The Forbes List of the Best Bubbly with which to ring in the New Year:
Krug don't like their Grand Cuvée being referred to as non-vintage, and you can see their point. The term usually describes inexpensive fizz made from a blend of wines from recent vintages that were not considered good enough to quality for the vintage or prestige cuvées, and that are released shortly after being produced.
The Grand Cuvée couldn't be more different. Yes, it is made from different vintages, but the similarity ends there. More accurately described as a multi-vintage tête du cuvée, it contains wines from six to 10 different years, and it's this high proportion of older, reserve wines, along with an additional six years of aging after the blending, that gives all Krug champagne, and especially their GC, their hallmark deep, rich complexity.
For more information, visit www.krug.com.
Forget the wave of currently trendy Prosecos that are flooding into the U.S. For an inexpensive fizz from Italy, try this wonderful Franciacorta from Lombardy, the impressive result of a project undertaken by Italian wine legend Piero Antinori's three talented daughters. Light in both color and body, it's quite charming and is the ideal inexpensive party fizz.
Even though this is not technically a Champagne, we are including it here because it is a true stand-out among the increasingly excellent California sparkling wines. This Roederer Estates production is pale yellow in color, but boasts a surprising amount of mouth-filling flavor for a light, fruity sparkler. Floral notes can be sensed on the palate and are complemented by a long, lemony-citrus finish.
For more information, visit www.mmdusa.com.
During a recent visit, the waiter at the Pierre Hotel was wearing an impeccable, starched-white jacket and proffering a tray reassuringly well stocked with champagne flutes. Not thinking much about it, I took one expecting some sort of dreary, everyday fizz. What I got, however, was a delicious mouthful of nutty, woody, flavorful champagne.
Anxious to discover the origin of this delightful glass of bubbles, I edged over to the corner, pulled a bottle from the cooler and was not entirely surprised to see the Pol Roger label. This champagne house was almost unknown in the U.S. 25 years ago, but, thanks to the combination of a consistently superior product and the charm and relentless marketing energy of the Director Christian Pol-Roger, it is receiving some much deserved recognition. The 1996 Brut, with its round, open flavor, is one of the few current vintage champagnes that tastes like it's ready to drink today.
For more information, visit www.frederickwildman.com.
A lovely, non-vintage brut, La Française is as light as air--delicate and refined with just a hint of toast at the finish. A fine expression of Taittinger's soft, elegant style, the La Française is the perfect aperitif fizz for when you don't want to break the bank.
For more information, visit www.taittinger.com.
Œnothique is a kind of super Dom Perignon--a prestige prestige cuvée, if you like. It's aged for 14 years sur lees, which is twice as long as regular DP. It's this extended aging process that takes the marquee's trademark creamy-rich complexity of flavors to a whole new level.
For more information, visit www.moet.com.
I am a sucker for Blanc de Blancs--that's a sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay grapes--but, most of them are expensive, prestige cuvées. Happily, the Nicholas Feuillatte is an exception, and I love both the polished elegance of the chardonnay, and its reasonable price.
For more information, please visit www.feuillatte.com.
The Grand Dame is, for many people--myself included--the gold standard, against which other champagnes are measured. Its secret lies in the Grand Cru vineyards from which it comes. All are owned by Veuve Clicquot and are rated 100% under the arcane Champagne rating system. VC is known for its round, full-bodied fizz, but the Grand Dame is something different. It combines its power with an elegance and finesse to produce an awesome, steel-fist-in-a-velvet-glove champagne. Lovely now, the GD will continue improving and developing for the next five years, at least.
I was first recommended this champagne by the manager of Eli's Wine & Spirits on Manhattan's Upper East Side. And, he was right--it's both surprising and impressive. It's unusual to find a vintage champagne this old still on the shelves, and it's even more unusual to find one at this price. But, what really blew me away was how good it was, showing that wonderful, biscuity toastiness, which fine champagne acquires with bottle age. Although the 1990 is becoming rarer, it's still out there. And, if you can't find the 1990, the 1996 is a worthy substitute.For more information, visit www.broadbent-wines.com/wines/delbeck.html.
Bollinger's distinctive house style--dry and full-bodied with a big-mouth feel--makes it an ideal champagne to enjoy with a meal. This is the result of an unusually high proportion--75%--of black grapes, mostly from grand and premier cru vineyards. For more information, visit www.champagne-bollinger.fr.
Salon is unique among Champagne houses in that some years it doesn't make any fizz at all. Even in good years--which are about half of them--only about 30,000 bottles are produced, which means Salon Champagne is both rare and expensive. Made entirely from grapes grown in the Grand Cru Chardonnay vineyards of the top-rated village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, it is a wonderfully big, full-flavored champagne with the potential for long aging.
For more information, visit www.wilsondaniels.com.
What is so special about these super Champagnes in fancy bottles with high prices?
I'm pretty cynical about the allure of packaging when it comes to champagne, but I have to admit that the PJ Fleur rosé got me. The delicate pink hue of the fizz showing through the clear bottle, which is enameled with the famous PJ anemones, is quite lovely. And, the champagne's not bad, either. Actually, it's delicious. PJs are known for their delicate, elegant fizz, and many people regard this rosé as an aperitif wine. But for me, it has such a huge, plump mouth-feel that I'm happy to drink it with food, as well.
For more information, visit www.perrierjouet.com.
The Cult of Champagne
Prestige Cuvées: A Guide to Deluxe Champagne
by Edward Guiliano & Louis Charles
You might have heard the terms Cuvée Prestige or Tête de Cuvée before. A non-literal translation of Tête de Cuvée would be "the head of the class"(a more technical explanation follows in this story). In any case, these precious bottles are nothing less than the best of the best the Champagne region of France can produce. They also symbolize the ultimate in luxury, something reserved for kings, czars, British secret service agents and captains of industry. As much as this is true, you, too, can partake in these luxurious offerings.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Champagne has its very own mythology—it's the ultimate, the best, the most festive—and many people don't even associate it with wine. It's Champagne, the golden bubbles from the Champagne region of France.
Affordability dictates that not all that sparkles in wine bottles will be Champagne from France. Indeed, 90 percent will be sparkling wines produced in America or elsewhere. And of the 10 percent that is labeled Champagne, only 10 percent to 15 percent each year are deluxe Champagnes, the best a house knows how to make. Each of the great Champagne houses of France makes a prestige cuvée or (cuvée spéciale), such as Moët's Dom Pérignon, Roederer's Cristal, Perrier Jouët's Flower Bottle, Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne and Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame.
First of all, there is nothing else out there in the sparkling wine category that approaches their level of quality. And secondly, there are few products anywhere that have a richer image. We can thank James Bond for some of that. He can be credited with increasing the public's awareness of prestige Champagne as well as building their ne plus ultra image. In the novels by Ian Fleming, Bond's bubbly was invariably Dom Pérignon or Bollinger RD or Veuve Clicquot, usually consumed in the company of an appreciative woman. It was one of the secret agent's trademarks. In the most recent 007 film "Casino Royale," Bollinger is featured. As advertisers, waiters and wine merchants know well, these deluxe wines appeal to our quest for the best. They make a statement about our lifestyle, our self-esteem, our esteem for others, our sophistication and, of course, our pocketbook.
The two prestige cuvée Champagnes first created still dominate the market today, and they have become quintessential emblems in the popular consciousness of the elegance, joie de vivre, quality, mystery, and even romance that Champagne has come to express. Surely it is no surprise that they are Moët's Dom Pérignon and Roederer's Cristal.
The House of Roederer created Cristal in 1878 for the Imperial Court of Russia and Czar Alexander II. The special cuvée took its name from the unusual clear crystal bottle that the czar insisted upon. Some say he did this because he was anxious that his courtiers should not doubt they were drinking a special wine not commercially available, while others suggest less charitably that he wanted to insure his health and safety by being able to discretely check on the bottle's contents. It was not until the early 1920s that limited bottles of Cristal were put on the market in France.
Moët& Chandon is by far the largest Champagne producer, and far more Dom Pérignon is produced than any other deluxe Champagne. Nevertheless, DP (as it is sometimes called) or Dom is only a tiny percentage of Moët's total production. The wine was first marketed in 1928, exclusively in England and the United States, and was only made available in France in the 1940s.
Virtually all of the grand Champagne houses have long produced special cuvées for their own private use, but Dom Pérignon's success inspired these houses to expand production and introduce these wines commercially in the 1960s and 1970s. These Champagne producers helped build the exclusive image of these wines by packaging them in special bottles, often replicas of eighteenth-century Champagne bottles and usually visually appealing bottles. It is not difficult to spot a bottle of prestige cuvée Champagne across a crowded room. But what's in the bottle that makes it so special?
IN THE BOTTLE
First of all, the grapes. There are 250 separate villages in Champagne, and the quality of the grapes harvested in each vineyard varies. Since 1911 (with periodic revisions), the villages have been rated and, today, scale from 80 percent to 100 percent. There are a dozen 100 percent villages, or grands crus, and the grapes from these villages have the highest quality and are the most expensive. About 40 villages are rated between 90 percent and 99 percent and are called premiers crus. The great majority of villages are rated at about 85 percent. The grapes that go into prestige cuvée Champagnes are almost exclusively from 100 percent villages and never come from lower than the top level of the premiers crus.
Although the Champagne region is planted with 42 percent Pinot Meunier, 33 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Chardonnay vines, and each is integral in the blend of nonvintage Champagnes, the rapidly maturing Pinot Meunier is usually eliminated from the deluxe wines. Chardonnay provides the wine with elegance and lightness, and the long-maturing Pinot Noir gives it body and structure or what the French call La Charpente. Several of the prestige cuvée wines are blanc de blancs, made, of course, from only Chardonnay grapes, and a few are rosé Champagnes, generally made by adding a small percentage of still red wine to the blend.
When describing prestige cuvées, it is difficult to speak in absolutes because there are no laws specifically governing their production. Champagne is the most regulated and strictly controlled wine produced in the world, and the rigid controls for vintage and nonvintage Champagnes are upheld for prestige cuvées (which are almost exclusively vintage Champagnes to start with, meaning they are only produced in years when the grapes are of excellent quality). For the prestige cuvée Champagnes, houses apply even more rigorous standards in pursuit of even greater excellence.
When the grapes are pressed in Champagne, the law permits only three pressings, from 4,000 kilograms of grapes, with a maximum yield of 2,000 liters of grape juice from the first pressing (known as the cuvée) and 333 liters each in the second and third pressings. Only the superior juice from the first pressing is used in prestige Champagnes, and usually only the juice from the first one-third of this pressing is used. That initial and highest-quality juice is known as tête de cuvée (head of the cuvée) and has become synonymous with these wines.
All of the prestige cuvées are brut with a minimum amount of sugar added. The small dosage is possible thanks to the quality of the grapes and the long aging process. All are produced in limited quantities and most only in vintage years, which in Champagne may mean only four or five times in a decade.
The period of aging for prestige cuvée Champagnes further distinguish them from other sparkling wines. By law, a nonvintage wine must be aged at least one year and vintage wines at least three years, though in practice both are regularly aged longer at the finer houses. For deluxe Champagnes, four or five years of aging before dégorgement is common and seven or eight years isn't exceptional. This prolonged aging can add not only to the quality of the wine, but also to the cost of producing it.
There is a remarkable diversity of individuality among prestige cuvée Champagnes. They range in style from the light blanc de blanc of Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne to the full-bodied wines with high percentage of Pinot Noir in their such as Krug's Grande Cuvée. Additionally, because most are vintage wines, they take on characteristics of an individual vintage and differ from previous bottlings.
PRESTIGE AT WHAT PRICE?
Perhaps the most frequently asked question about these super Champagnes is: are they worth the price? For some, cost is part of their appeal. The high prices are justified if you can taste and appreciate the difference between a nonvintage and prestige cuvée Champagne. Many discriminating people can and therefore believe that paying the premium can be worthwhile.
The prestige bottles, however, are not two or three times better than the non vintage, though their price is usually double or triple the non vintage. It is like everything else for sale: if you want the best, you have to pay a price for each increment in quality.
If this might serve as a consolation, all things considered,the best of the best of Champagnes are still an outstanding value. Try comparing them to the best of the best of Burgundy,Bordeaux or even Napa. This alone might turn you into a disciple of this order and steer you to drink more Champagne year around, and possibly push you to try a cuvée prestige now and again.
The top ten lists below are according to Gayot and Novus Vinum.
Consider these additional options:
- Billecart-Salmon: 1990 Grande Cuvée, $125
- Laurent-Perrier: Grand Siècle, $110
- Salon: Blanc de Blancs 1996, $300
- Charles Heidsieck: 1985 Champagne Charlie, $120
- Deutz: 1995 Cuvée William Deutz, $120
- De Venoge: Brut Champagne Millésime, $110
- Lanson: 1995 Noble Cuvée, $120
- Marcel Hemard: Origine 1995 Grand Cru, $130
- Perrier-Jouët: 1999 Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, $220
- Pol Roger: Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1995, $196
- Pommery: 1995 Cuvée Louise Brut Rosé, $120
And now, a few bottles and gift editions that are so beautiful, you may not even care what's inside.
The Palmes d'Or Grand Cuvée is a work of love for Feuillatte winemakers, as they have selected the best from the vintage. Only truly exceptional years qualify to produce it. A blend of 50% Chardonnay for elegance and finesse and 50% Pinot Noir for body and power. A pale yellow hue with fine delicate bubbles, its complex aromas are dominated by notes of pastry and caramel lifted by subtle touches of fennel, star anise and lemon peel. This smooth and balanced Champagne is beautifully packaged in a matte gold container and black velvet wrap.
"Mixed aromas of toasted grains, caramel and beer. Sweet and doughy with vanilla, malt and tart citrus. Lengthy finish with a mix of brioche, citrus and baked apple."
Buy it here.
Pinel et Pinel for Krug
Above: Krug's Escape Artist in Pinet et Pinel trunk
The Krug Escape Artist Collection is a limited edition of thirty handmade trunks in three styles that celebrate luxury and the partnership of the champagne-maker with bespoke trunk-maker Pinel & Pinel. The blue trunk (left) is "the trunk of the hedonist," and includes a pair of cigar holders, XCAR cigar cutter and a lighter, along with two bottles of Krug 1995. The red trunk (center) has poker cards, casino dice and 200 pro chips, as well as two bottles of Krug Grand Cuvée. The silver trunk (right) represents "style and glamour" and holds a Samsung T9 MP3 video player with Bluetooth, a JBL "On Tour Plus" sound system and two bottles of Krug Rosé. Each trunk costs approximately $17,000.
And a specialty Picnic Trunk for Krug, also by Pinel et Pinel:
The picnic trunk for Krug, an ultimate, eccentric, contemporary and enormous luxury moment. Trunk in wood and, for the first time, in brown leather colt type. Inside red leather. It gets 10 drawers, one is hidden behind the Krug champagne bottles. The drawers contain every accessories you need for an exceptional picnic. Nothing has been forgotten from the unforgettable Thermos bottle to the improbable truffle slicer.
The door hangs and 4 feet appear to install a table.
Size :Height : 37.4 in. – Width : 23.6 in – Depth : 15 in.
Weight : around 88 lbs
Buy it here.
Marc Newson For Dom
Above: Marc Newsom's design for Dom Perignon
This cooler is the first creation of the newly established Dom Pérignon Designers' Studio; Marc Newson reinterpreted the iconic Dom Pérignon bottle.
The monolithic, neon green cooler is more than just a receptacle for champagne, it was made from a special material designed to insulate ice and keep it frozen better than the conventional ice bucket.
This cooler is produced in a numbered, limited edition of 1000 pieces.
Buy it here.
It also comes in brushed aluminum here.
Dom Pérignon's Rosé Guitar Case By Karl Lagerfeld.
The case contains six bottles of some of the rarest Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintages: one bottle Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1966, two bottles of Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1986, and three bottles of Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1996. Each bottle is nestled in lambskin moulded to the iconic shape of the Dom Pérignon bottle.
These exclusive cuvées were cellared for between 11 and 41 years before being released. Neither the Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1966 nor the Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1986 is available on the market, creating a combination that represents the ultimate in excellence and rarity. The Dom Pérignon Rosé Guitar Case is available by special order only and delivered personally.
For More information, call: +33 (0) 3 26 51 20 00
The Upside Down Champagne from Piper Heiseck in honor of the Viktor Rolf Boutique In Milan which I blogged about last week.
From their surrealist clothes to their rule-breaking runway shows, nothing about Viktor & Rolf designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren is remotely conventional.
Now the Dutch duo has partnered with French Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck to turn the traditional champagne bottle on its head. Literally.
VIKTOR & ROLF ROSÉ SAUVAGE is a mini marvel of engineering – not to mention the chicest hostess gift ever and guaranteed attention-getter at the holiday office party.
Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage by Viktor & Rolf is available from Wine Shops in Knightsbridge, Dublin, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Leeds as well as Grand tastings in dallas and several other exclusive wine merchants.
More info about it here.
Or buy it online here.
And of course, Veuve Clicquot and Porsche Design Studio's Collaboration
Above: the Vertical Limit, a special temperature contolled chest with 12 individual vintages of Veuve Clicquot. Read the previous blog post about that here.
Also for Veuve Clicquot:
Andree Putnam's La Grande Dame Coffret
Buy it here.
And new this year from Veuve Clicquot:
Each one of the 3,200 limited edition Yellowboam bottles was hand made as a luxurious and artistic tribute to the world renowned Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label. However, a new twist comes in place of its famous label – the classic wording may have disappeared, but in its place is an exquisite Yellow leather demonstrating how Veuve Cliquot is recognized by the color of its label alone.
Above: detail of Ostrich and Galuchat labels
Each Yellowboam features one of three exotic leathers of Ostrich, Alligator or Galuchat (fish skin: skate/ray). Each bottle is sealed with foil covered in real 22.4 carat gold and topped with a collectible 24-carat gold-plated muzzle cap engraved with Madam Cliquot's signature as a hallmark of the finest quality.
The luxurious Yellow lacquered wooden box is a tribute to Yellow with a discreet red Signature laser print on the bottom right of the cover. Inside the wooden box is a modern and ingenuous block that keeps the Yellowboam chilled for two hours.
The Yellowboam features Veuve Cliquot's signature House Style with a blend of 50 to 60 different crus. The 3 liter bottle plays a key role in the wine's development as larger format bottles allow the wine to be conserved for a longer period of time.
Blend: 50 to 55% Pinot Noir, 28 to 33%Chardonnay, 15 to 20% Pinot Meunier
Buy it here.
Rauschenberg's Champagne bottle design for Taittinger
World renowned champagne producer, Champagne Taittinger, has commissioned the internationally acclaimed contemporary artist, Robert Rauschenberg to produce a limited edition design for their latest collectors bottle.
The 2000 vintage, which is produced using a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, will feature Rauschenberg’s design on both the bottle and display case and is being offered to collectors and connoisseurs.
Commenting on the new Raushenberg masterpiece, Lynn Murray of Hatch Mansfield – UK distributor of Taittinger Champagne, said: “The Taittinger Collection continues to be one of the most eagerly awaited releases from the Taittinger house. Produced in limited quantities they are aimed at collectors, but also make unusual and prestigious gifts’.
Buy it here.Cheers! And best wishes for a fabulous 2008!
Many of these unusual bottles and gift sets can be purchased here.