Italian Wine Tasting

Our second wine tasting of the semester will be held on Thursday, February 25 at 7:30 in the James Room of the Sadler Center. This tasting will be an introduction to Italian wines and will be hosted by one of our members, JC Hay who had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy last year. The price to attend this tasting will be $10 for members and $15 for guests. Membership fees for the semester will be $20, which will mean that you subsidized for the four remaining events that we have planned at this point.

If you are interested in attending, please confirm your place by e-mailing winesociety@wm.edu as soon as possible. This tasting will be limited to fifteen people. Also, please indicate if you are still interested in signing up to become a member this semester.

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Port Wine Tasting

Our first wine tasting of the semester will be held next Thursday, February 4 at 8:00 in the James Room of the Sadler Center. This tasting will be an introduction to Port wine and will be hosted by one of our members, Robinson Woodward-Burns. The price to attend this tasting will be $5 for members and $10 for guests. Membership fees for the semester will be $20, which will mean that you will be subsidized for the 5 remaining events for the semester that we have planned at this point.

If you are interested in attending, please confirm your place by e-mailing winesociety@wm.edu as soon as possible. This tasting will be limited to fifteen people. Also, please indicate if you are interested in signing up to become a member this semester.

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Bubbles!

It is the time of year that most stores place their Champagnes at the center aisle for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to write a short post about Champagne and some personal favorites I have. Obviously it is daunting to figure out which Champagne to select in a store, as each has its own character, so I have attempted to synthesize my thoughts for the purposes of those interested in buying some bubbles for ringing in the new year as well as a new decade!

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by creating in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation. It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France (do not let sales representatives or bottles tell you otherwise).

The primary grapes typically used in the production of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine by world renowned wine cirtic Jancis Robinson, Champagne became prominent because of its association with the anointment of French kings during their coronations in Riems, which is a city in the Champagne region most associated with this special wine. Nobility throughout Europe started to drink Champagne because of its association with luxury and power, much like the French Bourbon dynasty. As a result, many Champagne houses attempted to capitalize on this and made sure their special wine would only be associated with high luxury and nobility. Although times have changed since the Bourbon Kings of France were drinking Champagne in Versailles, Champagne has continued to be seen by the mass public as reserved for the most special occasions. Indeed, although it is always a special occasion when drinking Champagne, this reviewer personally believes that people should drink it more often as it is lovely, whether in the morning in mimosa form, and before, during, or after dinner. Any time of day is appropriate for drinking Champagne!

A majority of Champagne produced today is “Non-vintage”, meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10-15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are seen as favorable, some producers often make a “Vintage” wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. In the nineteenth century, Champagne was sweeter than the Champagne of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to the London market. The designation Brut Champagne, was actually created for the British in 1876.

As for my personal favorites, I have had the opportunity to try a variety of Champagnes with their own character, some more prominent houses than others.

Moët et Chandon: One of the largest and most famous houses in Champagne, one can never go wrong with Moët. Established in 1743 by Claude Moët, this estate makes more than 26,000,000 bottles of Champagne annually. A family favorite for many years, this is what one of the champagnes that we will be having for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. Classic. (NV: $35)

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin: One of the most prominent houses in Champagne, this wine is known for its distinctively yellow labels as well as its fascinating history. Established in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, Clicquot helped establish Champagne as one of the most sought-after wines among the nobility in Europe during the eighteenth century. In addition to this, Clicquot aided in establishing the modern technique of making Champagne in the nineteenth century. This Champagne is characterized as being quite rich and full with a hint of sweetness. We will be having this Champagne for our New Year’s Eve celebrations as well. (NV Brut: $40).

Pol Roger: One of the few Champagne houses to still be family owned, Pol Roger also has an interesting history, as it was the preferred Champagne of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in which he described the wine as “In victory, deserve it. In defeat, need it!” Pol Roger Brut Vintage is typically a blend of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir and is known for its light, seductive style in which the bubbles seem to dance off the tongue. A lovely Champagne that this reviewer consistently places as one of his favorites. (NV Brut: $45).

Billecart-Salmon: Also still family owned, Billecart-Salmon has consistently been a winner of many Champagne contests. This wine is lovely on the palate and remains one of my favorites. Having had the opportunity to try their Brut Rosé, which was wonderfully soft without being overly too dry, I immediately fell in love with Billecart-Salmon. That particular wine was undoubtedly the best Rosé wine I have ever had with its delicate pink color as well cherry and strawberry flavors. Highly recommended. This Champagne happens to be a favorite of British wine critic Jancis Robinson as well as American wine critic Robert Parker. (NV Brut Rosé: $75).

Taittinger: One can never go wrong with Taittinger. Truly a classic Champagne. This elegant, dry wine is wonderful before dinner or a party and always sets everyone in the right frame of mind. Recommended for those who are looking for an elegant, refined and a simply classy Champagne. “L’Instant Taittinger!” (NV Brut: $35).

Perrier-Jouët: Beloved by many, Perrier-Jouët is a wonderful Champagne house. Known for its flower bottle, this wine is known for its light and sweet style. To this day, the world’s oldest champagne remains an 1825 Perrier-Jouët, which was opened and tasted in 2009 at a ceremony attended by some of the world’s top wine critics. The Champagne was declared as still tasting well (even better than its younger counterparts) with hints of “truffles and caramel”. (NV Brut $40).

As for recommendations other Champagne houses , I highly recommend reading an article written last week by Eric Asimov, wine critic for The New York Times, “Champagnes Below $40 Regain Pop”.

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year 2010! Cheers!

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Wine Review: 2001 Château de Rayne-Vigneau, Sauternes

Château de Rayne-Vigneau is a sweet white wine that was ranked as Premier Cru Classé (French for “First Growth”) in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Belonging to the Sauternes appellation in Gironde, in the region of Graves, the winery is located in the village of Bommes.

During its long history, Château de Rayne-Vigneau was not far behind that of only Château d’Yquem in quality, considered by many as best sweet white wine in the world, for its taste as well as longevity. Despite its prominent history, Château de Rayne-Vigneau fell into decades of neglect and is only now making what many consider a long awaited comeback.

The 2001 vintage of this Sauternes wine stuck this reviewer as being quite dark for its age (tasted 30 December 2009) in its amber color. On the nose, there was not a good balance as there was intense honeyed flavors with a bit of alcohol (not good). On the palate, the wine displayed an entirely different character than the harsh nose with honeysuckle and raisin sweet flavors. Out of the Sauternes I have tasted, this sweet white wine unfortunately does not stand out to me. A disappointment, although still tasty.

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Wine Review: 2004 Château Haut-Bages-Libéral

Château Haut-Bages-Libéral is a winery in the Pauillac appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. Château Haut-Bages-Libéral is also the name of the red wine produced by this property. The wine produced at this Château was classified as one of eighteen Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

The Bages plateau, named for the family that owned this land in the 16th Century, lies between the towns of Pauillac, to the north, and the famous Château St-Julien-Beychevelle, to the south.

Typical with classified growth properties of the left bank, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates this wine (80%), in addition to Merlot (17%) and some Petit Verdot (3%).

As for the 2004 vintage, its appearance was striking in its violet color. The lovely bouquet suggested very ripe dark fruits in addition to its strong aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the attack, the wine matched the nose as the penetrating dark ripe fruits, such as plums and berries. On the palate, the wine distinctly evolves to ripe and spicy tannins to close this full-bodied wine. This wine is quite characteristic of Pauillac wine and its full-bodied personality is sure to be remembered. A good effort from Château Haut-Bages-Libéral, particularly at the price level ($30).

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Wine Review: 2004 Château Cantemerle

Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc, Cinquièmes Crus Classés 2004

Château Cantemerle was one of the first wines that instantly attracted me to Bordeaux. Located in the Haut-Médoc appellation of the Bordeaux wine region of France, the wine produced was the final estate to be classified as one of eighteen Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Its intial absence from the classification featured at the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris created some controversy among wine producers and critics, and as a result, it has been listed on all classification lists published after 1856.

The price of Cantemerle is outstanding considering its placement in the 1855 Classification (perhaps the most prestigious in the wine world) along with the fact that it is an incredibly accessible wine. I think both the 2000 and the 2006 were outstanding efforts and really epitomize the characteristics I personally love in red wine. I would highly recommend investing in the 2006 vintage of this excellent Château, especially considering American wine critic Robert M. Parker’s review in the Wine Advocate in which he called the wine a “quintessentially elegant Bordeaux” and a “great value” with a score of 90/100. (Review of both the 2000 and 2006 vintages to come at a later date.)

Château Cantemerle owns 470 acres of land on a beautiful estate in Haut-Médoc and 222 acres of those are planted with vines. Of these, 215 acres are under production. The grape varieties cultivated at Cantemerle are mainly 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, with additional 5% of Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. On average, the vines are 30 years old.

The 2004 vintage of Cantemerle is interesting as it does not remind me of the other vintages I have had of this estate. On the nose, raspberry, cherry, cranberry fruit aromas come across. It has a nice violet appearance.

On the attack, a nice mixture of dark fruits, flowers, with a hint of smoky tobacco seem prominent in addition to slightly spicy tannins, characteristic of the other Cantemerle vintages I have had. The finish, while short and subtle was where this wine differed from the 2000 and 2006 vintages of Cantemerle. These wines had long, drawn out aftertastes that were quite memorable. Unfortunately this wine did not share this characteristic which made it a bit of a disappointment. I also found the balance a bit off compared to the 2000 and 2006 vintages. Despite this, the wine drank well five years later, although it clearly is not the best effort by Château Cantemerle.

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Wine Review: 1999 Château Filhot, Sauternes

Château Filhot, Sauternes, Deuxième Crus Classés 1999

My first experience with Sauternes, which is a French dessert wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux was with the 1999 Filhot. I became instantly hooked and through my additional experiences of tasting other Sauternes wines, and I longingly remember tasting this particular wine. Indeed, because of my first experience with this lovely wine, I purchased several bottles of the 1999 vintage of Filhot from a wine shop in UK and brought them back to the United States to taste them over the next few years. This proved to be a great decision!

The vineyard dates back to the 1630s and the château was formally founded by Romain de Filhot in 1709. Following the French revolution, the estate was taken over by Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces who added the estate of Pinaud du Rey and had the château redesigned to its contemporary English appearance in the nineteenth century. During the period when then American ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson ranked the wine directly behind the famous Château d’Yquem, which later recieved the distinction of being the only wine in the Premier Cru Supérieur category of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Indeed, Filhot actually enjoyed a greater reputation during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries than today, and the two Sauternes wines were actually comparably priced. In 1935, Comtesse Durieu de Lacarelle (ironically the sister of the Marquis de Lur-Saluces, proprietor of Château d’Yquem) bought the estate, which was modernized by her son, Louis Durieu de Lacarelle, during the 1970s. The estate is currently run by the Vaucelles family.

As for production, the vineyard area extends 150 acres from quite a large estate with the grape varieties of 60% Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon blanc and 4% Muscadelle. The annual production is an average of 6,500 cases.

Although wines from Sauternes can be quite expensive, due to the very high cost of production of these wines, if a special occasion warrants it, they can be absolutely delightful. We decided to have this wine after our dinner of the 1997 Château Léoville-Poyferré and what a great finale it was to our dinner with our guests!

The 1999 vintage appeared incredibly silky in the glass and on the nose, there was an enormous amount of honey aromas in addition to hints of peaches and apricots. On the attack, the wine displayed acidic sweet honey flavors with ripe fruits, sweet raisins. The wine finishes quite well with a lovely honeyed aftertaste that seems to float on the palate in an elegant wine. A classic Sauternes from this great Château.

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