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Holiday Champagnes: This Season’s Best Bets

2012 December 8

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Is there any drink that better encapsulates the celebration, joy, brightness and sparkle of the holidays than Champagne? The pop of the cork, the clinking of glasses, the initial fizz of the mousse, the continuing column of tiny bubbles rising in the glass all somehow lift the mood and bring home the sense that this is a special occasion.

There are an increasing number of very good sparkling wines out there, but there’s still something very special about a fine Champagne for honoring those memorable moments–gatherings with friends and family, holidays like Christmas, and the start of a new year. And in 2012, assuming we make it through the supposed final date of the Mayan calendar on December 21, we’ll have an additional reason to break out the Champagne in celebration.

Of course, Champagne is not just great for starting a party. Virtually nothing pairs better than Champagne with a great many foods, thanks to its relatively high acidity and minerality. From appetizers of all kinds to salads, to vegetable dishes and chicken or fish entrees, Champagne is one of my go to food pairings. It’s also great with dim sum, tapas and sushi. And it makes a terrific holiday gift.

The great houses of Champagne–-household names like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon and Krug–produce huge volumes of wine. While they may own some vineyards, they purchase the bulk of the grapes they need from dozens of the Champagne region’s 19,000 growers. They typically blend wines from different vintages, and vineyards, to produce house style wines that consumers can be confident will be virtually the same from year to year. You can recognize a Champagne from one of the big houses by the initials “NM,” for Negociant-Manipulant (meaning merchant-distributor), in the lower right-hand corner of the front label.

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In contrast to these major brands are the much smaller grower producers who make Champagne exclusively, or almost exclusively, from their own estate vineyards. (French laws allow such grower-producers–who can be identified by the initials RM, for Récoltant-Manipulant, before the number on the front wine label–to use up to 5% purchased grapes.)

Because of their much smaller production levels, based on the yield of their own vineyards, the Champagnes produced by growers tend to vary more dramatically from vintage to vintage, although many such producers do hold back a certain quantity of wine each year for blending to minimize vintage distinctions in their non-vintage wines. They can also be quite distinctive, owing to the particular vineyards such growers are working with, and their unique terroirs.

Until very recently, only a small portion of the more than 3500 grower Champagnes available in France were imported to the U.S., less than 6%. They still make up only a tiny percentage of the overall Champagne market–about 4% as of 2011–but represent some of the best values.

The vast majority of Champagne is non-vintage, meaning that it’s a blend of wines from multiple vintages. Only about two percent of Champagne is vintage, from years deemed particularly good (usually only about three or four years per decade). Vintage Champagnes see longer aging time, usually on their “fine lees,” meaning the spent yeast cells, which give these wines toasty and yeasty flavors that many Champagne lovers prize. An even smaller portion of Champagne production, also long aged, are the préstige or tête de cuvée offerings. These are the very top bottlings from great producers, which usually start at about $150.

In selecting a Champagne, the other important thing to know are the major styles available.

Even though most Champagne is made from one white grape, Chardonnay, and two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, care is taken to avoid any contact between the juice and the skins of the red grapes, so as to avoid coloring the wine. The exception to this is rosé Champagne, for which the U.S. is a big market. Rosés are made either by allowing a little skin contact during fermentation or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of red wine to the final blend. Rosés are often a little richer than other Champagnes, and sometimes have aromas and flavors that suggest red fruits, like strawberry and cherry.

rosé Champagne bubbles (Wikimedia Commons)

Champagne that’s made exclusively from Chardonnay is called Blanc de Blancs, and it tends to be more delicate than blends containing one or both of the red grapes. Champagne made solely from the red grape varieties is called Blanc de Noir.

Then there is the amount of sugar added to the final blend before the wine is bottled. This mix of sugar and wine is called the “dosage,” and it is intended to offset the very high acidity of the base wine, which is accentuated by the bubbles.

Most Champagnes produced are at the brut level, meaning they contain between 6 and 12 grams of residual sugar, which translates to less than one and a half percent sugar. This is a fairly low level, resulting in wines that are quite dry, which is what most consumers want, in contrast to the Champagnes of a century ago which were typically much sweeter.

Some growers, who pick their grapes a little later than the big houses, so that their grapes are more naturally sweet, dispense with the dosage. Their wines are called either brut nature or zero dosage, and they are gaining a growing following. The other category indicating a very low amount of added sugar is extra brut, which can contain only up to six grams of residual sugar. The sweeter styles are extra sec (or extra dry) which can contain 12 to 20 grams of residual sugar; sec (17-35 grams); demi-sec (35-50 grams); and the sweetest of all, essentially a dessert-style wine, doux, which is over five percent sugar.

As usual, I tasted Champagne throughout the year and attended two of the major Champagne events in October in San Francisco at which a great many of the current releases are usually poured: the Institute of Masters of Wine Champagne tasting, and the Terry Theise and Winewise Grower-Producer Tasting. I was generally impressed with many of the grower offerings this year, and I think a lot of the non-vintage offerings from the major houses are better than last year’s versions.

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Masters of Wine Champagne tasting at San Francisco Ferry Building

My full report on these tastings which appears below provides tasting notes and ratings on 154 Champagnes from 43 producers. Based on my tastings this year and my survey of current market prices across the nation, my top recommendations for holiday Champagne buys this season are as follows:

The standout for value this year is a zero dosage Champagne from one of the big houses, Ayala’s non-vintage Brut Nature, which I rated 92 points and which is widely available in this country for an average of $43.

Other excellent relative values in non-vintage Champagne are:
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve – 92+ points and averaging $54 nationwide (as low as low $40s at some retailers)
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut – 91+ points and averaging $52 nationwide
NV Moussé Fils Or Tradition Cuisles – 92 points ($48)
NV Pehu Simonet Brut Selection Grand Cru – 92 points ($50)
NV Pehu Simonet Transparence Extra Brut – 92 points ($55)
NV Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvee de Reserve – 92+ points ($56)

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David Pehu, winemaker/proprietor at Pehu Simonet

For rosés, which are virtually always pricier than non-rosés due to the demand for them in the U.S., my top pick is NV Pehu Simonet Brut Rosé Grand Cru – 92+ points ($64). I can also recommend:
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose Reserve – 92 points ($71)
2007 Louis Roederer Rose Brut – 92+ points ($72)

For vintage Champagne, taking both quality and price into account, my top value recommendation is 2002 Charles Ellner Brut Seduction Millésimé (92 points, averaging $50). My highest rated vintage, non-tête de cuvée bottling is 2000 Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Brut (95 points, $97).

I can also recommend:
2005 L. Aubry Fils Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites Brut – 93 points ($63)
2004 Chartogne-Taillet Brut Millésimé – 92+ points ($66)
2006 Pierre Gimonnet Fleuron Brut 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs – 92+ points ($60)
2004 Taittinger Brut Millésimé – 94 points ($84)

If you’re really looking to splurge this year, either on yourself or a terrific gift, the very best of the luxury or tête de cuvée bottlings for me so far have been
1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires – 95 points ($166)
NV Krug Grande Cuvée Brut – 96 points ($170)
2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil – 99 points ($766)
2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grand Dame – 94 points ($142)
2004 Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée – 95 points ($129)

—–
Tasting notes from several tastings, including:
8th Annual Institute of Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting
(Ferry Plaza Bldg, San Francisco – 10/1/12)
Terry Theise and Winewise Grower-Producer Tasting (Ame Restaurant, San Francisco 10/15/2012)
Krug Tasting with Maison Krug President & CEO Margareth Henriquez (Quattro Restaurant, Palo Alto 12/7/2012)

Aubry

A very interesting small producer run by two brothers that owns 17 hectares in 60 different locations. They have gone back to the historical roots of Champagne to include three long forgotten Champagne grapes: Fromenteau (also known as Beurot, probably an ancestor of Pinot Gris), Arbanne and Petit Meslier. A lot of their vines are also planted “en foule,” i.e., the generation of new vines by laying out a branch from a “mother” plant, and covering it with soil and manure, as was the common practice prior to phylloxera, especially throughout Burgundy. Two cuvees they make from the old varieties are designated Campanae Veteres Vites, meaning “old vines of the countryside.”

Ayala

The house of Ayala dates back to 1860. Since 2005, it has been owned by the Bollinger family. The vintage Blanc de Blancs is a blend of three Grand Crus from the Côte des Blancs in which Le Mesnil-sur-Oger has the largest proportion, completed with wines from Cramant and Chouilly.

  • NV Ayala Champagne Brut Nature Zero Dosage – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with abundant mousse; tart apple, yeasty, tart pear nose; yeasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (much better than the last few years for this cuvee) (92 pts.)
  • NV Ayala Champagne Rosé Majeur – France, Champagne
    Light orange pink color; lightly savory, tart orange nose; tart orange, citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Billecart-Salmon

This house dates back to 1818, is still family owned, and makes very consistent, high quality Champagnes in a lighter style. The lower end offerings tend to be good values. The winemaker since 1998 is François Domi. They buy about 95% of the grapes they need, and own some Pinot Noir vineyards.

  • NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Réserve – France, Champagne (10/20/2012)
    Light yellow color with very speedy, very tiny bubbles; yeasty, white flower, pear nose; very tasty, complex and delicate, tart pear, tart green apple, mineral, lightly yeasty palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)

Billiot

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Laetitia Billiot

Malolactic fermentation is not used, so the wines typically need some years in bottle to soften their high acidity. The Brut Réserve is generally 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay.

Bollinger

This great house was founded in 1829 by a German, Joseph Bollinger. The vintage wines are fermented in small, aged oak barrels, and malolactic is not encouraged. These are typically very heavy, full bodied wines. The cuvée of the vintage La Grande Année varies from year to year, but is always dominated by Pinot Noir.

Charles Ellner

This house dates back to 1900 when the founder, then employed by Moët, began buying vineyards. His great grandson, Jacques Ellner, is now making the wines. They own 56 hectares of vineyards. I was quite impressed by the Seduction, which is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Charles Heidsieck

One of my favorite houses, at all levels. Their lower end bottlings are always good and reliable values. Since 1985, it’s been owned by the Rémy-Cointreau Group. The house now owns 30 hectares in Ambonnay, Bouzy and Oger. I’ve had this 1995 Blanc des Millénaires several times, and it continues to impress. It was made by the great chef de caves, Daniel Thibault, before his death in 2002, and remains the current release. The current winemaker is the brilliant Régis Camus.

Chartogne-Taillet

This is a very old family-run grower/producer based in the village of Merfy. The Cuvée St. Anne is 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; the Millésimé Brut is from one parcel, based on clay, 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay; the Fiacre vineyard is made up of red sand and silex; the Brut Rosé comes from a vineyard based largely on sandy soils.

  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; tart apple, tart pear, yeasty nose; yeasty, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (good value) (91 pts.)
  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; tart pear, poached pear nose; tasty, delicate, tart pear, poached pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Fiacre – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with abundant mousse; appealing, tart pear, tart apple nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; long finish (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; light caramel, baked apple nose; tasty, maturing, baked apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
    Light salmon pink color with steady, tiny bubbles; baked apple, pear nose; tasty, crisp tart apple, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, tart peach nose; tasty, densely textured, tart lime, tart lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (from 1 parcel; 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; relatively good value for a very good vintage Champagne, below $70) (92 pts.)

Didier Ducos

Forest-Marie

  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Brut Tradition – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; pear, poached pear nose; pear, poached pear, baked apple, caramel palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; ripe pear, poached pear nose; tart pear, poached pear, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Cuvée St. Crespin 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; ripe pear, baked apple nose; delicate, ripe pear, baked apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Rosé Brut – France, Champagne
    Light orange pink color with speedy, tiny bubbles; baked strawberry, strawberry cream nose; baked strawberry, strawberry cream, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (good value) (91 pts.)

Gaston Chiquet

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Nicolas Chiquet

This producer goes back eight generations, and currently controls over 22 hectares. The Blanc de Blancs bottling happens to be the only Blanc de Blancs made from the Pinot village of Aÿ.

  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Tradition Brut 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; tart pear, tart apple nose; tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2004 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; tart pear, floral, apple nose; tasty, tart pear, floral, apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2003 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; poached pear, yeasty nose; delicate, poached pear, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Spécial Club 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; appealing, tart pear, tart apple, mineral nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Cuvée de Réserve Brut – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; yeasty, baked apple, poached pear nose; yeasty, baked apple, poached pear palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Aÿ – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; tart pear, tart apple nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light pink color with abundant mousse and speedy, tiny bubbles; lifted, ripe strawberry, cherry nose; tasty, strawberry, cherry, mineral, strawberry cream palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Gimonnet-Oger

Henri Goutorbe

Henri Goutorbe owns nearly 22 hectares, and the Cuvée Prestige is typically Pinot Noir dominated (65 to 70%), with Chardonnay and sometimes a small amount of Pinot Meunier. The wines all go through malolactic.
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Etienne Goutorbe

  • NV Henri Goutorbe Champagne Cuvée Prestige – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; yeasty, baked pear nose; tasty, baked pear, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • NV Henri Goutorbe Champagne Henri Goutorbe Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; poached pear, baked apple nose; tasty, poached pear, baked apple, caramel palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2005 Henri Goutorbe Champagne Millésimé Brut – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with speedy, tiny bubbles; poached pear, floral, baked apple nose; tasty, poached pear, floral, baked apple palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Henri Goutorbe Champagne Special Club – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with abundant mousse; yeasty, white chocolate nose; white chocolate, yeasty, mineral, tart lime palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • NV Henri Goutorbe Champagne – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light medium pink color; tart strawberry, strawberry cream nose; strawberry cream, cream soda palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • Henriot

    The Henriot family have been growers in Champagne since the mid 1600s, and started this house in 1808. They have strong ties with Charles Heidsieck, and share offices and wineries with that house. They generally work with vines averaging 25 to 30 years old. The 1998 is 52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir.

    • NV Henriot Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut – France, Champagne
      Light lemon yellow color with abundant mousse; toasty, poached pear nose; toasty, leesy, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
    • 1998 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut – France, Champagne
      Light lemon yellow color with tiny bubbles; intriguing, baked peach, light apricot nose; delicate, baked peach, poached pear, mineral palate; long finish (93 pts.)
    • 2005 Henriot Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; mineral, chalk, lemon nose; tasty, firm, yeasty, tart lemon, mineral, vaguely savory palate; long finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
    • NV Henriot Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
      Light orange pink color; appealing, lightly toasty, tart pear nose; lightly toasty, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

    Jacques Chaput

    • NV Jacques Chaput Champagne Brut Tradition – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; tart apple, tart pear, chalk nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

    Jean Lallement

    This is a family operation that owns four and a half hectares in Verzy, Verzenay and Ludes. Eighty percent is planted to Pinot, and 20% to Chardonnay. They use native yeast and very little dosage.

    • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Brut Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Light yellow color with speedy, tiny bubbles; appealing, yeasty, poached pear nose; yeasty, poached pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
    • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Cuvée Réserve Grand Cru – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with a few, tiny bubbles; focused, tart pear nose; tasty, tart pear, poached pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
    • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru – France, Champagne
      Light salmon pink color with steady, tiny bubbles; yeasty, strawberry, pear cream nose; tasty, light-bodied, pear, pear cream palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

    Jean Milan

    Another small grower, with roots going back five generations, that owns five hectares of vineyards.

    Jeaunaux-Robin

    Krug

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    The House of Krug was founded in 1843, and reliably produces some of the finest, and most sought after, Champagnes year after year. The wines are all fermented in well-aged 205-liter barrels, undergo just two rackings, and they do not induce malolactic fermentation. The wines are aged at least six years before disgorgement. The Grande Cuvée is a complex and layered assemblage made from dozens of wines, over 100 in recent years, from 10 different vintages.

    • NV Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée Brut – France, Champagne
      Light medium yellow color with tiny bubbles; elegant, autolytic, hazelnut, almonds nose; rich, elegant, balanced, layered, very detailed, creamy textured, yeasty, mineral, baked lemon, tart lemon, almond palate; long finish (disgorged 3rd quarter 2011, based on ’04; ID code on bottle is 311032) (96 pts.)
    • 2000 Krug Champagne Clos du Mesnil – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne
      Light golden yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; appealing, lifted, honey, almond cream, marzipan, yeasty nose, that changes after 30 minutes in the glass to more of a mushroom, dried shitake nose; delicious, rich but balanced, creamy textured, very youthful, almond, mineral, vanilla, tart pear, ginger palate with refreshing acidity; could use 4-5 years; long finish (99 pts.)
    • 1998 Krug Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
      Light golden yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; very appealing, autolytic, hazelnut, baked pear, light dried mushroom nose; delicious, focused, layered, tart lime, lemon, ginger, mineral palate with penetrating, medium acidity; could use 3 years and should live for decades; long finish 96+ points (96 pts.)
    • 2000 Krug Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
      Light golden yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; very appealing, light white chocolate, tart pear, autolytic, pear cream nose; tasty, delicate, creamy textured, tart pear, rounded, yeasty palate; lovely now and should go for decades; long finish (ID code 210008; 43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier) (98 pts.)
    • NV Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée Brut – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; white chocolate, yeasty, poached pear, light white truffle nose; rich and balanced, creamy textured, elegant, light white chocolate, autolytic, tart pear, subtle truffle palate; long finish 96+ points (branded V1021 on cork, indicating disgorgement in 2nd quarter of 2010; based on 2003, with 118 wines in the assemblage, from 10 different vintages, 1988-2003) (96 pts.)
    • NV Krug Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
      Light pink orange color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; very appealing, tart raspberry, golden raspberry, yeasty, tangerine nose; delicious, rich but balanced, yeasty, vinous, tart tangerine, mineral, tart raspberry, tart cherry palate with medium acidity; a profound sparkling rose; long finish (ID # 311030, indicating it was disgorged in 3rd quarter of 2011, based on 2005 vintage) (97 pts.)
    • 1989 Krug Champagne Brut Collection – France, Champagne
      Light medium apricot gold color with steady, tiny bubbles; very appealing, white chocolate, truffle honey, baked pear nose; delicious, mature, creamy textured, yeasty, white truffle, mushroom, tart poached pear, mineral, tart baked lemon palate with medium acidity; long finish 95+ points (2nd bottle was much fresher than first bottle) (95 pts.)

    Lamiable

    Lété-Vautrain

    Louis Roederer

    This top house owns 218 hectares of vineyards mainly in grand cru sites, which provide about two-thirds of the grapes needed for their production. The current chef de cave is Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon. Malolactic fermentation is generally avoided.

    • NV Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; lightly yeasty, lemon, lime nose; tasty, bright entry, tart lemon, lime, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
    • 2006 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Vintage – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; lightly yeasty, tart pear, tart lemon nose; tar lemon, tart pear, yeasty, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
    • 2007 Louis Roederer Champagne Rosé Brut – France, Champagne
      Very light pink orange color; tart orange, tart lemon nose; dense, focused, tasty, tart lemon, tart orange palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
    • NV Louis Roederer Champagne Carte Blanche Extra Dry – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; baked pear, apple, yeasty nose; baked pear, apple, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

    Marc Hébrart

    This is a fairly new producer, distributed in the United States by Michael Skurnik.

    Margaine

    This is a small grower with seven hectares, planted mostly to Chardonnay.
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    Arnaud Margaine

    Moët & Chandon

    The 2003 Dom Pérignon showed very well at this tasting. It is based on a roughly equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The fruit is primarily from the vineyards owned by the Abbey of Hautvillers in the time of Dom Pérignon, and purchased by Moët & Chandon in the 1820s, but they are also now using fruit from the former Lanson vineyards. This mammoth producer owns over 553 hectares in 44 villages, but the produce of those vineyards only supplies about a quarter of the fruit they need.

    • 2002 Moët & Chandon Champagne Grand Vintage Brut – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with steady stream of tiny bubbles; yeasty, baked lemon, lemon rind nose; yeasty, tart lime, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
    • 2003 Dom Pérignon Champagne Brut Champagne – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; very yeasty, lime rind, white grapefruit nose; tasty, tight, tart lemon, lemon rind, yeasty, mineral palate; long finish (93 pts.)

    Moussé

    Champagne Moussé has been a grower since 1750. Eighty percent of their vines are Pinot Meunier. They use almost exclusively stainless steel, and all the wines go through malolactic. I was impressed by their offerings, but unfortunately, most of their wines are not yet available in the U.S.

    Mumm

    Mumm became part of the Pernod Ricard group in 2005. They own 218 acres primarily in grand cru sites. In my view, their lineup continues to underperform.

    Pascal Doquet

    This house was originally founded in 1974. Pascal Doquet now owns 8.66 hectares, including 1.67 hectares of the great grand cru Le Mesnil. They’ve been fully certified as an organic producer since 2008.

    Pehu Simonet

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    I am increasingly impressed by the Champagnes from this house, which was founded in the early 1900s. David Pehu studied oenology in Burgundy, and has been sole winemaker since 1995. They own 7.5 hectares, of which six are grand cru. Malolactic fermentations are strictly avoided.

    • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Selection Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Very light yellow color with abundant mousse; expressive, tart apple, pear nose; tasty, well delineated, tart pear, floral, tart apple palate; medium-plus finish (best version of this cuvee I’ve ever tried) (92 pts.)
    • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Transparence Extra Brut – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; expressive, baked apple, poached pear, brown sugar nose; tasty, poised, delicate, tart baked apple, light brown sugar palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
    • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Very light yellow color with abundant mousse; appealing, ripe pear, apple nose; tart apple, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
    • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Very light pink yellow color; tart pear nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
    • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
      Very light pink color with abundant mousse; light strawberry cream, cherry nose; intense, tart raspberry, tart strawberry palate with medium acidity, very vinous; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

    Perrier-Jouët

    This house dates back to 1811. It was acquired by Mumm in 1950, and is now owned, along with Mumm, by Allied Domecq. The house has excellent vineyards in Cramant, whose fine Chardonnay grapes play a major role in the house’s delicate, elegant style. The 2004 Rosé Belle Epoque showed particularly well.

    • 2004 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Belle Epoque – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; focused, yeasty, tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, tart pear, tart peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
    • 2004 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Brut Rosé Belle Epoque – France, Champagne
      Light pink orangey yellow color; very appealing, tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, rich, textured, tart pear, tart peach, mineral palate; long finish 93+ points (93 pts.)

    Philipponnat

    This house was founded in 1910, and is now owned by Bruno Paillard. Their holdings include the fabulous Clos des Goisses Vineyard, but they buy over three-quarters of the grapes they need. The 1522 is typically dominated by Pinot Noir. The 2003 was quite good.

    Pierre Gimonnet

    The Gimonnets have been growers in the village of Cuis since 1750, and started to produce and sell their own Champagne in 1935. They own 26 hectares in Cuis and the Grand Crus of Chouilly and Cramant, all planted to Chardonnay.

    Pierre Péters

    This small, but highly esteemed, grower producer controls 17.5 hectares, including 12 in the best parts of Le Mesnil.
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    Rodolphe Péters

    Piper-Heidsieck

    The Piper-Heidsieck branch of the Heidsieck houses was formed in 1834, and became part of Rémy-Cointreau in 1989. The house doesn’t own any vineyards, but buys grapes from 70 villages. All the wines now go through complete malo.

    Pol Roger

    This house, one of my favorites at all levels, was founded in 1849. It owns 85 hectares of vineyards, which supply 45% of the needed fruit, and they purchase the rest from Pinot villages. The 2000 Extra Cuvée de Réserve Brut was outstanding.

    René Geoffroy

    Another small family owned grower that can trace their family ownership back to the 1600s. They harvest grapes in several passes (“tries”), use oak foudres and prevent malolactic.

    Ruinart

    Ruinart was the first Champagne house, founded in 1729.

    • 2002 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; lemon rind, grapefruit rind, autolytic nose; tart grapefruit, grapefruit rind, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

    Taittinger

    This house was founded after World War I by Pierre Taittinger. After a great deal of expansion, including the purchase of Domaine Carneros in Napa, the house was acquired by a Franco-American group led by Credit Agricole. Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger was brought in in 2008 to run things. This was generally an impressive lineup.

    • NV Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; floral, lime, mineral nose; mineral, tart lime, lemon palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
    • 2004 Taittinger Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; yeasty, leesy, tart pear, mineral nose; tasty, toasty, leesy, tart pear, mineral palate; long finish (94 pts.)
    • 2005 Taittinger Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; yeasty, tart lemon, mineral nose; tart lemon, yeasty, lime, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
    • NV Taittinger Champagne Brut Prestige Rosé – France, Champagne
      Light medium pink orange color with abundant mousse; orange cream, tart cherry nose; tart cherry, tart orange cream palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

    Trepo Leriguier

    Varnier-Fanniere

    This is a tiny producer that owns four hectares of Grand Cru vineyards, entirely planted to Chardonnay. The wines undergo full malolactic. The Cuvée St. Denis is from 70-plus year old vines in the Clos de Grand Père in Avize.

    Veuve A. Devaux

    Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

    Grande Dame tends to be 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, based exclusively on grapes from eight grand cru vineyards originally owned by the great widow herself, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Ponsardin. The 2004 is terrific.

    Vilmart

    Vilmart is a terrific grower Champagne. They practice organic viticulture, ferment in large oak foudres, and avoid malolactic. The Grand Cellier is generally about 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The terrific 2004 Coeur de Cuvée is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir from the oldest vines in Vilmart’s two best vineyards. It is fermented and raised in new barriques.
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    Laurent Champs of Vilmart

    • NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier – France, Champagne
      Very light peach yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; ripe pear, peach, light cherry nose; very tasty, delicate, tart pear, mineral, tart apple palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
    • 2007 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru – France, Champagne
      Very light yellow color with abundant mousse; ripe pear, baked pear, baked apple nose; tasty, pear, pear cream, tart peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir) (93 pts.)
    • 2004 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée – France, Champagne
      Light yellow color with abundant mousse; pear, ripe apple nose; thrilling, fresh pear, floral, lemon, mineral palate; long finish (95 pts.)
    • 2006 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Brut Premier Cru Grand Cellier Rubis – France, Champagne
      Light salmon pink color with tiny bubbles; appealing, savory, light sauteed onion, light strawberry nose; very tasty strawberry, strawberry cream, light cherry palate with great balance; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
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    2 Responses leave one →
    1. December 20, 2012

      Richard nice job. I am jealous as we don’t have any great events like this in Minneapolis.

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