Sunday, March 27, 2011

Random Wine Rambling from Saturday Night

I'm sitting here trying not to finish a bottle of wine. Pretty crazy, right? It's one of those bottles that I know I'll likely never get to buy again. We picked up a bottle of Callaway 2005 Special Selection Dolcetto in Temecula, California while on vacation last year for my husband's cousin's wedding. We decided to age it for a year and then opened it this snowy night in Alberta. It's a fabulous red, very mineral in taste and nose with hints of ripe fruit. After jotting down a few quick tasting notes, I thought to myself how similar a rare wine is to life. You have to enjoy the good moments you have because they won't last forever. But you can also keep the memories with you as long as you can. So enjoy your wine to the bottle's last drop, and live your life until your last breath.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Veuve Clicquot: A Great Story of Triumph for Women

Imagine this scenario. You've been married for seven years, a young wife at 27 years of age. Suddenly, your husband passes away. You are now a widow, or "veuve" in French.

What would you do? One would obviously be devastated, and of course there would be a necessary period of mourning. Would you struggle to get out of bed on a daily basis? Would you somehow find the inner strength you need to try and move on?

Barbe Nicole Ponsardin was in this same situation back in 1805 when her husband passed away. Fortunately, she made the choice to take over the family business. This decision ended up being such a great decision as she would bring the world one of the most prominent champagnes well recognized everywhere!

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin's grapes are grown over 382 hectares in the vineyards surrounding Reims, France-the 2nd largest vineyard in the Champagne area. Of the total grapes they grow, 39% is Pinot Noir grapes, 46% is Chardonnay, and 15% are Pinot Meunier. Veuve Cliquot prides themselves on having a 97% vineyard rating based on the echelle des crus, a classification system for vineyard quality in Champagne. You can taste the quality in their bottles! The grapes are harvested only when the perfect balance between sugar & acidity in the grapes is reached. Harvesting is done by hand and the different grape varieties remain separated until the blending process. Veuve Cliquot presses 2550 litres of juice from 4,000kg of grapes. The first
2,050 litres are called the cuvee and the last 500 litres are called the taille. Fermentation then takes place in stainless steel vats. Blending then takes place to maintain the house flavors and quality. The wine is bottled and sugar and yeast are added for secondary fermentation. Veuve Cliquot ages their bottles in their cellars in Reims for no less than 15 months as part of the Champagne A.O.C. regulations. The bottles are laid in riddling racks (shown below) that were actually invented by the house to make the process of disgorging (removing the sediment in secondary fermentation) easier.

The bottles are turned and tilted slightly to move the sediment to the neck of the bottle. When the aging process is complete, the sediment will be frozen and the pressure inside the bottle will literally push it out when the cap is removed. After a small amount of sweetened liquor is added to the champagne, the bottles are corked and wired, they are laid down on their side in the cellars to further develop flavor before being labelled and packed up for shipping.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to get the chance to visit this prestigious champagne house in mid-March. We were given the chance to see the cellars, learn their history and taste a few of the champagnes as well. We tasted the yellow label and the 2002 vintage, which I found light, lovely, and really easy to drink! Needless to say, there is a bottle of the yellow label in our house now too!
If you ever find yourself in Reims, it is well worth the visit and if you decide to spend the 75 euro on the tour, I hope you get Melissa Gaillard as your guide. She is very knowledgeable and passionate about the house and friendly. Tours must be booked in advance by calling the house or email: visitscenter@veuve-clicquot.fr

Veuve Cliquot has become one of the most recognized champagnes throughout the world. It has become so popular, in fact, that Veuve now owns the legendary color of their label. Melissa showed us on the tour false replicates of other bottles that have been found all over the world, including Mexico. When you go to their website,
www.veuve-cliquot.com, they mention a hoax promotion that is being offered for a free case of their champagne. To me, that speaks volumes of the quality and reputation that Veuve Cliquot maintains all over the world. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery, n'est-ce pas?

One of the things I love best about Veuve Cliquot (outside of the taste & quality of course!) is what they do for women. It's a tough life for a woman, working in a predominantly men's world. I experience this first-hand every day as I work with all men in the aviation industry. Veuve Cliquot hands out Businesswoman of the Year awards every year to outstanding businesswomen who embody the values of Madame Cliquot. Sixteen winners will be crowned for each of the countries that participate in the award, and the winners receive a trip to Reims to christen a vine in their own names, one each, at the International Business Woman Forum! On top of that, on their birthday every year of their life they will receive a bottle of a champagne from that vine. Amazing! Although internet rumors insist there is a jinx or curse on winning the award, I think it's great to see recognition of successful women on a worldwide scale.

Veuve Cliquot, je l'aime!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Pink Jewel Among the Bordeaux Wines

The same day that my husband and I toured Chateau Cantenac Brown we also stopped in at Chateau Lafon-Rochet. It was there that I found something I never expected to find in Bordeaux: one of the best rose wines I've ever tasted. The pink jewel I refer to in the title of this entry is "Le Rose de Lafon-Rochet" 2009.

That year was the first year the Chateau produced a rose, and they got it right the first time! Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are harvested by hand in the morning to retain freshness. Once the grapes are sorted, they are pressed directly with their stems and are fermented at temperatures just over 15 degrees. The resulting wine is a light salmon in color and the bouquet is very fruity-a wonderful aroma of citrus fruit, mostly grapefruit, seduced my senses on first nose! Very crisp in taste, and not really sweet at all, the wine has a fresh, clean finish that does linger. Although my preference would be to drink this on it's own, you could pair it with seafood or a grilled chicken salad (not caesar or anything with a creamy dressing, however).

The funny thing about discovering this rose is that we were never meant to sample this wine at the Chateau. There happened to be a magnum sitting on the counter behind the tasting table that I kept noticing. Fortunately, I found the courage to ask about it, and thankfully, our tour guide agreed to give us a sample! In exchange she made 32 euro off that tasting-2 bottles sold on our tour of 3 people! Another interesting fact that our tour guide shared with us is that this rose has become so popular, Lafon-Rochet no longer sells it in the regular 750mL bottles-they only sell the rose in magnums now! I think this is a great business decision in the long run.

If you are able to find it, I recommend trying it, even if you are not a regular rose drinker. There is a reason this wine took off in France! Unfortunately, it is not available here in Alberta. The magnum we purchased at the winery is currently resting from a bumpy ride across the Atlantic and will be drinkable again in 2 months. Until then, I have the memory of the first taste of this rose lingering on my tastebuds when I look at the bottle and this photo of me with my own pink jewel. Score!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chateau Cantenac Brown-A Grand Cru Classe in Bordeaux

On Friday March 4th, my husband and I ventured into the beautiful vineyards of Bordeaux, France for the first time ever. The sun was shining, it was a warm day, and I was ready to learn as much about Bordeaux wines as I could possibly fit into my noggin. We got to visit Chateau Cantenac Brown in Margaux that day, and I was fortunate to get to learn a lot about their winery.

Chateau Cantenac Brown is situated in the Margaux appellation in the Bordeaux region, consisting of 104 acres (42 hectares) of vineyards producing 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, and 5% cabernet franc grape varieties. The vines are grown in rough, gravelly soil, full of rocks. This encourages toughness of the vines-if you "baby" the vines by growing them in rich, nutrient-laden soil, they will produce grapes that become weaker wines. The rough soil forces the vines to search for water deep beneath the surface and through rainfall, producing stronger grapes that give their wines more structure and taste more full-bodied. The vines were recently pruned to a Y shape, and tractors would be heading out in a few days from our visit to turn over the soil, as grass can grow beside the vines and cause them to compete for essential nutrients. As spring progresses the vines will grow more branches, and summer brings the grape clusters. The clusters will be harvested in late September by hand. The ripe and rotten grapes are removed right in the vineyards, and secondary filtering is done again when they enter the vat house.

Each individual grape variety goes into stainless steel casks for 2-3 weeks, where the sugar transforms into alcohol. Malolactic fermentation will also occur in the casks. The grape varieties, each still separate from each other, will then be moved into French oak barrels and will age for 12-15 months. Half of the barrels are new and the other half is 1 year old. Once this process is completed, the winemaker will taste each individual variety and will blend them together for optimum taste and quality.

There is a very interesting history attached to the property itself. A Scottish animal painter named John Lewis Brown was the original owner and had the first portion of the Chateau built for him in Tudor style to live the lush life in the early 19th century. Tons of lavish parties to impress the ladies were held there at first. Unfortunately, he spent everything he had and the property was sold to a banker named Gromard in 1843. The property was sold to various other owners throughout the years.

The winery received the prestigious Grand Cru classification in 1855 for the Medoc region. Part of this classification comes a strict set of rules set out by the AOC that each winery must comply with in order to maintain their cru classification. Some of these mentioned in the tour include: the vines cannot be watered through any artificial means; and the harvesting of the grapes must be done at the same time every year- late September. If a reason arises that it can't be done during that time, affected wineries have to get approval from the AOC to do so, and have all their data well put together. Chateau Cantenac Brown believes in strictly following these rules to maintain their quality.

While at the winery we were fortunate enough to taste their 2004 Margaux. Deep dark red in color, the bouquet reminded me of berries and plum , definitely fruity. I found the palate to be full bodied with soft tannins, not as bold as some of the other reds we tried in the area but I tend to like reds that are smoother. This one tasted like it could pair well with a beef dish or a strong cheese.

Chateau Cantenac Brown accepts visitors by appointment and can perform tours in French (bien sur), English and German as well. If you can't get out there anytime soon, their website has phenomenal photos on the home page that really show off the true beauty of the property:

www.cantenacbrown.com


One such gorgeous area is the land behind the Chateau itself; a lush forest that shines a vibrant emerald green in the sun. Here's a picture that my husband took when we were there. I felt like I could feel the history of the property when we first stepped out there, like I was stepping into a fairy tale and I can only hope it reflects a glimmer of the backyard's true radiance. But above all this, try the wine for yourself and see if you can experience the winery's beauty through taste!


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