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The star of the evening

I am pre-empting coverage of harvest 2010 with this inspired dinner that I recently hosted with several of my good friends. Some of you might recall my first post on la sagra dei funghi  that transpired just about 1 year ago. Well this year the  festivities moved over to my place. The star of the evening was this gorgeous truffle from Piemonte, that would find it’s way into our first 2 courses.

..making it look so easy!

Last year’s funghi feast was hosted by my friend Elisabeth (a.k.a. Bip). This year, the foodies convened at my place. I have often proclaimed that Bip is truly awesome in the kitchen. Not only are her culinary creations delicious, she seems to execute each dish with perfect timing and ease.

This time around, Bip arrived at my house with a few bags of choice ingredients, a bottle of nebbiolo, and her own home made pasta.

After ramping up our appetites with a beautifully arranged platter of salumni, artisanal cheeses and various antipasti, (thank you Sunhee!) It was time to get down to truffi business.

Toasted brioche with scrambled eggs, topped with shaved truffle!

Pinot meunier and truffes

What to pair with this rich and earthy first course? How about a high acid, dry and somewhat earthy-nutty champagne like the Collard Picard pictured above? This food wine pairing combination was really perfect.

This particular cuvee is composed of 80% Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. It is fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation. The reserve wine, which is primarily from the 2004 vintage is aged in giant foudres (1000 liter or larger barrels) to encourage some contact with oxygen but to avoid flavoring the wine with overt barrel characteristics.

Next, Elisabeth whipped up an assorted funghi medley to accompany her house made pasta. A bit more shaved truffle finished off the dish. Bip paired this earthy pasta course with a lovely nebbiolo from Piedmonte (see Les Photos)

finishing on a lighter note..

After a brief repose, it was time to prepare the main course. We decided to slowly taper, and progress to a lighter main course and side. Two very fresh snappers were stuffed with lemons, fennel and doused in pastis. The fish was then oven roasted for about 40 minutes. Along side, a tian of roasted tomatos provided a zip and acidity to the mild white fish.

Keelyn also contributed a hearty fennel gratin to the mix. I need to get this recipe!

To finish things off, I made pumpkin pot de creme, topped with shaved milk chocolate and whipped cream.

Thanks to my fellow sagra dei funghi friends and foodies.

Let’s do this again next year!

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Medaille de Mumu

Happy New Year everyone! My second post of the new year is also going to be my final post on Champagne, for now. Hopefully I’ve covered most of the salient points on the region that will help you make informed decisions the next time you select a bottle of champagne, plan your next dinner party or conduct your own champagne tasting!

I thought that I would go out with a pop, and save one of my favorite wines for this closing entry. In fact, I’ve decided to award this particular wine with the MEDAILLE DE MUMU! a.k.a. the mumu medal. Consider this award my personal wine hall of fame. Wines that make the cut, (and I am quite particular) are what I consider to be really exceptional representations of either a particular varietal, region or style of wine. It won’t always be the most expensive or hard to obtain wine. It just needs to really, really rock my world.

And the first medaille de mumu goes to..

Drumroll please..

Champagne Jacquesson "Cuvee No. 733"

Champagne Jacquesson's 7 series. More delicious and less money than a BMW

 

Wine:  Champagne Jacquesson  No. 733

Composition: 52% Chardonnay  24% Pinot Meunier  24% Pinot Noir

Sweetness: Brut 

Dosage: 2.5g/l

Vintage: non-vintage

Country: France

Region: Champagne

Sub-Region: Vallée de la Marne –Cote des Blancs

Alcohol: 12%

Importer: Vintage 59

US Retail: $60

Food: mushroom or chicken vol au vent, duck rillette on crostini, uni risotto with seared Japanese scallops and truffle vinaigrette (created by Chef Rodelio Aglibot)

Champagne Jacquesson was founded in 1798 by Memmie Jacquesson. The domaine, which is based in the town of Dizy in the Valley of the Marne, was shortly thereafter recognized by for its exceptional wines and award a medal by the emperor Napoleon. Over two centuries later, Jacquesson is owned by the Chiquet family, and overseen by Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet. Today Jacquesson farms 31 hectares in the grand cru villages of Aÿ, Avize, and Oiry, as well as the premier cru villages of Hautvillers, Dizy, and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The domaine also purchases fruit from approximately 11 hectares from growers with whom they have established relationships. Thus, although Champagne Jacquesson is in fact a family owned domaine and produces most of their wine from estate vineyards, in Champagne terminology they are considered negociant-manipulants (NM) rather than recoltant-manipulants (RM). 

Jacquesson’s “7 series” of Champagne was first launched in 2003 with a non-vintage cuvee numbered 728. The idea behind this new nomenclature was to produce a series of non-vintage wines whose identities and composition were still firmly rooted to a particular vintage rather than to produce a NV champagne with a consistent “house style”. Jaquesson’s current release in the series is now the “733”, whose base vintage of is comprised of 78% of the wine from the 2005 vintage and only 22% of the final blend coming from reserve wines.

Here are several quick facts regarding the general method of production at Jacquesson:

-Vertical presses utilized

-Only the juice from the first pressing is ultized. The press wine is sold off to negociants

-all grapes come from Grand or Premier Cru rated vineyards only

-juice flows via gravity into stainless steel tanks for 24 hours of settling.

-then transferred to large foudres (neutral wooden casks) to undergo primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation (which is never blocked).

-lees stiring of wine as well as the promotion of malolactic fermentation (ML) allow the addition of SO to be kept to a mimimum.

-the wine is bottled unfiltered

-wine labels provide information regarding production levels, dosage, and date of disgorgement. US labels also provide information on the % of fruit that comes from the base vintage. For instance, the 773 reads: 05/78 -or 78% of the fruit is from the 2005 vintage.

Hedgehog mushroom gougeres prep and Jacquesson

I opened a bottle of the Jacquesson No.733 with a very good friend of mine last week while we waited for our third friend to show up (she was lost in west Oakland). Here is how the conversation went, roughly..

 Wes: Wow this wine has got some serious acid, man. Whoa..

Mumu: Yeah, it’s super tight..  try it with a gougere..

 10 minutes later..

 Wes: Oh man..this wine has totally changed.

Mumu: Right?.. it’s totally broad and expansive now. Roasted hazelnuts, barley, deep pinot fruit, a hint of spice, like fennel?

Wes: Yeah, fennel, definitely.

Mumu: But it’s still cutting like a knife. Pow!

Wes: Yeah, it’s totally shape shifting in the glass.

Mumu: It’s so super dimensional, and with some crazy architecture..

Wes: Killer..

Mumu: These gougeres are stupid good too. 

Goodbye Champagne! -next stop: The Jura..

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Champagne, perhaps more than any other wine region in the world, is recognized for its high profile, big brand names. Grande Marque (essentially “big brand) houses like Veuve Cliquot, Moet & Chandon, Louis Roederer are famililar to just about anyone who has ever celebrated with a bottle of bubbly. However if one looks more closely, in fact the kingdom of Champagne is comprised of an elaborate infrastructure of grape growers, family owned domains, co-operatives and dominant multi-national companies. Case in point, take a look at LVMH.

Here is a quick breakdown..

-Presently there exist approximately 19,000 independent growers whose vineyards account for almost 90% of the total vineyard land (33,000 hectares ) planted to grapes in Champagne.

-Of these 19,000 growers, approximately 5000 of them actually make wine from their own grapes.

-Throughout the region, approximately 100 Champagne houses produce wine from their own vineyard holdings as well as purchase fruit from independent growers.

-In addition, co-operative cellars will also pool their resources, vinify and sell or sometimes market their own wines.

Negotiating who makes what and how is much easier than one might think. All you need to do is look for the fine print on the label, as the set of 2 letter abbreviations will provide information as to which category of production a Champagne belongs. The three most signifcant abbreviations to recognize and understand are outlined below. Please keep in mind that these classifications are not qualitative ones. There are great NMs, mediocre CM’s and lackluster RMs, or vice versa..Check it out..

NM (négociant manipulant) -These producers buy fruit from independent growers and also produce wine. They will most often also maintain their own vineyard holdings. Most of the larger Champagne houses and/or Grandes Marques domains fall into this category.

Examples of NM producers in Champagne:

Krug

Moet & Chandon

Ruinart

Veuve Cliquot

Perrier-Jouet

Jacquesson

Henriot

Louis Roederer

Champagne Henriot - A Grande Marque and NM

RM (récoltant manipulant) ..is often also referred to as grower-producer champagne. These producers may only use up to 5% purchased grapes in the production of their wines. 95% must come from their proper vineyard holdings.

Examples of RM producers in Champagne:

Bruno Michel

Fleury

Larmandier-Bernier

Tarlant

Franck Bonville

Michel Arnould

Bruno Michel in Pierry -a grower producer or RM

CM (coopérative de manipulation) A Champagne with the CM abbreviation signifies that the wine was produced by a co-operative cellar. More specifically, the co-op will produce wine with grapes sourced from its grape growers who are members. The co-operative can then market its production. Perhaps the most famous is CM Brand is Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte.

Nicolas Feuillate's -Palm d'Or a CM

But wait, there’s more!

The following abbreviations are also utilized, however they are not often encountered in the US market.

SR: (société de récoltants) An association of grape growers who collectively produce a wine, but are not members of a co-operative.

RC: (récoltant coopérateur) A co-operative member who sells a wine produced by the co-op, but under their own name and label.

MA: (marque auxiliaire or marque d’acheteur) Essentially a “brand name” and one that is not owned by the grower or producer of the wine, but rather a supermarket or restaurant chain. Also commonly referred to as a B.O.B or “buyer’s own brand”.

ND: (négociant distributeur) A wine merchant who markets a Champagne under his/her own name.

O.K. that’s it. I am exhausted..

Time for a glass of champagne!

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What would the world be like without rose Champagne? I am convinced that it would be a much sadder place indeed. Curiously, as long as Champagne bubbly has been around (several hundred years) in fact pink champagne was produced quite sparingly up until the late 1970’s. Case in point, Veuve Cliquot only made their first Champagne rose only in 1977. However, since the 1980’s the demand for rose Champagne has taken off, and thankfully it appears that there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style of pink wine combined with high acidity also make for a very food friendly wine. But back to that gorgeous color..or more specifically..

Question: Why are some pink wines so much lighter, or darker than others?

Answer: There are two distinct methods for producing Rose Champagne.

I. Champagne by the addition of still red wine:

Rose light -i.e. Champagne made pink by the addition of red wine

Rose Champagne by the addition of red wine

 Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of vinification. More specifically, approximately 8-20% of a red still wine (often pinot noir from a well reputed red wine village such as Bouzy) will be added to the liqueur de triage. One exception to this rule is Ariston, who adds a touch of old vine (vieilles vignes) pinot meunier to produce their rose rather than the more conventional pinot noir. Champagne’s produced along such lines often display a lighter hue. (see above)

II. Champagne by the method of “Saignee”:

Champagne made by Saignee

Rose Champagne by Saignee

 A second and less utilized method of production is known as Saignee.  Here, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rose wine which is to leave the juice on the grape skins, and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French the verb “saigner” means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.

The resulting rose wine often exhibits a darker hue, and juicier more bold flavors. Some argue that rose Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, as they believe that  flavor compounds are more organically integrated.  Two such examples include: Laurent Perrier’s Rose and Fleury “Rose de Saignee”.

Below are two rose Champagne’s that I really enjoyed. Although I am a huge fan of bold and juicy Champagnes produced by saignee, both of  these wines were produced by the addition of still red wine.

Taittinger's Brut Prestige Rose

Wine:  Taittinger Prestige

Composition: 30% Chardonnay   70% Pinot Noir

Style: Rose

Sweetness: Brut 

Vintage: non-vintage

Country: France

Region: Champagne

Sub-Region: Montagne de Reims

Geology/Soil: Topsoil composed of chalky rubble and clay. Subsoil composed of both Belemite chalk on upper slopes and Micraster chalk on lower slopes.

Alcohol: 12%

Importer: Kobrand

US Retail: $50

Food: carmelized salmon, poke tuna, tomato and cheese tarts, thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches.

Taittinger’s non-vintage Rose is one of my favorite Grande Marque champagnes. It’s delicate pink hue, creamy texture and subtle wild berry and spice notes always leave me waxing poetic for the opportunity to enjoy such a treat again soon. I was recently hanging out with one of my friend’s who graciously decided to open a bottle of “Tatty” rose that I had given her over a year ago. Wow, it was even better than when I tasted it upon release.  Creamy, rich but still oh so delicate and pretty. Perhaps my experience gives added weight to the argument that rose Champagne that are made by the addition of red wine to the mix need additional time to integrate and express themselves fully than those made by the saignee method of vinification.

L. Aubry Fils 1996 Sable Rose

In an earlier post I referenced domaine L. Aubry Fils for their unusual production of a Champagne using “unauthorized” varieties. Well hidy ho, here they are again! This time the wine up for discussion is a rose from the glorious 1996 vintage that my good friend Kirk excavated from his vinous stash several weeks ago. The Sable (sab-lay) rose was first introduced in 1991 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the domaine. I found this very pale rose to be incredibly light and delicate, and with 10+ years of bottle age, the wine had taken on subtle hints of tangerine zest, ruby grapefruit and, dare I say this, saltine cracker? What an intriguing and most unusual wine. Thanks Kirk!

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For our fourth and fifth stops on the Champagne trail, we leave the Cote de Blancs and head dircectly south, to the Cote de Sezanne, and then even further still to Champagne’s final frontier, the Cote des Bar/Aube. We are not in Kansas anymore!

A cartographic refresher- Champagne's final frontier..

Cote de Sezanne:

 The Cote de Sezanne is a region that has garnered considerable interest since the 1960’s when it only truly began producing wines in commercial volume. Located directly south of the Cote de Blancs, and extending to the edge of the Seine river, the Cote de Sezanne is planted predominantly to chardonnay on a stretch of east facing vineyard sites. Although you won’t hear of any superstar domains based in this region, in fact numerous producers located in Champagnes “big three” regions to the north have enthusiastically invested in vineyard sites in the Cote de Sezanne in order to compliment and ramp up their overall Champagne production.

Aube:

 This most southerly outpost of Champagne is located about a 2 hours drive from Epernay. Indeed, the climate and topography differ markedly from say the Cote de Blancs or the Montagne de Reims. In fact, the famous Burgundian region of Chablis is located only a short 40 minute drive from the Aube.

What sets the Aube and the rest of Champagne apart aside from the distance? For one thing, the climate here is categorized as semi-continental, and warmer than it’s neighbors to the north. In addition, the soils of the Aube tend to be more nutrient rich and less chalk-laden than vineyards located in the Cotes de Blancs, Marne Valley or the Montagne de Reims.  Gently rolling hills, the influence of the Seine and Aube rivers, and generally south facing vineyards are capable of producing rich, albeit more fruit driven and fleshy champagnes that  are an absolute joy to imbibe.

One such example which immediately comes to mind is Fleury’s deep, rich and juicy rose, made from 100% pinot noir (the grape of choice in the Aube) which is produced a la saignee-or bleed from red skinned grapes being pressed after extensive skin contact. Although this method is utilized commonly for the production of rose still wine, it is much less common in the region of Champagne, as most producers will craft a pink champagne with the addition of still red wine during the vinification process.

Fleury's non-vintage Rose de Saignee

Important villages in the Cote de Sezanne:

Sezanne

Villenauxe-la-Grande

 

Important villages in the Aube:

Troyes (actually, halfway between the Cote de Sezanne and the Aube)

Les Riceys (home of Champagne’s A.O.C. Rose des Riceys)

Bar-sur-Seine

Bar-sur-Aube

Essoyes

Important  Grower -Producers located in the Aube:

Drappier

Fleury

Serge Mathieu

Champagne Moutard

Dosnon & Lepage

 

Representing the Aube.. Champagne Serge Mathieu

To be honest, I have never tasted wines from Serge Mathieu. However, these folks have as their Champagne calling card one of the quirkiest, irreverant and most inventive wine websites I have encountered. Animated tractors, flying grapes and the propietor dressed as a snowman..even the kid’s will love watching it! I am now obssessed with finding and tasting these wines.  More to come!

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How can one not take notice of the blond in the room? The blond to which I am referring is this stunning 100% chardonnay (see champagne flutes below) from the Cote de Blancs, our third stop through the regions of Champagne.

My good friend Sunhee cookin' up a storm with a glass of champers..

The Cote de Blancs lies south of the Champagne capital of Epernay, and stretches southwards 20+km. Here, Chardonnay reigns supreme, where it is planted to predominantly east facing vineyard sites. Over the centuries, each grand cru village in the Cote de Blancs has also established a reputation or characteristic “style”. More specifically: Cramant for it’s heightened chardonnay aromatics and bouquet, Avize for it’s focus and delicacy, Oger for both it’s fine bouquet and raciness, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for its superior finesse and intensity, and Vertus (premier cru)  for its inherent fruitiness and rondeur. In its youth, a Blanc de Blancs can sometimes seem a bit austere or one dimensional. Fresh citrus, lemon curd, or biscuit are pretty common descriptors.  However with several years of ageing, wonderfully complex nuances can develop like toasted bread, grilled hazelnuts, dried flowers or salty-savory notes.

Important villages located north to south:

Grand Cru:

Chouilly

Cramant

Avize

Oger

Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger

Premier Cru:

Cuis

Vertus

Bergeres-les-Vertus

Important  Grower -Producers located in the Cote des Blancs: 

Jacques Selosse

Pierre Peters

Diebolt-Vallois

Pierre Gimmonet

Launois

Pierre Moncuit

Franck Bonville

Philippe Gonet

Salon (really a Grande Marque house)

Delamotte (owned by Salon)

Larmandier Bernier

Duval-Leroy

A classic Blanc de Blancs from Pierre Moncuit

Wine:  Pierre Moncuit-Delos

Composition: 100% Chardonnay

Style: Blanc de Blancs

Sweetness: Brut

Vintage: non-vintage

Country: France

Region: Champagne

Sub-Region: Cotes de Blancs

Geology/Soil: Topsoil: Lignite, sandy-loam, clay. Subsoil: Predominantly Belemnite chalk, with some Micraster at lower edges of the slopes. The chalk here is less dense than in the Montagne de Reims.

Alcohol: 12%

Importer: Vintage 59, In California, Charles Neal Selections .

US Retail: $40

Food: Fresh oysters, caviar, gougeres, hamachi crudo, grilled cheese sandwiches!

Hands down one of the coolest marques/logos in Champagne. The bold black font and somber gray make me think this is a serious wine. But then those wings makes me think light, lithe, and ethereal! This Cote de Blancs from Pierre Moncuit is made from 100% Chardonnay, all from Grand Cru vineyard sites. I think that it is one of the best grower-producer values from the Cote de Blancs. True, this bottling is young and a bit more primary (vinifcation and ageing in stainless steel only) and less characterful than what I am certain it will become in 5+ years. However, at the end of a busy day, a glass of elegant, bright and racy is just what I need. Along with a white cheddar cheese puff or two..

A view of the grand cru vineyards at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

 

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La Vallee de la Marne -the vineyards of Leclerc Briant

South of the Montagne de Reims and west of Epernay, lies the second region on our stop, the Vallee de la Marne, or the Marne Valley. Here, the Marne river provides a focal point to this region, as it flows westward past the important wine producing villages of Marueuil-sur-Ay, Ay, and Cumieres. In fact, many vineyard sites flank both sides of the Marne River. The Marne Valley is also the largest grape-growing district, with approximately two-thirds of its total planting devoted to Pinot Meunier.

Due to the fact that the topography here is flatter and lower than say the Montagne de Reims, the region is more susceptible to spring frosts. For this reason, the late-budding Pinot Meunier is often the varietal of choice here. In addition, the Pinot Meunier’s often times more fruity characteristics are an important component towards crafting balanced and approachable  wines in Champagne. Although the Marne Valley does not possess the number of Grand Cru villages of its neighbors to either the north or south (Montagne de Reims or Cote de Blancs), this region certainly takes care of business, (thank you Elvis) as evidenced by the wines you’ll taste from the likes of over-achieving grower-producers listed below.

Leclerc Briant is one such domaine, producing a range of single vineyard, super site specific Champagnes, while also practicing biodynamic viticulture.

Les Chevres Pierreuses Vineyard -located in Cumieres

Leclerc Briant's single vineyard "Les Chevres Pierreuses" Champagne

 

Important villages located east to west:

Avenay

Mareuil-sur-Ay

Ay

Mutigny

Dizy

Champillon

Hautvillers (of Dom Perignon fame)

Cumieres

Important Grower -Producers located in the Vallee de la Marne:

Gaston Chiquet (Dizy)

Leclerc Briant (Cumieres)

Tarlant  (Oeuilly)

Rene Geoffroy (Cumieres)

Bruno Michel (Pierry)

On the south bank of the Marne River -Tarlant's vineyards at Oeuilly

 Perhaps the quintessential example of an over-achieving Vallee de la Marne Champagne is found in Tarlant’s Cuvee Louis. All one need do is check out the back label (see below) to understand how much time and devotion are spent towards the production of this wine. At nine years on the lees, this deep, rich and profound wine is one that can definitely run with the big dogs and wines at twice, or even thrice the price.

Tarlant's NV Cuvee Louis -the giant slayer

Check out this righteous endorsment at the top of this back label..

All the information you need -Tarlant's very informative back labels

I never get tired of this Champagne either!  -Mumu

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