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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 (37)

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

 

Friday
Feb222013

Champagne Friday: Dosage

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Dosage or: Why do they call sweet Champagne dry?

When it comes to selecting a dry or sweet Champagne, the labeling is very confusing. This is because of a historical demand for drier and drier styles over the past two hundred years. When sparkling Champagne was first introduced, it was very, very sweet. That style is now called doux and is extremely rare, with over 50 grams per liter of sugar. While we currently do not have any doux at K&L (demand is almost non-existent today) we did carry an excellent one, the 1995 Fleury Doux Champagne a number of years ago, and poured it at the inaugural tent tastings.

Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Champagne In the 1800s, demand for drier Champagne increased. The Champenoise obliged by introducing demi-sec, or half-dry, which is still quite sweet but not as sweet as doux, with 35-50 grams of sugar per liter. Demand today is weak for sweet Champagne in this style, but we do carry a few, including the Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec ($49.99), the Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime ($39.99), and the Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial ($49.99).

Michel Loriot "Marie-Leopold" Sec Champagne Demand for even drier styles continued, so sec (dry) Champagne was introduced, but it is important to note that this style is still pretty sweet, just less than demi-sec at 17-35 grams of sugar per liter. I can hardly think of an instance of more confusing terminology in the world of wine. It is labeled dry, but it is a sweet style. While many Champenoise are of the opinion that sweet Champagnes are only produced today, as one producer who will remain annonomus once remarked, “for old people to drink with cake," we do have one of the few exceptions in stock. The Michel Loriot “Cuvee Marie-Leopold” Sec ($34.99) is a not just serious Champagne, but in my opinion one of the finest values to be found in all of Champagne. It was created by Michel for the 100th anniversary of his house. It gets a full four years of aging on the lees and 20 grams per liter of a specially made dosage using pure cane sugar is added to it at disgorgement. If you think you sweeter Champagne is not for you, this could very well change your mind. It comes with my highest recommendation.

Louis Roederer "Carte Blanche" Extra Dry Champagne Moving on to the 20th century, demand for still drier Champagne continued, but the Champenois were running out of words! So they introduced extra sec, or extra dry, which is gently sweet, but at 12-20 grams per liter of sugar still sweeter than brut. The most famous wine in this style is the now discontinued Moet & Chandon White Star, which we still get requests for all the time. We carry the very well balanced and extraordinarily well-made Louis Roederer “Carte Blanche” Extra Dry ($44.99) as a representative of this style. This wine, like the Loriot above is blended specially for the slightly higher dosage and is an excellent partner to paté at the start of the meal or macaroons at the end of it.

In the teens Perrier Jouet premiered brut (they could hardly call it 'extra extra dry'!) for their customers desiring even drier Champagne. Currently the law states that brut Champagne must be dosed at less than 12 grams per liter of sugar. It amuses me that the producers in Champagne simply ran out of vocabulary to describe what has become the dominant style for the region. Out of the 224 Champagnes we have in stock at K&L at the time of writing this post, 204 of them are brut!

Marguet "Valentine Brut Nature" Champagne is only $29.99 with Wine Club Discount!Bringing us up to the present in the 21st century, many sommeliers and Champagne fans are looking for even more precision in their wines. Thus, More and more extra brut is being produced today, an austerely dry style at 0 to 6 grams of sugar per liter. To give you a sense of current demand, these wines account for more than five times the sales of any other category besides brut at K&L. They make excellent partners to seafood, especially sushi. If the wine has less than 3 grams per liter of residual sugar, and no extra dosage has been added, they may also call the Champagne brut nature, pas dose, or dosage zero. My current favorite in this style is the Marguet “Valentine Brut Nature” ($34.99) which has just 1 gram of residual sugar per liter. Pick up some sushi to go and enjoy this bright, zippy wine with it!

I would like to thank Eric de Brissis of Champagne Baron Fuente for helping me out with the current rules for dosage, as they just recently changed. Also keep in mind that the European Union gives the producers three grams per liter of leeway for residual (not added!) sugar. Some producers say that this is far to loose of a range, especially since it would be hard to test for.

Here is the CIVC’s official chart on the dosage of Champagne:

Doux- 50 grams per liter of sugar or more

Demi-Sec- between 32 and 50 grams per liter of sugar

Sec (Dry)- between 17 and 32 grams per liter of sugar

Extra Dry- between 12 and 17 grams per liter of sugar

Brut- less than 12 grams per liter of sugar

Extra Brut- between 0 and 6 grams per liter of sugar

 

A toast to you!

-Gary

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