Calgary Wine Life: Dom Pérignon Luncheon with Winemaker Nicholas Lane

13 12 2018

By Dan Steeves

It’s hard to believe that almost six months has passed since my last post on Pop & Pour (I’m still getting used to the deprivation of free time with a further expansion to our family!) and I was thrilled at the opportunity to get back into it by attending a luncheon with the beautiful wines of Dom Pérignon, paired with stellar cuisine from Chef Dave Bohati at Murrieta’s Bar & Grill Calgary.  Thrilled is definitely an understatement, actually. I’ve always enjoyed Champagne, but after travelling to the region a few years ago, I really fell in love with the bubbly concoction for which the region is so famous. Seeing with my own eyes the vineyards, the massive underground cellars, how these magical wines are actually made, and tasting many different bottles from various Champagne houses, all gave me a connection with the region that I am reminded about every time I pop open a bottle. So having the opportunity to try the legendary wines of Dom Pérignon with one of the actual winemakers…well, let’s just say it was more of a dream come true!

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A throwback to the time we were crazy enough to vacation in Champagne with a 6 month old baby. Luckiest baby ever? Definitely!

Dom Pérignon is the prestige brand from Champagne giant Moët & Chandon, and is one of the oldest prestige cuvees to be marketed by any of the top Champagne houses, with the first vintage being the 1921, which was released in 1935. It is named after the Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon, who in 1668 became the cellarer at the Abbey of Hautvillers, located just outside the Champagne capital of Épernay. Although he is commonly credited as being the creator of Champagne, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine (at the time it was considered a fault), but he did provide many advances to wine production in Champagne. His goal was to create the best wine in the world, an ambitious task for anyone and especially those in the cool and harsh Champagne region, but his work perfecting the science of blending various grape varieties and pressing to create white wines from black grapes set the foundation of the great Champagne wines we have today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

Well, the children are tucked all snug in their beds — not sleeping yet, of course, as that would be asking for a miracle — so the time has come to close the curtain on a riotously fun Wine Advent experience and give some kudos to the bottles and people that made it all happen.  The first thank you obviously goes to the remarkable team at Bricks Wine Company, who eagerly took on this half-bottle Advent challenge and then went all out foraging through a not-all-that-overflowing 375 mL market to put together 24 quality bottles reflective of their identity as a shop and their value proposition to their customers.  Way to go — all of your effort clearly showed through over the course of this month.  I would also be remiss not to thank my ultra-awesome co-collaborators Dan Steeves and Ray Lamontagne for their blogging prowess and oh-so-necessary assistance that allowed PnP to forge through two parallel booze Advent calendars at the same time. I’m hoping this won’t be the last time you see their work on this page.

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As for the bottles that shone brightest, I asked each Wine Advent writer to give me their thoughts about their 3 favourite wines of the 2017 calendar and separately made up my own podium of winners for comparison purposes.  There was a lot of jostling in the silver and bronze spots, but the gold medallist was a runaway unanimous victor:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Buzzsaw acidity is the lens through which all that spiced sourdough and fruit is focused.

2.  2015 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Day 15):  A down-home BBQ in a bramble patch.

3.  2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant (Day 22):  Peppered blueberries baked into a gingersnap, this can hover by anytime.

DARK HORSE – 2014 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge (Day 20):  Oh look, another Pinot from…Sancerre??  Don’t injure yourself on all those stony outcroppings.

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Dan Steeves’ Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Beautiful acidity with complex layered nutty and toffee flavours with an exceptional finish.

2.  2015 Gruber Roschitz Chardonnay TBA (Day 23):  Great balance for being lusciously sweet, with mouthwatering acidity and an incredibly long and lingering finish.

3.  2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir (Day 13):  Beautiful fruits with powerful structural elements that showcases the value that New World Pinot Noir can offer.

DARK HORSE – 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino (Day 2):  The later wines are fresher in my memory, but this was a beautiful bottle.

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Cork Rating:  7/10 (Score bumped by the awesome shade of blue on the metal cap.)

My Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Just a clear notch above the rest in terms of complexity, structure, power and soul.  A true emotive experience.

2.  2015 Krutzler Eisenberg Reserve Blaufränkisch (Day 14):  So effortlessly refined, luxurious yet precise, an eye-opening reason why you should all be drinking more Blaufränkisch.

3.  2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Chardonnay (Day 21):  California Chardonnay is largely responsible for giving itself its own reputation for blowsy, overoaked, overripe, overblown wines, but bottles like this show why everyone made such a fuss about it in the first place.

DARK HORSE – 2016 Bella Sparkling Rose “Westbank” (Day 1):  This showed me something that I hadn’t yet seen in Canadian wine; I can still vividly picture its live-wire energy.  It was our first bottle and I remember it more than most of the others.

The fact that three generally like-minded wine lovers picked nine completely different wines to round out their podiums after all zeroing in on the same winner gives you some indication of the overall quality of the wines in this calendar.  The diversity of great bottles in this 24-day span has been phenomenal.

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Merry Christmas from my family to yours!!

There’s not much time or space left to talk about bottle #24, which was the De Venoge Cordon Bleu Brut Select NV Champagne, an appropriately celebratory finish on the night before Christmas.  That ends up being a blessing in disguise, as my bottle was not showing I expect it should have.  It was a VERY dark gold coming out of the bottle and had almost no mousse or carbonation to speak of, smelling heavily of dulce de leche, Kraft caramels and hot sandpaper and tasting flat and roasted and bitter, like coffee left too long on the burner.  Blowtorched black jellybeans, soggy parchment and molasses rounded out a Guinness-like flavour profile.  If I had to guess, I would say this cork didn’t sufficiently hold its seal as the wine sat for some time after bottling but before sale; it’s not as ragingly faulted as my unlucky Brunello on Day 2, but since I highly doubt it’s in condition, I’m not going to score it.  I will instead set it aside and remember the other remarkable bottles that I enjoyed so much, and hope that we’ll get to do it all again next year.  Until then, thanks for following along!





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 »





Happy NYE 2016: Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

30 12 2016

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

Quick – what’s the most festive thing you can think of to drink right now, right in the middle of this holiday season?  Champagne?  Close.  Champagne wrapped up like a present, complete with bright red bow, in its own custom bottle cozy?  Bingo.  I have long been a proponent of seasonally packaged wines (as long as they’re done right – when done wrong, they’re not pretty), and the holiday edition of the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne nails the Christmas/New Year’s vibe about as well as anything I’ve ever seen in a bottle.  Seriously, just look at this thing, first wrapped up:

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Wait for it…

Then unwrapped:

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Oh yeah.  So sweet.

YES.  That is so, so clever.  And it’s reusable!  How can you go to a New Year’s party tomorrow and NOT bring this?  And it’s on sale online at the moment at Willow Park in Calgary, and maybe elsewhere, at a price that’s shockingly friendly for true Champagne from a historic house.  Oh, and most importantly, the juice lives up to the packaging.

Read the rest of this entry »





Champagne Day: Taittinger Portfolio Tasting

21 10 2016

Happy International Champagne Day, all!  If you follow wine media long enough you realize there’s a designated day for basically every country, region and varietal imaginable, but if someone wants to concoct an additional reason for me to drink Champagne, I will take them up on it.  To celebrate this illustrious occasion, I was fortunate enough to take part in a comprehensive tasting of a selection of Taittinger’s impressive lineup of Champagnes, which was particularly special for two reasons:  Taittinger’s International Business Developer Mikael Falkman had flown in from Sweden to lead us through it, and it was the inaugural Alberta release of the astonishingly rare and collectible 2008 Taittinger Collection Series, a bottle unlike any other I have seen to date.  Adding to the auspiciousness of the event was that it was held in the Skybridge of the spectacular new National Music Centre in Calgary, an event space suspended over a road and constructed as a piece of living art, complete with a ceiling fixture made from old instruments that emitted a continual buzzy tune aligned with the vibrations of the building.  Suffice to say it was not your usual Friday.

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Mikael Falkman, Taittinger; impeccable brand ambassador.

Taittinger has been around for nearly a century but is particularly catching fire in my neck of the woods right now as the fastest growing Champagne brand in western Canada.  Founder Pierre-Charles Taittinger was a soldier who was wounded in battle in World War I and who recuperated in a town in Champagne, in a memorable old castle that was being used as a command post.  He grew to love the area so much that he vowed he’d return someday and buy the castle, and he did, taking over the chateau and its vineyards in 1932 from Champagne house Forest-Fourneaux and rechristening it in his family name.  Taittinger stayed in the family until 2005, when it was sold (over the objections of one family member, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger) to Starwood Capital Group, which owns the Starwood chain of hotels.  The purchasers’ interest was largely in other portions of the Taittinger empire, which included hotels and a parfumerie, and the Champagne business was shortly on the market again.  Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger managed to get a financing group together and bring the house back to the family that gave it its name, a move that may have saved both the family’s legacy and the quality and reputation of the brand.

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Mikael Falkman has been with Taittinger for many years and has lived through its various recent changes of ownership, and he radiated a sense of ease and confidence about where the house is now and where it is going.  Falkman led us through a lineup of five wines, starting with the clean, linear Taittinger Brut Reserve NV and progressing into a quartet of the house’s finest offerings, each reviewed in detail below.  He spoke at length about Taittinger’s house style, which has remained consistent since the house got its current name, focused on freshness, elegance and minerality, eschewing heavy oak and focusing primarily on the Chardonnay grape.  “Notice that there are no spittoons on the table,” he intoned to start, his meaning evident:  this was exquisite, expensive, premium Champagne, and we would be drinking all of it.  Didn’t have to tell me twice. Read the rest of this entry »








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