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