This Sunday night (i.e., New Year’s Eve) is the night of the year for sparkling wine, it’s Super Bowl of sorts. Chances are that even if one despises bubbles in wine (a sentiment that I have no ability to comprehend and certainly do not endorse) he or she will raise a glass of the effervescent elixir when the clock reaches midnight.
Today, though, I set my sights on the wine from Champagne, and four houses whose wines I particularly enjoy.
I decided to taste the wines semi-blind—I knew all the wines being tasted, but I had my wife pour them in a random order, without knowing for sure what was in each glass. Why? Well, it was not to feel some sort of comraderie with Dom Pérignon (the blind monk who is often attributed, falsely, with “inventing” champagne), but simply I drink a ton of champagne* during the year and I wanted to know if I could notice the differences.
*”Champagne” should always be capitalized when referring to the region, but not capitalized when referring to the wine produced there.
As it turned out, for perhaps the first time, I was able to identify each wine correctly. While that may sound impressive, there were really only four wines (there were two rosés and one of those is easily identified by its intense color). Nonetheless, I felt better, obviously, than if I had blown it.
Here are the champagnes in the order that I tasted them (the original tasting notes are in italics):
N.V. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut Champagne: Retail $45. 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay. Pale straw with a golden tinge. Fine but sparse bead with pear and apple on the nose and a distinct biscuity goodness. Tart and fresh, but also a bit green on the palate, quite familiar with peach and brioche. Lovely, 90-92 Points. After the Mailly Grand Cru (below), I have likely consumed more of this champagne than any other—the full-bodied, Pinot dominated style is certainly what I prefer, and this champagne consistently delivers thanks to the efforts of long-time cellar master Régis Camus. Outstanding.
N.V. Mailly Grand Cru Brut Réserve Champagne: Retail $40. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Light golden color suggests a bit more age. Active mousse, more citrus but also with a red flower component. Really active mousse on the tongue, but flavors shy initially, but they come through like gangbusters after the mid-palate. Citrus and fresh baked croissant dominate. Lengthy finish. While I would keep this even longer, this is still close to a Whoa. 91-93 Points. By far, I have had more of this champagne than any other, and this was the only one of the line-up that I actually purchased. It was also the bottle with which I had the most difficult time opening, which suggests that it may have been on the shelf for a while. The cork, after a bit of time, finally agreed to come out, but after about an hour, it was far from fully expanded. This is an example why putting disgorgement (when the sediment is removed from the bottle) dates on the bottle is a good idea. It is also proof that non-vintage champagnes can continue to age (and in my mind, improve). Outstanding.
2006 Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Brut Champagne: Retail$80. 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir. Yellow and gold meld together here with a fine, active, but slightly sparse bead. Richest nose thus far: baked apple pie, caramel, brioche. The nose itself might warrant this one a Whoa. On the palate, this is a full-blown Whoa: croissant with hints of apple fruit dominate initially and through the mid-palate and it finishes with caramel that is right at the point just before it starts to burn. Delicious. 93-95 Points. As I mentioned above, I am a huge fan of this house and this wine really stood out for all the right reasons. Vintage bubbles is a bit of a special treat (less than 20% of all champagnes produced is vintage) that warrants the additional cost. The difference between vintage and non-vintage is clear, particularly when tried side by side. Outstanding.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Champagne: Retail $50. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier. Pale yellow with a slight green tint, Granny Smith apple on the nose with fresh out of the oven sourdough bread. Following the previous, this is a tad pedestrian, but still stellar. Citrus and a touch of apple all the way through with just hints of the yeasty components that define champagne for me. 89-91 Points. Over the last couple of years, I have become more familiar with this house, going through the entire gamme with daughter Alice Paillard in Philadelphia before visiting the winery in August. Bruno Paillard is a leader in many ways in the region, and he is one of the few that include the disgorgement date on the bottle. He also calls this flagship blend the more accurate Multi-Vintage (M.V.) instead of the more widely used Non-Vintage (N.V.) Outstanding.
N.V. Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru Champagne: Retail $85. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay. A slight pinkish orange in the glass, with a steady stream of delicate boules. This wine is more brioche dominated up front with plenty of rhubarb thrown in. On the palate, this gets a Whoa. A bit slow on the onset, this really picks up steam on the mid-palate, with rich red fruit, and oodles of baked French goodness. Whoa. While #3 might be the most sophisticated, this is the tastiest. Whoa. 93-95 Points. This is the house on the list with which I have the least familiarity, but I have had this rosé now several times and it is nothing short of stellar. I also have a few bottles of vintage D-L in the cellar, on which I am patiently waiting. Outstanding.
N.V. Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage Champagne: Retail $55. 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay. This could almost be classified as a red, it is that dark, light but steady stream of fine bubbles, this exudes red berry fruit and even a bit of Twizzlers red licorice. On the palate, quite fruity with tart cherry on the forefront, followed by pretty much tart cherry, and maybe a hint of strawberry. The wine finishes just as fruity as it begins—this is a hedonistic and sexy wine, one to share with, well, anyone. 89-91 Points. I am not certain, but this might be the darkest rosé in all of Champagne. Easily identifiable from across the room, this wine is made by adding still red Pinot Noir to the blend to arrive at the trademark hue. Rich and bold, this makes a statement both in the glass and on the palate. Outstanding.