Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Inaugural La Fête du Champagne sparkles

The inaugural edition of La Fête du Champagne, organized and hosted by Peter Liem and Daniel Johnnes, was a grand production -- in the tradition of La Paulée -- with Producers and Sommeliers galore and Champagne flowing like water down a dry gulch after a torrential downpour. As marketed, the event would provide a Grand Tasting (at which more than 20 producers would pour their wines), a series of themed seminars (running sequentially and slotted within the timeframe of the Grand Tasting), and a Gala Dinner (to which attendees could bring bottles of Champagne to share). Expectations were exceeded.

This event was highly anticipated, a result of the caliber and track record of the organizers, as well as a broad-based love for the subject wine. A testament to the pent-up demand for such an offering was the fact that the Selosse seminar was sold out on the first day of a pre-offer to customers of the event's Grand Cru sponsor; and tickets to Peter Liem's session were closed out very soon thereafter.

The weather in New York had been exceptional for the three days leading up to the event and the day-of followed suit. The weather was a portent of what awaited us within the confines of Astor Center, the event locale.

The seminar schedule is shown below.

I did not attend the Peter Liem event because it sold out early. My buddy Ron and his wife Bev did attend and they thought that it was exceptional. According to Ron, Peter laid out the various terroirs of Champagne in a manner that was very enlightening to him in terms of its meaning in the glass.

Peter Liem and Daniel Johnnes at opening seminar
(Picture courtesy of Ron Siegel)
I did attend the following three seminars and found them exceptional in terms of content, moderator-panelist interaction, and attendee participation. The Louis Roederer session was moderated by Levi Dalton (host of the I'll Drink to That podcast) and Levi did an excellent job of staying out of the way and allowing Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon (House Chef de Cave) the time and space to provide an excellent perspective on the House's philosophy and practices and how that mapped with the environment (terroir) in the production of its wines. The wines presented at the seminar were the Roederer Brut Premier and Brut Natural 2006 and the Cristal Brut 1995 and Brut Rosé 2002, excellent wines all.

Levi Dalton and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Roederer Chef de Cave
The second seminar that I did attend was a rather lively affair led by Daniel Johnnes and featuring Champagne - Food pairings chosen and presented by four Sommeliers. The pairings were as follows:
  • Pascaline Lepeltier, Wine Director, Rouge Tomate: Jacques Lassagne Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Le Cotet with Hawaii Walu Crudo from Andy Bennett, Exective Chef, Rouge Tomate
  • Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier, Le Bernardin: Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru with Le Bernardin Salmon Rillette from Eric Ripert, Chef/Owner, Le Bernardin
  • Rajeev Vaidya, Chef Sommelier DANIEL: Georges Laval Brut Nature Cumières Premier Cru with Mosiac of Venison and Daikon Radish from Jean-François Bruel, Executive Chef, DANIEL
  • Rajat Parr, Winemaker, Sandhi Wines: Savart Expression Brut Nature Premier Cru 2009 with Smoked Sturgeon, Caviar, and Rye from James Kent, Executive Chef, NoMad Hotel.
This was a fun and revealing exercise which Daniel spiced up by having us go back and taste some of the foods with Champagnes they were not originally paired with. A key takeaway was that while Champagne is an easy call (in that it pairs with everything), texture matters.

Panelists for A Sommelier's Perspective
Dishes paired with the Sommeliers' Champagne choices
Ron and Bev at the Sommelier's Perspective
My final seminar was my most highly anticipated. I have written extensively on Anselme Selosse in this blog (Selosse: Terroir expression or market misdirection?) and dialogued with Tom Stevenson, noted Champagne writer, on Selosse's style (Tom Stevenson's Selosse critiques; Galloni versus Stevenson; and Continuation of response to Tom Stevenson) so I was looking forward to getting his perspective on the issues. Anselme speaks little English so a translator was utilized to facilitate communication between him and the audience. Peter Liem moderated the session. This session had a few shortcomings in that (i) Peter's questioning was not tightly focused enough, (ii) the translator seemed to not fully relay what Anselme was saying, and (iii) just the fact that a translator was being used meant that we got half of the input that we would have if we spoke French. That being said, it was a fascinating session. Anselme is extremely philosophical in his approach to winemaking and conveys that in both his speech and carriage. I disagree with him on his concept of minerality but he is the winemaker and I am the drinker. Ron and I queried him on the Tom Stevenson issue and he became very animated; he left the translator behind. I cannot be convinced that the translator captured the length and breadth of all that he said in response to those two queries. Anyway, click here for my blog post on the Selosse seminar.

Anselme Selosse, Jean-Baptiste Cristini, and Pascaline Lepeltier
Sposa with Anselme Selosse post seminar
Author with Peter Liem
After my final seminar, I repaired to the main area where the Grand Tasting was being held. Ron had already made a pass through so were were able to head to the "prime" spots first before doing a more stately pass through the bevy of pourers.

And the Champagne flowed. each table was pouring either three or four bottles of their estate's best offerings. It all went too quickly. In addition to the Champagne tables, there were a number of food stations peppered throughout the hall with the standouts being, in my opinion, a spicy, yielding, wagyu beef from DeBragga. The Grand Tasting was scheduled to end at three and these guys were relentless in getting pourers and attendees out so that they could prepare for the Gala Dinner.

Ron with Anselme Selosse at the Grand Tasting
The dinner was a blast. And not because of the food, which was, with the exception of the chicken, less-than-memorable. But that faded into a distant memory, drowned under an avalanche of fermented beverages, sharing and comparing of stories and wines, and establishing contacts for the "next time."

We were welcomed with glasses of Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos 2011 and that was featured throughout the cocktail hour. Canapés prepared by James Kent, Abram Bissel, Guenter Seeger, and Daniel Boulud were served during this period.

Our table ran along the far wall and we were seated next the the owner of Wally's and just behind our Chief Interlocutor for the evening, Zach Baum of Crush Wine and Spirits.

The evening began rather tamely with some relatively basic mags but then began to pick up the pace, both in terms of quantity and quality. Each person had three glasses and those very quickly became inadequate for the volume of wine that was rapidly coming downstream. For example, our table was being managed by Levi Dalton, Raj Parr, and the Somm from the Bristol Hotel in Paris. These guys were in charge of our wines and ensuring that we got them in a timely fashion. In addition, the producers were walking around and pouring their wines into your glasses (At least one producer sat at each table.). In addition, folks from other tables were bringing their wines over and pouring us. And, finally, Crush Wines had instructed that every wine poured at their table should be poured for us also. Pretty soon I was drowning. A partial listing of the Champagnes poured at dinner is provided below as an Addendum.

Cristal Rosé in Mag

Lobster: Marinated with Truffles, Grapefruit, and Radish
-- Abram Bissel

Roasted Poularde: Porcini Cream, Oyster Mushrooms, Salsify,
and Swiss Chard - Daniel Boulud

Part of our contribution to the evening

This was a Champagne dinner but we figured that by the end of the evening, folks would be craving some red wine so Ron and I took, in addition to some excellent Champagnes, multiple bottles of Burgundy and Barolo.

Red wine time
Ron with a bottle of '99 Chambertin
Parlo and Bev with Daniel Johnnes
Beauty and the Beasts. Nicole Beloyianis,
Event Organizer, between Ron and Author
A great night. Drank some phenomenal Champagnes. Met some good people. Drank some great reds (By the way, the guys from Wally's brought a 1982 L'Evangile, one of my favorite wines). I would be remiss in not pointing out what a great job Nicole did from Day One up until the last glass was drained. It was a pleasure to work with efficiency so immaculately packaged. Kudos to Peter and Daniel for visioning this event and delivering at such a high level the first time out of the gate. I will be back.


Addendum -- Partial List of Champagnes Poured at the Gala Dinner (as compiled by Ron Siegel)

1976 Dom Ruinart BB Mag
1989 Krug Collection Mag
1985 Dom Rosé Oenotheque Mag
1923 Veuve Clicquot Mag
1982 Dom Oenotheque Mag
NV Raphaele & Vincent Bereche Côte Millesime 3L
1981 Krug Collection Mag
1975 Dom Mag
1975 Bollinger RD 3L
L'Accomplie Brut 3L
1999 Pierre Peters Cuvee Special Mag
1990 Dom Mag
2002 Dom Ruinart Mag
1996 Bollinger Grande Anee Mag
1989 Clos ds Goisse Philipponnat Mag
1995 Cristal Mag
1995 Dom Oenotheque
1989 Cristal Mag
1964 Delamotte Mag
1979 Cristal
1982 Agrapart & Fils Mineral BB Mag
1990 Dom
1982 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie Mag
1988 Dom
1985 Dom
1985 Deutz Cuvee William Millesime
1982 Dom
1976 Taittinger Comte Champagne

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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