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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 sparkling wine (38)

Wednesday
Mar202013

Blasting Through Sonoma: Iron Horse Vineyards

Iron Vineyards in Green Valley, Sonoma County.

A team of K&L staff from the San Francisco store recently headed up north for a jam-packed jaunt through Sonoma. Intensive tastings at twelve wineries in two days is exciting, but it is hard work! Stay tuned for pics and posts over the next couple weeks as we chronicle their visit on Uncorked...

Iron Horse Vineyards

By: Scott Beckerley | K&L Staff Member

Our first stop on our whirlwind visit to Sonoma was Iron Horse Vineyards, located in the foggy Green Valley AVA of Sonoma County. We we were greeted and introduced to the winery by the lovely and engaging Barrie Sterling. Shortly thereafter, her father, Laurence Sterling, took us on a tour of the winery and vineyards. 

Iron Horse's first release was in 1980 and the vineyards sit on sandy loam soil in the Green Valley, which has a cooler climate perfectly suited to the needs of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They use precision viticulture in determing where to plant vines and what vines to plant taking into account factors of irrigation zones, sun protection and rate of steepness of the land. For example, Pinot clones are situated according to sand content and irrigation runs according to this principal. Certain vineyard blocks are more suited to sparkling than to still wines. The winery is very happy with the Martini B clone, the Dijon clones and the Chard-Clone 4. Pressing of the grapes is done gently by the weight of the fruit. Riddling is done by hand and by machine for the sparkling wines.

2008 Iron Horse Sonoma County Classic Vintage Brut ($29.99) We tasted a number of the sparkling and still wines. Among the sparkling, we sampled the 2008 Classic Cuvee, a blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay. It had a pear, vanilla and apple nose which opened up with some bread dough notes. The palate was clean, with pear, stone fruit and cream notes. This was followed by the 2008 2008 Iron Horse "Wedding Cuvée" Green Valley Brut ($24.99)Russian Cuvee, the same blend, which revealed a light creamy nose with tropical scents and nectarine on the palate. It had a long, clean finish and fine, small bubbles. Then came the most well-known of the group, the 2008 Wedding Cuvee. This sparkler is a blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay with a big, rich nose. Strawberries and cherries on the palate with a clean finish containing some minerality.

After that came the 2007 “I am Giving” Ocean Reserve, composed of 100% Chardonnay, had a clean nose with hints of brioche. On the first sip, it is mineral driven and it opens up to citrus lemon flavors with bright nectarine fruit. Four dollars from every bottle goes to the National Geographic Foundation!

Lastly, the 2003 Brut LD, an even blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, had a bigger nose of toasted nuts and more evident oak than the other bottlings. On the palate, yeast and brioche notes with a lemon/lime and tangerine finish.

Iron Horse winemaking facility.

Riddling in action at Iron Horse.

Four dollars from every bottle of Iron Horse sold goes to the National Geographic Foundation!

After the flight of sparklings it was onto the still wines, the first of which was the 2009 Un-Oaked Chardonnay. Loads of tropical fruit here with pineapple and orange fruit. It was medium in weight with some acidity on the finish. No malolactic fermentation. A perfect alternative to heavy, buttery Chardonnay!The 2010 Native Yeast Chardonnay showed more classic "California" style with its oaky nose and crisp apple fruit. Richer on the palate with yellow apple, honey and light oak notes.

Scott's Favorite: 2011 Iron Horse Green Valley of RRV Pinot Noir ($39.99) Now, for the reds...the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir had a lovely nose of ripe cherries, spice and herbs. Just a hint of earth. Initially, soft on the palate but, it ended with spicy fruit and a bright finish. This was followed by the 2010 Thomas Road Pinot Noir, which showed bright cherry fruit, tobacco and spice, and a long, pretty, big finish which fleshed out nicely. This was made from the Martini 13 clone. Our last red was the 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir, all raspberry, oak and earth. More delicate and bright in 2011, with fresh raspberry and cherry fruit and tobacco nuances. Excellent! My favorite. Now that spring is here, it was time for the 2011 Rose de Pinot Noir, a little beauty with a raspberry nose. Lively and bright, with clean minerality and acidity.

What a way to start the day!

-Scott

 

Friday
Mar152013

Champagne Friday: The Three Faces of Dom Perignon

 

By: Gary Westby | K&L Staff Member

The Three Faces of Dom Perignon

Moet's Dom Perignon is the most well known Champagne brand in the world, but is one about which we Champagne lovers know the least. Moet has always been highly secretive about this wine, keeping production numbers and composition percentages to themselves and instead sharing stories and descriptions of the style. Yesterday, I was invited to “Three Faces of Dom Perignon," a seminar at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park, to learn more from Stephane Henry, Senior International Brand Education Manager from the maison.

Stephane Henry, Dom Perignon Senior International Education Manager.

Starting with the 2000 vintage, Dom Perignon no longer has Moet & Chandon on its label, and they are distancing themselves from their parent company to become an independent brand. Dom Perignon does come from the 1150 hectares of vines controlled by Moet, and while they have unique access to all of the grand crus, the core of DP comes from eight of these, plus the premier cru Hautvillers. From the mountain of Reims they use Bouzy, Verzenay and Mailly principally, from the  Cotes de Blancs mainly Chouilly, Cramant, Avize and Le Mesnil and from the grand valley of the Marne Ay and of course, Hautvillers.

The Dom Perignon blanc is always aged for at least seven years on the lees, the rose at least nine and Oenotheque at least twelve. The are always vintage, and always a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While Stephane did not get into specifics, most sources report that the proportion is roughly equal, with a little more of one or the other depending on the harvest. They want a fresh, non-oxidative style of Champagne, and do not delay picking. In the cellar, they currently use exclusively stainless steel for vinification, inoculate the juice as soon as possible for an early first fermentation, and rack the wine as little as possible. They do all this to avoid oxidizing the wine, and to preserve as much primary fruit as possible.

This reductive style of winemaking is credited with giving the wine its longevity, but it is worth noting that there were no stainless tanks in Champagne before the 1960s. Older bottles of Dom (the first vintage was 1921) were undoubtedly vinified in barrel or enamel tanks...and taste spectacular.

I was welcomed at the Rosewood with a glass of the 2002 Dom Perignon Blanc ($429; available in magnum only) which has settled down a lot in the year since I last tasted it. I thought it was great that they showed the wine in large bowled glasses - a subject I touched on last month. It glittered with a green tinged white gold color in the Sand Hill sun on the veranda and had a nose of pastry dough and clean cane sugar. On the palate it was rich, full-bodied and had plenty of white fruit up front. The dosage had integrated very nicely, and it showed quite a bit drier than I remembered it.

The Flight: 2003 Dom Perignon, 2002 Dom Perignon Brut Rose, 1996 Oenotheque.

2003 Dom PerignonWe then sat down for the seminar and learned about the history of the Abbey of Hautvillers and the monk Dom Perignon. After that, the wines were poured starting with the 2003 Dom Perignon ($149). This vintage, in which two-thirds of the Chardonnay crop for the appellation were lost overnight to an April frost, was also the earliest vintage since 1822. The extremely hot summer caused numerous deaths in France, and I think of it as the end of Champagne's honeymoon with climate change. Almost no one declared a vintage in 2003 because hot years generally need a lot of Chardonnay to freshen the 2002 Dom Perignon Rosewines up, and in 2003 there was precious little to be found. I found the wine to be very exotic, with a caramel and black pepper nose. It has a very big, broad texture and was loaded with flavor but at this point a little compressed. Many of the somelliers in the room liked it better than the 2002, but I wasn’t so sure.

Next we tasted the 2002 Dom Perignon Rose ($299) out of a giant Riedel Pinot Noir Glass. This was a great way to taste this majestically great bottle of wine, which I featured in the blog three weeks ago exclusively. Today the red wines, which are a combination of Pinot Noir from Ay, Bouzy and Hautvillers jumped out of the glass with an almost Hermitage like white pepper. This super intense wine has the chalky cut of a Mesnil blanc de blancs, but never comes out of balance or looses its elegance. I was very impressed.

Julia Fitzroy of Dom Perignon.

1996 Dom Perignon OenothequeThe final wine was the 1996 Dom Periginon Oenotheque ($349) from one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century. This famed harvest is known as the 10/10 in the region, for combining very high ripeness (10% potential alcohol) with very high acidity (10 grams per liter of acidity). Average stats like this are very rare, since usually acidity drops as ripeness increases. This is the same wine as the 1996 Dom Perignon blanc, but with more time on the lees. The Oenotheque was fabulous, barely a hair darker than the 2003 next to it only loosing the green hue of a very young wine. The boquet was extremely fresh, with lots of white-fleshed fruit touched by a bit of spicy bread character. On the palate the wine had a strong Pinot character with some meaty flavor, but the finish was an all Chardonnay affair, with length and minerality that go forever. The dosage is adjusted down on these more recently disgorged bottles, and that combined with the extra time on the lees make them very worth seeking out - especially in a vintage as great as 1996!

I still have many questions about Dom Perignon. The production numbers are a secret, but given the worldwide distribution of the blanc they must be large. On the other hand, the Rose and Oenotheque are true rarities of which I can never get enough to satisfy demand. The rose should be back in soon, and the 1996 is getting to the end of its run.

A toast to you!

–Gary

Friday
Mar082013

Champagne Friday: Rosé Champagne

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Rosé Champagne

Many of my top Champagne experiences, perhaps most of my top Champagne experiences have been with rosé. Unfortunately, most of the worst Champagne that I have tasted has also been rosé. This small subcategory of Champagne is extrodinarily diverse, not just in quality but also in style. Exploring this diversity has given me a lot of pleasure.

The reason that quality is so variable with rosé Champagne is simple: the Champagne area is to cold to reliably produce fine red wine. It is easy to forget that Champagne is one of the coldest places that can make fine wine at all, located on the same lines of latitude as Fargo, North Dakota and Winnipeg, Canada. This cold climate necessitates very special planning in order to get the ripeness that is essential for rosé Champagne to have the right color and flavor.

Since all the Champagne grape varieties have white juice (as is the case with almost all wine varieties- even Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) color in the wine comes from the juice being in contact with the skins. This maceration process adds tannin and flavor as well as color. On some sites in some vintages in the Champagne region, veraison (the point when red grapes turn from green to red) is incomplete. Obviously, one cannot get good color from grapes like these! Warmer, sunnier parcels are essential to rose Champagne production.

There are two main ways of making rose Champagne, either by using all red grapes and macerating all of the juice with all of the skins, or by blending a fully red wine into white wine to arrive at the right color and flavor. In France, all still rose must legally be made the first way- by full maceration. In Champagne, the second way is much more common.

It is easier to set aside a small portion of south facing, mid slope, warm micro-climate Pinot Noir or Meunier and farm it specifically to make red wine; pruning shorter and even green harvesting to get the ripeness needed. Many producers even use different clones, sometimes from Burgundy for these red wine plots. Since it is uncommon for producer to make more than 25% rose and they only need 5-15% red wine to arrive to blend into 85-95% white wine, it is practical to work this way.

Billecart-Salmon Brut RoseThe Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne ($74.99) is the most famous example of a blended rose. My very favorite for illustrating the style of red and white together is the Franck Bonville Brut Rosé Champagne ($39.99), which is a blend of 92% Chardonnay and 8% Pinot Noir. For years, the Bonville Rose was terrible, but after Olivier Bonville took over the company, he switched red wine sources (Bonville only grows Chardonnay) to Franck Bonville Brut RosePaul Dethune in Ambonnay. His rose is now one of our very best regardless of price and has excellent finesse from the top notch Chard and fantastic red fruit savor from the excellent Pinot. We also have a tiny amount of Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) which is 70% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir vinified white and 6% red Pinot Noir which is very interesting. The red wine comes from a tiny clos behind the winery that is so small they cannot get a tractor into it. Everything is done by hand in this garden plot, and the results are one of the most hauntingly elegant Champagne’s in our stock. We only have 22 left at the time of writing!

Laurent-Perrier 'Cuvee Rose' Brut RoseFull maceration rose Champagne is much rarer, and the Laurent-Perrier "Cuvée Rosé " Brut Rosé Champagne ($64.99) is the only example that we have from a big house. Getting all of the grapes ripe enough for a large production Champagne like this is challenging enough, but getting them all in with healthy skin is a feat. Since white Champagne is pressed very gently, a little bit of less than perfect grape skins is not a problem for production. Since Pinot Noir has thin skins that are prone to problems, and the Champagne region is quite humid, this fast, delicate pressing to make white wine is a savior for quality. Once you are making rose from maceration, the skins have to be perfect, and in order to Bruno Michel 'Les Roses' Brut Roseaccomplish this Laurent Perrier spends huge amounts of money on mid-slope, exclusively grand cru Pinot Noir for this wine. It is deep and savory, with more red wine flavor than any other big house Champagne except for Krug. My favorite maceration rose Champagne that we stock is the Bruno Michel "Les Roses" Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) which is also single vineyard. The “Les Roses” plot is in the village of Moussy, just south of Epernay and was planted in 1964, exclusively to the indigenous Meunier. After the maceration, Bruno barrel ferments this wine and it is the most vinous, savory, red Burgundy tasting Champagnes that I have ever had.

2007 Marguet Brut RoseThere are always exceptions to defined styles, and my favorite rose that we have in stock right now is just that. The 2007 Marguet Pere et Fils Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% extremely light red (or very dark rose). This combination of styles gives it a little of the best of both worlds- the savory depth of a full maceration wine is just underneath its extraordinarily elegant Chardonnay exterior!

Ageing rose Champagne magnifies the best features in the best wines, as well as the worst features in the poor performers. I have had many spectacular bottles of old Rose Champagne, the 1978 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Rose Champagne and the 1978 Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé Champagne a couple of the greatest, showing that sometimes a late harvest that doesn’t get wide declaration in white Champagne can make spectacular rose. The best I 1989 Veuve Clicquot 'Cave Privee' Brut Roseever had was the 1955 Rene Collard, which I had to literally dig for at his home in Reuil, with Benoit Tarlant lifting me out of the hole with the prize! This Champagne was almost red, and had huge Richebourg like power and richness. I can almost taste it now the finish was so long! The 1989 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privée" Brut Rosé Champagne ($239) is a great example of older rose that you can try now. This is dry, savory and very complex and makes a fantastic partner to plank salmon.

I hope you will have a rose toast soon.

– Gary

 

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