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One of the most serious English Sparkling producers. This historic estate has been in the Goring family since 1743. The tiny 16-acre vineyard is close-planted on a steep south-facing chalk escarpment described as 'similar to the Côte des Blancs' in Champagne. The fruit is picked very selectively with quality being the absolute focus. The grapes are pressed gently using a traditional Coquard press. After three years on the lees this wine, composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay & 22% Pinot Meunier, is hand disgorged and balanced with a minimal dosage of just 4g/L. It has a fine counterbalance between toasty richness and power from the wines élevage in Burgundian French Oak barrels, with racy acidity, tension and a focused chalky minerality.

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Entries in Food and Wine (11)

Friday
May032013

Champagne Friday: Lanson Opens Their Wine Library!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

On Wednesday Scott Beckerley and I were invited to lunch at Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco by Enguerrand Bajiot, the managing director of Lanson Americas. The occasion was the launch of their Lanson Vintage collection- a magnum only program that offers the Champagne fan the unique opportunity to buy disgorged-to-order bottles straight from their deep cellars in Reims. The bottles that we tasted were so fresh that our Lanson sales rep, the charming and knowledgeable Jennifer Guptill had to drive to Sacramento to get them out of customs! They had all been disgorged in April and come by air directly from the cellars of Lanson.

Just cleared from customs!All of these wines have been made available to K&L and to you on a special order basis and they are extremely limited- only six magnums of each vintage. They don’t disgorge it until you order it… Provenance does not get any more perfect than this. It will take two or three months to get the bottles as they need time to label them and then ship them from France, and of course they must clear customs! I would recommend not ordering these if you need them for a specific occasion as they are currently 20 feet underground half way around the world and still on their lees.

Lanson was founded in 1760, making it one of the oldest Champagne houses and Bruno Paillard who now owns the group has a huge amount of respect for that history. Cellar master Jean Paul Gandon has been working at Lanson since 1972, and managed the vineyards before taking over the cellar in 1982. No cellar master of any big house has been running a house for as long.

Didier Elena and Gary.The wines showed spectacularly and had the sparkle and freshness that one rarely experiences in old Champagne, except for in the caves where they were born. Part of this has to do with the magnum format but the majority of the reason for the excellent vigor of these wines is Lansons non-malolactic policy and the excellent estate vineyards they had up until 1991. All of the wines that predate 1991 in this offering are entirely estate grown- only the 1996 and 2002 use any purchased fruit. All of the vintage wines are approximately 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and fermented in stainless steel without malolactic.

We started off our lunch with the 2002 Lanson Gold Label Vintage Brut Champagne ($74.99), the only wine in 750ml of the lunch and the only one currently in stock. This Champagne is composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay entirely from grand cru sites. Because Lanson never allows the wines to go through malo, this is a spectacularly fresh 11 year old that has lots of flowery Chardonnay character as the savory Pinot Noir side has yet to fully develop. This will be a spectacular bottle for the future if you can resist its ample charms right now. Chef Mark Sullivan had prepared a fabulous Big Eye Tuna crudo with avocado and olive oil to pair with the 2002 Lanson and it brought out the Pinot Noir character that had been hiding in the wine. It was a fabulous wine, and Lanson’s patience with their vintage program has given the Champagne lover a big reward.

Tuna crudo.For the next course, we had the 1996 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($499- disgorged to order, due in August). I first tasted this wine at Lanson in Reims in 2002 when this was a current release. This Champagne is also composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay and also all Grand Cru. They use four Mountain of Reims villages for the Pinot and Chouilly, Cramant and Avize for the Chardonnay. It is dosed at only three grams per liter of sugar, but labeled as brut- not extra brut. The producers in Champagne call 1996 the 10/10 vintage, because it was so unusually ripe (10% potential alcohol) but also still very high in acid (10 grams per liter of total acidity) and the Lanson is a great example of the vintage. I am positive that I would guess this was 10 years younger in a blind tasting! I found this 1996 completely fresh and transparent. This is electric, high toned, Champagne that almost seems like a blanc de blancs! Chef Sullivan paired this with roasted diver scallops, brassicas and caramelized shellfish nage. It was an inspired pairing, as the rich, buttery scallops needed a wine that could cut them, and this 1996 is like a razor!

Scallop course.

Our main course arrived and we were treated to two vintages side by side, both from magnum! The 1988 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($749) is a spectacular bottle, from one of my very favorite vintages for drinking right now. This is one of the last “classic” Champagne vintages with a nice, long, even growing season. This wine only showed the slightest tinge of gold in its straw color after 25 years. The nose is developing the white truffle aromas that only time can bring, framed by the savory Pinot Noir character that this house is rightly famous for. This Champagne had a little nutella and smoke on the deep powerful palate. The finish is vibrant and chalk- this wine still has time in hand! Chef Sullivan’s  pan roasted salmon brought out the youthful side of this wine, and it would have been very hard to guess that it was a quarter of a century old! I just drank the 1988 Krug on Sunday, and I have to say, this Lanson is fresher. A showstopper!

Also with the salmon, the 1983 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($849) was a huge treat. The color of this Champagne was amazing- white gold with even a touch of green- from looking it would be easy to guess that it was a 2007! This toasty Champagne has great aromas of chestnuts and buttery chanterelles. On the palate it is full and rich with a surprising amount of viscosity. Flavors of exotic pear and ripe apple fruit resolve into a clean, dry, mineral laden finish with this 30 year old bottle of Champagne.

Salmon course.

Before the dessert the real treat of the lunch was served, the 1976 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($999). This was a wine that I had tasted once before- more than 10 years ago when I visited Lanson in Reims. Amazingly, this freshly disgorged bottle tasted far younger than the old disgorgement that I had back then! This vintage was the hottest of the 20th century and a rare (at the time!) August harvest in Champagne. The wine had a light gold color and a super bright nose of wild raspberries- it was so generous that it was hard to believe! On the palate it had tense Pinot Noir fruit that reminded me of Volnay.

This is definitely a bottle for the connoisseur! They saved the best for last with this one, and I won’t ever forget having tasted it.

A toast to you,

-Gary

 

Friday
Mar292013

Champagne Friday: 2004 Moet Grand Vintage has arrived!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Moet Grand Vintage- the 2004 has arrived!

2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) "Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar!" This past Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to Tamarine Restaurant in Palo Alto for the debut of the 2004 Moet Grand Vintage. The group was hosted by Moet winemaker Elise Losfelt who is part of the ten person team that oversees Champagne's largest producer. Elise comes from a long line of female winemakers, from the other side of France near Montpellier. She also has experience in Bordeaux, having worked at Chateau Beychevelle in St. Julien and was extremely qualified to speak on the subject of Champagne- not just as an insider, but also with great perspective.

Moet is a giant landholder in Champagne and owns more land than anyone else in the region by a long shot. They currently own just under 3000 acres of vineyard - easily over a billion dollars worth of land under vine. In addition, they have many long-term contracts with growers to supply the house more fruit for their very large production. If you take a look at the Larmat Maps that are available on this blog for free download, you can see the spots in red that they owned back in 1943. These have changed some in the past 70 years and their holdings have expanded, but the amount of vineyard marked red as belonging to Moet is simply amazing.

Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) "This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening."We started off with an aperitif of Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) which I learned got its name from Napoleon, who was close friends with the Moet family. This wine replaced the White Star in the US market in the fall of 2009, due to the fact that American Champagne lovers were demanding a drier style. The White Star was an Extra Dry, and curiously the first Imperial to arrive on these shores was as well - but not labeled with any style statement. If you see a bottle of the Imperial that does not say 'Brut' on it, snap it up… One day it will be a collector's item!

These first bottles were dosed at 13 grams per liter for the US market only. At the same time they were selling bottles to the Asian market at 11 grams per liter and the rest of the world at 9. Starting in the summer of 2012, all the Imperial began to be labeled 'Brut' with the dosage the same worldwide at 9 grams per liter. It is composed of what Elise describes as a “big third” of Pinot Noir a third of Meunier and a “small third” of Chardonnay. I thought this was a great way to describe the moving target- since they blend four batches of the Imperial a year, keeping the winemaking team and bottling lines busy. She also mentioned that since they use the produce of over 200 villages in the bottle, the blend of Imperial closely matches the percentages of plantings in Champagne as a whole. Elise explained that the first blend in January following the harvest uses the most reserve wines- around 30%, while the last blend of the year will use around 20% because of the better maturity of the base wine. Since they want a fresh style of wine at Moet, they only use one to two year old reserve wines. All Imperial produced is aged for 30 months on the lees before release.

This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening.

We sat down to dinner and the 2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) was served with lime coconut scallops. This wine, although significantly older than the Imperial that preceded it, smelled and tasted much younger. It is composed of 38% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 29% Meunier and dosed at just 5 grams per liter- making it eligible to be called an 'Extra Brut'. It has a very fresh, chalky aroma and the classic drive of this very good 2004 vintage.

Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar! The cut of the wine was perfect with the rich scallop, and those of you who would like to open some now will be thrilled with how well this 2004 goes with shellfish.

Next we were served a fantastic plate of spiced honey seared duck to accompany the 1993 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne. This wine showed wonderful maturity at 20 years old and a great aroma of toast and oyster shells. This bottle was disgorged in October of 2011 as part of a special batch set aside for the future and aged on corks rather than the crown caps that they used for the initial vintage release in 1998. This was the first vintage that Moet started this program with, and Elise said that they have been thrilled with the results. The wine is dosed at 7 grams per liter of sugar and has plenty of toast and butter on the palate, flavors that the duck amplified. I loved the refreshing finish of this wine and loved the pairing with the duck.

The main course of the night was Lemon Grass Sea Bass served with both the 1983 and 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagnes. The 1983 was never released commercially and only bottled in magnums for the wine making team (and luckily for a dinner or two). It is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and a small part of the wine was barrel fermented. This 1983 was very bright for a 30 year old with a white gold color. On the nose, the crushed oyster elements of the 1993 were here in even great quantity and the wine was a real belemnita fossil experience. In the mouth the wine is very rich and buttery and yet has the lift to clean up on the long, driven finish. What a treat!

I was very excited to taste the 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" since it is a great vintage in Champagne, and also my birth year. The records of the blend were destroyed in a fire at Moet, so Elise said the best we could do was guess. I was pleased that it was just the records that burned up and not the wine! She did note that at this time a portion of the wine would have been barrel fermented. This was a great bottle, and I loved the truffle infused, baked apple aroma that offered so much depth and complexity. On the palate this wine is so rich and intense and the sea bass brought out great sweet, clean fruit from this forty year old. This incredible Champagne had a very long finish that had hints of prosciutto to go along with its mineral drive. I hope I’ll get a chance to taste this again!

K&L’s great friend Wilf Jaeger, who is a partner in the RN74 restaurants, was kind enough to bring a bottle of the 1966 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Champagne to share with us at the dinner, and it was a huge treat for everyone in attendance. This bottle had no signs of slowing down at 47 years of age, and the hazelnut aroma that I always associate with grand cru of Verzenay jumped from the glass. On the palate the wine was seamless, nougaty, and had plenty of citric refreshment. This bottle had it all- savor, fruit and velvet like ease. No wonder Dom Perignon has earned such a big reputation!

This great evening reinforced how much ageing potential the wines of Champagne have- and Moet in particular. I have tasted Moet as old as 1914, and have never tasted a properly stored bottle that was over the hill. These wines are worth keeping!

A toast to you!

–Gary

Friday
Dec142012

Champagne Friday: Dinner with Krug's CEO

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Last Friday I was invited to a very special dinner with Margareth Henriquez, the President and CEO of Champagne Krug. We dined at Quattro in the Four Seasons Hotel, which has a great program called “Friday Nights Uncorked” inviting customers to bring their own wine, without a corkage fee. For this special occasion, Chef Marco Fossati had worked with the Krug team ahead of time to prepare a menu paired with current releases from the maison. Ian Cauble, Krug’s Master Sommelier brand ambassador and Julien Pepin Lehalleur, Krug’s business development manager were also on hand to tell the story of the wines. This was a night I won’t forget.

Krug has always been a quality obsessed house. Joseph Krug left Champagne Jacquesson in 1843 to start his own maison with the idea of making the best Champagne possible. For the last 169 years this producer has not missed a beat, and this consistency at the highest level of wine making puts them on the level of Chateau d’Yquem and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as one of the finest wine producers in the world. All of the wines are fermented in traditional 205 liter feuillattes, the traditional Champagne oak barrel. These barrels are seasoned for years with press wine so they do not impart too much oak flavor to the wine, but rather offer texture and immunization against future oxidation.

Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut Champagne ($139.00) We had the aperitif on the tented veranda at Quattro, the Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut Champagne ($139, $79.99 half, $399 magnum). Margareth explained the new codes on the backs of the bottles, that allow the Champagne lover to learn the disgorgement date, year of the base harvest of the wine as well as the number of vintages blended in and the oldest of them. She was far too modest about this new feature, as it reverses the secretiveness for which Krug has long been known. Now, thanks to her influence, Krug is one of the most transparent houses. The bottle that we had was from batch 311032, based on 2004, and composed of 121 different wines from 12 different vintages going all the way back to 1990. It was disgorged in the fall of 2011. All of this can be learned by going to www.krug.com and entering the code. Our bottle was Krug at its toasty, extroverted best, with plenty of buttery brioche and mid-palate weight. It also had typical 2004 zing and acidity, and showed attractive aspects of both youth and maturity.

Appetizers were then passed and the 2000 Krug "Clos du Mesnil" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($799) poured around. The iconic all-Chardonnay Clos du Mesnil comes from a four and a half acre walled vineyard in the super-chalky grand cru village of Mesnil. It was known as the Clos Tarin, owned by the Tarin sisters. It had always been famous for its quality, but now as a single vineyard wine by one of Champagne’s most quality obsessed houses, it has become one of the most desirable bottles in the whole appellation. The lobster crudo brought out the white fruit of the chardonnay, while the duck and Taleggio poppers showed off the razor cut of this no-malolactic Mesnil masterpiece. The best pairing of all was with the pancetta wrapped bay scallops, giving me a glimpse of the richness this wine has in store for the patient. I can count the number of times I have had Clos du Mesnil on one hand, and feel lucky to be able to say that! This pure Chardonnay expression, from a house whose other wines are dominated by black fruit always shows plenty of Krug style, while also revealing the chalky minerality of one of the greatest sites on the planet.

1998 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) Our group sat down for dinner, chef Fossati sent out a special Puzzone cheese fondue, and the 1998 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) was served by ace server Emily Yamamoto and the rest of the Quattro team. In 1998, the first time in a generation, the winemaking team at Krug used more Chardonnay than anything else in the blend. The wine still showed the power and weight of the 1998 vintage and was very vinous and powerful, but the extra chardonnay gave it the classic back-end lift of great Champagne. This pairing was a big success, and opened my mind to the possibility of cheese and Champagne, something I have liked only once before, with Brie de Meaux and black truffles Les Crayeres in Reims.  What we have in stock now (32 bottles between the four locations at the time of writing) - is gone when it’s gone!

2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) The 2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) was fantastic with a very traditional Champagne pairing: pigeon! One of the best local dishes of the Champagne region is pigeon en croute. The rare Paine Farm squab was perfect with this refined powerhouse of a wine. Although the 2000 vintage returned to a Pinot Noir dominated blend, the relative youth of the wine and the fresh character of the vintage brought the Chardonnay to the front. This was the favorite vintage of the group, with electric acidity and chalky length. There is power in this bottle, but it does not have to show it off. The 2000 will evolve for a generation in the cellar, and I can’t wait to revisit it in 2030. A rich game bird needs a lively wine, and why not 2000 Krug!

We then went back to the previous release of the Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut and tasted the batch based on 2003 with Ng risotto, featuring silver, gold and most precious of all, white truffles from Alba. This was my favorite course and my favorite pairing of the night. The peerless aromatics of the noble tartufo bianco and deep umami of the slow cooked, rich risotto were a fitting partner to this great multi-vintage that had a truffle character all its own. It was a more integrated and settled wine than the current release thanks to the extra year. I am a huge fan of the 2004 harvest in Champagne, and no friend of 2003, so this wine showing as well as it did was a big surprise to me. Take my advice- lay down some Krug "Grande Cuvée" in the cellar- even if it is just a bottle or two for a year or more and you will be thrilled with the results. Margareth explained that the team used a lot of 1996 reserves in this blend to balance out the fat of the 2003 base wine, and included wines as far back as 1988. I’m looking forward to tasting the 2004 based wine in a year-with some truffles!

Krug Brut Rosé Champagne ($279) Chef Fossati was daring and paired the Krug Brut Rosé Champagne ($279) with lamb loin from Elysian Fields. This Champagne needed food (and rich food!) in order to show well and was very different from the first Krug rose that I tasted more than a decade ago. My first visit to the maison in winter of 2001 was also my first experience with Krug rose, and it’s impression has haunted me ever since. The wine I drank in 2001 was so vanishingly subtle, so easy to drink, that its greatness did not occur to me until days later. I still think about that bottle. Margareth explained that this batch (311030) used Ay Rouge for its color and rose flavor, but that often times they use Bouzy Rouge instead. This batch was disgorged in fall of 2011 and was aged for a little over five years on the lees, so it must have been based on 2005. It had fresh baked bread and Nuits-St.-George like savor on the nose, and powerhouse black cherry fruit backed with firm acidity on the palate. I much preferred it with the lamb than on its own. This was large-scale wine that Margareth said she loved to cellar.

We ended things on a very high note with the 1989 Krug "Collection" Brut Champagne ($499) paired with another cheese course, this one cleverly disguised as a dessert. Chef Fossati created a Brulee by torching honey on top of some very creamy, savory Explorateur cheese served next to some unsweetened orange blossom gelato with white truffles shaved on top of it. I remembered this wine from when it first was released- ahead of the 1988, and it is evolving slowly in this freshly disgorged format. This warm harvest, already 23 years old is showing the vinous bass notes that makes well aged Krug famous. It still has plenty of chalk and zip, and showed even more truffle than the older “Grand Cuvee” did. The pairing was delightful, bringing out the ripe, sweet fruit of the 1989 harvest.

Krug is rightly famous for their great wines, and a decadent meal paired with them in the company of their team is an honor I won’t forget. If you feel like splurging on one of the benchmark wines of the world, I could not recommend any house more highly.

These are as good as it gets!

A toast to you!

-Gary