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Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99One of our best non-vintage Champagnes, this organically grown blend of half each Chardonnay and Meunier comes entirely from Bruno Michel's estate. It has been aged for six years on the lees and shows wonderful natural toasty quality as well as incredible vibrance! This was the big hit of our most recent staff Champagne tasting and we think you will love it too.

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Entries in Charles Heidseick (3)

Friday
Jan042013

Champagne Friday: Top 10 Champagnes of 2012

Bernard Launois and the 1964 Pertois Blanc de Blancs Champagne (#3)

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

A real birthday treat: the 1995 Launois Vintage Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Jeroboam!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!

Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne 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. Enjoying the "new" Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne with Jim Pollock and K&L staff.

Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne 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!

Franck Bonville Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne 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!

Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne (1.5L) 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.

The current release of Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut Champagne ($139) is in stock now.4. Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut Champagne

(last year's batch): Just three weeks ago I had the pleasure of tasting nearly every release from Krug over dinner with their new CEO. The best pairing of the night and my favorite wine was last years’ release of Grande Cuvee paired with the white truffle risotto. I love that a little patience and a good cellar is all one needs to steal the show from $800 wines, and boy did this bottle steal the show! This batch was based on the most unlikely harvest- 2003. It was brought into excellent balance by a big dollop of 1996 and reserves going all the way back to 1988. The wine was so full of truffles itself that I felt like the most decadent man on earth drinking it with the real Alba product. I learned my lesson from this bottle- put more non-vintage in the cellar; just a year can make such a difference! You can 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!

Bruno Michel "Rebelle" Extra Brut Champagne 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…

The Bruno Michel "Rebelle" paired perfectly with the Akasaka Roll, prepared with eel and avocado on the outside and tempura shrimp on the inside.

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!

-Gary

Friday
Oct192012

Champagne Friday: Champagne Tent Events This Weekend! 

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Happy Champagne Friday! I am looking forward to seeing 550 Champagne-loving K&L customers this weekend, and I hope that you will be among them. We are hosting two back-to-back sold out Champagne Tent Event tastings, starting on Saturday from 4pm-6:30pm at our Hollywood store, followed by Sunday from 2pm-5pm in San Francisco. These should be the best Champagne Tent Events we have hosted to date.

Folks often approach me at these events to ask what they should look out for, so this year I have prepared a little guide with my highlights.

Complex and intense, the 2002 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Vintage Champagne is a must try! Quentin Paillard from Champagne Pierre Paillard will be attending for the first time. He is pouring one of the most intriguing flights of wines under the tent, with two single vineyard, single varietal Champagnes: the Pierre Paillard "Acte 1" Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne and the Pierre Paillard "Acte 1" Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Champagne. These two sites are blended together in equal proportions in the 2002 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Vintage Champagne. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been able to taste sites like this separately as finished wines, and then blended together as an older vintage… Don’t miss it!

Also brand new this year are the Louis Sostene wines. They are being shown by Martine and Pierre Gonet, and are primarily made from vineyards in Chigny-les-Roses, the same village that brings us Lassale and the Ace of Spades. These are great values and far too easy to drink.

We are excited to welcome back Jeremy Fluteau (right) to K&L! Another young producer, Jeremy Fluteau will be returning for the 2nd time. His families vineyards are in the far south of the Aube, and they make one of the darkest, most intensly fruity, all Pinot Noir roses in the world of Champagne. This is a love it or hate it style, and a must to taste. His mother is from Chicago, so don’t pitch him easy questions. He speaks perfect English!

Beauty and substance: 2004 Perrier Jouët "Belle Epoque" Brut Champagne One wine that does not get enough respect is the 2004 Perrier Jouët "Belle Epoque" Brut Champagne. Just because it has a pretty flower on it doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious on the inside! No vintage is more recommendable to collect right now, as classic, cool, even growing seasons are now very rare due to climate change. This Belle Epoque gets its soul from great estate vineyards in the grand cru of Cramant, and will more than hold its own with any tete-de-cuvee.

The biggest Rodney Dangerfield wines in Champagne are the sweeter styles. They really have a hard time getting any respect at all, and usually for good reason. To many producers treat them as a throw away, and figure that people with bad palates are going to drink them with cake when they are already half in the bag. On producer who is coming wants to change your mind about them, Michel Loriot. He makes a great sweeter style in his Michel Loriot "Marie-Leopold" Sec Champagne which shows how good these wines can be. He created it as a historic style to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his family as growers in Festigny. He is the current president of the independent vignerons of Champagne, and all of his wines are worthy of the respect his peers have bestowed on them.

Champagne Lanson, most famous for being stolen out of Prince Charles fridge, will be showing two great tete-de-cuvees that they just premiered. Both the Lanson Extra Age "XA" Brut Champagne and the Lanson Extra Age "XA" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne are great examples of long aged non-vintage wines without malolactic fermentation, this batch of Lanson Extra Age is based on a blend of 2000, 2002 and 2004. It is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from Grand and Premier Cru villages and aged for more than five years on its lees. Check it out!

The rare Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut ChampagneTwo producers will be showing Champagne made from varieties that almost went extinct after phyloxera, and if you have never tried wines like this, now is the time! The Ariston’s will be showing the show stopping  Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne made from 40% Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc, which is one of the best Champagnes at K&L at any price. Morganne Fleury, who is coming to pour for the first time, will show her tribute to her great-great grandfather, the Fleury "Cuveé Robert Fleury" Brut Champagne, which is a barrel fermented blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. This is big stuff!

Taste the NEW Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne! At the Charles and Piper Heidsieck table, Jim Pollock (one of the most fun guys in the wine business!) will be pouring the brand new Charles Heidsieck, which I wrote about last week. (If you mised this post, which includes the video of my interview with CEO Cecile Bonnefond, you can catch up here). This brings an almost Krug like solera of old vintages (which are 40% of the blend and average 12 years of age) to the Champagne lover for a very reasonable introductory price of $44.99. This wine has it all- freshness from great chalky crus and honest depth from the generous portion of old wines in the blend.

Speaking of old Champagne at reasonable prices, head over to talk to Eric de Brissis at the Champagne Baron Fuente table. His Baron Fuente "Esprit" Brut Champagne gets seven years on the lees! This wine is a must try for anyone who loves the toasty style. Instead of using dilute fruit to bring the toast to the front, at Baron Fuente they get the toast the old fashioned way- they age this bottle for seven years on the lees!

See you at the tasting!

A toast to you,

Gary

Friday
Oct122012

Champagne Friday: The “New” Charles Reserve

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

The “New” Charles Reserve

It is not often that I get as excited as this by "big house" Champagne. Comparing the "new" Charles Heidsieck Reserve (which premiers today) to the "old" Charles Heidsieck Reserve made a huge impression on me. These are great wines- both of them- and the new Charles is the most exciting new release from a big house in many years. The new Charles is a must try, and it is a great opportunity to compare the new to the old while we still have the last batch in stock.

On August 27th I had the pleasure of meeting with and interviewing Cecile Bonnefond, the CEO of Charles and Piper Heidsick. Cecile is not new to running Champagne houses- she ran Veuve Clicquot for eight years before moving over to Charles and Piper Heidsieck. Her first great piece of work is the release of a new Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne. It has gone up in price, but instead of citing “increased global demand” or “increasing grape prices from greedy growers” or “a weak dollar” this Champagne has costly improvements to the wine itself. First of all, the number of vineyard sites for the Reserve has been cut in half, leaving only what they feel is the very best going into the blend. Also, the average age of the reserve wines has gone up significantly. You can hear Cecile explain it in her own words here in this clip from the interview.

The old label Charles Heidsieck has always been great, and we still have some in stock at the "old" price of $34.99! The old label Charles Heidsieck has always been great, and we still have some left. This is a fantastic opportunity for any Champagne lover to compare the two cuvee’s side by side and see the difference that this great house has made. Once the old cuvee that we have is gone, it is gone for good.

Charles Heidsieck NEW "Brut Reserve" Champagne ($44.99) It is funny to call this the “new” Charles when it actually has more old wine in it! The first difference between this wine and the old label is that is made from just 60 vineyard sites in Champagne rather than the previous 120. It is still composed of a third each Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir and includes 40% reserve wines that average 10 years of age, up from the 8 year average previously. This Charles has more of the depth and power that fans of the Charles have come to love, but also much more freshness and elegance- a coup for a wine that is actually older. This is a great bottle multi-vintage Champagne for the price and a testament to the blenders art.

Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne ($34.99) Warning- this is the last of the old cuvee of Charles Heidsieck "Brut Reserve" Champagne . This bottle is made 40% of reserve wine and these reserve wines are what really sets Charles Heidsieck apart, they average 8 years old and have elements going back as far as 15 years. The patience to curate this solera of old wines gives the wine texture and complexity rarely encountered in grand marque Champagne, especially at this price. The wine is composed of 1/3 each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier and is all vinified in stainless steel tanks with full malolactic fermentation. When I visited we tasted vin clair from all over Champagne- they own 150 acres and contract many more. If you love a toasty, rich style of Champagne with lots of complexity this is a very good choice. I expect it will sell for just under $50 when this batch runs out.

A toast to you,

Gary 

 To watch the rest of the interview click here.