Archive for: December, 2017

60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Glenfiddich 18

Some quick thoughts on the Glenfiddich 18 Single Malt Scotch.

The Geekery

Founded in 1886 by William Grant, then manager of Mortlach, with distilling equipment purchased from Elizabeth Cumming of Cardhu, Glenfiddich made history in 1963 with the first commercial release of a single malt bottling. Prior to this, Scotch was almost universally sold as blended whiskeys.

Still owned by the Grant family, the fifth generation of William Grant & Sons manages an extensive portfolio that, along with Glenfiddich, includes–Balvenie, Grangestone, Tullamore D.E.W., Grant’s, Drambuie, Monkey Shoulder, Sailor Jerry’s, Hendricks, Milagro, Reyka, Solerno, Clan MacGregor and Flor de Caña.

Glenfiddich uses water sourced from Robbie Dubh springs (as does its sister distilleries of Balvenie and Grangestone) outside of Dufftown in the Speyside region with the whiskeys aged in a mix of ex-bourbon (majority) and sherry casks.

The Whiskey

Lots of caramel toffee on the nose. Little butterscotch too. Makes me think of a Werther’s Original. Some star anise spice and apple peel but the sweeter notes dominant.

On the palate the mouthfeel is very smooth with a slight oiliness—but very slight. All the sweet notes on the palate carry through but the spice apple comes more out. There is a bit more back-end heat than what I would typically expect from only 40% ABV. Rather than neat, this whiskey could use a few rocks for balance.

Photo by Paul Hurst released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-By-SA-2.5, 2.0

This whiskey takes me back to Grandma’s house and these treats.

The Verdict

Definitely a whiskey on the light-bodied and sweet side. A “breakfast Scotch”.

Overall it is pleasant and quaint but nothing really wows me to make the $110+ price tag worth it. Especially when I can get much of the same pleasant quaintness from the Glenfiddich 15 year for around $50 and a bit more complexity with Glenfiddich’s sister distileries’ Balvenie 17 year Double Wood ($160) and Grangestone 18 ($70).

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60 Second Wine Reviews – De Venoge Princes Blanc de Noirs

Some quick thoughts on the De Venoge Princes Blanc de Noirs.

The Geekery

The house of De Venoge was founded in Epernay by Swiss winemaker Henri-Marc de Venoge in 1837. The house is most noted for its Tête de Cuvée Louis XV which was made to commemorate the French king’s May 25th, 1728 dictate that finally allowed Champagne to be bottled in Champagne instead of being shipped in barrels and bottled at its designation.

As a top prestige cuvée, the Louis XV is only made in exceptional vintages and released in very limited quantities after at least 10 years aging on the lees. The wine is usually in the $170-260 range.

The fruit from the vintages that are still very good (and, indeed, still being used for vintage releases of Dom Perignon and Cristal) but not quite Louis XV-level, gets declassified down to the houses’ other Champagnes such as the Princes line. There are three wines in this tier of non-vintage Champagnes– a Rosé, a Blanc de Blancs and a Blanc de Noirs.

The Princes Blanc de Noirs is made of 100% Pinot noir sourced from Grand Cru and Premier Crus in the Montagne de Reims. It spends at least 3 years aging on the lees before it is bottled with a 6-7 g/l dosage.

The Wine

High aromatics with lots of red fruits on the nose–raspberry, plum and red apple peel. There is also a strong floral note but it is a mix of white and darker flowers. A true bouquet.

On the palate, the mousse is silky but with a lot of power and weight. The acidity is still lively which adds a freshness but power is clearly the dominant profile. The red berry fruits carry through to the palate with a little apple pie pastry.

Picture by Arnaud 25 on Wikimedia Commons released under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

But if you want to splurge for the real deal, by all means enjoy!


The Verdict

As a “baby Louis XV”, it is an exceptional value at around $80 for a Champagne that delivers top shelf quality that out perform many far more expensive bottles. Indeed, this particular bottle of Princes Blanc de Noirs was easily outdrinking the $130-150 bottle of 2006 Dom Perignon.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Balblair 1999

A few quick thoughts on the 2nd release of the Balblair 1999 that was bottled in 2016.

The Geekery

According to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, Balblair is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries with a history dating back to 1790. Originally owned and managed for over a century by the Ross family (who also leased Brora in the 1830s), the distillery went through a succession of owners including Robert Cumming (of Old Pulteney fame), Hiram Walker and Allied Domecq.

Since 1996, Balblair has been a part of the Inver House Distillers portfolio which includes Old Pulteney, AnCnoc, Balmenach, Knockdhu and Speyburn.

Located in the Highlands in the village of Edderton, water is sourced 5 miles away from the Struie Hills. The distillery uses unpeated malt from Portgordon Maltings and ages its whiskey in mostly ex-bourbon casks with the 1999 seeing some time in ex-Sherry casks as well.

The Whiskey

A very spicy nose with the Sherry notes quite evident. There is some meatiness but nothing like a Mortlach or Glenfarclas. I also found a little cereal note which makes me think of savory crepes.

On the palate is a very intriguing note of celery salt that contributes to the spicy and savory profile. Mouthwatering with a silky oilness. Very nice balance with the Scotch holding it’s 46% ABV well. This is a whiskey to enjoy neat.

By Alan Jamieson, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54197146

The Balblair Distillery


The Verdict

A very impressive dram that is almost a meal in itself. Lots of layers that you want to spend time savoring and unfurling around your tongue.

At around $70, it is a fantastic value for essentially a 17 year single malt and would still be well worth the price up to the $100 range.

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60 Second Wine Reviews – Stags’ Leap Merlot


A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Merlot from Napa Valley.

The Geekery
Often known as The Other Stags Leap, Stags’ Leap Winery has a long history dating back to 1872 when grapes were first planted on the property by T.L. Grigsby (who also founded Occidental Winery that is now part of Regusci Winery).

The first wine was released in 1893 by then owner Horace Chase with wine production continuing to 1908. After more than six decades of stagnation the estate was purchased by Carl Doumani with 1972 marking the first modern-era release of Stags’ Leap Winery. In 1997, the estate was sold to what is now Treasury Wine Estates.

Among the many other brands in Treasury’s portfolio with Stags’ Leap include 19 Crimes, Acacia, Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Gabbiano, Lindeman’s, Matua, Penfolds, Sterling Vineyards and Wolf Blass.

While the winery does have around 6.5 acres of Merlot planted on their estate vineyard in the Stags Leap District (which goes into their $60+ bottle), most of the fruit for this wine comes from purchased grapes sourced throughout Napa Valley.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very light red fruit notes like cherry and raspberry. There is a slight herbal note that is not very defined. On the palate the wine has medium acidity and medium tannins that contributes to a round mouthfeel but one that is a bit flabby. A little more acidity would have helped to liven it up. The fruit is still very light but seems more of a mix of dark fruit than the red fruit on the nose. The herbal note becomes a bit greener and makes me think of capers.

Photo by Bi-frie released under CC by 3.0

The capers add a little bit of complexity but not much more.


The Verdict
At around $30 this would be a pass for me. It’s easy drinking and fruity but so are many red blends in the $10-20 range.

Maybe it would work as a $7-9 glass pour at a restaurant paired with a burger, but there is really nothing of interest here that is worth splurging for a whole bottle.

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60 Second Wine Reviews – Jean Fannière Origine


A few quick thoughts on Champagne Varnier Fannière’s Cuvee Jean Fannière Origine Extra Brut.

The Geekery

Champagne Varnier Fannière is a small grower producer with vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oiry and Oger. Since 1989, it has been ran by 3rd generation vigneron Denis Varnier.

The Jean Fannière Origine is an Extra Brut Grand Cru sourced primarily from 60+ year old vines in Cramant. The wine is a non-vintage blend of 100% Chardonnay that is aged 5 years on the lees before it is bottled with 3 g/l dosage.

According to the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, this tiny récoltant manipulant (RM) produces only around 3,000 cases a year. They are noted for a house style that is smoother than typical Côte des Blancs wines because they bottle at a lower pressure. Champagne is usually bottled around 5 to 6 atm (atmosphere) with Prosecco bottled between 3.5 to 4 atm. My guess is that Champagne Varnier Fannière is bottling in the 4.5 to 5 atm range.

The Wine

High intensity nose. Very aromatic with a mix of citrus and white flower notes. There is subtle pastry dough which has me thinking of a lemon tart but the citrus is a bit richer.

On the palate you can get the smoothness from the lower pressure but it is definitely more lively than a Prosecco. The pastry comes out a lot more as does the rich citrus but there is also a racy streak of minerality that is mouthwatering. This reminds me quite a bit of the 2009 Roederer Starck Brut Nature that I had a few weeks ago. Exceptionally well balanced for the low dosage.

The Verdict

At around $60 this is a better bang for the buck that the Roederer Brut Nature ($79) but the Roederer has a premium being a vintage Champagne. Still the Jean Fannière Origine is a very character driven Champagne that would charm most Champagne geeks.

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Dancing with Goliath


“You buy the big houses for the name, you buy the growers for the wine.”

In my post Cristal Clarity, I featured the quote above while discussing the dichotomy in the world of Champagne between the mega-corp négociant houses and the small grower producers. As I sat down for dinner at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue for their 10th Annual Champagne Gala, that quote began ringing in my ears from the moment the staff handed me my “long neck” of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial.

For the second straight year, Daniel’s Broiler partnered with LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) for their annual gala. From listening to other attendees, a few years ago the gala was also LVMH-centric with the wines of Veuve Clicquot featured and it sounds like the very first Champagne Gala at Daniel’s was also based around Moët & Chandon.

It seems that LVMH dominants the attention of Daniel’s wine team as much as it dominants the global Champagne market.

Passed hors d’oeuvres paired with Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial “long necks”
Treasure cove oysters with salmon roe, chili, ginger and chives. Crostinis with brown-butter scallions, wild mushrooms and ricotta.

This….was an interesting experience. I know the use of Champagne flutes is going out of fashion but being told that this was the “hot new trend” in drinking bubbles struck myself (and I suspect most of the room) as quite odd.

Trying to “smell” the long neck Moët & Chandon


The Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial is a non-vintage blend made up of more than 100 different wines with 20-30% being “reserve wines” from older vintages. The blend varies from batch to batch and will usually have 30-40% Pinot noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier and 20-30% Chardonnay. I was quite surprised to learn from the LVMH brand ambassador, Coventry Fallows, that the dosage for the Brut Imperial has been lowered over the years to 9 g/l. That is still on the “sweeter side” of Brut but it is an improvement over the 12 g/l that skirted the line between Brut and Extra Dry and a huge change from the 20 g/l dosage of their White Star label that was once a staple on the US market but has since been discontinued.

I think Garth Brooks sang a song about this.


While we were sipping our long necks and pairing them with the oysters and wild mushroom crostini, it was hard not to notice how utterly nondescript and indistinct the Brut Imperial was. It could have been a Cava, a Crémant or a Prosecco and no one would’ve fluttered an eye. It could have even been a sparkling wine in a can and still deliver the same neutral experience.

I asked my table mates if, instead of the Moët, they were sipping the Coppola Sofia California sparkler, would they have noticed a difference? Everyone said no which I think is a big crux for Moët and why this marketing gimmick is missing the mark. The Brut Imperial Champagne, itself, is nothing spectacular and memorable and it kind of feels like LVMH is getting bored with the brand that they crank out around 30 million bottles a year of.

Is the message that LVMH truly wants to send with these “long neck Moëts” is that Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial is the Bud Light of the Champagne world?

I wonder if this will fit into a bottle of Bud Light?


First utilized by Moët for the 2015 Golden Globes, it appears that LVMH is trying their darnedest to make “fetch happen” with sipper tops on 187 ml splits. As a hugely successful multinational conglomerate, LVMH’s branding is closely associated with luxury (with many of their Champagnes like Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon needing that association as part of their branding) which makes it a bit humorous that they’re marketing their wine by making you feel like you’re drinking a beer.

But hey… it’s Champagne! And its gold colored so you’re being both chic and avant-garde at the same time! There’s that, I guess.

If you want to indulge in your inner Coachella hipster, you can purchase your own Moët sipper top on Amazon and, of course, can find Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial at virtually any wine shop, grocery store or gas station.

However, considering that you can get four 187 ml Sofia cans for the same price as one Moët Brut Imperial split (minus the $8 “long neck adapter”) and still have the same amount of care-free fun drinking your bubbles like beer, I think I’m going to pass. I’ve always been more of a SXSW girl anyways.

Seated hors d’oeuvre paired with Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2008
Seared scallops and prawns with tangerine-saffron cream, fresh herbs and vol-au-vent.

The highlight of the event was the expertise offered by LVMH Brand Ambassador Coventry Fallows who was a wealth of knowledge and is very skilled at presenting the wines she represents. It was unfortunate, however, that rather than give her more time to offer more in-depth and detailed information about each wine to the group as a whole, her presentation was shorten for each wine to just a few moments with her working the room, going from table to table with the overall noise of surrounding tables drowning out her answers to the various questions presented.


But, from the little bit that I was able to gleam from her in those brief moments, I learned that the general philosophy of Moët & Chandon is that “Bigger is Better” and that, in addition to being a significant négociant buyer of fruit, they are also the largest vineyard owner in Champagne and are constantly seeking out more quality land to add to their holdings. This is encouraging because as we discovered with the wines of Roederer, the more direct house control of the process from grape to glass, the more likely you are to get a high quality and character driven product.

With those thoughts in mind, I was eager to try the 2008 Vintage Brut which represents only around 5% of the house’s production and is made entirely from estate-owned fruit.

The 2008 Moët & Chandon Brut is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot noir and 23% Pinot Meunier. It was aged 7 years on the lees before being bottled with a dosage of 5 g/l that is the lowest among the entire Moët line. Much of the fruit sourced for the wine comes from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards that have been declassified from the Dom Perignon range.

The wine had medium minus intensity on the nose with some candied hazelnut and spice pear notes. On the palate, the pear seemed to go away and was replaced by more appley-notes while the candied hazelnuts become more pastry dough–like a nut-filled apple strudel. The finish was quite short.

And the Vintage Brut is a huge step up from drinking beer.


The mouthfeel was the star with smooth, silky bubbles that showed great balance between the acidity and the low dosage. The reason why so many Champagnes veer towards the “sweeter side of Brut” is because sugar is the magic pill when it comes to insuring a smooth and velvety soft mouthfeel that is so desirable–especially for the American market. It takes high quality fruit and skilled winemaking to accomplish similar results without the crutch of sugar so I will certainly give Moët’s chef de cave Benoit Gouez his due credit for his craftsmanship and balance with this Champagne.

However, there are plenty of well crafted and well balanced Champagnes (including many 100% Grand Crus) that can be found for around $40-55, far less than the $65-70 that the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut usually commands. On the other hand, as a “baby Dom”, it actually is a better value when compared to spending $130-150 for some of the less-exciting vintages of Dom Perignon. (More on that below)

For me, the food provided by Daniel’s head chef Kevin Rohr was far more exciting with the scallops being perfectly pan-seared and fresh. The tangerine-saffron cream added a delightful twist of flavor that seemed both light and rich. The prawns were more hit and miss with half the table having no issue but the other half describing a “chlorine” and overly fishy taste to them that suggest there may have been some bad ones in the batch.

Salad paired with Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial
Crisped duck breast with butter lettuce, Laura Chenel’s chèvre, pink peppercorns and pomegranate glacé.

Another tidbit from Ms. Fellows was that the house style of Moët is that of “Freshness and Crispness”. Perhaps no other wine showcased that emphasis more than the Rosé Impérial.


The Rosé Impérial is a non-vintage blend like the Brut Imperial with the percentage of grapes in the blend varying from batch to batch. The blend is usually around 40-50% Pinot noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier and 10-20% Chardonnay with the rose coloring come from the addition of 20% blend of red Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier wine. Like the Brut Imperial, the dosage is 9 g/l with around 20-30% of reserve wine to help insure consistency.

The wine had a medium-plus intensity nose with cherry aromas and fresh red apple peels. Outside of the 2004 Dom Perignon, it had the best nose of the night. The palate carried that lively freshness through with the apple peel being the strongest note but with some strawberry notes joining the cherry on the finish. The one major slight, which was an unfortunate shared trait among all the wines of the evening, was the incredibly short finish that completely disappears mere moments after swallowing.

At around $50-55, you are still paying a premium for it being a rosé (and the Moët name) but, in hindsight of the evening, the Rosé Impérial is one of the better values in the entire Moët portfolio.

Again, the food was excellent with the pairing enhancing the wine. The pomegranate glacé with pink peppercorns were immensely charming and complimented the sense of freshness of the rosé with the tanginess of the chèvre cheese adding some length to the short finish of the wine. Even though it was certainly not “crispy” by any definition, the duck was beautifully cooked and juicy.

Entrée paired with 2004 and 2006 vintages of Dom Pérignon
USDA Prime beef tenderloin with butter-poached North Atlantic lobster tail, green risotto and Béarnaise sauce.

While technically part of Moët & Chandon, LVMH prefers for people to think of Dom Perignon as its own house and entity. Indeed, its production is distinct from the rest of the Moët lineup with its own chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, overseeing production. Like the man himself, the wine has been the subject of many myths and breathless soliloquies.

Some of the hype is richly deserved with many bottles of Dom Perignon being ranked as some of the greatest wines ever made.

For myself, personally, the 1996 Dom Perignon will always hold a warm spot in my heart as a magical wine that made the light bulb flick on for me about the beauty that wine offers. In many ways, I’m always comparing every wine I taste to that sublimely perfect bottle of 1996 Dom which may be why I’ve been so dishearten watching (and tasting) the changing style of Dom Perignon.

Of course the change started happening long before my magical 1996, but at some point Moët & Chandon made the decision that Dom Perignon was going to be marketed as more of a brand and lifestyle rather than necessarily as a wine. When you no longer have to sell something based on just the intrinsic quality of the wine, you are no longer limited in how many bottles you can produce. Though notoriously secretive about exact production figures, as of 2013 estimates were that around 5 million bottles of Dom Perignon are produced each vintage.

If Daniel’s runs out of ideas for future Champagne Gala events, we know there will always be plenty of Dom available.

While I’m sure they are having no problems selling those 5 million bottles each year (especially since the excess production has allowed the price to drop from $200-240 to around $130-150) perhaps it is no surprise that companies are finding plenty of Dom Perignon available to make gummie bears with.

The concept of “Vintage Champagne” was originally centered around the idea of a special bottling made only in exceptional vintages, but we are now seeing more and more vintages of Dom Perignon declared with 13 of the 41 vintages made between 1921 and 2006 coming after 1990. There are upcoming plans to release a 2008 & 2009 vintages as well. The increase in declared vintages is credited to global warming producing better vintages but, in comparison, Champagne Salon has only released 8 vintages since 1990. And in the years that they do declare a vintage, Salon only makes around 60,000 bottles.

The trade-off, of course, is fewer gummie bears.

That said, while Dom Perignon is clearly no longer one of the top prestige cuvees in the world. It is still a good Champagne, sourced from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards in Aÿ, Avize, Bouzy, Verzenay, Mailly, Chouilly, Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, that can deliver adequate pleasure in the $100+ range so I enjoyed the opportunity to try two vintages side-by-side.

Double fisting Dom

The 2004 vintage is a blend of 52% Pinot noir and 48% Chardonnay with a dosage of 6 g/l. The exact details for the 2006 Dom Perignon weren’t given out at the dinner (and I couldn’t find them online) but I suspect the dosage is similar and Robert Parker has described the 2006 as more Chardonnay dominate. Each vintage of Dom Perignon is now released in three tranches called Plenitudes with the first (or regular) release of Dom being P1 that is released after the Champagne has spent 8 years aging on the lees.

My wife was originally annoyed about the uneven pours of the two Doms (2004 on left, 2006 on right) until she tasted them and realize she wasn’t missing much with not getting more 2006.


The second release of each vintage (P2) will see 16 years aging on the lees with the final plenitude (P3) being released after 21 years. While I have not had the privilege of trying a P2 or P3 release, there has only been 19 and 4 releases respectively, I will confess to being intrigued at their potential though admittedly not terribly excited to spend the $360-1600 to purchase a bottle.

The 2004 had medium plus intensity aromatics that was actually quite inviting. It had an intriguing mix of tropical fruit and spice that had me thinking of the grilled cinnamon rubbed pineapple you get from a Brazilian steakhouse. There was also a fresh cedar and tobacco box component that takes you to a cigar humidor. These are usually notes I associated with a nice red Bordeaux so I thoroughly enjoyed the extra complexity it gave to the Champagne.

Unfortunately not all these notes carried through to the palate which tasted more butterscotch like a Werther’s Original. The mouthfeel was still fresh, keeping with the house style, and while the finish was longer than any of the other Champagnes, it was still regrettably short. The finish did introduce, though, a spiced pear component that I found intriguing if not fleeting.

Both the rose and 2008 vintage overshadowed the 2006 Dom Perignon.


It paired very well with the beef tenderloin and, particularly, the lobster and Béarnaise sauce. Overall, the 2004 would be a wine that I would be content with for around $130-150 though certainly more thrilled with if I paid closer to $80-100.

The 2006, on the other hand, was pretty disappointing. I will give it the benefit of the doubt that it is a young release, and like with the Cristal, probably would benefit from more bottle age. You could also argue that it wasn’t benefiting from being compared next to the superior 2004 Dom Perignon (though technically the vintages themselves were of similar quality). But to be quite frank, the 2006 Dom Perignon lagged behind even the 2008 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut.

The nose was the most shy of the night with medium minus intensity. Some faint citrus peel and toasted coconut flakes. Very light and indistinct. It could have been served as a long neck beer like the Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial and it might not have made a difference. To the wine’s credit, those faint notes did carry through to the palate and added a praline pastry quality that seemed more buttery when paired with the lobster. The finish, following the chorus of the evening, was fleeting.

Dessert paired with Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial
Champagne-poached pear with vanilla pot de crème and spicy glazed pistachios.

The Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial is the house’s demi-sec offering and like with Roederer’s Carte Blanche is a tasty little gem that shows how overlooked the demi-sec category is. Following the pattern of the other wines of Moët & Chandon, this non-vintage Champagne is a Pinot dominant blend that includes 20-30% reserve wines. The exact composition varies but is usually around 40-50% Pinot noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier and 10-20% Chardonnay. The dosage is 45 g/l or 4.5% residual sugar. To put that in context, that is just slightly less sweet than a late harvest Riesling like the 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select that had 47 g/l residual sugar.

But balance is the name of the game and you can not underestimate the ability of the acidity and bubbles to offer an exceptional counter to the sweetness. Even though I compared the dosage to the sweetness level of the CSM Harvest Select Riesling, truth be told, I would reckon that most people who tasted the Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial side by side with something like the 2015 Eroica Riesling (a relatively dry Riesling with great acidity and 11.8 g/l of residual sugar) would feel that the Riesling was sweeter.

The wine had medium intensity with candied oranges and fresh white peaches. Those notes carried through to the palate with the candied oranges morphing more into an apricot note. Next to the 2004 Dom Perignon, this had a tad longer finish than the other Moët wines which was a pleasant way to end the evening. While it didn’t jive with the raspberry sauce used in the dessert, it did very well with the vanilla pot de crème. While there are other demi-secs in the $45-55 range that have impressed me more, this was still a very solidly made Champagne with great balance that should be placed near the top of the Moët & Chandon portfolio.

Overall Impressions

At the beginning of the event, Shawna Anderson, regional sales manager for Moët Hennessy USA, talked about the difference between the wines of the big houses like Moët & Chandon and grower producers. She said that with growers you never know what you get but with houses like Moët you get a consistent experience each time. And she’s right.

While I’m sure most readers can gleam my transparent affinity for hand crafted wine by smaller grower producers, I do not discount that there are sub-par and disappointing wines made by small growers. I also do not discount that large houses are built upon decades of sustained excellence that lay the bedrock of their growth. Likewise, I can’t argue that houses like Moët & Chandon are not consistent.

But then…. so is McDonald’s.

Outside of the 2006 Dom Perignon, I wasn’t disappointed with any of the wines featured at the Champagne Gala. Though I could certainly name at least a half dozen other Champagnes at lower or equivalent prices to the Moët & Chandon line up (some by big houses, some by smaller growers) that out performed the Champagnes of Moët & Chandon in delivering character and complexity, I can’t say that any of these wines are bad and not deserving to be purchased and enjoyed by people wanting a reason to celebrate.

It’s perfectly fine if you want to go dancing with Goliath. But folks should be clear that what they’re paying for in seeking the privilege of that dance is not necessarily for the quality in the bottle but, rather, for the name on the label.

For a review of last year’s Champagne gala see A Toast to Joy and Pain.

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Product Review – Perfect Pop


One of my favorite (and clearly apocryphal) quotes about Champagne is attributed to Oscar Wilde.

“The sound of Champagne opening is like a content woman’s sigh.”

While I’m skeptical as to the breadth of Wilde’s experience with content women sighing, I nonetheless love the sentiment behind the quote that the art in opening up Champagne and other sparkling wine is not in the POP but, rather, in keeping it to just a gentle hiss so as not to lose the beautiful aromas and bubbles.

As the holidays approach, more and more folks are reaching for a bottle of bubbles to spread some holiday cheer. While there are many tutorials online about how to open a bottle of sparkling wine, there will always come a time when the pesky cork just doesn’t want to come out. Outside of reaching for a sabre, what do you do?


I put one tool that is out on the market to the test – the Perfect Pop Champagne Opener– available from Amazon right now for $5.99 and eligible for Prime shipping.

I tested it out on the 2013 Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne Brut that I recently reviewed.

I had difficulties at first in putting the tool over the cork with the cage attached and getting it to line up straight. It wasn’t until I removed the cage that I could get the device to feel securely fit.

Instructions for the Perfect Pop


Once I got it on, it took awhile for me to feel comfortable getting a grip on it to turn with the bottle tilted at a 45° degree angle. This is because while usually you wrap your hand around the side of the cork like you are holding the ends of a jump rope, and twist the bottle not the cork, this device requires you to get your palm more over the top with your fingers in the groves to twist the cork itself.

So it is a bit awkward to get the hang of at first.


But it works.

The “pop” is a bit louder than the ideal open. It’s sounds more like a busy mother’s “Oops!” when the baby food on the spoon misses it target. Still, very little aromatics and bubbles get lost. Despite the awkwardness at the beginning, by the second usage I was able to get the device on, twist and have the bottle open in less than 7 seconds. Most importantly, I could do this without the soreness and redness on my hands from struggling with the cork.

That’s a winner in my book and well worth the $6.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Edradour 10 year

A few quick thoughts on the Edradour 10 year Single Malt Scotch.

The Geekery

Located in Milton of Edradour in the Highlands region of Perthshire, the distillery has a very colorful history according to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, beginning with its founding in 1825 as GlenForres and continuing through its time as part of J.G. Turney & Sons where it was featured in the blends of House of Lords and King’s Ransom.

During this time, the whiskey was frequently smuggled into the US during Prohibition by “sales consultant” and known mafioso Frank Costello who is rumored to be one of Mario Puzo’s inspirations for Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

It was first release as a single malt in 1986 by Campbell Distillers (owned by Pernord Ricard) and in 2002 was purchased by current owner Andrew Symington of Signatory Vintage Scotch Whiskey.

The whiskey is aged in a blend of Sherry and Bourbon casks before bottling at 40% ABV.

The Whiskey

Medium plus intensity aromatics. Extremely honeyed. You feel like Winnie the Pooh breaking into the honey jar. There are some Sherry wine notes but it is more like honey toasted almonds than the usual “Sherry-bomb” style of Macallan or Glenfarclas.

From Wikimedia Commons by Sylvia Berger released under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Barrels in the Edradour warehouse


The palate is smooth and noticeably sweet. More vanilla comes in but the honey is still dominant. This isn’t as sweet as something like the Glenmorangie Nector d’Or, Balvenie Caribbean Cask or the Ainsley Brae Sauternes Finish but its not far off. Thankfully some spice comes out on the long finish to add balance to the sweetness. It’s a tad light at 40% ABV and I find myself craving a bit more weight.

The Verdict

It’s a sweet Scotch, no doubt, but it is very well made. At around $68 for a bottle, it falls inline with the Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or ($70) and Balvenie Caribbean Cask ($75) but is a bit higher than the non-age statement (NAS) Ainsley Brae ($35) made by Alexander Murray. The spice is a bonus in the complexity department but this is definitely a whiskey for when you are craving something smooth, light and sweet.

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60 Second Wine Reviews – Levert Freres Cremant Bourgogne

A few quick thoughts on the sparkling 2013 Levert Freres Cremant de Bourgogne Brut.

The Geekery

An old estate dating back to 1595 in the commune of Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy. Today it is part of the Compagnie Vinicole de Bourgogne based in Chagny with Gabriel Picard managing and David Fernez making the wine.

Sourced from around 22 acres (9 ha) of vineyards in Mercurey, the 2013 vintage is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot noir and 20% Gamay. The wine spent 24 months on the lees. This is far beyond the minimum 9 months currently required for Cremant de Bourgogne and is inline with the aging required for the upcoming prestige Cremant ranking of Crémant de Bourgogne Eminent that was announced in 2016.

The Wine

Medium plus intensity aromatics. Lots of fresh citrus with some subtle toastiness underneath. It smells like a freshly baked lemon roll with a glazed puff pastry. Underneath there is a white floral component that adds complexity.

The back label of the Levert Freres

The palate features a smooth mousse but it is quite dry. I couldn’t find the exact dosage but I would estimate it in the 7-8 g/l range, making it a legit Brut and a very well balanced one at that. The freshness from the nose carries over and it is quite lively and immensely charming. The floral notes are more pronounce and strike me more as daisy petals versus lillies.

The Verdict

Charming is the reoccurring theme. It’s certainly simple but it has enough character to engage the senses and is a bottle that can be happily shared (and emptied!) at any setting. At around $15 dollars, it is an excellent buy but this bottle could easily hold its own against other wines up to the $20 range.

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60 Second Wine Reviews – Segura Viudas Cava

Some quick thoughts on the Segura Viudas Brut sparkling Cava.

The Geekery

The Segura Viudas website is pretty useless when it comes to finding out information about grape varieties, time spent on the lees or dosage with the page on the Brut Cava dedicated more to “lifestyle” uses instead of actual details about the wine.

From Essi Avellan and Tom Stevenson’s Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, I learned that since 1984 Segura Viudas has belonged to the huge mega-corp of Freixenet which controls nearly 50% of all Spanish sparkling wine production, making over 200 million bottles a year.

In addition to Segura Viudas, Freixent makes Castellblanch, Canals & Nubiola and Conde de Caralt.

Production of the Segura Viudas Brut is around 7 million bottles and is usually a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo.

The Wine

Medium minus intensity on the nose. Citrusy lemon and pommelo with a little apple notes as well.

On the palate, it feels very fresh without any toasty or biscuity notes which hints that the aging is closer to the bare minimum of 9 months required for Cava rather than much beyond it. It has a nice roundness to the mouthfeel with a hint of sweetness which also suggest that it is probably closer to the 10-11 g/l dosage that would put it at the “sweeter end” of Brut.

By John Knox - originally posted to Flickr as Grapefruit and Orange Juice Mimosas, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8046882

The best use for this sparkler is with cocktails.


The Verdict

Very pleasant and easy sipping sparkler. It will hold its own as a brunch time bubble and as a great mixer for mimosas, Bellini or other sparkling cocktails. At around $8 a bottle, it certainly offers more character than your basic Korbel and is leaps and bounds better than other budget sparklers like Cook’s and Andre’s.

However, there are certainly other Cavas and even Proseccos around the same price point that deliver a bit more value.

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