J’adore le champagne et le chocolat (I love Champagne & Chocolate …Who Doesn’t?)
by John Dunham
We have written about a range of different wine tastings on advicesisters.com, from formal tasting experiences with a Master Sommelier, to functional industry walk-around tastings, to virtual tastings, and even home group tastings.
All of these are great ways to discover new wines – but all of them also involve work, industry connections and often large budgets.
But there are other ways for those of us who love wine and want to learn more to do this closer to home.
Another way is to take advantage of what I will call “retail” wine tastings offered by restaurants, wine retailers, and organizations in your area. These tastings provide an opportunity to learn about varietals and styles that might not be in one’s normal purchase set, and can allow attendees to try wines at a price point well beyond the normal plonk.
Tastings With the French Institute Alliance Francaise
One of our favorite organizations that hosts wine tastings for the general public in New York City is the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF).
The institute is hosting Art de Vivre, a series of four wine tastings over the spring months, the first of which was a pairing of Champagnes with chocolates. Upcoming events include:
- A tasting of wines from a new generation of vintners that are changing the face of French wines (April 24);
- A tasting of wines made by female French winemakers (May 22); and
- A Rose tasting featuring this food friendly pink wine (June 13).
All of the events are being held in the FIAF’s beautiful Le Skyroom facility in midtown Manhattan and are offered at a reasonable price (*discount for FIAF members).
Interestingly, these events are being co-sponsored by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Editors from the relevant sections of Wine Enthusiast are serving as hosts for each event which feature the vintners and their American representatives.
his means that attendees will receive some of the best information available about how the wines are made, how the grapes are grown and how the wines should be paired with particular foods. This is exactly what one wants in a tasting, not just general information about a varietal, but real specific and detailed information about what you are tasting and why.
Love Match: Champagne and Chocolare Pairings
We attended the first of these tastings, Love Match: Champagne and Chocolare Pairings.
Introduced by Marie-Monique Steckel, President of the French Institute Alliance Francaise and hosted by Susan Kostrzewa, the Executive Editor of Wine Enthusiast, this tasting featured six high end Champagnes paired with chocolates from Jacquese Torres.
Chef Torres was at the tasting to present each of the chocolates.
What is particular pairing interesting was the fact that one would not generally pair chocolate with a dry wine like Champagne.
Ms. Kostrzewa commented that this French sparkling wine “Is the most versatile and food-friendly wine in the world,” but it is not particularly well suited to sweet foods which would generally be paired either with a heavy red (say a Lodi Zinfandel, or a sweeter wine like a Muscat or Sancerre).
However, Chef Torres and the wine experts were able to successfully use different types of chocolates and fillings to come up with some very good matches.
While we would normally provide tasting notes as part of a review, one needs the sense of smell to accurately taste, and I was fighting off a cold — a shame since some truly wonderful houses were sampling their wines.
The first pairing was Piper Heidsieck Brut (2006: $80). This dry citrusy wine was paired with a passionfruit milk chocolate. According to Chef Torres, the wine paired very well with baked goods, so the dairy in the milk chocolate would enhance the wine’s citrusy nature.
Piper Heidsieck’s Brand Manager, Jonathan Boulangeat, was on hand to discuss the winemaking process and the history of this venerable house. He also provided the wine for the fifth pairing, Piper Heidsieck Rose Sauvage (NV: $60).
This dark rose Champagne which featured berry and blood orange notes was paired with a dark chocolate and ginger bonbon. Chef Torres said that he was looking for a clash between the sweet berry notes from the wine and the spicy notes from the ginger.
The second Champagne house represented at the tasting was Joseph Perrier. Brand Manager, Alexandre Thevenet, provided a brut called Josephine (2008: $90). The wine, which was named after the founder’s daughter had a nose that while very mineral also featured tropical notes like pineapple.
The wine was paired with a white chocolate and lime flavored chocolate that Chef Torres called the Love Bug. This made the wine more citrusy and fresher than it already was and was, we thought, one of the better pairings of the night.
The other wine from Joseph Perrier was the house’s Brut Rose (NV: $50). This light salmon colored rose was very creamy up from with a yeasty finish. It was paired with a milk chocolate Champagne bonbon made using the wine itself. The creaminess of the milk chocolate actually brought out some peppery notes on the wine’s finish.
The third house represented at the tasting was Pol Roger. Anthony Cohen, the company’s Brand Manager, discussed the different styles of Champagnes, ranging from lighter dryer wines to sweeter and heavier Sec and Demi-sec styles. Pol Roger was founded in 1849 and produces wines that are known in the trade as a British style of Champagne.
These are heavier wines that are designed for aging and have historically been very popular in the United Kingdom. In fact, Pol Roger was named by Appointment To His Majesty the King purveyor of Champagne to the Royal family in 1911.
We sampled vintage Rose (2008: $120). The wine was a dark salmon color and had good bright fruit that carried through to the finish. It was the Champagne served at the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and had a heavier English tone to it. The wine was paired with a dark chocolate covered candied orange peel.
The pairing brought a huge orange flavor, but it did not overpower this heavier Champagne.
The final wine of the evening was Pol Roger Rich (NV: $45). This is a demi sec, a term that actually means half-dry.
Traditionally, sparkling Champagne wines were sweeter than they are today. The most popular form of Champagne is called Brut which translates to raw.
When champagne is produced, sugar is added at the end of the process to create the carbonation. This dosage is one factor in determining the sweetness of the final wine. Brut Champagne has very little residual sugar while so-called Dry champagne is much sweeter.
Demi-sec Champagne contains nearly 4 or 5 times as much residual sugar as Brut, and would traditionally pair much better with deserts and things like chocolate.
The Pol Roger Rich Demi-sec was a light gold color and was actually fairly dry considering that it contains 34 grams of residual sugar. The wine has a yeasty taste and some tropical notes. It paired beautifully with a raspberry milk chocolate although we felt that the second pairing with a caramel milk chocolate brought out too much sweetness in the wine.
Everyone had a fabulous time at this event, laughing, tasting, talking. If the other tastings are even half as interesting as this one, they will make for a fantastic evening.
About the French Institute Alliance Francaise
The French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) is New York City’s premier French cultural and language center.
In addition to offering language classes in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Institute hosts numerous events including wine tastings, film salons, arts events and lectures.
For more information on the French Institute Alliance Francaise visit www.fiaf.org