Thursday, December 02, 2010

Money isn't Everything

Money isn't everything when it comes to Champagne. As with most great wines, there are fantastically expensive bottles and modestly priced bottles, and when thinking about the wines as a group, price does not necessarily indicate quality.

I was reminded of this when thinking about two Champagnes that I had recently, one fantastically expensive and the other more modestly priced. Around the time of my birthday in mid November, a friend took me to a steakhouse in Manhattan to share some interesting old wines over dinner. The first wine we drank was the 1981 Krug Collection, about $700, imported by Moet/Hennessy/Diageo. I am not entirely positive of how Krug Collection is different from the other Krug wines, as even ChampagneGuide.net, the finest source of Champagne information, does not discuss this wine in its Krug profile. I believe that Krug Collection wines are simply held back after disgorgement, kept in the cellar for further post-disgorgement aging. But I am not sure.

We decanted the beautifully amber colored wine and gave it a few minutes to compose itself. It was delicious wine, richly perfumed with roast nuts and toffee, and nicely balanced on the palate with rich and somewhat saline inflected nutty flavors. I immensely enjoyed drinking this wine, although if I am honest, I think I enjoyed it more because I was drinking old Krug than because of what was in the glass. The wine was very good, yes, but it was also lacking in the complexity, detail, and energy that I would hope for from such an exalted wine. In the end, a great experience, but I would not say a great wine.

A week or so later BrooklynLady and I opened a bottle she gave to me for my birthday, the 2002 André Clouet Brut Millésimé, $50, Imported by Village Wine Imports. Clouet is considered to be one of the better producers in Bouzy, a village famous for Pinot Noir in the Montagne de Reims. It started out a bit creamy and kind of simple with round red fruits dominating the palate. It seemed ungrounded, as though there wasn't enough acidity or structure. But 20 minutes later the wine had come together beautifully. This is a wine of harmony, finesse and elegance, of gentle red fruit and zesty citrus peel, a bit of spice too, all on top of a finely chalky floor. But these flavors are subtle and quiet, very much understated. The wine is quite light in body and fine in texture, but it is deeply vinous and of good intensity and length. I think it is a great wine. I took extra pleasure in this wine, by the way, because I had just read Peter Liem's November ChampagneGuide.net article entitled Bouzy & Ambonnay: The Great Grand Crus of the Southern Montagne, in which he discussed the similarities and differences among the wines from those villages.

I am not dense enough to suggest that I compared these wines and that Clouet is the better wine, or the better value, or the better anything. I drank them on different nights with different food, in different moods, with different people, and the wines are made differently using grapes from different places. And, I expected much more from one wine than from the other. Who knows, you might drink these wines and have a different experience. The point I am trying to make is not a scientific one.

I am trying to say that you do not have to part with loads of money in order to drink a beautiful bottle of Champagne. I believe that there are truly great Champagnes available (in the NYC market, anyway) for $50 and under. Not wines that are great based on value they offer for their price. I'm talking about great wines in the absolute sense. 2002 André Clouet is one of them.

10 comments:

Asher said...

Thank you. 2002 is my daughter's birthyear, and I am always on the lookout for affordable and interesting bottles to lay down for her. What do you think of the ageability of the Clouet?

Brooklynguy said...

2002 is regarded as a great year, and one in which the wines should age very well. That said, with regard to this specific wine, I just don't know. Can't hurt to try...

deetrane said...

I actually thought the 81 Krug was outstanding. It was like a bubbly-alcohol incarnation of a Butterfinger, just not as sweet, and more freshly acidic. But butternutty beyond belief.

In any event, I don't think I would ever pay more than $100, max, for anything I would personally drink.

D J R-S said...

Do you have any info on the vinification? Is it a blanc de noir (you mentioned the terroir is known for its pinot) or a blend, what's the dosage, &c?

Keith Levenberg said...

Asher: Some '02 Champagne suggestions -- Rouger Coulon 2002 Blanc de Noirs is fantastically interesting stuff and maybe my favorite '02 Champagne so far; perhaps it's a slight gamble aging a Champagne with no chardonnay in it for another 10+ years, but I plan on taking it. For a sure bet, Wine Library has Pierre Peters '02 Chetillons for what's probably the best price you'll ever see on it. And I dunno if they still have any left, but André Robert '02 from Roberto's shop is another great Mesnil.

Anonymous said...

deetrane, interesting comment, as you do purchase many wines in excess of $100.

Personally, I enjoy NV Pierre Peters BdB immensely for the price!

The Wine Mule said...

I'd say you made a pretty good guess about the Krug!

This is from Tom Stevenson's Encyclopedia: "The Collection concept is to offer old vintages that have never been moved from Krug's cellars. The age at which they are offered is not so much chronological as evolutionary, since Henri Krug waits for a vintage to enter what he ters its 'second life' before releasing it."

Anonymous said...

Actually, Peter Liem does talk about this. From ChampagneGuide.net: "Krug holds back a number of bottles of each vintage for late release, labeled as Krug Collection—these may be late-disgorged or not, depending on the whim of the house, but the advantage of purchasing a Krug Collection is that it has been stored unmoved and untouched in the house’s cool cellars, offering the experience of an older vintage in impeccable condition."

Brooklynguy said...

Anon - thank you for the correction. Sloppy on my part.

Alex Halberstadt said...

Interestingly, I've had the good luck to try more than a few '02 champagnes recently, and I have to say that, for the most part, I haven't particularly enjoyed them. I know it's supposed to be a great vintage, the best since 1990, some say, and perhaps the wines will show that in a few years. They are structured and high in acid unlike, say, the 00s, but right now they strike me as austere and a little harsh. The '98s, '97s, '96s, and even the '00s and '03s I've tried recently have been much more tasty, though I suppose that makes sense. Perhaps it's like drinking 2005 red burgundies today. Though I heard Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger remark that some growers in Champagne are privately disappointed with the vintage. Any thoughts?