Wealth of new releases will put some pop in your party
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