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One of the most serious English Sparkling producers. This historic estate has been in the Goring family since 1743. The tiny 16-acre vineyard is close-planted on a steep south-facing chalk escarpment described as 'similar to the Côte des Blancs' in Champagne. The fruit is picked very selectively with quality being the absolute focus. The grapes are pressed gently using a traditional Coquard press. After three years on the lees this wine, composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay & 22% Pinot Meunier, is hand disgorged and balanced with a minimal dosage of just 4g/L. It has a fine counterbalance between toasty richness and power from the wines élevage in Burgundian French Oak barrels, with racy acidity, tension and a focused chalky minerality.

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Entries in Billecart-Salmon (4)

Friday
Aug022013

Champagne Friday: Midsummer Roundup

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

As much as I like to talk Champagne with all of you, I thought it might be a fun change of pace to share  some of my co-workers' favorite Champagnes this summer. Here is a roundup of some of the top staff selections from the last month. Enjoy!

Fleury "Carte Rouge" Blanc de Noirs Brut Champagne ($39.99) Consistently one of my favorite direct import producers in our champagne section- Fleury makes complex sparkling wine from 100% pinot noir vines. The result is a rich and decadent sparkler that doesn't sacrifice minerality or brightness for its lush texture. -Mike Barber

 Michel Loriot "Cuvee Reserve" Brut Champagne ($29.99) Top Value! Apple, pie crust toastiness, chalky minerality with a beautiful, persistent bead and balanced acidity. This is the real deal, folks. I love this 100% Meunier, insanely affordable Champagne! -Sarah Covey

2005 Amaury Coutelas Vintage Brut Champagne ($39.99) I had the fortune to revisit this incredible Champagne in the company of Angelique and Damien Coutelas, who were recently in town for a producer visit and consumer tasting. The 2005 impressed me before, and upon re-tasting I was amazed at how it has blossomed over the last six months in something even richer and deeper. Worth a serious revisit! 70 year old Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir vines are the source of this enticing Champagne, and in the cooler 2005 vintage these naturally low-yielding vines yielded even less than usual. The result is a rich, complex Champagne with a creamy texture and savory elements that make it ideal for pairing with food. Lemony, bready aromas lead in the nose, followed by flavors of nutty lees and fresh-buttered sourdough toast on the palate. The dry finish that leaves lingering saline-like mineral and nutty flavors. This would be superb with many seafood dishes or a simple roast chicken, and makes a lovely gift. From a producer that is brand new to the US market and that you can only find at K&L, this is a real special deal here. -Chiara Shannon

Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne ($34.99) I am just one in a long line of staff members at K&L to fall head over heels for this wine. It is the balance of mineral freshness with the pure and elegant fruit qualities that really set this wine apart. Great for the wine geek, and any sort of setting. Really delicious. -Kyle Kurani

2004 Launois "Spécial Club" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($59.99) Special wine and not just in name! As with all Special Club bottlings this comes from Launois' top parcels of vines. The wine has extra time on the lees which not only enhances its depth and quality but also gives the wine great oxidation resistance to allow for extended cellaring. The vibrant acidity of the 2004 vintage gives energy and life to this wine that is simply a delight to drink now and will only get better with time. -Ryan Woodhouse

Ariston Aspasie "Carte Blanche" Brut Champagne ($27.99) Vines have been cultivated on this tiny property in the hamlet of Brouillet for five generations, and it has remained a customer and staff favorite here for several years. Yeasty, full and complex, the Carte Blanche exhibits a fine intensely-focused bead with lively notes of tart apples, dried hazelnuts, vanilla and toast, all in all a remarkably well-built Brut that will compare well to cuvées at double the price. It is perfect for entertaining. Top Value! -John Majeski

Franck Bonville "Belles Voyes" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($67.99) Based on the 2004 vintage, this is a terrifically rich and very lovely champagne, made from old vines, planted in the 1920s, long before commercial clones were available. The reulting concentration and depth is a reward that exceeds many champagnes costing well over $100. -Keith Wollenberg


And of course, I couldn't resist adding one of my own...

Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut Champagne ($54.99/Wine Club) I love extra brut Champagne, and Antoine Billecart has made a great example of the style with this bottling. He and I drank this along with his team at Quince in SF the last time he was here, and with four years on the lees, it came across as dry, but without a hint of austerity. Many big houses lack respect for Meunier, but not Billecart- this wine gets its charm from the clean fruit that this indigenous grape brings to the blend. It is composed of 40% Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir and the long, cool fermentation and generous lees time has given this wine the fruit and balance to please even a first time extra brut drinker. To watch the video from my visit with Antoine at Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay this past April, click here.

A toast to you,

-Gary

Friday
Apr192013

Champagne Friday: Visit to Billecart-Salmon

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Earlier this month, Antoine Rolland-Billecart hosted my father and me at Champagne Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay. This house rightly has one of the most famous names in all of Champagne, but produces relatively little in terms of quantity- about 2 million bottles a year. The family has been in the business a very long time, and will celebrate their 200th year in 2018. We started our tour with a walk in his Clos St. Hilaire, featured in today's video.

Walking with Antoine at Billecart-Salmon.

Of the 750 acres that Billecart-Salmon works with its 30 vineyard workers, only 25 acres are owned by them. They rent 300 acres and contract the rest of their supply, making them very much a traditional negociant. Of that land, over 42 acres are dedicated to growing Pinot Noir for red wine for their rose. These vines average over 50 years old and are located in the grand cru villages of Ay and Ambonnay as well as in Billecart’s own premier cru village, Mareuil-sur-Ay. In these special vineyards they prune extra short and even employ green harvesting to get the concentration needed to make the most famous rose Champagne in the world. For the rest of the vines, they are most concerned with picking at the right acid level, and look for a very high total acidity of 10 grams per liter at harvest.

The caves at Billecart-Salmon.

This high acidity is something that they seek to preserve in the wines, and fresh clean flavors are the focus of the house style at Billecart-Salmon. Antoine Roland-Billecart's grandfather was a brewer, and in 1950 they were the first house to utilize cold stabilization to clarify the must before fermentation. The alcoholic fermentation is done at a very cold temperature here- so cold that they have developed their own selected yeast strains that can operate in an environment that never goes above 57 degrees Fahrenheit. This primary fermentation is very slow- three weeks- creating less than half a degree of alcohol per day!

They do not have a specific policy on malolactic fermentation at Billecart, and have the cellar split into three separate zones so they can choose to allow certain lots to go through the process and block others. I was surprised to learn that Billecart-Salmon is now the fourth biggest house for the use of wood, behind Bollinger, Krug and Alfred Gratien. Only 3% of their production is done in barrel, and you can see the lots in the picture below. This goes to show that Champagne is still primarily a tank appellation!

Billecart barrel list.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne The most famous wine from this great house is the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne ($74.99). It has earned its reputation as the benchmark for all rose 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Nicolas-François- NFB" Champagne Champagne with its ethereal elegance, purity and lightness.

My personal favorite is the 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Nicolas-François- NFB" Champagne ($89.99) which is less than 3% of their total production. This is classy, understated Champagne with just the right amount of nutty, bready richness to balance out its bright fruit. The bead and texture is near perfect- if you feel like a treat you will not be disappointed by the NFB!

A toast to you!

–Gary

Friday
Mar082013

Champagne Friday: Rosé Champagne

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Rosé Champagne

Many of my top Champagne experiences, perhaps most of my top Champagne experiences have been with rosé. Unfortunately, most of the worst Champagne that I have tasted has also been rosé. This small subcategory of Champagne is extrodinarily diverse, not just in quality but also in style. Exploring this diversity has given me a lot of pleasure.

The reason that quality is so variable with rosé Champagne is simple: the Champagne area is to cold to reliably produce fine red wine. It is easy to forget that Champagne is one of the coldest places that can make fine wine at all, located on the same lines of latitude as Fargo, North Dakota and Winnipeg, Canada. This cold climate necessitates very special planning in order to get the ripeness that is essential for rosé Champagne to have the right color and flavor.

Since all the Champagne grape varieties have white juice (as is the case with almost all wine varieties- even Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) color in the wine comes from the juice being in contact with the skins. This maceration process adds tannin and flavor as well as color. On some sites in some vintages in the Champagne region, veraison (the point when red grapes turn from green to red) is incomplete. Obviously, one cannot get good color from grapes like these! Warmer, sunnier parcels are essential to rose Champagne production.

There are two main ways of making rose Champagne, either by using all red grapes and macerating all of the juice with all of the skins, or by blending a fully red wine into white wine to arrive at the right color and flavor. In France, all still rose must legally be made the first way- by full maceration. In Champagne, the second way is much more common.

It is easier to set aside a small portion of south facing, mid slope, warm micro-climate Pinot Noir or Meunier and farm it specifically to make red wine; pruning shorter and even green harvesting to get the ripeness needed. Many producers even use different clones, sometimes from Burgundy for these red wine plots. Since it is uncommon for producer to make more than 25% rose and they only need 5-15% red wine to arrive to blend into 85-95% white wine, it is practical to work this way.

Billecart-Salmon Brut RoseThe Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne ($74.99) is the most famous example of a blended rose. My very favorite for illustrating the style of red and white together is the Franck Bonville Brut Rosé Champagne ($39.99), which is a blend of 92% Chardonnay and 8% Pinot Noir. For years, the Bonville Rose was terrible, but after Olivier Bonville took over the company, he switched red wine sources (Bonville only grows Chardonnay) to Franck Bonville Brut RosePaul Dethune in Ambonnay. His rose is now one of our very best regardless of price and has excellent finesse from the top notch Chard and fantastic red fruit savor from the excellent Pinot. We also have a tiny amount of Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) which is 70% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir vinified white and 6% red Pinot Noir which is very interesting. The red wine comes from a tiny clos behind the winery that is so small they cannot get a tractor into it. Everything is done by hand in this garden plot, and the results are one of the most hauntingly elegant Champagne’s in our stock. We only have 22 left at the time of writing!

Laurent-Perrier 'Cuvee Rose' Brut RoseFull maceration rose Champagne is much rarer, and the Laurent-Perrier "Cuvée Rosé " Brut Rosé Champagne ($64.99) is the only example that we have from a big house. Getting all of the grapes ripe enough for a large production Champagne like this is challenging enough, but getting them all in with healthy skin is a feat. Since white Champagne is pressed very gently, a little bit of less than perfect grape skins is not a problem for production. Since Pinot Noir has thin skins that are prone to problems, and the Champagne region is quite humid, this fast, delicate pressing to make white wine is a savior for quality. Once you are making rose from maceration, the skins have to be perfect, and in order to Bruno Michel 'Les Roses' Brut Roseaccomplish this Laurent Perrier spends huge amounts of money on mid-slope, exclusively grand cru Pinot Noir for this wine. It is deep and savory, with more red wine flavor than any other big house Champagne except for Krug. My favorite maceration rose Champagne that we stock is the Bruno Michel "Les Roses" Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) which is also single vineyard. The “Les Roses” plot is in the village of Moussy, just south of Epernay and was planted in 1964, exclusively to the indigenous Meunier. After the maceration, Bruno barrel ferments this wine and it is the most vinous, savory, red Burgundy tasting Champagnes that I have ever had.

2007 Marguet Brut RoseThere are always exceptions to defined styles, and my favorite rose that we have in stock right now is just that. The 2007 Marguet Pere et Fils Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% extremely light red (or very dark rose). This combination of styles gives it a little of the best of both worlds- the savory depth of a full maceration wine is just underneath its extraordinarily elegant Chardonnay exterior!

Ageing rose Champagne magnifies the best features in the best wines, as well as the worst features in the poor performers. I have had many spectacular bottles of old Rose Champagne, the 1978 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Rose Champagne and the 1978 Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé Champagne a couple of the greatest, showing that sometimes a late harvest that doesn’t get wide declaration in white Champagne can make spectacular rose. The best I 1989 Veuve Clicquot 'Cave Privee' Brut Roseever had was the 1955 Rene Collard, which I had to literally dig for at his home in Reuil, with Benoit Tarlant lifting me out of the hole with the prize! This Champagne was almost red, and had huge Richebourg like power and richness. I can almost taste it now the finish was so long! The 1989 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privée" Brut Rosé Champagne ($239) is a great example of older rose that you can try now. This is dry, savory and very complex and makes a fantastic partner to plank salmon.

I hope you will have a rose toast soon.

– Gary