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The Best Bubbly in the Air

March 14, 2012

Virgin Atlantic debuted a glamorous champagne coupe as part of their new Upper Class meal service that began March 1.

Last time I flew on Virgin Atlantic, I remember catching a glimpse of the champagne bar in Upper Class as I trudged to the back of the plane. Now there’s even more to envy: Virgin Atlantic’s new meal service offers retro luxe champagne coupes to serve their Champagne Lanson Black Label.

“We’re very much about trying to make a unique experience,” says Sarah McIntyre, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman. “People associate glamour with Virgin Atlantic and champagne comes hand in hand with glamour.

They’re not the only airline flying high with champagne service. Each year, Business Traveller Magazine give their Cellars in the Sky awards to the airlines with the best wine lists. The magazine rates the quality and diversity of wines offered in business and first class flights.

When the 2011 awards were announced last month, Qantas Airlines’ wine list took the most awards, including best First Class Sparkling–and why not when they’re pouring 1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne?

Wines served by Cathay Pacific like the 2008 Vincent Girardin Puligny Montrachet Vielles Vignes were ranked highly. And Brazilian carrier TAM’s 2012 wine list turned heads with pours like Champagne Drappier La Grande Sendrée in first class and Drappier Carte d’Or in business class. And airline sommelier Arthur Azevedo has trained flight crew in matching wines with foods too. Maybe someday they’ll pour some Brazilian bubbly on flights.

The magazine rated 250 wines that were entered into the competition by 53 international airlines.

Champagne, Drinks

So Fresh: Champagne Lanson San Francisco Launch

February 4, 2012

“When you see a champagne ad, what does it show?” asks the Frenchman. He answers his own question. “A car, a pretty girl or some jewelry. But what does that have to do with what’s in the bottle?”

The Frenchman in question is Enguerrand Baijot, scion of the family that owns Champagne Lanson. He visited San Francisco this week for a tasting at The Bubble Lounge as part of the brand’s re-launch in the U.S. market.

He makes a good point; most champagne ads celebrate lifestyle, rather than flavor. The Lanson difference, Baijot says, is the way they emphasize their wine-making style which creates a uniquely fresh and bright tasting champagnes.

Enguerrand Baijot, Brand Director for Champagne Lanson, pouring Extra Age Bru  at a recent launch party at The Bubble Lounge in San Francisco.

“Lanson is the only champagne that talks about what it going on inside the bottle,” Baijot says.

When it comes to flavor profile, it seems most champagnes are in one camp or another. They’re either quite austere, acidic and young tasting or they have the deep, toasty flavors that come with age.  A rare handful, including Lanson, manage to capture both of those characteristics.

Since the house was founded by Jean-Baptiste Lanson in 1837, the key to this balanced flavor profile has been a combination of long-aging and the house style called non-malo.

“Lanson is a champagne that sings,” says Baijot. “It’s about purity and freshness.”

It’s kind of wine-geeky, but malolactic fermentation is a natural process that happens in winemaking after the sugar in the grape juice has been converted into alcohol. Wine grapes are full of bright, fresh malic acid that’s similar to the flavor of a green apple. During malolactic fermentation or ML, malic acid is converted into lactic acid, a rounder softer acid found in yogurt, butter and cheese.

Lanson cools their cuvèes before they’re bottled to become champagne, so that ML doesn’t happen. As the Champagne region gets warmer, which robs the grapes of their natural acidity, Baijot says he expects to see more champagne houses adopting their style.

Since Lanson champagnes are made without malolactic fermentation, they have a higher acidity that imparts a bright taste and makes them perfect for aging.

Lanson champagnes are predominantly made with Pinot Noir. And to make sure their wines have a delicious depth of flavor, all Lanson champagnes — from the entry-level NV Black Label to the top of the line Gold Label —  are aged much longer than is required. Black Label is aged for three years while the Gold Label, Extra-Age Brut and Extra-Age Rosé are all laid down at least five years.

The Lanson Extra-Age Rosé with its lovely cranberry notes, is poured by the glass at all Alain Ducasse restaurants around the world. The recently-released 2002 Gold Label —  a marvelous display of precociousness and maturity crafted exclusively from Grand Cru grapes — is  being poured for all United Airlines international first-class passengers.

This summer, look for a new Lanson Extra-Age Blanc de Blancs and a White Label Sec Champagne, a slightly sweeter cuvée that highlights the fresh fruit flavors in the wine. Baijot says it’s designed to be featured in fruit-based cocktails, like Raspberry Champagne Mojitos and Kir Royales.

It’s hard to leave a Lanson tasting without being a smarter champagne drinker.  But just in case, they share copies of The Little Black Book of Champagne, a concise guide to the champagne method, grapes and famous Bubbly Girls including Lily Bollinger, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss. Visit the L’Academie de Lanson website to order your complimentary copy of The Little Black Book of Champagne.

Sparkling Wine

Celebrate New Year’s Eve with the Best Bubbly of 2011

December 31, 2011

Vouette et Sorbée is a biodynamic grower champagne house in the Aube that's becoming a sommelier favorite.

It’s hard to believe another year is coming to a close! As we get ready to welcome 2012, I can’t help but think back to all the delicious champagnes and sparkling wines I’ve enjoyed this year.

Here’s some of the bubbly that I’d love to taste one more time as the calendar changes:

NV Vouette et Sorbée Saignée de Sorbée

I heard about this grower champagne house in the Aube from both Christine Dufault and Rajat Parr while interviewing them for a story this year. I was thrilled to get to taste the range at the Arlequin Champagne Tasting. Each of the wines had a singular quality; the Blanc de Argile is extremely lean and austere, while the Saignée de Sorbée is a bold wine, extra-brut with flavors of plum, strawberry, minerals and smoke. About $88.

Champagne Lanson Black Label has a bright crisp quality balanced by the right hint of French champagne toastiness.

NV Champagne Lanson Black Label

I first tasted Champagne Lanson at the Grand Champagne Tasting at the Fairmont Hotel this spring, and rediscovered it again this winter after meeting Lanson Managing Director Paul Beavis. I love the way Lanson Black Label has a bright and fresh quality mixed with an edge of toastiness that to me says fine champagne. According to Beavis, the difference is that Lanson is made without malolactic fermentation, so the acids in the champagne stay bright and crisp, like a green apple. About $40

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs tastes even better at the winery's Sonoma County tasting room overlooking the vineyards.

NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs

I love blanc de noirs  – sparkling wines made from a mix of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes – for the way they showcase the flavors of those red grapes. This style is extremely food-friendly as well, working with richly flavored dishes like salmon, pork or lamb. Every time I taste the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, it delights me with hints of strawberry, baked apple and white flowers.  About $14.

Schramsberg's first wine release was the Blanc de Blancs and it remains one of their best offerings.

Schramsberg 2008 Blanc de Blancs

Jack and Jamie Davies’ Schramsberg was the first U.S. winery to make a méthode champenoise blanc de blancs, which is crafted from chardonnay grapes. It’s still one of the best, with a 2008 vintage that’s vibrant with flavors of citrus balanced by a richness from two years on the yeast. This wine became internationally known in 1972 when then President Nixon served it at Toast for Peace in Beijing, China. About $25.

Four bottles of Krug Grande Cuvée on ice - what a beautiful sight!

NV Krug Grande Cuvée

With its blend of youthfulness and age, simplicity and complexity, each time I taste Krug Grande Cuvée, it inspires me. A tasting at the Hotel Vitale was even more memorable by the opportunity to meet the charming Maggie Henriquez, CEO and President of Champagne Krug. About $135