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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 Veuve Clicquot (7)

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

 

Friday
Feb222013

Champagne Friday: Dosage

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Dosage or: Why do they call sweet Champagne dry?

When it comes to selecting a dry or sweet Champagne, the labeling is very confusing. This is because of a historical demand for drier and drier styles over the past two hundred years. When sparkling Champagne was first introduced, it was very, very sweet. That style is now called doux and is extremely rare, with over 50 grams per liter of sugar. While we currently do not have any doux at K&L (demand is almost non-existent today) we did carry an excellent one, the 1995 Fleury Doux Champagne a number of years ago, and poured it at the inaugural tent tastings.

Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Champagne In the 1800s, demand for drier Champagne increased. The Champenoise obliged by introducing demi-sec, or half-dry, which is still quite sweet but not as sweet as doux, with 35-50 grams of sugar per liter. Demand today is weak for sweet Champagne in this style, but we do carry a few, including the Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec ($49.99), the Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime ($39.99), and the Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial ($49.99).

Michel Loriot "Marie-Leopold" Sec Champagne Demand for even drier styles continued, so sec (dry) Champagne was introduced, but it is important to note that this style is still pretty sweet, just less than demi-sec at 17-35 grams of sugar per liter. I can hardly think of an instance of more confusing terminology in the world of wine. It is labeled dry, but it is a sweet style. While many Champenoise are of the opinion that sweet Champagnes are only produced today, as one producer who will remain annonomus once remarked, “for old people to drink with cake," we do have one of the few exceptions in stock. The Michel Loriot “Cuvee Marie-Leopold” Sec ($34.99) is a not just serious Champagne, but in my opinion one of the finest values to be found in all of Champagne. It was created by Michel for the 100th anniversary of his house. It gets a full four years of aging on the lees and 20 grams per liter of a specially made dosage using pure cane sugar is added to it at disgorgement. If you think you sweeter Champagne is not for you, this could very well change your mind. It comes with my highest recommendation.

Louis Roederer "Carte Blanche" Extra Dry Champagne Moving on to the 20th century, demand for still drier Champagne continued, but the Champenois were running out of words! So they introduced extra sec, or extra dry, which is gently sweet, but at 12-20 grams per liter of sugar still sweeter than brut. The most famous wine in this style is the now discontinued Moet & Chandon White Star, which we still get requests for all the time. We carry the very well balanced and extraordinarily well-made Louis Roederer “Carte Blanche” Extra Dry ($44.99) as a representative of this style. This wine, like the Loriot above is blended specially for the slightly higher dosage and is an excellent partner to paté at the start of the meal or macaroons at the end of it.

In the teens Perrier Jouet premiered brut (they could hardly call it 'extra extra dry'!) for their customers desiring even drier Champagne. Currently the law states that brut Champagne must be dosed at less than 12 grams per liter of sugar. It amuses me that the producers in Champagne simply ran out of vocabulary to describe what has become the dominant style for the region. Out of the 224 Champagnes we have in stock at K&L at the time of writing this post, 204 of them are brut!

Marguet "Valentine Brut Nature" Champagne is only $29.99 with Wine Club Discount!Bringing us up to the present in the 21st century, many sommeliers and Champagne fans are looking for even more precision in their wines. Thus, More and more extra brut is being produced today, an austerely dry style at 0 to 6 grams of sugar per liter. To give you a sense of current demand, these wines account for more than five times the sales of any other category besides brut at K&L. They make excellent partners to seafood, especially sushi. If the wine has less than 3 grams per liter of residual sugar, and no extra dosage has been added, they may also call the Champagne brut nature, pas dose, or dosage zero. My current favorite in this style is the Marguet “Valentine Brut Nature” ($34.99) which has just 1 gram of residual sugar per liter. Pick up some sushi to go and enjoy this bright, zippy wine with it!

I would like to thank Eric de Brissis of Champagne Baron Fuente for helping me out with the current rules for dosage, as they just recently changed. Also keep in mind that the European Union gives the producers three grams per liter of leeway for residual (not added!) sugar. Some producers say that this is far to loose of a range, especially since it would be hard to test for.

Here is the CIVC’s official chart on the dosage of Champagne:

Doux- 50 grams per liter of sugar or more

Demi-Sec- between 32 and 50 grams per liter of sugar

Sec (Dry)- between 17 and 32 grams per liter of sugar

Extra Dry- between 12 and 17 grams per liter of sugar

Brut- less than 12 grams per liter of sugar

Extra Brut- between 0 and 6 grams per liter of sugar

 

A toast to you!

-Gary

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