France


We drank the Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2007 for New Year’s Eve, along with paper-thin slices of pepper-and-cognac-cured gravlox that I started on Saturday. What one wants from a vintage Champagne is a certain tone, style and sense of elevation and elegance befitting its provenance and price, and the Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2007 delivers. This is 50 percent each chardonnay and pinot noir, aged seven years in the bottle on the lees. The grapes derive totally from Grand Cru vineyards. The color is brilliant medium gold with slight rose-gold highlights; bubbles are abundant, shimmering and glinting in their upward rush. The first impression is of roasted lemons and spiced pears, woven with quince and crystallized ginger and undertones of heather and acacia, lime peel and flint; full-bodied on the palate, yet spare and lithe, this Champagne displays the verve and momentum of a thoroughbred, balancing bracing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of salted toffee, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and (almost paradoxically) a touch of mango, all elements managed with a deft and delicate hand. 12 percent alcohol. Wholly satisfying and exhilarating. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier USA. A sample for review.

It’s New Year’s Day, of course, and the anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Born on this day were Paul Revere (1735), Betsy Ross (1752), Arthur Hugh Clough, poet and friend of Matthew Arnold (1819), the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864), English novelist E.M. Forster (1879), J. Edgar Hoover (1895), and J.D. Salinger (1919).


The Gremillet family has been growing grapes in Champagne since the middle of the 18th Century, only deciding to make their own Champagne starting in 1979, a decision we should all be happy about. The Gremillet Blanc de Noirs, 100 percent pinot noir, is a blend of four or five vintages, including 20 percent reserve wines, that is, older wines held back to lend maturity and house character to a product; it aged 30 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, animated by a fount of tiny bubbles. This one is all smoke, steel and limestone, with notes of acacia and heather, spiced pear and fresh-baked biscuits; lip-smacking acidity cleaves a texture deftly balanced among succulence, tautness and crisp vitality. Spare stone-fruit flavors that contain a bell-tone of red currant are strung on a line of dry chalk and flint minerality, while the finish rounds with a snap of bracing salinity. 12.5 percent alcohol. A charming, elegantly proportioned and thoroughly enjoyable Champagne. Excellent. About $37, representing Great Value.

Esprit du Vin, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the last day of the year, celebrated in Scotland as Hogmanay. Born on this day were French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491), Bonnie Prince Charles, pretender to the throne (1720), artist Henri Matisse (1879), songwriter and composer Jule Styne (1905), folksinger Odetta, whom I interviewed back in the early 1990s, and boy she had a voice on the telephone that would curl your toes (1930), Ben Kingsley and John Denver (1943), and Donna “Love to Love You Baby” Summer (1948).

Be careful out there tonight. Be safe. Don’t drink and drive. A different year starts tomorrow, and we’ll all be new, better people, n’est-ce pas?
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Let’s think about New Year’s Eve and what kind of bubbly you might want to serve. Your choice will be dictated by the number of people crowding into your house, apartment, mobile home or tent and how much money you want to spend.

These products were samples for review.
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For example, if you’re throwing an event for multitudes, including the people who got lost looking for a different party, your focus is on pleasant quaffability and low cost. In addition to which, you may be using plastic tumblers instead of actual glasses, so let’s not waste the effort and fiduciary prowess on something more expensive. You can’t go wrong with the Martini Rosé Extra Dry Sparkling Wine, yes, from the Martini & Rossi company — “Say, Yes!” — an unusual blend of riesling, chardonnay, glera (the grape of Prosecco) and nebbiolo. This is made in the Charmat process that produces the necessary effervescence in tanks rather than in the bottle. Whatever! The color is an attractive salmon-coral-pink and the overall impression is of rose petals and violets, slightly macerated raspberries permeated by pears and blood orange, and a soft but lively texture animated by crisp acidity. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink up! Very Good. About $13.
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Say, however, that your gathering will encompass some 20 to 30 people. Turn then to the McBride Sisters Collection Brut Rose, nv, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. A blend of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay, from vineyards farmed by sustainable practices, this charming sparkler, made in the traditional Champagne method, offers a pale salmon-copper hue and a steady stream of tiny bubbles; notes of raspberry and heather unfold to touches of almond blossom and orange zest, while on the palate chiseled limestone minerality bolsters chiming acidity for vitality and freshness; while the entry hints at sweetness, the finish is bone-dry and bracing. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits, Sonoma, Calif.
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O.K, let’s shrink your New Year’s Eve occasion to a dinner party for six or eight close friends. Let’s go for the Barone Pizzini “Animante” Franciacorta Brut, from the region devoted to sparkling wine in Lombardy. It’s a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc that ages anywhere from 18 to 30 months in bottle. The color is very pale straw-gold, enlivened by a surging spiral of tiny silver bubbles; this is dry, spare and high-toned, with notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, touches of quince, ginger and summer flowers, bound by chiming acidity and a keen edge of limestone and chalk minerality. 12 percent alcohol. A delightful sparkling wine with a slightly serious edge, suitable as aperitif and at table. Excellent. About $36.
A Leonardo Locascio Selection, The Winebow Group, New York.
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On the other hand, your New Year’s Eve fete may involve only you and another person — a small dinner, music, candle-light, romance personified. This tete a tete requires a Champagne of utter delicacy and elegance, for which I nominate the Champagne Boizel Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, made completely from Premier and Grand Cru chardonnay grapes (including 40 percent reserve wines) aged four years in bottle on the lees. The color is the palest blond, the myriad bubbles active, incisive and precisely delineated; notes of acacia and hay, lemon balm and lime peel are wreathed with toasted hazelnuts and almond skin and lightly buttered and toasted brioche; elegant and delicate, yes, but driven by the tensile strength of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, all culminating in an etched and transparent finish. 12 percent alcohol. Seductive and stimulating. Excellent. About $60.
Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Readers who have followed this series — which started with the 2007/08 Yuletide season — know that the principle involved is never to repeat a Champagne or sparkling wine. I will use a different product from a producer, say a blanc de blancs instead of a blanc de noirs from the same house, but not the same item. It’s always a pleasure to introduce My Readers to products that are new to me (at least), and so today we look at the Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Reserve, nv, a blend of 40 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay aged almost three years in the bottle on the lees. The estate was founded in 1872 and today owns 24.7 acres in Premier Cru vineyards, as well as holding contracts on another 19.7 acres from other growers. The property is operated on biodynamic methods, and the vineyards under contract are farmed organically. Leclerc Briant Brut Reserve offers a pale gold hue and an energetic effervescence of tiny bubbles; aromas of toasted hazelnuts, spiced pears and roasted lemons are twined with slightly toasty, yeasty notes and hints of sea salt, toffee and crystallized ginger. It’s a sleek and lithe Champagne, seemingly chiseled from limestone and flint and propelled by crisp acidity that keeps the whole enterprise fleetly light on its feet; the finish is dry, ethereal, smoky and fresh. 12 percent alcohol. A really lovely bottle of Champagne. Excellent. About $65.

Imported by Winebow Craft & Estate, New York. A sample for review.

In addition to being the Fourth Day of Christmas, today is Childermass, or the Feast of the Holy Innocents, that is, all the infants whom the suspicious King Herod had slaughtered in Bethlehem after he heard that the Messiah would be born there. Talk about a guy with a hair-trigger temper.

Born on this day were Woodrow Wilson (1856), Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903), Lew Ayres (1908), Stan Lee (1922), Dorsey Burnette (1932), Maggie Smith (1934), Alex Chilton (1950), Denzel Washington (1954) and Seth Meyers (1973).
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… and no Champagne today but two examples of products from regions in France that use the “champagne method” or, as it’s usually called now, the méthode traditionelle, for sparkling wines in the Crémant mode. Both of these models, priced at $20, offer good value, especially if you’re looking for sparkling wine to serve at a dinner party or small gathering.

These wines were samples for review.
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With its shimmering pale gold hue and finely-tuned froth of abundant, tiny bubbles, the Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, nv, delivers lovely tone and presence. Made 100 percent from chardonnay grapes farmed on sustainable practices, this Crémant offers notes of pear, orange zest and lime peel with hints of almond blossom and hay; it’s quite dry, framed by limestone and a touch of salinity, yet ripe and tasty with citrus and stone-fruit and a shade of mango. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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The Willm Brut Prestige Crémant d’Alsace, nv, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay, 15 percent pinot blanc and 5 percent auxerrois. The color is pale gold, enlivened by a host of glinting tiny bubbles; notes of spiced pear, quince and ginger unfurl subtle touches of heather and orange blossom. Spanking fresh acidity lends crispness and appeal on the palate, where limestone and flint minerality provide structure and energy. The overall impression is of nuance and delicacy, aimed toward a chiseled finish. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
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Today, December 27, is the feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, Jesus’ “Beloved Disciple.” He wrote the Book of Revelations — in the worst Greek in the entire New testament — and the Fourth Gospel. He is the patron of writers, theologians and publishers.

Jane Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother was born on this day in 1821. Also Louis Pasteur (1822), Sydney Greenstreet (1879), Marlene Dietrich (1901), Oscar Levant (1906) and Scotty Moore (1931).
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Francois Drappier launched the Champagne house that bears the family’s surname in 1803, though the family had been in the region since the 17th Century. The estate goes back to the 12th Century, when Cistercian monks founded a monastery, planted vineyards and dug the vaulted cellars that are still a vital part of the property. The Drappiers, now in the eighth generation, continue to own and operate the estate, tending vines on their 57 hectares and having 50 hectares under contract with other owners. Champagne Drappier employs a minimal approach in many ways, particularly in the liqueurs d’expedition and in the smallest amounts of sulfur that can possibly be used. The Champagne Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage, nv, is 100 percent pinot noir, aged 30 months in bottle. The color is pure limpid pale gold, and the bubbles, without which any sparkling wine would not sparkle, n’est-ce pas, surge upward in a gushing froth. Notes of lime peel, pear, hay and heather open to a hint of fresh-baked brioche and the tang of preserved lemon and seashell salinity. With its incisive acidity and scintillating limestone element, this dry Champagne offers tremendous verve and energetic elan, leading to a finish that feels paradoxically delicate, elegant and finely etched. 12 percent alcohol. I could drink this one all day and night. Excellent. About $60.

December 26 is the day of St. Stephen, protomartyr, on which good King Wenceslas looked out on the snow that was deep and crisp and even. In the United Kingdom, it’s Boxing Day, not set aside for pugilistic activity but for presenting gifts or money to servants and other service people. If one was going about visiting on Boxing Day, then you also provided gifts to other peoples’ servants.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.


Let’s launch this edition of “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” with a product from a Champagne house fairly new to the American market. Champagne Boizel was founded by Auguste and Julie Boizel in 1834 and is led today by the family’s fifth and sixth generations – Evelyne and Christophe Roques-Boizel and their sons Florent and Lionel. Even before establishing the business, the family cultivated vineyards in many of the region’s best crus, developing a knowledge of the terrain and terroir that now goes back two centuries. The Boizel Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 50 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay aged on the lees in bottle for three years; 20 percent of reserve wines from the previous two vintages are included in the blend. The color is pale coral-topaz, enlivened by a steady upward froth of tiny bubbles; the immediate impression is of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry, highlighted by notes of seashell and flint and a hint of fresh-baked bread; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of lime peel, heather and acacia. This is a dry, sleek, elegant Champagne, chiseled from limestone, animated by bright, clean acidity and aimed toward a slightly austere mineral-packed finish. 12 percent alcohol. A real pleasure to drink. Excellent. About $50.

I hope all my readers of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion are enjoying a day of peace and joy, or at least some well-earned quiet. Yule in many traditions is a day of celebration and revels, of wassailing and pantomimes, of gifts and feasting. Whatever the case, Merry Christmas to you all.

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

Though the situation in the Côtes du Rhône-Villages category tends to be fluid, it’s safe to say that 20 communes are allowed to attach their names to the labels. Generally, the assumption is that wines produced in these villages or communes reveal better quality than wines at the regular Cotes du Rhone level, though of course a great deal depends on the year and the producer. Several of the villages are well-known, such as Cairanne and Rasteau, and in the past, others were deemed good enough to be promoted to their own appellations, including Gigondas and Vacqueyras. This all occurs in the southern Rhône Valley, an area that teems with vineyards and wine production. Our Wine of the Day is Les Dauphins Puyméras 2015, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, a blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 10 percent carignan that sees no oak, being matured in concrete vats. (Puyméras was welcomed to Côtes du Rhône-Villages status in 2005.) The color is deep ruby-purple; it’s a robust and rustic wine, offering black currant, raspberry and plum scents and flavors that unfurl notes of violets and lavender, dusty graphite and underbrush and a pungent whiff of dried thyme, rosemary and sage. There’s a bit of new leather, a touch of briers and brambles and enough acid and tannin for sturdy backbone. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 or ’20 with hearty fare: braised ribs and shanks, a bacon cheeseburger, pork or duck terrine. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Plume Ridge Bottle Shop, Claremont,, Calif. A sample for review.

Yes, the Wine of the Day, almost halfway into December, is a rosé, because even in the chill of winter a glass of rosé with lunch or before dinner can be refreshing and delightful. In fact, last night, I made an omelet with chorizo, green onion, bell pepper and radicchio and drank with it several glasses of the Chateau de Fontenille Bordeaux Rosé 2016, fashioned, not surprisingly, from some of the same grapes that the region’s red wines are made from, in this case, 70 percent cabernet franc, 20 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. Grapes have been cultivated on this estate since 1524, but the present era began in 1989, when Stéphane Defraine purchased the 49-hectare property — about 120 acres. The estate produces two white and two red wines, a rosé, a clairet and a Crémant. The color here is a distinct coral hue; aromas of peaches and strawberries open to hints of melon and orange zest, with a top-note of orange blossom and almond skin. Whiplash acidity keeps this rosé on an even and energetic keel, while a shoal of limestone minerality and seashell salinty provide ballast and a bracing finish. All of these aspects are expressed with discreet spareness and elegance, with lovely heft and presence on the palate. 12 percent alcohol. One of the best rosé wines I tasted this year, and wait till you see the price. Excellent. About $12, representing Remarkable Value.

Imported by Craft + Estate/Winebow, New York. A sample for review.

In The Bordeaux Atlas and Encyclopedia of Chateaux (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), Hubrecht Duijker and Michael Broadbent write that Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “can be recognized from afar by its two towers” — les tours — “a round crenellated keep and a detached square tower with embrasures, dating from Huguenot times.” The Huguenot era in France would be the mid- to late- 17th Century. In the old postcard image reproduced here, one of those towers is visible, with beyond it a classic mid-18th Century chartreuse structure that features a large, two-story central hall with a wing on each side containing rooms that open into each other. Beyond that is a 19th Century addition and, farthest from the viewer, the estate’s chapel. The 58-hectare property (153 acres) stands on the right bank of the Gironde river in the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux appellation. Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours — certified organic and biodynamic — is owned by Catherine and Jean-Luc Hubert; she is the fifth generation of her family to farm the vineyards, with the help of her husband and their son Guillaume. The family also owns Chateau La Grolet in nearby Côtes de Bourg. Red wine is made at Peybonhomme-les-Tours, but my intention today is to introduce My Readers to the estate’s white wine, in this case the Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, a half-and-half blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes. We were thoroughly charmed by this delightful and thoughtfully-made wine. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of green apple and pear, tangerine and damp slate, lilac and camellia are immediately attractive, while a few minutes in the glass add notes of quince and ginger, heather and celery leaf. It’s a white wine of crystalline purity and intensity, taut with bright acidity yet offering a lithe, slightly talc-like texture; subtle stone-fruit flavors are sustained by a scintillating limestone component and a wafting of an almost subliminal grassy-herbal element; the finish seems to partake of the salt-bearing sea-breeze blowing down the river from the Atlantic. Lovely balance and integration. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22, signifying Remarkable Value. A great choice for buying by the case as your house white wine or for restaurant by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Fruit of the Vines, New York. A sample for review.
Postcard image from candidwines.com.

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