Happy Champagne Day! Not only is the French bubbly a delight to sip on, but it also has a fascinating background. With that in mind, we ventured to Jardiniere restaurant in San Francisco, where Neil Michael Dixon, owner of Espirit de Champagne, shared a few outstanding Champagnes that are practically unknown to US drinkers. Along with the restaurant's sommelier, Eugenio Jardim, we learned some incredible facts about the history and culture of Champagne. Want to learn more? Test your knowledge on all things bubbly. (For extra fun, pop open a bottle to sip on while you take our quiz.)Take the Quiz
Since the wine — which certainly isn't for snobs — makes such a splash each year, I thought I would throw out some questions and see if you can, ahem, arrive at the answers. What do you know about Beaujolais Nouveau? Let's find out.Take the Quiz
I'll admit, I'd never have thought to buy Georges Duboeuf's 2011 Domaine Les Chenevières Mâcon-Villages: as someone who lacks patience as a virtue, the wine has far too many accented and unpronounceable descriptors for me to bother even pulling it off the shelf when, say, a California Chardonnay is also staring back at me.
But now that I've tried it, I absolutely would: from the minute the pour hit my glass, I knew this wine and I were destined to be friends. The glass had such a saturated straw hue, it was like Rapunzel spun gold! One sniff brought a bevy of aromatics — nuts and fruit like apples and pears, and floral notes, like rose petals — followed by a creamy mouthfeel, citrus midpalate, and a long, lingering finish.
I wasn't the only one: "This is maybe the best wine I've ever had. I want to drink it all day, every day," another taster told me. "It's the type of dry white I'm always looking for: dry with a very slight sweet aftertaste," she explained. Everyone was shocked to find out its sticker price was a mere $14, and we all agreed that despite having a mouthful of a name, this white Burgundy is well worth seeking out.
When one of country's top sommeliers invites you to a tasting of little-known Champagnes, how do you say no? That's the predicament I found myself in yesterday, when Eugenio Jardim, wine director of Jardinière, invited us to join a tasting with Champagne importer Esprit de Champagne. Thankfully, I had no reason not to accept.Photo: Susannah Chen
Although certain brands, like Moët & Chandon or Perrier-Jouët, are prevalent in America, there are thousands of wines from the region of Champagne that have never made their way stateside. Wine importer and Esprit de Champagne founder Neil Michael Dixon saw this gap and, in an effort to bring high-quality labels to the United States, spent years honing relationships with growers across the region. "It was quite a lot of hard work," Neil said of getting his foot in the (famously tight) Champagne door. There, most business is conducted locally, and many excellent producers don't even ship to other parts of the country, like the South of France.Photo: Anna Monette Roberts
One prime example of this is Eric Isselée, a domaine out of the village of Cramant that produces a style of Champagne that's starkly different from what's available on shelves now. The 2009 Cuvée des Grappes d'Or Blancs de Blancs ($35) is more creamy than crisp, thanks to a secondary process of malolactic fermentation. Rather than the yeast-tinged bouquet that so many classic French Champagnes offer, this bottle possesses a certain quality that can only be described as a deep earthiness, followed by a minerally, almost salty finish. Since it's currently sold only at a handful of retail stores and restaurants on the West Coast, this vintage Champagne is still relatively scarce. If you see a bottle of this, hop on it.
Those who are intent on getting to know Beaujolais should explore various wines from the region's 10 different 10 crus (areas), all of which have been known to produce serious, ageworthy wines. But if you're looking for something that's lighthearted with a Summer-spirited personality, then reach for Beaujolais-Villages, a wine that falls between the more serious crus and the less-than-mature Nouveau variety.
Beaujolais-Villages is usually released the following March after a harvest; it's usually not aged in oak, and released rather quickly (well under a year). The Georges Dubouef ($10), with its nose of raspberry and plum, is the epitome of such a wine: it has less weight and body than most reds, which means it's perfect for foods like Summer cheeses, pasta salads, and chicken salads. I'm looking forward to enjoying it on my next picnic. Have you ever had Beaujolais-Villages?
Yesterday I brought you the first part of our Mother's Day gift guide and today I'm finishing it off with a few more great ideas. This first one is for the mom with all the recipes in her head. Don't you think it would be a nice gift for her (and you) if you helped her get them put on paper? The personalized recipe gift set from William-Sonoma will help you do that in a classy and personal way. The set comes with a personalized wood box and embosser ("Kitchen of Mom's Name") as well as 100 cards (the box holds 500). It'll be lovely now, but can you imagine it getting passed down through the generations? Available for $69.
Two more gift ideas (including a great wine set and a cute cupcake idea), so read more