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Champagne Terroir…a silent conpiracy?

In Champagnes on May 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

The New World has the climate and the French have their God damn Terroir. Proud as a cockerel that is their emblem the French are always talking about their sacrosanct Terroir. Is it that special?

Is it something that really changes the nature of wines? Well, sorry to admit that but it does! Especially in Champagne!

The wine region of Champagne is one of the smallest in the world and despite its small size there are massive differences in climate and soil where various grapes find better places to grow as a whole.

Take the Montagne de Reims by example. Its slopes against the continental cold winds make it haven for Pinot Noir to ripen. The Cote des Blancs being so uniformly flatter than its neighbouring sub regions and exposed to a fair amount of sunshine make it perfect for Chardonnays to mature. Then the western Champagne region starting with the Vallee de la Marne is idyllic for strong Pinot Meuniers to grow or other grapes to get extra ripeness.

We all know that the best Bordeaux are First Growth in the like of Chateau Margaux or Petrus. In Burgundy the most refined examples are Premier and Grand Crus like Echezeau or La Tache. In this particular region there is even better than the Crus, there are the Clos. These small parcels of vineyards are so perfect that the quality of their wines surpasses the best Grand Crus. Very famous are Clos de Vougeot or Clos des Mouches. Everyone knows that a Chablis Premier Cru is ousting any other Chablis as they are standing up above the rest.

What about Champagne? What conspiracy has put the Champagne Terroir in the shadow?

Did you know that there are 17 Grand Crus and 40 Premier Crus Villages in Champagne and that they all have their unique Terroir?

Let’s start with the Montage de Reims. Have you ever heard about the villages of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Verzenay or Verzy? These four fantastic villages are producing the most delicious Pinot Noirs. The richest Blancs de Noirs and most refined Roses de Saignee are coming from these villages. The normal blend for Champagne from the Montagne de Reims will be of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay as 80% of the vineyards in this sub-region are planted with the black grape.

That is because of this unique Terroir that famous Champagne house Krug has created its latest top cuvee with Pinot Noirs from a small parcel in the Village of Ambonnay and sell this vintage Champagne at a staggering £1885.00 a bottle.

In the Vallee de la Marne there is one village with Super Stardom status. That is Ay. Home of great Champagne houses like Gosset, Lallier, Henri Giraud and even Bollinger the whole area surrounding Ay is truly mind blowing. This village is renowned for the richness of its fruits and its particular ripeness. Even if they plant a bit of Meunier, that is Pinot Noir that shines there. The Cuvee Celebris Rose from Gosset is one of its finest examples.

And then there is the much impressive Cote des Blancs. Situated south of Epernay and with massive villages in the like of Le Mesnil sur Oger, Cramant or Avize this is Chardonnay territory all the way down to the Premier Cru village of Vertus. That is where Champagnes for Kings are made. So much that two famous brands have named their top cuvee after the village where the grapes come from. Very famous Salon “Le Mesnil” and Krug “Clos du Mesnil” are prime examples. Most of Champagnes coming from this region are stunning and don’t have to shy away from any Montrachet from Burgundy.

Also that is where the big names are, Selosse, De Sousa, Larmandier-Bernier to name a few.

So why not talk more about this? Why the secrecy? Is it an inconvenient truth?

Well it might be. If the general public was buying Champagne the way they buy Bordeaux or Burgundy it is very likely that the cards will be re-distributed…to the benefit of Boutique Champagnes.

Something we would not complain about


A very Royal Wedding Breakfast with Boutique Champagnes

In Champagnes, Marc & Andrew on April 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

It is one event happening only once a generation. On April 29th his Royal Highness Prince William will marry Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey. To celebrate this grand day we will have an extended weekend and another valid excuse to drink some Champagne and gather friends and family around the table. For this Royal occasion we are suggesting you a pure British breakfast to be toasted with the most delicious and appropriate Boutique Champagnes.

First you need to set the dining table and make sure your finest china and silverware are polished and ready for use. Three colours should apply on the table that are Blue, Red and White and a Union Jack should be at sight in the room. For your glasses make sure you have two Champagne flutes, one white wine and one red wine glass per guest. A table from six to eight guests is ideal.

Concerning the menu, go British all the way, from nibbles to cheeses with an extra touch of Scottish as William and Kate found love at St Andrews.

I suggest you to serve three types of nibbles for the drink reception and serve two rounds of them.

There, no need to go bonkers. A simple Smoked Salmon on Toast with a drizzle of lemon juicean horseradish cream will do well to start. Then send a very cold Pea and Mint Mousse in a shot glass with a tea spoon. That will wake up your taste buds. To finish serve a warm mini crab cake with a dollop of Tartare sauce . With this trio you can be sure that everyone will love this start. A bowl of Bombay Mix can be welcome on the side.

You will serve these appetizers with Champagne Francois Diligent Brut N.V. This fantastic Blanc de Noirs Champagne is light, refreshing and expresses a delicate Pinot Noir with hints of bruised apple and nuts. This will be a great moment of refinement and a fantastic start to your Royal Wedding Breakfast.

For the starter we will look at celebrating Britain by using ingredients that are truly local. It is a call for Hand Dived Scallops from the shores of Scotland served with Stornoway Black Pudding and Scottish Forest Girolles mushrooms and roasted Granny Smith. These flavours work fantastically well together and this recipe is easier to make that it seems. As much as the mushrooms and the black pudding would do with fairly oaky Champagne it will need to be a Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) to bring this extra apple freshness to the match. It will work wonders with the sweet flavours of the Scallops. For this “out of this world” starter no other Champagne will work than Andre Jacquart Premier Cru Vertus Experience Brut N.V. Leave the bottle to rest at room temperature for ten minutes and then serve it in a white wine glass to get a maximum of aromas and enhance your experience.

The main course will have to be stylish, rich in flavour and really branded British. That is the reason why we have chosen 28 days aged Aberdeen Angus Beef Wellington, Creamy Mushroom sauce served with Nipps and Tatties and English Asparagus. Scottish beef is so tender that it just melts in the mouth. The meat will be browned in butter and placed on a bed of wilted spinach and a mushroom duxelles and wrapped in puff pastry before being roasted. The nice thing about this dish is that everything can be prepared in advance and will just have to be put in the oven when your starters will be served.

With this main course fit for a future King you will need Champagne with lots of personality, strong earthy flavours and enough body to sustain the richness of flavours. A Blanc de Noirs made of the finest Pinot Noir grapes from the most prestigious Grand Cru village of Ambonnay will do the trick just fine. For the one of you who has won the lottery recently I would strongly recommend Krug Clos D’Ambonnay 1996 at £1885.00 a bottle. If you are like me and still have to meet your bills requirements but still want to treat yourself and your guests with fantastic Champagne the choice of Soutiran Grand Cru “Perle Noire” Brut N.V. makes more sense. Rising star that has impressed many wine pros at the Champagne Bureau annual tasting, the cuvee “Perle Noire” is packed with flavours and will be the perfect companion to your beef Wellington. I promise you a “time of your life” moment with this combination. Make sure the Champagne has rested ten minutes at room temperature before pouring it in red wine glasses. For the more adventurous, you can decant this champagne to add to the wow effect.

With summer on the horizon your choice of dessert will have to be a “sunshine caller” and use what Britain is producing at best: red fruits. A summer pudding filled with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries served fresh from the fridge with a generous serving of whipped cream will conclude royally your meal. This dessert is a real crowd pleaser and will work marvel with pink champagne with a good dosage to it. That is why we chosen the Henri Giraud “Esprit Rose” Brut N.V.

Made of 70% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay and 8% Ay Rouge in oak barrels, this mouth watering Champagne reveals clear Aromas of Bigaro Cherries, fresh Berries with delicate scent of Spices and freshly cracked Black Pepper. Its Mouthful Palate shows Intense Juiciness, Vigorous Freshness and round all flavours in a medium to long length. This will be the perfect compliment to your summer pudding bringing sunshine all around the table. Serve it in Champagne Flutes straight from the fridge for a great result.

Feel free to finish your meal with a board of British cheeses and a nice bottle of vintage port.

That, my friends, is our idea of the perfect Royal Wedding Breakfast. It is a celebration of the finest food Britain can offer today and will surely make this event one of the bests in generations.

If you fancy creating this meal in your own home, just click on the dishes to download the recipes.

We have created a Royal Wedding Box for the occasion. This box contain two bottles of Francois Diligent Brut N.V., one bottle of Andre Jacquart Premier Cru Vertus Experience, one bottle of Soutiran Grand Cru “Perle Noire” Brut N.V. and two bottles of Henri Giraud “Esprit Rose” Brut N.V.

Case value: £194.20 plus £15.00 delivery charge.

Limited offer until 27th April 2011


The New Champagne Elite

In Champagnes, Sommeliers on June 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Back in 2008 some told us that starting Aperitif Dinatoire and promoting Boutique Champagne in the UK would be foolish as the Grande Marques were in total control and monopolising the champagne sales in the country. Thankfully they were just a minuscule number. Some though, said that the task would be enormous and in a way they were right. For long now we have been convinced that the Champagne region is the most exciting region of all and the cards are getting re-distributed as more and more growers are proving that they can produce wines of the level, if not better, of top cuvees for a fraction of the price. Thanks to new techniques, mostly inspired by Burgundian influence but also by now famous Anselme Selosse, some houses have created real gems of champagne.

So, what has been happening, for the past year or so, is the appearance of a new kind of wine list in our restaurants where some risk-taking sommeliers and managers have literarily dumped the most common brands for lesser known houses. A question remain: why?

Lets have a look at a few champagne lists. (I apologise in advance that I didn’t ask the permission to the creators to use their work for the purpose of this post! Sorry guys but it is for the best! I hope you won’t mind.)

First case study is the champagne list compiled by Matthieu Longueres M.S. of La Trompette in Chiswick. The list is rich and full of different houses. A big change from the traditional list where there are featured around five or six champagne houses.

Out of 29 products on display only 1 is from a grand marque that is the Jacquart Low Dosage. That makes a stunning 3% representation…incredible. I guess this is due to the high quality of theses houses and their real value for money. This is also about offering diversity and an opportunity of discovery for the punter that makes those houses attractive to the sommelier.

Take another look at the pink champagne list of The Ledbury, a newly appointed Michelin star in London, and see what is cooking there…in champagne matters I mean. Out of four houses in representation none are actually grande marques. You would have found the un-avoidable LP rose but it is nowhere to be seen. Instead you have really stunning houses represented there in the like of Bereche, Pehu-Simonnet, Andre Jacquart and Billecart Salmon (Which is a bit larger but fine in its style!).

Some have a much smoother approach to presenting Boutique Champagnes like sommelier Mathieu Germond at two Michelin star Pied a Terre who still integrates some of the cuvees of great houses like Bollinger, Taittinger, Mumm or Krug with an average of 22%.

What we learn with these case studies is that the shift is clear and with much more impact than expected in 2008 and it is a very encouraging sign. One sommelier at a Country House Hotel told me recently that he made the drastic decision to not feature large houses anymore preferring to sell Boutique Champagne only explaining that this was much more exciting.

Exciting it is indeed and we will be looking at those new houses to be discovered in the UK and maybe sometimes will have to rate those winemakers in order to find out who really IS the New Elite of Champagne.

Can’t wait!

Meeting Marie Doyard

In Champagnes, Events, Winemakers on May 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Last week I visited the London International Wine Fair to sample new houses as well as re-tasting my favourites.

The day before I called Marie Doyard of Champagne Andre Jacquart to know if she would have a few minutes to share a glass or two but also to ask her a few questions about her house and what direction it is taking.

The meeting was set for lunchtime at her stand. The last time saw Marie was at the Champagne Bureau annual tasting at Whitehall in April. People who know her are always impressed by her charisma and her great knowledge of wine making so I was there for a treat.

Sharing a glass at the London Wine Fair

After sampling the whole range (I said sampling!) we sat for a chat and I threw a few questions at her in order to know more about the House.

The first question I asked Marie was to sum up in one phrase what the house of Andre Jacquart stands for.

Her reply was meticulous and precise: “Quality, Family run business, traceability of the product and a focus on the quality of the Terroir and the grapes that the Cote des Blancs and especially Vertus and Le Mesnil can offer”

This precise answer led me to ask her what was the main style of Andre Jacquart and what makes the house like no other.

“The house tries to express the best Chardonnay style that we can do with a combination of oak to try to really have an expression of pure wine rather than just champagne, great wines with bubbles”

Marie runs the family house but who is the wine maker and what is his particularity?

“The winemaker is my brother Benoit and I take care of all the commercial aspect of the business. When it comes to wine we, as a family, are expressing our family soul and heart”

But what is your soul? Some champagnes are more feminine or more masculine, where do you stand? “Above all we are making champagnes that we like and would like to share it with our customers”

As many winemakers are favouring the Zero Dosage nowadays I asked Marie if the house would think of trying this method some time in the future.

“We are definitely ready to give it a try but the thing is that we are already doing a low dosage of three or four grams of sugar so we have done a big step already, but we are still creating the new range so it might be too early to put this idea into practice as we are quite satisfied with our actual dosage.”

Now was time for the question that I could not miss…vintage 2009. Is the house planning to release a vintage of possible great potential?

“For sure we will be doing a vintage for 09. We will see through the year how it evolves and it would be a pure expression of Le Mesnil with from 80 to 100 percent of oak. If the wine can accept a full oak vinification we will do it!” (Looking forward to it)

The conversation goes on and we talk about which champagne we prefer and Marie explained that her range is so diverse that every champagne can be enjoyed on the moment depending of the time of the day but above all with who you share it.

The last question was about the boom of grower champagnes and how far down the line would the small champagne houses be recognised like the grande marques. (Controversial!!!)

“We have been convinced since the beginning that we make a Champagne we like and we love but not just champagne to satisfy everybody because you can’t satisfy everybody. We want to stay specialised in a niche product and to offer the opportunity to share our values with our customers.”

I have to salute Marie and her family for a true respectability and integrity in what they do.

To celebrate, lets open another bottle of Le Mesnil Experience.

Merci Marie!

That thing with Grower Champagnes

In Champagnes on April 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Last month I opened a bottle of Grande Marque champagne for the aperitif as I was visiting friends at the last minute. I don’t want to complain but I think my palate has been spoiled by Grower Champagnes. For over three month now I have been tasting new houses which have been recommended to me by people such as Pierre Larmandier and Eric Zwiebel, I must have tasted some 100 different champagnes! The latest house was Leclapart, a biodynamic house with stunning chardonnays.

So at my friend’s house we popped the cork and Oh My God it was disappointing!

More like a grape juice with fizz! No depth, no length, this burning sensation on the stomach…a total disaster.

So I decided today to tell the truth that Grower’s Champagne and small houses are far better and promise myself not to buy anymore of this odd big brands stuff.

This is no pompous comment but it is really a fact that we have been ripped off by large volume champagnes on the quality statement. Thanks God some houses are making fantastic Grande Cuvees. I am talking of Krug, Dom Perignon, Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle of other Grande Dame, but at what price!

I believe it is time for the public at large to take consideration into those small wine makers, which are putting so much passion in their range and producing purely fantastic bottles.

Take Andre Jacquart by example, their vineyards are situated in the Cote des Blancs, their wine maker takes pride in using new Burgundy oak in the process and uses quite low dosage and they produce amazing champagnes matching the quality of the one listed below for less than half of the price (Andre Jacquart Vertus Experience £35.00 Only!).

So my final words will be GO FOR IT, it worth every penny!

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