Today is the third post where I reflect on many of the great wines that I was fortunate enough to taste over the course of the previous year. Here, I focus on the top ten reds that I had purchased at some point over the last couple of decades and I pulled from my cellar.
2009 André Clouet Champagne Brut Millésimé, Bouzy, France: Retail $70. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. 100% Grand Cru. There are few places on the planet where I would rather relocate than Bouzy. Sure, there is not a single grocery store, nary a gas station, and certainly, no Michelin starred restaurants, but the town produces arguably (well, not according to me), the best Pinot Noir in Champagne. And I love me some Pinot in my bubbles. I bought this from our local, large, chain wine shop in Houston (Spec’s) for just under fifty bucks and I could not be happier. Pale straw in the glass, but all kinds of maturity on the nose: yeasty, musty, a tad nutty, and holy cow. This is my first foray into vintage André Clouet and it will not be my last. Whoa. Oustanding. 94 Points.
NV André Clouet Champagne Rose No. 3, France: Retail $50. 100% Pinot Noir (10% Bouzy rouge added to the vin clair). There are few words in any language that stokes my palate more than “Bouzy” as it has a singular meaning: the best Pinot Noir in Champagne. And therefore Rosé from the famed Grand Cru village has to be considered among the best in the world. The mere name of the town takes me back to my days riding the vineyards, hustling the last few kilometers to get into town before the wineries close up for lunch. Then, after a quick tasting, taking a bottle of Bouzy Rosé to the steps of the tiny church in town to pair with the sandwich I bought on my way out of Epernay. This non-vintage bottling from one of the village’s titans, André Clouet (established 1741) is a brilliant representation. A gorgeous salmon with a savory strawberry-rhubarb blend of aromas, the palate is tart and precise, with laser-sharp acidity, a delicate sparkle, and, eventually, fruit. The relatively modest dosage (6 gr/l) comes off as just about perfect. OK. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, France: Retail $85. 100% Chardonnay. Wow. I am old. When I was looking for a bottle of bubbles to open while making paella, I stumbled across this wine which we received from my wife’s cousins a few years ago. Well, after popping and tasting, I realized that we were gifted this wine nearly eleven years ago. Yikes. All good, however, since I prefer my Blanc de Blancs with some age. A solid ripe wheat color in the glass with a golden delicious apple (perhaps honey-dipped) a go-go on the nose. The palate is bright and decadent with a touch of sweetness on top of oodles of caramelized apple, tart lemon, and baked-in brioche. Yowza. I have stated countless times that Blanc de Blancs is far from my preferred style of champagne. Unless it has some age, which this clearly does. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 94 Points.
1996 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Fiacre, France: Retail $100. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. I bought three bottles of this wine way back in 2008 and I tried one right away. The other two have remained in my cellar (first in Philly, then here in Houston). I liked that first bottle but I was less than whelmed. Nearly twelve years (and 1500 miles) later? Yowza. Caramel color with a fairly vibrant sparkle and a honeyed brioche on the nose that is pretty darned incredible–the type of wine that I could simply smell for days. The palate is certainly “old champagne” with a caramelized note, that lovely brioche, but also a tartness that remains focused from start to finish. Yowza. I rated this 90-92 points a dozen years ago, but that was then. This is Wow. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2002 Collard-Chardelle Champagne Saveurs d’Antan, France: Retail $100. I bought these at the winery back in 2013 after a delightful visit with Daniel Collard. I have been jones-ing to open one ever since, but I have resisted. His wines are all aged in oak and, as such, can likely benefit from some additional aging. I was right: I rated this wine at the time of purchase at 94-96 Points, but it has become even more graceful and intense. Decidedly golden with a slight but fervent sparkle, there are luscious aromas of sherried apple and peach, well-done brioche, and subtle oak. Whoa. The palate is perhaps more intense; tart apple, fresh baguette, intense caramel, and a whole lot of Whoa. I am not sure how many champagnes I have tried are better than this one, but that list is quite short. And this will only get better. Two more bottles. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
1996 De Venoge Louis XV Champagne, France: From magnum. Retail $375 (magnum). 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. Dear friends were over and said they wanted to go buy some champagne. I nearly passed out from rolling my eyes: at last count, I have 300 bottles of bubbles. They insisted and came home with this. They can insist all they like. A slight sigh upon opening led to a golden elixir with just a slight sparkle. Delicious freshly baked brioche, lemon curd, and just a hint of nuttiness. On the palate, the sparkle is certainly slight, but no matter, this is a “baller.” Slightly sherried, but intense fruit and incredibly yeasty. Whoa. The finish lasts for minutes. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
1998 Gosset Champagne Celebris Extra Brut, France: Retail $150+. 64% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir. I am not an “expert” on champagne, although I pretend to be one, but this much I know: when it comes to prestige cuvées, the Chardonnay-dominant wines will be tart and acidic in their youth and the Pinot-dominant wines will be bold and precocious. Given time, the predominantly Pinot wines will mellow and entice while the Chardonnay-driven wines will become other-worldly. Yes, I am an unabashed fan of champagnes that feature Pinot Noir, but without a doubt, the best wines tend to be superior Chardonnays with a couple of decades on them. Case. In. Point. Golden in the glass with sherried, yeasty notes that cause one to get lost in the glass. This leads to the palate which is nothing short of morgasmic: tart, yeasty, dry as a bone, citrus fruit. Yowza. This was the perfect wine to open on the night that my wife was promoted to full professor. She is a rock star and this wine accentuated her brilliance. Outstanding Plus. 96 Points.
NV Herbert Beaufort Champagne Grand Cru Carte d’Or Tradition Brut, France: Retail $50. 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. As I have mentioned more times than I would care to admit, I have a thing for champagnes from Bouzy on the Montagne de Reims. It is known for its Pinot Noir, which is, naturally, right in my wheelhouse. One of the last purchases I made before we moved from Philadelphia four years ago was a case of this wine from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for $25/bottle. Well, two left after this one, which was fantastic. Incredibly yeasty on the nose with hints of lemon rind and lime. The palate is rich and layered with freshly baked baguette, citrus tartness, and a lengthy finish. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $65. Disgorged January 2019. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% of which was fermented in barrel. This is undoubtedly from the same “batch” of wines as the last bottle I tried and even though this was disgorged just a few months before the previous bottle, there seems to be a decided difference. Sure, there is the characteristic citrus fruit, but the yeasty component is far more pronounced and integrated. Yowza. And a whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2004 Veuve Doussot Champagne Memory Cuvée Guy Joly, France: Retail $125. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Every time I see a bottle of bubbles with “Veuve” on the label, I get a bit apprehensive. Given the enormous popularity and success (albeit largely unwarranted according to many “experts”) of Veuve Clicquot, I fear that the wine is but an imposter, trying to capitalize on some confusion (“veuve” means “widow” in French, thus adding another perhaps morbid aspect to my mini-conspiracy theory). This wine, however, proved me wrong. In a big way. This is the top of the line offering (tête de cuvée) from Veuve Doussot in the Aube Département, southeast of Troyes, which has been producing some of the best champagnes from the rather newer addition to the Champagne appellation. A bit on the dark side in the glass with a tart lemon curd nose buoyed by a shot of yeastiness. The palate is quite tart with an active sparkle. A bit of nuttiness comes in on the mid-palate and finishes with a healthy dose of acidity. Very nice. Outstanding. 94 Points.