January 2008


Established in 1584, the house of Gosset is the oldest wine producer in Champagne. In those days, however, the wine wasn’t the sparkling product that we know and love today; that process didn’t begin until the late 17th Century, and for 125 years or so the practice of producing a sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was an inexact and accident-prone science. In any case, the Gosset family was certainly there at the creation of the champagne wine industry.

In 1994, after 410 years of ownership by the same family, Gosset was purchased by the Remy-Cointreau company and Beatrice Cointreau was put in charge, wisely keeping to the same regime of grapes purchased primarily from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, barrel fermentation and no malolactic, so the Gosset champagnes retain more than usual vivacity.

Most commentators describe the non-vintage Gosset Brut Excellence as “simple” and insist that the rest of the house’s line-up is brut_01.jpg something like light-years better, but I found the G.B.E to be not only charming and delightful but edging over into the realm of the truly characterful. The blend of grapes is 45% pinot nor, 42% chardonnay — these chosen from Grand Cru, Premier Cru and other vineyards — and 13% pinot meunier. The color is medium gold; a fountain of tiny bubbles surges upward in a constant stream. The bouquet offers fresh baked biscuits and toast, spiced and roasted lemon and lemon curd and an intriguing touch of candied grapefruit. In the mouth, this champagne is crisp and lively but also not merely minerally with limestone and chalk but earthy and so dense that the texture is almost viscous; you feel an uncommon sense of presence. The finish is long, packed with limestone and spice, and notably austere. This gets an Excellent rating from me. Suggested retail price is about $46, but I have seen the Gosset Brut Excellent discounted on the Internet to $25.

Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Florida.

By the way, the company’s website (here) recommends that the Gosset Brut Excellence would be appropriate for “late morning cocktails,” to which I say, “Right on!” How much better life and work would be if we could take a champagne break at late morning. In fact, the world would probably be a far better place if everybody would drink a glass of champagne at 11:30 a.m.

Tomorrow is the Eleventh Day of Christmas… check back.

Hi, readers, it’s that time of year, or at the cusp of years, and I just posted these two lists, one of best wines, one of bargains, at KoeppelOnWine. Take a look. Agreements or disagreements, approbation or praise, shouts or murmurs, let me know. It was fun tasting, trying, drinking (whatever) and writing about all the wines last year, and especially, of course, the ones on these lists. Now, on to the wines of 2008.

Swirl, sniff, sip. And again.

Damnit, I love this champagne. “This” is the José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, non-vintage, dhondt.jpg another of the small houses, the “grower” champagnes, that are earning a great deal of attention now, as opposed to the large major houses whose champagnes often seem to lack individuality. “Mes Vieilles Vignes” means that the vines are old (how old we don’t know); “Grand Cru” means that the grapes came from a very small regulated selection of communes at the top of the vineyard hierarchy in Champagne; “Blanc de Blancs” means that the champagne is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes.

This medium-gold colored champagne is spectacular, elegant and sleek yet rich and impressively substantial in weight and tone. The bouquet offers baked apple, roasted lemon and lime peel with notes of fresh biscuits and bread. It feels wonderful, suave, supple, resonant and lively with crisp acid; intense and concentrated citrus flavors and dried spice, like cloves and cinnamon toast, are subdued in the face of a monumental tide of limestone and chalk for a finish that’s dry, austere and scintillating. Wonderful stuff. I have seen prices as low as the mid $50s but about $70 is more realistic.

This is a “Champagnes et Villages” selection by Becky Wasserman and The Miller Portfolio, for USA Wine Imports, New York.

A restful day, yet festive in its own right. For 20 years or so, I have prepared on this day, in keeping with Southern tradition, a pot of blackeyed peas with hog jowl and turnip greens. I used to serve this to a large New Year’s Day party but curtailed that strenuous activity a few years ago. Wanting to do something different this year, I made blackeyed pea masala, with plenty of ginger, jalapeno, tumeric and cumin BUT with the hog jowl and greens. It’s pretty tasty, but of course no longer vegetarian.

Though its name looks a bit like a punch-line from an old joke — “Not tonight, honey, I have a migraine” — there’s nothing jokey about the non-vintage A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut. From a small house that makes only about 5,000 cases annually, this mildly kam1lab_hi.jpg flushed gold, bloomingly effervescent blend of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot noir — it’s almost a blanc de blancs — offers a wonderful bouquet of focaccia, almond skin and apple skin, roasted lemon with a hint of grapefruit and heaps of limestone. Weight and substance are amazing, yet like all great wines, this displays that heartening paradox of tissues of delicacies — in this case lace-like, glacial acid and skeins of smoky citrus — wrapped in density that’s almost viscous. At the same time, the champagne is so dry, so elegant that it feels as if you’re drinking liquid limestone. Whoa! Absolutely an Excellent rating here. Prices, again, vary widely but settle in mainly at between $42 and $50.

What merits the “Premier Cru” designation on this champagne is the fact that the grapes derive from some of the 38 officially named Premier Cru communes in the Champagne region. There are only 17 “Grand Cru” communes, so a product named “Grand Cru” is rare indeed. There are 301 “cru” communes in the region. Perhaps someday a reorganization of the system will award these designations to separate vineyards rather than entire villages, but such a move would require a monumental overhaul at every physical, psychological and marketing level. Don’t hold your breath.

The A. Magraine Premier Cru Brut is a Terry Theise Estate Selection imported by Michael Skurnick Wines, Syosset, N.Y.

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