Tag Archives: champagne

Armand de Brignac’s Emilien Boutillat intros new champagne at Boka

Armand de Brignac occupies a premier position among the many prestigious makers of French champagne. Owner Shawn Carter and Winemakers Alex and Jean-Jacques Cattier, freely admit their goal is simply to make the finest champagnes in the world, designed specifically with the luxury wine collector/investor in mind.
Armand de Brignac champagne line
Armand de Brignac champagne line

Winemaker Emilien Boutillat came to Chicago recently to introduce Armand de Brignac’s newest product, Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Two, made exclusively with Pinot Noir grapes. They also asked Chef Lee Wolen at Boka to create pairings for the new blend and several other offerings with a view to educating members of the trade and press about their line of fine champagnes.

Armand de Brignac brut rosé
Armand de Brignac brut rosé

All of Armand de Brignac’s offerings are non-vintage, said Boutillat, but rather are created as blends, often from three different vintage years. For the rosé champagne, they actually use a blend of white and red wines that yields an orangey-rose color with a very fine bubble that makes a delightful aperitif.

The blanc de blancs stood out strong and smooth and full of character, which may be why the first course paired it with an unusual fish called Striped Jack – also known as Shima Aji, categorized in the Jackfish family. Served with a bit of seaweed and potato and flavored with lime, this dish was the least favorite dish I’ve ever had at Boka. The champagne, nevertheless, was delicious and stood up well to the somewhat strong taste and very firm texture of the fish.
Crispy skinned chicken breast with Gold Brut
Crispy skinned chicken breast with Gold Brut

The next champagne, Armand de Brignac’s Champagne Gold Brut – its flagship wine – was extraordinarily delicate and so beautifully blended that it felt almost ethereal on the nose and palate and in the mouth. It made a perfect accompaniment to the Chef’s incredibly moist-fleshed chicken breast,  stuffed under the crispy skin with house-made chicken-leg-meat sausage. Served with a small pouf of super-fine puree of parsnips, the serving was generous, the dish attractive and satisfying, and the wine a lovely accompaniment.

Lamb tender with apricot sauce served with newest Armand de Brignac champagne
Lamb tender with apricot sauce served with newest Armand de Brignac champagne

The next wine, of which Armand de Brignac has only made 2333 bottles, was a truly unique taste in champagne. If felt a bit strange at first on the palate, until I tasted it with the imaginative creation of a tiny piece of lamb tenderloin beside a dollop of creamy, thick apricot sauce. The combination was directly on the money. In fact, I’ve never experienced such a strong feeling of “Oh, yeah, these work perfectly together!” as I did with this pairing. This particular wine, said Boutillat, is made with a blend from harvests of 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Elegant atmosphere and luxurious champagnes at Boka
Elegant atmosphere and luxurious champagnes at Boka

Dessert, an extraordinarily light combination of coconut and citrus and exotic tropical passionfruit with tapioca and elderflower, was perfectly paired with the world’s only semi-sweet champagne – Armand de Brignac took the plunge some years ago to create its own demi sec champagne, a task no other luxury champagne company has ever undertaken. By all accounts, and by the taste that so complemented this dessert, they are succeeding admirably.

Boutillat, the 30-year-old winemaker who has been with Armand de Brignac for four years, came around to answer questions about the various wines and tell stories about his experiences around the world before settling down with this high-profile family-owned and -operated winery. His experience is multinational and his passion quite obvious. When asked about his comparative youth, Boutillat explained that senior owner Jean-Jacques Cattier likes to hire young people for the energy and the imagination they bring to further inspire the making of their great champagnes. Judging by the lovely champagnes at this event, luxury collectors everywhere can rejoice.

Father`s Day 2016 fun and good news about alcohol and diabetes

English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly ove...
English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly over charcoal ashes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbecue is always popular for summer celebrations, and many dads especially love going out for it – so they don’t have to prep, cook and clean up on the home grill. Here are two options for Chicago dads this Sunday:

Pinstripes, 435 E. Illinois, the indoor entertainment center, celebratesFather’s Day with a backyard BBQ Brunch. Give dad a break and come help him appreciate the carving station, fresh seafood, waffle bar, made-to-order omelets, dessert station with a chocolate fountain, and endless mimosas plus BBQ ribs, Italian sausage, pesto chicken, corn on the cob, and more. 9:30 to 3 pm. Adults $34, kids 6-12 $15, kids 5 & under eat free.

And then there’s Lone Star BBQ, 3350 N. Harlem, where the family can treat dad to a delicious lunch or dinner this Father’s Day all weekend. Lone Star BBQ Bar is Chicago’s newest full-service BBQ restaurant that smokes its meats over post oak wood, imported from Texas, without the use of gas or electricity. Choose from pulled pork, ribs, brisket and more smoked and sauced meats, plus crispy salads and cool desserts. Pretzel cake, anyone?

And how about a different kind of gift for dad this year? Check these out.

Can you believe it? A window-washing robot. Ecovacs Robotics makes the WINBOT W830 and says it cleans even nearly impossible-to-clean windows. All you do is place the microfiber cleaning pad on the machine, spritz the pad, switch it to “ON,” place it on the window and press start. Use it on vertical glass, framed or frame-less glass, frosted, filmed or colored glass, horizontal surfaces, and much more. Automatically avoids frames and other obstacles. $399.99 is a stiff price tag, but maybe if you have a lot of windows…

If  the dad on your gift list enjoys champagne, try surprising him with a pewter-embellished bottle of Spanish sparkling wine (cava). Heredad Reserva from Segura Viudas will make him feel special. And if he decides to share it with you or his pals on the golf course, race track, or by a campfire, he’s sure to enjoy the opening aromas that are lightly smoky with touches of biscuit, followed by hints of honey, fruit and flower petals. And to make him feel even more special, show him how the word “Heredad” translates into “Here, Dad!”

Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel
Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel

Do the dads in your life like tequila? Try making them a sumptuous cocktail (or two) using that favored spirit. Here’s a buzz-friendly recipe that sounds almost like dessert-and-coffee, compliments of Maestro Dobel Tequila:

Power Ballad
2 oz Maestro Dobel® Reposado Tequila
1 oz cold brew coffee
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of cocoa powder
3 dashes of fig bitters
Egg white

Method: Build all ingredients in tin, shake without ice, add ice, shake with ice, add 1 oz soda
water to glass, strain contents into tall collins glass without ice. Sprinkle cocoa powder, serve with salted macadamia nuts.

And while you’re buying him wines and spirits, you might want to give him the good news about alcohol and Type 2 diabetes risk. According to an article in Wine Spectator, moderate consumption of beer lowers your risk by 5%, the same of spirits lowers it by 9% and the same of wine lowers it by 20%. “According to U.S. health agencies, a “standard” drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce Budweiser, a 5-ounce glass of cool-climate Pinot Noir or a 2-ounce shot of whiskey. The scientists defined moderate consumption as 20 to 30 grams per day for beer and wine and 7 to 15 grams per day for spirits.”

So go enjoy a little, ‘cuz drinking more than moderate levels actually increases the diabetes peril.

Memorial Day – 5 wines, 2 vodka cocktails, and 2 whiskies

Memorial Day is one of our country’s biggest weekends. The first official party to celebrate warm weather each year is always a fine time to enjoy some of life’s lighter wines and spirits.

Sparkling wines to love:

  • Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut – the Spanish cava in the sexy black bottle that’s been one of the most popular sparkling wines in the U.S. for forty years. Crisp, clean, and well-balanced, medium-bodied with a palate of apple, pear and bright citrus flavors, it has a moderately long finish and a crisp touch of ginger. Pairs well with most any food.
  • Freixenet Carta Nevada Brut – This refreshingly light, slightly sweet cava has fresh, fruity flavor while still pleasantly dry. Full, ripe peach, apricot fruit and vanilla nose, with big, round, soft flavors in the mouth and an appealing finish. Perfect for brunch or for mixing champagne cocktails. Great for those new to sparkling wines.

Three rosé wines perfect for indulging yourself:

  • Alta Vista: Rosé 2015—100% Malbec. Reddish hue, fruity aromas of ripe and sour cherries and floral notes of red roses, with a persistent flavor of recently picked grapes. Great with pasta dishes such as pesto and bright salads. ~$13 
  • Masi Agricola: Rosa dei Masi 2015—Using the Appassimento drying technique to concentrate flavors, this rosé is fresh and fruity, yet complex and elegant. 100% Refosco grapes yield a soft pink wine brushed with cherry tones and intense aromas of berries, especially raspberries and wild cherries. Soft and well-balanced with lively and refreshing acidity. Excellent as an aperitif, with antipasti or seafood dishes. ~SRP $15
  • The Seeker Rosé 2015A classic dry Provence rosé blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Cinsault from vineyards influenced by the sea, sunshine and granite-schist soils. Elegant, fresh and delicately fruity, refreshing on its own or pairs well with a wide variety of shellfish, salads, and berry-based dishes. ~$14

Two vodka cocktails to enjoy for Memorial Day, Father’s Day and/or National Martini Day (both on June 19, 2016):

And how about these 2 whiskies to stir your senses:

  • Speyburn 10-year-old Scotch whisky – Smooth and mellow, pale amber colored, non-peaty, this is a Scotch to warm the heart without stressing the nose or the palate. Mild and easy going, this gold-medal single malt at 2014 International Wine & Spirit competition, is a great one for warm weather. A bargain at ~$23
  • Hibiki Suntory Japanese Harmony Whisky – A deliciously complex, smooth and gentle whisky made to be sipped over a giant ice ball or drunk neat. It’s a lovely blend of at least 10 different whiskies, aged in 5 different types of casks. The whole effect of flavors and aromas is like music from a fine orchestra. Beautiful for warm weather. ~$75

Domaine Carnernos sparkling American wines top the charts

Eileen CraneEileen Crane’s ordinary conversation is sprinkled liberally with interesting stories and lots of facts about fine wines and the foods that go with them, including fresh oysters, double- and triple-cream cheeses, and many more culinary delights. And that’s probably because she’s a graduate of Culinary Institute of America and the President and Chief Winemaker at the Domaine Carneros estate. Domaine Carneros is the winery for which she was hand-picked by Claude Taittinger to build and lead the American home of his French Champagne Taittinger dynasty.

Eileen and her group met for lunch at a downtown Chicago restaurant known for its fabulous seafood, GT Fish & Oyster. The place’s smart, sophisticated design made a great backdrop for enjoying the latest vintages from the winery.

Sipping the Brut Vintage Cuvee 2008, Eileen tells the story of a time a few years ago when she first learned about the International Wines for Oysters Competition. Held each year at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, DC. the contest seemed a perfectly natural place for her to enter that year’s Domaine Carneros Brut. Eileen wasn’t surprised when it ended up winning, hands down, over several hundred competitors from more than a dozen countries around the world.

Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage Cuvee, made using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, is the estate’s signature wine. It’s aged three years and is perfect to serve when it’s released but is also designed to increase in complexity as it ages. The latest 2008 vintage surprises and delights your taste buds—extraordinarily elegant and well-balanced with a long, luscious finish. It makes a fabulous sipping wine and also goes beautifully with lots of foods: fresh oysters, shellfish, fish, rich cheeses, poultry and a variety of cuisine styles. Loved drinking it with GT’s deliciously fresh oysters and their Crudos, a small collection of fish and seafood items prepared with unique flavors and sauces and served on a giant block of natural wood.

All Domaine Carneros wines are not just superbly crafted; they’re also certified organic and DC is the only California winery to achieve that distinction for all its wines. When asked about the effects of the recent drought, Eileen said California escaped drought altogether and none of their vines suffered. In fact, she said, “We need agricultural workers, so maybe the places that have no work for workers because of drought could send those folks to California.”

Sparkling wines are growing in popularity in the U.S. But in the 1700s it was a brand new thing in France. “Madame Pompadour introduced sparkling wines to the court. She turned Louis XV on to them. She is believed to have said, ‘Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and still remain beautiful.’ You must have an advocate like that in order to get a new product introduced and accepted in the market.”

Profoundly grateful to the long-ago intervention of Madame Pompadour, guests let Eileen pour from the latest version of DC’s greatest star wine, Le Reve. French for “The Dream”, the Le Reve 2006 vintage is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes using the traditional method Champagne and then aged in the bottle, on the lees, for five and a half years. This one, the 15th vintage in their long line of fine Blanc de Blancs, is also made to age beautifully. Some of the aromas you’ll notice include buttery, yeasty brioche, white flowers, fruit and more. The palate caresses with crème brulee and toasted almond and notes of white fruit. And you’ll love the long silky finish.

Eileen explained that this vintage needed only a small amount of dosage (a traditional sugar and wine mix added to balance sparkling wines) to reach perfection. Her guests explored the taste of East vs. West coast oysters—and came out firmly divided—but voted unanimously and joyfully that Le Reve made a perfectly beautiful accompaniment.

Taittinger told her when he recruited her in 1987 that he wanted to create America’s best Blanc de Blancs. She remembers fondly when she tasted the first Le Reve vintage in a social situation. She vividly recalls feeling stunned at how beautiful it was. “Ah, so this is how it tastes!” she said to herself. After spending all those years and months babysitting the grapes, the juice, and the wine in the lab, the experience of tasting it in a social situation opened her eyes to the splendor of her creation.

In fact, that Le Reve vintage was so spectacular that owner Claude Taittinger opted to serve it at his millennium party at his hotels in Paris-an American sparkling wine!

Eileen made a point of saying that Le Reve is a special-occasion wine for her, too, not just for the buying public. She says you don’t have to drink the whole bottle at once—and recommends using a closure suitable for fine sparkling wines. You don’t need to pay a lot—try this champagne wine stopper from Crate & Barrel. She said she and her husband have sometimes toasted with a single glass of Le Reve and then, after stoppering and refrigerating the remainder, gone off to enjoy a week’s vacation. They then happily returned and enjoyed a welcome-home toast from that same bottle of Le Reve, still elegant, perfectly balanced and beautifully bubbly.

Eileen tells another cool story about how in France all the winemakers have dressing rooms designed into their wineries. She said Taittinger suggested she include these in her design for Domaine Carneros. But when she asked and was told what they were for, she insisted they be taken out of the design. Apparently, in France it is important for workers to arrive in suits to show that they are doing a professional job. She told him it doesn’t work that way in America. So they took the dressing rooms out and put in an employee break room instead.

Domaine Carneros is known for its award-winning sparkling wines, but they also use some of their grapes to create a small quantity of 100% Pinot Noir vintage. Their latest, the 2010, has aromas of cherry and pomegranate with hints of herbs like clove and sandalwood and goes fabulously with foods like beef and poultry, pork and salmon.

To go with the main courses, Eileen poured glasses of the 2010 Pinot Noir—a velvety smooth wine, perfectly balanced after being aged 10 months in oak barrels and then 8 months in the bottle. Despite less than ideal growing conditions in 2010, this vintage was carefully nurtured to deliver “expressive aromas, fresh and well-defined flavors, and a bright, balancing acidity.” I loved its beautifully blended, silky taste, and everyone agreed it worked wonderfully with some of GT Fish & Oyster’s lunch items—their delightful fish and chips, tomato-sauced mussels, fish tacos, and excellent crab cakes (see pictures).

Next Eileen next poured her guests flutes of DC’s Brut Rosé Cuvee de la Pompadour. She says she loves the wild strawberry and peachy nose of the rose and confesses to happily drinking this wine all summer. This beautifully dry, silky textured, delicate salmon-colored sparkling wine bears absolutely no resemblance to what some older folks may remember of early American rosé wines. Surprise and delight yourself with a bottle of this gem—lovely as an aperitif or paired with duck, salmon and fresh berries-and with desserts.

It went very nicely indeed with GT’s fabulous Salted Caramel Tart, served topped with an egg-shaped mound of Chantilly whipped cream-a dessert worth traveling for. A beautiful wine, eminently suitable to welcome guests or to accompany fine fare.

La Reve is less than 1% of their production. Rosé is 5%. Pinot Noir 22%. Their total production is 55,000-considered a very small winery. But Eileen says they are a very friendly winery with a big visitor center. If you’re going to the area, come in and enjoy the cheese plate with some of their wines. The place is gorgeous-literally a castle-styled mansion that’s patterned after the Taittinger chateau.

Eileen says there’s an old saying: “When you get married, the first wine that should be in your mouth should be a sparkling champagne.” I like that—and hey, you don’t have to be getting married to live by it.

Ask your favorite wine supplier to order you some, or if you’re out and about in Chicago, look for Domaine Carneros wines at the following fine restaurants:

RL Restaurant (Ralph Lauren, 115 E Chicago Ave, 3124751100

Sixteen at Trump International Hotel, 401 N Wabash Ave, 3120588800
Pops for Champagne, 601-605 N State, 3122667677
Ki Kis Bistro, 900 N Franklin St, 3123355454
III Forks, 333 E Benton Place St, 3129384303
Mon Ami Gabi, 2300 N Lincoln Park W, 7733488886
Gemini Bistro, 2075 N Lincoln, 7735252522
Mastros Restaurant, 520 N Dearborn St, 3125215100
Hugo’s, 1024 N Rush St, 3129889021
GT Fish & Oyster, 531 N Wells St, 3129293501
Gibson’s Steak House, 1028 N Rush St, 3122668999
RPM Italian, 52 W Illinois St, 3122221988