Category Archives: French Wine

Clos Rougeard : Drinking a Loire Valley Legend in Hong Kong.

Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong looked like any other wine bar from outside, till I entered and saw an entire wall lined up with vintages from hallowed French estates. The kind that you bow down and pay homage to.

Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong
Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong

This is where I was meeting Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker, wine aficionado and an avid wine collector, on a recent visit to Hong Kong.

Gordon was a facebook friend whom I had known for over a year. This was the first time we were meeting in person.

The world of wine has connected me with some wonderful people across the world. There is always someone in every city willing to share a glass or a bottle and talk about their wine journey. Cultural barriers are transcended, views aired and often an everlasting friendship is formed over wine.

Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a cult wine from Loire Valley.
Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a legendary wine estate from Loire Valley.

What Gordon had chosen for me that evening, was a Clos Rougeard “Brézé 2008”, a single vineyard Chenin Blanc from the legendary wine estate, Clos Rougeard, in Saumur region of Loire Valley, France.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

This was the first time I was trying out wine from this revered, though somewhat low profile estate, famous for its “cult” Cabernet Franc.

To say that Clos Rougeard is to Loire what Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is to Burgundy, will not be an exaggeration.

The estate produces three red wines Le Bourg, Les Poyeux and Le Clos, all from 100% Cabernet Franc, under the appellation label Saumur Champigny.

According to some, it is the finest expression of Cabernet Franc in the world and some vintages of Le Bourg, the leading cuvée of Clos Rougeard, fetch a higher price than Bordeaux classified growths such as Cos d’Estournel and Palmer.

Ever since the death of Charly Foucault, the eighth generation co-owner of Cos Rougeard, in December last year, the price of these wines has shot up even more.

Since production is limited to only 2500 cases a year, the wines get sold out very quickly and are hard to find.

Latest reports suggest that Clos Rougeard has been sold to Martin Bouygues and his brother Olivier, owners of Chateau Montrose in Bordeaux.

Clos Rougeard wines are truly artisanal in every sense and pioneers of organic viticulture (wines produced sans pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilisers) in the region.

The brothers Charly & Nady Foucault continued their father’s tradition of keeping vinification chemical free and made wines the way they should be made, with minimal oenological intervention. Wines are produced from low-yields, using wild natural yeasts and bottled without filtration.

More and more vintners are now turning towards organic viticulture, but Clos Rouegard has always been making wines in this manner without a drop of chemicals.

Saumur Blanc “Brézé” is a rare white wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc from hundred year old vines grown in just a one hectare plot. Brézé is acknowledged as the best terroir in Saumur appellation for Chenin Blanc, a celebrated white grape of Loire Valley.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

High in acidity and potentially long living, this is a white wine that can be aged for a long time. It is a “collector’s item” like the Cabernet Francs from Clos Rougeard and you are unlikely to find it on the wine list of restaurants, even in France.

Long and slow élevage (18-24 months) in cold Tuffeau cellars (local limestone of the Loire Valley) helps in adding complexity. 50% of the wine is aged in new barrique. This gives the wine great depth, length and richness.

Light gold in appearance with a dry sherry like nutty oxidative intensity, this precise, deeply perfumed and elegant Chenin Blanc with superb freshness and lively acidity, completely enveloped my senses. The wine expressed the complexity of the soil, such was its purity.

Reminding me slightly of a Hermitage Blanc, but with more richness, denser minerality and deeper concentration, the Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé 2008 is one wine I will not forget in a hurry.

With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a cult Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley
With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a rare Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley

By : Lavina Kharkwal

 

Champagne Taittinger : Spreading happiness through bubbles.

Clovis Taittinger, Deputy Managing Director and Global Export Director of Champagne Taittinger, finds a lot of similarity between the “sparkling” people of India and the elegant bubbly that his family owned champagne house has been producing ever since Pierre Taittinger bought Forrest & Fourneaux in 1932, the third oldest champagne house at that time, created in 1734.

Addressing a select gathering at Spectra PDR, The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, on his maiden visit to India, Clovis Taittinger, in his witty and tongue-in-cheek style had this to say “You are a country of happy people who love life. Champagne too is all about spreading happiness and if I can contribute towards this through my tiny bottles, even though it might cost you a little money, then I have done my bit”.

A nice analogy indeed and not far from the truth. Though champagne is looked upon as a luxury product, it is always associated with celebration and joy. It is meant to be enjoyed with special people in your life, the people you love, your friends and family.

Clovis Taittinger, Deputy Managing Director Champagne Taittinger on his maiden visit to India with Sumit Sehgal of Prestige Wines & Spirits and Lavina Kharkwal
Clovis Taittinger, Deputy Managing Director Champagne Taittinger on his maiden visit to India with Sumit Sehgal of Prestige Wines & Spirits and Lavina Kharkwal

There are hundreds of houses which make champagne, each having its unique approach and style. Taittinger is known for making exquisite champagne with a lightness and purity that is hard to match. It is meant to appeal to the “lover” in you rather than the “intellectual”.

The star of course is the vintage Comtes de Champagne, an iconic Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) from five Grand Cru villages of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Oger, Cramant & Chouilly in the Côte des Blanc, an area in Champagne known for yields which result in remarkable wines with great finesse.

However according to Clovis Taittinger, “It is not the vintage champagne but the non-vintage cuvée (Brut NV) which shows how good a house is because quality and consistency has to be maintained year after year”. It is here that Taittinger has an edge over other big names and Clovis Taittinger is rightfully proud of their soft flowery house style. A lot of credit should go to the winemaker Loïc Dupont who has been with Taittinger for 26 years now.

With a production of around 6 million bottles a year Taittinger is one of the world’s leading champagne brands (6th largest according to recent figures). The fact that they own 300 hectares of land in Champagne, 60% of which is Grand Cru (a regional wine classification signifying exceptional quality) allows them to maintain quality in the vineyards which reflects in their wines that are based mostly on chardonnay.

Outside France Champagne Taittinger owns Domaine Carneros in California’s Napa Valley where they produce a good-value sparkling wine. They also plan to plant a vineyard in England and produce a premium sparkling wine.

Except for a brief period in 2005 when the brand was sold to Starwood Capital Group and then regained quickly in May 2006 with the help of a loan of 660 million euros from Crédit Agricole, the company has remained with the Taittinger family who are all involved in taking the brand further without compromising on quality.

Taittinger is one of only five Champagne houses that ages its champagnes in the famous “Crayères”, Roman era chalk mines of Reims. While Taittinger owns four kilometres of Crayères, the rest are shared by Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, Ruinart, Mumm and Pommery.

I got a chance to explore them when I visited Taittinger headquarters, housed in an imposing 13th century mansion on Rue de Tambour, Reims. This was in April 2015 during International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) La Champagne . One of the highlights of the visit was being served the flagship Comtes de Champagne 2005 at 11 am . It’s never too early to start your day with a glass of champagne as fine as the Comtes.

My visit to Taittinger Champagne House in Reims, France during IWINETC La Champagne 2015
My visit to Taittinger Champagne House in Reims, France during IWINETC La Champagne 2015

Another occasion that I got to try out Comtes de Champagne 2005 was when I met Clovis Taittinger during Vinexpo 2015 in Bordeaux, France. His unpretentious and down-to-earth nature impressed me as much as the wine  which he so graciously served.

With Clovis Taittinger during Vinexpo Bordeaux 2015
With Clovis Taittinger during Vinexpo Bordeaux 2015

His visit to India was long overdue and thanks to the efforts of Sumit Sehgal of Prestige Wines & Spirits, the importer of Taittinger Champagne in India, it finally happened last month in September 2016. India is a growing market for Taittinger and one that they give a lot of importance to.

At the Taittinger dinner at Spectra, hosted by Michel Koopman, General Manager of The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, Taittinger Brut Reserve, Brut Prestige Rose and Comte de Champagne 2005 were paired with some creative dishes prepared by Executive Chef Neeraj Rawoot and his team of talented chefs like Abhishek Gupta and Amit Wadhera who never fail to impress. Their food is of the standard of Michelin starred restaurants if we consider Michelin to be a benchmark for great food.

Champagne Taittinger Dinner at Spectra PDR hosted by Michel Koopman, General Manager The Leela Ambience Gurgaon
Champagne Taittinger Dinner at Spectra PDR hosted by Michel Koopman, General Manager The Leela Ambience Gurgaon

Meanwhile to all the champagne lovers in India let me tell you that “There is a world beyond Moët & Chandon. So go out there and discover”.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

To read more about Champagne you may click on the following link

https://highonwines.com/2014/12/09/champagne-raising-a-glass-to-the-worlds-favorite-bubbly/

Champagne Taittinger prices in Delhi

Taittinger Brut Reserve Rs 3900 (375ml) ;  Rs 6860 (750ml) ; Rs 12900 (1500ml)

Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé  Rs 8750 (750ml)

Taittinger Sec Nocturne Sleever Rs 7500 (750ml )

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Rs 20000 (750ml)

 

 

Pairing Indian “Roti” Bread with French Wine : Naanery at Baluchi The Lalit

Wine and bread is the most basic and oldest pairing known to mankind dating back to times immemorial, even finding a mention in the bible. It is also the most “natural” and balanced pairing as the process of fermentation is used for making both dough and wine. Try using bread as more than just a side dish and drink that Champagne with Brioche, Sangiovese with Olive bread, Rosé with Focaccia, Pinot Noir with Rye bread, and Cabernet Sauvignon with French bread or a Riesling with any sweet bread. You can easily make a meal out it.

While bread has somewhat of a neutral profile, it gets a little tricky when it comes to pairing wine with Indian flatbread or roti. And who would think of pairing different kinds of speciality Indian breads like Paratha, Kulcha & Bakarkhani with, lo and behold, French Wine? Well there is a place right here in the heart of our capital where you can find this innovative concept being executed with aplomb.

Naanery at Baluchi, the signature Pan Indian restaurant at The Lalit, Barakhmaba Road, New Delhi, already well known for its unprecedented bread bar menu, has come out with an offer where French wines are paired with breads baked right in front of you in an iron tandoor. These breads are different from what is served at most Indian restaurants. They come in bite size portions and have been chosen by Executive Chef Ajay Kumar, from various regions of India. The concept of Naanery or Roti Bar is the first in India where the humble “roti” has been elevated to the status of a star.

The wines have been chosen by French sommelier Charles Donnadieu (MC Sommellerie 2005/06 Lycée Professionnel Etincelle) who comes from a small town called Bagard in south of France. He joined as Corporate Sommelier of the Lalit Group in May 2014, a position specially created for him by Keshav Suri, Executive Director of Lalit Group of Hotels for the purpose of developing a wine culture in his hotels. Charles is instrumental in planning this menu and handpicking the most suitable French wines to match the flavour profile of the different Indian breads.

First pairing offered is Pheni Paratha, a flaky bread originating from Meerut made with generous amounts of ghee (clarified butter), sesame seed & pistachios paired with an off dry fruity & floral white wine, Vaucluse Domaine La Pigeade “Petits Grains de Folie” 2014. The acidity of the crisp wine cuts through the butter in the bread and the lychee flavor lifts up the slight sweetness of the Pheni Paratha very well. The wine is made from 100% “Muscat blanc`a  Petits Grains” which ampelographic evidence shows is one of the oldest cepage (grape variety) still in existence.

Next comes Gilafi Kulcha from Lucknow, a double layered bread with cheese, vegetable & coriander leaves paired with a medium bodied red AOC Ventoux Domaine La Pigeade “Les Sables” 2014. The wine is a blend of Grenache, Carignan & Syrah and its red berry and pepper notes match the slightly spicy kulcha perfectly.

Last pairing is of Bakarkhani, a semi-sweet specialty bread from Kashmir with AOC “Muscat de Beaumes de Venises” Domaine La Pigeade 2013, a unique and slightly potent “vin doux naturel”(sweet fortified wine) made with “mutage method” (addition of 96% proof grape spirit). This combination is a perfect marriage of grain and grape.

Domaine de La Pigeade are independent producers located at the foot of Mt. Ventoux in Southern Rhone Valley, who make 10 wines in four different appellations like Côtes du Rhone, Ventoux, Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise. It is a good opportunity to try out these offerings from South of France paired with breads from different parts of India. In case you wish to try out any other wines outside the menu, just ask the sommelier and he will take you to the well-stocked Wine Room located right across the Bread Bar.

So go ahead and try out this new culinary experience which The Lalit wishes to share with you.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

Indian Breads paired with French Wines
Indian Breads paired with French Wines

Three glasses of French wine (50ml per glass) paired with three different types of Indian bread (2 pieces each) comes at a price of Rs 1000 pp + taxes.

Naanery at Baluchi

The Lalit New Delhi

Barakhamba Road

Connaught Place New Delhi 110001

Rose des Riceys : A unique wine like no other.

I was fortunate to be part of the Media Group of IWINETC (International Wine Tourism Conference) held in April 2015 at Reims Champagne, France. A brainchild of Barcelona based Anthony Swift who runs Wine Pleasures; a company which organises wine tasting tours and workshop events for the wine import/export market, IWINETC is a great forum to unite wine tourism professionals & writers from all across the world. It was while touring the Aube department in the southernmost part of Champagne, close to Burgundy, that I came across this unique & legendary still rosé wine not known much outside France called Rosé-des-Riceys made from Pinot Noir grapes. This is a wine which is said to have seduced the Sun King Louis XIV.

It comes from the commune of Les Riceys which is the largest wine making village in the entire Champagne region. Actually it is not one but three villages, Ricey-Haut, Ricey-Haute-Rive and Ricey-Bas, forming one unit which has been granted three AOC designations, Champagne, Rosé-des-Riceys & Coteaux Champenois, the latter two being the only ones allowed by law to produce a “still wine” in Champagne, an anomaly in the region. And you thought La Champagne was only about bubbles.

So what is so special about this Rosé you may ask? Well for one it is nothing like the rosé wines you may have tasted before. Other than the intriguing aroma and incredible taste of wild strawberries, cooked cherries, violets, hazelnut & liquorice, it has complexity, structure and longevity (yes a rose which can be aged); most qualities not present in the “pink plonk” which floods the European market during summer and which a lot of serious wine drinkers look down upon.

Rosé-des-Riceys is exceptional & rare. Rare, because there are only a handful of producers (just about 15-20) who make this wine and that too only in the best harvests and not every year. Production cannot exceed 70,000 bottles per millésime. Pinot Noir grapes only from the sunniest vineyards are used. These are harvested when they reach the right ripeness and natural sugar. Whole bunches are pressed and vinified using semi-carbonic maceration (the same method used in the making of Beaujolais in which fermentation takes place in the whole intact berry in a carbon dioxide rich environment) This results in a wine which is lightly tannic and very fruity. The colour is several shades darker than the rose wines of Provence. It is matured in the cellar for 3-4 years before being released.

I was lucky to try Rose-des-Riceys from three producers of Les Riceys, Morize Père & Fils, Gallimard Père et Fils & Olivier Horoit. It will not be an exaggeration to say that just the appearance bowled me over, what to talk of the nose and the flavour. Intense deep pink color, aromas of wild strawberries, cherries and dried herbs with an incredible length which stays on the palate for a long time. Suffice to say that it was the most unusual wine I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Taking to Olivier Horoit I came to know that no region in France other than Les Riceys has the kind of versatility where, from one grape varietal Pinot Noir, they produce rosé, red, white, white Champagne and a rose Champagne. Olivier makes some wonderful terroir expressive Rosé-des-Riceys and Coteaux Champenois using only organic and bio dynamic methods. His wines are crafted according to his taste and he is a young man driven totally by his passion for wine-making sometimes resorting to unconventional practices which produce some great results.

Enjoying Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois with Olivier Horiot during the IWINETC tour of Les Riceys
Enjoying Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois with Olivier Horiot during the IWINETC tour of Les Riceys

So in case you are planning a trip to France don’t forget to try out this exceptionally high quality and unique rosé wine Rose des Riceys. Santé!

By : Lavina Kharkwal

 

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere : A Gem in Pessac Leognan Bordeaux France

People often ask me about my favourite wine region. Without any hesitation I would say it is Bordeaux in France. There is just something about the complexity and the aging potential of wines from this region which fascinates me. They say that wine is the expression of a place and for me just a sip of a wine from Bordeaux, doesn’t matter if it is a luxurious first growth or fifth growth, Grand Cru Classé, Cru Bourgeois, Grand Vin, second or third wine, which brings out the sensuality of the region and poses a cerebral challenge in terms of getting through the depth of its myriad layers.

The impressive chateau of Malartic Lagraviere
The impressive chateau of Malartic Lagraviere

Bordeaux is the largest fine wine district on earth comprising of  Médoc to the north of the city of Bordeaux and Graves to the South, both on the “left bank” and the “right bank” areas consisting of St Emilion and Pomerol. It is known the world over for its red wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a small production of very sweet Sauternes, and some unique dry whites made in the Graves.

We are all familiar with the big players in Bordeaux like Château Latour, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, but sometimes, it is the lesser known names which makes one sit up and take notice, because of the exceptional quality of wines that they produce. One such name is Château Malartic Lagraviere, located in the commune of Léognan, in the heartland of Graves, blessed with a soil which makes both red and white wine equally well.

A replica of the sailing vessel on the wine label of Malartic Lagraviere Photo Credit Rajiv Kehr
A replica of the sailing vessel on the wine label of Malartic Lagraviere Photo Credit Rajiv Kehr

The first time I heard the name Malartic Lagraviere was from wine enthusiast Rajiv Kehr, the only Indian to have been honored with the title of Chevaliers du Tastevin, an exclusive club of Burgundy wine lovers. He had just returned from a trip to the beautiful vineyards of Malartic, located in the oldest wine producing terroir in Bordeaux, where he got the opportunity to taste some very impressive wines, especially the whites. He managed to persuade the owners to showcase their wines in India and this is how I met Veronique Bonnie Laplane at a Chateau Malartic Lagraviere wine dinner held at Zanotta, the Italian restaurant at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, recent winner of the Times Food Award for the Best Italian fine dine restaurant in the NCR.

Tasting room at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Photo Courtesy Rajiv Kehr
Tasting room at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Photo Courtesy Rajiv Kehr

Speaking with Veronique over breakfast I came to know that Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere is one of only six classified growths known for both its red and white wine in Bordeaux and is ranked among the Premier Crus in the Classification of Graves Wines of 1953 and 1959. Originally known as Domaine de Lagraviere it has always been recognized as having a terroir of quality. It was bought by her parents Michèle and Alfred- Alexandre Bonnie at the end of 1996 from the Champagne group Laurent Perrier. Being great wine enthusiasts they were drawn to the exceptional terroir and the immense potential of its wines. Thus began the renaissance of Malartic Lagraviere with the introduction of the latest concept of sustainable farming techniques in the 53 hectare (131 acres) estate and a thorough modernization of the entire wine making facilities. They introduced temperature controlled stainless steel vats and new oak vats and brought vast improvement in viticulture practices which involved a cautious use of agrochemicals.

Chai Malartic
Chai Malartic

All this led to achieving new heights in the quality of its wines, the Grand Vin Chateau Malartic Lagraviere both Red & White, a second wine Sillage de Malartic and a rosé Le Rosé de Malartic. In 2005 the family acquired the neighbouring Château Gazin Rocquencourt and a single estate of 130 hectares in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Argentina, Bodega DiamAndes within the very heart of Clos de los Siete (Mendoza-Uco Valley). Things started to move around with the 2009 and 2010 vintages, clearly the best ever produced, particularly for dry white wines. All the three estates Chateaux Malartic Lagraviere, Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt and Bodega DiamAndes are co-managed by Veronique Bonnie Laplane and her  brother Jean Jacques and they are helped by their respective spouses, JeanJacques’s  wife Séverine  and Veronique’s husband Bruno Laplane.

Veronique Bonnie Laplane , Bruno Laplane, Michele & Alfred Bonnie, Jean Jacques & Severine Bonnie Photo Credit : sommelier-international.com
Veronique Bonnie Laplane , Bruno Laplane, Michele & Alfred Bonnie, Jean Jacques & Severine Bonnie Photo Credit : sommelier-international.com

Among the wines that I tasted at the Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Wine Dinner at Zanotta was a superlative white, the Château Malartic Pessac Léognan AOC Blanc 2010, a medium-bodied crisp lime-lemon, floral, herbaceous wine with a nose of gooseberry and pear & honeydew melon on the palate and  a wonderful sweet citrus finish. It had 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon and was very expressive of the gravel, clay and limestone soil of Graves. This was my first exposure to a Bordeaux white and I loved it.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Blanc 2010
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Blanc 2010

Next was a Château Malartic Lagraviére Pessac Léognon Rouge 2008, a very classical expression of what they do, lot of fruit, blackcurrant, and tobacco with soft rounded tannins and potential to age. The 1989 vintage was intricate like “Lace”. Very pronounced graphite, elegant tannins and a long finish. The Château Malartic Lagraviére Pessac Léognan AOC Rouge 2000 was 50% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a good balance between fruit, acidity and tannins, and a lovely long length. I also tasted a Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt Pessac Léognan AOC Rouge 2007 which is often called the “younger brother” of Malartic. The philosophy and style behind it the same as Malartic but it has less ageing potential.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Rouge
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Rouge

A very special feature of wines from Malartic are that they are made by using the principles of sustainable agriculture and for a few hectares they use biodynamic methods of farming which views the farm as a cohesive interconnected living system and produces wines which are more vibrant in taste, have a better expression of terroir and remain drinkable for a longer time. There is a meticulous attention to detail and no use of insecticide. Veronique Bonnie Laplane talked about the challenges that they constantly face in terms of the impact of the vagaries of nature, 2013 being a particularly challenging year for Bordeaux, and the importance of taking timely decisions. They are always striving for quality which goes a long way in making their wines well known all over the world for its complexity, elegance, intensity and balance.

Veronique Bonnie
Veronique Bonnie

I sincerely hope that we get to see Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Grand Cru Classe De Graves in the Indian market very soon.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

Click on this link to read more on Bordeaux Wines

https://highonwines.com/2014/11/22/chateau-gruaud-larose-wine-dinner/