"You rarely see good Champagne for less than $35 a bottle these days." - Eric Asimov, NY Times, 12/21/11.
Montaubret Brut NV (reg $34.99; sale $29.99!) - This pretty little Champagne is made by the Chassenay d'Arce cooperative of Champagne grape growers. What's exciting about this wine is that it is exactly in the style of Veuve Clicquot. The reason is that the cooperative sells grapes to Clicquot, so the similarity is understandable! Very light and delicate, yet clean and well balanced, it is a lovely Champagne that obviously saw close to the legal minimum for lees aging because it has very little of the brioche/yeast/bread dough character of the more complex Champagnes with longer aging. It is still delicious because the quality of the grapes is very high, and the price is great! If you like Cliquot, you will love Montaubret, and you will love the savings!
Ployez-Jacquemart Brut NV "Marie Weiss," (reg. $39.99; sale $34.99) - This cuvée is bottled by P-J expressly for the American importer. It is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 25% each Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. Half of the juice comes from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards! It was bottled in July with 7 g/l dosage and is of extraordinary quality for the price. The Wine Advocate described a previous release as "straightforward and accessible, with lovely depth in its fruit. The wine’s balance and length are both commendable, and the toasty, creamy finish rounds things out nicely." Laurence Ployez is a third-generation winemaker at her family’s estate. Her Champagnes are also highly acclaimed by the Wine Spectator, Jancis Robinson, and Revue de Vin de France.
Duval-Leroy Brut NV ($36.99) - This blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier, and 10% Chardonnay is complex and impeccably made. It shows significant brioche/yeasty character and finesse for a brut NV. Wine Spectator 92: "$45 An elegant wine with a delicate grain and subtle, citrusy acidity. Offers flavors of yellow apple, clementine, and licorice snap, with hints of marzipan and coconut and a fresh, creamy finish. Drink now through 2018." We are also carrying half bottles at $19.99! The recommended serving temperature is 46-50 degrees. The domaine was founded in 1859 when the two namesake families came together. Like the widow (veuve) Clicquot 186 years before her, Carol Duval-Leroy took over upon the death of her husband (1991). The company is one of the few remaining family-owned Champagne houses.
Charles Ellner Brut Grand Réserve NV ($39.99) and Brut Rosé NV($44.99) - A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the white has nice appley character with yeasty/bread dough notes in the background and is very clean and refined. Wine Spectator: 90, $48 "Refined in texture, with persimmon, lemon meringue pie, pickled ginger, and almond paste flavors focused by a tang of saline minerality and well-cut acidity. Offers a fresh, open-knit finish. Drink now - 2016." Wine Spectator on the Brut Rosé: 90, $48 "Dry and elegant with notes of chalk and smoke underscoring flavors of tangy cherry and McIntosh apple, showing hints of almond skin and cherry pit. Delivers a mouthwatering, lightly floral finish. Drink now - 2016."
Champagne Deutz Brut Classic, NV ($39.99) - Champagne Deutz was founded in Ay in 1838 by William Deutz and Pierre-Hubert Geldermann. The Brut Classic has a mellow bouquet of acacia flowers, confectionary, apples, and brioche. Its silky texture and balance combine the freshness of Chardonnay and the fruitiness and structure of Pinot. Wine Advocate (Antonio Galloni): 90 "The NV Brut Classic is a pretty, entry-level wine. Warm, generous fruit comes together beautifully in this rich, expansive, mid-weight Champagne. The bouquet, texture, and purity of the finish are all first-rate. The Brut Classic is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. It undergoes full malolactic fermentation." Wine Spectator: 90 "There's an aromatic floral note to the flavors of apricot, ripe apple, smoky mineral, kumquat, and lemon zest in this firm bubbly, which is fine-grained and balanced with a lively, moderate finish."
Pierre Moncuit Brut Blanc de Blancs Hugues de Coulmet NV ($39.99) - This is a beautifully balanced and very classy grower Champagne at a wonderful price. Nichole and Yves Moncuit have guided this excellent domaine since they took over from their father, Pierre, in 1977. Nichole is the winemaker and grower; Yves is in charge of the commercial side. Parker: 91 "The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Hugues de Coulmet (from vines in the Sezanne) is boisterous and creamy. Ripe apricots, flowers, and minerals emerge from this delicious, richly-textured Champagne. Refined and polished throughout, the Hugues de Coulmet possesses terrific balance and tons of style. Now-2014. Moncuit is an excellent source for focused, pure wines. Even though the wines are single-vintage, they are bottled as NV. Moncuit favors stainless steel, and the wines see full malolactic fermentation."
Gimonnet-Gonet Brut Tradition, NV ($45.99/$39.98) - The Gimonnet and Gonet families are two important families in the Cote de Blancs region of the Champagne district. Two of patriarch Pierre Gimmonet sons took over the existing company, but Philippe struck out on his own. His "severance package" consisted of seven hectares of Pinot vines in the Vallée de la Marne near Epernay. He married Anne Gonet, who responded to my e-mail requesting information. Her parents owned Grand Cru Chardonnay vines atop the famous Le Mesnil in the Côte des Blancs. After establishing their grower Champagne house in 1986, the couple purchased additional Chardonnay vineyards in nearby Chilly and Oger. The winery sits only two blocks away from Salon whose cult Champagnes sell for a minimum of $250 per bottle! G-G’s Brut Tradition is made from 50% each Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The base wines did not undergo malo-lactic and were aged only in tank. The difference between this wine and the more expensive cuvées is the relatively short time on the yeast - 24 months. But the quality of the grapes is very high, and 24 months is enough for good complexity, reasonably fine bubbles, and plenty of fruity flavor. The crisp acidity is nicely balanced by the 8 grams/liter dosage.
Marc Hébrart Brut 1er Cru Reserve NV ($47.99) - German wine importer Terry Thiese has branched out into Champagne where he searches out small producers of hand-crafted wines. Marc Hébrart, located in the Vallée de la Marne, makes this wonderful cuvée from 75% Pinot Noir (from the great 1er Cru vineyards of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Avenay Val d’Or, and Bisseuil) and 25% Chardonnay (from the Grand Crus Chouilly and Oiry). Hébrart employs techniques such as hand-selected grapes, Bucher pressing, fermentation in petite cuvée, malolactic, and hand remuage. His wines are fuller, richer, and better than Clicquot, yet they are buoyant, lithe, and integrated. Parker 91: Interestingly, Hebrart’s non-vintage Premier Cru Cuvee de Reserve smelled and tasted more like a rose than a white. Produced from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, this terrific NV Champagne bursts from the glass with gorgeous aromas of chalk, slate, yeast, smoke, blackberries, and currants. Medium-bodied and rich, it coats the taster’s palate with minerals, strawberries, and toasted bread.
Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage Pinot "Andre et Michel" ($45.99) - This terrific Champagne is unusual on two counts. First, it is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, whereas the traditional blend is a mostly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the balance of Chardonnay. (Blanc de Blancs are 100% Chardonnay.) The Pinot gives this wine a bit more body and fruit than is typical. Second, no sugar is added prior to release. A little sugar balances typically high acidity. Optimally ripe fruit is required to pull off zero dosage without the Champagne appearing lean and austere. Since disgorgement dates are still optional, it is impossible to know which review is applicable to which release of non-vintage Champagne, but here are recent reviews: Parker: 88+ "This is an especially focused, driven Champagne with good varietal flavors and a long, pointed finish. The zero-dosage approach gives the wine an attractive, vinous quality." Wine Spectator: 90 "This medium-bodied Brut Nature finds fine balance between the acidity and the rich blackberry, pastry, and lemon peel flavors. There's good intensity through to the spice-tinged finish. Drink now through 2012. 100 cases imported"
Pierre Monçuit Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cuvée 2007 ($49.99) - What a classy Champagne, and what a great value! Nichole (the winemaker) and Yves (in charge of the commercial side) Monçuit have guided this excellent domaine since they took over from their father, Pierre, in 1977. Parker: 90 "Shows wonderful balance and harmony all the way through to the delicate finish, where mineral-infused notes linger on the palate. This is another delicious, food-friendly Champagne from Monçuit. Made from 30 year-old vines in Mesnil. Dosage is 8 grams per liter. Drink now-2014. Monçuit is an excellent source for delicious, fresh Champagnes that deliver considerable quality for the money. All of Moncuit's wines are single-vintage, even the NV bottlings. Monçuit favors malolactic fermentation in stainless steel."
Chartogne Taillet 1999 ($49.99) - Parker 93: "Gorgeous aroma (pears, almonds & flowers) bursts from the glass. Concentrated, rich, muscular. Fresh & packed with minerals. Long, fruit-filled finish."
Guy Larmandier Blanc de Blancs Cramant Grand Cru, NV ($55.99) - Only 25,000 bottles of this wine are made annually from sites in the top-rated Cramant village. Hand-harvested and aged at least three years on the lees, this cuvée is 100% Chardonnay. Because the quality of the fruit is so superior, the cuvées shipped to the U. S. receive virtually no “dosage.” Thus Guy Larmandier Champagnes are exceedingly dry, delicate, and fine. Stephen Tanzer 91: “Light gold shot through with green. Understated, elegant aromas of pear, tangerine, and kiwi complemented by notes of lees, green cardamom, and mustard seed. Chalky, spicy, and firm with concentrated citrus and quince flavors that cling tenaciously. An intensely mineral, concentrated Champagne that shows the structure and flavor of top-drawer, old-school Chablis.”
Marc Hébrart Brut 1er Cru Selection NV ($57.99) - See the Reserve above. Even better! Parker 92: The non-vintage Selection, a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, reveals a deep, intense nose of spring onions and mineral liqueur. This Champagne has loads of depth, richness, concentration, and length. It is silky-textured, medium-bodied, and sports a long finish.
Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV ($58.99) - Eric Asimov reviewed Blanc de Blancs Champagnes (made from 100% Chardonnay grapes) in this past week's New York Times: "Our No. 1 bottle, the Delamotte nonvintage, was wonderfully elegant and fresh, with the sort of finesse and understated complexity I love in Blanc de Blancs. Great combination of finesse and complexity with brisk, fresh flavors of minerals, herbs, and chalk. Delamotte, incidentally, is the sibling producer of Salon, one of the greatest, and most expensive, blanc de blancs." We also carry their vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Link to the full article:
Agrapart L’Avizoise Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 1996 ($59.99) - Only 6500 bottles of this spectacular wine were made from a parcel of 50-year old vines in a vintage that may be the best of the decade. It was especially strong for Chardonnay-based wines from the Cote de Blancs. Twenty percent of the cuvée was aged in wood. One-third of the cuvée underwent malo-lactic fermentation, and it was aged almost six years before bottling. In comparison to the NV, this is bigger in all its dimensions especially its body, yeast characteristics, focus, and minerality. It will easily compete with the $100 Champagnes out there. A riveting Champagne and a bargain!!!
Gosset Grande Reserve Brut ($64.95) – Parker 90: "Grosset has fashioned a Grand Reserve Brut offering pleasant, yeasty bread notes inter-mixed with spicy pears, apple skins, & grapefruit. Medium-bodied, crisp, & impressively-endowed, it should be consumed now-2010."
Marc Hébrart Brut "Special Club," Premier Cru, 1999 and 2002 ($75) - This is the big brother of the best-selling Hébrart Brut Reserve and Selection. It is an outstanding Champagne with everything you could hope for: an intense and yeasty bouquet and flavor, fine bubbles, remarkable balance and finesse, and a lengthy finish. It embarrasses many more expensive Champagnes. Parker 92: Toasty minerals, spices, poached pears, and yeast are found in the aromatic profile of the 1999 “Special Club” (degorge le 24 mars 2005). Well-focused and complex, it offers flavors reminiscent of minerals, apples, pears, and yeast. This medium-bodied Champagne is packed with fruit and displays a long suave finish."
Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Ursules Blanc de Noirs NV ($95.00) - This rare and outstanding Champagne is usually a blend of two vintages. The most recent release has not been reviewed as yet, but the last five releases received an average score of 94 points from Robert Parker with comments such as "one of the most fascinating wines I have ever tasted from Champagne;" "there is a crystalline purity to this wine that is simply hard to believe;" "gorgeous richness in its red fruits, spices, and flowers;" "tight, focused, and layered, with mineral-infused layers of fruit that and a finish of crystalline purity and finesse;" "layers of perfumed berries, minerals and hard candy that fill out its frame with impeccable grace. The mineral infused, silky finish lasts an eternity;" and "gorgeous precision to the fruit and an eternal finish that makes it impossible to resist a second taste." This very limited Champagne typically improves with age.Chassenay d'Arce Cuvée Confidence ($99.99) is the tête de cuvée or prestige cuvée from the cooperative. It is a gorgeous wine. Very refined, it is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, yet it still has a delicacy and elegance that places it squarely in the category of Dom Perignon and the other well known prestige cuvées. The packaging is eye-popping, and the quality is superb.
Krug Grand Reserve NV ($169) – Parker 93: "The most consistent Krug wine I have been tasting lately. This is a big, boldly styled Champagne with smoky, earthy, pear, apple, and spicy aromas as well as flavors, loads of effervescence, and fine body and depth."
Riondo Prosecco ($10.98), Prosecco Rosé ($11.99), and Prosecco Punto Rosso Vintage ($15.99) - Riondo’s basic sparklers are quite pleasant, but the Punto Rosso is really delicious. Nicely balanced, it is cleaner than most Proseccos and has the perfect amount of residual sugar to balance Prosecco’s tendency toward bitterness without imparting a sense of sweetness.
De Perrier Brut Blanc de Blancs, Vin Mousseaux, NV ($12.99) and Brut Rosé Vin Mousseaux, NV ($12.99) - These sparkling wines are actually made in the great Burgundy town of Nuits-St.-Georges! The white is 100% Chardonnay. It obviously spent minimal time on the yeast because there is no discernible yeastiness on the palate, but it is clearly uses superior grapes. Quite clean and very pleasant in a soft style, it outshines any Prosecco near its price. The rosé is very similar with the addition of a touch of strawberry-like fruit and the barest hint of sweetness. These are great values!
Sumarroca Cava Brut Reserva ($14.99) - We’ve been waiting for the wines of Sumarroca since my wife and I visited this Spanish winery 2 years ago. Located in Penedès, just west of Barcelona, the original Molí Coloma estate in Subirats was purchased in 1983 by Nuria and Carles Sumarroca. Albert, their son, has also developed a passion for quality wines. Like their Chardonnay, Sumarroca’s sparkling wine is made only from free-run juice. The weight of the grapes on top will gently press the grapes below releasing only 20% of the potential juice. This is the cleanest, purest juice that can be obtained. Sumarroca uses 30% Macabau, 30% Xerello, 30% Paraleda, and 10% Chardonnay. The DO authorities discourage Chardonnay, but the stubborn Sumarrocas believe it to have the greatest potential and are actually increasing its percentage each year. Mass-produced Cava, like Freixenet, must only be aged on the yeast for 9 months. Cava Reserva requires a minimum of two years on the yeast. Sumarroca Brut Reserva gets a full three years! A value sparkler.
Codorniu Cava Anna de Codorniu Brut, NV (14.95) and Brut Rosé de Pinot Noir, NV $16.59) - It's never too late for good bubbly. Codorniu is perhaps the best of the large Spanish Cava producers. The Anna de Codorniu is very dry. Unusual for Spain, but good for quality, it is made of 70% Chardonnay along with the traditional Macabeo and Parellada grapes. Cava must be aged at least nine months on the lees; this one was aged for 12 months. Wine Spectator 88: "This shows some richness, with Jonagold apple, honey, candied citrus peel, and vanilla notes. There's juicy acidity for balance, with a creamy texture and a lingering finish." It was a gold medal winner at the Brussels International Competition. The Pinot Noir (100%) gets its color because after de-stalking, the grapes are crushed and left to macerate for 3-4 hours before pressing. The resulting wine shows a little more fruit, but it is equally dry. Both are delicious!
Sumarroca Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva, NV ($16.99) - Sumarroca is a moderate-size Spanish winery in the Penedès region just south of Barcelona that makes table wines as well as terrific Cavas. Unlike the giants of the Cava world such as Freixenet, Sumarroca grows all its own grapes, thus maintaining complete control of the production process. Despite pressure from the government and from its neighbors to use only indigenous grapes, Sumarroca uses some Chardonnay (7%) in the blend because the owners rightly believe that it is superior. We've carried the Brut Reserva for some time, but the Gran Reserva is a real steal for just a few dollars more. Its yeasty, Champagne-like character comes from thirty months in bottle on the lees. This is a complex, elegant, and dry sparkler with a prolonged finish.
Gruet Brut Gold, NV ($15.99) - This wonderful sparkler is as good as any Champagne available under $22. The blend is 60% Chard and 40% Pinot Noir. It has a creamy texture and surprising finesse and harmony. It lacks the intense yeastiness of a $30 French Champagne, but it is a terrific value. Gruet is the labor of love of Farid Himuer and Laurent Gruet who left France after years in the family Champagne business. (The family French Champagne is available here under the Paul Laurent label.) They investigated California and Oregon, but fell in love with New Mexico! I had the opportunity to visit the Albuquerque winery a few years ago. The winery was founded in 1987 using grapes planted in 1983. The grapes are grown at a high elevation in southern New Mexico where Chardonnay grows very well. Although generally less successful, Pinot Noir adds complexity to this cuvée.
Real de Aragon Cava Brut NV ($16.79) - This Spanish Cava thinks it's a Champagne! Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): 90, $34! "Pagos Familia Langa's Non-Vintage Real de Aragon Brut comes from the DO of Calatayud and is composed of 70% Macabeo and 30% Chardonnay. Mineral, biscuit, and white peach notes inform the nose of this concentrated, persistent, intense sparkling wine. The flavors are dry and precise, the finish clean and refreshing. Drink this outstanding effort over the next 1-2 years. There are scattered places throughout Spain entitled to use the Cava designation, although the vast majority come from Catalunya in general and Penedès in particular." While this is a terrific value at $17, it would be a bit pricey at Parker's listed price of $34. We get a great deal on this because the importer is a friend and, being in New Jersey, he distributes here himself and avoids the middleman.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, 2005 ($18.69) - The Spanish firm Freixenet is the world's largest producer of sparkling wine. It was founded upon the marriage of the Sala and Ferrer families in Catalonia in 1915. Not satisfied with making sparkling wine in just Spain, Pedro Ferrer came to the U.S. in search of land to grow grapes but returned to Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war and died in the fighting. His son, Jose Ferrer, kept the idea alive, but the ball didn't get rolling until while on vacation in California, Jose's wife, Gloria, wrote to him of the beauty of the Carneros region. Her letter inspired the founding of the first sparkling wine facility in Carneros in 1982. Today Gloria Ferrer makes several cuvées that have won numerous awards and deserve more attention from the public than they get. The Blanc de Blancs is made from 100% Chardonnay. It spent more than three years aging on the yeast to develop complexity and lasting effervescence. Most other California sparklers in this price range spend only 18-20 months on the yeast. Exhilarating aromas of Asian pear, lemon blossom, star fruit and brioche flood from the 2005 Blanc de Blancs. The palate shows a broad range of flavors – juicy pear, tangerine and white chocolate – which expand through a creamy texture and firm framework.
Eugene Deybach Crémant de Alsace Blanc, NV (reg. $19.99; sale $16.99) and Crémant de Alsace Rosé, NV(reg. $20.99; sale $17.99) - Alsace has produced some very attractive and attractively priced sparkling wines since 1900. Although they must be made by the same method as true Champagnes to the north, they can no longer use the term "Methode Champenoise" on the label. The Blanc is made from Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois, two white varietals that are basically genetically identical to Pinot Noir. The Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir. These wines are no more expensive than many Proseccos, but they use superior grape varietals and superior techniques. Crémants spend a minimum of nine months sur latte before disgorgement and are fermented to 4-6 atmospheres of pressure, a little less than Champagne.
Domaine des Nugues Sparkling Gamay "Made by G," NV (reg.$22.99; sale $19.99) - Yes, this is a sparkling Gamay. Yes, you can stop rolling your eyes because it's really good! This unique wine is deep red in color and is made from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais district. It is made by the methode champenoise, but it cannot legally make that claim on the label because it is not from the Champagne district; nor can it make any reference to Beaujolais because sparklers from this region are not recognized by the AOC. This is a fun wine with a lot of fruit flavor and just enough residual sugar to balance its acidity. It will make you smile and reach for the bottle to top up your glass. Tasty on its own, it perfectly accompanies spicy dishes and pizza. It will also be perfect for outside sipping as the weather warms up.
Leconfeld Sparkling Shiraz
Despite the interest engendered by recent magazine articles, there are
very few of these oddities available. This is one of the more expensive of the
genre, but it justifies the price. It’s both very dry and very intense in
fruit. Try it with chocolate or flavorful cheeses.