There’s nothing better than a glass of top class fizz, unfortunately all reasonable Champagne weighs in with a hefty price tag, what comes a close second is finding fizz at a rock bottom price which actually tastes pretty good. Following on the back of a recent review for another cheapy Louvel Fontaine comes this Louis Chaurey Champagne from M&S at a very affordable £16 a bottle.
I picked this up at our local fete where I won it in a raffle so it basically cost me £5 in tickets, even more reason to enjoy.
After my recent venture into the world of Sabrage (slicing off the top of a Champagne bottle with a Sabre) I must say I was tempted to open it with, maybe not a sabre but a large kitchen Knife but I decided against it.
When opened, the conventional way it was extremely frothy ( lively Mousse /effervescence) calming down into a stream of small but not tiny bubbles.
I found it hard to distinguish much in the way of aroma, maybe a hint of lemon rind and cherries. On first sip this tasted full of citrus fruits including crisp green apples and lemons giving it an enamel stripping tartness which I found refreshing. Again as in the Louvel Fontaine not much in the way of toastiness but there was a slight floral flavour which added to the appeal.
Ok, this is not a fine Champagne but it hits the spot for a mid-week venture into fizz without breaking the bank and I quite happily drink it again.
Two hundred years ago officers of the French cavalry under the command of Napoleon would celebrate victory in battle by opening a bottle of champagne but instead of searching around in their saddlebags for a corkscrew they would simply slice the top of the bottle off with a sabre. This is the art of Sabrage in which a swords edge meets with the top of the bottle, the annulus, along the seam which is the weakest point just below the cork.
This proud and dashing tradition has now been revived and can now be performed by any budding dragoon under the tuition of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or (Club of the Golden Sabre) founded in France in 1986 in which the UK branch was formed in 1999. The society hold various events around the country in which everyone attending can have a go at sabering a bottle of Champagne to become a Subreur the entry rank and the first step in the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or other ranks as you go up the chain are Chevalier Sabreur, Officier, Commandeur and Grand Commandeur.
On the 16th of August 2016 I was kindly invited to such an event at Smith & Wollensky a classic American steakhouse in the heart of London run by Operations director Nathan Evans who also happens to be a Grand Commandeur of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or. The evenings event was sponsored by Champagne house Perrier-Jouét supplying bottles of their Grand Brut for sabering.
On arrival we were asked to sign a disclaimer whilst being offered a glass of Perrier-Jouét Champagne. Men in green cloaks which signifies seniority in the society were already busy setting up, arranging tables with suitably chilled bottles of Champagne and a big heavy curtain in front to catch the bottle top as it flies from the neck. The Grand Commandeur Nathan Evans introduced himself and gave us a quick history of the art of Sabrage ending with the immortal words “the only thing you can do with a sabraged bottle is drink it !”.
Introductions over Nathan then gave us a quick demonstration slicing the top of the bottle with elegant ease as the cork still firmly in the neck shot off with a loud pop into the curtain with enthusiastic applause.
Soon after it was our turn, we were called up two at a time aided by Senior members Nathan Evans and David Herbert. Suddenly the room was filled with excitement as loud pops like gunfire filled the room as bottles were sliced with golden sabres as guests became Sabreurs after successfully hacking off the top of the champagne bottles, Sabreur being the entry rank after the first successful slicing. After completion we were presented with the top of the bottle in a velvet pouch along with a Sabreur certificate.
I was lucky and hacked off the top of the bottle first time, probably due to the fact I was relaxed having finished a couple of glasses of champagne before hand. The secret is to find the seam in the bottle and run the sword along the bottle in a smooth action with the blade not leaving the bottle hitting the annulus (the rim below the cork) and make sure to follow through as you would in a golf swing.
As the evening continued we were treated to a selection of fantastic seafood including Oysters, lobster, crab and prawns as well as Smith & Wollensky’s famous aged cured steak, all washed down with the fabulous Champagne (see below for tasting notes).
Fabulous venue, fabulous hosts and a fantastic evening had by all, many thanks to Smith & Wollensky, Nathan, David and of course Perrier-Jouét.
Perrier – Jouét Grand Brut Champagne.
Pinot Noir/Meuneir and Chardonnay
A light straw colour, lively mousse with a steady stream of fine bubbles.
Yeasty on the nose, slightly oaky with a hint of crisp apples and pears
Taste – dry, full flavoured, slightly flowery with citrus fruits, brioche, pear and green apples
Champagne, generally a pretty expensive purchase, especially the good stuff and mostly opened only on special occasions. Now thanks to Asda you can open up a bottle of bubbly whenever you feel the need for fizz with this inexpensive Louvel Fontaine Champagne, wait for it, at an unbelievable price of £10, yes ! a mere tenner.
I must be honest I saw this on the shelf at £10 and I walked straight passed it not giving it a second thought dismissing it a cheap rubbish but this time I picked up a bottle having read some pretty good reviews in the press and online recently and decided to give it a go.
This Champagne made with Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 20% and Pinot Meunier is not produced by a co-operative but made for Asda by a family run house called Champagne Gruet based in Buxeuil part of the Aube (Champagne- Ardenne) region of North East France.
So what’s it like ? well, I opened a suitably chilled bottle for family and friends on a warm humid evening and listening to the Mmm’s after the first sips it was safe to say that everyone was enjoying their glass.
When initially poured this was extremely fizzy with a steady stream of fine bubbles and a pale straw like colour. Nose was fairly muted but it’s the taste where this shines, fresh and bright, dry (not overly) with well-balanced acidity and just enough depth of flavour. Not much in the way of toastiness but full of citrus fruits and a touch of vanilla and a reasonably long finish.
I actually enjoyed this better as it warmed up and settled in the glass, enhancing the overall fruitiness. If you like your fizz toasty and nutty then this might not be for you but I thought this was a delicious fresh tasting Champagne and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone who sampled it.
Don’t take my word for it, go out and buy a bottle, see what you think and let me know !
That time of year again when the Tesco Wine Fair hits town, this time we visited the London show which was held at Kensington Olympia.
Slightly different this year as I went not being a member of the Tesco Wine Community (TWC) which I had been a part of for the last three and a half years or so and although all good things eventually come to an end, it still felt strange.
My wife and I attended this year with family and friends and ended up being a group ten, we also met up with a couple of other ex TWC members and their partners.
Arriving just before 12.00pm we were greeted by an enormous queue which stretched down the Hammersmith road, luckily we were only 5 minutes from doors opening and we were only waiting for a short period. Once inside we all headed to the booking area for the numerous free workshops that were on offer throughout the afternoon. Restricted to one ticket per person we all picked our favourites, I chose the history of Faustino Gran Reserva Rioja presented by a member of the Faustino family Fidel Faustino Fernandez, I actually had a very interesting chat with him at his stand before the workshop, nice guy and brilliant wines.
One really nice surprise was the size of the hall, everything was well spaced out with lots of room to walk around, lots of seating areas to take a break and grab some food and although it was a sell out it never seemed crowded.
A big disappointment to us was Tesco decided to drop their ‘Wine Walks’ which was always a big favourite with us. A wine expert would walk around the stands with a group and introduce their best 10 or so wines at the show. Last year we chose a walk with Wine expert and TV personality Joe Wadsack in which a 20 minute walk turned into almost an hour, great fun, real shame it was dropped.
Right, lets get to the wines and with over 300 wines on show it was hard to know where to start. With five hours of tasting ahead we started out with a plan fizz and whites first before moving up to the heavier reds as the afternoon passes, this sounded like a good plan but trust me it quickly deteriorates into a free for all, It was also impossible for our group to stick together so we all split up and did our own thing. We tasted a lot of wines over the afternoon good and not so good, far to many to mention so I will give you a brief overview of the better ones.
The first stand we visited was Villa Maria where we sampled a variety of whites including Villa Maria’s Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Taylors pass Sauvignon blanc 2014 (excellent) and a new one on me the Cellar selection Arneis 2014 which was a real revelation.
Brancott Estate – Always enjoy Brancott wines although I had not yet tried their Terroir series and I was pleasantly surprised. The Sauvignon Blanc was lovely as was their Sauvignon Gris which was a hit with my daughter.
Couple of Champagnes to mention which were very good were the Chanoine Freres 2007 Vintage and the Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top.
Other whites which made an impression were the Spanish Breckin Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the very drinkable Finca Juana Albarino DO Rias Baixas
There were many other whites that were generally very good but the ones I’ve highlighted were amongst my favourites.
Reds were next and their were some pretty good ones, a couple of stand out Riojas were the Beronia Dos Maderas Reserva 2008 and the Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001 & 2004
Two Syrah’s which were also very good were the Marques de Casa Chonha Syrah 2012 and probably my favourite wine in the show the stunning Finca Las Moras Three Valleys Gran Syrah 2011.
One of the friendliest stands at the show was the Les Dauphins and the very amiable Jo (sorry don’t know her surname). I was introduced to her by our friends Clare & Nick as they tried to convert me to try one of their favourite wines. Jo was very patient as I tried four of their reds in which I found two very nice indeed, the Cotes du Rhone Reserve Rouge2014 and the Cote du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu 2014. We were asked if we would like a photocall and of course we all obliged.
So another Wine Fair has come and gone and very enjoyable it was too, my family who all came for the first time really enjoyed it as did all our friends. I could have gone on writing about some of the brilliant wines we tasted but my note taking suffered toward the end and became slightly illegible.
Thanks to Tesco who really do this kind of thing well and I look forward to next year.