Monday, May 31, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Debate a Bubble - Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Posted: 31 May 2010 12:59 AM PDT

Unless you've been living on Mars for the past couple of years, it won't come as a surprise to know that world finances have been in a bit of a mess. We've been living in what the old Chinese proverb euphemistically calls 'exciting times'.

Absolument Brut But what one person sees as a problem is an opportunity for another and this is very much true in Champagne.

After experiencing over 30 years of uninterrupted growth, sales of champagne decreased in 2008 compared to the previous year. The same happened in 2009, but when you look at the figures more closely you find something interesting.

True, the sales of the well-known international brands have slumped and they represent a very large part of the entire market, but on the other hand, sales by the many hundreds of small champagnes – sometimes called grower champagnes - have increased. Why is this?

Well, for one thing the smaller brands are usually less expensive than the famous ones and so, if you have a budget to stick to – and  who doesn't ? - these less expensive brands have tempted more customers.

 Some people would say that they're cheaper because they are not such good quality. This may be true in a few instances, but there are more and more small and medium-sized champagne makers who are producing quality that is every bit as good as the brands you are more familiar with.

What this means is that the smaller growers offer you great quality and more approachable prices and when you put these together you get terrific value for money.

There's another thing however that makes the smaller champagne makers attractive and that's the fact that the best of them are being very innovative in what they do and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the move towards champagne to which very little extra sugar has been added.

These are called low dosage champagnes, dosage being the French word for the process of adding the extra sugar.

Let me explain....

By the time champagne has finished the fermentation process, it is bone dry; all the sugar that was in it has been used up to produce alcohol.

At this stage champagne is so dry that it was assumed that few people would actually enjoy it – at least that is the traditional point of view – so a little sugar was added to make it more appealing to the average person's palate. 

Somewhere around 95 % of all champagne that is made falls into the category of sweetness called Brut – not too dry and not too sweet. In technical terms Brut has between 6 and 14 grams of sugar added per litre of champagne

Now, one of the claims to fame made by all the big brands is that their champagnes are of a consistent taste and quality year in, year out. This can be good news for the consumers, but the downside is that it's very hard for the big brands to change their style of champagne without confusing, and perhaps losing, their loyal customers and that includes making any changes to the amount of sugar added.

The smaller makers don't have such a huge following so they are free to experiment and more and more of them are making champagne with little or no added sugar.

Dosage chart You can recognise these champagnes from the words Zero Dosage, Brut Nature, or Extra Brut. that you'll find on the label.

 These all have less than 6 grams of added sugar per litre and, judging from the sales figures, lots of people enjoy what they are tasting.

If you're already saying to yourself "Oh, that would be too dry for me" or "That's not what I like at all", keep an open mind for just a while.

The most skilful of the smaller champagne makers produce champagnes that don't come across as too dry at all, despite having little, or no, added sugar in them.

These people have good business brains as well as being good champagne makers and they know that they can't offer the public something that is just too dry to enjoy. In fact the best of them make well balanced champagnes with lots of flavour and a softness in the mouth that more than compensates for the lack of sugar. Sure, there's a crisp, clean taste to them, but nothing too extreme.

Perhaps the main  attraction of these low dosage champagnes is that they allow the makers to express much more clearly the local differences between one champagne and another, one grape and another and even between one plot of vineyard and another because these subtle nuances are not masked by too much sugar.

Getting to know these champagnes is like a guided tour round the entire Champagne region whereas the big brands offer you a reliable, but more standardised experience.

Rosé Zero There are so many of the great little champagnes  to choose from that it's almost unfair to mention just a few, but some worth trying are, Tarlant, Penet-Chardonnet, Francis Boulard, Agrapart, Pascal Doquet, Corbon and Arnaud Margaine, but these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The real proof of the pudding is to try some of them for yourself. I think you'll enjoy the experience.

Champagne Labels - Inside out by Louis de Sacy

Posted: 30 May 2010 06:12 AM PDT

The champagne industry has been around a long time. The oldest champagne house of them all is Ruinart, founded in 1729 and there are several other houses that have been in business for over two hundred years. 

Louis de Sacy exterior It's not surprising then that the world of champagne is steeped in traditional, so much so in fact that it's sometimes criticised for being too set in its ways and too slow to  innovate the way some other wine regions have.

 Still, this is not a criticism that can be levelled at Louis de Sacy which has come up with a new label design that turns a lot of pre-conceived notions on their head - or I should say, inside out.

Louis de Sacy is a medium sized champagne maker based in the Grand Cru village of Verzy, which is where I live.

It's not short of a bit of history itself and the family roots in Champagne go back to 1633, although they weren't champagne makers back then.

It's not a brand that's shy about putting itself forward either and it has painted a huge sign on the side of its office that can be seen from way across the vineyards. Loius de Sacy from across the vineyard October 2009 Some of the locals find this a bit vulgar but, I suspect that the people at Louis de Sacy aren't too bothered about that and just get on with it - they just do their own thing.

In fact that's exactly what they've done with a new rosé champagne called Cuvée Nue or Naked Cuvée.

I guess the people who objected to the big sign will raise their eyebrows even more about Cuvée Nue, but not because of the name so much as the label - you see there isn't one, at least not in the usual sense of the term.

Cuvée Nue Back Label

Take a look first at the back label.

Nothing unusual there really - the usual blurb, but not a great deal more.

The intriguing thing though is that when you turn the bottle round you see that what you usually expect to see on the front label is in fact printed on the inside of the back label so that's it's visible through the transparent bottle.

This is certainly a novel gimmick but I'm not convinced that it really works.

Reading the 'front' ( I suppose that's what you should call it although it's part of the back label), is not easy and not very clear.

Cuvée Nue


In fact a lot of the statutory text has been put on the collar, presumably so you can actually read it.  Cuvée Nue3

Whether you like this innovation or not, it sort of overshadows something else about this rosé that's potentially much more interesting.

The real reason for the name Cuvée Nue is that there is no dosage, that's to say no added sugar.

This is very unusual for a rosé which people usually drink for the rich red fruit flavours which often give the sensation of being slightly sweet, so an absolutely bone dry rosé is definitely an innovation.

The minimalist bottle and label design was intended to compliment the fact that the champagne is, if you like, naked, no added sugar leaving nothing but the champagne to speak for itself.

So what's the verdict on Cuvée Nue ?

I give it 10 out of 10 for innovation, but only 8 out of 10 for the design itself. For me it's just too difficult to read.

As for the champagne itself, again I found the bone dry rosé too astringent to sit happily on my tongue and I felt that it lacked a balancing softness in the mouth which I always look for.

If the idea of a brut zero rosé sounds tempting to you then I'd suggest Tarlant about which I'll be writing in a short while, so... watch this space.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Champagne and Seafood - How To Put On A Very Special Dinner

Debate a Bubble - Champagne and Seafood - How To Put On A Very Special Dinner

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Champagne and Seafood - How To Put On A Very Special Dinner

Posted: 26 May 2010 01:13 PM PDT

Menu from Le BocalIf you've ever fancied bringing some champagne style to your dinner table, here's a post that will show you how to put on a very special dinner that's not hugely complicated and that will really give your foodie friends something to talk about

It was last Wednesday evening that I was invited to go along to a special champagne and seafood dinner in Reims.

We parked outside what looked like just a fishmonger's shop - a pretty impressive one it has to be said, but just a shop nevertheless.

Little did I realise that behind the scenes is a small 30 seater restaurant that I imagine is a mecca for lovers of fish.

It's called Le Bocal and the owner (in her spare time??) is in charge of the kitchen at Laurent Perrier's hospitality mansion Le Château de Louvois, so she knows a bit about cooking

But tonight it was simple meal.

The theme was to taste and compare 3 mono cepages champagnes with a variety of seafoods.

What does mono cepage mean? Well, these are champagne made with just one grape variety instead of being a blend of different grapes, so with mono cepage  you have a true impression of each grape variety's characteristics. So there was a Blanc de Blancs( 100% Chardonnay ) and two Blanc de Noirs, one a 100% Pinot Noir and the other 100% Pinot Meunier.

Of course there was another champagne for the aperitif - we're in Champagne after all - and this was a classic blend of all three grapes.

It was Cuvée Brut Réserve from Bérèche

Premier Cru from Ludes, Ormes and Mareuil Le Port, this is a blend of equal parts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with 9 gr/litre dosage and at least 2 years ageing.

I have to say it was a little disappointing. Lacking in depth and body for me.

When we sat down to eat all the champagnes were served blind so it wasn't until later that we found out exactly who had made them and which was which - that was the challenge for the evening: to identify the champagnes and see how they matched up with the food - and gorgeous food it was too.

A dozen bio-dynamically raised crevettes from Madagascar of all places - apparently the world's most sought-after source.

Seafood Platter Two very generous strips of Red Label smoked salmon from Scotland. The thickness and texture were amazing and there was an amazingly bold  smokiness to them.

Red Label is the topmost quality category and is a far cry from ordinary scotch salmon. The Scots went to great lengths to meet the rigorous standards needed to obtain the Red Label tag and much of the production now finds its way to France

Last but not least, home made taramasalata made with cod eggs and cream and no colouring at all.

You needn't go to quite these extremes at home to put on a great meal, but if you're going to serve good champagnes, they deserve good food to accompany them.

Talking of the champagnes, we enjoyed:

Cuvée Carte d'Or Blanc de Blancs from Champagne Doyard Mahé in Vertus3 mono cru

Cuvée Réserve from Champagne Trudon (100% Meunier- sometimes called a blanc de meuniers)

Blanc de Noirs from Champagne Patrick Soutiran in Ambonnay (100% Pinot Noir)

Personally Ithought the Trudon was the best match across the board with the various dishes.

The Pinot Noir from Patrick Soutiran was just too heavy with fish and the Blancs de Blancs was pleasant without being outstanding

I was in a minority though and most people felt that the Blanc de Blancs took the honours

So here's the thing. Why not do the same thing at home with 6 or 8 friends?

The food is relatively simple to prepare, the champagnes made need a bit of tracking down, particularly the 100% Meunier, but you don't have to use the same brands as we did as long as you get one champagne of each style.

Serve the food with simple fresh bread, then sit back, taste, sip and chat.

Notice the  different shades of colour across the different champagnes, then look for different aromas and tastes

I bet you'll have a lot of fun and learn quite a bit into the bargain

Let me know how you get on

Friday, May 21, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Visiting Champagne - Hautvillers and Dom Pérignon

Debate a Bubble - Visiting Champagne - Hautvillers and Dom Pérignon

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Visiting Champagne - Hautvillers and Dom Pérignon

Posted: 21 May 2010 03:36 AM PDT

If you ever visit Champagne you'll quickly discover that there are hundreds of villages where champagne is made, 323 of them in fact, at least that's the number I've been told.

With all these to choose from how do you decide which to visit?

From village to Abbey October 2009 Well, there's one that you really shouldn't miss out and that's Hautvillers; not only is it a pretty village with a stupendous view, it also has a special place in the history of champagne because the abbey of Hautvillers, is where Dom Pérignon lived and worked

If you're a champagne lover you will have heard of Dom Pérignon. Lots has been written about him and what he did, but for now let's just focus on the village and the abbey.

The history of the Abbey of Hautvillers stretches back over 1300 years to its foundation some time around 650 A.D. by Bishop Nivard of Reims, grandson of King Clotaire II and nephew of another king called Dagobert – no need to remember them because they're hardly household names these days.

Now we'll skip forward about a thousand years during which the fortunes of the abbey ebbed and flowed many times. On at least four occasions the abbey was sacked and burned by invading armies only to be built and restored, on one occasion thanks to the financial help of no less than Catherine de Medici - talk about having friends in high places!

In 1668 a young Benectine monk named Pierre Pérignon was put in charge of the day to day running of the abbey.

Born into a staunchly middle class family, this 29 year-old was to guide the material fortunes of the abbey for the next 47 years until his death in 1715.

During the time of Dom Pérignon the abbey and especially the traditions of wine-growing and Up the steps to the Abbey wine-making which were a fundamental part of life at the abbey as well as in the surrounding region, developed and prospered out of all recognition.

Then in 1791 in the turmoil of the French Revolution, the abbey was dissolved and its goods and possessions scattered far and wide.

It was not until 1823 that the fortunes of the abbey took a turn for the better when Pierre-Gabriel  Chandon de Brialles, son-in-law of Jean-Remy Moët, resolved to restore the famous abbey.

Thanks to Pierre-Gabriel and his descendants the abbey flourished yet again and was turned into a text-book model of good agricultural practice

History intervened yet again in the 20th century when, just as they had done in times gone by, invading armies marched across the plains of Champagne and the region was ravaged by battles once more.

Although the abbey seems to have escaped damage in the First World War, it was badly damaged during the Second World War and in 1941 the abbey and the estate were sold to Moët & Chandon who them it to this day.

Church in Hautvillers October 2009 When you visit Hautvillers you'll find that the abbey is not open to the public – it's used by Moët & Chandon for private visits, but you can visit the church next door and see the plaque in the floor that marks Dom Pérignon's resting place.

Hautvillers has got to be one of the prettiest vilages in Champagne. It's perched on a hillside overlooking Epernay and the Marne River below and it's a superb view point.

Added to this the local champagne makers have made a real effort to decorate their homes with wrought irons signs above the doors.

There are a few (not many) shops and a café plus a restaurant. Last time I was in Hautvillers the café was closed and the restaurant left a little to be desired, but maybe this is splitting hairs.

The point is that Hautvillers should definitely be on your list of places in to visit Champagne.

To finish off here are a few more pictures to whet your appetite

Boulangerie Hautvillers October 2009 Towards Epernay from Hautvillers October 2009 Vigneron sign October 2009

Café d'Hautvillers October 2009   Antique shop Hautvillers October 2009

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Champagne Glasses - Choose Your Weapons

Debate a Bubble - Champagne Glasses - Choose Your Weapons

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Champagne Glasses - Choose Your Weapons

Posted: 13 May 2010 12:25 AM PDT

Have you ever seen any of those black and white films set in the Victorian era when men would sometimes challenge each other to a duel to defend their honour?  Before the duel could start the essential thing was to choose the weapons: would it be swords, pistols or some other device? The choice of weapon made all the difference

When it comes to enjoying champagne, it's the glasses that make all the difference and although the stakes are not quite so high it's important to make the right choice for you. So what are those choices and why does it matter?...

Flutes selection Broadly speaking you have two choices. You can:

•    Go for something that you find beautiful, or
•    Choose a glass that will bring out the best in the champagne.

Sometimes you can achieve both objectives with the same glass, but not always.
Here are some suggestions:

A good glass really does change your experience of the champagne, so treat yourself to some thing of decent quality. What do I mean by that?

Well, champagne glasses should be fine and elegant. Above all the glass shouldn't be too thick.

Think of it this way: it's like drinking tea. You can enjoy tea from a fine bone china tea cup or from a porcelain mug, but the choice of cup or mug gives a different experience.
Short flute

The worst things are those thick, dumpy flutes that you sometimes get in hotels and  at large functions. (right)

They simply don't bring out anything in the champagne and certainly not its best.

This is a pity because caterers should know better and you can be sure they won't offer you any reduction in the price to compensate for using awful glasses!

Light, not too heavy when you pick the glass up.
Champagne is a light, bubbly drink that lifts the spirits and the glass should complement this.

Personally I find cut lead crystal glass too heavy. For me, the lighter the better, almost as if the glass doesn't exist.Too fussy flutes

(the glasses on the right are too fussy, in my view) 

Fairly tall with a long stem.
The stem is for holding so make sure there is something to get your hand around. A tall glass is also more elegant, as befits champagne

Not too narrow
To releaToo narrow flutese the aromas in any wine you need to swirl the wine around a bit in the glass, so don't choose anything that's too narrow, or you just can't get any movement in the wine.
 (see left)

The right shapeCIVC IGSC cover page

Equally the top of the glass should ideally turn in slightly so as to concentrate the aromas towards your nose when you drink. Glasses that splay out at the top allow the aromas to dissipate, (see right). 

The history of the champagne glass 

If you go back a few hundred years, champagne makers hadn't worked out how to remove the sediment from the bottle, so champagne was cloudy and slightly muddy-looking. To disguise this, the surface of the some champagne glasses, especially the tall and slim ones, was often left deliberately rough and semi-opaque. This was called a barley grain effect.

Another trick was to have hollow stems to the glasses so that the sediment sank down into the stem leaving the rest of the liquid fairly clear.

Then around the start of the 19th century, Veuve Clicquot, so the story goes, invented the process of remuage or riddling to remove the sediment, so the problem of murky champagne was solved, allowing totally transparent glasses to be used.

Sometime later in the 19th century and right through into the 20th century, the saucer-shaped glass called a coupe came back into fashion again, only to be superseded from about the 1970s onwards by the tall, slim glass that we call a flute.

Flute versus coupe

2 flutes Ch de Courcelles site  Flute is the word used to describe the tall, narrow, tulip-shaped style of champagne glass whereas coupe is the term for the shallow, saucer-shaped glass.

The flute has several advantages if you really want to appreciate the champagne you're drinking.

First you can see the stream of bubbles rising up the length of the glass and the bubbles, after all, are one of the main pleasures of champagne.

Second and more important, the tall, narrow shape focuses the aromas so that when you raise the glass to drink you can also smell and enjoy the full concentration of the aromas.

For this reason the most effective flutes curve slightly inwards at the top (like the shape of a tulip - see left), whilst those that open out at the top (like the shape of a lily) allow some of the aromas to escape.

Coupe glasses can be a lot of fun. For me they evoke images of decadent cocktail parties in the 1920s Cocktail with people doing the Charleston, but they go back a lot further than that because legend has it that the shape was modelled on Marie Antoinette's breasts.

I think coupes are great for serving champagne cocktails, but equally some people can't get the less flattering connection with the 60's drink Babycham, out of their minds.

The main drawback of the coupe is that the aromas of the champagne dissipate rapidly and you simply don't get the concentration of aromas that you can appreciate with a flute.

Another story you often hear about coupe glasses is that the bubbles disappear more quickly than in a flute. This is another old wives' tale which for all intents and purposes is of no practical value.

The bubbles in champagne just don't disappear in a few minutes, even in a coupe glass – it takes an hour or much more for champagne to lose its sparkle.

I don't know how long it takes you to finish a glass of champagne, but in my case it's a matter of minutes, not hours, so I shouldn't pay much attention to this particular myth about coupe glasses.

Remember, if you are at all interested in enjoying good champagne, then do get yourself some good champagne glasses.