Last week readers got their first lesson, via a seminar I attended from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA) on Champagne, this week we complete the lesson with some more “Details, Myths and News” and, finally, a tasting. Our NASA lecturer, once again, was Diego Meraviglia.
The Échelle des Crus Rating System
Échelle des Crus is a 1-100 point scale for the labeling of grapes, not the wine, in Champagne.
Villages rated at 80 points. (264 wineries)
Premier Cru rated between 90 to 99 points. (43 wineries)
Grand Cru rated at 100 points. (17 wineries – and warrant the highest prices.)
There is no Pinot Meunier in Premier or Grand Cru regions. The AOC broke this rating system in 2010, allowing for more flexibility in the region, but you will still find Premier Cru and Grand Cru designated Champagnes. It is the thought that a winemaker may not put out the same effort in the Villages as say Premier or Grand Cru, as his wine is thought a lesser quality. Now the field is more even.
Details, Myths and News
Some of how Champagne was made: Fermentation was arrested due to the cold temperature in the region. The yeast was then dormant and resuscitated in the Spring to ferment again. Wines exploded in the cellar until the “methode (or traditional method of) champenoise” was born. Secondary fermentation then occurs in the bottle, sealed and then laid down in cellar.
Flutes: Throw them out, Diego says, they were invented for visual only, cannot get the aromas.
Disgorgement dates: look for this date now shown on some bottles; it will be an indicator of knowing how long the wine may have been sitting on a store’s shelf.
Whether you have a vintage or NV Champagne – it’s meant to be drunk at their release, not to be put in your cellar. Degrading starts at disgorgement. One year in the cellar won’t kill it.
If you plan to visit and taste in Champagne you will be greeted by miles of tunnels, wet, chalk on the ground and, “at the end of the day the Champagne is aged for you” because of the terroir and ready for consumption.
Types of Producers (look for these acronyms on Champagne labels)
CM is a co-op of growers working with a winemaker.
NM is merchants (Negotiants) that produce with their own grapes, and also buy, the vast majority of brands.
RM is a small house that grows and uses 95% of their grapes. A grower-producer is one that some will look for, and make 5% of the wine.
RC and MA are others, but rarely seen except for Trader Joe’s or Costco.
Tasting Notes separated by ; (Diego’s notes in parenthesis)
NV Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve (CM) $29.99
Golden delicious apple, pale lemon juice, unsalted butter; same apple on the nose carried through to the palate, lemon lime, with a short finish. 88 Eve pts. (Diego mentioned the yeast, lemon, toasted almonds aromas, and felt this was a good priced entry-level Champagne.)
NV Paul Georg Blanc de Blanc Premier Cru Brut (CM) $36.99
Cheddar cheese, canned pineapple, cedar, wheat toast; sharp, tart, pineapple, bitter lemon with a long finish. 88 Eve pts. (100% Chardonnay grapes. And a Blanc de Blanc will be known for its creamy qualities.)
NV Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose $64.99
Lavender soap, raspberry, unsalted cracker; raspberry again, white pepper, short finish, pleasant. 89 Eve pts. (Pinot Noir dominates, wild strawberry, cherry on the nose. Rose are fruitier and less yeasty than the others.)
NV Billecart-Salmon Demi Sec
Brown sugar, Brie cheese, pink lemonade; honey, lemon soda, French bread, hard candy. 90 Eve pts. (Smoother, lowered effervescence, a Great Gatsby era wine.)
NV Pierre Paillard Blanc de Noirs “Les Maillerettes” Grand Cru (RM) $54.99
Biggest yet, jasmine flower, clean, wet pebbles, salty, apricot; chilled fruit cup, pineapple, peach, pear, my favorite of the day so far. 91 Eve pts. (Pinot Noir only.)
NV Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc (RM) $54.99
Hawaiian pineapple, lemon hard candy, steely; Italian lemon ice, lemon zest, tingling and resonating finish. 90 Eve pts. (20 vintages blended together, called the Solera Method, make up this wine. One of the top five producers. Chardonnay is strong in this wine.)
2008 Louis Roederer Brut ($63.99)
Blue cheese, bruised apple, cream, croutons (want a salad); Biting, tart, apple cider. 89 Eve pts. (Pinot 70% and Chard 30%, 37% of wine is vinified/fermented in oak. No malolactic. Four years of aging before release, and six months after disgorgement.)
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com