Friday, January 30, 2009

2007 Can Feixes Blanc Selecció Penedès Spain (Bodegas Huguet de)

2007 Can Feixes Blanc Selecció Penedès Spain (Bodegas Huguet de)

Suggested retail price $10 - $13

Imported by Classical Wines (Sole US agent)

Although it is winter, and god knows the weather has been somewhat colder this year compare with the past 3-4 year, I have been enjoying much more white wine over the last 4 months than red.

I guess my palate is changing and I need to admit that I am more and more attracted by fresh, crisp, vivid and mineral whites and earthy, somewhat rustic, lighter reds than I ever been before.

During winter, for the reds, I could drink some big Shiraz or Zinfandel, but I realized that any wine above 13.5% (14% at the max) do not please me no more. And unless they are very well made and perfectly integrated, they are usually heavy, alcoholic (hot in the back palate) and often too ripe (sometimes clearly overripe and somewhat stewed) for my taste-buds.

For the whites, I could switch to big woody Chardonnay or even to Viognier, but I rather drink fresh Galician, Loire Valley and Northern Italy whites (and many others crisp and bright whites).

2007 Can Feixes Blanc Selecció Penedès has been one of these refreshing whites that really pleased me lately. My wife and I probably enjoyed 6 bottles in less than 2 weeks. I can help it, I had to get back to it. I drink it like water.

Coming from vineyards planted at the highest limit of the Penedès growing region, the upper Penedès, planted on gravelly soils and growing under a relatively extreme and dry climate, Can Feixes is a blend of 4 different grapes: 40% Parellada, 30% Macabeo, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Malvaisía de Sitges.

During harvest, the grapes are hand-picked and carefully selected in the vineyards with a further selection on sorting tables at the Bodega. The must is obtained from the grapes gently pressed in a pneumatic press. The must is then filtered by static decanting, before fermenting the clear must in stainless steel tanks. The wine is then left for a few months on its lees (dead yeast and small sediments) prior to bottling to maximize aromas and flavors. The young and fresh wine is then usually bottled in March of the following year in Rhine-style bottles (long narrow bottles), all individually numbered.

2007 Can Feixes Blanc Selecció Penedès is in the same time complex and aromatic yet light on its feet, easy to drink and inviting, full of freshness and minerality. It boasts aromas of fresh squeezed lemon, green apple, white blossom and minerals. Sharp and focus from beginning to end, it could be compared to a Muscadet in texture, yet it has more length and depth. Meant to be consumed young and fresh, this vivid wine will be great as an aperitif with light appetizers, pan seared fish with lemon juice and olive oil, and grilled chicken.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to www.canfeixes.com

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2006 Dow's Vale Do Bomfim Douro Valley Portugal
















2006 Dow's Vale Do Bomfim Douro Valley Portugal

Suggested retail price $11 - $14
Distributed by Winebow in NYC

The Vale do Bomfim is produced by the Symington family from grapes grown in vineyards that traditionally supply the house of Dow. Dow is one of the most well known and reliable Porto house, and their vintage port is always one of the best on the market yet their entry level ports are also excellent.

Vale do Bomfim reflects the new style of wines coming from the northern part of the Douro Valley, where healthy ripe grapes, mature vineyards and modern winemaking have been successfully combined to produce rich, expressive, full bodied red wines.

A blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Roriz, 20% Tinta Barroca and 15% Touriga Nacional, 2006 Dow's Vale do Bomfim is rich, complex and earthy yet elegant and integrated. Despite its attractive ripe wild dark berries flavors and assertive spice aromas, one may complain about the oak which could have been a bit more integrated. However, overall, this wine is very pleasing and full with reminiscent notes of ripe dark fruit, spice and dark chocolate and hints of toasted oak and earthy tannins. Quite comparable to the last vintage, slightly less complex but as enjoyable, this wine will definitely please rich red wines from Portugal lovers. Somewhat ready to drink now, it will surely improve after a year or two in the bottle due to the tannins.

Drink with substantial dishes based with red meat: i.e. beef stew, venison, roasted poultry.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

It also exist in Reserva in previous vintage, I may be wrong but I don't think that this 2006 is a Reserva. Compare to previous vintage, it doesn't mention "Reserva".

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2007 Benton Lane Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon USA















2007 Benton Lane Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon USA

Suggested retail price $25 - $28
Distributed in NYC by Southern Wine & Spirits

2007 Benton Lane Pinot Noir is another great value Pinot from Willamette, Oregon. It offers lovely scent of purple flowers, spice and bright red ripe cherry fruit on the nose. The palette is balance, harmonious and pack of red berry fruit. Despite its slight under ripeness due to the vintage, the wine has great acidity and depth, and feel somewhat Burgundian in style, although not in taste. I like it for what it is and for the price, but I need to admit my favorite Pinot from Oregon (so far, in this price range) is still the unbeatable "O'Reilly's Pinot Noir".

Drink it with roasted poultry, chicken on sauce or a grilled fat fish like Salmon.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to their website at www.benton-lane.com

2007 Releaf Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Shiraz Western Cap South Africa (organic)



2007 Releaf Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Shiraz Western Cap South Africa (organic)
Suggested retail price $10 - $12
Imported by Prestige Wine (NJ) & distributed by Nestor Imports in NYC

A nice discovery from South Africa, Releaf is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 20% Shiraz. It is made from 100% hand harvested, organically grown grapes from vineyards under sustainable agriculture (somewhat a mix of Organic and Biodynamic culture). The nose offers intense flavors of blackberry, cassis and vanilla spice. On the palate, Merlot adds plumy and red cherry notes plus a suppleness that balances Cabernet’s structure, while Shiraz adds a peppery blackberry pie characteristic. The blend perfectly balances the fabulous fruit flavors, structure, and acidity, yielding a wine with earthy, concentrated flavors. Fairly complex for a wine in this price category from South Africa, it is really inviting and approachable. Organic wines have come a long a way, and Releaf is a good example what can be achieved when growers use sustainable farming. Even the bottle and the label were designed with the environment in mind using partially recycled glass for the bottle and recycled ink and paper for the label.

Step into the Green! Respect the environment for you and the future generation! Thank you.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to: www.organicwinetradecompany.com

2006 Stonehedge Merlot California USA
















2006 Stonehedge Merlot California USA

Suggested retail price: $9 - $12
Imported & distributed by Nestor Imports in NYC

2006 Stonehedge Merlot California is a blend of 89.3% Merlot and 10.7% of Syrah and Sangiovese. It somewhat brings to your palate the roundness of a good, ripe Merlot from California with a spicy Rhone edge add by the Syrah and the freshness of the Sangiovese. The resulting wine is clean, rounded, nicely balanced and uncomplicated.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to their website at: www.stonehedgewinery.com

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2007 Latitude 50 Spåtburgunder Brut Rosé Sekt B.A. Rheingau Germany


2007 Latitude 50 Spätburgunder Brut Rosé Sekt B.A. Rheingau Germany
Suggested retail price $19 - $22
Imported and Distributed by (our great friend) Savio Soares (selections)

Our good friend Savio Soares is already renown for bringing organic and biodynamic gems and values from France and Germany (and more), and once again he hit the spot, with this 100% Spätburgunder (more commonly called Pinot Noir) Rosé Sekt (Brut or sec) sparkling from Germany.

2007 Latitude 50 Spätburgunder Rosé is fresh, vivid, with multiple, fast paced bubbles and an elegant, tender, light pinkish onion skin color. This rosé is a sociable, easy-going and inviting bubbly. Surprisingly easy to drink, dry and bright yet ripe and light on its feet and fruity (and once again, remember that fruity doesn't necessarily mean sweet, in most case, it just imply ripeness or a fruitier taste than usual in therm of fruit not of sugar.... sweet is definitely a misleading word in the wine world vocabulary), it is an ideal dry sparkling rosé wine for any festive occasion (a toast, a lunch or a dinner, etc..). It was one of the highlights of 2008 end of the year Holiday's season and a no-brainer choice for taste and especially value. Saint Valentin is coming soon and this rosé will tenderly complement your eyes-to-eyes, cuddling time.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to the revamped Savio's new website: www.savinho.com


2006 Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc Vieilles Vignes (Bernard Germain)


2006 Chateau de Felses Cabernet Franc Vieilles Vignes Loire Valley France (Bernard Germain)
Suggested retail price $11 - $14
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons in NYC

In this economy and with a worldwide crisis going on, it is important for customers to be able to rely on good but inexpensive wines, and Chateau de Felses is one of these reliable brands that will always give you enough complexity and interest for the money.

The past 3 vintages have been exceptionally consistent, and this 2006 is no exception to the rule.

Crafted by the now renown owner and producer Bernard Germain, with 100% Cabernet Franc, Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc Vieilles Vignes is a fine expression of what ripe and well trained Cabernet Sauvignon can achieved. Round, supple and elegant with a bright acidity, crisp red berries flavors and some very integrated tannins, this wine is a delight on its own yet it will complement pleasantly paté, cold roast beef, game and poultry, as well as soft cheeses.

The 2004 vintage was somewhat restrain and a bit tight but still enjoyable. The 2005, due to a riper vintage, offered more fruit and linger on the finish with more corpulence. The 2006 vintage is a juicier version of the past two, with brighter fruit then the 2005 and more integrated tannins than the 2004, somewhat less austere.

In my opinion, Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc Vieilles Vignes is a real value from the Anjou region and people should pay a bit more attention to it. Cabernet Franc lovers should keep Bernard Germain and Chateau de Fesles as an excellent reference to Loire Valley red wine. definitely a recommended buy.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to their website: www.en.fesles.com

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sangria!!!

It is funny how many people come in the store and ask me how to make a good Sangria. So here are my answers to their questions:

First, you don't want it too sweet, so avoid Ginger Ale or any other kind of sweet sodas. Second, you don't want it too strong, so make sure that you taste it as often as possible while you doing it.

In general, people use cognac or brandy to give it a kick, but I personally found it a bit harsh and strong, I usually prefer dark Rum or Calvados, which are softer and rounder yet still give a good kick to your Sangria.

Last detail, always make your Sangria the day before the party for maximum flavors and taste.

Red Sangria

For about 20 people:
  • 4 bottles (750ml) of red wine (Spanish - Tempranillo or Garnacha - or South American - Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot or Malbec - for 2 good reasons: good value and price). In fact you can choose the red that you want from any country, as long as you like it. Remember that price doesn't make taste, and a Sangria made with a more expensive wine will not taste better.
  • 1 bottle of spirit (500ml or even 750ml depending of how strong you want it), cognac or brandy are good but too harsh in my opinion (especially when inexpensive); Calvados or Rum make a better choice for a better and rounder Sangria. You don't want to hammer your guests on the head with the alcohol. So with Calvados or Rum, your Sangria will taste softer but it still will be as strong (as with cognac or brandy).
  • Fruits: lemon, orange, apple, peach, pear, pineapple and grapes are among some of the most commonly used fruits for Sangria (red or white).
  • 1 bottle (500 ml or 750ml, depending on how diluted you want it to be) of tonic water or seltzer water or sparkling water (flavored or not is your choice, it wont alter the taste too much).
  • 1 small bottle (200ml or 375ml, depending on how sweet and orange flavored you want it to be) of Cointreau or Grand Marnier (or can even use Triple Sec but it isn't as good in my opinion).
Once you gather all these ingredients, you are finally ready to make a good Sangria, forget about the rest or what people say, the simpler the better. Let's do it.


Red Sangria recipe:

  • Pour the 4 bottles of red wine in a big bowl (plastic or glass);
  • then pour the bottle of spirit: Rum or Calvados (better in my opinion) or cognac or brandy (3/4 or all of it depending on how strong you want it);
  • add 3/4 (or the entire) small bottle of Cointreau or Grand Marnier (make sure that you taste often to measure how sweet and flavored you want your Sangria to be);
  • you can also add 1 (or 2) table spoon of sugar (here again depending on how sweet you want it);
  • finally, cut the fruits and put them in the bowl with the wine and the rest.
  • Cover the bowl with a piece of cloth or with aluminium foil, put the bowl in the fridge and let the fruit macerate all night long until next day.
  • The next day, about an hour (or 2) before your guests arrive, take the bowl out of the fridge and taste your Sangria (and add what is missing, depending on your taste: i.e. wine, spirit, cointreau, sugar or fruit).
  • Add the seltzer or sparkling water (or tonic water). In my opinion, Ginger Ale or Seven Up or any other super sweet soda will alter the taste of your Sangria. More over, you don't want to disgust your guests with too much sweetness.
  • Voila!!! Your sangria is ready. You can put it back in the fridge until your guests arrive or you can leave it on the table to macerate a bit more at room temperature until your guests arrive (just make sure that at the last minute, you will have a bucket full of ice cubes at the ready next to the bowl).
And for a white Sangria, do the same thing and follow the same steps, just replace the red wine by white wine, and you're all set.

Enjoy!

Ledom du Vin

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2007 Godeval Godello Galicia Spain



Vina Godeval Godello Valdeorras Galicia Spain

I discovered this wine a few years ago and never stop drinking it since then. I especially enjoyed the last two vintages 2006 and 2007. In any cases, the fresher and younger it is, like most Galician whites, the better it is. Unoaked Albarino and other fresh whites from Rias Baixas and Ribeira are also very fine examples of what this little-Brittany-like region of Spain can produce.

Coming from Galicia, forming the northwestern part of Spain above Portugal, this wine was crafted with the indeginous local white grape: Godello. It is the main white grape variety of the D.O. Valdeorras, a little pocket size wine appellation located in the southeastern part of Galicia. Valdeorras is neighbouring the D.O. Bierzo, another appellation that I 'm very fond of, producing balanced Cabernet-Franc-like reds with the Mencia grape, located eastern part of Leon, Castilla y Leon.

"Founded in 1987, Godeval not only resurrected the ruins of the 12th century Monastery of San Miguel de Xagoaza where the winery is located but also resurrected the all but forgotten ancient varietal Godello. Stone rooms that once housed gallant medieval knights and weary pilgrims are now home to a state of the art cellar. The estate owned vineyards are located high on a ridge that dominates the valley. The slate soils lend a unique minerality to this crisp wine which is a perfect accompaniment for seafood and fresh shellfish." Info taken from the label.

I'm in love with Galician whites, fresh, vivid, crispy and loaded with minerality, they are my first choice in white with white Burgundy, some white Pessac-Leognan and Graves, Loire whites (from Muscadet to Chenin Blanc to Sauvignon and more), German and Alsacian Riesling, Austrian Gruner and the racy Txakolina of the Basque coast near San Sebastian (again in Spain, I just love Spain....friendly people, good wine, good food, sunny weather, open minded on culture, art and design, etc...but this subject will take an entire new post...).




2007 Vina Godeval Godello Valdeorras Galicia Spain
Suggested retail price $16-$19
A Jorge Ordonez Selections distributed in NYC by Tempranillo Inc.

Godeval 2007 was a real revelation for me when I first tasted it and it remains one of my favorite whites from Spain. It has beautiful balance, bright acidity and great minerality which confer to this wine a very inviting sense of purity and freshness. They is no season to drink it. It will always quench your thirst and enhance your meal, whether you're eating grilled fish, seasoned shellfish and even white meat in sauce. It is ideal for any occasion and I have yet to meet somebody that disliked it.

Enjoy! (I personally drink it like water...).

LeDom du Vin

For more info go to their website at: www.godeval.com

Champagnes and other sparkling wines, what to buy?

Champagnes and other sparkling wines, what to buy?

The last 3 months and half were full of good surprises and especially loaded with bubbles. Think about it: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's eve, Inauguration Day, Valentine's day, new season series of Lost and Heroes, Super-bowl, a few birthdays and many more and other reasons to drink bubbly.

Many customers asked me (and the rest of the staff at the store) the same questions for nearly three months straight: which kind? dry? medium dry? sweet? rose? Champagne or Cava or Prosecco or else? I like to drink or to offer a bubbly but I have no clue? How much should I spend? Brands or small growers?

It is funny to realize that many of us have no idea what to buy when Christmas' and New Year's eve call for a bubbly. I think that this post will have been more helpful at the beginning of December, however you may refer to it all year long. After all, bubblies suit any and every festive occasions.

But first, let me remind you about the different styles of sparkling wines that you will surely encounter in fine retail stores and especially about these two little letters (i.e. RM or NM) on the champagne label.


I tried to make it simple and straightforward for everybody to understand.


These four factors: Origins, Styles, Vinification Process (or Production) and for Champagne, the two small letters on the label; they may appear insignificant to you and for most people, but they are a great quality indicator and will surely help you to make a better choice in your champagne and other sparkling wine selections.


Here is a little chart for you to better understand what I'm talking about and eventually make a better purchase:


Champagne and other sparkling wines



Origins

  • Origin (a): only sparkling wines coming from the region of Champagne (France) can be called and labelled "Champagne". Other sparkling wines produced in other wine regions of France made with the "Methode Traditionnelle" (also known as "Methode Champenoise") exist, but by law must carry a different name like: Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), Cremant d'Alsace, Cremant de Loire, Cremant de Bordeaux, etc.

  • Origin (b): There are also other great sparkling wines in France made with the "Methode Ancestrale" (similar to Champagne but without disgorgement resulting in rounder, fruitier style) like Blanquette de Limoux (Languedoc), Cerdon du Bugey (central eastern part of France), etc...

  • Origin (c): In other countries too, great sparkling wines of various styles, colors and tastes are produced:

  • Italy: Prosecco (Veneto), Moscato d'Asti and Brachetto (Piedmont), Lambrusco (Emilia-Romagna), and other Brachetto, Spumante and Frizzante, etc.

  • Spain: Cava (Penedes)

  • Germany and Austria: Sekt

  • South Africa: Cap Classique

  • Other countries like Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Greece, Hungary and of course USA, (California, New Mexico, etc), just to mention the most well known, also produce sparkling wines specified on the label by "Brut", "Methode Tradionnelle", "Methode Ancestrale", "Charmat Method", or just "Sparkling Wine", "Sec", etc...

I hope that the reading about the origins gave you a better idea about where some of the most famous sparkling wines come from. Now let's try to understand the different styles.


Styles


  • Brut: a dry style of sparkling wine or Champagne (less than 15 grams of sugar per liter).

  • Extra Brut: an even dryer (the driest) style of sparkling wine or Champagne (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter).

  • Nature (Brut Nature or Zero Dosage): means that no sugar has been added (no dosage, so less than 3 grams of sugar per liter) with the "Liqueur d'Expedition" after disgorgement, resulting in a dryer, more acidic style of sparkling wine or Champagne.

  • Extra Dry: is not dry at all, it usually refers to a sweeter style of sparkling wine or Champagne (between 12 and 20 grams of sugar per liter).

  • Sec: means Dry in French, but here again it is quite noticeably sweet (between 17 and 35 grams of sugar per liter). BTW: remember that Brut usually refers to "Dry" but "Sec" doesn't mean dry (because it is not as dry as the "Brut",.... like "Extra Dry" doesn't mean very dry (or extra sec) but the opposite, it is sweeter than Dry or Brut.... anyhow, the British invented all these terms, so go figure....).

  • Demi-sec (semi-dry): sweeter than the previous one (33 and 50 grams of sugar per liter).

  • Doux (semi-sweet to sweet): usually the sweetest (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter).

  • Brut: (again) refers also (in general) to a dry sparkling wine or Champagne white or rose (but also red in some countries) that can be made with both red and white grapes (i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir for Champagne).

  • Blanc de Blancs: usually a Champagne white or sparkling white wine made exclusively with white grapes, in most cases: Chardonnay.

  • Blanc de Noirs: usually a Champagne white or sparkling white wine made exclusively with red grapes (the skin being removed before fermentation to avoid coloration), in most cases: Pinot Noir

  • Rosé: usually a Champagne rosé or sparkling rosé wine made from a blend of both red and white grapes (i.e. X% Chardonnay + X% Pinot Noir, etc..).

  • Red sparkling: usually refers to a sparkling red wine which is not and can not be a Champagne, in most cases made with any red local appropriate grapes depending of the region and country of origin (i.e. Shiraz in Australia, Lambrusco in Italy)

  • Tête de Cuvée: refers to the best champagne that a Champagne house can produce. It can be millésime (meaning from a specific vintage) or not. (i.e. "Dom Perignon" is the "Tête de Cuvée" Champagne of Moët & Chandon; "Cristal" of Louis Roederer; "La Grande Dame" of Veuve Clicquot; etc..).

  • R.D: means "Recemment Dégorgé" ("Recently Disgorged" in English). It means that the Champagne R.D, usually an excellent vintage, was left for a longer ageing period in the underground limestone cellar of the Champagne House and was just disgorged then bottled recently (usually when the winemaker decides that the produce is at its best and was aged long enough to obtain the wanted style with the desired combination of style, flavors and balance). If you visit a Champagne House, ask to see how the disgorgement is done and ask them if you can taste the Chamapgne before they add the "Liqueur d'Expedition" and put the final cork. Bollinger has one of the best R.D in the market (in my opinion).

  • NV (non Vintage): means that the Champagne or sparkling wine is a blend of different vintage. Often, a touch of the same vintage or a different vintage (also call reserve) is added with the "Liqueur d'Expedition" to complete the bottle and replace the small amount of Champagne lost during disgorgement. But usually, the blend happen before bottling. Most sparkling wine and Champagne are NV. A Non-Vintage must be aged for at least a year and a half before released.

In most case, blending the Champagne made out of the latest harvest with a bit of reserve Champagne allows consistency, reliability and very similar taste from one year to the next (especially true with the big Champagne house). That is why a bottle of Veuve always taste the same and that is another reason why people in general prefer to buy brands instead of venturing in the smaller world of the lesser known Champagne house. Blending is an art and consistency insures sales. Irregularity between batches may happen, but, somewhat due to new techniques, methods and skills, it is far less common now than it used to be 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.


  • Vintage: Before (more than 20 years ago), Vintage Champagne and sparkling wine were only made in the best vintage with the most adequate climatic condition, ripeness, acidity, balance, structure and ageing potential which only happened 2 to 3 times max per decade. Unfortunately, new markets in emerging countries, luxury products market and constantly increasing demand transformed this myth. Nowadays, vintage Champagne are nearly produced every year or every other year, and in my opinion the quality of some of the most prestigious brand tremendously decreased over the last 10-15 years. Amongst some of the best Vintage Champagne that I tasted over the past 17 years, the vintage 79,82, 85, 88, 90, 96, 97 and 99 seems to have extremely please my palate.

That should give you a better idea about the different styles produced around the world and should guide you in your choice (I hope...). Now let's try to understand how they are produced.



Production & Vinification Process



There are at least 4 different main methods to produce sparkling wine and Champagne.

  • Methode Traditionnelle (previously known as "Methode Champenoise"): the most used and surely the most well known around the globe. After primary fermentation, the wine is bottled with an addition of several grams of yeast and sugar (known as "Liqueur de Tirage") which will induce the second fermentation in the bottle, thus the production of bubbles. The bottle is capped with a crown cap (like for for beer), then stored horizontally and slowly and constantly rotated (or riddled) for a minimum of 1.5 years (NV) up to 3 years and more for the vintage. Rotating the bottles slowly redirect the lees (yeast, residual sugar, etc..) toward the neck of the bottle where they settle and remain. At the end of the ageing process, the cap and the upper part of the neck are then frozen and the crown cap is removed (also known as disgorgement). The pressure in the bottle forces out the frozen lees, and the bottle is quickly corked with the addition of the Liqueur d'Expedition: a blend of Champagne of the same year or reserve Champagne to top up and complete the bottle + several grams of sugar to balance the acidity. Once corked with the final cork topped with its metallic plaque (Champagne house brand logo or name) maintained securely to the bottle by the musellet (or cage), the bottle is usually stored for another 3 to 6 months (or more depending of the house) before bottling and releasing (sometimes even longer for the most prestigious Champagne).

  • Charmat Method (also known as Méthode Charmat, Metodo Charmat-Martinotti or bulk process): invented in the early 1900 by a frenchman, Eugene Charmat, to mass produce sparkling wine in a minimum of time (usually about 90 days from harvesting to bottling). The major difference with the Méthode Traditionnelle (aka Champenoise) is that the secondary fermentation occur in pressurized stainless steel tank (in bulk) where the wine remains under constant pressure through the filtering and bottling process. Although, the resulting sparkling wine may be more consistent from bottle to bottle compare to Champagne, it is not as refined or elegant, and the bubbles are also larger and slower which often indicate lesser quality. It is one of the most used methods through out the world, after the Traditional Method.

  • Transfer Method (or Process or Transversage): here again, like the Charmat method, it is less expensive and less time consuming than the Méthode Traditionnelle. Invented in Germany, it takes about 90 days to a year from picking to bottling, depending on the producer and the style. It roughly follows the same steps as in the Methode Traditionnelle up to the bottling. What differs is that immediately at the end of the secondary fermentation, the bottles are emptied under pressure, then the sparkling wine is quickly filtered and rebottled (which in fact, replaces the remuage, the riddling, the need of freezing the neck to entrap the lees and sediments, and the disgorgement process of the Methode Traditionnelle).

  • Methode Ancestrale: Here again, it follows the same first steps as in the Methode Traditionelle up until the end of the end of the primary fermentation. In fact there is no secondary fermentation and the sparkling wine is bottled without any addition of anything (no sugar, no yeast or else). It can also be slightly cloudy because it doesn't undergo any disgorgement or any filtration, and still contains the dead yeast matter in form of lees in the bottle. The resulting sparkling wine is usually fruitier, somewhat raw and earthy, and often sweeter than other sparklings.

The 4 methods above are the most used around the world, with the Methode Traditionnelle and the Charmat Method as the preferred method by most winemakers.



Sometimes bubbles in wine don't make the wine a sparkling wine. One may also found a natural touch of fizz on the tongue when tasting freshly bottled wines, especially white wines (like Txakoli, Albarhino, Muscadet, Penedes white, etc...); however, it usually dissipate after a few minutes in the glass, in contact with the air.


By now, I think that you should have a clearer idea of which bubbly you will buy for your next festive occasion. Only one thing remains, the two little letters on the bottle of Champagne that I was talking about earlier.



The Little Letters on the Champagne bottle



In fact, nobody really cares or even really tries to understand what they mean, but they are a significant quality factor, especially when one is looking (or should I say venturing or exploring) for a good to excellent unknown champagne at a better price than the usual brands.


In our world of consumption, nearly everybody is often tempted to fall into a good marketing trick: attractive packaging, colors, seen everywhere on TV, advertisement boards and luxury magazines, an easy name to remember, etc... However, most of the time, you end up buying an "ok to good" but not very often excellent Champagne, because you pay more for the brand and the marketing of it than for its quality.


Of course, the first names that come to mind (in the US) are: Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot ("passe-partout" or should I say "all purpose" in English) for those who don't want to think too much and like to rely on brands, and then Cristal (but rarely Louis Roederer, even it is the same house) and Dom Perignon (the Grand Cuvee of Moet & Chandon, which is - here again - rarely associated with the name of the Champagne House that produces it.... ask, you will see, many people don't even realize it...).


However, there are hundreds of other Champagne house names, that are also good to excellent but less marketed and in my opinion much more interesting, and often less pricey.



Here is a brief list of the 4 different categories of Champagnes that you can find on the market and how the little letters define these categories, and essentially characterize the quality of each Champagne House and their different Champagnes (NV, Vintage, etc...).

  • NM (Negociant Manipulant): It is the most common in Champagne. It usually designates a Champagne House that partly owns its own vineyards but especially sources and buys grapes from the growers, then vinified, aged the Champagne in their own underground cellar and bottled it under their own label(s). The grapes can come from many vineyards planted anywhere in Champagne, own by many growers. The grape prices depend on the provenance and origin of the grapes, depending on the Terroir (village, micro-climate, vineyard exposition, type of soil, etc..) which defines the quality of the vineyards (Grand Cru, Premier cru, etc...). Usually the big Champagne Houses have a tradition to negotiate and buy the grapes with the same Growers for generations (which also explain why some NM can be "Grand Cru" and "Premier Cru"). They sometimes buy to more than 80 growers (producers). However, over the past 5-8 years, connoisseurs and amateurs have developed a taste for Grower Champagnes which are becoming increasingly more popular.

NM category includes most of the major Champagne Houses: Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Pipper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck, Laurent-Perrier, Nicolas Feuillatte, Louis Roederer, Charles Lafitte, etc....


Here is a list of some of my favorites Champagne Houses: Salon Le Mesnil, Billecart Salmon rosé, Laurent Perrier Rosé, Krug NV, Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blanc, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill, Nicolas Feuillatte Palm D'Or, Moet & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Lanson, etc...


  • RM (Recoltant Manipulant): Somewhat less consistent and definitely less known but much more interesting and characteristic (in my opinion) than the major Brands, the "Recoltant Manipulant" are more often called "Champagne Growers". Growers possess their own vineyards, harvest their own grapes, bottle under their own label but also (and more importantly) sell their grapes to the "Negociant Manipulant". The Growers owns more than 85% of the vineyards in Champagne, which explain why the Negociant Manipulant have to buy the grapes from them. Growers are often more focus and Terroir oriented than the big houses. Their hand-harvested-and-carefully-crafted Champagnes have their own Terroir-oriented characteristics and tastes. The distinct taste of each Champagne house is the result of the blend between the grapes of various area; from vineyards usually planted around the same village (Grand cru, Premier cru, etc...):
Reims, Epernay, Avize, Ay, Bouzy, Chatillon-sur-Marne, Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oget, Etoges, Sézanne, Les Riceys, etc... (just mention a few among the most recognizable)


Or from the same area within the 6 main distinctive regions of Champagne which also have their own characteristics and tastes (from North to South):



Vallée de la Vesle (predominantely north-west of Reims)

Vallée de l'Ardre (west of Reims, or west of Gueux to be precise)

Montagne de Reims (South of Reims, from Gueux to Bouzy)

Vallée de la Marne (extending east to west from Avenay to Charly)

Côtes des Blancs (extending south from Chouilly to Vertus then curving west to Montmirail)

Côtes de Sézanne (all the way south from Allemant then Sézanne to Villenauxe)



Further south-east, in the Aube region, three less well-known vineyards area are also part of Champagne: Côte de L'Aube, AOC Rosé des Riceys, and the small isolated Troyes



Overall, their are roughly about 5,000 growers (RM) bottling their own champagnes and about 14,000 vineyard owners selling their grapes to hundreds of Champagne Houses (NM), cooperatives (CM), and others.



RM category includes some of my favorites Champagnes and some really interesting values in this ever increasing prices market: Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Egly-Ouriet, Chartogne-Taillet, Vilmart & Cie, Guy Charlemagne,


  • CM (Cooperative Manipulant): After harvest, growers (who belong to the local cooperative) bring their grapes to the cooperative where they (the grapes) are divided and mixed by quality (rather than by origin or growers, because local) the resulting wine(s) is(are) then vinified, aged and bottled at the cooperative under the cooperative's label(s) and not under the growers' name or label. Some cooperative offer excellent quality Champagnes, not as great, nor as complex as some of the growers or the big houses, but very often good value.

to be continued.....


A few more categories exist, but I will write them in an other post (one day...). I will also write a special post with all my favorite Champagnes and other sparklings, classified by categories and Region and Country of origin.

However, the 3 main categories above (NM, RM and CM) regroup some of the best Champagne Houses and producers in the market. Just look carefully on the front label for the two little letters.

All the info above should really allow you to make a better decision during your next bubbly buying experience. I hope that you've find this post as useful and interesting to read as it was for me to write it.

Til next time in a new post, Enjoy!

Ledom du Vin

Step into the Green! Drink more Bio and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment!

Find more of my posts about wine, food, culture and life in general at www.ledomduvin.com

Happy New Year 2009!

Hi Everybody,

After about a month working roughly 10 hours (+) a day, 5 to 6 days a week, the month of December is finally finished and I'm back for more posts. 

It was a good month overall. We were 10 to 15% down from last year, but overall we can't complain. It wasn't as bad as we thought and most of our business is base on the local clientele, so we were not as affected as some other retailers. 

In any case, depression and recession are calling for consumption, and the wine and spirits industry is probably one of the less touched by the crisis. People (in general) seems to cut on food, gas, night out, restaurants, etc... but not on booze or wine (fortunately for us..). 

Of course, they did not buy any wine above $25-$30, except the last 2-3 days before Christmas and New Year for present only, and rather stayed under $20 and even $15. However, instead of one bottle at $30 or $40 for their own consumption, most of them bought 2-3 bottles between $8 and $15 (which is even somewhat better for our business: more inventory turn over and in most cases better margin). 

However, 2009 is here and let's hope that it will be better than 2008 which was, for many people (and animals and plants...) around the globe, a catastrophic year in many ways... 

With Obama in the starting block, the United States of America should take a new beginning, start a new era and bring hope for a better future. Can he really make a difference? Will he be able to change what need to be changed? Yes, I think so. As he said "Change can happen!" and we should all believe in it and help him to concretize it. 

Happy New Year 2009! Joy, Happiness, Health, Success and best wishes to you all. 

Wine and spirits will continue to inspire and please beginners, amateurs and connoisseurs like you and me. In 2009, I will try to describe and write about a wine (or more) everyday (or as often as possible).  

As always, enjoy wine with friends and family, and preferably with food on the table. In this difficult time, there is nothing better than a brunch, a lunch or a dinner with good people and a carefully chosen (even inexpensive) bottle of wine to share with them. 

Cheers!

LeDom du Vin