Sunday, April 12, 2015 –
1225 N. Wells Street, 11th Floor
More Sparkle in Your Life: Part Two - Champagne
On April 12, 2015, 30 members and guests of the Chicago Société Mondiale du Vin attended the second of two workshops dedicated to sparkling wines and Champagne entitled “More Sparkle in Your Life.” Part two, which focused exclusively on the Champagne region, took place at Plum Market in downtown Chicago, led by Plum Market Wine Director and Advanced Sommelier Anthony Minne.
The wide-ranging presentation covered the geologic history and terroir of the Champagne region; the wine-making process itself; a comparison of the “grower Champagnes” and wines from large Champagne houses; the economics of growing, producing, distributing and selling Champagne; food pairings; and even the optimal glassware for enjoying great Champagnes. Attendees tasted eight Champagnes (one without bubbles!) that ran the gamut from large houses like Veuve Clicquot to smaller growers and even avant-garde winemakers.
“These first two wines are from the Côte des Blancs,” said Minne as he poured the Pierre Peters Cuvée de Rèserve Brut Blanc de Blancs and Pierre Gimonnet 2005 Special Club, Grands Terroirs de Chardonnay. “It’s ‘blanc’ (white) because it’s chalk – fossilized sea creatures, shells, and extinct mollusks you can see in the soil.”
Minne described Pierre Peters as the benchmark for the grower Champagne makers: producers who grow their own grapes and make their own wines, as opposed to the big houses that buy grapes. Similarly, the “Special Club” on the Pierre Gimonnet label refers to the Club Trésors de Champagne – an exclusive group of 28 growers who must agree unanimously that each wine merits approval as a Special Club. This Champagne is the equivalent of a tête de cuvée or Prestige Cuvée of a large Champagne house.
When an attendee asked about the best glass to use for Champagne, Minne answered: “What’s important is to remember that Champagne is wine. I like to use a regular white wine glass or even a bigger white Burgundy glass, especially for the very greatest Champagnes.”
Introducing the next Champagne, Minne said that Billecart-Salmon Brut Rèserve was renowned for its delicate quality. “What makes Billecart more delicate is the pressing,” he explained. “Billecart uses long, slow, cool fermentations and a very gentle, soft pressing. These techniques cost money, take time – and make better Champagne.” The wine is a blend of the three major Champagne grapes: pinot noir and pinot meunier – both red grapes – and Chardonnay. “You get more dark fruit, toasted nut, and it’s a little bit richer than the first two wines,” he said, “because they’re using all three grapes.”
Minne then presented a “flight” of two rosés: Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Rosé and Vilmart and Cie Brut Rosé, Cuvée Rubis, 1er Cru “Rully la Montagne” (Montagne de Reims). He pointed out that the color of rosés can range from barely off-pink to a deep ruby. Most of the big houses achieve this color by adding the juice of pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes to the wine. Billecart-Salmon uses a blend of Chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir. Vilmart follows the more difficult method, called saignée, which literally means “to bleed,” where the winemaker actually presses pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes and exposes the juice to the skins so that the wine develops the classic rosé color.
“I love rosé because you can get a little more dimension in your cuisine,” noted Minne. “Some of my favorite pairings with rosé are steak tartare; lamb chops, duck or red meat served very rare; salmon and other fatty fishes.”
Literally moving farther toward the cutting edge, Minne introduced the next wine, Cedric Bouchard 2007 Roses de Jeanne, “Côte de Bechalin” Blanc de Noirs (Aube). “This wine is made not in one of the famous areas of Champagne – it’s made farther south in one of the satellite areas, the Aube. The Aube forever was considered the red-headed stepchild of Champagne regions.” Indeed, he said, the Aube is not even contiguous with the Champagne region itself, but lies closer to Chablis.
“Bouchard wants to make you forget everything you’ve learned from the last 300 years of Champagne,” Minne continued. “He is the antithesis of what anyone’s doing in Champagne. He only makes single-vineyard, single-vintage and single-grape varietal wines. He’s really making Burgundy – with bubbles.
“Bouchard is quite rare – very tough to get. I presume in the next five years Bouchard will be unattainable,” predicted Minne.
If Bouchard was avant-garde, the next wine represented the finest of traditional Champagnes. Veuve Clicquot 2004 La Grande Dame offered attendees a classic tête de cuvée: roughly 60% pinot noir, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Viognier. “This Champagne is aged six years ‘on the lees,’” said Minne, meaning that the wine is allowed to sit on the dead yeast that remains after secondary fermentation. “This process is going to give you all of that richness that we associate with the highest levels of Champagne. But it takes time, time is money, and that’s why these are expensive wines.”
Defying expectations once again, Minne closed the workshop with Vilmart Ratafia (Montagne de Reims), a non-sparkling, sweet, fortified wine that reminded many attendees of a tawny Port. Ratafia is classified as a mistelle, a spirit in which unfermented grape pumice (not juice), stems and seeds are distilled to achieve a sweeter, fortified beverage. “It has some nice fruitiness,” said Minne, “but also high alcohol. Its red fruitiness, creaminess, and milk chocolate elements pair well with foie gras and chocolate.” It was an eye-opening experience for many of the attendees, who exclaimed that they had never tried a “Champagne” without bubbles. One attendee summed it up with the succinct comment that might have applied to all of the wines in the workshop: “OMG!”
Dear Confrères and Consœurs:
Champagne! Champagne! Champagne!
“More Sparkle in Your Life, Part 2”
This is the second part of our two-part series “More Sparkle in Your Life,” an immersion into the World of Sparkling Wines. During the first part, we reviewed and enjoyed high quality sparklers from around the world at the studio of renowned artist Virginio Ferrari at the Bridgeport Art Center.
This next Mondiale meeting will focus exclusively on Champagne. The setting will be an 11th Floor Penthouse Demonstration Kitchen/Recreation Room in Chicago. We will explore some of the Grandes Marques as well as top quality Champagnes from small producers, whose names you may not have heard before. This will be our opportunity to share the experience of sampling a variety of precious Champagnes, appreciate their differences and learn about their characters. Certified Sommelier and Plum Market Wine Department Manager Anthony Minne will be our guest speaker. He will enlighten us with his amazing expertise and profound knowledge, walking us through the landscapes of Champagne - its micro-climates, terroirs and the myriad stylistic bents of growers and winemakers.
There will be baguettes, charcuteries and artisan cheeses available during the tasting. Towards the end assorted sandwiches will be served and you may bring your own favorite bottle (“BYOB”), white or red, if you wish.
Please, refrain from wearing fragrances (perfumes, colognes, after shaves, etc.) that might distract from the delicate bouquets of the Champagnes.
The number of participants will be limited. Please register early.
Manfred W. Raiser