Great Champagne is not for Everyone

It is no secret that we consume far more than our fair share of champagne in this house. For by far most of it, we paid less than $50 a bottle, with the average price hovering at or near $30. That was not the case for the Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne which we opened when our dear friend was visiting from Paris.

I don’t really believe in “special bottles” or wines that should be saved for special occasions, except when it comes to great champagne. I believe that a truly “great” bottle of bubbles has to have some age, and, of course, it must have aged well.

Some of the ageing is done in the cellars of Champagne, but more can be done once purchased.

This will sound obnoxious, but great champagne is not for everyone. It certainly falls into the “acquired taste” category since great champagnes usually have lost most, if not all, of their fruitiness and consist of concentrated autolytic aromas (think yeasty, crusty, flaky croissants).

A statue of Dom Pérignon sits just outside the entrance to Moët et Chandon in Epernay.

So I hold onto those wines for those I know will appreciate them. I once opened a bottle of 1966 G. H. Mumm & Cie Champagne René Lalou (the top cuvée from Mumm), it was fifty years old, golden in the glass, with barely a bubble to be found, but it was fantastic. One person in the select group sharing the bottle, however, thought it was “terrible” and poured what remained in the glass down the drain. Yeah. That person is off my “great champagne-worthy” list.

Here are a few older bottles of champagne, and one great one, that we popped over the last few weeks.

2012 Antoine Derigny Champagne, France: Retail $75. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay all from La Vallée de la Marne even though the house is in the Côte des Blancs. Purchased from Last Bottle Wines. I was planning on grabbing a Derigny Grand Cru Brut from the cellar, but I inadvertently ended up with this millésime instead. Oh well, roll with the punches. Certainly yellow and perhaps on the way to golden in the glass with a fine, persistent bubble. Rich peach and pear are predominant, with a considerable yeasty component which I crave. The palate is fruity, yes, and bright (even given the age), but the baked bread aspect is the story here, which it has in spades. Yowza. I have three bottles left now, and I need to be much more careful–they will certainly get even better over at least the next five years. Outstanding. 94 Points.

NV Gardet Champagne Premier Cru Blanc de Noirs, France: Retail $60. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Meunier. It has been a good two and a half years since we cracked one of these, which we picked up from Last Bottle Wines. Straw to slightly golden in the glass with lovely tree fruit (tons of golden apple) paired with that scrumptious baked bread aspect that defines champagne. The palate is vibrant and tart with ample fruit and leads to a nice finish. Excellent. 90 Points.

For some reason, champagne seems to taste even better in France, gazing upon a cathedral.

NV Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée, France: Retail $225? Cork code V72(X) (I could not make out the last digit as it was compressed by the cage.) I do not drink a ton of Krug. In fact, it would not take many digits to count the times that I have tried what many consider the apogee of champagne. A good friend, so good that she and her two lovely daughters are considered family (I am “uncle Jeff” to both of her girls) was here for a few days, and on the last night, I grabbed this. The matriarch is a champagne lover, particularly of old champers, and I purchased this way back in 2008, so it is at least 20 years old. Golden, almost amber in the glass with a subtle, weak sparkle still holding on. Nutty, biscuity, toasty, and scrumptious on the nose, this clearly is a bottle of grand old champagne. I have stated countless times that aged champagne is an acquired taste and should not be wasted on the novice. Case. In. Point. If a random “champagne lover” were served this beauty, there would no doubt be confusion. This is not “fresh” nor is it “fruity” but it is layered, complex, and sophisticated with a finish that will likely last until I brush my teeth. Again, not for everyone (more so for flavor profile than price), but holy mother of all things holy, is this good. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

NV Nicolas Maillart Champagne Grand Cru Brut Rosé, France: Retail $65. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, of which 7% Pinot Noir is added as a still red wine (for color). Light in color, actually more orange than pink. The color and cork (which never expanded once removed) indicate that this wine has some age on it, which usually is usually not only OK, but actually preferred. In this case? I am not so sure. Yes, there is still fruit, which is quite tart, and a touch of yeastiness, but lacks the intense autolytic component that I expect from older champagnes, which is a bit typical for older rosés. Still, Excellent. 91 Points.

NV Pierre Paillard Champagne Grand Cru Brut Bouzy, France: Retail $45. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. I bought four bottles of this wine from Cinderella.com, Wine Library’s (of Gary Vaynerchuck fame) flash site way back in early 2014. Amazingly, perhaps, this is only the third bottle consumed in those nearly nine years. I have to say that I am glad I waited as this has developed into that “older champagne” kind of vibe that I love so much. Straw, almost yellow in the glass with wonderful citrus, golden delicious apple, and a whole bunch of yeasty yumminess on the nose. Whoa. The palate is initially fruity, but that autolytic aspect takes over almost immediately and it is wonderful. Yeasty, tart, fruity, all elements are there in spades and the finish is lengthy and spectacular. Outstanding. 94 Points.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Champagne, Chardonnay, France, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Great Champagne is not for Everyone

  1. I totally agree that mature Champagne isn’t for everyone and like you I’m holding some special bottles to drink with friend who will appreciate them. Wonderful read Jeff. Cheers my Leo brutha!

    Liked by 1 person

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