I'm working on a book on Champagne and believe me, I can't really call this work! (Well, the writing part is work, I'll give you that.) Not when your research is tasting Champagne, whether in France or even at home. I toured the Champagne region in late June and was able to visit about a dozen producers and taste wines from a few others when I visited VinExpo in Bordeaux. Since I've been back, I've been tasting a lot of Champagne and have a lot more to enjoy (note: I'm not calling this sampling, as I won't sample a Champagne - I'll drink it all, along with whoever is with me at the time).
So to get caught up, here is an overview of the best Champagnes I have tasted over the past three or four months, broken down into a few categories. I have plenty now and I'll do this again in a few months, after I get through another 40 or 50 Champagnes.
Best Non-Vintage Bruts
While some think of this category in modest terms, I enjoy these wines and tasted several that were a notch or two above most of their competition. These included Bereche, a superb grower firm in Ludes, Palmer and Mailly Grand Cru, two excellent cooperatives, and the super dependable, consistent, Pol Roger, which has been my favorite non-vintage Brut from a famous Champagne house for many years. Finally, the Leclerc-Briant non-vintage Brut Reserve, from a small producer in Epernay, offers great freshness and harmony and best of all, it's made according to biodynamic practices.
Best Blanc de Blancs
So many beautiful wines in this category - here are just a few:
Besserat de Bellefon "Cuvée des Moines"
Henriot (utterly charming)
Collard-Picard "Cuvée Dom. Picard (single vineyard in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger)
Michel Gonet (latest release, 2011 base, light touch of minerality)
Several small houses and growers specialize in Blanc de Blancs; two of these, namely Philippe Gonet and J. L. Vergnon, both located in the famed Côte des Blancs village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, where Chardonnay reigns supreme. From Gonet (who produces as many as seven different Blanc de Blancs cuvées!), standouts included the "Roy Soleil" with its distinct minerality and excellent persistence, and the "Belemnita" 2005, the winery's prestige cuvée, a Blanc de Blancs of outstanding purity and elegance. From a vineyard in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger planted in 1929, this is a gorgeous wine that will drink well for the next 7-10 years.
From J.L. Vergnon, every Blanc de Blancs made by Christophe Constant at this firm that has become a rising star, is noteworthy. The two finest are the 2008 Expression, which has a rich, yet delicate finish with notable finesse, and the 2008 Confidence Brut Nature, meaning zero dosage. 2008 was an exceptional vintage, as the wines have beautiful acidity, and though currently a bit austere, they should age magnificently. This cuvée has appealing aromas of yellow plums and golden raisins, excellent harmony and light minerality; it should peak in 7-10 years.
The 2008 Blanc de Blancs from Deutz and Pol Roger are lovely wines with great varietal purity; the former is a restrained wine with a light minerality and excellent harmony, while the latter is as appealing a Blanc de Blancs as I've had from Pol Roger in years. Offering a light chalky character in the nose, this has beautiful freshness, rich minerality and impressive weight, as this wine coats the palate. The Deutz should peak in 5-7 years, while the Pol Roger should age even better, peaking in 7-10 years.
Other first-rate vintage Blanc de Blanc de Blancs include those from Bruno Pailard, 2009 Pierre Paillard "Les Motellettes", 2005 Polyez Jacquemart and Thiénot. My favorite cuvées from Bruno Paillard are the Blanc de Blancs, both the Reserve Privée and the 2004 Blanc de Blancs; this last my favorite wine of all his cuvées I tasted with Bruno at VinExpo. Offering excellent persistence, very good acidity and beautiful complexity, this is ideal for most seafood tonight or over the next 3-5 years.
Regarding Thiénot, there are two special Blanc de Blancs produced at this small gem of a Champagne house. The Cuvée Stanislaus 2005 (Stanislaus is the son of Alain Thiénot), has lemon and pear aromas and a touch of yeastiness and is quite dry with lovely complexity, while the Le Vigne aux Gammes Cuvée 3435 is remarkably rich, as it is made from late-harvest grapes from a vineyard in Avize. Some will not like the style, but I love the nutty, yeasty quality of this cuvée that displays a powerful finish and a distinct minerality.
Best Rosé Champagnes
I admit to loving rosé Champagne, actually being almost obsessed with these wines. Maybe it's because it's different, or maybe it's because most examples are primarily Pinot Noir-based, which give these wines a bit more power and richness.
I was quite pleased with virtually every rosé I tasted on my recent trip; a few examples include the non-vintage offerings from Perrier-Jouet, Henriot, which is quite delicious with excellent freshness, and the Mailly Grand Cru "L'Intemporelle", which has bright fruit and delicate Pinot Noir flavors.
Moving up a notch or two as far as texture and weight, the 2005 Philipponnat "1522" Rosé (named for the year of the firm's founding) is extremely classy with notes of dried pear and sour cherry; there is outstanding persistence with great finesse; this is a beautiful rosé that does not get the attention it deserves. Enjoy now and over the next 5-7 years.
The 2005 Bollinger "La Grande Année" Rosé is stunning, with its exquisite aromas of dried cherry and red plum, excellent concentration and persistence and very good acidity. Perfectly balanced, this is delicious with great purity and varietal character. This should drink well for 7-10 years. How good is this wine? It is the best current cuvée from this house in my opinion, even better than the 2002 R.D. (recently disgorged).
Veuve Clicqout has been making a name for itself with its beautiful rosés for some time; this makes perfect sense, as this is a house where every cuvée is primarily Pinot Noir-based. The 2004 Vintage Brut Rosé is full-bodied and very rich with explosive fruit on the palate and in the finish. While this is quite flavorful and impressive now at 11 years of age, it needs time and will be at its best in another 3-5 years or longer. If you do consume it now, pair it with veal or a game bird.
Two rosés from Paul Bara in Bouzy are notable for their varietal purity and balance. This should come as no surprise as this grower uses Pinot Noir from their own vineyards in this beautiful village in the Montagne de Reims, one known for its rich, ripe Pinot Noir. The Brut Grand Rosé (non-vintage) has appealing raspberry jam and morel cherry flavors and is utterly delicious. Their 2009 Special Club Rosé is also very tasty, with more of a mandarin orange flavor profile. Displaying excellent ripeness, this is quite sleek, with admirable finesse. Offering excellent complexity (there are notes of red spice in the finish) and beautiful balance, this is a lovely wine, to be consumed at dinner (halibut would be an ideal pairing) over the next 3-5 years.
Finally, the rosés from Dom Perignon are simply breathtaking. As much as I've loved Dom Perignon Brut (and the current 2005 release is first-rate), I've always believed that their rosé was a wine of greater complexity. The current release is the 2004 and it is another outstanding example of Dom Perignon Rosé. Offering great depth of beautifully ripe black cherry fruit with excellent persistence and very good acidity, this has magnificent harmony. This has a long, long finish and is extremely satisfying. This offers great pleasure now, but you don't need to be in a hurry to drink this, as it should be in great shape in another 12-15 years.
Even more remarkable is the 1995 Rosé P2 (pictured). The "P" stands for Plenitude, a term that chef-de-cave Richard Geoffroy is using for recently disgorged examples of Dom Perignon (this replaces the term Oenotheque, used for several years). Combining excellent ripeness - 1995 was an outstanding year in Champagne - with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and a lengthy finish, this has great Pinot Noir purity. The two things that struck me the most about this rosé were its elegance - as rich as this was, the wine offers lovely delicacy and finesse - and its amazing freshness. Here is a twenty year-old rosé that seems more like it is four or five years old. It's a remarkable wine, arguably the most complex, refined and yes, greatest rosé Champagne I've ever tasted. This will offer great satisfaction now and over the next 10-15 years. Stunning!
In my next post on the latest from Champagne, I'll focus on some of the best examples I've recently tasted of Blanc de Noirs, vintage Bruts and of course, prestige cuvées (preview: the 2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill is magnificent!) Cheers!