[Before I get started, I have to say that I thought about writing an entire post on the correct usage of “variety” vs. “varietal” but I realized that it was an exercise in futility as people will go on using the terms incorrectly despite any effort on my part. In short, as many of you know, variety is a noun that refers to grapes (e.g., “We grow several different varieties here: Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Pineau d’Aunis.”). Varietal is technically an adjective, but (and this is key) many in the wine business use it as a noun when it refers to a wine made from predominantly one variety (e.g., “When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, Pinot Noir is my varietal of choice.”). A quick rule of thumb: if you can add in the word “wine” after, use varietal, if not, use “variety” (and the use of the “word” “varietals” should never happen again—just say “varietal wines” which would make everyone happy).]
As the title of this post states, today is World Champagne Day. To me, that is a bit ridiculous since I try to make every day in my house filled with champagne (but only succeed a few times a month). Nonetheless, I will be “celebrating” the Day tonight, with a bottle of 1999 Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque (more on Perrier-Jouët below).
Since I have been writing this blog, I have been asked by various entities to participate in a number of these “Wine Varietal Days” and so this week I set out to see how many of them there actually are. Well, there are quite a few, apparently, but the problem is that there seems to be a bit of disagreement on some of them:
- April 17th: Malbec
- April 24th (or May 17th): Sauvignon Blanc
- May 9th: Moscato
- Third Thursday in May: Chardonnay
- June 11th (or August 14th): Rosé Wine
- August 1st (or March 13th): Albariño
- August 18th: Pinot Noir
- The Thursday before Labor Day: Cabernet
- Third Friday in September: Grenache
- Fourth Friday in October (or December 31st): Champagne
- November 7th: Merlot
- Second Thursday in November: Tempranillo
- Third Thursday in November: Beaujolais Nouveau
- November 19th: Zinfandel
- December 4th: Cabernet Franc
In doing the research for this article, I found that there is also a guy out there who took the time to give every day its grape. Go over to the Matt Walls Wine Blog, if you want to see what your patron grape is (at least according to this British guy, mine is Pineau d’Aunis—I better run out and get some for next year…).
If all of that were not already enough, many states also have their own month:
- February: Delaware
- April: Michigan
- May: Oregon
- June: Idaho and Ohio
- August: Washington
- September: California, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina
- October: Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
Throw in a few more: Open That Bottle Night (the last Saturday in February), Drink Wine Day (February 18th) and a National Wine Day (May 25th).
It is safe to say that there are enough such “days” to give you an excuse to drink wine nearly every day of the year.
Oh wait, I already do that….
There are only a few of the days that I actually “celebrate” (and no, it is not Illinois Wine Month): Open That Bottle Night and Champagne Day. Both of which are excuses to go down into the cellar and pull out a bottle that I have been saving for a special occasion, but that “special occasion” never seems to be quite “special” enough to open a really good bottle.
Special bottles of champagne are always on my mind, but it was even more the case when I was invited to have lunch with the cellar master of one of Champagne’s premier houses, Hervé Deschamps of Perrier-Jouët (like with Moët, the “t” is pronounced: Zhoo-ET). So last week, I made my way up to the Baccarat Hotel, in Midtown Manhattan, for a delightful lunch that featured Perrier-Jouët’s new releases and the chance to chat a bit with one of the legends in Champagne.
[As long as I am getting a few pet-peeves off my chest, notice the above paragraph. When talking about the wine, use a lower case “c” and only use the upper case “C” when referring to the region: “Legally, champagne only can come from Champagne.”]
Champagne, perhaps more than any other wine, is crucially dependent upon the blend of countless different wines, and in the case of non-vintage wines, of reserve wines from many different years. The art of the blend (and therefore the success of the house) is the responsibility of the cellar master in Champagne–a position that receives the utmost respect in the region (and around the world).
Perrier-Jouët is by no means the oldest house in Champagne (that is claimed by Gosset), but it was founded in 1811, giving it over 200 years of wine making history. Somewhat amazingly, Hervé is one of only seven cellar masters in the history of Perrier-Jouët, a house that is known for its amazing consistency and its commitment to producing some of the finest wines in the region.
When I arrived, I was quickly given a flute of the house’s non-vintage Brut. Since I had walked up from Penn Station (I love walking in New York), I had developed a bit of a thirst–what better to quench it than a bit of bubbly?
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut: Retail $40. 20% Chardonnay 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier. Perrier-Jouët was the first house in Champagne to produce a N.V. Brut and this is a fine representation of the style. Bright citrus and some biscuity-ness. Very nice on the palate–right down the middle when it comes to body. Solid finish. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
I downed that first flute rather quickly (even though I tried to show some restraint), at which point it was immediately refilled–there is nothing sadder than an empty champagne flute. After a couple of flutes, we sat down to lunch, which was delectable.
After the first course, we moved on to the bottles of Belle Epoque, Perrier-Jouët’s Tête de Cuvée (their top wine). Like with the NV Brut, as soon as I drained the Belle Wpoque, the glass was refilled in an instant. Good thing I have spent my entire adult life training for this moment.
2007 Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque: Retail $150. 50% Chardonnay. 45% Pinot Noir. 5% Pinot Meunier. Hervé referred to 2007 as a “special year” with an atypical early springand two weeks before harvest there was bright sun, both conditions keys to good fruit. Whoa. Baked Brie and lemon rind on the nose. On the palate. Wholly goodness. Broad and deep with brioche a go-go. Whoa. Citrus finish lasts minutes. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2006 Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Rosé: 11% Still Pinot Noir added to the standard Belle Epoque, coming mostly from Aÿ (and some from Mailly). Strawberry rhubarb on the nose and perhaps more austere than the ’07 Epoque. While the ’07 has a ways to go, this has even longer. Right now, the standard Epoque wins. But in the end? This might thump the Epoque several times over. Outstanding. 91-93 Points now. 94-96 Points in a decade or so.