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09.29.2009

Tasting Notes for Top Champagnes of the World

mw_champagne.jpgYou might call me a born-again Champagne fanatic. There was a time when I didn't care for the stuff, but that was only because I had lived my life without ever tasting really good Champagne. Now, unfortunately, I've had the chance to understand the difference between the stuff you can get for $30 and the stuff costing around $200, and I live in a constant bittersweet state of longing that marks the lives of the truly devoted.

I've written before about the travesty of wine and its associations with upper class sensibilities in this country. Equally as tragic, and no doubt related to this phenomenon, we Americans seem to think that Champagne is really only for special occasions, and deprive ourselves of the joy and the food friendliness of one of the world's greatest wines. Given how well Champagne goes with fried food, the ubiquitous staple of most Americans' diets, we're missing out on some truly great wine experiences every day.

Almost weekly I find myself glaring at bottles of Syrah and Malbec on my cellar wall wishing I could turn them into bottles of bubbly. OK, so maybe it never gets quite that bad, but for whatever reason, I really have decided that I own far too little Champagne.

Which brings me to yesterday's melee tasting of Champagne put on by the Institute of the Masters of Wine. Part benefit, part community outreach, their annual Champagne tasting is one of the highest quality wine tastings put on for the public each year. They bring in (as you will see below) many of the top Champagnes in the world (minus only a few names like Salon and Selosse, as well as a few top cuvées from the biggest houses) for the pleasure and education of about 200 attendees.

This year's tasting featured about 120 different wines, of which I got to slightly less than 100 before the evening wound up. My scores, and tasting notes on my favorites are below. Enjoy, and remember the immortal words of Mark Twain: "Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right."


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
1999 Bollinger Brut "La Grande Année." $110. Where to buy?
1995 Henriot Brut "Cuvée des Enchanteleurs." $130. Where to buy?
2000 Dom Pérignon Brut. $120. Where to buy?
1998 Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé. $300. Where to buy?
1998 Taittinger Brut "Comtes de Champagne" Blanc de Blancs. $230. Where to buy?

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2001 Delbeck Brut. $60. Where to buy?
1999 Alfred Gratien Brut Millésimé. $??
1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires. $90. Where to buy?
1998 Lanson "Noble Cuvée de Lanson". $??
1997 Lanson "Noble Cuvée de Lanson" Blanc de Blancs. $??
2002 Perrier-Jouet Brut "Fleur de Champagne" Rosé. $250. Where to buy?
1998 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. $175. Where to buy?
NV Camilles Saves Brut "Cuvée Rosé". $55. Where to buy?
2003 Taittinger Brut "Comtes de Champagne" Rosé. $199. Where to buy?

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2000 Vilmart & Cie. "Coeur de Cuvée"
NV Ayala Cuvée Rosé Nature
2002 Besserat de Bellefon "Cuvée des Moines" Brut
1998 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame
2002 Deutz Blanc des Blancs
2002 Drappier "Grande Sendrée"
2000 Drappier Blanc de Blanc "Signature"
NV Rene Geoffroy "Cuvée Volupte"
NV Godme Brut Rosé
NV Alfred Gratien Brut "Cuvée Paradis"
NV Alfred Gratien Brut Blanc de Blancs
1998 Henriot Brut Millésimé
NV Krug "Grande Cuvée"
NV A. Margaine "Le Brut"
NV Monmarthe Brut "Privilège"
1998 G.H. Mumm Brut "R. Lalou"
2000 Perrier-Jouet Brut "Fleur de Champagne"
1999 Pol Roger Brut Blanc de Blancs
2000 Pol Roger Brut Rosé
1999 Pol Roger Brut
NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
NV Ruinart Rosé
NV Vilmart & Cie. "Grand Cellier"
NV Vilmart & Cie. Brut "Cuvee Rubis" Rosé

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
NV Besserat de Bellefon "Cuvée des Moines" Brut
NV Henri Billiot Brut Réserve
NV Chartogne-Taillet Brut "Cuvée Ste. Anne"
2002 Veuve Clicquot
1999 Charles Ellner Brut Millésimé
2000 Gimonnet et Fils "Oenophile Maxi Brut"
2004 Gimonnet et Fils Brut "Cuvée Gastronome" Blanc de Blancs
NV Alfred Gratien Brut
NV Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé "Cuvée Paradis"
NV Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage
NV Lallement Brut "Réserve"
NV G.H. Mumm "Mumm de Cramant" Blanc de Blancs
1999 Bruno Paillard "Brut Assemblage"
NV Bruno Paillard Brut "Première Cuvée"
NV Pierre Peters Brut "Cuvée Réserve" Blanc de Blancs
2003 Pierre Peters Brut Millesime Blanc de Blancs
NV Louis Roederer Brut "Première"
NV Camilles Saves Brut "Carte Blanche"
2002 Taittinger Millésimé
NV Varnier-Fanniere Brut "Grand Cru" Blanc de Blancs

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2002 Ayala "La Perle" Nature
NV Goutorbe "Cuvée Prestige"
NV Hebrart Brut Selection
1997 Lanson "Gold Label" Brut
NV Lanson "Noble Cuvée de Lanson" Rosé
NV Lanson "Rose Label" Brut Rosé
NV Milan Brut "Speciale" Blanc de Blancs
2003 Moët et Chandon "Grand "
NV Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs "Réserve Privée "
NV Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé "Première Cuvée"
NV Perrier-Jouet "Blason" Brut Rosé
2000 Perrier-Jouet Brut "Fleur de Champagne" Blanc de Blancs

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
NV Aubrey Brut
NV Besserat de Bellefon "Cuvée des Moines" Blanc de Blancs
NV Besserat de Bellefon "Cuvée des Moines" Rosé
NV Bollinger Brut "Spéciale Cuvée"
NV Delbeck Brut "Heritage"
NV Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage
NV Rene Geoffroy Brut "Empreinte"
NV Henriot Blanc "Souverain" Blanc de Blancs
NV Monmarthe Brut "Secret de Famille"
NV Pehu-Simonet Brut "Selection"


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
NV Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition
NV Deutz Brut
NV Perrier-Jouet "Grand Brut"

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
NV Veuve Clicquot Brut "Yellow Label"
NV Drappier Brut "Carte d'Or"
NV Godme Brut Blanc de Noirs
NV Goutorbe Brut Rosé
NV Monmarthe Brut "Rosé de Ludes" Rosé

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
NV Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé
NV Drappier Rosé "Val des Demoiselles"
NV Henriot Brut Rosé
NV G.H. Mumm Brut Roséå

Comments (10)

ned hoey wrote:
09.30.09 at 12:22 AM

Nice work. You displayed impressive diligence and endurance. My palate burned out and even spitting as much as possible I walked out of there in a daze. "Melee" does capture it... especially that first hour.

Kathe Barnett wrote:
09.30.09 at 9:09 AM

Two favorites for me were Vilmart & Cie (both Rubis & Grand Cellier). Do you have purchasing info?

Anonymous wrote:
09.30.09 at 9:51 AM

Kathe,

You should be able to find both for purchase online using http://www.wine-searcher.com

Joel Butler MW wrote:
09.30.09 at 4:30 PM

Thank you all for coming! Vilmart is a Terry Theise import, so to find it, I recommend go on winesearcher.com
Suggest in Bay area looking at D&M, K&L, Beltramos on Peninsula, Bubble Lounge (!)
Thanks Alder for post
Joel

Iris wrote:
10.01.09 at 5:14 AM

I've work for a long time as interpretor in international wine fairs - the Champagne stands were the only once, where I never saw people spit - even professionals :-) .

In France, we have the chance to find (and know) individual producers of Champagne, who make gorgeous bubbles at a decent price - my favorite is Champagne Boulard - his Les Rachais is tremendous!

I think, I've read his name in one of Alice Feiring's chronicles about Champagne recently... so perhaps you could find it in the States too.

Jack wrote:
10.04.09 at 11:05 AM

I find it difficult to spit Sparkling Wines, period. The mousse just fills the mouth and boom! you just swallow. Even when I want to it is tough, and often I don't want to!

Alder wrote:
10.04.09 at 11:12 AM

Yeah, different ballgame with sparkling wine. I've found I have to take much less into my mouth than usual.

Don Clemens wrote:
10.04.09 at 7:46 PM

Alder: I'm envious. Many years ago, in my former life as a sommelier, I had a wine cellar with more than 100 Champagnes - yes, CHAMPAGNES - listed. I really miss the '80's... As much as I love other wine styles, Champagne continues to be the magical beverage of conviviality for me. Nothing says "welcome" as perfectly as a glass of bubbly! Thanks for making me revisit my first real passion with wine.

ANTHONY wrote:
12.15.09 at 1:47 AM

Blanc Noir Champagne, from Tasmania, is one that a top chef RAVED about and I can find nothing when I Google this dark grape (skin peeled and discarded) elixir ! CAN SOMEONE HELP ?

Alder wrote:
12.15.09 at 9:27 AM

Anthony,

Perhaps this will help. Blanc de Noirs is a category of Champagne not a brand/company/winery. Blanc de Noirs refers to Champagne made with Pinot Noir grapes. The grapes are not peeled, they are crushed and then discarded, leaving only the juice, which is pale in color (and loses the rest of the color as it ages). Most Champagnes, unless they are specifically labeled Blanc de Blancs (which means they are made ONLY from Chardonnay) have Pinot Noir in them.

Champagne is a term used to refer to sparkling wines made from that particular region of France only. So if you're looking for a sparkling wine from Tasmania, it will not be called Champagne, it will be called sparkling wine.

Try googling "sparkling wine tasmania" and you'll be on the right track.

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