Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Great Champagne Quandary: An Afternoon with Pol Roger

Do we really need a celebration to have Champagne? Why is it that typically there has to be a wedding, birthday, or New Years to pop open a bottle of bubbly? Champagne pairs well with food, so why not open a bottle simply while prepping dinner?

Somehow, though, most people feel as if they need some rational to reach for a bottle of bubbly.

Mind you there have been some who could find excuses easily. Coco Chanel is said to have only drunk Champagne on two occasions – when she was in love or when she was not. Churchill started his day with Pol Roger – a bottle a day just to get things going. Someone, I’m not sure who, said you needed Champagne as much in defeat as in victory.

Last week, I decided that being a sunny Sunday afternoon was reason enough to have a bottle of Champagne. But not just any bottle, the day merited a great bottle of bubbles.

Surprisingly, I experienced a nagging sense that I was being decadent or doing something over the top. There were, after all, accomplishments and achievements over the last few months that I hadn’t yet taken time to acknowledge or celebrate. To hell with it, it was Sunday afternoon and I was alive and well – that was reason enough.

Now all that was over with, the question became what to have? Something with just a little edge – a Blanc de Blanc with a little power to it. I considered the two bottles of Salon but they need a little age. I’m also still using the notion that they are investments to justify the inclusion in the cellar.

Since there were no other bottles of Champagne in the wine fridge or in the rack, it was off to the liquor store. On the way, I still had to fight off that annoying sense of needing a reason.

After exploring the latest new arrivals at the liquor store, I found a bottle of Pol Roger vintage Blanc de Blanc – a 1999. All the grapes from this cuvee are from grand cru vineyards in the Cotes de Blancs. All the bottles have undergone hand remuage. The 1999 vintage was warm, and the rain came at the right time. Good vintage, good grapes, good producer. This was just what I was looking for. By the time I got home, the nagging went away.

The bottle went into the ice bucket immediately, and after what seemed to be a suitable interval to show some decorum, the bottle was opened.

The bubbles were very fine and persistent to the eye, a wonderful light gold colour. The nose was at first toast and almonds, then after a few moments floral notes started coming to the forefront with a secondary note of iodine or seashore if you prefer. All good so far, in fact the nose was quite wonderful.

On the palate the acidity was well balanced by the 10.5 grams of residual sugar. The palate as well started out toasty, but not as yeasty as I’d expected. The floral got a little more specific and became all violets. The bubbles remained persistent in the glass. The finish was long, and it had a nice edge right till the end of the bottle. Seafood – oysters especially – would be a good food match.

And there’s no question that being Sunday afternoon was reason enough to have this excellent Blanc de Blanc.

Retail was $88 at the LCB, but this Champagne seems to be available for around $80 on the net.

Susan’s Note:
Personally, I’ve always thought of Coco as having had a remarkably astute attitude to life in addition to exquisite taste.

I’ve heard Frank’s quote of uncertain origin – in victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it – attributed to Winston Church but more often to Napoleon. Who knows, perhaps it was a grand case of plagiarism. Regardless, it’s got a charm, wit, and wisdom that I like.

However, one of my favourite quotes is from the grand lady of Champagne herself – Lily Bollinger. When asked when she drank Champagne, her famous reply was:

I only drink Champagne when I’m happy… and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – I unless I’m thirsty.

So now it’s the Monday of a long weekend – sounds like an excellent reason for another bottle of good bubbles.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cacique: Costa Rican Adventures and Vodkas

April 16th had finally arrived, and my sister and I were winging our way off on our annual vacation. These tropical jaunts are strictly a girls only event and typically involve some really tough, daily decisions – whether to suntan on the beach or beside the pool, are we having afternoon cocktails and appies on the patio or the open air lounge, and, of course, which wine to drink with dinner. Yes, it’s often difficult, but someone has to accept these challenges.

This year, Anita and I chose Costa Rica, a place neither of us have visited before. So get set for the first of several installments about our culinary adventures in South America.

My one goal for this trip had been to be ensconced at the Flamingo Beach Resort’s swim up bar( seen below) with Piña Colada in hand no more than 30 minutes after arrival at the hotel. In the end, though, I only had one Piña Colada the entire trip because that first evening I discovered Cacique, the locally produced, clear spirit that Costa Rica has claimed as its national drink.

Made from cane sugar – of which there is a whole lot growing everywhere – Cacique is sometimes called the Tico Vodka (Tico referring to all things Costa Rican). Over the course of the week, we tried it straight up, on ice, and in Pura Vidas – a delicious tropical cocktail made from crushed lime, OJ, Cacique, and just enough Grenadine to give it a lovely pinky-red colour. Miguel, one of our bartenders (shown left) was always delighted to pour another version or demonstrate the technique of crushing limes to make the flavour just so.

Ultimately, though, we decided Cacique is best served on the rocks perhaps with a twist of lime. It has an uncluttered, refreshing taste, and with a 35% alcohol content, it’s a little lighter than most comparable spirits so it’s easy to drink.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get anywhere except Costa Rica. We both spent some considerable amount of time after getting back home and only came up with one possibility. Actually, as an American, Anita has one possibility: as a Canadian, I appear to have none because they don’t ship here. Check out the Guaro website and let us know if you figure it out.

At the duty free on the way home, I picked up a bottle of VSOP Hennessy and one $6 bottle of Cacique. Anita went all out, snagging two bottles of Tico Vodka. In retrospect, perhaps she made the better choice. Guess we’ll just have to head back to Costa Rica when our supplies run out.