Tag: Champagne

A short tasting of Charles Heidsieck

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

Charles Heidsieck tasting

If sabrage is your way of introduction to the Champagnes of Charles Heidsieck, then you’re already off to a good start. Even better if your bottle isn’t adulterated by glass shards.

I have to admit, I’ve tried Charles Heidsieck before. It was at a trade tasting in January this year and I remember being very impressed with it. Digging out my old tasting notes now, I realised that I’ve come to almost the exact same conclusions – the 1999 Rosé Millésimé was a firm favourite. But more on that later.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV First up was the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV. For a non-vintage, it is incredibly rich in flavours owing to the fact that 40% of the blend is made up of reserve wines with an average age of 10 years. With equal measures of fruit and nut characteristics, it makes for a complex starter.
Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve NV When I originally tasted the Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve NV, I wasn’t a fan. Whilst there was plenty of fruit on the palate, complemented by a soft mousse, it just wasn’t a stand out wine. Fast forward a little, my second tasting showed a wine with much more development. The evolution in this particular bottle helped it to become something much more complex.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 2000 The Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 2000 fared equally well between the two tastings. The toasty intensity was very forthcoming but there was also honey and autumn fruits followed by a crisp, dry finish. The wine has developed well in the 10-plus years of ageing and, while it can go on for some more, I’d really prefer to enjoy it as it is.
Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésimé 1999 In comparison, it was immediately obvious the Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésimé 1999 should be aged for much longer. As it is, the meaty and bold Champagne is stunning. Then (in the January tasting), as now, it was a favourite despite my aversion to rosé wines. Right now, it’s displaying an unrivalled intensity of fruit with undertones of toasted smokiness. There was obviously development in the wine but it still had an incredible amount of freshness.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995 The final vintage was the Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995. With almost 20 years in the bottle, it was showing quite a lot of age. It’s confidently nutty with fading fruit. I’m not a fan of Blanc de Blancs as a rule so this exceptional vintage doesn’t quite do it for me, especially following the Rosé Millésime 1999.

This selection reminded me how bubbles can do incredible things to your preference for wine. Rosé Champagne I can fall in love with but Blanc de Blancs I just don’t get on with. And yet in the world of still wines, it’s just the opposite. My nose is turned up at the rosés on offer while I seem to find Chardonnay irresistibly alluring in all its forms.

In any case, this is a seriously fine collection of Champagnes to discover and re-discover.

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

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.

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)

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)

Making Japanese cocktails at Watatsumi

Watatsumi is at 7 Northumberland Avenue Trafalgar Square London WC2N 5BY (this restaurant is now closed)

Watatsumi tables

Have you been to Watatsumi? It’s a bit fishy in there.

No, not in that “there’s something suspicious going on” sort of way but rather, they’re a bit fish obsessed.

You see I was recently invited to an evening of cocktail making at Watatsumi, the high-end Japanese restaurant at The Club Quarters Hotel. It was a great opportunity to hone my cocktail making skills, try a few drinks inspired by Japanese food and sample some of the seafood on their extensive menu.

The informal masterclass was held at the bar on a quiet Tuesday evening. You knew it was informal because there were guests sitting on the other end of the bar listening in – but that’s great because it means they’re not afraid to show off their skills. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the participants – I know I made more than a few mistakes! But more on that later.

We started off with a Momiji – a champagne cocktail made with Midori, rose liqueur, Campari, Momiji (a spicy vegetable paste made with daikon) and of course champagne. One lucky volunteer, Tania, went behind the bar to start us off.

First, you shake up 15ml of the Midori, rose liqueur and Campari with half a bar-spoon of Momiji in an ice filled cocktail shaker. Then, after double straining into a champagne flute, you top up the glass with champagne. To create a tiered effect, you need to pour in the champagne gently and it’s best achieved with a swizzle stick that has a perpendicular base. To finish, slip in a few shreds of cucumber and daikon. Et voilà, a champagne cocktail with an unexpected kick. We were having some salmon maki rolls and that kick matched rather well with the wasabi.

I started browsing through the drinks menu to find out exactly what we were drinking and to see what else was available. But alas, all the cocktails we were making were new additions to the menu so I couldn’t find them in print, yet. But I did spot shoals of fish swimming happily around the sake list and darting between the pages to the wines.

The second cocktail of the evening was a Shiso martini. We were introduced to another new ingredient – the Shiso leaf. It’s like a mint but bigger, thinner and more delicate in aroma. Unfortunately that also makes transportation and storage a nightmare and consequently this means a reflection in the price.

For this second cocktail, Amy was the volunteer. And to make it, you measure out 50ml of Disaronno, 20ml of yuzu juice and 25ml of sake into an ice filled cocktail shaker. If you haven’t come across yuzu before, it’s an aromatic citrus fruit found in Asia that tastes like a cross between orange, grapefruit and lemon. Then you take two Shiso leaves and slap them in the palm of your hand to bruise them slightly, thereby releasing their aroma, before adding them into the cocktail shaker as well. Give the whole thing a good shake before double straining the contents into a martini glass. It’s very refreshing with the calamari.

Watatsumi fish lights

I tried to avoid being chosen for the final cocktail by admiring the lights. And it was very impressive too – a school of fish swimming around the light casting fish shadows across the room and when it’s quiet enough, create a wind chime effect. But it was no use. The final cocktail of the evening was made by yours truly and it was a Japanese mojito.

Having had many a mojitos in my time, I was off trying to add double shots of rum to my glass. Then of course I spilled the sake everywhere. In reality however, you should be muddling four Shiso leaves with some sugar, 20ml yuzu juice, 25ml rum, and 50ml sake in a glass filled with crushed ice. Top with more ice after the muddling and a splash of Chambord to serve. Mine was a little strong but that’s ok, it tasted pretty good.

Cocktails made, drinks had and dinner consumed – it was time to head off. But not before one last one for the road – a shot of lychee liqueur with ice cream covered in glutinous rice. Hic.

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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