Oh please. As if I could pick a “winner” or “winners” even among my much adored little grower Champagnes. Unlike children, of which I do have an actual favorites, I simply cannot pick one Champagne over another, (in our store that is) and proclaim it “better”. Can’t and won’t do it. I can however share my impressions, talk sales figures and go over what wines blew me away….and which ones I felt didn’t quite show their stuff in that kind of setting, which always makes me sad but is part of the whole tasting thing/problem as some wines, many in fact, just aren’t made to be flashy and for that they can suffer the crush of rounder, louder and more showy wines. Subtlety and grace are kind of enemies of the side by side, or comparison tasting….of which I try and remind our customers not to do, not to compare glass A to glass B in the “Oh this is better” fashion, but rather explore and appreciate each wine for what it has, and what it has not in some cases. It was while taking in the subtle, or profound, differences in a couple of the flights that it occurred to me once again, applying a numerical score to a wine, while tasting them in a one after the other sort of setting is not only stupid, it’s flat-out inaccurate.
Because I had to add a second evening class, which ended up being arranged for the night before the original class, as confusing as that is, I had a decision to make, do I pour the same wines both nights and risk running out of the wines I originally wanted to pour, which might kind of punish, (should anything sell out) the people that were savvy, and dedicated enough to act quickly and sign up right away for the event the second they saw it announced, or do I use that opportunity to showcase more than ten wines, saving the first selections for the ones that filled the reservation book to overflowing which caused us to book the second event…for the night before? See?! Confusing. I made a few adjustments but for the most part I stuck with the same wines, using that first (but second) class as a trial run and making mental notes to tweak the order if need be.
It was on the second (which was actually the first) night while tasting a Blanc de Blancs that had been moved, but only one spot down, noting how different it was showing compared to the night before, getting my grubby paws on another open bottle of the same Champagne just to make sure it wasn’t bottle variation, that was when I looked at my coworker and remarked, “Last night this wine would have gotten a much, much higher score. It was elevated by the wine that went before it. Tonight, well it is showing way more savory notes…more interesting maybe but a tad lower on the deliciousness scale” and I spent the entirety of the night totally geeked out on just how much the wine before and after can change your perception of any given wine. How the hell can scores be accurate then? Fuck, just think about all those long, wordy, flowery tasting notes you read, wonder what wine they had before that brought out the hibiscus nectar? Fascinating really and a valuable reminder for me about context and how I want to write my tasting notes.
On the whole both nights were successful. The first, (second) night showed way fewer sales and attendees that were almost scary quiet. Intent on listening and learning, a much greener group of people many of which were tasting their very first grower Champagnes that night. The second, (first) night was packed, loud, one of my favorite couples actually stopped and bought fried chicken, for the entire group of forty people, the dump buckets were dry….these grower Champagne veterans were closing out a year of fantastic Champagne experiences with a bang, and fried chicken! Those were the people that come to every one of my Champagne events, have been for years now and are now people that drink Champagne, or our little Champagnes I should say, like it should be, like a wine and not some twice a year bubbly treat. Reflecting back on both I have high hopes that maybe a couple of those second, (first) night people will be inspired to continue exploring the wines I so adore and have devoted over ten years to sharing with others…in fact I know at least a couple will, (one dude in particular, saw it all over him, he was bitten, and good) and now I wonder, if I had poured the wines in the order I did on the second, (first) night, would that have made a difference in sales? Like I said, confusing but aside from being super beat and having the skin on my palms feel as if it was on fire while opening even more bubbles Saturday afternoon, (think my last count as to number of bottles I opened, with my hands and not a corkscrew, in less than 36 hours, 99 bottles. Pass that around my friends…ouch) I had so much fun, learned even more and found myself enraptured and seduced by a wine that had somewhat fallen out of my favor. If I were forced to give the whole experience a numerical score….I wouldn’t, it deserves more.
The Wines That Made Me Swoon
2005 Agrapart Pere et Fils Grand Cru Mineral Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs ($72.99)
I went on a limb and even though priced higher than many of the wines later on in the class I started with this delicate and mineral-rich wine from Agrapart. Still quite young the wine needs some time to gain some fat, fill out and settle the hell down, but even now you can get an idea of what remarkable base wine this is made from. The purity of cool climate Chardonnay on the nose, almost Chablis like in that salty, kind of briny way. Cold river stones, green apple, seashells and just a hint of faintly toasted brioche.
N.V. Jose Dhondt Blanc de Blancs ($56.99)
Remember when Blanc de Blanc was more reserved and sort of austere? Well Jose Dhondt doesn’t. Rich, weighty, bursting with salted caramel and citrus. A big, busty wine that begs for gulping.
2004 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, ($62.99)
One of my heart-stoppers of the evening. I’ve loved this wine for years now but right now, it is in the sexiest, most complex spot, so much so that it killed me to pull my nose from the glass. Deeply nutty aromatics, like hazelnuts that have been roasted in warm butter, crushed oyster shells, sea spray and the long, achingly long finish is all warm honey on toast. A brilliant wine that evolves in the glass, changing a few minutes and defying you to ignore it. Wild, it drove me wild.
N.V. H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut Reserve, ($58.99)
Over the years I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with the wines from Billiot. Sometimes finding the wines clumsy, sloppy, shut down or just plain dull. Right now, Billiot and I, we are SO on again. All three wines from this estate were rock stars at our events but it was this wine that captivated me, seduced me and reminded me why I fell in love with Champagne in the first place. Power, regality, deep concentration, staining texture and a finish that won’t stop. Get some, now. Damn…
N.V. R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut Rose, ($57.99)
Always cracks me up, the N.V. Brut from Coutier is all showy, flashy and full of junk in the trunk but this Rose, delicate and restrained in a way that draws you in and refuses to let go. Just the prettiest pale pink, a nose of sweet black cherries and wild strawberries, lemon curd and warmed cream. Just pretty, supple, generous without being overpowering, pure and polished. Delightful.
2004 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut, ($73.99)
You like bubbly wine? Step away from this bottle. You like the flavor of small production wines grown in France’s famous region of Champagne, that just so happen to have super-fine bubbles in them? Pick this bottle up, go straight home, pop it in the fridge and pull out some cured meat and cheeses, get out the potato chips, pop the cork and find out why the wines from Camille Saves take home our Champagne of the Year awards year in and year out. Gobs and gobs of sexy red fruit, berries and black cherries sprinkled with holiday spices and tossed in a buttery pie crust. Unbelievably rich, palate staining and long the bubbles here are the thing that keep the wine perfectly in balance. Insane how stunning this wine is.