Inspired by Chelsea Flower Show, sustained by champagne

I am inspired by the magnificent displays of flowers and plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year in London and sustained by a memorable glass of Louis Roederer Brut champagne.

Not just roses catch my eye but hostas, dahlias, alliums and succulent plants all attract attention.   Thoughts turn to where I can squeeze in another plant in my garden;  what about that Restless Sea hosta?

We spend three plus hours at Chelsea, looking at the model gardens, enquiring about various plants in the Pavillion and admiring the garden sculptures in stone and wood.   Such creativity and talent on display.

We are impressed by the Royal Bank of Canada model garden, inspired by the Boreal forests of northern Canada.   RBC wins a gold again this year.

On a hot afternoon, a visit of several hours is the best way to enjoy Chelsea Flower Show in my view.   In previous years, I have attended for the whole day and my feet have not appreciated my efforts.

In the last half hour before closing, we find our way to the champagne tents where both Louis Roederer and Billecart Salmon champagne are on offer.  I enjoy both and have visited each of these champagne houses in France.  In 2014,   I wrote a series about champagne and associated visits, which are listed in my archives. Here are a couple of photos from the 2014 elizabethsvines archives:

Today, we choose the Louis Roederer Brut.   The classic, dry, biscuity, refreshing flavour with subtle bubbles is just what we need to celebrate another Chelsea visit.   I even forgot to take a photo…

 

 

Hot off the UK press: Canadian wine and French bubbly

Perusing the newspapers in London on Valentine’s Day weekend, I noticed two recommendations of wines I have written about in elizabethsvines.

Wine recommendations

UK Telegraph Magazine with Hamish Anderson’s wine recommendations

That certainly caught my attention.

Hamish Anderson, a wine writer known for his work as wine buyer for the collection of Tate Museum sites in the UK, publishes his tasting notes in the Food and Drink section of the Telegraph Magazine.

His three wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day included the Meyer Family 2014 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Bollinger Rosé Brut.

I like both these wines and have written about them in previous posts so I am pleased to read Mr Anderson’s comments.

It’s amazing the gems one finds casually glancing through the weekend papers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

elizabethsvines 2015 through the rear view mirror

 

We are in the in-between zone, that time between Christmas and the New Year: recovering from the wonderful festive time and not yet in the grip of New Year resolutions. Sometimes, these few days can provide an opportunity to catch up on outstanding items. For now, it’s a time for reflection.

This includes reflecting on elizabethsvines. I look back at my 10 published postings over the year. My aim is always to write about wine in the context of art, music, literature, science, recipes for cooking, history, restaurants and about wine as an expression of culture, as in the Confréries in France.

In 2015, my wine repertoire includes the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France, a specific British Columbia wine and references to particular South African wine, to Champagne, Port and hot punches (aka the Dickensian Smoking Bishop). It’s a personal focus.

Here are a few updates related to wine stories I have written about in 2015.

JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls in British Columbia has mentioned to me that their Pinot Noir is now available in 169 stores across the United Kingdom with Marks and Spencer, the food retailer. This is an exciting development for this British Columbia winery. Last February, I wrote about their wine in: “ From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wines from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair in one leap”.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance and Warre’s Port which I wrote about last January in “The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)”, were featured in the menu for the October 20th State Dinner at Buckingham Palace for the President of China, Xi Jinping. More specifically, the Palace menu includes Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 and Warre’s Vintage Port 1977.

In April, when I wrote, “Bergerac Wine Region – Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests”, I jokingly referred to Bertie Wooster of P G Wodehouse fame and his apparent love of “half bots” of wine and commented on a noticeable consumer interest in smaller bottles of wine. This consumer interest was brought home to me again the other day in a supermarket in Paphos, Cyprus when I saw on display a large selection of wine being sold in small wine bottles between 187 ml to 200 ml.

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests - Paphos , Cyprus

Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests – Paphos , Cyprus

I hope you have found the 2015 posts informative, interesting, perhaps entertaining. I am always interested to know.

In the spirit of Robbie Burns 1788 poem, Auld Lang Syne, let’s raise a cup of kindness.  Best wishes for 2016.

elizabethsvines

London calling with champagne and sparkle

A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations.   Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year.   My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:

Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The  Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour,  enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.

Royal Academy of Art - Ai Weiwei's man made forest installation

Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation

Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.

Ceremony at St James's Palace

Ceremony at St James’s Palace

Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century.   Another favourite haunt,  this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed  Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.

Berry Bros and Rudd - wine merchants in St James's since the 17th century

Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century

Berry Bros and Rudd - part of their own selection

Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection

In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings.    The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider.  While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or,  I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar:  delicious.   Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.

In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list,  I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.

I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.

After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area,  a post-jet lag treat seems in order.  What better than a glass of champagne.   I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites.  A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.

This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure.   The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference.    We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts:  characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing.  A champagne that really stands on its own.

As always, London calls, appealing to the senses.

 

References

Royal Academy     http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Berry Bros and Rudd   http://www.bbr.com

Zamabartas Wineries   http://www.zambartaswineries.com

Bollinger Champagne    www.champagne-bollinger.com

Chateau Thénac   http://www.chateau-thenac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 3 of 3

It’s our second day in the Champagne region and another sunny day.  In Reims, we arrive at the House of Roederer and pull up to the main gate, which slowly opens to let us into the parking area.    There to greet us is our guide for the visit, Martine.   Chic in black and white with natural elegance and a straight back that would have merited a Good Deportment Badge at my old school, Martine is the quintessential wine professional; knowledgeable, confident and attentive to her guests.

This style typifies our experience at the House of Roederer whose mantra is “Quest for Perfection”.   Originally established in 1776, it was renamed in 1833 and has built its strength from this 19 Century organization.  Roederer remains a private company under the leadership of Frédéric Rauzaud, the seventh generation of the Roederer family.

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

We are shown into the entrance hall, which immediately speaks to the illustrious, past and present of Roederer.   The bronze bust of Tsar Alexander 11 has pride of place.   He was the Tsar for whom Roederer created Cristal Champagne in 1876.   Already a fan of Roederer champagne, the Tsar requested a new champagne to be unique in style and bottle for his personal consumption only.  It is said the clear crystal bottle with a flat base was designed so that nothing could be hidden either within or underneath the bottle.   This was to forestall any assassination attempt on the Tsar.

Then we enter the spacious, pale wood paneled tasting room where the 19th and 20th century Royal Warrants of several devoted European royal families are displayed around the room.   There are other contemporary symbols of recognition and awards on display.  They all demonstrate the high esteem in which Roederer has been widely held over the centuries.

Tasting Room at Roederer

Tasting Room at Roederer

Martine guides us through a tasting of several Roederer champagnes.  She talks about each champagne and as she does so, in true connoisseur style, silently opens each bottle with a gentle twist of her wrist.  No popping of corks here.

Roederer champagnes are known for acidity and fruitiness, which together develop the refreshing citrus and biscuity characteristics with a subtle explosion of bubbles in the mouth.   An unsophisticated yet definite “Wow” exclamation was my response to those bubbles.  We particularly liked the Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Chardonnay) and a primarily Pinot Noir 2006 vintage from the Montagne de Reims vineyards.  We also enjoyed the non-vintage Brut Premier for its fresh style.

Cristal champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

Cristal Champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

For the finale, we tasted Cristal.   While all the champagnes we tasted were memorable, there was something special about Cristal, perhaps an added silkiness. Cristal is made from Pinot Noir (60%), Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from the seven finest vineyards on the estate and is only created in the best years. The vines for the grapes for Cristal have to be a minimum of twenty-five years old. The champagne is aged in the cellars at Roederer for six years and can be kept for many years before it is drunk.

We leave Roederer before lunch and drive on to the House of Bollinger, arriving at the imposing former home of the family and present day premises in Ay.  The House of Bollinger was established in 1829 and named for one of the founders, Jacques Bollinger.  There are currently three branches of the Bollinger family involved in managing the business.

House of Bollinger, Ay, Champagne, France

House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.

Bollinger has been a popular champagne in Great Britain for many decades and one third of their sales go to Britain.  The House has been providing champagne to the Royal Family since the time of Queen Victoria.  The Royal Warrant was granted in 1884 and it is said that it was Edward V11 who originally coined the phrase:  “…a bottle of Bolly”.  In addition to their royal connection, Bollinger is, of course, known in the world of film, for over four decades now, as James Bond’s favourite champagne. These long standing connections are a source of immense pride to the company.

Champagne Bollinger

Champagne Bollinger

Behind all the publicity and fun there is a deep respect for tradition at Bollinger, which has received the first award given to a champagne house for their efforts in preserving and handing on the best of the traditional techniques and heritage.  This is the Living Heritage Company award – EPV or Entreprise du Patrimonie Vivant.   At the same time, modernization and innovation have been encouraged.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bollinger with paired champagnes.  Lobster in a soup of tomatoes and zucchinis/courgettes, guinea fowl with truffles, cheese, followed by a warm apricot and peach fruit soup with apricot sorbet.  We started with Bollinger Rosé, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2004 and finally, Bollinger Special Cuvée. Bollinger’s style is distinctive for its full bodied toasty characteristics, possibly as a result of the higher percentage of Pinot (60%) typically blended in their champagnes.  Like all the Champagne Houses,  they have adapted to the   changing tastes of customers over the centuries;  from the sweeter style of the 19 Century to the current preference for dry (brut) champagne.

The pairings, needless to say, are excellent.  Bollinger recommends the Grande Année 2004 for duck breast, quail or quinea fowl. The Rosé is recommended for both seafood and fruit dishes.  Bollinger Special Cuvée, the third champagne we taste, is regarded by many connoisseurs as one of the finest of all French champagnes.

'007' and Bollinger

‘007’ and Bollinger

After this unforgettable lunch we are shown the extensive Bollinger cellars.  During this time we are reminded of Mme. Jacques Bollinger’s interview with the Daily Mail newspaper during a visit to London in 1961.  When asked: “When do you drink champagne?” she replied:

“ I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty”.

When it came to choosing champagne to drink on New Year’s Eve, we would have been delighted to enjoy a bottle from any of these Houses.   As it turned out, we selected Roederer Brut Premier.

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

We enjoyed that characteristic taste of medium acidity, lemony-citrus, biscuit/almond flavour and its refreshing style with soft yet pronounced bubbles, and savoured the moment.  We drank the champagne as an apéritif and paired it with smoked salmon on rye toast. The appetizer was prepared with toasted rye bread cut into slices and spread with cream cheese, and then topped with smoked salmon, capers, chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander), and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Sublime.

Our visit to the Champagne region and these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses has provided us with lasting memories. Our stories about the people and their pursuit of excellence, the historic places and delicious champagnes that we tasted will linger on.

References:    www.champagne-bollinger.com          www.louis-roederer.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger – Optimism in a Bottle Part 2 of 3

There’s a sense of excitement in the air as we start our drive last October through the vibrant green vineyards of the rolling Champagne countryside.   We are going to visit four of the Grande Marque Champagne Houses, see their premises, taste their champagnes and have the opportunity to feel the ambience of these historic businesses.  

Caravans of the grape pickers - Champagne

Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne

It’s harvest time and everywhere we see grape pickers at work. 

We arrive at Billecart-Salmon,  a medium sized Champagne House based in Mareuil sur Aÿ. 

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

  It was established in 1818 through the marriage of  Nicolas-François Billecart to Elizabeth Salmon and is carried on by their descendants.  I was first introduced to their champagne a year ago and enjoy the restrained, elegant style.   Billecart-Salmon are known particularly for their rosé champagne but offer the full range of styles.  

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

 At a tasting lunch, we experience their different champagnes with a corresponding range of savoury and sweet bouchées (bite sized offerings) from smoked salmon to chocolate, all elegantly presented in ‘silver-service’ style.   We are impressed by their gracious hospitality and their pleasure in providing a full tasting and pairing experience.  

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

   We visit the cellars where we are interested to see the chalk board listing the different plot harvests. The magic of the grape growing areas come to mind as we read Chardonnay from Cramant, Mesnil, Chouilly;  Pinot Noir from Äy, Le Clos Hilaire, Verzenay,  Mareuil sur Äy. 

We also meet some of the younger generation of staff being groomed for senior positions and it is encouraging to see this kind of organizational development in place.

Krug premises in Reims

Krug premises in Reims

We continue our drive through the vineyards towards Reims, the famous Gothic Cathedral town and important hub of the Champagne industry. Our second visit is to Krug at their establishment in Reims.

Established in 1843, Joseph Krug, founder,  watches solemnly over the  present day proceedings from his centrally positioned portrait in the main Salon.    Krug has its own allure and dedicated client following supported by the marketing arm of the LVMH, Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, purveyors of luxury goods.    Krug aficionados are invited to “share your unforgettable experiences at kruglovers.com.’

Joseph Krug and his famous notebook

Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook

At Krug, the extraordinary attention which is paid by all the great Champagne Houses to sampling, assessing and recording the year’s wines is emphasized to the extent that  we understand the skill, expertise and patience that is in every top quality Champagne.     At Krug itself,  they sample and assess the year’s wines from nearly 250 plots.   They also taste again 150 reserve wines from previous years.    Each year over 5000 tasting notes are collected and recorded.      This work of the Cellar Master, with Olivier Krug – who we had the opportunity to meet – and other members of their Tasting Committee sets the stage for the blend of wines for the year’s Non Vintage Champagne.  We visit their cellars and see the large number of individual vats for the fermentation of wine from the individual plots, secure within a special space in the cellars.  This is before we taste their formidable suite of champagnes.

Krug - individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

By the end of the day our minds are buzzing with the experience of it all: the countryside, the people we met and their stories, the  exhilarating taste of a number of champagne styles, the sights and sounds of the Champagne Region.

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

More than anything it’s the sense of being there, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the Champagne heritage.    It’s been a great day.

Fast forward to January, 2014 and France’s culture ministry has proposed the vineyards, houses and cellars of Champagne for world heritage status (UNESCO) along with those of Burgundy.   The proposal will go before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2015.   If approved, they will join Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux) representatives of French winemaking on the UN body’s list.  We applaud this proposed recognition of talent and tradition.

 In Optimism in a Bottle post 3 of 3,  I describe our visit to Roederer and Bollinger.

Reference:   Champagne Billecart-Salmon: http://www.champagne-billecart.fr

Champagne Krug:    www.krug.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Four Grande Marque Champagne Houses: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

Champagne – the great celebratory sparkling wine.    For me, it’s optimism in a bottle;  an immediate feel-good emotion.

A recent trip last October to the Champagne region of NE France about 130 kms from Paris was an experience in geography, history, tradition, science and an exploration of champagne style and tastes.

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Eperney

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Epernay

While drinking champagne epitomizes fun and frivolity and the marketing is conducted with great hyperbole and lyrical language, the wine making production behind this façade is serious, detailed, patient, professional and exacting.     As they say at Billecart-Salmon:  “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence.”

In each of these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses  of Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer and Bollinger, we were impressed by the infinite attention to quality and detail.   This was particularly evident in the precise knowledge of hundreds of individual small plots of vines throughout this most northerly wine region of France.     It is the nuances of soil composition, orientation to the sun, topography and other details which singularly or together create the subtle differences in the wine from each plot which is so important in the essential blending process to make top quality champagne.

The Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controllée (AOC) designation governs all aspects of the production of champagne from planting to labeling and production in the Champagne delineated area of over 35,000 hectares.    Only sparkling wine produced in this area can be called champagne and the Champagne Houses are relentless in their protection of this name.

Three main grape varieties are permitted in champagne making:  Chardonnay,  Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Generally, champagne is white although most Houses create a rosé.    There are exceptions to the standard approach:  Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The four most important wine growing areas are Montaigne de Reims (mainly black grapes) ,  Côte des Blancs (mainly Chardonnay),  Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Bur .  These areas are outlined on the Wine Spectator map included.   It identifies the “heart of Champagne” around Epernay and Reims, however, there is a Champagne area further to the south which is not visible on the map.

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

So where do the champagne bubbles come from?   The quick answer is that they are made through a natural process in the bottle. The Champagne AOC requires that the traditional method of champagne production is used which requires both the mandatory secondary fermentation in the bottle and minimum periods of maturation on the lees (dead yeast molecules) of 15 months for non vintage champagne and 3 years for vintage.  The top Champagne Houses allow for much longer maturation periods – 10 years is not unusual – to create their signature styles.

Champagne is made in several complex steps which I won’t attempt to elaborate.  Some key elements only are referred to below.  Each Champagne House uses their own specific approaches to create their Champagne House signature style and flavour.   An important fact to note is that the grapes are harvested according to the plot where they are grown and the still wine produced from each plot is kept separate until the blending stage.   This means that the nuances from the individual plots are retained.

This individuality is important in the detailed and exacting process of sampling and assessing the still wine from each of hundreds of plots.   In non-vintage wine where consistency across years is the objective, the chosen individual wines are blended together with reserved wines from previous years to create the assemblage (blend) for that year.

The reputation of each Champagne House rests significantly on this sampling, assessing and blending of different wines.   It’s the alchemy of champagne making and the responsibility of the cellar master and the blending committee.   It is after bottling and with the addition of a liqueur de tirage  ( including sugars and yeast nutrients) that the bubbles are made during the secondary fermentation.

The mystery and sophistication of champagne has been carefully nurtured over time.   The four Champagne Houses we visited were founded in the 19th century although Roederer has its origins in the 18th C.   Apart from Krug which is part of the LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, the Houses are independent and have passed from generation to generation.   Even at Krug, Olivier Krug, 6th generation of the Krug family is still actively involved in the business.

Reims Cathedral - the west portal with rose window and tympanum

Reims Cathedral – the west portal with rose window and tympanum

The Champagne region is steeped in history.     Much of the area was significantly affected by World War 1.  Half the Louis Roederer vineyards were destroyed in that war.  During that period the Bollinger cellars were used as a hospital, courtesy of Mme. Bollinger.    The history of Reims, a major hub in the Champagne industry goes back to the Roman times.   For more than one thousand years the sovereigns of the Franks and then France came to the Cathedral or its predecessor to be crowned (816 – 1825).     Keeping pace with more modern times, the great Gothic Cathedral is home to stained glass designed by Marc Chagall and installed in 1974.

With only time for a brief visit, we walked from the bright October afternoon sunshine into the shadowy, chiaroscuro atmosphere of Reims Cathedral.   Our footsteps sounded heavy as we walked up the aisle admiring the vaulting and the brilliance of blue and red shafts of light from the stained glass.    Before leaving this inspiring place we followed our usual practice of lighting a wax taper, casting our own pencil of light into the shadows.

In the Part 2 of 3,  I will write about our visit the same day to Billecart-Salmon and Krug.

References:  With thanks to Wine Spectator for the map of the Heart of Champagne