By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Happy New Year and here's to the first of many Champagne Fridays in 2013! I think it's only fitting to start off the new year reflecting on some highlights from last year in the Champagne department. 2012 was so full of great bottles that it seems a pity to choose only ten to talk about, but since ten is the traditional number for lists like this, I am going to stick to it. Champagne is impossible to take out of its context, so I have not made any attempt to be empirical with this list. It is simply my top personal 10 Champagne experiences of the year, each great for a different reason.
Before we get started, I want to take moment to thank each and every one of you K&L Champagne-loving customer out there for your support in 2012, and look forward to helping you in 2013!
Gary's Top 10 Champagnes of 2012
10. 1995 Launois Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Jeroboam: Why not start big? The K&L crew gathered for 'Friday Night Uncorked' at Quattro Restaurant on my birthday, and we brought this to enjoy with the menu of the evening. This Jeroboam was disgorged for the millennium and covered in references to 2000, which confuse the heck out of people looking for the 1995 on the label! This big bottle worked great for the dozen of us and easily got around for seconds. It was creamy, with great vanilla cake butter richness braced by electric Mesnil minerality. It showed perfectly at 17, and should be good for decades of birthdays to come!!! Many of the crew commented that this was the “wine of the night” even after enjoying magnums of 1986 and 1966 Pichon Lalande that were in top form!
9. Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne ($49.99): My jaw almost dropped when I learned the story of the new Charles Heidsieck from Cecile Bonnefond, the CEO of both Charles and Piper. Instead of the normal package change / price increase rationalized by currency fluctuation or “increased international demand” this wine had been improved at great cost to the producer before the price went up! The new package contains a selection of half the vineyard sites of the old one, and older reserve wines. The result is non-vintage Champagne that is better than most big house vintage wines and a stronger value now at $49.99 than the old was at $34.99. When we drank this with Jim Pollock at the K&L party at my house it was one of the stars of the night, and reflecting back, of the whole year! This Champagne has depth, combining maturity and freshness, nutty intrigue and minerality! To learn more, check out my interview with Cecile posted in October.
8. Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99): My friend Henry Hiatt who manages the Fish Market in Palo Alto brought several dozen big Miyagi oysters from Fanny Bay in British Columbia and shucked them expertly for all of us. We had some Chablis and a few Blanc de Blancs with them and they worked well, just like one would expect. We were thirsty on Thanksgiving, and the only cold bottle of Champagne left was this rose… Which I did not think would work at all. What a surprise! This ultra dry rose, with its very high (70%) Chardonnay content was the best pairing of the night with the oysters. While we could taste the black cherry flavor of the Bouzy rouge, the wine interacted with the oysters like an extra brut- clean refreshment and mineral zing!
7. Franck Bonville Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($39.99): Cinnamon and I drank this at home the night before flying down to Los Angeles for the annual Champagne tent events. This was our last chance to enjoy Champagne like regular citizens before the madness of the big tastings, and we took advantage of it! Cinnamon picked up sushi to go from our favorite spot, Akasaka in Menlo Park and we enjoyed the pairing immensely. The extra brut from Bonville is always the same wine as the concurrent vintage, but not declared as such. It is all Avize Chardonnay and although the current batch had over four years on the lees, it is still very austere on its own. With sushi it is magic. The sweetening effect the hamachi had on this bottle was striking, and its flexibility with the spicy and pickled flavors from the embarrassing rolls that I like to order amazed me. The unbelievably clean, precise chalkiness of this wine put the Avize terroir center stage!
6. Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne Magnum ($79.99/ $34.99 750): I opened this magnum as business petered off on Christmas eve for the staff here in the Redwood City store, and it made me a popular man at K&L. Carrying a magnum around to the various work stations put a smile on many faces here, and the wine inside the bottle kept those smiles. This wine is single vineyard, from the very steep Gouttes d’Or site in Brouillet, and has a very different style than the Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blancs. This is creamy, decadent wine, and great on its own in the final moments of the retail rush…or just about any time! I need to buy this for my cellar.
5. 1978 Veuve Clicquot "Cave Privée" Brut Rosé Champagne: Who could resist the charm of drinking Cave Privée in the Cave Privée? On April 30th I visited Clicquot in Reims and tasted with Pierre Cassenave from their winemaking team. All the wines; 1990 and 1980 Gold Label, 2004 La Grande Dame and 1989 Rose showed unbelievably well, but the star was this 1978. It was darker than the 1989 and had a giant Vosne-Romanee like nose of savory black cherry fruit. It was rich, textural wine and had me scribbling “the Richebourg of Champagne” and “one of my top Champagne experiences” in my notebook. I wonder if they will ever let any out of the Cave Privée for us? If you would like to see the Cave, check this out this video shared on Uncorked in May of last year.
see the whole story in this video posted on Uncorked.
3.1964 Pertois Blanc de Blancs Champagne (photo at top): Who is Pertois you might ask? They are an important landholding family in the Cotes de Blancs, and this bottle came from Severine Launois’ mothers’ side of that family, and we drank it together at Launois. Many of the vineyard sites in this bottle are now part of the Launois estate. The 1964 vintage in Champagne was one of the greats of the 20th century, and this old disgorgement did not disappoint. This was a caramely, rich, full bodied, low mousse masterpiece that made me think of my few and precious experiences with Montrachet. This was one of only two wines that I could not spit out while on business this year… The other being my #1!
2. Bruno Michel "Rebelle" Extra Brut Champagne ($39.99): Continuing the subject of drinking rather than tasting, this Champagne was a party for one. Cinnamon was staying up in the city with her friend Jenna on a Friday night, and I grabbed some sushi to go and headed home to dine with our cat, the Morsel. While she helped with the sushi, she did not have a single sip of the Champagne. I believe in the saying that one should be moderate in all things, so I got carried away and drank the whole bottle. Drinking Champagne buy yourself is a great thing- if you never have done it there is no better treat, and no better place than the home for having an extra glass or two. From my personal tasting diary: “This wine was a lot richer than I remember and I suspect the base must be from the extroverted 2006 harvest. The balance was so perfect it hardly seemed “Extra” Brut like, rather just vibrant, nervy, electrically mineral sud-Eprenay stuff. It went best with the Akasaka Roll which has eel and avocado on the outside and tempura shrimp on the inside- and very well with everything else. I got carried away by its ample charm and finished the bottle. I woke refreshed and ready for a busy December Saturday- and it turned out to be one of my best days at work all year. I guess there is something to be said for drinking organic after all!” This bottle deserves its spot on the top 10- try it out and see if you can resist finishing the whole thing…
1. 1976 Franck Bonville "Millesime" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne: My best bottle of Champagne of the year was enjoyed in its birth cellar in Avize. We tasted it blind, and I blew my guess by nearly a generation because of the extraordinary freshness of the wine. I thought it was a 1990! Olivier Bonville was generous enough to crack this for me on the same day that I had the 1964 Pertois… What a day, what a job- I was on cloud nine. This wine still had a green flash running through it and was fresh as a bottle could be. It smelled of white flowers and fresh baked bread, and had excellent mouth filling palate weight. The finish went on for so long that I can almost still taste it. What a bottle!
I hope that you too had some great bottles in 2012 and more to come in 2013. A toast to you!