K&L staff members have great fortune to taste a lot of wine and compare notes with leading experts in the the business on a routine basis. We participate in weekly staff tastings hosted by our respective buyers, and rare is the day when assorted wines aren't opened in the tasting room for the purpose of staff education. Seriously! Listen in on a conversation between two K&L staff members discussing a wine, beer, or spirit at any given time, and you will come away reaffirmed that you are shopping at the right place, assisted by folks who know their stuff. I am constantly humbled by the depths of knowledge and experience of the collective K&L palate.
Which is why I am inspired to write this week's Champagne Friday. You see, in the latest round of the K&L Staff Blind Tasting Competition (although tasting roulette is more like it), I miraculously won. The prize? My all time favorite Champagne, Amaury Coutelas "Cuvee 1809" Brut Champagne ($59.99) Here are my notes from my first tasting of this marvelous Champagne:
This is incredible Champagne, and very unique. Drawing on winemaking techniques of the 19th century, it was fermented in barrel (no malo), aged for 8+ years on the lees in bottles sealed with corks, manually disgorged, and finished with a cork and twine closure. Stylistically, you could say it's to Champagne what Lopez de Heredia is to white Rioja, but unlike 19thcentury Champagne, this modern revival is dry, with a very low dosage. It offers a stunning array of complex earthy and nutty aromas and flavors with biscuit, mineral, mushroom, and honey accents. The texture is luxuriously rich and layered, but naturally high acidity and the low dosage keep this Champagne fresh and invigorating, with a dry, crisp finish that goes on and on. If you like white wines from the Jura, traditional white Rioja, or are a Champagne fiend looking for something to blow your mind, here you go. Highly recommended.
In late January this year, I brought this Champagne with me to dinner at a well-known restaurant in Napa. I was stunned at the way it revealed layer upon layer of complexity throughout the evening, complementing each course from start to finish in different yet profound ways. It is hard to imagine having the patience to allow a Champagne to last through multiple courses, but this one has so much substance and depth that every sip is a new experience worth savoring for as long as possible. The standout pairing was the duck liver mousse course, but this Champagne held its own with both lamb and steak entrees as well!
As if that isn't praise enough, it is worth mentioning that this Champagne was also K&L Senior Bordeaux Specialist (and HUGE Giants fan) Ralph Sands' choice for toasting when the Giants won the World Series. Now that says something.
This past Tuesday, the Redwood City managers generously offered to man the store and phones while the rest of the staff members enjoyed a prolonged, catered lunch together. Lawn (well, parking lot) games like ping pong were set up, hip-hop was blasting on the stereo, delicious food was abundant, and so were the wines, which is why when I learned that a ten wine blind tasting had been organized with a prize going to the winner, my first reaction was to mentally decline. Blind tasting is hard! It requires a lot of focus and can be intensely frustrating. Enjoying my ice cream doused with caramel after a huge lunch, I figured my palate was not in the best condition for such a challenge. The potential for embarrassment was high.
My curiosity got the better of me, however, and eventually I wandered over to the tasting table. There were ten wines, brown bagged; eight in 750ml bottles and two in large format. The tasting sheet demanded five sets of criteria per wine: Vintage, Varietal Composition, Country, Region, and Producer. The rules were simple--No Peeking!--and one point would be awarded per correct answer for each criteria, leading to a total of five points per wine.
My strategy in casual blind tasting is to run through the lineup first, jotting down very short notes on aroma and flavor, but making no conclusions. Then I go through and consider each wine again, with the intention of making a swift decision with minimal mind-changing based on a combination of first and second impressions. I am a big believer in going with the gut; over-thinking a wine has only pushed me farther from accuracy in past tastings.
It was a doozy! In this case 'winning' meant a total of 19 points out of a possible 50 - nowhere near a perfect score (technically an F!) but a respectable effort nonetheless, considering the challenge we were up against. I will spare you the details of the tasting and my notes (including those parts that I got embarrassingly wrong) but in case you are curious, here is the 'answer' key to the challenge:
Varietal: Pinot Meunier
Varietal: Gruner Veltliner
Varietal: Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Viognier
Region: Costiere de Nimes
Varietal: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Producer: Vina Ijalba
Producer: Grgich Hills
Producer: Nickel & Nickel
Vintage: 1971 Mouton Cadet
Producer: Mouton Cadet
Region: Napa Valley
The next challenge? Choosing the perfect occasion in which to open this gorgeous Champagne!
I would like to thank Champagne Buyer Gary Westby for donating this bottle for the prize, and our fearless managers for organizing a great event and tasting. Your efforts are appreciated!
A toast to you,