Tuesday, 6 June 2017

CHAMPAGNE - 'THE-DRINK-AGAIN' LIST

So here is the list of the Champagnes I am committed to drink again and those of which review you will read at some point in the future.

1. Veuve Vintage 2008 - first encouter with the wine was impressive, but I shared it so I didn't get the full experience

2. Lallier Vintage, NV and BB - same as point 1.

3. Louis Roederer BB - because that is my usual to see how each vintage manifests itself in this fabulous Chardonnay.

4. Veuve La Grande Dame 2004 - need a second review as 04 was a great harvest and I wasn't too impressed with the wine the first time. I think I know why though.

5. Bonnaire - time to revisit the producer and his range.

6. Pol Roger 2006 - Third time lucky perhaps? I drank 2 bottles of it already and I wasn't too impressed but since I religiously follow every vintage I might have to accept that 2006 was simply unimprressive

7. Gosset Grande Blanc - two very different experiences altogether. Perhaps third time lucky again.

8. Gosset Petite Doucer - what a fascinating wine on the first tasting! So time to make an evening out of it (for myself).

9. Chaler Heidsieck NV - I reluctantly accept that I have never given this historically very important wine enough credit and with the invention of the new champagne glass it is time to perhaps, change that.

10. Ruinartf 'R' (NV) - it has been so long since I had the standard 'R'. So let's jog the memory of it with a new approach.

11. Ayala - my star of last year and a favourite tipple of this year. Need to review the entire line though as I only tasted it and given the time restrictions at the tasting the temperature wasn't favourable.

12. Vilmart - Grand Cellier - the most unsual Champagne I have ever had. Time for a new review.

13. Gobillard - BB and BN. Shared the two bottles so need to review fully. First impression however favoured more the Blanc des Noirs and the Chardonnay disappointed slightly. But I didn't manage the experience well enough and it had an impact on expectations so I have to give it another chance since the house is very good


MY CHAMPAGNE RULES

Over the years I developed several rules about drinking Champagne and wine respectively all of which I often broke several time only to come to the conclusion that they evolved for a reason. This is not a self-reproach but indiscriminate critisism of my own opinions and choices. After all these years and with a beyond proven record and acknowledgements from highly respected houses I accepted that perhaps it is time to trust my own opinion. That is not to say I don't doubt myself but an encouragement to the reader that the psychology of drinker is constantly changing, evolving and in the long run always a self-designed method of achieving the best experience; in which, one always experiences profound disappointments and joys.

1. NEVER SHARE - never a share a bottle because a single bottle of Champagne is designed for 1 drinker in both volume of the drink and volume of alcohol.

2. ALWAYS DRINK ALONE - Alone but never lonely! Best still if you are completely alone and in a familiar environment so that the Champagne experience dominates not anything or anyone else. And I love drinking after dark so that I limit my the distortion of olfactory senses by light polution. Of course I don't drink in complete darkness as one needs to see the colour.

3. GOOD GLASSWARE - this was a mission for years to find the perfect glass. Flute is dead! Riedel's Managing Director, a total Champagne nut (afterall he was at the inception of the Bollinger Glass, the Dom Perignon glass which started the movement of Champagne specific glass)*, has decided that he would make Champagne flute totally extinct. For years I was using Riedel's 'Chianti/Riesling' glass, which is the one I settled for until, a year ago, I laid my hands on Riedel's Veritas range and in the range the very-much-look-alike-to-the-Chianti/Riesling-glass was sent to me as a sample. I had no idea what it was so I had to ask the rep. He explained and I never turned back.

4. TEMPERATURE - if you keep a bottle of Champagne in your fridge overnight the wine will be too cold; it will feel very acidic and not too enjoyable. If you like it that way then don't read any further because you won't like my words. I put a bottle in a deep freezer for up to 35 min take it out start drinking and by the time I finish it the wine will have bloomed into it's full glory. When it comes to certain blends opening the wine and leaving it open over night benefits the wine more than it is conventionally believed. The point is for the wine to warm slowly and open up with air thus experience the various layers of Champagne. About air I will right in a separate rule.

5. HOW MUCH TO POUR - standard measure for a glass of Champagne is 175ml per glass. For me that is way too much to swirl in a glass and anywhere between 50 to 100 ml (closer to 50 than 100 as you can always top up) is ideal.

6. NEVER TASTE ALWAYS DRINK - this a bit of a controversial topic. I don't spit Champagne and I always drink it. A lot of thought and effort goes into making the bottle and wasting by spitting I regard as utterly disrespectful for the art form of Champagne which I refer to as 'Haute Viticulture'. When I open a fresh bottle I always have the first glass straight down my gob (my volume 50 - 100 ml) and on an empty stomach so that the small amount of alcohol gets into my head and relaxes my attitude towards the wine and optimises the approach to it which in turn enables me to maximise my experience of the wine and dissolves my stresses of the upcoming experience.

7. AIR - in some respects air could be the enemy of Champagne. But with the recent development of Champagne air is actually beneficial in drinking it. So it is no surprise that there was the change of the glassware and now it is quite normal to decant it (or leave it open over night in the fridge). Just as with temperature, air plays an important part in appreciating Champagne.

8. RULE OF 3 - in order for me to form an opinion of a new house style or Champagne I need to drink 3 bottles of it. When it comes to vintages I usually still to just one or two but that depends on the level of wine. The most revolting wines I usually give a second or a third chance but in the end if it is revolting after the second it is unlikely I will drink it again.

9. NEVER LISTEN - this is a tricky one. Don't listen to anyone who is trying to lecture you on what you should be tasting but listen to those who encourage you to form your own opinion. I listen to everyone in Champagne but no one outside of it, outside of Champagne I trust myself.

These rules are there for me to maximise my enjoyment of the tipple. I have broken them, and I will break them especially point 1. because to share the experience I need to share the wine and it enabled me to see on others' faces when they fell in love with the tipple just as I did experience my love at first sip.

*the history and the evolution of Champagne glassware is quite interesting, but about that in another article.

CHAMPAGNE LALLIER

Although, I would love to pass a definitive judgement on the house I am unable to do it.
Drinking only three of their cuvees isn't really enough.

But, it is noteworthy, and thus the house remains on my 'drink again list', which is growing.

The NV however, did stand out in its maturity, and richness which would be expected.
The Blanc des Blancs I wished I had loved more and the vintage wasn't memorable enough.

Nevertheless all three feature on the 'drink again list'.

And about that, in the next article.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

CHAMPAGNE AND BREXIT

I cringe at the idea of Brexit. But politics aside there might be a silver lining for us who love our golden hued tipple.

As I have written before, the last economic farce that had half the world freaking about the word crisis, had a positive impact on Champagne. What did I do? I drank more Champagne. Yes, we have been enjoying the fruits of exceptional stock management in Champagne to present day and we will continue to do so for the next few years.

Fact is that in the next few years some of us will not be happy. I shan't be! Especially due to the fact that my favourite tipple will start increasing in price. Marginally, but still.

And just like ten years ago, the consumption of Champagne in the UK will recede and to add, the prices will go up because there will be hired tariffs put on imported goods.

And for the Champagne houses the change will be short lived just like all other crises and changes that Champagne has had to weather in the past two centuries.

And what will I do?

Well, I had more than enough of Champagne last year and I have not had anything this year yet, though there have been cravings (I admit, but I made the most out it). So this temporary resting period will come to an end. When I don't know.

Think, drink and believe Champagne!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

XMAS SPECIAL - CHAMPAGNE

Normally, I would not write anything in reference to what to drink around xmas and nye, but recently the influx of opinions have put me in a position that as a Champagne drinker I have to concede and say something.

People are talking about the review of 'Which?' in relation to Champagnes best buys. Yes, I think it is a marvelous thing to impartially advise on what is good and/or what is a good buy.

I have always been following the supermarket brands of Champagnes and they all have changed. The best one I remember was actually Waitrose Blanc de Blancs which is made by Mesnil from Cote de Blanc. I have to warn you that this is not a classic Champagne! And neither is a pure Blanc de Noirs! The quality of Champagne varied, and so did the taste. This is not only because of storage, stocks, price, shipping or my mood, but inevitably trends and bottom line. I remember when Tesco did its pure blanc de noirs which was exquisite. I also remember that Sainsbury's blanc de noir was a bit dull and hard to drink.

Anyway, what struck me in the article was the declaration of what Champagne should be; whoever said it is biased and probably never listened in or been to Champagne. The rule number 1, the ultimate rule of Champagne is ABOVE ALL, balance! All champagne wines, the fizzy kind, are always balanced, that is the ultimate rule to which all Champagne houses adhere! Everyone! So whether you are Louis Roederer, Laurent-Perrier, Salon, Krug, Bollinger, Deutz, Charles Heidseick, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouet, Delamotte, Mumm, your key mission in creating your cuvee is balance. Now, this may seem trivial, but achieving balanced cuvee in a region that is so diverse in producing varied intensities of each of its grape varieties is quite a mission. Champagne producers are so good at it, that it is taken for granted. A good example is how other regions outside of Champagne have managed to achieve balance - just to revert to my previous entries, Akarua fizz from New Zealand is a perfect example of good balance; or Graham Beck from South Africa.

The next rudimentary criterion of Champagne is a bit more elusive but it is one of the fundamental blocks in drinking Champagne. Champagne has to drink itself; by that I mean that if you are drinking Champagne with every glass you drink you want more. This is chiefly down to the alcohol content but the style plays an important role as well.

Now, one more thing you need to know. Remember that the likes of Moet, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl etc are made in volumes and I mean loads. The question of quality of grapes will be important to pose. As much as all are Champagnes the quality of the grapes is on the lower scale; save tesco, as it indicates they have a premier cru (and if I am not mistaken, Waitrose actually has grand cru).

So what to drink this year?

Well, if you are on a budget and you need to buy loads to cater for a large group of people, get the Tesco Premier Cru.  Overall, it is a good wine, good price, it has been consistent, plus it is from one of the best villages in Champagne.

Although I am going to be slandered for saying this, Lanson is on special and despite the fact that LVMH have stripped them off all the good vineyards, they keep producing consistently good wines! The NV is on special, but if you can get the vintage, or the Cuvee Noble you won't be disappointed in quality, sensation and price.

As regards, Piper or Moet, well, there is a reason why one is called Pepsi and the other Coke of Champagne.

The two Champagnes I drank in the past few months, were Bonnaire and Lalier. So if you can get your hands on those you will be guaranteed to have a sensational experience.

So, merry holidays. :)

Saturday, 10 December 2016

CHAMPAGNE BOLLINGER - SPECIAL CUVEE - BASE WINE TASTING

I was invited to a tasting of the blend of the Special Cuvee in March this year. The tasting took place mid April and you might wonder why I have not written about it. Well, for a variety of reasons: a, the tasting, as an experience, robbed me of all the words to describe it b, I was professionally involved with wine, and I didn't think to impart critical thoughts about any aspect of it publicly c, it was one the things that I never thought I would achieve, or experience so naturally, the shock from the whole thing was both, intense and long lasting c, the tasting was filled with so many new sensations that I still haven't quite reconciled my emotions about them. To be really honest, this kind of experience, was something I had always wanted but because I have always been on the periphery of the wine world, I never thought would materialise.


I am no different in recognising that Bollinger is a highly respected brand in Champagne and in the world of wine, commerce, branding, entertainment, sensation, banking, fashion or in more simple terms, Bollinger as a brand is intricately woken in everyone's fabric of life. Those that know me would argue that Bollinger is my favourite brand, but that is not true as, for instance, this year my favourite, is Ayala (incidentally, owned by Bollinger). With Champagne, it is important to understand that every house, well most at least, does endeavour to convey a unique style, and the Champagne appellation is a great platform to allow so many producers from one region to deliver different expressions, or more pragmatically, products.

So the panel consisted of me, my colleague from the shop I used to work at, a few writers, the local reps and who knows else. One thing I have to remark on, is that I was surprised how little, or ill prepared others were. We were taken through the 2015 Pinot Noir from Tauxieres, 2015 Chardonnay, 2015 Pinot Meunier and from 2014 all basic varieties, along with 2006/7/8 reserve wines stored in magnums. The magnums are a unique thing to Bollinger and I was curious how much the reserve wines contribute to the style. To add, we tasted the cepage/blend before 'pris en mouse' and aging. Naturally, it was a brilliant analysis of the process of creating the Special Cuvee, what Bollinger declares to be the vehicle, or the flag ship, of the House of Bollinger; a sort of naked tasting of Bollinger. To gloat about how unique the experience was, apparently it was the first time Bollinger did something of this kind outside of Champagne.

I wasn't the only one who was impressed with the 2015 Pinot Noir. I would call it 'Le Perfume de Bollinger' but that would be a complete lie because I would die to know what the base wines for Vielles Vignes Francaises (VVF) must have tasted like. The wine was a smack in the face and there wasn't just one 'wow'. Denis Bunner, deputy cellar master, understatedly declared it only as 'expressive'. Just to give you an idea, Tauxieres is a village in Montagne de Reims which is famous for growing the best Pinot Noir in Champagne. Its slopes are north-east, east, south-east and south facing which give the grapes differing intensities in expression. So if the Tauxieres intensity had an enormous wow factor, and it is south east facing, with added sun of south facing slope of Ay where Vielles Vignes Francaises are grown, I am very excited about what VVF will reveal in a few years time.

In Champagne blending is something of an art. It is crucial and in many respects one of the key features of Champagne as a wine. To blend variety of still/base wines from differing grapes and differing plots with differing intensities and further work with production methods to achieve a distinguishable style isn't exactly the easiest task but with a years of experience and an ongoing dialogue and honest opinions it is evidently achievable. And it is clearly achievable not only by The House of Bollinger but many others. So much so, that even a layman can tell the difference; and that is the actual point.

But that is not just what Champagne is about. :)

More some other time!


Monday, 31 October 2016

CHAMPAGNE - BONNAIRE - TRADITION

Well, well! I tasted, but didn't drink Bonnaire range in 2003 with the wine maker and his son. I asked out of curiosity when the son first drank Champagne. It was the father who replied: "The minute he was born". It was probably intended as a joke but I decided to believe it. Since then Bonnaire slipped completely from my radar, for a few reasons of course. It was practically invisible to me as hardly anyone stocked it. My  memory of it was great, and memorable but in those days a malolactic Champagnes and a straight Chardonnay weren't exactly on the top of my agenda of Champagne explorations. In those days I was fascinated by Pinot Noir expressions. Though, it would be unfair to say that about a year later I would drink Mumm de Cramant which is a village, grand cru, growing exclusively Chardonnay grape producing extremely elegant and floral Champagnes. Mumm's relic which I have not seen on the shelves for years reminded me of Bonnaire, but yet again, Bonnaire slipped my mind just as Mumm's blanc de blanc slipped from shop shelves; for years (a decade!)

Until, last Friday, it was offered to me as a gift. I was very pleased to see it! I was pleased to see they have changed the design and I was pleased to be drinking it. I was excited to finally have something as delicious as Cramant Chardonnay.

Oh and was it sensational! Round, perfectly balanced, although not a total blanc de blanc but unmistakably rich, full of fruit and long elegance. Structured almost like an Avize Chardonnay would be, and as elegant as Le Mesnil would grow. Brioche nose with light hints of honey will develop over a few years into nice hazelnut tones. And for an entry level Champagne this is an absolute BARGAIN and a total sensation!

I have a new favourite!

Buckets of it now!