Pink Fire Pointer 2013

Champagne - Putting the Romance in Valentine's Day
If you're planning a romantic evening on Valentine's Day à deux, à trois, à quatre or more (who knows?) champagne seems to be the obvious choice of wine, but where does the link between romance and champagne come from? Here's a short run through of champagne's romantic history and a few tips for making this year's Valentine's Day that extra bit special. In fact champagne has been linked to love and romance for centuries. Back in the mid 18th century a certain French cardinal, of all people, by the name of de Bernis used the imagery of a champagne bottle popping open to make very thinly-veiled erotic suggestions in a poem to his would-be mistress the Marquise de Pompadour. She's the lady who famously said that 'champagne is the only drink that makes a woman more beautiful after drinking it than before' which is a pretty good line to remember for romantic occasions in any day and age. She must have been quite a beauty because she soon became the mistress of King Louis XV, presumably much to the disappointment of Cardinal de Bernis, but at least he had champagne to drown his sorrows. By the late 1700s in France the connection between seduction and champagne was well and truly established. Legend has it that the saucer-shaped champagne glasses called coupes were modelled on the the breasts of another famous French royal: Marie-Antoinette, who was the wife of king Louis XVI They were a saucy lot back at the court of kings Louis XV & XVI, but in fact the earliest reference to the magical seductive qualities of champagne was by an Englishman called Sir George Etheridge as long ago as 1675, so perhaps the French don't know everything about the art of seduction after all. There is a good reason why champagne can make you feel merry quite quickly, loosen your tongue and perhaps your inhibitions too. Unlike still wine which you have to take into the stomach before the alcohol is released into the bloodstream, with champagne the alcohol starts being released into your system when the bubbles burst in your mouth. Champagne is also the only wine you can appreciate with all of your senses: you can see the bubbles rising in the long, slender glass, you can smell the rich aromas, taste the flavours and feel the cool sensation of the wine if you run your finger down the outside of the glass and, if you raise the glass to your ear, you can even hear the bubbles dancing and bursting - so champagne is certainly sensuous as well as sensual. The effect was beautifully summed up in the novel 'Madame Bovary' by Gustav Flaubert: "Iced champagne was served, and the feel of the cold wine in her mouth gave Emma a shiver that ran over her from head to toe." You're probably going to want something to eat with your champagne, so what's it to be? Well, strawberries and chocolate are two delicacies that spring immediately to mind and, apparently, scientific tests have shown that all three have a clear beneficial effect on your state of mind. If you saw the movie Pretty Women you'll remember that Julia Roberts used to love to drop a strawberry right into her champagne glass. Champagne purists might turn their noses up at this but, if you enjoy it, go for it, but I'd recommend using rosé champagne rather than white champagne. For one thing the colour of rosé is enticing and romantic in itself, but the other reason is that rosé is a better complement to the strawberries. This is partly due to the matching colour, but also because rosé champagne often contains a higher proportion of red grapes, particularly Pinot Noir, than the equivalent white champagne and it's these grapes that give the champagne those lovely aromas and flavours of red fruit, including strawberries, so the two together are a match made in heaven. What about chocolate? Well, I hate to be a kill-joy, but chocolate and champagne really aren't that great a combination. It's down to you of course, but I think you'll get much more pleasure if you eat and drink them separately. The reason for this is that chocolate is rich and creamy in texture and can be quite sweet to the taste. On the other hand, most of the champagne we drink is brut meaning that it has a low sugar content and is fairly crisp and fresh on the palate. These two opposites are best enjoyed on their own. If you're absolutely set on eating chocolate with champagne here are a couple of tips that are well worth trying: Try white chocolate instead of dark chocolate with champagne Try a demi-sec champagne rather than a brut champagne Demi-sec is richer in sugar and makes for a much more satisfying, smoother combination with the sweetness of the chocolate. You'll find demi-sec champagne on sale in most good wines stores Whatever you chose, have a romantic Valentine's Day and remember what another Frenchman said about champagne. This time it was a famous gourmet from the 19th century by the name of Brillat-

Grower Champagne - Farmers' Market Or Supermarket?
It's difficult to beat the big champagne houses for glamour and sheer elegance, but there's a lot more to champagne than just those well-known names. The small, independent champagne makers offer a quite different experience and it is arguably amongst these many thousand small companies that the real heart of champagne can be found. The champagnes from these small producers are often called 'Grower Champagnes' and they can be spectacularly good. Here's why... Did you know that not a single one of the 'big name' brands has enough vineyards to supply all the grapes they need to produce the millions of bottles they sell every year? Many of them own enough vineyards to provide only between 10 - 25% of their grape requirements, and those that have vineyards that can provide as much as 70% of the grapes they need are very rare indeed. In fact, some famous brands have no vineyards of their own at all! Every single grape they need to make their champagne is bought from someone else So where do they get the rest of those grapes? Yes, you've guessed it. They buy them from the thousands of smaller, independent grape growers and champagne makers who between them own most of the vineyards in Champagne. The big brands are very demanding as regards the quality of the grapes they buy, so the grapes are usually very good, even if they have been grown by someone you've never heard of. But with all those top quality grapes in their vineyards there's an opportunity for the smaller champagne makers to hold on to some of their best grapes and make their own 'grower champagne' and this is exactly what more and more of them are doing. It's not just the quality of 'grower champagnes' that's driving the growing interest (sorry for the pun). In just the same reason why people sometimes want to go to a farmer's market instead of the supermarket all the time. They want to know more about exactly who produced their food and drink and to get to know them a little. The smaller scale is something people can get their head around and relate to. With 'grower champagnes' there's a chance to do just that. The trouble is that finding these champagnes is not always easy because the smaller makers are not always great at marketing. Take Domaines des Champagne Leclaire, for example. This family-owned company was founded way back in 1878 and the current owners Raynald and Virginie Leclaire represent the 6th generation of the family to follow in the footsteps of the founder Ernest Alfred Leclaire. The picture, taken in their cellars, shows Raynald in the centre, with his father to the right and his children too who, in a few years, will probably be the 7th generation of family champagne makers. The family home is in the main street of the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, but you won't find any signs outside - in fact it's a bit of a challenge finding the door bell! However, once you're inside, and have manoeuvred past the four children and the golf bag and trolley in the middle of the hall, the hospitality and the champagne are great. Virginie runs the commercial side of things and has secured business with several fine restaurants in France, whilst Raynald handles the champagne making. In fact, champagne making is only part of what Raynald does. His other job is as a 'courtier ' or grape broker - he sources, buys and sells grapes acting on behalf of whoever is in the market. His many years experience as a broker, mean he is highly regarded and he certainly knows a thing or two about grapes and about good champagne. Champagnes Leclaire itself has only 6 hectares of vines and makes a range of champagnes using only grapes from their own vineyards. Because they are not as commercially driven as some larger companies they can afford themselves the luxury of leaving their champagnes to age a long time. Take their Cuvée Sainte Apolline, their youngest champagne 'only' aged for 6 years - Wow. Cuvée Sainte Appoline is named after one of the Leclaire's daughters, and it's what is sometimes called a non-declared vintage - all the grapes in the champagne were harvested in a single year so technically it is a vintage champagne, but it is never declared as such to the authorities - there's so much red tape involved it's not worth the effort. It's a Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs (100 % Chardonnay) and has all the complex flavours, pronounced biscuity smells and warm golden colour that only extra long ageing can produce. There are several other champagnes in the Leclaire range including some old vintages going back quite a while Cuvée de la Princerie, a vintage 1996: Cuvée Carte d'Or from 1993, Cuvée Spéciale from1991 and last, but not least Cuvée Ernest Alfred Leclaire from 1976, although there are precious few bottles of this left. Old champagnes are an acquired taste and they don't suit everyone, but if you do enjoy this style then Champagnes Leclaire a

Champagne - A Grape of Many Talents
Ah, champagne. It's a French discovery synonymous with romance, celebration, and, for those who don't know how to properly open a bottle, safety goggles. Filled with flavor, essence, and history, champagne is a wine that people sometimes know little about. Often overlooked for a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild or a Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, champagne is frequently to the alcohol industry what the garter belt is to the fashion industry: it's only given attention during wedding receptions. It's not the champagne's fault; it didn't insult drinkers in a drunken, outspoken moment. Instead, it's the fault of the wine drinking community. The blame lies on our perception - or more pointedly misconception - of champagne. This misconception often happens because champagne has a reputation for being sweet, like a wine with a cheerful demeanor. This leads drinkers to limit its pairing, often pairing champagne only with foods that complement sweetness. Some common pairings include chocolate or cheese. And, of course, everyone knows few things beat getting under the covers and welcoming a romantic night cap of strawberries and champagne. Yes, we all know that champagne has a reputation for being good in bed. However, champagne is so much more than chocolate, cheese and strawberries; champagne is a drink that can be paired with many different food items. Full of celebration, and a bubbly personality, it is quickly becoming a drink everyone wants to take to dinner. The Categories First and foremost, it's important to understand the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. They have a lot in common and people tend to use them interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Both sparking wine and champagne is made the same way - with a second fermentation that causes carbonation - but only wine made in the Champagne area of France is allowed to be called Champagne. Those made outside this region, are simply called sparkling wines (pardon our French, Prosecco, we didn't make the rules). Many types of wine can be categorized by flavor and champagne is no exception to this rule. Just like other wines, some champagne is sweeter and some is drier. Overall, the categories to keep in mind when pairing food are the following: Doux Demi-sec Dry Extra Dry Brut Extra Brut On the spectrum of sweetness, Doux is the most sugary, while Extra Brut is the driest. Brut, teetering between dry and very dry, is the most popular; many champagne drinkers raise their glasses to it. The Foods Doux and Demi-Sec: If the French fries we dipped into our chocolate milkshakes as children taught us anything it was probably that saltiness goes well with things that are sweet. This rule is now carried over from childhood into adulthood: salty dishes complement the Doux and Demi-secs very well. Asian dishes, rich with soy sauce, potato chips, Mexican dishes, and fish, when it has a salty tint to it, all go well with Doux and Demi-secs. And, of course, nothing beats a nice glass of sweet champagne and a brand new salt lick. As for desserts, Doux and Demi-sec shouldn't be paired with something more sugary than they are: that kind of sweetness may just too sappy. Instead, these champagnes are good with slightly sweet dishes, such as pound cake and angel food cake, and bittersweet chocolates. For desserts that are sweet, a Doux or Demi-Sec is the best chance for enhancement. However, the sweeter the dessert, the harder if may be to pair with champagne. Some desserts may be so sweet that no champagne will work. Dry and Extra Dry: The word "dry" in a drink may sound contradictory. After all, a drink shouldn't leave you parched. Dry and Extra-dry champagnes aren't drinks built on aridness; instead, they are simply champagnes that aren't as sweet as they could be: think of them like champagnes with a chip on their shoulder. These types of champagne go well with fried food and sushi, particularly when the sushi is slightly on the salty side. They also go well with almonds, vegetables, Asian food, poultry, light and heavy cheeses, and, everyone's favorite, liver. As far as dessert is concerned, Dry and Extra Dry makes an ideal match for Flan, semi-sweet chocolates, and dishes that aren't overly sugary, such as fruit tarts. Brut and Extra Brut: Over achievers of the champagne world, Brut and Extra Brut go well with many, many dishes. The dryness of the champagne opens up a doorway allowing champagne to walk - scratch that - gallop, through. Among some of the dishes that go well with the driest champagnes include turkey, dishes made of eggs, pasta with cream or mushroom sauce, lobster, shrimp, poultry, nuts, and scallops. This type of champagne, despite its reputation, does not go well with sweet desserts; the dryness makes an awkward combination, like a glass of champagne and a slice of frosted cake that don't know what to say to each other.

What Are Grower Champagnes And Why Should You Try Them?
What are grower champagnes and why should you try them? To understand this we have to take a quick look at how the champagne region is organised. Who makes what in Champagne? The fame and fortune of champagne has been built over many centuries by a handful of famous brands. In fact, although you may not be able to name more than a handful, there are 100 or so large champagne companies and these are often called champagne houses or maisons in French. These maisons account for 2/3 of all the champagne sold each year (even more in export markets) and about ¾ of the sales value, yet the maisons only own about 12% of the vineyards. As you can imagine, these vineyards can supply only a fraction of the grapes the maisons need each year, so they have to buy the rest elsewhere. So where do they get the grapes from? The majority of the vineyards belong to another 15,000 individuals or small(ish) independent, companies, often family owned. In Champagne therefore the sales are controlled by the maisons, but the vineyards are controlled by the small growers. It's a symbiotic relationship which, generally speaking, has worked to the benefit of all concerned for many years. Most of these 15,000 grape growers simply sell their grapes to other people i.e to the maisons, which turn the grapes into champagne. By the way, the maisons are sometimes called négoces, or negotiators, because they have to do deals to buy their grapes. However about 1/3 of these grape growers have decided they want to participate in the actual champagne making process and (they hope) the profits associated with that. There are a few ways they can do that. Roughly 2.500 grape growers are members of cooperatives with whom they work in a number of possible ways. Often they deliver their grapes to the coop and the coop makes and sells the champagne, distributing a share of the profits back to the grape grower. Some grape growers prefer to get the coop to press the grapes for them and then they take back the juice so that they can complete the champagne making and sell it under their own brand name. That leaves about 2,500 more growers who keep some, or all, of their own grapes to make into champagne under their own brand name doing everything from A - Z themselves. It's these champagnes that are sometimes called 'grower champagnes' because the entire process is done by the person who actually grows the grapes. If you're on the look-out for grower champagnes you can spot them by the two letters RM which must, by law, appear somewhere on the label in small type. They stand for Récoltant Manipulant (literally Harvester and Maker). Don't get too hung up on these two letters mind you. It's over simplistic to assume that only RM champagnes are the 'real deal'. There are a few other designations to look at as well, but that's a story for another article. What about the taste? So much for the background, but what do these 'grower champagnes' actually taste like and are they any good? Well I'm not going to tell you that one type of champagne is better than another type; there's only one person that can give you the answer to that question and that's you. So you'll have to try some grower champagnes and decide for yourself. However 'grower champagnes' differ from the big brands in a few important ways Local v. Regional One of the big differences is that the négoces can, and do, strike deals with grape suppliers all over the Champagne region. This means that when they come to do the blending, they have a huge selection of wines of many types and styles to choose from and their blends can therefore be more complex than those of the grower champagnes. It's not very far wide of the mark to say that the aim of the big brands is to offer the consumer a taste that is representative of the entire Champagne area. The maisons will also say that this breadth of supply allows them to achieve greater consistency because a poor harvest in one location can be compensated by grapes from others some distance away. At the other end of the scale, the grower champagne maker often has only a few hectares of vines to provide the precious raw material and what's more, the vineyards tend to be concentrated in a fairly small area, or even a single village, often for no other reason than that his, or her, family has lived in that village for generations and bought vineyards there. That means that grower champagnes can give you a fascinating insight into the characteristics of a small sector of champagne and you'll find a surprising difference in style between grower champagnes from one place and another. This does mean that you'll have to work a bit harder (and drink a few more bottles) to understand the nuances between one village and the next or between La Côte des Blancs and La Montagne de Reims, for example. On the other hand you'll discover a depth and variety to champagne

All About Champagne
What is Champagne? Lets start with the fundamental question of what Champagne exactly is. Champagne is a sparkling wine. Simply put, a wine that has bubbles or is carbonated. Thus, Champagne is after all wine. Champagne is actually a northern region in France. It is here that Champagne is made and bottled for the world to enjoy. In fact, only if the wine is from the Champagne region, can it be called Champagne. If it is manufactured any where else in the world, it is known as sparkling wine. Origin Of Champagne The origin of Champagne like almost anything else is disputed. The most common folklore is that a monk with the name of Dom Pérignon introduced bubbles into the wine by mistake. However, he then went on to clarify and improve the drink dramatically and it came to be liked by French aristocracy. This led to the royal image of Champagne. The other theory however is that sparkling wine was first commercially produced in the region of Languedoc in the 1530s. The English also claim that they helped the drink. This is actually an interesting angle. There was a significant and strong trade of French wines to the British aisles. Most wine was fortified with a bit of brandy and sugar to help the wine along it arduous journey. However, Champagne, was much closer to the aisles, yet a certain amount of sugar was still added to them, as the British liked their wine sweet. Now the early bottling which left a small amount of yeast in the bottles with the added sugar, caused the carbon dioxide that is emitted during fermentation to be trapped inside the bottle. This led to fizzy wines. Now fizzy wines are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. At least that is what the marketing efforts in those times lead us to believe. And since then, Champagne has been used in all celebrations around the world. Whatever be the case, "Champagne" was born around the 1700s. Method Of Production methodé champenoise is the traditional method used in the making of Champagne. A primary fermentation of the wine occurs first. Pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay are the grapes used in the manufacturing of the wine. Now while bottling this wine, a few grams of yeast and a few more grams of rock sugar are added. This induces the secondary fermentation which produces the bubbles in the wine. As the yeast begins to consume the sugar, alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. Since the carbon dioxide is not allowed to escape, it is absorbed into the wine. Thus, when we open the champagne bottled, we are welcomed with tiny streaming bubbles. How To Serve Champagne Champagne should be served in Champagne flutes. A flute a slim glass which tapers slightly inwards towards the top. This helps in containing the bubbles for a longer period of time and hence, allows you to enjoy your Champagne to the fullest. Champagne is usually stored at 55 F in a dark damp location at an angle, like most other wine is. You must chill the Champagne for a few hours to bring the temperature down to 45 F before serving. Popping open a Champagne, though fun, leads to wastage of the drink and if you are paying $100 upwards for a bottle, you wouldn't want that to happen. Hence, Champagne must be sighed opened, but gently uncorking it at an angle of 45 degrees. This allows more of the champagne to remain in the bottle. Innovate With Champagne Champagne can also be enjoyed when mixed with other things as well to get some very smooth and refined cocktails. Mimosa's are a great way of having champagne. It was invented in 1925 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Add equal measures of champagne and orange juice in a champagne flute and garnish it with an orange slice to enjoy this lovely drink. Add 1/2 measure of Campari and make it a Grand Mimosa. Another great way to have champagne is to add 1/2 measure of crème de cassis to champagne. Garnish it with a twist of lemon peel. You can now enjoy the Kir Royale. Lastly, for the love of beer, you can have your champagne with stout too. Add chilled stout (preferably Guinness) to a chilled white wine glass and half fill it. Now add chilled champagne to top the glass. Incidently this drink was invented to mourn the death of Prince Albert, Husband of Queen Victoria). Hence the name, Black Velvet. More About Champagne There are different kinds of Champagne. These vary in their dryness and sweetness. The driest of all is the Brut. This is a standard Champagne. Next in line is Extra dry. If you prefer sweeter wines, then sec and semi sec are sweeter in that order. You also have the blanc de blancs which is made only from chardonnay grapes. and blanc de noirs, made from either or both pinot meunier and pinot noir. While the French like the Champagne to be young and youthful, the English prefer their Champagne to be rounder and mellower, hence they prefer aged wines. A little aging of wines in a dark cupboard is recommended for most champagnes. Atleast 6 months for regul