I would probably have my epaulets ripped off and be drummed ceremonially out of The Ancient and Honorable Company of Wine Journalists if I let the holidays go by without writing at least once about Champagne. So to avert that disgrace, here is my report on the New York Wine Press’s annual holiday luncheon at The Brasserie.
This year’s fete featured 11 Blanc de Blancs Champagnes – i.e., 100% Chardonnay bubblies – in 4 flights, each complemented by a lovely menu prepared by the Brasserie’s executive chef Luc Dimnet. As you could no doubt guess, the occasion very quickly became the essence of the merry holiday lunch. The food was – as always – delicious, and the sparklers – as always – drank easily and delightfully. While all were enjoyable, for my palate one wine stood out in each flight.
We began with passed hors d’oeuvre of escargots in gougère puffs and spoonsful of sesame-crusted tuna. The aperitif wines were H. Blin Blanc de Blancs Brut nv and Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs nv.
My choice here was the Blin. This is a Champagne from a co-op on the Marne, not one of the grandes marques, which will probably make it difficult to find but well worth the effort, since Champagne expert Ed McCarthy pronounced it, at approximately $35 a bottle, the best value of the afternoon.
The first seated course was foie gras, and the Champagnes were Henriot Blanc de Blancs nv, Mumm de Cramant Blanc de Blancs Brut nv, and Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chardonnay 2005.
Of these, I enjoyed most the Mumm Cramant. Note that the word is Cramant, not crémant. Cramant is a village – one of the Champagne area’s most important Chardonnay growing villages – not a half-pressure style. I was very impressed by the richness and elegance of this wine; “One of Mumm’s stars” Ed called it. (About $60-$65.)
The next course was a modest (thank god!) portion of really succulent lobster, accompanied by Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut nv, Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2007, and Alfred Gratien Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut 2007.
In this flight, the Alfred Gratien stole the show for me. A great old house that is not very well known here in the States, Gratien makes top-flight Champagnes. This one was biggish but still elegant, with lots of berry and bread aromas and flavors – very fine, especially with the lobster. (About $79.)
Finally we were served a tournedos of beef, with leeks, truffled Mornay, and parsnip crisps. With this course came the biggest wines of the day: Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs Brut 2002, Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2002, and Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995.
This final flight was harder to judge, since all three wines showed very well indeed. But my old favorite Pol Roger edged out the others for me, with just a little more richness, a little more elegance, and a sense of underlying power that I find typical of the whole Pol Roger line. As most wine drinkers know, Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s favorite Champagne, and I can’t fault his taste. I’ve always found Pol Roger consistently enjoyable and utterly reliable: for me, it epitomizes the idea of “house style” in Champagne. (About $116.)
Happy holidays, everyone!