By Eileen Weber
Nothing makes a celebration special like popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. Really, who doesn’t love bubbles? If you’re Ruth Frantz, founder of Henri’s Reserve boutique champagne company, you’d drink it with practically every meal.
“Champagne goes with everything!” she said. “[It] has been built up as a ‘beverage’ we only drink during the holidays and not as a wine with real terroir.”
Frantz kicked off her champagne business in Southport this past November. She hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since. Her concept is very niche and unique: all the champagnes that she purveys are from family-owned estates in France. You can’t get these babies anywhere else. They are small yield winemakers tied to the age-old tradition of terroir. Climate, soil, and farm practices make all the difference with each vintage.
Frantz considers the big champagne houses the “McDonald’s” of sparkling wine. Those makers canvas their grapes from an array of different farms within the Champagne region whereas these small makers only use the grapes they have farmed themselves for generations. The big makers create a homogenous taste—what you pop open today will taste exactly the same as what you will drink a year from now. She says that the small winemakers are to champagne what the microbrewers were to the beer industry in the early 90s.
What’s even better is that some of these boutique champagnes are organic and biodynamic—and they’re really good! Larmandier-Bernier, Fleury, and Vilmart & Cie are the brands that are all organic and biodynamic. In particular, Larmandier-Bernier is a premier champagne that is well known for their biodynamic practices.
Frantz admits, however, that there’s still a stigma with these wines. Out of the 4,000 champagne houses in wine-happy France, there are only a handful of organic and biodynamic winemakers.
She points out that if consumers have had a bad experience with an organic wine, they aren’t willing to try other organic wines let alone Champagne. Even so, these champagnes have become quite popular with top sommeliers and wine critics.
“Robert Parker lists Larmandier as one of his 15 top-rated champagnes,” said Frantz. “What makes Larmandier unique is that no one has had the courage to go biodynamic. They went biodynamic in 1999 and set themselves apart by doing this because all the other winemakers said it was too difficult and couldn’t be done.”
First conceived by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in 1924, the biodynamic process takes organic farming practices just a few steps further. While it also includes the organic process of crop diversity, composting, and integrated pest management to avoid using harsh chemicals and pesticides, they fertilize the soil using a cow’s horn filled with manure that is buried in the winter and then unearthed in the spring. That manure is then sprayed over the soil while ground quartz is buried in the cow’s horn for the summer. Yarrow flowers are buried in a stag’s bladder. Stinging nettles are also buried, but without a sheath. Throw in oak bark, chamomile, and dandelion flowers, and you’ve got yourself a soil party! All of this is done with an eye toward time of day and the lunar cycle.
A bit high maintenance, yes. But does it work?
“Biodynamic does taste different. You taste the terroir. It’s a very pure example,” said Frantz. “It’s the true expression of the grape and where it’s grown—the ultimate artisanal wine.”
Frantz has done a number of tasting events with her Champagnes. (One last fall was a cigar night for about 90 men and another this past spring was a food and wine pairing with celebrity chef Ming Tsai to raise money for a Kids4Peace camp.)
The Fairfield Green Food Guide asked Ruth Frantz to work her pairing magic with Executive Chef Carey Savona of Heirloom at The Study Hotel at Yale in New Haven to create a special event for our readers. In response, the two have choreographed a 5-5-55 concept: five plates matched with five Champagnes for $55 (excluding tax and gratuity) on July 27 at 8:00 pm.
Savona, who earned his kitchen stripes by working under such star restaurateurs as Drew Nieporent, sources locally from farms throughout Connecticut and the rest of New England. While his menu could be called farm-to-table, he doesn’t like that moniker. He calls his cuisine “Farm Coastal,” drawing as much from the land as he does from the waters of Long Island Sound. As he sees it, pairing his organic and sustainably farmed foods with Frantz’s organic and biodynamic champagnes is simply a win-win.
But, he is careful to say that just sourcing local isn’t enough. “Just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s good,” he said. “When you’re too hyper local, there’s not so much flavor focus.”
And, flavor is what it’s all about. Frantz’s wines are chosen for their intensity and aroma, color and flavor as much as the foods Savona cooks. To him, cooking with organic and locally sourced foods makes a huge difference in your culinary experience.
“There is definitely a taste difference between something that sat in a box in a warehouse and something that was just picked,” he said.
But when it comes to pairing those foods with wine, he considers the wine first before the menu.
“Lots of chefs will make food and then want the sommelier to figure out how to pair the wines, rather than the other way around,” he said. “There are more bad pairings that good ones sometimes.”
Frantz and Savona want the tasting experience to be approachable and enjoyable for guests, minus the pretense that can come with Champagne. By the same token, Savona said his menu won’t be conventional, which suits Frantz just fine. She likes pairing Champagnes with atypical foods: truffle popcorn and barbecue, for example.
For the FGFG tasting event at Heirloom, Frantz plans a little Champagne 101 to educate participants in how fundamentally different Champagnes can be from one another. Her flight will start with a blanc de blanc (from white wine grapes) then move on to a brut (dry as in no sweetness), a rosé (pale pink/salmon colored from red grapes), a blanc de noir (from red wine grapes), and a demi-sec (sweet, for dessert!). Savona will build five plates to match the flavors in the wines. (Keeping his cards close to his vest, he did not reveal his menu plans. Good things come to those who wait; we promise.)
If you would like to attend this special FGFG tasting event featuring Henri’s Reserve sustainable Champagnes paired with Heirloom’s Farm Coastal food, please call Heirloom at The Study at Yale at 203- 503-3919 to make a reservation. But hurry, seats will fill up quickly! We welcome you to post on our Facebook page if you’ll be attending.
For more information about these Champagnes or how you can order, visit the Henri’s Reserve web site at www.henrisreserve.com and let “Henri”, the fictitious Frenchman, guide you through the various tasty selections. You can purchase online, contact them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-888-999-8036.
Sustainable Champagne Dinner
Heirloom at the Study at Yale
$55 per person, excluding tax and gratuity