Head of the Blend - 2000 etoile Tête de Cuvée
A bottle of etoile Tête de Cuvée may disappear in an evening over dinner, but it takes years of patience, skill and passion to bring the wine to its fullest expression. Sparkling Winemaker Tom Tiburzi shares his thoughts on the history of this delicate and nuanced wine.
Tom Tiburzi - Domaine Chandon Winemaker
Like a proud father, Domaine Chandon Sparkling Winemaker Tom Tiburzi is always thinking about those under his care. While it’s Tom’s job to ensure his wines reach their fullest potential, unlike most parents, he freely admits to having a favorite—the 2000 etoile Tête de Cuvée, which “represents the best of the best,” Tom explains. "In French, ‘tête’ means ‘head,’ and ‘cuvée’ means ‘blend,’ so the literal translation is ‘head of the blend.’” This inaugural release received 91 points in the March 2010
Tête de cuvées have a proud history in the Champagne region of France—the home of our illustrious parent company Moёt et Chandon—where the tradition is to make vintage wines during only the best growing years, since cooler and wetter climates don’t always produce sufficient grapes. “When you produce a vintage sparkling wine, the aim is to showcase what happened that year, as a documentation of what the year was like,” explains Tom.
A marvel of patience and craftsmanship, etoile Tête de Cuvée takes nearly a decade from vine-to-release. The 2000 vintage represents a monumental accomplishment, taking its rightful place as the brightest star in the Domaine Chandon portfolio—and here’s why, in the winemaker’s own words:
Patience is a virtue.
We choose specific style wine lots in order to craft the etoile Tête de Cuvée with an ability to age a long time sur lees to develop complexity and mouth feel. The rate of sur less development peaks around year three, and continues for as long as six years. “After that, it just continues to marry and integrate with harmonizing complexity coming from slow oxidatitive progression. Seven years is ample time to expect what the yeast has to offer to round out the pallet of this elegant sparkling wine. The aim is to get a rich, complex wine.”.
Conducting the symphony.
Much of the artistry Tom employs when creating etoile Tête de Cuvée has to do with understanding how the acidic, intense taste of the grapes will evolve, as well as how each unique flavor will interact with others over many years.
“When we make wine for harvest, we pick the grapes for sparkling wine at lower sugar and higher acid levels. Base wines that are selected to go into a sparkling wine are austere, lean and not ready to drink. If, for a wine that's going to age, you bring in base wine that's full and rich already, after seven years of aging it will be too fat and mouth-coating,” says Tom. “Instead, we take these lots of base wine that are very direct and tight on the palate—they truly need all that time to finish and round out.
Eventually, you have to drink it.
As much as Tom enjoys discussing the winemaking behind etoile Tête de Cuvée, he really lights up when asked about his favorite way to enjoy the fruit of his efforts. “Extended time with the yeast creates flavors of toffee, caramel and toasted hazelnuts, and the chardonnay and pinot noir in the blend have subtle—not vibrant—fruit flavors that are rich and ripe, like baked apple and stewed cherry. “All these flavors mingle and then disappear into layers evolving around your palate. Very often, you get spicy notes like cardamom. It's really complex, and pairs beautifully with foie gras, roasted game, and butter poached lobster—special dishes you don't necessarily eat every day.
In short, the 2000 etoile Tête de Cuvée is nothing less than the finest, most exquisitely nuanced wine Chandon has ever produced, and—while each growing season presents its own unique challenges and rewards—Tom and his team have spent the last ten years building upon vintage their remarkable achievement. So enjoy the current release at your next special occasion, and look for future releases of the Tête de Cuvée to carry forward the extraordinarily high standards of this proud new tradition at Domaine Chandon.
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