Champagne Ed McCarthy at the Wine Media Guild
“Champagne is the most glorious beverage on the planet-at least it is for me,” is the opening line in Ed’s book Champagne for Dummies. Ed was the speaker at the Wine Media Guild’s annual holiday Champagne tasting and lunch. The only thing Ed likes better than talking about Champagne is drinking it. Ed arranged for the members of the WMG and their guests to taste and then drink with lunch an impressive array of Prestige Cuvee Champagne.
The Wine Media Guild tasting and lunch always takes place at Felidia Restaurant in NYC. All three courses at lunch featured salmon including ravioli and the main course, a 26-pound salmon, which was quite a sight when it was brought into the dining room.
Ed explained that a Prestige Cuvée is the best Champagne produced by the Champagne house. These wines are made from the best and most expensive grapes from the best vineyards, usually from all Grand Cru or a blend of Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages. They are aged longer in the producer’s cellar than their other Champagnes.
Ayala 2002 La Perle d’ Ayala Nature Made from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir from Grand Gru and Premiere Cru vineyards. 2002 was a great year for Champagne. Ed said that it was the best year since 1996 and these were the two best vintages in the last 20 years. In 2002, the beginning of the year was a little difficult because of a lot of rain particularly in July. Indian Summer started on September 7th, which allowed for an exceptional maturity for the grapes. The harvest was average in volume, but the quality of the fruit was excellent, allowing for this wine to be made without dosage. The wine is aged for at least 5 years in the cellar and is aged under real cork, rare in Champagne today. Elegant small bubbles, light style with hints of white fruit and citrus, dry with good acidity.$145
Alfred Gratien NV “Cuvée Paradis” Produced from 65% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 17%Pinot Meunier. This is a small house and their wines are very difficult to find in this country. The wine is fermented in 228 liter oak barrels for 6 months and spends 6 years in bottle. This is a non-vintage prestige cuvée and Ed found it to be elegant and more sophisticated and classier than some of the very good, but heavier Vintage Brutes. It has aromas and flavors of white fruit, honey and nuts. Ed described it as elegant and having intensely concentrated and complex flavors with hints of white fruit, toast and gingerbread, and a long aftertaste. $130
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000 Blanc de Blancs The grapes are pressed immediately in presses located in the vineyards. The first pressing, known as cuvee is followed by two more pressings known as the first and second “tailles”. Only the juice from the “cuvee” goes into this wine. Temperature controlled fermentation takes place and about 5% of the wine is matured for a few months in 225 litter new oak casks. Prior to disgorgement the wine is aged for 9 or 10 years. Ed said that this was a good but not a great year for champagne but the wine was showing very well and it is their flagship Champagne. He described it as being full and rich. It was toasty with hints of white fruit, good acidity and a long lingering finish. $130
Perrier-Jouet “Fleur de Champagne” 2002 50% Made from Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier in the popular “Flower Bottle”. The wine needs some more age before it can really be appreciated.$160
Piper- Heidsieck “Rare” 2002 Made from 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay from twelve 100% rated Grand Cru Villages. This needs at least 15 years from the vintage date to develop fully. It was interesting because I found aromas and flavors of spice and ginger with citrus fruit and good acidity. $175
Roederer “Cristal” 2004 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. Ed said that it is made with grapes from their own vineyards, almost all of which are Grand Cru. The best champagne Ed had last year was the 1988 Crystal. It seems that most of the Prestige Cuvee champagnes need at least 15 years from the vintage date to be ready to drink especially those from the 2002 vintage. This was a big,rich champagne and I have to agree with Ed that it is too young. $195
Gosset “Célébris” 1998 Made from 64% Chardonnay 35% Pinot Noir. They avoid malolatic fermentation and always perform riddling and disgorging of prestige cuvees and large formats by hand. Ed described it as a delicately flavored champagne, with intense tiny bubbles and wonderful floral aromas with vanilla and lime flavors and a great aftertaste $155
Deutz “Cuvée William Deutz” 1999 62% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay and 8% Pinot Meunier This wine is drinking very well right now. It was one of Ed’s favorite wines at the tasting and I have to agree. $175
Pol Roger “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill”1999 $195 Made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30 % Chardonnay from their Grand Cru vineyards. Ed felt it still needs 4 or 5 more years to be ready. He described it as being rich, firm and austere but also with finesse and complexity. This was another of his favorite wines and I have to agree. $195
Bruno Paillard Nec-Plus-Ultra (N. P. U.) 1995 Made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. It is only made in great vintages and the grapes come from 5 Grand Cru villages. Ed said they only use the first pressing. The wine is fermented in small oak barrels and then rests in these barrels for 9 months. The wine remains on the lees for at least ten years. On the back label there is the disgorgement date so you know when the wine left the winery. The dosage is reduced to a minimum. The wine had flavors and aromas of ginger, honey orange blossom and a hint of brioche on the palate. This was the most expensive wine at the tasting.
Henriot “Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1995 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from six of the most prestigious Grand Cru vineyards. Ed said it was excellent and one of his favorites. It was my favorite Champagne of the tasting. It is rich with citrus aromas and flavors and hints of wild peach, hazelnut and a touch of honey. It is aromatic with a great finish and aftertaste. $ 145
Last year Ed was the speaker for a tasting and lunch for a group called the NY Wine Press. I attended as a guest. I must like this wine because it was my favorite at that tasting also.