Posts tagged Champagne

My new Champagne discovery – only 70 years old: J. Lassalle

20130423_124245I don’t know how boutique importer Kermit Lynch found them, because he’s known as a Burgundy specialist but Champagne isn’t too far away. Lynch is branching out, and I did sample some other very good wines he brings in, but at the end of the day this is what stood out freshly in my memory. The J. Lassalle Champagnes: medium-light in style and beautifully balanced.
NV Brut Reserve “Preference” has very good red fruit and good acidity: again, it’s all about balance.
2005 Blanc de Blancs features minerality and acidity.
NV Brut Reserve Rosé, a pale salmon color, has excellent acidity and freshness.
The 2007 Cuvee Angeline is an almost Chablis-style wine, with the appearance of being austere but luring in your tastebuds for a bit more and a bit more.
The 2004 Special Club takes all of the above and adds just a touch of toast and yeast – but does this wine really need it?

How does a Champagne House change their most-popular champagne? Very carefully.

The other day I learned that Moët & Chandon’s most popular champagne has been slowly altered over the last few years. The champagne is called “Imperial” and it’s found everywhere, in wine shops as well as in restaurants. It’s very good.

A few years ago, Imperial replaced Moët’s ubiquitous “White Star” champagne. White Star was extremely popular, but apparently the company wanted to be known for something new, something more appealing to US tastes.

With the exception of the label, the new Imperial champagne wasn’t really different. In fact, it had the Moet & Chandon Imperial with Flutesame amount of sugar as the White Star: 20 grams per liter. Which made it a tad sweet, very appealing, and a good match for many foods. But Elise Losfelt of the Moët winemaking team explained to me that studies found the American palate had evolved. In tests, Americans were found to prefer 9g/l or 11 g/l best. So over the course of the next few years, Moët gradually stepped down the amount of sugar in their Imperial champagne, first to 13 g/l and then to 9 g/l, where it is today.

So if you think your new Moët tastes a little different than a bottle you’ve had for a few years, you’re right. But remember that champagne is made to be consumed within a year or two of its release date. Especially non-vintage champagne, like Imperial. Buy it and drink it within two years. Do NOT wait.

The 2004

How much money should I spend on champagne?

Is more expensive champagne, like vintage champagne, always better?

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004 BrutThese are two questions I get a lot. In general, price does go up with quality – within certain tiers. I don’t think you can get a good French champagne for under $40 – and there’s a tier of $40-$50-ish champagnes that are very good. If you know your favorite champagne, go for that. If you don’t have a firm preference then try whatever is discounted at your local wine shop.

Then there’s the tier of $50-$100. Champagnes here tend to be a notch up in finesse and complexity. That’s where you can find Vintage Champagne: champagne made in an exceptional year, from only the grapes harvested that year. While producers tend to make vintage champagnes a few times each decade, they don’t release them right away. At Moët & Chandon, the current thinking is that a vintage champagne needs to be aged on the lees for at least seven years. It is then disgorged, and aged in the bottle for another year or two. That’s why we’re getting Moët’s 2004 vintage champagne now, in 2013.

The other day, Elise Losfelt, the youngest of Moët’s 10-member winemaking team was in town, introducing the 2004. Tasted against current and historical releases, the 2004 maintains Moët & Chandon’s typical lightness of style. First of all, it has a great label, There’s a large “2004 “written as if in chalk on a piece of slate: it looks like the small sign used to identify bottles ageing in Moët’s cellars — labels are not put on the bottles until they are ready to be shipped as the cellars’ dampness would ruin the paper.

Light yeast with agar and toast appear in the aromas of the 2004. It gets a bit heartier on the palate, with an almost fatty finish. Losfelt said her team’s descriptors are “sleek, elegant and graceful” and “light but precise in aromas.” The champagne is made from 38% chardonnay, 33% pinot noir and 29% pinot meunier, which is fairly typical. It was disgorged in 2011, and just released. Moët does disclose the disgorgement date on its vintage champagnes, but not the others. They expect this wine to drink well now, and for the next 15-20 years, too.

Another interesting twist is that Moet has also re-released some of their 1993 vintage champagne along with the 2004, because they say the vintages are fairly similar. 1993 was also the first year of their “Grand Vintage Collection.” But after tasting the 1983 and 1973 at the same time, I think they could have made a different choice of pairings, preferably the 1983. But then again, maybe they don’t have enough of it – though Moët & Chandon claims to have the largest collection of vintage champagnes in Champagne. After all, this champagne house was founded in 1743.

Champagnes of Barons de Rothschild arrive lightly in Boston

Have to admit I have been curious about the new Barons de Rothschild Champagnes for the last few months. They’re being rolled out like a (slow-motion) feature film release: first in 2 locations in NY and LA, and now into secondary markets. Don’t you hate to be called that? But that’s what we are, here in Boston.

A Rothschild did come to introduce the champagnes: Philippe. This charming 40-something has a longer name but I won’t go into that here. The other important thing to know about him is he went to grad school here – HBS, of course. And he did invite a bunch of us to lunch with him at another high-toned Boston location– L’Espalier – where we nibbled light dishes with the Champagnes at lunch this week.

For the past few years, Philippe has been heading the Barons de Rothschild champagne venture, a rare innovation that aligns three branches of the family together in business.
The family’s expansion from Bordeaux into Champagne has been undertaken with care: choosing an experienced winemaker, courting suppliers, stockpiling years of vintages for blending – and for possible future single vintage release. At the moment, there are three non-vintage champagnes in current release.

The champagnes themselves had a light complexity that could feel understated if you weren’t paying attention. When I tasted them, they had been traveling on and off for a few weeks, and the NV Rosé was least accessible; its most impressive feature was its surprisingly deep apricot color.
The Brut NV had apricot, rich plum, lemon and chalky minerality running through it in both scents and flavors.
And the NV Blanc de Blancs had a nice wafting of chalk and minerals, somewhat bigger apple-y tasting flavors on the palate and fruit in the finish with a final dry bitterness, not sweetness; overall it was pretty light, and could easily be overwhelmed by hearty foods.
All three champagnes retail for around $100-$125.

Champagne Grand Tasting: Old Friends and New Discoveries

In London they have a Champagne Grand Tasting every year. Why is this the first time it’s come to the US? This year the New York Champagne Grand Tasting was held in a beautifully decorated, small ballroom at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the finest champagnes I sampled:

Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé Classique, tons of acidity
Ayala Brut Majeur NV, with good acidity and not overwhelming
Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2004, still needing some more time to develop
Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut, very restrained
Boizel Brut Réserve, classic balance with a nice floral touch
Boizel Brute Millesime 2000, light and well integrated
Boizel Brut Rosé NV, also very well balanced
Bollinger Special Cuvée NV medium light, lighter than I remembered
Bollinger Rosé NV, similar in profile to Special Cuvée NV
Bollinger La Grande Année 2002, lemony and light, more yeast than agar
Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut NV, complex and medium-light
Gosset Brut Excellence, smoothly excellent
Gosset Millésime 2000, spice from lees, baked yeast nose, not too huge
Gosset Grande Réserve, round flavors structured, lemony finish
Henriot Brut Souverain NV, a good, hearty mouthful
Henriot Brute Millésime 1998, astonishingly light, age felt mainly in the finish
Lanson Black Label Brut NV, lots of toasted oak
Lanson Brut Rosé NV, gold-red salmon color, would be good w/ smoked salmon
Philipponnat Grand Blanc 1999, smoky, yeasty, asks to be served with dinner
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils 1er Cru Brut NV, honeyed, finish so dry it’s almost chalky
St. Chamant Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, medium body, easy to drink
Stephane Coquillette 1er Cru “Carte d’Or” NV, well-made on the dry and lemony side
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000, elegant with toasty yeast, orange
Thienot Rosé NV, nicely dry
Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier” Brut NV, complex aromas and flavors floral to salty

A morning with Gruppo Campari’s Enrico Serafino wines, and more, in northern Italy

On the appointed day in mid-November, no one was more surprised than I was, to find myself exactly in the right place at the right time: in the medieval hamlet of Canale, north of Asti, where Enrico Serafino’s offices are. (Hooray for Verizon GPS – it even works in Piedmont!)
My tasting there ranged from Enrico Serafino’s Piemontese wines all over Italy, as this winery is part of the vast Gruppo Campari.
Located in the Roero zone, which is so hilly everything is hand-harvested, Enrico Serafino is focused on local grapes like arneis, barbera and nebbiolo. The winery has undergone a few major modernizations since it was founded in 1878, adding new wines periodically. The latest incarnation is called Cantina Maestra, the “master winery” line – also named for Via Maestra, their address in Canale.
I’m especially interested in sparkling wines, so I paid attention when I found they are one of 10 producers in the new (2002) Alta Langhe sparkling wine Consorzio, having worked for its DOC status since 1990. Sparkling wines have been produced in Piedmont since 1850; now there are modern, brut-style sparklers made with the traditional champagne grapes, undergoing remuage (after 3 years in bottle) in gyropalettes just like they now do in Champagne. I tasted a nice sample out of a just-disgorged bottle grabbed off the bottling line: 85% pinot noir. The winery also produces a classic Moscato d’Asti DOCG so I also got a sip their vintage-dated 2010.
Of course the group has other appealing wines notably: 2005 Terre Rare Carignan Sulcis DOC Riserva; 2008 Chateau La Marque AOC Costieres de Nimes “Les Grandes Cabanes” Syrah; 2004 Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC.
We finished the morning with a fun tasting of the Cinzano vermouths, now in retro-shaped bottles.