Last week tasters enjoyed the sparkling wines of the world found outside the borders of the well-protected Champagne. We enjoy bubbles from all over, but the winemakers of Champagne certainly paved a golden path for others to follow creating the first real wine market and brands that have lasted for decades. The basis for this elaborate show is an incredibly cool climate for viticulture and limestone and clay-riddled vineyards, perfect for Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to take deep root. A solution to this region’s faults was the blending of multiple vintages to ultimately create the perfect base wine for a secondary fermentation. Vintage Champagnes are from a single harvest and our lucky tasters sampled two vintage bottlings as well as four other delicious wines from a mix of well-known and more obscure producers. There were favorites to be had, but no taster would ever dare refuse a glass of the worlds most luxurious and sophisticated sparkling wines. All of these wines are good for the celebrations and the soul, and it’s only appropriate this holiday season to raise your glasses with some fine bubbles – cheers!
Duval-Leroy 2006 “Cuvee Paris” NV Brut ($37.95)
Predominantly Chardonnay blended with a bit of Pinot Noir, this wine evokes what we all love about Champagne – crisp, yet, creamy with lemon and brioche notes and a more rounded acidity adding to a richer palate weight. This wine is sourced exclusively from the 2006 vintage, then seeing four years on its lees to bring that classic toasty Champagne flavor we love. The Cuvee Paris drinks just fine by itself, but would easily support lobster or creamy risotto or see another couple years in your cellar. Vintage bottles usually start at a higher price, so take advantage and snatch this one up as bottles are limited and finding homes fast!
Jean Laurent NV Brut Blanc de Noirs ($46.95)
Sourced from estate vineyards in the more southerly region of the Aube, the Jean Laurent shows just how different a wine can be even in a region as small as Champagne. 100% Pinot Noir aged on lees for three years to form a rich palate with notes of wild cherry, mango on the finish and a bit of yeast. Fruit aromatics predominate here along with a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel, though the wine is dry and fairly crisp. This family has produced wines for several generations and their practice is evident here; this is a textbook Blanc de Noirs.
Roland Champion NV Brut Rose ($53.95)
As only 250 cases were produced, there is only so much of this bottle in the shop so if you read what you like, act quick! We strive to represent the small production winery as often the values and quality are even greater than that of the well-known houses. Here we find just that – equal portions of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier structured with dollop of Chardonnay, four years on lees and a gorgeous salmony-orange hue bond to create this delicious bottle of bubbles. Rose is created in a few major ways, here by simply adding still red wine to your cuvee before fermentation. Now this allows for greater control of the winemaking process and the Champion family has shown this commitment since the early 1950’s. With a more floral and earthy nose than the Laurent, this wine stood out immediately. Faint red fruits with a toasty note and a finish that just won’t quit add to the complexity of this bottle and for those who desire a classic and well-crafted sparkling rose, this is the one.
Taittinger NV “Cuvee Francaise” Brut ($44.95)
Taittinger NV “Prelude” Brut ($89.95, not currently available)
Taittinger 2000 “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs ($154.95)
Over time a producer develops a certain style and identity, here conveyed through a house style. Taittinger is well known for their high proportion of Chardonnay both in the wines and the vineyard, lending itself to wines destined for extra cellaring and prominent toast. The winery is family owned and grows about half of their fruit, sourcing the remainder from growers with long-term contracts. Here tasters experienced three Champagnes at three varying price points and at all levels of production. A house always has a lower-end bottling that is often the best value they produce. Here, we find a classic Brut, creamy yet slightly crisp, toasty and with hints of lemon. Easy, relaxed and at a perfect harmony, Taittinger Brut is a perfect stand-by. The bigger sibling, “Prelude” is a few rings up the ladder. Equal portions of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, five years aging on lees and fruit sourced entirely from Grand cru vineyards unite in a truly remarkable bottle of bubbles. The “Prelude” had all of the qualities of the Brut, but with greater precision and an even greater balance. More structured with a rich, creamy palate and more bread and toast to be had, this wine was decadent and held a near-silky texture. (This sold out in a flash; we should be able to get more in early next year.)
Then came the Comtes. Chardonnay from Grand cru vineyards aged 10 years on lees is a work of art. This 2000 vintage bottling made the cut (as Comtes de Champagne is not produced every vintage) and though the wine showed extremely well this past week, could easily use five to ten years further evolving. The acidity is still vivid, the palate still a bit tight and the mousse persistent and silky, and only time will tell how much more exquisite this bottle will become. Though it is easy to swig back the bubbles, this Champagne is a thinker, and requires (and deserves!) your full attention. Tasters sampled how well-made each of these wines was and shows how a single producer can delight at every price-point. These wines are all perfect for the appropriate gathering and are sure to please just about anybody.