Last week, I gave my top ten Red, White, and Sparkling Wines of the year out of all the samples that I reviewed during the 2021 calendar year. This week, I turn my focus on those memorable wines that I pulled from my cellar over the past 12 months. These are wines that were not sent as samples—in most cases, I actually paid for these wines (although a few have been given as gifts). Monday, I listed my top whites, yesterday I listed the best reds, and today I focus on Champagne. Notice, I did not say “sparkling wine” since all of the wines below are indeed champagnes. We go through a lot of bubbles over the course of a week (last year, we popped well over 300 bottles of bubbles) and by far (about 80%) of those were from the greatest wine region in the world. Here are the best that we opened in 2021.
NV Agrapart Champagne Grand Cru Terroirs Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, France: Retail $70. At L’Albatros in Cleveland $162. Disgorged September 2019. 100% Chardonnay. My son wanted me to drive him to school for his freshman year of college in Cleveland. And we live in Houston (roughly 1,500 miles for the geographically inclined). And my wife decided to fly. And it was my birthday. So yeah, I think I deserved this bottle of “farmer fizz” when my wife and I went out to dinner (we left the boys in the hotel with a pizza–the definition of win-win). Golden in color with a fine sparkle and lovely aromas of baked apple and pear with a healthy dose of fresh croissant. The palate is quite dry but not as tart as I had expected given the disgorgement date. Lovely, bright, vivacious, and full of fruit. Whoa. Extra Brut is a tough sell for some but smack dab in my wheelhouse. Outstanding. 94 Points.
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 Bernard Remy Champagne Grand Cru, France: Retail $60. 100% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Le Mesnil-sur-Friggin-Oger. I do not pretend to be a student of the Côte des Blancs–any expertise I claim to have in Champagne lies firmly on the Montagne de Reims. But anyone with even a passing knowledge of Grand Cru wines from the region knows that Le Mesnil is at the top of the heap when it comes to Chardonnay. I bought six bottles of this wine from Last Bottle back in 2015, which means they made the trek from Philly down here to the Bible Belt. While the first five bottles were all fantastic, this last bottle might have been a step above. Was it due to the fact that it was the proverbial last bottle (no pun intended)? Or was it the stone fruit (peach and pear), creamy marzipan, and yeasty notes on the nose? Or better yet, what about the vibrant sparkle, the intense acidity, and the freshly baked brioche on the palate? Yeah. Gangbusters plus. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2006 Charles de Cazanove Champagne Stradivarius, France: Retail? Paid $80 at the Wine Bistro, Columbus, Ohio. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay (the blend for the 2007 vintage). It was just a few moments after my team lost–I had flown up to Cleveland to pick up my son and we drove down to Columbus for the game. It was a wonderful afternoon with the exception of the final score. A bit deflated, I decided to follow Napoleon’s assertion and seek champagne in defeat. I opted to take a flyer on a place called the Wine Bistro (which is actually in Upper Arlington, but that is far from the point). I’m glad I did. While the wine list available online is fine and has some gems for great prices, the real treasures line the walls inside where an eclectic (and extensive) collection lies, without a list, price scribbled on the bottle, just a few dollars above retail. I naturally gravitated toward the bubbles. I was about to pull the trigger on a Grand Cru from Verzenay, but then, at the last moment, I saw this. I have had a bunch of the NV wines from the producer, but I think this is the first Stradivarius. Golden in color without much sparkle, but there is a ton going on here. Baked apple pie but in the Tarte Tatin way—apples caramelized to the point of almost applesauce and a yeasty, flaky crust. Yeah. Crazy good. The weather certainly helped (I had escaped the Houston heat) but this wine changed my whole perspective on the day. Good ole Napoléon might have been right. Outstanding. 94 Points.
NV Egly-Ouriet Champagne Grand Cru Brut Tradition, France: Retail $80. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 100% Grand Cru. I bought these from a guy in Philly, before we moved, who proved to be a complete jack-donkey (if you know what I mean). He proved it on several occasions, but I had already paid him for these wines (which were being shipped from France), so I had to put up with the guy for much longer than I would normally. Perhaps that is why I waited five and a half years before opening the first of the six bottles I bought. A bit dark in the glass with lemon and peach, honey, and freshly baked bread. Whoa. The palate has hints of fruit, but immediately gives way to yeastiness: brioche, bread, croissant. Whoa. Round and refined, yet tart and refreshing. Whoa. It almost makes me forget what I had to go through, wait, what was I saying? Outstanding. 95 Points.
2009 Mailly Champagne Grand Cru Brut Millésimé, France: Retail $65. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. We drink a ton of Mailly. A. Ton. But most of it (by far) is the non-vintage brut. We also throw back a fair amount of Mailly Grand Cru Rosé (the wine after which we named our dog). This vintage Mailly? A rare treat, indeed. We broke it out for a dear friend from San Francisco, our first guest since the pandemic. Whoa, quite the nose emerges from this slightly golden elixir with deep yeasty, croissant-like aromas that slightly obscure the lemon curd beneath. Yowza. The palate is even more enticing but also reveals that this wine has a ways to go. Exuberant, lively, rich, engaging, yowza. This is one of the many reasons that I love champagne; this is close to a dozen years old, but it is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. Yet, it is also a wine with a bit of age, a bit of swagger, a bit of “je ne sais quoi.” Yeah, this one has it, if you give it the time to express itself. Rich, vibrant, expressive, young. All of these attributes apply and inform me that I opened this a tad (at least) too soon. Give it a year. Hell, give it a decade. Thank me later. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2002 Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Cuvée Palmes d’Or, France: Retail $140. 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, 100% Grand Cru. My wife bought this for me a few years ago for my birthday, so I figured it was appropriate to open it tonight for hers. It has been a while since I have had any Tête de Cuvée, let alone a Palmes d’Or, so it took me a few glasses to get back into that aged-champagne acquired taste mindset. Once I did? Whoa, for sure. Rich golden color with a faint sparkle and loads of citrusy, yeasty goodness. Fantastic. There is even more of that aged-champagne loveliness on the palate. Holy cow. Almost an aged Sauternes type of sensation (without the sweetness), or a slightly oxidized Premier Cru white Burgundy. Lengthy, luscious, lovely. Outstanding. 94 Points.
MV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $65. Disgorged December, 2009. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% fermented in oak. We opened this bottle shortly after draining a bottle that had been disgorged a full decade later (2019 for those mathematically challenged). While many in Champagne will try to convince you that non-vintage Brut (or in this case, multi-vintage) will not improve in the bottle after release. I say “Poppycock.” Wow, what a difference. Toastier and even yeastier with a roasted chestnut aspect. Creamier, richer, with a smokiness that was not present in the younger wine. This is gangbusters. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2002 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Belle Epoque, France: Retail $150. 100% Chardonnay. I bought three bottles of this wine back in 2011 from some bloke on the internet and this is the second wine we’ve tried (the first was way back in 2013). Well, as most high-quality Blanc de Blancs do, this wine has aged quite gracefully and I would contest that it still has a bright future ahead of it. Not as dark As I suspected it might be–a solid straw color in the glass with a dominant yeasty strain on the nose which all but obscures the delicate golden apple, white hyacinth, and even a touch of vanilla. The palate is still bright, vibrant, lively with yellow apple, fresh croissant, and more than a touch of sweetness (perhaps too much?). Look, this is fabulous, rich, and balanced, but… a tad sweet… Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Voirin-Jumel Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cramant, Champagne, France: Retail $70. On the list at a’Bouzy (it really pains me to type that) for $68. I am not all that familiar with the wines from the Côte des Blancs, since, frankly, I have never been to that part of Champagne. I’ve ridden through the Vallée de la Marne and up/around the Montaigne de Reims more times than I can count, but I have never ventured much further south of Epernay than Bouzy. But la Côte is on my list (as is Troyes, for those keeping score at home) and based solely on this bottle (and a quick perusal of their website) so is Voirin-Jumel, a grower in the storied town of Cramant. Bright tree fruit (several varieties of apple: Granny Smith, Fuji, golden delicious) with a wheelbarrow full of yeasty goodness exude from this bright straw elixir and the palate is even better. That Rich golden Delicious dominates initially, but when the acidity roars in, freshly baked croissant is riding piggy-back. Yowza. I have long-stated that Blanc de Blancs is not my jawn but I have been reevaluating that mantra, particularly when it comes to older vintage wines and now, grower grand cru. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
My Champagne of the Year
It is always tough to choose just one, but I opted for this beauty from a fantastic vintage, a bottle we cracked when we dropped our first son off at college. It was a total surprise, and a very pleasant one at that.
2008 Champagne Collet Collection Privee Brut Champagne, France: Retail $65. $132 at L’Albatros in Cleveland. 75% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier, almost entirely from 1er and Grand Cru vineyards. Vinified in oak barrels. We have been enjoying the Collet Brut and (to a greater extent) the Brut Rosé since we moved to Houston and found it in our local grocery store. Surprisingly, I had never heard of this producer (I think) despite it being one of the more popular brands in France. When I saw that it was also a 2008, this was a no-brainer as 2008 was a fabulous year in Champagne, perhaps the best since 1996. And this wine bears that out. Golden in the glass, exuding that “aged champagne” vibe. Tarte tatin à go-go on the nose with that rich caramelized green apple and ever-so-slightly over-baked brioche. Whoa. The palate is absolutely phenomenal. Rich, even unctuous, with oodles of baked brioche goodness and the Tarte Tatin is completely off the charts here. But there is also a surprising tartness, a vivacity, a je ne sais quoi that suggests that this wine is just a baby, and can continue to improve for another decade. At least. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 96 Points.