Some Top Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes

This article was originally published on

By Ed McCarthy
Dec 8, 2015
Last week, the Wine Media Guild, a wine writers’ group in New York, enjoyed their Holiday tasting/luncheon accompanied by 26 NV Brut Champagnes.  I had chosen the Champagnes, putting together some renowned Champagnes with lesser-known bubblies, including some grower-producer Champagnes.

Non-Vintage Bruts are by far the largest category of Champagnes, comprising about 87 percent of all Champagnes.  Included in the group of 26 were some NV
Blanc de Blancs, a growing category.  If the Champagne is a Blanc de Blancs, it is 100 percent Chardonnay.  NV Bruts are normally made from three grape varieties:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.  When the Champagne is made from only Grand Cru or Premier Cru grapes, Pinot Meunier is usually not used.

Among the NV Bruts, I found very few sub-par Champagnes.  Almost all were at least average to very good, with amany truly outstanding Champagnes.  They were markedly dryer than previously, with obviously lower dosage.  I highlight my favorites below, listed in the order in which they were served, along with their approximate retail prices:

Marion Bosser Premier Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs ($54-$57):  This little-known Grower Champagne from the Premier Cru village of Hautvillers is produced by a mother-daughter team.  It is very dry and firm, with lots of flavor, a truly outstanding Chardonnay Champagne.  For me, it was one of the best Champagnes of the tasting.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve ($50):  I was pleasantly surprised by the dryness of Billecart-Salmon.  In the past, its dosage was too high for my taste, but the house has clearly lowered the dosage in the current Brut Reserve.  Its freshness, clean, flowery aromas, and liveliness now put this NV Brut Reserve in the front ranks of NV Bruts–although I do think the price is a bit high for a basic NV Brut.  Billecart-Salmon is now making a zero dosage “Extra Brut” ($56-$60), which is even better than the Brut Reserve.

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée ($42-$49):
  Bruno Paillard has consistently been one of my favorite Champagne houses.  Its Premiere Cuvée, with its light body, dryness and elegance, makes it the ideal aperitif Champagne.  I love the style of this Reims-based house.

Taittinger Brut La Française ($36-$45):  Taittinger is another house that has made great improvements in its basic NV Brut.  This Chardonnay-dominated  Champagne is the driest, freshest and most flavorful Taittinger NV Brut I have ever tasted, and a fine introduction for its Prestige Cuvée, Comtes de Champagne.

Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut ($60):  Laurent-Perrier was the first major Champagne house to make a Brut Nature (zero dosage), in 1981.  And thanks to increased ripeness due to global warming, its Ultra Brut is better than ever, a big step up from its basic NV Brut.  The current Ultra Brut is a marvel, with lots of flavor and style, and no trace of excessive acidity, which sometimes dominated the wine in previous, cooler years.  Now, it seems as if everyone is making a Brut Nature.  But Laurent-Perrier was the first, and still one of the best.  By the way, Laurent-Perrier is the largest family-owned house in Champagne, and owners of the magnificent Salon and Delamotte houses.

Deutz Brut Classic ($40-$45):  I have always loved the lemon-rind flavor of Deutz, which is even more noticeable in its Vintage Blanc de Blancs.  Deutz’s Classic Brut is dry and lively, with clean, fresh flavors.  It is consistently reliable, and a favorite of mine.

Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut ($53-$55):  Duval-Leroy’s Premier Cru Brut is a huge step up from its basic NV Brut.  It costs about $15 more than the standard Duval-Leroy Brut, but it is definitely worth the higher price.  The Premier Cru, made from vineyards on the Côte des Blancs–especially in Vertus, the location of the winery–has distinctive, lively flavors, strongly influenced by the Chardonnay of the Côte des Blancs, arguably the best Chardonnay vineyards in the world.

A. R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($49-$55):  A small, family-owned winery, A.R. Lenoble is a Champagne to watch.  It is making premium Champagnes, like this Blanc de Blancs from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly (Grand Cru for Chardonnay only) on the Côte des Blancs at extraordinarily reasonable prices.  A better-known Champagne house would be charging more than twice the price.  The Champagne is firm and powerful, typical of Champagnes made from these vineyards.  It should be long-lived.  Arguably the best value of all the Champagnes in the tasting.

André Jacquart Brut Experience Premier Cru ($44-$51): 
 André Jacquart (no connection with the co-operative Champagne Jacquart) is another small Champagne house in the Premier Cru  village of Vertus on the southern end of the Côte des Blancs.  Marie Doyard (granddaughter of the late André Jacquart) is now running the estate.  André Jacquart makes only Blanc de Blancs, with 60 percent of its grapes coming from Premier Cru Vertus and 40 percent from the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,  André Jacquart’s two NV Blanc de Blancs, are excellent, with the Grand Cru ($72-$78) the more powerful of the two.  But the classy André Jacquart Premier Cru is a fantastic value for the price.

Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut ($69):  This outstanding Champagne has returned to the U.S. after an extended absence.  It is one of the most expensive Champagnes in the group, but also one of the best.  This winery’s Champagnes are very traditional and are made to last.  Only 3,000 bottles were made of the single-vineyard Les Chevres Pierreuses from the excellent Premier Cru village of Cumières.  This powerful NV Brut was one of the most stunning Champagnes of the tasting.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ($63-$70):  Ruinart NV Blanc de Blancs is the baby brother of the renowned Dom Ruinart Vintage Blanc de Blancs.  It comes in a beautfiul, clear Prestige Cuvée type bottle.  There definitely is a family resemblance, but the Vintage Dom is the more powerful and complex of the two.  Because the NV Ruinart has wide distribution, this has become my go-to Champagne as I travel around the U.S.  Always delicious with a clean, fresh, citrusy taste.  But it’s rather expensive  for a basic NV Brut.

Henriot Blanc de Blancs (55-$60):  Among my Champagne-drinking friends, Henriot is a clear favorite (me included).  I love its style; it is the epitome of class and finesse.  This elegant Champagne, never powerful, emphasizes Chardonnay in its wines.  And so it should be no surprise that Henriot makes an excellent Blanc de Blancs, a delightful, easy-drinking bubbly that one can enjoy any time.

Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial ($35-$40):  Some readers might be surprised that I would include the largest Champagne producer in the world among my favorites.  But the point is, Moët makes an extremely reliable, consistent, well-priced Champagne, now drier than ever.  I chalk it up to the genius of winemaker Benoit Gouez, who has made vast improvements in Moët’s Brut Imperial, the world’s largest selling Champagne. It is fresh and firm, and very flavorful.

Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs ($54):  With Grower-Producer Pascal Doquet, we meet one of the authentic great winemakers in Champagne.  His winery is in Vertus, and he owns parcels of vineyards throughout the Côte des Blancs. Including some in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  Doquet’s Le Mesnil, which is deep, complexly flavored and powerful, is one of the great Champagnes , topped only by his Vintage 2002 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs.  His price is very low for a Champagne of this quality.  Incredible value!

J. P. Lamiable Brut Grand Cru ($50):  Well to the east of Reims and Epernay is the Grand Cru village of Tours-sur-Marne, home of the gigantic Laurent-Perrier house and the small grower-producer family going back to 1600, J. P. Lamiable.  Here Lamiable makes a very fine NV Grand Cru Brut, 60 percent Pinot Noir, 40 percent Chardonnay.  I find it amazing that these great, complex, powerful Grand Cru Champagnes sell for only $50.  One of  Champagne’s greatest values.

Gosset Grande Reserve Brut ($58-$66):  Gosset, one of the oldest Champagne houses, produces one of my favorite NV Bruts.  Its Grande Reserve Brut, made from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, is a huge step up from its basic NV Brut, the Excellence (made from purchased grapes).  The Grande Reserve is powerful and intense; its Chardonnay component (43 percent) comes from Côte des Blancs. Vineyards.  It tastes more like a Prestige Cuvée than a NV Brut.  And the price, for a Champagne of this quality, is more than fair.

Louis Roederer Brut Reserve ($40):  I don’t think that there is a more reliable Champagne house than Louis Roederer.  All of its Champagnes are consistently excellent, including Roederer’s NV Brut Premier–which is fresh, vibrant, and powerful.  Part of the reason for its success is its outstanding chef de caves, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon and its dynamic owner, Frédéric Rouzard.   A great value at $40.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve ($52-$60):  It seems that the Champagnes of Charles Heidsieck have been a well-kept secret, only known to Champagne insiders.  With Champagnes of their quality, Charles Heidsieck’s wines should be best-sellers.  Its NV Brut Reserve, made from 40 percent reserve wines–many of which are more than ten years old, contribute to its powerful, intense, complex flavors.  Drinking the Brut Reserve is like enjoying a well-aged wine.  I do notice the price has increased, but that was long overdue.  Just a great NV Brut!

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut ($60-$70:  It is no secret that Bollinger has long made perhaps the most full-bodied, intensely flavorful NV Brut.  Its style is so unique that it’s usually the one Champagne I can pick out at blind tastings.  But is it my imagination, or do I detect a somewhat lighter-bodied style in the current Special Cuvée?  Perhaps it’s too young.  “Bolly” Champagnes always benefit from extra aging.  It has been too reliable in the past for me to quibble about one tasting, and so, based on its record, I still recommend it.  Its vintage-dated Champagnes, based on my recent experiences, remain amazing.

Summing up, I was delighted at the quality of this group of non-vintage Brut Champagnes.  My old favorites–such as Charles Heidsieck, Gosset Grande Reserve, Bruno Paillard, Henriot, Louis Roederer , Duval-Leroy Premier Cru and Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut–were as reliable as ever.

But perhaps even more gratifying is the number of outstanding NV Bruts, new in the American market, that showed so well.  Many are grower-producers.  Look for names such as Pascal Doquet, Marion-Bosser, A.R. Lenoble, André Jacquart, Leclerc Briant, and J.P. Lamiable when you shop.  I think the success of many of the newcomers is due to a couple of factors:  Their extensive use of Grand Cru and Premier Cru  vineyards, and especially their extensive use of Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs.  My choice of using as many NV Blanc de Blancs in this tasting was no accident, I can assure you.  I am a big fan of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.  Actually, I am a big fan of all well-made Champagnes….


Best Non-Vintage Brut Champagne

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

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.


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



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



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.