We finally met Chandon Ambassador Stephanie Wolden and we were off to the winery. Most of the grapes had already been harvested by August 3rd, due to increasingly hot summers. It is important to remember that when making sparkling wine, the grapes should still have a relatively high acid level, to maintain a traditional and crisp style. The juice was being fermented in very large stainless steel tanks.
We then went down to the cellar where riddling was taking place. This is a process where the dead yeast cells are slowly moved to the neck of the bottle, for removal, as it is rotated upside down. It used to be done manually, but technological advances have made the use of gyropalettes commonplace. There was also an assembly line which freezes the yeast cells, removes them (disgorging), adds dosage (adjustment of sweetness level), corks the bottle and labels it. This process takes twenty minutes per bottle!
Stephanie then took us for a tasting in the Salon where we tried their Prestige Cuvee and Classic tastings, seven sparkling wines in total. The étoile Rosé was our favorite with spice, weight, and excellent fruit essences, excellent for summers, lighter fair and cheeses. Stephanie's enthusiasm and knowledge of the wines rounded out our tasting.
Knowing the quality of their still wines (I have their Pinot Meunier at ENO) I could not resist grabbing some of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The bottle never made it back to Chicago, as we splurged and opened it the following evening! It had excellent body for a Pinot with lively cherry fruit, spice, and even some tobacco on the finish.
I normally see Chandon classic sparkling wines on sale at Binny's for about $12/bottle so stock up if you enjoy the bubbly. Thanks again to Chandon and Stephanie!