Hosting friends for dinner is one of life’s great joys. Picking all the wines for the evening is another. I recently had the privilege to open three superb bottlings at dinner showing the extreme diversity of Champagne.
Biodynamic Terroir Champagne
Fruit-drive Vouette & Sorbee is a great example of reductive non-autolytic champagne that expresses citrus, minerals, and purest fruit. This producer is also one of the beloved of the ‘natural wine’ camp due to its embrace of biodynamics and attempt to express terroir rather than house style. The estate is closer to Chablis than it is to Reims and the style of the wine reflects that: mineral-fruit driven wine rather than autolysis-driven, creamy brioche styled wine. The no-dosage approach assists in the more linear, vegetal impression this wine gives. It’s amazing to me that these wines were first imported to the US in 2009 and in a mere 7 years have become beloved cult producer in the U.S. and even up here in British Columbia. This type of wine ideally pairs with dishes lighter in weight and with vegetal components. I re-made a Burrata dish with Radicchio, olive oil, maldon salt, marcona almonds, and confit lemon and the pairing was great.
Also fascinating to me is how many people enjoy Champagnes in the style of Fidele, at least in Vancouver. The style challenges all the preconceptions of what Champagne is, but it is immensely food friendly and easy to drink. Most people at my dinner party loved it, though they are not trained wine professionals.
Vouette & Sorbee Fidele Extra Brut 2011 (magnum, disgorged February, 2015): Excellent
$250 at Kits Wine
Classic Oxidative House Champagne
Bollinger is the quintessential oxidative Champagne. They pioneered a drier style of Champagne in the 19th century made from the first pressing juice from fruit grown exclusively in the Marne (⅔ of which is from Bollinger’s own holdings). Fermentation occurs in small neutral oak barrels – oak imprimatur is not desired, just the qualities of slow, carefully managed oxygen influence. The Special Cuvee is a combination of oak fermented and steel vat fermented wines, with reserve wines being aged in magnum.
Bollinger Special Cuvee (magnum): Excellent
$300 at Kits Wine
Aged Grower Champagne
Michel Maillart is a grower producer, meaning he farms and vinifies his own grapes. His farm is in Vertus, a cru in the Marne. Most do not taste Champagnes with so much age on them. To me, these are the most remarkable wines of the region – the long ageing adds considerable complexity. In the case of this Michel Maillart, with 21 years of age (17 years on the lees and 4 post-disgorgement), a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the age brought caramel, molasses, honey, and in this case some sherry-like character of nuts and apple skins, perhaps a result of a little VA, the aromas of which dissipate with air.
M. Maillart Prestige Cuvee Brut 1995 (750ml, disgorged April, 2012): Excellent+
$150 at Kits Wine (not currently available)