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Wine Fri Nov 01 2013

Celebrate Champagne

champagne day.jpgTuesday, October 29th was Champagne Day, and I celebrated the perfect way: by tasting a bunch of French bubbly. Champagne Bureau USA gathered 36 Champagne houses with 108 different wines, all from that famed region in France at The Ivy Room, for a huge, extraordinary tasting.

I (mostly) systematically went from table to table, making it about two-thirds the way through before I was worn out. 72 was a lot of different bubbly to taste, and I didn't actually drink most of it. I spit much of it into a very shiny silver bucket, which was a weird thing to do when a posh Frenchman or woman was standing opposite you. It was either that, or get wasted before trying even a quarter of the wines.

Champagne is a wine of celebrations and special occasions to be sure, since what's more fun than bubbles at a party, but it also loves food. In fact, "This is a great food wine" was a sentence I heard a lot throughout the tasting. The representative from Besserat de Bellefon suggested asparagus as the perfect food pairing for their NV Brut. One of my favorites, Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage had a bit of sweetness and spice to it that would make it a great companion for Asian cuisine.

Many wines had toasty aromas; some skewed toward the full-bodied and creamy end of the spectrum, some were more light-bodied and steely but it was easy to picture cheeses to pair, a pastry with a flaky crust, and fried and greasy foods in particular as Champagne's high acidity and bubbles help cut through the fat. Olivia Pope might like a rich Bordeaux with her popcorn, but I prefer a refreshing, crisp sparkler with such a light buttery snack.

Another favorite, Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grande Cuvée Brut NV struck me with it's croissant and fresh lemon aromas, much like a lemon tart, and Thiénot Cuvée Garance 2006, made completely from Pinot Noir, had a wonderfully delicate, fruit-forward perfume with citrus and melon.

What is Champagne, anyway?

Champagne comes from a specific region in France that's east of Paris, and it's usually, though not always, made from a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Officially, only wines made there can carry "Champagne" on the label, though there are plenty of producers worldwide who make sparkling wines using the same method, the traditional method (méthode traditionnelle).

Basically, this means the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles occurs in each bottle, as opposed to collectively in a tank prior to bottling, like with Prosecco. The traditional method is more time-consuming, which is largely why Champagne carries a higher price tag than your average bottle of wine.

Often that bottle of bubbly in the fridge was made from grapes harvested in different years because a Champagne house wants to create a specific house style that tastes and smells the same, regardless of the year is was bottled. They can do this by keeping reserve wine and blending different years together. (One rep I spoke with said his house had reserve wine dating back to 1919). These bottles won't have a date on them, or will state NV (non-vintage). A date will be on the bottle when the Champagne house declares a vintage.

A few more highlights:

Pascal Doquet Premier Cru Rosé NV: aromas of cherries and watermelon candy
Mandois Brut Zero: easy drinking and luxurious with a lot of bubbles
Bollinger La Grande Année 2004: mouth-puckering acidity with surprising notes of spice

photo via Caitlin Childs

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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