Friday, February 24, 2012

Champagne AR Lenoble Grand Cru

We have met Anne Malassagne of Champagne AR Lenoble at the London Wine Show last year, and since then have been maintaining a great contact and getting ready to introduce this brand back to the Ontario market. Following last week's visit by Anotine Malassagne to Toronto, we are now on track to have these fine Grand Cru Champagnes available.

First, a little history of Champagne AR Lenoble
Armand-Raphaël Graser was a wine trader. He left his native Alsace, in enemy hands at the time, and moved his family to safety in the Champagne region. He set up in the town of Damery, in an 18th century building which is still the company headquarters today, and started to produce champagne, sold from 1920 onwards under the brand name "AR Lenoble". A.R. stood for Armand-Raphauml;l and "Lenoble" was a tribute to the nobility of Champagne wines.

Armand-Raphauml;l, who died accidentally in the vat-house in 1947, was succeeded by his son Joseph Graser. When he retired in 1973, Jean-Marie Malassagne, the founder's grandson, took over the business. Combining his activities as a winegrower and his profession as a doctor, he managed the house alone until the 1990's, when Champagne was hit hard by the crisis. It was becoming necessary to work full-time to run the firm and so, in October 1993, Anne Malassagne, the great-granddaughter of Armand-Raphauml;l returned to the family firm to support her father. She was joined by her brother Antoine 3 years later. The fourth generation is now firmly established!

So for more than a century now, the brilliance of Armand Raphauml;l then the Malassagne family has been passed on from generation to generation. The House is profoundly attached to its roots and its history, which Anne and Antoine continue to uphold in the purest Champagne tradition.

The Champagnes
We had a chance to try 4 of AR Lenoble's champagnes with Tony Aspler. The following are Tony's notes:

  • Lenoble L'Epurée Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (50% not put through malolactic fermentation): light straw colour with tiny bubbles; elegant, green apple and lemon nose with a mineral note; light on the palate, crisply dry, clean with good length (a breakfast champagne!). (90)
  • Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (25% of the reserve wine aged in barrel): straw colour; creamy nose of white flowers, apple, ginger and a leesy note; round on the palate, very dry peach and green apple flavours, finishing with a nutty, chalky note. (91)
  • Lenoble Cuvée Gentilhomme Blanc de Blancs 2006 (30% barrel fermented): straw colour; toasty, minerally, apple nose; dry, elegant, and winey; beautifully balanced apple and lemon flavours with a stroke of oak. (92) When I mentioned that I found the champagne very "winey," Antoine lit up. "We are a wine producer," he said, "not a bubble producer."
  • Lenoble Cuvée Rosé 2006 (10% Pinot Noir added): amber-pink colour; minerally, raspberry and green apple nose; very elegant with delicate raspberry and lemon flavour, good length with a crisp finish. (90)
We're very excited to be working with this brand, and look forward to hearing feedback from our customers!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I know nothing about wine, where do I start?

Recently, I had a chance to meet some great people across varied industries and chat a bit about what they do and what I do. It was a great chance to see what other jobs entail, and understand a little about the individual challenges and approaches to solving problems. When I explained I work in the wine business, following the inevitable set of question regarding the consumer's view of the industry and how the distributor sees it, one question prevailed: "I know nothing about wine, where do I start?"

This is a question I have been asked a lot, and many in the wine world were asked it, by many consumers. I came to the conclusion that offering someone one wine to try because I think its great means nothing to that person. I tried the story approach, telling some interesting fact about a winery. But really, that also meant not too much. People smiled, nodded, and promptly forgot anything I ever told them.

Instead, I now suggest a newcomer gets into wine by going to a store and picking up any bottle that interests them. "Don't judge a book by the cover" is very not applicable here.  I tell people not to go over $15-18 for their first bottle, and perhaps give a few starting pointers which they again may forget (don't start with Burgundy or Alsace, maybe start with a well-known area like Bordeaux, Australian Shiraz or Californian wines).  I also suggest they skip the LCBO shelves and go straight to Vintages for their first "educated" experience.

You can try to smell, swirl, swish, swash. But really, just taste. Don't try to think of what the wine tastes like, it doesn't matter. Just make a very simple choice: do you like the wine? Yes/no. Maybe on the first one it's harder to say yes/no, we choose by comparison, not by some absolute value. So try something else. After 3-4 bottles, you will start to understand what you like. Once you've got this, think of why you like it. Maybe it's easy to drink, maybe it's not sharp, maybe it just tastes good. Establishing this, and tasting more, you will start to build your own pallet where you'll start to taste berries, cherries, fruits, earths. After some dozen wines, you'll have a pretty good one, and you'll already start to know what regions you like and why. When something interests you, keep a note and look it up online and read up on it. Here's where the story comes in. 20-odd bottles later. Not because some guy recommended it. Keep a note and try the same wine a year later, you'll be surprised what you find.

Another suggestion is to pick a grape, doesn't matter which one, and buy 3-4 wines from different regions. If going for Pinot Noir, try a Burgundy, a New Zealand and a California. If going for Cabernet Sauvignon, then it's gotta be Bordeaux, Australia and California. Chardonnay? Loire, New Zealand or Australia and California. Notice the California all over here? It is for a reason.

One final note. Red or white? It doesn't matter. A lot of people say they find reds easier to drink, others say whites are more approachable. Maybe stick with reds in the winter, whites in the summer. Personally, I no longer care for the season. After 8 years drinking and discussing wine at every dinner, today I enjoy whites more. I think whites are actually more difficult to understand, and it takes a while to fully appreciate them. But I digress, and others will surely disagree.