|WINE & SPIRITS WITH PANACHE
Since only the best will do, make your next bottle of bubbly
one of the luxurious, vintage-dated Tête de Cuvée
Champagnes from France.
Geoff Kalish, M.D.
to the situation with many upper-echelon brands of red Bordeaux
and Burgundy, the price and availability of the most prized
bottles of Champagne are related primarily to production parameters,
as well as a bit of hype. By law, Champagne (the real stuff)
must be made from one or more of three specific grape varieties
– Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay – grown
in a specific area of France, about a 1 1/2-hour drive northeast
of Paris. Also, it must be produced by a technique known as
methode champenoise, in which a second fermentation –
producing the bubbles – takes place in the bottle in
which the product is sold.
Theoretically, vintage-dated Champagne (usually promoted as
a step up from nonvintage bubbly) should contain a blend (cuvée)
made from grapes of one exceptional harvest. However, to maintain
a particular style, producers are allowed to blend in wine
from an earlier year. What sets vintage-dated Champagne apart
is that by law it must be aged in the bottle for three years,
compared with only one year for nonvintage Champagne. This
extra aging usually has the effect of imparting a yeastier,
more complex bouquet and flavor to the vintage-dated wine.
In addition, some shippers produce special cuvées,
the best of which are known as the super premiums, or Tête
de Cuvées. While there are no specific legal requirements
for these products – beyond those for Champagne in general
– most are made from the best grapes available and aged
in wood or in the bottle longer than vintage releases. Unfortunately,
the extra processing to produce vintage-dated cuvée
brands (like Krug and Dom Pérignon) is costly, and
most shippers make only limited amounts (rarely more than
20 percent of the total annual production). Also, upscale
packaging adds to the price. On the other hand, the palatal
pleasures derived from many of these bottles are memorable
– alone as a toast, or when matched with food, particularly
caviar, smoked salmon and chilled lobster.
Here are three personal favorites that are currently available.
(Suggested retail price per 750-ml bottle is listed.)
So unique is this barrel-fermented Champagne,
that many remember the first time they tasted
it. The elegant bouquet is woodsy with hints of
honey, and a steady flow of pinpoint bubbles brings
long-lasting, memorable flavors of truffles, ginger
and exotic spice to the mouth.
Blanc de Blancs Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne
Impressively packaged in a bottle replicating
the original 1902 Art Nouveaux “flower bottle”
design created by Émile Gallé, this
Champagne is made from 100-percent Cramant Vineyards
Chardonnay grapes. It has a fresh, citrusy bouquet
and a rich, refreshing taste with hints of lilac
Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon Rosé
For many this is the
ultimate special-occasion sparkler. Named after
the Benedictine monk usually credited with inventing
Champagne, this product has a pale pink color,
bouquet of raspberries and strawberries, and
an intense taste of ripe fruit and minerals.
Best bets for serving these elegant sparklers
are tall, thin, clear flutes, rinsed with water
and dried carefully
(since even a trace of detergent can destroy the
Kalish, M.D., has been writing about wine, food and travel
for more than 25 years, and has lectured in the U.S. and internationally
about matching wine with food.