Well once again I am very thrilled to report, that even the day after Thanksgiving, a day where we stuff ourselves with poultry and all the fixings, many of us imbibing a little extra by way of wine either to celebrate or stave off any desire to talk politics around the holiday table, that even after all that our Champagne and Fried Chicken night not only sold out, it was a massive success.
Although we’ve been doing this event for over ten years we still get raised eyebrows and deeply concerned tones when we mention pairing the frothy and rich nobility of Champagne with fried yard bird. I guess we sort of get it. I mean when many think of Champagne they envision celebratory meals and royal parties, likely dotted with platters of cold seafood and decadent delights, which is precisely why we started putting our chicken where our mouths are as it were, and started doing these events once or twice a year.
I’ve forever railed against regulating Champagne to a twice or thrice a year, special occasional drink, that is the equivalent of putting Baby in the corner if you ask me. No, don’t do it, let it hit center stage and show what it can do. On one level I do understand, I’ve tasted the wines that people shill as good, or name brand Champagne and doesn’t take more than a couple sips for one to find them utterly forgettable. Fizzy, festive in bubbles and not much else. That is true of the Moets and Veuve Clicquots of the world but the small grower, handmade, artisan Champagnes we have been stocking for the past 15 years? No, these are wines well beyond bubbly stuff and they merit a place at the dinner table. Plus I’m sorry, despite its humble beginnings, fried chicken is all sorts of decadent! Crunchy seasoned breading shattering between your teeth just before they sink into moist and salty flesh, to wash that down with a curvy wine, full of baked fruit, citrus, melted butter and caramel notes, the tiny froth vibrating along the sides of your palate, refreshing you, enticing you, for one more sip and one, more, bite? Well in the world of food and wine pairings it simply doesn’t get much better.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, the 125 pieces of fried chicken being piled onto plates, the 40 bottles of selected Champagne chilled, checked for correctness and waiting, an eager crowd filing through the front door, checking in, finding their places at the tables, settling in and ready to get their bird and bubbles groove on, always a magical feeling.
The crowd was effusive and engaging, the wines all so different and full of character that there wasn’t one that didn’t find a home that night. Always cool to see the lines at the register but it’s also so very gratifying to see how many people are getting it and discovering just how amazing these wines, that happen to have bubbles in them, are.
N.V. Suenen Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
Always a treat for me personally to open a bottle of this gorgeous Chardonnay based Champagne. I was lucky enough to be with the importer in Champagne when she, well I was going to say “discovered” him but the truth of the matter was, we were both over the moon after tasting and listening to young Aurelien Suenen, it was more like I was with her as she tried to convince him to let her import his wines to California. Been following along ever since and these wines just keep getting better and better. This young man is at the very beginning of his winemaking career and trust me, pay attention, now before his wines catch on here as they have in Champagne and other markets.
The precision and focus here is rather remarkable. The aromatics are sewed together nearly seamlessly. Floral notes, anise, cold white stones and lemon curd. Just an elegantly balanced and aromatically regal wine to be sure. The average vine age here is about 45 years and you can feel that power on the palate, the length is tremendous. You taste white peach and quince with more lemon and just the faintest nuttiness. Bit of a heart-stopper and one of our most treasured finds. Less than 1,700 cases produced.
N.V. Vazart Coquart Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
I love pulling the wines from Vazart Coquart for events where we feature food, simply because the wines from this Domaine are designed to enhance the food on the table and they make a range of wines that compliment everything from raw foods to foie gras. Decadent in its palate coating texture but full of freshness and nerve. Tart green apple skin on the nose that folds into a rich doughy notes and then lifted to preserved lemons. Plenty of weight but not mucked up by heavy yeast notes that can, and do often, come off clunky with food. There is a brilliance in the crystalline clarity and snappy bite of this delicious wine.
All the fruit for this creamy but serious Blanc de Blancs is sustainably farmed with careful dedication the making sure the soils are clean, vibrant and offering the healthiest fruit possible. Loads of baked apples on the nose with a countering mineral and citrus flesh note. Nice tension and weight on the palate with a super friendly creaminess that reminds you of a citrus tart with warm custard. Astounding quality for this price.
N.V. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
Now something for the toasty loving bunch. Produced from grapes grown in one of the greatest of Grand Cru Chardonnay villages, this wine is full of rich and sultry fruit as well as that pie crust and rising bread note. Fairly full on the palate this wine had the texture to hold up to a wide array of foods but that lovely yeasty toasty note make it a divine choice for simply sipping too. Huge value here folks.
2005 Maurice Vesselle Grand Cru Les Hauts Chemins Blanc de Noirs
This is a truly rare treat to be sure. I fell in love with the wines from this Domaine when I tasted their wines at a trade event in Champagne. There was something so fleshy, powerful, concentrated and elegant about them that I sort of nudged an importer friend to consider them for import to California. Luckily for all of us she and I were on the same page and in late 2014 the wines of Maurice Vesselle made their debut not just in California but in the United States! We are not only very proud that we were involved, we fall deeper for these wines each and every time we taste them.
This 2005 was tasted on a more recent visit to the Vesselle Domaine and I was literally rendered speechless when I tasted it. I kept hovering my pen over my tasting notes but the wine, this wine, it was too incomparable for me to find the proper words in that moment. It was too perfect to try and break apart. I dropped my pen and asked that 3 cases be imported for us.
Made from 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir this wine is the epitome of nobility for its texture and length. A lower dosage has you truly tasting the purity and exemplary quality of fruit that made this base wine. Simply put, one of the best wines I tasted in 2016. Only 800 bottles produced.
N.V. Pierre Gerbais Extra Brut Rose
A new acquisition for us this year the wines from Pierre Gerbais, and one we are very excited about! Young Aurelien Gerbais at 24 years old is the 8th generation at the helm of the Gerbais domaine and is creating quite the buzz, both in Champagne and in savvy Champagne markets around the globe. Sustainable farming, lower dosage added and a somewhat unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc this Rose is quite dry and very finessed. Tart red fruits with some pretty floral notes. Fresh, vibrant and utterly brilliant with food.
N.V. Hugues Godme Grand Cru Brut Rose
Hugues Godme is considered, within Champagne, one of the most passionate and respected growers in the business. His wines are certified biodynamic and only natural yeasts are used. I find the wines from this estate to have a certain regality to them and this super dry Rose is no exception. Deeply aromatic but more floral than fruity. On the palate there is just the tiniest of bubbles that dance across tongue leaving in their wake a shimmer of fresh apple skin and pie crust. Loves dark meat poultry, salmon and shines with salty and briny foods.
N.V. Marc Hebrart 1er Cru Brut
Made from mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay which adds a great amount of lift. Pretty expressive and with plenty of bready notes on the nose. Solid core of stone fruit with a touch of yeasty flavor. Nicely weighted in the mouth but with super fine bubbles so it doesn’t feel, or come off, too heavy. Reminds me of Taittinger in the good old days.
2009 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut
The Champagnes from Camille Saves have been some of our most beloved and bestselling Champagnes, across the range of wines, for quite a few years now. I always call the wines from this domaine, “Game Changers” as they have converted more wine lovers to diehard Champagne lovers than any other we have. They are some of the most luscious and generous as we’ve ever had.
2009 is one of the best vintages in the 2000s and this offering from Saves is comprised of 80% Pinot Noir and 20%Chardonnay, all from Grand Cru vineyards, so as good as it gets in Champagne for quality. Deeply saturated and bursting at the seams with baked apple, browned butter, salted caramel and brioche. Mouth coating, powerful, dominate and all the sexy that implies.
Laetitia Billiot recently took the reins at the Billiot domaine in I can say, in all honesty, they’ve never been better in all the 15 years we’ve been stocking them. She is getting tremendous extraction from her vines and it shows in the nearly chewy density of her thrilling wines. Been truly exiting t watch the elevation of this winery for so many years but the real thrill comes from popping bottles like this meaty, palate staining 2009 vintage. Wow.
Caramelized pears, roasted cashews, salted butter, lemon oil and cream filled pie dough come screaming across the palate with flavors so intense and lavish that they leave an indelible stain. If you are looking for coy and lean this is NOT your wine. This is giving it all up, right up front and seductively unashamed.