you get in your car in Reims and drive maybe 15 minutes south towards the
Autoroute de l'Est, you might find the well-off-the-beaten path village of
Villers-Aux-Nœuds (take the Route de Damery, if that helps).
Once upon a time, this town was carpeted with grape vines, but today
they're down to maybe 30 hectares (in the late 1800s there were more than
200 hectares under vine). And the town is classified as a Premier
Cru site, though some may taste the Champagne of Emmanuel Brochet and
wonder why it's not a Grand Cru.
This is a rather new enterprise, though the vineyards have been in the
Brochet family for more than a few generations. The vineyards had
been rented to others and only in 1997 did Emmanuel Brochet start his
sparkling wine adventure.
At this writing he farms two-and-a-half hectares of vineyards,
with Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Noir. With Brochet
cultivating his own vineyards, organic farming is currently being employed
simply because he believes "it's the right thing to do."
We tasted a rather impressive wine called "Le Mont Benoit."
Brochet seeks balance in the wine and he's still refining his
"recipe," sensitive to the quality of the fruit each year
The bottling we have is predominantly from 2009 with a small percentage from
2008. A bit of the base wine sees oak and a portion may undergo a
We like the character of this wine...mildly yeasty and toasty with a fresh,
bright apple note. It's a wine I suspect will develop beautifully with
more time in bottle, but it sure is tasty right now!
Currently in stock: EMMANUEL BROCHET "Le Mont
Benoit" Extra Brut $67.99
- We'd long been fans of this little winery in beautiful
"downtown" Ambonnay. The Billiot family owns a mere 5
hectares of vineyards in the Grand Cru town of Ambonnay. They
cultivate, primarily, Pinot Noir, though 25% of their holdings are devoted
Their base wines do not undergo a malolactic fermentation, so the wines
tend to be fairly bracing on the palate and dry.
Once the secondary fermentation has finished in the bottle, the yeasts die
and form a sediment.
Aging the wine on this sediment gives the wines a measure of complexity.
Some producers leave the wine in contact with this sediment for the minimum 12
months while others have a 3 or 4 year aging cycle.
The cellars are fairly cold, so they simply take bottles from the bin, stored
upside down having been 'riddled' on the gyropalette and place them, one by one,
in the one-bottle-at-a-time disgorging machine.
(Most producers freeze the necks of the bottles before
Billiot's disgorging machine handles one bottle at a time to take off the
crown cap and expel the yeast plug before topping off the bottle with its
Those are the just-removed crown caps from the freshly-opened bottles.
Then the bottles are corked and the wire hood tied on to
And then they affix a label to the bottle, dress it up with
a capsule and neck band and have a final inspection before putting them in
We typically have the Billiot "Brut Reserve" in the
shop...a silver label...they typically blend wine from three vintages for their
base wine. Normally it's 75% Pinot Noir and the rest is Chardonnay.
It's matured on the yeast for at least 2 years, maybe more, depending upon the
wine. (Many of the large houses routinely proclaim they have a three year
aging cycle for their Champagnes...but if you taste the wines, you'd be
hard-pressed to imagine such fruity sparkling wines are actually spending three
years "en tirage.")
It's dry and nicely crisp with a fairly full-bodied character...and we've found
the wine seems to improve with a bit of aeration!
(I've seen some Champagne producers actually open a bottle and pour it into a
decanter to splash it around, saying this improves the wine. We've enjoyed
some bottles of Billiot's Brut Reserve, noting that it, too, seems to get better
with a bit of time in the glass. Curious.
Currently in stock: H. BILLIOT Brut Reserve
I wondered if some marksman from Ambonnay was taking pot-shots at Bouzy...
- LOUIS ROEDERER
- This famous firm traces its history back to a monumental year for the USA,
1776. The company didn't commence under the Roederer name...that
change took place in 1833 when Louis inherited the establishment from his
uncle, Nicolas Schreider. Louis, it seems, had an ego rivaling that of
numerous Napa Valley vintners of the 1990s and early 2000s...
and his brother Eugene, along with a sales and marketing guru named Hugues
Kraft, worked diligently to promote the Roederer wines and sales grew from a
"mere" 100,000 bottles to 700,000.
By the year 1872, "King" Louis the Second was a major mover and
shaker in Champagne (and beyond). Sales tallied to 2.5 million bottles
and more than 25% of that was being sold in Russia and something close to
16% was coming to the USA.
Louis II, though, passed away in 1880 at the tendeer age of 34. His
sister Leonie and her hubby Jacques Olry took over the firm and their kids
took over in succeeding years. One of the heirs, Leon Olry-Roederer
had numerous hurdles to overcome: World War I put a damper on sales,
as did Prohibition in the US of A. Oh...then there was the stock
market crash in the US, along with the Depression. Leon died, leaving
the business in the hands of his widow, Camille. She ran the place for
another 40 years, putting the company back on its feet.
- Camille's grandson Jean-Claude Rouzaud, who'd studied enology, assumed the
helm in 1979. Being a capable winemaker, JC's interest was in making
quality wine instead of simply being a producer and mass-marketer. It
was his leadership which has put the Louis Roederer name amongst the leaders
in terms of good quality and producing serious quantities of wine.
Rouzaud's son Frederic has run the firm since 2006 and they still seem to
have high aspirations, thank you. And the empire has expanded over the
past couple of decades...they own Ramos Pinto in Portugal, Delas in France's
Rhone Valley, along with Chateau de Pez and Pichon Lalande in Bordeaux.
Of course, the firm made a substantial investment in California back in the
1970s. They asked their California importer, who worked with some good
vintners (a fellow named Robert Mondavi, for example) to investigate if
there was someplace in the Golden State to produce good sparkling
wine. And they embarked on a research mission, finally settling
on Mendocino's cool climate Anderson Valley as just the spot.
The company is famed for its Cristal Champagne, a wine first made in the
late 1800s at the request of Russian Czar Alexander II. Roederer
produced a special wine from selected vineyards and offered it in a unique
crystal bottle. It is still produced today, of course, being amongst
the elite status symbols of wealth and sophisticated taste. The wine
has long been "in demand" and allocated, but the recent economic
turmoil of the 21st century has made it somewhat easier to acquire.
It's apparently "currency" in the drug trade, so we get requests
for Cristal several times a week. Usually there are e-mails asking if
we carry this and they always want 24 or 36 bottles. These must be
shipped to a far away location and the would-be criminal wants to
"pay" for the wine using stolen or compromised credit card
At one point, the California distributor was brow-beaten by a state Assembly
or Senate member, who claimed they would hold hearings to see if the
Champagne was being unfairly allocated geographically and
demographically. Well, let's see...Cristal was selling for well more
than $200 a bottle, so it's not likely the wine was going to be easy to find
in the corner grocery store. In the interim, the economic downturn
makes Cristal easier to acquire...if you have a couple Ben Franklins burning
a hole in your wallet.
Cristal is usually released when it's six to ten years of age. A small
percentage of the base wine is wood aged and has had the lees stirred to give it
more body and complexity. They block the malolactic fermentation and
Cristal is usually a bit citrusy, light and crisp. We find they do well
with "time on the cork" and become more complex if allowed to evolve
It's not been a wine which fares well in blind-tasting, usually being aced out
by Bollinger and Krug wines, which tend to be fuller and bigger.
Roederer's entry level bottling is labeled "Brut Premier." This
is a very good example of non-vintage Brut Champagne. We find it a shade
or two less intense and less toasty than Charles Heidsieck's, but still quite
good. It's quite superior to Clicquot's "yellow" label wine
which has become so popular.
The Brut Premier is usually approximately 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with
20% Pinot Meunier. They claim it's aged en tirage for three years and
given the mildly toasty notes of the wine, it's probably close true. The
dosage tends to round out the wine on the palate and it is rather dry without
also makes a good vintage dated Brut Champagne. We carry the Clicquot
because so many of the customers in our area are label conscious. But for
a "step up" in quality from a normal non-vintage Brut, we've found
Roederer's to be a reliably good, honestly-made Champagne. The wine is
usually 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It's matured for 4 years on the
spent yeast and the dosage is low, so you'll find nicely toasty, biscuity aromas
and the wine is fuller and deeper than the normal, non-vintage Brut Champagne.
Roederer also makes a slightly sweet Champagne called "Carte
Blanche." In fact, in France you can apparently buy it in three
degrees of sweetness. Here in the US market we see but one version (how
many do we need, anyway?). This is slightly sweet, but far drier than,
say, an Asti Spumante or the fruity bubblies we have from Bugey or Die in the
French Alps. At the moment, we do not have this in stock. Easy to
special order, though we'll soon make it a regular feature here.
We neglected to mention Roederer's Rose Champagnes. There's typically a
Brut Vintage Rose available...and the Cristal Rose, which costs a small
fortune. Both are made using the saignee method, rather than simply
blending a drop of red wine into a vat of "white." These are
very fine and usually over-looked. The Vintage Brut Rose is simply
overshadowed by other producers and the Cristal Rose is so far out of the price
range of most people...well....
- Currently in Stock: ROEDERER NV Brut SALE $39.99 (750ml)
ROEDERER NV Brut half bottles SALE $24.99
ROEDERER 2004 VINTAGE BRUT Sale $64.99
ROEDERER 2002 CRISTAL SALE $199.99
- Cristal Rose and Magnums are periodically in stock...
one of those brands of Champagne that's a major success story from a
marketing standpoint, but there's plenty to debate in terms of the quality
of their wines.
The firm has an interesting history, centering on the widow
("Veuve" in French) beginning in the late 1700s. The son of
the founder was married to Nicole Barbe Ponsardin but he died when was just
30 years of age.
Francois Clicquot's father, the founder, was too old to run the firm so it
appeared the business would simply have to be sold. But the Veuve Clicquot
said "Guess again" and she took control of running the
company. This was well before Susan B. Anthony or Betty Friedan and
there are no accounts of Nicole Barbe burning her bra.
The company was then known as Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin to those who could
manage such a mouthful. Imagine trying to export your wine around
Europe when you had to contend with that little fellow Napoleon trying to
conquer the world, too! Ms. Clicquot Ponsardin waited for a lull in
Napoleon's comings and goings and in 1811 she shipped a bunch of wine to
Russia, a once viable market until all the battling had begun. Lucky
for her the wine made it to Moscow, apparently, and she was even paid for
her products which helped grow the company.
The Veuve, though, is also credited with developing a major Champagne
production innovation: she and her cellar rat developed a protocol to
help remove all the nasty sediment that was floating around in bottles of
Champagne. The legend is she drilled holes in a table and they set
bottles in these, upside down to allow the sediment to collect on the
cork. Then the task was to expel the sediment and allow the remaining
wine to be "clear" and free of floaties.
They eventually continued to improvise and came up with the A-framed sort of
"racks" which are today known as riddling racks. Of course,
these days, the process of "riddling" has been further refined and
producers often use gyro-palettes to shake, rattle and roll the bottles.
Nicole and her husband, though, had one child, a daughter named
Clementine. Her husband was a carefree character and there are stories
suggesting he helped spend the company into a poor financial state. An
employee, though, had some deep pockets and he infused the firm with
much-needed money and, as a result, Monsieur Eduoard Werle ran the firm from
the 1840s through 1884. At that time Eddie's kid Alfred ran the
company. Clicquot was still family-run through the mid-1980s when a
fellow named Henriot, of Henriot Champagne in fact, became a shareholder in
the firm. Joseph Henriot became the chairman of the firm and they
eventually cashed out, selling it to the humungous Louis
An old print ad for Clicquot Champagne by the Joseph Garneau company...
Imagine they were selling 1923 and 1926 vintages!
So today Moet et Chandon, along with its luxury bottlings of Dom Perignon,
are related to Clicquot. So it the large brand called Mercier.
And Chandon, of course, has production facilities for bubbly around the
world, one of them being in our backyard in the Napa Valley. A few
years ago they took over the prestigious house called Krug (not Charles
Krug in Napa!) and so LVMH has a nice stable of trophies. Ruinart,
Though Champagne firms claim they age their non-vintage Brut Champagnes
for three years on the spent yeast, a skilled taster would be hard-pressed
to confirm this when evaluating fruity, cidery Champagnes. And most
Champagne firms will claim they do not tailor their wines to particular
markets, adjusting the sweetening dosage to suit the requirements of the
Nobody, but nobody, speaks of the sale of bottles of Champagnes, sold sur
lattes. This is where a firm simply buys bottles of Champagne,
already in progress, and finishes the task of aging, disgorging and
labeling. We purchased, some years ago now, some Clicquot from an
importer who purchased the wine in Europe and we opened a bottle,
side-by-side with the wine sold through normal channels here in the
U.S. The corks "inflated" to an identical state,
suggesting both had been disgorged at a similar point in time, but you'd
have to have a lead palate to not be able to discern the differences.
The bottle from the Euro-sold batch was creamy, toasty, appropriately
yeasty and dry. The "American market" bottling was more
reminiscent of apple cider as it lacked the yeasty/toasty complexities and
the wine was fruity and not as dry.
So with LVMH owning so many houses and being able to buy wine that's
pre-made, consumers might begin to question who makes the wine bearing the
famous "yellow" label. ((In fact, an industry insider
mentioned Clicquot buying some very good non-vintage Champagne from a
quality-oriented producer who was in dire financial straits...this helps
explain why the bottlings are so variable.))
We taste Clicquot's Champagne several times during the year, typically,
and we find the character seems to vary. Yet, if you pose this
question to producers, they always claim it's in their best interest to
produce a consistent product and that, yes, the Champagne they sell in
Paris is identical to what you'll find in Tokyo, New York and London.
They call it "Yellow Label," though most people would judge the
color to be orange.
But the French describe the yolk of an egg as the "jaune" or
And so Clicquot's label is described as being a "yellow" label.
So, what does the current bottling of Clicquot taste like?
The most recent taste we had was a mildly fruity, very faintly yeasty sparkling
wine. It was acidic and showed some green apple notes on the palate.
We suspect many consumers don't pay much attention to the aromas and
flavors...they're more enthralled with the label and the "image" of
We've heard that they buy a lot of bottles of Champagne "sur
lattes". This means the quality of the wine is dependant upon who
made it, from what fruit (grown where), etc. This may account of the
somewhat variable character we've found in bottles of Clicquot's entry-level
The 2004 Vintage Brut is known as "Gold Label" and this wine is a
medium-full bodied bubbly. We find it to be rounder and softer than many
other good Champagnes, so we suspect they've honing in on the taste of the
typical Clicquot customer? It's certainly more complex than their Yellow
The non-vintage dated Rose is a mildly fruity bubbly...not really yeasty and
complex, but still not intensely "Pinot"-like.
The top of the line wine from Clicquot is called La Grande Dame and it is a
lovely bottle of Champagne.
The first vintage was released in 1977 and was from the 1969 harvest. The
wine has always come in a distinctive bottle, which is somewhat of a guarantee
that it's actually made by Clicquot.
La Grande Dame tends to be Pinot Noir-based and fairly full on the palate.
It's quite dry and rather elegant...you wouldn't know this was
"related" to Clicquot's Yellow Label any more than you'd associate an Oenotheque
bottling of Dom Perignon to a Moet Chandon Imperial.
These prices are for walk-in
customers...bottles for "delivery" are slightly higher.
Currently in stock: VEUVE CLICQUOT Yellow Label 750ml SALE
VEUVE CLICQUOT Yellow Label 375ml SALE $28.99
VEUVE CLICQUOT Yellow Label Magnum SALE $109.99
VEUVE CLICQUOT Yellow Label 3-Liter SALE $289.99
VEUVE CLICQUOT 2004 Gold Label Brut SALE $79.99
VEUVE CLICQUOT Non-Vintage ROSE Brut SALE $61.99
- VEUVE CLICQUOT 1990 La Grande Dame Sale $499.99
- The Ruinart name traces its Champagne history back to the early 1700s and
the place was still run by family members until 1963 when the firm was sold
to Moet Chandon.
Founded by Nicolas Ruinart in 1729, a fellow whose uncle Dom Thierry Ruinart
was a close friend of Dom Perignon.
The wine first made its debut in the United States when President Andrew
Jackson reportedly enjoyed bottles of Ruinart. Whether or not Old
Hickory paid for the bubbly himself or if he was simply given a case by one
of the Ruinart family is not clear. But, with news of the wine being
served at The White House, it was soon fashionable and found in dining
establishments along the east coast.
The Ruinart family managed the company through thick and thin, but by 1950
they were even thinner and needed some financial aid. Bordeaux's Baron
Philippe de Rothschild came to their rescue, but the Ruinart bank account
was apparently in Ruin by 1963 and the company was sold to Moet.
An old magazine ad for Ruinart, probably circa 1935...
The wine had been periodically distributed in the United States, but it's
only in the past few years that we've seen it available on a more reliable
- Ruinart Champagnes come in a special proprietary bottle. As a
result, consumers have some measure of assurance the wine is actually made
The house style favors the Chardonnay grape.
Their Non-Vintage Blanc de Blanc is a crisp, zesty Champagne with mildly
yeasty tones and a lightly appley character. It's rather dry and
They make a perfectly nice Rose Champagne as well.
Dom Ruinart is their top-of-the-line Champagne. The 1996 is
extraordinarily good. Very fine and elegant with bracing acidity and
mildly toasty fragrances and flavors. It's not as full-bodied as some
deluxe bottlings, but it is certainly exceptional Champagne.
- Currently in stock: RUINART BLANC DE BLANC CHAMPAGNE SALE
1996 DOM RUINART CHAMPAGNE Sale $189.99
- The Taittinger name is that of a well-regarded Champagne firm.
Despite the house being an old one, the name Taittinger only became
associated close to the 200th anniversary of the firm.
It was in 1932 when Pierre Taittinger bought the company. They family
had other interests, apparently, owning some fancy and not-so-fancy hotels,
a perfume maker and a little outfit called Baccarat which makes crystal.
They sold the whole shebang in 2005, though, to an American outfit called
the Starwood Capital Group. They own a bunch of businesses, but sold
the Taittinger Champagne company a couple of years back to the Taittinger
family with the backing of a major French bank.
The basic Non-Vintage Brut is a perfectly nice Champagne. It's a bit
on the lighter side, being less compelling, in our view, than Charles
Heidsieck, Bollinger or Roederer.
The top of the line bottling, though, has routinely been a reliable and high
quality Champagne. It's called Comtes de Champagne.
wine honors Thibaud IV, who's credited with planting the first Chardonnay
vines in France, supposedly in the 13th Century. Taittinger happens to
have a number of vineyards in Grand Cru sites which are planted to
Chardonnay, hence the wine is a Blanc de Blancs bubbly.
A tiny percentage of the base wine is fermented in oak and then added back
to the main part of the cuvee. Once fermented in bottle, they tend to
leave it in the cellar "en tirage" for 8 or 9 years and so the
wine offers a beautifully toasty, yeasty character on the nose. It's
quite dry, nice and crisp and a good example of Champagne with finesse but
also depth and a measure of complexity.
- Taittinger has commissioned famous artists to design packaging for their
artist series of bottles.
Some are rather attractive....others, not so much.
Currently in stock: 2004 TAITTINGER "COMTES DE
CHAMPAGNE" (List $200) SALE $169.99
- CHARLES HEIDSIECK
used to come to the U.S. regularly to sell the Champagne that had his name.
The firm was founded in 1851 and things started off nicely for Heidsieck and
his brother-in-law partner Ernest Henriot. He wound up in jail in New
Orleans when Unionists found a letter from French manufacturers with offers
to supply clothing to the Confederate army. That took some fizz
out of his Champagne! The firm managed to survive and Charles got out
of jail after a four month-stint.
It was run by the Heidsiecks until 1976 when an Henriot took over. In
1985 the company was sold to the Remy-Martin organization which owned Krug
and Piper-Heidsieck at the time. Remy found itself in a financial bind
and sold off Krug and they recently unloaded both Piper Heidsieck and
Charles Heidsieck to a family-run company in France called EPI (Société
Européenne de Participations Industrielles) for nearly $600 million!
EPI has numerous irons in the luxury goods "fire." They make
shoes, for one thing. The company also produces men's shirts, as
One day, without warning, the reliable bottling of Charles Heidsieck's Brut
Reserve was unavailable (summer of 2012). The distributor told us they
were "re-formatting" the brand. A few months later they had
a new bottling in a fancy new bottle and a fancy new label. Higher
price, too. Of course!
We had heard something about them increasing the level of
"reserve" wines in the cuvee.
We purchased a bottle of both the Brut and Brut Rose and got around to
tasting them in November of 2012. The Brut seemed low in acidity and
'flat' in terms of the base wine. The Rose was closer to the mark for
a non-vintage dated Brut Champagne, but it was not as good, in our view, as
other Brut Rose Champagnes in its class and price range.
As a result, we've stopped carrying this brand.
We hope they will have a serious look and reassess the Champagne.
On the other hand, we've seen glowing reviews from various critics regarding the
new bottling, so perhaps we are simply out to lunch.
Currently in stock: Sold
Out...Special Orders only.
- ALLIMANT LAUGNER
Laugner is a fan of good French Champagnes. But he's not wealthy
enough to drink those every day of the week, so he embarked on a sparkling
wine project of his own.
We're fans of his "Rose" bubbly, a wine from Pinot Noir vineyards
in northern Alsace.
This wine is made 400 kilometers away from Reims in Champagne and it's about
$40 away from similar quality Brut Roses from the same region.
Laugner bottle ferments the wine in the manner of Champagne and the dosage
is minimal, creating a fine quality bubbly which carries a sensible price
tag. The aromas offer hints of red fruits and there same notes come
through on the palate. The wine is beautifully bubbly and hard to beat
for quality and value.
We've noticed Hubert's Cremant has been getting more attention from wine
critics in Europe, so the secret is out. Happily, he's held the line
on the price.
- Currently in stock: ALLIMANT LAUGNER CREMANT D'ALSACE ROSE
$19.99 (don't forget---the standard case discount brings this to
$17.99 and it's even less on a cash/check/debit card & carry sale)
- VITTEAUT ALBERTI
- Gerard Vitteaut, who was once the mayor of the town of Rully, is best
known not for his ability to run a public meeting, but for his wine and
The winery was founded in 1951, if I recall correctly. Lucien Vitteaut
and his wife Maria Alberti started the place and focused on producing
bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Rully, after all, was well-known for its
sparkling wines and had a long history of production.
It's said the earliest bubblies were produced back in 1826, or so. The
Petiot family is credited with making the first bubbly in Rully and it was
dubbed "Fleur de Champagne." They actually hired a kid from
Champagne to come and help them make sparkling wine.
The appellation "Cremant de Bourgogne" is a fairly recent development
and Gerard Vitteaut was instrumental in petitioning for and obtaining the AOC
(appellation) for this wine.
there are several producers of Cremant de Bourgogne in Rully. Producers
around Burgundy ship tanks of still wine to Vitteaut, asking him to make bubbly
for them. Vitteaut-Alberti also makes its own sparklers and we visited
recently to have a taste and see if anything is of interest.
In fact, the entry level wines are quite well made and nice. But
there's a top-of-the-line bottling Vitteaut named after his lovely daughter,
Agnes. That's Agnès in the photo. She studied winemaking and joined
the company in 2004.
Having been in the region of Champagne just a couple of days before visiting
Burgundy, we had a pretty good benchmark when tasting their wines.
The Cuvee Agnès is made entirely of Chardonnay from vineyards in both the Cote
Chalonnaise and the Cote de Beaune.
The wine spends about 18 months in bottle on the spent yeast. This
accounts for the rather nicely toasty fragrances and the somewhat bready/biscuity
character of the wine.
Cuvee Agnès is also dry and there's a nice texture to the wine on the palate...
We find this to give some nice Champagnes a run for the money and it's, in our
view, superior to many of the mass-produced, factory brands of Champagne.
Of course, none of your friends have heard of this winery or brand, so they
won't be impressed when you present the bottle.
However, for people who can differentiate between 'serious' sparkling wine and
fizzy plonk, this bubbly is well worth trying.
Currently in stock: VITTEAUT-ALBERTI "Cuvee Agnès"
Maria Alberti and Lucien Vitteaut
Here's an old label for their sparkling wine...
CALIFORNIA SPARKLING WINES
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