2019 Champagne Summit

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This past Tuesday, the K&L Champagne team, Scott Beckerley from San Francisco, Diana Turk from Hollywood, Elsa Baez from Redwood City and I sat down for a marathon Champagne tasting. We call it our staff summit, and this was the 9th year in a row that we have gotten together for it. We want to make sure that we are all well informed on the different styles of Champagne that we offer so we can make you, the Champagne lover, happy with your selection. This year we tasted 53 Champagnes from 16 different producers. It is strange to say, but since they were all at least very good, it took a huge amount of concentration! Bad wines are easy—you simply pour them out and move on, but good ones require a detailed note!

The first wine of the day was 2007 Ruinart "Dom Ruinart" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne, which set the stage for the kind of decadence we were in for. This ancient property, the first to sell sparkling Champagne in France, makes Chardonnay of the utmost freshness and focus, as well as luxurious nectarine like fruit. Take a look here at our most recent visit to the property.  After that we tasted a trio of the other Dom—the standout being the recently released 2002 Dom Pérignon "P2" Brut Champagne which you can read about in detail here. This Champagne has blossomed and become even richer than when I first tasted it with chef de cave Vincent Chaperon in May. Before the first hour was over, we also tasted a few offerings from Krug, with the standout being the 167th edition, that I paired with pepper when it was first released. Like the P2, a few months of settling has allowed this wine to blossom, and I found it nutty, deep and complex but without sacrificing bright refreshment.

My old friend, Scott Winkler came to present Champagne Louis Roederer next, and as usual, illuminated us with his knowledge and thrilled us with the bottles that he brought. Comparing the 2008 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne (100 points from just about everyone) to the 2002 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne Late Release was a jaw-dropping education on how much this wine benefits from time on the cork. It is too bad that so much of this wine is consumed young and in clubs. Last year, we tasted these with Mr. Lecaillon, the cellar master at the property. The travel did not hurt them at all, and while the 2008 was all about vivid brightness and potential, the 2002 was starting to show real creaminess and texture—what a treat.

Another long-time friend, Naomi Smith, showed us the stellar lineup of Laurent-Perrier. She didn’t forget one of the offerings that they import to the US and even previewed us on their new blanc de blancs which should arrive by the end of this month. The highlight of the tasting was a three-iteration vertical of Grand Siècle, which they just started putting batch numbers on. The consensus from the team was that the #22 from magnum, which is yet to be released in California, was our wine of the day. It was such a finessed, textural experience, only just starting to show some nougaty secondary flavors, that it makes my hair stand on end thinking about it now, days later. For more information you can see my report on meeting with chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, who led me through a vertical at the property this spring.

Bollinger has long been a favorite here at K&L, and Todd Coffin showed us a great lineup. I have to say that the Bollinger "Special Cuvée" Brut Champagne stood out to me with its depth, thanks to the unbelievable reserve program that they have. This is a wine that is all about time; four years on the lees in the bottle, four recent vintages in the tank making up the base and 10-15% old reserves that are kept in magnum for an average of 15 years. This was full of generous, savory Pinot Noir fruit and finished dry without seeming at all austere. It is one of the great values in truly fine wine.

We broke for lunch, running to the Los Carnalitos taco truck that is responsible for so many extra kilos around the wastes of the K&L staff. This was not a day to diet. If you are ever in Redwood City, this is the truck to visit, with great Mexico City-style cuisine. The torta that I had was as big as my face!

Next, we tasted the Bruno Paillard line, which I am embarrassed to say is a property that I have never visited. It is a “new” house by Champagne standards, only founded in 1981, and yet still owns 60% of its vineyard needs as estate fruit, primarily in the Grand Crus of Oger, Bouzy and Verzenay. I will be making a point to go next spring after tasting the lineup. I now understand why the Bruno Paillard "Première Cuvée" Brut Champagne sells so quickly. This long, dry Pinot dominate Champagne had power and balance, freshness and charm, far beyond its price point. This stacked up nicely against a lot of more expensive offerings from other producers.

My old colleague Keelyn poured a fantastic lineup from Skurnik, and for me, the standout was the Vilmart "Cuvée Grand Cellier" Brut Champagne. This grower, located in Rilly-la-Montagne, has earned their reputation with the Champagne lovers of the world. The current batch sees ten months in large oak barrels and four years on the lees as well as a generous proportion of reserve wines. It is energetic and Puligny-Montrachet like, showing of the 70% Chardonnay 30% Pinot Noir composition and has the length of a good producer's Pucelles.

After I presented the new producers Damien Hugot and Le Gallais to the team, we finished the day out with Luke from Kermit Lynch. He brought an embarrassment of grower Champagne riches for us to taste. My standout was one of their classics that Kermit has been importing since the 1970s, the J. Lassalle "Cachet Or" 1er Cru Brut Champagne. This big, generous wine is composed of one third each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from vines averaging fifty years old. It is made by a third-generation female winemaker, a record that I don’t think anyone can match, in an open and opulent style, full of fresh bread, spice and lush texture. It was a great way to close out the day.

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

 

 

Gary Westby