Champagne


I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
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The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Today, or this eve, is Twelfth Night, the traditional 12th Day of Christmas that heralds Epiphany on January 6, the day that the Wise Men or the Magi arrived in Bethlehem after following the brilliant star in the west. We get the symbolism; first to pay homage to the baby Jesus were shepherds, and then came the kings. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany were marked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, by celebration and revelry, not to mention burlesque and ribaldry, a sequence of disguise and exchanged identity — male and female, master and servant — not unlike the elements that Shakespeare employed in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, a play dominated by star-crossed relationships. In any case, we could use a few Wise Men around these days to work some wonders. The point is, really, that today means the conclusion of the 7th annual series, “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and we’ll end with a flourish of three products, a Prosecco from northeast Italy ( Veneto), a sparkling wine from California and a Champagne from that fabled region in France. Enjoy! And Happy 2014….

Image from sfstl.com, the website of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.
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The mid-range sparkling wine from Adriano Adami is the Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, composed of 95 to 97 percent glera grapes and 3 to 5 percent chardonnay. It’s a very pale gold hue, almost silver, and the bubbles glint like silver fireworks within. Let’s just say that this fresh, clean sparkling wine, even in its bracing steel and saline qualities, is delightful. There’s a note of green apple and apple peel, bare hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, and a finish of limestone and almond skin. 11 percent alcohol. Great for parties and receptions. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.
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The Chandon Blanc de Noirs — white from black — carries a California designation, meaning that grapes wee selected from vineyards in
different parts of the state. It’s a blend of 91 percent pinot noir grapes, 6 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold enlivened by an enchanting and dynamic stream of tiny bubbles. This is a pert, tart sparkling wine, full-bodied and savory, almost balsamic in its depths, but highlighted by notes of red currants and lime peel. It displays lovely tone and presence and could almost be called viscous if its creaminess were not cut by crisp and incisive acidity; the finish reveals a touch of sweet red fruit ripeness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.
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This is what I like in Champagne: A torrent of bubbles, a blizzard of steel; a softness of spiced pear and orange blossom; a strict regimen
of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Delamotte Brut — 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 10 percent pinot meunier; 30 to 36 months on the lees — delivers those exhilarating qualities as well as fleeting notes of apple and grapefruit and hints of cinnamon toast and hazelnuts. Mainly though this is about elegance and austerity, fine bones, chiseled stones and impressive purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. It doesn’t say so on the label, but this is a Champagne derived from Grand Cru vinyards, so the price is also impressive. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

On New Year’s Eve, to accompany Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian, served plain on lightly toasted baguette, I opened the Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005, from a house in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay that produces a total of about 2,500 cases annually. Winemaker Jacques Beaufort is, from what I understand, eccentric and reclusive, a devotee of biodynamic practices that gradually grew from organic methods undertaken after Beaufort fell ill, purportedly from contact with chemical pesticides and herbicides. He employs only natural yeast from the vineyard, and ages the wines as long as possible on the lees in the bottle. The domaine’s vineyards consist of 80 percent pinot noir grapes and 20 percent chardonnay. The sense of dedication to an ideal, even an obsession if that is not too strong a word, permeate the Champagne under review today.

The color is medium gold, the tiny bubbles steady, gentle, somehow expressive, and, in fact, the whole package here feels the opposite of the exuberant, scintillating Champagnes one often encounters; this seems thoughtful, studied, utterly harmonious. The first impression is of citrus fruit slightly roasted and slightly honeyed, though this is very dry, even austere in the farther reaches of the finish. (“Brut Nature” means that there was no added sugar in the dosage.) There’s a paradoxical note of apple skin, an element of chalk and seashell, and hints of grapefruit rind, lime peel and hazelnuts, then quince and candied ginger and a touch of cinnamon bread. André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005 is both rich and delicate, savory and elegant, bracing and ethereal; a saline streak highlights brisk acidity and leads to a conclusion woven of limestone minerality, clove-like spice and almost bitter grapefruit pith, altogether mildly, charmingly effervescent. 12 percent alcohol. A highly individual Champagne and one unlike any Champagne I have experienced. Excellent. I sprang for $130 locally — gasp! — but come on, it was for New Year’s Eve.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

I love blanc de blancs Champagne, made completely from chardonnay grapes — “blanc de blancs” means “white from whites” — for its elegance and ethereal nature, its tinselly decor and tensile strength, its taut nervosity built on intense minerality. One of the best I have tried recently is the nonvintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut, and I offer it today as the sixth entry in the current series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Holy cow, we’re halfway through the sequence! Time’s a-wastin’! Anyway, Champagne Delamotte was established in 1760 in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, what is now a prestigious area devoted solely to Grand Cru vineyards. Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Our purpose, however, is to look at the more affordable and accessible Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. The color is palest gold with undertones of tarnished silver; a storm of tiny bubbles races swirling to the surface. This is all smoke and steel, limestone and flint, but with notes of jasmine and acacia, spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit and a chilly errant hint of mint and juniper. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of biscuits, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon; for all the richness of its detail, this blanc de blancs is ethereal, evanescent, high-toned yet based on the essential vitality of crisp acidity and slightly earthy stoniness. As it’s said of the faces of the Hepburn girls — Katharine and Audrey — this Champagne has great bones. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $40 to $68 — yes, that’s quite a range — so be happy if you pay $50 to $55.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.

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