These selections are indicative of the wide variety of excellent French Champagnes available on the market for the holidays. They include outstanding handcrafted grower Champagnes made in small quantities by producers such as Bertrand Delespierre, Lean Laurent and Rolland Champion and high quality mid- and premium-priced Champagnes from small, medium and large producers that include Besserat de Bellefon, Nicholas Feuillatte, and Taittinger. Luxury Champagnes are reviewed in another article posted on our home page.
Didier Bertrand and Chantal Delespierre are grower-producers farming 24 acres in the Montagne de Reims in the Champagne heartland. The two Champagnes reviewed here are exemplary of the outstanding quality of their wines. Importer: Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, VA
Bertrand Delespierre Brut Tradition Premier Cru à Chamery ($63) 93
The Brut Tradition is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Chardonnay. It offers fragrant aromas of lemon citrus and toast. On the palate it reveals a refined mousse with a creamy mouth feel, more toast and yeast notes and a long finish.
Bertrand Delespierre 2004 Vintage Brut Premier Cru à Chamery ($71) 93+
The 2004 Vintage Brut is slightly more complex that the Brut Tradition. A blend of one third each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, it spends a minimum of three years on the lees before disgorgement. It exhibits light aromas of orchard fruit with autolytic toast notes. The palate is rich and creamy with lush fruit flavors and a long finish with hints of fennel.
Champagne Besserat de Bellefon
Edmund Besserat founded Besserat Champagne in 1843 in the heart of Epernay. Today Besserat Champagnes are produced under the Marne et Champagne banner. The ones reviewed below are part of a line called Cuvée des Moines, consisting of moderately complex, food friendly Champagnes. Importer: Winesellers Ltd., Skokie, IL
Besserat Brut NV Epernay ($50) 88+
This Champagne has a light straw hue and aromas of stone fruit and toast. A blend of 25% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 45% Pinot Meunier, it is fresh-tasting, moderately complex, and dry on the finish.
Besserat Blanc de Blancs Epernay ($60) 88
A 100% Chardonnay, this Blanc de Blancs has a rich yellow color and aromas of toast with floral notes. It has toast flavors on the palate with a creamy mouth feel and a long finish.
Besserat Brut Rosé Epernay ($60) 91
The Brut Rosé offers fragrant aromas of ripe red berry fruit and toast that are mirrored on the palate. It has a creamy mouth feel with delicate fruit flavors and toast and an elegant, long lasting finish. A beautiful champagne!
Besserat 2002 Vintage Brut Mellésime Epernay ($70) 90
The 2002 Vintage Brut exhibits a yellow gold color and a complex nose of yellow fruit, grilled nuts and toast. On the palate it boasts complex and layered flavors, a creamy mouth feel, good volume, and a long lasting finish.
This grower produces stunning hand crafted NV Champagnes from a 39-acre vineyard in the village of Celles-Sur Ource in the Aube, an outlying Champagne district south of the Marne. Jean Laurent’s family has grown wine in the village for more than 1,000 years. His NV bruts are typically blended from three vintages and aged for a minimum of three years on the lees. Importer: Hand Picked Selections Warrenton, VA
Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Celles-Sur Ource ($63) 92
This 100% Chardonnay is pleasantly aromatic with a fruity nose of melon and toasted oak. It is nicely flavored on the palate with lemon citrus notes. It has a creamy mouth feel with rich autolytic notes, excellent balance and a long finish.
Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs Brut NV Celles-Sur Ource ($60) 90
The Blanc de Noir is Jean Laurent’s flagship wine. It reveals lovely red berry fruit with toast and lees notes. It has a nicely textured palate with good acidity and balance and a long persistent dry finish.
Jean Laurent Brut Rosé NV Celles-Sur Ource ($63) 88
This rosé of 100% Pinot Noir has ripe red berry aromas and spicy flavors of strawberry marmalade. The palate is creamy with good volume and texture and a long finish.
Nicolas Feuilatte was launched in 1976 and is today one of Champagne’s largest producers. Its grapes are sourced from 2,500 hectares of Grand cru and Premier cru vineyards through out Champagne. Until recently winemaking at this estate had been under the direction of the talented and affable Jean Pierre Vincent. Importer: Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, WA
Nicolas Feuillatte 2003 Cuvée 225 Chouilly ($50) 91
The 225 Cuvée exhibits aromas of yellow fruit and hints of hazelnuts. It is full and rich on the palate with a creamy texture, bold fruit flavors and lots of toasted oak. It’s a nicely balanced Champagne with layers of flavor and a long persistent finish.
Nicolas Feuillatte 2000 Cuvée Speciale Chouilly ($75) 92
The 2000 Cuvée Speciael exhibits aromas of light apple, grilled nuts, and toast. These aromas are mirrored on the palate which has assertive flavors, a soft texture and a rich mouth feel. The Champagne is beautifully balanced and has a long finish.
Nicolas Feuillatte 1999 Cuvée Palmes d’Or Chouilly ($135) 93+
Cuvée Palmes d’Or is this estate’s luxury cuvée. A blend of 60 % Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, the Cuvée Palmes d’Or displays a medium yellow gold hue with a lovely rich mousse, delicate yeasty nose and a palate of orchard fruit. It has layers of flavor with elegance, superb balance, and finesse on the finish.
This small grower is located in the Grand cru village of Chouilly in the Cote des Blancs. Founded in 1951 by André Champion, the estate is currently run by third generation, grandson and enologist Francois. He farms eleven hectares and blends his wines from sixteen different parcels and different vintages. These three bruts are all of outstanding quality. Importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd Winchester, VA
Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs NV Brut ($66) 92+
This cuvée made from 100% Chardonnay offers a fresh aromatic nose of light toast, dried yellow fruit and nuances of yeast. On the palate it has a creamy mouth feel of toasted nuts and rich autolytic notes. This is a beautiful wine, rich and complex.
Roland Champion 2003 Brut Blanc de Blancs ($93) 93
The 2003 vintage brut boasts a yellow-gold hue and has aromas of dried flowers, toast, butterscotch and grilled nuts. Made of100% Chardonnay, it is rich and complex on the palate with a lush mouth feel and a long elegant finish. A superb Champagne!!
Roland Champion 2004 Blanc de Blancs « Special Club » ($78) 92
This 100% Chardonnay displays a yellow-gold hue and aromas of honey, grilled nuts, and minerals. On the palate it has a soft creamy texture with orchard fruit, grain, and autolytic flavors. It is bright and crisp with a clean mouth feel and has a long persistent finish.
Roland Champion Rosé NV Brut ($53) 91
This rosé exhibits a lovely salmon color with layered flavors of dried red fruit, grilled nuts, and yeast notes. A blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay from two vintages, it is rich and creamy on the palate, with layers of yeast and dried red berry fruit flavors and a long refined finish.
Founded in the 1930s by Pierre Taittinger, Champagne Taittinger has its cellars in Reims and owns 300 hectares of outstanding Champagne vineyards in the Côtes de Blanc and the Montagne de Reims. An accomplished gastronome and visionary, Pierre Taittinger reoriented his Champagnes away from the sweet style of the time in favor of more natural elegant wines to accompany more refined approaches to cooking. Today, Champagne Taittinger produces some of the finest and most elegant NV and vintage Champagnes of the Grands Marques. Importer: Kobrand Corporation, New York, NY
Taittinger Cuvée Brut Reserve NV Reims ($20) 92+
This Cuvée Brut is pale gold in color and aromatic with a rich mousse offering aromas of fragrant berries, toast and yeast. It is complex and layered on the palate with a round creamy texture, beautiful balance and a long elegant finish. Incredible value!
Taittinger Cuvée Prélude Grands Crus Reims ($50) 92+
Produced exclusively from Grand cru vineyards, the Cuvée Prelude is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is very fragrant with extra fine bubbles and aromas of yellow fruit and toasted oak. Its extended aging and lees contact contribute to a complex palate and fine texture. The finish is long, dry and steely. Outstanding.
Taittinger Cuvée Brut Millésimé Reims ($70) 93
The Brut Millésimé, a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from the 2004 vintage, displays a yellow-gold hue, a refined mousse, and aromas of lemon curd, toast and minerals. On the palate it is crisp and chalky with complex flavors of toast, minerals and dried red fruit stemming from five years of aging. It has a clean, crisp, long finish that is both elegant and persistent.
Taittinger Cuvée Prestige Brut Rosé Reims ($20) 90+
Blended from 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier grapes, the Cuvée Brut Rosé exhibits a pale pink copper color and a fresh aromatic mousse and light red raspberry fruit, yeast and earth aromas. These are followed by a delicate creamy palate, light red fruit flavors and a nice long finish.
Taittinger Nocturne Reims ($80) 90
Nocturne is a non-vintage Sec Champagne blended from select base wines with an emphasis on Chardonnay. The cuvée is composed of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Yellow-gold in color, it displays stone fruit on the nose with yeast and toast notes. On the palate, it has big volume, a creamy silky texture, and an elegant persistent finish.
Taittinger 2000 Cuvée Comtes de Champagne Reims ($150) 93
Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne was first produced in 1952. It is made of 100% Chardonnay sourced from Grand cru vineyards in the Côte des Blanc and is only produced in the best vintage years. Five percent of the wines used to make it are aged for four months in new and used oak barrels and the Champagne itself is aged for almost 10 years before release. Medium yellow gold in color, it boasts an aromatic nose of ripe apple and freshly baked bread. It is refined on the palate showing light fruit notes, smoky toasted oak and a full, lush creamy mouth feel.
For an in-depth look at how Champagne is produced, including wine reviews and ratings and extensive recommendations on pairing Champagne and food, see International Wine Review Report #9 Champagne.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler, December 2011