The Flavor of Luxury: What does Cristal Taste Like?

I occasionally have strangers regularly confess to me, with more than a little embarassment, that they don’t really like Champagne. Whenever I hear this, I experience an overwhelming sense of empathy. For a long time, early in my wine-drinking explorations, I didn’t like Champagne either. But I eventually learned that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t like Champagne. My problem was that I had never had a really good one.

Personally, I’d bet that there are an awful lot of people out there in the world dutifully celebrating with $20 to $35 bottles of Champagne but not really understanding what the fuss is all about. They open their orange-labeled bottles, think it tastes ok, but not great, and wonder why people like me speak about Champagne as one of the world’s greatest wines, blah, blah, blah.

The problem is that really good Champagne is just so damn expensive. Too expensive, really. In a world where most people consider it a serious splurge to pay $50 for a nice bottle of wine at a local wine store, paying $60 to $100 for a seriously nice bottle of Champagne is not easy to stomach. Nevermind paying $300 or more for a bottle.

It wasn’t until I started going to larger public and industry trade-and-media tastings that I got to experience some of the world’s top Champagnes, and I had that light-bulb moment. I can still remember the “Oh, damn…” experience of tasting Dom Perignon or Krug Grand Cuvee for the first time, and realizing just how amazing great Champagne can be.

All of which brings me to today’s topic, the extremely famous Champagne named Cristal.

I believe my first taste of Cristal was probably at the annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting more than a decade ago. Up until that point I knew of it only by reputation, in particular for being featured in Rap and R&B lyrics. Thank you, Jay-Z.

Despite my interest in wine, Cristal existed more for me in the realm of pop culture than it did in any sort of wine framework. Not unlike, if you’ll forgive the Lorde reference, a Maybach automobile. I’ve never seen one, certainly never driven one, but vaguely know they’re a peak of luxury.

I’ve never bought a bottle of Cristal myself (and I’m not likely to do so for the foreseeable future) so my tastes of the stuff have all been at wine tasting events, until a couple of months ago when a bottle of the 2014 showed up on my doorstep as a press sample. And, well, here we are.

The Flavor of Luxury: What does Cristal Taste Like?

The History of an Icon

Champagne Louis Roederer can trace its history back to the year America declared independence from Britain. In 1776, the Dubois family founded Dubois Père et Fils, and operated for nearly 60 years before it was inherited in 1833 by a young Louis Roederer, who changed the name and began a family legacy of producing Champagne that continues into its seventh generation today.

Roederer would be notable purely for its continuous family ownership in today’s era of corporate luxury goods portfolios, but it clearly stands apart from almost every other top Champagne producer for a whole host of reasons.

For starters, Roederer actually owns and farms its own vineyards, the only one of the great Champagne houses to do so for the majority of its production. Only one of Rogederer’s wines is made from purchased fruit, the rest come from the house’s 593 acres of vineyards spread amongst the grand cru and premiere cru villages of the Champagne region.

The Flavor of Luxury: What does Cristal Taste Like?

What’s more, Roederer farms nearly 200 of those acres biodynamically and most of the remaining acres organically, an approach which is still both uncommon and difficult in Champagne. Many acres are plowed only by horse.

Roederer is also the only leading Champagne house that maintains its own vine nursery which it uses to propagate a massale selection of its best vine material. The winemaking team, led by chef du cave Jean-Baptise Lécaillon, divides the house’s vineyard holdings into 410 distinct parcels, each of which is farmed and vinified as an individual.

The Flavor of Luxury: What does Cristal Taste Like?
Tsar Alexander II, AKA Mr. Cristal.
Image: Wikipedia

Roederer has been a leading Champagne house for more than 150 years, which is perhaps why in 1876 Tsar Alexander II of Russia asked Roederer to create a special bottling for him and him alone. In response, the house created Cristal, named for both the inherent qualities of the wine itself, as well as the distinctive transparent lead-crystal bottle selected to mark the product as special.

Presumably the Tsar got to enjoy a couple vintages of this wine before he was assassinated by a hand-thrown bomb in 1881 on his way to a ceremonial military function. Let’s hope so anyway.

The first incarnation of Cristal expired rather too quickly. But it would be reborn sixty four years later as the winery’s top product in a 1945 commercial bottling bearing the same name and a beautifully transparent glass bottle.

It has been made ever since.

What You Are Drinking When You Drink Cristal

Cristal is usually made from the Roederer’s 45 most precious, chalk-driven parcels in the villages of Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Verzenay, Avize, Verzy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Aÿ, and Mareuil-su-Aÿ. These 45 specific parcels are reserved for Cristal each year, though others may make it into the blend as vintage conditions allow. Roughly a third of these parcels are vinified in large oak foudres, while the rest ferment in steel tanks.

The wine is usually prevented from going through malolactic fermentation, and is a blend of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with Pinot Noir usually making up 60% or more of the blend. The varietal proportions, just as the specific parcel selections, shift slightly to accommodate the vintage, guided by the nearly constant tasting of Lécaillon and his team between December and March after each harvest.

For many prestige cuvées at top Champagne houses that are made up of multiple vintages, the art of blending is a balance between current vintage wines and older reserve wines, aiming to reproduce a consistent house style, but not so with Cristal, which ends up being an expression of something much more singular.

Each element of the final assemblage is an expression of a slice of Champagne terroir in the same, single vintage. Lécaillon and his winemaking team work to put together the highest expression of what their best plots can achieve in a given year.

Once assembled, the final blend undergoes its secondary fermentation in bottles and ages on the lees for a minimum of 6 years, and then another 8 months after disgorgement and dosage. It receives usually 6 or 7 grams per liter of dosage.

For all the time spent on its lees, Cristal remains a chiseled expression of the region’s limestone soils as expressed by Pinot and Chardonnay. The vintage determines just how open, expressive, and generous the wine will be in its youth, often with significant variation in personality from year to year.

Noted Champagne expert Peter Liem has called Cristal “perhaps the most misunderstood wine in Champagne,” because he believes that the wine must be aged for 10 to 20 years after release to reveal its true complexity.

My own limited tasting experience aligns with that point of view. The 2014 that I tasted below is frankly, too young to drink, and does not yet possess its full breadth and depth, while the 2009 I tasted out of double magnum recently was just beginning to hit its stride.

Few people can afford to pay $300 for a bottle of champagne at a store, let alone two to three times that price in a restaurant. But if you can, you can also afford to wait, and drink these wines when they are actually ready to tell you their full story.

The wine world sadly only gets more rarefied as time goes on. I have a greater propensity to spend money on wine than most, yet I am far from being able to afford some of the world’s greatest wines, including this one. That said, top Champagnes like Cristal are much more affordable than top Burgundies, and are made in quantities that allow mere mortals to find and buy them much more easily than many other upper-echelon wines.

I consider myself quite lucky to have tasted Cristal the few times I have, and I expect to continue to feel the same way for rest of my upper-middle-class life. There’s a part of me that hopes to never forget that there was a time when Cristal only existed for me in the lyrics of a song.

Here are some notes on various vintages of Cristal, most tasted within 1-2 years of release, with the exception of the 2009, which I tasted recently.

Tasting Notes

The Flavor of Luxury: What does Cristal Taste Like?

2014 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, France
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stone, citrus pith, and sarsaparilla. In the mouth, a somewhat soft mousse delivers flavors of crushed nuts, dried lemon peel, pomelo and sea air, with a tangy finish of kumquat and pink Himalayan salt lingering for a while. This was a challenging vintage, with a cold, wet, and rainy finish to the season. While clean and appropriately crystalline, this wine is still a bit angular, tight, and even a bit shrill, and will likely improve with some additional bottle age. I’d expect in 5 to 10 years it will be spectacular. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $300. click to buy.

2012 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, France
Palest gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of oyster shells, sea air, and warm brioche. In the mouth the wine has a very fine mousse of bubbles and a beautiful elegance as lemon zest, wet stones and lightly savory brioche flavors linger with a hint of aromatic sweetness in the finish. Wonderfully balanced with an incredible poise. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $300. click to buy.

2009 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, France
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of seawater seaweed and toasted brioche. In the mouth the wine is gorgeously saline, as a velvety mousse floats flavors of white flowers, toasted bread, crushed nuts, and a hint of melted butter across the palate. There’s an incredible, regal length to this wine, and this beautiful tension between the sweet aromatics of flowers and and incredible savory toasty goodness that keeps the saliva glands on overdrive. Each mouthful leaves you wanting more. Tasted out of double magnum. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $350. click to buy.

2004 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of yeasty lime zest and wet stones. In the mouth the wine is very dry, with a silky mousse and saline, crisp, mineral flavors that have but a whiff of citrus zest to them. Quite focused, as usual, and taut. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2002 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon juice and toasted sourdough bread. In the mouth the wine has a classic profile of lemon juice, sourdough toast, and Ritz Crackers. Nicely balanced, beautifully saline, and utterly delicious. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $450. click to buy.

Images courtesy of Champagne Louis Roederer.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week is sparkling week on Unboxed. I’ll be honest, the sparkling wine samples tend to pile up in a corner, as they’re just slightly more of a pain to deal with than normal wine samples, and so after a period of time, the guilt gets to me and I have to do a bit of a sparkling purge. So here goes!

Let’s start with the, as usual, peerless set of spakling wines from Raventòs i Blanc, the Spanish family wine estate that has been producing wines since 1497. For a long time, the family made Cava, the typical sparkling wine of the Penedès region of Spain. While they never stopped making sparkling wine, they did stop calling it Cava back in 2012 because they felt the rules for the Cava designation no longer allowed them to produce the best wine they could, the way they wanted to make it, in particular with a place of origin that is more specific than Cava. So now they’re the world’s best producer of Vino Espumosa de España, which they label with what they hope is one day their official appelalation “Conca Del Riu Anoia.” This week I’ve got their three primary sparkling wines to share.

The “De la Finca” (literally from the farm) is a traditional blend of the three primary Cava grapes: Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parrellada grown on clay over marine sediments (aka limestone) and from the estate’s oldest vines, planted in 1964 in a vineyard they call “Vineyard of the Fossils.” This wine spends 3 years on the lees, and is a lovely balance between fruit and more autolytic characteristics.

The “Textures de Pedra” (literally textures of stone) is an extremely unusual blend of 3 red(ddish) grapes, a mutation of Xarel-lo that they call Xarel-lo Vermell that ends up with darker pink/red colored skins instead of green, along with two other rare local Penedes varieties, Bastard Negre and Sumoll. It’s got an unusual spiced character that I really like.

And finally their “Manuel Raventòs Negra” is a blend of Xarel-lo and Sumoll that spends 6 years aging on the lees in the bottle before release, and it’s a full-on mouthwatering glass of complexity and refinement that can easily compete with top Champagnes.

We’re going to take a mini global journey through sparkling wine this week, it seems, with our next stop in Germany, where Ernie Loosen makes a sparkling Riesling under the Dr. Loosen label. He makes several, actually, but this “Extra Dry” version is tasty, fruity bottle with an extremely attractive price tag.

Jumping to Burgundy, you can chek out Nicolas Potel’s Maison Roche de Bellene Cremant de Bourgogne, which is also just as pleasurable and easy on the pocketbook.

From Italy, we’ve got a couple of Prosecco’s this week, a straightforward apple and white flowers rendition from Corvezzo and another rosé Prosecco (I wrote about this new category of wine not too long ago) full of strawberries and cream from Bisol.

Perhaps the most exotic wine this week was the Keush “Origins” sparkling wine from Armenia, whose blend of Voskehat and Khatouni offers something decidedly different in terms of taste profile. Keush is a brand created by Storica Wines, which is an ambitious young company that has launched a number of brands to showcase the winemaking heritage and potential of Armenia.

Of course we’ve got regular Champagne this week too, with a solid bottle from Piper-Heidsieck that is on the rich side, but definitely satisfying.

From here in California, another star this week was the Caraccioli “Brut Cuvee” which, frankly, knocked my socks off a little. I’ve been hearing great things about this producer but hadn’t managed to try any of their wines yet, and… wow. Caraccioli Cellars started when the third generation of Caracciolis to farm in the Salinas Valley decided in 2006 that they wanted to expand into winegrowing. But not just any winegrowing. They could easily have just made another Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands (and they do, in fact, produce still wines, too), but instead they decided to make a world-class sparkling wine from those grapes. They took their time (literally, making sure they gave the wine a long aging time on the lees) and ended up with what is easily among California’s best sparkling wines.

There’s also a nice rosé from Cuvaison and a surprising one from Notre Vue Estate, which managed to make a really tsty pink sparkling wine from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, which was a first for me.

Lastly, we’ve got a rosé from one of the top names in English Fizz (or British Bubbly if that appeals more), Nyetimber, whose non-vintage pink wine has a crunchy autumnal quality to it that appeals.

Well, there you have it. A smorgasbord of sparkling wines, which I’ll wrap up with a simple reminder: sparkling wines are not just for special occasions. They’re for celebrating the fact that we’re lucky enough to drink wine whenever we want to.

Tasting Notes

2017 Raventós i Blanc “De La Finca – Vinya dels Fòssils” Cava Blend, Spain
Light-gold in the glass with a hint of green and medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of honey, toasted bread, and apples. In the mouth, apples, buttered brioche, and a wonderful saline quality all offer a rich and sumptuous melange of flavors. Soft, full mousse, and excellent acidity. A blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parrellada ages for 3 years on the lees and is bottled with no dosage.12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Raventós i Blanc “Textures de Pedra Blanc de Negres – Vinya Més Alta” Sparkling Wine, Spain
Light to medium gold in the glass with a hint of a peachy cast and medium bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and white flowers with a bit of spice. In the mouth a full, velvety mousse delivers flavors of orange peel, mulling spices, and citrus pith. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish along with a distinct mineral note. Unusual and distinctive. A blend of Xarel·lo Vermell (a dusky variation on the normally white Xarel-lo), Bastard Negre (not to be confused with Bastardo), and Sumoll that ages for 42 months on the lees with no dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2013 Raventós i Blanc “Manuel Raventòs Negra” Cava Blend, Spain
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air and buttered brioche. In the mouth, a silky mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, citrus pith, sea air, and toasted brioche. Wonderful citrus pith notes linger in the finish. Refined and very pretty. An unusual blend of 40% Xarel-lo and 60% of a local variety called Sumoll (previous vintages of this wine have been 100% Xarel-lo). Ages for six years on the lees. Disgorged in December of 2020. 11.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

NV Dr. Loosen “Extra Dry” Riesling Sekt, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of candied green apples and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of apple, mandarin orange, and honeysuckle ultimate finish dry as a voluminous mousse sweeps across the palate leaving it crisply clean and floral. Pretty. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

NV Maison Roche De Bellene “Cuvee Bellenos” Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France
Light gold with a slightly bronze cast and medium bubbles, this wine smells of honey and baked apples. In the mouth, notes of candied almonds, honey, and baked apples are delivered on a velvety mousse. Hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. Quite pleasant, with an autumnal quality that I really like. 12% alcohol. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

NV Corvezzo Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of green apples, white flowers, and lemon cucumber. In the mouth, a soft-but-full mousse delivers flavors of apples, star, fruit, and white flowers, with just a faint bitterness of apple skin that lingers in the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

NV Keush “Origins – Brut” Sparkling Wine, Armenia
Pale yellow-gold in the glass with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, celery, and a hint of sea air. In the mouth, lovely herbal notes mix with floral high tones as a cucumber and unripe apple note forms the core of the wine. Soft mousse. Quite interesting. A blend of 40% Khatouni and 60% Voskehat. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2015 Caraccioli “Brut Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, flowers, and a touch of warm bread. In the mouth, gorgeous citrus flavors are lifted on a velvety, voluminous mousse, and spread electrically to every corner of the mouth thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s just a touch of brioche blended in there with the citrus pith along with a faint hint of bergamot. Quite stunning. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 20% of the wine is barrel fermented. Then once the final blend is made, 20% ages in steel, the remaining 80% in barrels for two months before bottling for the secondary fermentation. The wine spends 4 years on the lees in the bottle before disgorging. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $53. click to buy.

NV Piper-Heidsieck “Cuvée Brut” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light to medium yellow-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, ripe apples, and a touch of butterscotch. In the mouth, saline flavors of butterscotch, baked apple, and lemon bars are delivered on a reasonably soft mousse and backed by excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness that lingers in the finish. Slightly ripe for my taste, but has a nice leesy note to it. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier, and 15% Chardonnay that ages for a full 24 months on the lees before disgorgement. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

2017 Cuvaison “Brut” Rosé Champagne Blend, Los Carneros, Napa, California
A pale, peachy pink in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of orange peel, grapefruit, and raspberries backed by a tart, citrusy acidity that lingers in the finish with a note of blood orange. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

NV Nyetimber Sparkling Rosé, England
A bright orange-pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of dried apples and orange peel. in the mouth, a voluminous mousse swells across the palate and delivers orange peel, dried berries and dried apple flavors that have a nice bite, thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness of burnt orange that lingers in the finish. The fruit comes from West Sussex and Hampshire, and is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. About 80-90% of the wine is current vintage, with the balance being reserve wines from previous vintages. Ends up with usually 11 g/l of residual sugar. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.  

2019 Notre Vue Sparkling Rosé, Chalk Hill, Sonoma, California
A light orangey-pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry jam and citrus peel. In the mouth, a velvety, full-bodied mousse delivers flavors of strawberry jam, tart citrus, and a hint of white flowers. While slightly on the rich side, this wine works pretty well. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a sparkling blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but I’d happily drink this wine and any others like it. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29.

2020 Bisol “Jeio Brut” Prosecco Rosé, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink with a hint of orange and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and flowers. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of strawberries and cream, white flowers, and a hint of citrus peel that adds a pleasing bitter kick to the finish. This is quite nice. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.      

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Wine in the Time of Coronovirus, Part 22: Who’s Down With BPC? (Bruno Paillard Champagne Tasting)

I think that we can forgive Alice Paillard, of Bruno Paillard Champagne, for being opinionated.

As the daughter of the eponymously named BPC’s founder, she’s basically had a lifetime of working with someone who himself is, well, opinionated about Champagne. According to Alice (with whom I tasted through a few BPC samples as part of a virtual media event), wine with her father “was never banal. It was always an adventure, with mystery, with beauty. I feel very lucky in the fact that I had plenty of time [to transition with him into a leading role within the family business]”. Her father still works closely with her on BPC’s assemblage; because “it would be stupid not to do it together.”

For about 300 hundred years, the Paillard family have been growers in Champagne, tending to over 35 crus now used for wines under their own label (with a production bout 300K bottles/year, they’re on the small side for Champers houses). Alice describes her family’s business as “a hybrid form of a [Champagne] house. We can farm vineyards, but we can also go and work with growers. We always have kept the link with the original growers.” 70% of the grapes that they source they farm themselves (on estate vineyards, and via long-term contracts with other vineyards).

BPC is primarily known in the Champagne world for two things: First, a lot of nerds like me cite them as having some of the best non-vintage Champers that you can get for your dollar. Second, they were one of the first Champagne producers to include disgorgement dates on their back label. Alice’s father “thought it was important to put it on the wines that don’t normally carry it” – namely, non-vintage bottlings. Regarding disgorgement, Alice is predictably smartly opinionated: “You take this living body – a bottle of Champagne – and you take something out… and you put something in. It’s a surgery! Give extra age to the wine after [to let it recover]. We give minimum six months. For vintages, we give them a year.”

Given how well they pull off their NV releases (more on that in a minute), Alice the art of the blend – across vineyards, vintages, and grapes – as essential to Champagne’s DNA. “It’s what we’ve always done,” she emphasized. “Assemblage is not just putting Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier together. Assemblage is having a diversity of terroir. Champagne is not Bordeaux. Just ask a grower in Champagne; it’s not like a grower in Burgundy. That’s what makes Champagne rich and impressive. What do you want to bring out [in the wine]? That is the only question that matters.”

Wine in the Time of Coronovirus, Part 22: Who’s Down With BPC? (Bruno Paillard Champagne Tasting)

During our virtual meet-up, we tasted through two Bruno Paillard releases, and as per Alice, these were not chosen randomly. “[These 2 wines] are brothers; they are our interpretation of Champagne” she noted, being assemblages of grapes/terroirs (“It’s how we like Champagne.”). Each come from an of average 35 different crus, using first press juice only. Both have about 5.5 g/l of RS. Both see roughly three years aging (“It’s gentle, thanks to the proper aging”), and employ multiple vintages from their reserve wine systems (each non-vintage BPC has its own reserve wine system, with some of them being among the oldest perpetual reserves in Champagne, despite BPC being a relatively younger house by Champers standards). So… lots of kinship in these sort-of mirror image releases…

Wine in the Time of Coronovirus, Part 22: Who’s Down With BPC? (Bruno Paillard Champagne Tasting)NV Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Première Cuvée (Reims, $53)

First, some vitals: this Brut style bubbly is a blend of Pinot Noir (45%), Chardonnay (33%) and Pinot Meunier (22%), part of which (about 20%) was in barrel for the first fermentation. The reserve system includes 25 vintages (since 1985), which is responsible for up to 50% of the final blend. I will confess to this being one of my personal favorite Champers; simply put, you get an incredible bang for the buck here that not only rivals some vintage releases from other houses, but in some cases even ages better than them, too. You’d hardly know that so much PN is included in the blend, as there’s a mere hint of red berry fruitiness, with a ton of pure citrus action on top. White plum, toasted almonds, brioche, and blossoms come next, with a little tease of redcurrant. The mouthfeel is impeccable, and lively, despite the healthy doses of toast. You could do a whole lot worse than picking this as your go-to Champers for the rest of your life.


Wine in the Time of Coronovirus, Part 22: Who’s Down With BPC? (Bruno Paillard Champagne Tasting)NV Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Première Cuvée Rosé (Reims, $65)

Primarily PN, with some Chardonnay, all meant to showcase “elegance and finesse” as per Alice. It spends three years aging sur lie, just like its counterpart. Surprisingly, this has ample salinity for a rosé, but Pinot lovers won’t be left wanting with all of the dried cranberry, fig, vibrant red berry, citrus peel, and rose petal action packed into this. While this exudes elegance, the sheer amount of pleasure derived from sipping this is enough to get you into an amorous, heady, well, headspace.



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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/15/20

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

The holidays are approaching, and with them comes the inevitable request for sparkling wine recommendations from readers. I tend to let sparkling wine samples accumulate for a little while and taste them in batches, so there’s no time like the present for tasting through a few of them to share with you.

So welcome to the all-sparkling edition of Vinography Unboxed. We’ll start with some domestic sparkling wines from California and Oregon.

Paula Kornell is the daughter of Hanns Kornell, who fled the Nazis during World War II and established the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars in Napa in 1958 (back when there weren’t legal agreements preventing the use of Champagne as a descriptor in the New World). Paula was born the year after the winery was established, and grew up in Napa, making a long and successful career for herself in the wine industry, though her family business shuttered in 1992 and her father passed away in 1994. In 2017, Kornell picked the grapes and made wine for the inaugural vintage of her own brand of sparkling wine, which was released late last year and represents a wonderful full-circle tribute to her family’s legacy. Her 2017 Blanc de Noir is wonderfully bright and cherry-inflected, and will likely age quite well.

Brooks Winery, regular readers will know, is a favorite producer of mine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, especially because they make some of the best Rieslings in Oregon. Unbeknownst to me, a few years ago they started a sparkling Riesling program, and recently released their 2016 vintage of sparkling Riesling (it would be called Sekt in Germany) which spent a remarkable 44 months aging on the yeast lees after its secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is without doubt the best sparkling Riesling I’ve had from the United States (and yes, I’ve had some other examples).

Cuvaison has been making wines in Carneros since 1969, and began producing sparkling wines in the 80s. It’s been some time since I’ve tasted their sparkling wines, so it was a pleasure to try their latest vintage rosé sparkler, which is quite tasty and worth finding if you enjoy pink bubbles.

OK, let’s go farther afield now with a stop in the Prosecco region of Northern Italy. I’ve got two Proseccos to recommend to you from the well-known producer Adami. Their vintage-dated “Asciutto Rive di Cobertaldo Vigneto Giardino” is a great example of what refined, high-quality prosecco can offer in terms of elegance, whereas their “Bosco di Gica” represents a bit more of the typical fruity/floral sweetness you might expect from most Proseccos.

Before leaving Italy, let’s move a little to the west into the hills of Piedmont, for a taste of what blanc de noir tastes like in the Piemontese style. Langhe producer Enrico Serafina has been making sparkling wine since 1858, beginning first with Moscato, but not long after moving on to Pinot Noir. You could say they’ve had some time to perfect the process, and indeed, this bottle of their 2016 shows a confident hand and an admirable devotion to quality.

Spanish sparkling wine has undergone something of a revolution in recent years, as producers have attempted to transcend Cava’s reputation of being cheap and cheerful, with a desire to demonstrate how their local grapes can make something more profound. Producer Pares Balta has done that admirably both with their still and sparkling wines. This older vintage Cava includes some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with the traditional Xarel-lo grape, and offers one of the more unique flavor profiles of Cava I’ve ever tasted. It may not be for everyone, with its saline savoriness, but if you’re looking for something distinctive, this biodynamically-produced bottle is worth exploring for sure.

Last but certainly not least, I’ve got the non-vintage Champagnes from Charles Heidsieck for your consideration. Heidsieck is one of Champagne’s famous names, having been founded in 1851 and playing a significant role in introducing Champagne to America in the late 1800s. The house was purchased in 2011 by the Descours family, who have revitalized the brand as part of their growing wine empire. Along the way they’ve started making some excellent wines. Of the three I’m reviewing here, my favorite is their Brut Reserve, which like many top-tier non-vintage wines includes a significant portion of reserve wines from prior years, giving it a nice yeasty, buttery pastry quality that is hard not to love. The rosé is also particularly elegant.

With wines ranging from $18 to $80 below, I’m sure you’ll find something worth drinking, and remember, don’t stop drinking sparkling wine just because the holidays are over.

Tasting Notes

2017 Paula Kornell “Blanc de Noir” Sparkling Wine, Napa Valley, California
A light to medium gold in the glass with a slight rosy hue and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and white flowers and a touch of crushed nuts. In the mouth, forest berry and seawater flavors are borne across the palate on a fluffy mousse, leaving berry scents and a SweetTart aftertaste. Quite pretty. Blind, I would have guessed this to be a rosé sparkling wine. Made from 100% Pinot Noir. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2016 Brooks Winery Sparkling Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of quince paste and exotic citrus peel. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of Asian pear, baked apple, a touch of butterscotch, and salty lemon candy. There’s a nice floral note in the finish. Distinctive and fun to drink with enough salinity to keep me going back to the glass for more. Made using traditional champagne methods and then aged in the bottle on the lees for 44 months before being disgorged. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2016 Cuvaison “Small Lot Brut” Sparkling Rosé, Carneros, Napa, California
A light peachy rose color in the glass with coarse to medium bubbles, this wine smells of orange peel and unripe berries. In the mouth, lovely citrusy notes of orange peel and lemon zest mix with green strawberry and alpine strawberry flavors that appear briefly in the midst of the soft mousse and then are replaced by citrus in the finish. Quite pretty. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.

2018 Adriano Adami “Asciutto Rive di Cobertaldo Vigneto Giardino” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Palest greenish-gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemongrass, and sweet star fruit. In the mouth, a fine, buoyant mousse delivers flavors of green apple, star fruit, and wet chalkboard. The flavors here are ethereal and delicate, backed by filigreed acidity. Charming. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

NV Adriano Adami “Bosco di Gica Brut” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemon cucumber, and the sweet fragrance of white flowers. In the mouth, crisp star fruit and white floral notes are delivered on a soft, frothy mousse as notes of wet chalkboard give a nice crisp minerality to the wine. There’s an aromatic sweetness that lingers in the finish. Good acidity. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2016 Enrico Serafino “Oudeis Brut” Sparkling Wine, Alta Langa, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, cherries, and white flowers. In the mouth, cherry flavors are bright with acidity and delivered on a velvety mousse. Fresh and bright and quite tasty, with notes of citrus peel lingering in the finish with just the tiniest hint of bitterness. Serafino was one of the first producers in the region to make sparkling wines. Made from 100% Pinot Noir. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.

2012 Pares Balta “Blanca Cuisine” Cava, Penedes, Spain
Medium yellow-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of kelp and sea air. In the mouth, it offers a very unusual savory tidepool kind of impression, sea foam, kelp and seaweed, a hint of apple and candied lemon fruit, but mostly a savory concoction that evokes the ocean. The mousse is light, softening with age. Very interesting and distinctive. A blend of 75% Xarel-lo, 15% Pinot Noir, and 10% Chardonnay. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

NV Charles Heidsieck “Blanc de Blancs” Champagne, France
Light greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, sea air, and slightly unripe apples. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse delivers saline-tinged flavors of apple, pear, and citrus pith, along with a hint of saltine biscuits. Crisp and bright, with excellent acidity. 25% of the wine’s volume is from older vintages of reserve wines. Aged on the lees in the bottle for 5 years before being disgorged in 2018. Made from 100% Chardonnay. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

NV Charles Heidsieck “Brut Reserve” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and sea air. In the mouth, a wonderfully velvety mousse delivers delicate, even ethereal flavors of white flowers, freshly baked white bread, flaky buttery pastry, apples, and candied redcurrant. Hints of candied orange peel linger in the finish along with the tang of sea air. Quite beautiful with that nice balance between fruit and more bread-like characteristics that come from aged components. Made up of 40% reserve wines from prior vintages, with an average age of 10 years, this blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay aged on the lees in the bottle for 5 years before being disgorged in 2018. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

NV Charles Heidsieck “Rosé Réserve” Rosé Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
A light ruby-salmon color in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of toasted brioche, orange zest, and raspberries. In the mouth, a velvety mousse carries flavors of raspberry and redcurrant across the palate as orange peel and grapefruit citrus notes that combine with a distinctly saline quality to make the mouth water. Quite tasty. Aged on the lees in the bottle for 4 years before being disgorged in 2017. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/3/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Milla Handley, The “Pioneer Queen” Of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir And Handley Cellars Founder, Dies At 68
A very sad loss, far too early. F*ck you, COVID.

As France’s wine industry contracts, an incalculable cultural loss
Robert Joseph tallies the damage.

From Champagne to Japan: Richard Geoffroy releases his first sake
Very interesting career move.

What will the world of luxury look like in the new normal?
Even more exclusive, probably.

As Champagne Sales Plummet, Producers May Throw Away Tons of Unused Grapes
Expect lots of extra aging in the bottle….100m bottles or so.

As Wine Country harvest approaches, farmworkers continue to pay high pandemic price
The wine industry has a front line, too.

South African Wine Businesses Launch DTC Platform
While others turn to bootlegging.

How Our Changing Times Are Changing Wine
Thoughts from a Houston sommelier.

Phylloxera Breakthrough Brings Hope to Vineyards
It’s a start. We’ve got the DNA sequenced now.

What Is a Great Wine? Verdicchio di Matelica Has Some Ideas
Eric Asimov on complexity.

4 Black Sommeliers Share Their Perfect Pour and How the Industry is Changing
More stories of inspiration.

Elin McCoy: Why wine matters
Elin’s last column for Decanter

The Goopification of grapes: why ‘clean wine’ is a scam
Felicity Carter, like me, uses the word scam quite deliberately.

Rediscovering Tuscany’s Forgotten Classic
Those of us who can’t afford as much Brunello as we’d like haven’t forgotten it.

What is Natural Wine?
Jim Clarke’s take on the regulations.

Foley Johnson winery in Napa Valley closes after worker tests positive for coronavirus
Not under control yet.

Wine Knowledge and Culture: Are They Related?
A very interesting article about the correlation between a “culture” of wine and knowing something about it.

France’s 8-Year-Olds Head Off to Wine School
Teaching wine to third graders. Awesome.

Why champagne houses are in a tussle with vineyard owners in northeastern France
Another take on Champagne’s current woes.

Man Sends Empty Bottle of ’Suspicious’ Mouton for Verification
But is he the victim or the future fraudster?

Microbiologists clarify relationship between microbial diversity and soil carbon storage
More evidence for the benefits of living soil health.

Natural wine’s (inevitable, problematic) entry into the ‘wellness’ industry is here
Esther has more to say on Clean Wine.

Champagne losing its fizz as global pandemic clobbers sales
Yet one more take on Champagne’s struggles.

Wine Girl Author Victoria James: 10 Questions on Where We’re Headed
James talks with Dottie and John.

COVID Bringing a Painful Evolution to the Wine Business
Evolution does hurt.

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Does wine continue to ferment in the bottle?

I’ve been answering wine queries on the question and answer site Quora. I’ll share some of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked and, of course, my answers. I limit myself to spending a couple minutes on each response, not doing any research or “cheating.” I rely on my experience and opinion, which is probably not a bad way handle most things.

Question: Does wine continue to ferment in the bottle?

Answer: Yes. Some of it does intentionally, like Pét-Nat. These wines are bottled while fermentation is still going on, which makes them fizzy and delightful. But also volatile, as it’s quite a risky process.

Also Champagne and high-quality sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (where still wine becomes sparkling) takes place in the bottle.

But still wines that are bottled and continue to ferment in the bottle unintentionally? That referment is bad.

Photo by Winniepix via Flickr.

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Bracing for 100% Champagne tariffs

Late yesterday, the US Trade Representative unsheathed a champagne saber. But it wasn’t for sabering champagne in celebration; rather, it was for dealing it a blow by threatening tariffs of 100%. French sparkling wine (not still wine) as well as cheese, handbags, makeup and enamelware would be affected. (See the whole list here.)

While that would be very bad news for consumers as well as producers, there is some cause for guarded optimism. This was, after all, saber rattling, not actually putting the tariffs into effect. The core issue here is a “digital tax” that France has imposed on big tech companies, mostly American, doing business in France. France has threatened to retaliate if the tariffs announced yesterday (not the ones from October!–do try to keep up) are imposed so maybe it is all just a bargaining position? And there’s Trump’s relationship with LVMH founder Bernard Arnault, on display in Texas recently, which may have played a part in why champagne, handbags and cognac were not on the first round of tariffs.

But, of course, there’s also the case for pessimism: this is the self-proclaimed “tariff man” whose relationship with Macron has deteriorated. There’s a lot of uncertainty in trade these days.

Napoleon is purported to have said about champagne that in victory you deserve it while in defeat you need it. An important corollary to that all-purpose reason for popping bubbly next year might be “providing you can afford it.”

A hearing is scheduled on the champagne tariffs for January 7 in Washington DC.

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Champagne, Doritos, and Sand

The best non-fiction books can open up a captivating world existing right under your nose. The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser falls into this category.

I’ll get to the meat of the book but there’s a short passage explaining the title of this post I’d like to point out. Beiser is finishing up a tour put on by the backers of one of Dubai’s shoreline expansion projects. Riding on a yacht, no less. “Moët in flute glasses” is poured. (The *correct* vessel for Champagne.) Beiser then remarks, “Bowls of fruit, nuts, olives, and, inexplicably, Doritos were scattered around. (I munched on a few of the chips, because when would be the next time I’d have a chance to pair Doritos with champagne?)”

Little did Beiser know, he’d experienced one of Champagne’s great pairings, if not its greatest. Nothing beats crunchy, salty snacks and any high-quality sparkling wine. I got a little emotional reading Beiser wasn’t sure when the opportunity would again arise. It’s something that should be a weekly occurrence for all wine drinkers.

ANYWAY, onto the book.

The World in a Grain

Wow, who knew sand plays such a crucial role in the development of the world from the 20th century to today. Well, Beiser does. DUH.

Think about concrete, glass, and the silicon chip. (Shout-out to Grinnell College graduate Robert Noyce, pioneer behind the latter and founder of Intel.) Not just the invention of each, but the wild proliferation of this trio. Particularly in the last century-plus. (Ok, less for the computer chip.) None of this would have been possible without sand. And particular types of sand needing to be mined.

Which leads to the bummer of the book. Sand mining is destroying land and shoreline all over the world. Illegal extraction is causing people who object to this activity to be killed. Corruption in the industry runs rampant. And our zeal to build on the shoreline, to create waterfront property where it doesn’t exist or bulk up current eroding beaches, is having significant environmental and financial impacts. Oh, and there’s no fracking without sand. (Sorry to pile on.)

The World in a Grain is an endlessly fascinating history and also a dire cautionary tale. Highly recommended.

Shout-out to my local bookstore, WORD in Greenpoint. They have a table with new/notable paperbacks and I always pick whatever looks interesting from the assortment of displayed fiction and non-fiction. Like this book!

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Pierre Peters champagne with Rodolphe Peters

One winery I wanted to be sure to visit when I was in Champagne last month was Pierre Péters. I have always tremendously enjoyed the racy wines in the US and Rodolphe Péters not only commands a lot of respect in the wine world for his Champagnes but I had heard he had a new (sparkling) wine project in California I wanted to learn more about. Despite wanting to find it, I drove right by the winery in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger–there’s no sign and it looked like a construction site.

Rodolphe Péters, who has made the wine since taking over from his father in 2007, met me and apologized for the mess. He said the project was taking longer than expected (which renovation hasn’t?). Rodolphe is a sixth generation farmer and a fourth generation winemaker. The estate is a renowned producer of blanc de blancs Champagne from their 19.98 hectares, which contain 65 parcels on the thin topsoil and chalky subsoil of the famed Cote des Blancs area. Only his grand cru wines are available in the US market (While he does make wine that is not grand cru, that stays in the French domestic market and the US receives only grand cru wines.

Rodolphe graduated as an enologist in 1992 but didn’t dive right in to

the family business. Instead, he had other jobs in the wine industry, such as selling closures for a big company, an experience that he said made him better at the business side. He also likes to list things, I learned, and he enumerates two things he learned about winemaking in this period of his life:
1. The best terroirs are stronger than the best winemakers, who shouldn’t even think to influence the best terroirs in the cellar
2. There is no recipe. His father once told him that every year is a new canvas. Rodolphe underscores how right he was, particularly with climate change, as conditions change year-to-year even more than before.

“If the best terroirs are very well farmed, if we pay enough attention just before and during the harvest–the key period of the year, more important than vinification–there is nothing much more to do to make champagne.”

He had a lot more to say about growing and harvesting, and he again enumerated:

1. The balance of maturity. “The magic of champagne is that we were able to pick ripe grapes that are unripe,” he said referring to what he called the “golden age” of champagne making that lasted until a couple of years ago. He says that growers in the region were able to pick grapes in perfect condition, which contributed to the increase in quality seen across the region. But things are changing. He says that the warming seasons now mean that sugars can outpace phonological ripeness of the grapes—the season used to take about 100 days from flowering to picking but last year some harvested in only 83. And rains at harvest can be particularly damaging.

“Most people think the quality of a vintage comes from the whole farming season—most actually comes one week before the harvest to the picking. A spring frost, for example, will affect quantity, not quality.” Also, he judges when to pick by taste. Sure, there’s a lab test, but he says taste is key.

2. Freshness of the fruit: he has set up a way to get the picked fruit pressed within three hours. “Need to avoid crushing, which would start pre=-maceration. Even for chardonnay. Every extra minute between picking and pressing diminishes freshness.”

3. The press matters. He is a fan of the pneumatic press over traditional He also says that managing the flow of the must—the unfermented juice emanating from the pressed berries—to have it flow through the skins acts as a natural filter which clears the must without the need to filter. To clarify (!) though, he doesn’t want perfectly clear juice since he keeps the wine on the gross lees and these add important flavor components, such as a nutty character, down the road.

4. Regulations limit the amount of juice that can be pressed from the grapes at the rate of 25 hectoliters for 4 metric tons. Of that 25 HL that flow, the first 20 are called “cuvée” and the last five are called “taille” (tails). He had a lot to say about taille, but in order not to turn this whole post into something fit or a Master of Wine seminar, I will just highlight what he has to say about the cuvée. He said that common wisdom is that the first drops (well, liters) of that free run juice are the best but he disagrees and only uses about 17-18 HL of the cuvée.

Okay, we’re almost at the tasting part! But first, a word (or two!) about his reserve. He maintains a “perpetual reserve” made from 50% of the current vintage and 50% previous vintages. For example, when he added 50% 2016 vintage to the reserve, this brought down the 2015 portion to 25%, and 2014 down to 12.5% and so on all the way back to trace amounts of 1998, when the reserve was started.

“In champagne we are blenders, we are the sole wine in the world allowed to blend multivintage wine, blend like port or sherry. I like the principal of the solera and perpetual reserve–there are very few cru good enough to be vinified as single vineyards in Champagne.”
Pierre Peters champagne with Rodolphe Peters

We move to taste the Cuvee de Réserve. The wine has a bit from each of the 65 parcels and this rendition is from the base of 2016. He says that he wants the wine to be exceptional because it is the wine that most people will come to know them through since it accounts for half the bottles they produce each year. Thus it receives about half the total production from the famed Les Chétillons vineyard as well as a big helping of the reserves (hence the name). He says the chardonnay from the area can be “unfriendly when young” and that they don’t want to release an austere wine, so they strive to find the “ideal balance between tight and crispy chardonnay from Le Mesnil and the smooth character of the reserves.”

And he strikes the balance flawlessly. Refreshing zippy qualities of the blanc de blancs from the top sites of Le Mesnil and the Cote des Blancs combine with the lees aging, 6g dosage, and the solera reserve to give a more yeasty, biscuity qualities for an excellent blend.

(search for Pierre Peters at retail)

Les Chétillons is a top site in Champagne. Pierre Péters owns three parcels for three hectares total, a pretty big vineyard that is also old (especially by Champagne standards) with the first vines planted in 1936 and anther set planted in 1971. The vines are almost all from selection massale, not cloned, and they are now being “touched” by shortleaf virus, so they have started a new nursery that is protected behind the construction site that is the winery. Les Chétillons wine is vinified separately in three tanks and it is a blend of the best of the three tanks, which he says is always better than the best of the individual blends (1+1+1=4, I guess you could say).

Rodolphe pointed out that even though single-vineyard, single-variety, single-vintage bottlings from small growers have recently generated a lot of excitement in the region, he cautions that with only a small vineyard block, it can be a difficult trick to pull off. “You can’t succeed every time,” he says, adding that insisting on single-vineyard bottlings can also reduce the quality of an entry-level wine.

But back to his Les Chétillons. Since 2012 was a standout vintage, and this is a superlative site, its not exactly counterintuitive to let you know that the wine was outstanding. If you are looking to introduce someone to the joys of what next-level Champagne can be, start here. If you already know the joys of champagne, get in line for a few bottles (but not at the winery since they don’t do direct sales). It is taut and nervy, loaded with chalky minerality, It is not at all piercing and certainly should be tasted now because it is jump-for-joy delicious. But the real reward, I’m sure, will come in 2025 and beyond—if you can keep your hands off it for that long.
Pierre Peters champagne with Rodolphe Peters

The big revelation for me was the MK 12, L’Etonnant Monsieur Victor – This wine is a selection of the best of the Chétillons plus the best of the three containers of perpetual reserve. Insane! It is like the Cuvee de Réserve but with age to make what Rodolphe says is “the very best possible nonvintage.” The label for this wine is designed by Rodolphe’s son Victor every year. This edition riffs on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and it does seem touched from on high—the nervy tension of the Chétillions Chardonnay is replaced by a bit more of a creamy texture from age and the presence of the big helping of reserve wines. This wine may have a goofy label but it is dead serious!

The final wine I tasted with Rodolphe is his rosé, the Cuvée Albane. Making a rosé was difficult for Rodolphe at first, since he did not want to make simply a pink blanc de blancs—it had to actually taste like a rosé! So the secret for him was Pinot Meunier, specifically from his friend, JB Geoffroy, whom Rodolphe calls the “saignée master.”

“I fell in love with the taste, pomelo blood orange—not not dark fruits. A light in went my mind—it’s a better match with chardonnay, sweeter, softer, less about the dark and red fruit, much more apple, citrus.” Well, there you go, he cribbed my tasting note! The wine, named after his daughter, is rare but well worth seeking out.

Why rosé? Rodolphe’s Cartesian mind again comes up with a list of reason: first, it’s good to go far from your roots; second, it’s important to have a connection with the next generation; third, friendship, since making something together with another winemaker “keeps you open minded.”

Two of those reasons could be applied to his new project in California! As some may have heard, Rodolphe is a partner in a very exciting venture in Santa Barbara. The other partners are Etienne de Montille of Burgundy and Justin Willett of Tyler and Lieu Dit. The winery project had no name yet nor have they released the first vintage commercially yet. But they have sourced grapes from Bentrock and Wenslow and purchased 45 acres of hillside vineyards on diatomaceous subsoil. It sounds like our patience will be rewarded and one day we will be able to raise a fine glass of California sparkling wine to toast the release.

(search for Pierre Peters at retail)

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New Year’s Eve Champagne at Marta in Manhattan

I can’t believe this is going to be my fourth (!) NYE in NYC. One thing has remained constant about the last day of the year: I start the night with some New Year’s Eve Champagne at Marta. Why, you ask?

Just add Champagne. / Photo via Facebook/Marta

Well you can’t beat pizza and Champagne. Whatever toppings/sauce/crust you opt for, there is no more versatile wine to compliment/transform a wild/wide variety of flavors and textures. I don’t even mind (too much) that I’m not drinking it out of a flute.*

Even better: Marta pours from magnums and 3Ls on NYE. I emailed the wine director, Kimberly Ruth Cavoores, to get the inside scoop on what & when.

So starting at 5pm, and until they are gone, here’s what’s popping at Marta:

New Year’s Eve Champagne: Big Bottle Duo

Dhondt-Grellet ‘Les Terres Fines’ Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru (3L)

Bereche & Fils  ‘Reflet d’Antan’ Brut (Magnum)

Both are $30/glass. (Oh, Kimberly says, “And maybe one more….”)

If you are a night owl, you can head down the hall to Vini e Fritti for a complimentary midnight toast of Krug, poured from magnum. (Naturally.)

Of course on a night like New Year’s Eve I’d contact either spot in advance to see what the deal is with reservations and/or walk-ins.

I’ll be grabbing a bar stool at Marta around  4:30 because I do not want to be anywhere near(-ish) Times Square and the insanity pulsating all around. Retreating to Brooklyn after my initial New Year’s Eve Champagne. Then heading to a friend’s house in Red Hook for cassoulet and natty wine(s).

Need some more Champagne thoughts? I have you covered:

Champagne Henriot Makes for an Illuminating Evening

A Most Unique Champagne: R. Dumont & Fils Solera Reserve Brut

How about sparkling wine? Boom:

Crémant is Your Sparkling Wine for the Holidays

Happy New Year, y’all.

*I’m sure Marta has flutes somewhere (I believe a former wine director told me this) and they’d be happy to accomodate me. But pouring from big bottles at bar height is not easy so I will be merciful and drink from a white wine glass. So benevolent of me, I know.

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