Friday, February 27, 2009

I still don't like Champagne

The world of wine is mind-bogglingly huge. Stupendously varied and enormous. Let me say it again: there are a shit-ton of different wines out there. It follows that you should not make blanket statements about categories of wine unless you have tasted as widely and deeply as his Lord Parker himself. Thus I prefer to say "I still don't understand region X" or "I'm still searching for an example of varietal X that hits my palate right." In this way I try to keep my mind open to surprises, like the 2000 Guigal La Mouline that changed my mind about Rhones, or the 1996 Taluau St. Nicholas de Bourgueil that first coerced me to love Cab Franc.

There are still lots of wines I haven't formed opinions about, usually because they are way out of my price range. These include Port, Sauternes, Condrieu, Napa Cabs, Burgundies, and formerly Champagne. Of course, when someone else is paying, I can make little forays into these styles, often to the enthusiastic agreement of the rest of the tasting club.

Most recently, we did Champagne. For our lineup, we tasted 6 grower champagnes from The Princeton Corkscrew and one negociant bottling from the other local store, CoolVines. Despite the healthy competitive attitude of the two stores, the people at CoolVines agreed that whatever the Corkscrew's flaws, their Champagnes are superb.

Overall, I thought the champagnes were unoffensive, and just short of pleasant. Most of the blancs skirted dangerously close to oxidative scents (acetaldehyde) with their pear and apple-skin aromas. The acidity levels were high, which on one hand balanced the fruit and residual sugar nicely, but on the other hand, was unpleasantly tart. Champagnes don't undergo malo, so I'm guessing most of the perceived acidity was due to malic acid, rather than the cleaner-tasting tartaric acid. I like strong, clean acidity, not the lingering, puckering, sourness of these Champagnes.

On the nose they were indistinct. Even at room temperature, the noses were subdued and murky. The Billecart-Salmon was the most interesting, with a vanishingly faint scent of cut grass (IBMP is not usually found in chard, pinot, and meunier). A $15 Torrontes or $25 Gewurztraminer would easily blow all of these bubblies to Timbuktu, aromatically speaking. Now consider that these Champagnes were in the $40+ range, and the Billecart-Salmon was $90!!!

I understand paying that sort of price tag for a wine with complexity, history, terroir - a wine that communicates information and has meaning. But these Champagnes are nonvintage blends, too indistinct to communicate even a couple flavors, much less a specific terroir. Delicious? Maybe. But I wouldn't pay that price tag for something that's merely delicious. I'd rather go for Orangina, Stewart's Ginger Beer, and several craft beers I can think of, even at roughly the same price.

Plus I kept choking on the bubbles.

Tasting Notes:

NV Jean Velut Brut Tradition
Pale gold in the glass, this had a tight nose with weak hints of pear, yeast, and grapefruit. In the mouth it was light bodied with a medium-fine mousse, more light yeast, pear, and tart malic acid. Overall lean and acidic. Hints of acetaldehyde on the dregs. (78 pts.)

NV Jean Velut Blanc de Blancs
Pale gold in the glass, the BdB had a slightly fruitier nose than the first wine, with light baguette, overripe apple, pear skins, and ripe pear. Medium-fine mousse. A little richer and rounder on the palate than the Brut Tradition. (79 pts.)

NV Dumont et Fils Brut Nature
Pale gold-amber in the glass, this wine had a nose of yeast, pear, and faint starfruit. In the mouth it sported a fine mousse, with strong malic acid and a lightly honeyed finish. (83-85 pts.)

NV José Michel & Fils Brut Pinot Meunier
Pale gold in the glass, this 100% Pinot Meunier had a nose of plum skins, raspberries, and light yeast. Medium-to-low sugar, rounder and deeper, with decent medium+ acid. (80-83 pts.)

NV Dumont et Fils Rosé
Pale pink-amber in the glass. Nose of light yeast, light apple, raspberries, and plum skins. Noticeable bitterness on the palate with a around medium-light sweetness. Very fine mousse. (82-84 pts.)

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé
Very pale pink-orange (salmon-colored?) in the glass. Nose of light yeast, pinot funk, and cut grass. Incredibly bubbly mousse, with ripe pear flavors and medium sweetness. Nice and tasty. (86-88 pts.)

NV Delavenne Pere et Fils Brut Rosé
Medium-to-light pink in the glass, this rose had the strongest yeast on the nose of any of the wines. Sweet, round, creamy, and delicious in the mouth, with distinct brioche flavors. (84-86 pts.)


Ryan O'Vineyards said...

I know what you mean both about staying open minded and being disappointed in those pricey Champagnes. Even if I ocassionally want some lingering acidity and bubbly, I haven't developed a taste for the expensive bottles coming from up there. I actually like the doughy sort of feeling on the cremants they make in my region. But I assume I'll find the light one day. And I'll have yet another expensive habit to feed.

Rajiv said...

Yeah, that doughy or yeasty scent is definitely something I like. Hazards of working with yeast cultures in lab. I wonder if I would like "heavier" styles of Champagne (I've read Bollinger is heavier).

CabFrancoPhile said...

My palate is in alignment with yours as far as sparkling wine not being as delicious as the price would ordinarily demand. I understand producing sparklers is a labor intensive process and any sparkling wine made using the traditional method is not going to be cheap. Fine bubbles and a dry finish, plus the occasional bready or nutty aromas (the latter of which I suspect you'd really dislike), are fairly unique to pricey sparklers. But I had a Laurent Perrier Brut Rose (my girlfriend received it as a gift) and to be honest, while it was elegant and smelled like a Pinot rose, but with very fine bubbles, I can't say I really enjoyed it much more than a still Pinot Rose that would retail for about a fifth the price. It seems like the demand of the luxury market is driving the prices with Champagnes more than anything else.