By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Grand Marque Round Up
This Tuesday, Scott, Mari, Kyle and I- K&L’s Champagne team, tasted 46 wines from Champagne’s biggest names. This decadent exercise (I added it up and it was $4649 worth!) took all day and was accompanied by presentations from each houses representitves on the composition, vinification and ageing of the wines as well as their business plans for the rest of the year. We all learned a lot about the wines and doing it all in one day gave us all good perspective on the various styles and value for money that each house had to offer.
We started with Champagne Louis Roederer, which from top to bottom might be the best house in Champagne. If you haven’t had it in a while, the Louis Roederer "Brut Premier" Champagne is a revelation- with more and more organic work in the vineyard, and long ageing of the reserve wines in oak, this bottle delivers a tremendous amount for $39.99. All of the vintage wines, including the 2005 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne which is about to come out are entirely estate grown, and that fact shows through in the finish product.
Next we tasted Charles and Piper Heidsieck and had a chance to see the new package for the “repositioning” of the Charles Brut Reserve. As I mentioned in my email a couple of days ago, this wine is about to take a drastic price increase. Grab some at $34.99 while you can! The 1995 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc des Millénaires was brilliant, and although it will be very expensive, it sure is special! It is great to see older Champagne like this being kept and released late.
Speaking of great old Champagne, the night before, the team and I had dined together at my home and enjoyed the 1990 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privee" Brut Champagne and the 1989 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privee" Brut Rose Champagne with salmon. Less than 12 hours later we were tasting them again- a charmed life moment for sure! These are wines have been stored in Clicquot's cellars and are perfect examples of aged, but not old Champagne. They will be in the $200 range when they arrive in October and we will be the exclusive retailer for northern California.
The 2000 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Rosé Champagne ($329) like all the vintages before it impressed me greatly. This wine is made in small quantities (especially tiny compared to the colossal production of the blanc) and is the most subtle and elegant of all the Moet wines. It makes the Champagnes next to it seem like they are trying too hard.
We moved on to the Krug line, including 1998 & 2000 vintage, rosé and the classic Krug "Grand Cuvee". Krug always presses the point that their range is flat (even though the prices are not!) and that the wines are equals. For drinking in the near term, nothing could be further from the truth- the Grand Cuvee is much superior. Using the new code on the back of the bottle, we learned that the current batch is based on 2004, and has 12 vintages total in the blend, the oldest being 1990. Greatness in wine requires complexity that only age can bring, and this wine had developed, mature authority matched with youthful vigor. It was the complete package. Having had the 1990 vintage the night before (with plank salmon) I am confident the 1998 and 2000 will get there if you have the cellar and patience to keep them!
From barrel fermented, vinous Krug we made the transition to the bright and light wines of Billecart-Salmon and continued to be impressed. The standout here was the 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvee Nicolas-Francois- NFB" Champagne, which we can now offer for $89.99. Velvety and elegant, this wine makes a perfect gift. It is one of those rare wines that manage to have no edges to offend, and yet retain depth and personality- I would love it if someone gave me one!
I love it when a good wine comes back down to earth, and Laurent Perrier has taken advantage of a stronger dollar to great effect. As many of you remember, in 2008 they decided to “reposition” and doubled prices over night. They are now back to being good values, especially the toasty and rich 2002 Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne ($49.99) and the 1996, 1997, 1999 combination Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" Champagne ($109). The latter was based 60% on the great 1996, and their patience with this top end juice has paid off. This is the richest, roundest of all the top cuvees from the grand marques and one of my favorites of the day.
The Gosset and Bollinger wines showed as they should with trademark authority from the village of Ay. The highlight for me was the Gosset "Grand Reserve" Brut Champagne ($59.99) which has power to spare and a fantastic nose of candied nuts. I need to drink more of this stuff this year- it shows the “blenders art” that is more talked about than realized in Champagne.
We wrapped up the day with Nicolas Feuillatte who count more than half of the growers in Champagne among their cooperative membership. The best of what these growers has to offer is very good indeed. The 1999 Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" Brut Champagne ($109) is much more than just a pretty bottle. Made of even parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is given 10 years on the lees and has an honest toasty, honeyed character that would make a great treat on a special occasion. The 2004 Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" Brut Rose Champagne was one of the most interesting of the day, as it was made in an ultra savory, aged red Burgundy style, much like the Bruno Michel "Les Roses" Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99). The Feuillatte will be in the $200 range when it comes in.
A toast to you!
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