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.