Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Arnaud Margaine Champagne Traditionelle Demi-Sec, $34, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Wines. How often do you come across a demi-sec Champagne? I have seen literally two on retail shelves (that I can remember), and this is one of them. The Demi-sec designation indicates between 33-50 grams per liter of residual sugar. This is surpassed by only the Doux, or sweet, designation at more than 50 grams per liter. Brut, at under 15 grams per liter is the most common wine we see.

Champagne hipsters seem to be gravitating towards Extra Brut (under 6 grams per liter) or Brut Zero / Brut Natural (under 3 grams per liter). As I understand it, Demi-sec Champagnes are not exactly all the rage right now. Maybe this is because people already have the impression that Champagne is too sweet. They're probably drinking insipid Brut wines from enormous houses, wines that are not balanced and seem sweet even at the Brut designation. As has already been pointed out by a certain Champagne writer, the level of residual sugar cannot on its own describe a wine, does not indicate whether or not it will taste sweet or dry.

Margaine's estate is located in the 1er Cru village of Villers-Marmery at the eastern edge of the Montagne de Reims. Although Pinot Noir and Meunier are far more common in the Montagne de Reims, this village is about 95% Chardonnay. Margaine's Brut wines are almost all Chardonnay, his Special Club wines are Blanc de Blancs. This demi-sec is 90% Chardonnay.

I first tasted this wine a little over a year ago, when I was beginning to delve into grower Champagne. I saw it on the shelf and I figured "I like demi-sec Vouvray and Montlouis, why shouldn't I like this wine." And like it I did. Here are my notes from back then:

Bright aromas of citrus and yeast, some white chocolate comes though with air time. Well balanced with sweetness and floral flavors, and tense with acidity. Well done in that the wine is sweet but not cloying, and in fact the sweetness is almost in the background. The balance of citrus, chalk, yeast, and white chocolate is the story.
I bought another bottle immediately afterwards and drank it again on Friday. Although I liked it, it didn't have the same freshness and tense acidity that I found earlier. Maybe wines with more residual sugar (this particular one has 28 grams per liter and could technically be designated sec) should be consumed shortly after disgorging in order to retain freshness. Maybe my palate has evolved in a year. I really don't know. But the wine was not as fresh as I would have liked, and so the sweetness felt a bit heavy.

Ever had a Sec, Demi-sec, or Doux Champagne? Like? No like? I definitely want to try another, but not as dessert. I bet a good Demi-sec would pair beautifully with food...but what food? Theise recommends unagi (Japanese cooked eel with a sweet sauce) or something like Scallops with mango and lemon zest.


Anonymous said...

I have not liked any of the 6-8 demi-sec Champagnes I've tried. Not enough acids for the sweetness level just makes them unenjoyable to me.

Brooklynguy said...

there must be one out there with enough acidity to stand up to the sugar. i bet it's a specific producer making a good one every year.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are a many more demi-sec champagnes produced than actually make it to the American market. There is some confusion about what sec and demi-sec actually mean taste-wize for the champagne. It really comes down to how many grams of residual sugar and how long the wine has been on the lees before disgorgement.

But I agree with you that demi-secs can be excellent.

I think with the demi-sec, you might want to pair it with some of the traditional Loire Valley dishes that go so well with some of the demi-secs chenins (I realise that chenin has a different aromatic profile). I mean rillettes, or goats cheese (or triple cream cheeses like Chaource or Brillat Savarin...even richer fish dishes that have some cream.

The acidity and topographical relief of the bubbles would cut through the fattiness of those dishes and the sweetness of the demi-sec gives the wine that much more of a richer aromatic and flavor profile that it can stand up to those kinds of dishes.