Champagne


All right, O.K., O.K., all right, I perceive a backlash against writing about Brut Rosé sparkling wines and Champagnes for Valentine’s, and I know who you curmudgeons are. Come on, tomorrow is all about romance, rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines are romantic, or, granted have the reputation for being romantic — marketers are working overtime — and they tend to be beautiful and impressive. I, for one, love Brut Rosé Champagne, and I damn well would not pass up a rosé sparkling wine from Alsace or the Loire Valley or one of the many fine examples produced in California. My preference in these wines is for elegance and spareness, great bones and stones, sleekness and subtlety, though I don’t disdain fruit and floridness either. And of course, there must be bubbles, billions on tiny glinting bubbles. numberless as the numberless stars in the numberless galaxies! Ahem. For your consideration today, with an eye toward intimate tete-a-tetes with your sweetheart of whatever genre, nationality or political persuasion, I offer one Italian sparkling wine and six French: three Champagnes of various characters and prices and more inexpensive sparkling wines from Alsace and the Loire. With one exception, these products were samples for review; the David Léclapart L’Alchimiste was tasted at a trade event.

Here are links to other Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed on BTYH in the past year; all rate Excellent: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé Etoile and Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé here; J Brut Rosé here; Borgo Maragliano Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé here.

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Santa Margherita Brut Rosé. This sparkling wine, made from 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent glera, as the prosecco grapes is termed nowadays, and 5 percent malbec, is produced in Trentino-Alto Adige, though the label doesn’t say so. The color is pale onion skin with a persimmon glint; tiny bubbles rise in stately flow up the glass. Perhaps the dollop of malbec makes the difference, because this intriguing brut rose has something dusky, dusty and brambly about it; scents of red berries and stone fruit segue seamlessly to similar flavors that are cossetted by a moderately lush texture cut with efficient acidity. The wine is quite dry and crisp and slightly earthy, delivering a joyously sensual profile that flashes a serious earthy, limestone edge. 11.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. The color is radiant copper-salmon; the bubbles persist in a fine upward spiral. Scents of red currants and wild strawberries waft from the glass, with notes of spiced tea, orange zest and limestone. The texture of this 100 percent pinot noir sparkling wine is lovely, a winsome yet steely combination of crisp lively acidity and cloud-like softness of macerated red berries, though the finish gets all grown-up with flinty austerity and a hint of sea-salt. 12 percent alcohol. Founded in 1425, Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest continuously family-owned estates in Europe. Excellent. About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Dirler-Cadé Brut Rosé 2009, Crémant d’Alsace. The Dirler firm was founded in 1871, but it was the marriage of Jean Dirler and Ludivine Hell-Cadé — and what a moniker that is to live up to! –in 2000 that formed the present Dirler-Cadé estate, which is operated on bio-dynamic principles. The Brut Rosé 2009, composed completely from pinot noir grapes, offers a shimmering pale onion skin hue shading to light copper and a torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. An arresting bouquet of red currants, dried strawberries and blood oranges with a high note of pomegranate opens to hints of peach, limestone and clove-infused tea. The word “shimmering” seems to apply to every aspect of this super-attractive sparking wine, from its brisk acidity to its slightly macerated red fruit flavors to its lacy limestone sense of transparency. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Langlois-Chateau Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire. The delicacy of this sparkling wine’s blush of peach-copper color and the elegance of its constant fountain of silver bubbles are a bit deceptive, because its composition — 100 percent cabernet franc grapes — lends a touch of complexity that many examples don’t convey. Yet it remains completely refreshing, even seductive, with its panoply of ripe and slightly smoky red fruit scents and flavors; in fact, in its winsome floral-lime peel-orange zest qualities and its ineffably flint-and-limestone infused texture it comes close to being ethereal. What can I say; it feels romantic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Moët et Chandon Rosé Impérial. Here, friends, is a Brut Rosé for grown-ups. The blend, depending on the vintages involved, tends to be 40 to 50 percent pinot noir, 30 to 40 percent pinot meunier and 10 to 20 percent chardonnay. The color is a ruddy peach-copper hue; tiny bubbles form a seething torrential up-surge. The beguiling bouquet and the round flavors are characterized by blood oranges, red currants and strawberries both ripe and dried, all sifted with elements of chalk and limestone; the result is a Champagne that’s very dry and austere but svelte and supple, almost dense through the mid-palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in traces of softly ripened peaches and mint and hints of rose petals and white pepper. Whatever delicate overtones it manifests, this is a substantial, savory sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50, though one sees prices as high as $65.

Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, New York.
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Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé. This first foray into Champagne by the three branches of the Rothschild wine families is a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot noir. The color is a classic limpid onion skin with a tinge of copper; the bubbles too are classic: infinitely tiny silver flecks spiraling upward in a froth. The effect is pure strawberry, blood orange and peach, with hints of hazelnuts and cloves, exquisite effervescence and a burgeoning presence of chiming acidity and limestone minerality. The finish is deep and smoky and lithe, though at mid-palate the texture is dense and almost viscous. A great marriage of power and elegance; I’m not crazy about the down-market labeling, though. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 to $125.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Premier Cru Estate Extra-Brut Rosé. “Premier Cru” means that grapes for this Brut Rose, which takes the notion of elegance to a higher, more precise and faceted — call it glacial — level, derived from vineyards in villages classified as such. Premier Cru vineyards rate 90 to 99 percent in Champagne’s Echelle des Crus system; only Grand Cru vineyards achieve 100 percentile. Leclapart’s production is small — fewer than 1,000 cases for five types of Champagne — but they are definitely Worth a Search for devotees of elemental purity and intensity of purpose and result, as who is not, n’est-ce pas? The estate has operated on bio-dynamic principles since 1998. Other techniques are quite traditional. For this wine, the grapes are trod by foot three or four times a day in large wooden casks, with fermentation occurring in old barriques. Still, L’Alchimiste feels as if it had been conjured by some sort of alchemy. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it offers a radiant pale copper color, suffused with energetic flecks of tiny bubbles, and an utterly entrancing bouquet of watermelon, strawberries, dried red currants and roasted lemons; hints of some astringent mountain flower with notes of lime peel and lemongrass emerge from the background. This is an exceptionally dry, aristocratic Extra-Brut Rosé, with the finest of bone structures, underpinnings of crystalline limestone and clean acidity the flashes like a bright blade. Not for the timorous, perhaps, but delivers multiple rewards for the initiate. 13 percent alcohol. Exceptional. About $175. Sorry; perfection does not come cheap.

Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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I don’t think anybody or at least very few people celebrate the festive event of Twelfth Night now, but in Shakespeare’s day, when he wrote the charming and thoughtful romantic comedy “Twelfth Night; or, What You Will,” this day marked the end of the fun-filled, if not riotous Yuletide season and its culmination in the solemnity of the Epiphany. It’s all a fitting way to segue into a new year, during the month of, as far as the Romans were concerned, looking forward and gazing back. Be that as it may, I always enjoy the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine,” especially when I can inform My Readers about products that may be interesting or unusual or new to them. I hope that I achieved success in that criteria for this, the sixth segment of the series. Looking forward, as Janus was wont to do with one of his faces, we have coming up on BTYH the “50 Great Wines of 2012″ and “25 Great Bargains of 2012,” though in a way, that’s looking back too. If I didn’t already do so, here on Twelfth Night I’ll wish all of you a Happy New Year and a 2013 that works to the best of your advantages and dreams.

Image from agoldoffish.wordpress.com.
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I have enjoyed tasting and writing about wines from Domaine Mittnacht Fréres several times this year, and certainly up to the standard is the Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace, a Champagne method sparkling wine that’s a blend of 50 percent pinot auxerrois (a white clone of pinot noir) and approximately equal portions of riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. This is a crisp, lively and slightly chiseled sparkling wine that offers a pale straw color, loads of tiny bubbles and a fairly exquisite sense of delicacy married to purpose. Hints of pear, apricot and crystallized ginger are tempered by steel and flint for an overall impression that’s lean, spare and elegant but expressing lots of appeal and personality. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices range from about $19 to $24.

A Daniel Johnnes Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.
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The Domaine Chandon Etoile 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 48 percent chardonnay, 44 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier, 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. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.
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It’s a little daunting to encounter an estate whose motto is “Ethics. Ecology. Ethos.” and that gives its products names like “Sagesse,” “Tolérance,” “Harmonie” and “Reliance.” You wonder if you’re up to it. Taste the Champagnes from the little estate — I mean, 10 acres — of Franck and Isabelle Pascal, though, and you’ll realize that you don’t have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson to enjoy them. Franck Pascal took over his family’s property in 1994, when he was only 23, and he quickly worked to convert the vineyards to biodynamic practices. Whatever the reasons and effects of ethics, ecology and ethos, these are Champagnes of intense purity, power and elegance. Let’s bring this 2012/2013 edition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” to a close with the Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé, a blend (according to the importer’s website) of 58 percent pinot meunier, 39 percent pinot noir and 3 percent chardonnay; 94 percent of the wine came from the 2004 vintage, 6 percent from 2005. The color is very pale but radiant onion skin with a faint coppery hue; the bubbles are almost explosive in their initial upward surge. Tolérance is an incredibly dry, high-toned and refined brut rose, with depth upon depth of limestone and shale-like minerality and yet so lacy and transparent that it feels not just delicate but crystalline and frangible., though cemented ultimately by the elemental and adamantine litheness of its tremendous acidity. It allows nuances of red-tinged berry-like scents and flavors, with faint, beguiling touches of dried fruit, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, but this is mainly about exquisiteness, fine-breeding and Alpine austerity. I love it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $65, and Worth a Search.

Imported by LDM Wines, New York.

… and by special I mean that what I describe today is a fine Champagne from a great vintage (if farmers and producers were careful) that’s fully mature and will continue to drink well for another decade. The product in question is the Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from a house that goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and the planting of pinot noir vines by Emile Fleury. This estate was among the first to bottle its own Champagne, starting in 1927 with Robert Fleury, Emile’s son. In the 1970s, Emile’s grandson Jean-Pierre became concerned about the potential damage that the family’s vineyards could suffer under the regimen of the usual chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and he began researching organic methods, eventually finding his way to biodynamic practices, which have prevailed at Fleury since 1989. The 15-hectare estate — 37.5 acres and 90 percent pinot noir — is now operated by Emile’s great-grandson, Jean-Sébastien.

So, what do we have? The Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996 sports a medium gold color with darker gold highlights and a plethora of infinitely teeny bubbles that spiral upward in dazzling but sedate display. Buttered toast and warm brioche; cloves, ginger and a hint of white truffles; lime peel, limestone and a flicker of flint: all of these elements add up to a complete sense of balance, suavity and elegance, but with a touch of something wild, yeasty, perpetually burgeoning. This is, in short, a Champagne of tremendous presence, tone and character that delivers a profound presence of limestone and gravel minerality layered with vibrant acidity and the subtlest of stone fruit flavors touched with smoke and toffee and sea-salt; the finish — long, lacy, racy, complex — devolves to limestone, spice and some austerity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to 2026. Excellent. National average price is $109, but realistically, look for $90 to $100. Worth a Search.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.

The house of Henriot was founded in 1808 by Apolline Henriot, widow of a vigneron and scholar whose family had owned vineyards since 1640. Henriot makes about 55,000 cases of champagne annually, which puts it in the fair-to-middling level; by comparison Taittinger makes 355,000 cases a year and Mumm makes 625,000. On the other hand, the company has displayed a fairly aggressive tendency toward acquisition, now owning, among other properties, the estates of Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy and William Fevre in Chablis.

The Henriot Brut Souverain is usually touted as the house “entry-level” Champagne, meaning that it’s the least expensive of the roster. Be that as it may, we drank this blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay on New Year’s Eve (and last night too) with our own cured gravlox, and it was delicious. The color is radiant medium gold; a tide of tiny bubbles swirls vigorously up the glass. Biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger are wreathed with notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance as moments pass. The Henriot Brut Souverain is one of those Champagnes — or any wine, too — that delivers so much personality and verve, so much frank appeal that its place in the firmament of beverages hardly matters; it draws you in irresistibly, and you just want to keep drinking. Part of that dynamic can be ascribed to the Champagne’s vivacious acidity; part to its almost glittering minerality; and part to its refreshing balance of savory and saline elements with the more ethereal nature of its effervescence. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $52 as a national average, though I have seen it priced as low as $35.

Imported by Henriot USA, New York.

… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
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Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
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The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
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The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
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David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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In doing the research on the Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut — “between sky and earth” — I ran into contradictory information about its composition. Some sources said that it was 100 percent pinot meunier, others that it was 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir, and still others that is was a blend of 41 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 24 percent pinot meunier. I contacted Jon-David Headrick, importer of Françoise Bedel, and asked “what’s up?” It turns out that all the sources were correct but for different editions of the wine. The composition of the example that I tried in New York back in February, at “The Return to Terroir” event, is indeed 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. The vast variation in the make-up of “Entre Ciel et Terre” isn’t the result of inconsistency but a conscious decision to allow the character of the year and the harvest to dictate the nature of the wine. Unlike the large Champagne firms, which maintain an identifiable house-style year by year, especially for the non-vintage products, small estates tend not to purchase grapes or keep large stores of reserve wines for blending. There’s nothing wrong with the former practice; one reason I love a Champagne like the nonvintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve is because it does provide the pleasure and security of a consistent and recognizable manner. It’s also gratifying though to mark the individuality and handcrafted qualities of smaller, primarily family-owned and operated houses like Champagne Françoise Bedel.

Françoise Bedel took over her parents’ estate in the tiny village of Crouttes sur Marne in 1979; her son Vincent joined her professionally in 2003. Bedel owns 8.4 hectares — about 20.75 acres — of vines that range from 20 to 60 years old. The emphasis is on the pinot meunier grape, which accounts for 79 percent of the vineyards, with chardonnay making up 14 percent and pinot noir 7 percent. The estate has been operated on biodynamic principles since 1998, that is, no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and a strict calendar-based regimen of special organic “teas” and totally natural mixtures to ensure the health and integrity of the vineyards. I’m a skeptic about the efficacy of the more radical biodynamic philosophy and techniques, but in the case of Francoise Bedel, the result is great Champagne.

You know how there are some grand edifices that are imposing without being distinguished? In terms of that comparison, Françoise Bedel Cuvee Entre Ciel et Terre Brut is both imposing and distinguished. This is indeed a Champagne of grand proportions, quite sizable, very dry, possessing dimension and detail in abundance. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a tempest-like froth of bubbles. The approach is all limestone and steel, with a snap of gun-flint and undertones of cloves and ginger. It’s a mouth-filling Champagne, substantial, high-toned, even a little demanding in its sheer elegance and austerity; one understands the metaphor of earth and sky in its inextricable melding of scintillating minerality and (paradoxically) the more delicate elusive fruit and floral qualities that provide a sense of urgent elevation. This is exciting stuff, a Champagne of great character yet tremendous appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75 as a national average.

Imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.

December 29 is the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by four knights of Henry II in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1172. Today’s birthdays include Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), Andrew Johnson, our luckless 17th president (1808-1875); and Mary Tyler Moore (76), Marianne Faithfull (66), Ted Danson (65), Patricia Clarkson (53) and Jude Law (40).

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 Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquarted in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson BCC, headed by Bruno Paillard.

The Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut, non-vintage — though it would be more accurate to say mixed or blended vintages — offers a beautiful moderate gold color and a robust fountain of tiny bubbles. The impression this Champagne creates is, in fact, of a robust character that manages to be fairly elegant at the same time. The blend of grapes is 45 percent pinot meunier, 35 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. This is toasty, with lots of acacia and almond blossom, biscuits and cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and lemons, hints of toffee and walnut crème; also, though, there’s a delicate structure of clean acidity, fresh apples and apple skin, cloves and allspice, a sort of lacy transparency of limestone and flint, with a finish that stretches out in a pleasing but slightly bracing and austere haze of minerals, hay, stone fruit and, ok, more crisply faceted minerals. The whole effect is somewhat lapidary. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.

Birthdays today: Our 28th President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924); jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983); actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996); and among the living, Stan Lee (90), Maggie Smith (78), Denzel Washington (58), Noomi Rapace (33) and Sienna Miller (31).

One of my “rules” in the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series — now in its sixth year! — is that I never repeat a wine. I may repeat a label or brand, perhaps, but not the same product. I say that now because I included two Champagnes from the house of Gosset in the first week of January segment of this series in 2007/2008 — the Grande Reserve Brut and the Brut Excellent — and today will review a different one, the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut.

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

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

The Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is a pale blond beauty, all steel and limestone and quince and with intriguing hints of ginger, hay and lemongrass, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles and fleet-footed acidity. Blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — means that this is all chardonnay and in this case all grapes from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is cool, sleek and elegant, exactly as I like a blanc de blancs to be, yet it exudes a touch of biscuits and buttered cinnamon toast for a bit of warmth. This feels completely dry, and the limestone-like minerality and vibrant acidity build from mid-palate back through the finish, concluding in an element of chalk-like and slightly honeyed but brisk grapefruit austerity that merely adds to the Champagne’s somewhat Olympian allure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $68.

I chose the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut to accompany our traditional Christmas Day Southern Breakfast of fried eggs, grits, biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy. Why, you ask, such a high-toned Champagne with such a down-home meal? Because it takes that effervescence, the bright acidity and the cleanness, the blade-like effect to cut through the richness and the fat, and because it’s, you know, just plain fun.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Florida. A sample for review.

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2012, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Sixth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly amusing to commemorate today the previous five 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 96 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
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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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