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Pop Start: A Tasting of Four Champagne Styles

The Wine Experience seminars kick off with têtes de cuvées from four of Champagne's grandes marques
Photo by: Deepix Studios
From left: Wine Spectator senior editor Alison Napjus, Piper-Heidsieck's Régis Camus, Dom Pérignon's Vincent Chaperon, Salon's Didier Depond and Bollinger's Guy de Rivoire

Robert Taylor
Posted: October 24, 2016

Champagne was the order of the morning as the Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience seminars kicked off. Senior editor Alison Napjus moderated a tasting of four prestige cuvées from Salon, Bollinger, Dom Pérignon and Piper-Heidsieck, each Champagne more than a decade old.

"Happy #ChampagneDay!" Napjus said. "Oct. 21 is in fact National Champagne Day, so we can this morning join the masses across the U.S. to start the day my favorite way, drinking and tasting some great Champagne." Each cuvée was selected to showcase a certain style of Champagne, she explained. "Where other houses might be offering similar styles for the first time, all of these producers have been making Champagnes for decades. They're the 1.0 versions that other houses emulate."

The first Champagne of the tasting was the Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 2004 (94 points, $520), a 100 percent Chardonnay first made in the 1921 vintage. "Champagne before breakfast is a really good idea!" said Salon president Didier Depond. The 2004 vintage, just released after 12 years on the lees, is only the 39th vintage Salon has produced of Le Mesnil, he remarked. "This is a beautiful vintage, with notes of grapefruit, minerality, salinity. This vintage is, for me, like a volcano: very quiet [now], but is a great production, and we can expect a lot in the next 10, 20, 30 or 50 years."

Next up was the Bollinger Extra Brut Champagne R.D. 2002 (96, $325), which Napjus called "an excellent example of a very hot trend in Champagne right now, low or no dosage Champagne." In the final stage of the Champagne-production process, she explained, the winemaker adds the dosage, a mixture of base wine, sugar and a little bit of sulfur dioxide. "Champagne is a very acidic wine and it needs that to balance. Low-dosage versions can seem unbalanced and tart if not made by experienced hands."

"R.D. stands for recently disgorged," added Bollinger director Guy de Rivoire. Noting that the blend is 60 percent Pinot Noir, 40 percent Chardonnay, he described the wine: "This lovely fruitiness you have ... this great complexity ... the mouthfeel ... the creaminess surrounds the palate ... enjoy it!"

Dom Pérignon assistant chef de cave Vincent Chaperon took the stage to present the Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé Champagne 2004 (96, $360), half-jokingly questioning whether it was better described as pink or red, as it contains 66 percent Pinot Noir. "Our mission is to create, year after year, a unique vintage of Dom Pérignon ... a quest for harmony. ... In 2004 we pushed the limits of our mission, with the highest percentage of Pinot Noir."

Piper-Heidsieck chef de cave Régis Camus concluded the tasting with his Brut Champagne Rare 2002 (97, $175). The 70 percent Chardonnay, 30 percent Pinot Noir blend is made entirely from grapes from the Montagne de Reims region, and only in select vintages. "2002 was a year of great richness. Mother Nature was very generous," said Camus. "The richness of this great vintage prevails. Good day, and great tasting!"

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