Champagne or Sparkling? Or Both?

some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

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As far back as I can remember I thought champagne was wine. Sorry I thought sparkling wine was wine, but my grandma called it champagne. In fact it was Baby Duck wine and I owe champagne, wait any sparkling wine, wait any drink you put in your mouth a huge apology for thinking Baby Duck was champagne. Or a drink of any kind. Baby Duck was a big deal in the 70s, the only way I can describe it is extra sweet alcoholic 7-up (sorry 7-up). But my grandmother loved it and I learned to associate champagne with glamour, special occasions, and celebrations. So obviously I wanted in.

It wasn’t until I was 19 I got try try actual champagne. My mom had bought a bottle of Dom Periginon to celebrate a birthday I think. Though my palate was underdeveloped (quite probably from a university diet of Kokanee beer and Southern Comfort, thankfully not together, but still shudder), I loved it. Bearing no resemblance to Baby Duck this s champagne was delicious and unfortunately  for my mother, it is the only champagne she drinks.

I say that because, the world of champagne, indeed sparkling wine are vast. varied, and delicious. I was always fascinated by champagne and learned quite early on that only the Champagne region of France can produce actual champagne. Everything else is a sparkling wine, or a cava, or a cremant, or a prosecco. Well you get the idea. But I didn’t really understand the difference. So I did what anyone would do, set a serious course of study and travel to understand the difference. That is my fancy way for saying, I started drinking a lot of sparking wine. champagne

My first real foray into the sparkling wine arena came courtesy of @benton8tor’s British cousins. My first trip to the UK was in 2006 and we were meeting them at a pub. For lunch. I thought we’d be ordering a beer maybe. Upon greeting us, his cousin ordered a bottle of Tattinger Champagne.( We actually ended up finshing 2 the rest of that day is a bit of a haze) I am still unsure if I was more surprised that the pub carried champagne or that we ordered a bottle for lunch. By the way, I have definitely gotten over the surprise at ordering a bottle of wine for lunch and embraced it. Though I still haven’t embraced the breakfast beer. Teresa poured us a glass and another and another. By this time, my palate had evolved and I was in, in in. This champagne was fascinating. The bubbles were light, with a hint of toast which I later found out is quite common due to the amount of time the wine rests sur lie ( on dead yeast cells). Ok champagne, lets do this.

However my budget can’t afford non stop champagne so I had to try other sparkling wines. I stupidly thought because they weren’t champagne, they’d be inferior, they aren’t. They are just different. I have tried cremants from Limoux in Languedoc France ( the actual birthplace of sparkling wine). They are delicious, light, easy drinking with still those toasty, nutty notes. I loved cremants from both Bourgogne and Jura. In fact I love sitting on a patio in Beaune on a hot day enjoying a Bourgogne cremant. It feels both decadent and light. thumbnail_IMG_0721

The British have really embraced champagne and upon visiting London, we often book afternoon tea complete with champagne (usually Tattinger or Bollinger). Eating those delightful cakes and tea sandwiches with a glass of bubbly is heaven. Sometimes I remember to drink the tea. The Royal Hourseguards offers a fabulous champagne tea. https://www.guoman.com/en/london/the-royal-horseguards/restaurants/afternoon-tea.html That said I personally love going to the old OXO tower factory that is converted with the fabulous OXO tower restaurant and enjoying a glass of one of their many champagnes while gazing out over the Thames.  http://www.oxotower.co.uk/who/oxo-tower-restaurant-bar-brasserie/This last trip to London we  found ourselves with sometime to kill before boarding he train at St Pancras. So obviously we had to go to the Searcy Champagne bar. http://searcysstpancras.co.uk/ Right in the middle of the station, this bar offers a extensive selection of champagne is a super cool art deco environment. It make you feel special and relaxed. Just like champagne!!! It really is the drink of celebration.

At home, cavas and prosseccos are readily available and I have learned to appreciate the cavas especially. Cavas are a sparking wine from Spain and have similar charactertics to the Limoux cremants. All these cremants,  cavas and California and Canadian sparkling wines (thankfully not baby duck) are made in the traditional method or ancestral (which is different but still recognized) method., which means they are made the same way as champagne,aged sur lie though less time,  riddled, disgorged, with a cuvee ect.. but they have a different climate, soil and grapes (well sometimes).Prosecco the Italian sparkling wine is not made in the traditional method. It is a light bright, sparkling wine and very approachable. It is not my favourite. It lack the complexity and flavours of the other sparkling wine which is appealing for some. Just not me. Either way I have learned to appreciate the less expensive but delicious cousins of champagne and use them for celebrations like Canada Day,melting snow, housewarmings, birthdays, Christmas, and Tuesdays. However champagne still has my heart.

It was this love for champagne that took me to its epicentre Reims. Reims for those of us who watched Max the Mouse cartoons growing up is where Joan of Arc met Charles the Dauphin. It is also home to the Reims catherdral where every French King was crowned.http://www.cathedrale-reims.com/ It is also the capital of Champagne and famous for St Remi converting Clovis to Christianity. thumbnail_IMG_0723And it is home to some of the most famous Champagne Houses on the planet. Mumm, Pommery, Bollinger, they are all there.  https://www.champagne-bollinger.com/en/INT/ But I had my sights set on Veuve Clicquot. Famous for being led by the widow Clicquot (hence the name Veuve Clicquot) in the 1700s who came up with the idea for riddling racks that ensure we don’t actually drink the dead yeast cells, Veuve Clicquot is rumored to be among the very best. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-ca

And it is. The tour led by an amazing guide Sammi Jo explains the difference and the process of crafting these beautiful wines. Champagne is set on a very distinct soil of limestone and chalk with fossilized sea creatures. Champagne is very far north for a wine producing region with less sunlight than the southern regions.  This contributes to a very distinct flavour profile. As well they take their traditions very seriously from the blending of the wine, to the riddling, to the aging to the opening of the bottle. Despite what popular culture tells us don’t pop that bottle. Instead use a towel and gently twist the cork out, you sure hear a soft hiss. This preserves the integrity and bubble in the wine and quite honestly it is much much safer. Also make sure you have the right glass to drink it in. The tulip shaped is best for fully appreciating the champagne. Flute is second best. Though retro and fun, a coupe is a terrible champagne glass and does nothing for appreciating the complexities of this delightful wine. The tour at Veuve Clicquot started with an explanation of the region and the grapes they use  ( only 3  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) On a 30 degree day and sweating we descended into the chalk cellar and it got cool really quickly. This is here the champagne we will later enjoy starts its life in the bottle. The cellars are fascinating but my favourite moment obviously is Sammi Jo pouring us a glass of Vintage Veuve Clicquot and it is simply the best champagne I  ever tasted. Light with floral and toast with the best bubbles, I finished my mothers as well. I am almost sure she was ok with that. Veuve Clicquot knocked it out of the park. I would recommend visiting the other houses as well. http://www.champagnepommery.com/en/marque/champagne-pommery Reims is a beautiful city that has tons to offer including said cathedral with Stained glass made by Mark Chagall. So take time to see it along with the Champagne houses. That said, some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

But for now it is is the end of 2017 and start of 2018. So that means time to celebrate this first year of Vines and Voyages and welcome 2018 with a glass of Veuve  Clicquot of course. Cheers!thumbnail_IMG_0739

Wine My Way

As an avowed Francophile, I love French wine. In fact French wine is a big part of why I am a Francophile. French wine varies exponentially on taste, price and complexity. And I don’t love every single wine I have had from France, but I have been a red wine drinker for over 20 years now. I know what I like, and what I like 20 years from now may be completely different. My wine journey started with drinking Italian Chianti and since then has covered many many countries, grapes and flavours. And despite appearances, I don’t just drink wine from France, I love discovering unknown or underrated wine regions ( Missouri, Bulgaria) and I love certain wines from all countries. Ok love might be a strong word for how I feel about wine from Australia but that isn’t because Australia doesn’t produce good wine, It is because Australia has  a climate and soil that produces early ripening and certain fruit flavours in the wine that I don’t particularly enjoy. A Cabernet Sauvignon, isn’t just a Cabernet Sauvingon, climate, soils and production methods all play a large role. But I didn’t always know this. However 20+ years of being a wine drinker, well you gain some insight ad that is exactly what this post is about.

When we go to a restaurant and are asked how you like your steak, no one bats an eye at your response (unless you order it blue rare, in which case your friend Lisa will worry there is something wrong with you). No one shames tea drinkers for preferring loose leaf over bags. When out for breakfast and asked how you like your eggs, the table doesn’t say ” well she ordered scrambled because she is an egg snob.” and my favourite” I’ll have a coke.” Is pepsi ok?” “Umm no.” So why do human beings love to shame wine drinkers? It isn’t meant to be hurtful, that I know but it happens very very frequently. So much so that for a long time, I tried to hide my preferences, pretending that any glass would do ( for me it doesn’t), Saying any red is ok, (it isn’t,), and being asked white zinfandel could substitute for red. That one I was never ever ok with saying yes. In recent years, I have stopped caring. I like red wine, particularly from France, I also like port, desert wines, and occasionally a white or rose. And I like them served in the correct glass as the glass helps with the full expression of the wine. Champagne served in a coupe is fun and retro and will ensure you drink flat champagne rather quickly as a coupe is a terrible glass to actually appreciate the champagne.For me a big bold Bourgogne, should be served in a glass made for Burgundy wines in order to best appreciate the expression of the wine. Some wines need to be aerated or they stay tight and you can’t really appreciated the fullnesIMG_8975s of their flavour. White wine served in a red wine glass or overly chilled probably won’t do anything to enhance the flavour.

My biggest pet peeve is being told I need to drink more than French wine or that I am a wine snob. Why shouldn’t I drink what  I like? In all my years as a wine drinker it is safe to assume that I have drunk wine from other countries often and I will continue to do so. In fact at my wine club last night, we tried some absolutely fabulous Spanish wines with very different flavours.But because my favourite is French, why shouldn’t I be able to enjoy it at my leisure? As I mentioned before French wine is extremely varied, sometimes I am in the mood for a Southern Rhone, other times a Bandol or Beaujolais. All different even in those regions themselves. Also when it comes to buying wine, I do usually buy French. In fact unless I am at a French restaurant in Winnipeg, I don’t usually get French wine when I am out. In fact at one restaurant recently, I asked why they didn’t have french wine wine on the menu. “Well, we are an Italian restaurant” Fair point though questionable that they were actually Italian. I pointed out that they had many wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina, United States and Spain. I think they probably spit in my food for being annoying.

My preference for French wine has come from travel, wine tours, wine classes and courses that have taught me to look for what I like in a wine and how to appreciate it to its full potential. At  Olivier Leflavie in Puligny Montrachet, I finally understood the difference climate and soil have on the flavour of a grape which is why a pinot noir from Bourgone will taste very different than one from Napa. https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/At my wine club, we once has a presenter and she taught me to stick my nose completely in the glass to actually smell the wine’s bouquet. She was right, it makes a huge difference. Elevage wines taught me what to look for in a natural wine.https://www.elevage-selections.com/ Sandeman got me to appreciate white ports and understand the difference between tawny and ruby.http://www.sandeman.com/ Veuve Cliquot taught me about how Champagne tastes at its full potential in the correct glass. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-int All of this has contributed to my understanding and enjoyment of wine.34846_447591030139_3264704_n

That said, when it comes to wine, I am a big believer in doing what is right for you. If you like wine in a plastic glass, good for you, no one should shame you for your preferences, as long as you enjoy it. Do you like Copper Moon? Good then drink it! Just do what is right for you and what you enjoy. I have 3 friends who aren’t going to let other people’s judgments ruin how they like their wine. One travels with a portable aerator, one carries her own wine glass to parties and the other has a wine travel case for topical locations so she doesn’t have to drink wine out of a red solo cup poolside.. I love them for it. And most people are very supportive of my wine choices. My hip hop class is one of the few places I will enjoy a post class glass of wine in a plastic cup. Probably because the company is so good but also no one wants glass in a studio. And I love it. That class knows my choices and they support them, as does my wine club, my friends etc.. sure they may tease me but they absolutely support me. The judgment I am referring to usually comes non wine drinkers or well meaning people who don’t know me well. But however well meaning, you don’t need to defend your choice or be labeled a snob for doing so, that’s just how you enjoy it and keep doing it.

So enjoy your wine your way. And if someone doesn’t enjoy wine your way, well so be it just let them enjoy it their way. Unless they are drinking white zinfandel in which case it is your job as a fellow human to intervene. Cheers!

5 Recommended Wine Tours in Europe

My love affair with wine started in Montreal but took hold in France.

My love affair with wine started in Montreal but took hold in France. Wine is one of favourite reasons to travel. i first started trying to expand my wine knowledge, I started pretty simply, asking for recommendations in restaurants or hotel staff. I was a bit afraid of tours, I thought i would need to know more than Idid and didn’t want to look stupid. I shouldn’t have been afraid, that is exactly what these tours are for, to introduce you to wines, understand how they are made and what you are tasting and finally give you an appreciation and a love for the wine and the art of wine making. I have had some amazing wines by getting a map from a local tourist office and driving to different vineyards for tastings, but that is for another blog. On formal wine tours, I have had an amazing time, met some fantastic new people and tried some of the most incredible wines. Here are my top 5 recommendations of wine tours.

5. Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. We booked a lunch at Olivier Leflaive based on an article from  of Food and Wine magazine http://www.foodandwine.com/. The lunch came with wine pairings.  Olivier Leflaive is famous for its white wines,Predominantly a red wine drinker,  I was never the less excited as Burgundy is onolivier-2e of France’s more storied, celebrated and revered wine regions and I was about to find out why. Upon booking we were asked if we wanted to include a vineyard tour. Of course we did. And on the vineyard tour which preceded the lunch, we learned all about the vines, the micro climate that contributed to the flavour of the grapes (predominately chardonnay and pinot noir), the impact of the soil, sun and wind on the grape and how trimming the vines impacts the wine. We then took a tour of the winery itself followed by a delicious lunch. The lunch was four courses paired with the vineyards best wines including premier and grand crus. Not to be missed.https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/

4. Staying in Pisa and Florence seemed a perfect jumping off point to taste Tuscan wines, in particular the Chianti wines. Knowing very little about Italian wines, I was eager to taste and try. Our wine tour was just a bit too large. Side note, smaller tours are often better and have more times for both questions and commentary. That said, We got to enjoy the beautiful Tuscan countryside, visit a Chateau for tasting with food pairings and enjoy meeting other people on our tour. Our tour guide at the Chateau knew her stuff, explained about the vines and spent a fair bit of time matching the wine tasting to the food and it it really did make quite the difference. All in all, fairly enjoyable but not the most interesting of wines on this tour.

3. Wine Tasting in the Chateauneuf du pape.Avignon is the most logical place to start wine tours for Chateauneuf du pape. Easily one of my favourite wine regions, This Southern Rhone Wine region produces some of the biggest, boldest, most interesting French wines. I didn’t know just how much I ‘d come to adore Chateauneuf du pape wines when I first set out on the tour. Since then, I actively seek them out and the wines areimg_4811 among my favourite wines in the world! Our tour guide paired the wine tastings in the vineyards with a trip to the Roman Theatre in Orange so truly get an understanding of our surroundings. The theatre which is still in use is exceptional but the wines…. were out of this world. There was a wide variety of tastes from the light bodied summer wines to the full bodied flavour packed reds. A definite must for any wine lover.

2. Veuve Clicquot is one of the oldest Champagne houses in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region.europe-june-2010-453 It is also my favourite. The first champagne house to be run by a woman, Madame Clicquot back in 1805, she also invented the riddling process which allows us to enjoy champagne today. And oh how I enjoyed it!!! The Champagne all had remarkably different flavours and we came away with a new respect for Champagne house traditions. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-ca

1. For me the creme de la creme of wine tours was http://www.chemins-de-bourgogone.com. Leaving from the Beaune tourist office, thisbeaune-3 small tour takes you through the vineyards of Burgundy. Traveling through villages and vineyards that I had only heard of on a wine label, we one again we immersed in the process of making the wine and the art form and celebration associated with it. I learned to have a new respect for the vines, the workers, the wine maker and most of ll the wine. Stopping in a vineyard which has been in wine production since the time of Charlemagne, we tasted an eau de vie from the grapes of the vineyards were were sitting in. We finished off the tour at a winery for some tastings and I would easily book again and again.

If you j20160825_122632ust want to start exploring wines from different countries and regions there is no better place than Gordons wine bar 47 Villiers St London. Just down the street from Charing Cross towards the Thames, Gordons wine bar is a hidden gem. Marketed as London’s oldest wine bar, the interior is era appropriate, even with its own wine cave  Featuring wines from around the world, even India and Lebanon, Gordons is a must go to try wines and have fun. The server will help you select and you’ll have a great time. http://gordonswinebar.com/

Wine is something many people love but can be a divisive topic. We all have opinions I have often heard and also said  ‘i don’t like white wine’ or ‘I don’t like merlot’ but maybe just maybe after a wine tour you find out you actually do. It is always worth  try to expand your tastes and try something you just might love ( I am looking at you Chateauneuf du pape).