This weekend I went to the first of two “holiday Champagne tastings” at Chambers Street. This one focused on wines made from white grapes, and next week’s will focus on red grapes. I don’t keep my cards very close to my chest when talking about Chambers Street Wines. I love the place, and their tastings are a big part of the reason why.
Champagne is a region I would like to learn more about. The wines fascinate me but they are out of my price range for everyday drinking. As a result I have very limited tasting experience. So I jumped at the chance to try six back-to-back champagnes which, curated by Chambers Street, were bound to be incredible. Sure enough, they were, and between tasting the wines and talking to the Champagne buyer Sophie, I came out feeling like I had a much better understanding of what the wines of Champagne are all about.
Here are the wines from the tasting:
- Jacques Lassaigne NV Champagne Blanc de Blancs Vignes de Montgeux, $47.99
- Diebolt Vallois NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cramant, $44.99
- Agrapart et Fils NV Champagne Blanc de Blancs "7 Crus," $51.99
- Laherte 2007 Champagne Extra Brut Les Empreintes $74.99
- Piollot NV Extra Brut Polisot Pinot Blanc $61.99
- Doquet 2002 Champagne Grand Cru Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs $82.99
(I’m pretty sure that was the order. 4 and 5 might be switched though)
These tastings move pretty quickly and it can be difficult to get a good impression of any one single wine. But I find them more valuable for getting a general sense of a region or a style or a vineyard or a vintage or something like that. This tasting got me thinking a lot about…well, champagne.
The first three wines struck me as being similar. They all had a purity and focus to them, showing more lean fruit and minerality than any of the secondary, oxidative, nutty type flavors you can find in Champagne (guess that’s probably an age thing). I appreciate this style of wine for its terroir-expressiveness. You can really taste that these are wines made from Chardonnay, they all had that great, cutting cool climate acidity, and they all had pronounced mineral components. A couple of these wines struck me as being Chablis-like, which I guess makes sense given the proximity of the two regions.
The two wines that I found most memorable, however, were the Laherte and the Doquet. For my palate, these wines were also the two richest and broadest of the six wines. The Laherte had an incredibly fascinating funky nose and was rich and creamy on the palate but with great lively acidity. And the Doquet felt grand and decadent with a warm savory, yeasty sort of profile. This is what I imagine great, classic champagne tasting like when I read about it.
I only have one gripe about these wines and it’s an obvious one: prices. By Champagne standards these prices are actually great for such high quality wines, and I’ve read in a few places recently about how Champagne is actually a great value in the high-end wine market. But this is precisely why the wines of Champagne have been relegated to the role of special occasion wine.
If it were up to me, champagne would be an every day wine. Very few wines have the versatility that Champagne does—It’s incredibly delicious on it’s own, great as an aperitif with light fare, and I also think it serves a great place on the table. There are so many times I’ve cooked a meal, struggled to find the right wine and then realized that Champagne would have been the perfect pairing. But why can’t anyone make a bottle of Champagne for less than $30?
I understand that these wines come from some of the most amazing and also difficult terroir in the world and that some of them are aged upon release and that their prices reflect these factors. So here’s my question: is the price difference between Champagne and other sparkling wines justified? I think it is, but more so at the higher end. From my experience at this tasting, I realized if I had the money I would spend it on the Doquet or the Laherte before I would spend it on the more affordable NV wines. I found they offered something in terms of complexity and intrigue that I haven’t found in sparkling wines from other parts of the world.
I really loved the first three younger NV wines, the Lassaigne in particular, and in some contexts, with an oyster for example, I would rather drink the Lassaigne than the Doquet or the Laherte. And as I mentioned before, I really admire their purity and faithful expression of terroir, but I couldn’t help but wonder: is a faithful expression of Champagne terroir that much more valuable than a faithful expression of Jura terroir? Or the Loire? Or Savoie? Or Alsace? Or Burgundy? All of which are places you can find great wine makers making delicious, well made, and pure sparkling wines for around $20. I suppose it’s a bit of a silly argument when all these wines are unique and beautiful in their own ways, and in a perfect world I would just drink them all but when you’re on a budget you have to make silly arguments with yourself in justifying where to spend your hard-earned dollars…
Anyway, this Champagne stuff is fascinating. I know that a rapid-fire wine tasting is far from ideal way to evaluate a wine. I would love to buy each of these bottles, and a number of other Champagnes for that matter, and drink them slowly, each one over an evening, or a meal, or a few days and get to know each wine a little better. But if I did that, I would slowly go broke and end up destitute on the street drinking a bottle of Doquet out of a paper bag. Which is why I’m so thankful for Chambers Street for putting on these great tastings where I can try these wines for free. Thank you Chambers Street.
And in case you live a slightly more modest lifestyle than Ricky Rose, I highly recommend this wine:
Domaine de Montbourgeau NV Cremant du Jura Brut
Had this wine at thanksgiving with raw oysters and was blown away. Very lively on the palate, great champagne-like flavor profile. Pretty serious wine for $21.99.
Also, I would love to make posters of rappers holding bottles of geeky grower champagnes.
Anyone good with Photoshop?