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Friday, December 24, 2010

Twelve Champagnes

Tina aka "The Party" 

My  tastings have matured into a few times, sometimes one “times” a month affairs where finesse is the dominant tool of tasting rather than a funnel.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell you how mature my tastes have become?  I’d be lying.  The Party left the building and cheap wine isn’t enough to hold my interest.
Something advertised as “Twelve Champagnes of Christmas” did, but as far as I'm concerned this sort of thing could be the "Twelve Champagnes of a Randomly Chosen Tuesday." This was a tasting of..anyone?  anyone? Yes a twelve champagne tasting hosted by a little treasure covey of oenophiles and other people with vices, HiTimes.  Go there. Tell them I sent you.  Watch them look at you like they have no clue who you I am.   No matter.  Tasting a dozen champagnes, the French kind, factually speaking, the only kind, infused me with self-importance.  Then again, maybe it was the bubbles (alert: pretentious insertion of a langue I do not speak ) et j’adore les bulles.

I wanted to pour out the $159.00 pour after the second taste. My palate isn't there yet.
No. 9 and No. 10 were my favorite. 

If you want to know more, thanks to the people at HiTimes,
From: Top
To: Bottom

From Left
To: Right
  1. Jean Milan 2006 $59.98: One of Champagne’s greatest producers of Blanc de Blancs, the estate of Jean Milan has had a Champagne make this “best of list” nearly every year for over a decade. This year, we are extremely delighted to offer an exciting, totally new creation from Jean Milan that you won’t find anywhere else. It is the first Brut Nature to be made exclusvely from Oger Chardonnay grapes. It is Caroline Milan’s desire to make Cuvée Transparence only once every 5 years as a sort of liquid time-lapse photograph of the state of her Grand Cru terroir. Made from two organically farmed plots (one tilled, one left with grass) Cuvée Transparence is aged under cork rather than capsule, riddled and disgorged by hand, and released with only two grams of residual sugar. Champagne authority Peter Liem notes: “It demonstrates the character of Oger in its combination of ripe, citrusy fragrance and stony chalkiness, and it conceals a hidden depth on the palate that could emerge further with time.” Transparence is an absolute must buy for those who prefer their Champagne very dry and relish the utmost in Côte des Blancs purity. Please note, to ward off any possible light damage the bottle is cloaked with black silk paper and Caroline recommends that it be kept in place until it is time to pop the cork.
  2. Agrapart 2004 $49.98: The high-achieving Agrapart brothers, Pascal and Fabrice, are known for their steadfast commitment to organic viticulture and the expression of their prime Côtes de Blancs terroir. The brother’s mission is probably best realized in their "Mineral" cuvée. It is made from 40-year-old Chardonnay vines in the vineyards of Le Champ Bouton in Avize (tank fermented) and Bionnes in Cramant (vinified in 600L casks), and it succeeds splendidly in expressing the chalky persona of the central Côte des Blancs. Whips of wisteria, apple sauce and wet stones distinguish its nose. High-toned with an active mousse in the mouth, this plushy textured Blanc de Blancs delivers focused pippin apple, lime and Meyer lemon flavors that give way to a long finish that is wrapped within a haunting limestone cloak. A great toasting Champagne and a fantastic mate for sashimi or other simply prepared seafood.
  3. Forest Mari

    è 2002 $45.98:

    Situated in Trigny, a village that shares the same Massif de St. Thierry terroir as our long-time favorite, Chartogne-Taillet, this house has quietly developed quite a following in France, culminating in some top accolades in the French press. When we were first introduced to the Champagnes of Forest-Marié, we couldn’t believe the breed and opulence these wines delivered at their incredibly modest prices. From the outstanding 2002 vintage, their Pinot Noir-based vintage wine—although priced like many other estates’ N.V. wine—is absolutely resplendent with the kind of richness, depth and grandiosity we associate with a substantially more expensive wine. A terrific segue to the glories of the 2002 vintage, and an absolute Best Buy.
  4. Monmarthe 2004 $35.98:

    Monmarthe, a small (13,000 case) grower-producer headquartered in Ludes (Montagne de Reims) is undoubtedly our value discovery of the year. This family-run firm has given us three ably-crafted Champagnes that are all priced well under the market. While Monmarthe’s Brut Secret de Famille and Brut Rosé de Ludes both deliver great bang for the buck, we feel their 2004 Millesime wins the value sweepstakes as it effortlessly holds its own against other vintage French Champagnes costing fifty dollars, and more, a bottle. It is made with Premier Cru rated fruit (60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir) and fermented without malolactic, bottled and then aged sur lattes for five years. This Monmarthe starts off with a pleasing fragrance suggestive of hazelnut, pear and white flowers while in the mouth it reveals graceful, yet well delineated flavors of pear, almonds, citrus and quince all dusted with a touch of chalk. Yet another illustration that “farmer fizz” can impress with finesse.
  5. Varnier Frannier NV $54.98:

    Last but not least, this Saint Denis cuvée hails from the famed Grand Cru village of Avize in the Côte des Blancs, the source of some of Champagne’s greatest Chardonnay. Importer Terry Theise calls this a “terroir-lover’s dream wine.” Why? Because this wine, like so many of the other estate-bottled Champagnes that Terry imports, comes from a distinct place, a terroir-- in this case, a single walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand Pere. It is an absolutely singular and authentic portrait of its place, Terry notes: “...empire-apple, graphite, cardamom and cinnamon, and a precise acorny length almost like Jamon Bellota.” A unanimous staff favorite as well a top vote-getter at The Hi-Time Wine Bar, this Blanc de Blancs was recently-awarded 92 points from both The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.
  6. Pierre Peters: 2002 $94.98 Year in and year out, this is one of the greatest wines produced in Champagne—at any price. And although this wine is still something of a well-kept secret, its provenance is not. From the legendary village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, origin of the ultra-premium rarities Salon and Krug’s Clos de Mesnil, iconic grower Pierre Peters produces the Cuvée Speciale, a single vineyard wine from Chétillons, an ideally situated site planted with 75-year-old Chardonnay vines. The previous (2000) vintage was awarded an incredible 95-point score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and this successor is an even richer, more profround Champagne with a broad mineral core and a finish that is nothing short of amazing. This was a clear standout among more than 90 excellent Champagnes at Terry Theise’s annual portfolio tasting this past October, and was, therefore, an obvious choice for this top slot.
  7. Andrè Clouet NV $37.98:A favorite Champagne of the Swedish Royal Family, André Clouet is a 250-year-old family firm that produces an elegant non-vintage Blanc de Noirs from 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir sourced from the Montagne de Reims, Grand Cru village of Bouzy. Thanks to an ancestral land grant from Napoleon, Jean-Francois Santz-Clouet has the privilege of working with some of the best-situated vines on the sweeping slopes of what is arguably Champagne’s most lauded village for Pinot Noir. Occasionally compared to Bollinger—some of whose best vineyard sites abut those of Clouet—this is a firm, masculine, biscuity Champagne of finesse and breed with a quality level rarely seen in non-vintage Brut. In fact, we think it clearly bests the much pricer Bollinger Brut Special. Aged on the lees for a remarkable six years (perhaps Krug is the only other producer to do this with their NV), this is a truly stunning example of red grape Champagne and a breathtaking value as well.
  8. Henri Goutorbe 2002 $69.98:When you see a bottle of Champagne in the distinctive, antique-style Special Club bottle, the least you can be assured of is that you are in the presence of the tête de cuvée from one of Champagne’s best recoltant-manipulant (grower producers). In this case, the prestige bottling from Henri Goutorbe in the famous Grand Cru village of Aÿ (pronounced: ah-ee). Comprised of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from the superb 2002 vintage, this wine is a drop-dead show-stopper that was a standout at a recent Hi-Time Wine Bar Champagne shootout. Importer Terry Theise puts it best: “This is class among 2002s, which is already class among vintages, and I can barely remember offering any Champagne more stunning than this.” And to get a tête de cuvée of this caliber from a top grower for under $70? Simply a no-brainer.
  9. Camille Savès 2002 $59.98:Though the Savés family has been producing Champagnes in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy since the end of the 19th century, we feel that this formidable 2002 could well be their best effort ever. The blend is comprised of 80% Pinot and 20% Chardonnay all from their best parcel of mature (35+ years old) vines. The family eschews malolactic fermentation, a policy that adds cut and definition to what clearly is one of the most full-framed and impressive 2002s we have encountered. Scents of Queen Anne cherry, red apple and bread crust rise from the glass. The fresh, brisk palate is more intense than rich as it showcases a bright fruit profile that includes beams of tart cherries, red apples, apricot and sourdough notions that carry on and on. We should mention that the half-opened bottle we polished off the next day seemed even more nuanced and luxuriant- a sure sign that this dynamo will cellar extremely well.
  10. Duval Leroy 1996 $59.98:We thought this gem was really but a memory of Christmas past, but luck was with us and we have managed to snag a small parcel so that you can have one last chance to savor this classic ’96. As most of you know, 1996 in Champagne is a watershed vintage of towering quality marked by a singular combination of high acidity and full ripeness. True to its birthright, this Duval Leroy is still fresh and racy while it has developed overtones of toasted wheat, almonds and carob-- the sort of wonderful hallmarks one looks for in a great Champagne approaching maturity. In truth, we would have placed this Duval Leroy much higher on this list had our inventory been greater.
  11. Henriot 1996 $159.98 :The 1995 Enchanteleurs sole the show at our annual Tête de Cuvée tasting last December, so we were understandably primed for the release of its successor which, of course, hails from an even more august vintage. Well after a decade on the lees and four more years aging on the cork, the 1996 Enchanteleurs has finally arrived. To say it was worth the wait is putting it mildly. This Champagne masterfully juxtaposes highly kinetic fruit, mineral and spice flavors with a rock solid undercarriage.Wine Spectator editor Bruce Sanderson’s enthusiastic take runs: “Tight-grained, with an immediate impression of the sea before forest floor and citrus notes take over. This is bright and fresh, with plenty of spice, toast and candied berry flavors, backed by a firm structure. The finish just keeps going. Best from 2012 through 2040…97 Points.” While admittedly very spendy, this Henriot is one luxury Champagne that truly delivers the extraordinary experience it promises.
  12. Diebolt Vallois NV $41.98:This is just the second rosé that this famed Côte des Blancs estate has made since 1985. Though quite sleek and poised as one would expect from a Jacques Diebolt Champagne, we were surprised and very pleased by how much woodsy red berry fragrance and flavor this Brut Rosé possessed. To our mind, too many rosé Champagnes, with the exceptions of a tinge of color and higher price, are virtually indistinguishable from their white stablemates. Based predominately on the 2007 vintage, this Brut Rosé is composed of roughly two-thirds Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from Epernay and one-third Chardonnay from Cuis, with ten percent Pinot Noir wine from Bouzy imparting its cherry coloration. With all his success working with Chardonnay it is nice to see Jacques work his magic with red grapes and give us this very distinctive and delicious rosé Champagne.


  1. I don't suppose my neighborhood Walmart would have any of these?
    Actually, it sounds like a lot of fun. I'd like to do that sometime, but I really have no real appreciation for wine.

  2. hahahaa... I doubt it. This is the sort of thing that someone gives you and you graciously say thank you while you wallow in the enjoyment of it. When you're done, you go home, you fill your small tub up with water and sip on tap water from the used ozarka bottle while you splash around in the Mr. Bubble.


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