Champagne gets a lot of attention on special occasions and holidays, especially New Years Eve. For the Fourth of July, an American holiday and the biggest barbecue day of the year, many think of Zinfandel. But I prefer to celebrate with Champagne. Am I being un-American? Keep in mind that if it were not for the Marquis de Lafayette and the French fleet, we would not be celebrating on July 4th. So I believe that we should all raise a glass of Champagne to the French and our Founding Fathers.
When the Comitè Champagne (Champagne Bureau) invited me to a Champagne tasting, it was perfect timing.
John Bandman, someone I have known for a number of years was the speaker.
Mr. Bandman made an interesting selection of Champagnes, all excellent values for the money. While most Champagne is made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with Pinot Meunier as a minor grape, he included several where the Pinot Meunier was prominent and one that was 100% Pinot Meunier. In response to a question Mr. Bandman said that besides Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, to make Champagne other approved varieties are white Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, but they make up less than 0.3% of the plantings.
Besserat de Bellefon, Brut NV It is a blend of 45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. The winery was established in 1843 in Ay. There are 25 hectares of vineyards, mainly situated in the Marne Valley, which is known for its Pinot Meunier. They also have about 100 grape growers with vineyards situated in the best areas of the Champagne region. It has hints of dried flowers, grapefruit peach, apricot and plum with a touch of hazelnuts in the finish. I find that Champagnes which have more red grapes in them often have more body and can be served with a greater variety of foods. $40
Ayala, Brut Majeur, NV made from 43% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Meunier. Bollinger owns this company. They only use up to 20% of their reserve wine in the NV. Complex and elegant with hints of apple, pear, bread crust and a touch of spice. $50
Blanc de Blancs, Franck Bonville NV Grand Cru made from 100% Grand Cru Estate grown Chardonnay from Oger, Cramant and Avize. There are 20 hectares of vineyards on the estate. This Champagne has floral hints with green apple, ginger and a touch of spice. $35
Brut Rose, Charles de Cazanove (Reims) Made from 50% Pinot Noir, 20 Pinot Meunier, 35% Côteaux Chamenois Rouge and 10% Chardonnay. Vinification mostly takes place in stainless steel, but when necessary some wines spend time in oak. It has nice fruit with hints of cherry and strawberry. $36
Blanc de Noirs, Michel Loriot NV made from 100% Meunier. The dosage is 10g. The have 7 acres of vineyards composed of 20 plots, 80% Meunier, 18% Chardonnay and 2% Pinot Noir. The owner/winemaker Michael Lorite likes to let nature express itself and has grass cover cropping to protect the vines from soil humidity. Rot and diseases are minimized as well as the use of phytosanitas products. Priority is given to organic fertilizers and the use of copper. The grapes are squeezed in a traditional press and the wine is stored in vats by cru and plot. $45
Collet Millesime Brut NV (Ay) 2004 Made from 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay and aged seven years in the cellar before release. This is a coop with 65 hectares of vines and 607 wine growers. The grapes for this Champagne come from ten specially selected Premier and Grand Cru vineyards. The wine has aromas and flavors of citrus fruit with hints of dried apple, lemon, bread and a touch of spice. Mr. Bandman said the 2004 was a very good vintage. $55
Demi-Sec, Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime NV (Reims) Made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from the Grand and Petite Montagne de Reims. The maturation period was extended by one year and there was a generous dosage. It is very fruity with hints of pear, cinnamon, candied fruits and a touch of pastry. $45