Champagne


Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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The 11th Day of Christmas is the penultimate day, the one before Twelfth Night, which could be called Epiphany Eve, if one were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, which I am not, and also the next-to-last post in this “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. It happens to be Sunday, a gloomy, dreary, cheerless day in Memphis, Tennessee, and a day to keep within the comfort of our own houses. I offer, on the 11th Day of Christmas, the Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 2004, a blend of 52 percent pinot noir and 48 percent chardonnay that spent altogether nine years in the bottle and received very little dosage at the end. The color is medium gold, all a-shimmer with a fountain of tiny bubbles; many dimensions of steel and limestone are on display here but etched with notes of toasted almonds, brioche, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all opening to hints of crystallized ginger, jasmine and (faintly) toffee and an intriguing drop of red currant. These aspects are seamlessly balanced and integrated, while at the end of its 10th year, this Champagne is notably fresh and lively; it’s also savory, scintillating with spice and saline elements and, finally, quite dry, in fact, after a few minutes elapse, formidably dry, signaling that it still needs some time, say from 2016 or ’18 for drinking through 2024 to ’28. Alcohol content is 12 percent. This needs to accompany flavorful but not exceedingly rich appetizers and entrees, especially seafood or veal — or a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with fennel pollen. Excellent. About $80 but seen around the country as low as $65.

Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.

Every New Year’s Eve, LL and I indulge in 1.75 ounces of Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian and a bottle of fine Champagne. The necessity in this scheme in that the Champagne be very dry and filled with scintillating mineral character, to balance the richness and brininess of the tiny brownish-black sturgeon eggs. Two nights ago, for the occasion, I opened a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut, a non-vintage blend of 55 percent chardonnay and 45 percent pinot noir. In Champagne, the terms “Ultra Brut” or “Brut Zero” mean that the product did not have an addition of sugar syrup — the “dosage” — after the second fermentation in the bottle, the typical practice that helps alleviate the profound effect of Champagne’s high acidity. The history of Champagne, much like the history of the Martini cocktail, is one from sweetness to increasing dryness; indeed, most of the Champagne consumed in the 19th Century was markedly sweeter than our palates now would tolerate. Laurent-Perrier, established in 1812, introduced a no-dosage Champagne in the late 1890s; the concept was re-integrated into the house line-up in 1981.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut displays a medium straw-gold color and an engaging and energetic stream of glistening bubbles. The first impression is of all phases of the lemon realm: that is, lemon balm, lemon curd and lemon zest, woven with notes of baked apple and spiced pear and hints of fresh biscuits and quince, hay, sea-salt and crystallized ginger, all poised against a background of damp limestone. Yes, this is a very dry Champagne, notable for its piercing acidity and penetrating limestone qualities, yet it also offers the warmth of dried woody spices, as well as touches of almond skin and candied grapefruit rind. It’s decisive enough to stand up to caviar, to freshly-shucked oysters and perhaps a filet of salmon, grilled medium rare and simply dressed with olive oil and lime juice, salt and pepper. Cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier is Michel Fauconnet. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75, but prices nationally veer all over the map.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier US, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.

… a day for quiet reflection, hangover recovery and preparing the annual dish of blackeyed peas, hog jowl and greens, which I will get to in a few minutes. First, though, the Champagne of the Day, the Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married the nobly-dubbed Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquartered in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson-BCC group, headed by Bruno Paillard.

Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé is a multi-vintage blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 30 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay. A light copper-salmon pink color looks like the slightly tarnished old rose-gold hue of your grandmother’s wedding ring; bubbles are bountiful and exuberant. Notes of orange zest, cloves, red currants and dried raspberries are imbued with hints of almond skin, acacia, lime peel and a sort of powdered flint aura; this Champagne offers lovely weight and heft, with deftly expressed delicacy and ethereal aspects, though powered by lip-smacking acidity and incisive limestone elements. The texture is lively, lithe and supple, and the whole package exudes tremendous verve and elan. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, ineffable, but displays a serious core of crystalline minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $63; prices around the country range from $50 to $70.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles Ill.

New Year’s Eve always seems momentous, if not downright portentous, as well, of course, as being cause for great festivity and celebration. We long ago resigned ourselves to not going out on New Year’s Eve and standing around at a party with a bunch of people we don’t know intoning that lugubrious song or dining at a restaurant on the worst dining-out night of the year. We prefer to stay at home, indulge in fine caviar and Champagne as twilight looms, enjoy a simple dinner and stay up until midnight for a final toast — or maybe not. Whatever the case, I offer today a Crémant d’Alsace and three non-vintage Champagnes for your enjoyment. This is my last post of 2014; tomorrow begins a new year. Be careful out there.
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Domaine l’Agape “Emotion” Crémant d’Alsace is made by Vincent Sipp, who broke away from his family’s firm in 2007 to launch his own estate. This irresistible sparkler, a blend of pinot blanc and pinot noir, offers a pale gold color and a terrific fountain on tiny bubbles; this one is pert, tart and sassy, with so much verve and energy that you can get all emotional about it; delightful notes of spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit segue into a palate that teems with scintillating limestone and flint minerality; it’s quite dry but fluent and tasty. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Savio Soares Selections, Manhasset, N.Y. A sample for review.
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I’m a fan of the small Champagne producer Roland Champion, and I included two of his products in this series a few years ago. Today offers the opportunity to deal with a charming entry in the portfolio, the Roland Champion Cuvée Aramis Brut, a non-vintage — that is to say, multiple-vintage — blend of 70 percent pinot meunier grapes, 20 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is very pale gold, supporting myriad tiny bubbles in their upward surge; this is an elegant, winsome and fairly chiseled Champagne, driven by brisk acidity and deeply faceted limestone minerality; its fresh, saline character admits notes of quince, ginger and red currant, a hint of fresh bread, amid constant and attractive liveliness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production is 950 cases annually. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. A sample for review.
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As is the case with Roland Champion, above, and Veuve Clicquot, below, I included other products from the house of Bruno Paillard in this series in past years, but not the Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold; a stream of tiny silvery bubbles swirls effortlessly to the surface. This is a Champagne that epitomizes the marriage of power and elegance; it’s carefully etched and hewn in terms of crystalline limestone minerality and bright acidity, conveying an ineffable elevating sense of exuberance and exhilaration, even as it maintains a tensile quality of delicacy and transparency. Yes, there are notes of spiced pear, candied quince, a hint of grapefruit rind, a touch of brioche, but this is primarily about clean complexity of structure, vibrancy and tone. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.
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Who does not know the house of Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772, with its ubiquitous Yellow Label Brut and its luxury cuvee Grande Dame? (And since 1987 a thoroughbred in the stable of LVMH Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.) I have written about the Yellow Label Brut, but never about the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé, which today gets a turn. The blend for this high-toned production, depending on the year, is 50 to 55 percent pinot noir, 28 to 33 percent chardonnay and 15 to 20 percent pinot meunier; the proportion of reserve wine is generally 25 to 30 percent and can be as high as 40 percent. The color here is a radiant copper-salmon hue; a slender glass barely seems to contain a frothing tempest of tiny bubbles. A bouquet of red currants and raspberries and a hint of wild cherry is permeated by notes of biscuits, cloves, orange zest and oyster shell. The whole effect is clean and crisp and fresh, with a preponderance of limestone minerality and bracing acidity, all framed in the discourse of elegance, class and breeding. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $80, but prices around the country start as low as $65.
Imported by LVMH USA, New York.
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It took Pierre Brigandat 24 years, from 1961 to 1985, to acquire separately seven hectares of vines — about 17 acres — in the extreme south of Champagne’s Aube region, meaning that if you drive any further, you’re not in Champagne anymore. From a subsistence farming family, Brigandat had gone into banking locally, but his heart, apparently, lay in the vineyards, and in 1985 he resigned from his job to devote himself to viticulture and making Champagne. Pierre’s son Bertrand joined him at the domaine in 1993 and since 2001 has been completely in charge of the operation. Their estate, which is farmed organically, epitomizes the meaning of the term on the label — récoltant-manipulant, often abbreviated as RM — “harvester-maker.” Made completely from pinot noir grapes, the Pierre Brigandat et Fils Brut Rosé offers a brilliant fire opal hue and a dynamic upward thrust of tiny bubbles; a great flush of red cherry and raspberry scents and flavors is permeated by notes of cloves and orange zest, with a background of pomegranate, rose petal and lime peel. This is an almost joyfully exuberant and robust brut rosé, very crisp and clean, with rollicking acidity, a glimmering limestone element and a savory, saline quality; the whole effect is of delicious vitality and lacy transparency, the result of which is that it makes you feel happy to drink it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $48, an online purchase. Worth a Search.

Bonhomie Wine Imports, South Orange, N.J.

The house of Jacquart was launched in 1962 by a group of 30 families living mainly in the region of Champagne called Côtes des Blancs, where, as it sounds, the chardonnay grape dominates. Thirty-eight years later, that small cohort had grown to 700 families that draw on 350 hectares (about 864 acres) in 60 separate crus. The company occupies a noble-looking late 19th Century edifice in the city of Reims. For The First Day of Christmas — and Merry Christmas to all My Readers! — in this eighth edition of “Twelves Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” I offer the Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006, made completely from chardonnay grapes grown in Premier Cru vineyards. The color is very pale gold with glimmers of tarnished silver, through which a torrent of tiny silver-tinged bubbles streams upward. The bouquet draws you in with notes of toasted hazelnuts, fresh biscuits, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all laid over elements of steel and limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke and toffee. This is a spicy and savory blanc de blancs that delivers plenty of power in its crisp acid and scintillating mineral structure, yet those factors do not overwhelm the innate delicacy and elegance of the overall package. It is, I’ll report, quite dry, and the limestone-oyster shell quality rises like a tide through the finish. Completely delightful but with a serious edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $56.

JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y. A sample for review. Image from placedesgrandsvins.com

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2014, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Eighth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly (or mildly) amusing to commemorate today the previous seven lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 132 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
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2013/2014

Dec. 25, 2013, Christmas Day. Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Excellent. About $22.

Dec. 26. Champagne Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 27. Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008, Cava, Spain. Excellent, About $15 to $19.

Dec. 28. Champagne Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. Excellent. About $80.

Dec. 29. Montenisa Franciacorta Brut. Excellent. About $35.

Dec. 30. Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $50 to $55.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gran Sarao Cava Brut. Very Good. About $10 to $16.
Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, Very Good+. About $16.
Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. Excellent. About $50;
Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, Napa County 52%, Sonoma County 48%. Exceptional. About $100.

Jan. 1, 2014, New Year’s Day. Laetitia Brut Rose 2009, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent, about $28.

Jan. 2. Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005. Excellent. About $130 (a local purchase).

Jan. 3. Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

Jan. 4. Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Italy. Excellent, about $32.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Adriano Adami Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Very Good+. About $18.
Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California. Excellent. About $22.
Champagne Delamotte Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $50.
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2012/2013

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, Burgenland, Austria. Very Good+. About $19.

Dec. 26. Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $68.

(Dec. 27. Skipped. I have no idea why.)

Dec. 28. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Dec. 29. Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.

Dec. 30. Mont-Ferrant CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, Cava, Spain. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California. Very Good. About $9 to $12.
Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $22.
Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $27.
Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition. Very Good+. About $28.
Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut. Exceptional. About $83.

Jan. 1, 2013, New Year’s Day. J Vintage Brut 2005, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $48.
J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $90.

Jan. 2. Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 3. Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996. Excellent. About $90 to $100.

Jan. 4. Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.
Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $19 to $24.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast. Excellent. About $50.
Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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2011/2012
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
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2010/2011

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
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2009/2010

Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
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2008/2009

Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional. About $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
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2007/2008
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.
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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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