Rosé Champagne

    

When Belinda Chang, a James Beard Award winning wine director wrote the wine notes for Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game, her biggest takeaway from the many weeks of sampling bottles in Trotter’s enviable cellar was this: the perfect wine for a dish is often completely the opposite of what you think it should be! Rosé Champagne and dry aged steak is a great example of this maxim. 

Traditionally, Champagne is a white sparkling wine made by bottling a base wine made of white grapes (chardonnay) and two red grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) that are pressed gently so that no color is extracted from their skins, then adding a liqueur de tirage, wine mixed with sugar and yeast. The liqueur de tirage initiates a second in-bottle fermentation resulting in Champagne’s distinctive effervescence. 

Of course, there are variations on the theme, a Champagne labeled blanc de blancs will be one hundred percent chardonnay. A Champagne labeled blanc de noirs will be entirely pinot noir and pinot meunier, though it will still be a white sparking wine. Then there are the rosés. 

Rosé Champagnes are generally made by adding a small amount of red wine to the base. Their colors can range from delicate salmon to ballerina slipper to hot pink, depending on how much red wine is present. When a rosé is also a blanc de noirs, its hue is achieved by letting the base wine absorb color from the dark skins until it turns pink. But the wine is drained off the skins or “bled” before the color grows too deep. Both methods yield Champagnes with more structure, intensity and earthy flavors than the traditional blends. These qualities along with Champagne’s naturally high acidity make rosé Champagne a terrific foil for rich meats. 

When pairing a rosé Champagne with a dry aged steak, Belinda recommends looking for houses whose rosés demonstrate development and richness over fresh fruit. Veuve Clicquot was the first house to commercially export rosé Champagne and still makes a very successful style that works with a savory steak cut. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Rosé and Gatinois Brut Rosé are two of her other favorites for a meat centered feast. 

There are certainly several styles that pair beautifully with a dry aged steak! 

Clovis Taittinger on Opening Champagne

For Clovis Taittinger, 34, the welcome hiss of a Champagne bottle opening is always something magical. He still stares at the bubbles rising in his flute with awe. He views removing the signature mushroom-shaped cork from a bottle of Champagne as a ceremony of sorts and wants people to experience pleasure, not fear, when opening a bottle. Asked to advise those of us who did not grow up in one of Champagne’s most renowned family-owned Houses of an elegant and festive way to uncork a bottle, he shared his thoughts on what makes for the most graceful presentation:

1) Take your time.  Move slowly.  Concentrate.
2) Remove the foil.
3) Keep pressure on the cork while twisting the key of the Champagne’s wire cage six times to the left.  Discard the cage.
4) Cradle the body of the bottle in your dominant hand as you wrap your other hand around the neck and the cork, to prevent the cork from flying off.
5) Holding the bottle upright at a slight angle, turn the bottle until the cork pops off into your hand.
6) If successful, the pop of the cork should sound like a gunshot with a silencer.

Mastery comes with practice, says Clovis. This Christmas he will practice at home with his wife, parents, children and a bottle of Taittinger’s Prestige Cuvee--Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne.”
 

Seven Families, One Champagne House

Jean-Philippe Moulin could have simply retired in 2007 when he stepped down as head winemaker at Champagne Ruinart, Champagne’s oldest House. Instead he joined Champagne Paul Goerg as managing director and head winemaker, choosing to learn about Champagne from the point of view of the growers. Paul Goerg is an association of seven families with more than a hundred relatives who collectively own and farm nearly three hundred acres of Premier and Grand Cru vineyards in the area known as the Côte des Blancs. Freed from vying with competitors to purchase the best grapes, Jean-Philippe’s work now begins with cultivating exceptional quality fruit. Subsequently, he manages each detail of the Champagne-making process from pressing, to vinification, blending and disgorgement.

The families behind Paul Goerg began collaborating in the 1950s, providing fresh-pressed chardonnay to well established Houses such as Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, and Charles Heidsieck for use in their blends. In 1984, the families set out to build their own line of Champagnes named for Paul Goerg, the renowned négociant and mayor of the village of Vertus, remembered for his passionate commitment to preserving the quality of the local vineyards.

The Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs Brut is an ideal place to begin to understand Champagne, not just as a party drink, but as a fine wine and aesthetic experience. The Champagne is 100% chardonnay sourced from Premier Cru vineyards at the base of the Montagne de Reims. There, the south-facing slopes provide rich supple wines and the east-facing slopes yield wines that are firmer and more mineral driven. Made with 40% reserve wine and aged for more than three years before being released, the Champagne has fine bubbles, delicate citrus and acacia aromas, and a long creamy finish. Serve it as an aperitif or with seafood, sushi, or sole meuniér.

Happy Endings: Moscatao d'Asti and Rustic Fruit Tarts

Italians understand the true role of dessert. After anantipasti, primi and secondi, the dolci need not be a meal in itself, but a subtle shift from savory to sweet to linger over at the end of a meal. Think biscotti, panna cotta, dried figs and rustic fruit tarts. So it is not surprising that they invented Moscato d’Asti DOCG, what may be the perfect dessert wine. Made in Piedmont from ripe Moscato Bianco grapes, the pale gold, lightly effervescent, off-dry moscato d’Asti tends to be nimble on the palate and rich with fresh aromas of apricots, orange blossoms, honeysuckle and almonds. 

Moscato d’Asti is exceeding low in alcohol (5.5%)--less than half that of Champagne--which makes it a gentle final nip after a glass or two of wine earlier in the night. It is also an affordable luxury, usually for less than twenty dollars a bottle, and crafted by the same venerable Piedmont producers that make collectable Barolo and Barbaresco. But don’t let hallowed names like Vietti and Chiarlo trick you into cellaring these bottles. A mouthful of moscato d’Asti should offer the sensation of biting into a just picked perfectly ripe pear -- the younger, the fresher, the better. Also, be careful not to confuse moscato d’Asti with plain moscato, which is often made from bulk wine and lacks moscato d’Asti’s finesse and charm. 

Recommended wines include the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, a delicately aromatic tribute to Michele’s father who used to filter Moscato d’Asti with Dutch sail cloth; the Tenimenti Ca’Bianca, a lovely frizzante wine with lingering notes of pine nuts and clementines; and the Vietti Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta, which is luscious and beautifully balanced.

The Gold Standard in Grower Champagne

Terry Theise calls himself an introvert capable of portraying an extrovert in small doses. In those small doses he has done more than perhaps any person on earth to bring respect, attention and legions of fans to the grace and precision of rieslings from the classic growing regions of Germany and Austria. With far less fanfare, and arguably even greater success, over the last decade and a half he has also introduced Americans to the pleasures of ‘grower Champagne’. Today his portfolio, Terry Theise Estate Selections, is the gold standard of this category, broadly defined as sparkling wines from the Champagne region produced by the estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. Grower Champagnes can be identified by the presence of the initials RM (for récolant-manipulant) in tiny print on the wine label. At their best, grower Champagnes express choice vineyard sites and artisanal winemaking. For example, Denis Varnier of Varnier-Fanniére forgoes temperature-controlled fermentation when making his Grand Cru Champagnes, and Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet includes within his blends a high percentage of wines from older vintages. This gives his final Champagnes a sense of integration and richness.

Grower Champagnes can sometimes deliver higher quality at lower prices than the large Champagne firms , since large PR and marketing budgets are not built into the cost of each bottle. But not all grower Champagnes are created equal. With their soaring popularity, it can be difficult to sort the transcendent from the mediocre. That’s why it’s helpful to have a passionate and experienced treasure hunter as your curator. If you look at the back of a Champagne bottle and see it is one of the Terry Theise Estate Selections, you are in for the real deal.

 

A Royal Warrant For Champagne

Given that 2013 will likely be a year for William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to celebrate, why not use Boxing Day as a moment to revisit the Champagne chosen to toast their marriage. For six months before their nuptials, only six people outside the Royal Household Wine Committee were in on the secret that magnums of Pol Roger Brut Réserve Brut were served at the reception, two from the Pol Roger office in England and four from the office in France. The order was run through Berry Bros. & Rudd, the venerable wine and sprits shop on St. James Street in London, whose managing director Simon Berry moonlights as the Clerk of the Royal Cellars and head of the Royal Household Wine Committee.

Far from the only Champagne in the running, the Royal Household Wine Committee considered wines from all seven Champagne houses with a Royal Warrant from H. M. The Queen: Pol Roger Bollinger (the preferred Champagne of 007), Louis Roederer, Krug, G. H. Mumm, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin and Lanson Pére et Fils. Robert Large, the Royal Cellar’s Yeoman, ultimately chose the wine for the event.

Why Pol Roger? Hubert de Billy, who directs domestic sales and global marketing for the house, speculates, “Given the economy, they wanted high-quality non-vintage Champagne in magnums from a family-owned company that was not trendy, but part of the gentry way of living.” The price offered had to be fair, “Not more than the general public would pay and not less.” And it didn’t hurt that Pol Roger was a favorite of both Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. The Brut Reserve, which is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, is given at least three years to age, leaving it round and elegant.

Laurent-Perrier was served at the private dinner at St. James Palace in the evening – it has Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales but not H. M. The Queen. It makes one wonder what the Yeoman of the Royal Cellar will serve on New Year’s Eve.