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Grand Marque Rodeo

Grand Marque tasting

Recently, I hosted a fantastic evening where my guests and I tasted 8 of the most well known champagnes in 2 flights. It was fascinating to revisit these wines in a relaxed setting and side by side. I don’t think I’ve ever had all of these side by side ever. It was fun to see which wines actually lived up to their reputation both in terms of quality, but more importantly house style.

Here are the wines with my thoughts. A quick technical note, I did open all of the wines 1 hour before the tasting began, so they all had plenty of time to breath.

Flight 1

1.Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV – This was probably the biggest surprise of the night for me. I always thought of PJ as a lighter, more delicate style with floral tones. This wine however was much bigger than expected leaning toward the yeast, almond, brioche side of the house. I certainly wouldn’t have put this wine in the starting position had I realized how off my palate memory was, or how much the house has been tinkering with their style.

2. Taittinger La Francaise Brut NV – I was pleased with how this wine tasted, it showed its higher percentage of Chardonnay with bright lemon and mineral tones. The wine had a more pronounced acidity and lacked the rounder tones that arise with age. Overall, I feel that the continue to achieve their goal of making a fresh, light champagne that’s ideal for pairing with lighter foods.

3.Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV – Certainly one of the highlights of the night. Despite not owning a significant portion of their vines, Billecart manages to reach impressive heights. The wine showed a spectrum of flavors both on the light citrus and mineral end, as well as a the bolder more pinot dominate notes. Balanced and easy drinking while showing its aristocratic roots.

4. Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut NV  - What to say about the most produced champagne in the world? The wine delivered what I expected, it was easy and enjoyable. I would be glad if this was what most people associated with champagne rather than Cook’s or some other garbage. It was also the wine that made the least impact on all of us. I suppose that’s the trade off, to produce that much wine, it’ll be a bit less complex.

Flight 2

5. Veuve Clicquot Carte Jaune NV – I had been hearing rumors that Clicquot was actively working on improving the quality of the Yellow Label, which had been sinking toward a very boring wine for a while now. I am happy to report that the quality of this wine has significantly improved. Possibly due to a good base year, but I’m guessing the work in the winery and vineyards is starting to show.  It wasn’t my favorite wine of the night, but it did make an impression. I will happy accept a glass of this in the future.

6. Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV – I was very happy with this wine, and I feel the additional time being open helped the wine considerably. The last few times I’ve had this wine I thought it showed more reductive qualities that I’d like, but it certainly had blown off at this tasting. The wine showed what I expected of the house and this wine – brioche and yeasty tones mingled with red apples, and minerality with an underlying grace. The ML played a wonderful role in making this wine very drinkable while remaining complex.

7. Pol Roger Cuvée de Réserve NV Brut – This was certainly the favorite of the group. It showed elegance and sophistication. A fantastic blend of almonds, brioche, red apples, and minerality. Well balanced and very drinkable. More or less what I expected from this noble house.

8. Bollinger Special Cuvée NV Brut – Bolli has been in the middle of a rough patch with their former Chef du Cave leaving, however I thought this wine showed very well. It was very much what I expected and enjoy about Bollinger – robust, full bodied champagne with a focus on brioche and nutty tones and the weight and flavor of Pinot Noir. If you enjoy bolder champagnes, this will treat you very well. I can’t help but wonder if some of this is due to their new bottle, which is designed to mimic the air to wine ratio of a magnum.

Overall, this was a fantastic tasting that confirmed that many of the houses are staying true to the perception of their house style. It was also a pleasant change to focus solely on larger producers. I get so wrapped up with the growers and focus on terrior and vintage character. I truly enjoyed tasting the crafted wines. I think in the excitement of wanting new and interesting, we forget that the established houses do truly make delicious wines.

Veuve Cliquot Carte Jaune

So of all the topics I didn’t think I’d write about, Veuve Cliquot was high on that list.  So, here’s to a bit of humble pie.  Thanks Champagne!

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Carte Jaune NV, better know as Veuve Yellow Label, is one of the wines that many wine professionals and connoisseurs love to hate.  Its available everywhere, its made by the largest Champagne company, and many feel that you’re paying a lot for marketing rather than what’s in the bottle.  The list goes on and becomes more derogatory depending on the level of intoxication and wine snobbery of the speaker. 

All of that being said, there are amazing things about this wine.  Its many people’s first taste of Champagne.  It helps promote Champagne as a whole and cements the idea that Champagne is a better product and worth paying for relative to other sparkling wines.  The history of the wine, the house, and the widow are fascinating.  The technical prowess required to blend wines from so many vineyards and vintages and have a consistent and enjoyable product is pretty awe-some. 

I really don’t care to write more about the pro’s and cons of this iconic wine.  I was prompted to write about yellow label because a few days ago one of their wine makers, Pierre Casenave, was in Portland and, along with some great folks from Moët Hennessey, hosted one of the best tastings I’ve been to in a long time.  Rather than a standard dog and pony show where the range of wines are opened and discussed, they decided to a comparative tasting of Yellow label from different base years. 

This was an unusual choice as the thought behind non-vintage wines is that they should always taste the same.  This is true when they’re released, but after years in the bottle all wine starts developing its own character.  Its one of the secrets that’s been kept quiet to help sales and avoid the difficult questions of “is this a good vintage” that plagues(and helps) other wines. 

This begs the question of what is a base year? If you look at my menu you’ll see a number of wines with a parentheses behind them with a vintage, for example –

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature (2010)

This tells us that the majority, if not the entirety of the wine is from that year but cannot be label as such due to the rules about vintage Champagne and labeling.

For this tasting we tasted(enjoyed), yellow label with base years of 2008, 2007, 2004, 2001, and 1990 all from magnum!  Yeah, that’s one awesome line up, particularly from magnum.  In magnums the wine age slower and beautifully.  You’ll find my tasting notes below, but here are my main take aways from this line up:

• This is exceptionally rare, the winemaker had only done similar tastings 5 times after years of working at Cliquot. 

• All of the wines showed distinct character while also showing the house style even after decades. 

• NV champagne does age quite well, particularly in magnum and I look forward to the producers being more transparent about base years and disgorgement dates so collectors can repeat tastings like this. 

• I love where vintages such as 04 and 07 that start off their lives lean and acidic add weight and become gorgeous over time.

• Bold rich vintages like 08 and 90, are incredible, but don’t seem to go through as much of a transformation as the leaner years. 

• If you can afford it, magnum is the only way to purchase Champagne you intend to cellar. 

Oh yeah, there was one other little thing, after the yellow label comparison we enjoyed a magnum of 1953 vintage Veuve Cliquot.  Fuck yeah 60 year old Champagne!  This wine was pretty amazing, distinctly aged nose, but fascinating and compelling.  The palate was still fresh and vibrant thanks to great acidity and a lively amount of bubbles. 

A big thanks to Veuve Cliquot and Moët Hennessey for adding significantly to my Champagne knowledge! 

Tasting notes:

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2008) Magnum – The nose is fresh with lots of minerality and apple tones and a bit of sulfur.  On the palate the wine is bright with lots of fresh apple tones.  It’s a very bold wine and is showing its youth..

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2007) Magnum – Immediately this wine is showing a softer, more elegant nose with brioche tones and a bit more age coming though.  The palate is gorgeous with more aged notes as well as intense citrus and minerality.  Very creamy texture with bright acid.

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2004) Magnum – The nose is fascinating, complex, and aged giving aromas of raspberries along with nutty notes.  On the palate the wine was richer with plenty of brioche, yeast, nuts, raspberries.  Like the 07, this wine has great acid and a beautifully creamy texture.

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (2001) Magnum – The aged notes are really starting to shine here with rich coffee and almond notes.  On the palate the wine is simply gorgeous showing its age with honey, brioche and nuts.  Showing the family heritage, this wine too has fantastic acid and creamy palate feel. 

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label (1990) Magnum – Unfortunately this wine was mildly corked.  I pushed past this and the wine still had traces of brioche and fruity notes.  It showed a wonderful balance between youthful and aged tones.  The wine was texturally the most balanced and delightful on the palate.  It’s a shame I couldn’t experience it in its full glory.

Veuve Cliquot Vintage 1953 Magnum – This wine is incredible, delivering a fascinating array of aromas including custard, coffee, and brioche along with a slew of others.  On the palate it was definitely aged, but very compelling with notes of coffee, mandarin orange, wood, and so much more.  It was a complex and fascinating with wonderful acidity, a vibrant mousse, and long finish.