Calgary Wine Life: Veuve Clicquot Release Tasting @ Yellow Door Bistro

23 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch and Raymond Lamontagne

Sometimes the best times to celebrate are the times when there is nothing obvious to celebrate.  It’s a dreary weekday in late March in still-snowy Calgary, but Champagne lifts all spirits and makes all occasions special, and this was no exception.  The eponymous yellow door of the Yellow Door Bistro at Hotel Arts perfectly foreshadowed the array of yellow labels awaiting us inside, including the brand new release from Champagne’s powerhouse (and power-house) Veuve Clicquot.  Winemaker Bertrand Varoquier expertly guided us through a series of Veuve releases, not least of which was the winery’s latest concoction, the Extra Brut Extra Old NV, soon to be available on retail shelves across Calgary.

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Veuve Clicquot is one of the oldest houses in Champagne, founded in 1772 by banker Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, who was then proceeded at the winery by his son Francois.  When Francois suddenly died young in 1805, his widow Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin stepped forward to take over the reins and run the business, a daring decision for a 27 year-old woman in early 19th century France.  The young widow (or veuve, in French) persevered, and her strong vision and fierce entrepreneurial spirit took the winery to new heights, leading to some significant innovations in tradition-laden Champagne.  Madame Clicquot was the first to create a rosé Champagne made from 100% wine (previous renditions of pink Champagne were created by mixing white wine with elderberry juice).  She is also credited with creating the riddling process that allows the dead yeast cells from Champagne’s in-bottle secondary fermentation to slip down into the neck of the bottle so that they can be frozen and disgorged, to keep the finished wine from being cloudy; before this, Champagne was served hazy and decanted to let the leesy sludge settle before pouring.  Clicquot-Ponsardin contributed so much to the region over her lifetime that she was nicknamed “La Grande Dame” of Champagne, a name that since 1872 has also been used for the house’s prestige cuvée.  Her impact on the winery was so significant that the entire brand was renamed in her honour.

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Bertrand Varoquier is a native son of Champagne, born in the heart of the region in the town of Reims; as he puts it, “my blood is bubbly”.  For the past six years of his extensive 18-year wine career, he has been at Veuve Clicquot, where he is currently responsible for all red wine vinification.  Due to the house’s production size, and in order to ensure that its winemaking happens as close as possible to the vineyards where the grapes are harvested, the red grapes that go into Veuve’s cuvées (primarily Pinot Noir, which is at the core of Veuve Clicquot’s identity) are processed and vinified in their own standalone facility in Buzy.  Each discrete parcel of each red vineyard is vinified separately, and after alcoholic fermentation is complete and scores of still wines are created (some with very limited colour due to restricted skin contact, some fully red for use in rosé Champagne creation, all produced solely for future blending), the lots are sent to Veuve HQ in Reims for malolactic fermentation and blending.

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Bertrand Varoquier, winemaker at Veuve Clicquot

Unlike almost any other top wine region in the world, which tends to glorify single-vineyard and single-vintage expressions of time and place, Champagne’s focus is on achieving and maintaining each house’s unique signature style with precision and consistency, year in and year out.  The mammoth challenge of this task is almost unquantifiable, but this will give you a sense of it.  In addition to his winemaking duties, Bertrand is on the Veuve Clicquot tasting committee along with Cellar Master Dominique Demarville and others.  Every year, from the start of November until the start of March, the committee tastes 24 different sample lots of still wines PER DAY out of the roughly 1,200 (!!!) already-vinified non-bubbly base wines aging in full stainless steel tanks in Veuve’s cellars in order to determine which wines will be used to populate each of the house’s different Champagne releases.  These base wines are from the present year’s harvest plus nearly twenty prior vintages, and all are ultimately rolled into a multi-vintage, multi-source patchwork tapestry that the Cellar Master weaves into the emblem of Veuve Clicquot, so that the buying public gets the taste experience they expect out of every single Veuve Champagne, regardless of the year in which they buy it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Moet & Chandon Winemaker Tasting @ Ruth’s Chris

24 03 2017

As it turns out, there is no inopportune time for Champagne.  Although the bubbly beverage has built its brand on being the drink of choice for special occasions and other times of celebration, it turns out that it’s equally nice to kick back with a glass of fine bubbles on an otherwise-normal Thursday afternoon.  It’s even better to kick back with six of them, which is what I was fortunate enough to do when Moet & Chandon winemaker Amine Ghanem came to town to lead an attentive and appreciative group through a good portion of the Champagne powerhouse’s portfolio.

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Amine Ghanem, Moet & Chandon.

Ghanem is one of 10 winemakers employed by Moet & Chandon in addition to their cellarmaster, or chef de cave, who directs and decides on the ultimate blend for each of the house’s Champagnes.  Moet has been doing its thing for centuries (since 1743, to be exact – Ghanem informed us that the very first bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne arrived in Canada in 1839, before we were even a country!), and as such has honed its house style to a fine point, with very clear goals as to the characteristics it seeks to draw out in its Champagnes and specific strategies in place to reach them.  The three pillars of the Moet & Chandon style are, in Ghanem’s words:  (1) “bright fruitiness”, which is attained in part by careful non-oxidative winemaking techniques, even to the point where the house has developed a technique for “jetting” oxygen out of the neck of the bottle after disgorgment to avoid degradation during the maturation process; (2) “seductive palate”, with a welcoming, easy-to-drink texture aided by full malolactic fermentation; and (3) “elegant maturity”, achieved largely through extended lees contact pre-disgorgment, for much longer periods than required by law.  These foundational principles must be working, as we were told that there is currently a bottle of Moet being popped somewhere around the world every second.

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In case the ten full-time winemakers on staff wasn’t a tip-off, Moet & Chandon is a massive undertaking.  It is the biggest house in Champagne and the owner of its largest vineyard holdings, amounting to almost 10% of the entire area under vine in the region.  Since 1962, it has even had its own brand of proprietary yeast, which helps accentuate the characteristics that reflect the house style.  Moet’s primary brand is Imperial, so named in recognition of founder Claude Moet’s 18th century friendship with a certain French emperor, none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.  Napoleon visited the winery many times and was a steadfast consumer of Moet Champagnes, and in 1869 the Imperial brand was christened in recognition of the 100th anniversary of his birth.  The Imperial NV blend starts out as 800 different base wines, which are gradually combined into 3 proposed blends (each featuring solid proportions of all three of Champagne’s grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) before one is selected.  The blending is as much of the artistry as the winemaking itself, and the efforts show in the bottle, which led off our tour-of-Moet tasting. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Ratzenberger Bacharacher Riesling Sekt Brut

13 12 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Redefining the world of German bubbly.

Redefining the world of German bubbly.

What’s this?  A wine review?  Isn’t this a whisky blog now?  OK, I probably deserved that.  But Advent only comes around once per year, and since no one yet has taken up the torch of my idea to find 24 good half-bottles and make a Wine Advent Calendar, this is what you get instead.  For those wine lovers out there just dying for the calendar to turn to January, this one’s to tide you over.

This bottle is another selection from Cellar Direct (cellardirect.ca), the online Canadian Natural Wine Club that allows people from all over the country to have high-quality, artisanal, naturally made wines shipped to their door via an array of tailored subscription packages ranging from $40 to $80 per month depending on your location and the package selected.  Since I last wrote about the service back in September, it has revamped its website, introduced an offer of two free bonus bottles for every 24-bottle annual subscription, and added an online shop (which will be operational in January) where Cellar Direct members can order more of their favourite bottles over and above their subscription.  It has also gotten rave reviews in BC, where price increases and regulatory chaos have otherwise made reasonably priced access to many good wines a pipe dream.

The one thing I can so far say for sure about Cellar Direct is that its selections are not fooling around; each of the three bottles I’ve now had the chance to try from their library have been of exceptional quality and proud ambassadors of where they’re from.  These are wines from somewhere as opposed to wines that could be from anywhere, and this gets all the more impressive given that this latest wine is a bottle of Sekt.  Nobody usually makes quality and terroir proclamations about Sekt (German sparkling wine), and for good reason:  most Sekt doesn’t deserve it.  In fact, it’s hard to say anything specific about Sekt as a category because it might be the least regulated category of Old World wine I’ve come across.  German wine law doesn’t mandate that Sekt be made of any particular types of grapes; it doesn’t even require those grapes to be from Germany; and it doesn’t require the wine to attain its bubbles any particular way.  Sekt is required to be at least 10% abv, but after that, all bets are off. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Cachet No. 01 by Stag’s Hollow

27 02 2013
There is no debate:  this is a baller-looking bottle of wine.

There is no debate: this is a baller-looking bottle of wine.

Apologies in advance to my local Alberta readers:  this review will be almost useless to you.  I have never seen this bottle in our fair province, or on a retail store anywhere else for that matter.  I got it for Christmas a couple years ago from a cousin-in-law out in Vancouver (thanks Brad!), was immediately impressed by the rap-video blinginess of its container (the bottle must weigh 2 pounds empty) and then discovered through research that it was created as part of a unique and forward-thinking experimental line of wines by stalwart Okanagan producer Stag’s Hollow.  The Cachet wines are limited edition blends of top quality grapes which are outside of the standard SH catalog; they are made once, as a small run in a single vintage, and then never replicated again.  So while this is the 2008 vintage of Cachet No. 01, there is no 2009 or 2010 bottling — the 1500 bottles (125 cases) of this wine from that single year are all there is.  I have no idea how this is commercially workable, but I find it fascinating.  These high-end one-off blends put the power in the hands of the winemaker to express a different vision with these specialty wines every year…or at least that was the plan.  As it turns out, only two Cachets have ever been made:  this one, and the sequel Cachet No. 02 (made from Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne) that was released around the same time.  The world is still waiting on Cachet No. 03, and I’m sort of wondering whether the concept has died before it ever really got off the ground. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Canepa Finisimo Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

21 11 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Call me strange, but I would like to see more wines with orange labels. Snazzy.

I don’t think a bottle from Chile has graced this site since late February, so I’m overdue to show South America some love.  This particular bottle’s major claim to fame is that one of its prior vintages was named the 5th best wine in the 1979 Wine Olympics held in France.  Winding up in 5th usually isn’t that memorable (I tried to do a Google search for “famous fifth place finishes” to see if I could come up with an exception to that rule, but the pickings were slim), but in this case it was a national breakthrough of sorts:  the top four wines in the Finisimo’s category were French, making this Cab the top New World wine of the bunch and helping cement Chile’s status as a serious producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Back in the late ’70s the words “quality Chilean wine” were almost certainly thought of as an oxymoron; fast forward 30-odd years and the country is now a veritable wine power with a strong reputation for producing solid, flavourful bottles at bargain prices.  Canepa’s website suggests that Finisimo’s near-podium Olympic finish positioned it as Chile’s first premium wine, but these days it is more of a mid-range bottling (Canepa’s Magnificvm is its current top Cab, allowing Finisimo to settle in at an everyday-enjoyment price range). Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon

18 06 2012

The second vintage of Cover Drive featured on PnP…let’s see how they stack up against each other.

I went to the Costco liquor store this week, and as always when I walk into Costco, I walked out with a bottle of the Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cab from South Australia, one of my favourite New World value wines.  When I first grabbed the bottle, I thought it was the same wine that I had previously reviewed back in November, but on closer inspection it was in fact a brand new vintage of Cover Drive, the 2009 (my reviewed bottle was the 2008).  This provided a golden opportunity to examine a question that I’m sure many casual wine drinkers ask themselves:  how much does vintage impact the flavour and quality of a wine?  Is there really a discernible difference between the 2008 and 2009 bottlings of a wine made from the same grapes grown in the same spots?  Most inexpensive wines are made to reflect a consistent flavour profile and style year over year, but my bet was that a quality producer like Jim Barry wouldn’t try to make his ’09 Cover Drive a clone of his ’08 and would retain some of the vintage variation arising out of the changes in weather patterns, sunlight, temperature, harvest dates and more between the two years.  To find out, I wrote up tasting notes for the 2009 CD without re-reading my 2008 review, and now I’m going to retro-compare the two bottles by lining up my 08 notes side by side with my impressions of the 09.  Hopefully this actually proves interesting.  Here goes! Read the rest of this entry »





Burgundy: White Tasting, Part IV

26 04 2012

OK, time to bring this long and winding road of a tasting review to a close.  I had set this up so that we’d end on a high note with the most prestigious bottles in the tasting, the illustrious Grand Crus, but for reasons outside their control, the drinking experience ended up being somewhat anticlimactic.  And no, it wasn’t because we were 10 bottles in by this point.  That’s what made the next morning anticlimactic.

FOURTH FLIGHT

A.k.a. over $300 worth of wine that really shouldn't be open yet.

Grand Cru vineyards are the rarest, best-positioned, most historic, highest-quality growing areas in all of Burgundy…or at least their classification is meant to reflect as much.  As you might expect, Grand Crus come in very limited numbers (only 32 in the Cote d’Or, according to my friend the Internet) and they produce minute quantities of wine each year with prices to match their prestige and scarcity.  I didn’t have the overflowing bank account to go too crazy and delve into the elite of white Burgundian GCs — the series of adjoining Grand Crus bearing the “Montrachet” name, including Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, etc. are almost certainly the creme de la creme of white Burgundy, but they’re also a hilarious pipe dream in my current circumstances — so instead I turned my focus to two wines from the well-regarded but much cheaper Grand Cru of Corton-Charlemagne.  Unfortunately, both bottles were from relatively recent vintages, and we quickly discovered that, with great white Burgundy, time is your ally. Read the rest of this entry »








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