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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 (74)

Friday
Jun282013

Champagne Friday: Avizes – A Reservation Worth Wrangling

Cindy Westby outside Les Avizes.

By: Cindy Westby | K&L Staff Member

Hotel (and Restaurant) Avizes – A Reservation Worth Wrangling

As many of you know, my husband “Champagne Gary Westby” keeps a running list of the very best places to eat and sleep in Champagne. After visiting the region every year for well over a decade, I think he has just about tried them all! I was lucky enough to join him on his most recent visit to Champagne (his second trip this year), and we were both thrilled to discover a brand new restaurant for “the list”.

Located on the Cotes de Blanc in the tiny village of Avize is Hotel and Restaurant "Les Avizes". It opened in 2011 and is operated by Corrine and Anselme Selosse, who are also associated with the intriguing Champagne house Domaine Jacques-Selosse. The hotel offers only ten rooms, and reservations at the restaurant can be difficult to obtain if you are not a hotel guest. Nevertheless, if you are planning a trip to Champagne, I recommend trying to wrangle a reservation however you can!

As is tradition in the nicer restaurants of France, you are invited upon arrival into the salon prior to dinner in order to take the aperitif, peruse the menu and plan the meal. This is perfect for Gary and me - we have no problem spending several happy minutes trying to convince each other to order a certain dish so that we can have a favorite wine with the dinner...Fortunately, at Les Avizes, the daily menu is fixed and so the only thing we had to agree upon were our wines.

 

Try this at home! Franck Bonville Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs ($39.99) It was a great pleasure to look over their wine list, which contained many things I wanted to drink at very reasonable prices. We selected the Franck Bonville Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc for our aperitif. And, after sneaking a peek at the daily menu which was chalked on the door of the kitchen, we also selected 2007 Lafarge Volnay as the red wine for our meal.

The menu that day struck me as very “provincial” with courses featuring mussels in a curry broth, cod with pesto and lamb accompanied by a modern riff on ratatouille. The extra brut with its super-low dosage was the perfect aperitif to revive us after being awake for some 36 hours en route to France, and played surprisingly well with the curried mussels, emphasizing their sweetness. After all, the Champagne had only traveled around to corner from its birthplace to reach our lips! 

The 2007 Lafarge Volnay, decanted in advance, was also a winner. Already showing a touch of brick color on the edges, this was open and aromatic, nicely structured, and elegant in the mouth.

The atmosphere of the hotel and restaurant is very fresh with soaring ceilings, tons of windows and a clever mix of antiques and modern design elements.  Service was warm and comfortable, with the Chef overlooking his guests from a small elevated kitchen and one bustling woman acting as host, sommelier, AND waiter…all supervised quite competently by an elderly wire-hair terrier who ensured that all guests were greeted, and that no crumbs hit the floor.

A toast to you,

–Cindy

Friday
Jun212013

Champagne Friday: Brouillet: One of a Kind Terroir in Champagne

Gouttes d'Or Vineyard (Brouillet)

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Brouillet: One of a Kind Terroir in Champagne

Since I first met Caroline and Paul Vincent Ariston of Champagne Aspasie in Brouillet, I have never gone to France without visiting them. The Ariston’s make top class Champagne at very reasonable prices, and were the very first that we brought in direct here at K&L. When I first met them, they just had their daughter Bertille- now she is 14… Time goes by much too quickly! Cinnamon and I just returned from a short (only four nights!) trip to Champagne, and we spend the day with the Ariston’s. As usual, we had a great time and also learned many new things about what makes their wines so special.

Brouillet, circled on the Larmat Atlas of Champagne.

Brouillet is in the far Northwest corner of Champagne, between Reims and Soissons. This area could not be more different than the intensively planted mono-culture of the Cote-des-Blancs and Mountain of Reims. Here, polyculture is still the rule, with wheat and canola making a patchwork with the vineyards. Only hillside sites with the right soil are granted the appellation here and abundant chalk is found here alongside sand and clay. This area is one of the last in Champagne to be harvested, and Paul Vincent likes to pick ripe, so he often harvests 10 days after most of the appellation.

On this trip I learned something that I did not know about the Aspasie wines. They are in fact an RM, and sell their wines as such within France. Because of the complexities of exporting, and in order to fairly compensate the members of his family, Paul Vincent set up a negociant business for export. The only wine sold under this negociant label is their estate grown Champagne.

The Ariston Aspasie "Carte Blanche" Brut Champagne ($27.99, $15.99 375ml) has always been our number one selling direct import Champagne. This is for great reason- no producer is as patient with their entry level wine, ageing it for five years before selling it. The value for money is off the charts. This wine has plenty of richness and weight, but keeps its balance with excellent refreshing qualities as well. The toastiness of this wine is all natural and arrived at by long ageing.

For me, one of the most special wines from this estate is the Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($34.99, $79.99 magnum) which is almost all from the old vine Chardonnay in the Gouttes d’Or parcel. This is the second steepest vineyard that I have walked in Champagne- only the Clos des Goisses was steeper. Unlike most Chardonnay in Champagne, the Gouttes d’Or faces West, and on this trip it was a furnace. When we got back to the car, the thermometer read 41 Centigrade- 105 in old money!

Returning back to the house, Paul Vincent treated us to a comparison of the 2008 based Blanc de Blancs and the recently disgorged 2009. The last of the 2008 just docked here in California, and it is simply spectacular. Looking back at my notes from tasting the wine as vin clair on May 25th of 2009, I found it to be both racy and rich at once. On June 17th of this year, that had not changed- it had snap and refreshment that cannot be beat while also filling the mouth with rich, creamy texture. This bottle reminded me of the quote “A bottle between four of us, thank God there aren’t more of us” and went down very quickly! Later on, just before dinner, we had the Blanc de Blancs from magnum, and this batch is still based on 2007, with a full extra year on the lees. The magnum gained a lot in complexity without losing any of the freshness of the 2008. If you have more than two people, this is the way to go!

Aspasie: a new plantation.

 

Grillmaster Caroline Aspasie.

It is hard for me to say more about the Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne ($99) than I have already said- it is simply one of the best Champagnes that money can buy. Not only does it offer the kind of incisive cut that one finds in Salon, but it is nearly exotic enough to be Condrieu. The Viognier like fruit expression on the nose also has flinty, bready elements and the palate is a kaleidoscope of complexity. The finish, which lasts and lasts has the brightness of the best of the appellation. Paul Vincent calls it “a wine for squirrels” as the high acidity raises his cheekbones! It is based on 2006 and composed of 40% Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc.

A toast of Aspasie to you!

–Gary

Friday
Jun142013

Champagne Friday: Collecting Champagne Capsules

By: Jim Westby (Gary's Dad!)

Champagne Friday: Collecting Champagne Capsules

Champagne drinkers receive an attractive memento with every bottle they open—the metal capsule that covers the cork. These usually feature bright colors, strong design, and the maker's brand identity. They aren't easy to throw away, and I'm sure that many of you have some capsules in your drawer that contains corkscrews, foil cutters, decanting funnels, miscellaneous corks, or other wine paraphernalia.

Maybe you have 10 or 20 capsules in that drawer, and in this case you have a collection even if you don't realize it. In France you would be called a "placomusophile", perhaps a compelling reason to conceal the fact that you collect these things.

There is plenty of material to collect. Capsules have been used for over 150 years and there are now more than 10,000 Champagne brands. Most brands have several capsule designs in current use, and old houses may have used hundreds of different ones in the past. These designs may themselves vary not only by color, but also by typographic style and sizing of the elements.

To make sense of this, you need the standard reference book for Champagne capsule collectors, "Repertoire des Placques de Muselets du Champagne," by Claude Lambert (generally called simply "Lambert"). It includes over 5,000 capsule photos and lists tens of thousands of different capsules, but is only available in France in French. Don't miss the chance to buy a copy if you are in the Champagne region or Paris. The book gives prices you might expect to pay for capsules were you to buy them in a specialty shop in France. Most are listed at 1 or 2 Euros, but old, rare examples can fetch up to several hundred Euros.

Here are some suggestions for Champagnes with interesting capsules that will start or add to a collection:

Loriot capsules feature the Loriot family's namesake bird, the oriole. Vivid colors and a strong, simple design make them exceptionally attractive.

Michel Loriot "Cuvee Reserve" Brut Champagne ($29.99) This all-estate grown Champagne is 100% Pinot Meunier from the village of Festigny. Unlike many "reserve" designation Champagnes, this lives up to its name with half of the wine coming from old reserves. It is quite round, with a wonderful pie crust and spice nose, with some hints of exotic fruit in the flavor. This is medium- to full-bodied Champagne and makes great drinking on its own as well as being fantastic with patés of all sorts. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne buyer)

2006 Michel Loriot "Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes" Brut Champagne ($49.99) Rated *Outstanding Plus* by the Underground Wine Letter. This stunning, single-vineyard Champagne is one of the best we carry at K&L. It comes from the l'Arpent vineyard, which is slightly less than one acre in the village of Festigny. The vines were planted in 1942 and come from an old massal selection of Meunier. Michel Loriot makes only 3,000 or 4,000 bottles of this, his top wine, in vintages that he considers good enough. Otherwise this juice goes into the other blends. This light gold color wine has the kind of streamers that I could watch all day, they seem slowed in their travel up from the bottom of the glass by the richness of the wine. The exotic spice on the nose leads to a surprisingly creamy flavor. The Meunier Vieilles Vignes is very full-bodied and powerful Champagne, yet finishes with great minerality. The Loriots like to serve it with parmesan, a cheese that is very much like it in flavor and bite! When I tasted this with the Loriots, Michel decanted it 1/2 hour ahead of time! This has a great finish, and is another must try for any real fan of Champagne. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne buyer)

Krug has dated the capsules of their vintage bottlings since 1988. Nobody is going to forget a bottle of vintage Krug, but having the dated capsule should bring back fond memories. Maybe somebody will give me the 2000 Krug for my birthday so I can add it's capsule to my collection. 

2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) When toast and raciness meet, you have a great bottle of vintage Champagne. This has been my favorite vintage release from Krug for current drinking since the 1989, and it has the legs to age for decades. The wine has a bright, white gold color and a nose that is open and full of buttered sourdough aromas. The initial palate impression is tense, but this is one of those rare wines with a "peacocks tail" finish... The impression grows after you swallow it. It has a near endless finish, and seems dryer than past releases. After checking the new code on the back, this bottle was disgorged in spring of 2010, giving it about 9 years on the lees. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne Buyer)

The Barnaut capsule has an impressionistic image of the church at Bouzy and the vineyards surrounding it that are the source of the wine. Bright and very pretty, it tells the story of the terrior of Barnaut Champagne very well.

Barnaut Blanc de Noirs Bouzy Grand Cru Brut Champagne ($42.99/$39.99 Wine Club) 90 points Tanzer: "(all Bouzy pinot noir): Vivid gold. Ripe pear and nectarine on the nose, but complicated by floral and musky herb nuances. A pliant, smooth texture, with deep, hefty orchard and pit fruit flavors and slow-building smokiness. The persistent finish repeats the pear note and leaves notes of redcurrant and floral honey behind. This Champagne would stand up to rich, buttery dishes or even strong cheeses." (12/ 2010)

Finally, let me tell you a way to get your capsules out of that drawer and displayed so that you can enjoy them. All you need is some 3/4 inch x 6 wood screws, glue, and a piece of foam core display board (from a craft or framing store). I use a drop of "super glue" on the inside of the capsule. The bond is strong enough that you can mount the capsule on wood, but it does leave residue if the screw is pulled off. Ordinary white glue leaves no residue, but it's only strong enough to hold a screw turned into soft material such as foam core board.

  

    Display with capsules glued to wood screws and mounted on foam core board. -Jim Westby