I recently had the honor of being invited to a Champagne tasting that a customer was hosting in Chicago, and even though I thought my chances were slim of getting our owner to agree, I figured I’d broach the subject anyway. I knew I had to be tactful though. Catch him on the wrong day and I would kiss this rare and incredible opportunity goodbye like the ending of a Hollywood blockbuster! Needless to say I caught him at the right moment and before I knew it I had my plane ticket ready for the windy city.
To provide a little context here, I absolutely love Champagne! I enjoy it in its many forms and styles, and being a Sommelier allows me the desire to crave more and more knowledge about this incredibly old wine growing region of northern France. So, needless to say, I was more than a little excited at the opportunity being afforded me by both the host of the tasting and the owner of our company.
Fast forward to the day of the event, my plane lands in Chicago an hour behind schedule due to one of the many issues plaguing the airline industry these days, but at least I made it. Arriving to the facility where the tasting event would take place, I was immediately captured by the thought of just how awesome an opportunity this was. And I knew from the moment I was introduced to everyone, that this would be no ordinary (if there could be such a thing) wine tasting. Not only were these guests serious collectors, but they were just as geeky about wine as I am! Their insatiable thirst (yes, pun intended) for all things Champagne was both awe inspiring and slightly intimidating. A few minutes in, though, and any preconceived notions of how this could go were tossed right out the window, because this whole group was awesome! Everyone was inviting, knowledgeable, and most importantly, just happy to talk about and drink Champagne! Enough back story though. Let’s get to the wine…
We began with PIERRE GERBAIS “La Loge,” a 100% old vine Pinot Blanc (yes Pinot Blanc is one of 8 permitted grape varieties in Champagne) from the Cote Des Bars. This was a fascinating “Grower Champagne” that was full of aromatic expression, lemon cream, freshly baked bread and herbal/floral nuances.
Next up was Champagne HEBRART “Clos Leon” 2014, a single vineyard expression from the village of Dizy with captivating notes of citrus, pear, dough, and hazelnuts. We were off to a great start and there was A LOT more to come! Pacing myself and taking small amounts would be necessary to make sure I could see straight by the end, let alone take copious notes and keep conversation!
We continued the trend of Grower Champagnes with GASTON CHIQUET Blanc de Blancs 2012, a trio of AGRAPART Champagnes including “Terroirs,” “Mineral,” and “Avizoise” 2009 all of which were ethereal, laserlike expressions of Chardonnay that would have any oyster lover begging for another sip.
We dove into some JACQUES SELOSSE, one of my personal favorites from this tasting, including the “Initial” and “Substance,” a more vinous style of Champagne blended from reserve wines aged Solera style going back to 1986! There was so much nuance and expression to both SELOSSE wines, making it easy to see why they are so coveted today.
Mid way through now and out came a camouflaged bottle for a blind tasting challenge! Noses in, minds perplexed and everyone was eagerly trying to figure out which producer it could possibly be, when it turned out we were drinking a Napa Valley Sparkling from BALD MOUNTAIN VINEYARD! It was quite intriguing with a vinous, sort of oxidative sherry note. A nice segue into the Grande Marque houses.
First up in the second flight was TAITTINGER COMTE DE CHAMPAGNE 2000. There was such finesse here with bread dough, toasted hazelnuts, cinnamon pastry, and light notes of wood. Such a beautifully aged wine.
On to a pair of 2008s with LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL from magnum as well as the 2008 RARE. If laser sharp acidity and fresh lemon/tart green apple are your style of bubbly than this is right up your alley. It was honestly too young, given the notoriety of the vintage and also the reputation of CRISTAL to age extremely well. The RARE, however, was drinking incredibly well and was amazingly complex, with red apple, yellow pear, marzipan, pastry cream and peach notes all shining through.
We would end with a group of heavy hitters from all the big names, beginning with POL ROGER CUVEE SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL out of magnum from 1995. Easily one of my standouts from the experience, as this was still in its prime, with notes of tangerine, mushroom, wood, grilled peach, a hint of maple, and a glorious rounded vinous finish. What a wine!
We followed with a magnum of KRUG 166eme which was just glorious! A quintessential example of nuanced, balanced, elegant Champagne that was really complete with toasted hazelnut, lemon oil, savory pastry, and creme anglaise.
Our Penultimate wine for the evening would be DOM PERIGNON 2002, a robust, full bodied wine that was more vinous than KRUG and dialed up the toasted notes to 10, and finishing with citrus and yellow apple.
We would cap off this amazing evening with a magnum of TAITTINGER COMTE DE CHAMPAGNE ROSÉ 2006. Réticent at first, it took a bit to unfold and really strut its stuff. However, once this wine opened up, it was very much like fine red Burgundy! Perfumed and vinous, the red berry notes revealed layer upon layer of nuance, which just begged for a perfectly grilled filet mignon topped with a well made Bordelaise!
In closing, I would like to personally thank our generous host for this very special event which was just as educational for me as it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. I met some great people and put another amazing experience in the rolodex of my wine brain! If you are getting into Champagne and aren’t afraid to step out of your comfort zone, there are so many varying and delicious styles to enjoy. I would urge you to try them all!