The Best of Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes
The Wine Media Guild’s annual tasting and lunch at Felidia Restaurant of non-vintage Brut Champagne was a greatly anticipated event, thanks to the efforts of Ed Mc Carthy. Ed, the author of Champagne for Dummies, organizes and hosts this event, and this year managed to line up 26 Champagnes so that the guests were able to taste them side-by-side.
Ed did not begin to speak until he had tasted all 26 of the wines at least once. Ed said they are the standard of the house style and must be consistent from year to year. He also said that the Blanc de Blancs are lighter in style and more Champagne Houses are now producing them. Non Vintage Brut Champagnes are a good value for the money and priced between $35 and $60 a bottle.
Ayala Brut Majeur $40 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.
Marion-Bosser Premier Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs $56 This is one of the few biodynamic houses in Champagne. The winery is on the right bank of the Great Valley of the Marne, against the peaks of the Montagne de Reims. The vineyards are all Premier Cru. The soil is chalk. The wine spends three years on the lees. The dosage is 5g/l. It is an elegant Champagne with hints of apple and good minerality. Ed liked it.
Piper – Heidsieck Brut $38 this is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It is a well-structured wine, fruit forward with hints of pear, citrus and grapefruit.
Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvèe $45 Made from 22% Pinot Meunier, 33% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. The grapes are a selection from 32 villages vinified separately in stainless steel or in barrel. There is a systematic use of reserve wines from previous vintages from 25% to 48% when needed. The wine comes from the first pressing of the grapes. The wine is aged in bottle on the lees for 3 months. This is almost double the legally required minimum. In all of Bruno Paillard’s Champagne, the dosage is kept very low, 5 to 6 grams of sugar per liter, so as to produce an authentic and pure wine, a true Brut. This is the flagship of the house and must remain true to itself in the good and bad years. One very large tank is used for the assemblage so there will be consistency. The wine has aromas of citrus fruit, especially lime and grapefruit, that is so typical of Chardonnay. There are also aromas of red fruits like cherry and raspberry, so typical of Pinot Noir. This in one of Ed’s favorites and also mine.
G.H. Munn Cordon Rouge Brut $38 made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine has hints of orange peel, almonds and a touch of smoke with a nice long finish.
Lanson Black Label Brut $44 made from 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier. It is aged for at least 3 years and the dosage is 8/10g/l. The wine has hints of citrus fruits and a gentle touch of toast.
Perrier-Jouēt Grand Brut $37 Made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. It is crisp with hints of citrus fruit and a touch of toast.
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV $68. Chardonnay is the very soul of the winery with grapes coming mainly from the Cote des Blancs, and Montagne de Reims terroirs. This is a Champagne with nice citrus aromas and flavors with hints of apple and apricot.
Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV $55. This is one of Ed’s favorite houses and one he feels does not get the attention it deserves. It is a blend of grapes from the Cote de Blancs and the villages of Mesnil- sur – Oger, Avize, Chouilly and others. The assembly consists of 30% reserve wine, the percentage can change depending on the vintage. This is wine with hints of orange blossom, honey, apricot and a touch of brioche.
A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru NV $55. Ed said this was one of the few independent and family run houses in Champagne and arguably the best value in the tasting. The 18 hectares of vines are all situated on Grand Cru and Premier Cru lands. The cuvee contains 13% of reserve wine aged in oak barrels for 5 to 8 months. The wine spends 4 years on the lees. This is Champagne with hints of apple, pear, lemon and a touch of toast.
Champagne Brut Reserve Billecart-Salmon NV. Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It has tiny bubbles and a fruity delicate freshness.
Champagne Premier Brut NV Louis Roederer is made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier from 50 different crus. It is aged for 3 years in the cellar and 6 more months after dègorgement.
Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage $60 Made from 55% Chardonnay and 45 % Pinot Noir. It is aged for at least 4 years on the lees.
There is less than 3g of residual sugar per liter and no addition of sugar syrup after bottle fermentation. It is crisp with hints of citrus and honeysuckle with nice minerality and acidity. Because it is bone dry, it is an excellent Champagne with food.
Tattinger Brut “La Francaise” $40. This is a blend of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir from 30 different vineyards. It has hints of apple and lemon with a touch of peach and almonds.
Deutz Brut Classic Champagne $45 made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in equal proportions. It has hints of apples and brioche with a touch of pear and lemon.
Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut $50 Mostly Chardonnay from premier cru vineyards in the Cote des Blanc in Vertus where the winery is located. It is aged of at least 3 years and has hints of pear, pastry dough and almonds.
Andrè Jacquart Brut Experience Premier Cru $50 Ed said they only make Blanc de Blancs. The Chardonnay grapes are from Premier Cru Vertus (vinified in stainless steel) and from the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur- Oger (Vinified in older Burgundy oak barrels). No malolactic fermentation and the Champagne is aged for 5 years on the lees before disgorgement. It has hints of pear and toasted brioche with nice minerality
Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut $60. Made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier from the Les Chèves Pierruses vineyards in Cumieres. It has 4.5 g/l sugar. Ed said only 3,000 bottles were made and he really liked it. The Champagne has hints of lemon and lime with a touch of cherry, peach and almonds.
Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut Le Mesnil -Sur- Oger $54. The winery is in Vertus near Avize. The vines average around 36 years old, the soil is chalky in the Le Mesnil sur Oger. Harvest is by hand. They farm organically and the yields are 20% to 30% less than appellation standards. Indigenous yeast is used. A minimum of 3 vintages makes up the cuvee. The wine usually goes through malolactic fermentation. An average of 50% of the blend is vinified in small, old oak barrels to oxgenate the wine. It is aged on the lees in bottle for over 8 years. Production is only about 6,000 cases. The wine has hints of yeast, marzipan and apple with a touch of lemon.
J P Lamiable Brut Grand Cru Blanc De Noix $50 made from 100% .They farm 6 hectares where the Montage de Reims, Cōte de Blances and Vallèe all converge. Primary fermentation takes place in stainless and enamel tanks to preserve freshness. Maturation is in enamel tanks for 6 months. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and is aged on the lees for 5 years. It has hints of pear, peach and almond with good acidity and minerality. It is Champagne that can age and goes very well with food.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve $60 Made from 75% Pinot Noir / Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. This is full-bodied Champagne with hints of brioche and almonds.
Moēt and Chandon Brut Imperial $40 made from 50% Pinot Noir 40% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay. It is medium dry with black fruit flavors and aromas with a touch of toast.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut $45 made from 56% Pinot Noir, 16% Pinot Meunier and 28% Chardonnay. Ed said it is very easy drinking Champagne with dark fruit aromas but improves with a year or two of aging.
Paul Roger Brut White Label $42 Made from equal parts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from the first pressing. Each final blend contains a minimum of two vintages with the youngest components being a minimum of three years old. Average dosage is 12 g per liter. This is a complex creamy Champagne with aromas of fruit and toast.
Gosset Grand Reserve Brut $60 made from 46% Meunier, 38% Pinot Noir and 16% Chardonnay from Grand Cru and Premier grapes. It is a well full-bodied Champagne, complex in aromas and flavors that will age very well. Ed said that this house founded in 1584 is the oldest continuing wine firm in Champagne. The Gosset family no longer owns it but Ed said it is a Champagne house that should be better known.
Bollinger Special Cuvèe Brut $60 made from 60% Pinot Noir 15% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. Reserve wines of up to 15 years in age are added to the base wine and it is aged 3 to 4 years before release. This is a dry, full bodied champagne with rich, complex flavors that become more toasty with age.