Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pour le Snacking: My Perfect French Mini-Meal

Mackerel + Cracker = Happy Cat

When rushing around the entire Champagne region trying not to be egregiously late to the appointments I’d painstakingly set up weeks in advance, eating on the go was paramount to maintaining one’s good humor … and to padding one’s stomach enough to maintain a clear head between multiple visits and tastings. Even though I sucked and spit dutifully through each dégustation (tasting), it’s impossible not to absorb some alcohol. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you!

So, stocking up on supplies in the supermarket was an economical and convenient way to have munitions for the daily journey. In combination with visits to the local boulangerie in whichever village we happened to be in for a toasty baguette and pain au chocolat or fougasse, a perfect on-the-go meal or snack could be had. (By the way, I found out that another meaning of fougasse is an improvised landmine. Good heavens. Give me the bread version any day!)

The surprise winner for me was a tasty treat that some may balk at: Chunks of canned mackerel filet swimming in tomato basil sauce, over Wasa crackers (baked rye crackers) or ripped-off pieces of fresh baguette. The fishy scent alone may put some off, but I absolutely loved it! I would wake up in the morning, looking forward to dipping crusty crackers into the gooey, red fishiness. I kid you not.

As Saupiquet, the maker of the canned mackerel filet I ate, says, “Laissez-vous séduire par les filets de maquereaux Saupiquet en sauce” - “Let yourself be seduced by Saupiquet mackerel filets in sauce” … That’s a tall order for canned fish, but I was summarily seduced.

(Check out this hilarious 47 second video of several rugged looking men dressed as various fish and crustaceans, going out to sea. “Who says that fish have to be sad?” the video asks us. Huh?! Nonetheless, I was vastly amused.)

I tried to find a suitable substitute after coming home to the US, but the closest I’ve gotten is canned sardines in tomato sauce. It’s tough to find canned mackerel, and if I find it, it’s in sunflower oil or olive oil.

And, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I searched for “canned mackerel” online and all the shopping results came back with descriptions beginning with, “Treat your cat to a meal of …” Only cats are privileged enough to eat canned mackerel in the US? Cripes!

Jean-Lou says: "My fish are fresh and wild, and Saupiquet knows how to prepare them divinely.
And, I know where they come from!"

It’s a good opportunity to try different flavors, but I confess, I miss my mackerel in tomato basil sauce. I also find myself craving a fresh baguette every day. Happily, it is fairly easy to find baguettes in one’s local supermarket in the US.

For those Stateside who are leery of eating bread that isn’t whole wheat, the Observatoire du Pain in France recommends a daily consumption of ⅔ to ¾ a baguette de tradition française for women, and ¾ for men. This is courtesy of the Observatoire’s study on the nutrition of French breads. Seriously, there is an entity devoted to the scientific study of France’s breads. Although, we probably don’t need a report to tell us it’s okay to be eating baguettes regularly - the French have been doing so for eons, after all.

And what is the result of this research for me? Now I want to eat a baguette, each freshly torn piece daintily topped with morsels of Saupiquet Filets de Maquereaux sauce tomate et basilic. Sigh!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Not At All Boozy in Bouzy - Champagne Pierre Paillard

Refreshing mid-afternoon tasting flight in a rustic setting.

Antoine Paillard was our gracious host at Champagne Pierre Paillard, visit number 2 on day 2.  To underscore the family element in Champagne, Pierre was Antoine’s grandfather. He started up his eponymous house in the 1950s, although the many of the plots have been worked on by the family for 8 generations spanning 250 years.

Antoine, along with his father and brother, keeps everything humming. Speaking of the brothers, as Gary Westby, the generous and knowledgeable Champagne Buyer at K&L Wine Merchants, put it: “If their business ever goes bad, those two could totally have another career as models.” (One could arguably say the same about Gary.)

But what was most compelling about Pierre Paillard is that while it is quite small - it owns 11 hectares total (28 acres) comprising 30 plots - this land is entirely contiguous, and wholly located in Bouzy, a village in the Montagne de Reims region (northeast). With vineyard land prices reaching over 1M euros a hectare in Champagne, having a completely contiguous plot is rare and brings an amazing boon to a maker.

Moreover, Bouzy is a Grand Cru village - the top of the top in quality designation for Champagnes. This means that the plots in Bouzy are deemed to be of excellent terroir, or land. Quality land in turn grows vines that yield high quality grapes, and eventually, Champagnes of great character.

Of course, the way in which humans make decisions in the viticulture (cultivation of vines) and viniculture (making of the wines) can mean the difference between a good and a mind-blowing wine. Notice I didn’t say “the difference between a bad and a mind-blowing wine” because Grand Cru land is supposedly of such high quality that a fairly good wine can still result from mediocre human handling!

With Antoine Paillard, in the light-filled tasting room

Antoine is deeply respectful of the legacy he is working with. The philosophy at Pierre Paillard is not only about sustainability, it’s about terroir: cultivating vines and shaping wines that bring out the best of the land’s character. In contrast, big house Mumm blends its Champagnes from 77 crus (vineyards) around the region. Whuff! With that kind of Champagne-making, “You don’t know what you’re drinking,” Antoine said with a matter-of-fact shake of his head. Clearly he sees this as a sad but all-too-common phenomenon.

At the same time, Antoine is aware of the differences between his house and the big houses. Big houses experience great commercial pressure to create Champagnes of huge volume to meet worldwide demand, with a consistent taste profile. That means formulas - more science than art, so to speak. But this is perhaps the most appropriate approach given their goals (... of world domination! Oh, sorry, did I say that?), and it seems to work for them.

At Champagne Pierre Paillard, Antoine and his family do not have this kind of pressure; they can afford to create their Champagnes carefully as local artisans. Antoine is very passionate about maintaining this philosophy; the house will remain small. Well, unless they buy out other houses’ plots, those 11 hectares are what they’ve got!

Champagnes Tasted

  • Brut Grand Cru - This is the product of 22 plots(!) in their Bouzy vineyards, with an average vineyard age of 25 years. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay from 2008 harvest and 2007 reserve wine. Paillard ages its wines for no less than 3 years on the lees (with yeasty yumminess) in order to achieve the kind of balance of flavor and finesse it aims for.

    I found its nose gently fruity and floral, up and excited. On the palate there was a bracing acidity. This was a Champagne that refreshes - and if you’re not quite awake, you will be after a sip!

  • Bouzy Blanc de Noirs, “Les Maillerettes” - This is the name of their “mother” vineyard, a monocru (single vineyard). Paillard replants their other vineyards from grafts of the vines in this plot, thus perpetuating the family legacy in more ways than one. This wine is 100% Pinot Noir (hence “Blanc de Noirs” or “White from Blacks” although Pinot Noir is arguably a grape of a red color) from the 2008 harvest, and only the juice from the first two pressings are used.

    Upon first sniff, I can only describe the nose as very pure, clear and straight yet subtle. Imagine a chic woman with good breeding stepping into a room; it’s not her intention to attract attention, yet everyone’s eyes are inevitably drawn to her. The Champagne’s smooth, less bracing structure made this a wonderfully classy delight. I'm sure it would pair marvelously with poultry, or roasted pigeon in the Bresse style.

  • Rosé Grand Cru - A blend of their white and red (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir) from 2009 and 2008 reserve. 6% of the Pinot Noir is from their “Bouzy Rouge” - the grapes are from the little plot “Clos Pierre Paillard” just out the back of the house!

    Like the Brut Grand Cru, this one was up and excited, but it was fragrant like tea rose with a whiff of hard candy. A hint of red fruit gently underscored the mouth, with the perfume of tea rose riding the overtones. A strong acidic backbone ensured the Champagne didn’t dissolve into too much fragrance.

  • Millésime 2004 Grand Cru 2004 - Ding Ding Ding! This was the winner for Susan. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay, with 10 whopping years aging on the lees. If wine sitting with yeast slurry in a bottle for that long yields this kind of expansive toastiness, it’s worth the wait!

    Out of a lineup of wonderful, quality Champagnes, it was the flavor of this one that gobsmacked me. It was expansive yet structured with toasted almonds, brioche, and cheese! Like, parmesan. I was in heaven. 

As I sucked thoughtfully - I was getting better at it on my second day - and spit precious liquid repeatedly into the metal crachoir (spittoon), I was amazed by the incredible finesse and delicacy of these Champagnes. Each one possessed a unique character. Whether it was round and nutty or tight like hard candy with a bracing acidity, that exceptionally fine quality underscored - and in a sense defined - each as a Champagne of Pierre Paillard.

So that’s why I say it’s “not at all boozy in Bouzy” - not with Champagne Pierre Paillard, anyway. These are Champagnes to be savored with good friends, perhaps over a meal or dessert depending on which cuvée is chosen. Granted, you might get boozy if you enjoyed a glass or two continuously over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With such wonderful selections, the concept may not seem completely crazy … but I’m not trying that anytime soon.

I must mention that after this visit, we began referring to our black VW Golf rental car affectionately as ‘Le Petit Bouzy’! It’s not just that I can’t resist a bad pun; it was a fitting way to commemorate a new and defining experience. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Moi, Placomusophile?

Champagne caps (and a cork) collected on my trip

Yes, there is a term for people who collect Champagne caps, les plaques de muselets de Champagne. These are the attractive, shiny little things that top the corks; cap and cork are held together by a wire cage one sees on the bottles of most sparkling beverages once the (usually) gold-colored foil is removed. When you’ve got an average of 90 pounds of pressure per square inch (620 kPa) in a 75 cl (750 ml) bottle, that wire cage is a good thing.

If I recall correctly from the many questions I asked my various hosts, caps were introduced ~1881 to enable the wire to hold the cork in more securely.

But I digress. Despite being merely tin metal, the plaques are decorated in a variety of ways that reflect the Champagne house. Upon seeing a cap removed for the first time during a bottle opening at Champagne LAUNOIS, I was immediately fascinated.

You see, anything like this is terribly alluring for me. I have been an avid postage stamp collector since I was a little kid. Stamps show what is important to a country, a culture, a society. Champagne caps show the philosophy of the house and what it prides itself in.

So of course I had to ask for the little purple cap in front of me (and the cork! Hey, it’s stamped with “Grand Vin de Champagne” at the bottom. How cool is that?). Even though the design initially struck me as a tad cheesy - an old-school photo portrait of a female family member (Clémence, for whom this Grand Cru cuvée is named) - I immediately understood that family is paramount to this Champagne house, and that family is commemorated proudly. Having this cap reminds me what Champagne LAUNOIS stands for.

By way of contrast, the two big houses I visited, Pommery and Mumm, use consistent branding by displaying their logo in varying color schemes to indicate the cuvée. I’m sure there’s a whole lot more in between with different houses that I’ve yet to discover: I recently came into possession of a Veuve Clicquot cap that sports a portrait of Madame Clicquot on a warm pink border - a big house with sustained reverence for its Grande Dame.

Veuve Clicquot "Reserve Cuvée Rosé" cap, wire cage and cork still attached

Having the caps reminds me of the Champagnes I’d tasted and of the experience each house imparted. I confess I also enjoy the satisfaction of thinking, “Yeah, I was there!” whenever I see them - at least for the ones I’d collected on my trip. You bet I’m keeping the caps with each bottle I open, and recent events have shown that I’m not above begging for them at tastings back home, either!

So yes, I’m in grave danger of becoming a placomusophile. And you know what, I’m okay with that.

More Champagne!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bubbly Before Noon: Champagne LAUNOIS Père et Fils

Cuvée Dorine: Look at those dainty bubbles!

On my first full day in Champagne country, the first stop was to cult maker Champagne LAUNOIS Père et Fils. Despite it being a small house, LAUNOIS wines are much sought after and hard to get stateside. As Gary Westby, Champagne buyer for K&L Wine Merchants, told me: "I had to work on these guys for over a year before I could get them to sell me anything!" So, of course I had to arrange a visit.

Champagne LAUNOIS Père et Fils is located south of Reims in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, in the Côte de Blancs region of Champagne. Grand Cru is the highest designation granted to a village in Champagne by the Échelle des Crus, signifying top quality. So if you’re born into ownership or manage to get your hands on any Grand Cru plots, you’re in luck!

There are three major regions in Champagne:

  • Montagne de Reims - in the north known for Pinot Noir
  • Vallée de la Marne - in the middle for Pinot Meunier
  • Côte des Blancs - to the south for Chardonnay (easy to remember: Chardonnay is a white grape, hence Blancs!)

Many of the Champagnes made from 100% Chardonnay - called “blanc de blancs” or literally “white of whites” - are from the Côte des Blancs so it was thrilling to be there! On the hills of the little villages we drove through, Champagne houses crowded right up against each other, one after the other. It was definitely Champagne-land.

I noticed many of the houses sported the same surnames. It was confusing, but upon closer examination the given names or house names were slightly different. Take for instance:

  • Champagne LAUNOIS Père et Fils
  • Champagne BONNET-LAUNOIS
  • Champagne Jean-Pierre LAUNOIS 

… and they’re all in the same village of Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger, which means you could basically throw a Champagne cork from one house and hit the other.

This underscores the familial nature of the Champagne - and indeed of the wine - industry: it is a family-oriented business, and members can and often do branch out to start their own houses.

(Oh, and if you hadn't noticed already, the French seem to prefer capitalizing all the letters in their surnames. I noticed this first in email correspondence when arranging my visits: “... Dans l’attente de votre confirmation, Mélanie BERROT” - I wondered if I should sign off with “Susan LIN” but that still seems odd to me!)

Champagne LAUNOIS Père et Fils is the “big daddy” of the village. It is a small producer, even compared to Champagne Thiénot, but is the largest in the area. Many smaller houses in the area pay to use their machines and facilities. Real estate is certainly limited!

The man behind the house, Pierre Launois (I considered all caps but resisted!), was quite the eccentric collector. The house has the oddest museum I’ve ever toured; it consists of old and new caves joined up with random displays of everything from freaky anthropomorphic figures carved into vine roots to old disgorgement machines, a giant muselet (the wire cage that covers the cork), a 16th century Burgundian wine press that weighs two tons and required Mr. Launois to build a structure around it to house it (thus incurring the displeasure of his parents) … and more randomness.

Hanging out beneath the Giant Muselet in LAUNOIS' unique museum

Aurore, a fresh-faced young lady who has worked for LAUNOIS for 3 years, gave the tour. When we’d arrived, nearly 20 minutes late for our appointment (the result of jet lag and being caught behind slow trucks and enjambeurs) I introduced myself and asked to catch up to the tour since we were late. She’d responded that there was no rush; we (two people) *were* the tour! Ha!

It turned out that on the weekends, busloads of Belgians and sometimes Americans or Canadians come to visit, but on a drizzly, gray Wednesday? Just us chickens! It was a wonderful, personalized visit.

At the end of the tour, Aurore took us to a rustic little sitting room and prepared four Champagnes for us to taste. I admit to feeling a frisson, to be tasting Champagne before noon!

The first thing I noticed was that the bubbles were remarkably fine. They surged with vigor in the glass but were oh so dainty. For me, this became a visual characterization of Champagne; I’ve recalled seeing sparkling wines from other areas whoosh through the glass with big, robust bubbles. Apparently the longer the aging, the finer the bubbles.

Champagnes tasted (I confess to not having very good notes on this one):
  • Cuvée Reserve - Blanc de blancs from 2008 harvest and 10% 2007 reserve wine aged three years on the lees (i.e. in the bottle without filtering out the yeast and other sediment), this is their all-purpose Brut that can be enjoyed at any time. A bit nutty and round, but still very delicate. Gary described it as: “... all Grand Cru from the villages of Mesnil, Oger, Cramant and Avize - a roll call of the finest crus for Chardonnay in all of Champagne...”
  • Veuve Clémence - Blanc de blancs, with four years aging on the lees. This one was more dry than the Reserve, with yellow fruit and some white pepper spiciness - this one will wake you up! Sushi or other fishy seafood, methinks. 
  • Dorine - Blanc de blancs, 1 year in oak. It was a beautiful amber color and lightly fruity but an unmistakable backbone. Seems like the little girl it was named for! I felt like cheese with this one. 
  • Rose Valentine - 100% Pinot Noir. Fruity with a long finish, lightly perfumed and delicate. Again, named for a cute little girl!  

The Rose Valentine was Aurore’s favorite, but I liked Veuve Clémence even better. I usually prefer wines that are less sweet and have never been one for super fruity and delicate, but don’t get me wrong: none of these Champagnes were sickly sweet in any way. They were all nicely balanced but with different character.

In the coming days, I would come to notice and appreciate this emphasis on character in each cuvée, at the small houses. There is a real respect for the land the grapes are grown in, and a desire to bring out the best of the flavors it has to offer.

Even though Champagne LAUNOIS was started by a man and named ‘Father and Sons’, it's clear that the house is run by the women in the family. Just check out the names of the Champagnes above. You go, girls!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sharing the Road with Aliens

Please don't hurt me! Oh wait, you're a tractor ...

Driving around Champagne country, you inevitably bump up against slow-moving freaky creatures with gangling arms and tubes. I was seriously alarmed when I first caught sight of one: I thought an alien from the game Half Life had come alive to wreak havoc on idyllic countryside autoroute D9, or Route du Champagne.

What is this thing? It is called an enjambeur, a tractor that can work with 1 or 2 rows of vines. It’s used to do pruning, spraying, hoeing, etc.

After my initial shock, I got used to seeing these funny looking tractors quickly. More often than not, they were a source of mild exasperation as they made us late to appointments. It’s tough to pass slow-moving vehicles on windy, narrow, one-lane-per-direction country roads.

And trust me; these things move very, very slowly. Bumpity-bumpity-bumpity, tubes and arms twitching about such that a few times I was sure the machine would turn around to show itself for the monster it really was and start attacking us à la Final Fantasy:

Battle with Champagne Tractor, er, Boss Monster, in Final Fantasy X

But as I observed the machines and operators at work throughout the next days, I came to appreciate how well designed they are for the closely-planted vineyards with extremely narrow rows. I began to wave to the drivers as they rumbled past, if I was on foot. And after joining a rush of coverall-clad vineyard workers who had descended onto a cozy bistro in the tiny village Bergères-lès-Vertus to eat a hearty buffet lunch, the machines took on an even more human dimension and seemed downright friendly.

It was but one element of many that makes Champagne what it is today - technology next to old-world practices. Most important are the people who make it all come together, who do their part to create something wonderful for the world to enjoy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Champagne Thiénot - Reunion with Garance

Special gift from our visit with Garance - 2002 Grande Cuvee Alain Thiénot

Reims was our first destination on this trip for a 3-day mad dash around the Champagne region. And first on the list of a packed itinerary was a visit with Garance Thiénot, the capable and lovely Director of PR at Champagne Thiénot and daughter of founder Alain.

Our first meeting had been only a couple of weeks before at a special Champagne dinner at the Plumed Horse, one of my favorite restaurants. The San Francisco Bay Area had been the last stop for Garance in a big cross-country US tour, and despite this she looked classy in French boho chic as she graciously introduced the house (established in 1985) and its Champagnes to the expectant crowd of diners. When told that we’d be visiting Reims very soon, she generously extended an offer of a personal tour of the Thiénot facilities.

The appointment was the very same afternoon we arrived in France. We’d driven from the airport in Roissy to Reims - Champagne country! After crashing for half an hour on the wildly floral bedding in our suite at the gorgeous Domaine Les Crayères - a château in the heart of Reims sitting on 7 hectares of lush vegetation - we dragged our jet-lagged bodies out into the grayness and rain to attempt driving to Thiénot in nearby Taissy.

(Of course we got lost. Roundabouts take some getting used to. And nearly every place we would go to in Reims and Burgundy, including here, was on some really tiny street that did not show up on digital map data. Heck, some villages didn’t even show up on the maps. Getting to places = Looking at maps beforehand, making vague approximations, panic, pointing, and frantic exclamations of “Here! Turn here!!”)

For a “small” Champagne house, Thiénot was very state of the art! It boasts a very modern facility in an nondescript industrial complex that, if I remember correctly, also had an airplane parts manufacturing company nearby. It was a relief to come in from the rain, although of course the facilities - once we left the cozy lobby - were a chilly 10 degrees Celsius as dictated for all Champagne working areas and storage.

We just happened to visit during the week where most Champagne houses were en tirage - bottling for the 2012 harvest - and workers were busy with a noisy, conveyer-belt style bottling machine. Clink-clink-clink-clink! times hundreds of bottles, and you get the idea.

This was after we’d walked through a narrow space containing many steel fermentation tanks with the openings for gas to escape at the top. (Explosions would be bad.) The tanks were inscribed with the house name, very classy. Thiénot prefers to control everything, including the induction of malolactic fermentation - I later learned some some makers wait for nature to decide, but this is not scalable for a growing house with greater production volumes.

Garance moved us into the next large space, where a hulking machine out of Star Wars was the centerpiece against a backdrop of crates upon crates of bottles in storage - all the way up to the high ceiling. She was very proud of this machine that stacks bottles into crates en masse - it was acquired last year and is affectionately called “Le Nain Jaune”, or “The Yellow Dwarf”!

The bottle-stacking machine did resemble Le Nain Jaune!

I learned about the remuage, or riddling, of the Champagne bottles - it can be done the old fashioned way, fait à la main (manually) in pupitres or in giant, cubic machines. Obviously it’s faster with the machines - most Champagne houses, I learned, will do the careful bottle rotations manually for special cuvées and vintage bottlings, and the “regular” editions in the machines.

Garance showed us some crates of unlabeled bottles, stored perfectly upside down - sur point - so that the sediment settles into the neck of the bottle. The necks are then frozen in a special liquid and the put into a machine where the seal/cap (no cork yet!) is removed - BAM! - the pressure (400 - 600 kPa per bottle) forcibly ejects the sediment and the “disgorgement” is done! Again, this can be done manually but obviously it’s not pleasant and a bit dangerous. Thanks, technology!

Then comes the dosage - you lose some liquid with disgorgement, so you need to add some back in the bottle. Excitingly, this is where sugar levels are set to determine what kind of Champagne results - dry (brut), semi-sweet (demi-sec) or sweet (sec) - or whatever level in between suits the chef du cave’s fancy.

After, there were the machines for the corks and wire cages … labeling … palettes of cases ready to ship. Garance makes sure that there are enough supplies to ship constantly throughout the year. The facility also handles Champagnes from two other labels, but they keep them separate from the house’s namesake products.

Although Thiénot may be considered small compared to the massive houses like Mumm, it’s clear that they are gearing up for the big time. In fact, they’re already the Champagne of choice for the Academy Awards!

Before leaving - Garance was so sweet to spend time with us especially since she had to rush off to pick up her two children from school - she presented us with a bottle of 2002 Thiénot 'Grande Cuvee Alain Thiénot'! We were flabbergasted and delighted.

After we made it back to Les Crayères, we relaxed at the beautiful lounge La Rotonde, with stunning views of the gardens. We were presented with “welcome Champagne” glasses - I didn’t even know what it is was we drank but who cares?! We’d made it! We were in Champagne country, and had already completed one appointment on my massive list. I was exhausted, but thrilled. The journey had begun.

The Tasting Notes Spreadsheet of Doom!

Booty yielded from my Master Spreadsheet!

No, not of doom … but of absolute wonder! But it sure took some work to gather all my notes, written haphazardly onto hotel notepad papers and the backs of large receipts. You’d think I’d have been more prepared, but you know what? I’d already done hours upon hours of work researching, contacting all the winemakers (in French!), and putting together each day’s schedule that I hadn’t thought as far as preparing a small notebook to bring with me. (I had my journal, of course, but that was a little too unwieldy.) Organizing the trip activities was admittedly exhausting, but absolutely worth the effort.

After coming home, I fired up a blank spreadsheet and got going. It has 12 tabs, one for each house or location visited (I consolidated the Champagne houses into one). I didn’t even include one house in Burgundy since every single wine I’d tasted there was a total disappointment! Each spreadsheet has 12 columns to cover everything from appellation to plot names, tasting notes, relevant info about the plot or the like, online resources for that wine, etc.

I highlighted all the wines I’d noted as a favorite or standout, and then created a fresh spreadsheet called “Les Vins que J’aime” (“The Wines I Love”). I separated wines from different houses by a simple red line - it helps break it up visually.

A snapshot of a section from the Master Spreadsheet

Now I had my Master Wish List. I visited my awesome local store Artisan Wine Depot, armed with a printed copy, to see what I could find! With the help of Curt Polikoff, Burgundy expert (he loves that Hill of Corton!) and certified sommelier, I left with three wonderful bottles that I can’t wait to try.

  • Bouchard Père et Fils Aloxe Corton 2010 (Pinot Noir)
  • Joseph Drouhin Beane Blanc “Clos des Mouches” Premier Cru 2010 (Chardonnay)
  • Domaine Thierry Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin "Vigne Belle" 2009 (Pinot Noir)

(It bears saying that this purchase set me back over $200 … but it’s Burgundy. Sigh.)

My main worry is that I’m getting really spoiled by the amazing wines I tasted on my trip. But I’m not going to stop tasting and trying different wines from different places. I tried a $8 bottle of La Granja Tempranillo 2011 from Spain a month ago - an impulse purchase from Trader Joe’s - with a simple rice bowl dinner and it was fun!

You don’t always need to have the most complex and beautiful wines all the time. Sometimes you want to stop analyzing and just drink! It *is* alcohol after all, people, so cheers! A la votre!

The Palette Expanded (and Mind Blown)!

My mess of wine tasting notes, waiting to be organized.

Reims, Burgundy, and just barely (one day), Paris: Ah, la France, la patrie du vin. After 12 days of tasting, spitting, eating, and getting lost on autoroutes and in tiny villages, I had countless hotel notepad papers full of tasting note scribbles jammed into a folio and a journal bursting with recountings of adventures.

As I attempted to organize my notes, I found myself wanting a CTRL+F (find) function to look up certain things or events. Sadly, this doesn’t work for hand-written documents, much less the messy chicken scratch my penmanship degraded into when my wrist fatigued. (I write. A lot. I give every detail because otherwise I will forget!)

So, I decided to document my experiences here in a somewhat cleaned-up fashion. That way I can share my experiences with curious minds, as well as look anything up easily. I’ll also add my notes about wines and foods I try as I go along, post-trip.

Discovery Highlights:
  • I love me Chassagne-Montrachet and Chablis for Blancs.
  • I love me Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny for Rouges.
  • Crémant de Bourgogne is a great apéritif drink!
  • Gougères are a great way to start a meal. (I want my cheesy poofs!)

I’ll summarize my Voyage Découverte this way:

  • I’ve had a first chance to see and taste the land through wine, liqueurs, and food. 
  • I’ve met colorful folks in the wine industry, from dirt-beneath-the-fingernails winemakers (e.g. Bernard Rion) to slick young tour guides in the Big Houses (e.g. Mumm Champagne).
  • I’ve been held hostage by an autoroute toll booth. (Never again!!)
  • My taste buds exploded slowly over the days, beautifully. I am full of wonder. I want to return. I want to learn more. 

I think something is happening to me, and you bet I’m going to let it develop. I can’t wait to see what it will be.