Category Archives: Champagne

Is Champagne Back?

Sales of luxury bubbles have bounced back, and since we’re heading into prime fizz season, I grabbed the chance last week to sample more than 125 Champagnes and top sparkling wines from countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Drinking expensive fizz has always been linked with a positive economic outlook (though personally I think it’s also an essential perk-up if you’re coping with a downturn). That’s why Champagne plunged in late 2008, and prosecco swooped in as the cheapie alternative. Oceans of the sparkling Italian white are still flowing, but in 2014, U.S. drinkers also swallowed 19.2 million bottles of Champagne, up 1.3 million from the year before, according to trade association Comité Champagne.

Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes.
Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes.
Photographer: Jack Andersen/Getty Images

That’s important, because over the past few years other sparkling wines have made significant inroads, especially in the U.K. Even though the country downed 32.7 million bottles’ worth of Champagne in 2014, up more than 6 percent from a year earlier, the value of sales from all other sparkling wines increased 52 percent in the first half of 2015.

Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes. These bubblies—made by small family producers, who used to sell grapes to big brands like Moët but now bottle their own—are on a roll. In 1997 there were 33 brands in the U.S.; now the number is up to 282, and just about every fine restaurant has at least one, if not several, on its list.

The diversity of grower Champagnes was prominently on display at last week’s tasting. Many growers have been innovators in the Champagne region, bringing in new ideas and points of view—like organic grape growing—and challenging traditions. They’re not just sticking to blends of mostly pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, which are grown in many vineyards across the region.

Hip young growers are finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.
Hip young growers are finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.
Photographer: James Hardy/PhotoAlto/Getty Images

Instead, growers such as L. Aubry Fils are playing with forgotten, fragile varieties like arbanne—once used, but abandoned because they ripened inconsistently in Champagne’s chilly climate. Now, because of global warming, harvests arrive earlier than in the past; climate change has been beneficial for these grapes, which need more warmth and a longer growing season. (You could say climate change has rescued them.)

Others, like David Pehu of Pehu-Simonet, follow a Burgundian philosophy and are bent on creating single-vineyard Champagnes. Yet more hip young growers are experimenting with making Champagne with fewer bubbles, so it tastes more like a still wine, as well as finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.

The trendy grower movement has kept interest in Champagne high, especially among influential sommeliers. That’s fortunate, because there are now serious competitors that cost a lot less. For example, I was highly impressed with vintage-dated bubblies from Spanish winery Raventós i Blanc. They used to be labeled cava, but the Raventós family created its own geographic designation, Conca del Riu Anoia, to distinguish its wines from the indifferent, often gassy cavas from cooperatives.

 

My biggest takeaway, though, was the wide range of quality among grower Champagnes, especially in wines from the difficult 2011 vintage.

Below are my top Champagnes from the tasting. You can try some of these during New York’s La Fête du Champagne, which starts on Oct. 26. Wine shops and restaurants will be offering deals, but the heart of this annual event, now in its second year, is the grand tasting of nearly 120 Champagnes on Nov. 7 ($350), with a gala dinner that evening ($1,000) at which collectors share their best bottles.

From left: Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes; Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut; nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée; nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut; 2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut
From left: Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes; Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut; nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée; nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut; 2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut
Source: (from left) Famiglia Gastaldello; Cellartracker.com; Skurnik Wines (2); Armit Wines

2010 Marc Hebrart Special Club Brut ($75)

Special club bottlings, which carry an exclusive label, are growers’ prestige cuvées. The vivid, complex flavors of this pinot noir–chardonnay blend are fresh and delicate.

Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes ($130)

Powerful, concentrated, and intense, this 100 percent pinot noir wine comes from a single vineyard of 70-year-old vines. It’s one to age, and to drink with a grand dinner.

2010 Champagne Doyard Clos de L’Abbaye Blanc de Blancs ($95)

This single-vineyard all-chardonnay Champagne is harmonious, with bright flavors of citrus and chalk. It’s less fizzy than most, emulating a style of Champagne from the past.

2009 L. Aubry Fils Sablé Le Nombre d’Or Blanc des Blancs Brut ($70)

Bright and racy, this blend of all the white varieties grown in Champagne includes chardonnay, but also obscure meslier, fromenteau, and arbanne grapes, which add citrusy, apple-y notes to its aromas.

Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut ($75)

Savory and sumptuous, with cherry and cassis flavors, this all-pinot noir fizz is an example of the new one-grape, one-vineyard, one-vintage trend. It comes from a single parcel called Les Perthois.

Nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée ($60)

The love affair with all-pink wines continues. This rosy-colored one, made from 100 percent pinot noir, has the savor and lusciousness of strawberries and hibiscus flowers.

2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut ($70)

The lemony, chalky aromas of this zingy all-chardonnay Champagne just leap out of the glass. The taste is as dry as crushed oyster shells. Non-dosé, which means no sugar or reserve wine is added to balance the wine’s acidity, is part of a trend toward drier fizz.

Nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut ($55)

All-chardonnay, it’s crisp, fresh, sleek, and filled with pure notes of slate and lime that make it perfect as an aperitif. It’s a fave of many New York somms; you can try it by the glass at the NoMad, but at $35 per, you might as well buy a bottle and drink it at home.

2007 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée ($125)

Sometimes described as “the poor man’s Krug,” this concentrated wine from old vines is almost smoky, with layers of flavors—minerals, salt, cloves, lemon, verbena—as well as hints of oak. Grand and rich, it’s fantastic with food.

New York’s La Fête du Champagne starts on Oct. 26.
New York’s La Fête du Champagne starts on Oct. 26.
Source: La Fête du Champagne
Bloomberg Business, Article by Ellin McCoy

My Journey to Saint Emilion France

My highly anticipated journey to the Saint-Emilion region in Bordeaux, France, was to begin with a leisurely, three hour train ride from Paris in first-class. Before leaving Paris I stopped by a picturesque wine store and purchased two bottles of the local wines to enjoy on the way. I would quickly realize how fortuitous this purchase was since upon my arrival to Gare De Nrt , I discovered there were no first class seats!

I stood in the galley of the train surveying the cast of characters with whom I would share the first leg of my journey to the southwest of France: There was a retired Scotland Yard police officer, a military officer on home leave, and two other people just traveling home for holiday. Wine is a great communicator …..I offered a glass to all my galley mates, as well as the ticket collector who had been the bearer of the first-class-bad news, and thus started our journey, in true Buggs’ style!
Needless to say, once the retired police officer learned that I had just retired from the FBI after 22 years of service, we would have a very interesting conversation that allowed the three hours to pass relatively quickly! The delicious wine from southern France purchased from the local market in Paris would also help.

Finally, as we approached our destination , I asked the officer’s advice on how to travel from the train station to my hotel in Saint-Emilion. He was happy to direct me to the trolley that travels around the city…what he neglected to point out was that it stops running at 6pm and I would find myself at the train station at 7pm sharp.

As we pulled into the station, I was reminded of the movie “They Call Me Mr. Tibbs”, when Mr. Tibbs gets off the train in Mississippi back in the day. …. I seemed to be entirely alone at the station. The conductor had suggested a taxi, a normal suggestion in any other circumstance, but since there is only ONE taxi in Saint-Emilion and he was otherwise occupied far away in Bordeaux, I could sense that things were about to get interesting. Finally I called the Hotel receptionist in the likely event that they might have a vehicle available. I was told that no car was available but it was a short mile and a half and I should walk.

As an ex-athlete and wine appreciator, I thought this might be a grand idea….I felt up for a little exercise after the long train ride, and the opportunity to fully appreciate the beauty of the great city of Saint-Emilion. Sort of like killing two birds with one stone, so to speak! Perhaps it was the wine or perhaps the exhilaration of having arrived at my first destination….or perhaps even the anticipation of the comforts of my hotel at the end of the day, either way, my optimism quickly diminished when reality set in: I had a 50 pound suitcase, a backpack and two bottles of the best Champagne I had ever tasted (pictures will be enclosed), when I realized the road ahead was entirely uphill, AND made of cobblestones so deep that the wheels of my suitcase were already in protest!

Stage one of my uphill journey: I set out with a determined enthusiasm…..only to discover that I had charged off in the wrong direction. I turned around, crossed the railroad tracks again and started off again, enthusiasm level dipping only slightly. Several cars would pass me during this time and I have to admit that I was hoping – no ! even counting on – the great French hospitality toward foreigners, and ready to accept a ride even if it were by mule. But I was a black man, at night, clearly in distress and sweating profusely, but no cars, bikes or mules even slowed down for me! Despite my predicament, I couldn’t help notice the great Chateaux of Saint-Emilion in the distance and I was at least appreciative for the scenic view!

My hotel was located in the center of town, or so I thought. Upon arrival, I didn’t see my hotel immediately but did notice a Pizza establishment with some lights on that seemed to be open. I asked (in my best French –not) where this hotel was located, and in his best English (not) he pointed up the hill. All I could think of was, “NO WAY”! So started the second part of my walk….to the highest point in the town, rumbling along on the antique cobblestones….

As I mentioned earlier, I am an ex-athlete, and as such, I am aware of my physical limitations and how that can be stretched to the end by the power of the mind. Gone were the romantic thoughts of the sommelier…..this was an endurance test, requiring motivation, drive, and control. I was reminded of a quote from one of our great American Generals, “If you are going through hell, keep going”. As I had absolutely no other options, I completed this walk on sheer will power.

In closing, I was so determined to experience the true greatness and history of this wine region that this experience was but a bump on the ole cobblestone road. I finally met my friends from South Africa at the hotel, who had incidentally arrived by (my) taxi from the Bordeaux Airport. My trip was worth every step that I took to reach Saint- Emilion. I visited several great wineries including Chateau Angelus, Chateau Figeac, and Chateau Chatelet and I enjoyed the great cuisine of this wine region. And I discovered once again that perseverance pays!

Perrier Louet Belle Epoque, what a great Champagne

Perrier Louet Belle Epoque, what a great Champagne

Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D'Or WOW

Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or WOW

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Chateau Figac

Chateau Figac

Top of my journey, the highest point in St Emilion

Top of my journey, the highest point in St Emilion

Chateau Yquem

Chateau Yquem

Signed, Theminoritywinereport.com

Thaddeus goes on French Champagne binge

Thaddeus was one lucky guy last month, traversing France like a oenophile on a mission! He ate, drank and was merry for all of us and jotted some notes to share–and to make us jealous!
Here’s his trek through Champagne–both the region and the sparkling stuff:

My journey began on Oct. 15 when I arrived in Reims, France. I rented a car and drove to a lovely little B&B in the heart of Reims. The next day I drove to the village of Vertus home on Duval Leroy Champagne and tasted through various champagnes that were outstanding, Duval Leory has always been one of my favorite Champagne houses over the years.

The House of Krug in my opinion, is the best juice ever made! We tasted through vintages from 1998 to 2007 and all were amazing. The 2000 vintage was exceptional with such lively acidity that jumped out of the glass.

The next day was a magical one, starting at GH Mumm, where there 25 million bottles underground and eight different styles of Champagnes made. Some 50% of its wines are exported to  the U.S. Mumm has an underground museum that chronologically takes you through the art of making Champagne from the very early days. The visit concluded with a GH Mumm two-Star Michelin Chef preparing a legendary lunch in the vineyard at the windmill, overlooking the vineyard. Much thanks to GH Mumm, Agnes and our tour guide Claudette Legrand.
Then there is the 200-year-old Champagne house Perrier Jouêt. WOW!it is located in the heart of Epenany on Champagne Boulevard. The visit began with Ivan, a young historian who was extremely knowledgeable about the historical background of Perrier Jouêt, and how the art work is relevant to the history of this great estate. The tour and tasting were incredible, and the evening concluded with a five-star dinner  with my long time friend Agnes Jones. The Champagnes we tasted during the visit and dinner were simply outstanding starting with there Grand Burt, which is its largest seller. The vintage Belle Epoque Rose and Brut the creamy texture on the palate with the lively acidity were remarkable.
The end of all ends were the Belle Epoque Blanc de Blanc. This Champagne sets the bench mark for what a great Champagne should taste like. In short, it was perfect.
Next I traveled to Nicolas Feuillattte, the largest producer of Champagne on my visit. It is part of 85 different co-ops of about 400 champagnes. The tour was conducted my Alex and she was very knowledgeable about how this huge operation works so efficiently. The tasting was conducted by David Henault, who has produced 12 different Champagnes for Nicolas over the past six years and is responsible for 100 different Champagnes for the co-op.
He took me through the various Champagnes, of which the Blue label brut reserve is its No. 1-selling champagne. David makes a rose and Brut that’s aged in oak barrels. The cuveé 225 Brut and rose are truly outstanding and show the depths of his wine-making ability.
The tasting didn’t stop there. I was fortunate enough to taste thie high-end ’04 and ’95 Palmes  dí Or Rose and brut. Wow! This is the best terrior-specific 100% Pinot Rose I’ve ever tasted and the Palmes di OR was simply amazing.

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Acker Merrall hits Chicago and likes it

Acker Merrall & Condit made its first foray into Chicago and walked away happy wine merchants. It’s first-ever wine auction, held Oct. 22 at the Trump Hotel, grossed a healthy $3.55 million with 92% of the lots sold.
Among the lots sold:
* Three magnums 2002 Romanee Conti (lot 298, sold for $67,100);
* Six magnums 1990 La Tache (lot 304, sold for $67,100);
* An assortment of DRC 2000 (lot 236, sold for $26,840);
* A full case of 1962 La Romanee by Leroy (lot 430, sold for $26,840);
* A full case of 1982 Chateau Latour (lot 204, sold for $24,400).
Not surprisingly, John Kapon, Acker Merrall’s chief exectuive, said he loves Chicago. “The response we received today is strong validation of the fact that Chicago is one of the great wine centers in the world.”