This past weekend I went to New Orleans for the first ever Independent Champagne & Sparkling Wine Invitational (ICSWI) thanks to this blog post which ended up winning me the Cork’d grand prize in their bubbles contest. The grand prize included tickets to all of the major events associated with ICSWI as well as hotel stays at the Astor Crowne Plaza right in the heart of the French Quarter.
I have to admit I am still a bit overwhelmed with the overall experience. So much so that I really don’t know where to start explaining my thoughts from this trip, nor describe the more than 100 champagnes I tasted, in one single blog post. So, instead of writing 'till my hearts content, describing each amazing wine I tasted, the people I met, including many of the growers themselves who traveled all the way from France… (all of this would take up hours of your reading pleasure, btw) I will instead start with some the highlights… told through photographs (okay, and maybe some words).
We started off the first day in a wine seminar called Making Sense of Champagne which started off with the engaging and well spoken Charles Curtis, MW and Head of North American Wine Sales for Christie’s auction house, discussing a brief history and facts about Champagne as a region.
He then turned over the stage to the growers that were there representing their wines to discuss different styles of champagne.
Flight 1: Three Blanc de Blancs, wines made from all Chardonnay grapes. My favorite of this flight was the Pierre Peters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV
Flight 2: Four brut blends to show the art behind assemblage (blending different grape varietals into one wine).
Flight 3: Two different Blanc de Noirs, wines made from all Pinot Noir grapes.
Flight 4: Four vintage champagnes, covering 2000, 2003, and 2004, my two favorites were the Henri Goutorbe “Special Club” Brut 2002 and the Pierre Peters “Cuvée Spéciale” Les Chétillons Brut 2000
Flight 5: Four Rosé wines showing the difference in Rosé de Saignée versus Rosé d’Assemblage, my favorite of the four being the René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut NV
This was an incredible treat to get to hear many of the growers themselves discussing their wines, styles, and techniques. And for a few of them who could not speak English, Peter Liem was on hand to translate.
Next up was the grand tasting with, according to ICSWI, 250 different wines presented from 75 sparkling wine production houses, 72 Champagne growers, all in one room. Wow! The unfortunate part of the whole experience was the public turnout which was very low (“very” being an understatement). But the great part of that for me was that I got to meet and talk to most of the growers and representatives without ever feeling rushed or crowded or feeling like I wanted to elbow somebody in the backside of the head for being rude or pushy.
Here are some of the highlights:
After the grand tasting it was off to an exclusive caviar wine reception then a wine dinner at Galatoire’s where they paired Rosé Champagnes with dinner proving that Champagne, even Rosé Champagnes can hold up to any kind of food. Forgive me for not having any pictures of dinner; I didn’t want to be “that” person taking pictures of each course. I have only my memories, but you can Download Menu here.
Day two I was able to sit in on another seminar with a panel led by Alice Feiring and Lisa Granik MW, called “Tour de Monde: Sparkling wines of the world”. Here they presented new and old world examples of different production methods, varieties, terroirs, of different bubbles from around the globe including examples from France, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Austria, and the US. After tasting almost all Champagnes on day one the differences in these examples were incredibly distinct. A very cool demonstration of different nuances in bubbles from all over the globe.
Then back to the grand tasting.
I had many favorites of the event, but some of the standouts of the event included:
Didier Ducos Fills especially the Millesime Brut 2003!
Godmé Père et Fils
Le Brun Servenay, especially so after winemaker Patrick Le Brun described that he uses no malolactic fermentation and no barrels on any of the wines he presented. He described that he likes to present the purity of the fruit and terroir, and that certainly showed in all of his wines.
Vazart Coquart et Fills, especially the Brut Blanc de Blanc Special Club 2004 (this was a wine that gave me the chills… I even called it “magical” in my notes, so I guess that means I liked it... a lot)
And of course Pierre Peters and the very likable and charming owner Rodolphe Peters. I liked all the wines he presented especially the “Cuvée Spéciale” Les Chétillons Brut 2000 (mentioned above) and his "Rosé for Albane” Brut NV in which he named after his 9 year old daughter Albane.
(Winemaker Rodolphe Peters showing his wines)
For me the event was a priceless experience to learn so much more than I thought I knew about Champagne, and meet many of the growers I met, while tasting well over 100 different examples of some incredible Champagnes. I sincerely hope they do this unique event again next year, because if they do I will do whatever I can to be a part of it!
For additional photo highlights please check out my Vindulge fan page on Facebook.