I tasted a handful of excellent estate-bottled Champagnes last week that were magnificent. Champagne is synonymous with luxury, and that is largely thanks to the masterful worldwide representation of the region by some famous name Champagne houses. The wines that I tasted were certainly luxurious, but as far as Champagne is concerned they were a bargain. Of course, we're talking about Champagne, so the idea of what is a bargain is rather skewed. Land costs more in Champagne, and getting the grapes off the vines is not cheap, and of course the process of making sparkling wine isn't terribly inexpensive, so all this conspires to bring the price of Champagne up more than anyone would like, but there is certainly no Sparkling Wine better than a first-rate Champagne.
Jean Milan Carte Blanche--a spectacular Blanc de Blancs (i.e., all Chardonnay) that is even drier than it has been in the past. I have tasted this wine many times through the years, and I am newly dazzled by the purity of its expression, which was--once upon a time--sort of soft and diffuse because it had more sugar (more along the lines of Veuve Clicquot, which is itself technically a dry wine, though it tastes rather sweet to me). This is more vivid than it was formerly, and would be well attuned to some fine oysters, or caviar of course.
René Geoffroy Cuvée Expression--A dynamic little spice bomb...at least the nose gives that impression. I understand that this wine has more Meunier than Pinot Noir, which probably accounts for that and the strawberry-rhubarb quality in the background. It has an excellent earthiness in its flavor profile--an excellent drinking experience.
Vilmart Grand Cellier--all the tell-tales of a luxury cuvée: broad-shouldered wine with long, robust flavors which leaves a Great Impression. Barrel-fermented, so this significant character is going to be a feature. It has a silky plushness yet is well defined and pointed. Has a brioche quality that keeps drawing me back to the glass, do doubt because it is a suggestive flavor, not an obvious one. Remains one of my favorites, and isn't priced like the luxury cuvées at about $70 (I know, I know--that's no small purchase, but other luxury Champagnes are over $120, so it's all relative).
Jacques Lassaigne Cuvée le Cotet--Also a barrel-fermented Champagne, it is not as vivid as the Vilmart, but it is also $20 less. It is a richly appointed wine, beautiful in its expression of a pain au chocolat series of flavors--croissant and chocolate that are continuously emerging over each other--a very cool effect. A really wonderful wine.
H. Billiot Rosé--A wow wine for sure! Rosé of Champagne is typically more expensive than its white sibling, and this one is around $70, as I recall, but it's dynamite. This wine is historically made with a small percentage of still red wine to make your glass rose-colored, and its red-fruit qualities are hard to beat. This is usually one of my favorite Rosés of Champagne, and judging by the fact that I didn't feel like writing anything down because it was so captivating, it remains so.
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