Posts Tagged ‘Champagne’

Ulysse Collin Blanc de Noirs

octobre 17, 2010

Sometimes you are taken by surprise. Drinking this wine proved to be one of these occasions. After I read lots about Olivier Collin’s wines, I had very high expectations, but when I tasted this bottle, I knew better… This was absolutely glorious juice! It was a powerful wine, one with tension, but which had a complexity and delicacy one rarely finds. It was rich with lots of fruit coming through, just the way I like it. However, there was more to it, a freshness, and clean-mineral note that one gets in very few Champagnes. Dare I say it made my day. Absolutely terrific stuff!

Sad to know that I have only one bottle left… Well not for long I hope.

Bereche & fils, Craon de Ludes, France

avril 6, 2010

I have become more and more fascinated with the wines of the Champagne over the last few years. From the rather boring, over-priced, mass-produced cuvees of the big houses, to the exciting wines from the best of the growers, this region has an enormous width and depth on offer. I was lucky enough to spend a day in the Champagne a little while ago, which started in Ludes, more precisely in Craon de Ludes. Here, the Bereche family is making wines since 5 generations. The face of this small, family-owned company, at least for me, is Raphael, who is young, dynamic and incredibly passionate about what he does. In addition he’s a lovely chap, who loves good food and cooking. That doesn’t seem like a bad starting point! When I arrived at the winery I was warmly greeted, and we went straight to one of his vineyards, where the taille was in full motion.

What fascinated me in Raphael’s approach was his desire to make wines that are close to the earth. He doesn’t speak of terroir, but of the earth on which his carefully tended vines grow. That’s also a part he considers vital in determining the wine’s character, and therefore puts great effort in looking after it in the best possible way. Furthermore, his perfectionism can be seen in all he does, up to the choice of his barrels: DRC barrels are used for the elaboration of red wines (they might produce a coteaux Champenois soon), and Pierre Yves Colin Morey’s for the white wines. Those are some of the finest domaines in Burgundy, and it’s interesting to see how the best growers in Champagne fall back on their southern confreres in the barrel choice: Selosse with his Leflaive oak, and Prevost using Coche-Dury’s old wood are but two examples. In addition, Raphael uses different ideas and techniques to elaborate his wines, and is playing with some highly interesting methods at the moment, the fruit of which we might be able to taste, if he is happy with it.

So, speaking of his wines, what do they taste like? What I found striking in them are a few characteristics, to be found in most of the wines. First of all, they are incredibly refreshing, precise and well made. If one tastes his Beaux Regards Chardonnay, it just feels like a fresh breeze in the summer. There is a very subtle oaky note in there, quite a bit of citrus fruits on the palate and a fine, creamy perlage. Drink this with some delicate sea food starter, and you’ll be in heaven. Raphael was speaking about a smoked scallop ceviche, and I couldn’t agree more with him.

At the same time, his wines are very pure. They have very little or no dosage at all. But, due to impeccable ripeness, and perfect vinicifation, one doesn’t miss any sugar. There is always a great balance between the fresh acidity, he so much likes and a intense fruitiness, coming from the lower yields (about a third less than average in the Champagne) and perfectly ripe grapes. This is best illustrated in his Brut Nature. Naturally, without added sugar, this wine is in the same line as the Chardonnay, but has a bit more punch to it. If one gives it sufficient time to open, this wine is simply exquisite. One can only fall in love with it immediately. It’s a wine that is incredibly enjoyable to drink.

However, the finest of his wines does not resemble any of the other wines in his portfolio: Reflet d’Antan is his top cuvee and deservedly so! Here, one has a wine of impressive vinosity, and intensity, which is a bit sweeter and richer than the rest of the wines. Raphael makes no more of 3000 bottle of this per year, and uses a reserve perpetuelle system, started in the late 1980’s to elaborate this cuvee. Although not everyone will love this wine, I believe that no one will regret giving it a go! It’s more than worth it, plus it can stand up to pretty much anything you can put on a plate (albeit a lievre or so might be pushing it). I adored it.

Raphael’s wines have fully convinced me, even if I wasn’t quite sure if his style (fresh, clean, fine) would be what I like (big wines). However, his cuvees are so well made, that they can hardly do anything but make you fall in love. They are among the best valued wines in the Champagne for the quality one gets,  so do give them a try.

Chateau Les Crayeres, Reims

mars 25, 2009

After a long journey through a white, cold and unwelcoming Ardennes region, I finally got to Reims. The hotel and restaurant Chateau Les Crayeres both are a French legend. For many years Gerard Boyer maintained 3* level and fascinated countless clients from all over the world with his cooking. Since a few years, a Monegasque, Ducasse-taught chef has taken over the gastronomic side of the business: Didier Elena. He originally wanted to study medicine but a meeting with Ducasse made him change his mind. After some time at the Louis XV in Monte-Carlo, he was the first head chef of Ducassse’s New York restaurant. There, he won 3 Michelin stars and 4 from the New York Times, but couldn’t satisfy the New Yorkers’ desires. Now he is "free" to cook whatever he likes and does so in a unique house.

Le chateau

Le chateau

The two rooms are comfortable, you feel a l’aise from the first few steps you take in them. The big windows give sufficient light, the chairs are most comfortable and you quite simply feel very well there. It doesn’t feel as austere or cold as for instance Ledoyen or other old-school grand restaurants do.

La salle

La salle

After having chosen your obligatory champagne from a very interesting selection by the glass, you are approached with an Alsatian treat: Flammekuechle. I do not know why they serve it in Reims, but it certainly tastes very good and accompanies the wine perfectly. Excellent start.

 

Flammekuechle

Flammekuechle

 

 

The mise en bouche consisted of a maquereau juste saisi, pamplemousse sucre, sale, acide, amere. This was one of  the more daring combinations of the meal, but it worked marvelously well. The mackerel was covered with balsamic vinegar and sat atop of a few thin slivers of marinated navets, on the fillet sat a few segments of grapefruit which gave the whole dish a very complete taste sensation: Salty, sour, sweet, bitter, peppery, everything was present. Excellent once more.

 

maquereau

maquereau

 FOIE GRAS DE CANARD-JAMBON DE REIMS: en terrine, fine gelee au Champagne, brioche tiede. I love it when chefs serve you regional products in a way that gives you great pleasure. Here this was the case with the (cooked) ham, layered in between the foie gras.  The terrine itself was very good, albeit a touch under-seasoned for my taste. The only problem in this dish was the other regional element: the Champagne. Now, Champagne is my favourite drink, but this association did not work at all. It was utterly tasteless and too sour. It took away all of the rich taste from the terrine and, if one combined both elements, the only present taste was the sour gelee. I rarely leave anything on a plate, but I simply couldn’t finish this gelee and stuck to the very good foie/ham terrine. Before I forget, the brioche, filled with pruneau marmalade was terrific. It was light, buttery, comforting. If one would have left the gelee out of the game, this would have been very good, due to it, I can only say that it was a rather mediocre dish.

 

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

 

 

brioche avec foie

brioche avec foie

 The following dish played a completely different register. LE PRINTEMPS: asperges, pomme de terre de Noirmoutier, morilles et lard d’Ibaiona cuisines ensemble. If there is a divine combination asparagus and morels are definitely competing for the first price. To this, add a nice helping of crazily tasty pork belly from the basque country, some slowly confied potatoes and a hearty pork jus and you have a rich and taste-intesive dish. The portion was gigantic (a starter after all), but being that good, you simply can’t let any drop of jus on the plate. However, a few things have me question this dish:The double use of potatoes (pureed and confied) did annoy me a little, as it fills you up very quickly. The other one is the fact, that morels aren’t at their best yet, so they did lack a little flavour (or were overpowered by the jus). Nonetheless, this was well made, rustic French cooking. Very good.

 

Asperges, morilles

Asperges, morilles

 The first main course was a SAUMON SAUVAGE: enrobe de truffes noires et cebettes, quelques champignons blancs, releve de gingembre. This was back on the level of the amuses, bread and other extras. Perfeclty cooked, aromatic wild salmon with a rich button mushroom puree, some croutons to give it some crunch and of course black truffle and chives. The truffles, as is often the case, did not really add much to the dish, but the dish didn’t really need them. This salmon might have been worth the trip by itself. I would never have ordered it, so I am happy that Elena served it to me as such a product does have to be tasted. Here again, Elena did not salt as liberally as his friend Jean Francois Piege  or former boss Cerutti do, but rather let the salmon stand out in all of it’s grandeur. The mushroom puree provided the missing power and both eaten together with a crouton provided a memorable mouth-full. Excellent.

 

Saumon

Saumon

The following dish might still have been a little better. CAILLE SPECIALE: au foie gras, quelques mures ecrasees, gnocchi de ricotta. Quails are normally quite small in size and I can’t remember any memorable quail dish. Here however, the bird was raised in the same way as an ortolan, which means, that the quail was engraissee to make it even more tasty and tender. The result was indeed remarkable: Amazingly tender meat, juicy, tasty and in perfect harmony with the other parts of the dish. Not that there were that many other parts, but all of those complemented the quail extraordinarily well. The ricotta gnoccho, a favourite of Franck Cerutti in Monte-Carlo, the blackberry sauce and the quail-jus just blew you away. Here the school of the Louis XV showed it’s best side: Amazing products, treated by technical perfectionists and served with a simple accompaniment. Such an extraordinary product is a rare pleasure and really makes you want more. Outstanding.

 

Caille

Caille

Now to finish such a meal, I decided that two desserts should do me fine. I can’t complain that Elena chose the wrong ones, as both were very good.

The first was POMMES DE NOS REGIONS: en superposition, beurre "Suzette". A "basket" of Vanilla ice cream contained different apple preparations and was topped by a thin sugar case and later drowned in orange caramel butter. If one took a bit of everything, it was pure pleasure: Slightly acidic, refreshing orange sauce, crispy sugar casing, crunchy, sour green apple sticks, creamy, sweet ice cream; delicious!

 

Pommes

Pommes

The second was a take on the famous Schwarzwaldtorte. All of the essential components of the cake, namely chocolate, cherries and whipped cream, were present in one form or another. There was some chocolate biscuit, chocolate casing, a vanilla whipped cream, cherry sorbet and a few amaren-macerated cherries, and a cherry gelee. All in all, it was a very potent conclusion for a very good meal. Very good to excellent.

 

Foret Noire

Foret Noire

But the joyride was far from over. Part of my coming was the chariot des mignardises a cart full of all the sweet bites that just make you want more. I chose to get a few that I always enjoy: Paris-Brest (divine!), tarte au chocolat (very good), cannele (to die for!) and an apple/caramel glass. All of these proved, once more, how able Sebastian Leproux, Elena’s patissier, is. They were all classical French patisseries but the cannele for instance was better than all I had in Bordeaux and the Paris-Brest was equally successful.

 

mignardises

mignardises

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To really finish the experience, coffee is served in the adjacent salon. The coffee is definitely one of the better ones around and worth every cent. 

What can one say in conclusion?

First of all, the whole building is phenomenal. It is this aristocratic decor, without the coldness, that might annoy some. Also, the service throughout was excellent and gave one the feeling that the house is really generous. They just make you fell well during your meal.

Now to Elena’s cooking. After having read his book, I had high expectations. These were partially let-down, as the presentation was not always as graphical or as  neat as I had hoped for. Also, some of the elements in certain dishes did lack a little salt. A third point is this frightening Champagne jelly, which I did not like at all.

On the other hand, the quail, mackerel and salmon all showed what amazing products he uses, and how he can transform them into amazing dishes. These were all memorable and worth the journey. The bread, petit-fours, desserts and Flammekuechle all did attain that high level, showing how capable they are once more. This being said, the 2* are very accurate as a description, as some of the dishes are spot-on, but others do have some odd element here and there. 

I would say that it is worth going to when in Reims, as the whole experience is quite memorable, but maybe not worth a trip on it’s own.


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