Now that the winter thaw has started, it is time to celebrate. So, pop a bottle or two of Champagne. Heck! At these prices, buy a case! To start with, we have the ultra low-priced Ariston Carte Blanche Brut ($22.99). The grapes that make up this lovely wine are from the steep, sunny slopes of Brouillet. This results in riper fruit. A rich soil of shellfish fossils provides minerality and depth in the final blend, which consists of 40% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier. In the nose, you will find pistachios, brioche, red fruits and just the faintest hint of coconut. On the palate, lemon curd and custard come out in the forefront. These flavors are followed by red plum and currant fruit. Roasted nuts round out the finish. This newest incarnation of Carte Blanche has smaller bubbles and less yeast than the previous blend. A perfect match for brie and other creamy cheeses as well as a pan-seared whitefish crusted with almonds. Second on this month’s list, is the Tarlant Brut Zero ($26.99). The current trend of Ultra-Brut, no dosage (no sugar added) Champagne is at its apex with this wine. A blend of 1/3 each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier with fruit from hillsides in Oeuilly in the Valley of the Marne. Soils in the area are a mix of chalk, sand, limestone and sparnacien (chalk and clay). The final blend is from the 1998, 1999 and 2000 vintage, which was bottled in July, 2003. A fantastic nose of tangerines, stone fruits and minerals. In the mouth, citrus fruit, nectarine, lime and hazelnuts. This wine absolutely begs to be served with oysters! Another bonus is that the Tarlant family does not advertise, is that their Champagnes are organic! —Scott Beckerley
One of my favorite names in the wine world is Bouzy, a grand cru village on the south-facing side of the mountain of Reims, in the very heart of the pinot noir country of Champagne. This village is famous for making the red wine that colors the best rosés in all of Champagne. Usually, producers only use a small amount (7%-12%) of this rare and expensive ingredient in their very best luxury rosé cuvees. The De Meric Grande Sous Bois Bouzy Rosé Brut ($34.99) is an exception to this, and is made from 100% Bouzy pinot noir. There are two distinct methods for creating a rosé Champagne, the first involves blending fully red wine with white until the desired flavor and color is reached. De Meric produced this rosé by using the distinctly more risky method of maceration, where all of the skins are allowed to be in contact with all of the juice, creating the rosé all at once. When using the blending method, one selects a small amount of very healthy grapes (a little botrytis is common in Champagne, but one does not taste it, because the grapes are pressed so quickly and the skins are discarded) to make the red wine. One needs healthy, perfect grapes when making a maceration wine. De Meric did just that, making only 1400 bottles of this fantastic Champagne. It is all from the 2003 harvest (though not labeled as vintage), and was 100% fermented in small old oak barrels. The 2003 harvest was the earliest and warmest since 1852, and provided perfect conditions for this kind of Champagne. The color, atypical for a maceration rosé, is very delicately pink, what the French call oeil de perdrix (eye of the partridge). It has a very extroverted maraschino cherry aroma, but comes across much more elegant and restrained on the palate then one would assume. This is probably the most fun of any bottle we have ever imported directly. Sadly, when it is gone, it is gone. Our allocation, while generous given the very limited production, is still very small at 21 cases. I hope that you will try it and enjoy it as much as I have, but please don’t fall in love; it is unlikely we will ever see it again. —Gary Westby
I awoke with a start, my face dripping with perspiration. What a nightmare...there were acrobats and Republicans, cocktail waitresses and an Indian elephant. Man, scary. I looked next to me. There was a tusk sticking out of the covers. Time to get up. There was work to be done. Not by me. I didn’t have any. Semantics. The door opened. She lit up the room like a nuclear Christmas tree. I was pining already. “Mr. Berg?” she asked with a voice that dripped molten honey. “I have a problem.” So did I. I remained seated. “I’ve been robbed. Cases of wine from the estate of Pichon Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande. Three different vintages: 1994, 1995 and 1996. Mr. Berg, I MUST have them back by Saturday. I’m hosting a dinner party for international diplomats. Can you help me?” The Lord helps those who help themselves. But asking her if I could help myself was out of the question. I assured her that I would do what I could. Even if it took a million years. It’s all about billable hours. Her name was Tatiana, a liason to the American consulate. The diplomats in question were flying in from Sweden, Norway, Lebanon and Canada. I checked backround information on all of them—clean as a whistle. I searched motive, and found none. My mind raced like Jesse Owens. I ran over scenarios like a monster truck from hell. Nothing. The Swede was Staffan. He was still bristling over the jokes that Olaf, the Norwegian made (three Swedes leave a bar after one drink. Well, it COULD happen! Haha! Ya sure). Neither were an easy suspect. The man from Lebanon. He was interesting. Could have cut his teeth on Musar, Lebanon’s finest wine estate, and later developed a taste for Bordeaux. The Canadian? A beer drinker. Doesn’t fit the profile. One thing was certain; The three vintages of Lalande served a very useful purpose: The 1994 ($159.00) was a tremendous success for the vintage. The bouquet is a kaleidoscope of warm, lush black fruit, and the wine can be enjoyed now. The ’95 ($309.99) is smoother and more debonnair. Smoke, cedar and bittersweet chocolate notes balance the rich red and black fruits. Outstanding. The ’96 ($299.99) is built for the long haul, as one enjoys first the ’94, followed by the ’95. Sweet, rich fruit it has, but the structure for long term aging is ever present. Time was running out. Time always runs out. But who did it?... Then it hit me like an angry blackjack dealer. I leapt up, grabbed my hat, made the bus in seconds flat… I burst into the room like a poltergeist on acid. Tataiana spun round like a dervish. The room got as quiet as outer space. Metaphors hung in the air like clouds. “Tatiana, I have solved the crime. Olaf, please step forward.” A nervous Olaf stepped up. “You may go. Staffan, you may go as well.” I stared at the Lebanese diplomat, then turned to the crowded room. “This is the thief. I kept wondering: Why three consecutive vintages? Then I realized… Tripoli! Triple, for three vintages! And Tripoli is the capital of Lebanon!” I was smug as a Cheshire cat, really feline good. Then the Canadian spoke. “Impossible, yknow, eh? I took the wine.” Gasters were flabbered. Instead of the cheese course, incredulity was served. But I was dining on crow. “Why? Why did you take my three vintages of Lalande?” Tatiana bellowed like an accordion. The Canadian smiled wanly. “Hat Trick.” —Joe Zugelder
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