The best wines often have a quality that I tend to summarize as gulpable. While I am perfectly content with that word as an adjective, a slightly deeper analysis of the term would yield a set of components that a wine needs to have in order to be gulpable. Those almost always include juicy acidity that gets the mouth watering, a combination of fruit and more savory characteristics that excite the palate, and a lack of the massively thick richness (and often accompanying alcohol) that is better sipped than gulped.
Many wines have these qualities, but none so many as Champagne. Good Champagne almost always demands a second sip, a third gulp, and most certainly a fourth glass. Few wines prompt me to easily consume an entire bottle myself, but Champagne most certainly can.
I’ve often been heard to announce that my relationship with Champagne got off to a rocky start. Early on in my wine loving adventures I disliked Champagne. I found it bitter, hard, and angular. But then at some point I realized that I just hadn’t had any GOOD Champagne, and I quickly changed my tune. Unfortunately this means I generally have to pay more for my Champagne, as the good stuff usually clocks in at $40 and up (and the really good stuff starts at $70), but I’ve learned paying a bit more is worth it.
One of the ways I learned this (and continue to learn about Champagne) was attending a tasting in San Francisco put on by the Institute for the Masters of Wine. Every fall the MWs come to town toting a bunch of top Champagnes from the big houses and the little grower-producers and let the public come in to taste them.
I often spend every possible minute at this tasting (four hours or more) but this year I had some friends in from out of town and didn’t get to stay very long. So my usual list of ratings and notes for the various things I tasted will end up being slightly abbreviated below. Please forgive me. But I’ve captured a number of my highlights. The best ones with full tasting notes, and the other good ones with a few of my verbatim notes jotted down as I quickly canvassed the room before having to run off to a dinner.
I hope you enjoy, and I hope you drink more Champagne!
Image of Champagne cage caps courtesy of George Rose
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2004 Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs “Dom Ruinart” Chardonnay
Pale gold in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of saline and sour apple. In the mouth a fine mousse delivers flavors of sour apple and sour cherry shot through with wet stone. Gorgeous bright acidity and fantastic length. Mouthwatering. Cost: $150. click to buy.
NV Krug Brut “Grande Cuvée” Champagne Blend
Pale gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of buttered brioche, sea air, citrus and wet stones. In the mouth gorgeously yeasty flavors of lemon rind and lemon juice have a bright appley crystalline quality that is quite stunning. Fantastic saline savoriness lingers in the finish with stony notes. Gulpable.Cost: $135. click to buy.
2004 Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne Blend
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of yeasty bread and sea air. In the mouth gorgeously bright biscuit and seawater mix with snappy apple flavors and a gorgeous crystalline minerality. Outstanding.Cost: $145. click to buy.
2005 Henriot Brut “Millésimé” Champagne Blend
Pale gold in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, white flowers, and warm bread. In the mouth a delicate mousse delivers beautifully balanced flavors of seawater, white flowers and citrusy pear, that turns biscuity towards the finish. Poised and elegant.Cost: $80. click to buy.
2002 Piper-Heidsieck Brut “Rare” Champagne Blend
Light gold in color with tiny bubbles, this wine smells of se air, lemon and pink grapefruit pith. That pithy quality dominates the palate as a soft mousse delivers lemon and gorgeously toasted sourdough flavors through a long finish.Cost: $180. click to buy.
NV Taittinger Brut Rosé “Prestige” Champagne Blend
Pale pink with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stones and rosehips. In the mouth a voluminous mousse delivers flavors of hibiscus and rosehip with a stony underbelly. Crisp and gorgeous. Cost: $70. click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
NV Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay
Crisp saline lemon shells. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2002 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs “Le Mesnil sur Oger” Chardonnay
Bright zingy , linear, pithy, very mineral. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2002 Pol Roger Brut Blanc de Blancs Réserve Chardonnay
Juicy lemon curd apple, tangy apple jolly rancher. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2005 Saint Chamant Brut Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay
Unusual, apple caramel, yeasty, mineral, nice saline kick. Cost: $70. click to buy.
NV Amaury Coutelas Brut “Cuvée Louis Victor” Champagne Blend
Sappy apples sweet tart, unusual. Cost: $40. click to buy.
NV Jean Vesselle Brut “Reserve” Champagne Blend
Vinous. Sappy. Cost: $50. click to buy.
NV Jean Vesselle Brut Blanc de Noirs “Oeil de Perdrix” Champagne Blend
Beautifully floral, berries and mineral. Cost: $50. click to buy.
NV Taittinger Brut Grand Cru “Prélude” Champagne Blend
Very oaky and yeasty but damn tasty. Wonderfully saline. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2000 Gosset Brut “Grande Millésime” Champagne Blend
Very lemony and juicy. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2002 Nicholas Feuillatte Brut “Palmes d’Or” Champagne Blend
Delicate, floral, ethereal, long. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2004 Pol Roger Brut Réserve Champagne Blend
Tart apple juicy, malic. Cost: $90. click to buy.
NV Henriot Brut Rosé Champagne Blend
Lemony yeasty bright unusual. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2004 Pascal Doquet Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs “Vertus” Chardonnay Cost: $80. click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
NV A. Margaine Brut Cuvée “le Brut” Champagne Blend $40. click to buy.
NV André Clouet Brut Grand Cru “Grand Réserve” Champagne Blend $50. click to buy.
NV Devaux Brut “Grande Réserve” Champagne Blend $45. click to buy.
NV Frerejean Freres Brut “Premier Cru” Champagne Blend $??
NV Perrier-Jouët Brut “Grande Brut” Champagne Blend $28. click to buy.
2004 Bollinger Brut “La Grande Année” Champagne Blend $110. click to buy.
2006 Moët & Chandon Brut “Grand” Champagne Blend $70. click to buy.
2006 Perrier-Jouët Brut “Belle Epoque” Champagne Blend $140. click to buy.
2004 Veuve Clicquot Brut Vintage Champagne Blend $70. click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
NV Lété-Vautrain Brut “Traditionnel” Champagne Blend
NV Pehu-Simonet Brut Grand Cru “Selection” Champagne Blend
2007 J-P Lamiable Blanc de Noir “Cuvée Les Meslaines, Millésime” Pinot Noir
2008 Moussé Fils Brut Blanc de Noir “Millésime” Pinot Noir
NV Perrier-Jouët Rosé “Blason” Champagne Blend
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
NV Lenoble Brut “Cuvée Intense” Champagne Blend
NV Jaques Chaput Brut Rosé “Arrentières” Champagne Blend
NV Larmandier-Bernier Extra-Brut Rosé Premier Cru “Rosé de Saignée” Champagne Blend
2005 Michel Turgy Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime