Best Non-Vintage Brut Champagne

This article was originally published in “The Fifty Best.”

http://www.thefiftybest.com/wine/best_brut_champagne

Best Non-Vintage Brut Champagne

by Geoff Kalish

Against the general appeal of dry, vintage-dated wine, most champagne (the “authentic” stuff from a demarcated area in France) sold in the United States and elsewhere is non-vintage “brut” (slightly sweet bubbly wine). In fact, only about 10% of the production of champagne is vintage-dated.

A large part of the reason for this trend is that because of climatic conditions in the Champagne region (about an hour drive northeast of Paris), only about half of the years in any decade will the weather permit for adequate ripening of grapes to make even “just decent” wine. And while everyone nowadays says they like dry wine, most prefer a bit of sweetness in what they are drinking, especially in the United States. Another reason is that consumers expect that a particular producer’s product will be about the same from year to year, which usually requires blending of wine from a number of different harvests to maintain the anticipated consistency.

pouring champagne into glasses

Like most other champagne, these wines are produced from a combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes made by the méthode champenoise, in which after the original wine is bottled a second fermentation to produce the bubbles takes place in that same bottle by the addition of a small amount of sugar and yeast. Also importantly, the wine must age during the second fermentation for at least 15 months to make sure the process is complete. At the conclusion of the process, a small amount of sugar water (dosage) is usually added when the dead yeast is removed before bottling.

These champagnes are generally lower priced than the “vintage” bottlings (made from the harvest of only one particular year), which add to their popularity. But there are so many of these wines with varying styles on the market that consumers often face a quandary in choosing one or two that fit their taste. A sampling of over two dozen brut champagnes was conducted by the Wine Media Guild (a New York-based group of professional wine educators and communicators). All wines were first tasted without food and then during a specially prepared luncheon in Manhattan.

In tasting these wines alone and then with food I found that they could be divided into three groups.
– Those sparklers that were light and elegant and would mate best with fare like shrimp, caviar, oysters, or delicate fish such as dover sole or cod.
– Those bubblies that were rich and fruity and could stand up to the likes of smoked salmon, baked chicken, grilled veal chops or even pasta with pesto.
– And a group of champagnes that were somewhere in between the other two categories, showing a bouquet and taste that was pleasantly mellow and perfect for toasting without fare or for drinking following dessert.

The champagnes are listed alphabetically within each group. Notes follow, with prices listed reflecting typical retail cost for a 750 ml bottle, not including tax.

LIGHT & ELEGANT

A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV – $52.
This 100% Chardonnay wine from a small, family-owned independent producer shows a floral bouquet of dried apricots and hints of mint, with a memorable toasty taste and vibrant finish.A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV

 

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV – $68.
A bouquet and taste of pears and brioche with a vibrant acidity dominate in this blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV

 

Deutz Brut Classic Champagne NV – $45.
Fashioned from equal amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, this wine shows a refined bouquet and taste of French toast with an undertone of light honey and a long smooth finish.

Deutz Brut Classic Champagne NV

 

Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage NV – $60.
Albeit a bit too austere for my palate, this wine made from 55% Chardonnay without any dosage added, has a bouquet and taste of apples and spice, and will appeal to those who like very dry champagne.
Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage NV<

 

Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial NV – $38.
This delicately seductive bargain wine shows a bouquet and taste of ripe apples, peaches and brioche that intensifies as it sits in the glass. The vibrant finish is memorable.
Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial NV

 

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV – $37.
Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this wine was a bit light and too one dimensional for my taste, with primarily lemony notes and a rather short finish.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV

 

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV – $68.
This 100% Chardonnay bubbly shows a memorable bouquet and taste of just-baked brioche, with hints of grapefruit and a crisp, lemony finish.
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV

 

PLEASANTLY MELLOW

Ayala Brut Majeur NV – $35.
Made from a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, this wine has a bouquet and taste of just picked apples and lemon, with a hint of lime in the finish.Ayala Brut Majeur NV

 

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV – $50.
A personal favorite for its quality compared to price, this wine is comprised of 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from over 20 different vineyards. It shows a bouquet and taste of peaches and pears with notes of honey and a crisp finish.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV

 

G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV – $38.
From a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this wine shows a bouquet and taste of dried apricots with hints of vanilla and a crisp finish.
G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV

 

Henroit Blanc de Blancs NV – $59.
Unlike a number of too-light bubblies made from 100% Chardonnay, this wine shows a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle and almonds and a lusty taste of dried fruit and exotic spice.
Henroit Blanc de Blancs NV

 

JP Lamiable Brut Grand Cru NV – $58.
Predominantly Pinot Noir and about 20% Chardonnay this wine shows a bouquet and taste of peaches and dried fruit, with hints of honey and lime in its vibrant finish.
JP Lamiable Brut Grand Cru NV

 

Marion-Bosser Premieur Cru Extra Brut
Blanc de Blancs NV
 – $55.
Against the trend of blending, this bubbly is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged for three years on the lees (dead yeast). It shows a yeasty bouquet and taste of apples and notes of pears with a long, full finish.
Marion-Bosser Premieur Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV

 

Pol Roger Brut White Label NV – $45.
Composed of almost equal parts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this wine is allowed to rest at a low temperature for almost three years before release. Delightfully complex, it shows a bouquet and taste of walnuts and poached pear with a vibrant, lemony finish.
Pol Roger Brut White Label NV

 

Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV – $43.
Fashioned from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, this wine has a fragrant bouquet of ripe pears and honey with a memorably smoky taste and a touch of vibrant acidity in its finish.
Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV

 

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV – $45.
This wine is made of 55% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. The bouquet and taste shows layer upon layer fresh green apples, brioche and lemon meringue with a refreshing finish.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV

 

RICH & FRUITY

André Jacquart Brut Expérience Premier Cru NV – $46.
This Chardonnay-based wine, produced by a combination of barrel and stainless-steel fermentation compares well to champagne sold for 2-3 times its price. It shows a toasty bouquet and taste with lingering flavors of ripe pears and dried apricots and a long, refreshing finish.André Jacquart Brut Expérience Premier Cru NV

 

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée NV – $45.
Fashioned from a blend of primarily first press Chardonnay grapes with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this bubbly shows a bouquet and lush taste of apples and ripe peaches, with a refreshingly vibrant acidity in its finish.
Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée NV

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV – $58.
This blend of 34% Pinot Noir, 33% Pinot Meunier and 33% Chardonnay is very fruity with a bouquet and taste of ripe nectarines, with hints of pears and a touch of spice in its graceful finish.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV

 

Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut NV – $59.
Made from primarily Chardonnay (70%) with the remainder Pinot Noir (30%), this sparkler shows a bouquet and taste of ripe pears with hints of brioche and brown sugar in its finish.
Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut NV

 

Gosset Grande Reserve Brut NV – $65.
Fashioned from 43% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, this is a big fruity wine showing a bouquet and taste of ripe baked fruit and toasty undertones, with just enough acidity to balance the flavors.
Gosset Grande Reserve Brut NV

 

Lanson Black Label Brut NV – $39.
Produced from a blend of 50% Pinot Noir. 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier, this wine shows a bouquet and taste of pears and toasted raisin bread, with a smoky finish, balanced by a touch of citron.
Lanson Black Label Brut NV

 

Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses
Premier Cru Brut NV
 – $50.
Made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (60%) and Chardonnay (40%), a fragrance and taste of honey dominates this wine with hints of lemons and lime in its finish.
Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut NV

 

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV – $40.
This very popular sparkler, made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier has a fragrant bouquet of ripe apples and toasty brioche and a smooth complex taste of fruit, oak and spice, with a hint of grapefruit in the finish.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV

 

Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs NV – $54.
This 100% Chardonnay from an organically maintained vineyard shows a bouquet of dried apricots and peaches with a mouthfilling taste of ripe fruit and hints of brown sugar and spice, with a touch of lime in its refreshing finish.
Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs NV

 

Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV – $36.
Made primarily from Pinot Noir grapes, this sparkler has a fragrant bouquet and taste of pears and citrus with hints of ginger in its vibrant finish.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

Wine writers discover pleasant surprises at a tasting of hard ciders

This article was originally published on “Corks, Caps and Taps.”

 

Ciders that turned wine writers’ heads

Apple and pear ciders demonstrate at a New  York tasting that they are earning a place at the dining table

By Alan J. Wax

When members of the Wine Media Guild of New York convened recently in the private dining room of Felidia, in Manhattan, there were no elegant Chardonnays to be tasted, no sensual red Burgundies, no coveted First Growth Bordeaux wines and no well-aged Barolos.

No, at this meeting of wine writers, the drink of the moment had nothing to do with grapes. Instead, the scribes sampled a beverage that in recent years has soared in popularity: hard cider. And many of the writers, new to cider, took great pleasure in their discoveries,

Indeed, hard, or alcoholic cider, is among the hottest alcoholic beverage categories in the U.S. The Chicago-based market research firm IRI reported that cider sales soared 75.4 percent over the12 months that ended Nov. 30, 2014 to $366 million, or about 1 percent of the beer market.

Cider, to be sure, is technically a wine, albeit one made from apples, or, in some instances pears and, generally, one of less than 7 percent alcohol by volume. Cider makers typically ferment their fruit juices with natural wild yeasts, yeasts used in winemaking, and occasionally, at least in the U.S., with yeast strains used by Belgian brewers.

In the past, cider was confused with apple wine and was considered a sweet/carbonated drink. Lately, however, there’s been a move to make dry and semi-dry ciders, driven in part by the gluten free movement and the perception that the sweeter taste of cider, with a similar alcohol level to beer, will appeal to women and drinkers seeking novelty. Under U.S. tax regulations, fermented apple and pear drinks may only be labeled cider if they contain less than 7 percent alcohol by volume.

To be sure, cider is not new. It goes back millennia to Roman times. In colonial America it was the beverage of choice until German immigrants brought their beers to our shores, the wine writers learned from event speaker Daniel Pucci, cider sommelier at Wassail, a cider bar and restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Pucci also discussed the cider-making process — and its various styles.

Oliver's Classic Perry, from England

Cider, like its vinous distant relative, can be produced from one or more varietals and in range of styles, often dependent on the traditions of the region where the cider was made. Ciders at this tasting originated in England; Normandy, France, Basque, France; New York, New England, Virginia and California.

And the distinctions are readily apparent.

In the United States, most ciders are produced from culinary apples— the kind you find at your local supermarket, thus producing beverages that tend to be sweet, though there are exceptions. But in Europe, ciders are produced from fruits grown especially for cider making that tend to more acidic and more tannic and largely inedible. Oh, but do they make great quaffs.

At this tasting we had more than 30 ciders to taste, including a few perries (pear ciders), so many were enjoyable, particularly the pear versions. Confession, I skipped those flavored with spices, flowers and hops and by and large favored the European ciders.

My top picks:

Aaron Burr Cidery Homestead East Branch, from Wurtsboro, New York. Made from foraged wild apples, this light gold rendition was dry, spicy and yeasty.

Bad Seed Cider, from New York’s Hudson Valley. A surprising dry, straw-hued cider with a tart apple character that was crafted from culinary apples. A great companion to food.

Christian Drouhin Poiré, from Normandy.  Drouin is known for its Calvados. Without a doubt, my No, 1 pick of the tasting. Made from pears grown on 200-year-old trees, it has a sensual elegance that starts with delicate pear aromas and continues with a flavorful, soft mineral quality.

Etienne Dupont Bouche Brut, from Normandy. Champagne clear, it starts a bit funky and is dry with bracing acidity from start to finish.

Ettienne DuPont Tripel Cidre, fermented three times

Etienne Dupont Cidre Tripel, from Normandy. Fermented three times with Champagne yeasts, including a dosage, this amber cider is made from bitter apple varieties. It’s dry, savory and has quite a bit tannin that makes it seem a somewhat weighty.

Farnham Hill Semi-Dry, from Lebanon, New Hampshire. Mild gold in appearance, this serious cider burst with red apple and mineral flavors. Not as sweet as its name might suggest,

Oliver’s Classic Perry, from Hereford, England. A fruity, off-dry drink that screams out its pear character.

Titled Shed Ciderworks Graviva from Sonoma, California. There’s a tart green apple character through and through this semi-dry sparkler made largely with Gravenstein apples. There’s also a bit of earthy funk and tannin.

One thing this tasting demonstrated: Cider is earning its place at the table.

The Wine Media Guild Does…Cider!

This article originally appeared in “Upstate Downtown.”

The Wine Media Guild Does…Cider!

By Christopher Matthews

It may sound a bit like “man biting dog”, but at the Wine Media Guild of New York’s (WMG) recent October tasting/lunch, the focus was on…cider!

Justifiably so.

“Hard” (i.e. alcoholic) cider is one of the hottest beverage categories in the US, with sales having tripled from 2012 to 2014 alone. Wine producers have been urged to assess the current and future threat posed by cider to their markets, in particular by the artisanal cider revival, driven by smaller craft producers whose ciders offer compelling flavor profiles that can rival fine wines (at lower generally alcohol levels).

Sponsored by WMG members Alan Wax and Carlo DeVito (who also spoke), along with special guest speaker Daniel Pucci, the cider sommelier at Wassail Restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (highly recommendable!), who gave the low-down on the process — and styles — of cider-making, the event at Felidia in Manhattan featured a top-flight line-up of cider producers from across the US (New York, New Hampshire, Virginia and California), England and France.

Among the over 30 ciders (and “perry”, i.e. pear cider) on offer, there was much to like.

Aaron Burr Cidery (NY-Sullivan Co.) showed especially well with its two submissions, Appinette and Homestead East Branch, both exhibiting wine-like complexity. Appinette, a blend of 70% local apples (Idared, russets and Northern Spy) and 30% Traminette grapes, delivers floral and stone fruit notes, with some spice and pleasing bitterness on a long clean finish – excellent for the table. The Homestead East Branch, made of unsprayed wild and abandoned apples foraged in the Upper Delaware River Valley, is herbal and earthy, with excellent acidity. Made in minute quantities – and in high demand from NYC sommeliers – both are fairly dear ($27 per 750ml), but absolutely worth it.

Generating a lot of buzz in the room was Nine Pin’s Ginger (Hudson Valley); several members remarked that it would be great in cocktails, especially in a “Dark & Stormy”. A ginger infusion with a base cider, it’s full-throttle on the ginger flavor, and not for the faint of palate! Nine Pin’s Signature, a refreshing, off-dry and aromatic cider based on McIntosh-related varieties, often graces my fridge upstate.

I also enjoyed Bad Seed’s (Hudson Valley) “The Farmer”, a crisp, straightforward and refreshing cider made with Saison ale yeast.

Beyond New York State, seriously good is Foggy Ridge’s (VA) “Serious Cider”: bone dry and zesty, with citrus and mineral notes and tangy orchard fruit, this cider will also go down well with food – think roast pork chops with sauerkraut. Tilted Shed’s Graviva Semi-dry (CA) sported earthy notes, bright apple fruit and excellent balance on a long finish. Highly recommendable.

Not to be outdone by the American cider upstarts, however, the “old world” participants greatly impressed, especially on the perry front.

A highlight of the tasting was the Chateau Drouin Poiré AOC (France, Normandy), a bright, vinous perry with high tone herbal and stone fruit aromas, finishing clean, off-dry and earthy. Quite a flavor package at around 5% ABV! Another Normandy gem, Domaine Du Pont Bouche Brut, rocked my palate, achieving rusticity, complexity and elegance simultaneously, with Tarte Tatin flavors and great length, the result of the keeving process, which results in naturally sweet, sparkling cider.

An English perry, Shelton Brothers Oliver’s Classic Perry, played back — and amplified — gorgeous pear aromas and flavors. While less complex than the Drouin perry, it’s a full-flavored, hedonistic pear delight.

Here are some other favorites from my tasting sheet:

Wolffer Estate 139 Dry Rose (NY-Long Island)

Warwick Valley Doc’s Draft Original (NY-Orange Co.)

Farnum Hill Semi-dry (NH) — Stilton cheese nose!

Foggy Ridge Older First Fruit 2013 (VA)

Bonny Doon Querry 2013 (CA) — made with quince, pears and apples.

Dupont Cidre Tripel (France-Normandy)

Bordatto Basandere Cider 2013 (France-Basque)

All in all, an eye-opening tasting. While ciders might not be an existential threat to the wine sector, wineries would be seriously mistaken to ignore the growth potential and attractiveness of quality craft ciders.

Inspired by the all the cider excellence, I decided last weekend to make cider from my own  Empire apples (we have three trees), as this year’s harvest has been copious and of excellent quality. I also included some Golden Russets from Montgomery Place Orchards(thanks Talea!) for some extra body and tannin. And it’s fermenting in the basement right now!

 

 

Welcome to the Wine Media Guild web site

Welcome to the new internet home of the Wine Media Guild!

We are an organization of about 30 wine writers and wine journalists from other media that has been going strong ever since 1976. Our members include contributors to major media outlets. Cumulatively, we have authored over two dozen wine books, including several best sellers. See our about page for further details.

We have an exciting lineup of nine wine-tasting lunches in New York City this year. We will learn more about such topics as old-vine grenache, the wines of Aloxe-Corton, or the current state of play in Champagne with industry participants or experts as speakers. You can see our 2007-8 calendar here.

If you are a wine writer and this has whet your proverbial whistle, feel free to contact one of the co-chairs about attending since we welcome non-members. And if you’d like to join the Guild and learn our secret handshake, see what it takes to become a member.