Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Last weekend after serving white, red, and sparkling wines along with classic martinis at my friend's Mad Men-themed cocktail party and the house was mostly back in order, we sat down with leftover catered platters and a bottle of Champagne I had gifted her earlier this year. After I poured it into her Waterford Champagne flute, she took a sip.
I was expecting the clouds to burst open and the angels to sing. What I got, instead, was a face registering dislike and disappointment. Ah. Well. Not the look I was going for. But I wasn't surprised. The wine was the 1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne, and while most critics agree it is in its drinking window, it is clearly a wobbly toddler at best.
Salon is one of the only Champagnes produced that is not ready to drink upon release. The grand cru vineyard with old vine Chardonnay produces fruit with even more acid than is typical for Champagne, and nothing is done in the winemaking process to soften it.
As the wine opened up in the glass, it began to show the character of the fruit and its cool chalky vineyard. It also went flat quickly, as the bottom of the Waterford stems was flat, not inverted like an upside triangle, a design that allows the natural effervescence to bubble up continuously. So there we were, with a pricey bottle, hefty expectations, and flat wine.
The last time my friend had Salon was a decade ago, 2005, in my Champagne class at the CIA Greystone Rudd Center for Professional Development. It was the 1985 vintage, and that wine at 20 years old was in its prime, all honeyed and nutty with a soft minerality and an ethereal, fine bead (sparkle). So that is what she was expecting. Instead she got austere texture, sour green, pungent mineral and funky flavors ramped up even more by its prevalent and keen acidity.
We vowed to make the tasting of 1999 Salon a new holiday tradition. This time around, at 16 years in, the experience was interesting. We're hoping for a bit more maturity at year 20.
1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne 12% $350
Elegant, fine and lean with smoky, chalky, tarry mineral notes, feral, nutty, mushroomy Meursault-like notes, and citrus and green apple on the long, expressive finish. This is not a showstopper but rather an incredible expression of one of the best Chardonnay vineyards in Champagne.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
It’s time to break out the bubblies. Here are some of my favorites from $15 to $79 to ring in the new year in style.
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley California USA PG 90 $23.99
Elegant, understated and dry with a fine mousse (tiny bubbles) and notes of lemon tea, granny smith apple, asian pear, and sugar cookie.
Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino California USA PG 90 $19.99
Zesty, lively and fine with notes of lemon drop, ginger ale, butter cream frosting and rising bread.
Ruffino Prosecco DOC Veneto Italy PG 89 $15
Fresh white peach and apple notes. Dry, light, and crisp sparkler.
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Brut Cava Catalonia Spain PG 92 $25
Powerful, lively and crisp with notes of lemon, tangerine, quince, starfruit, pine, and chalk.
Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne France PG 92 $40
Feminine, elegant, fully sparkling and dry with notes of lemon bar, toasted rye, croissant, biscotti and chalk.
Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut Champagne France PG 92 $79
Rich and bold with notes of tar, mushroom, roasted meat, cashews and lemon zest.
Check out more of our sparkling wine reviews here:
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
A riff on Whisky stones, this shareable set of six fluorite stone wine gems - they look like oversized marbles - is a chic way to keep your white wine chilled without diluting it. Place in the freezer for a few hours then set three in each glass. When done, rinse with warm water and pat dry. $76 for the set of six.
PG WINE REVIEW 90 points
Thursday, December 3, 2015
A Scent of Champagne, by Richard Juhlin, is by far the greatest reference book on the topic. Juhlin is the world’s foremost Champagne expert and has compiled close to 10,000 tasting notes, 8,000 of which are included in this seventh of his works. (Skyhorse Publishing, Hardcover, 396 pages, 2013, US $75). He is gifted with a photographic scent memory, but more than that, is so deeply passionate about the chalky hills of Champagne and its sensuous wines that his book is truly addictive.
As a long-time student of wine with at least seven dog-eared editions of the Sotheby’s Encyclopedia of Wine by Tom Stevenson, I of course had to add his Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine. The book has been thoroughly updated and expanded by Tom as well as new co-author Essi Avellan MW (Sterling Epicure, Hardcover, 528 pages, 2014, US $40).
I love the female perspective and in-depth producer profiles brought by Master of Wine Serena Sutcliffe, in her Champagne, The History and Character of the World’s Most Celebrated Wine (Mitchell Beazley Publishers Hardcover, 223 pages, 1998, US $29.95).
An excellent online source of up to the minute information is Peter Liem’s Champagne Guide, http://www.champagneguide.net/. Peter lives in the region, writes in English, and has the kind of firsthand knowledge only possible with such close and frequent contact.
Finally, for a quick tutorial, Champagne Bureau USA reports that Comité Champagne has launched an e-learning program called Champagne Campus, which consists of an online resource hub and a mobile app quiz. Visit the website at www.champagnecampus.com to learn about the region and its wines or download the app at Apple Store or Google Play to access a fun quiz game about Champagne.