19th Annual Champagne Party – 1st California Edition

It’s hard to believe we’ve been throwing our Champagne Party for 19 years now.  It’s morphed and changed a bit through the years, but one thing has remained the same – we’ve always hosted the Champagne Party in November.  We feel like it’s such a fitting kick-off to the holidays – it gets everyone into a festive spirit and as it falls just before Thanksgiving, everyone has time to find a great sparkling wine they want to bring to their holiday gatherings.

This year was a bit different for us though – we decided not to travel back to Seattle during the busy Thanksgiving season, so we threw the party for a whole new group in California.  It was bittersweet, for sure – we missed our die-hard Seattle Champagne Party fans – but it was really interesting to introduce a new set of people to this tradition – and see how the more things change…the more they stay the same.

Got so busy with our guests, forgot to take a picture until the candles had nearly burnt out!


This year the tasting consisted of 12 different Champagnes (technically 10 Champagnes and 2 domestic sparkling wines), ranging in price from $20 – $325.   As always, the wines are served double-blind to everyone, not even my wife knows what we are going to taste ahead of time.  By way of explanation, single-blind is when you know what all the wines are ahead of time, but not the order that they will be served in.  Double-blind is when you don’t have any idea what the wines are ahead of time.  To get a true opinion of what wines people like, I think it is important to serve them at least blind if not double-blind.  I have found that when you have single-blind tastings, sometimes people spend more time on trying to figure out which wines are which versus trying to figure out which wines they like the most.

Where the action took place – the day after.

We had a great group of people and more than a few were shocked at the results of tasting the wines blind.  Here are the Champagnes in the order that we tasted them in:

Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

Charles Heidisieck – Brut  NV  ($55)

Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

Krug  2000  ($250+)

Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)


The full-line up.

This is how the group as a whole ranked the Champagnes from best to worst:

#1 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55)

#2 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

#3 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

#4 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

#5 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

#6 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

#7 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)

#8 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

#9 – Krug  2000  ($250+)

#10 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

#11 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

#12 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Before everyone voted on the wines, I told the story of our very first Champagne party 19 years ago, when 26 out of 27 people voted the 1990 Dom Perignon as the worst Champagne in the lineup.  In that first year, we also had a bottle of the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV ($25 back then) and a bottle of the Argyle Brut 1992 ($15 back then).  The Charles Heidsieck Brut NV tied for 2nd place that first year, along with the 1990 Roederer Cristal.

In an interesting twist, our group of 22 this year also voted Dom Perignon as their least favorite.  And the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV was once again in top place – taking first place this time as an overwhelming favorite.  It was truly astonishing to see the results show up like this all over again – while Dom has traditionally placed lower in the line-ups, this was a whole new group of tasters, and again, it just wasn’t the preferred style of Champagne. (I can assure you the bottles were all sound.)

My own personal rankings are different than how the group voted, as I really have a strong preference for big masculine style Champagnes, but I can also appreciate the finesse and minerality of some feminine style Champagnes as well.  Here is how I ranked the Champagnes in order from best to worst:

#1 – Krug  2000  ($250+):  Very nice toasty nose of fresh baked bread.  Fine bubbles, full bodied and slightly yeasty, subtle lemony yellow fruit, very lively with great acidity.  This is very complex in the mouth, but everything is a little more subtle than I expected.  Very nice long lemony mineral toasty fruit finish.  I think this just needs some more time in the bottle to really blossom, but it is going to be a very good Krug, be patient.  (96+ pts.)

#2 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145):  Nice toasty yeasty nose.  Fine bubbles and nicely complex, full bodied strong tasting yellow fruit flavors, with a stony minerality streak running through it.  There are some bright lemony citrus fruit flavors and bright acidity that keep the Champagne dancing in your mouth.  Nice long stony lemon fruit finish.  (95 pts.)

#3 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55):  Big toasty wheat bread nose (strongest nose of the lineup).  Medium-fine bubbles and full bodied, yeasty yellow fruit with whole wheat bread and good acid.  Long toasty fruit finish.  This was the most masculine styled Champagne of the evening and is a great value for the money.  (94 pts.)

#4 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45):  Very floral nose.  Fine bubbles and very nice lemony white and yellow fruit, with a nice distinct chalky minerality running through it.  This Champagne screams Grand Cru Chardonnay, as it should.  Very nice acidity on the long lemony chalk mineral infused white fruit finish.  This is an absolutely wonderful Champagne for the money and more feminine in style than I generally prefer, but the quality is excellent.  (93 pts.)

#5 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+): Very subtle nose of citrus fruits.  Small bubbles combine with white and yellow fruits that have a slight stony minerality to them.  Good acidity on the long citrus mineral finish.  I think this Champagne will show better with a few more years in the bottle.  Right now, I prefer the Franck Bonville Blanc de Blanc NV over the Roederer Cristal 2006, especially given the 5/1 price ratio.  Five to ten years from now the Cristal may win.  (93 pts.)

#6 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25):  Very nice lemony fruit nose.  Silky small bubbles and very nice white Chardonnay fruit in the mouth.  There is a noticeable chalky minerality and zippy acidity that combine with the sweet fruit on the long finish.  This is a very nice domestic sparkling wine.  Over the last 19 years, Argyle from Oregon, has done better than any other domestic producer.  For $25, I think Argyle is really hard to beat.  (92 pts.)

#7 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170):  Subtle fruit and a strong burnt match (sulfur) nose, off-putting for a lot of people.  Fine bubbles combine with slightly chalky lemony fruit.  Nice long lemony mineral finish.  Burnt match nose never blew off, still present after 24 hours.  Over the last 19 years, Dom Perignon has not done very well, but with age they can be very nice Champagnes.  The 1996 Dom Perignon is an absolute rockstar and still young.  (92 pts.)

#8 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35):  Slight toast and fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, fine bubbles and lemony yellow fruit, with a touch of chalky minerality.  Good acidity on the medium yellow fruit finish.  This is another nice Champagne for the money.  (91 pts.)

#9 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125):  Slight toasty nose.  Fine bubbles, good acidity combine with lemony white and yellow fruit in the mouth.  Nice medium-long mineral white fruit finish.  The Grand Siecle Champagnes are a blend of 3 different years and generally improve with further aging (3-5 years) in the cellar.  (90+ pts.)

#10 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325):  Slight lemony nose.  Medium bubbles combine with yellow fruit and decent acidity, but rather monolithic and unexciting.  Medium lemony yellow fruit finish.  If this had been a truly blind tasting for me, I would have guessed that it was a no-name $50-ish French Champagne, never a $325 prestige Champagne.  I would gladly take 2 of the Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dames or 6 bottles of the Charles Heidsieck NV for the money.  (90 pts.)

#11 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50):  Slight toast and yellow fruit nose.  Largest bubbles of the evening, combine with yellow fruit and bread crumbs.  Decent acidity on the medium length yellow fruit finish.  Nice but not exciting.  (89 pts.)

#12 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20): Slightly fruity nose.  Medium-large bubbles combine with slightly sweeter fruit, decent acidity on a medium length lemony fruit finish.  This Costco wine is actually from the Champagne region of France and it isn’t bad for the money.  I placed this in last place because it came across as slightly sweeter than all of the other Champagnes, something I generally don’t prefer.  (86 pts.)

It was really fun to try this party out with an enthusiastic new group – will be interesting to see how the 20th year comes together!

Happy Holidays!



18th Annual Champagne Party – ’04 Cristal Takes Top Honors

It’s truly hard to believe this was our 18th year doing the Champagne Party!  Unbelievable how time flies.  We are grateful to Jeanne and Will Hartmann, who offered up their beautiful home in Seattle to host the party this year.  Jeanne and Will have been long time Champagne Party-goers, and when they heard that we were moving to San Francisco, they said, “We’re really sorry to see you go, but what are we going to do about the Champagne Party??”  Fortunately for us, they offered to host in their house this year, so that the tradition could live on.

Champagne Party Invite, hand painted by Jeanne McKay Hartmann of idreamof.com
Champagne Party Invite, hand painted by Jeanne McKay Hartmann of idreamof.com. (Check out her blog for more pics of the party!)

The Champagne party is a double-blind tasting of generally 10 Champagnes, with a few sparkling wines from other regions of the world thrown in for comparison’s sake.  The Champagnes will range from the low-end around $15 – $20, up to the high-end of $250 – $450 per bottle.   After everyone has tasted through – and re-tasted to be sure of their choices – we take votes for the favorite and the least favorite wines of the night.  I always enjoy seeing what people like.

The beautiful table.
The beautiful table. I can never get enough of the food – I’m behind the bar all night!
But I do slave away in the kitchen (well, a little bit anyway) - the girls did most of the work!
But I do slave away in the kitchen (well, a little bit anyway) – though admittedly, the girls did most of the work!

Here is the order that we tasted the Champagnes:

Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40)

Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55)

Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110)

Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50)

Krug – Brut 2003  ($250)

Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240)

Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120)

Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40)

Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20)

Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110)

I found it much more difficult than normal year to pick out the best and rank them in order, as did the group.  Usually, there is a clear winner or two that stand out above the crowd, or something that is completely polarizing, but that was not the case this year.  This year almost all of the wines showed well, but some (Launois, Ariston & Pol Roger) could definitely use some more bottle age to show what they have to offer.

The champagnes, all ready to go.
The champagnes, all ready to go.

Here is how the group ranked the Champagnes:

1st – Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240)

2nd – Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120)

3rd – Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110)

4th – Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55)

5th – Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50)

6th – Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20)

7th – Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110)

8th – Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40)

9th – Krug – Brut 2003  ($250)

10th – Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40)

Professional taster?  Brian Flynn and Bob Watt.
Professional taster? Brian Flynn and Bob Watt.

We generally don’t repeat an exact same Champagne in multiple tastings, but we had the 2004 Roederer Cristal in the lineup last year and I included it this year as well, to test a theory.  Last year, the group put the 2004 Roederer Cristal in 9th place and I ranked it dead last in 10th place.  The Champagne was just totally out of balance, too sweet, not enough acidity with a very short unremarkable finish.  It was exactly what you don’t want for a Champagne, especially for the price.  I felt the Champagne just didn’t show well, but I really thought it should have fared better, so I decided to give it another go around.  It’s amazing what an extra year did for the wine.  The proof is in the votes, first place for the group and 3rd place for me.

If you know me, you know I’m a Krug lover, and while I did single it out as my favorite, I was still very surprised at how the 2003 Krug showed this year.  The group ranked the 2003 Krug tied for last place, so we had a run off and it barely beat the Launois.  Neither the Krug Vintage or the Multi-Vintage has ever placed below 4th position in the 18 years that we have done this tasting, so to be ranked tied for last place is unusual for this wonderful Champagne house.  I personally liked the 2003 Krug as a Champagne, but I have to say, I don’t think it will go down in history as a great Krug.  I think the 2003 Krug is the weakest vintage Krug going back through the 1985 vintage.  Even the 1998 Krug is better and neither compare to the 2000 Krug, which is, or will be, a great Krug.

You may ask why I ranked this Champagne in 1st place?  Bottle bias?  Perhaps, but in my opinion, the 2003 Krug has all of the telltale signs of what Krug is, which I absolutely love, but is just much more restrained and subdued.  Only myself and two other die-hard Krug fans picked the 2003 Krug for 1st place.  Even my wife, Christina, went a different direction, picking the 2000 Charles Heidsieck as her favorite, and she usually can pick out a Krug Champagne in the lineup if there is one.  I will be very curious to see how the MV Krug Champagne that is based on the 2003 vintage tastes in comparison to the 2003 Krug.  Being a blend of multiple vintages could be a plus in this case and give the Champagne more of the Krug character that I love.

For the record, here is how I ranked the Champagnes:

1st – Krug – Brut 2003  ($250) – (94pts)

2nd – Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120) – (94pts)

3rd – Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240) – (93pts)

4th – Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110) – (92pts)

5th – Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110) – (91pts)

6th – Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55) – (89pts)

7th – Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20) – (89pts)

8th – Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40) – (87pts)

9th – Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40) – (86pts)

10th – Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50) – (82pts)

You're all winners in my book.
You’re all winners in my book.

The Champagne party is always a great way to kick off the Holiday season.  As many know, Champagne is a passion for me, but too many people think of Champagne as just for celebrations and special events.  It is first and foremost wine (with bubbles), that pairs great with food and is an absolute must in any cellar.  Life is too short not to drink Champagne on a regular basis!

Now, what to have for our 19th Annual Champagne Party…stay tuned!



P.S. “Like” this post?  Let us know!  If you were at the party, tell us what you thought of the Champagnes…


We’re back…with a little Brane Cantenac and a trip to the Village Pub

Hi friends –

It’s been a long time – about four months since we’ve last officially posted.  In that time we spent a month in Europe and moved to California and basically re-invented our lives as we knew them.  It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating few months – we admit to being glad that things are slowing a bit from frantic to a dull roar.  We have so many great wine moments to share over this time – it’ll be a while before we get through the highlights, but thought we start out a little more simply.

When the kids were born over 10 years ago, my wife gave me a case of Bordeaux wine, three bottles each of 1996 Pichon Baron, 1996 Leoville Barton, 2001 Brane Cantenac and 2001 d’Issan.  The idea was to open a bottle every year for the kids birthday.  This year we had a bottle of the 2001 Brane Cantenac from the Margaux rejoin of Bordaux.  While we are still exploring and discovering things in the area where we have moved to, we found a nice little “French style” restaurant called Left Bank.  How fitting that we just happen to have brought a left bank bottle of Bordeaux with us for dinner, the 2001 Brane Cantenac.  Most of the 2001 Bordeaux wines that I have had have been open for business and this was no different.

2001 Brane Cantenac, Margaux – Very nice red/black berry fruit on the nose combined with forest floor and a little leather.  In the mouth, dark red bing cherry fruit with a little black berry, spice box, dried leaves, forest floor, slight bit of leather and a hint of dried herbs.  This wine has good acid and a nice smooth mouth feel.  The wine is medium-full bodied.  It has presence and persistence in the mouth, without the weight that you normally find in a new world cab/merlot blend wine.  The wine finishes with a long persistent dark cherry, spice and forest floor finish, with nice finely grained subsiding tannins.  This wine is drinking well today and will continue to do so over the next decade, enjoy them if you have them.  (93pts.)

For those of you looking for a nice Bordeaux wine to drink now, check out the 2001 vintage.  Many of the wines are drinking really well right now and can be had for a song compared to the 2000, 2003 or 2005 counterparts.  The 2001 vintage was really overlooked after the great 2000 vintage, but there are some really wonderful wines to be had – Lynch Bages, Montrose and Leoville Barton just to name a few.

Birthday Dinner at the Village Pub.
Birthday dinner at the Village Pub.

In other great wine moments, for my birthday this year in September, Christina and I wound up at the Village Pub in Woodside California, just north of where we live.  Don’t let the name fool you, they have a REALLY nice wine list and the food is excellent.  The Sommelier at the Village Pub is a very nice and knowledgeable guy by the name of Michael Acheson.  The Village Pub’s wine program was awarded the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award under Michael’s direction.  Michael has a great passion for wine and loves to help patrons explore the world of wine at the restaurant.  We had an excellent meal, unfortunately, the wine I brought for the occasion (2003 Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reserve) was corked.  Maybe I have been lucky, but I bring wine to restaurants all of the time and I honestly don’t remember the last time one of the bottles was corked, maybe 5-6 years ago.  Anyway, Michael was able to guide me through the wine list and offer nice suggestions once we had picked out main courses.  We ultimately had some very nice red Burgundy and Cornas wines with our meal.

During the course of the evening, we talked with Michael about all things wine related and mentioned that we loved Champagne.  Michael said there was going to be a great vertical Champagne tasting of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, going back to the 1952 vintage from magnum at the Village Pub this October.  This Tuesday night (10/14) is the Champagne tasting and I am really looking forward to it.  Philipponnat is a great Champagne house and their Clos des Goisses is an absolutely wonderful Champagne.  If you like Champagnes that are on the masculine side like from Krug, Bollinger, Pol Roger or Vueve Clicquot then you should try the Champagnes of Philipponnat, and the Clos des Goisses in particular.  Champagne can age really well, but it’s fragile and has to be well-stored.  The oldest bottle of Champagne that I have in the cellar is from the 1975 vintage and it is drinking great (we had a bottle of it not too long ago).  I look forward to seeing what a 1952 will taste like – stay tuned for more…

17th Annual Champagne Tasting

So often, when people open a bottle of champagne, it’s for a special occasion, and it’s rare that you have several side-by-side for comparison.  Therefore, every bottle you open for celebration is likely to be revered as a great bottle, though with time and tasting, there are noticeable preferences that will begin to show.  That’s the philosophy behind our annual champagne tasting – an opportunity to understand more about sparkling wines.  We also tend to put out a pretty big spread – so a big thanks goes to my wife for coordinating all of that!

The setting.
The setting.
I never get enough to eat - I'm behind the bar all night!
I never get enough to eat – I’m behind the bar all night!

I have always loved Champagne – and not just for special occasions, even though it seems like that’s when most people drink it.  Champagne is first and foremost wine that just happens to have bubbles; it can be enjoyed before a meal, during a meal and after a meal.  I generally like to start a dinner or party off with Champagne.  The bubbles seem to set the stage and get everyone into a great mood for the evening.

While the party always seem to go by too fast in a blur of good friends, good food and great bubbly, throughout the course of the year, I am always on the lookout for some really nice Champagnes and sparkling wines from all over the world. For the tasting this year, we had 10 different wines, served double-blind, meaning that nobody knew what we would be drinking, other than all 10 wines had bubbles.

Jeanne McKay Hartmann, Christina Watt and Kerry Prather.
Jeanne McKay Hartmann, Christina Watt and Kerry Prather.
BJ McMahon, Chris Drake, Gina Drake and Laura McMahon.
BJ McMahon, Chris Drake, Gina Drake and Laura McMahon.

The majority of the wines we taste are Champagnes from the Champagne region of France.  By law, for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it has to come from the Champagne region of France.   I also want to be able to show people there are some very nice sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region, so people can have a chance to try something they have not had before.

I did tell everyone that the low-end of the lineup was $25, the high-end was $250+ and the average price per bottle was $115.  I served everyone with small pours, so that they could get through tasting all 10 wines with their taste buds intact.  After someone has made it through all 10 wines, they can go back and taste again any or all of the wines to figure out which wines they like and to rank them from best to worst.  At the end of the evening, we have everyone vote with a show of hands for which wine they thought was the worst and also the best.  The results are usually surprising, and very often, ends with one of the most expensive wines ranked towards the bottom.

The big reveal.
The big reveal.

Here is the line-up for this year.  All of the wines were from Champagne, France, unless otherwise noted and were served in this order:

The line-up.
The line-up.

#1 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

#2 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#3 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#4 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#5 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

#6 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#7 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#8 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#9 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#10 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

After all of the votes were cast and counted as a group for the worst and the best, the wines ranked out in this order:

#1 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#2 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#3 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#4 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

#5 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#6 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#7 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#8 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#9 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

#10 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

Here’s a closer look at the bottles served in order:

Numbers 1 and 2...
Numbers 1 and 2…
Numbers three and four...
Numbers 3 and 4…
Numbers 5 and 6...
Numbers 5 and 6…
Bottles 7 and 8...
Bottles 7 and 8…
2013 champagne party bottles 004
And finally, bottles 9 and 10!

While the 2000 vintage is a good but not great vintage for Champagne, the 2000 Krug Brut Champagne is an excellent and well made Champagne, with a long life ahead of it.  The toasty fruit finish goes on and on in the mouth, long after you have swallowed it.  This is just one of the many reasons why I love the Champagnes made by Krug.  While I like many Champagnes from the different Champagne houses, the house of Krug continues to be my absolute favorite.

Over the 17 years that I have been doing this Champagne tasting, Argyle from Oregon has had the best results as a US produced sparkling wine against the French competition.  Argyle produces some very nice wines in a range of prices, all are worth exploring.  This was an interesting year for the tasting, as the wines that would normally present as a more feminine-style (soft, buttery, creamy) champagne, actually all skewed more masculine (doughy, yeasty, toasty), so there were far less polarizing results and hotly debated conversations than normal.

Here is the order on how I personally ranked the different Champagnes:

#1 – 2000  Krug – Brut,  $250+.

#2 – NV  Charles Heidsieck – Brut Reserve,  $55.

#3 – 2005  Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Grand Cellier D’Or,  $90.

#4 – NV  Guy Charlemagne – Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru,  $55.

#5 – 2004  Bollinger – Grand Annee,  $135.

#6 – 2004  Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blanc,  $180.

#7 – NV  Billecart Salmon – Sous Bois,  $85.

#8 – 2010  Argyle – Brut, Willamette Valley Oregon,  $25.

#9 – NV  Tapiz – Extra Brut, Mendoza Argentina,  $25.

#10 – 2004  Louis Roederer – Cristal,  $240.

A big surprise for the night was the fact that the Roederer Cristal came in next to last place in the group vote.  While Cristal may not be the style of Champagne that I like the most in general, they are very well-made Champagnes.  I am not sure what happened with the 2004 Cristal, it started off with very nice fruit but fell flat and very short on the finish.  Having had Roederer Cristal on multiple occasions from multiple vintages, my guess is that this had to be an off bottle, which is a bummer.  So, I guess I will have to revisit this Champagne (darn!).  Despite the fact that it had a lackluster showing, I loved how Roederer chairman Federic Rouzaud described the vigor of Cristal as it ages while leading a tasting at the recent 2013 New York Wine Experience: “It makes women look more beautiful, so the men are happy, and then we make more love.  So I’m very confident in our future.”

Cheers to that!

Champagne High

Authored by Christina

We realize we’ve fallen behind in posting – with the holidays looming, we figure we’ll still be re-living our Bordeaux trip well into the new year!  But we have some pretty good excuses for our lack of posts – especially this past week.

Last Monday, we enjoyed a blind, pre-1990’s Bordeaux tasting with Bob’s wine group (thank you Bill Schallert!), and this weekend, we hosted our 17th Annual Champagne party, which also serves to kick-off the holiday season.  While we put these posts together, here’s a bit of back-reading on the philosophy behind the Annual Champagne Party, which was posted a few years ago by dear friend Jeanne McKay Hartmann on her beautiful I Dream Of blog.

Getting ready for the party.
Getting ready for the party…

Over the next week or two, we’ll be interspersing our Bordeaux recaps with highlights from our recent tasting adventures. Any guesses as to which champagne house came in first place in the line-up this year?  Spoiler alert – it was Bob’s favorite…we’d love to hear from those of you who were there about your favorites too!


Summer Champagne Evening

My wine group got together last night for our annual summer evening of Champagne.  Our location was the house of good friends Ed & Joan, on their deck over the waters Lake Samammish –  a perfect setting for tasting a lot of wonderful bubbles.  The wine group of 8 guys meets about 10 times per year, and we generally do Champagne in the summer.  This is the one time of year that all of our significant others join us.   My wife is always happy about it, because she loves Champagne.

Most of our wine tastings are blind, but not this time.  Ed and Joan made a wonderful flank steak with green beans cooked in some sort of bacon fat – and the most amazing potatoes cooked in duck fat!  It was the perfect pairing for the Champagne and an excellent way to kick off the pending trips to France that three of the couples are planning this fall.

Everyone agreed that the line-up of Champagnes this year were all excellent – here are the wines that people brought:

NV Guy Charlemagne – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  Very nice toasty nose of bread and ginger spice.  Medium to full-bodied with baked apples and bread, with a nice medium – long finish.  This is a very nice bold masculine-styled Champagne, especially for the price range of $45.  (91pts.)

NV Besserat de Bellefon – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  Nice subtle nose of lemon and yeast, medium-light bodied with clean Chardonnay fruit and lemon in the mouth.  Medium lemon/apple finish.  My wife liked this more than I did.  It was more feminine in style and around $35.  (89pts.)

NV Aspasie – Cepages D’Antan – Champagne, France:  This is Aspasie’s high-end wine and they are owned by the Champagne house Ariston.  Exotic nose of ripe lemons and blood oranges, combined with smokey wood notes.  Medium-full bodied with spiced baked apples and lemon, good acidity and a medium-long finish.  This is a very nice Champagne that will age well over the next ten years, $100.  (93pts.)

1998 Taittinger – Comtes des Champagne – Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) – Champagne, France:  This is the high-end wine for Taittinger and it was an absolute beauty tonight.  Big, zesty lemony fruit on the nose.  Full bodied in the mouth with lemon, baking spices and intense electric acidity.  There was great minerality pouring through on the very long persistent finish.  This was the best showing I have had with a Taittinger Champagne in a very long time and it was the surprise of the evening.  This wine is feminine in style and still needs another 10 years to reach maturity.  Once it gets there it will be a show stopper, wow.  $185.  (96pts.)

1996 Egly Ouriet – Grand Cru – Champagne, France:  Smaller producer and not easy to get, but Egly Ouriet makes some great wines in all price ranges.  This was Egly Ouriet’s high-end wine.  Big, rich toasty apple and lemon fruit combined with ginger and baking spices, like nutmeg.  This wine is a big masculine styled Champagne, that just begs you to have food with it, not a delicate sipping Champagne by any means.  Very long, rich, spiced green apple fruit finish, beautiful $125.  (95pts.)

1996 Pol Roger – Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc – Champagne, France:  Big, bold spicy lemon fruit nose that carries through to the palate.  Nice long spicy fruit finish with very good acidity.   This is a Pol Roger middle end wine and they consistently make a great Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc in a masculine style $85.  (94pts.)

1996 Bollinger – Grand Annee – Champagne, France:  Very nice ginger bread and lemon nose.  This Champagne is full-bodied and very smooth in the mouth.  You get baked apples and lemon, combined with again ginger bread and very nice acidity on the very long finish, great wine and getting better $125.  (94pts)

1996 Krug – Champagne, France:  Big, strong nose of baked bread, apples and lemon.  Very masculine in style, huge, bold whole grain bread combined with spicy baked green apples and lemony acidity.  This wine is very smooth in the mouth, but with huge body.  The extremely complex finish of bread, spices and fruit, is incredibly long.  The finish stays in the mouth long after you have swallowed it.  The 1996 Krug is definitely a Champagne to have food with and is one of the best Champagnes that I have ever had.  It is still young, but has a long life ahead of it.  It is hard to imagine, but this champagne will get better with more time in the bottle.  In ten years, the 1996 Krug will be an absolute rockstar $350.  (99pts.)

When we have people over for dinner, we generally start the evening off with some Champagne.  Most people think of Champagne as something you open for a special occasion.  I say Champagne is great for any day of the week – life itself is enough of a celebration, and we certainly proved it last Tuesday night!  Thanks Ed and Joan!

My wife, Christina, with good friend Bill Schallert from Youngs Market Co.
My wife, Christina, with good friend Bill Schallert from Youngs Market Co. at the  champagne tasting.

Wine With Friends: NV Billecart Salmon

NV Billecart Salmon – Brut Reserve (Champagne, France).  Some good friends brought this over to have before dinner – thank you, Dave and Kelly Bonewitz.  Judging from the cork and the color of the wine, I estimated that this Champagne was purchased 5-6 years ago.  The Champagne was a light golden yellow color.  The nose smelled of a sweet/spicy baked apple pie.  In the mouth, the baked apple and pear came through, with cooked pie crust and breadcrumbs to back it up on the nice very long smooth finish.  The smoothness and elegance of this Champagne is what you get only from extended aging.  (94pts.)more wine blog aug. 2013 001

For the Love of Krug

For our 10 year wedding anniversary, we went to Napa.  Things were busy at home, and a long weekend was all we had time for, but we wanted to do something we loved – so we headed to Napa for some wine tasting.

Generally, that implies that you don’t bring wine with you, but my wife has gotten used to the idea that I’ll bring wine just about anywhere we travel, tucked into my luggage.

For this occasion, I brought along a bottle of 1990 Krug.  We had an amazing dinner at Farm, the restaurant at The Carneros Inn, starting with oysters on the half shell and this fabulous bottle of bubbly.

Christina Birthday 099

I’ll never forget a moment 10 years prior, after a year plus of intense wedding planning, just after our ceremony, when we were in the car on the way from the church to the reception. My glowing new wife turned to me, sighed with a mixture of relief and – anxiety? – and said, “So, what now?”

I told her not to worry, the best was yet to come.  Truly, it really does just keep getting better.  This year we’re celebrating 12 years with a trip to Bordeaux – not sure how we’ll top that one though!

Carry-On Wine

Pre-September 11,2001, there were all sorts of things being taken on planes that we know better than to take now.  Safety concerns aside, the one thing I do miss being able to do is carry wine onto a plane.

We honeymooned in Bali in August of 2001, and I packed up a few essentials for the trip.  My new wife of just days picked up my carry-on at one point and jokingly said, “Good grief that’s heavy.  What’ve you got in there – bottles of wine??”

Little did she know.  I not only had a bottle of 1990 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, I also had over 150 tealights, and a big Bic lighter – the kind you use to start a fireplace fire.  While she slept one late afternoon, I set it all up.  When she awoke, magic.  (Okay, so I had to wake her up before the candles burned out.)


It was more than worth the extra effort, believe me!  Alas, I won’t be repeating that trick anytime soon…can’t imagine the field day TSA would have with that now!

Champagne Party Year Sixteen

  16th Annual Champagne Party
Champagne Vintage Rank Cost
Tattinger – Brut Prestige Rose NV 9th 65
Lucien Albrecht – Rose Cremant NV 12th 20
Pol Roger – Rose 2002 7th 115
Nicolas Feuillatte – Brut Rose NV 13th 55
Aspasie – Brut Rose NV 1st 45
Dom Perignon – Rose 2000 8th 350
Roederer Cristal – Rose 2004 2nd 475+
Vilmart & Cie – Cuvee Rubis Rose 2006 3rd 145
Egly Ouriet – Gran Cru Rose NV 6th 125
Fleury – Brut Rose NV – 2004 10th 65
Bollinger – Grand Annee Rose 2002 4th 230
Charles Heidsieck – Brut Rose NV 5th 85
Costco – Brut Rose NV 11th 28