Refreshing aromas of white flowers and lemon zest with a distinct note of toasted bread, browned butter and a creamy banana note. It offers flavors similar to its aromas with lots of racy, tart fruit. As it warmed slightly, its toasted nut qualities rose up with subtle black cherry/apple/pear notes.
Bubbleheads. That’s the affectionate term for those of us who enjoy sparkling wine in general and, more than likely, harbor a special place for the titillating wines from the Champagne region of France.
I very much enjoy a glass of Champagne, but if I do have one beef with the wines from this chilly district just northeast of Paris, it’s the cost. A good bottle of Champagne will set you back $100—a great one, quite a bit more. But, oh, when a great one tipples across your palate, it’s as electrifying as your true love’s first kiss.
For the longest time, I was trapped between mediocre, $35 Champagne and unaffordable Champagne. Mostly, I just enjoyed the sparkling wines from California (and New Mexico). Gloria Ferrer, Schramsberg, “J” and Gruet, however delicious and affordable, are merely substitutes for Champagne.
Then, about three years ago, I discovered “grow-producer” Champagne. These lovely, artisan wines are mostly under $100, with many great ones under $50! From that point on, I turned my back on the big Champagne houses, many of which of you may recognize: Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck and Perrier-Jouët. If it was not Pierre Péters, Chartogne-Taillet, Henri Billiot or Vilmart, I wasn’t interested.
As I have in the past, I would normally launch into an impassioned pitch to get you to seek out these hard-to-find wines and encourage you to face the misery of pronouncing “char-TON-ya TIE-ay” (Chartogne-Taillet) in front of your wine retailer. Not this time.
I often forget that not everyone is a bubblehead. Many folks—especially as New Year’s Eve approaches—want high-quality bubbly and, perhaps, insist on Champagne. What you don’t want are somewhat obscure Champagne houses that make the wine-buying process more frustrating than it already is. Regular people just want a brand they recognize with sufficient quality, even if they have to shell out a few more bucks.
What if a Champagne maker like Moët & Chandon made a killer bubbly for under $60? That would fill a certain niche in the market, wouldn’t it? Well, that is what Moët & Chandon (the same guys who produce Dom Pérignon) did.
Moët & Chandon’s Grand Vintage Champagne is not new, but often gets overlooked in the shuffle between its rather ordinary Impérial Brut and its exceptional “Dom” and Dom Pérignon Oenothèque labels. Grand Vintage is not made every year—a likely part of its identity crisis. It has been produced 70 times in the company’s 270-year history.
At $58, Grand Vintage fits into most celebratory wine budgets. Compare that to $150 for Dom Pérignon or $300-plus for Oenothèque. Yet, it receives similar attention in the winery. It spends seven years in the cellar, where it gains its nut-like, toast, browned butter flavors and aromas.
Mind you, like Dom P. and other high-end, high-priced Champagne, this is a vintage wine. The 2002 Grand Vintage, if you can find it, had more depth and I found it more interesting than the 2004. The 2004 has fresher, brighter citrus fruit qualities. For bubbleheads, this stuff is interesting (and I could go on in mind-numbing detail). For everyone else, the point is that this is a well-made, interesting Champagne with character from a recognizable, winemaking giant and it doesn’t cost a fortune.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.