It’s been fun, with wine, spirits, food and friends, but this summer has brought our happy caravan to a stopping point, and when our exploration of alcohol will resume is anybody’s guess.
Margaret suspects – and I agree – the trouble began with Carol and Ken in Old Chatham over the July 4th weekend, which kicked off this year on a Wednesday. On Thursday we attended the parade in the town square, as a prelude to a rosé-tinged lunch, after which we rested up for our lobster dinner in the evening.
The champagne line-up showcased Bernard Remy. In January 2012, the four of us drank this winemaker’s entry-level effort and had liked it; someone then described it as lime-ade with bubbles. Tonight we opened three different cuvees. The champagne house Bernard Remy is in Allemant, a town at the edge of the Côte des Blancs, home almost exclusively to chardonnay. They also own pinot noir and pinot meunier vineyards in the Aube, the southernmost non-contiguous region in Champagne (the other being Côte de Sézanne).
The first bottle was Bernard Remy Carte Blanche Brut. The blend was 60/35/5 of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. It had fine bubbles and the distinct green apple flavor characteristic of the region. Two years of resting on the lees produced a toasty sophistication that in no way affected the citrusy acidity. We judged it a fine baseline, and, as I cracked and plated the lobsters, and Carol and Margaret carried the sides of dilled cucumbers and eggplant prepared in the style of mushrooms out of the kitchen, Ken popped open the second bottle, 2002 Bernard Remy Brut Millésime.
The vintage version, from the great year of 2002, is a 60/25/15 blend that has spent 5 years on the lees. There is a depth of flavor, an alto voice instead of the Carte Blanche’s soprano, with that same yeastiness now infused with almond and tropical notes of passion fruit and pineapple.
The final bottle was Bernard Remy Brut Grand Cru, 100% chardonnay from the Grand Cru vineyards of Mesnil sur Oger, one of six Grand Cru sites in Côte des Blancs. The single source of grapes contributed an element of terroir, along with the elegant toast and lively acidity we’ve already identified as characteristic of this maker. The fresh citrus flavors, with a touch of anise, pulled this wine to a higher register – call it the coloratura.
The drinking went on through the weekend in the normal manner, that is to say, virtually non-stop, and included a sparkling vouvray, crémant d’Alsace, crémant de Bourgogne, a lovely grower champagne from Jean Vesselle, Louis Roderer Brut Premier, and assorted still wines. It also included Armagnac.
Armagnac is a single-distilled grape brandy from Gascony, in southwest France, closely related to the more famous double-distilled Cognac, from Charente 100 miles to the north. In the pre-phylloxera era, Armagnac was almost exclusively made from Folle Blanche (Gros Plant in the Loire), but today Ugni Blanc (Trebbianno in Italy) is the mainstay varietal, as it is in Cognac. Colombard and six other varietals are also permissible.
Armagnac has been produced at least 150 years longer than Cognac. It is the child of 3 cultures: the Romans who brought the vines to Gascony; the Moors who distilled the wine into more potent forms of alcohol, and the Celts who introduced oak barrels for aging. Armagnac is made using column stills, rather than the pot stills of Cognac. While the Cognac market is dominated by four major brands, Armagnac is made by small producers, and sold under various classifications, most referring to the age of the youngest component.
Ken and I started out drinking Sempe VSOP, in which the youngest brandy in the blend has aged in oak at least 5 years. The bottle was nearly empty when we stopped and went to bed. The next day we killed the VSOP and started in on an hors d’age, i.e., the youngest brandy in the blend has spent at least 10 years in oak. By the time we went to bed, we’d guzzled another half bottle between us.
A few weeks later, after a routine blood test, my doctor called and sounded the alarm. My liver enzymes were at elevated levels, a sure sign of alcohol abuse. “Cease and desist,” he said. When levels return to normal, perhaps he might allow me the occasional glass of wine.
That was in July, and although my levels are back to normal I haven’t had a drink since. So it’s been fun with wine indeed, but the time has come to find a new, less damaging pursuit. Marijuana anyone?