By: Jim Westby (Gary's Dad!)
Champagne Friday: Collecting Champagne Capsules
Champagne drinkers receive an attractive memento with every bottle they open—the metal capsule that covers the cork. These usually feature bright colors, strong design, and the maker's brand identity. They aren't easy to throw away, and I'm sure that many of you have some capsules in your drawer that contains corkscrews, foil cutters, decanting funnels, miscellaneous corks, or other wine paraphernalia.
Maybe you have 10 or 20 capsules in that drawer, and in this case you have a collection even if you don't realize it. In France you would be called a "placomusophile", perhaps a compelling reason to conceal the fact that you collect these things.
There is plenty of material to collect. Capsules have been used for over 150 years and there are now more than 10,000 Champagne brands. Most brands have several capsule designs in current use, and old houses may have used hundreds of different ones in the past. These designs may themselves vary not only by color, but also by typographic style and sizing of the elements.
To make sense of this, you need the standard reference book for Champagne capsule collectors, "Repertoire des Placques de Muselets du Champagne," by Claude Lambert (generally called simply "Lambert"). It includes over 5,000 capsule photos and lists tens of thousands of different capsules, but is only available in France in French. Don't miss the chance to buy a copy if you are in the Champagne region or Paris. The book gives prices you might expect to pay for capsules were you to buy them in a specialty shop in France. Most are listed at 1 or 2 Euros, but old, rare examples can fetch up to several hundred Euros.
Here are some suggestions for Champagnes with interesting capsules that will start or add to a collection:
Michel Loriot "Cuvee Reserve" Brut Champagne ($29.99) This all-estate grown Champagne is 100% Pinot Meunier from the village of Festigny. Unlike many "reserve" designation Champagnes, this lives up to its name with half of the wine coming from old reserves. It is quite round, with a wonderful pie crust and spice nose, with some hints of exotic fruit in the flavor. This is medium- to full-bodied Champagne and makes great drinking on its own as well as being fantastic with patés of all sorts. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne buyer)
2006 Michel Loriot "Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes" Brut Champagne ($49.99) Rated *Outstanding Plus* by the Underground Wine Letter. This stunning, single-vineyard Champagne is one of the best we carry at K&L. It comes from the l'Arpent vineyard, which is slightly less than one acre in the village of Festigny. The vines were planted in 1942 and come from an old massal selection of Meunier. Michel Loriot makes only 3,000 or 4,000 bottles of this, his top wine, in vintages that he considers good enough. Otherwise this juice goes into the other blends. This light gold color wine has the kind of streamers that I could watch all day, they seem slowed in their travel up from the bottom of the glass by the richness of the wine. The exotic spice on the nose leads to a surprisingly creamy flavor. The Meunier Vieilles Vignes is very full-bodied and powerful Champagne, yet finishes with great minerality. The Loriots like to serve it with parmesan, a cheese that is very much like it in flavor and bite! When I tasted this with the Loriots, Michel decanted it 1/2 hour ahead of time! This has a great finish, and is another must try for any real fan of Champagne. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne buyer)
2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) When toast and raciness meet, you have a great bottle of vintage Champagne. This has been my favorite vintage release from Krug for current drinking since the 1989, and it has the legs to age for decades. The wine has a bright, white gold color and a nose that is open and full of buttered sourdough aromas. The initial palate impression is tense, but this is one of those rare wines with a "peacocks tail" finish... The impression grows after you swallow it. It has a near endless finish, and seems dryer than past releases. After checking the new code on the back, this bottle was disgorged in spring of 2010, giving it about 9 years on the lees. (Gary Westby, K&L Champagne Buyer)
Barnaut Blanc de Noirs Bouzy Grand Cru Brut Champagne ($42.99/$39.99 Wine Club) 90 points Tanzer: "(all Bouzy pinot noir): Vivid gold. Ripe pear and nectarine on the nose, but complicated by floral and musky herb nuances. A pliant, smooth texture, with deep, hefty orchard and pit fruit flavors and slow-building smokiness. The persistent finish repeats the pear note and leaves notes of redcurrant and floral honey behind. This Champagne would stand up to rich, buttery dishes or even strong cheeses." (12/ 2010)
Finally, let me tell you a way to get your capsules out of that drawer and displayed so that you can enjoy them. All you need is some 3/4 inch x 6 wood screws, glue, and a piece of foam core display board (from a craft or framing store). I use a drop of "super glue" on the inside of the capsule. The bond is strong enough that you can mount the capsule on wood, but it does leave residue if the screw is pulled off. Ordinary white glue leaves no residue, but it's only strong enough to hold a screw turned into soft material such as foam core board.