Remember that scene in the movie Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise walks into the room to try to win back Renee Zellwegger? He waxes poetic about how he cannot live without her. He lovingly admits that she completes him.
Then, the tension at its height, she utters the movie’s famous line: “Shut Up. You had me at hello.”
That's how I feel when someone says "champagne."
I am an unapologetic, unabashed, enamored, coveter of champagne. I read about it. I write about it. I drink it every chance I get. It’s so bad that the love obsession even follows me when I travel.
I have a perfectly wonderful love affair with champagne.
I am an unapologetic, unabashed, enamored, coveter of champagne. I read about it. I write about it. I drink it every chance I get. I collect the corks from bottles I’ve consumed. It’s so bad that the love obsession even follows me when I travel.
For instance, on a recent trip to Napa I toured three of the five sparkling wineries. The only reason I didn’t get around to the last two was that when I cut myself I began to bleed bubbles.
Nobody Veuves Me Like You Do
Understanding me the way you now do, I am sure that you can imagine the sheer and utter elation I experienced upon finding out that The Tasting Room Uptown would be hosting a champagne dinner, and that the bubbly of choice for the evening would be Vintage. Veuve. Clicquot.
“What’s so exciting about that,” you ask? My enthusiasm stemmed from knowing I’d get to sip beyond Veuve’s Yellow Label and venture into vintage champagne territory. “Vintage, non-vintage, what’s the big deal” you say? Allow me to explain.
Details for the event stated that each guest would be consuming the equivalent of approximately $700 worth of champagne. I saw that less as information and more as a personal challenge.
The majority of the champagnes on the market are non-vintage meaning that they are made from a blend of grapes from different years. This allows for consistency in the quality, style and taste. In other words, a non-vintage bubbly produced in 2002 will taste nearly identical to one produced in 2012. Non vintage champagnes are easy to acquire at any time.
Vintage champagne, on the other hand, is made only from the grapes of a singular year. Because the harvest is limited and finite, the number of bottles produced from that harvest is limited and finite as well. In short, vintage champagnes are rare, which means that they are also typically pretty expensive. For example, details for the event stated that each guest would be consuming the equivalent of approximately $700 worth of champagne. I saw that less as information and more as a personal challenge, but you get the point.
Of course I purchased a ticket.
Enter into Champagne Nirvana
Guests were greeted at a reception door with a cool Veuve carpet beckoning us to come in. After quickly assessing that the rug was too big to roll up and put into my car, I crossed the threshold and was magically transported to the land of Clicquot. Just about every decorative trinket that the infamous champagne house makes was used to adorn the space: Mini-refrigerators, champagne buckets, lamps, umbrellas, baskets and the like, all artfully arranged. The space was gorgeous.
As the group socialized, our first culinary treat was presented: Prosciutto di parma wrapped black mission figs stuffed with chevre provided by Pure Luck Farms, accompanied by the well-known non-vintage Veuve Yellow Label. The sweet, luscious flesh of the fig in concert with the salty, chewy-tender pork and creaminess of the cheese was divine. The Yellow Label washed it down quite nicely, its slight fruitiness playing well off the prosciutto and cheese.
We were soon invited to take our seats and were welcomed by TTR staff and Veuve Clicquot senior winemaker Cyril Brun who took briefly to the mike to titillate us with the delectable details of the evening to come. Then right on cue, the first-course plates began rolling out of the kitchen.
A Multi-Course Masterpiece
First we received glasses of Veuve Rosé followed by a beautiful deconstructed salad composed of champagne-poached salmon, oven roasted strawberries and watercress drizzled with Meyer lemon oil. The salmon was nicely medium rare and was really brought to life with a swipe of the lemon oil. The nose of the rosé deeply echoed that of the roasted strawberries, while the palate picked up raspberries and nuttiness. It was an excellent start to the meal.
My knock-your-socks-off moment came with the second course: Morel mushroom risotto dotted with white truffle and topped with a quail egg. Risotto and mushrooms equals a match made in heaven.
My knock-your-socks-off moment came with the second course: Morel mushroom risotto dotted with white truffle and topped with a quail egg. Risotto and mushrooms equals a match made in heaven. The same holds true for mushrooms with truffle. Put all three together, however, and you have a taste sensation triumvirate--it was perfect.
Just when I thought that it couldn’t possibly get any better, I decided to try the egg with the next bite. The rich, silky egg yolk set off culinary fireworks on my palate that induced a close-your-eyes-and-sigh-in-ecstasy moment.
A sip of the 2004 Vintage Blanc paired with the dish revealed why vintage champagnes are so often coveted. A sniff inside the glass revealed a wonderful nose of fresh, green apples followed by a clean, “bread-y” smell. The flavors echoed the aromas (with an added touch of spice) and perfectly balanced the nutty, earthiness of the risotto, while cutting through the richness of the egg. It was très sublime.
Still reeling from the second-course, I admittedly greeted the third-course with a little side-eye trepidation. Sauteed sea bass with…braised oxtail. Now I've had some phenomenal oxtails in my lifetime (thanks mom!), so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I should have known that Chef Jonathan LeBlanc would not let me down. Nestled just under a wonderfully seared fish fillet was a mound of impossibly tender, flavorful, juicy shredded beef. I would have never guessed in a thousand years that fish and beef, eaten together, could be so delectable.
With regards to the champagne, the moment I had been waiting for all meal long had finally arrived: I would finally get to sip a glass of Veuve’s flagship champagne, La Grande Dame. The 2004 Vintage was just released earlier this year, and the initial whiff was quite enchanting: spice, roasted almonds and crisp toast. The taste was slightly citrusy, nutty and delicate with pear undertones. The delicateness of the champagne matched perfectly with the delicateness of the flaky, moist sea bass. If my palate had facial muscles it would have smiled about sipping La Grande Dame.
Ooh, la la! Très Français!
The French are known for serving a cheese course after the main entrée but before dessert and a meal for this quintessentially French Champagne house would demand nothing less than tradition. We were served a classic cheese plate with three selections: a bucheron, a comté (a type of gruyère) and a la roche.
The cheeses were oustanding, but nothing would prepare me for the flavor bomb that was the 1985 Vintage Rosé served with it. By far my favorite champagne of the night.
The cheeses were oustanding, but nothing would prepare me for the flavor bomb that was the 1985 Vintage Rosé served with it. Cherries, hazlenuts, raspberry, crackers, vanilla, pepper and smoke all bombarded my nose and palate. It was an elegant wine and its essence lingered long after the last sip. By far my favorite champagne of the night.
The final cherry on top for the evening was dessert. Before I could even get to it though, I became mesmerized by the decanting of the Veuve Demi-Sec. Decanting champagne? What?! Mr. Brun (likely after spying some bewildered faces) took to the microphone again to explain that it is actually a benefit to decant.
Parisian sommeliers decant to reduce the tactile impression of the bubbles, thereby softneing it and enhancing its sweetness. It also helps to release subtle aromas that may not have been apparent if the champagne is poured right from the bottle. Who knew?!
After decanting, flutes of Veuve Demi-Sec arrived along with a tiny cake in a sort of elongated bundt shape. The menu revealed that it was a Canelé de Bourdeaux, a small, French cake flavored with rum and vanilla and enclosed by a thin, crunchy, caramelized shell. Although the demi-sec was sweet, it actually complemented the caramelized crust on the canelé very well. It was a lovely close to a superlative dining experience.