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With the James Bond movie Spectre being released today, no time could be better to drink Bollinger. The most suave spy in the world has been sipping on Bollinger since Moonraker in 1979. While we can’t all drive a fully loaded, customized machine gun having Aston Martin, we certainly can chill down a bottle of Bolli! The 2004 Bollinger "Grande Année" Brut Champagne ($109) is as good as Champagne gets; all barrel fermented and full of masculine, Pinot Noir power and high class elegance. We even have a few bottles of the limited 2009 Bollinger "James Bond 007" Brut Champagne ($195) in stock for the diehard fan of Bond & Champagne!

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Entries in sparkling wine (39)


Champagne Friday: Lanson Opens Their Wine Library!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

On Wednesday Scott Beckerley and I were invited to lunch at Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco by Enguerrand Bajiot, the managing director of Lanson Americas. The occasion was the launch of their Lanson Vintage collection- a magnum only program that offers the Champagne fan the unique opportunity to buy disgorged-to-order bottles straight from their deep cellars in Reims. The bottles that we tasted were so fresh that our Lanson sales rep, the charming and knowledgeable Jennifer Guptill had to drive to Sacramento to get them out of customs! They had all been disgorged in April and come by air directly from the cellars of Lanson.

Just cleared from customs!All of these wines have been made available to K&L and to you on a special order basis and they are extremely limited- only six magnums of each vintage. They don’t disgorge it until you order it… Provenance does not get any more perfect than this. It will take two or three months to get the bottles as they need time to label them and then ship them from France, and of course they must clear customs! I would recommend not ordering these if you need them for a specific occasion as they are currently 20 feet underground half way around the world and still on their lees.

Lanson was founded in 1760, making it one of the oldest Champagne houses and Bruno Paillard who now owns the group has a huge amount of respect for that history. Cellar master Jean Paul Gandon has been working at Lanson since 1972, and managed the vineyards before taking over the cellar in 1982. No cellar master of any big house has been running a house for as long.

Didier Elena and Gary.The wines showed spectacularly and had the sparkle and freshness that one rarely experiences in old Champagne, except for in the caves where they were born. Part of this has to do with the magnum format but the majority of the reason for the excellent vigor of these wines is Lansons non-malolactic policy and the excellent estate vineyards they had up until 1991. All of the wines that predate 1991 in this offering are entirely estate grown- only the 1996 and 2002 use any purchased fruit. All of the vintage wines are approximately 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and fermented in stainless steel without malolactic.

We started off our lunch with the 2002 Lanson Gold Label Vintage Brut Champagne ($74.99), the only wine in 750ml of the lunch and the only one currently in stock. This Champagne is composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay entirely from grand cru sites. Because Lanson never allows the wines to go through malo, this is a spectacularly fresh 11 year old that has lots of flowery Chardonnay character as the savory Pinot Noir side has yet to fully develop. This will be a spectacular bottle for the future if you can resist its ample charms right now. Chef Mark Sullivan had prepared a fabulous Big Eye Tuna crudo with avocado and olive oil to pair with the 2002 Lanson and it brought out the Pinot Noir character that had been hiding in the wine. It was a fabulous wine, and Lanson’s patience with their vintage program has given the Champagne lover a big reward.

Tuna crudo.For the next course, we had the 1996 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($499- disgorged to order, due in August). I first tasted this wine at Lanson in Reims in 2002 when this was a current release. This Champagne is also composed of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay and also all Grand Cru. They use four Mountain of Reims villages for the Pinot and Chouilly, Cramant and Avize for the Chardonnay. It is dosed at only three grams per liter of sugar, but labeled as brut- not extra brut. The producers in Champagne call 1996 the 10/10 vintage, because it was so unusually ripe (10% potential alcohol) but also still very high in acid (10 grams per liter of total acidity) and the Lanson is a great example of the vintage. I am positive that I would guess this was 10 years younger in a blind tasting! I found this 1996 completely fresh and transparent. This is electric, high toned, Champagne that almost seems like a blanc de blancs! Chef Sullivan paired this with roasted diver scallops, brassicas and caramelized shellfish nage. It was an inspired pairing, as the rich, buttery scallops needed a wine that could cut them, and this 1996 is like a razor!

Scallop course.

Our main course arrived and we were treated to two vintages side by side, both from magnum! The 1988 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($749) is a spectacular bottle, from one of my very favorite vintages for drinking right now. This is one of the last “classic” Champagne vintages with a nice, long, even growing season. This wine only showed the slightest tinge of gold in its straw color after 25 years. The nose is developing the white truffle aromas that only time can bring, framed by the savory Pinot Noir character that this house is rightly famous for. This Champagne had a little nutella and smoke on the deep powerful palate. The finish is vibrant and chalk- this wine still has time in hand! Chef Sullivan’s  pan roasted salmon brought out the youthful side of this wine, and it would have been very hard to guess that it was a quarter of a century old! I just drank the 1988 Krug on Sunday, and I have to say, this Lanson is fresher. A showstopper!

Also with the salmon, the 1983 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($849) was a huge treat. The color of this Champagne was amazing- white gold with even a touch of green- from looking it would be easy to guess that it was a 2007! This toasty Champagne has great aromas of chestnuts and buttery chanterelles. On the palate it is full and rich with a surprising amount of viscosity. Flavors of exotic pear and ripe apple fruit resolve into a clean, dry, mineral laden finish with this 30 year old bottle of Champagne.

Salmon course.

Before the dessert the real treat of the lunch was served, the 1976 Lanson Vintage Collection Brut Champagne 1.5L ($999). This was a wine that I had tasted once before- more than 10 years ago when I visited Lanson in Reims. Amazingly, this freshly disgorged bottle tasted far younger than the old disgorgement that I had back then! This vintage was the hottest of the 20th century and a rare (at the time!) August harvest in Champagne. The wine had a light gold color and a super bright nose of wild raspberries- it was so generous that it was hard to believe! On the palate it had tense Pinot Noir fruit that reminded me of Volnay.

This is definitely a bottle for the connoisseur! They saved the best for last with this one, and I won’t ever forget having tasted it.

A toast to you,




Champagne Friday: Thienot - A Different Kind of Negociant

Garance and Alain Thienot in their winery in Taissy.


By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Thienot- A Different Kind of Negociant

Visiting Champagne Thienot in Taissy just outside of Reims is a completely different experience from visiting other negociants and a refreshing change. I was shown around by Garance Thienot and later met Alain Thienot for the tasting along with chef de cave Laurent Fedou this month and I was very impressed. The facility is brand new, built in 1992- above ground with humidity control and air conditioning. It is the only negociant I have ever visited in Champagne that I did not have to worry about destroying my rental car when I pulled in…Most have ancient gates that don't look like they would accommodate a car! This new facility, with all the convenience of an open warehouse space is just a small detail compared to the impact the genesis of the business has had on the wines.

Most of the big name (and the unknown for that matter!) negociants in Champagne are very old operations. In contrast, Alain Thienot started his company in 1985, after working for decades as a grape broker for other houses. This is the perfect background for starting a Champagne house, as Mr. Thienot knew all of the vineyards and growers intimately. When he started, the prices for grapes were completely fixed by the cru rating of the vineyard sites each year - as he said, the price for the poor, the OK, the good and the great was all the same - and he was in the best position to know who was doing a great job in the vineyard. The prices are no longer fixed in Champagne, but this basic structure of pricing, by cru, is still very much the way business is done. So Mr. Thienot started small, buying the best of what was available, and shopping for vineyards of his own.

By the beginning 90s Alain Thienot had managed to collect up a number of gem vineyards, including a large parcel of Grand Cru Ay that belonged to Krug but was sold off when they were acquired by Remy. Now they have a little over 67 acres of their own estate and contract a further 32 acres from other growers. This large amount of prime estate fruit, and small amount of truly excellent contracts explains their very high quality in the bottle. Thienot also owns Canard-Duchenne, and this allows further flexibility in sourcing high quality grapes since it enhances their buying power.

The style at Thienot is very clean and fresh, and they use small stainless steel tanks for the fermentations to keep the various parcels separate. Alain Thienot is a huge believer in traditional assembelage and said that he is not wedded to using certain parcels in certain wines, but rather uses what nature gives him each vintage to create the style that he is after in each individual wine. The exception to this is the single vineyard “La Vigne aux Gamins”. This is a house making Champagne on the level of greats like Roederer and Bollinger, and very worth your attention. I hope that you will try some of these Champagnes! I brought in everything they have available and think the world of the wines- here is what we have got:

Thienot Brut Champagne ($39.99) This is a great way to check out the style of Thienot at a very fair price. It was the surprise of the Oscars- the small upstart house that kicked out Moet! It is composed of 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier. The light gold color and big brioche, cream and baked apple nose gives way to a wine that is packed with power and complexity on the palate. This full bodied Champagne has a luscious finish that is very impressive.

Thienot Brut Rosé Champagne ($64.99) This brassy pink Champagne is composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier. The color comes from 7% red wine from old vines in the grand cru of Ay-one of the plots purchased from Krug in the 1980’s. The Champagne has a very creamy nose and absolutely outstanding Ay black cherry fruit. This rose is one of the best we have in the blended style with both clean, abundant fruit and chalky drive. If you love rose, don’t miss this one!

All of the vintage dated Champagne from Thienot are entirely estate grown, and exceptionally good:

2006 Thienot "Cuvee Garance" Blanc de Rouges Brut Champagne ($99) This bottling is named after Garance Thienot, who handles the communications and marketing for the family firm. They have chosen to call this Champagne “blanc de rouges” instead of “blanc de noirs” because of the effort that they put into keeping the wine feminine. This is 100% Pinot Noir and a large proportion of the fruit comes from the grand cru Ay that the family purchased from Krug as well as from Garance’s own personal vines in the village of Tauxieres, on the border with Bouzy. This is one of the most intriguing, delicate examples of pure Pinot Champagne that I have tasted, and the quality of the fruit reminded me very much of Volnay even if the wine was straw golden in color. This very elegant, lifted wine won’t make you doubt it’s all Pinot Noir composition and the long chalky finish will leave you wanting more. This was one of the discoveries of my 2013 trip!

2005 Thienot "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($99) The "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blancs, all of them grand cru except for a little bit of premier cru from Vertus. This high toned, smoky Champagne has great focus and precision and superior, long, mineral finish.

1999 Thienot "Cuvee Alain Thienot" Brut Champagne ($99) This classy vintage Champagne is composed of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The Alain Thienot has so much aroma that I thought it would be giant Champagne from smelling the walnut bread and dark cherry fruit that was jumping from the glass. On the palate this is a very balanced wine with great clarity of flavor and a light bead. The long ageing of this Champagne has done so much for it- to think that the most famous names in Champagne are selling wine that is four or even 6 years younger shows the Thienot’s commitment to quality in the bottle. It is extremely focused and long on the finish and a must try for anyone who loves luxury cuvees!

2002 Thienot "La Vigne aux Gamins" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($149) This rarity comes from a miniscule one and a quarter acre plot of the Thienot estate in the Grand Cru of Avize called the Vigne aux Gamins near the border with Oger. The vines were planted in the 1950s and are massal selected rather than clones. This wine blew me away with its fantastic combination of white flowers and candied fruit. If you are looking for a toasty Champagne, this is not it- the Gamins is completely fresh and chalky style for Champagne fans that like it live and direct. It is also a great cellar candidate and will be even more fabulous as a twenty or thirty year old bottle. This great vintage is going for a low price for what it is…future vintages are bound to be more expensive! Use the link above to add this to your wait list so you can be notified when inventory is available.

I hope you'll try some of these great bottles from Thienot!

A toast to you,



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!


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