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British Columbia Critics’ Picks December 2014

Supersized Sparkling Special

One of the things we love to do at WineAlign is to drink sparkling wine at every opportunity we get and I can honestly say, we never really get bored doing it. When you taste thousands of wines a year (somebody has to do it) you crave the freshness and acidity that is the hallmark of most great sparkling wines just to keep your palate sharp. Yet even if they are soft and perhaps slightly sweet à la prosecco, or pink and fizzy a la rosé the more you taste the more you come to really appreciate what is one of the most diverse categories of wines made in the world. So in the spirit of the holidays we’ve gifted you with a supersized Sparkling Special, with some of our favourite festive fizzes selected from hundreds of picks we tasted this year from under $15 to well over $200.

Cheers,
Anthony

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

One of the great benefits of bubbles is sparkling wine’s ability to make most any dish it is served with taste better. How can you beat that? All you have to do is be ready and by that we mean keep a couple of bottles of your favourites in the refrigerator chilled and ready to go.

The Parés Baltà Cava Brut, is my go-to Spanish sparkler. So sophisticated and clean, it works with most foods and the grapes are 100 percent organically grown. Green never tasted so good.

Many of you will know the quality and consistency of Blue Mountain Brut NV, but to really experience the best of BC sparkling wine you have to try the Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs R.D. 2007. Like the 2006, this one hundred percent chardonnay is pure elegance and a wonderful expression of less is more. Cheese please.

A delightful surprise from Germany this year is the Selbach-Oster Riesling Brut 2011. Expect crunchy, crisp, Mosel fruit that runs from the front of the glass to back and will have your guests lining up for more. You can pair this with oysters, cheese straws, sashimi and more.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2007 Selbach Oster Riesling Brut 2011 Jansz Premium Cuvée

The current star of Oz bubble in the market is the Jansz Premium Cuvée N/V from Tasmania. We love its creamy textures and bright fruit.  A compelling drink for the price.

The prosecco prance is waning a bit but there is always room for the best and the Mionetto Il Moscato N/V is one of them. Well balanced and refreshing its peach flavours and baked apple mineral fruit are all in harmony with the bubbles. We love the crown cap.

A California classic and all class is the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009. Rich but austere it’s as close to champagne as it gets at half the price.

Mionetto Il Moscato Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs Brut 2009 Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Speaking of Champagne we finish with two stars. The Bollinger Special Cuvée N/V  is no ordinary multi-vintage champagne with its high percentage of reserve wines. Complex and powerful it is a spectacular food wine from charcuterie to chicken or sashimi.

Finally perhaps for New Year’s we suggest the Champagne Dom Pérignon 2004. Winemaker Richard Geoffrey, never at a loss for the perfect words to describe his wine, has called the ’04 Dom Pérignon ‘tactile, dark and chiselled’. In the glass this wine is all serious a brooding sparkler whose lees and sparkle have yet to fully knit into what will surely be one of the great seamless Dom’s of the decade if not the first half of the decade. Happy New Year, for sure.

DJ Kearney

Henkell Riesling Dry Les Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ChampagneThere’s nothing like bubbly to get the heart thumping, the eyes twinkling and the appetite fully stimulated. Obviously famous for toasting special moments and milestones, sparkling wines also happen to be some of the most adept and deserving partners for food. I posit that we should drink sparkling more often for this reason alone – not just when a major celebration demands it.

For moments when I crave champagne, my two must-have’s are Henriot Brut Souverain and Le Mesnil’s unbeatable value Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, both non-vintage wines that over-deliver on price, complexity and deliciousness.  I love the Henriot with briney oyster bisque and Le Mesnil with Dungeness crab eggs Benny.

For a crowd when lots of jolly fizz is needed, try the Dry Riesling from Henkell – it’s full of fresh and soft citrus appeal. Give it a frosty chill and serve as a welcome wine to break the ice and spark conversation.

Two more sparklers I find indispensable with food are both crémants. The surprisingly complex Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace – with some tender cheesy gougères , and Jean Bourdy Cremant de Jura is a minerally marvel paired with rustic pâté de champagne or frico.

Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura Bottega Gold Brut Prosecco Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

Finally two wines that dazzle for different reasons. The gleaming bowling pin bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco, and the astonishing Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009 that elevates Nova Scotian hybrids to unheard of heights. It’s bubble or nothing for me this Christmas.

Rhys Pender MW

Bubbly should be consumed throughout the year, but over the Christmas holidays there seems to be many more great excuses to pop a cork.

At this time of year it is always worth spending some money on a bottle or two of delicious Champagne. There are many big Champagne brands out there but just because they are Champagne doesn’t mean they are all equally good. For me, one of the best and most consistently excellent from year to year is the Piper-Heidsieck Brut. Delicious for a $60 splurge. For a few more dollars you can get into some really interesting grower Champagne. Biodynamic, wild yeasts, 100% Pinot Noir, neutral oak and just delicious is the Marie-Courtin 2007 Efflorescence Extra Brut.

BC is stepping up its game when it comes to bubbly production with more and more traditional method wines coming on to the market and they are often a lot less expensive than Champagne. Many wines don’t see long lees aging but they have plenty of flavour, freshness and the trademark BC acidity. Try the Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé for a good crisp example to help with those afternoon snacks with family and friends.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Marie Courtin Efflorescence Extra Brut Pinot Noir 2007 Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008 Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava

For a BC bubbly with a little more toastiness from long lees aging, try the Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008. It is quite complex and interesting and richer in style, perfect with richer canapés.

From the other side of Canada, exciting things are happening with bubbly in Nova Scotia. Benjamin Bridge is leading the way. The 2009 Brut has plenty of verve and intensity and complexity from a good few years of age. Think hybrid grapes can’t make good wine? This will change your mind.

With people dropping in over the holidays you should always have some bubbly on hand to greet them. After all, it is the festive season. The Segura Viudas Brut Reserva is good wine and the price is right so you can pour generously without breaking the bank. Go out and buy a case now. You won’t be disappointed.

Treve Ring

Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason DziverThose who know me can well attest to the fact I’m an avowed sparkling wine drinker. There are always bubbles chilling in my fridge, I have a secret stash (shh) hidden for impromptu celebrations (Tuesday!) and I’ve been known to pair sparkling wine to BBQ pork chops (a delight). My heart is in Champagne; for me, Champagne is not just the pinnacle of the sparkling world, but the pinnacle of the wine world. That said, my favourite thing about sparkling wine is its diversity; across region, grape and method, there is a style to fit every personality, budget, and yes – food.

From the west coast, one of the most singular sparklers is Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin 2011, with its racing acidity, green fig, green apple and chalk notes, it’s an ideal wine to crack (crown cap) with west coast oysters.

Our neighbours to the south, in California, know a bit about wine. And Domaine Carneros knows much more than a bit about sparkling wine. The Carneros winery was founded by Champagne Taittinger and holds close ties with the illustrious Champagne house today. Pick up the Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 for Champagne’s tradition, at half the price.

One huge benefit about the prosecco boom is that consumers are discovering there is more than one style, and importers are responding. I’ve noticed quite a few new interesting proseccos on our market recently, including the well priced, fuller bodied Terre Prosecco Extra Dry, the elegant, crisp and fresh Vaporetto Prosecco Brut and the generous, stylish Giusti Prosecco Brut. ‘Tis the season for brunching!

Terre Prosecco Extra DryVaporetto Prosecco Brut Giusti Prosecco Brut Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne

It’s also the season for celebrating with friends. The Lini 910 Lambrusco is a jolly red hue, fruity and bright, and a great casual pour with pizza or cranberry decked poultry.

Sometimes, when the situation calls for Champagne, nothing else will do. I recommend picking up Champagne Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé NV, an elegant, subtly fruited grower Champagne, ideal for cheersing any festivities or for gifting to that special (lucky) someone.

About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks column is the place to find recent recommendations from our intrepid and curious BC critics, wines that cross geographical boundaries, toe traditional style lines and may push limits – without being tied to price or distribution through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Beringer - Holiday the California Way


Vancouver Wine Festival

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Les bons choix de Nadia – Décembre

Le bon goût, la tourtière et le ragoût
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

Chaque année, pour le plus grand plaisir de nos papilles d’enfants – et l’infortune de nos métabolismes fragiles –, la période des Fêtes amène son lot de démesure et d’excès. Bien que l’heure semble propice à l’abondance, ce n’est peut-être pas le meilleur moment pour sortir de votre cave de grandes bouteilles longuement attendues.

Parce qu’ils sont riches et relevés – sans mentionner qu’ils sont souvent accompagnés de marinades –, les pâtés à la viande, ragoûts, tourtières du Lac-Saint-Jean et autres plats traditionnels québécois risqueraient de masquer les subtilités d’un vin délicat. Ces plats copieux font, en revanche, d’excellents compagnons pour des vins plus chaleureux. On peut donc miser donc sur la chair fruitée ample et gourmande d’un vin rouge de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, de Vacqueyras, des Costières de Nîmes, ou encore sur l’étoffe tannique et la vigueur d’un cru de Provence, de Valence, des Pouilles, de la Californie, de Swartland en Afrique du Sud, une syrah ou une carmenère du Chili.

Une caisse de bons vins à moins de 15 $

Pour accompagner le buffet de Noël, nul besoin de dépenser une fortune ni de chercher LE vin qui créera l’accord parfait. D’abord, il est peu probable qu’un seul vin puisse convenir parfaitement à ce mariage de saveurs hétéroclites. Et puis, je ne sais pas pour vous, mais dans ma famille, on ne se prête pas à des dégustations sérieuses autour du ragoût de pattes. On jase et on boit distraitement.

Dans ce contexte, mieux vaut donc opter pour des vins « passe-partout », riches en fruit, souples, faciles à boire et relativement abordables.

Rouges ou blancs, les douze vins suivants sont tous assez polyvalents pour épouser les saveurs prononcées des plats de viande en sauce. Surtout, tous sont secs et donc parfaitement adaptés aux plaisirs de la table.

Rouges

À mon avis, le Portugal demeure l’un des secrets les mieux gardés en matière de rapport qualité-prix-plaisir. À cet égard, les vins de Lavradores de Feitoria sont remarquables. Cette coopérative du Douro dont l’activité s’étend depuis l’extrémité ouest de l’appellation, jusqu’au Douro Supérieur, a produit un très bon 2012, riche en fruit, compact et on ne peut plus fidèle à ses origines.

Pour 10 $ et des poussières, difficile de trouver mieux que le Herdade das Albernoas 2012. Le genre de vin polyvalent, à servir frais autour de 15°C.

Un peu plus corsé et tout aussi abordable, le Vila Regia 2013 Douro demeure l’une des valeurs sûres au répertoire général de la SAQ.

Lavradores De Feitoria Douro 2012 Herdade Das Albernoas 2012 Vila Regia 2013 Cistus Reserva 2012 Domaine de Moulines Merlot 2012 Jean Noël Bousquet La Garnotte Corbières

Si vous aimez les vins rouges solaires, le Cistus 2012, Douro de Quinta do Vale Da Perdiz est l’une des aubaines à saisir !

En plus d’être un bassin à aubaines hyperfertile, la région du Languedoc-Roussillon est l’une des régions les plus riches et les plus diversifiées de France. Chaque année, on peu acheter le Merlot du Domaine des Moulines les yeux fermés. Gorgé de fruit et juste assez charnu.

Dans la même veine de fruit et de garrigue, La Garnotte 2010 de Jean-Noël Bousquet porte un nom à consonance bien québécoise, mais est résolument méditerranéen par sa composition de syrah, de carignan et de grenache.

Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2012 Mas Des Tourelles Grande Cuvée 2012En plus du Château des Tourelles dans les Costières de Nîmes, Hervé Durand et son fils Guilhem commercialisent un bon vin de Pays d’Oc sous l’étiquette Mas des Tourelles. La Grande Cuvée 2012 est issue de merlot, de syrah, de petit verdot et de marselan – croisement entre le cabernet sauvignon et le grenache – et vendue au répertoire général de la SAQ.

Certaines régions viticoles du centre et du sud de l’Italie, les Pouilles et les Abruzzes, par exemple, recèlent aussi quelques trésors de vins rouges à des prix attrayants. Produit aux limites des Marches, le Riparosso 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo est juste assez rustique et corsé pour tenir tête aux saveurs prononcées de la tourtière et soutenu par une franche acidité qui laisse la bouche nette et ravivée.

Blancs

Les chardonnays se suivent et se ressemblent, le plus souvent. Bien qu’il ne soit pas très original, le Campagnola Chardonnay 2013 fait preuve d’une qualité irréprochable. Loin d’être une autre caricature, il offre en bouche de bons goûts de fruits, juste ce qu’il faut de gras et un bel équilibre. Le tout pour 13 $ et des poussières. On achète à la caisse!

Plus vif, comme le commande le cépage sauvignon blanc, le Fumé blanc 2013 Gran Reserva de la maison Carmen profite d’un élevage partiel en fûts de chêne qui tempère ses ardeurs et donne un vin étonnamment complet pour le prix. Sec, tranchant et idéal avec les huîtres.

Dans le même esprit, mais un peu plus guilleret et fruité, le Carrelot des Amants blanc 2013 mise sur un assemblage de sauvignon blanc et de gros manseng.

Campagnola Chardonnay 2013 Carmen Gran Reserva Fumé Blanc Leyda 2013 Carrelot des Amants 2013 Albis 2013 Bacalhoa Catarina 2013

Les amateurs de vins blancs aromatiques voudront aussi goûter le Albis 2013 de José Maria da Fonseca. Issu de moscatel, le vin est sec, mais agrémenté de parfums floraux qui rappellent certains vins de dessert.

Lui aussi produit dans le secteur de la péninsule de Setúbal, le Bacalhôa Catarina 2013 mise sur les vertus complémentaires des cépages fernão pires, arinto et chardonnay. Le premier lui donne son originalité aromatique, le second lui confère une acidité et une poigne dignes de mention et le dernier apporte une texture juste assez grasse pour laisser en bouche une sensation rassasiante, sans lourdeur. Très bon achat à moins de 15 $.

Champagne!

Qu’on se le dise: le mot « Champagne » sur la bouteille ne garantit en rien la qualité. La dénomination protégée certifie l’origine et la méthode, mais elle n’atteste pas de la rigueur ni du talent du vinificateur. Le vignoble le plus septentrional de France est capable du meilleur, comme du pire.

Mais lorsqu’il est élaboré avec des raisins de qualité et dans les règles de l’art, aucun autre vin effervescent ne peut rivaliser avec l’excellence du champagne. Avec ses sols crayeux uniques, son climat régulé par la Marne, ses cépages parfaitement adaptés et le savoir-faire millénaire de ses vignerons, la région de Champagne est un terroir inimitable.

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut 2002 Drappier Pinot Noir Brut Nature ChampagneLe champagne est l’apéritif par excellence. C’est le moment idéal pour apprécier sa finesse et sa fraîcheur, et pour mettre nos papilles en éveil et en appétit. Pour accompagner un repas, mieux vaut choisir un champagne plus corsé, généralement composé d’une plus forte proportion de raisins noirs, comme celui de la maison Drappier. Force majeure de l’Aube, la famille Drappier produit un très bon Brut Nature Zéro dosage, issu exclusivement de pinot noir.
 Aucune liqueur d’expédition n’a été ajoutée au vin ; son onctuosité est donc attribuable seulement à la maturité des raisins.

Encore plus vineux et nourri, le Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale 2002 est devenu l’un de mes classiques au cours des dernières années. À la fois très élégant, mais assez étoffé et vineux pour accompagner un repas.

Avec des huîtres, rien n’égale à mon avis la fraîcheur et l’allure aérienne d’un bon blanc de blancs. Celui de la maison Henriot, par exemple, offre chaque année une expression très fine du cépage chardonnay, avec une minéralité digeste et désaltérante.

Le viticulteur Emmanuel Lassaigne a quitté la cave coopérative, banni les désherbants et prouvé à tous que le département de l’Aube – souvent considéré comme le parent pauvre de la Champagne – pouvait donner des vins aussi inspirés que ceux de la Marne. Si vous ne connaissez pas déjà Les Vignes de Montgueux, Blanc de blancs, hâtez-vous d’aller en succursales!

Henriot Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes De Montgueux Blanc De Blancs Larmandier Bernier Terre De Vertus Premier Cru Pascal Doquet Premier Cru Brut Pascal Doquet Horizon Brut Blanc De Blancs

Poussant encore plus loin la complexité et la minéralité, Pierre Larmandier cultive son vignoble en biodynamie et il en tire ce vin somptueux, qui offre une expression à la fois mûre, distinguée et épurée du cépage chardonnay sur le Terroir de Vertus, dans la Marne.

Hormis quelques rares vins de saignée, les champagnes rosés sont généralement issus d’un assemblage de chardonnay, « coloré » par l’ajout de pinot noir et de pinot meunier. Toujours plus chers et rarement aussi complets que leurs équivalents blancs. Raison de plus pour souligner la qualité de celui de Pascal Doquet. Une effervescence fine, des saveurs précises et persistantes, et un prix on ne peut plus attrayant.

Dans le présent arrivage du magazine Cellier, on retiendra aussi la cuvée Horizon Brut Blanc de blancs. Rappelons que le vignoble de la famille Doquet est conduit en agriculture biologique.

Cristal Brut Vintage Champagne 2006 Champagne G. Gruet Et Fils Blanc De BlancsÉgalement mis en marché dans le cadre du lancement du magazine Cellier, le Gruet, G. et Fils; Blanc de Blancs fera plaisir aux amateurs de champagne à l’affut d’aubaines (37,25 $). Bon vin de facture classique; j’ai bien aimé ses goûts briochés.

Enfin, si on ne profite pas de la période des Fêtes pour se gâter, quand le
fera-t-on? Le Roederer Cristal Brut 2006 s’inscrit dans la continuité des derniers millésimes. Préoccupé de maintenir un bon taux d’acidité naturelle dans les moûts, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon a commencé à repenser le travail à la vigne dès 2000. Roederer s’est à nouveau imposée par sa gestion avant-gardiste, devenant propriétaire du plus important vignoble champenois cultivé en biodynamie. Loin d’être le seul fruit d’une habile campagne de marketing, le Cristal s’inscrit dans l’élite des champagnes hauts de gamme.

Cellier de Noël – suite et fin du rapport d’un jour feuille…

Il y a un peu plus d’une semaine, je vous racontais les aléas d’une journée feuille, où tous les vins paraissent ternes et manquaient de fruit. Dans de telles conditions, il est difficile à mon avis d’avoir une idée juste de la qualité réelle des vins. Parmi la vingtaine de cuvées dégustées, voici donc ceux qui, ce jour-là, se présentaient le mieux.

Les étoiles de la Toscane

Bien qu’il soit certainement le plus connu et le plus prestigieux des supertoscans, le Sassicaia, Bolgheri 2011 a très peu en commun avec les cuvées modernes et plantureuses qui sont peu à peu devenues la norme à Bolgheri. Bien qu’un peu moins complet et complexe que d’autres millésimes récents, le 2011 se situe néanmoins dans une classe à part.

Plus modeste et issu d’un millésime un peu moins chaleureux, le Difese 2012 est le véritable second vin de la Tenuta San Guido, berceau du Sassicaia.

Sassicaia 2011 Le Difese 2012 Le Serre Nuove Dell'Ornellaia 2012 Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve 2011 Tignanello 2011

Toujours à Bolgheri, Le Serre Nuove 2012 de la Tenuta dell’Ornellaia a beaucoup d’étoffe et de prestance en bouche. Je dois même avouer que j’ai parfois plus de plaisir à boire ce vin que le grand vin d’Ornellaia. Surtout pour une fraction du prix.

Dans son domaine de Panzano en plein cœur du Chianti Classico, Giovanni Manetti est un monument de la viticulture toscane. Son Flaccianello della Pieve 2011 est issu de l’agriculture biologique. Bien que légèrement en recul par rapport aux millésimes précédents, le 2011 n’en demeure pas moins un très bon exemple du genre.

Le Tignanello 2011 m’a paru un peu plus complet que le Flaccianello. Créé au début des années 1970 par Piero Antinori, ce vin n’a pas pris une ride et continue de se bonifier au fil des millésimes. Est-ce un signe que les travaux effectués il y a quelques années sur le vignoble de la Tenuta Tignanello portent fruit?  

Deux monuments de Barolo

Ferdinando Principiano Serralunga Barolo 2010 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia 2010Très bien ficelé dans le style moderne affectionné par la famille d’Aldo Conterno, Barolo Bussia 2010 c’est-à-dire costaud, plein en bouche et très structuré, mais enrobé d’une chair fruitée mûre et généreuse. Bien qu’il en impose déjà en bouche, il n’atteindra vraiment son apogée que vers 2018-2020.

Plus modeste, mais aussi nettement plus facile à apprécier en jeunesse, le Barolo 2010 Serralunga de Principiano Ferdinando est tout à fait fidèle à l’esprit d’un bon nebbiolo, tant par sa forme, que par ses accents d’herbes séchées et de terre humide. Le genre de bouteille à ouvrir lors d’un repas pour deux et à savourer lentement, très lentement.

~

Veuillez aussi prendre note que Le guide du vin 2015 est en librairies depuis le 12 novembre. La nouvelle édition a été complètement repensée et s’articule désormais autour des populaires Grappes d’or. Plus de 1000 vins, dont au moins une centaine dégustée en primeur, des codes QR à scanner afin de faciliter vos recherches sur SAQ.com, des vidéos et plus encore!

Joyeuses Fêtes! À votre santé!

Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !


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Wolf Blass - Cuisinez comme un chef

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Les bons choix de Marc – Juin

Vroum vroum !
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Vroum (du verbe vrombir) v Onomatopée imitant le bruit d’un moteur qui accélère – dixit Le Petit Robert.

Le rapport avec le vin ? Eh bien, c’est le Grand Prix du Canada, qui commence aujourd’hui vendredi, qui m’a mis sur la piste. Pourtant, la  Formule 1, les gros moteurs et les voitures en général ne me passionnent pas vraiment. Par contre, la jet-set sur quatre roues et moi partageons un même beau grand penchant… pour le champagne.

Je sais, je sais. Ces énergumènes s’appliquent à secouer la bouteille et à faire gicler son précieux contenu la minute qu’ils se retrouvent sur un podium. À l’égard d’un vin patiemment élaboré, qui repose jusqu’à plusieurs années en cave avant d’être commercialisé, c’est, à tout le moins, une forme de non-respect.

Mais le champagne, qui ne le sait pas, c’est pour beaucoup, et même essentiellement, du marketing. De l’image, de l’esbroufe, du clinquant.

Sauf que c’est aussi, en même temps, le roi des apéros !

PAR-DELÀ L’IMAGE

J’ai pourtant longtemps entretenu un rapport trouble avec lui. Mon côté gogauche, sûrement. Un vin de riche, tape-à-l’oeil. Jusqu’à ce que le déclic se fasse lors d’un voyage en Champagne et que je passe une semaine là-bas à en goûter pas loin de 200. Moi qui avais jusqu’alors cru qu’ils se ressemblaient tous…

Pour que le courant passe, que le déclic se produise, on doit arriver à faire fi de l’effervescence, afin de goûter et d’apprécier ce qu’il y a derrière. C’est contradictoire, je sais. La mousse, c’est le champagne.

Mais l’acidité aussi fait le champagne, même chose pour cette tension si caractéristique, ces arômes de levure, de pain grillé, de beurre frais, d’olive verte aussi, parfois. La qualité suprême, cela dit : le bon champagne laisse la bouche merveilleusement fraîche, on a tout de suite envie d’y replonger.

Champagne

Les bouteilles de champagne reposent sur lattes, pour la seconde fermentation et la prise de mousse.

Je ne vais pas ici vous donner un cours complet sur le champagne, sur la région du même nom et plusieurs de ses négociants et vignerons. En revanche, passer du temps sur le site du Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne vous permettra d’accéder à une foule d’informations de toutes sortes, sur les fameux terroirs champenois et jusqu’aux chiffres-clés de la filière, en passant par les nombreuses possibilités offertes aux amateurs d’oenotourisme.

L’EMBARRAS DU CHOIX

On retrouve à la SAQ plus de 200 champagnes, dont une vingtaine sont maintenant sous la barre des 50 $, en raison d’une récente baisse décrétée par la Société d’État.

Parmi les bonnes bouteilles dégustées récemment, l’Ayala Brut Majeur, vif et juste assez toasté, à 48 $. Autre bon choix pratiquement au même prix (48,75 $), le Lallier Grande Réserve Brut, au caractère légèrement brioché et relativement nerveux.

Presque le double du prix, à 84,50 $, le Egly-Ouriet Tradition Grand Cru Brut, est vineux (généreux) et élégant – il nous emmène tranquillement dans la cour des grands.

Plus cher encore, à 116 $, l’Ayala Perle Nature Brut 2002 est un vrai bijou ! La mention « Nature » en Champagne signifie que le vin contient de 0 à 3 g de résiduel ; ici, il y a eu zéro dosage, aucun ajout de sucre, et l’assemblage est à 80 % à base de chardonnay.

Seul hic, il n’en reste que quelques bouteilles à la SAQ Signature de Montréal. Si vous le pouvez, et quitte à vous mettre à deux ou à trois pour l’acheter, foncez !

C’est le Grand Prix, après tout.

Ayala Brut Majeur ChampagneLallier Grande Réserve Grand Cru Brut ChampagneEgly Ouriet Tradition Grand Cru Brut ChampagneAyala Perle Nature Brut 2002

DES SOLUTIONS DE RECHANGE

Pas question de vous laisser avec une suggestion à 116 dollars – ce qui ne serait vraiment pas au goût de tout le monde.

Il existe, bien sûr, des solutions de rechange au champagne. Des mousseux élaborés parfois quasi avec les mêmes soins, mais ailleurs dans le monde, dans des terroirs pas toujours aussi prestigieux. La qualité est rarement aussi élevée, mais on peut tout de même trouver de très bonnes affaires.

Parmi les bons mousseux du moment, de Californie et à environ 30 $, le Domaine Chandon Réserve Brut en surprendrait plus d’un, à l’aveugle. Délicatement brioché, plutôt sec, sa fraîcheur est étonnante.

Autre choix recommandable, d’Italie cette fois, le Montenisa Brut Franciocorta Antinori, assez fin et à l’effervescence bien contenue.

Les amateurs de mousseux rosé auraient de leur côté tout intérêt à se procurer le Domaine Chandon Rosé, un peu dosé et donc un peu sucré, certes, mais l’équilibre est maintenu, l’acidité est là et joue bien son rôle.

Domaine Chandon Réserve BrutAntinori Montenisa Brut, FranciacortaChandon Rosé

LE BON USAGE DU CHAMPAGNE ET DU VIN MOUSSEUX

La température de service : froid mais pas glacé – environ 2 h au frigo.

Déboucher la bouteille : Avec précaution ! Une main qui retient fermement le bouchon ET le muselet qu’on aura desserré sans le retirer, et l’autre main qui tourne lentement la bouteille tenue par la base. L’objectif : faire entendre à l’ouverture un discret pssschhh plutôt qu’un gros pow

On fait barboter dans la bouche, pour aviver les arômes comme avec les autres vins ? Oui et non, certains le font en Champagne, d’autres pas. Dans tous les cas de figure, y aller mollo, prendre garde à la mousse qui peut donner l’impression de vouloir sortir par le nez…

Dans quel type de verre ?  Même si tout le monde, y compris là-bas, dit « coupe de champagne », préférez la flûte, le verre tulipe voire un bon verre à vin blanc ordinaire. Les bulles transporteraient aussi les arômes, d’où l’intérêt de favoriser leur montée.

Vroum vroum !

Marc

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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Vintages Preview for April 26, 2014 (Part One)

Champagne and Bordeaux 2009-2010
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Three out of five featured Champagnes in the VINTAGES April 26th are outstanding. But the main feature, red Bordeaux from 2009 and 2010, has a far less impressive hit rate. This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed by wines from these two celebrated vintages; many fall on the overripe, hard and violently oaky side, and it’s not just youthful exuberance. It’s a reminder of the clear and present danger of ‘calling’ a vintage across an entire (in this case, enormous) region. David Lawrason agrees, describing the release as “really slim pickings”. I’ve nevertheless highlighted a trio of engaging wines at fair prices, while Sara d’Amato and David also share their top picks.

The Stars Align on the Champagne/Sparkling Feature

There was plenty of synchronicity this week, with critics aligning on three of the five Champagnes on offer (with recommendations from at least two critics), and one trifecta, as close to a guarantee of quality as we can provide.

Marguet Père & Fils Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2006Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée Des 6 Cépages Brut Champagne 2006Fleury Blanc De Noirs Brut ChampagneMarguet Père & Fils 2006 Grand Cru Brut Champagne, France ($65.95). John Szabo – The vineyards are all grand cru, with Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. Ageing on the lees for five years gives this a rich and powerful, nicely yeasty-toasty profile, while a lovely mix of orchard fruit and citrus/orange, along with toasted almonds, dried flowers and brioche notes to amp up the complexity. Dosage and acidity are nicely lined up and the length is terrific; lovely stuff, for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Sara D’Amato – A powerful Champagne, classic, leesy and oozing with charm, it’s hard to tear yourself away from such a compelling bottle. Marguet prides itself on using sustainable and organic methods of production throughout their range. David Lawrason – This fine Champagne is a clinic on how well top vintage Champagnes can age. And it is much less expensive than many vintage Champagnes from the larger companies. This family firm in Ambonnay has been making Champagne for five generations.

Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée Des 6 Cépages Brut Champagne 2006, France ($87.95). John Szabo – An extra $20 buys you the top bottle on my list. The Moutard-Diligent family can trace its history in the southern part of Champagne known as the Côte des Bar as far back as 1642. But while most of the region has moved on to focus on just three varieties – pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, this estate still grows three almost forgotten (but still authorized) champagne grapes: arbanne, petit meslier and pinot blanc. These are blended with the big three to make the “Cuvée des Six Cépages”. The 2006 is beautifully mature and toasty at this stage, with dazzling hazelnut, white chocolate and brioche aromas, and wonderfully creamy, intensely flavoured palate. It’s a very classy and refine champagne, drinking beautifully now. Sara D’Amato – Perhaps my top pick of this rather impressive sparkling feature. A must taste if Champagne is your weakness.

Tawse Spark Riesling 2012Schloss Reinhartshausen Brut Riesling Deutscher SektCharles De Cazanove Brut Rosé ChampagneChampagne Fleury Blanc De Noirs Brut, France ($54.95). John Szabo – The Côte des Bar is home to the first, and still one of the very few biodynamic vineyards in Champagne, converted in 1989. This cuvée has been made every vintage since 1955 when, it was created by Robert Fleury. The reserve pinot noir wines used to assemble this cuvée are aged in large oak foudre, adding a notably burnished, pleasantly oxidative flavour profile: toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried fruit  and plenty of toasted wheat bread with honey. This will appeal to fans of traditional, mature Champagnes, or what the French call “le gout anglais”, suitable for sipping but even better for the table, and, say, a hazelnut-encrusted sea bass. Sara D’Amato – Looking for a bubbly to serve with your main course? This pinot noir Champagne offers a heavier weight and more substantial profile that can live up to a versatile assortment of main courses from fatty fishes to roast pork. I love the wild complexity of this highly memorable Champagne and its statement making character.

Charles De Cazanove Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($54.95). David Lawrason – This large one-million bottle company has been through several ownership changes and now belongs to a family-owned group. This quite delicate wine catches the essential, subtle fruity charm I look for in rosé Champagne. It’s a blend of 50% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 15% chardonnay and 15% coteaux champenois rouge.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Brut Riesling Deutscher Sekt, Rheingau, Germany ($17.95). David Lawrason – It is very rare to see quality German sekt at VINTAGES, and not only is this a good example, it is very well priced. Riesling sparklings are often a bit one-dimensional with riesling’s acidity the focal point (eg Tawse’s Spark). In this example I actually found some Rheingau-based complexity and minerality, a fine German riesling with bubbles.

Tawse Spark Riesling 2012, Limestone Ridge Estate Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – A great sparkling riesling delivers a punch that traditional chardonnay based Champagnes just can’t quite achieve. Here is a lovely example of such a punchy, dynamic sparkler from a producer who focuses on Niagara’s star grape varieties. Both elegant and energetic with the sophistication worthy of a classy affair or decadent pairing with oysters.

The Bordeaux Rouge Release

While the 2009 and 2010 are widely considered to be back-to-back “vintages of the century”, and there are some absolutely monumental wines (see for example my review of the 2009 Château Margaux, tasted in a blind lineup last October), neither vintage offers carte blanche to buy across the board.

As Sara d’Amato points out, “this rather unremarkable release will have you happy you are a WineAlign subscriber, as it has but a few well-priced and satisfying wines. Heavy demand for these vintages means that they have been likely picked over and we are seeing what remains.”

Tasting the collection from the April 26th release, as well as many others that have come through in the last year or so, I find the quality spotty. Certainly in some cases at least the wines have moved into a dark period when the hatches are all battened down and there’s little pleasure to be had – in such cases patience is required – but they’ll be fine wines when they finally unwind.

But a good many of the ‘petit’ and mid-range châteaux appear to have been overly enthused by the clement weather, gleefully allowing ripeness and extraction to get away while they were busy placing big orders with local barrel makers to up the percentage of new wood in anticipation of uncommon fruit intensity. The end results are often baked, rippingly tannic and oaky, quite the opposite of what I’d hope for from Bordeaux (I can find that style of wine elsewhere for a fraction of the cost). Where a more even-handed, reasoned approach was applied, however, the results are excellent, and in some cases offer fine value.

Château La Croix Chantecaille 2009Château Haut Selve 2010Château Donissan 2010Over on the right bank, a château that seems to have gotten everything right without going over the top is Château La Croix Chantecaille and its 2009 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($29.95). John Szabo – This merlot dominant (2/3, with 1/3 cabernet franc), velvet-textured St. Émilion is certainly satisfying, ripe and plush, but with well-measured wood spice and enough succulent acidity to keep the palate focused. Best 2015-2026.  Sara D’Amato – Bordering the region of Pomerol, at a mere couple hundred meters from the vineyards of Petrus, Château La Croix Chantecaille produces some exceptional wines consulted on by Michel Rolland’s team. This is perhaps the most impressive wine of this Bordelaise feature which expresses the modern appeal of the 2009 vintage. Be prepared to carry away more than a bottle or two, especially at this price.

The Graves AOC south of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne/Gironde (and the smaller more prestigious Péssac-Léognan enclave within it) are the source of some of the most reliable pleasure-price ratios in the region, as evinced by such wines as the 2010 Château Haut Selve, Graves ($21.95). John Szabo – A property established only late last century, yesterday in Bordeaux terms, Haut Selve has quickly become one of the leading players in the Graves, collecting an impressive haul of international medals of late. The 2010 perfectly strides that knife-edge of ripeness and freshness, allowing neither aspect to dominate, while delivering finesse and subtlety. This should be best after 2016 and hold into the mid ‘20s.

For solid sub-$20 Bordeaux, consider the 2010 Château Donissan, Listrac-Médoc ($17.95). John Szabo – It’s a firm, nicely balanced, lean but juicy Médoc, with dusty tannins, lively acids, and a nice mix of red and black berry fruit. Best now-2020.

Château Lamartine 2010Château Le Bourdillot Séduction 2009Château Le Bourdieu 2010Château Le Bourdieu 2010, Médoc ($20.95). David Lawrason – This is one of the more charming and better value entries in an otherwise rather underwhelming release of petits châteaux Bordeaux. No great depth or structure but it nicely shows the light-hearted elegance of the sandier soils near the Gironde estuary on the northern tip of the Medoc peninsula.

Château Le Bourdillot Séduction 2009, Graves ($18.95).  Sara d’Amato – The name is not wrong – the wine is rather seductive with impressive depth and structure for the price not to mention a voluptuous body and nicely integrated exotic spice. Somewhat modern and certainly appealing which is more a trait of the vintage than the region. Produced from 20-year-old vines and a straight 70/30 cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend.

Château Lamartine 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux ($16.95 ). Sara d’Amato – Castillon is a lesser-known appellation on the right bank of Bordeaux on the way to the city of Bergerac, near St. Émilion. It often produces wine of very good value from heavier, clay-based soils that are more suited to merlot-dominant blends. Surprisingly very good quality stems from this entry-level wine that has been machine harvested followed by grape sorting, cold maceration and finally 18 months ageing in concrete vats (an old world norm that produces consistently, solid results without unnecessary flavours of oak). I loved the traditional feel of this slightly earthy, sweaty blend brimming with charm.

Happening at WineAlign

Inniskillin logoFor our Ottawa area members, there’s an opportunity to join us for an exclusive dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata. Hosted by WineAlign’s Rod Phillips, Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson will guide you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish. Bruce will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries. (Click her for more details)

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:

Champagne/Sparkling
Bordeaux Rouge
All Reviews
April 26 – Part Two

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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A Sparkling Countdown to New Year’s Eve (Part 2)

John Szabo’s report on luxe Champagnes is part two of WineAlign’s series on bubblies for the holidays. Just before New Year’s Eve, part three will provide a shopping list of more affordable sparklers. All recommendations below are currently available somewhere in Canada. Readers in B.C. and Ontario can check out nearest store inventories through WineAlign, or you can contact the importing agent. A feature on Maison Krug follows John’s report – in which Olivier Krug reveals the vision of his great-great-great grandfather and the not-so-secret secret of the champagne house’s success, as well as his (grandmother’s) recipe for killer ratatouille.

Luxe Bubbles for 2013
plus a profile on Maison Krug
by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Champagne, by virtually any definition, is a luxury product. But there’s an awful lot of poor quality champagne, made from some of the highest yielding vineyards in the world (relative to average selling price) with questionable attention to detail, and defects neatly, and legally, masked by a generous dollop of sugar (“dosage”) at bottling. And uniformly high pricing based on the weight of the collective “brand champagne” makes shopping by price a roll of the dice.

But as Treve Ring explored in her article last week entitled Farmer Fizz, real champagne is a wine, not a brand. As such, quality and style are as diverse as the 275,000 or so vineyard parcels in the region, the 19,000 registered growers who farm them, and the several thousand enterprises that produce and sell champagne. So here’s a short list of the best wines I’ve tasted recently that deserve the luxe tag, divided into a couple of unofficial style categories that I find useful. Unlike cheap fizz, I’d suggest serving these luxe champagnes in large white wine glasses rather than straitjacket-like flutes in order to enjoy their full aromatic complexity and layered texture.

Toute En Finesse et Fraîcheur

These are champagnes focused on delicacy and elegance rather than sheer power, perfect for sipping or serving alongside luxury shellfish for a classy pairing.

Henriot Souverain Brut ChampagneRuinart R De Ruinart Brut ChampagneLouis Roederer Cristal Brut Champagne 2005Cristal Brut Champagne 2005 (ON $287.95)

Made from select parcels of vineyards owned by Maison Roederer, the 2005 Cristal is a surprisingly delicate and floral wine despite the power of the vintage and 20% barrel fermented base wine. It offers ethereal notes of ripe, toasted citrus-lemon-bergamot, fresh sweet herbs and striking wet-chalk minerality. There’s plenty of action on the palate, with immediate mouth-filling impact focused by laser sharp definition. Flavours reverberate and expand beautifully.

Ruinart R De Ruinart Brut Champagne (ON $77.95)

A classy, elegant and very refined example, replete with almond, hazelnut, white chocolate and fresh baked croissant-type aromas and flavours. Excellent length and depth; crisp and dry.

Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne (ON $59.95)

A classy, heavily autolytic (biscuity, yeasty) champers with terrific complexity and more than an average measure of finesse. Delicate citrus and white fleshed fruit linger with blanched almond and fresh hazelnut.

Piper Heidsieck BrutGosset Brut ExcellencePiper Heidsieck Brut (ON $54.95)

Piper is the fresher, leaner and crisper bottling relative to stable-mate Charles Heidsieck. Considerable flavour intensity is wrapped around lightly caramelized citrus-lemon-orange peel flavours, and autolysis character is modest. It’s lip-smackingly dry, crisp and precise on the palate, making for a fine aperitif, or oyster accompaniment.

Gosset Brut Excellence (ON $53.00)

Gosset lays claim to being the oldest house in Champagne, dating back to 1584. Despite recent reports by several authorities that the wines have grown too oxidative in style (a big discussion point in Champagne these days), I find this latest release of the Brut Excellence to be neither overtly fruity, nor markedly mature or oxidative, but rather quite right. This presents itself as properly lean, tight and lively, on the drier side of brut.

Rich, Mature and Toasty

These are powerful and intense champagnes, often made with a high proportion of reserve wines (older vintages used for blending), with extra long ageing on the lees, or mature vintage champagnes.

Jacquesson Cuvée 736 Extra Brut Champagne 2008Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004Krug Grande Cuvee Brut ChampagneKrug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne (ON $271.95)

The latest release of the Grande Cuvée falls squarely within the Krug house style of intensely autolytic and mature wine, with its pronounced honeyed, toasted wheat bread, roasted almond and hazelnut profile; massively complex. The palate is generous, densely concentrated and compact, powerful yet finessed. Certainly an outstanding Grande Cuvée. See the article below for more details on Krug.

2004 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne (ON $83.95)

Moët’s ’04 vintage displays immediate class, even if the palate is tightly wound and a bit shier than expected. Yet there’s more than sufficient density and extract to evolve further over the next few years. This is very nearly as good as the Dom Pérignon prestige cuvée, at 1/3 the price.

Jacquesson Champagne Cuvée 736 Extra Brut (ON $67.95)

Jacquesson’s Cuvée nº 736 is based on the fine 2008 vintage with 1/3 of reserve wines, made from just over half chardonnay. It’s mature and developed, with flavours shifting into the caramelized, honeyed, candied citrus zest and sautéed apple-pear-peach spectrum. The palate is gentle and relatively soft, with enough dosage to buffer acids. Wonderful balance and length all around.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve ChampagneFleury Champagne Blanc De Noirs BrutChâteau De Bligny Champagne Blanc De Blancs BrutCharles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne (ON $59.95)

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve – lot number 3006442 – is another fine example offering an enticing juxtaposition of freshness and elegance with maturity and complexity. Precise, tart citrus fruit flavours mingle with plenty of toasty-biscuity notes from reserve wines and considerable time on the lees. Outstanding complexity.

Fleury Champagne Blanc De Noirs Brut (ON $56.95)

A biodynamically-grown grower’s champagne. Notably deep golden colour, and intensely rich and toasty aromatics to match, wonderfully mature, focused on toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried fruit, and plenty of toasted wheat bread with honey and apple turnover. The palate is very dry, braced by riveting acids with excellent length. Best served at table, with, say, a hazelnut-encrusted sea bass.

Château De Bligny Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut (ON $43.95)
Here’s a classy, vinous, evidently concentrated and superb value grower champagne. It displays uncommon richness and flavour intensity for a non-vintage offering at this price, and drinks more like a table wine than a sparkling wine. I’d confidently serve this alongside veal scaloppini or poached fish in beurre blanc, or white truffled pasta or risotto.

Brut Non-Dosé (or so it seems)

Champagnes made with low, or no added sugar after disgorging, bracingly dry and crisp, perfect to start off the evening (or afternoon).

José Dhondt Blanc De Blancs Brut ChampagneChampagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru ChampagneChampagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru (Lot From May 2010, Disgorged February 2013, ON $68.95)

The latest release of Agrapart’s Terroir Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut is a particularly dry and firm bottling, and flavourful to be sure, with mainly sour citrus and green apple fruit. I found that aeration made a profound improvement in both flavour and texture, so in this rare instance I’d recommend decanting for now, albeit gently to avoid losing too much effervescence.

José Dhondt Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne (ON $53.95)

A somewhat rustic, if authentic, grower’s champagne, with a range of aromatics far outside the traditional profile of commercial champagne brands, that draws you inexorably in. Very mineral and lightly vegetal, with discreet fruit, and very dry and crisp yet balanced on the palate, with genuine concentration and complexity. Well worth a look for intrepid consumers.

Tarlant Champagne Brut ReserveAndré Clouet Silver Brut Nature ChampagneTarlant Champagne Brut Reserve (ON $40.85)

Tarlant’s Brut Reserve is very dry and crisp in keeping with the house style, very close to the brut zéro for which the house is best known (6 grams/liter residual sugar here). You’ll find plenty of toasted wheat bread, almond, buckwheat, and sautéed lemon flavours, while the palate is lean, rivetingly tart and seemingly bone dry.

André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne (ON $57.95)

There’s a good reason why this became my ‘house champagne’ a couple of years ago – it’s simply outstanding value. This latest release from the dedicated grower André Clouet is a complex, toasty, yeasty, vinous and concentrated wine, with a broad and appealing range of aromas and flavours, full, intense and marvellously apportioned, which drinks the equal of many vintage cuvées at double or more the price. Ready to savour now, preferably at the table alongside fish or poultry in cream sauce.

Rosé

Rare and frequently over priced, this is one of the toughest categories to find quality and price matched up. Here area couple that make the cut.

Legras & Haas Brut Rosé ChampagneDevaux Cuvée Rosée Brut ChampagneDevaux Cuvée Rosée Brut Champagne (ON $59.95)

The terra cotta-tinged appearance foreshadows a highly evolved aromatic profile, leading off with toasted walnuts and caramel, followed by ripe cherry and pomegranate fruit. Acids are sharp and bright and length very good  this has some rustic appeal and solid flavour intensity all around.

Legras & Haas Brut Rosé Champagne (ON $64.99)

A refined and elegant rosé, pale pink, fully focused on delicate red fruit, strawberry, cherry, raspberry and fresh pomegranate, alongside floral-rose petal tones. This is a champagne of delicacy and finesse, with very fine and gentle mousse, and very classy indeed. Note that this is available through private order only so you won’t be drinking it this New Year’s Eve, but it was too fine not to include.

Profile: Maison Krug – A Vision Revealed

After nearly 170 years, Olivier Krug, the 6th successive generation of Krugs to run the famous Champagne house, finally understood the essence of his family’s business. He did so after discovering some writings in the family archives a couple of years ago written by his great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Krug. The letters reveal the origins of Krug’s somewhat unique position in the champagne world in that they present the Grande Cuvée, a multi-vintage champagne, as the company’s flagship wine, rather than the vintage-dated prestige cuvée of the majority of other champagne houses. “The day I read Joseph’s words was the day I understood Krug” relates Olivier.

Joseph Krug founded his eponymous champagne business on November 7, 1843. He was born in Mainz, then part of France, and grew up in a French school before moving to Paris to live large. After meeting the agent for Champagne Jacquesson, the largest company in Champagne at the time, he got his start in the champagne business in 1833 working for, and eventually co-managing Champagne Jaquesson along with M. Jaquesson himself.

Olivier continues the story: “five years after Joseph joined Jaquesson, he sent a memo to his boss, which we recovered, stating quite simply that “we should aim to offer the best every year”. “And by definition you cannot offer the best possible champagne every year from a single vintage.” Joseph wished to make a more consistent, and original, house style of champagne.

But Jacquesson was not interested in changing his company’s policies, so Joseph started working with a negociant on the side to discover the best parcels of land in the region. He wanted to go beyond the “three colours” of champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and look more closely at the different expressions of these grapes in different terroirs. “Since every terroir is going to give something different, expressing something of each parcel could be enriching, and could be the base for an even better, even sharper selection”, explains Olivier.

The Birth of Champagne Krug

So when Krug left Jaquesson to start his own company, very much against his wife’s wishes who was happy with their already comfortable life, “he knew exactly what he had to do and how to go about creating a champagne that would offer not only the best possible quality every year, but also go beyond vintage, which is only a single expression of a single year”.

At the age of 48 in 1848 Joseph Krug wrote a note in his diary to his six-year-old son, saying that “there are times that you might be tempted to use some grapes of a lesser, or even mediocre quality, and you might even succeed. But these are cases on which you should never rely otherwise you may lose your reputation.”

Joseph continues in his writings: “A good [champagne] house should aim to produce two cuvées of the same composition and quality: number one is the Grande Cuvée – this should be the focus, to offer everything that champagne can offer every year, whose quality should be unquestionable every year, a champagne that goes beyond vintage. Cuvée nº2 depends on the circumstances of the vintage and the climate, as good as the first cuvée, but which is only the product of one year, the result of the climate, the story of a single year”.

Olivier Krug, Maison Krug

Olivier Krug, Maison Krug

This was a radical notion at the time since then, as is still true today, the hierarchy in champagne is reversed: non-vintage is subordinate to vintage wines. But this philosophy was not clever marketing or promotional material for the fledgling House of Krug, but a private note to his son and eventual successor, written in a diary. The same uncompromising standards have been upheld at Krug ever since, and has made of Krug champagne an icon of the industry and the champagne of choice for those who can afford it whenever the moment calls for celebration and pleasure. “Joseph understood that champagne is about pleasure. Whenever you open a bottle of champagne it’s for pleasure”, says Olivier.

Olivier had spent over twenty years trying to describe the vision of Maison Krug, struggling to explain to customers that Krug Grande Cuvée is not a “non-vintage” champagne, nor is it a “vintage” champagne, but rather that it’s a unique wine assembled from a vast and ever-changing puzzle that includes the different pieces provided by the authorized grapes, the 275,000+ potential parcels of vineyards, as well as the variations imposed on both terroir and grape by the yearly climatic conditions. Reading the words of Joseph outlining his vision for great champagne put everything into perspective for Olivier, as though everything he had always believed but had had difficulty expressing suddenly became clearer, as though he had been handed the company’s original mission statement and a justification for its continued implementation.

The Secret: Plot-Based Contracts

In addition to the grapes supplied by the company’s own vineyards, one of the secrets to Krug’s success is their unique contractual arrangements with growers. Most grape contracts are volume-based (in fact, contracts are based on the number of hectares agreed upon for sale, but since yields and pressings are fixed across the region each year by the authorities, it amounts to a volume-based contract), which is to say that a grower will sell the equivalent amount of must produced from a given number of hectares, even though the specific physical plots of origin are not specified. But Krug ties its contracts to specific parcels within the holdings of any individual grower, in effect both a volume and terroir-based contract, plot-by-plot.

“Take a single grower in Bouzy, with five hectares” begins Olivier. “Even such a small holding is divided into fifteen different plots, and not all are equal. The grower might agree to sell one-fifth of her total production each year (the equivalent from one hectare of vineyards) to five different houses, including Krug. But we will go to that grower and ask her to identify the best, say 3-4, parcels that total one hectare, those which she thinks will meet the standards and expectations of Krug. The growers often look at us with big eyes and say, “you mean I can choose grapes for you?” For most people, grapes are grapes. Not for us.”

The system works because Krug vinifies all the individual plots of their growers separately – in 2013, for example, Krug vinified 300 separate lots. The precision often goes as far as vinifying the three legally permitted pressings of each lot of grapes separately. Krug then invites the growers back later in the year to taste the result of their work in the vineyard. “We’ve seen vignerons shed tears when they taste how beautiful their wine turned out” says Olivier. The pride of the growers drives them to reserve their best plots of grapes for Krug, knowing that they won’t disappear anonymously into a huge tank.

Champagne Ratatouille

Olivier draws a cooking analogy to explain the small lot production philosophy. “Take ratatouille. To make a quick dish, you start with all of the vegetables, put them into a big steam cooker, cook them for 40 minutes, add some salt and pepper and voilà you have ratatouille, and it’s very good because you started with good ingredients. And then you have ratatouille like my grandmother used to make. She would take the tomatoes one by one and peel off the skin, and reduce them slowly on their own for two hours. And then she would take the onions separately and sauté them, and then she would take the eggplant and… Only at the end would she assemble everything. Both ratatouilles are made with essentially the same ingredients, with the same percentages of each vegetable. But you taste them and they are totally different. This was the philosophy that Joseph had in 1843.”

The Krug ID System

But even with the incredible mosaïque of material to work with, Grande Cuvée displays variation from bottling to bottling. “Grande the cuvée is not the same every year. It always delivers the same house expression, but tasted side by side there are differences” Olivier reveals. To address this issue, one that continually plagues me as I wonder which specific bottling of a particular champagne I’m drinking and when it was disgorged, Krug introduced a unique ID system in 2011 that allows you to look up details on specific bottlings at Krug.com. The current release of Krug Grande Cuvée, in the LCBO as of the November 23rd, 2013 release, bears I.D.# 411045, which according to the website “left the Krug cellars to receive its cork in autumn 2011. This is the last step after more than six years of ageing in the cellars to acquire finesse and elegance. This bottle is an extraordinary blend of 134 wines from 12 different vintages, the oldest from 1990 and the youngest from 2005.”

A “Rich and Generous Expression of Champagne”

As though to underscore the primacy of Grande Cuvée within the house’s range, we taste the 2000 vintage Krug first, the opposite of the customary champagne tasting which begins invariably with the non-vintage cuvée. It is of course excellent wine, but when we move on to the current release of the Grande Cuvée, the wine has an extra dimension absent in the vintage cuvee. It falls squarely within the immediately recognizable Krug house style of intensely autolytic and mature wine, “rich and generous” as Krug describes it, with its pronounced honeyed, toasted wheat bread, roasted almond and hazelnut profile offering amazing complexity. There are few wines in the world I’m prepared to pay such a princely sum for, but if you derive pleasure from Krug, it really is quite unique.

Pairing Food & Wine for DummiesNeed a last minute gift? Consider Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies by John Szabo MS, published by John Wiley & Sons Canada. It’s the go-to guide for getting it right every time  food and wine are involved, including getting the most for your money in restaurants, home entertaining, gift giving, and even what it takes to become a sommelier. And if you don’t believe me, read what respected drinks critic Stephen Beaumont (Books, Books, Books. What to buy for whom;  Coffee table eye candy edition) had to say about it. It’s available online and in fine bookshops all over the English-speaking world.

That’s all for this week. I wish you a safe, happy holiday and a new year full of fine bubbles.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

A Sparkling Countdown Part 1: Farmer Fizz
Complete list of recommended wines: Sparkling Countdown 2013


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Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne


Vancouver Wine Festival - Feb 27 - Mar 1

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A Sparkling Countdown to New Year’s Eve (Part 1)

Over the next three weeks WineAlign will explore the fabulous world of fizz. Today Treve Ring goes to the heart of the matter with a look at ‘growers Champagne’.  Next week John Szabo goes top drawer to illuminate the glittering world of luxe Champagnes.  And just before New Year’s WineAlign critics combine to recommend affordable sparklers for those making a mad dash before the midnight hour.

Farmer Fizz
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Farmer Fizz. Champagne of Terroir. Artisanal Champagne. Récoltants-Manipulants. Authentically Vintage Champagne. All terms I’ve come across to describe Grower Champagne. So – what is it? Well, in the simplest of forms, it’s Champagne made from growers. Easy, right? But let me break it down a bit further. I travelled extensively through Champagne this fall, tasting with a mix of growers, producers, grand houses and major négociants. I tasted exemplary Champagne, across all levels and sources. While it’s not true that Grower Champagnes are intrinsically better, they are inherently characterful, singular and relevant. This is especially timely in this wine age when consumers are asking questions, searching for a sense of place and talking terroir like never before. Champagne made on a much smaller scale, by the people who work the soils and tend the vines is a welcome contrast to the large mass-market houses with seemingly unlimited marketing budgets and unbalanced priorities.

When I visited growers, the sense of family was paramount. I was welcomed into homes, sat on couches and surrounded by family photos. At Gimonnet & Fils, in the village of Cuis, I spent an afternoon with Didier Gimonnet in the “living room” of the winery, the house where he and his brother Olivier grew up. The house is now utilized for business and holds the tasting room, but the warm and welcoming environment perfectly reflected the tone of the afternoon and the gracious nature of my host. Wine and life organically, naturally intertwined.

It can’t be stated enough – Champagne comes ONLY from the delineated Champagne region in France. Not all sparkling wine is Champagne – far from it. Other places around the world, including Canadian soils, craft fine sparkling wines (we share the 49th Parallel with the Champagne region). Producers can follow the same painstaking and lengthy process and use the same grapes – mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – just like Champagne. But unless you’re one of the 300,000 or so specific vineyard plots in northeast France where it is legal to plant Champagne grapes on over 34,000 specifically delineated hectares, and then follow to the letter the AOC rules for aging and release, you’re simply not Champagne. So, don’t use the term, sil vous plait.

Growers Champagne by Numbers

Champagne vineyardToday 90% of all of the vineyards in Champagne are owned by independent growers – about 19,000 of them – and nearly 2000 of these growers make and sell their own wine, “Grower’s Champagne”, accounting for approximately 22% of the sales. The vast majority of exports however are controlled by the large négociants. The big houses own just 10% of the vineyard area of Champagne, but control a mind-boggling 97% of exports. Since these global powers own only a small fraction of the vineyard acreage collectively, sourcing grapes and wine is a major priority. The 10 largest houses account for over 50% of the region’s sales, which are considerable. In 2012, Champagne revenue was 4.4 billion Euros. Bubbles are big business, to be sure.

To keep on top, large houses have no choice but to send out ample consistent product to consumers on every corner of the globe. For NV champagne, the flagship product of the house, the consistency of that bottle (the ‘house style’) is of the utmost importance. From year to year, country to country and restaurant to restaurant, that bottle is meant to taste the same. One very large négociants I visited this fall boasted that the cork was popped on their NV champagne every 1.7 seconds somewhere around the world. I can see why Jancis Robinson was prompted to wonder “Is champagne a wine or a brand?”

The large houses, with millions of bottles lining kilometers of cellars, drive the lion’s share of that revenue, and have the budgets and backing for marketing their luxury product – one that has become somewhat of a standardized commodity. Grower Champagne, by contrast, is the opposite. Small growers, usually family owned and operated, are opting to produce their own Champagne rather than sell to the négociants. These small-scale wines are made and bottled from the grower’s own grapes, with an allowance of 5% of purchased grapes if required. While blending (of vintage, vineyards, grapes) is still very much part of the production, vintage variation is a given, and among many wine professionals, a bonus.

Since individual vineyard holdings are small, Grower Champagnes, by nature and default, focus on a certain region. Vineyards may be clustered around a single village, thus the Champagne reflects that village’s terroir. In contrast, for the large brands’ consistent house style, grapes may be blended from vineyard plots across the entire Champagne region.

Grower Champagnes are often released younger than their large house counterparts due in part to the greater financial resources that would be needed for long-term aging and storage. Since production is small, many growers can try new things and push the envelope a bit. Lower dosage wines are common, with zero dosage (brut nature, brut zéro or non-dosé) on trend. I tasted biodynamic champagne and single plot champagne – something that you wouldn’t see on a large-scale.

Differing aim, differing targets. One is looking for site (and vintage) expression, and the other consistency, no matter the year. Both producers are telling a story, but through entirely diverse plotlines, with vastly opposite budgets and completely divergent endings.

Recognizing Grower Champagne

Pierre Paillard Blanc de BlancsGrower Champagnes can be identified by the initials that appear before a number on the wine label. Look for a miniscule RM on the label, denoting Récoltant-Manipulant. This means the producer grows and makes Champagne from their own vines (minimum 95%). The initials NM (Négociant-Manipulant) appear on the labels of champagne producers that bottle and market champagne using grapes purchased from other growers. This is where the large Champagne houses fit in. CM (Coopérative-Manipulant) is a co-operative of growers who blend the product of their collective vineyards to sell under one or more brands. RC (Récoltant-Coopérateur) is a wine sourced from a single grower but made entirely for him by a co-operative winemaking facility. SR (Société de Récoltants) is a registered firm set up by two or more growers who share the same winery which they use to make wine to sell under their own label. This designation differs from a CM in that the growers almost always have significant involvement in the winemaking process. And MA (marque d’acheteur) is a buyer’s own brand, as for a supermarket, for example.

Since production of Grower Champagnes is much smaller, you often have to seek them out in specialty stores or savvy restaurants. Befriend the sommelier and ask questions – your hunt will be rewarded.

Two Producers to Seek Out

The appeal to these artisanal, personal Grower Champagnes lies in their sense of place and the growers who produce them. One such producer is Pierre Gimonnet & Fils. Quiet spoken, quick-witted and genuine in his hospitality, Didier Gimonnet explained how his grandfather, Pierre, began the winery after the Depression in the 1920’s ceased the sale of grapes. The family had been farming vines in the village of Cuis since the 1750’s, selling to négociants. When the market for grapes dried up with the economy, Pierre decided to produce his own wines. Pierre’s scientist son, Michel, oversaw the winery from 1955 to 1996, focusing specifically on vineyard sites and expressions of terroir as the benchmark for the winery.

Today, the house of Gimonnet is run by Pierre’s grandsons – Didier and Olivier. They own 30 hectares in total; 16 hectares are Premier Cru from the village of Cuis. A high percentage of their vineyards are Grand Cru (averaging 40 years in age) and cover 12 hectares in total, spread across the villages of Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Aÿ. All of their wines go through primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel, and reserve wines are stored in bottle as opposed to tank (the norm in Champagne). This is done to slow down the evolution process and maintain freshness. As Didier explained to me, “We are not winemakers, we are the interpreters of the vineyard.” Lutte raisonnée guides their philosophy, old vines are treasured and vinification is “as simple as humanly possible.” He prefers fining over filtration, to respect the protein of the wine, and doesn’t employ battonage because he wants to produce delicate lees. “The origin of the grapes really determines the house style,” notes Didier, who clearly sees his role in conveying what is in the chalky, limestone mineral-driven Côte des Blancs. That’s not to say Didier wants to vinify a single plot on its own, forsaking quality for site. “In general, I am against a single plot, or single terroir Champagne for Gimonnet. Blends provide balance.” Therefore he sources grapes from across his 30 HA, basing his selections on the vintage and the wine he aims to create. All share the Gimonnet hallmarks – vivacity, crystalline purity, linear precision and stunning finesse of Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blanc.

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc De Blancs 'cuis' 1er Cru

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Cuis 1er Cru NV

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Gastronome Blanc De Blancs Brut

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Gastronome” 2008

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut "Fleuron" 2006, Champagne

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Fleuron” 2006

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut "Spécial Club" 2005

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Spécial Club” 2005

I also spent an afternoon in the tasting room/storage facility/vine showcase/photo gallery winery with Quentin Paillard, a youthful and confident 8th generation of vine grower. Quentin carries on the family tradition as winemaker, along with this brother Antoine and father Benoît. The Paillard family has been growing vine and making wine in Bouzy since 1768, and making wine under the Pierre Paillard name for four generations. Situated in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, Bouzy is a renowned Grand Cru village for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here they own all Grand Cru vineyards, 11HA in total, composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, exclusively cultivated on its own roots, and without clones. Sustainability governs the winemaking, malolactic fermentation is not blocked and natural ferments are encouraged. Quentin eloquently notes, “We think that a great wine is built in the vineyards and that the winemaker is an artist who uses creativity to elaborate the most beautiful cuvées.” The blends are key to the house’s unique style – rare because of their high percentage of Chardonnay in an area known primarily for Pinot Noir. Dozens of stainless steel tanks of all shapes and sizes fill the winery. As Quentin explains, they vinify each small plot separately, and then collectively decide what to blend and when, for each wine.

Chardonnay’s freshness acts as a perfect counterpart to the fuller, fruitier Pinot Noir typical of Bouzy’s deep soils and exposure. Pierre Paillard’s fuller, more powerful style is also due to extended aging on the lees and up to 10 years of bottle aging in the underground cellars prior to release. These wines are broodingly graceful and powerfully elegant, with a subtle underlying fruitiness throughout.

Quentin, rather humbly, typifies this new generation of Grower Champagne. Travelled, studied, inquisitive and inspired, he welcomes new ideas in winemaking while grounding everything he does in tradition, just like seven generations before him. There is a tight, collective culture across the entire Champagne region. When I chatted about whom else I was visiting on my trip, both Didier and Quentin knew every winemaker, every house, every position from the smallest operation up to the largest luxury producer. On some level they all discuss, collaborate and cooperatively share information – amazingly all while existing in a highly competitive market. I left a week in Champagne feeling certain that it is a wine, not a brand, and thankful to the growers for reminding me so.

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut Rosé

Champagne Pierre Paillard  N/V Grand Cru Brut Rosé

For more information on Grower Champagne, visit Les Champagnes de Vignerons

For more information on the Champagne region, visit www.champagne.com

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

A Sparkling Countdown Part 2: Luxe Champagne
Complete list of recommended wines: Sparkling Countdown 2013

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The Successful Collector – Classics Taste and Buy Event

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

First Look and Top Picks

For premium wine lovers in Ontario, the Vintages Taste the Classics event – a preview of wines likely to be released in early-2014 as part of the Classics Collection (which can also be ordered by phone right away – 416-365-5767 or toll-free at 1-800-266-4764) – was long overdue. Held last week in the illustrious Governor’s Room at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex (Exhibition Place), a sold-out crowd of eager connoisseurs were on hand to taste over 65 wines from around the winegrowing world.

Though it may come as a surprise to some, the LCBO is surprisingly adept at hosting events like these. From outstanding wines to an overabundance of food accompaniments (offered to ensure that inebriated guests depart the event on a full stomach), my only bone to pick is that such events aren’t held with much greater frequency. For one thing, the public can’t seem to get enough of them, which would seem to indicate that most of the costs of arranging such shindigs are Taste the Classicsessentially recuperated. Just as important, the events should be more than just two and a half hours in duration so as to allow for enough time to taste all the wines properly. After all, the spittoon is a marvellous invention…

Here are a few selections from the November 2013 Taste the Classics event:

Whites:

Domaine Christian Moreau 2011 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru ($65.00) is a perfect reminder that some famous French wines remain underpriced. I’m actually quite serious: great Chablis is truly as every bit as fine as its counterparts in the Côte de Beaune (think Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet). The ’11 Les Clos will benefit from decanting if consumed young.

Château de Beaucastel 2011 Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($159.00) shall likely breach the ‘perfection barrier’ over the next several years. Crafted from 100% Roussanne, this omnipotent offering is worth every penny, and will likely keep for well over thirty years. Decant vigorously if enjoyed at a more youthful stage of development.

Domaine Weinbach 2009 Cuvée St-Catherine Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling ($74.00) is one of the greatest wines from this celebrated Alsatian producer. A dynamic combination of intensity and elegance, it’s wines like these that have been known to convert many a non-Riesling drinker to born-again status. Decanting is recommended.

Domaine Jean-Marc Morey 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru ($77.00) is sourced from one of the greatest sites in Chassagne-Montrachet, a commune that deserves (nearly) as much praise its neighbour Puligny-Montrachet to the north. For white burgundy lovers, this is not to be missed. Decanting is advisable.

Reds:

Casanova di Neri 2007 Brunello di Montalcino ($63.00) is one of the best bargains for premium wines around. An overachiever in more ways than one, Brunello lovers unfamiliar with the wines of Casanova di Neri are doing themselves a serious disservice by not ordering a case of the ’07 right away! Decanting is warranted.

Paulo Scavino 2005 Bric dël Fiasc Barolo ($123.00) comes from one of the top sites within the commune of Castiglione Faletto and is a truly sensational wine, despite hailing from a more challenging vintage. Drinking fabulously now, this will also probably keep to the end of the next decade. Decanting is highly recommended.

Penfolds 2008 Grange ($750.00) is the best, most perfect vintage since the indomitable ’98, for which chief winemaker Peter Gago ought to be immensely proud. A candidate for super-long cellaring, this will probably take around ten years just to fully harmonize, which means those wishing to drink this now ought to undertake a double-decanting to get the most out of it.

Domaine Antonin Guyon 2010 Corton Clos du Roy Grand Cru ($99.00) is a stellar red burgundy of exemplary finesse and breed. All too often, the best red Cortons are overlooked for more prestigious wines in the communes further north, from Vosne-Romanée to Gevrey-Chambertin. What a shame. Decanting is arguably unnecessary.

Domaine de la Janasse 2011 Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($123.00) is the top bottling of this exquisite domaine. From a vintage many have already written off, this stunning Châteauneuf is not only drinking phenomenally now (good for people like me who enjoy rack of lamb for Christmas) but will keep for decades to come. Decanting is compulsory.

Jonata 2007 El Desafío de Jonata ($145.00) is an astonishing blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. From one of the most lauded operations in the Santa Ynez Valley, the sheer decadence and copiousness of this wine is incredible. Decanting is compulsory.

Vega Sicilia 2003 Único ($424.00) comes from one of the most celebrated wineries in Spain. The flagship bottling of the establishment, the ’03 (from one of the hottest vintages on record) is what you’d expect: dramatically opulent, polished, and seductive. Drink now with absolute pleasure of hold for a few decades. Decanting is obligatory.

Castello dei Rampolla 2007 d’Alceo ($195.00) is the flagship label of this exemplary winery, delivering incredible sophistication and structure. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot, this is a very special Super Tuscan of glorious stylization and stature. Perhaps a tad unwieldy at the present stage, decanting is essential should patient cellaring prove untenable.

Click here to view my entire list of Classics previews

Wish They Were Here:

Champagne tasting in Chicago:

Comité interprofessionnel du vin de ChampagneOn 29 October 2013, I attended a large-scale champagne function hosted by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in downtown Chicago. A one-day trip to the Windy City to delve through copious quantities of champagne. What was I thinking? Did I not realize how tiring such an adventure would leave me, to say nothing of the effects of systematically examining several dozen different samples of bubbly before flying back home? Were it not for spittoons (used almost exclusively), I might not have made it back in one piece, it was that tiring a jaunt.

In fact, the day (at time of writing) is not even over. With half an hour left until boarding and nothing productive to do, one might question my decision to begin this column under a cloud of acute mental and physical exhaustion. But efficient use of time knows few obstacles, plus many of the greatest wines of the day remain fresh in my mind.

To get the ball rolling: a luncheon held at NoMI at the Park Hyatt. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Sam Heitner, head of the Champagne Bureau US (a subsidiary of the CIVC) and an inveterate, Templar-like defender of champagne labelling laws. According to Heitner (whose last name is eerily similar to my own), the name of ‘champagne’ has been misleadingly used on labels of sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne for decades. For Heitner and many other likes him (I count myself among them), this has been a considerable detriment to the quality of sparkling wine produced in the actual winegrowing region of Champagne—in other words, that which is the genuine article.

As the main promotional body of the region, the CIVC has worked tirelessly to correct this, painstakingly negotiating with government authorities worldwide to ensure that only sparkling wine produced in Champagne is labelled as such. Taken as a whole, their successes have been plentiful, as increasing numbers of countries throughout the world (especially those producing sparkling wine) have come to legally recognize that the integrity of ‘champagne’ is unequivocally dependent on the adequate protection of its namesake.

Canada is set to become one such nation. As of 1 January 2014, Canadian winegrowers will no longer be permitted to use the name ‘champagne’ on any wine label, no matter how qualitatively sound (or poor) the contents of any given bottle might be. This means ‘President Champagne’ or ‘Baby Canadian Champagne’ will be going the way of the dodo, or at very least relabeled. As for the increasing number of Canadian growers nowadays producing ever-better quality sparkling wine via the ‘Classic Method’ (the same method by which champagne is produced), such wines will be mostly unaffected by the new rules coming into effect. Virtually none of them use the name ‘champagne’ on their labels, anyway.

Here are a few champagne selections:

Whites:

Bollinger 2004 La Grande Année Brut ($139.00) is an absolute darling of a champagne, representing one of my top choices from this exceptional vintage. A blend of 66% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay, this will keep with little fuss over the next dozen years or more, but why wait?

Louis Roederer NV Premier Brut ($63.95) might not have been available to taste at the Classics event, though it unquestionably remains one of the best buys around. From the same house that produces Cristal, this has long been one of my favourite ‘standby’ champagnes.

Click here to view my entire list of champagnes

Cheers,

Julian

Editors Note: You can find Julian Hitner’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Visiting Champagne

Just a few remarks:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Though it’s been almost a month since I visited Champagne, my impressions of the world’s greatest sparkling wine-growing region remain as vivid as the day when my outbound train departed from Reims.

Located at one of the most historically significant crosswords in northeastern France, it was only after the Second World War that Champagne truly began to enjoy an uninterrupted era of peace and prosperity. This represents a stark contrast to decades and centuries past, when Champagne was plagued by everything from continual warfare to almost unstoppable vineyard diseases. Nowadays, Champagne may be rightly considered one of the most prosperous, most illustrious wine-growing regions of France, replete with delightful villages, meticulously tended vines, and an inimitable product of which the civilized world cannot seem to get enough.

But what is abundance without a gracious set of persons to take full advantage of  it? This is what makes the Champenois so special, in that despite the obvious prosperity their region enjoys, they have not allowed their success to go to their heads. On the contrary: like their counterparts in Burgundy and elsewhere, the Champenois are both unassuming and generous, outwardly proud of their wares yet conscious of the fact that much depends on the successful utilization of their terroir and the importance of demystifying the processes by which their wines are produced. In my opinion, this most accurately describes the vast majority of inhabitants I encountered throughout my travels in this part of France.

This notwithstanding, of all the facets related to the remarkable quality of sparkling champagne, perhaps the most under-appreciated facet the region continues to suffer from—at least from the standpoint of casual wine lovers—is the entirely incorrect notion that champagne is a one-trick pony. Quite the contrary: the wine-growing region of Champagne doesn’t offer just one type, or qualitative level, of sparkling wine but many. From multiple sub-regions to wide variations in blends, champagne may be produced in a vast assortment of styles. To taste them all is one of life’s special pursuits.

Such are several of the most vivid impressions formulated during my recent Champagne sojourn, of which I could wax poetic for hours. But it’s getting late, and it’s almost time for claret. Can’t have champagne every day, though not for lack of desire…

Julian Hitner

Here are some of Julian’s Champagne reviews for wines that are still available in stores:

Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2003Krug Grande Cuvée Brut ChampagneCristal Brut Champagne 2004Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2003: Strikingly opulent and seductive, at this point the recently released 2003 Dom Pérignon is far more outgoing than its more tightly wound predecessor the ’02. Pale lime in colour, this glorious bottling showcases magnificent, absorbing scents of fragrant lime-infused biscuits and French toast; gently giving way to white flowers, lemon citrus, ginger, orange zest, sugar powder, and exotic spices. Incredibly complex, delivering extraordinary, crisp yet multilayered frothy fruit, balanced acidity, and an astonishing hint of lemon/lime citrus, biscuits, and white flowers on the finish. Generous by Moët standards, along with the ’00 this should serve as a stunning stopgap while the more classic vintages of late come into their own. Now-2030++.

Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne: My second (or third) note for the Krug Grand Cuvée in 2011, each new tasting note serves as a valuable reminder of how stupendous this particular champagne is. This recording: pale-light greenish-straw in colour, as alluring and decadent as ever, exhibiting sensational scents of resounding spice-infused French toast, white flowers, lime, biscuits, ginger, jasmine, vanilla, pistachios, minerals, and grapefruit. Extremely complex, with mesmerizingly pure, polished fruit, excellent acidity, and an outstanding, lasting hint of French toast and Asian spice on the finish. Simply put, at least to me, a champagne of unbelievable structure, finesse, style, and richness. The ultimate non-vintage collector’s bubbly! Now-2032++ (much longer than previous estimates).

Cristal Brut Champagne 2004: The flagship champagne of Roederer and unquestionably one of the greatest sparkling wines in the world, the 2004 Cristal is a masterpiece that near-flawlessly combines subtlety and complexity with dimension and richness. Pale-light straw-lime in colour, the wine reveals an abundant array of aromatics, starting off with extraordinary toasted biscuits and pistachios that shortly give way to lemon, brioche, yellow pears, cream crackers, white flowers, and a hint of jasmine and spice. Extremely complex, with fantastic, generously rich fruit, marvellous acidity, and a wondrously crisp, luminous hint of citrus-driven biscuits on the finish. Classic, glorious Cristal of superlative focus, personality, generosity, and refinement. Collectors: consider yourselves warned. Now-2036++.

Bonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004Lallier Grande Réserve Grand Cru ChampagneLallier Grande Réserve Grand Cru Champagne: Since I began tasting wines from Lallier about a year ago, I have been extremely impressed, with the Grand Cru Grande Réserve adding yet another feather to their cap. Light straw-lime in colour, it exhibits beautifully rich, intense notes of brioche and French toast, switching to biscuits, lemon, ripe pears, shortbread, and vanilla. Complex, with unusually sumptuous, frothy fruit, polished acidity, and a lingering, elegant hint of French toast and pears on the finish. Delicious, rather profound, and undeniably excellent. Now-2018+.

Bonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004: My first recorded note from here, the 2004 Vintage Blanc de Blancs, sourced entirely from Grand Cru vineyards, exceeds expectations. Pale lime in colour with a touch of straw, it opts for stylish, enticing scents of biscuits, pears, white flower petals, fresh lemon citrus, gingerroot, and spice. Complex, featuring excellent, finesse-oriented fruit, balanced acidity, and a superlative hint of pure brioche and pears on the finish. Exquisite mid-weight disposition, structure, and harmony. Now-2019++.

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Julian Hitner

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Jingle Fizz: Your Guide to Last Minute New Year’s Sparklers

Dashing down the street  ♪♫♫ In your one horse Hyundai  ♫♪♪♫ 
To the LCBO we go  ♫♫♪♪♫  Honking all the way ♪♪♫ 
Hear the cashiers sing  ♪♫♫ Making their New Year’s bright ♪♫♫ 
Oh what fun it really ain’t  ♫♫♪♪  To buy bubbly for tonight…

John Szabo at  work

John Szabo at work

You have to get to the LCBO yourself, and endure the line-ups. We can’t do much about that (except to dangle the sugar plum of how nice it would be to buy your bubbly at your supermarket instead). We can however help you select wines of good taste and good value, which is right in our wheelhouse. Below four WineAlign critics – John Szabo MS (pictured here), Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and David Lawrason – have assembled their bubbly picks for New Year’s Eve. They are arranged by type/price category and were available at the LCBO on December 28.

Champagne (Over $35)

Champagne can only originate in the Champagne region of France, and generations of wily marketers have made it “the one to buy” when a statement of prosperity underlies the buying decision. So for those toasting to a happy and prosperous New Year, here are four fine ‘champers’:

Taittinger Brut Réserve ChampagneBonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004Bonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004
Champagne, France
$59.95 Vintages #721035

Here’s a classy, complex, vintage blanc de blancs grower champagne (Bonnaire owns and farms their own vineyards – they do not purchase any fruit), with notably toasty-caramel-honeyed notes and depth and power well above the mean. The palate is fullish and well balanced, with superior length. Fine champagne all around. Tasted November 2012. John Szabo, WineAlign.com

Taittinger Brut
Champagne, France
$59.95  Vintages #814723

This classic, elegant, concise and tightly knit style is often a hit with women and perfect for an elegant soirée. With an aromatic and enveloping nose, the palate boasts notable verve and a playful interplay of savory, sweet and sour. Finish is quite dry with lingering notes of white peach, persimmon and sea salt. Sara d’Amato, WineAlign.com

Louis Roederer Brut Premier ChampagneNicolas Feuillatte Brut ChampagneLouis Roederer Brut Premier
Champagne, France
$63.95 Vintages Essentials #268771

A beautiful delicate champagne with fine aromas and flavours. Expect baked apple and pear fruit with toast, ginger, white peach and vanilla notes. It is light on the palate with well integrated soft acidity and excellent length. Fine as an aperitif but also consider with delicately flavoured poultry and fish courses or pastry. This is the sale price until January 6. Steve Thurlow, WineAlign.com

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut
Champagne, France
$ 44.55 LCBO #537605

Nicolas Feuillate is one of the great business success stories of Champagne in modern times. In 30 years it has grown from being a small estate to a co-op of over 5,000 growers and the third largest selling Champagne in the world. This “basic” non-vintage Brut spent the minimum three years ageing on the lees, with a fairly simple fruit-driven aroma of pear/apple, with a hint of vanilla and very mild yeasty notes. It’s light bodied, quite crisp, lemony and fresh with good to very good length. Serve well chilled as an all-purpose aperitif and seafood bubbly. Last Tasted November 2012.  David Lawrason, WineAlign.com

Ontario Sparkling ($20 to $30)
With cool climate growing conditions similar to Champagne, as well as limestone based soils, Ontario vintners are moving quickly to create excellent sparklers made  from the same grape varieties (chardonnay and pinot noir) in the same ‘methode champenoise’ (second fermentation in the bottle). And the best Ontario bubblies are still cheaper than the cheapest Champagnes.

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs BrutCave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut
Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$29.95 LCBO #213983

The Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut (traditional method) delivers significant depth, complexity and minerality, on top of pure crisp citrus fruit. The palate is supremely well-balanced, crisply acidic, and the finish lovely and lingering. A really lovely local bubbly that enters into the realm of fine non-vintage champagne blanc de blancs. Tasted October 2012. John Szabo, WineAlign.com

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$18.95 LCBO #227009

It is difficult to beat the price/quality ratio on this local gem. Produced in the traditional method, this blanc de blancs is surprisingly rich with elegant toasty notes and creamy mousse. Celebrating ten years in the business, Angels Gate continues to create well-priced, honest sparkling wines. Sara d’Amato, WineAlign.com

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine BrutTrius BrutHenry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut
Niagara Peninsula, Canada
$29.95 LCBO #217521

A serious sparkling wine from Ontario with a delicate nose of lightly toasted bread, apple and pear fruit with baked lemon and floral complexity. It comes with a new label and is much improved. After the delicate nose, it is surprisingly rich on the palate with lots of ripe fruit balanced by soft acidity and a mineral layer. Very good length. Try with pastry nibbles or smoked fish. Steve Thurlow, WineAlign.com

Trius Brut
$24.95 LCBO #284539

This has been a consistent gold medal performer in national wine shows. It’s pale yellow in colour with a piquant, fresh, well integrated nose of dried apple, hazelnut and lemon. It’s light bodied, dry with very good acid grip, and at last tasting it seemed to have more acid and piquancy, with a firm, lemony, dry and nutty finish. The length is very good to excellent. The underground bubbly storage cellar is among the largest in Canada and an impressive visit. This is also available at Andrew Peller’s Vineyards wine stores. David Lawrason, WineAlign.com

Other Countries (up to $20)
Under $20 sparkling wine can be successfully made anywhere in the world, although cool climates that provide natural acidity are generally better. The grapes become more varied and sometimes localized (as in Italy and Spain), and the wines are often ‘bubblized” by re-fermenting in a tank (the charmat method). But some good traditional method champenoise sparklers can also be found at this price.

Ruhlmann Signature Jean Charles Brut Crémant d'AlsaceBisol Crede Brut Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene SuperioreBisol Crede Brut Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene Superiore
Veneto, Italy
$19.95 Vintages #297242

Always a full step above the mean, Bisol delivers proseccos of superior refinement and class. Although the Crede is one of the “entry level” bubblies from the house, it has marvelous perfume, classic for the variety, full of fragrant pear and green apple, lemon blossom and fresh sweet green herbs. The palate is fullish, creamy yet fresh, with excellent intensity and vinosity. This is certainly priced in the premium range for the category, but well worth it in my view. Terrific length. John Szabo, WineAlign.com

Ruhlmann Signature Jean Charles Brut Crémant d’Alsace
Alsace, France
$19.95 Vintages #297853

As featured in my latest holiday recommendations, this knock-out crémant made by the traditional method champenoise is ever worthy of a festive celebration and won’t break the bank. Bready, toasty, chalky, earthy, creamy flavours prevail on the palate of this richly compelling Alsatian find. Sara d’Amato, WineAlign.com

Yellowglen Pink SparklingSegura Viudas Brut Reserva CavaYellowglen Pink Sparkling
Australia
$11.95 LCBO #15867

Every time I try this wine I think that it is a pretty amazing everyday bubble! This blend of pinot noir and chardonnay over delivers for the money. An orangey pink with fine bubbles that persist well with ample aromas of cherry, toffee and bread with a hint of stewed strawberry. The palate is fairly rich with an air of elegance and the finish holds focus and lingers for a long time. Don’t over-chill or you will miss the fruit and aromas. Steve Thurlow, WineAlign.com

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava
Spain
$14.25 LCBO #216960

This Spanish cava made from local grape varieties by the traditional method continues as one of the best buys in sparkling wine – and it has been for years!  It displays classic olive, green pear and lime aromas. It’s light to mid-weight, brisk and lively, with a nervy centre and some softness on the edges. Chill well. David Lawrason, WineAlign.com

From all of us at WineAlign, have a safe and happy new year.   ♫♪♪♫ 

The complete list: New Year’s Sparklers 2012


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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Lovely bubbles

This month, Vintages has released some lovely bubbles, an ideal way to toast TIFF. Find these picks via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne
$54.95 (93 Points)
Fleshy, complex and deep, this house style is achieved by the use of 40% older reserve wines in the blend of one third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Masculine and structured, it has toasted brioche and apricot flavours and a creamy texture. A citrus backbone keeps it vibrant. A bubbly for gourmands.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne 2004
$75.95 (95 Points)
Classic, feminine, poised and fresh, achieved by a careful selection of pinot noir (50% of this vintage’s blend; the rest is chardonnay) and a smaller percentage of youngish reserve wines. Elegant, harmonious and dynamic, its bouquet is blossoms and minerals. The fine- textured palate is lively with crunchy Asian pear and citrus confit flavours. A dazzler.

Domaine de Vaugondy Brut Vouvray
$16.95 (89 Points)
If Champagne is too pricey, this 100% chenin blanc grape bubbly from France’s Loire Valley is a great alternative. Made in the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle, it’s pale straw in colour with good varietal flavours of quince, pear and citrus. Assertive with fine bubbles and floral and mineral notes, it has personality to spare.

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008