For The Love of Champagne

There’s this lure about Champagne; she seduces us with her fine bubbles, her lineage, her cache, chicness, and sometimes, that je ne sais quoi.

Somm’s adore her…in fact there’s not one wine professional out there who I know that doesn’t love champagne. For me, it was never the first thing I would reach for when I had company, or to serve for that special occasion. In my diploma days, where I shone through the fortified section, I struggled with the sparkling. Cava, Franciocorta, Champagne and other sparklers were my nemesis and finding those special nuances to tell one apart from the other usually escaped me.  Or distinguishing what grapes make up the majority of the blend! Ugh! Although I passed the sparkling section, I never got to the point where I loved champagne, and didn’t I need a reason to serve it, or have it. As time passed, I realized that you never need a reason to serve, taste or drink champagne!

As of late, I’ve been spoiled because distributors are bringing out the bubbles to try to sell to us retailers, so I’ve been tasting a lot. And over time, I’ve come to be actually call out what the major grapes are! Meunier brings fruitiness to the blend, chardonnay will have that chalky, citrus, granite note, and pinot noir gives structure and body. Hmm…what’s happening here?  🙂 And I’ve discovered, that I prefer blanc de noir rather than blanc de blanc! I like the structured champagnes with the added fruitiness, with only a bit of that chalky limestone!

Then there’s my friend and our daily customer to ‘The Church of Hicks’ who loves champagne and also is more than happy to share with me a bottle (or two) with me! In fact, it was his 70th birthday, where I had the Krug Grand Cuvee. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing stuff…but I’m rather fond of grower champagne.

In the past, the small growers or families would supply their grapes to the big Champagne Houses like Bollinger, Roederer, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger…just to name a few. Now, we are seeing more of the growers making their own bubbles and doing a mighty fine job of it!

Champagne Lombard is in the heart of Epernay, and this family only uses the finest grapes in their cuvees. The extra brut is super dry with only 4 g/L of residual sugar, and the blend is 40% chardonnay, 40% meunier and 20% pinot noir, all from their premier cru sites. Amazing champagne with notes of lemon curd, brioche, crimini mushroom, toasted nuts – those beautiful notes that make champagne champagne! Alas, this was the last bottle and there is no more available in the province to order!

Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart is three generations of winemaking starting with husband and wife team Marcel Ployez and Yvonne Jacquemart in 1930. They work with the three main grapes of champagne in their premier and grand cru vineyards. The Extra Brut Passion has only 3 g/L RS with 44% pinot noir, 38% chardonnay and 18% meunier – another Blanc de Noir. Dryer than the Lombard, but more fruit up front with green apple and lemon-lime, biscuit and even hints of red berries! Fine, persistent bubble with a flavourful finish! Great price too at $68.95 on the shelf!

Champagne Collet started its life as a cooperative called Cogevi. In 1930, we see the wines taking on the name of the director of the company, Raoul Collet and the company making a major move to Ay, one of the villages at the heart of Champagne. Today, the modern technology combined with the historical significance of the Cogevi brand, has earned it great respect amongst champagne houses. It is still a cooperative, but their flagship brand is Champagne Collet. In 2021, they will celebrate their 100th anniversary! I had the opportunity to try both the brut, and the Vintage 2008! Meunier vs Chardonnay definitely at play here! Again, the brut was more fruit forward with 50% Meunier, 15-20% chardonnay and 15-20% pinot noir. Lots of toasted brioche with lemon lime. The vintage brut really kicked it up several notches with my nose and palate detecting more chardonnay. All that mineral chalkyness with smoke, flint and brioche coming through the 66% chardonnay, with beautiful structure coming through, and the 34% pinot noir adding toasted nuts and further complexity to the blend. The brut is $61.95 and the Vintage 2008 around $100/bottle. My dilemma will be which wine to order!

Some very famous people had some great things to say about champagne!

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right!” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life” – Charles Dickens

“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s champagne!” – Sir Winston Churchill

And of course…

“I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” –Lily Bollinger, former manager of the Bollinger Champagne house

I bet now your next bottle of champagne will be extra special! Santé!

 

 

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Not Just Another Italian Grape-(#ItalianFWT)

A year ago, I took part in La Famiglia di Amarone tasting at the Collisioni Festival in Barolo. The great family wineries (and there are many) that make the style of Amarone – wine made from a blend of dried grapes; typically Corvina, Corvinone & Rondinella, (and a multiple of others) to make this high alcohol-high tannin-big mouth-highly ageable wine. And these wines come from Valpolicella, a highly reputable region located in the Veneto in NE Italy. But what many DON’T know is that some of these families also have land located closer to Lake Garda, the home of Trebbiano di Lugana, aka Turbiana, aka Trebbiano di Soave – which is also known as Verdicchio, one of Italy’s greatest white grapes.

Ah…gotta love Italian grapes! Synonyms galore…or should I say biotypes. Since there are eight different Trebbianos out there (that are all unrelated by the way), let’s not confuse this one with what I sometimes like to call the ‘armpit grape” of Italy – Trebbiano Toscano. But I digress…due to the quality challenges of  (some) of the trebbianos out there, some producers have chosen to label their wines as Turbiana. So, if you see this on the label, essentially it is Trebbiano di Lugana, the wine that we are discussing today!

Lake Garda sits with Lombardy to the west and Veneto to the east. Lugana sits on the south shores of the Lake while Valpolicella sits to the east of the lake. Chalky clay soils suits the Turbiana grape, the chalk providing the essential acidity to the wine and the clay bringing the roundness and longevity to the wine.

One of the families of well known Amarone is the Zenato family. Many awards and accolades given for their Reserva Sergio Zenato wine, but in 1993, patriarch Sergio realized the potential of the Lugana area and the Trebbiano di Lugana grape. He also created a reserva of this wine, aged in oak. The San Benedetto is the first tier, and the wine that I have tasted for this post. Unlike the reserva which is fermented partially in large oak barrels with further ageing in small oak barrels for additional complexity, the San Benedetto is done completely in stainless steel. This allows a freshness to the wine with great aromatics. This wine had that high searing acidity with flavours of melon, citrus and hints of pineapple and grassiness. To be honest it took some time to open up and I have some leftover to try today to see if it has improved overnight. Clearly, it needs food, and my magical pairing? Salt and vinegar chips! When drinking wine at 9:30 pm, a full meal is NOT what I need, but any salty snack would work wonders with this wine! Salute!

My colleagues here at #ItalianFWT have some other examples of Trebbiano di Lugana along with some delicious pairings – check them out!

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Living Life to its Fullest

I love it when people celebrate birthdays. No, not your kid’s first birthday, or their 13th or 18th, but a 65th or 70th, 80th and 90th birthday!  Now those are really worth celebrating!

Imagine my delight and surprise to be invited to a 70th birthday for one of our loyal customers, with whom I also consider to be a friend. A small, catered affair with only 13 people around the table, so I certainly felt blessed to be in such great company!Rocco 3

One of the best parts of the evening, was being able to “raid” the host’s cellar! The host is also of a similar age bracket, and like my friend, collects wines. He has the temperature/humidity controlled cellar, complete with racks up top and drawers for the wooden boxes below. What a treat to have been able to choose the wines for the dinner! It was like being a kid in a candy shop! Wine candy!

Choosing was interesting as I knew I wanted to choose with my friend’s favourites in mind (merlot and sangiovese), but also keeping in mind that there were others at the table; men and women, not to mention what we were eating. We started out with Krug champagne and beluga caviar, so you can glean what kind of evening this would be! Nothing but the best for this 70 year old!

I ended up choosing what I thought was a little bit of everything for everyone! Napa chardonnay and cabernet, Burgundy pinot, Bordeaux, Barolo were among some of the choices. The hands down favourite was the Hermitage blanc (50/50 blend of marsanne/rousanne). We loved it so much we needed to open a second bottle. The Pauillac Lynch-Bages 2010 saw the bottle drained as well, and the big surprise of the night was the Vilafonté from South Africa.

J.L Chave is one of the premier winemakers of the Northern Rhone valley, where he makes age worthy, noteworthy wines from both estate grapes, and a 2nd label with purchased grapes of the utmost quality. His wines are truly phenomenal, and there isn’t one that I’ve tried that I haven’t like. And paired with escargots and crostini in a butter truffle oil, was absolutely divine – there’s no other way to describe it! Sometimes the price doesn’t equal quality, but in this case, it most certainly did!  I was gifted one of these bottles when I left with really no idea that the retail price tag is a cool $340! Cha-ching!

Rocco 6

Rocco 7

Vilafonté is a South African property around the Stellenbosch area, so named for the soils of the area. It’s some seriously old dirt here, dating back a million years or so (that’s what they say). This was the Series C, 2013 vintage, that has been described by the winery as “rich and dense”. I would agree! After being opened for over an hour, it still needed a decant, which we did, and it became smooth, rich and luscious, full of those black fruit flavours and aromas associated with both cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. No wonder I loved this wine…cab franc is certainly one of my favourites, and this wine brought me back to South Africa!

That is just a small sampling of the evening, truly memorable for me, and I sure hope for my friend too! Good food, good friends, good wine…can’t ask for much more! My friend lives life to its fullest! His ‘end of life plan” is to get on a plane, with a one way first class flight to “somewhere”, where he’ll drink amazing wine, then he’d come back cargo, and he’s ok with that! Salute!

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Lacrima – The Aromatic Jewel in Le Marche’s Crown (#ItalianFWT)

Le Marche, one of the lesser known and less traveled regions of Italy is in my books, an unsung hero of the country. Located on the east side of the country, halfway down the Adriatic coast, it has everything going for it. Rolling hills, mountains, seasides, beaches, unparalleled local cuisine and of course native grape varieties that are gaining more ground on the international stage. Verdicchio, perhaps the most famous grape to come out of Le Marche is one of Italy’s oldest white grapes, and one of the only Italian white grapes capable of ageing. It shows its versatility by being made in a variety of styles: sweet (passito), still and sparkling.

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Coming out from behind Verdicchio’s shadow though, is a lovely little red grape called Lacrima, one of only a handful of aromatic red grapes in Italy. I’ll never forget my first experience drinking lacrima…around a table of fellow classmates/winetasters, exploring a wine made with this grape, many of us tasting it for the first time. Everything else previously tasted soon took a back seat to this surprise wine. You could’ve heard a pin drop during the initial assessment of this wine. No words were spoken as all noses were fully engaged deep into the glass, pulling out every single aroma nuance possible. I couldn’t stop smelling it, and hoped that the taste would be as equally mesmerizing. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

f=”https://joyofwine.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/lacrima-grapes.jpg”> Lacrima grapes: photo courtesy of Lorenzo Marotti Campi – Marotti Campi wines of Le Marche, Italy[/capt

An ancient variety, lacrima was granted DOC status in 1995, but was in danger of becoming extinct with only seven hectares remaining at the time. Lacrima means ‘tear’, because of its very thin skins, they break easily causing violet juice to run down the grape as if it were crying. Because of this, it makes growing the grape challenging and careful handling  is required in both the vineyard and winery. It’s worth it though, because one smell and taste of the lavender, green cardomom, roses, blackberry, pink pepper, asian spices and juniper berries will have you hooked for life! Like it’s white counterpart Verdicchio, it too can be made in a variety of styles: sparkling rose, still, lightly sweet (lower alcohol), and an unctuously sweet dessert style. There is nothing quite like a chilled sparkling lacrima to enjoy on the patio on a hot day, or to surprise your guests with a different sort of celebratory bubble. Now, with the cooler days (& nights) of Autumn descending quickly upon us, time to turn the ovens back on and cook up a delectable roast lamb, duck, or rabbit, making lacrima extremely versatile for both the heavy and lighter roasted meats. And for dessert? The sweet styles work marvelously with chocolate, especially raspberry or blackberry chocolate! One of my favourite producers, Marotti Campi, is one of the many family owned wineries of the area, and Lorenzo is passionate about making quality wine, and I proudly sell (& drink) several styles of their lacrima available in our market.

Having tasted all styles of lacrima, I can attest to the quality and amazing uniqueness of this grape. If you have not yet had a chance to experience lacrima in any of its forms, I encourage you to go out and find some! It is an experience you are sure to not forget!

This post is part of the #ItalianFWT, Italian Food Wine Travel group. Here’s some other posts you can read about for some amazing ideas on wines for fall! Check them out, then head over to the Twitter page to ask us any questions!

Jeff at Food Wine Click, gets real with his directive to Finish Up the Rosato, It’s Barolo Time- Italian FWT

Jennifer at Vino Travels introduces us to Badia a Coltibuono: Beginnings by Monks in Gaiole in Chianti

Gwen at Wine Predator has an inspiring suggestion for Italian Red Wines for Fall? Go Pink and Pair with Pasta! #ItalianFWT

Jane at Always Ravenous is bringing in the new season by Leaning into Fall with Beef Short Ribs and Nebbiolo

Lauren, The Swirling Dervish, is our helpful guide to Transition into Fall with the Wines from Südtirol / Alto Adige

Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm crafts a tempting pairing of Pappardelle al Ragu Di Cinghiale and a Monsanto Chianti Classico

Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla shares her secrets with A Few of My Favorite Fall Things: Truffles, Cheese, & Barolo

Katarina of Grapevine Adventures encourages readers to Welcome Fall with a Taurasi DOCG from Irpinia

Jill of L’Occasion, we give you Wine To Match The Trees: 15 Italian Reds for Fall

As this post is being published, I have returned to Le Marche, where I can be found soaking up the sun by the seaside or hiking up the mountainside, inevitably drinking lacrima! Salute!

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The Other Side

I’ve been involved in wine for approximately the last 10 years, all of it ending in a culmination of a great job, titles and some serious certifications. The carrot was always dangling in front of me, and after completion of the Italian Wine Expert designation I worked very hard and tirelessly for, I gave that carrot a satisfying crunch! All those times of making my way across that bridge of learning, only to stop in the middle, while the rest of my family stared hopefully from the other side, urging me forward, waiting for me to finish the walk and finally join them.

For the past 5 years, I’ve spent so much time studying, I’ve forgotten how to do anything else – anything what I consider to be meaningful anyway. I’ve been reading a lot of books strictly for pleasure, watching new movies or tv series on Netflix, listening to audio books, cleaning my house, and yes, drinking wine.

Through all of this, I find myself wanting more. My husband knows my pattern, and he has supported me and waited patiently for me to succeed in my latest endeavour. It’s his turn now. My turn to step up and see him do some traveling of his own, find a new career path, and new projects. Additionally, I have adult children. Young ladies who no longer need me to brush their hair or pick out their clothes. They still need us for food and shelter (and maybe some advice here or there :)) but for all intents and purposes, they are independant. And isn’t that what we raise them to do?

We recently got back from a family vacation, where we did various “touristy” things, and really, did a whole lot of relaxing. Playing games, eating, laughing and generally just enjoying each other’s company; company that included my parents, my siblings and their families. There was very little talk of wine, no winery visits, with only the purchase of a bottle or two at the grocery store or Costco. I found I actually enjoyed that, so much so to wonder what I might do next – study more, do something entirely different, stop traveling…or rather, travel for reasons other than wine? You just never know!

Since I first composed this post, a series of emails, events and people have been a great influence for me deciding what is next for me. Nothing is set in stone, and certainly I can make plans, but there needs to be a level of fluidity to them. All this to say I think I have a path marked of where I want to go: my next major trip is to Australia, assisting in another southern hemisphere harvest, but this time with a close friend who is a winemaker in McLaren Vale. Seriously, I can’t wait! I think it will be another incredible learning experience! And when that trip is complete, I’ll dive into the books again with some self study, continuing my journey into the world of Italian grapes!

I’m joining a choir, which will perform both classical and contemporary music, and I’m learning Italian from a beautiful Italian couple who want nothing more than to see me succeed and do well. What more could I ask for? And finally, I plan to do more of this: writing and blogging. It’s easy to blame not writing on not having any subject matter, but that can turn into weeks or months of…nothing. This blog is case in point! If you’ve taken time to read though, thank you. It warms my heart to know that there are folks out there who read my blog!

My best to you all. Here’s to the next leg of the journey, and getting to the other side of the bridge! Salute!

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