WineInk: A Toast to the Future … and the Past with the right Champagne
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Dom Pérignon 2008
I once had the pleasure of visiting the home of Dom Pérignon and was toured through the caves by Richard Geoffroy, the chef de cave of the esteemed and historic House. Geoffroy, who retired last January after 28 years at the helm, was a most gracious and encouraging host and I that day fell in love with what can only be described as the most prestigious brand in wine. To have an opportunity to pop a bottle of this 2008 Vintage release, the most recent of the 42 vintages released and the first to be released out of order. It followed the 2009 in 2018 because it was deemed to need more time.
Don’t we all.
There are few things more bittersweet than a Champagne toast on New Year’s Eve.
On the one hand, it can be misty and sad as one recollects the past to the melody and lyrics of the Scottish poet Robert Burns’ ubiquitous “Auld Lang Syne” (“we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne”). But it is also optimistic and joyful as the times ahead are viewed with vigor. And this year, as New Year’s Eve marks both the end and the beginning of a decade gone and a decade to come, the Champagne toast should be 10 times as emotional. So be sure you have the right bubbles in your glass as the pinnacle moment arrives in just a few days.
Ah, but what are the right bubbles? Therein lies the final question of the year.
For some, anything that sparkles will do. An Italian Prosecco (please make it DOCG sourced) or a Spanish Cava will provide the visual excitement of a stream of tiny bubbles rising in your glass. And this New Year’s, especially in Brexit-weary Britain, there will be more sparkling wines poured from the emerging “champagne” region of England near Hampshire in the south, than ever before.
Then there are those, me included, who have always felt an affinity for bubbles from America. Because we make damn good ones in places as far afield as the Anderson Valley of California (Sharffenberger Cellars), the foothills of New Mexico (Gruet) and the suburbs of Seattle (Domaine St. Michelle). All use the traditional Methode Champenoise and produce beautiful, estate-grown sparkling wines that can be purchased for under $30.
But, as we sit here on the cusp of the 2020s, I think this is the time to go all out for a New Year’s Eve toast and pour the real thing, a bottle of Vintage French Champagne. This is neither a wine snob’s suggestion for gluttony, nor a political statement, though I do suggest we buy our French wines before the rumored threatened future tariffs are instituted, which could alter the global wine market in ways unimagined. But that’s a story for 2020.
Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the turn of a decade should be celebrated with the very best. Both as homage to the past and as a hope for the future.
Vintages refer to the year in which the grapes in a bottle were originally harvested. These days, with some wines, there are generally smaller variations in vintages as wines are made to a consistent style rather than to reflect the changes in vintage. But in Champagne, vintage is a very big thing.
Every year the Champagne houses big and small (there are nearly 350 of them) produce “NV” wines, non-vintage wines. That is to say, they make wines from pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, the three grapes officially allowed in Champagne production, that are blends of the best juice from different years, or vintages.
But in the best years, those years in which growing conditions have been superb, when nature has coalesced all of its magical elements, heat, cold, rain, sun and soils in perfect harmony, the grand producers of the elixir of celebration produce Vintage Champagne. These Vintage Champagnes are required to be aged for at least three years in bottle after the harvest (many age even longer) and so the most recent Vintage releases are from 2016.
In the past decade the best Champagne vintage, according to just about all of the experts whose passion it is to rate these things, occurred in 2012, and it appears to be one of the best in history. Expectations for 2019, the decade’s last, which will not see bottles on shelves until at least 2022, have been mixed, with some suggesting it will be superior while others question the vagaries of heat and mildew issues.
Vintage Champagne is a luxury item and bottles will range from $100 to more than $1,000 depending upon the maker and the vintage. But if you are so inclined to indulge, you should look for bottles from some of the top producers in the region and vintages from, say the 2006 or 2008 vintages.
Spoiling yourself with Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2008 or a beautiful bottle of pink bubbles like the Perrier-Jouet Belle Époque Rosé Vintage 2006 should make you feel like a rock star as the New Year dawns. Beyond those beauties look for the wines from star Champagne producer Jaques Selosse. Perhaps an Extra Brut from the 2007 vintage. And really, any vintage produced Champagne from the major houses of Pol Roger, Billecart Salmon, Gosset Bollinger, Taittinger, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot will provide perfect bubbles for the holiday toast.
Happy New Year. See you in 2020.
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