champagne. Krug's 1.85 hectare site, Clos du Mesnil in Mesnil-sur-Oger, also benefits from actually being wrapped in the warm blanket of the town itself. The clos' ideal South-East facing aspect and chalky soils help to make an extremely fine champagne of great purity and elegance. Krug released its 1995 Clos d'Ambonnay in 2008 and as if Clos des Mesnil wasn't pricey or exclusive enough, Clos d'Ambonnay is only 0.685 hectares with only c.3000 bottles of the 1995 produced at the astronomical release price of £1,450 a pop.

For me, one of Champagne's most interesting clos' is not actually a clos at all. Phillipponnat's premier cru site, Clos des Goisses in Mareuil-sur-Ay, only has a wall on the bottom edge of the vineyard. But lets not be picky; Clos des Goisses is an incredible vineyard and well worth a trip to see if you are ever in the region. It is on a steep, south-facing slope and has an average temperature around 1.5 degrees warmer than the average temperature in champagne. This means this clos can make wines of superior ripeness, even in miserable years like 2001. Tom Stevenson wrote a great article on this amazing vineyard.

Another lesser known, but equally beguiling clos from Mareuil-sur-Ay, is Billecart-Salmon's Le Clos St-Hilaire. At around one hectare this vineyard can only make between 3,500 and 7,500 bottles of champagne every year and is only made in exceptional vintages. Clos St-Hilaire is situated right next to Billecart-Salmons grande maison and is named after the patron saint of the village it lies in. Only Pinot Noir is planted here and the Blanc de Noirs produced are bold and powerful with great ageing potential, not unlike Bollinger's Vielle Vignes Francaises.

The final clos I want to talk about is the only clos actually within the city of Reims. It is owned by Lanson and is very originally named Clos Lanson. It is a single hectare site which was bought by Lanson in 1976. The Chardonnay grown in this vineyard has been used as a component in both Lanson's Black Label and Gold Label champagnes for years, but next year (2012) will see its birth as a single vineyard cuvee. I have no doubt that there will be a big marketing campaign letting everyone know how exclusive and rare this champagne is and I'm sure it will have a price to match its rarity. I am particularly looking forward to hearing more about it.

I hope you find these incredible vineyards as interesting as I do and hope you get a chance to try a couple of them. You may have to re-mortgage your house first though.  

A List of the Clos' of Champagne (which I could find), but do let me know if I have missed any:

- Clos du Mesnil (Mesnil sur Oger) Champagne Krug - Reims
- Clos d'Ambonnay (Ambonnay) Champagne Krug - Reims
- Clos du Moulin (Chigny les Roses) Cattier - Chigny les Roses
- Clos des Chaulins (Pargny les Reims) Champagne Médot - Reims
- Clos Cazals (Oger) Champagne Claude Cazals - Le Mesnil sur Oger
- Clos des Goisses (Mareuil sur Ay) Champagne Philipponnat - Mareuil sur Ay
- Clos des Champions (Cumières) Champagne Leclerc Briant - Epernay
- Clos des Plants de Chênes (Moussy) Champagne José Michel- Moussy
- Clos Saint Jacques and Clos Chaudes (Ay) Champagne Bollinger - Ay
- Clos Saint-Hilaire (Mareuil sur Ay) Champagne Billecart Salmon - Mareuil sur Ay
- Clos Virgile (Beaumont-sur-Vesle) Champagne Portier - Beaumont-sur-Vesle
- Petit Clos (Bouzy) Champagne Jean Vesselle - Bouzy
- Clos l'Abbé (Cramant) Champagne Hubert Soreau - Cramant
- Clos Notre Dame (Vertus) Veuve Fourney - Vertus
- Clos des Bergeronneau (Villledommange) Champagne Florent Bergeronneau-Marion - Villledommange
- Clos Lanson (Reims) Champagne Lanson - Reims - 2012 release

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Growing in Popularity - Grower Champagnes

There are more than 15,000 growers in Champagne owning around 90% of the vineyards, yet if you were to ask most people to name as many champagnes as they could they would struggle to name more than ten. This is because the vast majority of these growers sell there grapes on to Negociants. These tend to be large champagne houses for which a consistant house style year in, year out is very important. This is acheived by blending wines from, often, over fifty different vineyards. For those who seek champagnes which can display a more acute sense of terroir and the sense of place you find in other many french regions, then Grower champagnes are definitely worth investing some time into.

The is a myriad of lesser-known champagnes in the market, so the first thing you need to be able to decipher is which are grower champagnes and which are Negociant champagnes. You can do this by looking carefully at the front label (usually the bottom right hand side). There should be a batch number starting with two letters and followed by some numbers. The letters will tell you the type of producer the champagne has come from. If it has come from a merchant like Veuve Clicquot or Lanson it will start with NM (Négociant manipulant) and if it has come from a Grower it will start with RM (Récoltant manipulant).

So how do you know what to choose? There are so many grower champagnes in the market there are obviously going to be many good ones and many bad ones. Here are my tips for helping you choose:

1) The best grower champagnes tend to come from the best vineyard sites. Picking a bottle with 'Grand Cru' on the label is a good indication of quality (its not a guarantee though)

2) Due to grower champagnes coming from small estates they have less ability to blend from multiple different sites (or Lieux dits) and vintages to ensure a consistent style. I say, ignore consistency and embrace vintage variation, after all, we do it with every other wine we buy. Buying vintage grower champagnes should be another indication of quality. If you are buying a champagne from an excellent site and from an excellent vintage you should be on to a winner, as long as the grower has a proficient winemaker.

3) Buy from a wine merchant which you trust. My favourites to buy from are:
  • The Sampler (South Kensington, Islington) - winner of best independent champagne retailer 2011 by the Champagne Summit. A thorough list headed by cru.
  • Berry Bros and Rudd (St James Street) - The worlds most famous wine merchant with a top champagne list.
  • Champagne Growers Direct (online) - lots of big name grower champagnes, plenty of tasting notes from well known critics and free delivery for purchases of three bottles or more. It also has profiles on all the growers that it uses.

Here are some of my favourite grower champagnes:
  • Eric Rodez - Eric Rodez is based in Ambonnay and spent a year working at Krug. He's famous for his full bodied, meaty Blanc de Noirs champagnes which are vinified in oak.
  • Egly Ouriet - another Ambonnay grower whose average vine age is 35 years producing intense, powerful Pinot Noir based champagnes which are aged for a minimum of 3 years before release.
  • Bonnaire - from Cramant this grower concentrates on Chardonnay based champagnes which are full of elegant fruit, floral notes and a flinty stone character. An excellent example of the Cramant regional style.
  • Guy Charlemagne - This Le Mesnil-sur-Oger producer makes champagnes which epitimise the Le Mesnil style. They are so pure and racy with heaps of delicate fruit and a chalky minerality. The average vine age in their vineyards are 31 years which helps explain why they produce such focused champagnes.
  • Jacques Selosse - Jacques Selosse is a legend in champagne who produces truly unique, vinous champagnes like no other. Selosse is based in Avise with vineyards in Cramant and Oger as well. His champagnes all vary in style massively and do not come cheap but are worth splashing out on for a treat.
I have attached a good video from Wine Library TV with a few grower champagnes recommended for your viewing pleasure:

Sunday, 7 August 2011

To Decant or not to Decant?

For most people, even many champagne aficionados, the thought of decanting a champagne before they serve it would not even even cross their mind. Surely it will cause your prized champagne to lose all of its bubbles, wouldn't it? However, it is an interesting practice which seems to be gathering momentum recently, especially with the sommeliers in Paris. It's not as mad as you may think though, after all, it is a fine wine and you wouldn't dream of opening your favourite Bordeaux or Burgundy without allowing it to 'breathe' for an hour or two. Furthermore, the act of decanting doesn't actually cause a champagne to lose its bubbles as fast as you may think. Experts have worked out that a champagne will only lose 10-15% of its effervescence through the act of decanting. A word of warning though, you must take care when decanting your champagne, imagine you are trying to pour the perfect pint!

So, what can you actually gain from decanting a champagne? Like, with other wines, decanting champagne allows aromas in the wine to be released. This causes the champagne to become more fragrant and it can also dramatically change how your champagne tastes. Something which seems fresh and citrussy upon opening can give way to rich, earthy and all together more vinous flavours after just 10 minutes in a decanter (or even just left in a glass).

Charles Heidseick, one of my favourites of the big champagne houses, is a big advocate of decanting their champagnes. They have even teamed up with Riedel, the glassware giant, to produce a very elegant decanter. Billecart Salmon have also produced a limited edition decanter which some Searcys champagne bars in London will be using.

Decanting champagne is definitely worth a try. A fun experiment to try which I saw Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan , MV do on Wine Library TV is to open a bottle of champagne and decant half the bottle and leave to rest in the bottle with a champagne stopper in. Leave both for around 30 minutes and then do a side-by-side comparison. The differences between each samples are noticeable and dramatic.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Sushi and Champagne

Oysters and Chablis, steak and Malbec, lamb and Rioja. There are some classic food and wine pairings that, for whatever reason, work. For me, sushi and champagne is one of them. Now, classically in Japan sushi is eaten with beer or sake, the rice-based wine. Champagne and sake are very similar in that both are measured by their sugar levels. With sake the scale goes from +10 (very dry) to -10 (very sweet) but for champagne the scale goes from Brut Nature (very dry) to doux (very sweet). Many people think that sake should be served hot but actually the best sakes are served at room temperature or slightly chilled as heat causes many of the delicate aromas to be lost. 

Richard Geoffroy, Dom Perignon's Chef de Cave, suggests that Dom Perignon is a great partner to the Japanese cuisine because the high yeast content in champagne partners well with the high yeast content in soy sauce, a Japanese staple, but I feel it works on many other levels as well. It is a natural fact that champagne is a great partner for various fish dishes because of its high acidity and cleansing qualities. Most champagnes are also relatively light in their NV forms and so do not overbear light sushi dishes like ginger marinated tiger prawns and salmon nigiri. A favourite tried and tested pairing of mine is tempura salmon maki (infact most tempura dishes) with a light chardonnay dominated champagne, like the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV or, if you want something different but equally mouth-watering, the Colin Grand Cru 2004 from French Bubbles.

For heavier japanese dishes like teriyaki duck, I would suggest a more gutsy vintage or rose champagne. The salty character of dishes like this work well with the refreshing champagne nature. I would suggest Gosset Grand Millesime 2000 as a good partner. Its mature and honeyed with ripe, peachy fruit. The Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve is another fleshy, gastronomic champagne that could hold its own with some heavier sushi dishes.

A word of warning though, strong flavours can kill even the richest champagnes and any heat clashes badly with acidity. This having been said...  go easy on the wasabi.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Brut Zero Champagne

'Brut Nature' or 'Brut Zero' champagnes certainly seem to be on the up at the moment. Many of champagnes largest houses are releasing Brut Zero champagnes in a bid to keep up with changing tastes. Consumer palates, especially in the UK, seem to moving towards a drier style of champagne. Even the worlds most popular champagne, Moets Brut Imperial, is to lower its sugar levels from 12 g/l to 9 g/l in a move to keeps it crown.

'Brut Nature' or 'Brut Zero' champagnes contain less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre, as opposed to the 6-15 grams typical in most Brut style champagnes and, if made correctly, can show great purity and expression of fruit but if made badly, they can be incredibly austere and thin. The champagne houses tend to use riper vintages as a base to the blend so these blends can be naturally balanced without the need for the sweet dosage. This style of champagne is not, however, necessarily a new concept. Many champagne houses use much lower dosages in their prestige cuvees. The addition of a dosage is often described as 'make up' for the champagne, so the better the champagne, in theory, the less dosage it needs to hide it flaws. This means Brut Nature champagnes can be some of the most candid, frank expressions of terroir and house style that there are.

So, what do Brut Zero champagnes bring to the table that Brut champagnes can't? For a start they are some of the least calorific wines you can buy. Brut nature champagnes have around 65 calories per 125ml glass which is all very well but they are much more than just a diet option.  They are, also, incredibly food friendly because their high acidity levels make them a great palate cleanser. They work well with delicate foods like sushi, scallops and simply cooked fish and also work fantastically with fatty foods such as caviar and foie gras beacue the acidity cut through the fat.

Here are some of the best Brut Nature or Brut Zero champagnes I have tasted recently:

Perle d'Ayala Nature Brut 2002 - 20% Pinot Noir, 80% Chardonnay. This champagne is made from grapes from only Grand Cru and Premiers Cru villages. All the wines have been left on their lees for five years which helps to give them an aromatic nose and complex palate. This champagne has subtle red fruit along with a chalky minerality, candied lemons and a pleasant smokiness. £79.95 from Champagne Direct

Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut NV - 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Released last July this is one of the new kids on the block. It is made in a very similar way to its esteemed sibling, the Brut Reserve but is left on its lees for slightly longer to allow all its components to mingle. It has a wonderfully floral nose and a soft palate full of brioche and dried fruits and a slightly smokey character.  £38.85 from Berry Brothers and Rudd

Laurant Perrier Ultra Brut NV - 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir. This is only made in very ripe years with high natural levels of sugar and the componant wines are selected from parcels which have an average of 97% on the echelle des crus. This champagne has a fine bead and a light palate with preserved lemons and a slightly saline minerality. It is a perfect match for super fresh oysters. £38 from The Champagne Company

Tarlant Zero NV - 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Meunier. This Oeuilly based house is a huge believer in the low dosage style and this is their flagship champagne. It is lean and focused with a razor-like citrus hit and crushed shells. I think this will appeal to Chablis Drinkers £27 from Marks and Spencer

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fish, Chips and Champagne

Fish and chips with champagne is a concept which really seems to be taking off. I have read at least five publications in as many months telling me the joys of combining fish and chips with champagne. I have to say that it is a great combo and it, with out fail, puts a smile on everyones face. There is a wonderful juxtaposition in eating such humble and cheap grub with one of life's greatest luxuries. It always reminds me of when Miles from the film Sideways cracks open his prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc in his local fast food joint. Even the champagne houses themselves are latching on to the idea. Salon, the incredible champagne house based in the Cotes des Blancs village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, released there newest vintage, the 1999, with a fish and chips lunch in Geales Seafood Restaurant in Notting Hill.

There is more to it than Great British nostalgia; the acidity in Champagne is great for cutting through the rich batter and the citrus notes and minerality of many champagnes work perfectly with fish. I suppose you can think of champagne's acidity as a replacement for malt vinegar and its citrus character as a replacement for your lemon wedge.

Some champagnes, however, do work better than others. I always go for low dosage champagnes with high acidity and light, fresh flavours. Blanc des Blancs champagnes like Delamottes Blanc des Blancs work well, as do champagnes which have not gone through malolactic fermentation like Lanson Gold Label 1999 or Gosset Grand Reserve NV.

Relevant Links:

Monday, 13 June 2011

KWM Wine are selling Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Cuvee Alexandra Rose 1997 for £125

This is just a quick post to let you know that KWM Wine are selling Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Cuvee Alexandra Rose 1997 for £125. This is as cheap as I have ever seen this champagne and is a great opportunity to try one of the champagne regions top roses for around £75 under the general market value.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Shipwreck Champagnes sell for a combined 54,000 Euros

Today saw the landmark auction of the two bottles of champagne from the 1800’s.

The two bottles in question were a bottle of the now extinct Juglar (pronounced you-glar) which sold for 24,000 euros and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot which sold for 30,000 euros. The bottle of Veuve Clicquot set a world record for being trhe most expensive champagne to ever sell at auction. Both bottles were salvaged from a Shipwreck just off Aaland, a Finnish-controlled archipelago of 6,500 islands in the Baltic sea and were in great condition. The pressure, stillness and darkness at the bottom of the sea made for great storage conditions for the hoard. Richard Juhlin, a top champagne authority, was one of the lucky few to have the chance to taste two similar bottles of Juglar and Veuve Clicquot and stated that Juglar was “more intense and powerful, mushroomy” and the Veuve Clicquot had notes of “linden blossoms and lime peels.”
Original estimates stated that the bottles could fetch up to 100,000 euros each.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Remy Cointreau Group sell Piper-Heidsieck Compagnie Champenoise

Remy Cointreau Group have announced that they have sold Piper-Heidsieck Compagnie Champenoise to the family controlled group EPI for €412.2 million. EPI will take control of all of Pipers Champagne operations including Piper Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck as well as Piper Sonoma, the sparkling wine brand from California. In a statement Christopher Descours, Chairman of EPI, stated: EPI is very pleased to acquire both these prestigious champagne houses, that are Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck. They perfectly complement our other French luxury goods brands, which include JM Weston, Alain Figaret and Bonpoint. This new initiative will strengthen our commitment to wine-making, initiated 20 years ago with Chateau La Verrerie (Lubéron.)”.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Henri Giraud Range Tasting - May 2011

Henri Giraud has always been one of those small(ish) champagne producers who I have heard of but never tasted. It has a very small presence in the UK and is currently looking for a UK distributer. Based in the Beautiful Grand Cru village of Ay to the north-east of Epernay, this champagne house has been family-owned and family-run since the beginning of the 20th century. They have always, like their Ay neighbours Bollinger, been great believers in the use of oak barrel ageing in their champagnes. They own around 12 hectares of vineyards and produce between 250,000 and 300,000 bottles per year.

Esprit de Giraud - this entry-level champagne has a rich, honeyed nose with a baked apple and toasty orchard fruit palate. It is both crisp and generous and a good value champagne for those who like a more weighty style. 70% PN 30% CH.

Esprit Blanc de Blanc - 90% stainless steel chardonnay with 10% oak matured chardonnay. This offering has a fragrant nose with acacia flowers, orange peel and a palate of pineapple fruit lined with a fresh acidity and clean finish.

Esprit Rose - 70% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot noir and 8% wood-raised Pinot Noir vinified to be a red wine. An attractive smokey nose packed with strawberry fruit and a touch of rose. The palate is relatively full-bodied with ripe, summer fruit but a crisp acidity really carries the flavour and makes it a great aperitif to serve with canapes.

Hommage Brut - This blend is made purely from Grand Cru fruit and is vinified for 6 months in stainless steels vats and 6 months in oak. It has an evocative nose of freshly baked white bread and a complex palate full of peaches and pears. 70% PN, 30% CH.
Code Noir Brut - The Code Noir is aged for 4 years which opens up a whole new spectrum of aromas on the nose. It has so much going on. Honeyed peaches, white pepper, vanilla and even an interesting mushroom note. The palate doesn't disappoint either; it's very vinious and bears a lot of similarities to a grand cru chablis. There is a grapefruit-like fruit, a pronounced minerality and buttery oak character. There are also some some tannins which makes it a great partner for creamy, chicken dishes and fish. 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir.

Code Noir Rose - 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Ay grande cru red wine. Though interesting, this rose is not as appealing as the standard Code Noir Brut. It has pretty, smokey nose but is a bit hollow on the palate. There are some fairly dense red fruits which would even stand up to some red meats.

Fût de Chêne 2000 - Fût de Chêne means oak barrel and this champagne is aged in a Fût de Chêne for a year followed by seven years in bottle before it is released. It is made entirely from grand cru fruit from the 'miracle' 2000 vintage. On the nose, it shows lots of earthy tones including leather and truffle, but there is still a lively tangerine note. The palate is so intense that I don't know where to start! There are lots of marmalade, honey and a hint of sweet spice (cinnamon mainly). There is pronounced tannin which carries the flavour and, again, makes it a great food pairing. I would like to try this with fois gras or chicken liver parfait. It also has a low dosage which aids fruit expression and a long, clean finish.

Coteaux Champenois Blanc 2007 - This is a true revelation for me. It's a 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay still white Coteaux Champenois which has been aged in new oak for 11 months after fermentation. It has a razor-like acidity and clearly needs a few years to calm down, but it is so tightly wound and pure that it needs a mention. It bears many similarities to a young grand cru Chablis, there is a noticeably flinty minerality and citrus fruits with a touch of pineapple. All of this is rounded off by a warm, buttery oak character. It would work well with shellfish or flaky white fish.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Moet and Chandon launches Moet Ice Imperial to UK on trade

Moet and Chandon is to release a champagne which is to be served over ice in a bid to bring new drinkers to the category. Though it was launched last year it is set to be sold only to on-trade accounts in London and Bournemouth in a bid to tap into the sailing market. It is also due to sponsor The Boat Race.

Moet cellar master Benoit Gouez told Harpers Magazine that developments have been taking place for over four years to try and make the champagne balance the effects of ice in the blend.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Moët plan a Chinese invasion

Moët Hennessey, owners of Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and others, are set to plant vineyards in China in a bid to cash in on the growing demand to luxury fizz in the East. It has come very apparent that China is to grow, over the next few years, into one of the largest consumers of wine in the world. It has already over taken the UK as the largest export market for Bordeaux wines and demand for other styles, including sparkling is growing too.

Moët, with a Chinese state owned agricultural group, plan to plant their first 66 Hectare plot in the remote region of Ningxia Hui, not far from Inner Mongolia. This is believed to have relatively similar conditions to the champagne region with the Yellow river replacing the Marne. They will vinify the wine in a brand new winery near the vineyard.
The sparkling wine is to be sold under the Chandon label which already wine wines made in Australia, California, Brazil and Argentina (Mendoza).

Moët also own Green Point from Australia and Cloudy Bay’s Pelorus in New Zealand.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Very English Affair

In this months Harpers, Stephen Skelton MW, who will be consulting in the new Royal vineyard in Windsor Great Park, has put together one of the most comprehensive English Wine Tastings in recent years with some interesting results. Stephen, with some of the UK's top wine journalists, blind tasted 52 English wines along with four champagnes, Pelorus NV from New Zealand and a Codorniu Cava.

Though all four champagnes made the top ten, the top two spaces were taken by the ever outstanding Ridgeview Estate with their 2007 Grosvenor Blanc de Blanc and the 2000 Grosvenor in magnum. Not bad for a wine that can often be found for less than £20. In fact, value for money was the word of the day. Four top ten wines came in at less than £20 a bottle.

The main disappointments from the tasting seemed to be the wines that were made from non-champagne varieties (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay). Only two made the top 27, the Davenport made from 100% Reichenteiner and the Breaky Bottom made from 100% Seyval Blanc.

The conclusion was not altogether surprising. Stephen Skelton concludes "The best producers - those using the right varieties and clones - making their wines with care, ageing them for an appropriate length of time, and putting them on the market with a dosage that both respects the wine and the sector of the market they are aiming at, can produce world-class wines in line with the opposition".

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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Royal Vineyards to be planted in Windsor Great Park

Vines are to planted in Windsor Great Park for the production of a Royal Sparkling Wine. The project is to be managed by a team from Laithwaites Wine and overseen by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh himself. The team, led by Laithwaites chief exec Simon McMurtrie, are understood to be planting the first of the 16,700 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines next week and the first vintage is hoped to be 2013. Simon McMurtrie commented that: "As champions of English wine, we are delighted to do what we can to help boost its production and popularity in this country at this time."

The land is owned by the royal family and managed by Royal Farms and the Duke has been said to be taking a real interest in the project. This move is sure to give a huge boost to the English wine industry and will undoubtedly provide world-wide interest as it develops.

The royal family have given royal warrants to no less than six champagne houses, so are likely going to be one of their new vineyards biggest customers.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Flute that keeps your Champagne Bubbling for longer

Wine enthusiasts have been trying to keep champagne bubbly in the glass for centuries. In fact the flute shape itself, apart from looking very elegant, was designed in an effort to slow down the rate at which champagne goes flat by reducing the surface area of champagne in contact with the air.

The idea behind this innovation is that each flute has 5 or 6 etched dots at the bottom which produce a single point which the bubbles can form and rise from. This reduces the rate of effervescence and, in theory, keeps your champagne sparkling for longer.

In truth this new glassware offering from Marks and Spencer’s is not a particularly new revelation. Many upmarket glassware specialists, such as Reidel, have produced similar designs in the past but for much higher prices. These Marks and Spencer glasses are £15 for four and, I have to say, look very classy.

Have a look at them for yourselves at http://www.marksandspencer.com/

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

200 Year Old Champagnes to go to Auction in June

Two bottles of 200 year old champagne are to go to auction in June of this year. The bottles are currently owned by the Finnish province of Aaland and are to be sold by off at the provinces capital Mariehamn on June 3rd.

The bottles were salvaged from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea last July and were identified by champagne authorities as a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a bottle of the now extinct Juglar.

Richard Juhlin was one of the lucky few to try these champagnes at an exclusive tasting in November of last year and described the Juglar as "more intense and powerful, mushroomy," and the Veuve Clicquot as more like Chardonnay, with notes of "linden blossoms and lime peels".

The designated auction house is Acker Merall and Condit.

The 200-year-old bottle of champagne after being rescued from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Photo: Bloomberg.

See footage of the tasting by following this link:

Monday, 25 April 2011

Get patriotic for the Royal Wedding with some fantastic English sparkling wines

English wines are enjoying a bit of a renaissance at present. With increased focus on quality, many wineries have invested heavily in brand new equipment and experienced wine makers from abroad. They are starting to grub up their strange German grape varietals, such as Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval blanc, which were planted in the 80’s and 90’s and have planted on international varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, amongst others. Sparkling wine production is particularly on the way up. It is somewhat of a forte for England, as there is less than a degree of latitude between Eastbourne and Reims and much of the South East of England share the same sub soils as Champagne. This combined with fact that, in the UK, we are actually benefiting from the effects of global warming, all help to explain why English Sparkling wine quality is so high. Here are a few of my picks to toast to Prince William and Princess Catherine this Friday:

Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2001 - £31.25 at Berry Brothers and Rudd www.bbr.com

This International Wine Challenge Gold medal winner exudes lemon and baked apple fruit with subtle notes of jasmine and a long, fine marzipan and vanilla finish. It has all the elegance and sophistication of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2005 - £23.99 9 (down from £29.99) at Waitrose http://www.waitrose.com/

Another great wine from the Nyetimber Vineyards. This is a classic blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It is made entirely from the juices of the first pressing, making this wine very pure and powerful. It has distinct patisserie like cakiness and is packed with ripe summer fruits like cantaloupe and juicy apricots.

Ridgeview Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2007 - £23.95 at Berry Brothers and Rudd http://www.bbr.com/

The Sussex Downs continue to provide a rich seam of inspiration for the patriotic fizz drinker, their geological make-up informed by the same Portlandian sub-strata as Champagne itself, and their winemakers now assuming the confidence to exploit this happy coincidence. Although not memorable for its mid-summer warmth, 2007 was in fact a reasonable vintage in the UK, helped immeasurably by generally above-average temperatures in the Autumn, allowing these premium Chardonnay grapes to ripen..The Grosvenor marries citric with tropical fruit on the nose, and has gentle flavours, which put one in mind of entering the Pâtisserie on a Spring day. Refreshing and with fine and dignified bubbles, this, once again, is a very impressive effort.
(Simon Field MW, BBR Buyer, January 2011)

Friday, 15 April 2011

This weeks sparkling offers - 15th April 2011

This week Sainsburys seems to be leading the way with champagne and sparkling wine offers. All champagne is 25% off until the 3rd May. I presume this is to take advantage of potential bank holiday weekend and royal wedding trade (suits me fine!) Though prices across the board are good here are my favourites:

Bollinger Special Cuvee NV 75cl - £30.13

This is as cheap as you will find anywhere in the UK. I'm sure most of you have already had Bollinger but if you haven't, you must. This is one of my favourite Non Vintage champagnes and is perfect for those of you who like you champagnes to be rich, honeyed and full bodied. Its a great food wine as well.

Bollinger Grande Annee 1999 75cl (vintage may vary) - £48.88

Sainsburys probably aren't making a penny from this offer. All the wine company's I have worked for buy the champagne at this price! Bollinger Grande Annee is one of the best value top champagnes out there. It is every inch as good as Dom Perignon. It's made from grapes from about 70% grand cru and 30% premier cru sites and each bottle has been aged for 6 years before release to help it gain richness and complexity. This is a Pinot Noir driven blend and has lots of rich orchard fruits and a crisp, clean, biscuity finish.

Dom Perignon (vintage may vary) - £74.99

Another great price. I haven't been able to find out if this offer is for the 2000 vintage or the 2002 vintage but either way its still a great deal. Again, I doubt Sainsbury's will be making much money from this offer. If you can try and get the 2002 vintage. Its had very good press across the board and has been given 96/100 by Robert Parker (a top wine critic). Dom Perignon is Moet and Chandons prestige cuvee and this vintage is set to go down in historical. Its full of tropical fruit and elegant floral notes. It is very intense and will benefit from 5 years cellaring but is still very drinkable now.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Tour of the Veuve Clicquot Cellars, Reims

In March of this year, I was passing through Reims and took the opportunity to drop in to see "where the magic happens" and tour the Veuve Clicquot cellars. It is just off the A4 motorway on the Rue Albert Thomas and is hard to miss on the impressive Avenue de Champagne. Guided tours happen throughout the day but you must make sure you book in advance to guarantee yourself a place on the tour (booking details can be found at the end of this post.)

As we walked through the perfectly manicured gardens and into the visitors centre where we were greeted by a very friendly tour guide who spoke immaculate English. She ushered us into the souvenir-riddled waiting room to wait for the remainder of the group. 

A short wait later and we were ready to go. We started off looking at the basics of how champagne is made and where Veuve Clicquot sources it grapes for their various champagnes. The tour guide was interesting and eloquent at talking to us and had ample visual aids to engage us including a giant 3D map of the whole of champagne. We then moved through the room to learn a bit about La Grande Dame herself, and how she came about becoming the most famous widow in France and possibly the world.

There were many original letters and manuscripts to read, as well as some examples of the different bottles and labels Veuve Clicquot have used over the years. 

On with the tour and to the cellars. Down we went into the first of the stunning caves or "crayeres," where we would have been in pitch-black darkness if it were not for the yellow Veuve Clicquot spot-lights and the small pot hole in the top of each of the crayeres. Here, we were told a little about the ageing of the bottles and a bit about the role the caves played in the wars. 

Then on to the next crayere. At this point, our bubbly tour guide went on to explain how the yeast deposits are extracted from the bottles before they are ready to be sold to the public. Interestingly, it was Madame Clicquot herself who invented the riddling racks called "pupitres," used to slowly tilt the bottles into an upright position to get the deposits in the neck of the bottle before "dégorgement."

After a short look at, what is believed to be the oldest existing bottle of champagne in the world, which was found in the baltic sea last year (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10673322) it was time to go upstairs and have a taste of the Veuve Clicquot tete de cuvee, La Grand Dame 1998. This unveiled tremendous depth and freshness. It is clearly a wine that has not reached its peak. It displayed lots of smokey, burnt toast-like notes and light, sour apple and apple blossom fruit components. It was very pleasant but not quite up to the standard that the price tag sets. You never know, in a couple of years this may unravel into a beautiful champagne.

Booking info for Veuve Clicquot cellar tours:

Friday, 8 April 2011

This weeks Sparkling deals, 8th April 2011

Duval Leroy Premier Cru 75cl - £14.99 at Waitrose (http://www.waitrosewine.com)

This is an exclusive to the on-trade and Waitrose. Its a Chardonnay dominant blend which gives it great finesse and a vibrant acidity. It also has subtle floral notes and a mouth-filling, creamy mousse. All the grapes come from premier cru vineyards which means they have been rated 90-99% on the eshelle des crus. Overall this means the grapes can achieve greater ripeness due their preferable location. Waitrose claim this is a half price offer but I have always thought of this champagne to be worth around £25 rather than £30 but at £14.99 its a steal.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV - £14.49 at Tesco (www.tesco.com)

I always seem to be recommending this champagne but the fact is that at £14.49 it is great value and a decent tipple. Buy a bottle and make the most of this fantastic weather while it lasts.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Bruno Paillard Profile

Bruno Paillard is the youngest of the grande maisons, having only been founded in 1981 by, you guessed it, Bruno Paillard at the tender age of 27. By having a philosophy of quality and purity, this champagne house has grown in stature to a point where it now commands as much respect as many of its fellow grande maisons. There is good reason for this. Bruno Paillard has a strict chart to control the quality of all its Champagnes:
  • Only the top grapes from the vintage are used, the rest are declassified and sold on,
  • Only the first pressings, or premiere cuvee, go into the final champagnes,
  • Bottle ageing for up to 2-3 times longer than regulations require,
  • Lower dosage, 6-7g depending on the blend, to respect the purity of the wine.

Bruno Paillard was the first house, in a growing trend, to state the disgorgement date on the back label. This gives the consumer better control over when in the wine's stage of development they want to drink it. Currently, it has six different champagnes. A Brut Premiere Cuvee , Rose Premiere Cuvee, Blanc de Blanc Reserve Privee, Vintage Blanc de Blanc, Vintage Brut and their Prestige Cuvee Nec Plus Ultra (the last word). I tasted the following from their range at the London Annual Champagne tasting:

Brut Premiere Cuvee - this has a citrus-dominated nose full of sour grapefruit and lemons. On the palate there is an initial acidity hit, which gives way to a melange of fruits, including grapefruit, red current and cherry. There is also a defined minerality and mouth-filling mousse, leading to a dry finish. This is a food-friendly style which would be great with fruit de mer and a number of fish dishes. 

Blanc de Blanc 1999 - This is a stellar wine from the initial hit to the finish. This vintage was particularly warm, being about 1 -1.5 degrees warmer than average, and it is apparent in this offering. It has fairly low acidity but still maintains a great balance. The palate is honeyed and has great minerality and Alice Paillard, Bruno's youngest daughter, describes this vintage as "vivacious," which i think is spot on. Interestingly, all Bruno Paillard vintage champagnes have specially commissioned artwork on the front label and the 1999 is still being worked on as I write this. This is genuinely one of the best champagnes I have had and is well worth its £55-60 price tag. Dig it out for a special occasion. It's worth noting, that even though this is drinking well now it will continue to develop for 10 years.

Rose Premiere Cuvee - A Pinot Noir dominant blend with just a touch of Chardonnay. It has a pretty, coppery colour with a nose of fresh summer fruits including strawberries and floral notes. The palate is packed with ripe, red fruits but is incredibly delicate. This is proof that Pinot Noir based champagnes don't all have to be rich and dense.

If you are going to try something new this month I cannot recommend Bruno Paillard enough.

Available to buy though Bibendum Wine, Laithwaites and Slurp Wine