By contributing writer Steve Gross
Tasting Champagne is hard work. Really.
First of all, there’s the death-defying act involved in uncorking a pressurized vessel of spuming deliciousness. How else to explain the new dents in the wall and sticky surfaces?
I’m kidding. Opening a bottle of bubbly can be a quiet, safe enterprise if the proper procedure is followed. In fact, the bottle should whisper open and not launch a projectile that alerts the Strategic Air Command.
Once they’re opened, you’ll find a somewhat set stable of aromas in many Champagnes – toast, brioche, lemon, yeast, etc. The differences come from the balance, the flavor, and for lack of a better term, the elegance of the wine.
I tasted Champagnes this month in regular white wine glasses. I find that the aromas and flavors of the wine are more apparent to me that way. Flutes keep the mousse (bubbles) streaming ever upward in tight packages (bubbles), but I have a harder time telling the wines apart.
As Cortney stated in her previous post, it’s tough to find a French Champagne for less than $30, as you’ll see below. Most of the wines we tasted this month were in the $35-45 range, with one splurge wine, the Dom Perignon ’03. Was it worth it? Read on, McDuff.
Balance: I refer to balance as the interplay between sweetness and dryness. Most of the wines we tasted were dry, though the Duval Leroy showed some sweetness.
Flavor: All of the wines we tasted this month delivered bigger, more delicious flavors than the usual “cheap sparkling wine” flavors. To me, the Dom Perignon was the most opulently flavorful, particularly when paired with sweet tidbits. NOTE: Taste your wines with a variety of foods; as with just about any fine wine, you’ll note different elements in the wine with sweet vs. savory foods, for example.
Elegance: This, to me, was a key difference in the wines. Were they light on the tongue? Did they have cloying aftertaste? Were the bubbles just too aggressive to really taste anything? Perhaps, not surprisingly, the Dom Perignon placed first in this area.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV $42
Grapefruit and lemon to start, with sharp acidity, followed by mellow tones, with a bit of a bitter finish. Okay, but not great.
Chateau Duval Leroy Brut NV $39
Very light in color. Mellow, very light. The choice of the group. Slightly sweet, with no bitterness. Very drinkable. This is the wine that everyone poured once they’d tasted all of the others.
Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV $42
Deeper gold color. Heavier, with a hint of yeast. With salami, the acid was very present on the tip of the tongue. This was the second choice of the group. No bitterness on the back end, and the wine was bigger, though not syrupy. Enjoyable.
Dom Perignon 2003 ~$133
Vintage Champagne, if the Dom Perignon is any measure, is very much worth the very occasional expenditure. This wine was light, elegant, with an ethereal quality. With a few Christmas sweets, like the surprising white chocolate pretzels, the creaminess and depth of the wine really showed. I really enjoyed it, and perhaps we’ll pour some more when I turn 50 in a few years.
Bubbly wines certainly have their own place in the wine spectrum. They often match well with a wide variety of food, so don’t be afraid to try some with your entree rather than just before or after dinner. I really like bubbly with popcorn (if you haven’t tried this stunt, please do), sitting with good friends (it seems that opening a bottle of bubbly alone never happens, perhaps because once the bottle is opened, it’s usually finished at that sitting).
Do a little exploring of sparkling wines. There are a lot out there, from New Mexico to Australia, and they match just about every taste, from sweet to very dry. Tasting these wines is a great way to travel the world. [NOTE: This sounds like a pretty good New Year’s Resolution!]