The last couple of years I have really paid attention to Champagnes, and other sparkling wines, such as Cremants and Cavas. We seem to have this attitude that Champagnes and other sparklers are reserved for special occasions. Not so! The older I get, every day I wake up is a special occasion. Possibly the myth behind it all is that Champagnes are expensive. Not always true. There are many affordable sparkling wines on the market, and again, especially Cremants, Cavas, Proseccos, and good domestic sparkler can be found at affordable prices - - and I am not referring to those cheap American ones that are nothing but cheap white wine injected with carbon dioxide, either.
Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant in Walla Walla held a Champagne tasting last week. The perfect time of the year to get us out of the slumps of a long winter and Valentine's Day around the corner. Of course, I had to attend, as I couldn't let such an opportunity slip by. Jenna Bicknell, manager of Whitehouse-Crawford was our host for the evening. She poured for us a total of eight different labels of bubbles. All of them were Non Vintage, except one. As always, I do not score, but instead will visit each of the wines and give my notes.
Pierre Peters, NV Brut Grand cru, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
This is a sixth generation grower's Champagne. The estate is located in one of the villages that has received Grand Cru status, as well as the estate uses sustainable vineyard practices. Pierre Peters is a recognizable name for many Champagne lovers, but not one that can easily be located on the grocery store shelves, either. It is 100% Chardonnay with very clean and crisp notes.
Agrapart & Fils, NV Brut, Les Sept Crus
Sept Crus (7 Crus) means 100% of the fruit is produced from each of the seven villages in the Cotes des Blancs: Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay, Val d'Or, Bergères les Vertus, and Mardeuil. This translate into 70% Grand Cru, 30% Premier Cru. This current NV is 50% each of the 2006 and 2007 vintages with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. This is also a biodynamic wine that is on its way to be certified. Once again, it was a clean and bright palate with a bit of graham cracker on the nose.
Vilmart & Cie, NV Brut, 'Grand Cellier,' Prenier Cru, Rilly la Montagne
Like Pierre Peters, Vilmart & Cie is another recognizable label, but again not one that you will find readily in a grocery store. It is a fifth-generation estate which dates back to 1890. The wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from 2 parcels in Rilly-la-Montagne – “Les Hautes Grèves” and “Les Basses Grèves.” Like all of Vilmart's cuvees, this wine does not go through malolactic fermentation and spends time in oak. For the NV wines, oak aging is completed in large cask from 500-2000 liter. The mouth was rich and creamy, leaving a very juicy finish.
Jean Vesselle, NV Extra Brut Cuvee, Bouzy
From what information I could gather, this is a third generation winery, and this Cuvee was produced from the organic vineyards in Bouzy, which is 100% Grand Cru terroir. It had a minimum of 2 years of age with zero dosage (dosage = an addition of liquid that consists of a mixture of wine and pure cane sugar). 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The nose was very licorice/eucalyptus and a rather austere funk. On the palate it was a little oxidized with a flat finish. I was not a fan.
Boizel, NV Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Epernay
Once again, another Champagne with much familiarity. It is 100% Pinot Noir and sourced
from some of the best Pinot Noir Crus in the Champagne region such as: Mareuil sur Ay, Cumieres, Mailly, les Riceys. The nose was quite luscious and rich like breathing in an apple orchard or a warehouse full of fresh picked apples. Clean, fresh, crisp, with a finish like applesauce.
De Sousa, NV Brut Tradition, Avize
This was a blend of several vintages, and with a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and unlike the others preceding, there was the addition of 10% Pinot Meunier. I thought the nose was quite tropical with notes of pineapple. Very full and lively bubbles. A slight oxidized and smokey notes - perhaps from the Pinot Meunier? However, it finished almost to zero - flat.
Gaston Chiquet, NV Brut Tradition, Dizy
This Champagne is produced of all Grand and Premier Cru fruit from the Dizy, Hautviller, and Mareuil sur Ay. It is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir. It was a blend of the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of the 2009 and 2008 vintages. Frankly I kept trying to find some kind of distinguished characteristics in this bubbly. The nose and finish was rather dusty and muted. The finish seemed also muted and soft on the palate.
Bollinger, 2002 Brut Grande Annee, Ay
A vintage, as well as another recognizable label. This wine is a blend of 16 villages, in which 75% are Grand Cru and 25% are Premier Cru. Bollinger's tradition is to only use the cuvee juice in making of their La Grande Annee, and the first fermentation is always carried out in 100% old oak barrels. The wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The nose was slightly nutty, as well as the palate. Nutty, lightly oxidized, but not cloying. It was smooth and that slight nuttiness just blended well. The finish was crisp and bright.
Last but not least, was a "secret" sparkling wine in a decanter. We had an opportunity to taste the wine and Jenna later came by with the bottle. The wine was Domaine Huët Vouvray, Cuvee Brut - a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. Therefore, it was not be a traditional Champagne. The color was very bright and vivid yellow with classic Vouvray notes of pears, honey and flowers.
Overall, many of the familiar wines for me were some of the best that I enjoyed, which were the Bollinger, Boizel, Pierre Peters, and the Vilmart & Cie - - but whether or not I enjoyed them all, it is always important to have the experience to learn and discover something new.