Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Treats

As busy as I've been over this holiday season, this Christmas was destined to be different.  With Mom's passing over the summer, this would be our first without her sharing the good times.  Christmas day has traditionally been spent at Vixen's place; so, I figured it'd be nice to have Christmas Eve at our place.

This was just the sort of gathering I'd been waiting for so that I could pop the cork on a bottle of - of all things - English bubble.  Dad's cousin and his wife - Phil and Liz - had come to visit back in the summer and I'd asked them to find and bring along a bottle.  I've read a few stories about English sparkling wines and how they're becoming surprisingly good and I figured I'd never run across a bottle in our market.  We would have popped the cork while Phil and Liz were in town but we were rather occupied with Mom's illness at the time.

Christmas would be the perfect time to toast both Mom and our English benefactors.

1325.  N.V. Chapel Down Reserve Vintage Brut (England)

I'm sure that many, if not most, North American wine drinkers' first reaction to hearing of an English wine is that it must be just a novelty item.  That's probably not that much different of a reaction from what many American or Australian consumers would think if you were to bring up the topic of Canadian wine.  Just as Canadian producers have made amazing strides over the last couple decades, there are now over 400 commercial vineyards and 124 wineries in the UK and some of those wines are garnering some serious buzz.

Like Canada, England's weather is stereotypically seen as being too cold and wet to grow grapes capable of becoming a decent wine. While that might be a somewhat realistic starting point, that doesn't mean that some regions in the South of England aren't suitable for growing grapes that prefer cooler climates.  Global climate change is certainly seen as a possible influence for the years to come as well.  English farmers may not be able to grow -  or at least not consistently ripen - some of the bigger and better known grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Merlot, but other (and perhaps less recognizable) varietals can make a decent go of it.

Indeed, the limestone soils found in the South of England are seen as being similar in terroir to France's Champagne region itself.  Accordingly, much of English winemaking has tended towards the production of sparkling wines since achieving full ripeness may not be quite as critical to the success of a wine as it is with still, table wines.

One bottle of English bubble and a little online research certainly isn't going to render me an expert in English wines; so, I'll leave my recap at that but there still is the wine.

I gather that Chapel Hill is a well known - and respected - brand in England.  Their website mentions that the Vintage Reserve Brut was awarded a Silver Medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2012.  The site doesn't go into much detail about the wine itself.  It does, however, confirm that the wine is made using the same méthode traditionelle as is used in making true Champagne.  The wine sees second fermentation in the bottle and, according to the site, the "house style" sees extended ageing of the wine on its lees (or spent yeast cells) to promote that classic toasty note to the wine.  I'll attest to their success on that note.  There was a definite, and pleasant, yeastiness to the nose.

A hallmark of English bubble is supposed to be a higher note of fruit on the palate than a traditional Champagne will see.  While there was a bit of green apple or similar tree fruit, I wouldn't say that it was prominent.  What was noticeable was the high acidity.  That might recede a bit with a little more ageing but it actually helped out our cause as it was served with a rich tourtière and the acid cut through the fat in the ground meat and the crust.

I tried searching a little bit to find out what grapes were used in making the Chapel Down Brut but I only saw some general reference to grapes that the estate vineyards grow.  I did find one reference to the wine's provenance when Jamie Goode - the noted English writer behind jamie goode's wine blog and Wine Anorak - stated that the Vintage Reserve Brut was a blend of Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir.  That post was written back in 2008 though; so, it's possible that the make-up of the wine has changed over the years.  I'd like to confirm that blend though because, if it's correct, I believe I get to add two new varietals to my Wine Century Club tally.  (Editor's Note:  I heard from the good folks at Chapel Down and they advise that the varieties used are Pinot Noir 49%, Chardonnay 33%, Pinot blanc 10% and Pinot Meunier 8% - no Rivaner or Reichensteiner this time around for the Wine Century Club, I guess.)

Previously untried varietals or not, popping the cork on the Chapel Down was a nice way to help celebrate the season and to toast Mom's memory.  While Dad and Big Trucker moved on to beer, Vixen, Boo and I stuck with the bubble while watching a little Christmas cinema.  There was a bit of discussion as to which movie to watch but Team Love Actually won out over Team It's A Wonderful Life.  Surprisingly, even Dad was chuckling throughout the movie.

I made bread pudding to finish off our evening as it's become a bit of seasonal tradition around here and we wouldn't need any for Christmas dinner since Vixen had talked Boo into make a couple pies.

1326.  N.V. Forbidden Fruit - Bliss - Fortified White Cherry (Similkameen Valley)

Being a special evening, I figured I'd pull out a special wine to accompany the bread pudding.  It was going to need some sweetness to it to match up with the pudding; so, I thought we could try a fortified wine from Forbidden Fruit.  The English bubble might be rare in our market but this bottle of Bliss is rare in any market.  Being a fortified white cherry fruit wine that isn't made every year and is only made in small batches when it is made, you're not going to run across it easily.  Indeed, owner/winemaker, Steve Venables, says that he doesn't know of any other winery that even tries to make a similar wine.

Bliss is made from 100 percent estate grown, organic Rainer white cherries.  The Rainer cherry apparently has a unique taste for a cherry and that uniqueness carries through to the wine.  Interestingly, the wine sees some young oak and Steve likens the final taste to brandy or cognac.  Admittedly, the taste wasn't entirely expected but it easily met acceptance as even the oldest niece, Stargirl, finished off a small glass and she's only just starting to experiment with wine when we get together.

At just under $30 for 200ml, Bliss is pretty much as expensive as icewine - but then again, there is that whole "rare" aspect to this bottle as well.  I couldn't pass it up when I saw it for sale at the winery and I'm glad we got to try it.

As Bliss-ful as the evening might have been, everyone needed to get home to bed before Santa was set to come.  There was a busy day in store and we'd managed to fit in a couple of interesting bottles as it was.  Can't say that there was any wine left to go with Santa's cookies though.  I wasn't too concerned though.  Knowing how naughty I've been with staying current with the blog this year, I'm not so sure Santa was going to be leaving me any wine anyhow.

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