Champagnes at New York Wine Press luncheon

Celebrating New Year’s Eve can include new and old friends, and that’s true for Champagnes, too. So, let me introduce you to some of mine.

New Acquaintances:
Last month, I met Arlaux Champagne and its 15th-generation owner Christian-Pierre Traminer at a tasting at Bar Boulud in Manhattan. While new to our market, Arlaux is not a new kid on the vineyard block, so to speak.

Traminer traces his family’s wine history to 1629 when Vincent Arlaux was the winemaker at the Abbey of Saint-Remi. His vineyard, which adjoined the Abby’s chapel, was confiscated by the state during the French revolution. Eventually, the family reacquired it; today the Premier Cru vineyard is organically farmed, and Arlaux Champagne is being introduced to the American market.


Arlaux Champagne’s owner Christian-Pierre Traminer

I was pleasantly surprised by the nonvintage Arlaux Grande Cuvee Brut. Pinot meunier, a red grape that I usually find a tart lightweight, dominated the blend (60 percent), but Arlaux’s pinot meunier vines are grafted to pre-phylloxera rootstock, which brought complexity. Thirty percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay completed the blend.

This cuvee is composed of reserve wines from 2008 through 2010. Lemon and honey scents float from the glass, and cashew, chamomile and honey flavors are carried to a long, pleasing finish. I suspect the full, round texture is from the reserve wine of the warm 2009 vintage. 88 points. Price range is a very reasonable $30 to $43.

Another good value is the 1998 Arlaux Champagne. From a year of mixed results, Arlaux made a richly flavored Champagne from equal parts pinot meunier, pinot noir and chardonnay. Captivating lemon-thyme and apple aromas, and succulent Gala apple, honey and lemon flavors are packaged in a full body with a lingering finish. 92 points. This Champagne is a bargain at $65 to $85.

In legalese, COGEVI is the corporate name of Champagne Collet, a nearly century-old cooperative founded by Raoul Collet. Only grapes from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards are used in Champagne Collet.


The nonvintage Champagne Collet Brut Art Deco is a blend of 40 percent each chardonnay and pinot noir, and 20 percent pinot meunier. Its medium body is built around an apple and pear compote that will appeal to those who normally find Champagne too acidic. 89 points.  Price range is a very reasonable $30 to $43.

Philippe Gonet Champagne is not a new acquaintance, but it’s been a number of years since I enjoyed its company. The label of the nonvintage Philippe Gonet 3210 Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut could be a CIA entrance exam: deciphering the 3210 numeric reveals three years aging on the lees (the spent yeast cells and microscopic grape particles), which added richness; two vineyard sources (50 percent each Le Mesnil and Montgueux); one grape (chardonnay), and zero dosage (the sugar liquor added to most Champagnes).

If you passed the test and tasted the Champagne, you discovered wonderfully rich lemon and Granny Smith apple aromas and flavors mounted on a full body, and braced with the famed minerality of the Le Mesnil vineyard. The three years aging on its lees gave this Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut a round, full mouthfeel that is as rewarding as its moderate price. 91 points.  $62 to $90.

Old Friends:
As a preview to the holiday season, professional wine writers in New York take special pleasure in tasting and consuming Champagnes during December. The first Wednesday of the month is the annual Wine Media Guild Champagne luncheon. As a member, I always look forward to this event; this year it was devoted to Blanc de Blancs Champagnes. Fellow member and author of Champagne for Dummies, Ed McCarthy organized the event and spoke about each of the 17 champagnes.

Blanc de Blancs is the term for Champagne made only from chardonnay. The best of which comes from the Grand Cru vineyards Le Mesnil, Avize, Oger and Cramant, all in the Cote des Blancs district south of Epernay.

Two weeks after the Wine Media Guild event, the New York Wine Press, held its holiday Champagne luncheon focused on vintage Champagnes. Once more, Ed McCarthy organized and spoke about each of the 12 sparklers.

The combined 29 Champagnes were from producers I’ve known for years. From the two tastings, my favorite old friends’ newest wines were:

The 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs was my preference at both luncheons. The 2006 is a great vintage: September makes the vintage is a common expression among winemakers. And the Champagne region had a near perfect September of sunny, warm weather. After a successful spring flowering and a hot July, August brought a lot of rain. But towards the end of the month, clouds gave way to sunshine and weeks of dry, warm weather prevented rot from developing in the grapes. Chardonnay fared best, making it an ideal vintage for blanc de blancs.

Anyone with an interest in Champagne should have wines from this vintage in their cellar, and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs should be first in line. I’ve been collecting Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs for decades. This year, I opened marvelous bottles from 1995 and 1996; the former’s honey and hazelnut character was exquisite, the latter still youthfully rich.


Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1995 earlier this year on my balcony

Taittinger’s 2006 Comtes de Champagne’s citrus and pear aromas, and delicious fruit flavors, mineral backbone, integrated acidity and full-body delivers richness and elegance. Nearly irresistible now, those with the discipline to leave it in the cellar for at least five years will be rewarded with added complexity. And the solution for the undisciplined? Buy more. 98 points.  It pays to research retailers as prices range from a remarkably good value $115 to a non-competitive $200.

Henriot is another Champagne I adore and have multiple vintages of in my cellar. The 2006 Henriot Millesime Brut will find a place there, too. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, it is richly scented and flavored. While pleasing now, Henriot always gets better with age. 92 points.  Prices range from $74 to $100.

Founded in 1584, Gosset is the oldest producer in Champagne. The nonvintage Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs stands out as one of the few Champagnes not undergoing malolactic fermentation-the process that changes the grape’s natural tart malic acid (think green apple), to a softer lactic acid (think milk). But bypassing malolactic fermentation does not mean the wine is astringent.

The nonvintage Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs has an enticing ginger and citrus aroma with a rich, citrus cream texture and flavor. It’s supported by a brisk minerality, which gives this excellent Champagne a long, lingering finish. 93 points.  It pays to shop around as prices range from $60 to $100.

Sturia Caviar:
And what would New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day be without a mother of pearl spoonful or two of caviar?

During this millennium, the hunting of wild black sturgeon for harvesting caviar eggs was prohibited by international treaties. In its place, aquafarms have sprouted from California to Chile and Europe to Asia. As a lover of caviar, I’ve tasted many. One of the best is Sturia Caviar.


Sturia caviar tin with declarations on back.

Founded in 1986, Sturia’s six aquafarms are in Aquitaine, north of Bordeaux. While famed for its wine, Bordeaux has a history of sturgeon fishing in the estuary of the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne rivers that divide the City of Bordeaux and border its vineyards. Sturia aquafarms built on that foundation.

In place of the traditional caviar classification based on the species of the sturgeon: Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga, Sturia uses the maturity of the eggs of its Siberian sturgeon: Primeur (a few weeks of maturation), Vintage (up to eight months of maturation), Origin (more than 8 months of maturation), and Oscietra (three to eight months maturation). All the caviar is made using the traditional Malossol method, meaning it is lightly salted.

I found all four Sturia caviars flavorful, clean and fresh. I was especially pleased with the Vintage and Oscietra’s larger eggs, creamy texture, rich flavors and absence of saltiness. The Origin was also richly flavored with slightly smaller eggs. The primeur showed its youthfulness with lighter flavor and a higher saline taste.  All the caviars paired very well with the nonvintage Arlaux Grand Cuvee Bruit.


The Sturia Caviars are available online at and are shipped from New York. And the caviars can be found in Le District market in Manhattan’s Brookfield Place; and in Colorado at Le Frigo in Boulder, and Franck Thirion French Pastry Shop in Aspen.

Happy New Year!