Happy New Year Champagne lovers! For my first Champagne Friday entry of 2014, I would like to reflect on some of the great experiences that I have been fortunate to have in 2013. Looking back through my notes (three Moleskine’s worth) it is hard not to feel blessed by Bacchus, and I had to leave many great bottles out. In a professional capacity, I do my best to be objective… For my top 10 list I have made no such attempt. These are Champagne experiences, and I have not tried to separate them from the context that made them so enjoyable. Thank you all so much for the support this year, and I hope we will all get the chance to enjoy more deliscious Champagne in 2014! Here is my list.
#10- 2002 Launois "Spécial Club" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne: My friend Jeff invited Cinnamon up to his fabulous house in the Santa Cruz Mountains for a pig roast on the fourth of July, and we brought this bottle for the aperitif. Surrounded by more natural beauty than my limited powers could describe in the middle of the forest of the Niscene Marks, with a pig roasting over a wood fire and so many great friends, most wine would taste good. The 2002 Club added a lot to the occasion; it was a giant, rich, decadent blanc des blancs with fresh summer nectarine fruit and pure chalk to snap it into balance. Life does not get better than basting a pig with a freshly cut bay leaf branch and sipping on this Mesnil powerhouse!
#9- 2000 Krug Brut Champagne: Some have you may have read the post from this summer on this great bottle, and the experience has really stuck in my mind. My favorite pairing with Krug is contraband Foie Gras, and I was able to score a torchon from my connection in New York to go with this bottle. The Champagne showed its crackling Chardonnay side with the liver, and incredible nutty depth on the nose. This wine is still a baby, but very hard to resist right now.
#8 1969 Franck Bonville "Millesime" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne: This year, Cinnamon and I were invited to a once in a life time, 20 vintage retrospective tasting going all the way back to 1959 at the Bonville cellars in Avize. While nearly every bottle showed great, the 1969 and the 1964 stood out as some of the best I have ever tasted. Both of these vintages came from a time in Champagne before the new clones were planted and before the wines aged on crown caps during their tirage… A different era! The 1969 had a medium gold color, and a massive nose of drawn butter and ripe pineapple. It was super full and rich and had a double finish- first of great ripe fruit, and then of high class chalk.
#7 1964 Franck Bonville "Millesime" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne: This wine, from the same tasting, comes from one of the best vintages of the 20th century. It was still light straw in color, and even had a flash of green! The bouquet was layered with baguette, white flowers and cream. The ’64 still has all of its freshness intact but time has given it beguiling complexity on a medium bodied, perfectly put together frame. The finish was endless and full of chalky detail.
#6 1988 Krug Brut Champagne: Drinking 1988 Krug with Olivier Krug turned out to be even better than it sounds. I was incredibly blessed to be invited to a lunch at the Krug House and had a wonderful time tasting the range with Olivier and sharing a great meal. The 1988’s are my favorite vintage for current drinking, and share a classic Champagne drive and energy to go with the complexity that time has given them. The Krug was brassy in color and full of chanterelle and cream on the big bouquet and had plenty of nutty Pinot Noir fruit on the palate. The finish was very focused and long, and the acid was in perfect balance. What a bottle!
#5 Franck Bonville "Belles Voyes" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne: I try and take Cinnamon out to a special dinner every year before I leave for my spring trip to taste the vin clair in Champagne, and this year we went to Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. We hired a driver since we knew this was going to be a long meal and one bottle was going to cut it. We brought the Belles Voyes and bought an incredible 2006 Comtes Lafon Volnay 1er Cru Santenots du Milieu off their spectacular list. The pairing of the Bonville with the sea bream sashimi was so good that it made both almost take on halos… It was a glowing synergy of wine and food that I won’t ever forget. The Belles Voyes manages to combine big texture, ripeness and richness with chalky minerality on the level of the most austere extra bruts. It has it all.
#4 Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne: I don’t have to strain my memory for this- I drank it on New Years’ Eve with some excellent caviar from K&L favorite Kelly’s Catch. Cinnamon made fresh buckwheat blini, and K&L’s Doug Burress, his charming wife Corey and I all devoured them. The high toned, exotic Cepages d'Antan was the perfect foil for the nutty richness of the caviar and I felt that pairings just don’t get much better. Arbanne, Meslier and Pinot Blanc are as rare as hens teeth in Champagne, and I feel like I impact world supply with the amount that I consume. I’ll have to find a way to get over the guilt!
#3 1973 René Collard "Cuvee Reservee Millesime" Brut Champagne: This was the wine of the night for me on my fortieth birthday, a huge treat from my fathers’ cellar. Cinnamon, my friend Henry (also a 1973!), my dad and I had all gone up to Tomales Bay and we drank this as the aperitif in our little rental on the water. This Champagne was so full of white truffles that it could have been from Piedmont… The nose alone would have put it on my top 10 for the year. Like the other 73’s that I have had from Champagne it was medium to light bodied and very graceful. The Braeburn apple fruit and top notch hazelnut flavors came together on the effortlessly long finish… I couldn’t help but notice that it was far fresher and better preserved than I am!!!!
#2 1964 Michel Loriot Vintage Brut Champagne (disgorged circa 1973): As I mentioned in the note on the Bonville, the 1964 vintage is one of the top harvests of the 20th century in Champagne. When my father and I visited Michel Loriot this April, we were dumbstruck when he offered us not one, but two dazzling wines from this vintage to taste and compare. I will never forget this incredibly generous moment… It was one of the highlights of my career in the wine business. Michel had discovered this old disgorgement while cleaning up the cellar, and was curious to compare it to a bottle that he disgorged that morning and he shared the experience with us. This wine was like a great old vintage of Corton, with savory complexity that wine so rarely achieves. It had very intense red cherry fruit and still some matchstick aromas. If this had been served to me flat in a black glass I would have guessed great old Burgundy for sure, but with the bubbles it was even better.
#1 1964 Michel Loriot Vintage Brut Champagne (disgorged 4/2/13 and consumed the same day): When comparing perfectly stored Champagne that has been aged on the cork to fresh disgorgements, I usually prefer the cork aged. This was the exception to the rule, but it was very close… Having two bottles like this side by side was almost too much for me. The color was darker in this freshly disgorged bottle, and the wine had a lot more pressure. The bouquet was toastier, and the wine was fresher on the finish, giving up only a little bit of savory depth to the old disgorgement. This wine had subtlety and integration that put it in the league of the very best drinks to ever pass my lips. It left me speechless.