Wed 6 Jan 2016
A day late, again, but I hope not a dollar short. I offer, in the last post of this series for 2015/2016, two Brut Réserve Champagnes of somewhat different nature, the first more steely and platinum, the second more substantial and dignified. “Réserve,” by the way, is not a regulated term on labels in France — just as it is not in the USA, but is regulated in Italy and Spain — so while you might think that the designation here implies a higher place on the roster of each house, the truth is that these models are the basic, entry-level products. No denigration suggested, though, because each of these Champagnes delivers a full complement of character and satisfaction.
Champagne Palmer & Co. is a cooperative, founded in 1947, whose products are being reintroduced to the United States of America. The grapes derive primarily from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards — not entirely, you understand — and the final effort includes reserve wines from as long as 25 years ago, maybe like a drop or two. This Palmer Brut Réserve is a blend of 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier, aged for four years in bottle on the lees and another sixth months after disgorgement. A profound Champagne? No, but certainly a delightful and charming example that possesses the structure to promote a serious edge. The color is pale straw-gold, a nod to the ethereal, and the tiny bubbles are lively, almost hypnotic in their upward surge. Roasted lemon, spiced pear, notes of apple toasted hazelnuts; hints of fresh-baked bread and almond blossom characterize the attractive bouquet, while frangible sheaves of limestone, seashell and flint (and brisk acidity) build a fairly intense background for subtle stone-fruit flavors. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago, a division of Gonzales Byass. A sample for review.
Charles-Camille Heidsieck founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1851, when he was 29 years old. A personage of natural ebullience, much like the product he touted, Heidsieck was well-known in the late 19th Century as “Champagne Charlie” and was particularly popular in America. As is the case with many firms in the region, the history of Champagne Charles Heidsieck unfurls a tangled web of marriage, success, decline, success and multiple ownership. Suffice to say that it and its sister house Piper-Heidsieck were acquired in 2011 by French luxury goods company EPI.
The Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve nv (a local purchase) is composed of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, drawing 40 percent — an unusually high amount — on reserve wines that average 10 years old and resting on the lees in bottle for three years. The color is bright medium gold, and the bubbles put on a brilliant show of gratifying foaming effervescence. The first impression is of fresh-baked biscuits, cinnamon toast, brioche, toasted hazelnuts and almond skin, followed by notes of crystallized ginger and spiced pear; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of heather, delicate toffee and chestnut honey. Yes, it all makes for a wonderfully complex phenomenon. This Brut Reserve offers substance and weight on the palate but carries itself with lightness and elegance; while quite dry, and permeated by layers of limestone and shale minerality, it retains tremendous appeal and elan. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Remy Cointreau USA, New York.