"The intersection where great wines meet reasonable prices"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Adventures in Champagne: Louis Roederer Champagne Uncorked

"A single glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble." ~ Winston Churchill

I will admit to feeling a bit of exhilaration, during my visit to Champagne, especially when I looked at the itinerary, seeing a visit to Louis Roederer Champagne had been a last minute addition. When no one was looking, I jumped in the air, and clicked my heels together. [I apologize in advance if you now cannot get that image out of your mind]. But again, hey it's not everyday you get an invitation to visit Champagne and meet some of the shakers and makers. So please I beg your indulgence once more as I finish up my notes about the visit to LRC. A visit which literally blew my mind. I think it's worth noting, that not even one bottle of their bubbly was oxidized, not even a little bit. 

First up in the tasting notes is this sinfully elegant dream, a classic Blanc de Blanc from the what many have described as the epic 2008 vintage, but JBL said, 2004 was the Champagne Aficionado's year. I do love a good blanc de blanc, [tho they are far less common, but are gaining in popularity] this one did not fail to deliver either. I found both vibrant and creamy. Persistent, lip smacking acidity greets you with delightful flavors of fresh baked patisserie pear, bright honey-crisp apples, toasted almonds, a drop of honey and scented by acacia blossoms. 

This amazing juice is punctuated by a rich note of smoky minerality, quietly playing bass in the background, and a long sumptuous finish will have you thinking about opening another bottle. Now just picture this in your glass, and a small tub of your favorite style of popcorn [mine is kettle corn] and you'll be in heaven. Only 20% aging on oak, no mal, 4% triage. I scored this wine 92 points and if you like Chardonnay, this wine is highly recommended. 

Another amazing 2008, this time 100% Pinot Noir, a gorgeous Rose Champagne produced via  the Saignée or bleeding method. Basically, the weight of the grapes, one on top of another, until they begin to burst and since the grape skins are only in contact with the juice for a short amount of time, the result is just a blush of color. Many people say and I tend to agree, that this method produces some of more compelling styles of rose. The grapes harvested for this wine, came from steep south facing slopes, planted on chalk and sandy soils. 

This style of Champagne is becoming very popular here in the states, and this bottle helped me to understand why that is so. Blood Orange, toast and a brilliant splash of summer strawberries. The bubbles are vigorous, very concentrated and continue to fill the glass. On the palate, this Champagne is creamy and elegant, more blood orange, citrus, rose petals, floral notes and the finish sails on and on. Only 9 grams of dosage, it's pure, clean and crisp from start to finish. My score 92 points, again highly recommended. 

"When I make Cristal, I make it in the classic style, not in the modern style" ~ Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer’s Chef de Caves

Okay, what can one say, when it comes to Cristal, and for many there is only one word [ladies] swoon. I know, I know can you believe I tried not only this bottle, but also the 2002, and the 1993 a twenty plus year aged bottle, poured from a magnum. This was my first experience with this [and I feel free to use the word here] amazing bottle of Champagne. The following are my notes, Grand Cru, 25+ year old vines, 60% farmed bio-dynamically and the dosage was 8-10 grams. The fruit is harvested from mid-slope vineyards, and is a blend of  40% Pinot Noir [planted on chalk] and 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Menuier. 

This wine had seen very little time in oak,  with just 20% fermented, with a weekly stirring of lees which gives this wine just the right touch of richness. Lecaillon explained that, Cristal is not released until 5 years after disgorgement, and I thought, my that is quite a long convalescence. Another thing I noticed, that after disgorgement and before release, the wines are NOT stored [aged in caves] with a metal cap, like some producers, and when I asked why it was further aged on cork, I was told it brings a textual difference and a richness you simply cannot achieve with a bottle cap. 

Described as being very young, and it was recommend that aging this wine for at least 20 years, would bring the best result for tasting this wines great power. I found it very round and inviting, it had a great lift on the palate. Smokey minerality and vibrant acidity, carry the bright fruit, citrus, ginger, and slices of Macintosh apples. The secret to making great Champagne it would seem, gleaned from trip there, is too plant Pinot Noir on as much chalk as you can find, the flavor profile is extraordinary. 

Here is the picture of the 1993, which I thought was spectacular and I readily accepted glass after glass, but this was opened during lunch, a pens down, sit-back and relax moment. So sadly I didn't a single note on this wine, the only lasting impression, was that this Champagne was quite exceptional. Again not even a hint of oxidation, nope not one. Now I was quite surprised and delighted to see a bottle of red wine being poured into a decanter, and wow it was an amazing little number from Bordeaux. I say little, but in every sense of the word, the wine in that bottle was over the top amazing, a near perfect wine in my estimation. 

After tasting this wine, I reached for the notebook for just a few hasty notes. Because as many of you know I've become quite enamored of all things Bordeaux of late. The 2006 Chateau Pichon Longueville is a drop dead gorgeous wine, there is no getting around that, this is a wine that could make you wet your pants. Hopefully that won't happen when I'm around, but if you happen to be pouring a gem like this, please by all means send me invite, and I'll be glad to ignore everything else, ha. 

In the glass the wine nearly opaque, a gorgeous dark ruby color shimmering in the glass. This wine has many years of development ahead of it, but is drinking amazingly well right now. On the nose, dark plums,cedar,leather and floral notes. On the palate, this wine is seamless, well integrated tannins, and a lush, silk like mouth feel. Vivid dark plums, cassis, mocha, blackberry and the finish is off the charts long. I scored this wine 96 points, and if you can afford the price of admission, you'll love every drop and it's quite worth the price tag.

Just below is the merry band of wine-scribes who went with me, on this trip, and I'll name, names later, but allow to suffice it for now, they and me included were all very happy, after an amazing lunch. Twitter Handles:  :

Until next time folks, remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wine of the Week: Clos Magne Figeac Saint-Emilion 2010

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”  

I was asked the question recently, do you do Bordeaux? Do I "'do" Bordeaux, ha, did Debbie do Dallas? Hell yes, I do Bordeaux and in my ever not so humble opinion, if you're not into Bordeaux it's only because you don't understand it yet, or you are not able to appreciate it subtleties. For any vinosapien raised up on California wine, Bordeaux is a shock to the system, leaving most folks befuddled by a word not often found in New World wines, restraint. 

My wine of the week comes from Clos Magne Figeac Saint-Emilion 2010, and unfortunately this vintage is not widely available as yet. This wine did come to my attention via CIVB, who had it sent as a sample. There's still plenty of 2009 taking up shelf space at local retailers. It comes from a producers whose vineyards had been originally held by the world-renowned Chateau Figeac, hence the namesake still on the bottle. 

One of the 100 Top Wines $55 and under picked by an august panel of experts to represent the best of reasonably priced Bordeaux available in 2014, wines which over deliver in this price category. A delicious Merlot dominated blend, perfumed with 22% Cabernet Franc. Still a very young wine, sporting youthful tannin and grip, dark ripe plums and ripe blackberry fruit sing a marry tune, on the mid-palate, filling your mouth with joy, but a spine of acid keeps things harmonious. 

The other usual suspects also attend the party, leather, underbrush and licorice. The finish is long and pleasing; you'll be sad when this bottle is gone, of that, there is no doubt. That said, once this vintage hits store shelves, don't hesitate, this is case purchase territory. The average price for this wine is $24 and that price it's hard to beat. My score for this wine is a solid 90 points. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Champagne Uncorked: A Visit to Champagne Louis Roederer

“I'll drink your champagne. I'll drink every drop of it, I don't care if it kills me.” 
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby Girls

My first trip to Champagne, was for me, a complete success. I came away from the trip with a brand new appreciation and a deeper desire to get to know it so much better. With each trip to France, I come away with a profound new respect for a country and its people. A place, I barely knew or understood twelve years ago, back before I started this wine journey I'm currently on. I know this will sound cliched, but I like to think of wine as a journey, it's not a destination.

Each stone you overturn on the path way to discovery, develops greater understanding and appreciation not only for the wine, but for the great folks behind these labels, who bring great traditions and passion to the table. It's evident in what they say, how they say it and oh-so evident in the final product, passion sells and it's contagious. As a result, I'm drinking more Champagne myself, than I ever have before. Perhaps, it's just a bit of carry over from the trip, I did bring three bottles back with me. I'm so glad not a single one of them had an issue, contents under pressure and all. Honestly, since I've been back, Mrs. Cuvee and I've uncorked and enjoyed three or more bottles to the delight of us both. 

I went to Champagne with a great group of fellow explorers, two who had been there before and have written about it extensively. While the rest of us were first timers, exploring this fine region up close and personal. You can see some of them in the image above, meeting up with the LRC communications lead, while I straggled behind to capture this scene. 

A gorgeous marbled hallway greets visitors and employees alike each day, and welcomes you into the grandeur that is Champagne. But of course not all Champagne houses are created equal; Louis Roederer Champagne has to be one of thee most well known and regarded for its consistent quality and passion for only giving the very best effort to produce World Class Champagne. I want to type bubbly, but after a visit to the region, I don't it's right to just refer to it simply as bubbly, that is just too generic in by book, thus Champagne. 

We [LRC] don't make Champagne, we make a wine of Champagne!" ~ Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer’s Chef de Caves

Our group was quickly met by none-the-other than Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer’s Chef de Caves who pointing to the map of the region, he quickly gave us the run down on the vineyards they own versus those grapes which are purchased from growers. Lecaillon explained to us, "Roederer owns 70 percent of its production. We are more of a grower, but we are also négociant, as well."

When we asked about developments in viticulture at Roederer Estate, Lecaillon explained that, since 1996, LRC has been on its own root-stock, supplied from its own nursery. The reason being, we wanted to control our own destiny, we have narrowed our diversity, micro vinafication, it's a true root-stock story, LRC now produces more root-stock then what can be found in the south of France. We now control nearly the whole process, except for the fruit from the growers, who are not willing to take the same risks that we are, especially when it comes to farming biodynamically. 

When asked about biodynamic certification and their use of it at LRC, Lecaillon stated, "We see bio dynamic as a tool. which allows our people to stay hands on with our vineyards. He went onto to say; "We currently have 65 hectares [of 240 plus hectares] we are farming Bionyamically and are certified. When asked if that included the wine making process as well, "he admitted that facet was much tougher to incorporate, but he said they [LRC] are attempting to bring it into the winemaking as well, that is was a long term goal".

While we were there, buckets of grapes were being furiously tested for ripeness levels, but not necessarily to find out when they would pick, because the first allowable date to pick is set by the CIVC and then communicated to the various houses and growers. When asked about brix, a term they don't use, but understand, Lecaillon stated, "Sugar ripeness means nothing to me, in determining the best time to pick", Reorderer is a vineyard driven story, our winemaking is soft ended". 

Regarding the grapes being brought into the wineries crush pad, it's very much a house divided, purchase grapes on one crush-pad and the purchase or contract grapes on the other side. Even the winemaking team which handles the grapes is diverse, but divided, the men are with the purchase grapes and the women work only with estate fruit. 

Why it is divided up as such, Lecaillon explained that men, in general are fixers and will work better with the contract fruit and women, listen, they listen to the voice of the harvest, and to what the grapes are attempting to express. He went on to say; "we match our feeling as a grower and a winemaker in the bottle and keep the two worlds separate, but in control".

Does that recipe of a house divided, but yet still very much equal work, um, well I'll let you do the math, but I think their reputation speaks loudly and proudly on the world stage of wine. I welcome your thoughts below, if you feel so inclined to share them. 

The tasting of the grapes—the direct contact with the earth and the soul of the fruit—dictates future harvests. ~ Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon

At LRC the oval tun remains a classic, in their Brut Premier, because of its subtle woodiness it imparts to the wine, what many recognize as neutral oak; this size of barrel has little impact. This process provides an efficient and authentic solution for maturation and barrel ageing of aromatic white wines like Chardonnay. A grape found in Brut Premier typically compromising 40% of the blend, and although this varies, its typical blending partners are Pinot Noir at 40% and 20% Pinot Meunier.

The Brut Premier is blended from fifty different crus. It is aged for 3 years in LRC cellars and then left for 6 months after the dégorgement or as we were told "the operation". And after an operation, one needs time to convalesce, so does Champagne. This is a delicious
Champagne, which is generous in the mouth, but crisper and cleaner then it use to be seeing it's down to 9.5 grams of RS and it use to be 12. Apples, pears and a snap of citrus, a very pure expression of the Champagne, that's not oxidized, and over delivers on the SR price point of $40, this folks is a no-brainer. 

From the crushing of the grapes, to the aging, the racking, the riddling and as you can see in the image above, even the bottling line is completely done in-house. There is nothing left to chance, there's nothing like controlling your own destiny, and for me personally, it reminds me of something I say often "If you want something done right, then do it yourself".

 Riddling: This daily and delicate operation enables the deposit to gradually settle in the bottlenecks. 

Way, down deep in the underground tunnels of LRC you find bottles of Cristal in what are called Riddling Racks, this tunnel, goes and goes as far at the eye can see. Without the light of my flash, only two lights sources will shine on the bottles which have not been disgorged and are waiting to be turned, the head lamp from the riddler and of a dimly lit lamp above, emitting a yellowish glow. At LRC, they have two full time riddlers for whose only job is to work with the Cristal, it takes them about 6 months to complete the process by hand, where as a machine can get the job done in as little as two weeks. I felt bad flashing these developing wines with my flash, but it was the only way I was going to get the image. 

After a tour of their facilities and formal tasting of a majority of the Champagne they produce, it was time for lunch, where we were treated to 2002 LRC Cristal, my first time having exposure to this much celebrated Champagne, I now see the attraction and why it's price point priced the way it is. I was quite impressed with it's overall profile and flavors, Though to be honest at this point in the day, my pencil was down and I was just enjoying the moment. 

There is more to come about my experience with LRC and I refer to this amazing Champagne house this way, because that is how I see it on the browser tab. I still need to detail, all the tasting notes from 5 other bottles I experienced that fine afternoon. Also are host Frédéric Rouzaud who is head of family-owned Louis Roederer, broke bread with us and had many interesting insights to share with us, things I attempted to write down between bites, sips and slurps.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Caiarossa: Under The Tuscan Sun


Picture Credit: Caiarossa Estate

Nestled on the Tuscan coast in the Val di Cecina, Caiarossa sits as a nexus of natural beauty encompassed by its vineyards. The estate produces four wines: two reds, a dry white and a late harvest white.  I recently had the chance to taste the reds, and was impressed by their quality, and complexity, and by how food-friendly they are.

The 2009 Caiarossa "Pergolaia" Toscana is dominated by Sangiovese (87%) with the remainder being made of approximately equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is deeply colored, ruby in the glass yet beautifully translucent. The aromatics emerged slowly.  It was a little reticent and closed when first poured but emerged over the next hour or so in the decanter, revealing cherry (fresh and dried) and herbs.  The Pergolaia possesses a mid-weight body, tightly wound, with black cherry, herbs and laser-edged acidity layered upon muscular, earthy tannins.  The palate is open-knit with no one character dominating and leaves a cleansing, bitter-toned, herby, red berry/currant kick on the finish.  All in all, at the $28 price point, this is well worth the exploration (89+ points) but I believe this will develop a little further with time. I will lay mine down and come back to them in another year or two.

The Caiarossa, the principal wine in which Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese usually constitute the majority of the blend (each approx. 20%), with the remainder made up from Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Alicante, Syrah and Petit Verdot.  It comprises approximately half of the vineyard’s production, selected from older, lower yielding vines.

Deeper and darker that the Pergolaia, the 2006 Caiarossa issues forth wonderful aromatics of cherries berries, plum, earth, underbrush and herbs with an almost “trail mix” hint of nutty, salty, dried cherry and cranberry.  The palate is lithe and muscular, full bodied and plush with bright red fruit, incisive tart berries, leather, herbs and tomato leaf, wood and tannin. This astringency and grip of the tannin makes the 2006 Caiarossa still feel very youthful, with the wood not yet fully integrated.  (This had subsided somewhat upon tasting on day 2). I expect this wine to emerge as a champ with another few years of cellaring. The finish is long and sappy with good mid-palate density and sufficient complexity and cleansing acidity to cause you to return to the glass for the next part of the conversation. 

In terms of a score – I will hedge my bets a little and provide a range (91-94 points), in part because of price ($70) and in part b/c this is my first experience of this wine but I still might have expected better integration of the wood at this stage. Its youthful presentation, great fruit presence and balancing acidity suggest there is potential for this to reach the upper end of this score but just not yet. Watch this space. I believe there is a greater story to be told by the 2006 Caiarossa.  I will come back to mine in another 3-5 years and check it’s progress. I see this as a wine with at least 12-15 years of great drinking ahead of it. Decant and allow it to breathe if you plan to drink the Caiarossa over the next few years.

You can catch other bottle notes and pictures on my twitter account - please drop in and follow @BruisedGrape.  Your comments are always appreciated!
Disclosure:  Wine was provided as a Media Sample for the review process.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

10 Napa Valley Wineries: Prestige Brands and Amazing Quality

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,” Albert Einstein 

Writing a Story about the Napa Valley: Any Suggestions? I don't often get asked by other writers who [unlike me] get paid to write stories about the wine scene here in California for recommendations about the wineries, the places I know where some great stories can be found, but just two weeks ago, I did receive such a request. Of course it goes without saying; I was quite flattered to be asked in the first place. That said and being the nice little wine blogger, you know [and hopefully love] that I'm; I quickly whipped together a list and shot it over to the requester via email. 

"The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.” ~Mark Twain

Honestly, no fiction here, I really don't mind giving recommendations and I'm always eager to help. When I do, I often attempt to send them to one of the many great folks I've met over the years and besides I can't cover the entire wine scene alone, even with the help of Andy McCallion my all-star contributor.

No writing about wine, wineries and the folks behind the label takes many different voices and the story lines and angles are as vast as the ocean. I hope she does get a chance to visit even one of the wineries I recommended. It was a bit of tough question to address, while some wineries say, "Prestige Brand" just from looking at their amazing curb appeal, still others without the fancy chateau-like facades produce wines of amazing luxury, but without the price tag that could make your wallet want to run for cover. So I tried to come up with a balanced list, something I thought would touch all the bases and below is that list I shared with her.

First, you must visit Carter Cellars, who is in my opinion making some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley, hands down. Honestly, I can't afford too many of their wines, [sigh] which are available via allocation only, and while he has no fancy Chateau to gaze at, his wines will make your heart sing and your palate rejoice with the wine-gods. And Mark is about laid back as it gets, completely unassuming. If you do find yourself in Calistoga, please do pay them a visit, their tasting bar is shared with Envy Wines. Editors Note: I don't like vertical images, but it's the only one I have. 

Second: Now here's the place you can snap, video or what ever the money shot. Go to Spring Mountain. Where you will find Vineyard 7 & 8 I did a story on them a few years back. They're grape peeps, you'll love getting to know them, their wines and the tasting room is jaw droppingly scenic. As for their wines, the Chardonnay is off the hook amazing, it's not like any other Napa Valley property, this 100% Spring Mountain Chardonnay and their Cabernet Sauvignon is mind melting good, wines which say luxury all the way. 

Third: This is another money-shot place is Quintessa, believe me, no expense was spared building this place, with gigantic 40 foot doors that open into the vineyard from the crush pad, sweeping panoramas from the roof top. On top of that, the wine is very good as well, but it is a luxury brand. And their story is quite amazing, and for images, you'd be hard pressed to find a better locale.

Fourth: A visit to the Hess Collection. Yes, they do walk that fine line between value wines and wine luxury, but I'd have to say their wines represent a solid "value" to the consumer overall. They have a good selection of wines in many price points and deliver a very consistent product. For the visitor to their tasting, don't forget to check out the amazing art collection, it is quite impressive and changes often and again this money-shot territory for the luxury brand. A great place to see sustainability in action. 

Fifth, a visit to Inglenook is a great place to see a prestige brand up close and personal, with loads of great history. And a historic recent name change, that left a few folks puzzled. Considering the time and effort it takes to build a brand and the crazy effort to revive an old brand, which doesn't necessarily connote prestige at first blush.

Sixth: If you're going to write a story about the Napa Valley wine scene, then you have to visit up to Howell Mountain, to get above the fog. Take a trip to Red Cap Vineyards, the last time I had their wines, they were just stunning, textured and in a word delectable. A small family run operation, where the wine is bigger on the inside, than it appears from the outside.

Seventh: If you need another money shot, then take a drive up to Atlas Peak [also known as Blue Mountain to the locals] to visit the grape folks at Antica in the Atlas Peak AVA, if possible ask to do a tasting from the picnic spot, right outside the caves and overlooking a sweeping vine covered vista. Another prestige producer, luxury wines with price tags to match, but so worth the price of admission if you have the coin. 

Eighth: If you want to visit an historic property, one of the 'old guard' iconic brands of the Napa Valley, than you owe to yourself to visit Beaulieu Vineyard, and inquire about the possibility of not just tasting current releases, I'd ask about doing a vintage retrospective. I had a bottle of theirs from 1994, not stored in ideal conditions and sold for $15 dollars back in the day, that was a stunner. Loads of great history, a great story line and a winery with real depth, delivering a Bordeaux like experience in the bottle, and price points from luxury to the everyday.

Ninth: The quiet and unassuming, often flying under the radar Elizabeth Spencer. A winery that will blow your doors off and they have a great story to tell as well. I've had their wines on many occasions and I'm always impressed with the quality, depth and complexity.

Tenth: Last, but certainly not the least is a great place, easily found along famous Highway 29 which intersects the valley, it is called St. Clement. S
pecifically, I've been a huge fan of their Oroppas and I know with one sip, you too will share my joy. As for pictures the old Victorian Mansion and tasting salon makes for great luxury imagery.

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