Glengarry Wines Westmere Wine Club | Grower Champagne Tasting

Wednesday night, Westmere.
A bunch of people turned up just before 7PM and swiftly walked the stairs that took them to our tasting room upstairs. Waiting for them, a long wooden table neatly set up with champagne flutes and plates already filled with entrees.
Liz, our Champagne Guru and General Manager, and Serena, Westmere’s store manager, were the two hosts for the event.

The night cracked on with a taste of J Lassalle Preference 1er Cru Brut and a quick introduction of the reality of Grower Champagnes.

After that, the wine and food matching began.
The whole night swirled around extremely informative and captivating speeches from Liz quickly followed by notes on the flavours regarding both the wine and the food matched with it from Serena.

Lilbert-Fils Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut, Andre Jacquart & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut, Paul Bara Brut Reserve, Serge Mathieu Tradition Brut and, last but not least, Henri Giraud l’Esprit de Giraud Brut were the grower champagnes starring the tasting. Liz entertained everyone with interesting facts, bucket loads of knowledge, juicy details about her trip to Champagne and the discovery journey of these absolutely wonderful grower Houses.
Food wise, Serena went through a long research process and cross referenced tasting charts, wine tasting notes, food blog reviews and personal notes and came up with a unique menu that enhanced and completed the overall experience. Veggie sushi, coriander chicken and prawn skewers, Emmental du France cream vol-au-vent were some of the dishes served to those lucky customers who attended.

Words by  Serena Cappellini | Retail Manager, Glengarry Wines Westmere

So Many Bubbles

Sparkling wine choices have never looked as good. Cava, Prosecco, NZ Methode, Champagne, Asti; there’s a myriad of gems to select from. So how do you tell them apart? What to expect inside? A big subject, not one that you can really do justice to in a short piece, though always up for a challenge, here goes.

Sparkling wine is traditionally made the way they do in Champagne; the very basic version – the grapes are picked and then pressed, the juice is fermented into wine. The wine is then put into bottles where a secondary fermentation occurs – as this occurs, the bubbles released during the process are trapped in the bottle.

The bottles are then turned and slowly the dead yeast cells from the second fermentation collect in the neck of the bottle. The temporary closure that is used during the secondary fermentation is then removed, a little ‘dosage’ added (a liquor to top the bottle up that, depending on the amount added, affects the final sweetness of the wine) and a cork closure is applied to hold the bubbles in the bottle.

This process is referred to as Methode Traditionelle. Champagne is produced this way and can only be called Champagne as long as it’s from the Champagne Appellation (78,000 acres of vine in Champagne, France), bottle aged for 15 months minimum for NV or 3 years for Vintage and made from permitted grape varieties. There are wines made the same way in other parts of the world, including Champagne, but unless they meet these requirements, they can’t be called Champagne, but they can be called Methode Traditionelle. So this rather lengthy description covers off Champagne, New World Methode and Cava. Yes, Cava is included in this set; made in the traditional method, just from different grape varieties to Champagne and, naturally, grapes grown in Spain. This group of wines generally have have a broad texture and flavour profile with yeasty, toasty notes. The secondary fermentation in bottle and quality production method is key here.

Another method of production is the Charmat method; invented in 1907 by a Frenchman, Eugene Charmat. In this process the second fermentation happens in large tanks and is then pumped under pressure into bottles and sealed. Examples of sparkling wine crafted through this process include Prosecco and Asti. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape variety; as a style Prosecco is clean, crisp, often appley and very refreshing. Asti is probably the most underrated of all sparkling wines; low in alcohol, sweet in style, it makes a great midday wine, aperitif and matches beautifully with dessert.

Covering both of these methods you then get Non Vintage and Vintages varieties;

When a wine is labelled Non-Vintage, it means that it is a blend of different base wines from a number of years. The blending occurs before the secondary fermentation. In Champagne, Non-Vintage champagne is considered the house style, it’s the wine that the house stands or falls on. Non-Vintage wines are best purchased for drinking; as a general rule they don’t age.

A wine labelled with a Vintage must contain wine from that particular vintage; vintage Sparkling Wines differ in style from year to year, as they reflect the particular vintage they are from. Like good wines, Vintage Champagne ages very well.

A very rare variety indeed

The three main varieties used to produce Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with Blanc de Blanc (white of white) champagnes made out of 100% Chardonnay. There are however other grape varieties permitted in the production of Champagne.Champagne Drappier I first came across this when visiting Michel Drappier at his families Champagne house two years ago. Michel introduced me to Drappier Quattuor, a blend of four varieties including some of the historic white grapes from the Champagne region – Petit Meslier, Vrai (Pinot Blanc) and Arbane. Michel recalled a delightful story of presenting the Champagne to some of the regions leaders blind, they loved the wine but the conversation quickly changed when he revealed the grape varieties that he’d made the wine from. Whilst still permitted in Champagne production, these old varieties make up a very small percentage of the varieties grown in the region and are not widely used. I had not seen these varieties outside Quattuor, until we recently started working with Champagne Moutard Diligent, who from what I understand are the only house to produce a 100% Arbane (also spelled Arbanne) Champagne. The bottle we tried was the Moutard Cepage Arbane Vielle Vignes 2006. It was a delight to try it and something quite difficult to explain, you can probably picture the scene though – most of us sat there for more than 10 minutes as we sniffed, swirled and then sniffed again, trying to find words to describe the aromas. It’s a challenge with such an usual variety, you don’t have a memory bank of aroma descriptors tucked away. So here goes my thoughts – it smelled a little like candied banana, there were hints of apples – not crisp green ones, but rather a floury apple that leaves you disappointed. The more I looked at it, the more I got characters similar to old Chenin Blanc and some Pinot Blanc notes. It was noticeably viscous, in fact so much so that the bubbles seemed to hang in the glass. Taste wise, it was also very unusual, a truly unique wine – a great wine to taste and definitely memorable.