We’re back…with a little Brane Cantenac and a trip to the Village Pub

Hi friends –

It’s been a long time – about four months since we’ve last officially posted.  In that time we spent a month in Europe and moved to California and basically re-invented our lives as we knew them.  It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating few months – we admit to being glad that things are slowing a bit from frantic to a dull roar.  We have so many great wine moments to share over this time – it’ll be a while before we get through the highlights, but thought we start out a little more simply.

When the kids were born over 10 years ago, my wife gave me a case of Bordeaux wine, three bottles each of 1996 Pichon Baron, 1996 Leoville Barton, 2001 Brane Cantenac and 2001 d’Issan.  The idea was to open a bottle every year for the kids birthday.  This year we had a bottle of the 2001 Brane Cantenac from the Margaux rejoin of Bordaux.  While we are still exploring and discovering things in the area where we have moved to, we found a nice little “French style” restaurant called Left Bank.  How fitting that we just happen to have brought a left bank bottle of Bordeaux with us for dinner, the 2001 Brane Cantenac.  Most of the 2001 Bordeaux wines that I have had have been open for business and this was no different.

2001 Brane Cantenac, Margaux – Very nice red/black berry fruit on the nose combined with forest floor and a little leather.  In the mouth, dark red bing cherry fruit with a little black berry, spice box, dried leaves, forest floor, slight bit of leather and a hint of dried herbs.  This wine has good acid and a nice smooth mouth feel.  The wine is medium-full bodied.  It has presence and persistence in the mouth, without the weight that you normally find in a new world cab/merlot blend wine.  The wine finishes with a long persistent dark cherry, spice and forest floor finish, with nice finely grained subsiding tannins.  This wine is drinking well today and will continue to do so over the next decade, enjoy them if you have them.  (93pts.)

For those of you looking for a nice Bordeaux wine to drink now, check out the 2001 vintage.  Many of the wines are drinking really well right now and can be had for a song compared to the 2000, 2003 or 2005 counterparts.  The 2001 vintage was really overlooked after the great 2000 vintage, but there are some really wonderful wines to be had – Lynch Bages, Montrose and Leoville Barton just to name a few.

Birthday Dinner at the Village Pub.
Birthday dinner at the Village Pub.

In other great wine moments, for my birthday this year in September, Christina and I wound up at the Village Pub in Woodside California, just north of where we live.  Don’t let the name fool you, they have a REALLY nice wine list and the food is excellent.  The Sommelier at the Village Pub is a very nice and knowledgeable guy by the name of Michael Acheson.  The Village Pub’s wine program was awarded the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award under Michael’s direction.  Michael has a great passion for wine and loves to help patrons explore the world of wine at the restaurant.  We had an excellent meal, unfortunately, the wine I brought for the occasion (2003 Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reserve) was corked.  Maybe I have been lucky, but I bring wine to restaurants all of the time and I honestly don’t remember the last time one of the bottles was corked, maybe 5-6 years ago.  Anyway, Michael was able to guide me through the wine list and offer nice suggestions once we had picked out main courses.  We ultimately had some very nice red Burgundy and Cornas wines with our meal.

During the course of the evening, we talked with Michael about all things wine related and mentioned that we loved Champagne.  Michael said there was going to be a great vertical Champagne tasting of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, going back to the 1952 vintage from magnum at the Village Pub this October.  This Tuesday night (10/14) is the Champagne tasting and I am really looking forward to it.  Philipponnat is a great Champagne house and their Clos des Goisses is an absolutely wonderful Champagne.  If you like Champagnes that are on the masculine side like from Krug, Bollinger, Pol Roger or Vueve Clicquot then you should try the Champagnes of Philipponnat, and the Clos des Goisses in particular.  Champagne can age really well, but it’s fragile and has to be well-stored.  The oldest bottle of Champagne that I have in the cellar is from the 1975 vintage and it is drinking great (we had a bottle of it not too long ago).  I look forward to seeing what a 1952 will taste like – stay tuned for more…

Day Seven Dinner: Where the Wheels Fell off the Wagon

Authored by Christina

By now you may be wondering – just how long is this Bordeaux tour??  It was 12 days, so we’re more than halfway done recapping our visits (thank goodness, right?) – and we have the fabulous town of Sauternes coming up next.

So far, all had gone remarkably well on our tour.  But we were confronted with an unusual circumstance this evening – we didn’t have dinner scheduled anywhere.

After eating so much heavy food  (I’m normally gluten and dairy-free), I really was craving something light.  We were heading in the direction of Bordeaux city as we went back to our hotel that evening, so we asked Nicolas Glumineau of Pichon Lalande at lunch that day for a dinner recommendation.  I threw out sushi, and he threw me a look – apparently that was asking for a lot in Bordeaux.

Then he remembered a Japanese restaurant in town very near where we had stayed the previous weekend.  He couldn’t remember the name, but he sketched out a little map on the back of his business card, and we thought it looked simple enough.

We made our way back to Bordeaux easily enough and found parking without fuss. As we drove through town, I saw a small restaurant on the corner very near where we had originally stayed, advertising sushi.  We decided it could be the back-up plan.

We followed the little map as best we could, but the best thing we could find was the store Badie – no sushi, but a store of all champagne – Bob thought he’d died and gone to heaven.  The concept appeared to be well done – a store with champagne on one side of the street, and another store with Bordeaux wines on the other side of the street.  We skidded to a halt in front of the well-done windows – just as they were about to close.  We decided the trip back into town was worth it just to discover this little concept.

The store-front of the Badie Champagne shop at closing time.  The Bordeaux wine shop was directly across the street.
The store-front of the Badie Champagne shop at closing time. The Badie wine shop was directly across the street.

We also discovered another engaging store-front, this time, a display of armagnacs and cognacs – which were actually very popular in the region.  Bob is always wondering why more stores and bars don”t make better use of lighting – I wish the picture was better – the whole store was glowing amber.

A cognac shop in Bordeaux.
An Armagnac & cognac shop in Bordeaux. The background appears light here, but in reality it’s a great amber color.

But try as we might, we could not discover that Japanese restaurant.  So off to Plan B.  To be honest, we knew when we walked in that we should walk out of this little restaurant, but we were so hungry, and at the very least, this place looked like it would be quick.  It was the Bordeaux version of the Japanese conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, not so far off from what I had been asking for.  The execution of the concept was so poorly done though, machine-made rolls, dried-out rice, fishy-smelling sushi – it was disappointing to settle in for a bad meal, but we were so hungry, we gave up and braved it.

Naturally, we don’t have any good wine recommendations coming out of this dinner experience, but we more than made up for it the next day in Sauternes, and we keep wondering if Seattle needs a champagne shop like Badie…

17th Annual Champagne Tasting

So often, when people open a bottle of champagne, it’s for a special occasion, and it’s rare that you have several side-by-side for comparison.  Therefore, every bottle you open for celebration is likely to be revered as a great bottle, though with time and tasting, there are noticeable preferences that will begin to show.  That’s the philosophy behind our annual champagne tasting – an opportunity to understand more about sparkling wines.  We also tend to put out a pretty big spread – so a big thanks goes to my wife for coordinating all of that!

The setting.
The setting.
I never get enough to eat - I'm behind the bar all night!
I never get enough to eat – I’m behind the bar all night!

I have always loved Champagne – and not just for special occasions, even though it seems like that’s when most people drink it.  Champagne is first and foremost wine that just happens to have bubbles; it can be enjoyed before a meal, during a meal and after a meal.  I generally like to start a dinner or party off with Champagne.  The bubbles seem to set the stage and get everyone into a great mood for the evening.

While the party always seem to go by too fast in a blur of good friends, good food and great bubbly, throughout the course of the year, I am always on the lookout for some really nice Champagnes and sparkling wines from all over the world. For the tasting this year, we had 10 different wines, served double-blind, meaning that nobody knew what we would be drinking, other than all 10 wines had bubbles.

Jeanne McKay Hartmann, Christina Watt and Kerry Prather.
Jeanne McKay Hartmann, Christina Watt and Kerry Prather.
BJ McMahon, Chris Drake, Gina Drake and Laura McMahon.
BJ McMahon, Chris Drake, Gina Drake and Laura McMahon.

The majority of the wines we taste are Champagnes from the Champagne region of France.  By law, for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it has to come from the Champagne region of France.   I also want to be able to show people there are some very nice sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region, so people can have a chance to try something they have not had before.

I did tell everyone that the low-end of the lineup was $25, the high-end was $250+ and the average price per bottle was $115.  I served everyone with small pours, so that they could get through tasting all 10 wines with their taste buds intact.  After someone has made it through all 10 wines, they can go back and taste again any or all of the wines to figure out which wines they like and to rank them from best to worst.  At the end of the evening, we have everyone vote with a show of hands for which wine they thought was the worst and also the best.  The results are usually surprising, and very often, ends with one of the most expensive wines ranked towards the bottom.

The big reveal.
The big reveal.

Here is the line-up for this year.  All of the wines were from Champagne, France, unless otherwise noted and were served in this order:

The line-up.
The line-up.

#1 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

#2 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#3 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#4 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#5 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

#6 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#7 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#8 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#9 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#10 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

After all of the votes were cast and counted as a group for the worst and the best, the wines ranked out in this order:

#1 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#2 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#3 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#4 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

#5 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#6 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#7 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#8 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#9 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

#10 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

Here’s a closer look at the bottles served in order:

Numbers 1 and 2...
Numbers 1 and 2…
Numbers three and four...
Numbers 3 and 4…
Numbers 5 and 6...
Numbers 5 and 6…
Bottles 7 and 8...
Bottles 7 and 8…
2013 champagne party bottles 004
And finally, bottles 9 and 10!

While the 2000 vintage is a good but not great vintage for Champagne, the 2000 Krug Brut Champagne is an excellent and well made Champagne, with a long life ahead of it.  The toasty fruit finish goes on and on in the mouth, long after you have swallowed it.  This is just one of the many reasons why I love the Champagnes made by Krug.  While I like many Champagnes from the different Champagne houses, the house of Krug continues to be my absolute favorite.

Over the 17 years that I have been doing this Champagne tasting, Argyle from Oregon has had the best results as a US produced sparkling wine against the French competition.  Argyle produces some very nice wines in a range of prices, all are worth exploring.  This was an interesting year for the tasting, as the wines that would normally present as a more feminine-style (soft, buttery, creamy) champagne, actually all skewed more masculine (doughy, yeasty, toasty), so there were far less polarizing results and hotly debated conversations than normal.

Here is the order on how I personally ranked the different Champagnes:

#1 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#2 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#3 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#4 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#5 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

#6 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#7 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#8 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#9 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

#10 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

A big surprise for the night was the fact that the Roederer Cristal came in next to last place in the group vote.  While Cristal may not be the style of Champagne that I like the most in general, they are very well-made Champagnes.  I am not sure what happened with the 2004 Cristal, it started off with very nice fruit but fell flat and very short on the finish.  Having had Roederer Cristal on multiple occasions from multiple vintages, my guess is that this had to be an off bottle, which is a bummer.  So, I guess I will have to revisit this Champagne (darn!).  Despite the fact that it had a lackluster showing, I loved how Roederer chairman Federic Rouzaud described the vigor of Cristal as it ages while leading a tasting at the recent 2013 New York Wine Experience: “It makes women look more beautiful, so the men are happy, and then we make more love.  So I’m very confident in our future.”

Cheers to that!

Summer Champagne Evening

My wine group got together last night for our annual summer evening of Champagne.  Our location was the house of good friends Ed & Joan, on their deck over the waters Lake Samammish –  a perfect setting for tasting a lot of wonderful bubbles.  The wine group of 8 guys meets about 10 times per year, and we generally do Champagne in the summer.  This is the one time of year that all of our significant others join us.   My wife is always happy about it, because she loves Champagne.

Most of our wine tastings are blind, but not this time.  Ed and Joan made a wonderful flank steak with green beans cooked in some sort of bacon fat – and the most amazing potatoes cooked in duck fat!  It was the perfect pairing for the Champagne and an excellent way to kick off the pending trips to France that three of the couples are planning this fall.

Everyone agreed that the line-up of Champagnes this year were all excellent – here are the wines that people brought:

NV Guy Charlemagne – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  Very nice toasty nose of bread and ginger spice.  Medium to full-bodied with baked apples and bread, with a nice medium – long finish.  This is a very nice bold masculine-styled Champagne, especially for the price range of $45.  (91pts.)

NV Besserat de Bellefon – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  Nice subtle nose of lemon and yeast, medium-light bodied with clean Chardonnay fruit and lemon in the mouth.  Medium lemon/apple finish.  My wife liked this more than I did.  It was more feminine in style and around $35.  (89pts.)

NV Aspasie – Cepages D’Antan – Champagne, France:  This is Aspasie’s high-end wine and they are owned by the Champagne house Ariston.  Exotic nose of ripe lemons and blood oranges, combined with smokey wood notes.  Medium-full bodied with spiced baked apples and lemon, good acidity and a medium-long finish.  This is a very nice Champagne that will age well over the next ten years, $100.  (93pts.)

1998 Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  This is the high-end wine for Taittinger and it was an absolute beauty tonight.  Big, zesty lemony fruit on the nose.  Full bodied in the mouth with lemon, baking spices and intense electric acidity.  There was great minerality pouring through on the very long persistent finish.  This was the best showing I have had with a Taittinger Champagne in a very long time and it was the surprise of the evening.  This wine is feminine in style and still needs another 10 years to reach maturity.  Once it gets there it will be a show stopper, wow.  $185.  (96pts.)

1996 Egly Ouriet – Grand Cru – Champagne, France:  Smaller producer and not easy to get, but Egly Ouriet makes some great wines in all price ranges.  This was Egly Ouriet’s high-end wine.  Big, rich toasty apple and lemon fruit combined with ginger and baking spices, like nutmeg.  This wine is a big masculine styled Champagne, that just begs you to have food with it, not a delicate sipping Champagne by any means.  Very long, rich, spiced green apple fruit finish, beautiful $125.  (95pts.)

1996 Pol Roger – Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc – Champagne, France:  Big, bold spicy lemon fruit nose that carries through to the palate.  Nice long spicy fruit finish with very good acidity.   This is a Pol Roger middle end wine and they consistently make a great Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc in a masculine style $85.  (94pts.)

1996 Bollinger – Grand Annee – Champagne, France:  Very nice ginger bread and lemon nose.  This Champagne is full-bodied and very smooth in the mouth.  You get baked apples and lemon, combined with again ginger bread and very nice acidity on the very long finish, great wine and getting better $125.  (94pts)

1996 Krug – Champagne, France:  Big, strong nose of baked bread, apples and lemon.  Very masculine in style, huge, bold whole grain bread combined with spicy baked green apples and lemony acidity.  This wine is very smooth in the mouth, but with huge body.  The extremely complex finish of bread, spices and fruit, is incredibly long.  The finish stays in the mouth long after you have swallowed it.  The 1996 Krug is definitely a Champagne to have food with and is one of the best Champagnes that I have ever had.  It is still young, but has a long life ahead of it.  It is hard to imagine, but this champagne will get better with more time in the bottle.  In ten years, the 1996 Krug will be an absolute rockstar $350.  (99pts.)

When we have people over for dinner, we generally start the evening off with some Champagne.  Most people think of Champagne as something you open for a special occasion.  I say Champagne is great for any day of the week – life itself is enough of a celebration, and we certainly proved it last Tuesday night!  Thanks Ed and Joan!

My wife, Christina, with good friend Bill Schallert from Youngs Market Co.
My wife, Christina, with good friend Bill Schallert from Youngs Market Co. at the  champagne tasting.