It happens all too frequently at this time of year, in fact, it happened again last night: someone asks me what champagne I am planning to drink for New Year’s Eve. The question strikes me as funny on a couple of levels, including the fact that I rarely stay awake long enough to see the ball drop (I am an early-riser type, usually up well before the sun).
Another reason I chuckle at the question? We drink champagne all the time. All. The. Time. Not because we are fancy (many a bottle is consumed while wearing sweatpants) but rather because champagne is easily the most versatile wine on the market when it comes to food pairing and it is also particularly fabulous on its own.
Third, I am not really a big NYE celebrator. I get it, Champagne has situated itself as the beverage for all celebrations and therefore it would make sense, but I think that the region has actually done itself a disservice as it has become pigeon-holed as uniquely a celebratory wine. (My mom: “Oh, you are drinking champagne?? What are you celebrating?” Me: “Tuesday?”)
Yesterday, I rated and ranked the Top Ten champagnes (based on sales) in the U.S. (along with a few others that are widely available), today, I offer up a few more wines from the premier sparkling wine region in the world.
We will be popping some more champagne tonight and tomorrow (and the next day, and…).
There are three Heidsieck houses in Champagne, all of which emanated from the original, Heidsieck & Cie., which was founded in 1834. While the “mother ship” is now owned by Vranken, the two other Heidsieck houses, Piper-Heidsieck (also founded, curiously, in 1834) and Charles Heidsieck (1851), were then owned by the Rémy Cointreau group (the group acquired Charles Heidsieck in 1985 and Piper four years later), and since 2011 both have been owned by EPI (Societe Europeenne de Participations Industrielles ).
The two houses also share the same cellar master (winemaker) who, up until recently, was my buddy Régis Camus (I doubt he would use the same moniker for me but that is most likely due to the fact that he does not speak a word of English) and is now the rising young talent in Champagne, Émilien Boutillat.
NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Réserve, France: Retail $50. Equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir. Solid, brilliant straw in the glass with heavy yeasty aromas on the nose, girded by lemon rind and yellow peach. The palate is vibrant, attentive, shows depth, and is quite tart. There is plenty of nuance here, encouraging even further consumption, leading to a lengthy finish. I can count my experiences with Charles Heidsieck on one hand, but this is an indication that I need to change that reality post haste. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc de Blancs, France: Retail $95. 100% Chardonnay. I have stated a number of times that I think that a Blanc de Blancs needs at least a decade or more of cellar time for it to achieve its potential. According to the back label, this was bottled in 2013 and disgorged in 2018. While that is certainly on the right track, this is still but a baby for a quality BdB. Don’t misconstrue, this is *fantastic* but I think it has a long and glorious life ahead of it. A rich, fabulous nose of citrus, golden apple, marzipan, the aroma emitting from a Parisien bakery early in the morning, just as the first batch of croissants emerges from the oven. Yeah, it is *that* good. The palate initially offers that baked goodness but it is quickly followed by a tart fruitiness characteristic of young BdB. Oh so good, with a finish that lasts for several minutes (I never actually timed it because I did not want to wait that long for another sip). Still, in my opinion, this still needs considerable lay-down time. Wait five years or, better yet, a decade, and this will be right in my wheelhouse. Still, right now? This is a solid Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Rosé Reserve, France: Retail $80. 80% of wines of the year: 40% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier. Disgorged 2017, put in bottle in 2013. Pinkish salmon in the glass with great berry aromas, peach, a decided floral aspect, and layers of minerality. The palate is quite tart, even really tart, with under-ripe strawberry, minerality, a touch of just-baked bread. To me, this wine is quite young and could easily use at least a couple of years in the cellar. Still, Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Brut Rosé Sauvage, France: 55%-60% Pinot Noir, 20%-25% Pinot Meunier, 10%-15% Chardonnay. I can not say this for certain, but I believe this might be the darkest rosé champagne on the market (that might need some more research), in fact, it might be closer to a light red than a rosé. Wonderful sparkle and aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb, and a certain meatiness that is oh so scrumptious. I have had a few bottles of this joyful wine now, and with each sip, I grow more enamored: rich red fruit–may be the fruitiest champagne I have tried, with the pomegranate really coming through in spades. Incredibly rich, but racy, this wine makes other rosé champagnes appear wimpy by comparison. Excellent. 92 Points.
These next two wines come from is quickly becoming my favorite house in Champagne, Bruno Paillard. I have written several times about my interactions with the house’s CEO, Alice Paillard (HERE, HERE, and HERE are three examples). I also was invited to my buddy Gabe Sasso’s podcast a few weeks ago where we chatted about Alice (and Bruno) Paillard. If you have not seen it yet, check it out HERE.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $65. Disgorged October 2019. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% of which was fermented in barrel. This is the third bottle of Premier Cuvée with a 2019 disgorgement and based on my notes, this just might be the best bottle of the three. While I have never met M. Paillard, I have met his daughter and CEO, Alice, on several occasions and she might be the single nicest person I have ever met. While that is a lot, I don’t know how much that has to do with the wine (although I choose to think it means just about everything), which is fantastic. Nutty, yeasty, and loaded with citrus on the nose, brilliant acidity, creaminess, and a walnut aspect on the palate. While I have tried a number of champagnes from Bruno Paillard, it seems as though each wine is better than the previous. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Rosé, France: Retail $70. Predominantly Pinot Noir with a splash of Chardonnay. Disgorged October 2019. Bruno Paillard is one of the youngest houses in Champagne (founded in 1981), but it is also one of the most innovative. In addition to being the first house to post the disgorgement date on every bottle (starting in 1985), BP also uses a solera system for its reserve wines (a constantly changing blend of wines, also dating back to 1985). The house now owns approximately 70% of the vineyards needed for its rather modest 25K (12-bottle) case production, another rarity. Last, a significant portion of each wine has been aged in neutral oak barrels. While this is certainly not “innovative” it is indeed rare in “modern” Champagne as almost all producers today use stainless steel exclusively. This wine has a lovely light copper hue and aromas of red berry fruit (strawberry, ripe cherry, groseille), a touch of citrus, and freshly baked croissant. The palate is elegant and refined with tart red fruit, a delicate sparkle, and a lingering finish. Very dry (under 6g/liter), this wine is a fantastic appéritif but would be even better with food: grilled salmon, even coq au vin. Delicious and Outstanding. 94 Points.
Happy Holidays everyone! I will be back next week with more sparkling wines!