Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Champagne José Dhondt Brut Blanc de Blancs, $48, Becky Wasserman Selections. There are no lemons leaping out of the glass, no bursts of intense flavor, no laser beams of acidity. This wine packs plenty of fireworks, but not the type that anyone can see merely by wandering into the park after the Symphony is finished playing. These fireworks are more private, like the things that only you know about intimate moments with your lover.

If it sounds like I am sexualizing the act of drinking José Dhondt's NV Blanc de Blancs, I agree, that's a bit grand. What I really mean, is that the wine might not stand out in a crowd, but is entirely gorgeous and rewards your attention. Think of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club. Sure, Molly Ringwald was a cheerleader or something, but Emilio Estevez understood that he would do well to look deeper.

I first tasted this wine about a year and a half ago after reading a compelling post by Eric Asimov. Doc Asimov talked about how great the wine is, and also how tough a time he had finding it. I was surprised to see it on the shelves at one of my favorite stores in Brooklyn and I grabbed a few bottles. I loved the wine back then and wrote about it last December. What strikes me when I look back at my description of the wine is the very first part of the first sentence:

"This is the most intense of them, the most focused, and for me, the most haunting."
The same exact wine that I drank about a year ago has changed a bit in the bottle. This is no surprise - we all know that wine changes with bottle age, and hopefully improves. But I am still learning about how this expresses itself in Champagne. Does Champagne lose freshness with bottle age, but gain complexity? Does it lose some of the acidic intensity, but gain balance? Is there some other formula that applies here? I just don't have the experience to answer these questions. But regarding this particular wine I can say this - the acidic and mineral intensity has mellowed a bit with a year in the bottle, and the wine is more accessible now, softer. It is understated and graceful, and quietly very beautiful.

The nose is creamy with puffs of ladies' perfume, lemon, and ginger. Very delicate. There is a solid chalky undertone to the nose that provides good focus. So soft on the palate, a pillow of generous lemon ginger cream, and anchored by gentle but precise and focused acidity. Lots of chalky minerals on the finish and there is a lovely mouth filling fragrance after swallowing. This wine is just delicious, and well worth seeking out. I wonder what more time in the bottle would bring.

I cannot tell you much of anything about this wine in the technical department - there is no Dhondt website that I could find, no other source of detailed info. I can tell you that the Dhondt estate is located in Oger in the Côte de Blancs, and that there is at least one other Champagne imported into the States by this producer, the vintage wine called Mes Vieille Vignes (My Old Vines). I was lucky enough to find and purchase on bottle of the 2002 Mes Vieille Vignes a few months ago. How long will I be able to keep my hands off, now that's a good question.

I wish there were somewhere I could go to learn more about the vineyard plots, vinification techniques, dosage, etc. Actually, something like Burghound, but for the wines of Champagne. Not that I can't love the wine without knowing these things - I do love it. But I'm geeky like that.


TWG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think you're right about Dhondt not having a website. A pretty comprehensive list of Champagne producers' websites can be found at:

And there's still no Clos Roche Blanche Gamay anywhere in California, as far as I can tell!

TWG said...

There's no mention on the importer's website of Dhondt:

baltimoeronvino said...

This was a wonderful write-up not just about the wine itself but of the joys bubbles can bring.I think

Not to mention the need for a champagne system like meadow's has for burghound.

I get pretty damn close to sexualizing about Gratien myself.

Vinotas said...

Actually, Juhlin has a great book (though his website stinks) about Champagnes, 4000 Champagnes.

I haven't had this one but I did have a lovely 1996 Jacquesson out of magnum the other night, stunningly young.

Peter Liem said...

OK, I get the hint already. Hold your horses.

Dhondt is indeed reclusive -- even at the estate he often prefers not to see visitors himself, and as you've found, he's very much under the radar, even here in Europe. This wine is blended from Oger and Le Mesnil in the Côte des Blancs and Saudoy in the Sézanne. It sounds like you've got an older disgorgement, which to me is almost always a good thing, especially with grower champagne. Base 2003, perhaps? Who knows. When this cuvée is first released it's usually a little high in dosage, but with time it all mellows out, as in your bottle.

Brooklynguy said...

sorry about the Gamay Steve - you might consider having Chambers ship some to you when the next vintage is released.

TWG - thanks for contacting Wassermans and getting information sent to us. I'll post it soon.

thanks Baltimore, i really appreciate your comments.

hi michel - where did you find said 96 magnum?

hey peter - thanks for your comments. an earlier commenter emailed the importer and they sent a spec sheet which i will find a way to post soon.