Sunday, February 08, 2015 –
Bridgeport Art Center, River Level
1200 W. 35th Street, Chicago 60608
Part One Event Price: $85.00 per person
On February 8, 2015, a group of 32 members and guests of the Chicago Société Mondiale du Vin attended the first of two workshops dedicated to sparkling wines and Champagne entitled “More Sparkle in Your Life.” Part one took place at the studio of internationally renowned artist Virginio Ferrari at the Bridgeport Art Center south of downtown Chicago. Perhaps best known for his sculpture, “Being Born,” which greets visitors driving into the city, Mr. Ferrari graciously received participants and led them on a tour of his studio, pointing out models, works in progress, finished pieces and photos of public art in Chicago and elsewhere.
While chatting with Maestro Ferrari, attendees enjoyed a rare rosé Champagne, André Clouet Brut Rosé Champagne NV (Bouzy, France), poured from a seemingly bottomless Methuselah. Vice Echanson Manfred Raiser then began the workshop with a toast that related the creative processes of the artist’s studio to the artistry of Champagne making: “In today’s world – to paraphrase Mr. Ferrari – considering how fast things disappear, there is art that lasts and that we can live with, art we can enjoy, art that delights the eye and art that gives the modern city a human dimension, and I want to offer a toast to those who contributed to the art that surrounds us and to those who contributed to the art of Champagne making and wine making in general and helped create this wonderfully festive sparkler that we have in our glasses.”
Manfred proceeded to take his “students” through a history lesson that began more than 2,000 years ago with the settling of today’s France by the Romans, who referred to the remote countryside north of Rome as “campagnia,” from which the name Champagne derives. This location presented special challenges to winemakers. “Champagne is so far north that every bit of sunshine is precious in this cool region. You tend to harvest grapes late hoping for a little more sun exposure,” explained Manfred. “When the grapes are finally processed and the temperature outside drops, fermentation slows and slows and slows until it comes to a halt. In spring, with rising outside temperatures, it starts up again, and during this second fermentation bubbles appear.”
In the late 17th century, a young monk named Pierre Pérignon began working to improve the wine and wine-making techniques at the Abbey of Hautvillers. Contrary to legend, however, Dom Pérignon did not discover the sparkling wine that we now call Champagne with the exclamation “I’m drinking the stars!” In his time, the bubbles that give Champagne its sparkle were just an unwelcome result of the refermentation process. He eventually launched the long effort to create a wine unique to Champagne that was the equal of wines from Burgundy. “The effort continued until they learned to accept the bubbles and accept that Champagnes would be different from Burgundies,” said Manfred. “And that’s how sparkling wines came into being.” At this point in the story, Manfred’s love of Champagne overcame his professorial persona, as he exclaimed: “Can you believe they tried to get rid of the bubbles?!”
Bubbles weren’t the only challenge facing early Champagne makers. During Dom Pérignon’s lifetime and for more than 100 years after his death, Champagnes tended to be too acidic and required added sugar to be palatable. Only in the 19th century did wine makers finally achieve a quality Champagne without adding sugar – although it took time to be appreciated. “In 1846, Perrier-Jouët produced the first Champagne without any added sugar, but it was poorly received – it was just too brut,” said Manfred. “In 1874, Pommery Nature finally established Champagne as a dry wine.” Ever since, the trend has been toward drier Champagnes.
Manfred illustrated his points with three flights of sparkling wines. The first flight comprised four sparklers from the Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, using grapes grown at an elevation of 4,800 feet: blanc de blanc (white sparkling wine from white grapes), blanc de noir (white sparkling wine from red grapes), brut (the standard sparkling wine to pair with food), and brut rosé (pink sparkling wine achieved by adding red wine). “We are fortunate to have incredible micro-climates in this country,” said Manfred. When he learned that these consistent, good-quality wines were not from California, Oregon or Washington, said Manfred, “I was floored. I discovered gems that I had overlooked.”
The second flight included international variations on the theme of sparkling wine: Cava (Spain), Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti (Italy) and Riesling Sekt (Germany). At this point, one of the “students,” Christopher Koetke, Vice-Conseiller Culinaire of Chicago and the Midwest Chaîne and vice president of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, offered his take on each of the four sparklers. Cava: “Clean, nice acidity, not that sweet, apple-y.” Manfred added, “You can enjoy it with food, as an aperitif, you can enjoy it any time.” Prosecco: “The first sniff was really herbal, green, stemmy,” said Chris. “That blew off a little bit and behind it was some really nice exotic fruits and some jasmine – even a touch of honey – a little sweeter on the finish, but nicely balanced.” Manfred pointed out, “If you go into a bar in Venice in the afternoon, this is what everyone drinks there: a glass of Prosecco.” Moscato d’Asti: “It’s very sweet, cloyingly sweet,” suggested Chris. Manfred, on the other hand, detected in the Bera Canelli “honeyed notes, a little pear, apricot, sweetness. It has fruit and floral components. This is what it’s supposed to taste like. That is truly a quality product.” Referring to both Italian sparklers, Manfred conceded, “It’s a little difficult to pair them with food because of the sweetness and the character.” Riesling: “I picked up the petroleum notes of a riesling, cooked apples, some nice spice, a touch of honey – sweet, but a balanced sweetness,” said Chris. “This is among the roughly 15% of sekts that can claim the label Deutscher Sekt,” stated Manfred, “because the grapes must be grown in Germany.”
The four sparklers in the final flight were selected to reflect recent trends and to look ahead to the future of sparkling wines. The first was a highly regarded Cava: Juvé y Camps, Reserva de la Familia, Brut Nature, Gran Reserva, 2008. “When the Spanish discovered that they could make a Cava that was distinctly different from Champagne,” said Manfred, “they were proud enough to say that it deserved a different name. It’s stored in our caves in the north of Spain, and the name ‘cava’ stuck.” Juvé y Camps adds 10% Chardonnay to the traditional blend, giving this Cava a special elegance. “This is what the King would serve you if you were his guest,” Manfred suggested. It is regularly served at official banquets and pairs well with typical Spanish fare: pâtés, tapas, paellas, Jamón Iberico and cured meats.
The second Cava was a brut rosé, also from Juvé y Camps. “Less than one percent of all Cavas are rosés,” said Manfred. “This one is all pinot noir – something new in Spain. The texture of the pinot noir is fuller and richer than the golden Cava.” Underscoring the star power of this producer, Manfred asserted, “Juvé y Camps has become sort of a trendsetter, and everyone looks to their leadership as the most highly regarded house.”
Moving from Spain to Italy, Manfred introduced the next wine, Franciacorta, Ca’ Del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige. “Here you have the evolution of where tastes, know-how and production have gone in Italy,” he stated. In addition to being a more brut, less sweet sparkler, this wine represents the ultimate expression of the art of blending. “In your glasses, you have wines blended from 134 vineyards to create something that comes close to perfection,” Manfred commented. “Franciacorta is said to be making the finest sparklers in all of Italy now.”
Just when participants thought there couldn’t be any more innovations in this flight, their fourth glass was filled with a red sparkler from Australia: Bleasdale Vineyards, Uncle Dick, The Red Brute, Sparkling. “The Bleasdale family decided to make a sparkler from Shiraz grapes,” said Manfred. The result is a richly flavored, deep-colored Shiraz that displays spicy, peppery notes; dark berry fruits; sweet plum; silky tannins; a rich, velvety palate and a long finish. “This is where innovators are going right now,” concluded Manfred.
As the workshop ended, even the most knowledgeable attendees agreed that they had learned a great deal about the history, art and science of making Champagne and sparkling wines. All appreciated the chance to experience top-quality traditional and forward-looking wines from across the globe. As they took their last sips, perhaps some even reflected that they were indeed drinking the stars.
Please, join us for an exciting excursion into the delightful world of sparklers, including Cava, Sekt, Spumante and, of course, Champagne. We will dedicate our next two Mondiale events to these gems in the world of wine.
Part One: February 8, 2015 We will inspect, sniff and sip (or spit if you prefer!) sparkling treasures from various regions of the world while we study grapes, soil, aromas, flavors and alcohol content - and ponder their significance for our lives. Have you ever thought of how much romance you can add to your life by popping a cork now and then? It does not always have to be accompanied by a precious gift in a small box.
At this session, we will enjoy a Methuselah of a fabulous rare rosé Champagne. Among connoisseurs, rosé Champagnes are considered the crème de la crème. They are more difficult to produce, they are more expensive, and they represent perhaps 3% of the Champagne imports to the U.S. Champagne bottles come in nine different sizes. Large bottles are individually hand-blown. Yes, the bottle is big enough to spoil us all with a second glass. To reset our palates, seafood as well as charcuterie and cheeses will be available during the tasting.
We will be guests of the internationally renowned artist Virginio Ferrari, who is kindly allowing us to conduct our Mondiale tasting in his studio. You will recognize his famous sculpture, “Being Born,” because you have passed it many times, maybe not even realizing it, while leaving Chicago or driving into the city. Maestro Ferrari will join us in our tasting and will give us a tour of his studio. Limited to 24 participants.
Part Two: April 12, 2015 This event will be dedicated solely to fine Champagne. Please mark your calendar.
Manfred W. Raiser