I was invited to a “bring your own bottle” Champagne dinner at Eleven Madison Park last week. It offered me the opportunity to taste more than a dozen interesting bubblies. They ranged from mature bottles of prestige cuvées from major houses to new and interesting labels from small growers.
There were also several wines from growers or houses that I did not know. Some are not imported and were hand-carried back to the United States by a few of the Champagne lovers in attendance. Overall, it was a fascinating evening of Champagne, with a diverse range of styles and flavors.
Chef Daniel Humm prepared a menu of mostly seafood, with a main course of organic chicken roasted with lemon, rosemary and summer truffles.
I made notes on most of the wines I tasted. They are presented in the order I tasted them. All were tasted non-blind. I rated them to give my impression of the quality of each particular bottle and how they are showing at this point in time.
There were six at our table and after some discussion of what we all had brought and what to open first, we decided on the Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1988. It offered a focused, enticing bouquet of toast, with hints of coffee, lemon and grilled nuts. On the palate, the immediate impression was one of elegance and finesse, a stylish backdrop for its combination of lemon, grapefruit, toast and coffee flavors. The finish was long and caressing, with a mineral aftertaste (95 points). It’s at or close to its peak.
As a contrast to the DP, we opened La Closerie Les Beguines Extra Brut Champagne from Jérôme Prévost. This was a new label for me. Prévost is a protégé of Anselme Selosse and this cuvée is 100 percent Pinot Meunier from the 2006 vintage, though not vintage dated on the bottle. The nose was crisp and dry, austere even, followed by intense floral and apple flavors I associate with Meunier. It was all buoyed by a firm structure and a mineral element emerged with air (90 points). This needs a little age on the cork yet, so I would give it another 2 to 3 years.
Next, we tasted Gaston Chiquet’s Brut Champagne Spécial Club 1997. I have always been a fan of these “Special Club” bottlings and this did not disappoint. On the dry side, it evoked citrus and ginger aromas. Though a touch yeasty at first, it settled down and showed nice balance and elegance (89 points). Enjoy this now.
As we were between courses, there was a lot of mingling among the 30 or so people and much sharing of wine. I tasted a special anniversary bottle made by Deutz, it’s Aÿ Anniversaire Brut NV, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the house. I was told three vintages—1979, 1980 and 1981—were blended for this intense Champagne. After a whiff of petrol, it settled into complex flavors of dried berry, multigrain toast and honey, all balanced and very long in the finish (94 points).
For the next course we opened a magnum of Gosset Brut Champagne Grand Millésime 1999 and my contribution, the Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 1996. Both are about 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. The Gosset is just reaching its peak and displayed high-toned ginger, grapefruit and pencil shavings aromas and flavors allied to a fresh, lightweight structure with fine intensity and length (91 points). The Cristal was showing beautifully, beginning with a complex bouquet of truffle, red berry and ginger. Firm and powerful, yet refined and graceful too, it featured candied berry, mineral and toast notes, especially on the lingering finish (96 points). This should develop well over the next few decades.
After the plates were cleared, there was more mingling and I was poured a taste of Doquet-Jeanmaire Brut Champagne 1990. This is a grower from Vertus that is not available in the United States. The nose was rich and smoky, bordering on ash, with plenty of coffee and toffee. Its woodsy, beef bouillon flavors suited the rich profile (92 points). Ready now.
We had decided to pair the two Jacques Selosse wines and the Larmandier-Bernier Rosé with the chicken. The Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Initiale NV from Selosse revealed incredible floral aromas of freesia, tuberose and lilac. Very elegant, its citrus and wild berry notes played out on a creamy texture with a vibrant structure underneath it all. The finish was very long and subtle (93 points).
It stood in stark contrast with its stable mate Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Substance NV. Made from a solera started in 1986, exhibited more oak influence, with an oxidative quality, yet full of ginger, spice, multi-grain toast and caramel flavors. The racy acidity kept it fresh and balanced the mature elements and it persisted on the palate (94 points). The Initiale seemed young and fresh, needing more time; the Substance showed more mature elements and depth.
I love rosé Champagne made using the saignée method (macerating with the skins rather than blending still red with “white” Champagne) because it reminds me of Burgundy with bubbles. Larmandier-Bernier’s Brut Rosé Champagne Rosé de Saignée NV was reminiscent of Volnay, rich and graceful, with detailed flavors of cherry, strawberry and red currant. Though fruity, it was backed by good structure, finishing long and satisfying (91 points).
A few more bottles came my way as everyone mingled. I made some notes on a round, luscious Drappier Brut Champagne Grande Sendrée 1999, boasting toffee, toast, vanilla and citrus notes (91 points) and a superb bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne Champagne Charlie 1985. It was opulent and deep, with a mix of toast, smoke, caramel, graphite, butter and seashore aromas and flavors (95 points). Terrific now.
It was a pleasurable way to sample a wide range of Champagnes. It was also a reminder that Champagne is a wine and like all wines, enhances a good meal.
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — August 3, 2009 8:14pm ET
Stewart Lancaster — beaver,pa — August 4, 2009 11:35am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 5, 2009 2:27pm ET
Kenny Falardeau — Toronto, Ontario, Canada — August 15, 2009 2:15pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 18, 2009 10:14am ET
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