Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE BEST Champagne for New Year

I drink Champagne on a weekly basis with sushi and pretty much anything, so it's not an anomaly for me to grab something really fantastic to ring in the New Year. I stay away from the likes of Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillate and the other 'NM' (Negociant Manipulant) Champagnes, which are commercial brands sourced from less than perfect vineyard sites, with the sole goal of making the SAME EXACT style from bottle to bottle, and year to year, not necessarily trying to make the BEST they can, EVEN if that means deviating from the 'house style'. This is where RM (Recoltant Manipulant), aka GROWER Champagnes come into play. In the biz, we like to call them 'Farmer Fizz'.

If you haven't gotten your hands on a beautiful bottle of grower Champagne, it's WAY past time. If you have, then KUDOS to you! These wines are hand-harvested, typically organic or biodynamic in their production, and come from Premier Cru and Grand Cru Champagne Vineyards. They are tinier in production, and come in an infinite variety of styles, from full, toasty, rich and yeasty, to elegant, delicate, perfumey and refined. I have something for every palate and every budget posted below at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien- available for free delivery if ordered by 10am on Monday. See why every Sommelier refuses to drink the mass-produced stuff, and swears by RM bubbles in their restaurants. If you insist on that iconic orange label on your bottle this New Year, I DO have a can of spraypaint at the ready...... ;)


Champagne in Stock:

Chartogne Taillet Brut- $45 60% Chardonnay/ 40% Pinot Noir- you find yourself asking how a wine’s flavors can possibly come from grapes!) Ultra-juicy and palate- as well as saliva gland-massaging, the finish here left me licking my lips in anticipation of the next sip. What’s more, this cuvee is among the most versatile at table of any in Champagne- 92 RP, 91 WS

Gouturbe Brut Premier Cru $60- 100% Chardonnay- it’s just loads of hay and hawthorne, an old-school
Champagne as rendered by an elegant lithe lady with a warm soul. What we love about
this wine is the mingling of firmness and generosity. 91 BH, 90 WS, 90 Tanzer

Vilmart Grand Cellier- $77- 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. VERY fine and has laser-like precision. Our store best seller and a HUGE review from Parker, Spectator, and Tanzer! Vibrant, finely cut acidity structures this seamlessly integrated version, with layered flavors of poached apple, quince, honey and candied ginger- 95 WS

Henri Billiot Cuvee Laetitia- $110 Wow, this is the best Laetitia I’ve yet tasted; it extends the silky transparency of the ’04
into even more raciness and incisiveness. Really by now and in the last few years this
wine swings between outstanding and stellar according to time on the cork, but this
1/10 disgorgement is stunningly good, with fine measured power and high fluting brilliance. 92 Rp, 93 BH, 93 Tanzer


Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve- $60- 100% Chardonnay- Light gold. Highly perfumed bouquet of yellow apple, pear skin and quinine, with a smoky mineral overtone. Spicy orchard and candied citrus fruit flavors are complemented by notes of sweet butter and anise and gain weight with air. 92 Tanzer, 91 RP, 91 WS

Duc du Romet - $36 75 % Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir- A fine, creamy mousse defines this elegant version, underscored by a chalky note of minerality and offering subtle notes of patisserie apple, blanched almond, fresh ginger and a hint of crystallized honey- 91 WS

Varnier Fanniere Grand Cru $58- Green-tinged yellow. High-pitched aromas of candied orange, yellow apple, white flowers and ginger. Smoky mineral and white pepper notes add lift and refreshing bitterness to ripe citrus and orchard fruit flavors. The mineral note repeats on the sharply delineated, long finish, which features a subtle anise quality- 91 Tanzer


Gaston Chiquet Brut NV- $48 ******AMY'S FAVORITE****- Bollinger lovers rejoice! This big, rich, toasty Champagne has LOADS of fresh baked bread aromas, and a long, silky mouthfeel. Sexy!!! 91 Tanzer, 91 BH, 92 WS

Marc Hebrart Premier Cru $47- 81 % Pinot Noir- Apple and lime laced with cilantro and garlanded in bittersweetly perfumed iris make for a fascinating aromatic display that presages the juicy, metaphorically cool, herb- and flower-tinged, mouth-coating palate impression. Soothing, sustained, and subtly interactive, the finish offers a fine sense of transparency to nuances including the chalky sort.91 pts RP, WS, BH

Andre Clouet Brut- $53 Primarily Pinot Noir from the region of Bouzy with layers of hazelnut, pear, spice and dried flower aromas. This rich, creamy wine impresses for its balance and sheer richness. I loved it. RP 90

Marc Hebrart Special Club 2008 Vintage Magnum $245- Pear, Ranier cherry and apricot tinged with frangipane and licorice render the satisfyingly soothing, metaphorically cooling, buoyant and refreshingly persistent Hebrart's 2008 Brut Special Club irresistibly luscious today; but a sense of firmness underlying its leesy patina as well as of myriad mineral nuances only beginning to shimmer, suggests the likelihood that this will merit following for another 3-5 years. 93pts RP

Chartogne Taillet Rose- $58- From Montagne de Reims- 60% Chard/ 40% Pinot Noir; A crowd-pleasing rosé, this offers finely tuned, mouthwatering acidity paired with fruit-forward flavors of candied cherry and black currant, macerated plum, pastry dough and spiced nut. Displays lovely texture and a lingering finish. Drink now through 2020. 185 cases imported.- 93 WS, 92 RP, 91 Tanzer
Here's a great quote by the world's leading importer of Artisan Grower Champagne:

Henri Billiot Rose- $60 Billiot’s Rose is a rich, broad-shouldered wine with plenty of intensity and vinous depth. This edition is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay- 92 WS, 91 RP, 91 Tanzer


“You should drink ‘farmer-fizz’ if you’ve forgotten that Champagne is WINE. You should drink ‘farmer-fizz’ if you’d rather buy Champagne from a farmer than a factory. You should drink it if you’d rather have a wine expressive of vineyard, and the grower’s own connection to vineyard, than a wine ‘formed’ by a marketing swami who’s studied to the Nth-degree what you can be persuaded to ‘consume.’ You should drink grower-Champagne if the individually distinctive flavors of terroir-driven wines matter. You should drink it because it’s honest REAL wine grown and made by a vintner—by a FAMILY just like yours—by a ‘him’ or 'her,' not by an ‘it.’ You should drink it because its price is honestly based on what it costs to produce, not manipulated to account for massive PR and ad budgets. You should drink grower-Champagne because, like all hand-crafted estate-bottled wines, it is not a mere Thing but is indeed a BEING, expressive of where it grew and who raised it. In drinking it you help protect DIVERSITY, and diversity leads to VITALITY.”

- Terry Theise, James Beard award-winning importer of grower champagne

Amy Dixon CSW

The Blind Sommelier

Nicholas Roberts Group

Office: 203-656-9463

Mobile: 203-981-9304

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bordeaux 2010- showstoppers and hype

The Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting was the place to be this chilly Martin Luther King Day at the Marriott Marquis. Hordes of somms, retailers, importers, and restauranteurs line the ballroom and hallways of this great tasting. The room layout was identical to the previous year, much to my chagrin. While I appreciated starting with Graves/ Pessac Leognan, particularly with their always invigorating whites, I did not appreciate the incredibly inconvenient placement of the spit buckets a good ten feet away, behind throngs of other tasters, waiting patiently to get near the bucket. This log-jam caused a lot of people to become inebriated, as they gave up spitting a good ten minutes and 15 wines into their tasting.

Starting with the White Graves, I noted screamingly high acid, rendering many of the wines out of balance. Very few contained the pleasant waxiness I adore in Semillon, and even less saw the support of wood to frame out the wines a bit. Even the perennial standout, Carbonnieux was a disappointment. Wines of note were no surprise- Pape Clement Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, and the sleeper, De Fieuzal, which had the most balance. Domaine du Chevalier was ok, with some detectable Semillon and a better, softer balance, but at its high pricepoint, I wouldn't bother.

The forward focus of many red Graves made me smile with my 'instant gratification' meter going a mile-a-minute. Haut Bailly, had a wonderful complexity with a briary note, a lush, rich texture, and incredible concentration. Both Larrivet Haut Brion and Latour Martillac had a serious streak of graphite running down the center, with a tannic mid-palate and incredibly density. The Latour Martillac had a more chewy style with distinctive red fruit, while Larrivet Haut Brion had noticeable black fruits in its core and distinctly on the fresh nose.

My personal favorite values are always Malartic Lagraviere and Olivier. The Malartic hit the 'sweet spot' with lots of lush dark fruits, and well integrated, finer tannins. The Olivier however, was quite closed with a grittiness of texture and structure, with some sweet dominant tannins. Backward? Yes. Out of the running for good value? Time will tell- this needs to come together undoubtedly.

Winners of Graves? Pape Clement with a linear, laser-like focus framed by a hint of smoke all in an elegant, beautiful balance. Very nice indeed! And for the modernists, look no further than my staple, smith Haut Lafitte, with a long, long, finish, chewy tannins, and loads of cassis.

Onto the Right bank with the St. Emilions, which I found incredibly inconsistant, with an over-dominance of wood in some otherwise well-made wines. I mean, what were these guys thinking? It's like clubbing a duckling- Over-kill! Well, onward and upward I guess! Chateau Canon was a lovely intro to the region, with a pretty and gentle styling, framed by a hint of soft rose petal and a long, silky finish. Not one for the ages, but a lovely wine nonetheless.

Canon La Gaffeliere was incredibly forward with a profound mid-palate that was really fabulous and shocking at the same time. The roundness really works for this wine beautifully. The disappointment? Ugh- Figeac. SOOOO much wood buried this beloved wine in a wall of wood tannin so impenetrable, I couldn't bear to go back for a second sip. Clos Fourtet was disjointed as well, with a lush palate, spicy wood, and rock hard tannins, followed by ripe fruit, and s whiff of greenness. Hmm...

Winner? Oh Berliquet? How I could have danced with this lovely wine all day! Simply incredibl with lush balanced, layered fruits. Seamless. Truly. A pleasant surprise was the Larcis Ducasse. Folks looking for something to drink now, grab this sleeper. Really nailed it- Lots of fresh fruit, a long finish, bright acidity, chewy tannins, and a ripe plum nose. Very good indeed!

Pavie Macquin was its usual subdued self with dried orange peel and raspberry leading to an elegant, moderately tannic finish. One to keep your eye on- all the class is there for the making of a very good wine. One to avoid? troplong Mondot. The nose was so laden with menthol that I was convinced I was in a doctor's office. The palate completely hollowed out, and all that was left was spice. Weird!

The further punish my palate, I sauntered over to Pomerol, where I prepared for the onslaught of hard tannins. Beauregard had a super-clean nose with a palate laden with graphite and a wall of hard tannins. All the fruit was there, but well hidden. I was so excited to taste Clinet after I named it my favorite wine in 2009, only to be met with an underwhelming vintage for this estate. While is had all the layers one can hope for, this wine was just so out of scale and BIG, that I couldn't truly appreciate all that makes it so very special. Was it an excellent wine? Yes. Was it an excellent Clinet? so-so. The 2009 blew the doors off of this.

Gazin was just a pleasure in a glass. Pretty, balanced, ripe and elegant- hard to believe it was from Pomerol. One of the stars of the entire day was an old-time favorite of mine, La Conseillante. A super-ripe nose, with over-the-top juicy fruit, and very soft tannins. This is one to drink and enjoy.

From the Medoc and Haut Medoc I was simply disappointed. Chateau Clarke was like licking the inside of a barrel that had been seasoned with sweet tobacco. Not pleasant. I typically like this wine and the value it represents from the Rothschilds, but definitely not this vintage. Much of the same could be said for Poujeaux, though the wood was far more restrained, and this had some elegance and a hint of orange peel to the tobacco. Long and good. Chasse Spleen had better acidity than most of the Medoc wines, with some brightness and freshness that really worked for the wine. quite nice. Citran had a very brambly/ briary style with a distinctive cherry cough drop palate and very high acid. I dont' know what they were thinking here....

Wine of the region from haut Medoc? without a doubt Chateau Coufran. Absolutely delicious and incredibly drinkable with an abundance of fruit. the Soft tannins just made it an absolute pleasure. Do your wallet a favor and skip La Lagune with its burnt wood palate that had almost no detectable fruit. La Tour Carnet was quite pretty and charming with its rosy nose and ripe fruit. This was better, but not outstanding. La Tour de By, typically a real diamond in the rough, fell just short of very good, due to its lack of a middle. The lush tannins and ripe red fruit lead to a long finish, but it leaves you hanging in the middle when you want it most. So sad!

My personal favorite region of Margaux really brought some 'game' this year. Starting with Angludet, this beauty had much finer tannins than I had seen all day, with excellent acidity and gorgeous length. My favorite quote of the day, when I asked U.S. Sales Manager Nicolas Idiart about this distinct stylistic difference?, "Some people are attracted by the dark side of the oak." I nearly fell over laughing. Yes, many from St. Emilion and Medoc went to the 'dark side' for sure!

Brane Cantenac was a 'solid citizen', lending itself more towards briary and drier tannins dominated by distinctive pencil-lead. there was pronounced Brettanomyces in the Cantenac Brown- super sweaty! While it had good structure and and elegance to the body, I couldn't get past this unclean nose. With notable complexity was Dauzac, complete with orsnge peel, high acidity, a pleasant streak of graphite with incredible length- a very good value if you can find it! Desmiril had that same pencil lead, with additional concentration and fantastic richness. One of my favorite values, Du Tertre had a nice texture, fat mid-palate, with a dense, round opulent finish with some light tannins at the back.

The massive Labegorce had chewy, chalky tannins that were super-ripe and a nose of Ticonderoga pencils. Lascombes was tight as a drum, with a severe lack of fruit or body. Malescot St Exupery had a ton of ripeness, and lots of layers of chewy, maleable tannins. I loved the texture on this. SO classic was the Prieure Lichine. This oozed breeding with its core of black fruit, fresh acidity, and its elegant, uplifting palate. A lovely 'instant gratification Margaux is the Rauzan Gassies with a sper-concentrated palate, and and easy, forward balance. Lots of density and cassis there! The wood reared its ugly head again in the Rauzan Segla, which has lovely acidity, and a brooding, complex nose, but it killed the wine for me.

OH Man! If I could have just hung out in St. Julien today, I'd have died a happy girl. These wines stole the show, knocking it out of the park with nearly every single wine. This will be a great vintage to convert California Cab drinkers over the pond to see what all the fuss is about. You need your head examined if you didn't enjoy these gorgeous reds.

Starting with Beychevelle. Like, are you kidding me? SO long, so sexy, with fruit that goes on and on in the long, silky finish. This is a WOW wine that totally makes you hungry on a visceral level. A must buy. And then BAM! Another one out of the park- Branaire Ducru- definitely one of my top five wines of the tasting. SO freaking delicious. A seamless structure, definitely dominated by Cabernet, and drinking nearly perfectly. Yum in a glass. Get Some!

A TOTAL class-act and back to its hay-day is Gruaud Larose. The best in years, with a balance of cassis and elegant structure that is so distinctly Gruaud at its finest. I am pleased as punch. The only dog? Lagrange- seriously like drinking a smoothie made of bell peppers. What the heck were they thinking? Sad. Langoa Barton and Leoville Barton upped the ante for me, with the surprise winner being Langoa! WOW! Fresh roses on the nose, with dense black fruit on the palate, and a long, lush finish. The Leoville had that distinct creaminess that is Leoville Barton, but was much more closed down today and difficult to assess. Nonetheless, all the 'stuffing' is there for another excellent vintage at this estate.

Everyone was buzzing about Leoville Poyferre. Again, classic in style, and back to its roots. Beautiful balance, great structure and excellent length. Nothing exciting, but very 'complete'. Lastly, Talbot rounded out the region with a surprise. This Talbot was VERY forward, delicious, and laden with graphite and thirst-inducing acidity. Very, very good.

The chalkier side of tannins dominated Pauillac, which had no shortage of stars. Batailley had a distinct glycerin component that made it very modern, complete with soft tannins and a long, lush fruit-laden finish. Clerc Milon had an almost candied Boysenberry nose. The palate was gritty and peppery in its tannic structure, and I really feel there is a lot of potential in this wine. A sleeper and one I intend to purchase. D'armailhac had a surprising profound coffee and chocolate nose and palate with graphite, sweet tannins and impressive length. No slouch, and another knock-out value.

Ever-so-pleasant was Grand Puy Ducasse with imcredibly chalky tannins and sweet fruit. I certainly enjoyed it. Even more impressive was the Grand Puy Lacoste with its raspberry, lush, elegant palate that finished round and plump. Gorgeous! One of my top wines of the day was Lynch Bages. I finally appreciate the high price tag it has demanded the past 5 vintages. This wine absolutely deserves every ounce of hype thrown its way. INCREDIBLE concentration, with super-fine chalky tannins that were so linear, you'd swear the wine was filtered a million times. By far the best structure of any wine today.

Lynch Moussas was like drinking your way out of a garden- briars and green peppers. Neither of which I find pleasing. Pichon Longueville was classically balanced, with the appropriate amount of cassis, and some lovely chalky tannins and a hint of rose petals. Pichon Comtesse de Lalande was a stunner. Vanilla covered blackberries leap from the glass, all shrouded in silky tannins with a brooding nose and a lush palate. Totally a class act, and spot on as usual.

St. Estephe was plagued by the same dominance of oak that troubled the Medoc. Phelan Segur was a terrible disappointment, while Lafon Rochet was MUCH better, loaded with plush, chewy tannins and better acidity.

Finally the stickies! How I DO love Sauternes! Climens was excellent, and mostly balanced, with the exception of a bit of heat on the finish. Coutet had apricots galore and was super rich but balanced. The BEST by far was de Fargues- OMG- I MUST get this right away! Tropical pineapple, brilliant fresh acidity that invigorates with each delicious sip, and just the perfect length. Really amazing wine. Doisy Daene was a "Doisy Don't", with a very light body and high alcohol and no complexity. Guiraud wowed with tropical fruit, white pepper, a rich texture, but a hint of alcohol on the finish. Latour Blanche had better balance and was more elegant with noticeable apricot. Lafaurie Peyraguey was pretty, spicy and long, but nothing struck me as exciting. Lastly, Suduiraut, the perfect way to cap this glorious tasting. GOR-GEOUS! This had structure- YES, structure in a white wine- sounds nutty, but true in this case. Apricots, super rich and long, with just enough alcohol to keep it lighter on its feet. Another great vintage for this knockout producer of stickies.

After 123 wines, purple teeth, long trips to the spit bucket, and my guide dog getting stepped on constantly, I can honestly say it was well worth the trip. For those producers that were smart with their barrel treatment of this incredible vintage, the results spoke for themselves. Graves was great, Margaux the most pleasurable and easy to understand, St Emilion the most inconsistent, and the wines of St. Julien being real 'show-offs'.

I'd say that a good deal of the hype surrounding 2010 is well founded. I think some great values will stand the test of time in the cellars of patient folks, and the big boys are going to be surprisingly drinkable in the short term. The acidity is not really there for the Sauternes to be long agers, but instead look to Pauillac for your grandkids to enjoy. There's something for everyone, and sadly I have not seen the quality in Medoc or St Estephe that I was hoping for. HOwever, that being said, I've tasted dozens of Bordeaux Superieur that will delight the wallet and palate of many savvy shoppers. 2010 as a whole- definitely a winner. Two thumbs, and Two Labrador Paws UP!