| Pop a cork: If you
have $150 to spend, the Krug Brut Grand Cuvée is a good
Two years ago, New York wine merchants and sommeliers were all
whispering among themselves: Would there be enough champagne for
the millennium? It's hard to believe now, but people in the trade
back then were seriously afraid that there would not be enough bubbly.
Well, fortunately, the Great Millennium Champagne Scare turned out
to be a bust.
This year, your only worry should be which bottle to choose.
What I find so thrilling today is the high quality at the lower
end of the range, particularly among the non-vintage(NV) bruts.
Bollinger's Special Cuvée has always been one of the best
— it was good even when most of the others weren't — and it still
is. What's more, it's cheap, at least by Bolly standards. Your target
price should be $30 and change. For that, you'll get a classic brut,
yeasty and firm. Everything I could want in a non-vintage.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, contrary to this year's price-dropping
trend, keeps on inching up the totem pole, topping even Bollinger
by $3 to $5. The wine is, however, extremely good, and hugely Pinot
Noir in character (something like 80-85 percent Pinot Noir and Pinot
Meunier). It's bluefruit and redcurrants compared to the butter
and cream, hazelnuts and almonds of a more Chardonnay-based champagne.
I like it a lot.
After all these years, I still think Pol Roger White Foil
Brut NV is one of the greatest bargains on the shelves. Discounted,
it can be found for less than $25. It's almost as yeasty as the
Bolly, though not as firm or structured; and it doesn't taste quite
so mature. But is it very good? Absolutely.
Still in the under $30 range, there are two somewhat esoteric NVs
from small growers that I'm wild about. The estimable Terry Theise
(who also brings in America's best selection of Austrian wines)
imports Charton-Taillet's Cuvée Ste.-Anne. It's just great
and reminds me of Pol Roger. Daniel Johnnes, wine director extraordinaire
of Montrachet, brings in the Lenoble Blanc de Blanc, sourced
from 100 percent grand cru vineyards. You might have to search
a bit to find these two wines in your neighborhood, but I can tell
you that Windsor Court Wine Shop in the Murray Hill area (474 Third
Ave., 212-779-4422) carries Charton-Taillet, and Tribeca Wine Merchants
(40 Hudson St., 212-393-1400) carries the Lenoble champagnes. Seek
Among vintage champagnes, look to the 1995s — and be prepared to
love the '96s when they come in. The '95 Clicquot, both Brut
and Rosé alike, are splendid. I wish they weren't as expensive as
they are ($68-$75), but I admire them without reservation. These
are wines with real structure and purpose and length on the palate.
And they are delicious. Not surprisingly, the '95 Pol Rogers,
the Brut Chardonnay in particular, are in pretty much the same high
price range. My choice for a bargain among vintage champagnes ($40-$50)
is the shockingly good Lanson '95 which is really, really
structured. (I'm sure it will be better still in 2-3 years.) I'm
wild about it.
No bargain, but highly intriguing is the Trilogie from Moët:
100 percent grand crus champagnes, one each made of 100 percent
Chardonnay, 100 percent Pinot Noir, and, most unusually, 100 percent
Pinot Meunier, all from single vineyards. The three bottles come
beautifully packaged in wood and would surely make some champagne-loving
fiend a good present. Would that it were under my Christmas tree!
The very best champagnes, of which there are perhaps more than
you might imagine, are still those wonderful 1990s, particularly
among the so-called tetes-de-cuvées. Piper-Heidsieck Rare
is, for a change, really quite good (and cheap at about $80). Dom
Pérignon took a decade to come 'round. Now it is supreme. Signature
from Jacquesson is also quite splendid, as is the Alfred
Gratien '90. Perfectly immense, chewy even, is the 1990 Pol Roger
Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Interestingly, the '88s, which
took even longer to show their best, are almost as good. The Lanson
Brut Noble Cuvée costs about $90, but it is grand. So too is
Charles Heidsieck's Champagne Charlie (about $100). Grander
still, more austere too, are the magnificent Krug and Bollinger
R.D. 1988s. If you've still got money in your pockets, open
up ($150 or so). These are fabulous champagnes close to or at the
(A good source for these and other '88s and '90s, all of them extremely
well priced, is, somewhat surprisingly, to be found in the hinterland
of Massachusetts, a place called Table & Vine in Northampton. Check
out their Website, www.tableandvine.com.)
In a category of its own, never a vintage champagne, but instead
a "multi-vintage," as the former owners always liked to call it,
is the triumphant Krug Brut Grande Cuvée. If you can spring
for $150, make the leap.
Earth to Anderson: Get real. So I will, with a hearty praise for
the Mise en Cave series of semi-hemi-demi-quasi-vintage Bruts
from Charles Heidsieck. These aren't exactly vintage since
they do have reserve wines from previous harvests in the blend,
but they are "dated." And they are damned good. In this case, $40-$50
gets you a very, very nice wine. Now go drink up.