A Quick Overview of Southern Iceland, Along with Some Cool Spirits and Beers

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Stepping off the plane and onto the tarmac, I was enveloped by the purest air that I had ever breathed. It was as if the constant stream of exhaust emitting from the multitude of commercial planes taking off and landing were fully contained in invisible bubbles.

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Iceland–that one word seems to convey a feeling of purity.  Inhospitable, but starkly beautiful, Iceland is a land littered with glacier-covered mountain tops, waterfalls, rivers, lakes,  geysers and thermal pools.

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The Secret Lagoon

The size of Kentucky or South Korea, Iceland is defined by its active volcanic systems that on one hand, provide cheap geothermal energy to its residents, But on the other hand, poses a very real threat to the lives of its roughly 334,000 inhabitants.  In fact, the historic volcanic eruption of 1783 was responsible for killing a fifth of Iceland’s population.

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Iceland seems to be a place where nature both brutally gives and takes. The romantic side of me conjures up images of Vikings, the original settlers of this inhospitable land located just outside the Arctic Circle. Independent,  fearless and individualistic, from a bygone era where forcefully seizing life, and in many instances, your future bride, was just how things were done.

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In some ways it is still possible to envision that time.  The people of Iceland today are the result of those initial settlers and the Icelandic language hasn’t evolved much since the ninth or tenth century when Iceland was first founded.

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So, you are probably wondering what this has to do with wine or spirits…or food, even?  I’m getting there.

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The clean purity of the waters mean that the fish are some of the best you will eat.  Anywhere.  Icelanders are rightfully proud of their pristine environment and glacier sourced water.  And as a result, they are able to leverage this asset in their beers, whiskies and liquor production, not to mention Icelandic foodstuffs.

In their quest for food independence, green houses along with geothermal technology are used to provide nutritious, pesticide and GMO free produce and spices for residents and export markets alike.  In fact, many of the distilleries are operated using only geothermal energy.  How is that for a zero carbon footprint? Bottom line, although you will pay a pretty penny for the privilege, you will eat some of the highest quality food obtainable anywhere in the world here in Iceland.

Case in point, my first meal in the country was at one of Reykjavek’s top restaurants, the Fridrik V. The five course tasting menu changes constantly, reflecting the availability of the freshest of ingredients.   Below are pictures without comment, after all, a picture says a thousand words.  Needless, to say, it was topnotch and a uniquely Icelandic experience.

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That brings me to the Scandinavian tradition of aquavits and other botanical infused liquors.  Here in Iceland, there are a few distillers producing interesting liquors using Icelandic botanicals or Icelandic fruit.  The most commonly available of such spirits seems to come from Foss Distillery, whose focus is in using birch sap along with adding birch twigs to their spirits for final maceration in the bottle.

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The first liquor I tasted was Foss’s Björk liqueur.  Made from distilled grain spirit infused with Icelandic birch and finished off with a touch of its native birch syrup with added sugar. Clocking in at 27.5% this liqueur is quite sweet.  It would make a great addition to a cocktail.

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Foss’s Birkir has nice viscosity, is nutty with just a whiff of cocoa powder alongside a woodiness imparted by the Birch twig left macerating in the bottle.  Finishing with just a perceptible amount of sweetness on the palate, this is delicious on the rocks or as part of a cocktail.

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Micro-distillery 64° Reykjavik Distillery has a line-up of interesting Aquavits and liquors.  One of their liquors is made with Crowberries, an Arctic berry. Their motto is to “use the very best seasonal ingredients; unspoiled and pure - steeped in Icelandic tradition – purify and distill those incredible flavours utilising renewable energy and crystal clear glacial water. Bottle them, and package beautifully.”

I have only been able to taste the Brennivin Akevitt or Aquavit.  Some light anise and caraway flavors, light pale lemon color.

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Flóki Young Malt comes from organic Icelandic barley grown in volcanic soil at the Artic circle.  This is young and a bit sharp, but interesting…

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I really like the Einstok Pale Ale, probably because it is light and crisp with some maltiness, but not too much.  This brewery blends a mix of American and European influences along with great Icelandic water to create this thirst quenching beer.  It is astonishing to know that until 1989, beer was illegal in Iceland!

For fun, I made a small video with some of the pictures and video I took when I was touring around Southern Iceland.  The dog in the video is Ozzy, the only Portuguese Water dog in Iceland.

Iceland is a very unique and beautiful place and definitely worth a visit!

Purefoy Arms: A Gastropub with a Spanish Twist

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Hungry and a bit lost driving in the Hampshire countryside, I was relieved to find a lone pub open for business and still serving lunch.

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The pub was warm and inviting, a fire burning in the big brick hearth, wooden country-looking tables and chairs mixed with more contemporary style furniture; the place had the casual elegant air of a bygone era.

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On the chalkboard near the bar,  I was astounded to see written the range of Lustau sherries on offer.   Sherry?!

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Not really in the mode of drinking too much as I had to drive, I was interested to see the wine list offering English Sparkling wine by the glass and an assortment of other mineral driven, food friendly wines by the glass.

It was then that I realized that the Purefoy Arms was no ordinary pub.

The establishment’s owners combine Spanish tapas concepts with British pub staples and all done to the highest of standards with the best of ingredients.   The menu changes all the time, but most items have a Spanish twist like their Candover pheasant served with red cabbage, morcilla & potato croquette and wild mushrooms.   Not surprising, their sister restaurant Pulpo Negro is, in fact, a Spanish Tapas bar, located in a town about 15-20 minutes away.

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I started off by ordering the Chorizo Scotch Egg, a pub favorite, but with the added dimension of Spanish Chorizo.  It came out piping hot, the chorizo flavors married well with the egg and breading, my only complaint being the sauce was a touch bland.

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The olives were some of the plumpest, sweetest and juiciest olives.   I ended up ordering two orders of this.

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The pea soup tasted as good as it looks.  It seemed like it was just cooked to order, as it had a fresh out-of-the garden taste and was pureed to perfection with a garnish of ham.

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The hamburger was well-done and satisfying, but given all the other great things on the menu, probably not the best or most interesting choice.

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The fish in the fish and chip dish was crisp and the fish nice and flakey.  The mushy peas were fresh.  All in all, a solid version of a pub classic.

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There are truly some interesting items on the menu that need more exploring, examples from their February menu including sparkling Albarino…And, rabbit and clam paella with serrano ham!   The desserts didn’t sound half bad, either and there is a chocolate room on premises for those with a sweet tooth.

Video from Elixrr’s Visit to Hattingley Valley Wines in Hampshire, England

World-Class Sparkling Wines Found at Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley Wines

Hattingley Valley Head Winemaker, Emma Rice

Hattingley Valley Head Winemaker, Emma Rice

Hattingley Valley Wines has a problem; they don’t have enough wine to satisfy all their customers. Established in 2008, its first harvest in 2010, Hampshire based Hattingley Valley has already developed an enviable reputation of producing outstanding English sparkling wine.

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Right out of the gate, two of their first releases garnered world-wide recognition, the first being their 2011 Kings Cuvee, which was awarded number one English Sparkler in Decanter Magazine, and then its 2011 Rose Sparkler which won Decanter Gold.

No fluke, the awards have kept on coming in. And now, just five years in, Hattingely Valley’s wines are available throughout the UK and in around ten export markets.

“We know that some of them are the best in the world for sparkling wine, simple as that,” said founder and owner, Simon Robinson, speaking about Hattingley Valley’s selection of sparklers.

Hattingley Valley Wines was the brainchild of owner and founder Simon Robinson and the result of his desire to diversify his existing commercial farm.

“I had been interested in wine, for many, many years, and English Sparkling Wine had been getting a reputation for good quality product. So, the key to this was finding the right people to help us,” said Robinson.

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Owner Simon Robinson Taking Part in Blending Trials

Enter winemaker Emma Rice, the next key figure in the Hattingley Valley wine story. After completing wine-making gigs in Australia, Tasmania and California, Rice came back to the UK to regroup and map out her next move abroad.

But, seeing the burgeoning, dynamic English wine industry unfold before her eyes and meeting Simon Robinson changed all that. Now, Head Winemaker at Hattingley Valley, Rice is an integral member of the Hattingley Valley team.

Rice caught the wine bug at 18 with her first taste of Krug’s 1979 vintage cuvee — somehow fitting given that her current wine-making focus is in making world-class, traditionally-styled sparkling wines.

Although, influenced by Bollinger and Krug, Rice hopes that customers recognize that Hattingley Valley’s English sparklers have a “unique style” all their own. What those who have tasted Hattingley Valley wines know, is that Rice has succeeded in making balanced wines that express the pure and elegant fruit unique to England.

20160212_080116Consisting of 22 hectares of vineyard, located on 6 different sites in Hampshire, Hattingley Valley also sources grapes from partner vineyards consisting of up to 60 different lots scattered across the country. There is no doubt these lots add to the complexity of Hattingley Valley’s wines.

And as might be expected, the estate mostly focuses on the traditional Champagne varietals of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with special emphasis on the early ripening Pinot Noir clone Pinot Noir Précoce or Frühburgunder, a key ingredient in Hattingley Valley’s award winning sparkling Rose.

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The estate currently features four sparklers in their line-up; a Classic Cuvee, Rose, Blanc de Blanc and their top of the line sparkler, the King’s Cuvee. Each cuvee has its own distinct style and place in the range offered at Hattingley.

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Rice explains, “for the Blanc de Blanc we’re looking for the very finest, purest, elegant Chardonnay of characters, then with the Rose we are very much looking for a really lovely balance between the Pinot fruit, acidity and then the sugar at dosage and a very, very delicate color,” continues Rice.

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“With the Classic Cuvee it’s very much more a rich style designed for earlier drinking, so there’ll be a higher proportion of the barrel fermented juice in that and it’ll be more of a balance between the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, designed to be released after 12-18 months on the lees,” says Rice.

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“Then we have our Kings Cuvee, 100% barrel fermented, it comes from our own vineyards and is completely dependent on the vintage for its style,” explains Rice.

Of course the English terroir plays a major role in the making of top notch sparkling wines. “We have a perfect climate here in some respects…The climate here creates grapes that are perfect for sparkling wine at this time,” declares Robinson.

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Much of England’s and Hattingley’s best vineyards are made up of Seaford Chalk soils similar to that found in Champagne. However, England’s growing season is cooler and longer than Champagne’s, with England’s season often ending three to five weeks later on average than in Champagne. This allows the grapes to grow slowly, developing complex flavors without the risk of losing precious acidity. As a result, the English terroir has the potential to create complex sparkling wines with significant aging potential.

Like Bollinger and Krug, winemaker Emma Rice is not afraid to use oak barrels in Hattingley Valley’s range of sparklers, musing that Hattingley Valley likely uses a higher proportion of oak than other English estates.

“One of our key signature wine-making techniques is the use of [old] oak barrels…Using barrels and having a lot of lees contact and relatively oxidative fermentation does help to soften the acidity.”

With the acids sometimes clocking in as high as 14 grams per liter in any given English wine vintage, learning to tame the high acidity inherent in English grapes is a top priority. However, when accomplished and ripe grape levels are achieved, there is a fresh minerality and a depth of fruit that sets English Sparkling apart from many of its cousins in Champagne, which can seem a tad flabby and lacking complexity by comparison.

“In Champagne we have a challenge with global warming,” says Champagne vineyard consultant Romain Henrion, adding “It’s too warm, so the malic acid burns very fast.” It is these acid levels that are responsible for giving some of the freshness and zippy acidity expected from the best traditionally made sparkling wines.

By contrast, England’s variable, maritime climate produces at times too much acidity and can have difficulty in obtaining the ripeness level needed for sparkling wine, despite the fact that sparkling wine is made best with “under-ripe grapes.”

“It’s more about temperature and the light… because when it’s cloudy there is no photosynthesis in the vineyards and when there is no photosynthesis there is no production of carbon matter,” explains Romain Henrion, highlighting the difficulty of obtaining grape ripeness in England.

It goes without saying that working in viticulture in the UK is a character builder.

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Vineyard Manager, Jim Bowerman

“We are on the extremity of one of the most northern regions there is growing high quality wine” said Hattingley’s vineyard Manager Jim Bowerman, adding “It’s definitely the place to be if you want challenging grape growing conditions,”

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“The biggest challenge we have in the UK is the climate…Site selection is key,” according to vineyard manager Jim Bowerman, adding “A lot of our viticulture is about maximizing the exposure of the leaf to the sunshine at every opportunity, and the bunches. We are looking for a perfect gain through the summer so we get that ripeness by October. “

The English wine industry is still young and there is no doubt the full capability of the terroir is still being explored. Nonetheless, the future for English viticulture seems bright. More acreage is going under vine all the time and new players are entering the market, most notably Champagne house Taitinger who recently announced its intention to invest in an English operation.

“I think English wine will grow substantially in the next 20-30 years and will be as available as Champagne,” said an upbeat Simon Robinson.

It will be interesting to see how the industry continue to develop. The best of English sparklers have shown they can already go toe-to-toe with some of the best in Champagne. In the meantime, there is no denying that players such as Hattingley Valley are producing some compelling sparkling wines that will please the most discerning of consumers.

“I just hope people enjoy the wines we create as much as we enjoy making them,” said Hattingly Valley founder Simon Robinson.

–Christine Warner

Also, check out the Video!

Elixrr Goes to ProWein

Highlights of ProWein 2016

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The crowds were thick with exhibitors and visitors excitedly bustling through the various pavilions.  All told, there were over 6,000 exhibitors from 59 different countries and over 55,000 visitors, half of which coming from outside Germany.  Although, the show was a few weeks ago, it has left a lasting impression–everyone who is anyone in the wine and spirit world was there…and then some!  With several huge halls to wade through, one could walk miles and miles each day trying to get to the many exhibitors and to partake in as many of events as possible.

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A recap of some highlights:

At the largest wine and spirits show in the world, one expects to see the best wine and spirits, but how about glassware?  And are all glasses and containers alike? I learned that the glass used for a particular wine, beer or spirit can have a profound effect on the taste and ultimate appreciation of the beverage for consumers.

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Stops at top glass manufacturers like Zwiesel Kristall, Riedel, Spiegelau to name a few confirmed that great glassware isn’t just about being beautiful, but functional as well.  At Spiegelau, I was treated to a beer tasting using a variety of their beer glasses compared to the standard beer glass and was stunned at how the beer’s taste changed when it was in the correct Spiegelau glass.

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Spiegelau Beer Glasses

Spiegelau beer glasses are made specific to accentuate the flavors and aromas of a variety of beers.  There is a glass for wheat beers, IPAs and another for stout, for example.

The conventional beer glass made the beer taste hoppy and simple with the nose muted to the point that very little of the aroma’s nuances were picked up on the nose.  On the other hand, Spiegelau‘s beer glasses accentuated the flavors of citrus and spice, the aroma was suddenly fragrant and alive with honey spice notes of the wheat beer I tasted.

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A Variety of Spiegelau Beer Glasses

At Riedel, I was able to participate in a Champagne tasting using four different Riedel glasses. As a lover of bubbles, I was shocked to learn that my go-to Champagne glasses, the traditional flute shaped glass that seems so tall and elegant actually mutes the flavor and aroma of Champagne.

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Riedel Champagne Tasting

ProWein and Wales 132ProWein and Wales 132(Pictured Above) The two glasses on the right opened up the flavors and nuances of the Champagne the best.  The larger glass on the right opened up the Champagne the best, but also caused the bubbles to dissipate faster while the glass right of it seemed to make the most out of the champagne without losing its lively sparkle.ProWein and Wales 099

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One of the Featured Wines at Zwiesel

At Zwiesel Kristall, I was able to experience their glasses with wine made by some of Germany’s top women winemakers.  Hosted by Andrea Wirsching of Weingut Hans Wirsching, the glasses were a treat to drink from.  It was fun to mingle with the other ladies of wine, too.

Back in Hall 12, the wonderful spirits of Schladerer were shown to advantage.  Several unique cocktails were on offer for attendees to try.

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Schladerer Mixologist Hard at Work

Schladerer Mixologist Hard at Work

ProWein and Wales 143They all looked great, but I limited myself to trying the Huckleberry Finn and Himbeer Smash.

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Back at Hall 14, I checked out a vodka producer using mostly grapes.  The vodka was very clean, and seemed to take on some of the characteristics of the grapes used.  Especially delicious with dried meat. I admit that it was the packaging that originally caught my attention, but what is in the bottle is equally as good.

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Made Mostly with Grapes from the Kaiserstuhl

 

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Bodega Lustau is always a sight for sore eyes.  The Amontillado was a beautiful amber color with hazelnut and walnut aromas and on the palate almond flavors dominated.  The Palo Cortado was also showing beautifully, some notes of orange marmalade and pecans.  Seeing Bodega Lustau was a reminder of how great premium Sherry can be, not to mention its versatility in pairing with food. Below is an example of food paired with Lustau Sherry at their bodega.

The tasting at Lustau and everything from Fino to the most luscious PX

The tasting at Lustau and everything from Fino to the most luscious PX

 

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Off to Hall 10, I was lucky enough to snag Dirk van der Niepoort for a little tasting.  As always, his ports and wine don’t disappoint.

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The 1997 Colheita exhibited dried dark stone fruit, prunes and black berry and the 20 Year Tawny Port, tawny, dried black fruits and toffee notes of coffee and Niepoort’s 2007 Vintage port was dense purple, tightly wound with firm tannins, red and black fruits this port has a lot of time ahead to develop before it is ready to drink.

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Dirk van der Niepoort Taking some Time out to Taste some of his ports with me.

ProWein and Wales 112ProWein and Wales 112He also tasted me on one of his wines.  He made a Rose that was just stunning and very unique.  Almost full bodied at the same time as bone dry, with rose petal and strawberry finishing on a very minerally note. This is a serious wine, though.  And, I could imagine all the foods that it would pair fantastically with.

Agnes Hasselbach of Gunderloch

Agnes Hasselbach of Gunderloch

Over in the Hall 14, a number of the VDP were represented.  As always, producers like Gunderloch, von Hovel, Zilliken and Rebholz had stellar line-ups.  And, 2015 was another solid vintage.  I especially liked Gunderloch’s Nackenheimer Rothenberg Spaetlese.  It was luscious with minerally, peach, nectarine and lime flavors.

Christoph Edelbauer at his stand at ProWein

Christoph Edelbauer at his stand at ProWein

Over in Hall 17, everything Austrian was on display.  I was able to catch up with winemaker Christoph Edelbauer to try a selection of his portfolio.  The whole range was outstanding, but some wines that stood out was the 2014 Reserve Gruner Veltliner.  The wine had a full mouth-feel with lots of peppery spicy notes, lime and nectarine flavors and bursting with lively acidity.

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Some of Christoph Edelbauer’s Range of Wine

The 20015 Riesling Kamptal was solid and showed lovely minerality and pear with floral notes.  The star of the line-up was the 2014 Chardonnay BA.  Logging in at 120 grams of sugar, 8.1 grams of acidity and harvested at 140 Oechsle, this luscious dessert wine was bursting with apricots, honey and chamomile notes.

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Finally, it was time to head over to the Champagne Lounge.  Represented were all the notables; Pol Roger, Billecart Salmon, Lanson and a bevy of grower Champagne producers.  Brimoncourt and A. Robert had some lovely Champagnes worth looking at.

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The surprise for me, was the overall topnotch quality of the Duval-Leroy line-up.

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The 2002 Brut Nature was everything a zero dosage should be and then some with its purity of fruit expression and precision of fruit and acid balance–it is perfect to drink now.

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Duval-Leroy Sales Manager Alexis Vaernewyck holding the Prized Rose in his hands

The Premier Cru Brut Rose and the 2000 Femme de Champagne 95%Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir with 5 or so grams of dosage and 14 years on the lees were truly stunning. But, there wasn’t a dog in this bunch.  Actually, the whole range was outstanding and I left thinking that everyone should be so lucky as to drink Champagne of this quality at least once in a life time.

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14 years on the lees and well worth the wait

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ProWein just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year.  Despite its size, it was well organized and a worthy event for those in the trade looking to make important connections in the industry and to taste the best available.

 

 

 

This Meat Lover’s Afternoon Delight

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Consider yourself a carnivore extraordinaire?  Interested in munching on some homemade Charcuterie cured with maple syrup? Like poutine, the Quebecois specialty of fries, gravy and cheese curd, but with the added twist of foie gras?

Not for the faint of heart, or for any of your vegetarian friends, either, Au Pied de Cochon located in the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal is a meat lovers paradise where foie gras is featured imaginatively in almost every dish.

Chef Martin Picard has attracted such a following, especially for his, rich, fatty pork and duck related dishes he lovingly prepares with a French Canadian twist that obtaining reservations at Au Pied de Cochon is no mean feat.  In fact, this unobtrusive brasserie style restaurant is considered one of the best in Montreal and draws tourists from around the world.

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Any good meal with family has to begin with a little bubbly and this is where our adventure at Au Pied de Cochon began.   This non-dose grower Champagne started things off right, exhibiting bright, pure citrus, mineral and brioche notes this medium-bodied sparkler was a real palate cleanser.

Being with a big group allows for lots of experimentation and we took advantage of that fact, ordering some of Au Pied de Cochon’s most popular house specialties.

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The Foie Gras Poutine

Probably one of the most decadent dishes of my life; fries, brown gravy sauce, cheese curds and a big chunk of foie gras.  What isn’t to like?

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House Charcuterie

Here is a simple dish, but the quality of the meats were outstanding.

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Cod Fritters

Light and tasty, I don’t think I had a better cod fritter, even in the Basque region of Spain.

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Duck in a can after taken out of the can

This dish, duck in a can was over-the-top.  I don’t want to know how many fat grams were here, but let’s just say, this is a heart stopper.  It still won’t deter me from ordering this tribute to everything duck, again, though.

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Pig Head for Two

Ok, I thought this was so cool, I had to post another picture of this.  It isn’t every day that you can eat a pig’s head and this one was done to perfection.

There are great desserts on the menu, the rhubarb and strawberry tart and Maple pudding sounded great, among others.  But, we lost steam after gorging on several savory dishes  I guess it’s reason to drop by on my next trip to Montreal.  Bon Appetit!

 

 

Elixrr Meets English Fizz Producer Hoffmann and Rathbone

In this video Elixrr visits Hoffmann and Rathbone on one of the last days of the 2015 harvest.

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Winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann near some freshly harvested Chardonnay grapes.

After 16 years of working for a variety of topnotch wine producers across continental Europe, the US, and Southern England, Ulrich Hoffman along with wife Birgit Rathbone decided to settle down.  Seeing the potential  in the Southern English Sussex terroir and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning British wine industry proved to be too exciting a prospect to resist.    Five years in, Hoffmann and Rathbone is already garnering international recognition, having recently been awarded a Decanter gold for their Blanc de Blanc.

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Hoffmann and Rathbone’s Decanter Gold Awarded Blanc de Blanc

A boutique producer of just 10,000 bottles, Hoffmann and Rathbone are in the enviable position of having to allocate much of their production.   It’s no doubt due in part to the care winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann takes in sourcing the best grapes from neighboring grape producers and ensuring that their sparklers spend enough time on the lees.

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Their current range of fizz has been aged anywhere between 20 and 44 months, similar to top Champagne houses and includes a Rose Reserve (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), a Classic Cuvee  (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and a Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay).

Check out Hoffmann and Rathbone’s website for more about their selection: www.hoffmannandrathbone.co.uk.

More About English Sparkling 

Top English sparkling is reminiscent of top Champagne; the bubbles are fine, the younger versions are pleasantly fruity with bright acidity that offers precision and backbone.   Both sparklers are ageable and food friendly.   And the soil and climate in Kent and Sussex, where most English Sparkling wines are made is similar to that of Champagne, although according to winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann, the acidity in England is a little different and may need longer time ageing in order to balance out.

British wine has been in existence, some believe for millennia going back to Roman times.  The only lull in British winemaking happened  over the period between WW1 and WW2 with commercial production recommencing again around the 1950s.  After some experimentation with different, mostly frost resistant varietals and crossings primarily from Germany,  attention turned to varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the thought of producing traditionally fermented sparkling wines

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English Chardonnay Grapes

Although, many of those German developed varietals are still grown, close to half of all grape production today, according to the Wine Standards Branch, Food Standards Agency is made up of the Champagne varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Pioneers such as Denbies and Nytiember and a bit later Ridgeview have done a lot to put English sparkling on the map, paving the way for the likes of Hoffmann and Rathbone to come on board and make their own quality English fizz.

Over the last sixteen years, English sparklers have won a number  of international competitions and there seems to be no doubt that this trend will continue.   The future looks bright for English sparkling and its successes will only increase as the industry develops and knowledge of the English terroir deepens.

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A Vineyard in Sussex with similar soil and climate as in Champagne.

Add Some Fizz to Your Holiday Fun

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The holiday season is again fast upon us and now comes the stress and indecision– what to serve?  Although, there are a vast array of beverage options, for me, nothing  makes a festive occasion pop more than a little fizz in the glass.

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What can be better than sipping on this magical elixir with its perky bubbles that tickle the palate pleasingly?   Not only are well-made versions of fizz  fun to drink,  but most are also very food friendly and can pair with everything from oysters to poultry ending on dessert.  Of course, drinking fizz solo can be magic, too.

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The Traditional Way

Some sparklers are  made in the ”Traditional Way” or what used to be referred to as the Méthode Champenoise, the method used to make Champagne.  In Champagne, the effervescence is produced by adding a mixture of yeast, sugar and wine, known as “Liquor de Tirage” to the bottles of dry still wine.  The addition of sugar and yeast causes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which creates the bubbles.

Other Methods of Bubble Making

The Charmat Method, used notably in Prosecco and Asti production requires putting wine into tanks where it undergoes a secondary fermentation and then is later bottled under pressure.

The Transfer Method similar to the traditional method involves putting a mixture of wine, yeast and sugar (liquor de tirage) into a bottle for its secondary fermentation.  The main difference between the traditional method and the transfer method is that after the wine has gone through its secondary fermentation, it  is then transferred into a larger pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered out and the dosage is added.  This is a cheaper process than the traditional method where each individual bottle needs to be disgorged (the sediment removed) and dosage(sugar+wine) needs to be added.

Other sparklers are made by simply injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) to a still wine, the same process used to make soda

What is Dosage?

The addition of the “Liqueur d’Expédition” is used in sparklers made using the Traditional or Transfer method and is a solution of cane or beet sugar mixed into a small amount of reserve wine.  Liqueur d’Expédition is added to the wine just after disgorging, a process by which the lees are removed.  The amount of sugar in the Liqueur d’Expédition or  grams of sugar per liter added to the wine is referred to as dosage and determines the category of champagne, which is based on sweetness level.

Sweetness Categories

The dosage determines the sweetness level of the resulting Champagne.   Bone dry  “Brut Nature” or “Zero Dosage”  or Non-Dosé” styles, roughly 0-3 grams sugar, to Extra Brut at around 0-6 grams,  Brut (0-15 gram residual sugar), Extra Dry or Extra Sec (12-17 g/l RS), Sec  or Dry, which has perceptible sweetness (17-32 g/l RS)  and at the end of the spectrum to the sweetest Demi-Sec ( 32 to 50 g/liter RS) and Doux styles more than 50 grams/liter Residual Sugar.

Non-Vintage (NV) Versus  Vintage

Most sparklers are a blend of different vintages and are referred to as NV or non-vintage blends.  It is common in Champagne, Cava and other regions where the traditional method  is used to find sparklers made with wine from  a few different vintages or over several vintages used in its blend.  This adds a richness and complexity to the resulting sparkler and masks potentially weak vintages with better one.  The goal of most Champagne houses is to have a style that they replicate through the years and blends over multi-vintages often allows this.

Only the best grapes are chosen for vintage sparklers and usually are sourced only in better or superior vintages depending on the producer.  Vintage wines are usually aged longer than non-vintage wines, too.

Grape Varieties Used

Sparkling wines are made using a variety of grapes.   Typically, Champagne from France is comprised of one or all of the three main grapes grown in the region; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  Although,  .3% of Champagne is planted with White Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and are among the other grapes allowed in the making of Champagne, these varietals aren’t often seen in the large brands most people are familiar with.

Outside of Champagne, one can find fizzes made with all sorts of grape varietals, namely everything from Riesling, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Glera to red varietals such as Syrah/Shiraz.

The bottom line, sparkling wines come in all flavors and sweetness levels.  There is sure to be one that fits the occasion and palate of any guest.

Below are some Great examples of sparkling wine options for the upcoming holidays:

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2011 Cuvee Memoire Brut Nature Blanquette de Limoux, France

It is thought by some historians that the first traditional method sparkling brut wine in the world came from Limoux, and more precisely, was discovered by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, long before Champagne was discovered.   Blanquette de Limoux is mostly (about 80% at least) made up of the traditional Mauzac  grape with often a bit of Clairette, Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc added to the blend.

This example of Blanquette de Limoux comes from a 4th generation run family estate located by the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Made from organic grapes, this sparkler has zero dosage and a blend of Mauzac and Chardonnay.  The wine spends 8 months on the lees and is aged 24 months on the laths, it is a rich and minerally with some pear notes.

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Montlouis Cremant de Loire NV, France

Made in the traditional way with 100% Chenin Blanc, this cremant has about 7 grams of residual sugar and exhibits lots of apple, honey dew and nectarine flavors.

Paul Berthelot Libertine NV, Champagne, France

There is something fun about Champagnes made with 100% Pinot Meunier, such as this one.  Often fruit forward with red fruit flavors like juicy wild strawberries, this is just a fun wine that is somehow serious all at the same time.  Coming in at around 7 grams of sugar, this is in the middle range of Brut.

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Paul Berthelot Libertine NV Brut Zero, Champagne, France

This 5 generation grower Champagne producer  made this Champagne by sourcing Chardonnay grapes from 35 year old vines and then leaving for a minimum of 3 years on the lees;  zero dosage added.   Toasty vanilla, citrus, custard with some mineral notes.

Pure Prosecco

Pure Prosecco NV Veneto Spumante, Italy

Very fruity, floral, mineral peach notes.  Simply yummy.

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2009 Armilla MCC Avondale  Paarl, South Africa

Made with 100% Biodynamic/organic Chardonny grapes, 3 years on the lees, this is a bold sparkler with ripe baked apple, quince, toasty vanilla and hazelnut flavors.

Louis Barthelemy Brut Zero Topaze NV Chardonnay, Champagne, France

Made from 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 40% Pinot Meunier, this Champagne is a blend of  mostly the 2008/09 vintage.  Grapefruit, lemon with mineral notes.

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Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV Trousseau, France

Made with 100% Trousseau grapes this wine exhibits rose petals floral notes along with juicy strawberries and raspberries along with slight oxidative quality, this has spent 4 months on the lees.

Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV, France

Made from 100% Chardonnay this cremant has spent 4 month on the lees.  Displaying some oxidation, this  sparkler has some custard, stone fruit, citrus, salty minerality characteristics.

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2010 Hoffmann & Rathbone Blance de Blanc, England

Made from a boutique producer in East Sussex  this Blanc de Blanc is made from 100% Chardonnay.  After 4 years on the lees and 7 grams dosage this is a complex sparkler, with citrus

Elixrr Visits Artadi and the Rioja Region

On my recent trip to the Rioja region in Spain, I was lucky enough to catch the first day of harvest at Artadi.  Artadi is one of the top bodegas in Rioja and uses biodynamic and organic concepts in the vineyards.

On September 11, 2015 they began harvest in their El Cerredillo vineyard by picking Viura grapes.  The weather was beautiful on the day, as you can see above and below.

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A vineyard worker happily picking Viura grapes on the first day of harvest.

Below some vineyard pictures at Artadi:

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Tempranillo grapes in the Vina El Pisón vineyard.

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More Tempranillo in the Vina El Pisón

Below more pictures of the El Cerredillo Vineyards.

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Cristina Amutio and Me in the El Cerredillo Vineyard

Now some from the Viña El Pisón vineyard:

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The Viña El Pisón Vineyard 

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More Viña El Pisón

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A fig tree with delicious, ripe figs in the Viña El Pisón vineyard.

To find out more about Rioja and Artadi, check out the video I made of my trip there.

Cheers,

Christine