Champagne


Technically, and actually legally, the bubbly stuff that’s made in the Champagne region of north-central France is Champagne, and everything else is sparkling wine. The French government frowns upon other countries trespassing upon this sacred name, and the United States of America has signed a trade agreement with France that forbids the use of the name Champagne on bottles of sparkling wine made in this country. A few exceptions were made — lord knows why — for some wineries like Korbel that were grandfathered in.

Definitely the real thing is the Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, a non-vintage blend of 60 percent pinot noir — pinot noir is the heart of the house of Bollinger — 25 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot meunier, a red grape seldom seen outside the Champagne region. Bollinger was founded in 1829; in 2008, Jerome Philipon became managing director, the first time since 1889 that the house was not run by a member of the family. Bollinger, one of the few independent houses in Champagne, also owns the Champagne house of Ayala, Maison Chanson in Burgundy, Langlois-Chateau in the Loire Valley and Delamain in Cognac. The estate is unusual in Champagne in that it ferments and ages its wine in oak barrels.

Bollinger became the supplier of Champagne to the Royal Family of Great Britain in 1884, so you know what will be poured in copious amounts at the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011.

Bollinger Special Cuvée displays a radiant medium gold color and a dynamic whirlwind of tiny bubbles. It’s boldly toasty, with notes of acacia, roasted lemon and toffee apple over hints of roasted hazelnuts, quince jam and ginger. This is all about presence and substance, intensity and concentration, about character that verges on dignity. Bollinger Special Cuvée is quite dry, but round and generous and vivacious, richly endowed with spicy, slightly woody overtones and grand reserves of limestone-like minerality. The broad finish lasts and lasts. A great experience. 12 percent alcohol. 8,000 cases imported. Excellent. About $65.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review.


I’m always on the look-out for champagnes from small producers as alternatives to the familiar labels from the highly marketed houses. Sometimes, because of their high production and total ubiquity, these champagnes seem more anonymous than if they emerged from obscure family-owned vineyards.

Well worth a search are the impeccably-made champagnes from the small house of François Billion Pére et Fils, located in the village of Le Mesnil sur Oger (pop. 1,258), officially designated a Grand Cru vineyard area for chardonnay; this region of Champagne is called Côte de Blancs because of its chalky white soil. Le Mesnil sur Oger is home to a number of small and medium-size producers, including Pierre Peters, Guy Charlemagne, Bardy-Chauffert and the luxury house of Salon.
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The François Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Réserve Brut, Cépage Chardonnay, is, in a word, magnificent, with all that term implies of presence, tone and allure. Spending three years in the bottle before release, this sizable champagne — the color of palest gold, flecked with an infinity of surging bubbles — offers powerful notes of fresh-baked bread, cinnamon toast and smoke wreathed with roasted pears, acacia and honeysuckle. It’s a substantial champagne yet light on its feet, a seemingly effortless amalgam of energy and elegance, like a blond cauldron of boundless acidity married to the delicacy of pinpoint citrus flavors. A few minutes in the glass bring out nuances of toasted hazelnuts, a hint of crystallized ginger and candied grapefruit and then, far more than a nuance, a tide of chalk and shale that adds depth and weight to the long finish. Excellent. About $60.
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The ruddy copper-salmon colored François Billion Spécial Rosé Brut is a blend of 70 percent Grand Cru chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir. The bouquet — fitting word! — teems with strawberries and raspberries and dried red currants with backnotes of fresh-baked biscuits, cloves and rose petals. This champagne is very dry and crisp, quite toasty, in fact almost briery in its (paradoxically) expanding spareness and rigor; it’s a wine with great ligatures and bones, the essence of liquid limestone and lithe, plangent acidity. A hint of smoke develops and a touch of orange rind, but mainly the red fruit stays true from beginning to end. Excellent. About $66.
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William Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va. Samples for review. Map of Champagne from cafe-calva.com
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Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, marks the end of the Yuletide season and the conclusion of this series about champagne and sparkling wine. For the third year, I have tried to bring My Readers a variety of sparkling wines from different countries and regions, made from a variety of grapes, and suited to the myriad purposes implied by style and price. One of my rules, so far, has been that there be no repetitions from year to year, and if you go back and look at “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on BTYH from 2008/09 and 2007/08, you’ll see that I have been true to that principle.

Twelfth Night was traditionally a time of revels, eating, drinking and play-acting, music and dance, with servants dressed as their masters, women dressed like men and so on, all activities reflected in one of Shakespeare’s most satisfying romantic comedies of mistaken identity and star-crossed love, Twelfth Night: or, What You Will. The play was first performed on Feb. 2, 1602, Candlemas Day, in the Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court in London.

Now I’m not saying that My Readers are out this evening gamboling in merry romps, disguises and amorous adventures, but whatever you do, I’ll finish this series of 12 posts about champagne and sparkling wine with four selections, trying, again, to appeal to many predilections and pocketbooks: One from France, two from Italy, one from California.
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The estate of i Stefanini makes some of the best Soave wines in the Veneto, especially from the Classico and Classico Superiore regions. Now the family turns its attention to a sparkling wine, the i Stefanini Spumante Brut. Produced completely from chardonnay grapes, this charming sparkler, made in the Charmat process, displays a limpid pale gold color and enticing aromas of pear, lime peel, orange blossom and dusty acacia. It’s a caressing fabric of delicate heft and presence, soft yet bright and crisp, and displaying, amid hints of slightly spicy stone fruit, just the right modicum of limestone. A pretty sparkling wine, dry, appealing and great as an aperitif. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
Limited distribution. Received as a review sample.
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Made from chardonnay grapes and finished with a dose of late-harvest muscat and pinot noir, the Mumm Napa Cuvee M is a slightly sweet, pale blond blanc de blancs that offers good character for the price. Aromas of toast and fresh bread support scents of apples and pears and hints of roasted almonds and orange zest. A host — you could say cohorts — of bubbles surge upward singlemindedly. After the initial sweetness, which is more like stone-fruit and citrus ripeness than just sweetness, this sparkling wine (made in the champagne method) is crisp and dry, well-balanced and harmonious, with a texture nicely poised between lushness and vivid acidity. Very Good+. About $20.
Tasted at a trade event.
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Here’s a sparkling rosé wine that may win your heart. The Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007 is made from pinot noir grapes grown in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Lombardy. A very pale onion skin color with a shade of ruddy salmon, the elegant Filanda 2007 is all flashing steel and flaring limestone that allow for glimpses of dried red currants and dried raspberries over a hint of peach. A stream of tiny bubbles expresses a sort of star-struck dimensionality; call it hypnotic. Resting on a suave interpretation of damp gravel and liquid limestone, this sparkling wine is very dry, well-integrated, persistent and delicious in a spare, high-toned manner. An impressive aperitif. Very Good+. About $22.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York.
Received as a sample for review.
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The Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra is composed of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, a combination that somehow lends this champagne freshness and boldness as well as evanescence, serving as a sort of reality-meets-the-light-fantastic metaphor. What I’m saying — “yeah, F.K., what the hell are you saying?” — is that this champagne is loaded with yeasty, bready elements, buttered biscuits and baking spices, roasted lemons and baked pears and toasted hazelnuts, all the panoply of dimension and detail, character and substance, while, at the same time, it’s lovely, crisp, deft, supple and, toward the finish, bursting with limestone. A final fillip of jasmine completes the poised, confident package. Excellent. About $62.
William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
A sample bottle for review.
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I was unfamiliar with the small house of Haton & Fils, but having sampled three of its products I wonder what I did with my misspent youth. These are champagnes of finesse and elegance, completely delightful but never frivolous. Located in a picturesque compound in Damery, in the heart of the Marne Valley, Haton & Fils has been run by fathers and sons for four generations.

Here are the Haton champagnes that I tried; they were supplied by William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.

First, the pale gold Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut teems with scents of apples and pears infused by hints of biscuits and cookie dough. Engagingly effervescent, with a flurry of glinting bubbles, this champagne is delicate, crisp and svelte; notes of red currants and citrus are infused with cinnamon toast and a subtle touch of roasted hazelnuts, layered with mineral-like elements of steel and limestone. A lovely presence, totally charming and compulsively drinkable. Excellent. About $55.

Next, the Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut is lovely and charming. Yeasty, bready aromas of pear, quince and ginger seem to drift from an infinite flotilla of tiny bubbles. A hint of sweetness at the entry quickly turns dry amid layers of chalk and limestone that lend some austerity to the finish; that dry character and tingling acidity are nicely balanced by ripe stone-fruit flavors. A few minutes in the glass bring a note of hot steel to the bouquet, implying that this delightful champagne has a serious edge. Very Good+. About $58.

And finally, the masterpiece. The color of the Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut is palest platinum blond with a teeming fountain of bubbles. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this is a champagne that’s ethereal without being fragile; elegant without being delicate; if it were a face, you’d say that it has fine bones. There’s a hint of biscuits and toast in the bouquet, but this is predominately dedicated to permeable layers of crisp minerality and brisk acidity. In fact, this is an unusually fresh and lively champagne, its tendency toward austerity prettily relieved by a weaving of pear and lime through its fabric. An exemplary blanc de blancs. Excellent. About $62.

I suppose we have unofficially moved Christmas Breakfast to New Year’s Day, because this is the second year that we’ve had it on New Year’s Day. This is a traditional Southern breakfast that I started doing probably 15 years ago, consisting of fresh biscuits, country ham, eggs, grits and red-eye gravy and champagne. This morning — more like early afternoon — LL and I sat down to this downhome treat and sipped on an utterly fascinating champagne, and by “fascinating” I don’t mean in the sense that we say, “What a fascinating [and boring] lecture” or “What a fascinating [and inedible] entree,” I mean fascinating in the best way, as in beguiling and mysterious.

This is the Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut Champagne from a small house in Ambonnay run by Francis Egly. The wine is unusual because it is made completely from pinot meunier grapes, typically the minority percentage in a champagne blend that combines the region’s three grapes, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier; these grapes are from slightly more than 40-year-old vines around the village of Vrigny. It’s also rare for a non-vintage champagne to spend 40 months on the lees (the spend yeast cells) in bottle, slowly building character. The bottle we tried was disgorged in November 2007, so bottle-age has added to the complexity. There’s very little dosage, so this champagne can be described as bone-dry.

The color is pale gold-blond with silver highlights; the infinitesimally tiny bubbles surge upward in a dynamic fountain. What is most fascinating about this champagne is the way in which every aspect of it must be abrogated to the concept of steel. It smells like apples, poached pears, thyme and steel. Oh, and it smells like brioche, hazelnuts and steel. And, oh yes, it offers flavors of spiced pear, ginger, lemon curd and steel. It displays the elegance of steel and the power of steel and altogether seems to be an entity for which the adjective “steely” was conceived. Yet there’s warmth here too, a subtle attractiveness; before it goes all high-toned and austere, this champagne kicks up its heels a bit. Excellent. And fascinating. About $70.

Here’s the Big Night before the Big Relaxing Day that inaugurates the Whole New Ball-Game, Year-Wise! Well, as we learn when we’re about three years old, a new year, however pristine it may seem to shine with potential possibilities, does not mean a tabula rasa upon which to write our lives anew. Forget that, Jack! Still, as a culture we are addicted to the idea that this night must be celebrated with wild abandon, not to mention bacchanalian verve. Not us. LL and I stopped going out on New Year’s Eve a decade ago. No drunken parties. No forced conviviality in restaurants. We stay home, watch a movie, have a glass of champagne at midnight. Wake the dogs. Dance around the Yule log. We do not sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

So, now, with wild abandon, I’ll offer three very different sparkling wine recommendations appropriate for whatever sort of celebration you have planned tonight. “Something for every palate, purse and purpose” is my motto. These are all French because, I dunno, just because.
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First, if you’re having a party for the entire cast and crew of Mad Men — and you know how they drink — lay in a case or two of the Louis Perdrier Brut, a non-vintage quaffer that features some of the most unlikely grapes to go into a sparkling wine: ugni blanc, chenin blanc, folle blanche and menu pineau, the latter an obscure grape dying out in the Loire Valley. I was surprised at how tasty this little number is. You’ll find hints of baked apple, lemon and limestone, a crisp dry nature and an adequate supply of bubbles. Good+ and a Bargain at about $9.
Imported by Cannon Wines, San Francisco
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Moving up several scales, try another and more complex crowd-pleaser, the Jean-Baptiste Adam Cremant d’Alsace Brut. Made from pinot blanc grapes in the champagne method, this compound of ginger and spice and everything nice neatly balances a chalky, limestone-like character with soft, round peach and pear flavors and with heart-racing acidity and effervescence. A touch of orange zest completes a really charming, airy, thirst-quenching package. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.
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On to a serious substantial champagne suitable for small gatherings or a New Year’s Eve dinner party. The Lamiable Brut Grand Cru is made from 80 percent pinot noir grapes and 20 percent chardonnay. The Lamiable family are recoltant-manipulants, “grower-winemakers,” meaning that they make their champagnes from grapes they own and farm. These happen to be from Grand Cru vineyards, the highest level in Champagne. The result here is a pale golden, deeply spicy, vibrant and resonant champagne, citrusy and yeasty, imbued with elements of cinnamon toast and roasted hazelnuts and smoke. The texture is frothy, lusciously creamy but electrified by blade-like acidity and a charge of damp limestone. One feels the confidence and elan of this impressive champagne. Excellent. Prices range from about $50 to $60.
Imported by Robert Kacher Selections, Washington D.C.

And Happy New Year. Really. I mean it.
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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.

The color of the Henriot Brut Rosé (nv), a blend of 42 percent chardonnay and 58 percent pinot noir, is ethereal pale copper with a glint of pale peach, enlivened by a swirling froth of tiny bubbles. This is a supremely elegant champagne, its aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries etched with steely minerality. In the mouth, that red fruit takes on the aspect of dried raspberries and dried red currants, buoyed by orange zest and high notes of peach and mango. The texture is notably crisp and lively but cushioned by some creaminess. A tide of limestone teems up from the finish and moves forward into the mid-palate for exhilarating effect. Just a damned lovely drink! Excellent. Prices range from about $55 to $75.

Imported by Henriot Inc., New York.

Received as a sample for review.

Yesterday, our sparkling wine was delightful and fairly inexpensive. For today, Boxing Day, as they call it in Merry Old England, let’s go straight to the heart of Champagne for a truly impressive example of a blanc de blancs champagne, that is, made 100 percent from chardonnay grapes. Another distinction of the Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs is that its grapes derive completely from Grand Cru vineyards, which is to say the best. The house is a recoltant-manipulant, farmer-winemaker, meaning that the proprietors here, fathers and sons going back to 1892, cultivate their own vines as well as make the champagne. The house, located in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, produces about 10,800 cases annually.

The Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs is a resonant and generous champagne. The color is icy-pale blond; tiny bubbles seethe upward in a frothing tide. The bouquet is expansive, yeasty, bready and smoky, offering notes of spice-inflected roasted lemon and damp limestone. Wow, what terrific presence and tone this champagne displays, filling the mouth with the vibrancy of crisp acidity and flavors of baked apple, pear, quince and toasted hazelnuts. As deliriously pleasing as those elements are, however, the grand effect is of exquisite balance between substance and elegance; the limestone-drenched finish carries a thread of the ethereal through it. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 26 is also the Holy Day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It’s the day when King Wenceslas “looked out … as the snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even,” at least according to J.M. Neale, who wrote the lyrics to that familiar carol in the 19th Century. The principle is that the fortunate should tend to the poor and needy on the day after Christmas, so you don’t get a glass of champagne until you’ve done a good deed.

This was a sample bottle from William Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.

Continuing the Chronicle of the 100 Most Interesting or Important or Educational Wines I tasted in my fledgling years as a wine writer, we’re still in 1984, when I launched my wine career with my first column in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in July. Within two or three months, I was being invited to public and private tastings and had begun to receive press releases and even a sample wine or two. Wow, doors were opening! As I mentioned in a previous post in this series, by this time I had met two people who were very important in my wine education and who became valuable friends, Shields Hood and John Grisanti, both of whom figure in today’s post about the first great champagnes I encountered.

On Sept. 17, 1984, Shields held a tasting of 17 champagnes and sparkling wines at the warehouse of the wholesale distributor for whom he worked. Most of the people at the event worked in retail. This is the day on which I first tried Dom Pérignon.

Dom Pérignon, the flagship champagne of Moët & Chandon, fills a hallowed niche in the pantheon of highly recognizable and heavily marketed grandes marques that includes Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, Veuve Clicquot’s Grande Dame and Perrier-Jouët’s Le Belle Époque. Founded in 1743, Moët & Chandon is owned by LVMH, the giant luxury goods conglomerate. Cuvée Dom Pérignon, as it is properly called, is named after the legendary monk who is supposed to have claimed “I’m seeing stars,” after drinking the sparkling beverage that had accidentally re-fermented in the bottle. I’m no monk, but I make equal claim after drinking too much champagne. The special label was introduced with the 1921 vintage and was produced in 1928, ’29 and ’34, but it was the 1943 vintage that was fermented inside its own bottle, according to Tom Stevenson in World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised edition, 2003).

My reaction to Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1976 was the succinct “Wonderful champagne!” To which I added in my notes, “Yeasty, dry, nutty, well-balanced. Very elegant.” The price? (If you have tears, etc.) $67.

We’re getting out of sequence with the Perrier-Jouët Blason de France Rose, but I wanted to present this trio of champagnes together. So … quite a few months after the Dom Pérignon encounter, my first wife and I were invited to a small Perrier-Jouët dinner at a long defunct restaurant here, The Palm Court. The national sales rep for the importer, which then was Stacole (I think), was at the dinner to talk about the champagnes and to present the Palm Court’s chef-owner, Michael Cahhal, with the Perrier-Jouët Award, whatever that signified. (Perrier-Jouët was founded in 1811 and is now owned by Pernod Ricard.) Anyway, I was enthralled by the Blason de France Rosé, the color of which the sales rep described as “the blush on the thigh of an aroused nymph,” a line, with a whiff of Fragonard, that will never be bettered and which, I confess, I have borrowed several times over the past 25 years. We were told that the P-J Blason de France Rosé was the house champagne at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild; I wanted it to be the house champagne at my house. My note offers one word: “Divine.”

Not long after that occasion, a group of gentleman gathered in the wine cellar — an actual cellar, as in below ground — at John Grisanti’s house, to taste this thing and that. These were collectors, all far more experienced than I at the tasting and assessing of older vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy and vintage champagne. Anyway, Big John opened a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1961, a 24-year-old bottle. While the others present were sagely exclaiming over its irresistible qualities, in my little notebook I was writing, “Stinky, caramelized, oxidized.” Now I know that the British have this thing about old champagne, or are reputed to, but this ’61 seemed way over the hill to me.

Try singing that line to the tune of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” the theme for which, as the musicologists or trivialists among you will know, comes from the Moderato cantabile section of Chopin’s — but, wait, no, you’ll just have to Google that for yourselves. Meanwhile, here’s a well-known rendition to watch and listen to as you peruse these notes on some sparkling wines and champagnes. The metaphor is not inappropriate for the most starry-eyed, evanescent and romantic of the products of the grape.
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Jack and Jamie Davies founded Schramsberg in 1965, dedicated to the principle of making high-quality methode champenoise sparking wine. The site was a long abandoned historic property in Napa Valley that had been established in 1862. Their efforts included restoring the house and winery, replanting vineyards and renovating the old cellars. While it’s true that the competition from other (mainly French-owned) estates in California is more intense than it was 40 years ago, the sparkling wines from Schramsberg possess a sense of elan and gravity that make them not only unique but expressively Californian. Jack Davies died in 1998, his widow 10 years later. The estate is now run by their son Hugh; he makes the wines with the assistance of Keith Hock. Here are reviews of three recently released sparkling wines from Schramsberg.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2006, North Coast, is a blend of 90 percent pinot noir grapes and 10 percent chardonnay. The products of Schramsberg usually consist of grapes from four counties; the proportion for the B de N ’06 is Mendocino 56 percent, Sonoma 20 percent, Napa 18 percent and Marin 6 percent.

This sparkler is a very pale copper color tinged with pale salmon; the glass barely contains its upward flurry of silver-flecked effervescence. Dried raspberries, orange rind and roasted lemon explode from the glass, along with touches of almond skin, jasmine and damp limestone. In the mouth, we taste red currants, lime peel and cloves, nestled in a texture that balances crisp acidity with moderate lushness, all leading to an elegant, slightly austere, mineral-laced finish. Lovely, delicious. Excellent. About $40.
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Blanc de noirs means “white from black”; blanc de blancs, it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out, means — yes, class! — “white from white.” You’re thinking, “But F.K., a white wine is made from white grapes. Why bother to distinguish the whiteness of the white wine or sparkling wine?” Because, in Champagne, the traditional is to blend white and red grapes to achieve a consistent house style, whether in a vintage or non-vintage product; making Champagne solely from white grapes, that is, chardonnay, is much rarer.

So, the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2006, North Coast, is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, from these county sources: Napa 60 percent, Mendocino 22 percent, Sonoma 15 percent, Marin 3 percent. The wine is palest platinum blond; myriad tiny bubbles fling themselves upward as insistently as moths to a flame. The bouquet is all steel and stones, the texture taut and crisp, a bow-string ready to snap. Yet intimations of toasted almonds, spiced and roasted pears and lemons seep in, and that sleek texture is balanced by a note of lush creaminess that spreads warmth through the structure. The finish, not surprisingly, is spare, dry and minerally. A notably elegant and high-toned blanc de blancs. Excellent. About $36.
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The third of this trio is the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2006, North Coast. As is typical in Champagne, the Schramsberg model is made by blending red and white grapes, in this case 68 percent pinot noir and 32 percent chardonnay. The make-up by county is Mendocino 42 percent, Napa 31 percent, Sonoma 22 percent and Marin 5 percent; the emphasis is on pinot noir grapes from cool growing areas — the Napa contingent is Carneros — in order to provide piquant fruit and clean acidity.

The color is pale, ruddy copper-salmon, not as pale as the blanc de noirs; bubbles teem like a froth inside a tempest. Smoke, dried strawberries and raspberries, a hint of rhubarb waft from the glass. This sparkler is dry and crisp yet almost juicy, almost lush; with its snappy, close to audacious acidity, it offers terrific “point” and verve. A touch of yeast and buttered toast fills out the package, with a trace of roasted hazelnuts; the finish is like limestone with a squeeze of lime. Excellent. About $42.
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Laurent-Perrier traces its origins to 1812. When the long-lived founder, Alphonse Pierlot, died in 1881, the house was taken over by his cellar-master and heir, Eugene Laurent; his wife was named Mathilde Perrier, hence the name that continues to this day. The Nonancourt family acquired Laurent-Perrier in 1939 — not the most auspicious moment in history — and managed to revive its fortunes after World War II. Bernard de Nonancourtwho assumed leadership of Laurent-Perrier in 1949, still runs the company.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut (nonvintage) is bottled sans dosage, that is, without the final “dose” of wine and sugar syrup that establishes a Champagne’s level of sweetness. Champagne tends to be so high in acidity that residual sugar is often undetectable. Even a Champagne labeled brut — “dry” — may contain up to 15 grams of residual sugar per liter and be perceived as a dry wine. Helpfully, an “Extra Dry” Champagne is sweeter than brut. In any case, eliminating the dosage creates a sort of ultimately dry Champagne, the driest of the dry. Some consumers find such Champagnes forbiddingly dry, but I love them.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut is a blend of 55 percent chardonnay and 45 percent pinot noir grapes. The color is platinum blond; a perfect storm of tiny bubbles seethes skyward in the glass. One could say that this Champagne is all steel and limestone, lithe and sinewy, a Chrysler Building of a Champagne in its sheen and elegance, except that hints of camellia and honeydew melon, yellow plums and peaches creep in from the crisp edges, making this not only dry, chalky and minerally but subtle, nuanced and delicious. Dry — to reiterate — it certainly is, and it brings assertive acidity to the point of brinksmanship. Yet it is ultimately, ultra-ly, serene, poised, whispery, a little detached. Were I facing a duelist’s pistol at dawn tomorrow, I would want this Champagne at my side. Excellent. About $85.

For Mother’s Day this year, I reviewed the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, while the Laurent-Perrier Brut L.P. and Grand Siècle Brut were among my “12 Days of Christmas” selections in 2007/08.
Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.

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