Tag Archives: Folle Blanche

Champagne and Beyond: Celebrate 2014 with French Sparkling Wine

France is king when it comes to bubbly. Whether you’re looking for Champagne or a great value Crémant, there’s a French sparkling wine to match your taste and your budget. Ring in the New Year with one of these bottles.

Ruinart Brut Rosé

Ruinart Brut Rose

Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, founded in 1729. Their elegant and aromatic rosé is truly a pleasure to sip. The Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (approximately 45% and 55% respectively). Around 18% of the Pinot Noir is vinified, which adds color and flavor to the final Champagne. The Brut Rosé is a lovely pink-orange color, and has notes of cherry, raspberry, wild strawberry and a hint of rose petal.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Everything you look for in a high quality Champagne, you’ll find it in the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that spent three years aging in Gallo-Roman chalk cellars. It is deep gold in color, with aromas of freshly baked brioche and complex flavors of white apricot, mango, ripe lemon, plum, praline and almond.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois

Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois

This Champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and vinified entirely in oak (‘sous bois’ means ‘under oak’). It has an intriguing mix of fresh and dried fruit aromas and flavors. Lemon, orange peel, dried yellow fig and dried apricot are layered with grilled brioche, almond and toffee, and the mouthfeel is rich and creamy.

Domaine de la Louvetrie, “Atmosphères” Jo Landron
Vin Mousseux de Qualite

Atmospheres Jo Landron

This sparkling wine from the Loire Valley is made in the traditional method from 80% Folle Blanche and 20% Pinot Noir. The vineyard is located in the Muscadet region and is certified organic and biodynamic. Crisp flavors of Meyer lemon and white grapefruit are complemented by a chalky minerality.

Léon Palais Blanc de Blancs Brut
Crémant de Jura

Leon Palais Brut

This dry sparkling wine made in the traditional method comes from the Jura region in eastern France. It is made from Chardonnay, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc grapes. Flavors of pear and granny smith apple culminate in a soft citrus finish.

Helfrich Brut
Crémant d’Alsace

Helfrich Cremant d'Alsace

This sparkling wine comes from Alsace, located east of Champagne near the border with Germany. It is made entirely from the Pinot Blanc grape in the traditional method. Straw yellow in color, this Crémant has flavors of fresh lemon, grapefruit, white flowers and toast that culminate in a crisp finish.

>> Related Articles:
Crémant: France’s Alternative to Champagne
A Guide to Sparkling Wine

pineau des charentes

Pineau des Charentes: Aperitif of Cognac

Pineau des Charentes is a sweet fortified wine produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments in France. It is a blend of Cognac and grape juice that is most often enjoyed as an aperitif.

The juice comes from grapes that are used to make wine. For white Pineau, grapes including Ugni Blanc, Colombard or Folle Blanche may be used; for red Pineau it may be Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The high alcohol content of the Cognac prevents the grape juice from fermenting.

In its most basic form, Pineau is made by combining approximately 25% Cognac (eau de vie that has aged for at least one year in oak barrels), and 75% grape juice. The blend is then aged for at least 12 months. From the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes:

“Pineau des Charentes is exclusively aged in oak barrels. White Pineau ages for at least 18 months, including 12 in barrel. Red and rosé Pineau are aged for 12 months, including eight in oak. This ageing is a very important part of the winemaking process, and gives Pineau des Charentes its characteristic vanilla and nutty flavour.”

From there, Pineau can vary greatly among producers. Some may blend an older Cognac with the grape juice, and some may let the Pineau age in oak barrels for five or more years.

The taste of Pineau is sweeter than wine, with a pleasant and full mouthfeel. The acidity and alcohol prevent it from being too syrupy. Pineau that has spent more time aging in barrels tends to be more complex in flavor.

Pineau ranges in alcohol from 16 to 22 percent.

Pineau should be served chilled and in a tulip-shaped glass. It is commonly served as an aperitif, though it can complement a range of foods and desserts. Pineau may also be used in cocktails.

For more information on Pineau des Charentes including serving suggestions visit the website for the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes.

Chateau Beaulon water

A Visit to Chateau de Beaulon

About 30 miles southwest of Cognac in the commune of Saint-Dizant-du-Gua in Charente-Maritime is Château de Beaulon.

The château was built in 1480, with eau de vie production on the estate dating to 1720.  From 1543 to 1574 the home belonged to Francois de Beaulon, Lord of Saint-Dizant and advisor to the Bordeaux Parliament.  Today the estate is owned by Christian Thomas, who has been producing Cognac and Pineau des Charentes at Château de Beaulon for more than 40 years.

The grounds of Château de Beaulon are open to the public and well worth a visit.  Past the banana tree, past the row of lavender in the French garden, past the more wild English garden, you come to a sight that takes your breath away – “Les Fontaines Bleues,” natural springs that are a mesmerizing blue color.

The hue is due to a type of algae that grows in the water.  These springs have been the subject of local legends, including one about a monster (now pacified), that used to pull curious people down into the depths.

Winding back through the mammoth plane trees you come to the north face of the château.  Of note are the two different roof windows.  The window on the left was built in the style of medieval architecture, while the right window was built in the classical style.

Beaulon’s production and aging facilities are a short drive away in the neighboring commune of Lorignac.  Floor-to-ceiling windows at the distillery show off the gleaming copper stills.  Eau de vie is stored in a cellar across the street.

Nearby is Château de Beaulon’s recently completed state of the art aging and bottling facility.  Here, in rooms that look like science labs, the eau de vie is analyzed to determine its potential and direction.  A large concrete cellar offers a contrast to the one by the distillery, lacking the cobwebs and black fungus that thrives off the evaporating alcohol.

The new facility was designed to be eco-friendly as well.  The roof is covered in vegetation that helps to maintain a cool interior temperature.

Surrounding the distillery and two cellars are Château de Beaulon’s vineyards.  Unlike many Cognac houses, Beaulon does not use Ugni Blanc grapes for its Cognac.  Instead Folle Blanche, Colombard and Montils are used.

For a taste of Château de Beaulon’s Cognac, I was invited to join Mr. Thomas inside the manor.  We started with a Pineau des Charentes, a blend of Cognac and grape juice (click here to read more about Pineau des Charentes).  For its white Pineau, Château de Beaulon uses Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grape juice.

The Pineau was the perfect complement to the sunny and warm afternoon.  It had flavors of dried apricots, vanilla, honey and white flowers, with a pleasant sweetness balanced by nice acidity.

Next we tasted two Cognacs: the Tres Vieille Reserve du Château, vintage 1983, and the XO Vintage 1975.  Both were extraordinary.  They were elegant, complex and well balanced, with flavors that lingered for quite some time after each sip.

The vintage 1983 was rich and intense, with layered flavors of candied fruit, spice and fresh flowers.  The vintage 1975 had a beautiful amber color, with notes of orange peel, dried apricots, cedar, caramel and walnut.  Extremely smooth, both would turn any non Cognac drinker into a fan after one taste.

From the dazzling natural springs to the exceptional Cognac, a visit to Château de Beaulon is a feast for the senses.

For more information visit chateau-de-beaulon.com.

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cognac stills

Grape to Glass: How Cognac is Made

It begins each spring with bud break, and goes well beyond the fall harvest. So much goes into producing Cognac that within each glass you can taste the essence of the grape, the history of aged eaux de vie and the talents of a master blender.

Here is an overview of how Cognac is made:

The Region

Cognac, named after the city of Cognac, is produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments in southwest France.  The region is just north of Bordeaux and has the Atlantic Ocean to its west.

The region is divided into six zones: Grande Champagne (thought to produce the best Cognac, with a soil similar to the Champagne region in northeast France), Petite Champagne, Borderies (which is where the city of Cognac is located), Fins Bois (meaning fine wood), Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire.

Click here to see a map of the region.

The Grape

Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) is the main grape used to produce Cognac, though a number of grapes like Folle Blanche and Colombard may be used.  Ugni Blanc is a hearty and high-yielding variety that produces wines of high acidity, qualities that make it ideal for Cognac.

The grapes are harvested by machine, typically at the end of September or beginning of October.

The Wine

Once the grapes are harvested and pressed, the juice undergoes fermentation.  The resulting wine is dry, high in acidity and 9% to 10% alcohol.  This helps to preserve the desirable fruit and floral tastes of the grapes in the final Cognac.

The Distillation

The wine goes through two distillations, a process that runs from November to March.  By French law, distillation must stop at midnight on March 31st.

Using large copper stills, the wine is heated to the temperature at which alcohol vaporizes.  The alcohol in gas form travels through the neck, turning back into liquid when it reaches the cooling tank.  The resulting liquid is called “le brouillis,” and is between 25% and 30% alcohol.

The second distillation is called “la bonne chauffe,” which translates to the good heating.  The distillation process is repeated with the brouillis.  The resulting liquid is separated into three parts: the head, the heart and the tails.  The head is the first liquid that collects in the cooling tank and it is set aside.  The heart comes next, and is the eau de vie that will be blended and aged for Cognac.  The tails come last, and are often mixed with the head and distilled again.

The heart is clear in color and approximately 70% alcohol.  At this point in the process the liquid is called eau de vie, meaning water of life.  Though the liquid is not drinkable, it is possible to determine that the eau de vie retains the fruit and floral essence of the grapes.

The Blending and Aging

Before an eau de vie becomes a Cognac, it is blended and aged.  French oak barrels are used to impart color and flavor.  Over time the eau de vie goes from clear, to golden yellow, to amber, to brown.  Varying levels of toast on the barrels influence the flavors.

Large barrels called “foudresare used for blending the eau de vie.  These barrels can last for 100 years.  Smaller barrels are used for aging the eau de vie.  The maître de chai or cellar master oversees all steps of the blending and aging process, ensuring quality and consistency.

A portion of the liquid (called “the Angels’ share”) is lost due to evaporation; more eau de vie or water is added to maintain the volume within the barrel.

Over time the alcohol level of the aging eau de vie must be brought down from 70% to 40%, the lowest legal limit for Cognac.  This occurs naturally over the span of 40 to 50 years, or it may be sped up with the gradual addition of water to the barrels.

Eau de vie may be aged in dry cellars or humid cellars, which affect the rate of alcohol and water evaporation as well as the resulting Cognac’s taste.  Dry cellars are said impart finesse to the Cognac, while humid cellars impart sweetness.

Barrel aging cellars are dark and covered in cobwebs – and no, it’s not just for visual effect.  The walls and ceilings are covered by a black fungus that thrives on the evaporating alcohol.  Spiders are encouraged in the cellars because they eat the bugs that could damage the oak barrels.

After the cellar master determines that the eau de vie has reached its ideal amount of aging, the spirit may be blended again and then bottled.  At this point it may be called Cognac.

When the eau de vie is removed from the barrels for bottling, the aging process has ended.  Cognac does not age in the bottle, so a 10 year-old Cognac does not become a 12 year-old Cognac after sitting in your liquor cabinet for two years.

An important task for the cellar master is to ensure consistency of the Cognac.  For example, a 50 year-old Cognac from Hennessy that you bought today at a liquor store in New York should taste exactly like a 50 year-old Cognac from Hennessy that you buy in ten years in Hong Kong.

The Classifications of Cognac

Cognacs are classified based on the age of the blend.  The age indicated on the label is the youngest vintage in the blend, so a 10 year-old Cognac may be a blend of much older eau de vie.

The classifications are:

VS – A Cognac that has aged for at least two years.
VSOP – A Cognac that has aged for at least four years.
XO – A Cognac that has aged for at least six years; some Cognac houses use this classification for Cognac that has been aged 20 or more years.

If the Cognac comes from a specific region (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, etc), it may be indicated on the label.

Serving and Enjoying

Cognac should be served room temperature in a tulip-shaped glass, to better concentrate the aromas.

Like wine, Cognac develops as it is exposed to the air, so you may want to let your glass sit for up to 15 minutes before you take your first sip.

Younger Cognacs may be enjoyed in cocktails. Click here for cocktail recipes.

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