Ole Reliable From Reims

Today’s Story: Krug

Krug is a highly regarded Champagne house established in Reims, France in 1843 by Joseph Krug. Krug has maintained a reputation throughout its entire existence of producing incredibly high quality wines, being unique to this day as the first and only house to create only prestige Champagnes every year since its establishment. Krug’s most widely produced Champagne, the Grande Cuvée, is the house’s most popular and a blending of more than 120 wines to craft the best expression of time and place each vintage. The house produces several other wines, including a non-vintage Rosé, vintage Krug, a vintage single-vineyard Blanc de Blanc called Clos du Mesnil, a vintage single-vineyard Blanc de Noir called Clos d’Ambonnay, and Krug Collection back-vintage wines. Though the house is now owned with a majority by LVMH, the Krug family remains actively involved with sixth-generation Olivier Krug today.

Today’s Wine: NV Krug Grande Cuvée 168ème Édition

52% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 13% Meunier; 12.5% ABV

The NV Grande Cuvée 168ème Édition is pale gold in color with lively bubbles. The aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing yellow apple, pear, white blossom, brioche, slight reduction, and chalky mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity, displaying notes of crisp green apple, white peach, white florals, almond, brioche, and honey. This dry Champagne is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $170. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a great value, but that’s simply because there are so many grower Champagne’s out there that come in at half or less than half the price and drink just as well. Krug is, however, probably my favorite Champagne in this price range and this 168ème Édition is a great bottling based on the 2012 vintage. Krug is consistently exceptional and every Champagne lover needs to try some at least once.

Grower Champagne of the Utmost Quality

Today’s Story: Champagne Lilbert-Fils

Champagne Lilbert-Fils is a small, family-owned and operated grower Champagne located in the village of Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. Though written records show the Lilbert family cultivating vines there back to 1746, it is suspected they have deeper roots to perhaps the early 1700s. Bertrand Lilbert runs the estate today, after he joined his father Georges during the 1990s and took the helm in 2005. The family only owns 3.5 hectares of all Grand Cru vineyards with roughly 60% in Cramant, 30% in Chouilly, and 10% in Oiry. These holdings are planted to 100% Chardonnay with an average vine age of 45 years for the exclusive production of Blanc de Blancs. Bertrand practices sustainable viticulture, makes his wines in stainless steel vats, and they do experience malolactic fermentation. Bertrand still riddles all of his bottles by hand, and they are disgorged without freezing the plug of lees in the neck of the bottle. Dosage remains pretty low in sugar because Bertrand prefers to preserve acidity over ripeness, and the resulting wines are filled with intense mineral and chalk characteristics alongside crisp and vibrant citrus and orchard fruit. Total production is typically a measly 2,300 cases per vintage, making these wines very difficult to find.

Today’s Wine: NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is transparent pale gold to a medium yellow in color, with incredibly delicate effervescence. On the nose, this gorgeous and utterly complex Champagne emits aromas of green apple, golden pear, a hint of lemon, white florals, white truffle, delicate green herbs, brioche, lees, and crushed stone minerality. The knock-your-socks-off palate then picks up the reigns with yellow apple skins, crisp pear, white peach, lemon citrus, honeysuckle, toast, cheese rind, toasted almond, chalk, and saline mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied and very dry (dosage 5g/L) with racy high acidity and a long finish that is both tantalizing and mouthwatering. My bottle was disgorged in Autumn 2017 and is a blend of 50% 2014 vintage, 35% 2013 vintage, and 15% Reserve Wines.

Price: $60. This is an incredible value Champagne and one that I buy whenever I find it (which isn’t easy because it is super small production with an almost cultish following). I’ve had these wines on 4 or 5 occasions and every time they punch up with the “big dogs.” Buy some if you can.

Tear-Jerking Champagne From the Fantastic 2002 Vintage

Today’s Story: Dom Pérignon

I wrote about the 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne yesterday, so I will save you the duplicate history lesson and jump right into today’s tasting notes for the 2002 vintage. If you missed yesterday’s post though, feel free to give it a quick read. At the very least you can compare consecutive vintage tasting notes!

Today’s Wine: 2002 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne

Typically about 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay (exact blend unknown); 12.5% ABV

The 2002 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne is transparent deep gold in color. I drank this over the course of a couple hours, and it only got bigger and bigger with air. The nose is stupidly complex, showcasing aromas of lemon curd, green apple, pear, honeysuckle, jasmine, incense, chalk, saline mineral, brioche, vanilla cream, butter, and almond. Meanwhile the palate is equally as mind-boggling, displaying notes of crisp green apple skins, peach, apricot, stone fruit, white florals, white truffle, chalk, limestone, white smoke, dill, caramel, butterscotch, and hazelnut. This is medium- to full-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel and razor sharp high acidity into an endlessly long finish.

Price: $270 (paid $180 a few years ago). This is in a very, very special place right now and provided one of those unique drinking experiences where a wine makes me tear up. Though there are no doubt better “value” brands out there, this 2002 is worth its price.

A Titan Showing the Scars of Age and a Tough Vintage

Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!

Dom Pierre Pérignon (supposedly)

Today’s Story: Dom Pérignon

Dom Pérignon is a very famous Champagne produced as the prestige cuvée of Champagne house Moët & Chandon. Though the first vintage was 1921 and it first released to the market in 1936, Dom Pérignon takes its name from Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715) who became cellar master in the Abbey of Hautvillers. Though Dom Pierre did not “invent” sparkling Champagne (as many myths state), he was instrumental in quality control at a time when weak Champagne bottles were prone to explosion due to refermentation in the bottle as the wines aged. Some of his contributions included the use of blending to improve quality of the wine, perfecting the process of pressing white wine from black grapes, introducing corks instead of wood, and strengthening the glass of bottles to minimize time bombs in the cellar.

Originally, Dom Pérignon was bottled using vintage Moët & Chandon Champagne transferred to their new, specially designed Dom bottles so it was essentially an oenothèque. This ended with the 1943 vintage, however, and Dom was produced entirely separately for the next released vintage of 1947 and beyond. Why the gap you might ask? Well, Dom Pérignon is only produced as a vintage Champagne when the quality is high enough, so this Champagne has only been produced in 44 vintages from 1921 to 2010. Wildly enough, Dom Pérignon only released more than two vintages in a row three times until 2004 when vintages of 2005 and 2006 mark the first time ever five vintages were made consecutively (2002-2006).

Dom Pérignon is always a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, forgetting the third permitted grape of Pinot Meunier included in many other Champagnes. Across vintages, the Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon sticks to roughly 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, however they maintain the flexibility of blending up to a maximum 60% for one variety depending on vintage conditions. I would be remiss, though, if I forget to mention that in one vintage (1970) they went over and the blend was 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir. This is the only time one variety accounted for more than 60% of the blend. All grapes are sourced from Grand Cru Champagne vineyards, save for one historical 1er Cru vineyard at Hautvillers which keeps the wine from being labeled as a Grand Cru Champagne.

Today’s Wine: 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne

60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2003 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne is transparent deep gold in color with delicate effervescence. The nose is still gorgeous, offering up aromas of golden delicious apple, pear, honeysuckle, white lily, white truffle, brioche, white pepper, and vanilla cream. However, unfortunately the palate seems fairly advanced and displays notes of green apple skins, canned golden pear, white florals, almond, caramel, toffee, and hazelnut. This wine falls apart on the palate, proving rather disappointing compared to the last several bottles of 2003 I’ve enjoyed that showed the prowess of the producer in a tough vintage. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a moderately dry but medium (-) length finish.

Price: $250 (paid $170 several years ago). I had high hopes for this bottle, largely since we held it for a number of years and also since the prior 3 bottles of 2003 I enjoyed were fantastic. I’d say skip this if you come across it (though it could be an off bottle), and put the money toward 2002 or a more recent vintage like 2008.

Ole Reliable for Vintage Champagne

Today’s Story: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

Veuve Clicquot is a large, well-known Champagne house established in Champagne, France in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot. In 1805, the house was taken over by perhaps one of (in hindsight) the most famous personalities of Champagne: Madame Clicquot, who was the widow of Philippe’s son François. Thanks to a great education and noble birth, Madame Clicquot quickly demonstrated her business prowess by creating the first-ever recorded vintage Champagne in 1810 and in 1814 triumphed over a European trade embargo by shipping her wine to Russia. In 1816, the Madame invented the riddling table which produces clear Champagnes and she became known as “La Grande Dame” of the region (which happens to be the name of the house’s highest end bottling today). She did not stop here, however, introducing the first rosé d’assemblage in 1818 by blending red wines instead of elderberry solutions. Though Madame Clicquot passed away in 1866, the house continued to rise in stature and, in 1877, trademarked their signature yellow label that stands out in any grocery store or wine shop today.

Veuve Clicquot continued to grow and adapt over the following decades, constantly improving their winemaking methods and modernizing their tools. By the house’s 200th anniversary in 1972, they were one of the most recognizable Champagne brands and introduced the top bottling of La Grande Dame. The house was later acquired by Louis Vuitton in 1986 (became LVMH, or Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, in 1987) and continued to grow, with the next breakthrough in 2004 with the release of their NV Rosé. While a very large house, Veuve Clicquot is still instantly recognizable and can be depended on for its consistent quality from vintage to vintage and non-vintage from year to year.

Today, the Clicquot vineyards consist of 390 hectares of which 86% are situated across 12 of the 17 Grand Crus and 20 of the 44 1er Crus of the Champagne region. In terms of the vines themselves, 47% are planted to Chardonnay, 36% to Pinot Noir, and 17% to Pinot Meunier with all farmed adhering to sustainable practices and zero use of herbicides.

For more, check out the incredibly extensive Veuve Clicquot website here. At the very least, I highly recommend reading through the details of harvest and winemaking here, which are too great for me to do them any justice.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Brut Champagne

51% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 15% Meunier; 12% ABV

The 2012 Brut Champagne is transparent to medium gold in color with deep gold variation along the edges of the glass. Beautifully effervescent in the glass, the wine emits aromas of ripe green apple, pear, white peach, stone fruit, white florals, brioche, and dried vanilla. Moving onto the palate, this displays notes of lemon and lime zest, green apple skins, peach, chalk, light green herbs, slight earth, toasted almond, and lees. This is a very linear and precise bottle of Champagne while being medium-bodied and offering vibrant high acidity into a crisp medium (+) length finish.

Price: $85. I think this is pretty fairly priced for a vintage Champagne compared to some of the other large Champagne houses, however I must say it gets beaten by a number of grower Champagne producers I’ve tried over the years. Even the standard NV yellow label isn’t too terribly far behind this vintage bottling, missing out largely on focus and depth. Regardless, Clicquot always gives you exactly what you expect with great consistency, so take that how you will.

Delicate and Pure Entry Level Champagne

Today’s Story: Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon is a family-run Champagne house established in 1818 in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ through the marriage of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. Nicolas François, who handled the commercial aspects of the new Champagne house, brought his brother-in-law Louis Salmon on board to make the wines. 200 years later, the 7th generation of the Billecart family manages the house with the 6th generation still very much involved. Together they cultivate 100 hectares of vineyards across 40 crus of Champagne and an area of 300 hectares, the majority of which sits around Epernay. Billecart’s signature style comes largely from their fermentation process, which is accomplished in stainless steel tanks at lower temperatures to prolong fermentation an coax out delicate aromas and purity of fruit. All vinification occurs cru by cru and variety by variety, allowing each to maintain the unique expressions of the varying terroir. The house’s wines rest in chalk cellars dating to the 17th and 19th centuries, with the NV bottlings enjoying 3-4 years in the cellar and the vintage bottlings enjoying 10 years.

Today’s Wine: Champagne Brut Réserve

40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The Champagne Brut Réserve is transparent gold in color with tiny bubbles. On the nose, I get aromas of yellow pear, golden apple, honeysuckle, toast, yeast, and chalk. There’s a delightful herbal earthiness there too. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of crisp green apple, lemon citrus, stone fruit, honey, brioche, rose petal, and cream. This is medium-bodied with great effervescence and vibrant, mouthwatering acidity into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $45. I think this is a great “entry level” Champagne from one of the larger, more recognizable houses. You can without a doubt find better values from growers, however you can’t go wrong with Billecart-Salmon in this price-point over some of the bigger names.