Caroline Henry for 1000 Corks
The word "terroir" has been creating waves in the wine wine world for the last few decades. While it was traditionally more associated with the old wine world, Europe, winemakers all over the world have been jumping on the bandwagon.
Even in Europe, some regions which originally were not very much terroir focused have been drawn to the concept. Why is this? I believe it is the perfect term to use when one is trying to distinguish oneself from others; it is also a term consumers have started to understand and look for when they want something more unique.
The original terroirists are the Burgundians – whose appellation system is completely terroir based, and who more recently are awaiting Unesco Heritage Protection for their Climats – the name they use to describe their terroirs.
Just north of Burgundy, the Champenois also applied for Unesco Protection for their terroir, even though the the notion of terroir is a lot less intrinsic in Champagne than it is in Burgundy.
So can we speak about Terroir in Champagne – and if yes till what extent?
There definitely exists a notion of terroir in Champagne, but this is in a more generic sense; it includes among other things the chalk subsoil, the continental climate, and the vineyard slopes.
But even if it is generally accepted that unique regional terroir is what made Champagne so famous, there is a general reluctance to talk about terroir on a more local or micro level. This is because the focus has always been on the blend and the savoir faire of the chef de cave.
Even the Grand Cru system is based on a village rather than vineyard/lieu dit level. This is because the average size of a champagne vineyard plot is 0,012 hectares. Yet it is also known that some vineyards or lie dits are more special than others, and the wines coming from these places are very expressive and unique.
One of the most famous examples, as well as being the first example of a single vineyard Champagne, is Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses, which was first made in 1935.
It is a very steeply sloped south facing vineyard next to the canal in Mareuil-sur-Ay. The exposure alone makes it probably the most sun drenched place of the region, and it is one of the reasons Phillipponnat can make a single vineyard vintage Champagne year after year. This Champagne is also one of the most sought after by connoisseurs.
But does one have to choose between terroir and blend?
In fact no – the Clos des Goisses is a blend of two grape varieties, and several barrels, even if the origin is one actual place in one particular year.
Another expression of terroir champagne is a blend of several vintages of the same vineyard or lieu dits together. This will give the expression of a place over several years - the most famous examples here are probably the lieu dits by Anselme Selosse.
And of course there are Terroir Champagnes which are the expression of a vineyard, across different varieties and different years – like the Cuvee Louis by Champagne Tarlant for instance.
But blended or not, the general rule of thumb is that there are very few bottles of Terroir Champagne made. The first reason, which we already mentioned, is that the lieu dits or vineyards are quite small, which restricts the quantity.
The second and more important reason is that in order to make Terroir Champagne the soil in the vineyard needs to be alive. It is very difficult to give a unique expression of a polluted, dead place. While this may seem obvious, it is unfortunately quite exceptional in Champagne.
In the words of Isabelle Legeron, MW, "the region is one of the most polluted wine regions in the world". Since the business of Champagne is more focused on quantity than quality there also are very few incentives to farm more environmentally friendly. In general this way of farming means lower yields for more work.
And we have to remember that the bulk of the grapes are farmed by grape growers who are paid by the kilo and sell their crops to the Champagne Houses; they in turn will make quite standardized high volume Champagne out of them. Right here is yet another reason why there is so little focus on terroir Champagnes.
To recapitulate, Terroir Champagne does exist. In fact it is actually quite sought after, especially by more enlightened sommeliers, wine store owners and wine lovers with a preference for more natural wine.
And the fact that there is very little of it made adds to its desirability. That is why this type of Champagne is in fact the real luxury coming out of the region.
Let me elaborate – currently there are barely seventy certified organic producers, yet the region counts more than 15,000 winegrowers. Together with a few other producers who work in a real sustainable way, the total production of Terroir Champagne is somewhere between seven and ten million bottles a year, which is a fraction of Champagne’s total production of around 345 million bottles a year.
We can surmise that the total production of Terroir Champagne (when all producers are added) could be around the same as the total production of the prestige cuvee Dom Perignon. The biggest difference between the two remains the way the vineyard is farmed.
If we were to put this in regular or still wine terms one could argue that Terroir Champagne is the equivalent of natural wine – both are just as dividing, with people either passionately loving or hating them. But as with natural wine, more and more people are drawn to them.
Caroline Henry is the only English speaking journalist and wine writer based in Champagne. She regularly contributes to wine-searcher.com, Decanter, Palate Press and Snooth.
Over the last three years she has been specializing in the wines of Champagne. She teaches on the subject of sparkling wine in several wine programs in France and abroad and is also part of the research team of the Pole Champagne at the Reims Management School.
Caroline is a sommelier certified by the Court of Sommeliers in London as well as a wine location specialist on Champagne. Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are her great passions besides Champagne. She aims to publish the first book on environmentally friendly produced Champagne in September 2015.
To find out more about her book project please visit IndieGogo.
Luiz Alberto for 1000 Corks
I am not a big wine accessory lover. All I need is a corkscrew and a glass. However, after listening to the hype, reading the reviews (not all positive), and seeing it in action at a blind tasting, I broke down and purchased a Coravin.
I open many bottles per week, sometimes per day, and I am ashamed at how much wine goes down the drain. Being generally dissatisfied with the “wine preservation” systems currently available, I felt the $299 plus an additional $40 for replacement argon canisters more than made up for the cost of the waste.
The main motivation was to be able to access many different bottles of wine for blind tasting practice without “wasting” the entire bottle. In my experience, the Coravin has been an extremely useful tool because it allows me to taste and re-taste a wine over the course of a few months (perhaps years) rather than a few days. But is it for everyone and is it for every wine?
One could argue that the Coravin is probably the most revolutionary product in the wine industry since the glass, bottle, and cork. It is not an opener and not a preservation system, but yet, it is a happy marriage of the two.
Here’s how it works: The beauty of the system is that the original cork remains in the bottle and oxygen is not allowed to enter the headspace.
The cork and capsule are pierced by a medical grade needle which comes in 3 different gauges: fast, standard, and vintage. The fast needle pours a five ounce glass in 16-20 seconds and the vintage in 30-33 seconds, when normally it would take 5 seconds.
Once the cork is pierced, the user presses a button for 1-2 seconds which dispenses the argon gas (an inert gas which is widely used throughout the wine making process to prevent oxidation). The gas pressurizes the bottle forcing the wine up through the needle and into the glass. Once the desired amount is poured the needle is withdrawn and the cork magically reseals itself unless the cork is defective.
Portion control and preservation are the biggest benefits. Imagine being able to serve a glass of the perfect pairing with every course, from lightest to heaviest, without having to open six bottles?
This technology allows #winelover-s to check on the health and evolution of the wines aging in their cellars one mouthful at a time rather than playing the guessing game checking on one bottle at a time. It also benefits restaurants who aim to profit from greater diversity in their by the glass programs.
With this technology, on premise establishments can now have the opportunity to feature their entire list by the glass and there is no pressure to sell the remainder of the bottle because it is completely preserved. An additional benefit, no more broken corks!
Of course, there are the skeptics. “Doesn’t ‘accessing’ wine kill some of the romance of decanting?”. I don’t see how decanting is all that romantic anymore. Sometimes for blind tastings for my MW studies I would have 3-4 decanters on the table. I think the clutter detracts from the real romance of the wine.
Now I can have 12 glasses, but not 12 full bottles to finish. That being said, there are wines that must be decanted for aeration or to remove sediment, like a vintage Port. For those, I typically use a Bev Wizard or another portable aerator. Long corks are problematic if the needle cannot pierce through.
Also, it doesn’t work well on synthetic corks because they don’t reseal like the natural corks do. And, obviously, screw caps and sparkling wines are out of the question.
Can anyone use this device? Yes, but it does take some practice to properly insert the needle and dispense the appropriate amount of gas.
Should you use it for every pour? Yes, you can, but I don’t recommend it. Approximately 1% the world’s wines are intended to be aged. Most wines available on your average retail shelves are intended to be enjoyed upon release, or within 5-7 years of bottling, without gaining further complexity in the bottle. Can you use the device on these bottles? Absolutely!
If you’re a #winelover that likes to have only one glass per night, this is a valuable tool. However, if you are taking more than three pours from an everyday drinking wine, it makes more sense to pull the cork. The system does have an accruing cost.
The initial cost is compounded by the cost of the argon canisters. They are small and cost roughly $10 each to replace and I am not sure if they are readily accessible at the local hardware or retail outlet. The system uses specially designed gas canisters. Recycling and disposing of the gas cylinders may be restricted depending on where you live.
Each canister has enough gas to dispense 15 five-ounce pours. This adds approximately sixty-five cents to each glass of wine. If you are using the device with every glass of wine you consume, you will be replacing the canisters often. I have become accustomed to using the device only when benefits of “accessing” the bottle outweigh the cost of opening the bottle.
Earlier this year the company issued a voluntary, temporary cease and desist because there were 14 cases where pressurized bottles broke even under low pressure. After an investigation the design engineers found that under regular circumstances this should never happen and concluded that the bottles that had broken must have been defective.
Defective bottles are obviously out of Coravin’s control. The company issued remedy kits to all of its customers that consisted of a “bottle sleeve” which, in the case of a break, protected the user from the glass. This is now included with the unit.
Does it work? Yes! I have used it on several bottles of wine for blind tastings and gone back and tasted again a couple of weeks later and the wine has experienced absolutely no oxidation. No change at all, really, which makes me wonder, how does this change the natural development of the wine?
Wines that are intended to age are living BREATHING things. They need a slow and steady diet of oxygen, which enters through the cork in order to develop the full spectrum of flavors and structure that nature and the wine maker intended. Does the argon escape through the cork over time? Will the exclusion of oxygen alter the way the wine would have developed?
This is new technology so the jury is still out, but I have found it very useful. I would highly recommend it to any #winelover.
If you know me, you probably have already heard that one of my favorite rock albums ever is The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking by Roger Waters (the first solo album from Pink Floyd's bass player and lead singer). Just like the story told through the songs of the album released in 1984 of a married man's disperse thoughts during a road trip through Central Europe, there are pros and cons for everything in life…
So, before you make up your mind if you are going to buy one, here are the ones for Coravin:
+ No pressure to drink more than you want. The remainder of the wine won't go bad.
+ It's a great tool for wine students. Many blind tastings per day are possible.
+ It's great for pairings. You can start with a light white wine to pair with your appetizer, a big Cab with your steak, and so on…
+ Works really well for restaurants. They now can have a much wider range of wines by the glass.
+ It helps tremendously if you receive many wine samples.
+ No problems noticed with natural corks. They seem to reseal almost immediately.
+ Works well for groups of people with different tastes. You can pour your guests exactly what they want to drink.
+ Helps with large size bottles (Magnums and larger).
+ No degradation in the wine noticed after a couple of months. However, I’m not sure yet how the wines are going to develop (or not) after a few years.
- The canisters of Argon are small and have to be replaced constantly.
- It doesn't work well with synthetic corks. They leak after the needle is inserted.
- Obviously, it doesn’t work with screw caps.
- Pouring is slow with the standard needle.
- It can be problematic for long corks as they may be a little longer than the needle.
- Bottles may break (apparently it happened on a few occasions), so a bag for protection is included with every unit.
Special thanks to Luiz Alberto for this article. If you aren't following him on twitter, @TheWineHub, you are missing out.
Michele Zipkin for 1000 Corks
In these last few weeks of summer, when the sun is still making an appearance in the sometimes cloud-covered sky, the festivals are still swinging, and the cicadas are still adding their charming buzz to the soundtrack of warm, breezy nights, you may be inclined to grab a cold, crisp beer...or three. But you probably wouldn't want just any beer- you'd want something refreshing. And maybe a beer that is fruity, floral, or perhaps just sufficiently effervescent.
If you're on the look-out for some summer beers that don’t typically make an appearance in your revolving door of sudsy libations, you've come to the right place. Here are a few brews that bode particularly well for summertime drinking sessions and one-off indulgences alike.
The first of the four beers in question is Ephemere, brewed by the Quebecois company Unibroue. Its title literally translating to ‘temporary’, it’s a perfect beer to drink during the stifling months of summer.
Both the sweetness and tartness of green apple predominate in this light-bodied, medium effervescent white ale. A few more ancillary flavors are better detected by sniffing: including coriander and cinnamon. Clocking in at a low alcohol of 5.5%, it’s a perfect beer for a quick refresher and a small buzz.
Dogfish Head's Aprihop
The next brew to be explored has been on the scene for a couple of years: Dogfish Head’s Aprihop. For some people, there’s nothing more satisfying than a good IPA on a summer’s day. But even if you’re not really a hop-head when it comes to beer, Aprihop may just strike your fancy.
Despite, according to Beer Advocate, being hopped with 'irresponsible amounts of Amarillo', apricot does play a significant role in this beer flavor-wise. You probably need only drink two or three of these puppies before getting a sufficient buzz, as its ABV is 7%.
The beer’s eerily awesome label sports a seemingly rabid red-eyed rabbit appropriately munching on apricots. Balanced by a pretty stellar blend of sweetness, fruitiness, and hops, Aprihop is well worth a glug or two, especially in the summer swelter.
Dogfish Head's Festina Peche
Aprihop’s peach counterpart, Festina Peche, is another excellent choice for a fruity summer beer. It's a touch bitter and substantially less hoppy. According to Beer Advocate, its complex peach flavors are melded into the nose and taste of this particular brew.
It proves a stellar choice if you’re looking to keep the evening relatively level-headed, as its ABV is only 4.5%. Similar to Aprihop, its label portrays a vampiric raccoon clutching a peach.
Off Color Brewing Troublesome
And finally, we come to Off Color, a quirky little Chicago-based brewery. Troublesome is the beer on the podium for this quick and dirty attribute run-down. It may be the odd man out of the two aforementioned fruit-forward brews, but it's still worth a spot in the limelight because one of its key - yet apparently secret - ingredients is lactobacillus.
Troublesome is an amalgam of two different beers- a fairly run-of-the-mill wheat beer, and a more eccentric beer fermented with only lactobacillus. Coriander and a touch of salt work in tandem to create a tiny bit of lemon-flavored sourness in this unique and off the beaten path beer. With an ABV of only 4.3%, just above that of most session ales, you'll have room to toss back a few before feeling fuzzy in the head. Not your typical, but hey, what’s typical when it comes to the art of brewing?
This years International Food Blogger's Conference was amazing. For three straight days we celebrated food, and quite a bit of wine as well!
Here are the winners, also known as the food and beverages that we at 1000 Corks were most impressed with while at the conference.
The two best dishes of the conference both came from the Volunteer Park Cafe in Seattle, WA.
The first was a Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Bisque. It was a really delicious fall soup. The Bisque had the traditional fall flavor of the sweet potato, with a nice tropical undertone from the coconut and a bit of a peppery kick.
But even better was there was Volunteer Park Cafe's Buratta, an amazing Italian Mozarella with concord grapes, brioche croutons and pancetta. The mozzarella was the creamiest I've ever had, and the texture worked marvelously with the crunchiness of the croutons. This was one of the best things we've ever tasted!
The best dessert goes to Cupcake Royale for their yummy Stumptown coffee and fudge ribbon ice cream.
The best drink of the conference (non-wine category) was a hot dark carmel mixed with Mezcal, from Hot Cakes. This is the most awesome adult hot chocolate alternative I've ever had! It's just the right sweetness, and the Mezcal provides the perfect kick to bring a smile to my face. Luckily, I'll be able to make this at home this winter.
The best wine was the 2012 Chateau Graville-Lacoste from Graves in the Bordeaux. Here are the tasting notes I took: "Now this is an awesome-sauce wine. Great lemon, grapefruit and lots of minerals."
Here at 1000 Corks we’ll do anything for our users. Including exhaustingly visiting the best wine country in the world.
We recently went to Lake Chelan, Washington with a bunch of other wine bloggers. Things started well for us; our first stop was the very cute Rio Vista winery.
The wonderful food I would soon be wearing after I got up in the air.
While at the winery I was given the opportunity to go for a ride in a very unique vintage seaplane. The plane sat five people, and there were five groups. Each group was taken up on a very nice twenty-minute ride to see the lake and surrounding vineyards.
From the moment we started I knew I was in trouble. Luckily, the plane was so loud that no one could her me start to moan as I got more and more motion sick. I tried desperately to remember whether I was better off shutting my eyes, or focusing on a point far away, or something else all together.
Halfway through the ride I was a pile of sweat. I tapped the tour guide on the shoulder and asked her if there was a bag. I was given one, but because it was a self-sealing bag, it was a bit more complex then the simple lined paper bag you find in commercial craft.
So I made the mistake of reading the two sentences of instructions on the bag. Ironically it was this that pushed me over the edge. I suspect if I hadn’t read the instructions nothing that followed would have happened, because reading while moving really makes me nauseous.
I’ll spare you most of the harrowing details, but suffice to say I pretty much filled the bag, and the overflow went on my shirt, pants and camera! Yuck!
After a nap I was back in shape for a lovely dinner at Tsillan Cellars. It’s an absolutely stunning winery. And I got to try Oysters Rockefeller for the first time. The dish was invented in 1899, but to me it seems like something Don Draper would order in a trendy restaurant in Mad Men, so I was happy.
The bright side of having lost my lunch in the seaplane was I had room for two pieces of Tiramisu. Yummy!
The following day we had a very nice brunch at Karma. They are making a Brut de Brut sparkling wine using the same method as Champagne.
We also tried a few other of the regions sparkling wines. My favorite was a very tasty Rose, Hard Row to Hoe's 2011 Good in Bed. It's fantastic and a very lovely color!
Blue Spirits Distilling is the most impressive nano-distillery I've ever seen. Located right on the lake among residential houses, the headquarters is absolutely beautiful. And the combination of passion and science the founder brings to his art is amazing.
I got a chance to try their Mango Rum-Vodka, and their Espresso flavored vodka. They were both smoother and brighter then any flavored spirit I've tried before.
Everyone assumes I moved to Oregon for the wine. That's part of the reason, sure, but using 1000 Corks I can find great Oregon wines almost anywhere in the United States. After all, as long as I'm careful not to place an order during a heat wave, wine travels really well.
The truth is I moved to Oregon for the food! Particularly the restaurants. Food doesn't travel nearly as well as wine, so it's awesome to live in a city with a great culinary scene. And right now, Portland and the surrounding areas have the best restaurants in the United States.
Last week I got to try a Cena. I asked the waiter what the best thing on the menu was and he was emphatic that I had to order the Agnolotti. It was filled with corn and mascarpone, and served with an ample portion of lobster mixed in.
The waiter was right, it was to die for...both figuratively, and perhaps literally. I could swear they must have used half a stick of butter. Still, at least I'll die happy!
A Cena also makes their own limoncello in house. And it was our waiter who made it fresh every few days. As he explained it to me, he uses grain alcohol and lemon zest. It was so good, when I have some time in the next few weeks I think I'll try to make some on my own.
Lastly they had the most amazing sea salt caramel gelato for desert. Don't miss it.
Last week I also had the chance to visit what is fast becoming one of my absolute favorite wineries in Oregon, WillaKenzie Estate.
I'd only had their Pinot Gris before, both the late harvest and the regular. They are both amazing. Today I got to try their wonderfully fruity Pinot Blanc. I also was wowed by their Pinot Noirs (and it takes a lot to wow me with a Pinot Noir). But these did it!
Even their cheapest bottle, the Estate Cuvee was amazingly drinkable, and was clearly better than most of the $50 Pinots I've tried. Even better was the Kiana. But the best was a special bottle that they don't normally pour as part of the tasting, the Terres Bases. If you ask really nicely, maybe they'll give you a taste.
One trend I've noticed is that recommended food pairings are getting more and more generic. It seems like many bottles that I see in the market have tried to grow their market share by being as encompassing as possible. Recommended wine pairings such as "this wine tastes great accompanied, by chicken, steak, pasta, fish, or veggies. Or just enjoy it by itself," seem to be more and more common.
But WillaKenzie Estates is thankfully going the exact opposite way. Here's their recommended pairing for the Kiana: "goat cheese gnochhi or tagliatelli with wild boar bolognese". Now that's a specific pairing! I just need to sharpen my spear and find me a wild boar to get started.
In an interesting coincidence, the chef of a Cena, Gabe Gabreski will be barbecuing May 25 and 26th at WillaKenzie estate. And it's only $20 a person, including the food, the wine tasting, and a Pinot Noir glass. When you figure a meal at A Cena will cost you well over $20 without wine, and the WillaKenzie estate winery normally charges $20 for a wine tasting (without any food), this is an awesome bargain.
It gets even better, in that if you join the WillaKenzie Estate cellar club while you are there, they will give you back your entrance fee. And since they make the most amazing wines, it may be hard for you not to join.
Plus the winery has some awesome steers. How can you not like that?
While you're there make sure you pick up a bottle of the late harvest. It's not sold or available anywhere but at the winery and at my current favorite restaurant, The Painted Lady.
The Painted Lady
I've now eaten at The Painted Lady five times, including three times in the past six weeks. Every time someone asks me where I want to go to dinner the answer is always the same, The Painted Lady. Particularly when someone else is treating!
If I was forced to sum the restaurant up in a sentence, I'd say: "The Painted Lady is 90% as good as the French Laundry at 33% of the price."
That summary, perhaps, isn't fair to either restaurant, but The Painted Lady is absolutely amazing. And it seems that each time I go there, it gets even better.
Last time I was there I ordered the eight course tasting and everything was fantastic, but the absolute best dish was the Agnolotti. (La Cena and The Painted Lady are both featuring Agnolotti...is there a new trend that no one told me about? And isn't Agnolotti just a way of saying ravioli?)
They offer a stinging nettle agnolotti, with amazing prosciutto, wild mushrooms, white italian summer truffles and Oregon truffle foam. It was accompanied by a Walter Scott wine. I hope you get a chance to try it!