A few years ago my wife and I hosted a Champagne tasting at our house for New Year’s Eve and it was a blast. So, we thought we’d try it again this year. This was a blind tasting—all of the wines our guests sampled were in randomly-numbered brown paper bags. Nobody knew which Champagne they were tasting when they recorded their comments. I picked five Champagnes for the tasting, most of which had received some sort of press over the past few weeks. Of the five selections, four were Champagnes and one was a California Sparkling wine. All of the wines were non-vintage. Because rosé Champagnes are all the rage this year, two of the four Champagnes we tasted were rosés. The results of the tasting were interesting.
The two rosé Champagnes were the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV ($70) and the Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Rosé NV ($34.99, PLCB No. 029573). My friend Kez, who lives in France, highly recommended the Billecart-Salmon in the comments to a previous post. Slate recently called the Billecart-Salmon “arguably the best-value nonvintage rosé on the market.” I also understand it received a 90 from Robert Parker and a 91 from Stephen Tanzer of Food and Wine Magazine. Sadly, you can’t get it here in PA; a friend of mine brought it in from New York. The color was a light, salmony pink. It displayed aromas of raspberry, strawberry and minerals and was relatively acidic. The bubbles were explosive and frothy.
Someone I trust at one of the PLCB Specialty Stores recommended the Nicholas Feuillatte. This wine received an 87 from Wine Spectator. It had the color you would expect a rosé Champagne to have. Not as acidic as the Billecart-Salmon, nor as bubbly, and many of our guests said it had a bitter finish. But it was a little fruitier, had nice berry flavors, and our guests found it to be round and soft (one even found it to be more balanced than the Billecart-Salmon).
Of the two rosés, though, most folks preferred the Billecart-Salmon. Many, in fact, picked it as their overall favorite of the evening. Although this was definitely my overall favorite as well, I was not as blown away by the Billecart-Salmon as I expected to be. These two rosés were notably different, but I don’t know whether the differences between them are great enough to justify paying twice as much for the Billecart-Salmon.
Of the three non-rosés, two were Champagnes and one was a California Sparkling wine. The very first wine we tasted was the one from California—the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley NV ($21.99, PLCB No. 007933). This wine was featured in Wall Street Journal’s December 1, 2006 Tastings column (subscription required). The WSJ’s wine critics, Gaiter and Brecher, rated it Good/Very Good but didn’t give it an amazingly glowing review (they said it had “no real depth”). Plus, as the article points out, American sparkling wines are “often less nuanced, and the bubbles sometimes seem an overlay on the wine instead of an integral part of the taste.” It was also the least expensive of the five. So, I didn’t expect this wine to leave any lasting marks. Surprisingly, though, everyone picked this American sparkling wine as their favorite non-rosé, beating out the two French offerings. Two of our guests even selected the Roederer as their overall favorite. It was light, crisp, clean and smooth, and had a nice balance between sweetness and acidity.
The wine I expected to do better than it did was the Taittinger Brut Champagne La Francaise NV ($35.99, PLCB No. 004001). Wine Spectator rated this a 91, saying it showed “elegance and finesse” and had “an understated power.” This Champagne didn’t display any flaws. It was rather effervescent and I thought it had a slightly creamy finish. But aside from that, it was rather non-descript and unimpressive.
The last wine we tasted was the Pommery Brut Royal NV ($37.99, PLCB No. 029553). Last year my wife really enjoyed the Pommery we had, and because she had been reminiscing about it, I thought I’d throw it into the mix. I read on one of the bulletin boards that Richard Juhlin, who claims to be the number one Champagne expert in the world, rated this Pommery a 75, which ain’t good. But you didn’t have to be a Champagne expert to be offended by this bottle. Our blind tasters described its odor as “rubber gloves,” “petroleum” and “awful.” One guest gave this Champagne a two-word review that pretty much said it all: “That smell!” The fact that this was the second most expensive Champagne of the evening made it all the more disappointing.
So, what did we learn? Not much, really. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and we were doing shots of Champagne for two hours straight; it was heard to learn anything after that. But we had a lot of fun and we were among friends. And that’s what ringing in the new year is all about.
Stay tuned for New Year’s Eve 2006, Part II—Tangerine.