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Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99One of our best non-vintage Champagnes, this organically grown blend of half each Chardonnay and Meunier comes entirely from Bruno Michel's estate. It has been aged for six years on the lees and shows wonderful natural toasty quality as well as incredible vibrance! This was the big hit of our most recent staff Champagne tasting and we think you will love it too.

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Entries in Champagne (75)

Friday
Aug242012

Champagne Friday: Pairing Champagne and Fish

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Champagne Dinner at the Fish Market

Nothing is more fun for a Champagne fan than to create a whole menu to pair with our favorite bubbles. I have enjoyed dinners like this with many of you, sometimes even at your homes! Last week I dreamed up a salmon-themed menu at home to go with older Champagne for the K&L Champagne team of Scotty, Mari & Kyle. This week, I put together a paired dinner with my friend Henry Hiatt at the Palo Alto Fish Market and it was a great success. I hope that next week I can encourage all of you Champagne fans to do the same on a big or small scale, and share a picture or two with me.

There are a few guiding principles to pairing Champagne, but that being said, it is one of the best wines on the planet for its ease of pairing, and there are very few pitfalls when combining Champagne with food. This is in stark contrast to the two most popular categories of still wine at K&L: rich Cabernet (which only really goes with steak) and rich, oaky Chardonnay (which I am still looking for a pairing for- my old colleague used to joke that cigarettes were the pairing).

Bruno Michel Premier Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs ($39.99) Champagne was at the bottom of the ocean 300 million years ago, and the chalk soil that makes the wine so great is littered with shellfish fossils. This connection to the ocean makes Champagne a natural with seafood, and shellfish in particular. Shellfish has a tendency to make whatever wine that is paired with it taste sweeter than it is, so often Champagnes that might seem austere on their own really shine when paired with them. I love drinking extra bruts and very dry blanc de blancs with oysters, scallops & crab in particular. On Wednesday we did two pairings like this that you can see in the video segment: the Bruno Michel Premier Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($39.99) with Kumamoto oyster’s from Humboldt and the Franck Bonville "Belles Voyes" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($67.99) with a crab and avocado salad. The Bruno Michel comes from a very cold site in Pierry, and although not an extra brut, it is still one of the driest blanc de blancs that we have. It went fantastically well with the oysters, cutting the richness and highlighting their saline, savory quality. The Belles Voyes richer side was brought out by the crab, and showed how much weight palate weight that wine hides over its long impression on the mouth.

2002 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Vintage Champagne ($59.99) Spicier foods show better with more open knit Champagne. I love to pair Pinot Noir based Champagne with dishes that pop with spice and tang. At the Fish Market we had saffron prawns in a tomato based sauce with the 2002 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Vintage Champagne ($59.99). This richer wine has time on its side at 10 years old, and really opened to show the black cherry chalk that only the village of Bouzy has to offer. A few of the staff commented on how much brighter this bottle shined than the one in the staff tasting… Nothing beats a great dish as a foil. We were then treated to a bottle of 1995 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Brut Champagne from Keith, our Burgundy buyers cellar, which also had the Pinot punch for the savory sauce. What a treat!

For the main course, Dijon crusted tilapia, we went with an older Champagne from the cellar. Although tilapia itself is quite delicate, the panko and mustard crust offered up quite a bit of flavor. The 1996 Leclerc Briant "Cuvée Divine" Brut Champagne is a blend of half and half Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Pascal Leclerc’s entirely bio-dynamic vineyards that are now owned by Roederer. This wine showed a touch of the truffle and butter flavors that really seemed to baste and add richness to the dish. It was the favorite pairing of the night for a few of my colleagues.

2006 Michel Loriot "Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes" Brut Champagne ($49.99) One category of Champagne that we did not pair on this occasion is the Meunier based wines of the Western Valley of the Marne. I love the ripe pear fruit and often mushroom-like flavors of these wines with pates of all sorts, especially then now illegal in California Foie Gras. These Champagnes also go very well with savory tarts, caramelized onion and of course mushroom. The 2006 Michel Loriot "Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes" Brut Champagne ($49.99) is unbelievable with Parmigiano-Reggiano and trying that pairing with the Loriot family is only the second time that I have ever had a non-French cheese in France.

Another category that is often overlooked is sweeter styles of Champagne. These have fallen out of favor with most Champagne producers and because of that are very difficult to buy. Demi-Sec is often a clearing house for the worst of what producers make, so buy with care. The best of them, which are blended specially ahead of time to make good sweeter Champagne like the Michel Loriot "Marie-Leopold" Sec Champagne ($34.99) go very well with all manner of lighter desserts, especially strawberry shortcake!

I hope that I can inspire a few Champagne fans to play with some pairings. Like I said, please send me a picture or recipe if you find something that works!

A toast to you!

-Gary

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Check out more educational wine and spirits videos from Gary and the experts at K&L on YouTube!

Friday
Aug172012

Champagne Friday: Grand Marque Roundup

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Grand Marque Round Up

This Tuesday, Scott, Mari, Kyle and I- K&L’s Champagne team, tasted 46 wines from Champagne’s biggest names. This decadent exercise (I added it up and it was $4649 worth!) took all day and was accompanied by presentations from each houses representitves on the composition, vinification and ageing of the wines as well as their business plans for the rest of the year. We all learned a lot about the wines and doing it all in one day gave us all good perspective on the various styles and value for money that each house had to offer.

We started with Champagne Louis Roederer, which from top to bottom might be the best house in Champagne. If you haven’t had it in a while, the Louis Roederer "Brut Premier" Champagne is a revelation- with more and more organic work in the vineyard, and long ageing of the reserve wines in oak, this bottle delivers a tremendous amount for $39.99. All of the vintage wines, including the 2005 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne which is about to come out are entirely estate grown, and that fact shows through in the finish product.

Next we tasted Charles and Piper Heidsieck and had a chance to see the new package for the “repositioning” of the Charles Brut Reserve. As I mentioned in my email a couple of days ago, this wine is about to take a drastic price increase. Grab some at $34.99 while you can! The 1995 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc des Millénaires was brilliant, and although it will be very expensive, it sure is special! It is great to see older Champagne like this being kept and released late.

Speaking of great old Champagne, the night before, the team and I had dined together at my home and enjoyed the 1990 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privee" Brut Champagne and the 1989 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privee" Brut Rose Champagne with salmon. Less than 12 hours later we were tasting them again- a charmed life moment for sure! These are wines have been stored in Clicquot's cellars and are perfect examples of aged, but not old Champagne. They will be in the $200 range when they arrive in October and we will be the exclusive retailer for northern California.

The 2000 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Rosé Champagne ($329) like all the vintages before it impressed me greatly. This wine is made in small quantities (especially tiny compared to the colossal production of the blanc) and is the most subtle and elegant of all the Moet wines. It makes the Champagnes next to it seem like they are trying too hard.

We moved on to the Krug line, including 1998 & 2000 vintage, rosé and the classic Krug "Grand Cuvee". Krug always presses the point that their range is flat (even though the prices are not!) and that the wines are equals. For drinking in the near term, nothing could be further from the truth- the Grand Cuvee is much superior. Using the new code on the back of the bottle, we learned that the current batch is based on 2004, and has 12 vintages total in the blend, the oldest being 1990. Greatness in wine requires complexity that only age can bring, and this wine had developed, mature authority matched with youthful vigor. It was the complete package. Having had the 1990 vintage the night before (with plank salmon) I am confident the 1998 and 2000 will get there if you have the cellar and patience to keep them!

From barrel fermented, vinous Krug we made the transition to the bright and light wines of Billecart-Salmon and continued to be impressed. The standout here was the 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvee Nicolas-Francois- NFB" Champagne, which we can now offer for $89.99. Velvety and elegant, this wine makes a perfect gift. It is one of those rare wines that manage to have no edges to offend, and yet retain depth and personality- I would love it if someone gave me one!

I love it when a good wine comes back down to earth, and Laurent Perrier has taken advantage of a stronger dollar to great effect. As many of you remember, in 2008 they decided to “reposition” and doubled prices over night. They are now back to being good values, especially the toasty and rich 2002 Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne ($49.99) and the 1996, 1997, 1999 combination Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" Champagne ($109). The latter was based 60% on the great 1996, and their patience with this top end juice has paid off. This is the richest, roundest of all the top cuvees from the grand marques and one of my favorites of the day.

The Gosset and Bollinger wines showed as they should with trademark authority from the village of Ay. The highlight for me was the Gosset "Grand Reserve" Brut Champagne ($59.99) which has power to spare and a fantastic nose of candied nuts. I need to drink more of this stuff this year- it shows the “blenders art” that is more talked about than realized in Champagne.

We wrapped up the day with Nicolas Feuillatte who count more than half of the growers in Champagne among their cooperative membership. The best of what these growers has to offer is very good indeed. The 1999 Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" Brut Champagne ($109) is much more than just a pretty bottle. Made of even parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is given 10 years on the lees and has an honest toasty, honeyed character that would make a great treat on a special occasion. The 2004 Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" Brut Rose Champagne was one of the most interesting of the day, as it was made in an ultra savory, aged red Burgundy style, much like the Bruno Michel "Les Roses" Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99). The Feuillatte will be in the $200 range when it comes in.

A toast to you!

-Gary 

Check out more educational wine and spirits videos by Gary and the experts at K&L on YouTube!

Friday
Aug032012

Champagne Friday: Pinot Power

Patrick Arnould at his forklift during bottling

By: Gary Westby| K&L Champagne Buyer

Michel Arnould: Pinot Power Champagne

Champagne Michel Arnould is our top producers of dry, powerful Pinot based Champagnes. Located on the Mountain of Reims, Verzenay is one of the most exciting and unique terroirs in all of Champagne. The furthest north of all of the Grand Crus, it faces north away from the sun and still manages to produce some of the most powerful Pinot Noir in the region. Some of the locals say that a mysterious warm air current is the explanation for this ripening anomaly; others will say that it is impossible to explain, like the flight of the bumblebee. I love the distinct, hazelnut quality that this special village stamps on its wines, and I feel very lucky to have convinced Mr. Patrick Arnould to sell us some of his great wines.

Patrick is the fifth generation of Champagne Michel Arnould. They own 27 acres in the village of Verzenay, a quite sizable holding in this high rent area. It is planted to 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, which reflects the average plantation for the village. The black Pinot is king here. The Arnould’s have quite a few plots of vines that are very old and positioned in the golden band of the mid slope, where the sun exposure is best. They have a high proportion of old vines (40 to 50 years old) and all of the wines undergo complete malolactic fermentation in stainless steel and enamel vats.

If you have enjoyed the wines of Lallement, Bollinger and Krug in the past, I think you will very much enjoy Michel Arnould. Here is what we have from Arnould:

Michel Arnould Verzenay Brut Reserve Champagne $32.99 750ml/ $64.99 magnum: This is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, entirely from estate vineyards in the grand cru of Verzenay. This is a great party Champagne, since it is full of flavor yet refreshing and moreish. The hazelnut Pinot character so unique to the village of Verzenay is pronounced in this wine, and many good tasters have mistaken it for barrel fermented (it is actually all stainless and enamel fermented) when presented the wine blinds. The texture is full and the bead is refined- a Champagne that you will be proud to serve to your guests, or perhaps not too proud to save for yourself!

 

Michel Arnould "Grand Cuvée" Brut Champagne $34.99: Exclusively from the 2002 harvest, although not labeled as such, this Champagne is composed of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay. The color is gorgeous gold studded with tiny bubbles. The aroma is amazing. The Champagne has a graceful, delicate balance that Verzenay wines sometimes lack but with the signature hazelnut Pinot core. I found it to have creaminess to complement its racy cherry fruit on the palate, and an extraordinarily long, dry finish. It is dosed at 9 grams per liter: very dry! It will age very well.

 

Michel Arnould Verzenay Brut Rosé Champagne $34.99 750ml/ $74.99 magnum:  100% Pinot Noir Grand Cru, acquired by assembling different vintages and red Coteaux Champenoises coming from old vines. This lovely Rosé Champagne offers hints of raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant. Very refined on the palate where more berries and finally grenadine notes emerge.

 

 

Michel Arnould Verzenay Extra Brut Champagne $39.99: Although not labeled as a vintage, this is based entirely on 2005 juice. It is 100% pinot noir from Verzenay, the northernmost of all the Grand Crus in this northernmost of French wine regions. The whole village faces north, the wrong way, away from the sun, and yet miraculously ripens pinot noir, the most difficult Champagne variety to ripen perfectly. Some say it’s because of a meteor that in prehistoric times hit the area that is now the village, creating the faux de Verzenay, a forest where the trees bend and fold in on themselves like a dark wood in The Lord of the Rings. Pair this wine with salmon, smoked as an appetizer or even served as sashimi.

Happy Champagne Friday!

-Gary

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