Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Terres et Vins de Champagne

My visit to Champagne was mainly focused around the tasting held on Monday 19th April, Terres et Vins de Champagne. I didn’t really understand the concept of this tasting until I stepped into the Castel Jeanson in Ay. Held once a year this tasting was born out of a genuine desire to share passion for authentic Champagne wines. 17 producers bring together both their Vins Clairs, that is, their base wine from 2009 vintage and other Champagnes from different vintages.

It was my first time ever to taste base wine, and I soon realised how this can give you a clear indication of how the final style of the champagne will be. It was extremely interesting to compare the vin clairs with the champagne; minerality found in one would also be present in the other, austere acidity in one would also be the end result in the final Champagne. What was also very interesting to see and understand was the change in style from father to son or daughter. Most of the producers were represented by two generations and the styles of the wines were distinctive according to which one produced it. The main idea behind this tasting is the focus on terroir in Champagne. Unfortunately, Champagne is mostly associated with blends of different areas and therefore of different soils which doesn’t give a clear terroir identity. Whilst these 17 producers try to keep the connection with soil and terroir as much as possible; 30 different soils being represented in this tasting.

The brains behind this project are Berec and his friend Aurélien Laherte of Laherte Frères who brought together not only 17 high quality producers but also different areas of Champagne, again to bring forward the diversity of terrior. The stars of the day were: Pascal Agrapart, Françoise Bedel, Raphaël Bereche, Francis Boulard (Raymond Boulard), Alexandre Chartogne (Chartogne-Taillet), Couche Vincent, Pascal Doquet, Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy (René Geoffroy), Etienne Goutorbe (Henri Goutorbe), Cyril Jeaunaux (Jeaunaux-Robin), Benoît Lahaye, Aurélien Laherte, David Léclapart, Franck Pascal, Olivier Paulet (Hubert Paulet) Fabrice Pouillon and Benoît Tarlant.

From these great producers one cannot pick favourites, yet I feel that producers like Pascal Agrapart, Pascal Doquet, Franck Pascal and the famous Benoît Tarlant, need a special mention. Pascal Agrapart’s wines come from 3 different terroirs from the same village of Avize. Venus, named after his horse which he uses for ploughing his soils, is one of the most mineral and delicate Champagnes I ever tasted. A remarkable point made by Pascal was that he uses cork not a bidule as his bottles are ageing sur latte, because this gives a delicate ageing edge to his wines.

Situated in Vertus and producing bio wines since 2003, Pascal Doquet’s Le Mensil Champagne coming from the Grand Cru Le Mensil-sur-Oger in the Cote de Blancs, has a unique nose of mature fruit, toasty aromas and an almond elegant finish.

Franck Pascal, a great Champagne producer we met in Prowein will be one of my all time favourites. His Brut Nature Sagesse made from 57% Pinot Meunier, 38% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, has a very vibrant lively nose with great acidity on the palate. Indeed only a man with Wisdom (Sagesse) like Franck can translate terroir characteristics so uniquely into his wines.

Last but not least, actually I think the most well-known of the 17 producers¸ Benoît Tarlant. From the heart of the village of Oeuilly, just bordering the river Marne, Tarlant has been producing Champagne since 1687. Introducing Cuvee Louis Extra Brut from his vineyard in Les Crayons, Benoit told us he calls this Champagne the river wine. The river which helps keep the grapes cool giving highly concentrated fruit yet a pure and delicate nose with crisp acidity; all feature in this lovely champagne. A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 60-year-old vines, based primarily on the 1998 harvest with reserve wines from both 1997 and 1996.

Well, after I posted my photos from Champagne on my Facebook page, one of my friends told me, “I think you're in heaven!!” and I cannot possibly disagree. Yet Champagne has been only one of the heavenly regions I visited lately. I hope to discover more in the near future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bubbly lady

After a 3 hour drive to Champagne, myself, the Maltese importer and the Russian Champagne lover, were all looking forward to taste some bubbly. Thanking our Sicilian friend Luca for organising the visiting to Corbon; who eventually didn’t make it to Champagne due to a certain volcano in distant Iceland, we hurriedly checked in at our guest house and made our way to the tasting. After a few minutes browsing the streets of Avize our treasure hunt finally led us to Agnes Corbon, a lady in her mid 30s with a twist of British accent who was to be our introduction to the Champagne region and to our great weekend there.

Agnes firstly introduced us to the recipe used by the 5000 cooks in Champagne. The various cepages used, pressing methods, explaining how the cuvee, the tailles and the various vintages are used in the art of assemblage. Then she took us down to their cellars were she explained how she is changing the methods in the cellars by introducing barrel fermentation, a different vision from her dad’s which wasn’t easy to introduce. Her dad also took the time to demonstrate degorgement by hand, a method he used before machinery was introduced in their cellars. It was thrilling to get to know such a man where experience isn’t written in CVs yet on the palm of his hand and carved in his warm smile.

Tasting champagne, oh yes we got to do that too. First we started off with Absolument Brut; this champagne has it biggest % age of base wine coming from the 2002 vintage. 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, this wine has a lovely floral and light fruity bouquet, with nice balanced acidity on the palate. Next up was the Prestige Champagne, this time a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. Here what struck me was the burnt toasty aromas on the nose. The Vintage 2000 made from 100% Chardonnay from Avize (Cotes de Blanc) only disgorged a few months ago had lovely creamy bubbles on the palate with fresh acidity and long toasty finish. Finally, saving the best for last, we tasted the Brut D’Autrefois which, drum rolls, comes for a solera system just like in Jerez for Sherry production. The wines are an assemblage of various vintages since 1989 and every year a percentage of the cuvee is added to the reserve wine keeping a good blend between the different vintages. This reserve wine is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. The final wine is a floral, delicate and elegant wine with a round long persistence on the palate. A really complex inviting Champagne.

With the bubbles kicking in and the warm atmosphere in the living room, it was just the right time to ask some questions, both of a personal and a political nature. What do you (Agnes) think of the expansion rules in Champagne? From the look in her face, it was clear that she had made up her opinion and she was against this new move in Champagne. According to her it’s not economically viable to expand further and therefore produce more, with sales of champagne already dropping due to recession. More production would increase the crisis for producers in champagne. She also explained how the commission has ruled out certain areas for production in Germaine and other northerly areas of Montagne de Reims due the cold severe temperatures there, but might these vineyards be more productive in the near future due to global warming? She also explained that rumours also have it that the big players are buying land around Champagne hoping that this land will be introduced in the appellation. Like everywhere else it seems politics play a very interesting role. LVMH being the biggest player issued invoices to their vigernons in January, a month later than usual, just to have good looking accounts at the end of the year (2009) in the hope of selling their important label Moet. Yet, Agnes also recognised the importance of such players in the market, without their constant advertising Champagne wouldn’t be so well-known world-wide.

The personal question; why did you leave your winery 6 years ago and what brought you back? Agnes explained that like Antz the movie, she was the ant who sought something different, she wanted to experience more than the region of Champagne so she travelled and worked in different countries, yet when she became a mother she realised the importance of her roots, her sense of place so she retraced her way back to Avize and took over her father’s work. Indeed, a great continuation with passion for this bubbly has always been the focal point of this family-owned Champagne house and Agnes will make sure it always shall be.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Not Only Fine Wine

For a wine lover like myself , living in Burgundy and surrounded by Grand Cru sites is the epitome of a great life, yet great wine has to marry great food. This week I was “hosting” a Maltese friend of mine, another wine lover par excellence. Together we didn’t only discover great wines from Burgundy, Jura and the Maconnais but we also discovered great dishes to match.

My favourite dinner was prepared by a Maltese “chef”, my friend Brian. For starters we bought the Mongolfier with escargot and mushrooms, which only our favourite restaurant in Dijon can cook, Pourquoi pas? The lovely earthiness of the mushrooms and the escargot marry so well the fine parsley and crust, lovely! The second dish was prepared by Brian, as he ardently looked for all the best ingredients to prepare the best octopus ever cooked in Dijon. :) Cooked slowly in Bordeaux wine with finely cut garlic, fresh cherry tomatoes, green peppers and marrows, Brian managed to fly me back to Malta for a few minutes and taste its beauty.

One of our best lunches was in the quaint village of Pouilly-Fuissé, well-known for its Chardonnay. After a short walk around town we decided to eat at the only visibly open restaurant in town, Au Pouilly Fuissé.
After having a look at the menu we decided to settle for the Autour de la langouste menu. As the menu name suggests, this 5 course meal was a Langouste Mine d’Or . The Velouté de Langouste et ses ravioles de Foie gras, was served after the introductory mise en bouche. What impressed me about this dish was how creatively the foie gras was added to the dish without overcoming the delicate taste of the velouté.

For our third dish we were served Médaillon de Langouste et Noix de St-Jacques en gratin et poêlés de Morilles. Here the St.Jacques melted in the lovely sauce thickened with the Morilles mushrooms . As main dish we were served a Demi-Langouste rôtie au beurre clarifié. Here the Langouste Lobster was cooked only with butter leaving it to express all its elegant flavours.

Cheese is one of the most important dishes in every French menu. The cheese trolley was extremely inviting with fromage from Pommard, which is soft and covered with dijon mustard seeds, Burgundy’s famous Epoisse, Jura’s mouth watering Comté, the delicate Blue de Bresse and many others.

As dessert we were served Crêpe soufflée à l'orange, quenelle de glace chocolat et sa petite soupe de fruits rouges. Only the most tempting of desserts would get you even to try it after such a long full lunch, and this was surely one. Even if at its sight your subconscious would implore you not to eat more than just a bite, its light soufflé went down too well not to help yourself to a bigger portion.

Well, by now you would be wondering, but what wine would match this “light” lunch? :) Well, a lovely Pouilly-Fuissé, with enough body to handle all the different ingredients of this menu yet with enough acidity to refresh your palate ready for another mouth-watering bite! 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Vertical Chosen with Emotion

As promised in one of my previous blogs I will share with you my experience of the vertical tasting of Braida’s Bricco della Bigotta last Friday during Vinitaly. My lovely friend Nadine Weihgold was really helpful in providing me with a ticket for this tasting and I happily attended. Held in a small room at the Taste and Dream section of Vinitaly other than the pompous halls aimed mainly for media attention, created a warm intimate atmosphere.

This tasting was dedicated to Anna Bologna, the mother of Raffella Bologna who together with Paolo Massobrio presented the tasting. Anna Bologna who recently passed away, held together both the family and the winery after her husband passed away in 1990. Giacomo Bologna is synonymous with great Barbera. He was one of the few people who recognized the potential of Barbera when everyone was ardently producing Barbarescos and Barolos from the famous Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont. The first vintage of Giacomo Bologna takes us back to 1985 and today they own 56 hectare of vineyards in the heart of Piedmont.

Bricco della Bigotta comes from a 5 hectare amphitheaterically shaped vineyard with soils composed mainly of calcare, argilla and ferro. The vines are mainly 30 to 40 years old and were all bought in 1998; such move provided the family with more hands on vineyard management. This wine spends around 12 to 15 months in French oak barrels and another 12 months in bottle before being ready to drink. Yet from the tasting held Friday I think that a newly released Bricco della Bigotta needs to age for a few more years in bottle before showing its full potential.

Raffella Bologna started off the tasting by expressing her feelings behind this vertical tasting, why she chose these particular vintages. Was it a matter of quality? A matter of market demand? A matter of vintage variation? With tears in her eyes and with an emotional voice Raffella explained that the reason behind the vintages chosen was simply an emotional one.

Emotional Vintage Trail

2006 - the wine’s most recent vintage which is ready to be appreciated as the 07 is still far too young according to Raffaella

2004 – Anna Bologna starts fighting against her sickness. This fights ends on the 6th February 2010.

2001 – Raffella gets married.

1997 – Raffella’s brother Giuseppe gets married.

1990 – Giacomo Bologna dies and his wife together with her children decide to run the company and continue pursuing Giacomo’s dream.

One of my favourite vintages was 2001. This wine had still a vibrant ruby colour with tartufo, spices, forest fruit notes and hints of violet on the nose. The palate had beautiful silky tannins with lovely complex mature fruit. Raffella described this as “Piemontese autentico con identita”! Obviously this vintage did not only award her with love for her new life partner but also with love from the vine.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Back to the Future in Sicily

Barely a week after having aged by another year and slowly getting accustomed to being 29 does the age issue come up again, this time during a wine presentation accompanied by wine tasting in Vinitaly. The theme was Sicilian Wines Challenging Time: vintage 2000, through which the Istituto Regionale Vite e Vini of Palermo wanted to examine whether fine wines from Sicily were now promoted to the ageing league or not. Without any doubt, the answer is a definite yes as was clearly manifested by twelve wines ranging from a white, to various nero d’avolas, a blend of nerello mascalese and cappuccio, straight cabs, a Bordeaux blend and a Sicilo-Bordeaux blend, a marsala and two passitos di pantalleria, all ten years of age. Without exception, all stood the test of time admirably, some with more pronounced character than others. One, precisely the marsala, has indeed yet to be bottled and released on the market. The regions travel through the entire Mediterranean isle, right through to the Etna area, or the isle within the isle as Guiseppe Benanti referred to the active volcanic region where harvesting starts around the third week of September ending in the first weeks of October when the same function is held weeks earlier in the other regions of Sicily, markedly differentiating it from the rest of the isle. Signor Murana in his description of his passito di pantalleria hastened to claim the true isle-within-the-isle nickname more authentically for his beloved pantalleria isle.

Even though climates differ widely in Sicily, the 2000 vintage was described by most producers as a hard vintage with drought being the main problem. Yet way back in time, 10 years ago the market demanded high alcohol, full-bodied wines therefore they still sold well; the question was and is, can this vintage and these wines survive the battle through time? Knowing the vintage was a hot and dry one, your perception immediately takes you to low acidity wines which cannot age well. To my surprise the first wine of the tasting was a Chardonnay by Planeta and apart from complexities on both nose and palate, acidity is still the backbone of this 10 year old. Nero d’Avola, being one of Sicily’s indegenious grape varieties, didn’t fail to impress in showing age potential. Although 10 years back where the early days for experimentation both in the vineyard and in the cantine, the wines from Gulfi, Riofavara and Duca di Salaparuta all showed elegant, silky tannins enveloped by dried fruits and spezie di Sicilia. The Bordeaux varieties showed their versatility to Sicilian terroir in wines from Tasca D’Almerita and Ceuso. Tasca d’Almertia was one of the first, best wineries producing 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Here, I found a mix of black currents, cigars box and cedar nuances yet still with a Sicilian accent. The Ceuso a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for me was one of the wines which still showed it can be aged easily for the next 10 years. Interestingly whilst speaking with Giuseppe Melia, the oenologist and owner of Ceuso I discovered how they make use of mostly cement vats to age their wines. According to experimentation these containers helps the wine settle down and filter easily. In fact none of the red wines at Ceuso are filtered.

Being a woman in wine, it was a pleasure to see that two wines of great distinction were presented by two women. Luisa Melia presented the Ceuso Custera by Ceuso whilst Laura Doro Martinez presented the Marsala Vergine Riserva by Martinez. Surely, when these wines were produced these two young ladies where still teenagers in search for their true love. They undoubtedly discovered the greatest love of all, wine!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pinch me! Am I dreaming?

Like everyone living away from home, when one is away from family and friends, some moments in life can get really lonely and tough and you start questioning, am I doing the right thing? These questions pop up considerably often especially when you just turned a year older!

Well, today is a day where I can fully and surely answer; yes I am doing the right thing! A field trip organised by our Wine Tourism lecturer Mrs. Laurence Cogan turned out to be a very interesting day with Grand Cru tastings plus in-depth information about the Grand Cru road in Burgundy. It was actually a great pleasure to have the author of Vineyard Trails, Mr. Claude Chapuis as our guide all day long. Mr. Chapuis is a walking wine and history book. He has knowledge from viticulture to winemaking, from wine trails in Burgundy to many other regions in the world where he worked, like Perth in Australia and Marlborough in New Zealand. One interesting fact we learnt from Mr. Chapuis today was that Nuits Saint Georges wine was the first wine taken to the moon or better, to have one of the craters of the moon is actually called 'St-Georges’, after Jules Verne's Captain Anders chose to toast his moon-landing with a bottle of Nuits. We can therefore say that wines from the Cote de Nuits are astronomically good!!! :)

So after a very informative and interesting drive by Mr.Chapuis along the Cote de Nuits we actually started our first wine tasting at Domaine Comte Senard in Aloxe-Corton, the only village which has Grand Crus in both red and white. The tasting presented by a very knowledgeable sommelier, Emily and she took us through from Village to Premier Cru to all the Grand Cru wines. It was really interesting to taste Grand Crus from different climates and compare them together, especially given that we tasted the same producer. My favourite, really difficult to pick, yet I would surely take with me a Grand Cru Corton Clos du Roi to my first trip to the moon. We had a 2006 vintage so the colour was really vibrant ruby with a very rich red fruit nose and a powerful, structured palate showing complexity and potential. Gladly, I will be revisiting this domaine very soon. I booked a table for lunch just to impress another Maltese wino visiting me soon.

After such a pleasant start we stopped over at a very interesting wine shop just outside Beaune, CPH. This shop has a great selection of Burgundy and Champagne wines on the ground level and a very good selection of wines from the rest of France and the world on the first floor. A very well equipped and easy to navigate wine shop with some attractive prices too.

After this short stop we were all looking forward to lunch at La Table d’Olivier Leflaive. I had visited the winery of Olivier Leflaive a couple of months ago for a tasting and the wines are pretty impressive. I cannot say less for both the lunch and wine served today. Approached by Simon Aplin a very proficient sommelier, we started off lunch with a nice refreshing Bourgogne Les Setilles 2008 and some cheese Gougeres. Then we were served a terrine of tuna which matched perfectly the balanced acidity of the Rully 1er Cru Rabource 2007. And for main course, drum rolls, a delicious chicken in puff pastry served with mushroom sauce. With this dish we were served two wines, Puligny-Montrachet 2007 and Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2007. I found both wines matched the dish perfectly since both wines had crisp acidity and minerality which counterbalanced the structure of the mushroom sauce. Also, as Simon pointed out, these two wines tasted together really brought out the different characteristics of these wines, the diversity of terrior and wine making. The Puligny Montrachet is a blend of different vineyard plots along the village of Puligny Montrachet and mostly had exotic fruits on the nose. The Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain, was a bit closed at the beginning with mostly smoky aromas from the oak present but then it evolved in lovely citrus fruits and on the mouth one could immediately notice the lasting minerality.

After happily filling our tummies, we proceeded with our wine tour and stopped at the village of Auxey-Duresses. This village like St.Aubin and St.Romain is not so well-known but for me represents very good value and good quality wines. Maybe here the wine makers work harder to make their wine stand out and I really enjoy wines from this village, especially wines from Michel Prunier & Fille. My first visit to this winery was actually around October during the Caves Ouvertes at Auxey-Duresses. I also met Estelle Prunier last week during the Grands Jours and had the great pleasure to taste 1978 and 1988 vintages from their selection. Like always Estelle was very helpful and gave us a fine tasting of their various wines including Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru of which we happily bought a bottle each (only 15 Euros from the cellar).

Lastly we visited the Chateau de Corton Andre at the centre of the Aloxe Corton Village. Unfortunately, their wines don’t stand out as much as the colourful roof tiles of their Chateau which is believed to be of Flemish origins and is one of the most striking characteristics of the Burgundian architecture in the area.

Well, a successful day indeed which clearly covered the study topic of this field work, which I forgot to mention at the start of the blog.... Wine Tourism in Burgundy: Friendly or Cold? Easy or Difficult? Truth or Myth? Maybe, you should take the time to discover it for yourself! You’ll surely not be disappointed!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Celebrating the 1981 Vintage!

Well another year has passed and I just turned 29! This year was rather significant I must admit especially vinously speaking. I have graduated from my WSET Diploma, I managed to get into the MSc in Wine Business program and here I am in Burgundy surrounded by the best Grand Crus, tasting some great wines not only from Burgundy but from all corners of the world. Fascinating really, how wine helps you travel and discover different cultures, people, thoughts, point of views and much more. Therefore on my 29th Birthday I consider myself a very lucky girl who is living her dream and who is day dreaming with her eyes open with every pop of the cork. For this I want to greatly thank my parents to have made it all possible for me, my sister and all you good friends reading this post. Also, I want to thank Pierre Felter for the great help he gave me with starting this blog.

Now on to wine... How was the 1981 vintage really? Am I a wine to age, ready to drink now or past its best?


Not an easy year for producers, with extremely challenging growing conditions. A very mild spring produced forward vine development but this proved to be a headache as frosts in April and hail in May severely reduced the potential size of the crop. Small quantities of wines were produced with the vast majority being used for blending. However, even smaller quantities of soft, elegant and surprisingly stylish vintage wines were produced, maybe that’s where I get my sparkle from!. All the vintage Champagnes are now fully mature, am I? I wonder.

In any case, seemslike I’d better open my Bollinger 1981 RD. I can only imagine the lovely full mature aromas intermingled with the yeasty character which is always so present in vintage champagne.

Red Burgundy

1981 was one of the smallest wine vintages in living memory for Burgundy and a year in which growers` wits and tempers were stretched to new limits as the weather and growing conditions were some of the most challenging ever witnessed. The majority of growers struggled to produce wines of any quality. The finest domains were able to stagger their harvests and were able to discard rotten and unripe fruit from their final cuvées. Miraculously, a handful of the best producers produced some noteworthy wines which are now fully mature and are marked by an intriguing complexity, . Am I intriguing? Complex? Both?

Red Bordeaux

A small crop produced a somewhat underrated vintage that has suffered in reputation by being followed by the legendary 1982 vintage. The wines were somewhat diluted by rain during the harvest and are leaner than the 1982s or 1983s but tend to be deeper in colour and body than the 1979s.
The best wines are stylish, elegant and well-balanced, with Pomerol, St Julien and Pauillac being the most successful communes. They are all completely mature now. A classic Bordeaux vintage for a classic Maltese girl.
I have a couple of these sleeping in my cellar, given to me as a Birthday present just last year. Will try to enjoy them on my next visit to Malta!


In Rioja this was a growing season of 2 halves - the winter was long, cold and frosty and temperatures remained low throughout spring and much of summer. However, September and October were very hot and dry and this gave a real boost to the quality. In retrospect many producers now believe that, for serious, long-lived red wines, this was a better vintage than the more widely publicised 1982 and they haven’t met me yet :P

Well, I guess Sergey has a bottle for me right? Or is it more a recent vintage? Looking forward to it! :)


Seems the vintage was a good one especially for Brunello yet nothing exceptional when compared to the 1985, 1988 or 1990. Actually I have recently tasted a 1980 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from the Col D’Orcia estate. Even though the tawny rim clearly indicated signs of ageing and even if the bouquet was full of mature fruit, the palate still held on very well with good acidity and round soft tannins present. It was an amazing experience to drink this wine last February at the Benvenuto Brunello. I surely need to find a 1981 vintage to compare!

The prospect for my 30th year, well surely more wine experiences to uncover, more friends to share my wine with, more dreams to live and more growth within! And they say men are the ones to age gracefully....duh!!