Entertainment | Restaurants & Dining | December 2005
|Ultraglam: Champagne by the Glass at Café des Artistes|
Kathy Taylor - PVNN
New York's trendy Bubbles wine bar has over 16 champagnes available nightly by the glass. Café des Artistes in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico has a rival cellar, and recently offered an evening of Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot tasting to celebrate their 15th anniversary.
|Chef/Proprietor Thierry Blouet with his wife Rosa Martha.|
|Andrea and David Wagner of Oakville, Canada.|
|Moet Hennessey Brand Manager Mexico Berengere Chassat with Moet Hennessey USA's Phil Mosthof.|
One of the hottest new trends in restaurants and wine bars, as ultraglam as it gets, is champagne by the glass. And leading the way is Puerto Vallarta's Café des Artistes. Thierry Blouet's Cocina de Autor has a dedicated champagne lounge, with an assortment of champagnes on ice, for diners to enjoy before, with, and after the signature chef's menu in his intimate dining room.
While once exclusively the ultimate symbol of sophistication and celebration, champagne's public persona is experiencing a transformation. It is rapidly being considered more accessible, more of an everyday wine, while not losing any of its sex symbol status. Much of this transformation is the result of revolutionary food pairings, and some of it comes down to plain engineering.
Once opened, a bottle of champagne is usually quaffed at a single sitting. After all, what is the bubbly without the bubbles? Over the years many designs of champagne stoppers have been invented to hold in the pressure without any real success. The pressure in a champagne bottle is typically between 70 and 90 pounds per square inch and those bubbles pack a lot of punch - just watch a cork ricochet like a bullet around a room.
By the way, that's a no-no, for more than one reason. The cork should not pop. As the saying goes, "The ear's gain is the palate's loss." Newly engineered "keepsake" stoppers will hold an opened bottle of champagne in very good condition with no loss of quality for 3 or more days in the refrigerator.
Cocina de Autor features a cozy, jazzy lounge area dominated by an array of bottles of champagne on ice. This predilection to elegance and state of the art industry trends made it a natural for Chef Thierry Blouet to offer champagne tastings as a signature event of his 15th anniversary celebrations.
Leading the tasting at Café des Artistes Constantini Wine Bar was Daniel Mendez, Sommelier at Nuevo Vallarta's luxurious Mayan Palace, and Moet Hennessy brand representative for Mexico, Berengere Chassat, a native of France who lived and studied in the Champagne region for five years.
|"Be gentle, let the aroma release, like a nice perfume."|
|Observe, swirl, sip.|
|"We'll never drink champagne the same way again." Nanette and Howard Rowley.|
|Sr. and Sra. Hector Perez Garcia. Sr. Garcia is the Puerto Vallarta president of CANIRAC, the National Association of the Restaurant Industry.|
|Daniel Mendez, Guest Sommelier.|
|Berengere Chassat and Rosa Martha Blouet enjoy a Hennessey Cognac Mojito.|
Moet & Chandon accounts for 75% of all Mexican champagne sales, according to Berengere, but here in Puerto Vallarta, Veuve Clicquot reigns. This reversal of popularity is attributed to Puerto Vallarta's resort lifestyle, dominated by visitors from the United States, where Clicquot is #1 in sales.
Sommelier Mendez introduced the wines to be tasted:
• Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial
• Veuve Clicquot Brut
• Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Rosé
• Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial
• Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec
All of these wines are non-vintage and enjoy popularity on most top tier wine lists. For the tasting a classic white wine glass was used instead of a champagne flute. Flutes are still considered the only glass for sipping champagne as an aperitif, however, tulip glasses are becoming de rigeur when champagne accompanies a meal.
Mendez poured the Moet Brut and instructed:
1. With a napkin, wipe the condensation off the side of the glass, so the wine can be viewed. This is not to observe color, as with other wines, as most champagnes share the same light straw-colored hue, but to observe the effervescence. The size of the bubbles indicates the quality of the champagne - the smaller the bubble, the better the wine.
2. Swirl the wine gently so it dances up the side of the glass. Why? To release the nose, the aroma of the champagne, "like a nice perfume", says Mendez. Drop your nose completely into the glass, and inhale deeply. Concentrate, and try to identify the scent.
At this point, Mendez opens his Nez du Vin kit and passes around a vial. An essential sommelier tool, aromas in this kit come from red and white wines (including Champagne) from around the globe.
3. Smell the vial and compare with the olfactory memory of the aroma of the wine you just inhaled.
4. Take a mouthful of wine, hold it in your mouth for 10 seconds, swishing gently from side to side, and swallow. Keep your mouth closed and breathe out through your nose. Rub your tongue on your palate, the roof of your mouth, and the flavour of the aroma should be released.
Champagne is "always very citric", said Mendez, and the Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial was no exception. Dry and crisp, grapefruit was the dominant note, matching the hinted aroma of the vial.
The other "sec", dry champagne being tasted was the Veuve Clicquot Brut, which tasted slightly "toasty", another classic champagne characteristic.
Pink champagne, generally regarded as a "girly" drink in the past, is revamping its frivolous reputation. The rosés are much in demand these days, perhaps due in part to their rarity. Vintage rosés are difficult to find - for example the 1998 Veuve Clicquot Rosé is not even available in Mexico, and is one of the few vintages available in the States.
The little town of Bouzy in the Champagne region of France is the home of the rosés, a blend of the juice of three varietals, two red and one white. The white is Chardonnay, and the reds are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Meunier, whose parentage is Pinot Noir, is particular to Bouzy, due to perfect climate and soil conditions, but it is now gracing some Australian vineyards, where it is used to blend sparkling wines.
The Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Rosé, had a slightly floral nose, "like a petal of rose," said Berengere. There was a trace of strawberry on the palate, which was not surprising given the Pinot Noir influence.
Two vials were passed during the tasting of the sweeter champagnes, the dessert wines, one familiar and one obscure. The familiar scent of pear was readily identifiable, but the second aroma remained a mystery until the sommelier, with his practiced nose, named hazelnut as the other aroma.
Champagne, of all the sparkling wines, contains very little residual sugar, just enough to balance the acidity of the grapes. The demi-secs tasted each had the same amount of residual sugar, but the results were dramatically different on the palate. The Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial lived up to its name, with a dominant ripe pear nectar flavour. The Veuve Clicquot was not as fruit-rounded, but finished slightly flatter, with subtle honey and toasted hazelnut notes.
The evening was rounded out with a succession of Café des Artiste appetizer selections. Their layered almond cream was reincarnated with the addition of sea bass, cucumber and blackberry in the mushroom balsamic reduction at the bottom of the pony glass.
Next was a Caesar bruschetta, a thin crisp slice of toasted baguette topped with creamy garlicky chopped romaine.
An explosion of color and taste followed with the delivery of a jicama and spinach wrap drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Hot on its heels was a sizzling crab wonton with a mango coulis.
Artistes' renowned tuna tartare, studded with dried apricots and toasted almonds, and gently spiced with ginger rounded out the evening.
Café des Artistes devotees, Nanette and Howard Rowley, regular visitors from their home in Utah, said that they had drunk champagne "all over the world, and much of it in France." But after the tasting at Café des Artistes, "we'll never drink champagne the same way again."
They just might have to avoid Paris and come back to Puerto Vallarta to do it though.