Wealth of new re­leases will put some pop in your party

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

CHRIST­MAS is around the cor­ner, as is New Year’s Eve, good ex­cuses to share a bot­tle (or more) of cham­pagne with fam­ily and friends. Here is a se­lec­tion across the en­tire price and qual­ity range that didn’t make my an­nual Top100 ( TheWeek­endAus­tralian , Novem­ber 3-4) sim­ply be­cause of the in­evitable space con­straints.

Pierre Gi­mon­net is a rar­ity in Cham­pagne, a fam­ily-owned busi­ness (since 1750) that ex­clu­sively pro­duces blanc de blancs, or 100 per cent chardon­nays, from its own vine­yards.

For good mea­sure, half of its vines are more than 40 years old, and those that go into the non-vin­tage Gi­mon­net Blanc de Blancs Brut ($44.99, 92 points) are all ranked pre­mier cru.

It is an out­stand­ing aper­i­tif style, with a fra­grant cit­rus and stone­fruit bou­quet flow­ing through to the vi­brant palate and long fin­ish. Dis­trib­uted and avail­able through Liquor­land, (03) 9829 4094.

Gi­mon­net’s value for money makes the com­pe­ti­tion tough for oth­ers but the NV Devaux Grand Re­serve ($69, 93 points) goes most of the way. Even though it is from the Aube re­gion, widely planted to pinot me­u­nier, it has none in its make-up but com­prises 75 per cent pinot noir and 25 per cent chardon­nay. It is an at­trac­tive wine, long and har­mo­nious. Avail­able through Yer­ing Sta­tion, (03) 9730 0100.

It is easy to ar­gue that the ex­tra dol­lar for NV Moet et Chan­don Im­pe­rial ($70, 90 points) or $10 more for NV Veuve Clic­quot Yel­low La­bel Brut ($79, 93 points) is worth the recog­ni­tion of the la­bel of mar­quee cham­pagnes. The Moet is made in an early drink­ing, eas­ily ap­proach­able style, thanks pri­mar­ily to its 40 per cent pinot me­u­nier com­po­nent (plus 50 per cent pinot noir and 10 per cent chardon­nay).

Veuve’s Yel­low La­bel blend is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed (use­ful given the com­mon own­er­ship), with 30 per cent chardon­nay, 55 per cent pinot noir and only 15 per cent pinot me­u­nier. It has a mix of cit­rus, stone­fruit and brioche flavours, with seam­less mouth-feel and flow, mak­ing it nigh-on ir­re­sistible. MoetHen­nessy Aus­tralia, (02) 8344 9900.

Most back la­bels (and front, for that mat­ter) of cham­pagnes tell you noth­ing about the va­ri­etal base (un­less it is 100 per cent of one variety), the re­gions within Cham­pagne from where the base wines come or the vin­tages of those base wines. Jac­ques­son leaves noth­ing hid­den: Cu­vee No 731 ($85, 93 points) com­prises 59 per cent from the very rich 2003 vin­tage and 41 per cent from older re­serve wines; 52 per cent is chardon­nay, 31 per cent pinot me­u­nier, 17 per cent pinot noir. The 12,500 cases made were all from grand and pre­mier cru vine­yards, the wine was dis­gorged in the third quar­ter of 2006 and the dosage (sugar ad­di­tion) was an un­usu­ally low 3.5g a litre.

De­tails of this pre­ci­sion are ir­rel­e­vant to most con­sumers but they do give a sel­dom seen tem­plate of some of the fac­tors that shape any cham­pagne.

And the wine? Well, the rich­ness and ripeness of the 2003 base is tem­pered by the re­serve wines and low dosage, and the wine flows across the tongue, fin­ish­ing with soft acid­ity. Im­ported by Cel­lar­hand, www.cel­lar­hand.com.au.

I am­be­witched by the wines of Ayala, which was bought by Bollinger a few years ago. Its NV Brut Na­ture Zero Dosage ($88, 94 points) is a blend of 67 per cent pinot noir, 26 per cent chardon­nay and 7 per cent pinot me­u­nier from a mix of grand and top pre­mier cru vine­yards. It is largely from 2003, the re­serve wine prin­ci­pally 2002. The zero dosage is a highly suc­cess­ful re­sponse to the 2003 base, as the wine is bright, fresh and crisp, with strong fruit struc­ture and a zesty fin­ish. With an­other few years in bot­tle it could be out­stand­ing. Fine Wine Part­ners, 1800 251 187.

Bruno Pail­lard is the mouse that roared. In 1984 he founded the house that broke all the ar­cane rules de­signed to pre­vent new­com­ers break­ing into the cham­pagne club.

I se­lected some of his first wines for David Jones, never dream­ing that in March 2006 his house would be­come the sec­ond largest in Cham­pagne (af­ter MoetVeuve Clic­quot) by pur­chas­ing Lan­son In­ter­na­tional, which in turn owned the largest (and ar­guably best) co-oper­a­tive, Marne et Cham­pagne, plus Besserat de Belle­fon, 20 cham­pagne brands in­clud­ing Pol Gess­ner, and four chateaus in Bordeaux. Marne et Cham­pagne makes a mil­lion cases, com­pared with Pail­lard’s 25,000. Lan­son (500,000) and Besserat de Belle­fon (90,000) add more to an al­ready huge pie.

NV Pail­lard Brut Pre­miere Cu­vee ($90, 94 points) ca­resses the mouth, its per­fect bal­ance driven as much by fruit as acid­ity through its very good length and fin­ish. Avail­able from Hav­i­land Wine Mer­chants, (02) 9929 3722.

From here there is a jump to a clas­sic deluxe wine, 1995 Charles Hei­d­sieck Blanc des Mil­lenaires ($180, 96 points), rightly revered for its longevity, ex­pressed here by its silky, vi­brant fresh­ness and length. Maxxium, (02) 9418 5000.

Tait­tinger’s Comtes de Cham­pagne Blanc de Blancs is (like the Mil­lenaires) an­other 100 per cent chardon­nay of ce­les­tial qual­ity. Much rarer is the 2002 Comtes de Cham­pagne Rose ($250, 97 points), made from 100 per cent grand cru pinot noir given brief skin con­tact be­fore press­ing and fer­men­ta­tion. It is a mix of re­fine­ment and mouth-fill­ing red fruit (straw­ber­ries and cher­ries) which, like the NV Krug Brut Rose ($520, 98 points) and 1996 Dom Perignon Rose ($600, 98 points), moves from the realm of cham­pagne to supremely great wine that just hap­pens to have bub­bles.

The bronze-coloured Krug is glo­ri­ously com­plex yet beau­ti­fully dry, its af­ter­taste lin­ger­ing for a seem­ing eter­nity. The Dom is su­per-fra­grant, su­per-el­e­gant and su­per-in­tense, with flaw­less fruit def­i­ni­tion. If you want to give or ex­pe­ri­ence a unique wine made in lim­ited quan­ti­ties, ei­ther of th­ese will fit the bill.

McWilliam’s im­ports Tait­tinger, (02) 9707 1266; Moet-Hen­nessy looks af­ter Dom Perignon and Krug. James Halliday’s reg­u­lar Fromthe Re­gion wine fea­ture will re­turn in the new year.

Sparkling scenery: Eper­nay in Cham­pagne

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