Wine Travel

A Weekend in Champagne – Based on Richard Juhlin’s Champagne Guide

Richard Juhlin Wine Book - Champagne GuideThe drive along the route nationale was beautiful as the rolling hills of Champagne came into view.  We arrived in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger around 11:00 and to our tasting with Launois Pere et Fils.  This house boasts an impressive wine museum which can be visited as part of a degustation.  We tried several of their wines noting light earth, pear, and toasty smells which slid vibrantly over the tongue.  Unfortunately they were sold out of many of their older vintages leaving us to settle for a case of the NV Cuvee Reserve and of the 2004 Millesime. 

All this driving and tasting had worked up an appetite so we drove to La Table Kobus in Epernay for lunch.  We had a beautiful lunch comprising of mostly fish and paired it with a nice bottle of Leclerc-Briant.  After spending the better part of two hours at lunch we were ready for our next tasting and drove to Verzenay where we spent the afternoon at Michel Arnould.  The lady of the house was quite generous and poured us substantial tastings of seven different wines.  We weren’t the only ones enjoying her hospitality as a group of Frenchmen chatting with her had obviously been tasting for most of the day.  We were so impressed with the quality of the wines we bought three cases (NV Brut Rose Grand Cru, NV Fleur de Rose Grand Cru, & NV Grand Cuvee Grand Cru) and our first ever Magnum of champagne (1998 Prestige Grand Cru Millesime).

After nearly four straight hours of tasting we decided to sober up and headed to the wine museum at the Lighthouse of Epernay.  This museum devoted to all things champagne is quite technologically advanced and a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.  After sufficiently sobering up we headed to Reims where we visited the cathedral and other notable sites. 

We spent the evening at Assiette Champenoise a rather modern hotel just outside of Reims with a 2 star Michelin restaurant.  The food itself was rather unmemorable, or perhaps just over shadowed by the wines we drank.  We began with a glass of NV Krug which truly lived up to the hype with a gorgeous mouth feel an expressive boquet and the longest finish we’ve ever experienced.  The star of the evening however was a bottle of 1998 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas-Francois which truly wowed us.  With each sip we discovered something new from different spices, to flowers to toasted notes.  Since this trip, Billecart-Salmon has become our favorite champagne and we strive to find it for reasonable prices. 

Sundays in France are challenging as nearly everyone takes the day off.  Thankfully capitalism rules at some of the grand marques and we were able to visit Mercier which is owned by the LVMH group along with Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.  The wines themselves are mediocre and over priced as this is a house catering mainly to tourists.  However, there is much to see here from the world’s largest oak barrel (holds 200,000 bottles of wine) and the 11 mile cellar tour on a train. 

Richard Juhlin’s Champagne Guide was a great source of inspiration, and we decided another tour of Champagne was definitely on order.

Wine Book Review

Corked Wine – And a Great Wine Book on Cork

Cork has been used for centuries to close wine bottles.  It’s first recorded use was in Ancient Egypt though throughout ancient history other methods such as rags were used.  Cork is a light buoyant product coming from cork forests namely in Portugal and Spain.   Its flexibility, resistance under pressure, and near impenetrability make it an ideal closure for wine bottles.  However, cork can be the culprit in a faulty bottle of wine.  When this happens a bottle is said to ‘be corked.’ 

The term corked is used to describe a bottle of unopened wine that has a fault typically identified through a malodor similar to that of wet cardboard or damp basement.  The wine itself is still drinkable and will cause no harm, but the drinker’s pleasure will be greatly reduced.  Studies of the frequency of cork taint vary wildly, but a study in 2005 by the Wine Spectator showed that of 2,800 bottles blind tasted, 7% had cork taint.   

George Taber Wine Book - To cork or not to corkCork taint is caused by the presence of 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole (TCA) which occurs when natural fungi are confronted with certain chlorides found in some pesticides, preservatives, and even bleaches used for winery sterilization.  TCA may be confined to a single batch of cork or sometimes overtakes an entire cellar which then needs to be completely cleaned or even rebuilt to eradicate the problem.  

The wine industry has been trying for years to come up with a solution to the TCA problem.  Consumers returning bad bottles to stores or simply forming a negative opinion of wine in general are of no value to anyone in the industry.  Some winemakers have been experimenting with plastic corks, screwcaps and glass stoppers, while the cork industry has striven to reduce the amount of taint experienced.  

It is in this book, To Cork or Not to Cork that George M. Taber (author of The Judgment of Paris) examines the evidence for cork as well as its many supposed alternatives.  From all angles including scientific, historical, and even sensorial he builds the case for each closure and leaves the reader contemplating something so often overlooked in the drinking experience.