Champagne had always been made into a still wine until the 18th century. The first French documentation of Champagne as a sparkling wine was in 1718 but there was mention that sparkling wine was being made 20 years before that present writing. Little do most know that this sparkling, effervescent, and all alluring too drink that we know today as Champagne came about by a mistake or some could say happenstance. The British were accredited for enjoying bubbles in their wine from Champagne, which at the time was perceived as a flaw by the Champenoise and an element that they were all too keen to eradicate. Part II to follow....
I was thinking about the dishes that I have become accustomed to eating on Easter Sunday with my family and what champagnes would compliment with the traditional dishes of honey-glazed ham, roasted rosemary lamb, carrots, oven-roasted potatoes and salad dressed in a vinegarette. I also want to be considerate of my family members as my parents love Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge and my siblings prefer IPA (bitter) and wheat (citrus, coriander) type of beers. I found 3 champagnes with 3 different price points from 3 different retail stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Chambers Street, Tribeca
Roger Pouillon, Chemins du Bois, Premier Cru 2008 $127.00
2008 is the best modern vintage and still not too tough to find. Poullion makes wines full of flavor backed by depth and force. Great style of a holiday dinner.
Vine Wine, Williamsburg
Lelarge-Pugeot, Les Meunier de Clemence, Brut NV $63.99
100% meunier champagne this implies a nice fruit character along with marzipan and honey. Soft style, lush style that shows some age.
Flatiron Wine & Spirits, Flatiron District
Moussé Fils, L'Or d'Eugene NV $42.99
Moussé makes eye-opening assertive champagnes. Dominated by mostly dark grapes meunier and pinot noir, I find that orange rind, stone fruits, spice and almost a juicy character without feeling clumsy are prevalent in his wines.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the term and/or movement of natural wine. As you may or may not know there are a number of producers of champagne that make wine in this style. But what is a natural wine? I spoke with the CEO of Wine Source in London and his view of natural wine is from the standpoint of farming with no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals of any sort. Whereas in New York people talk more about non-interventionalist winemaking and shun the use of sulfur. There has yet to be a black and white definition that outlines this wine practice. Despite the hazy definition, one element that is transparent in various quantities is the smell and taste of an oxidized apple, spoiled cider, and at times fino sherry. A few champagne producers that showcase this are Franck Pascal, Olivier Horiot, Benoit Lahaye, Marguet, Leclerc-Briant, Mouzon-Leroux and Georges Laval. I also find that DeSousa and Pascal Doquet who work biodynamically in the vineyard to construct proclaimed natural wines don't show these telltale aromas but they seem to be less popular producers in New York than the previously stated. Then there is the mention of terroir, significance of representing a place transported through a wine, and I feel many people think if you are not making wine in a natural way it can dilute the terroir. I've tasted many natural champagnes over the years and they don't all taste or drink the same but they have the aforementioned common characteristics as a result of a specific winemaking process that doesn't whisper terroir to me. Natural wine is a category with its supporters and adversaries. Often seen as a 'cool kid', 'hip' or 'hipster wine' you will rarely see these wines in an auction house or reserved in a collector's private cellar with the intent on aging them. I do appreciate the category and don't mind drinking natural champagne but for the type of champagne I prefer natural champagnes don't seem to develop or show a consistency that I can rely on.
Philipponnat 'Royale Réserve Non-Dosé' NV
65% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 5% Meunier
75% premier cru and grand cru
52% Base vintage 2012, 48% Réserve
The Zero Dosage, Non-Dosé and Brut Nature category is one of speculation for me. As a region that has relied on incremental amounts of sugar to balance out the assertively acidic wines of Champagne has seen a small shift in style. Sugar can jeopardize the terroir in champagne according to some but I also think these people don't care about balance in their champagne. In theory, I love the idea of the category and I know it has been around since the 70s but I've never heard someone say 'Krug's Clos du Mesnil's terroir is covered by their dosage' or 'Philipponnat's Clos des Goisses needs to lower their dosage to showcase the terroir.' The category seems to be a highly acclaimed among many New York sommeliers; frankly, I don't know why. Yes, I've heard ramblings and cute one-liners but at the end of the day, it scares me. Imagine this, let's say you went to Le Bernardin (3 star Michelin) for the Chef's Tasting Menu and you told the Captain 'Please tell Chef Ripert I don't want butter, salt or pepper on my menu because I'm afraid I won't be able to taste the origin from where the fish was raised.' How ridiculous is that?! There are very few champagnes that do this category well and one example is Philipponnat's non-dosé. I would drink this a touch warmer at a little over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
My apologies in advance but this applies mainly to New Yorkers or any visitors. As you are stirring around in bed unable to withdraw yourself from your phone and plagued with the idea where am I going to get brunch and Champagne? You should go to The Four Horsemen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a $28 per person menu with a curated list of Champagne. They have Roger Pouillon 'Mareuil' 1er for $118. Cue up that UBER.