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imagesNot that you needed an excuse to pop a cork, but global Champagne Day is October 25. In restaurants, bars, living rooms and maybe even (evolved) offices, wine drinkers around the planet will be sipping frothy bubbles from the Champagne region of France. Which, by the way, is the only place true Champagne comes from. It’s not that other bubbly is bad; it just never tastes quite like the Real Deal.

Here are some fun facts to know about Champagne while you’re sipping:

1. The Champagne region is the easiest wine region to visit in France. Just an hour and a half train ride from Paris, and you’re there.

2. Champagne is the most northern wine region in France and the wines have unbelievable freshness and crispness as a result.

3. All Champagne can only be made from three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

4. The bubbles in all Champagne are the result of a long, expensive process of a second fermentation inside each individual bottle. (Champagne, unlike cola or sparkling water—or even other sparkling wines—is not carbonated).

5. Champagne can only be made in Champagne, France. Sparkling wines made in other parts of France are called crémant.

6. The biggest flavor differences between Champagne and other sparklers comes down to 2 things: minerality (which is the result of Champagne’s amazing limestone soils) and creamy complexity (which is the result of the long years Champagne spends in contact with yeasts).

The wine of all wines

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

A tasting of DRC we attended this past month.

It’s getting close to spring in Naples, and that means one thing for us at Decanted…new releases. Yes, new releases in the spring! And not from the southern hemisphere. The spring brings about lots of excitement in the wine world, with some of the most sought after wineries releasing their newest vintages from California, Italy, and France. But one winery trumps all others…Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC for short) dates back to 1272 when the Abbey of Saint Vivant in Vosne acquired 1.8 hectares of vineyard in Burgundy, France. In 1631 it changed hands to the de Croonembourg family, who renamed it Romanée, they also acquired what was to be one of the most famous winery vineyards – La Tâche. After a bidding war in 1760 between the mistress of Louis XV of France and Louis Francois, prince of Conti (who won and changed the name to Romanee-Conti), the winery was seized during the revolution and auctioned off. The winning bidder sold it off again in 1869 to Jacques-Marie Duvault-Bloche who has built the Domaine into what it is today.

So what’s so special about DRC?
In France, everything is about the land and DRC is no different. Their vineyard holdings in Burgundy include some of the best: La Tache, Romanee-Conti, Richebourg, Romanee-St-Vivant, Grands Echezeaux, Echezeaux, and Montrachet. All of the vineyards are Grand Cru, the highest rank in Burgundy, indicating that they are among the best selections of land in the region for Pinot Noir growth. Of these, La Tache and Romanee-Conti are not only the most sought after from the winery, but some of the most coveted wines in the world. Both vineyards are monopoles.

A monopole is a designation given to a vineyard when the vineyard is controlled and all wine is produced by one winery. This is extremely rare in France, especially Burgundy, due to Napoleonic inheritance laws that have been in place for centuries. According to the law, all property inheritance must be split equally between heirs. As you can imagine, some modern-day properties have now been split hundreds of times resulting in some parties owning single rows in a vineyard…hardly enough to produce a significant amount of wine. Once the wine reaches the production facility, modern technology is mixed with traditional methods using the best oak from the Troncais forests (France) for their barrels.

How do I get a bottle of DRC?
There are a few obstacles to being able to actually drink a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. The first being price. The recently released 2009 vintage (one of the best on record), starts at $1,000….for one bottle. We get a lot of questions about whether the wine is worth the price or not. I usually answer with the explanation of how special the land is, that I addressed in the previous paragraph AND the fact that there is not much of it…at all. Which leads to the second problem, the wine is highly allocated. Allocated is a term used in the wine industry for wineries that hand select who receives the wine. Selection is based on a various number of factors including purchase history and support of other brands that a winery owns. In my experience as a retailer, DRC is one of the only wineries in the world that has survived (and thrived) the recession and emerged with not only a strong allocation list, but lengthy waiting list. As in any industry, price is affected by supply and demand.

But if you are looking to get a bottle of DRC on your hands, now is the time. The wine of all wines is now in pre-order and a know a number of retailers (ourselves included 😉 ) who are in the process of selling their allocation now. And if you do get a bottle, call me.

New Arrivals: Value Section

We’ve all been there, we’re three bottles deep with a group of friends and no one can even taste the wine – but we want more…OR that neighbor that couldn’t tell the difference between Kendall Jackson and Kistler ‘pops over for a drink’…OR it’s just Monday night and you really don’t want to open that special bottle.  So we’ve created a new value or best buy area of the store and website for just those occasions and any other reasons you can think of.

We started by doing some massive tasting (I know our job is rough) of wines we can retail for under $15 and came up with about 15 or so to start the section with.  We’ll be continually tasting and look for great finds and rotating them on a weekly basis, so be sure to check it out – we promise there will always be something new.

We picked up a few pointers when searching out these wines.  When it comes to value – think outside the box.  Leave Napa and Sonoma behind and try exploring some other less ‘popular’ regions.  Spain has probably the best values coming out of Europe right now, nice full bodied fruit with smooth tannins…high quality wines that would be priced in the $20 range in the states.  Australia took a beating after the whole over production fiasco a few years ago, but some of the smaller wineries are starting to rebound and with lower prices.  Often we think of French wines as rare and expensive, however if you look to value areas like the Rhone & Languedoc you can find some great values.  Also try buying wines that are made outside their region.  Many Europe wine production rules state that only specific grapes can be grown in a region to be sold as that region’s wine.  For example, in Burgundy, France only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gamay can be produced and sold as a ‘Burgundy’ wine.  However, we found a fantastic sparkling made in the Champagne style (can’t be called Champagne because its not from that region) that is produced in Burgundy out of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir…for only $9 a bottle!  You can’t get better quality Chardonnay and Pinot that from Burgundy.  And last but not least, try something new.  It won’t kill you, actually it will only cost you a few bucks…it may open your world to something you never imagined… 🙂

Some of our Value Wine Selections

Kilda Chardonnay & Shiraz

Louis Perdrier Brut & Brut Rose
Burgundy, France

Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Reserve, Carmenere & Cabernet Sauvignon
$11 (Pinot is $13)

Vina Borgia Tinto

Campos Reales Tempranillo

Ponga Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand

Protocolo Blanco & Tinto

Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay
South Africa

Colosi Rosso
Silicy, Italy