Last week a I took a day trip to Kingwood (yes, it was a trip, Kingwood is effing far!) to the Tasting Room to attend a champagne tasting class. As a self-proclaimed “French asshole,” Hugo, the wine connoisseur from Möet & Chandon, guided me and about 20 others through a culinary adventure through the Champagne region of France and the wine cellar of the Tasting Room. Here are some of the Hugo highlights of the evening and tipsily recorded facts about some bottles of fancy-smanchy bubbly.
The class began as all good Oil & Gas meetings do with a Safety Moment. Hugo showed us the proper way to open a bottle of champagne. Note: he didn’t use a towel and there was barely a pop. The key to opening a bottle safely is continually maintaining pressure on the cork as you take off the wrapping and twisting off the wire around the top. Maintaining pressure is key so you don’t accidentally shoot the cork across the room. Holding the bottle in his left hand, he used his right to gently pull on the cork until it slowly popped off with a sound he described as a “nun fart.”
And with that we began drinking our first champagne of the evening, Möet & Chandon ‘Imperial’. The Imperial turned out to be my favorite bubbly of the evening. It’s made with half chardonnay and half pinot noir grapes, so according to him it has essence of raspberry, black currant, and ginger. To me it was just the lightest and the cleanest most simple flavor of the evening, qualities that I decided I like best.
“I’m sure all of you have been to France at least once.”
Are we counting the aisle at Specs? Hugo gave us a pretty detailed overview of the champagne making process in France. We learned that the combination of no irrigation systems (they’re illegal in France) and the special chalky soil gives the Champagne region an advantage when it comes to making wines. Only seven grapes are grown in the Champagne region, the most popular of which are chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. To make champagne, you ferment the wine once, and then add a bit more yeast and sugar and ferment it a second time. The amount of time with this second round of yeast gives champagne its signature bubbles as well as deeps the flavor.
So in case you didn’t know, rosé wine is not made from simply mixing red and white wines. Hugo informed us if you did that you would get some awful/shitty tasting drink. The process is much more refined and involves contacting the white wine juice with red skins. Fun fact all juice, whether it comes from a red, green or black grape is white. The tone of the wine comes from the skins. We enjoyed a glass of Möet & Chandon ‘Imperial’ Rosé. It spent 15 months on the yeast. And y’all was it pink. I’m personally more obsessed with the color more than the taste. But the taste does put to shame the sugary, sweetness of all the Strawberry Andre I’ve consumed over the years.
“What’s a high five mean? Nothing.”
Everyone knows that “champagne” only comes from the Champagne region of France, and that everything else is sparkling wine. But according to Hugo, there are no official laws or regulations that actually govern it. It’s an old gentleman’s agreement, like a high five, it doesn’t really mean anything. Quick search through interwebs indicates that only wineries who gained permission before 2006 can label their bottles as champagne. Most champagnes are a combination of different types of grapes and harvests of various years. If the grapes grown in a particular year are of stellar quality, they can be bottled using only that year and it is classified as a “vintage.” We sampled a glass of Vintage Möet & Chandon 2006 Rosé. The grapes were all harvested in 2006 and remained on the yeast for seven years before being finally bottled, giving the wine a yeastier, dry taste. When I tasted it, there was certainly a difference between this and the Imperial Rosé, but this was my third glass of bubbly and distinguishing between the finer flavor notes was not fully available to me at the moment…
“Who lives in Houston?” [half of class raises their hand] “Oh I have to be careful now. “
Dude Houston > everything. Don’t hate Mr. Le French. This poorly crafted metaphor was an interesting segue into determining the quality of a champagne. It’s highly dependent upon which village in France it comes from, the village’s reputation and whether it is a “first grove” selection. I was into my third glass of champagne at this point, so the details were a little fuzzy…however I do remember him describing the different between prosecco and champagne. Prosecco is produced like soda and is carbonated with a stream of carbon dioxide. Champagne on the other hand is carbonated right in the bottle, as the yeast ferments. So there is actually a chance out there that you could get a flat bottle of champagne if the yeast died prematurely or something. Pretty cool.
…and then Hugo proceeded to convince us that we should drink champagne out of a normal wine glass. A glass of Dom Pérignon was poured into the fairly standard non-descriptive wine glass and enjoyed all around. Having just graduated from college and used to drinking champagne out straight from
the bottle coffee mugs wine glasses, I now feel fully justified and not ashamed at all to serve in a simple wine glass.
“Salty, like Galveston”
The Dom Pérignon we tried was made of the highest grade of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. It was bottled in 2004 and spent 9 years on the yeast. Hugo described the flavor as smooth, with notes of scotch and cognac. He said it evokes nutty smells, as well as those of pepper, spices, and salt…like Galveston. The bottle runs at about $180. I don’t know if you have been paying attention thus far, BUT I sampled a $45 glass of Dom Pérignon that can be best described as salty like Galveston. WHAT.
“You never forget your first Krug”
The final bubbly of the evening was a glass of Krug ‘Grand Cuvée bottled in 1990. And boy was my first time interesting. Krug does this thing where they bottle obscene amounts of different wines together to make a wildly unique champagne. This one consisted of 143 wines. Everyone in the wine world apparently raves over the ingeniousness that is a Krug and its consistently getting top reviews. Personally, I wasn’t impressed. It had a weird taste (licorice?) which may be something you have to acquire. But just so we’re all clear, I am no longer a Krug virgin.
If you’re interested in tasting champagnes and wines, the Tasting Room at Kings Harbor hosts a Monthly Wine Class every third Thursday of the month from 7-9pm for guided wine tasting and food pairings. There is also a Monthly Wine Tasting every last Saturday of the month 2-5pm where you sample 10 wines paired with appetizers and enjoy live music. Both events are $35/person. If you’re as lucky as me, you’ll get to try some glasses that are worth $45, so if wine is your thing. This is a total steal.