Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Vertical Tasting of Roederer Cristal

I finally got around to posting a page of notes (found here) from this vertical tasting of Louis Roederer Cristal with Frédéric Rouzaud a few months ago, conducted in San Francisco in conjunction with the Top 100 tasting of Wine & Spirits magazine.

We tasted the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000, and apart from a slightly flawed bottle of 1989 (there were a couple other bottles that were fabulous), everything showed exceptionally well, some significantly better than I had anticipated (such as the 1990). It’s certainly something special to taste the 1996 Cristal from magnum....

In more current happenings, I've been busy tasting 2007 vins clairs here in Champagne. More to say about those soon....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Single-Vineyard Wines of Champagne Jacquesson

A longtime wish of mine was fulfilled this week on a visit to Champagne Jacquesson, when I finally tasted the Vauzelle Terme, a champagne made exclusively from a steep and tiny pinot noir vineyard of the same name in the village of Aÿ. Jacquesson first produced this as a separate wine with the 1996 vintage, but it was so scarce and so highly sought-after that I never even got the chance to see a bottle. The next vintage of Vauzelle Terme is 2002, which won’t be released until 2010.

If you haven’t been following the house of Jacquesson lately, they are in the midst of a drastic restructuring to their portfolio that began in 2000, when they discontinued the Perfection non-vintage brut in favor of a numbered, highly vintage-specific cuvée. The first, Cuvée 728, was based on the 2000 harvest, while the current release, Cuvée 731, is based on 2003. The Perfection vintage brut had already been discontinued in 1989; Jacquesson continues to produce a vintage wine now (currently 1996), which takes the place of the Signature prestige cuvée.

Most strikingly, however, Jacquesson is now producing three single-vineyard, vintage-dated champagnes: Dizy Corne Bautray, Avize Champ Caïn and Aÿ Vauzelle Terme. The first vintage of Corne Bautray, a pure chardonnay from a vineyard on the high slope between Dizy and Aÿ (and just up the hill from my house, incidentally), was 1995, and there was another made in 2000, which is currently available in the market (and it’s superb). The first Champ Caïn, a chardonnay from a chalky vineyard in Avize on the border with Oiry, will be the 2002 – Jacquesson already had an Avize bottling prior to this, but it was a blend of three parcels: Champ Caïn, Némery and La Fosse. In the outstanding 2002 vintage, Jacquesson produced all three wines together for the first time, and since Champagne Time moves very, very slowly, we won’t be able to see the true picture of the new range until these wines are released in 2010.

On my visit this week, Jean-Hervé Chiquet generously opened the three 2002s for me to taste, along with the 2000 Corne Bautray and the 2003 Terres Rouges, a single-vineyard, saignée rosé from Dizy. The 2000 is in current release, as I said, but the others were all disgorged the day before and thus presented without any dosage – the final dosage (if there is any) won’t be determined until the wines are released, of course, and will certainly be either extra brut or non-dosé. As a sneak preview, here are some brief notes, keeping in mind that the 2002s are still very adolescent and have another two years of lees aging to go.

Dizy Terres Rouges 2003
The first Terres Rouges, the 2002, was 100% meunier; the 2003 is 83% meunier and 17% pinot noir. This bottle is of course non-dosé, having been just disgorged, but it will be dosed at 3 g./l. when it is released in September 2008. Deep in color, this shows bold flavors of strawberry and red cherry, backed by notes of licorice and damp earth. It’s ripe and full in flavor yet doesn’t feel weighty, maintaining a graceful balance.

Dizy Corne Bautray 2000
This was disgorged in the spring of 2006 and released without any dosage. It’s full of resiny, stone-fruit flavors, yet the most striking element of this wine is its goût de terroir, earthy rather than stony, with a rich, sappy depth from the 40-year old vines.

Dizy Corne Bautray 2002
Where the 2000 is dark and deep, the 2002 is lilting and aérien, with a finer and more elegant texture, typical of the vintage. It already shows a complex array of exotic fruit, backed by the same earthy sense of soil. It would be wonderful to taste this alongside Gaston Chiquet’s Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ, which is grown not too far away.

Avize Champ Caïn 2002
Silky and fine, this feels ethereal on the palate, its fragrant, lemony aromas tethered by intensely chalky minerality. It has the marvelous sense of detail found in the best 2002s, and it’s a wonderful comparison between this, a classic Côte de Blancs chardonnay, with the Corne Bautray chardonnay from the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

Aÿ Vauzelle Terme 2002
This is, simply put, the greatest champagne I have ever drunk from Aÿ. In typical Aÿ fashion, it’s high-toned yet complete, intense without need of weight, fruit-concentrated while insistently minerally, red-fruit in flavor but with a subtle streak of white peach and an almost melon-like aroma. The fragrance feels three-dimensional on the finish, and the way that the back end grips the palate in a firm yet velvety grasp is utterly profound. This is indisputably grand cru, in the tradition of a great, great Burgundy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Champagne Cork Sniper

My friend Tara shared this tremendously cool video with me. The Japanese culture is so amazing in so many ways I don't even know where to begin.

Tell me this isn't the most awesomest thing you've ever seen.

Champagne - video powered by Metacafe

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I’m glad to be back home in Dizy after a month-long trip to the United States. I did have a great time, but it’s nice to sleep in one’s own bed and to select from more than three pairs of shoes in the morning. Some say that home is where the heart is. Whatever. For me, home is where all my stuff is.

More pertinently, it’s now vin clair season in Champagne, when you get to taste still wines before they're bottled – always my favorite time of the year. After the crazy weather in 2007 it will be interesting to see how the wines have turned out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Quotations: Good Champagne

“Good Champagne does not rain down from the clouds, or gush out from the rocks, but is the result of incessant labour, patient skill, minute precaution, and careful observation. In the first place, the soil imparts to the natural wine a special quality which it has been found impossible to imitate in any other quarter of the globe. To the wine of Ay it lends a flavour of peaches, and to that of Avenay the savour of strawberries; the vintage of Hautvillers, though somewhat fallen from its former high estate, is yet marked by an unmistakably nutty taste; while that of Pierry smacks of the locally-abounding flint, the well-known pierre à fusil flavour.”

Henry Vizetelly, A History of Champagne with Notes on the Other Sparkling Wines of France, 1882

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tasting, Tasting, Tasting...

Just wrapped up another week of tasting at Wine & Spirits in NYC, for which I’m rather grateful. Tasting wine all day sounds rather glamorous (because, well, it IS), but to do 120 to 150 wines a day, every day, is a peculiar form of masochism, however indulgent. Not that I’m complaining at all about getting to taste these wines, mind you. I’m very happy to have the opportunity, especially when it involves excellent and delicious wines from the Loire Valley and Austria, as I’ve been doing this week. But it does take its toll on one’s body.

In other news, my fellow W&S colleague Wolfgang Weber and I received a mention on Dr. Vino, Tyler Colman’s superb wine blog. If you don’t know Dr. Vino, you’ll definitely want to check it out for Colman’s entertaining and informative commentary on the world of wine. How else would I know that what I’ve really been wanting all this time is a furoshiki wine carrier?

Finally, on a completely random note (no pun intended), I cannot resist posting this glimpse of my other reason for visiting NYC: my three-year old nephew Luca Antonio Ivagnes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

1985 and 1989 Champagne

I spent the weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, where my friend Michael hosted an intriguing champagne tasting comparing the 1989 and 1985 vintages. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the rich, voluptuous ’89s would be peaking now and the ’85s, from a more structured and higher-acid vintage, would appear fresher and more precise, but in truth all the wines from both vintages were surprisingly similar.

The creamy, toffee-like 1989 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne was at a lovely point of drinking, as was the toasty, biscuity 1989 Veuve Clicquot Brut Réserve, but I felt that the bottle of 1989 Krug was a little mature, and significantly less good than it’s been in the past. For me, this raised the dual questions of a.) when was this disgorged? and b.) where has this been since it was released? I'm beginning to think that these questions are even more important than the actual vintage. To prove this point, the favorite wine among the 1989s for everyone present was the Jacquesson Dégorgement Tardive, disgorged in July of 2006 and purchased by Michael in 2007 when it was shipped. Okay, it's a terrific wine to begin with, and fully deserves all of its high praise, but I believe that another reason it showed so well in this tasting was that we could account for both of the factors mentioned above.

Among the 1985s it was no different. A bottle of the usually excellent Diebolt-Vallois was flawed, unfortunately, but a Renaudin Réserve Spéciale was broad and rich, clearly demonstrating its origins in the Marne Valley, and a Veuve Clicquot Brut Réserve Rosé was lively and fresh, still possessing some deliciously primary red fruit flavors. The 1985 Krug was regal and complex as usual, although curiously this bottle was more mature than I expected (see item b. above). The winner of the flight, however, was Charles Heidsieck's 1985 Champagne Charlie, disgorged for the millenium and recently released from the house. I don't believe that this was an accident.

I always say, if I were the benevolent dictator of Champagne, it would be mandatory to print disgorgement dates on champagne bottles. Not only would it allow us to know precisely when the bottles were disgorged, but it would tell us how long the bottles have been in the marketplace. It will never happen because of marketing concerns, but I really wish it would. To me, the omission of this information is fundamentally deceptive, and ultimately a disservice to the consumer.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jura Night

On a visit to the Schloss Johannisberg, Napoléon III once declared to the Prince de Metternich, “You have served me the greatest wine in the world.” The Prince replied, “Sire, the greatest white wine in the world is not found in Johannisberg, but in a little village in your empire, at Château-Chalon.”

Curnonsky, Prince of Gastronomes, named Château-Chalon as one of the five greatest white wines in France (along with Montrachet, Coulée de Serrant, Château Grillet and Château d’Yquem), yet today it remains relatively obscure and little understood. I have even seen written comments by professionals mistaking it for the name of an estate.

Château-Chalon is of course not an estate, but a tiny appellation in the Jura that produces nothing but vin jaune. One could make an argument for Pierre Overnoy’s Arbois to be the greatest vin jaune of them all, but in terms of elegance, refinement and finesse, Château-Chalon definitely deserves its reputation as the grand cru appellation of vin jaune.

There is no better pairing for vin jaune, naturally, than coq au vin jaune aux morilles. My friend Pete has been slowly honing his skills at preparing this iconic dish of the Jura ever since we ate a sublime example together many years ago at Jean-Paul Jeunet, and Coq au Vin Jaune Night has become an annual to semi-annual institution for us. Along with plenty of other Jura wines to whet the palate, this time around featured 1999s from the two top producers of Château-Chalon, Jean Macle and Berthet-Bondet, and it was difficult to choose between these two amazing wines: the Macle was perhaps bolder and more complex, but the fragrant elegance and effortless intensity of the Berthet-Bondet was simply stunning, making me wish those 62cl bottles weren't quite so small.