Calgary Wine Life: Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wine Dinner @ Elwood and the Rabbit

13 04 2018

By Dan Steeves

Chandon is a name that instantly makes me think of the luxurious Champagnes from the famous (and largest) Champagne house Moët & Chandon, but its North American offspring Domaine Chandon is not just a clone of its majestic parent company.  It has a vision to be different and create its own legacy by providing a pure expression of what California is all about, while at the same time maintaining the quality that is inherent in its French pedigree.

When Domaine Chandon was established in the Napa Valley in 1973 it was not the first international venture for Moët & Chandon (Chandon Argentina was established first in 1959, and California was succeeded by Brazil in 1973, Australia in 1986, China in 2013, and most recently India in 2014) but it was the first French-owned sparkling wine venture into the US, which now hosts operations from many of the large Champagne houses. Moët & Chandon recognized the potential of the area for sparkling wine production, especially Carneros, which at the time was seen as too cold and infertile to grow grapes (coming from Champagne, they knew it’d be perfect). Moët & Chandon purchased 400 acres of Carneros vineyard land for mere pennies on the dollar in today’s market. It was a humble California beginning for the M & C Winery on March 26, 1973, whose official address was John Wright’s garage, but within a few years the current winery facility was built and opened to the public and the house’s name was officially changed to Domaine Chandon. The 45th anniversary of Domaine Chandon just passed a few weeks ago with the winery holding firm as a longstanding powerhouse in Napa Valley, seeing over 200,000 visitors a year and likely holding the honour of being the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine in the US.

The line up of Domaine Chandon California wines available in Alberta –  Blanc de Noirs, Brut, and Rosé

Having visited the Moët & Chandon mothership in Épernay (the heart of Champagne) a couple years ago and being fan of all their Champagne wines, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to try the Chandon California wines alongside some delicious food from Bridgeland’s Elwood and the Rabbit. The dinner was hosted by Brian Fairleigh, the Brand and Wine Educator for Domaine Chandon, whose infectious passion for sparking wines is matched closely by a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of Domaine Chandon. Brian made it clear that comparing Moët & Chandon Champagne with Domaine Chandon is like comparing apples to oranges: the two are very different, although they share the same adherence to quality and excellence in the vineyard and cellars. Domaine Chandon aims to showcase the fun, vibrant, sunny California fruit flavours and builds wines that are accessible, enjoyable, and made for everyone to enjoy all year round. Many people only reserve sparkling wines for times of celebration, and although they are perfect for those times, they are equally as enjoyable for a casual sip with friends or an accompaniment to almost any meal. Brian was happy to show us some great pairings.Domaine Chandon Brut NV ($30-$35)

Before dinner, we were presented with a stunningly refreshing French 75 cocktail (gin or vodka mixed with sparkling wine, lemon, and a touch of sugar) made with the Chandon Brut. I must admit that I rarely indulge in cocktails, and my wine cocktails have been limited to Christmas morning or Stampede breakfast mimosas, but I see a good future for French 75s on the patio this summer (if the snow ever melts away). Refreshing is the name of the game and they are all too easy to enjoy. A great start to the evening!

Upon sitting down for our appetizer course, I was presented with another first: my first time ever drinking from a coupe glass. While rarely seen today, this shallow cup-like glass was the traditional glassware choice for Champagne up until the 1950s when the flute started to take over. While it is admittedly stylish and might make you feel like you’re on the set of Mad Men, it does have some drawbacks, the most notable of which is its inability to concentrate the aromas of the wine. Enough about the glass, though — let’s concentrate on the bubbles inside.

The Domaine Chandon Brut is crafted using a blend of the three main Champagne grapes: Chardonnay (~60%), Pinot Noir (~35%), and Pinot Meunier (~5%). The fruit is sourced from cool climate vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, which allows the winemaker more choice of fruit to establish the house style. As with all of the Domaine Chandon wines, it is made in the traditional method and the Brut is laid down to rest on the lees for approximately 12 months. The wine has abundant flavours of citrus (lemon and lime), green pear, and chalk, and is dry with crisp acidity and a medium finish. The wine was paired with Chili Yuzu Humboldt Squid with a beurre blanc sauce which went perfectly and demonstrated the wine’s ability to pair with (and stand up to) creamy seafood dishes.

87 points

A glass of Chandon Brut from a traditional champagne coupe – I’ll take a regular white wine glass next time, please.

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs NV ($30-$35)

Next on the menu was the Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, interestingly served out of a flute glass. The flute took over in popularity from the coupe not only for its ability to showcase the bubbles in a sparkling wine in their longer journey from the bottom of this tall thin glass to the surface, but also for its related ability to preserve these bubbles longer. This is an advantage when serving sparkling wine to groups, as you can pre-pour it without it losing its fizz (and you can also fit more flutes on a serving tray). The smaller opening of the glass also helps to concentrate the aromas, although many find it difficult to smell using a flute as the opening can be too small to really get your nose inside. Either way, its a step up from the coupe in my mind!

The Chandon Blanc de Noirs (white from black) is made from only red grapes, in this case Pinot Noir (~95%) and Pinot Meunier (~5%), with no skin contact so there is no colour transmission to the juice and a white wine is made. The wine sees slightly longer lees aging at 16-18 months, which helps contribute to a richer and rounder wine. The BdN gives off notes of grapefruit, blackberry, and cherry, and has a mineral component reminisicent of hot wet stones or wet pavement. There is vibrant acidity and fairly aggressive bubbles but the wine shows a smooth and full roundness in the mouth and has a dry medium length finish. Paired with a carrot salad consisting of a variety of sous vide maple carrots with a tangy tarragon yogurt sauce and a beet juice “potato chip”, it matched surprisingly well and was able cut through the rich yogurt without overpowering the dish.

88 points

Three wines, three glasses. From left to right: Chandon Brut in a coupe, Chandon Blanc de Noirs in a flute, and Chandon Rose in a white wine glass

Domaine Chandon Rosé NV ($30-$35)

Our final wine of the evening was the Chandon Rosé, which is a blend of Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%) that was served in a white wine glass (my typical go-to sparkling wine vessel). A white wine glass has a larger bowl that tapers in as it goes up to a smaller opening. This tapered shape allows for aromas to build and concentrate in the glass so the drinker can really get a sense of the wine and fully enjoy the aromatics when smelling or taking a sip, something that can be overlooked at times with sparkling wines but which can allow them to truly shine given their broader range of flavours. The Chandon Rosé sees ~12 months of lees aging is a great expression of California, with such an abundance of ripe fruit character. The wine shows bright fruit flavours of strawberry, cherry, mandarin orange, and watermelon Jolly Rancher candies, with a slight leafiness, brown spice, and metallic note around the edges. The crisp acidity balances well with a softer texture that has some weight to it and the wine finishes dry with a medium to long finish. This offering was a clear winner in the pairing category and went amazingly well with the main dish, which was a complex flavour explosion consisting of fried pork belly, homemade chicken sausage, homemade perogies, smoked tomato ragout, and fiddleheads. To show the versatility of the wine, it was also enjoyed with dessert, a coconut milk panna cotta with almond cake and macerated strawberries. What a great way to end an enjoyable evening.

88+ Points

Some of Elwood and the Rabbit’s finest. From top left – Humboldt Squid; Carrot Salad; Pork Belly with Chicken Sausage and Perogies; and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta

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