By Gene Gonzalez
I got together with my wine collector friends, Jay Labrador and Arni Del Rosario, with the agenda of sampling two bottles from Jay. We were excited to try this boutique champagne that was produced from a four-hectare property of the said region in France, especially so because it was made by and named after a Filipina mestiza—Florence Duchêne. Her father is French and I did hear it was mentioned that her mother was from Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao.
The winemaker stemmed from a grower family, but she also kept roots in her mother’s homeland, as reflected in the line of bubbly. The brand has five unique cuvées made without malolactic fermentation to enable crispness and vivacity through long aging. Three cuvées were named Di Mangan, Kalikasan, and Bathala.
Our evening started when we poured the Florence Duchêne Le Brut Réserve that was bathing in a large ice bin. By coincidence, Dr. Ivo Dualan was tendering a multi-course dinner I had designed, and he decided to move one of the bottles he brought to our table. It was a Ulysse Collin ‘Les Maillons’ Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, a popular brand of champagne, but not available in the Philippines.
To immediately catch the nuances of the wine, Jay suggested we drink the different champagne in conventional stemmed glasses instead of the slim flutes commonly used to retard the rise of the bubbles.
Florence Duchêne Le Brut Réserve
The Le Brut Réserve was assembled with 50 percent Pinot Noir and 50 percent Pinot Meunier. Though there were differences in opinion among us, my palate welcomed the acidity of the golden liquid.
While smelling like red fruits, it had the tart cheeky allure of white fleshed fruits such a mangosteens, rambutan and lanzones. It also had a mild flavor of green mango, particularly the light bitterness of the skin. It also showed off some truffle. This did well with an amuse-bouche of sliced head cheese (Its name notwithstanding, it’s not dairy, but a terrine or meat jelly made from the head), with a light touch of creamy aioli and a sliver of cornichon.
As we had seconds, the temperature had risen and we found out that serving this at the extreme end of permissibility at about 11 to 12 degrees brought out more characters with a very subtle finish of hints of sweet spices, and floral essences mixed with herbs. A platter of caviar topped with a tiny quenelle of homemade mascarpone with a twist of lemon brought out a creamy, roundness to this wine. (I would have loved to pair this with a dessert course of various sorbets or maybe even meringues or macaroons.)
We decided to leave some to try with our main courses as we now popped the Bathala, a ruby-colored complex cuvée of 45 percent Chardonnay, 43 percent Pinot Noir Blanc, four percent Pinot Meunier, and eight percent Rouge Pinot Noir Cumières. Bathala, a tribute to the Filipino god the creator, and the brand felt such uniqueness called for the name to be a Rosé.
This pink version of the champagne has less acidity than the Le Brut Réserve. Characters of semi-ripe strawberries and raspberries with tart cranberries, bengal currants or carissa carandas, and pomegranates were easily discernible. Again, the finish had a hint of a liqueur of herbs, flowers, and perfumed spices. This seemed to be the signature style of the winemaker.
The Bathala is quite versatile. It paired well with Jay’s main course, salmon lasagna with saffron cream, and Arni’s thick, juicypork chops marinated with leeks, and fragranced with white and black pepper. Both the creaminess and fat from the salmon, and the caramelized, grilled nuances of the pork chops gave a creamy roundness to the Bathala.
Ulysse Collin ‘Les Maillons’ Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut
Finally, we opened Doc Ivo’s Ulysse Collin ‘Les Maillons’ Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut. It was not what we expected. We thought it was going to be bone dry since it had the extra brut on the label. The champagne tasted like opening a wooden crate of apples with characters of light wood cambium and mangosteen made from all black grapes (Blanc de Noirs).
It was well-hailed by the group. I wondered why a high production, high profile champagne like this widely available was not introduced to a traditional, label-conscious market like the Philippines.) We had the champagne with ice cream made with chunks of turrón, an unplanned course I served.
Not satisfied to stay with one dessert pairing, we had a nostalgic homemade rainbow pineapple ice cream, its robust and defined pineapple characters lent a fruit salad appeal to drink. Dinner ended with a smooth but strong digestif, a Sonoma Rye, after of course, we had polished off the rest of the champagne, and enjoyed their refreshing petillance.
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