“They put leaves in the bottle?”
What followed was a moment of mutual bewilderment. I was hosting a sparkling wine tasting and had totally misinterpreted my audience. ‘Lees’ is a pretty confusing French terms referring to dead yeast cells. Not a terribly romantic notion but those dead little yeast are quite magical in the way they can transform a wine. It’s easy to see how my bewildered taster arrived at leaves. We are Australian, used to lazy fricatives.
Sparkling wine production is an ethereal fusion of science and art. A still wine is made, just like any other by fermentation of grapes. Then in the traditional (Champagne) method the wine is bottled, and a little extra yeast and sugar is added to the wine before the bottle is sealed. When the wine begins to ferment again, the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast is trapped in the bottle and dissolves in the wine creating bubbles. This is when the lees comes into play. Those dead yeast cells start to break down after a while and, add some lovely toasty biscuity or bready notes to the fruit flavours in the wine. Those biscuity bready notes rock my world.
All pretty complicated right? I’m going to wrap this the same way I did for Mr Leaves and suggest that the best way to understand the process is to visit Domain Chandon in the Yarra Valley.
Chandon is one of the offshoots of Moët & Chandon, the Champagne house. They have set up bases in half a dozen locations outside of Champagne, and we are fortunate enough to have one just an hour out of Melbourne. When you visit the winery there is a fantastic tour that takes you through all aspects of how sparkling wine is made, from the primary fermentation – turning grape juice into wine, the second fermentation – getting the bubbles in the wine, and the process of riddling – removing the yeast from the bottle after the lees have worked their magic. It is a pretty complicated process but makes so much sense when you can step through the process and hear the story behind the wine. Of course, the best part is in the tasting at their cellar door.
However, if you don’t have a weekend free for adventure for a while there is something very exciting you should know…
In April The Emerson Rooftop is bringing Domaine Chandon to Melbourne for Chandon in the City
Taste a range of sparkling and still wines from Domaine Chandon at the pop-up cellar door, and dine on a menu curated by Chandon’s Greenpoint Brasserie whilst looking at the glittering lights of Melbourne from The Emerson Rooftop.
Here is a sneak peek of what you can expect.
Cured Ocean Trout with fennel, radish and herbed creme fraiche. This was matched with 2011 ‘The Gauntlet’ Blanc de Noir, a cellar door only release and a freaking stunning wine. Close your eyes and it tastes like plush red berries with a hint of pink grapefruit. Blanc de Noir translates as ‘white of black’, a white wine made from just black grapes. It provides such a lovely contrast – red wine berry flavours in a crisp sparkling white.
Charcuterie Board – terrine, rillettes, cured meats, mustards and pickles. Matched with 2015 Chandon Pinot Noir Rosé – strawberries and cream, crisp acidity and a lovely food-friendly texture.
Lemon Parsley Linguine, clams, Chandon, chilli and olive oil. Matched with 2015 Chandon Yarra Valley Pinot Gris – sweet green pears and spice with a silky mouthfeel and fresh acidity.
Grilled lamb cutlet, eggplant, raisin, pine nuts and ancient grains
Confit duck with braised du puy lentils , black cherry and hazelnuts
Grass fed sirloin, mushroom fricasee, potato mash, mustard and jus.
So much good food so much beautiful wine. Magical.
This is what you need to know:
The Chandon in the City pop-up operates from 5pm at The Emerson Rooftop every Tuesday to Thursday from the 5th until the 28th of April. You can taste the range of wines for just $5 per person (booking recommended) and purchase cellar door only releases. If you want to make a night of it, an a la carte menu is available so that you can linger over a glass or two of your favourite bubbles with some serious noms.
If you fancy a degustation with matched Chandon wines (and trust me, you do) then this is available for $170 per person ($120 for food only), pre-booking essential.
If you have a special occasion coming up you can have a Private Rooftop Experience on Monday 11th, 18th and 25th April for $200 per person with matched wines ($150 food only) – minimum of 30 people. Lush!
For more details check out The Emerson’s website
Disclosure: I was invited to the media launch of Chandon in the City at The Emerson Rooftop