Category Archives: Champagne

When Only The Best Champagne Will Do: Six Prestige Cuvées To Drink Now

Champagne Bar Cart. (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

If you missed my article in Forbes last week, I’ve reposted it here…

Luxury Champagne deserves to be drunk on more occasions than milestone celebrations; at the very least, it complements tragedies equally well, if not better. Consider the notoriously depressing events that have defined 2016. Even if you achieved personal bests in health, love, or money, regarding the collective we can agree the year unfolded like a Cormac McCarthy novel, exacting a psychic toll on the country.

From the deaths of legendary musicians Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen; to the passing of wine icons Peter Mondavi, Margrit Mondavi, Mary Novak, Paul Pontallier; to the ceaseless loop of negative election coverage that failed to end with the election. Brexit, Ryan Lochte, Harambe, the Syrian refugee crisis, Zika, heat records, massive flooding, and Trump’s tweets. Even the year’s most acclaimed film stars an Affleck brother plumbing the depths of Manchester’s saddest janitor. And who knows what December surprise looms ahead. So, I suggest popping corks and putting this broken year out of its misery one month ahead of schedule, and the only wine with the gravitas to pair to the tragicomedy of 2016 (after all, Alec Baldwin returned), is prestige cuvée Champagne.

While no rules define the term prestige, typically these cuvées represent the producer’s best and most expensive bottle; the wine a Champagne house considers its top expression from their finest fruit. This generally entails grand cru grapes from the oldest vines, with extended cellar aging, often with a late disgorgement.

Here are six acme Champagnes to celebrate the end of an outrageous year.

Freshness and Finesse from a Founding Family…

Billecart-Salmon (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas Francois Brut 2002, $200

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Bollinger Discovered A Secret Room Filled With Vintage Champagne, Will Auction One Bottle In NYC

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Do you get a little giddy after pulling a winter coat out of storage and finding a $20 bill in the pocket? Imagine, then, the thrill of discovering a hidden chamber filled with over 600 bottles and magnums of pre-WWII reserve wine for Bollinger Champagne. In the summer of 2010, that’s precisely what happened at this Champagne house in Aÿ. In fact, an intern had been sent to the subterranean tunnels of the property’s cellar to clean. During the process of removing a wall of empty bottles, another wall sealing off an abandoned chamber was discovered. Inside were the personal wine collections of past family members dating back to 1830. Bollinger was founded in 1829.

Through rigorous tasting and analysis, the wines were verified and identified. In 2012, under the guidance of Cellar Master Gilles Descôtes, a restoration project was started to save the rare bottles. All of the wines will remain in the Bollinger Wine Libraries with the exception of one. And that one bottle, comprising Lot 40, is the showpiece of Bollinger’s first ever auction, hosted by Sotheby’s in New York City on November 19, 2016.

Presented by the auction house as “A Century of Champagne Bollinger,” the event will feature a selection of rare wines that have never before left the winery’s cellars in Aÿ, France. In other words, the wines have perfect provenance. The sale is a milestone for the legacy Champagne house, known for its uniquely complex and powerful, yet sophisticated style. Since its founding, Bollinger remains one of the last independent family houses. Other notable achievements: Bollinger’s elegance seduced the Crown of England into awarding it the prestigious Royal Warrant in 1884; and for more than 40 years, Bollinger has served as the Champagne of choice of James Bond.

Bollinger CEO Jérôme Philipon commented: “For the first-ever auction of Champagne Bollinger in the U.S., we are extremely proud to have Sotheby’s as our partner. Not only will we unveil an incredible depth of vintages this November, but we will also demonstrate the unique capacity of Bollinger Champagnes to age. We are thrilled to connect directly with our American customers with these gems from our cellars.”

An intern found a hidden stock of Bollinger reserve wine in a forgotten room in the cellar. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

The auction highlight, Lot 40, will include the historical 1914 vintage, packaged as “The Bollinger 1914 Experience.” The lucky buyer won’t actually take the wine home or transfer it to a remote, high-security facility. Rather, he or she will savor it at the winery, accompanied by three new best friends. The package will be sold as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for four people to taste the 100+ year vintage as part of a private visit to Galerie 1829 at Bollinger. The lot also includes vineyard and winery visits; dinner with Bollinger Champagnes at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Parc at Les Crayères, hosted by Philipon; and accommodation at Le Château Les Crayères in Reims.

If Lot 40 eludes you — after all, there can only be one winner — other highlights of the sale include:

  • Six lots of the exceptionally rare and hallowed Vieilles Vignes Françaises from historic vintages. The wines recall pre-phylloxera days, as they are made from a minute production of ungrafted Pinot Noir vines in two Bollinger-owned Grand Cru plots: Chaudes Terres and Clos St. Jacques in Aÿ;
  • Thirty-five lots of Bollinger R.D. library stock spanning four decades from 1973 to 2000; and
  • Bollinger’s Special Cuvée in eight different formats, from half-bottles to a Nebuchadnezzar.

Serena Sutcliffe MW, Honorary Chairman at Sotheby’s Wine, advised potential bidders: “if you plan to buy vintages to keep for important anniversaries and family milestones, remember to stock up on show-stopping ‘grands formats.’” She had the pleasure of tasting through Jeroboams down to bottles, and noted that not only did the larger formats maintain their freshness and youthfulness, but they retained more pressure and thus effervescence. And I’ll add one more comment to that: they look spectacular when served. So, when you have the choice of a Jeroboam, take it.

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How Bad Is Your Champagne Habit?

SparklingFerrariGlasses.jpg

New Year’s Eve has arrived! Did you meet all your goals for 2014? No matter. You can reiterate them again on the first of the year, with a fresh glass of bubbles in hand: Make more money and cut back on carbs (or will 2015 be the end of an allergy return of gluten?), booze, and podcast binges.

Since Champagne and sparkling wines have long been the de rigueur drink of choice for New Year’s Eve (and for the days of recovery after), this year — as long as you don’t saber off the bottle tops — you can keep precious CO2 (fizz) trapped in the wine for almost a week, with a little life-support from a Genesis system.

SaberTime

But before I delve into my review of the Genesis and whether your Champagne habit justifies its $500 cost, here are a few bottle recommendations — some favorites from 2014 — worth seeking out for tonight’s toast.

Deal Disguised as a Splurge
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut, 2004, $129
This historic Champagne house produces an exquisite, exceptionally priced vintage tête de cuvee from Chardonnay grapes sourced exclusively from grand cru sites.

Good Value Champagne
Champagne Deutz, Brut Classic, NV, $42
Well-priced, lesser-known label owned by respected house Louis Roederer. So good, it was once the private-label Champagne of Morrell’s Wine Shop, which still carries the brand.

Italy’s Finest
Ferrari Perle, 2007, $38
This sparkling wine house out of Trentino, Italy, does what Champagne can, but for a lot less money: It makes long-aged, layered, elegant, and lively wines, including this vintage bottling, for half of what a Champers would run. The Ferrari entry-level NV Brut is a particular bargain, too, at around $20.

Grower and Organic
Pascal Doquet, Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, $59.99
From a producer/grower who has diligently converted his vineyards to organic, a rarity in Champagne. This bottle is a blend of those organically farmed grapes from premier crus in the southern Côte des Blancs.

Back to the Genesis…

GenesisSystem.jpg

The Genesis, created by Napa Technology, is the first at-home, single-bottle wine preservation and dispensing system, designed for both still and sparkling wine. You may recall the big hit from last year, the Coravin, which — at one-eighth the size of the Genesis (akin to an oversized Rabbit Corkscrew), and for $200 less ($300 v. $500) — seems like the hands-down winner when compared with the Genesis, until you factor in the former’s incompatibility with bubbles.

The Coravin system inserts a slim needle into the cork, dispenses inert gas and draws out wine like a feasting mosquito, all while keeping the cork intact and the bottle fresh indefinitely. It can’t be used with Champagne, however, due to the air pressure in the bottle; hence the reason you (debatably) need a Genesis, too.

Genesis uses a proprietary technology called IntelliCork: Once the wine’s real cork is removed, the user places the bottle into the system (designed to sit on a kitchen counter and tuck in just below most cabinetry), so oxygen can be removed and replaced with “WineGas” before the bottle is topped with a special cork. Still wines save for two months; sparkling wines earn five extra days.

The product is composed of a silver base and black plastic casing, giving it the appearance of a giant, skinny coffee maker; it comes with two corks for still wine and one for sparkling, plus two canisters of WineGas, which is enough to preserve and pour 24 bottles.

After assessing the machine, I found it easy to use and capable of keeping my sparkling wine frothy. However, I’d recommend buying the Coravin if you like to sample wines over a longer period of time than two months, have space restrictions, and your bubble preservation needs range from minimal to the point of novelty.

But — and this is a big but — for regular drinkers of expensive, pressurized wines, i.e., Champagne (who are you, and can we be friends?), then Genesis is the only product on the market that can squeeze a few more sunsets from the bottle.

And for drinkers who wish to sample and save several sparkling bottles at once, they will need to invest in a few more specialty corks which cost a hefty $59.99 apiece. (The system only comes with one sparkling wine IntelliCork.)

Perhaps greater than for the home user, I see the practicality of restaurants investing in the system: They can offer a greater number of better-quality selections of sparkling wine by the glass, and do double duty preserving still wines, too.

The upgraded Genesis Pro, thus, is designed for tasting rooms and restaurants, costs $899, and comes with 10 IntelliCorks and enough WineGAS to preserve 40 bottles.

If your go-to sparkling is Freixenet (not that there’s anything wrong with it), the Genesis probably doesn’t fit into your budget, but it does give you something to aspire to when making your 2015 resolutions.

Happy New Year!

May 2015 bring you peace, prosperity and good wine.

Where to Buy:

Genesis: $499 plus shipping, is sold at GenesisPreserve.com, Amazon.com, WineEnthusiast.com, and NapaStyles.com

The Wines:

Chambers Street Wines, 148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434
Flatiron Wines, 929 Broadway, 212-477-1315
Astor Wines, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

 

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Long Weekend in Champagne

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Less than a two-hour drive from Paris (or 45 minutes via TGV train) lies the near-mythical French region of Champagne, a (champagne) bucket-list destination for wine lovers who consider it the pinnacle of sparkling wine production. The region’s grand capital Reims offers more to do than dabble in bubbles—visit the monumental cathedral, hike the scenic trails up Montagne de Reims, or rent a bike to cruise around town. However, champagne, as in drinking it, is still, predictably, the primary attraction.

While highlights can be crammed into a pleasant (but long) day trip from Paris, you’ll miss out on the charm of the surrounding villages where legions of small grape-growers, whose manicured vineyards blanket the countryside, produce their own bottles rarely found in stores or restaurants outside France. Plus, champagne sold in Champagne is refreshingly affordable—bring an empty suitcase to haul your liquid treasures home.

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DAY 1

Arrive in Reims in the morning, and get started with a tour of the historic, underground chalk caves (followed by a glass of bubbles, naturally) at a couple of the venerable, big-name champagne houses clustered in the southern part of town: Pommery, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, or Ruinart.

For lunch, seek out local favorite eateries like Le Bocal, a cute, 12-seat seafood purveyor-cum-restaurant; Hall Place, a wine bar with adjoining retail shop in the back; or the refurbished Brasserie L’Affaire, offering a reasonably priced and tasty prix-fixe steak frites lunch.

For true sybarites, the obvious end to an afternoon of champagne tasting in Reims would be to dine at the hands of a Michelin-starred chef, and then retire exhausted to a lavishly appointed room. Fortunately, Reims is blessed with two properties providing both: Le Parc restaurant at the Château Les Crayères and A. Lallement at Hotel L’Assiette Champenoise.

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DAY 2

Pick up a rental car and a map, or better yet, hire a driver (expensive, but worth it if you have the funds) to visit the smaller grower/producers dotting the landscape surrounding Reims. Budget an hour for the drive to Épernay on a route skirting the picturesque Montagne de Reims. The nearby Grand cru vineyards produce some of the world’s most expensive Pinot Noir grapes—stop off for tastings at village producers along the way, where, although appointments are generally recommended, many serendipitous experiences stem from simply knocking on doors. Proprietors will generally not charge for a tasting, but appreciate the purchase of a bottle.

For a guaranteed stop on your itinerary without the restraint of an appointment, Henri Giraud, in Ay, allows walk-ins (but does charge for tastings). The tasting room is modern, more art gallery than wine shop, and staffed by a knowledgeable, English-speaking host.

After a day of touring, you can either return to Reims, or stay the night in the little village of Avize to wake up amidst the Chardonnay vines of the Côte des Blancs. Try Les Avisés Hotel and Restaurant, a cozy, tastefully designed property run by Anselme Selosse of Champagne Jacques Selosse fame. Unfortunately, guests have no special guarantee of opportunity to buy his coveted wines. In Épernay proper, there are only a handful of smaller guesthouses; nearby, the beloved, if fading, La Briqueterie, has characterful common rooms and expansive grounds.

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DAY 3

If open to yet another day of tasting (of course you are—you’re in Champagne!), visit one of the major houses based in Épernay such as Moët et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Mercier, or Nicolas Feuillatte.

Alternatively, continue the road trip further south for a short village-by-village trek through the fabled Côte des Blancs region, realm of Chardonnay, Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay-based Champagne), and the prestigious vineyards of Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Heading back through Épernay by late afternoon, don’t miss a stop at one of the world’s greatest Champagne stores, 520, along Avenue Paul Chandon. With your newly savvy palate, stock up on hard-to-find and small-production bottles of the utmost quality, at better-than-cellar-door prices.

Conclude your bubble-soaked weekend with a visit to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. Equal in size and majesty to the Notre-Dame in Paris, the cathedral has witnessed key moments in history since the 13th century, including over thirty coronations, shellfire during the First World War, and the German surrender in World War II. Depart the cathedral to take a leisurely walk north towards the train station if catching one back to Paris, while considering how visiting Champagne was a key moment in your history.

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Mondays Are Better with Bubbles: Ruinart Champagne and Chef Michelle Bernstein

1998rose

Thinking about Monday on a Sunday tends to induce a range of feelings from anxiety to dread. However, I recently spent a weekend joyously anticipating its conclusion so that come Monday, October 19th, I could spend several hours tasting Ruinart Champagne (tasting, not drinking—it is a Monday, after all). Hosted by Frederic Panaïotis, Chef de Caves at Ruinart, the event was held in a private Greenwich Village loft with renowned Miami Chef Michelle Bernstein orchestrating a beautifully paired lunch.

I have known Ruinart for over a decade, but didn’t realize the brand had only been in the States for the past 6 years (I must’ve been imbibing it in Europe). Considering Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, established by Nicolas Ruinart in the city of Reims in 1729, and is currently owned by LVMH, it’s hard to believe they have a relatively young presence in our market. And imagine–in 2029, the house will reach 300 years of expertise in the art of Champagne production. Very few wine brands in the world can boast such longevity.

TableSetting

Speaking of art, the house is a great patron of contemporary art and design; for instance, they are the official Champagne of Art Basel. However, Ruinart demonstrates a greater interest in supporting the arts than having “artists” support its wines, particularly whilst gyrating until dawn in a nightclub. The house does not court the baller contingent that has the power to propel brands such as Louis Roeder’s Cristal into becoming a staple reference in hip-hop lyrics and on overpriced bottle service lists. Ruinart’s purported goal is to reach the sophisticated, thoughtful oenophile, which, last I heard, was neither Ke$ha nor the legions of Jay-Z wannabes (although Jay-Z himself has apparently quit Cristal over a case of reverse ‘dis by the brand, which of course depends on whether you view the rap industry’s unique way of embracing the wine, to have been respectful or disrespectful in the first place.)

Michelleinthekitchen

Back to Monday’s lunch. Four wines were presented: NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs in magnum, 2002 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, NV Ruinart Rosé in magnum, and 1998 Dom Ruinart Rosé. Something to note–all Ruinart vintage wines age for 12 years on the lees, followed by at least a year in bottle. The length of ageing shows, producing wines of finesse, intensity of flavor, and fine texture.

Although I had come to Ruinart through their Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay being the foundation of the house cuvées, and, in their words, “the very soul of Ruinart,” I left smitten with the rosés. The NV is comprised of 45% Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blancs and 55% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims. Aside from its red berry perfume, the wine had a beguiling note of dried rose petal that left me sniffing as much as tasting. The 1998 vintage rosé Dom Ruinart displayed very different color and character, as you might expect from a Chardonnay-dominant wine with 14-plus years of age (85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir vinified as red wine). Flavors leaned towards the tart red fruit spectrum with citrus and pink grapefruit on the long finish. A superbly aged but not yet mature wine appropriately paired with a final course of cheese.

Cheeseplate

The friendly and accessible chef, Michelle Bernstein, demonstrated through her dishes how Champagne can be served with every course of a meal. Apparently an enormous fan of Ruinart, she proclaimed “why leave bubbles for special occasions or as an aperitif when they can be paired with everything!” After experiencing lunch with her and her muse Ruinart, I concur.

Below, I have included an image of the menu, shots of the loft and its vintage décor, and, of course, the food.

Menu

Loftandtable Ruinartandcurios Salmoneggandcaviar loftlivingspace

Tablesetting-2 Menunesltedinnapkin Shrimpandpopcornstarter Bowloffigs

Cassouletfoie Champagneandchess Oysterstarter oldradio Loftbar Ruinartbox

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