Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Two Weeks of Incredible Champagne

I used to write about sparkling wine every Friday in a sets of posts that I called Friday Night Bubbles. Every week for over a year, typically alternating between Champagne and other sparkling wines. It got expensive, but what made me stop this series was the fact that I wasn't satisfied with the quality of most sparkling wines at the $20-$25 price point. I decided that I'd rather spend my $25 on whatever wine I think is best, not necessarily a sparkling wine.

And so my sparkling wine consumption has gone way down, Champagne obviously included. In the past two weeks, though, I've had more top notch Champagne than in all of the past year, I would say. These things come in waves, I guess. I know it's boring to read lists of "The Great Wines I Just Drank," but please - allow me to share about some of these. These are rare and expensive wines that I may never have another chance to drink, and they are worth talking about.

I was in Seattle last week for work (thanks for having me back here, by the way). I know no one in Seattle, and I had business all day but nothing at night. I did take myself out to dinner one night at this place, and it was quite nice. But a million times more fun was dinner at my new friend Brian's house, a guy I met through another friend I met because of this blog. And they say that sitting in front of your computer is anti-social! Brian works for Triage Wines, one of the better importer/distributors on the west coast. He invited a few other Seattle wine-types, made a beautiful dinner of schnitzel and other goodies, and we opened what might in some circles be called an excessive amount of wine. I could tell you about the three 1998 Rieslings we had with dinner, including the FX Pichler Unendlich, but this is supposed to be about Champagne. So instead I'll tell you about Sugot-Feneuil, a producer I had never heard of. Brian served the 1998 Brut Blanc de Blancs as an aperitif, and it was just lovely, so full flavored, and also so elegant. But this was a fleeting experience, as apparently the grower is deceased and the vines have been sold to a big house.

That was only the beginning. One of Brian's friends brought a bottle of 1997 Larmandier-Bernier Special Club, I think the last Special Club vintage that Larmandier-Bernier did. This wine took a while to open up, but when it did it was a well balanced wine with rich nutty fruit and a mouth-coating texture. I think that it was starting to truly shine after we had moved on to other wines. And how about this - Brian went downstairs to his cellar (normal people can afford to live in houses in Seattle, apparently) and returned with not one, but two bottles by Vouette et Sorbée. We drank the Saignée de Sorbée (photo courtesy of Peter Liem) and the Blanc d'Argile, both 2006's, although they are not labeled as vintage wines. Both of these wines were entirely remarkable, impossible to overstate the level of quality here. The fruit in the rosé was utterly beautiful, almost impossibly fresh and alive, sweet and perfumed with subtle spices. Like all Vouette et Sorbée wines, this has no dosage - imagine how perfectly ripe these grapes must be! The other thing that I found striking about the rosé was its texture - full and rich, but exquisitely detailed and fine. Such a joy to drink. Peter and I drank the 2005 Saignée de Sorbée merely days before this Seattle dinner, and it was also a great, but an entirely different wine. The 2005 was not as much about fruit, it was completely saline and pungently rocky and earthy, and it was great with our roast bonito. The 2006 was a far more hedonistic wine that offered immediate and intense pleasure, but I wonder which wine will be better in 10 years...The Blanc d'Argile was also great, with that same brilliant fruit and texture, but I was so smitten with the rosé that I could barely pay attention to anything else. Thank you again Brian, and your welcoming and generous friends too.

The funny part is, you probably think that's all the great Champagne I've had recently. Not at all true, friends. I went to Alice Feiring's house the other night for her Champagne tasting, a semi-blind (we saw the list of wines, but drank them blind) look at a handful of wines with the idea of discussing whether or not they represent good value. I'll leave the results of the value discussion for Alice to print in her upcoming Wall Street Journal article, but I'll tell you that the wines in general showed tremendously well. I learned that Drappier makes very good wines - the nose on the 2002 Grande Sendrée was fantastic, rich and nutty with a focused depth of clean fruit, intriguingly orange-y in character. And I confirmed for myself that I am a huge fan of both Billiot's and Lallement's basic NV cuvées. That Larmandier-Bernier's Terre de Vertus smells and tastes of seashells, and that the 2004 Raymond Boulard Les Rachais Extra Brut will be excellent in about 8 years. Boulard's wines, in my humble opinion, might be the best value in the NYC Champagne market.

The three "S"s - a part of any balanced diet.

Alice somehow stocked her Blanc de Blancs lineup with 1997 Salon, and two different Selosse wines, Substance and VO. Yes, I drank Substance twice in two weeks - very extravagant. When I drank the VO I thought it was Substance, as the nose was immediately reminiscent of the wine I drank with Peter the week before. Wine maker's stamp, I guess. The '97 Salon took a while to unwind, but when it did it was just gorgeous, so expansive and richly satisfying in the mouth, and so perfectly balanced.

Alright, that's enough, I'm running out of gas - just excited to be back, I guess.


Do Bianchi said...

glad you're back and am envious of such a killer tasting! I guess there is a reason to live in NYC after all... how did the trip go?

francis boulard said...

is this '' Slideshow'' range you tried ?


Thomas Victor said...

i am a silent reader of your blog. means i never commented but miss your blogs... thanks you are back.

i really enjoy you taste for champagne. you are right with the fact that most of the wine with 20 - 25 dollars are just use less. i am in a favor that one should wait a week or two but he has to drink fine brand. just like i do with my cuban cigars. i smoke them once or two times in a month but never compromised on their quality.

Brooklynguy said...

hey dr. J - trip was very good, thanks for asking.

Hi Francis - as always, honored by your presence here. that slide show does indeed represent some of the wines we drank. there were others too, including another of yours, the 2004 Rachais, a wine that most people very much liked. i brought it though and there was no way to arrange photos, etc. so no matter how much people liked it (and I loved it), no way for it to be in the final picks. i have another bottle that i will save for a few years - seemed like it needs it. i love the freshness and the lemongrass character i was getting, and the sheer depth and quality of material. thanks for coming by.

thomas - i appreciate that you made the effort to write something about wine in your comment. but c'mon, dropping the link to your merchandise out of the blue is not gonna fly here, so please don't do it again. thanks.

francis boulard said...

Thanks Neil,

What version of my Rosé ''de saignée'' did you tried at this tasting ?
Is it the Rosé Brut (dosage 5 g/L) or the Rosé Brut Nature ( no dosage = dosage 0 = 0 g. / L.).
Beacuse, as you probably know we propose two versions of the same cuvée - wine : one Brut and one Brut Nature (wich usually the wine-ethusiast prefere, because a purer taste of the wine - terroir, minerality & authentic fruits of the grape)

About the 2004 Rachais : the taste is not easy at the moment. They are very recently *degorged*. So the aromas and flavours are still too scaterred (? hope this word is correct ... I usually speak a basic english language, a small english knowledge... Please sorry) ... it's necessary to wait few months before tasting to have a clearer taste... and then it's necessary to wait few years for drinking the 2004 Rachais well opened, in *full bloom* (*from my Harrap's dictionnary french / english...).
The last 2002 Rachais are just starting to be good for tasting.
In my humble opinion - palate and nose.

And again , Many thanks to appreciaite the Boulard touch and for your comments and photos of your tasting.

Best sparkling wishes,
Bien amicalement,