Champagne


… a bottle of Michel Turgy. To be specific, a bottle of the Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, non-vintage. This is a grower Champagne produced by a family that founded the house in 1881 and still owns the estate, farming a miniscule 6 hectares — 15.42 acres — in the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the best sites in all of Champagne. As a blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — this Champagne is 100 percent chardonnay. The color is pale gold; the glass foams with myriad tiny, glinting bubbles. In the nose: apples, pears and limestone, cinnamon toast and biscuits, and hints of candied ginger and quince paste; just lovely but also a signal, in its toasty and expansive nature, of how substantial the wine is. Sizable, even dense on the palate, yes, but paradoxically elegant and steely, with roasted lemon and baked pear flavors cleanly etched by vivid acidity and burgeoning limestone-like minerality, all leading to a high-toned, somewhat austere finish. There’s dignity here, perhaps even nobility, as well as fine detail and sensual appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $52, though as always prices vary widely around the country.

December 3, by the way, is the Holy Day of Genevieve, patron saint of Paris; she is typically invoked as protection against drought and flood and has served, since 1962 and approved by Pope John XXIII, as patron of French security forces.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

As is the case with the history of the Martini, the progress of Champagne has been from sweet to dry, which is why a Champagne termed Extra Sec (“extra dry”) is actually sweeter, technically, than Brut (“raw”). Imbibers of bubbly in the 19th Century assumed that Champagne would be sweet, but gradually tastes changed — dare one say, became more sophisticated — the amount of sugar in the dosage (remember, the dosage helps start the second fermentation in the bottle) was reduced, and Champagne became drier. Even Brut Champagne can have a quality of sweetness, though it’s usually masked by acidity and the essential element of minerality. The rarely encountered actually sweet Champagne is called Doux. A moderately sweet Champagne is called, paradoxically, Demi-Sec, “half-dry,” and is typically served as a compliment to uncomplicated desserts, like a plain apple tart.

I don’t drink or even taste many Demi-Sec Champagnes, but I was delighted by the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, non-vintage. “Sublime” is pure marketing, of course; I would call it Cuvée Really Damned Pretty.

Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck all trace their origins to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, who established the company in 1785. I won’t delve into the multi-tangled history of the three houses and how they became separated by reasons of birth and marriage and other familial and non-familial relationships. It’s sufficient to say that Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck are owned by Remy-Cointreau, while Heidsieck & Co. Monopole is owned by Vranken Pommery.

The Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, a blend of 55 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent chardonnay, offers a radiant pale gold-straw color and a flourish of frothy blond bubbles, the sort of bubbles that make great posters and photographs; one imagines Jeanne Avril and Toulouse-Lautrec with glasses giddily held aloft, while gas-lamps flare and the orchestra stirs in overture. At first, this feels dry, elegant and high-toned, even a touch austere; the sense of sweetness (or half-sweetness) develops after a few moments as the red currant, peach and pear flavors, with a hint of marzipan, become soft and ripe and macerated, and the texture, while rightly organized around crisp acidity and limestone, turns lush and almost viscous. I don’t mean that this is some kissy-face pushover of a date; no, the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec is well-knit, meticulously balanced and precisely integrated, which is to say, that the elegance holds true from start to finish. Come on, we know that Americans, like magpies, adore bright, shiny things; what’s not to adore about this? 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $42, though as is usually the case, prices vary widely throughout the country.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

… and of course New Year’s Eve means celebrating with Champagne or some other form of sparkling wine. I could make tons of recommendations for inexpensive sparkling wines to serve tonight, especially if you’re hosting a soiree with a cast of thousands, but since the emphasis in this sequence of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” is on France, I’ll put my money on the Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, a Crémant de Bourgogne from Chablis. From Chablis? Mais oui, mes amis, Chablis is nominally considered part of Burgundy, though its climate is far different and it lies some distance to the northwest of the Côte d’Or. Simonnet-Febvre has been producing Champagne method sparkling wine in Chablis since it was founded in 1840 and is the only firm in Chablis still doing so. Simonnet-Febvre also makes excellent Chablis still wines at every level and sells them for reasonable prices. The company was acquired by Louis Latour in 2003. The Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc is a blend of 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir. The wine is exuberantly outfitted with bubbles and conveys a racy, nervy note of effervescent combined with fleet acidity and a keen limestone edge. This is clean and fresh, almost tangy with apple and slightly roasted citrus flavors ensconced in a crisp, lively texture. 12 percent alcohol. A crowd-pleaser. Very Good+. Prices countrywide range from about $14 to $19.

But say that your plans tonight include not teeming mobs drunkenly intoning the half-forgotten words of “Auld Lang Syne” but a more intimate gathering, perhaps even only one other person for whom you require something elegant and impressive. Turn, then, to the Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, the label that defines the house style for Perrier-Jouët (the final “t” is prounounced). The company was founded in 1811 and achieved a high reputation in the 19th Century, especially for supplying Champagne to various royal courts of Europe. In 1959, Perrier-Jouët was acquired by the Mumm Group, which was later taken over by Seagram. In 1999, the latter sold Perrier-Jouët and Mumm to private investors who immediately turned around and, um, unloaded the house to Allied Domecq, which, of course, was subsumed by Pernod Ricard, the present owners. Sometimes you have to keep a score-card. Anyway, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, a blend of 40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay, offers a bright golden-yellow color and a stately upward procession of tiny bubbles. I was, frankly, surprised at how robust and full-bodied this Champagne is; it’s the real deal when it comes to the toasty, bready fashion, and to match its generous dimension, the details of toffee, sea-salt, roasted lemon and hints of apples, almonds and almond blossom flesh it out considerably. This is quite dry, vibrant and resonant, almost chewy, and its chiming acidity (there are hints of grapefruit and lime peel) and elements of limestone tracery develop power — yet with finesse to match — through the finish. 12 percent alcohol. True class and breeding. Excellent. I paid $52, but realistically prices range from about $40 to $56.

Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc imported by Louis Latour Inc., San Rafael, Cal.; Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.

The bubbles keep on coming! Here’s another grower or farmer Champagne from the village of Bouzy, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards. The small house of Jean Vesselle — winemaker is Delphine Vesselle — turns out about 7,000 cases of Champagne a year. To make the picture a bit confusing, Bouzy is also home to the houses of Georges Vesselle and Maurice Vesselle. If with your befuddled eyes you can read the small print on the label included here, you’ll see the words Récoltant-Manipulant, indicating that Jean Vesselle grows the grapes and makes the Champagne rather than buying-in grapes from other vineyards.

The pale, pale Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve, non-vintage, is as blond and bracing as a kiss from Jean Harlow followed by a slap from her well-manicured hand. This is very high-toned, very elegant, a tense yet expansive and still whisperingly nuanced profusion of steel, roasted hazelnuts, lime zest, ginger, quince, cloves and limestone. The texture is almost cloud-like in its softness and brisk, exhilarating effervescence, yet the Champagne is also lithe and angular with the authority of crisp acidity and a crystalline mineral character that grows more intense from mid-palate back. A few minutes in the glass bring out shades of biscuits and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Yeah, we loved this one. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $44.75; I paid $50 here in town.

According to ancient legend, wood cut on December 30 and 31 or January 1 “shall not rot, or be full of worms, but always wax harder the longer it is kept,” so get out those axes!

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

Among the hottest items in the hipster world of wine are “grower” or “farmer” Champagnes, that is, Champagnes made by a person or family who also grew the grapes rather than bought the grapes from other sources. The contrast is between that bucolic, artisan’s ideal and the large, established firms that purchase tons of grapes (as well as using their own vineyards) and blend dozens if not hundreds of samples to achieve a recognizable and consistent house style. The grower Champagnes, on the other hand, should, theoretically, reflect a sense of individuality and specific place, though the number of experts who could decipher a region, much less a village or actual vineyard in a glass of Champagne must be rather small. I adore both styles of Champagne, the grower or farmer versions and the house-style of the big firms. To me it’s equally satisfying to open a bottle of Pol Roger Réserve Brut and know that it will be just like all the other bottles I have opened and enjoyed or to pour a glass of a grower Champagne and savor its individual qualities. You can tell if a Champagne was made by a grower if the initials RM appear somewhere on the front or back label; RM stands for Recoltant-Manipulant, literally, “harvester-maker.” You can see that imprint in tiny type at the bottom of this label for the Paul Bara Brut Réserve, my selection for the Fourth Day of Christmas, which is also, incidentally, Childermas or the Day of the Holy Innocents, referring to the children of Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers.

The small house of Paul Bara lies in the village of Bouzy, the favorite place-name in all of winedom. In the World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised and updated edition, 2003), Tom Stevenson calls Paul Bara “one of Bouzy’s greatest Champagne growers.” I call the Paul Bara Brut Réserve “beautiful”; it’s a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards. (Winemaker is Paul Bara’s daughter Chantale.) The color is pale straw gold; a great cloudy dither of bubbles streams forcefully to the surface. This offers real grip and power yet yields lovely generosity and delicacy of detail. Amazingly clean and fresh aromas of acacia, hay and sea-salt, cloves, roasted lemon and lime peel unfold to hints of freshly baked biscuits and almonds. Huge presence and tone, staggering acidity and limestone minerality make for a compelling, dense, chewy structure, while this tensile strength feels adorned by the shimmering tinsel of steel, lemon zest and pear nectar. Deeply savory, impeccably balanced, a seamless marriage of power and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $50 nationwide, though I paid — ahem — $66 in the Bluff City, as Memphis is jocularly termed.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.

Here we are, Boxing Day, which features (or used to), in the United Kingdom and related countries, the post Christmas distribution of largesse to servants, customarily not one’s own but the servants of one’s friends. This is also the Feast of Saint Stephen — when the snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even — who was the first Christian martyr, stoned circa 35 AD for preaching that Christ was the Messiah and fulminating, rather impolitely, against the Jews; see Acts 7:51. December 26 is the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American end-of-the-year festival devised in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, at the time chairman of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach.

So, for this day, we turn to actual Champagne in the guise of the Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs, a non-vintage blend of 50 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards and 50 percent pinot noir from Premier Cru vineyards. What does that mean? The vineyards of Champagne are rated village by village on a quality percentage system. Only the vineyards rated 100 percent receive Grand Cru status; vineyards rated between 90 and 99 percent are granted Premier Cru status. There are 17 Grand Cru villages and 43 Premier Cru villages. Labels on bottles of Champagne will often advertise the fact that the product is Grand Cru or Premier Cru, though realistically most Champagnes are blends of many vineyards and several vintages (which is what “non-vintage” means). A classification by individual vineyard rather than overall village would more accurately reflect true quality.

The Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs — there really is such a person, as well-known for his collection of antique automobiles as for his Champagne — offers a radiant pale medium gold color and a surging, twining fountain of tiny bubbles. This is a substantial Champagne, generously proportioned and authoritative, yet a scintillating nervy line of keen acidity runs through and energizes it. Aromas hint at pear, jasmine and toasted almonds, with touches of fresh bread, smoky toffee and sea-salt and underneath a foundation of limestone and steel. This Champagne is spicier in the mouth, with notes of slightly macerated and roasted citrus flavors, but primarily it’s a vessel for conveying intense minerality and a dense, almost chewy texture, all leading to a long, vibrant, limestone-laced finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. I tasted the Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs at a trade event and was impressed enough to purchase a bottle later. We consumed it throughout Christmas Day. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $36 to $50.

Imported by Frank-Lin International, San Jose, Cal.

… and that means I’m about to launch the annual “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas run from December 25, Christmas Day, to January 5, being Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany. Tomorrow, I will post the first sparkling, bubbly product and continue to post one each day, though I tend to include a wider selection on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night. This year’s series focuses on France, not only Champagne but such alternatives as Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire and sparkling wines from other appellations. In the Champagne category, I’ll offer some choices from the established houses as well as from the smaller operations that grow the grapes and make artisan-style products, what we might call farmer Champagnes. As ever in this series, I do not repeat brands or labels from year to year; I have not written about any of the Champagnes or sparking wines included in this segment of “Twelve Days of Christmas” before. Now around the periphery, so to speak, of the “12 Days,” I’ll post about other sparkling wines and Champagnes, some of which I may have covered previously and some of which I have not; the point is, that from tomorrow through January 5, BTYH is all about bubbles.

Festive image from thebeehiveblog.net.

LL said a couple of nights ago, “We have any Champagne around this joint?” Not having any Champagne around the joint, I hopped in the old chariot, scooted to the nearest package store, as liquor stores used to be called, and snatched a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé from the refrigerator case. This gesture was, to be sure, an indulgence, but I had not tasted or written about the product in four years, so I thought it was time.

The mind-set among Champagne devotees nowadays is biased toward small artisan estates — preferably in the same family since 1782 and lying in one of the region’s more obscure patches — often set up as models of individuality and integrity against the large old-line houses that turn out hundreds of thousands or millions of bottles a year in a full roster of types and labels, but leveling everything down to a discernible “house-style.” Well, all right, I go along with that notion to a certain extent, who doesn’t love a dark horse, yet the grand producers sometimes benefit from decades of fine-tuning and a meticulously developed consistency that’s gratifying and comforting. Such is the case with the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé. The firm began making a rosé Champagne in 1788 and departed from the region’s tradition of macerating black grapes in white wine to producing a rosé from black and white grapes together, in this contemporary model adding about 12 percent red wine to its typical Yellow Label base of pinot noir grapes (50-55 percent), pinot meunier (15-20 percent) and chardonnay (28-33 percent).

This entirely winsome Brut Rosé displays a lovely pale peach-copper hue vitalized by a constant surging froth of tiny silver bubbles. The ethereal bouquet wreathes hints of raspberry, pear and melon with burgeoning limestone and hints of biscuits and toasted almond. In the mouth, this Champagne offers crisp, resonant acidity and scintillating limestone minerality with touches of dried red fruit, fresh bread and cinnamon toast, all ensconced in a supple, silken texture. Charming and expressive, with a happy conjunction of power and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. As happens with popular imported Champagnes, the range of prices for the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé is astonishing; the East and West coasts will see prices from about $52 to $65, while in the great American heartland the tab can go up to $75 or even $85.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York


We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from airninja.com.
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This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)
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Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
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With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
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We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
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And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
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I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Oh, come on, of course there’s an occasion this week that demands a bottle of Champagne! The rumored indictment was not handed down, or at least the judge went easy on you; the auditors didn’t notice that the decimal point was four places to the right; the bills were unmarked — and no one died! Or maybe it’s just the right day and the right time, and the right person is present with whom sharing a bottle of Champagne makes absolute sense. We enjoyed immensely the Duval-Leroy Brut, which I bought as the major ingredient in the French 75 cocktail, but after that purpose you can bet that we didn’t let the rest of the bottle go to waste.

The house of Duval-Leroy has been owned by the same family since 1859. The winery is in the village of Vertus, a Premier Cru village — according to Champagne’s official and somewhat abstruse rating system — located deep in the south of the chardonnay-dominated Cote des Blancs where pinot noir vineyards come back into play. For what might be called a “basic” product, the Duval-Leroy Brut, non-vintage, displays wonderful character and depth to bolster its immediate appeal. Tom Stevenson, in his World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised edition, 2003), says that the blend is 75 percent chardonnay and 25 percent pinot noir. The color is pale blond-gold tremendously enlivened by a taut upward surge of frothing, glinting bubbles. The first aromas occur in the form of acacia, apple, cinnamon toast and chalky/limestone-like minerality; within a few moments notes of fresh biscuits, honeysuckle and ginger emerge. While exhibiting terrific substance and presence, the Duval-Leroy Brut is elegant and suave, yet surprisingly spicy for all its finesse; flavors of roasted lemon and baked pear are permeated by quince and ginger, a touch of toasted almond, a hint of candied grapefruit. The limestone element grows as moments elapse, and, of course, the effervescence and chiming acidity keep it invigorating and engaging. Works wonders with lightly salted popcorn (not buttered!) and a handful of cashews. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $28 to $40; I paid $35 in Memphis.

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