Thursday, March 14, 2019

Women Who Make Champagne AND Woman Who Helps Us Learn About Champagne #Winophiles #tastelikehappy

“Women of Champagne” I’m looking at one of our French #Winophiles fellows, Julia Coney’s blog invite, it reads like the title of a poem - easily romanticizing and glorifying what these women do! However, behind every bottle of champagne (lower case "c" refers to the wine) made or every story that’s told about champagne by these women, there are untold stories about these determined women who want to safeguard the family tradition or to blaze their own trail, with or without the inherited land in the heart of Champagne, France...

Women who make champagne

Ployez-Jacquemart is a family Champagne House created in 1930 by Marcel Ployez and his wife Yvonne Jacquemart. Laurence Ployez, a third-generation who follows her parents’ footstep, continues to produce top-notched champagne, based on the family’s understanding of the Champagne terroir and deep skills in the production process. Ployez-Jacquemart vineyards predominantly grow Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the Premier and Grands Crus villages of Ludes and Mailly Champagne, Villedommange, and Vertus, whereby strict rules are followed each year to ensure that only the very best is pulled out at each harvest. A blend of grapes, from Ployez-Jacquemart’s Grands Crus vineyards and/or a handful of carefully chosen as well as trusted wine growers, is hand-picked and sorted by variety, cru and specific vineyards. The grapes form the basis for the pressing at the estate. Laurence Ployez’ s meticulous approach to every detail is evident at every stage of the process. Her goal is to preserve the structure of each wine, allowing the authentic character and personality of the harvest to shine through and safeguarding the family tradition of making classic-style champagne. Laurence’s achievement is regularly recognized in the wine world as one of the top champagne producers. 

Tasting the Ployez-Jacquemart Extra Quality Brut is a treat. Check out my tasting note previously posted on Instagram:

"🍾Ployez-Jacquemart non-vintage Brut is a complex and elegant  Champagne that smells 🍎ripe apple, 🥖freshly baked baguette, 🍊blood orange and 🍋grapefruit peel on the nose. As you sip through the mouthfilling bubbly mousse, a tad bitter quinine jumps at the core of the crunchy bright fruit, presenting a pleasant tingle that invites you to keep exploring. Opening up showcases its full-bodied and yeasty mouthfeel, enveloped by a rich layer of spice and minerality. The long finish is extra gripping with additional mineral notes." 

While I was taking the Champagne Master Tasting Class at Vinexpo New York on March 4, 2019, I had a fantastic opportunity to taste champagne that is produced by women producers from Andre Chemin and Paul Leredde. Both of these champagne houses belong to the Champagne de Vignerons, the only umbrella brand organized by a grower’s union. This brand is a trademark of a strong identity and values, based craftsmanship, authenticity, and the creation of exceptional wines, produced by the champagne growers at their property or as part of a cooperative.

Eva Chemin is the third-generation producer of Andre Chemin, representing the family business and crafting champagne that reflects the terroir, nuances, expertise and her own identity. I have tasted Eva's Cuvee Rose in the class, which not only has the salmon hue that is beautiful to look at, but also, on the nose, it smelled like a floral blossom with an engaging honey note. A hint of wood chip note also peeked through as I swirled the glass a little bit more. The legs were visible, evidencing the textual mouthfeel and creaminess played out by the added liquor dosage.
  • Terroir: Montagne de Reims Sacy
  • Soil: Chalky clay 
  • Blend: 74% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay, 8% Coteau Champenois
  • Type: Brut Rosé
  • Harvest: 2015, with reserve wine from 2014, 2013 & 2012 Dosage: 4.6 g/l

Photo Credit: VinExpo New York - Eva Chemin

The family of Elizabeth Leredde comes from the descendants of a line of ploughmen-winemakers.  Paul and Marie-Louise Leredde, parents of Elizabeth, started selling champagne around 1960 through a cooperative. Elizabeth debuted her own champagne in 1979. What is so cute about this Champagne house is the mother-daughter duo, a partnership that embraces traditional know-how and new ideas. Elizabeth brought her daughter to Vinexpo New York to assist in the English presentation and to showcase the family pride in front of the wine professionals. The Paul Leredde Cuvee Millesime 2012 has an intensely deep color that looks like liquid gold. As you pour out the champagne and open up the bouquet, the opulent palate, reminiscent of candied fruits, dried flowers, sweet spices, turns into a tasty party, accompanied with a persistent string of fine, lazy bubbles. The dense and round mouthfeel as well as rich aromas provide endless food pairing potential for this wine.
  • Terroir: Vallée de la Marne Crouttes sur Marne
  • Soil: Limestone clay
  • Blend: 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Meunier
  • Type: Brut
  • Vintage: 2012 
  • Dosage: 9 g/l 
Elizabeth Leredde (Left) and Daughter

Woman who helps us learn about champagne

Caroline Henry is a wine journalist and educator of terroir champagne, who came to Hauvillers, one of the prettiest villages in Champagne in 2011. Her book, “Terroir Champagne: Luxury of Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Cuvees” was published in 2016, and becomes a must-read for terroir champagne. Although I feel and sense “passion” a lot through her book and her social media postings throughout the years, what’s more, behind the passion, is Caroline’s work ethics, perseverance, and loyalty to her selected growers. Since we last saw each other in Reims in April 2013, Caroline still remembers me and is happy to share her story...

Caroline Henry - Last Harvest in Champagne
Q: How did you develop your passion toward terroir champagne?
A: I first moved to Champagne as I was curious about why there was so little talk about the different terroirs here. I thought I would stay about six months and then move on as I was in between jobs. And a bit years later I am still learning every day about the different terroirs of the region 😊. I think I developed my passion because I have had to work for it. Many people have scratched the surface before me, and left it at that since champagne is a blended wine by definition. I have really enjoyed digging deeper, asking 101 questions, which allowed me to get a more precise and specific picture. It’s like peeling an onion, layer by layer, discovering new and exciting tidbits! 

Q: Do you think your current base city, Hautvillers gives you the best opportunity to experience these types of champagne?
A: Living in the heart of the vineyard has indeed allowed me to focus more on what actually happens in the vineyard as it is all around me... I walk Betty and I see the erosion and soil damage caused by glyphosate, so it’s something very close to my heart. Living in a village has not always been easy - I had to earn my stripes if you want - but once integrated, it really gives you a different vison of what one normally hears. Furthermore, being here, means I can come out and look at something specific pretty quickly, and I hear what/who is experimenting differently, as people know me. I have developed real friendships with many of the growers in my book. It happened naturally as we have many similar interests! 

Q: Being a woman, does it give you an “edge” to work with champagne, terroir, microclimate, region and personalities?
A: Being a woman in wine (as almost in every sector) I have sometimes been dismissed as being just a blond airhead. One could be offended by the macho attitude, but I see it as a challenge. I get more determined, dig in deeper, search more knowledge, look at all the angles etc. I feel that in a way it has allowed me to learn so much in a relative short period of time. Maybe in the same way as women always have in the history of Champagne. But luckily things are changing, and today there are quite a few trendsetting female terroir champagne producers!! 

Q: What can be creatively paired with a terroir champagne of your choice, beyond the typical cheeses, brunch, and snacks?
A: Champagne really works with all types of food, from appetizers to dessert. Terroir Champagne is often more vinous and it pairs really well with fish and seafood. I like grilled tuna steak with a Rose de Saignee with no or a low dosage, vegetarian lasagna (I do not eat meat) with a powerful Blanc de Noir, or a multi-layered salad with a low dosage blend or Blanc de Blancs. There really are very few dishes which do not pair so well with terroir champagne, as the wine generally has its own identity that can stand up to many types of food.
Betty and Caroline
As I’m drinking the champagne, I probably forget about the complex process of making it. But a few things that stick are the appreciation of this adult beverage, the happiness that's brought by it, and the occasion where a champagne cork was popped! #tastelikehappy

Read more on Caroline Henry's blogs:
Terroir Champagne
Miss In Wine

Check out fellow French #winophiles' related blogs:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Experimenting Chilean Perez Cruz Cabernet Franc with Five (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami) Tasty Meat (#WinePW)

When I was working in Fox Hollow, a Central New Jersey winery, which produces an award-winning Cabernet Franc in the fall last year, a lot of customers often asked me to pour them a glass of “Cab”. When I asked “Cab Sauvignon” or “Cab Franc”, some customers gave me an uneasy grin and scrambled to respond by saying “Cab” again.  To avoid pouring the wrong wine and offend customers by asking the same question again, I simply assumed they meant, “Cabernet Sauvignon” (Fox Hollow also produces a top-notched Cab Sauvignon) and promptly presented a glass of “Cab” with a big smile. Cab Franc hasn’t been given a centerstage status quo due to its common use in blending. As the third mostly grown grape variety in Bordeaux, Cab Franc is often blended with Cab Sauvignon and Merlot, which yields signature red Bordeaux style that is sought after globally. When it sells, why change it? In the lesser known French regions and New World, Cab Franc, a hidden gem in the red wine market, is given the chance to be recognized for its true beauty and own identity.  

Cab Franc in fact is one of the parents, with the accidental marriage with Sauvignon Blanc, giving birth to Cab Sauvignon.  Like many real-life stories, while the successful off-spring, Cab Sauvignon, has been transplanted and revived far and near around the world to become an immensely popular red wine on its own. Cab Franc, to be produced as a single-grape wine, is less sought after by wine makers and stands far from the spotlight. Wendy Klik’s Cab Franc #WinePW invite is a great opportunity for us to venture outside the “Cab” Sauvignon comfort zone, and truly explores the possibility of a bottle of good Cab Franc and embraces its elegance.  

Cab Franc is excellent for food and wine pairings.  Its dominant flavors are red berries, vegetal, earthy and herbaceous, often coupled with light-medium body, balanced style and bright acidity and milder texture. Whether it is red meat, chicken or root vegetables, the quaffable and versatile qualities of Cab Franc often won’t disappoint. Chilean Perez Cruz Cab Franc 2015 Limited Edition can undoubtedly showcase the dominant traits of a typical Cab Franc. What is more is that this Cab Franc also reflects the terroir of inland Maipo Alto Valley, mountainous climate of Chile.  Maipo Alto Valley is at foothills of the Andes mountains, making the zone particularly good for viticulture because they produce a great contrast in temperature between day and night. The climate, combined with the poor, loose, porous, and rocky soil, puts the vines under stress which in turn produces memorable red wines such as Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon.

The tasting profile of Perez Cruz Cab Franc is pictorially captured by my Instagram post as follows:
"Wine of Chile...this impressive Perez Cruz single-vineyard Cabernet Franc limited edition is an elegant Cab Franc🍷 that smells like mahogany and pencil shaving ✏️on the nose - showcasing the balance between oak and terroir⛰. The classic palate of this grape varietal is highlighted - medium-tannin with notes of dried shiitake mushroom, dark chocolate 🍫and a subtle hint of tingling dark cherry note that mimics cherry-flavored cough drop. The finish is long and memorable, leaving visible legs on the glass. Charmed by its beauty, a red that you would pour, swirl and sip...until the last drop."

Believe it or not…as much as I like how this Cab Franc tastes, I love how it smells even more, the woodiness is tangible and is encapsulated in your nostrils – dry bark on a pine tree or sprouting mushrooms grown on a fallen log in the wilderness! After a couple of the quick sips, to loosen up the bouquet and widen the aromas even more, we used a simple aerator to filter the wine into the glass…

Maximizing the enjoyment of this Cab Franc, I’m experimenting strip steaks that are marinated in different sauces, highlighting the four tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter separately, plus a drunken Cornish hen that completes the fifth taste, umami. Without going into too much scientific deep-dive, simply put, the five basic tastes are manifested through the taste buds distributed on the tongue.       
Photo courtesy of Ajinomoto 
Photo courtesy of Create Play Travel 

Overall, to prep for my pairing experiment, a piece of strip steak was marinated in the chosen sauces for around half an hour - a short marinating time to allow the steak developing a lighter touch of sauces but still retaining the texture and natural taste of the beef. Pan-sear the steak to medium-rare, cut in strips and serve.

Sweet – Duck Sauce and Hoisin Sauce:
While duck sauce is the diluted Chinese marmalade and is typically used as the dipping sauce (as accompanied with the Chinese take-out) for spring roll or roasted ducks, it can be used for cooking dishes like sweet and sour chicken or as a substitute of sugar. Hoisin sauce, as most people know, has a rich syrup taste/texture that mimics molasses plus a tad tanginess and saltiness.  I pan-seared the steak (all surfaces of the steak) in high-heat in the cast iron pan and saw a nice dark crust formed outside the steak very quickly due to caramelization of the sugary sauces. 
😀😀(out of a max of 3 happy faces)Did the “sweet” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The subtle dark chocolate and dark cherry notes of the wine work really well with the lightly sweetened steak. The wine tastes more tannic in a nice way that presents even richer texture and mouthfeel.
Sour – A 1 sauce /Steak sauce
A1 sauce is a classic condiment to steak, a sauce that has a predominant vinegary/sour profile, comprising of tomato puree, distilled vinegar and crushed orange puree, plus spices and other crushed vegetables to add the complexity. I personally like the original A1 or this knock-off “Steak Sauce” from my local grocery store in lieu of the popular peppery version of the sauce.
😀😀Did the “sour” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The Cab Franc’s trademark characteristics (e.g., balanced, elegance) showcase really well as the Steak-sauce tenderized steak becomes even softer and less fatty/meaty. A hint of vinegar, as you bite into the steak, also accentuates the bright acidity of this Cab Franc.

Salty – Fish Sauce and Vegetarian stir-fry Sauce
Either Fish Sauce or Stir-fry Sauce alone is quite salty and just one sauce along can sufficiently substitute any salt. When moderate amount of each sauce combined, this hybrid is salty yet with so much depth in tastes that are brought out by the mushroom flavor, preserved fish and brininess.  The steak, after being marinated, is full of rich flavors that actually requires a dash of black pepper to brighten it up.
😀😀😀Did the “salty” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it truly did. In fact, this is the most taste-enhancing pairing in my liking as the dried shiitake note of the Cab Franc even comes out more...after a bite of the salty steak!

Bitter – Brewed Dark-Roast Coffee and Dark Soya Sauce
Bitterness is a tough taste to charm every person. I asked many people to try sliced bitter melon and beef stir-fry (featured in my Pre-cooked Chinese Dishes blog). I would say most people don’t like it. It’s too bitter and is an acquired taste - if you don’t have it incorporated in your taste profile since you were young, it’s a tough hurtle to overcome. But with this “bitter” steak, both brewed dark roast coffee and dark soya sauce leave the steak with a smoke-flavor that resembles grilled steak on a charcoal grill. The residual bitterness from the coffee is noticeable but not forefront. In fact, I would switch to a cup of expresso next time for my liking.
😀😀😀Did the “bitter” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it definitely did. As complex and big-flavor as this Cab Franc tastes and feels, the bottom line is this is still a food-friendly wine – pan-searing, grilling or sautéing, without overpowering with sauce, is a compatible cooking method to this wine.

Well, umami is a savory taste that has the characteristics of broths and cooked meats. When people taste umami, it’s their taste receptors that typically respond to glutamate which is widely present in meat and bone broths and fermented products like fermented tofu paste. To showcase umami, I have prepared a drunken chicken - a defrost Cornish hen cooked in a boiling ginseng herbal broth and finished with added Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing).  To prepare the broth, I used a pouch of ready-to-drink red ginseng energy drink that can be purchased from a Korean grocery store, and added a few anise, Sichuan peppercorns, sliced gingers and scallion. Once the broth comes to a boil, put the Cornish hen in the broth. After it boils up, turn the heat down to medium for another 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat, taste the broth and add salt per your taste accordingly. Add at least one cup of Shaoxing wine to the pot and let the chicken sit in the pot for another 2 hours. I personally put in two cups of Shaoxing wine so I can really taste the wine. Once the broth and chicken are completely cooled off, you can put it in the fridge to have more taste to develop or to serve at room temperate. 
😀😀Did the “umami” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The Cab Franc's subtle note of cherry cough drop works well with the medicinal broth. The taste of Shaoxing wine, which is a rice-based and grainy, in the chicken doesn't contradict the Cab Franc, and leaves a rich warm-spice flavor after each bite.  

There is definitely a lot of cooking for this pairing. But when you have a charmer like the Perez Cruz Cab Franc, you only want to be ambitious and max out the possibility that wines and food can offer!

#WinePW - Enjoy more Cab Franc Line-ups below:

Next month, we'll be looking at biodynamic wines from all over the world. See Gwen Alley's Invite here!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Say "Oui" to a Glass of Provence Rosé and Succulent Seafood #Winophiles

It’s weird that I never developed a palate for Rosé, even during the hot summer days. When all my friends are sipping Rosés by the pool, I am the only odd one who’s sipping a glass lukewarm red wine that’s increasingly getting warmer by the sun. However, after Dry January, drinking Rosé becomes logical to ease back into wines. Another appeal for me to open a bottle of Rosé in February is Wendy Klik’s #Winophiles invite to a virtual trip to Provence, France. Rosé, given its various shades of pink, salmon, gold or peach, is a wine that can be improvised as the lucky color for the Lunar New Year or romanticized on Valentine’s Day – by the end of all these good reasons, it’s time to break the cycle and say Oui to a bottle of Provence Rosé!

Air-filled "Money God" to welcome the Lunar New Year
Drinking Rosé starting in May is a lifestyle in the Mediterranean coastal part of southern France, and of course in Côtes de Provence as well - you can get a fancy bottle of Rosé or buy Rosé via a pump in supermarkets in the areas. The production of Rosé is the blood flow of the Provence wine regions, in which Côtes de Provence is the largest of the nine appellations as well as an immensely diverse appellation. With the exception of Bandol and Bellet, the Rosé produced by the rest of the seven appellations including Côtes de Provence is consistently of high-quality, year after year, but has somewhat homogeneous characteristics (i.e., dry, light-bodied, good acidity, high concentration of Grenache) that local and global consumers seek after. When you say Provence, you think Rosés!  

The 2017 Manon Côtes de Provence Rosé illuminates with the salmon hue in a very attractive bottle - is fancy to look at and exhibits all the iconic Provence Rosé characteristics that are explained above. What I get even more out of this bottle is the dried pit fruit like apricot and peach flavors that add an additional layer of richness and "bite" to the mouthfeel. It finishes with firm acidity that lingers, replaying the pleasure you just experienced. On the nose, the white flower, strawberry and tad of lime zest flourish.

This Manon Rosé comes from a “prestigious” family, which has a long history of making wines.  Since 1987, Luberon Roger Ravoire, heir to a dynasty of winemakers, prepares wines with great care and patience, reflecting the authenticity of the terroir that is situated at the crossroads between the Rhône and Provence regions and the originality of the vintage.

With a little creativity, I’m pairing this Rosé with some unconventional seafood dishes.  When swimmers are painfully stung by jellyfish infested warm sea in the summer, eating jellyfish is the best revenge against this sea creature - a delicacy that is served in authentic Shanghainese restaurants as an appetizer. Its chewy, rubbery but bitable texture is oddly pleasurable as the mouthfeel is as fun as eating a cross between al-dente spaghetti and gummy worms.  Although you can buy preserved jellyfish by the pound in the Asian grocery store, the pre-made jelly fish packets are just as good if not even better.  It comes with sesame-oil or spicy flavors - as easy as opening a package and mixing it with the sauce packs included - your jelly fish appetizer is ready to serve.  Beneath the sesame-oil-flavored jelly fish, I made a quick baby cucumber salad that is tossed in a half clove of minced fresh garlic, salt and a dash of chili oil – the crunchy cucumber and chewy jelly fish are classic combo that is forefront in taste and texture without overwhelming the enjoyment of this Rosé.

Eating tuna is not really part of the traditional Chinese diet, as the cooked tuna is very flaky/dry in texture and without creaminess in taste when it’s cooked. However, I’m thinking a bit outside-the-box here and use some sushi-grade tuna to make Chinese tuna tartar. How do I determine if the tuna is sushi-grade? Ask your fish monger if the tuna fillet is fresh enough to be consumed raw is a good start. I simply used very good quality (typically reflected in price) vacuum-packed tuna fillets - defrosted, cube and used. After cubing the tuna, I marinated it in lime juice and a few slices of ginger for half an hour. The ginger slices are entirely optional. I'm very fond of spicy smell of fresh ginger and use it to repel the mildly fishy taste of the raw tuna. Remove the ginger slices, then gently combine the tuna cubes with a small pinch of salt and a few dashes of sesame oil.  To level up the dish, serve the tuna tartar in martini glasses.

I ate a lot of shrimp toasts when I grew up in Hong Kong. It was widely served in Cantonese restaurants as dim sum, main course by itself or one of the many seafood delights in a large platter dish. Deep-frying is also a very forgiving way of cooking - removing fishy smell or brightening up any food. It  is one of the seafood dishes that even people who don’t like shrimp would love dearly.  Imagine eating crunchy toasts, having the texture of crotons, with the filling of sweet minced shrimp paste…that’s what shrimp toast is all about!  

Deep-fried Shrimp Toasts 🍞🍤

Ingredients (serving 2 persons):
·       ½ pound of shrimp
·       Finely chopped scallion
·       1/8 tsp salt
·       Sprinkle of white pepper
·       4-6 slices of potato bread

·       Remove shell from shrimp, pat dry, coarsely chop the shrimp until it turns into a chunky paste. It is of personal preference if you want the shrimp paste chunkier or more of a spreadable paste – more chopping, more pasty texture of the shrimp. You can use a food processor if you are making these shrimp toasts for a larger crowd.
·       Add salt, white pepper, scallion and sesame oil to the shrimp paste and mix it gently.
·       Remove the crust of the bread. If you prefer a fancier look, you can use a ramekin to circle out the bread.
·       Spread the shrimp paste onto one slice of bread and firmly press another slice on the shrimp paste, making a sandwich. There is no need to fork-edge the bread and make a pocket.  Note: I tried to fork-edge the bread and make the shrimp toast like a pocket. The bread pocket didn’t close entirely at the time it was dropped in the oil. The good thing is that the shrimp paste is still in tact and stays between the bread slices.
·       Heat oil in a fryer or sauce pan.  Once the oil is heat up to the smoking point, turn it down to medium. Note: lesson learned for me, when the oil is too hot, it burns the bread very fast!
·       Slowly slide the toast into to oil and deep-fry for 2 minutes and then turn to another side and deep-fry for another 2 minutes.
·       Remove the toasts from the oil and rest them on paper towel.
·       Serve immediately. 

The last seafood I paired with the Manon Rosé is pan-fried skate wings. Why? When I see this fish, I buy it and eat it - no question asked! Skate wings are probably the type of fish that is not attractive to mainstream grocery stores due to its low profit-margin - $2.99 a pound when I bought it from the Asian grocery store. It’s inexpensive, but with great texture - tender, firm and creamy, which is cooked by French a lot with capers. To me, I simple pan-fried it with some Montreal Steak Seasonings, a gourmet-tasting and -looking fish is on your plate.  At the fishmonger, ask him/her to remove the dark and white skin if possible. I personally never have to remove the skin myself.  Watch this YouTube video if you end up doing it yourself.

Bringing the warm and sunny Mediterranean coastal part of southern France spring to the still cold snowy Northeastern US by drinking Provence Rosé and eating seafood is a thing you can do to live in the moment, with anticipation of the flowery spring and bright summer days all through a glass of pink Rosé!

This month's French Winophiles was sponsored by Blue Vase Book Exchange.  They provided some of our members with a copy of "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle.  You can find Blue Vase Book Exchange on Amazon and on Facebook.