Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wine Study- "Grapes and Fizz"

"What is it about bubbles that it can transform ordinary wine from a drink into a celebration?"
 –Jancis Robinson.

We continue a series of sessions with the Francesca's at Sunset and Brannon's Cafe teams we are calling "Wine Study."  Our guide is Jancis Robinson's Wine Course DVD, Mrs. Robinson poured depth and detail into this television series that aired in the United Kingdom in 1995; it withstands the test of time!  If you have not purchased this DVD series yet; do so now!

Episode 9- Grapes and Fizz is a celebration of Sparkling wine!  When the bubbles are flowing we all hope, wish and are excited by the idea that the wine is CHAMPAGNE!  Associated with success and glamour more than any other wine it has earned this prized position in the hearts and minds of all wine lovers and casual consumers.

Just one-hundred miles east of Paris, just past Euro Disney; the little town of Epernay; has the richest street in France with over one billion of the world’s most expensive bottles of wine all stored under ground, improving with age. Deceptively simple are the labels of Champagne bottles, just having the house name and little other information.  It is actually a complex blend of grapes, vineyards, and often vintages.  The Champagne producers say “Trust us; keep on buying the dream.”  Like all dreams it takes effort and determination to keep it going.

Champagne had to overcome the recession in the 1990’s, some sought to revitalize and modernize.  Enter; Ricard Geoffrey, trained as a doctor, we see him here in the mid 1990s taking over the helm of Moët & Chandon (he goes on to become the face of and blending hand for their uber famous prestige cuvée- Dom Pérignon)  He was the first to add the blend of grapes and age of wine on Champagne labels.  He has proven himself as a master at blending the Champagne grapes; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Munier.  A remarkable feat because when tasting them in their pre-sparkling form they are very tart and high in acidity. He explains that they taste only twenty samples a session, and the trick is to foresee which wines will transform into creamy rich complex and delicious Champagne.

Once the blend is complete the wine is bottled with additional sugar and yeast then taken to the cellar to sleep, ideally for years.  Champagne’s unique style comes from aging with yeast in the bottle in these dark, wet and cold cellars; this is the ESSENCE of Champagne.  Moët & Chandon has over sixty-five miles of tunnels under the town. There workers spend eight hours in the mold and cold, their clothes get wet, their bodies are chilled to the bone and it can all lead to illness. Yet, it seems that the traditional method is still favored and the primary way to make world class sparkling wine.  While Jancis shows us alternative methods: Alginate Beads and a Membrane Cartridge (or basket) none are widely used today.

How much of this is marketing and how much is reality?  It is always had to say, what is know is that Champagne is all about IMAGE. Champagne is a relatively small region with a very big name to protect. They closely govern how wine is made in the region; any variance in the rules that delivers this extraordinary wine is not tolerated in Champagne. Over the years the word "Champagne" is has become so full of meaning, so desirable that it has always been a highly sought-after name. One of the Office of Champagne's missions is to recognize and protect the exclusive nature of the appellation and its namesake. In that regard, it must be stressed that attempts to replicate or mimic the process in other places around the world may produce fine wines, yet they do not produce Champagne.

That has not stopped anyone from trying, least of all the Champagne houses themselves.  While in California on business the owner of Moët & Chandon stumbled in to Wine Institute of California meeting from that experience decided to buy property in Napa and create the Chandon Winery now a focal point of valley and  the California wine country.  At the time the growers of Champagne thought they were joking, making sparkling wine anywhere but Champagne was laughable.  However in the end it has contributed to and increased the prestige of Champagne!

Moët & Chandon has since been able to reproduce the success of Chandon around the world. They went on to open sparkling wine operations in Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and most recently CHINA!  They have realized their potential by making sparkling wine around the world; their presences in each wine market educates and invigorates the demand for sparkling wine making the demand for all their sparkling wine, including their Champagne EXPLODE! 

Another episode that is amazing television!  In this show Mrs. Robinson takes around the globe with Moët & Chandon illustrating how dynamic a company can become.  And she did not even cover CAVA from along the Catalan coast, in the Penedès DO of Spain, OR- PROSECCO of the Veneto region in Italy.  Both are widely successful and enjoyed more since this show was made; so they are covered in this handout which has a few notes from the video and a lot of information and links to more on the web related to the topics Jancis covers.  It is my endeavor to add to the subjects and fills you in on where the personalities from the video are today.  It is my sincere hope that you are finding this blog informative and instructional.  To check your learning experience and highlight the most important information here is the quiz.  And the quiz with answers.  And please reply to this blog; is Sparkling wine  your  favorite wine?

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