The Age of Champagne

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Stand at the seashore or by the fogbank of a fragrant forest and the aromas of place will seem to be the concentrated essence of sea-spray or pine. This is more than just romantic fancy because the tiny water droplets of a fog can contain supersaturated solutions of aromatic compounds.

Thanks to the research of Prof. Gérard Liger-Belair at the University of Reims in Champagne, the same can now also be said of the world’s finest sparkling wine. The droplets of Champagne carried along by bubbles have a concentration of aromas that is greater than those present in the whole of the wine itself.

As to the formation and the conservation of bubbles, there are several factors that set Champagne apart. Temperature is first. Champagne has some of the coolest cellars in Europe and lower temperatures allow for a greater concentration of C02 in solution during the prise de mousse, the second (in-bottle) fermentation that brings the bubbles and is followed by a lengthy lees-aging.

Champagne is one of the few regions that regularly lees-ages select wines for stretches of years, even decades. During that time, these special bottlings are able to both gain complexity (autolysis of lees) and to retain freshness (anti-oxidative power of CO2). Tasting Champagne that has aged on-site, under pristine conditions of temperature and humidity, is one of the wine world’s great joys.

The Champenois have been granted another path to powerfully complex, refreshingly uplifting, and age-worthy wines. The blending of new vintages with reserve wines is one of the high arts in Champagne and the results can be sublime.

The following wines are some of the most exceptional Champagnes we have ever carried. Beginning with the under-heralded wines of Jacques Beaufort, whose decades long commitment to organic and biodynamic farming has yielded some of the most fine and filigreed late disgorgement Champagnes. Followed by the much loved and buzzed about wines of Raphaël Bérèche and Maison Bérèche with its range of Crus Sélectionnés, lieux-dits bottlings that are standard-bearer expressions of the varying terroirs of the region.

Counterpointed, by the broad, sometimes brooding, Dégorgement Tardif (DT) wines of Jacquesson, helmed by Laurent and Jean-Hervé Chiquet, who are discretely guiding this historic house towards organic viticulture. Ending with the numinous wines of Anselme Selosse, who firmly believes in the vital role of reserve wines in his single-vineyard bottlings. Time has gifted each of these wines with enough vitality and complexity to be both rarefied pleasures now and for years to come.

David Salinas

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Beaufort 1996 Champagne Grand Cru Ambonnay

It is a gift to have access to recently disgorged wine from such an extraordinary vintage. Almost 18 years spent on the lees before disgorgement (August 2014) add textural depth, but are barely perceptible aromatically; an expansive but precise bouquet of tallow, mountain honey and marzipan carry over to the palate, along with acidulous lemon and ripe stone-fruit. Wholly possessed of the striking contrast between ripeness, acidity and salinity that is the hallmark of the vintage; a little bit of oxygen exposure won’t hurt, nor will another decade in the cellar. -jmw

1996 has proven to be a banner vintage in Champagne, Jacques Beaufort's blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from his Grand Cru Ambonnay vineyards is a prime example. Light golden yellow and color and discretely moussed, the aromas begin with ripe red peaches, molasses, and honeysuckle before expanding to lighty toasted bread, graham crackers, Red D'Anjou pears, and dark chocolate. An impeccably poised palate is held by a backbone of minerality and verve that speaks of lemongrass, white tea, and a finish of fresh blueberries and cream. (Disgorged 8/2014, Lot n. 96A). David Salinas

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
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  • no discount
  • $139.99

  • Biodynamic

Maison Bérêche 1999 Champagne "Côte" 1.5 L

Another excellent selection from Raphaël Bérèche's négociant project, this is a long-lees-aged magnum of Côte des Blancs Chardonnay. It's rich wine with notes of almond pastry and sweet cream on the nose and front palate. On the mid-palate and finish, however, the wine is all acid and chalky mineral precision. It's a full-flavored yet elegant Champagne that is nicely representative of a style of bigger-boned Côte des Blancs Chardonnay with age. Who says you need a party to have a magnum? MSB

Some wines speak both to the head and the heart. Sixteen years of lees aging have resulted in a towering Blanc de Blancs that is just flat out delicious. Multiple trains of micro-bubbles rise through a dusky golden yellow profile that offers star fruit, orange blossom, lemon soufflé with nutmeg, lime blossom, and hyacinth. The palate is expansive and electric with great veins of minerality, followed by a growing creaminess and a lingering finish of blood orange zest, brown sugar, and a lip-smacking chalkiness (Disgorged 1/15, Dosage 2g). David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • $229.99

Jacquesson NV Champagne Extra-Brut Cuvée 733 Dégorgement Tardif (09/13)

Eight years of aging on the lees have helped make this late disgorgement Champagne into a brooding beauty. The 733 DT is mostly based on the 2005 vintage, along with 22% of reserve wine in the mix, and its varietal blend is 53% Chardonnay followed by equal parts of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Deep straw yellow and with a generous mousse, the nose keeps a smokiness throughout that is peppered with aromas of tobacco leaf, pumpkin spice, chestnuts, and dark-roasted coffee. The palate is broad and powerful, showing notes of spiced pears and hazelnuts before a mocha and umami finish. The weight and chewy concentration of this wine could allow for more aging, but it is certainly ready to be paired with a range of game dishes. (Disgorged 9/2013, Dosage 2.5 g) David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • $179.99

Jacquesson 1995 Champagne Extra-Brut Dégorgement Tardif (02/2014)

One of only 350 bottles and based exclusively on the 1995 vintage, this late disgorgement Grand Cru Champagne (55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir) has spent nearly 20 years on its lees. Light copper with golden hues and starred by a super fine bead, the nose is layered and detailed, beginning with apple blossom, jasmine, and clove. It then expands to Doyenne pear, white truffle, and nutmeg before a ringing finish of deeply roasted Hojicha tea. A Champagne of complexity, power, and grace that rewards the patient by reinventing itself with time in a glass. (Disgorged 2/2014, Zero Dosage). David Salinas

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Selosse NV Champagne Blanc de Noirs Sous le Mont disgorged 2014

Grown from a single 7.5ha Pinot Noir Premier Cru vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, on the eastern facing slope of the same hill as the venerable Clos des Goisses, Anselme believes that the magnesium carbonate in the soil of this site gives the wine a savory quality. Light copper in color and adorned by a discrete and finely beaded mousse, the nose offers aromas of dried rose petals, cardamom, smoked venison, grilled almonds and hops. The palate is powerful and carried aloft by a mineral frame with notes of black licorice and cloves that shimmer to a bitter mint chocolate finish. (Disgorged 2/2014, Dosage 2g). David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • no discount
  • $349.99