Whatever the occasion may be – an anniversary, a romantic evening, a win in the lottery, a random Tuesday afternoon in the middle of summer – it’s always the right time to treat yourself to a good bottle of Champagne. And whether you remove it with a subtle hiss, a dramatic pop, or the quick flick, the moment the first glass is poured is an indication that a apartment is about to occur.
My white wine of the week is definitely the kind of wine that makes any occasion better, more delicious, happy and decadent. Champagne Legras & Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV may not be immediately recognizable as some of the more famous colleagues-Champagne is after all the French wine region with without a doubt the most brand-loyal consumer base-but it is a phenomenal wine by any metric , a great reminder of why it’s so important to explore the world of Champagne outside the most famous and well known houses, and a bottling that I suppose will win fans in this country pretty quickly.
In a region where many of the most famous houses tracing their roots back hundreds of years, Legras & Haas was founded just 30 years ago, in 1991. Yet the Legras brothers in charge today – Jérôme, Rémi and Olivier – share a vision and a will to produce champagnes , achieving the same elevated level of the best in the region. They succeed deliciously. This special bottling is deeply linked to the family and their country: they own 35 individual packages throughout the Grand Cru village of Chouilly (in Champagne, Grand Cru and Premier Cru status are determined by village, as opposed to eg Burgundy, where it is the vineyard itself, on which such a classification is based), and in a given year they produce up to five different expressions of Champagne from Chouilly. And because it is now imported by Demeine Estates, this remarkable house will be more widely available than it has been in the past.
This is known not only for its expressiveness, food friendliness and exquisite balance, but also because it drinks so ingeniously already, despite the fact that it will be able to continue to develop in the cellar for another decade: Proof that the best Brut NV Champagner can and will get older. The bottle I tasted, which was disgorged in February 2020, boasts aromas of gently toasted seed bread with a thin layer of lemon jam on top, all cut through with a deep core of minerality and a subtle dusting of spices. All of these precede a palate where assertive and classic White of white acidity is beautifully balanced against a creamy consistency that is still wonderfully energetic, all with flavors of pear puree, apple fritters, lemon blossom and honey animals, accompanied by a touch of gingerbread and a bass note of freshly baked brioche. This is wonderful right now, remarkably alone and at the table, and easily has a decade ahead of it, though there is no need to wait at all.
My week’s red wine, Carbone Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Napa Valley, comes from one of the great power pairs in the world of American wine: Annie Favia and Andy Erickson. Favia is one of the most respected winemakers in Napa, and Erickson is a famous winemaker who throughout his great career has been responsible for the wines of Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Arietta, Mayacamas and more. Today, the couple lives in Coombsville, where they own Favia Erickson winemakers and produce excellent wines under both the Favia and Carbone brands.
Unlike the wines on the Favia brand, Carbone is – essentially Favia’s other wine ‘ great wine– are meant to be enjoyed in their youth (despite their ability to age) and cost a lot less than Favia. They are named after Antonio Carbone, who built the home that Favia and Erickson live in now back in 1886. It is a delicious, bubbly, layered and appropriate tribute: Close and generous on the nose, yet with lots of energy that pulsates through crushed blueberries, cassis, candied violets, chocolate ganache and aromas of graphite that precede the taste of canned blueberries, café mocha, freshly ground cinnamon and suggestions for star anise. Dusty tannins, excellent mineral braided acid run through the middle, and a subtle sense of saltiness on the finish make this a remarkable wine at the table, especially with grilled beef, preferably done infrequently and still with a touch of iron-like seaweed. There is a deeply appealing opulence in the mouthfeel here, and the balance between generous fruit and more salty notes is unique. This promises to evolve in extremely rewarding ways in the next decade plus.
Annie Favia also produces ERDA tea, one of the most exquisite herbal teas I have ever tasted. They are all organically farmed on their Coombsville property, harvested by hand and dried at low temperatures. Each packet of whole-leaf and whole-flowered tea tastes like the pure essence of its components, but somehow … more: Peppermint is refreshing and complex, lifted but anchored and almost creamy in finish: It is just as subtle and complex as most mint-based herbal teas are obvious and blunt. Lemon verbena collects notes of citrus oil with suggestions from vanilla on the finish, all hanging with a floral and subtle herbal complexity. Mount Olympus, made from ironwort, is sneaky woody, almost vegetable, with quiet toasty and nutty notes like in a matcha: It’s amazing. Of all the herbal teas I have tasted, these are among the most expressive and set a very high bar for the heights that great herbal teas can reach.
If you’re a fan of coffee, it’s also worth checking out coffee from Hedonic, another California-based company (this is based in Berkeley) that sells what they call “terroir-powered coffee.” Each package contains a list of the producers or villages responsible for the beans themselves, the method by which they were processed, the varieties, short aromas and flavors and the “wine parallel”. For wine lovers who have not yet descended from the proverbial rabbit hole with coffee, Hedonic may be the gate and a delicious one: These are expertly groomed, wonderfully expressive and beautifully packaged. And the wine parallels are incredibly smart. The Sonoma Coast AVA mix collects e.g. Coffee from Kenya and Ethiopia and “evokes a day at the beach with its minerality and depth – the wine parallel is Pinot from the coast,” explained Kim Westerman, founder and CEO of Hedonic Coffee. The coffee “You Want It Darker”, named after the Leonard Cohen song, according to Westerman, is “a mixture of wet-foam Sumatra and sun-dried Ethiopia, which I have roasted to medium-dark. It is developed but not roasted, which is a delicate “It’s a good frying pan for people who put milk in their coffee; it’s chocolatey, rich and fruity, just like a California cab.”
Hedonic has also curated a range of signature coffees for the best winery partners, including Flowers Vineyards & Winery, Theorem Vineyards and the K. LAZ Wine Collection. It is also served to guests at Abbot’s Passage Winery & Mercantile in Glen Ellen, and will serve as the exclusive coffee supplier for the Huichica Music Festival in 2021 in Sonoma from October 15-16.
Finally, a deeply delicious spirit to end the week: The Simple Man Distillery Gullah Geechee Gin, which is distilled and bottled in Lilburn, Georgia, and is a spectacular performance of how expressive a particular place the best gin can be. I first tasted this remarkable gin at a pop-up restaurant in Philadelphia earlier this summer when James Beard-nominated chef Matthew Raiford and his wife, chef Tia McDonald Raiford, came to town. We enjoyed every bite of dinner one of those nights, and at one point Raiford brought the bottle over to share with my wife and I. It was, as the old saying goes, love at first sip.
The organic botany for gin is grown at Gilliard Farms near Brunswick, Georgia, by Raiford and Jovan Sage, who created the recipe for gin. According to Justin Douglas, founder and owner of Simple Man Distillery, the farm has “maintained the family of chef and farmer Matthew Raiford for seven generations.” It is an unforgettable gin, fresh and fragrant and distinctly summery, with bright, layered aromas of citrus and juniper that precede a silky-textured palate, kissed with distinct notes of sumac, hibiscus, juniper and more. It is excellent on its own and makes a seriously complex gin and tonic. For gin lovers, it is a bottle that needs to be added to the bar cart. And as a side note, I also recommend Raiford’s beautiful cookbook, “Bress ‘N’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer.”