Archive for December, 2012

The Stars of Champagne

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.  Who doesn’t love bubbles?  Especially during this time of year, nothing beats popping open a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate the holiday season.  San Francisco Wine Center students were ready to kick-off this year’s holiday festivities by joining Advanced Level Certified Sommelier and lead wine educator at the Culinary Institute of America Christie Dufault and spending a chilly winter evening learning about and tasting some of the true stars of Champagne.  With an extravagant lineup including legendary producers such as Taittinger, Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Peters, and Lanson, it was the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer Cristal that sparked a rather intriguing topic of conversation.  As we all know and have heard in countless songs by Notorious B.I.G, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and several others, Cristal grew quite the following from the hip-hop culture throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Often referred to as “Crissy”, one could find bottles of Cristal available at nearly every major nightclub being sold for anywhere from $450 to $600, and sometimes even more.  Then suddenly all of that changed after a fateful interview with the managing director of Louis Roederer, Frederic Rouzaud. When asked if he felt that Cristal’s association with the “bling lifestyle” could be damaging to the brand, he simply replied, “That’s a good question, but what can we do?  We can’t forbid people from buying it.”  And with that, hip-hop icon Jay-Z was so offended by Rouzaud’s comment that he ultimately boycotted Cristal and pulled the wine from all of his lounges and 40/40 nightclubs.  The others soon followed.  Jay-Z spokesperson Ron Berkowitz later commented, “The hip-hop world certainly helped elevate the presence of Cristal.  At the end of the day isn’t the goal for any company to sell bottles?”  Well…not exactly.

You see, what makes wine so unique is that unlike beer and spirits which are made from fermented grains and starches, wine on the other hand is produced from fresh fruit.  This concept makes for significant fluctuations in production due to factors such as climate.  In other words, what you get each year is what you get.  So focusing back on Cristal, this high-end Champagne is not just about a crystal clear bottle, gold labels, and shiny foil wrappings.  As the very first Prestige cuvee of Champagne, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are selected from their estate’s finest vineyards.  And only in the “great” years when the ripeness levels ensure the defined balance that Cristal is known for will the wine actually be produced.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that Cristal is only produced several times each decade.  The supply of this fantastic cuvee is not endless, and therefore, neither should its consumption be.  But now that the hip-hop culture has essentially dumped Cristal in a less than amicable breakup, nightclubs have moved on to other well-known Champagne houses.  Nicknamed “Sally”, the hip-hop and club scene has begun its all-or-nothing relationship with world-famous Champagne house Salon…which incidentally is also only produced during exceptional years and typically only four times each decade.  At the end of the day, are these producers more than happy to have anyone in the world that is passionate about wine thoroughly enjoy and indulge in their Champagne?  Most certainly, it’s what they live for.  Could these wines be fully appreciated for their rarity and superior quality while being sipped on a dance floor in a jam-packed nightclub whilst the drinkers are just trying to focus on not having their glasses elbowed by the person next to them?  That part, you decide.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Brut NV
  2. Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut 2000
  3. Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002
  4. Pierre Gimonnet Brut Special Club 2002
  5. Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Blanc de Blancs 2004
  6. Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs 2005
  7. Louis Roederer Cristal 1996
  8. Lanson Ivory Label Demi Sec NV
  9. Lanson Extra Age Rosé NV
  10. Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV

Red Burgundy – Cote du Nuits

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Burgundy can be thought of as a well-bred family of children; each child possessing different appearances, different styles, and different behaviors.  Within this regal family is an undoubtedly salient set of fraternal twins, both dashing in looks and rivaling only each other in superior quality, none other than the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune.  These regions represent the teenage dream of being that set of all-star athlete fraternal twins that can’t help but excel in just about everything.  Every girl wants to date them.  Every guy wants to be them.  But just like any fraternal twins, even the nearly flawless ones, alongside the uncanny similarities come distinct differences.  James Beard award-winning author Jordan Mackay paid another visit to the San Francisco Wine Center to guide a class full of students who caught the Burgundy bug and help them uncover the deep side of Côte de Nuits.  Feasting their eyes on the impeccable wine list, the class fervently tasted a few Premier Cru wines followed by an impressive lineup of delightful Grand Cru wines from Clos Vougeot and plenty of Charmes Chambertin.  The students were more than pleased to end the class with a glass of 1985 Camus Pere & Fils Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru.  Here is a taste of what we learned.

Although both regions produce the two key Burgundian grape varietals, many would refer to the Côte de Nuits as the ‘Holy land of Pinot Noir’ while Côte de Beaune is dubbed as the ‘King of Chardonnay’.  Having been granted 24 of the 33 Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, Côte de Nuits is highly dominated by Pinot Noir at about 95%.  It is a well-known fact that Pinot Noir from this region tends to be unmistakably deeper colored, heftier, and firmer than those of Côte de Beaune.  But why is that?  Well to be fair, attempting to fully comprehend the mosaic of soils that underlie Côte de Nuits, or Burgundy in general for that matter, is not for the geologically inept.  But looking at the overall picture it can be noted that the region’s soils are composed of a limestone base topped with mixtures of chalk, marl and red clay with rich alluvial soils found in the lower altitudes.  The Côte de Nuits bears a continental climate with little to no influences from the Atlantic; receiving long cool winters, short warm summers, and an unfortunate tendency for hail storms.  Apart from general climatic similarities, this region conspicuously differs from the wet and windier conditions of Côte de Beaune.  Another perceivable difference between the regions is the much narrower size and sharply sloped terrain of Côte de Nuits in contrast to the soft rolling hills of Côte de Beaune.  All aspects combined, Côte de Nuits ends up producing significantly less amounts of wine than Côte de Beaune.  Now, that sure was a mouthful of comparing and contrasting.  But as mentioned earlier, life is such for such high-profile fraternal twins.  The bottom line, could you resist dating either?  If you even tried to answer with a ‘yes’, Burgundy drinkers would argue otherwise.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Domaine Dujac  Morey St-Denis AC 2010
  2. Domaine Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2009
  3. Clos de Tart La Forge 1er Cru 2008
  4. Dominique Laurent Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains 1er  Cru 2001
  5. Domaine Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Clos Vougeot Grand Gru 2000
  6. Domaine Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2003
  7. Domaine Ponsot Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2001
  8. Domaine Federic Magnien Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1998
  9. Louis Jadot Le Chambertin Grand Cru 1988
  10. Camus Pere and Fils Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1985