Champagne Tasting with the Stars

I am extremely fortunate that our Champagne tastings attract a really fun and diverse group of people. All ages (you were born in 1998, what?!) and incomes, as well as localities. (“We came in from the wilds of Walnut Creek.”) I’ll be seeing a couple of hundred of you on October 20th at the Champagne Tent Event. (Remember to hydrate!)

In any case, there is a core of “regulars” who have seen us through two and even three store locations. This group (and myself) had been yapping for years about getting together to taste older vintage Champagnes and last year, one of us (Melissa, I think) finally tiring of this talk, spoke up and actually made us plan at date, locale, #moveoffyourlazybutts, etc. Since that time, we have been meeting pretty much quarterly and on Sunday, 25 August, we had one of these meetings.

Our members come from pretty much everywhere in SF, as well as parts of the East Bay, and the untamed streets of Tiburon/Belvedere, where the Real Housewives roam. We have met at the same location three times and our hostess (from Oklahoma) and her hubby (from Germany) gave us tastings that were fun and adventurous—and we had a pretty view of Sausalito. A great and dangerous adventure, with a lot of vintage Champagne! 

This time out, we had a new location as Rozita hosted at her place on the Embarcadero. The day started really well when “Doc” met me at the West Portal station on the Wild West side of SF. It’s very quaint, as there are still gas powered automobiles in the area. He rode up on his trusty steed, “Camry,” left her at the watering hole, and we hopped onto the chugging train called the “M Ocean View.” Off we went, at amazing speed, to arrive at the glittering Embarcadero Station in 20 minutes. Swimming pools! YouTube stars! Things were going exceptionally well. We arrived at Rozita’s and walked in to (kind of) a view. See the pictures. At least the champagnes would be good. Here’s the list:

NV Canard Duchene Brut Rose (Donovan)

NV Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve (2004 base wine!) (Jeff)

NV Camille Jacquet Brut Blanc de Blancs (Doc)

2008 Aspasie Brut (Lisa)

2006 Launois Special Club Blanc de Blanc (Peter and Melissa)

NV Baron Fuente “Cepages Meunier” (Me—three years cellaring on this one)

1996 Fleury Vintage Brut (Me—gift from Gary Westby when I joined the Champagne Department!)

2000 Duval Leroy Femme de Champagne (Rozita)

2002 Paul Bara Brut (Phil and Susan)

2007 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage (OK—CA sparkling wine but, the closest to domestic “Champagne” that you are going to get. Sorry, Korbel!) (Phil and Susan)

2006 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru "La Grand Récolte" Extra Brut Champagne (Teresa and Tom)

2006 Billecart-Salmon NFB (Teresa and Tom)

Per the NV champagnes, all are aged for a few (perhaps too many) years. For example, the current NV Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve has a 2015 base wine. We do this to show how even NV Champagnes can age (or don’t age, sadly), as well as showing how they change and grow (or occasionally flop). We have only had one corked Champagne during these get togethers. It was a fantastic vintage from an excellent house that was stored exceptionally well by one of our members. I’ve seen his collection and storage conditions and crawled out of his house at 3:30 a.m. after an extra long dinner. “It’s 3:30 a.m.! I simply must get us a Barbaresco.” (I kid you not!) 

Anyhow, it is very, very, rare to find a corked Champagne in this group. With this latest tasting, all were interesting. The 2004 base wine Billecart was on the downslope but, still had baked apple and (burned) caramel flavors. It was NOT bad, just a little past its prime. My 1996 Fleury was showing a lot of oxidation, with golden yellow apple, roasted nuts and a bit of bitter lemon on the finish. It was time to drink this one up!  Doc’s Camille Jacquet had Fino sherry notes and a long, dry, mineral-laden finish. The 2006 Pierre Paillard actually needed a couple of hours open (with a stopper, of course) to let the mid-palate fruit come out. It needed the air time. The 2007 L’Ermitage was also delightful, with green and yellow apples, baking spices and a long finish. The 2008 Aspasie had a ton of initial acidity that led to green apple fruit and caramel. The 2006 Launois had solid, bright acidity, toasted oak, green and yellow apple fruit and a lot of toasted oak. Long, lush, finish. My Fuente Meunier was textbook PM with earthy notes, dark, golden fruits and a hint of mushroom. The NV Canard Duchene Rose is always a little gem.  Deep, baked, peach pie fruit with brown sugar and tart background strawberry fruit.  

One of my stars of the day was the 2002 Paul Bara Brut, which was showing some lush golden fruits, including golden raisins, orange peel, minerals, and nuts. It pretty much had everything. Rozita’s 2000 Duval Leroy had a ton of acidity, lemon meringue and limestone. Delish! Teresa and Tom scored (yet, again) with their 2006 Billecart Salmon NFB. Beautiful richness here, with toasted hazelnuts and carmelized apples. Also, that typically wonderful Billecart long finish.  

After the initial tasting and notes comparison (roughly three hours or so) we do a follow up tasting, i.e. re- taste, talk and eat time. As THAT gets further along, a par-tay atmosphere comes up and we laugh and joke and get (more than a bit) silly. Melissa is the best thing to come out of Oklahoma since the musical. You are never, ever, bored around her. Or, any of this group, in fact. Every one of these people are entertaining, to say the least.  We were all happy to see Phil and Susan, who were leaving the next day for a long trip through Iceland, Scandinavia, and surrounding countries. He mentioned doing a bagpipe duet with Bjork somewhere along the way and perhaps putting a bid in on Greenland. It’s very nice to find out that some countries are still allowing his visits. As for the rest of us, we’ve booked another meeting for December and I swear, that at some point, I’m going to get a Krug into our mix!

So, dear readers, as you can see, I had a very difficult and ho-hum weekend! Stay bubbly!


-Scott Beckerley


P.S. Doc came up with the idea that the host of the meetings should not have to bring a bottle of Champagne. A horrified Rozita apparently responded “that means less Champagne for us!”. So, THAT idea died a quick death.

On the Trail