Category: Sparkling Wine

How to sabrage according to WineChap’s Tom Harrow

This is part one of two on Charles Heidsieck and the art of sabrage. Read part two here.

As party tricks go, sabrage is pretty awesome.

In layman’s (or woman) terms, it’s playing with swords whilst under the influence of alcohol, only the amount of alcohol available for consumption is drastically reduced if the sabrage goes awry. Nothing like the promise of danger to get the party started it seems.

But there’s definitely nothing better than a round of sabrage before getting to know Charles Heidsieck.

According to legends, Charles Heidsieck was the original Champagne Charlie who inspired George Leybourne’s song (Langham Hotels worldwide toasts Champagne Charlie daily at 19.05). It was he who broke away from the Heidsieck & co family name and put his own stamp, or rather, his own name, on the Champagnes. And it was he who was credited with introducing America to Champagne.

Not quite the inventor of sabrage but quite the maverick nevertheless. So you see why sabrage is the perfect introduction to proceedings.

Tom Harrow sabrage

The introduction was made by Tom Harrow of WineChap who had hosted various sabrage events.

Apparently bottle shape, temperature, vintage and the style of wine will all affect the success of sabrage. The key is finding a sturdy bottle (for safety reasons) that’s well chilled (reducing spillage) and encloses sparkling wine with pressure of around seven bars. In this case, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck (or a practice bottle of Cava for the less experienced).

Every bottle has a fault line which is found about 2cm below the cork on one side of the bottle in the form of a slight dent. You’ll probably need to remove some of the label at the neck to find it but you will definitely need to remove all of the label in order to successfully sabrage.

The fault line is where you need to take aim, but don’t fire just quite yet.

Remove the wire cage around the cork and aim away from people and other things you don’t want to damage in the unlikely event that you have a bottle that’s holding back a lot more than the seven bars.

Take your sabrage weapon (be it a sword, spoon or even ipad) and tease it along the neck, flat against the shape of the bottle, and across the fault line. When you’re comfortable, follow through with your tease, but don’t lift your weapon at the last minute. The cork and annulus should slip cleanly off with ease. That is, the rim of the bottle is the only part that’s taken off with the cork – you’re not hacking off the neck here!

Anyway, after you pop your cork, it’s time to enjoy some Champagne. Do use a decanter or some other intermediary device if you think your sabrage skills might not have had the desired effects on the content of your bottle.

Charles Heidsieck hosted a tasting and dinner. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Franciacorta: A different perspective on our favourite bubbles

When you think about sparkling wines and Italy, Prosecco will no doubt be the first thing which comes to mind. But for fine Italian bubbles, you should really look to Franciacorta.

Franciacorta, a wine region in Lombardy just south of Lake Iseo, is a place whose still wines have been noted in history by the likes of Virgil and Pliny the Elder for its exceptional quality. But in recent times, it is their sparkling wines which have brought the region back in vogue.

Wines of the region were only denominated as Franciacorta in 1957, when winemaker Guido Berlucchi released a still white wine called Pinot di Franciacorta. Then in 1961, with the help of Franco Ziliani, Berlucchi produced a sample 3,000 bottles of sparkling wines. The wines, produced via metodo classico (the same method as champagne), gained instant popularity and flew out of the Berlucchi cellars. The following year, production was increased to some 20,000 and has been steadily increasing since.

Standards of Franciacorta have always been maintained though. And in 1995, Franciacorta was awarded the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status as an indication of its superior quality.

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

These days, a handful of Franciacorta producers lay claim to an output of around 13 million bottles – only a tiny fraction compared to Champagne. But just like Champagne, it is the only Italian wine which doesn’t need to declare its appellation on the label.

The pedigree all looks very good on paper but what does it taste like?

In conversations and tastings with the sommeliers at the very Italian Amaranto and Degò, the feedback has always been very positive. The little known sparkling wine, hidden like an Italian secret, has quality that’s comparable to that of Champagne but at a snip of the price. And elsewhere, including in the likes of award winning journal The World of Fine Wine, the consensus is in agreement – Franciacorta is a more than worthy contender on the platform of sparkling wines.

I invited Tom Harrow of WineChap to Vini Italiani, a South Kensington wine shop specialising in Italian wines, for a tasting of Franciacorta. One of the owners, Matteo Berlucchi, is in fact a member of the Franciacorta making family Fratelli Berlucchi so bubbles were certainly in their veins.

Harrow, already familiar with Franciacorta, was immediately happy to declare 2012 as the year for it. I was inclined to agree.

Franciacorta at Vini Italiani

We tasted the Brut 25 NV Fratelli Berlucchi, Brut NV Il Mosnel, Prima Cuvee Brut NV Monte Rossa, Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi, Pas Dose Riserva “QDE” 2004 Il Mosnel and Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco. Each had its distinct characteristic, minerality and a rich butteriness that the average Prosecco simply cannot comprehend. And fruit too, was surprisingly prominent.

Harrow, I think, was rather captured by their structure. The Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco, he says, would happily rest for a few more years before maturity. Generally finding pink to be a deterrent, I actually quite fancied the Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi for drinking right now (Valentine’s Day in particular). All in all, a rather tasty afternoon’s work.

Of course that is not to say that this relatively young wine is comparable to the finest Champagnes, which by its very nature is in a superior category. But as Harrow rightly said, to compare Franciacorta with anything else simply doesn’t do it justice – it is unlike anything else on the market. And for something which has only been in production for a relatively short time, Franciacorta is already very good and has great potential to grow. Besides, a different interpretation of our favourite drink is never a bad thing

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

Grower Champagne, fromage and French Bubbles

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

It’s fast approaching Christmas and there’s one word on everyone’s minds – celebration. And nothing says celebration quite like champagne.

Most of the champagnes that I’ve been drinking this year have been from one of the big Champagne houses. There’s something to be said about that – you will always get consistency of quality, good or bad. What is missing, especially in non-vintages, is character.

I’m keenly aware of the fact that much of the choice of champagnes comes down to branding and little to the stories behind the brand. Even as someone who works in the industry, I rarely get the opportunity to explore the history and culture of the brand. More often than not, it’s the presentation of a portfolio – no wonder a champagne induced coma seem a likely solution.

Champagne Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, Mayfair

In some respects, that’s one of the key differences between grower champagnes and a Champagne corporation.

Grower champagnes are all about the wine maker creating something from the grapes that they’ve grown. There’s much more investment in terms of how the grapes are grown, when they are picked, when they are sorted, how they’re pressed, how they’re aged etc. The result is a potentially much more interesting champagne, boasting of character.

It’s not to say that grower champagnes are necessarily superior – there is, after all, the necessary skill of the wine maker involved. What’s more, a big champagne house is more likely to have the expertise and money to maintain a consistency in quality. However, a grower champagne has the opportunity to be a much more personal drink with many more opportunities and incentives for experimentation.

Owing to substantially lower production numbers and logistics of import and export, grower champagnes aren’t always accessible. There is one company who has made their entire business on grower champagnes – French Bubbles.

Champagne at Champagne and Fromage

Stefano Frigerio and Maud Fierobe, the passionate couple who launched the brand in 2010. As well as supplying some of London’s most well-known restaurants like Bubbledogs, Massimo and L’atelier des Chefs, Stefan and Maud also opened shop and bistro Champagne & Fromage earlier this year.

The entire operation is all about champagne, cheese and the occasional tartine and cold cut. In their eyes, it’s the ideal introduction to champagne.

And what an introduction it is.

There are several rotating champagnes available by the glass and many more as bottles that you can enjoy in store. The bistro offers a selection of hot and cold dishes, designed to match the champagnes, that are also available for takeaway. Then there’s the fact that both Stefan and Maud are knowledgeable enough to not only give you advice about champagnes but also pass their passion onto you.

What better then, than some champagne recommendations from French Bubbles themselves?

Here’s Maud on her festive choices:

  • Waris Larmandier Cuvée Empreinte Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004 is a beautiful vintage for a special occasion.
  • Waris-Larmandier Cuvée Sensation Brut Nv works well with St Maure, Brillat-Savarin and Cantal cheeses.
  • Enjoy Michel Furdyna La Réserve Brut nv blanc de Noir with salami and peppery Corsican cured meat.
  • Pertois-Moriset Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Nv is perfect with a box of Mont d’or – our favourite winter cheese.

Champagne and Fromage hosted an event to explore the world of grower Champagnes. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Duval-Leroy at The Greenhouse Mayfair

When we think of champagne, we inevitably think of canapés; indeed, this is the most frequent mode of delivery. At a stretch, perhaps, we think of demi-sec or sec with desserts. But outside of champagne enthusiasts, how many of us sit down to champagne matched to every course?

Well, as I discovered over a Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, the French serve nothing but champagne at weddings, making it the ultimate celebratory drink. That’s a rather apt discovery since Duval-Leroy is one champagne house that’s very focused on their food. Take their Lady Rose, which was originally created for Pierre Hermé macaroons. But more on that later.

First, let’s sit down to a selection of their champagnes matched by head chef Arnaud Bignon’s specially created menu.

Duval-Leroy has 15 cuvées in its portfolio. We started with Fleur de Champagne 1er Cru NV as an aperitif, a champagne which celebrated its centenary last year and is Duval-Leroy’s best sellers in the restaurant trade. It’s not hard to see why it’s so popular – a delicate floral nose with a solid structure, ready to stand up against any likely canapé pairings.

Wild salmon, coconut, wasabi, curry, salad, Champagne Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, MayfairNext up was the Rosé Prestige 1er Cru NV. This salmon-pink champagne is said to boast a bouquet of cherries, figs and even a hint of ginger – a difficult match but the chef’s wild salmon dish, with hints of curry and wasabi, worked beautifully.

The third champagne, La Femme de Champagne 2000 Grand Cru, was the favourite amongst the wine writers around the table. The powerful vintage, only produced in certain years and from selected Grand Cru plots, had great structure and finished to a soft mousse on the palate. Cornish crab highlighted with mint jelly, Granny Smith apple and curry made another challenging match but one that La Femme easily overcame with finesse.

The only blanc de blancs we had, the Clos des Bouveries 2005 cuvée oenoclimatique, was Duval-Leroy’s special experiment. The champagne, produced solely from Chardonnay grapes harvested from a century-old Duval-Leroy owned vineyard near Vertus, is vintaged every year so the effect of the weather on each vintage is fully explored and exposed.

The dish matched was an equally experimental looking chicken with truffle, chestnut and squash. Champagne with meat is perhaps the most difficult match and in this case there was a little too much experimentation on the palate.

The final champagne was the champagne for food lovers, and in particular, desserts – the aforementioned Lady Rose NV. Duval-Leroy still celebrate this champagne with their annual Dessert of the Year competition. At 25g/l dosage, the champagne falls firmly into the super sweet sec category.

Originally produced as a half bottle, it has proved so popular in Asia, matching well with Asian cuisine, that a full sized bottle is now produced too. With berries on the nose and slight acidity on the palate, the Lady Rose NV married well with the raspberry, lychee and rose dessert.

Raspberry, lychee, rose, Champagne Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, Mayfair

It seems that there’s certainly room for champagne with every course, though matching is not always so simple. Duval-Leroys champagnes did well with the fish and of course dessert but further explorations are certainly needed for meats. And that’s not something to complain about!

It was also interesting to learn about the champagne house’s dedication to the sustainable development of their vineyards and winemaking. This includes continued commitment to reducing water usage, use of solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint and a move towards organic vinification with some of their cuvées.

Now that is something worth raising a glass of champagne to.

See the menu and additional photos here

(First seen on Bon Vivant)

Japanese food, French wines: an evening with Luiz Hara and Bordeaux wines

 Luiz Hara, London Foodie Japanese Supperclub with Bordeaux Wine

French wine and Japanese food, why wouldn’t you?

After all, there are some surprising similarities between French and Japanese food. Stock, for example, features prominently in both cuisines, albeit with different basic ingredients. And then of course there are plenty of French restaurants, employing classical techniques but using Japanese ingredients. Joel Robuchon‘s empire, in particular, comes to mind.

So French wine and Japanese food, not too wild a path for the stretch of imagination.

And it was at Luiz Hara‘s (The London Foodie) lovely home that this combination came to life – a Japanese supper club hosted with Bordeaux wines.

Having cooked with Luiz at his supper club before, I sort of knew the food to expect – home cooked food done well. There were a couple of old-faithfuls like the salmon sashimi South American way and teppanyaki of rib-eye but it was also great to see Luiz’s new creations like “Ankimo” and “Deconstructing Sushi”.

And you know that well known fact about the expense of Bordeaux wines? About how it’s auctioned at record prices in Hong Kong? And how the buoyant Chinese wine market is what’s driving it up? Well this supper club dispels that myth too.

All the wines chosen to match Luiz’s dishes were under £20, and there were some interesting combinations too.

Take “Deconstructing Sushi” (essentially a Japanese version of Coquilles Saint-Jacques) and Roquefortissime 2010 from Château Roquefort for example, the dish was a lot spicier than I would have expected of Japanese cuisine but the wine was robust enough to stand up to that very powerful dish. It was also rounded enough to drink alone and would, I imagine, go rather well with pork or walnuts too. It’s probably something that I’d choose if I didn’t want to change wines between a starter and a main and I’m usually not a Sauvignon fan.

The dish that delighted me the most was definitely “Ankimo” – sous-vide ballotine of foie de lotte, shredded daikon and ponzu dressing. I had wanted to try the foie de lotte while in France but sadly never got round to it so this was a great opportunity to try something new. It’s a lot less rich in comparison to foie gras but no less delicious. The wine match was a 2011 rosé from Château Méaume which, while not something I’d drink on its own, did work surprisingly well with the dish.

The evening drew to a close with a Sauternes; what else could it have been? I was surprised to discover that the Ginestet 2009 we had was only priced at £10. It doesn’t hold the same intensity in flavour as some of the greats and will literally pale in comparison to say the golden hues of Château d’Yquem but it is also a tiny percentage of the cost.

That’s the thing you forget under the thousand pound a bottle umbrella of the Latours and Lafits – there are every day Bordeaux wines, quite capable of being matched to interesting food, that are also very affordable. Well, even the New York Times agrees with me.

(Check out the menu and additional photos here)

Bordeaux Wines hosted the supperclub. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Laurent-Perrier Tous Les Sens: A Preview

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

Flowers aren’t my thing. It’s all that pollen irritating my hayfever. And all that floral femininity making me feel like I have to be all girly. But flowers on a plate, it just makes me all weak at the knees with glee.

At the Laurent-Perrier Tous Les Sens Masterclass at Taste of London this year, it is all about the flowers. Not just to look at or to smell but also to eat. International florist Ercole Moroni leads the class and guides you through a specially created tasting menu of floral delights. As well as exploring the menu and learning about the different flowers on the plate and on the table, you also get to sample a small flight of Champagnes from Laurent-Perrier.

If the preview at Massimo, The Corinthia, is anything to go by, you will surely be in for a treat. We had dishes inspired by apple blossom, green shiso, wild garlic, courgette flower, jasmine blossom, and elderflower, just to name a few; and by inspired I mean it was on the plate. While we sipped the champagne and tried the food, Moroni talked about why each champagne was chosen to match the menu and how they relate to the flowers. By the end of the meal, even I was warming a little to the bouquet.

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

The Tous Les Sens Masterclass menu at Taste of London is slightly different though and has been put together especially for the event by specialist caterers, Urban Caprice. Canapé portions of starter, main and dessert will be paired with Ultra Brut, Grand Siècle and Curvée Rosé respectively, from Champagne Laurent-Perrier.

The starter will be Mottra Osetra caviar, apparently the world’s only truly sustainable caviar, on white toast. The caviar is sustainable and ethical because the sturgeons are massaged to release the roe rather than cut open while still alive. The main course is a Champagne infused risotto with asparagus. And finally the dessert is a white chocolate and strawberry sphere with strawberry mousse, macerated strawberries, rose jelly and crystalised rose petals.

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

Rules for entertaining with Laurent Perrier

Mandarin Oriental barThe Christmas season is definitely upon us with snow descending across the country and the opening of advent calendars. To ease us into the party season, Laurent-Perrier held a little class on the art of entertaining. I was there to enjoy a little champagne and take notes.

The class took place in the Mandarin Bar of Mandarin Oriental, the home of Bar Boulud and the soon to open Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Leading the class were David Hesketh MW, MD of Laurent-Perrier UK, and Lucia van der Post, journalist and author of “Things I wish my mother had told me”. The focus was of course champagne and in particular, the selection from Laurent-Perrier.

Laurent-Perrier can trace its history to 1812 when Alphonse Pierlot was trading as A. Pierlot & Cie in Tours-sur-Marne, Champagne, France. He was a cooper and bottler before turning his hand to making champagnes. When he died in 1881, the company was bestowed to his cellar master Eugene Laurent who ran the Champagne House with his wife Mathilde-Emilie Perrier. It wasn’t until 1887, when Laurent passed away and Perrier took over the running of the company, that the brand Veuve Laurent-Perrier & Cie was established. The brand has since gone from strength to strength before being acquired by the Nonancourt family in 1939.

Laurent Perrier Grand SiecleToday, the House of Laurent-Perrier is the fourth largest champagne brand in the world and remains a family owned business with members of the Nonancourt family on its Management Board.

But back to the evening and learning about the art of entertaining. As the guests gathered at the bar, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle was served in classic champagne flutes and matched to savoury canapés. There was quite a selection, from wild mushroom risotto to roulade of Foie Gras, but the pan-fried scallops with parsnip purée and Alsace bacon and the smoked salmon with caviar on toasted Brioche were particularly excellent.

After a short while of mingling, the party retired to an alcove of the bar to enjoy more champagne and to learn more about selecting champagnes for different occasions from David Hesketh before being entertained by Lucia van der Post with anecdotes and suggestions on the finer points of hosting etiquette. After yet more champagne, the evening winds down with a selection of sweet canapés including a very moreish praline and raisin feuillîte.

So here is what you need to know:

  • To open a bottle of champagne, you should first release the cork from the foil and its wire cage, minimising the agitation to the bottle. Then hold the bottle at a slight incline, with the cork in one hand and the base of the bottle in the other, gently twist the bottle to ease the cork out. Ideally the sound should be a hiss rather than a pop as it means more bubbles are retained in the champagne itself.
  • A champagne flute should always be used. The correct way to pour is to first fill to 1/3 of the glass before topping up to ¾ full. This allows the guests to appreciate the aroma from the champagne before enjoying the taste.
  • For a bigger party, it’s usually best to select a non vintage. It goes well with most canapés and will facilitate ease of conversation, adding a sense of occasion without imposition. Hesketh suggests the Laurent-Perrier Brut NV or the Ultra Brut for those calorie conscious.
  • For smaller parties of discerning guests, you want a vintage. There’s more depth of flavour and complexity of aroma – the sort of drink that you might enjoy and discuss. Hesketh suggests vintages from the 90s, in particular, 1996 and 2000 from Laurent-Perrier.
  • For special occasion or Christmas lunch, you want something with real complexity. Hesketh suggests the multi-vintage Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle – it even has its own special pewter holder.
  • For those romantic occasions, there’s always a rosé. Hesketh suggests the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rose Brut.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

Dining with Bisol Prosecco at Le Café Anglais

Bisol Dinner

When Harrods officially opened the doors to the new Wine Shop on the 16th of November, Bisol threw a little celebratory dinner party. You see, Bisol now has a rather nice display amongst Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger and Pommery in the new Wine Shop’s champagne section.

Readers familiar with Bisol will know that it is a very highly regarded Italian prosecco producer. First established in 1542, Bisol remains a family run business focusing on producing quality prosecco. As the largest vineyard owner in the Valdobbiadene region, Bisol produces the smallest yield of prosecco. Restricting the amount of grapes produced means that the characteristics of the grapes can be carefully controlled and therefore shaping the wines produced from the grapes.

And those familiar with wines will know that prosecco is not the same as champagne. Champagne must be sparkling wine produced within the Champagne region of France. Prosecco, while primarily Italian, is also produced elsewhere in the world using only glera (prosecco) grapes. The production method is different too. Champagnes go through secondary fermentation in the bottle while for proseccos, the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks.

The placement of Bisol proseccos amongst champagne heavy-weights can only signify the quality of Bisol prosecco and the increasing popularity of proseccos in general among the British public.

The dinner took place in the private room at Le Café Anglais, the French inspired restaurant of FT columnist and chef Rowley Leigh.

To start there was a nice little introduction to Bisol at the bar with the Jeio Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Spumante as an aperitif, served with small bar snacks. It was light, refreshing and rather fruity, a perfect facilitator for meeting and mingling.

Once the entire party has arrived, a mix of Italian and British media, we moved into the Private Dining Room of Le Café Anglais. The President of Bisol Wines, Gianluca Bisol, was on hand to introduce the evening and also a little bit about each of the Bisol proseccos we were enjoying.

The first course was a wild duck pâté en croute served with a dandelion and orange salad, matched with Bisol Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. 2009 Spumante Dry. It is usually served as a dessert wine or aperitif and it’s actually quite sweet in taste despite being labelled dry thanks to the natural sweetness of the grapes. You are probably also beginning to wonder whether all Bisol wines have such long names. In most cases they do and it’s all down to the careful classification of the wines in the region to define variety and quality. This one is produced from grapes harvested from the hills of Cartizze, a location so prime that a hectare is estimated to be worth over $1million. That is, if there were any willing sellers.

The second course was roast partridge with radicchio, cobnuts and fondant potatoes matched with Jeio Rosé Spumante Brut. This wine contrasts sharply with the last one – it is a lot drier and almost tastes a little bitter. As I prefer sweeter wines, it wasn’t for me although it did pair very well with the gamey partridge.

For the final course, we had the bitter chocolate tart with Bisol Duca di Dolle Prosecco Vino Passito. There was also a cheese course available for those more savoury minded. The bitter chocolate tart was truly delicious. It was a rich melting delight of dark chocolate on a very thin crust. I was pleased to find that the wine was back to sweet and this one was super sweet with a sugar content of 100g per litre. It’s also considered a rare wine, as production is limited to a few thousand a year. This was certainly one to be savoured as we wound down the evening. But not before Rowley Leigh enters to meet his happy diners and offer us teas and coffees.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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