Wineweek 131: Grand Champagne Coming

This weekend has given me hope that there will be summer. Its been sunny all weekend and warm, well at least in the sun. You can suck in some of the Stockholm May madness in the pictures below. I have caught some kind of hay fever though, so no wine for me. At least not on Saturday. Its a waste to drink with a blocked nose. But on Friday I was still healthy and enjoyed a night out with a friend at Woodstockholm, one of the best wine haunts in the city.  Continue reading “Wineweek 131: Grand Champagne Coming”

The Seven Varieties of Laherte Frères

It is a calm and humid morning in Champagne as we climb into a car taking us to Chavot. We have a booked tour and tasting at Laherte Frères, one of my favorite grower producers in Champagne. I say favorite so often, that what is special about this one? In addition to having some excellent entry level champagnes, Laherte Frères has a fairly rare cuvée in their selection, Les 7. It is a blend of all seven grapes allowed to be used for champagne. Continue reading “The Seven Varieties of Laherte Frères”

Tasting Biodynamic Champagnes at Larmandier-Bernier

It is already a month since our visit to the heart of Champagne, Epernay. It was really the perfect place to stay as a group without a car. We were able to reach many smaller towns within 15 to 20 minutes by cab. The cost was reasonable as we split it six-ways. One of the houses we visited was Larmandier-Bernier, a champagne producer in Vertus known also for its biodynamic practices.  Continue reading “Tasting Biodynamic Champagnes at Larmandier-Bernier”

Bubbly Tip of the Week: Georges Laval Cumieres Premier Cru Brut Nature

I recently wrote about how big brand champagne has long since divorced what comes from the ground. The aspiration of producing the same product batch after batch requires manipulation of the years produce with a mix of wine from the previous vintages as well as an addition of sugar (to hide some of the taste of the grape). Well here is a champagne that is exactly the opposite: Georges Laval Cumieres Premier Cru Brut Nature. Continue reading “Bubbly Tip of the Week: Georges Laval Cumieres Premier Cru Brut Nature”

In the Footsteps of Selosse

Champagne Jacques Selosse, the rebel of Avize, has always fascinated me. I am often skeptical when it comes to more expensive brands, however, Selosse to me is worth every penny you spend on it. Selosse is not just a brand, it is a phenomenon. This is why I am super excited to be visiting the estate restaurant, les Avizes, in June. So to prep-up, I decided to embark on a journey to learn more on how Anselme  (the son a Jacques) and his wife Corinne Selosse have achieved such a world renowned reputation.  Continue reading “In the Footsteps of Selosse”

Wine Review: Champagne Agrapart & Fils Minéral Extra Brut

During my journey down to the rabbit hole to the world of Champagne, I have come across a few names that seem to excite (or repell) many professionals. Anselme Selosse is one of them, having become a world renown rebel of Champagne. You either love his wines or you really don’t see what the fuss is about (I am on the lovers side). Agrapart & Fils is a fresher name on my list, but it has the same ring to it. Combining tradition, amazing vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry and a disinterest in what “others” think (this is all good), Nathalie and Pascal Agrapart make a range of very interesting Champagnes coveted by many wine geeks (like myself). You might recall of trip to Terres & Vins de Champagne last May (post here)? Well the stand of Agrapart was completely packed all morning and ran out of wine after lunch. Popularity or bad planning? Who knows, but it caught the visitors interest. So when we found a few bottles from the cellars of Viking Line, I was quite excited.

The Agrapart & Fils Mineral is not a bottle you open just any Friday (so probably not movie Champagne), it is something you share with good friends who have a similar love of the French bubbly. Acquiring the bottle took some work (it’s not all a bed of roses taking one of those boat trips with Viking Line) and it was not cheap (71€), so we had the bottle stashed up for a special occasion. Having my sommelier friend and fellow champagne lover, Iisa visiting from Finland seemed like the perfect occasion (even though it was a Wednesday).

20150805_214938
We had some good wine and snacks that night
This wine is a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) directly from the heartland of Chardonnay, Cotes du Blancs. The vintage of this bottle is not advertised on the front label (it is in the back), but it is from the harvest of 2008 (one of my favorite years among the more recent years). The champagne has been made with malolactic fermentation, aged 5 years on the lees and turned manually. The dosage is only 4g/l, so one can draw the conclusion that the producer has relied on the quality of the grapes. That is how I like my bubbly, dry and faithful to the grape!

When opening the bottle, you get a whiff of citrus, yeast and brioche. The nose of the wine is dry and chalky, as are the first sips. The wine is almost savory in character. As the wine warms up in the glass the fruity flavors of peach, lemon bitters and cherry emerge. There is a clear white wine character to the champagne, it reminds me of the style of Olivier Horiot (I adore Horiot). The wine is nice and complex (sweet and savory flavors combined) and the taste is long lasting.

This is an amazing wine. If I completely disregard the price, I would give this a 5. The bottle is, however, not cheap. We bought this bottle on the duty free ferry for around 71€, which I think is a fair price, but not excellent. Value for money I would say is 4. If you have a chance to snag a bottle, I say go for it!

Social Wine and Tapas, London

Now it starts again, my raving of the great food and wine scene in London. Someone might say, so just move back already, but I am for now, just happy to be able to visit. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great fan of Jason Atherton’s cooking? I have visited several of his restaurants: Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Berner’s Tavern and Esquina (in Singapore). His style is tradition (French/Italian) meets social eating with a pinch of street-charm. Many of the dishes I love are the more simple ones, like sliders (pimped up with foie grass) and ice cream scones. But I must say that the Spanish breakfast at the Esquina, the English bistro in Singapore is a masterpiece (eggshell filled with yum). And the great thing about Jason’s restaurants is that his quality does not seem to suffer even with the many restaurants opening in his name. The man must be a genius to be able to keep so many chefs up to his standards.

But this review is about Social Wine and Tapas, Jason’s new restaurant in Marylebone, London. We originally didn’t have a reservation and thought about just walking in. Thankfully M did a last minute check and reserved two seats for the same evening, as when we arrived they seemed to already be fully booked. There are some walk-in tables, but we saw a crowd gathering after seven pm to wait for tables, and the lobby really was not that pleasant a place to be standing. We were seated on a bar facing the door, so we could follow the situation developing all evening (we got some evil eyes from the crowd after we had finished eating and were selfishly keeping the table sipping on wine). So the lesson is: Reserve a table before you go.

Chefs hard at work
Chefs hard at work
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne

About the bubblies, wonderful choices. They had four different sparkling wines by the glass: one cava, one English sparkling and two champagnes. The Cava Mas Sardana was a disappointment. M had tried it before (at Social Eating House) and told me that he did not have more than one sip. So a wine warning for that one. We chose to have a glass of the English sparkling, Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut from West Sussex (12£/ glass) and a glass of Les Murgiers Champagne from Francis Boulard (12.5£/ glass). I love the style of Francis Boulard and Les Murguers, one of his cheapest champagnes is a wonderful toasty brut nature, just the way I like my aperitif. The Wiston Estate was a real surprise, bone dry with notes of yeast, brioche and citrus fruit. Even with a price of close to 30£ I hunted for a bottle of this for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, and understandable, it was sold out everywhere. I must try to visit the next time we are in England.

The list of reds and whites was also rather comprehensive with close to 30 wines by the glass. We did not at all have the chance to sample as many as we wanted but M had the Love Red v.3 from the urban winery Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Rather fitting considering we had been to London’s first urban winery earlier the same day. I had the Vin de Table from Jean Michel Stephan from Rhone. The Love Red is a blend of 75% Carignan, 14% Valdigiué, and 11% Syrah. It is very light to be a red and really works well a bit chilled. It is full of berry flavor but the light character avoids the ‘jam’ feel and it has a pleasant hint of summery flowers. Would love to enjoy more of that.

For food we had some wonderful dishes. Traditional tomato bread, croquettes, heirloom tomato salad with burrata and foie grass sliders. We also ordered two Spanish breakfasts expecting them to be like the ones we had in Singapore (see photo), but to our disappointment, the Spanish breakfast at Social Wine and Tapas did not live up to the ones at Esquina. The dish was good, but it is always a matter of expectations vs. experience. Overall, the food was really good, for the exception of there being too little burrata for our liking. I must say that Jason has done it again and reached outstanding quality. Price-wise the restaurant is mid-range. We had four glasses of wine and six-seven different dishes and ended up with a bill of 100£ including service charge. Not too bad, but I cant really say it was cheap. Jose’s in Bermondsey still takes home the trophy (but I am very emotional about that place and biased) as the best tapas in London.

Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Jason's signature sliders with foie grass
Jason’s signature sliders with foie grass
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore

So if in London, give Jason’s restaurants a try. Social Wine and Tapas is a good place to start with a reasonable price tag and a relative easiness of scoring a seat. You can work your way up the ladder via Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and Little Social to the bright star of Jason’s cooking, the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social.

Wine Review: Tarlant Brut Prestige 2000

I love reviewing good wines. As I am reading my tasting notes and thinking about the wine, I travel back to the moment I first tasted it. I think about what I thought and what I felt..what I compared the wine with; and many other things. I relive the happy experience. So today, as it is 16 degrees (C) and raining, I need to review something wonderful: the Tarlant Brut Prestige 2000.

The history of the house of Tarlant dates back to the 15th century and it is even today a family owned company. Jean-Mary Tarlant is makes the decisions concerning vines and vineyards; he is said to be a man of soil. His wife Micheline organizes visits to the vineyards and winery, Benoit Tarlant works with marketing and sales and the youngest of the flock, Melanie works with communication. They own 14 hectares of vineyards on 4 different “crus” located in the villages of Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-lès-Condé.

Beautiful bottle and deep golden color of the wine
Beautiful bottle and deep golden color of the wine

The wine is a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir and the dosage is low 5g/l (just the way I like it). The wine has a golden yellow color, deeper than I expected, and many bubbles. The nose has wonderful aromas of brioche, almond and pear and the mouth feel is creamy with tastes of minerals, yellow apples, biscuits and a hint of citrus. 2000 was a hot and stormy year and you can taste how the old vines have delved deep into the limestone and sand.

This particular bottle was opened for Sunday brunch (one of my favorite meals of the week) as a companion to some Korean barbecue (chicken, fresh vegetables and rice wrapped in salad leafs). An unusual pairing, but it worked as long as one did not get overexcited with the spices (it worked with the dessert as well which was a blueberry pie with basil sugar). All in all, I think this champagne is wonderful with food or on it’s own. As this was a bottle from someone else’s cellar, I had to do some googling to find out the price. As the bottle is not that easy to source, I just found a few references, but it seems like the price is around 45€ (or up). Pure quality-wise, I give it a 4 (out of 5) and I must say it is a wine exactly to my taste. For value-for-money, I would say it’s a 4.5: definitely worth the investment but not necessarily a steal.

Korean barbecue with chicken, veggies, rice and a yummy spring onion and soy sauce
Korean barbecue with chicken, veggies, rice and a yummy spring onion and soy sauce
Blueberry pie with basil sugar (!!)
Blueberry pie with basil sugar (!!)

Wine Review: Champagne Francoise Bedel Cuvée Robert Winer -96

Today I am reviewing something very special, one of the older wines that we have in our relatively young cellar. Francoise Bedel has for a long time been one of my favorite producers. I have written several times that her wines are the reason I got all excited about grower champagnes. Since 1982 Marie-Louise Bedel has been curious about bio-dynamic methods for producing Champagne. The evolution of her vineyards began in 1996 and by 1999, all 7 hectares of land were introduced to bio-dynamic viticulture and on their way to be certified by ECOCERT SAS.

After tasting a few of Bedels entry level champagnes, and loving them, we came across and opportunity to buy a case of the Cuvée Robert Winer -96 through a British distributor, Henry George Wines. For a price of around 50€ a bottle (with the 2014 EUR/GBP exchange rate) it felt like a steal, and after tasting one bottle, we were convinced it was worth the investment. We recently opened another bottle to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and made some notes to share with you on the blog.

Subtle bubbles and gold colour
Subtle bubbles and gold colour
Cork binded and sealed with old-school methods
Cork binded and sealed with old-school methods
The labels gives a traditional feel
The labels gives a traditional feel

The Cuvée is a heavy on Pinot Meunieur (88%) with a hint of Pinot Noir (6%) and Chardonnay (6%). The dosage is ~8g/l which is an average for a dry champagne. The wine has a mature, gold and amber color and the bubbles are small but lively. You can see that the wine has age. The nose has strong notes of brioche and dried candied fruit and an underlying mineral freshness. The taste is mature with light notes of burned butter. The wine develops even more toasty and nutty flavors when it has a chance to breathe. It is worth the wait and the price of some bubbles to discover the full potential of this wine. I can imagine this champagne being a good pairing with some meatier seafood, like crab and lobster or some white meats. We had it with some nice french cheeses and truffled cold cuts (omnomnom).

All in all I give it a 4 (out of 5) for quality and a 4.5 for value for money (at least when the price is around 50€). After some googling, I can see that we really made a bargain, as the average price today for the -96 is around 120€.  Must send Henry George wines a thank you note as they arranged this case specifically for us directly from the producer herself. This vintage is peaking now, so don’t skip an opportunity to try this wine before it has passed its prime.

Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV – lovely grower champagne

While we did not really feel a strong urge to have some champagne after the numerous champagnes tasted earlier in the week at Terres et Vins de Champagne, we were having guests on Saturday and it was sort of a given that a bottle of something would be opened. As we were having asparagus it was also clear that we would be having something that was not overly fruit driven and we were considering some of the lovely Rieslings. However, after some deliberation we opted for champagne instead as we felt it would also work well together with the asparagus as well as function as an aperitif.  The choice fell on the Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV that we had brought back from our trip to London.

The family Fannière settled in the Côte des Blancs as early as 1860, but at that time and until the 1950s they sold off all their grapes to other producers. In the 1950s Jean Fanniere started to bottle Champagne under his name and then his son in law, Guy Varnier, succeeded him and took over production. Today the son of Guy, Denis Varnier, is in charge of the company and has taken over the still family owned and run company. They have a fairly small estate, only 4 hectares but all in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oger and Oiry. The entire estate is old vines which is in line with the estate policy of conservation. The average age is around 40 years old as they believe strongly that the old vines will produce better champagne and if this Brut Zero should be taken as the result of this then I am inclined to agree.

The brut zero is made both as a non vintage and a vintage but we tried the non vintage this time. The color was pale yellow and the nose had a pleasant freshness of citrus but also nicely balanced by some yellow apples. The flavor is consistent with the nose and the pleasant freshness is also mixed with a hint of yeast which makes this a very nice drink. The 100% Chardonnay grapes without added sugar is a perfect match with the perfectly prepared asparagus (it was the overenthusiastic tapas-chef in action again). I have seen this wine available in Italy for as little as €28 which is a bargain but in the UK it sells for £34 at the Sampler and for 270 DKK in Denmark (from Nordisk Champagne) and that is more in the category of good value. So how does it rate:

Quality: 3.5
Value for Money: 4 (if found below €30)