Vintage Surprises

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
May 27, 2008

Park Avenue Liquor Shop
292 Madison Ave
(40th & 41st Sts)
New York, NY 10017
(1996 Palmes d’Or: $140; 2000 Palmes d’Or: $200)

How could I turn down an occasion to taste vertical vintages of a tête de cuvée (the top of the line of a champagne house)? Especially when it’s hosted at Alain Ducasse’s Adour. So I happily accepted the invitation this April for a Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or luncheon.

I was fortunate to be seated at the same table as the preeminent champagne specialist in the U.S., Ed McCarthy, as well as the master blender behind the day’s wines, winemaker Jean-Pierre Vincent.

Our comprehensive tasting included: 2000 Palmes d’Or rosé, and Palmes d’Or vintages 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1990 and 1985.

It was no surprise that I enjoyed the 1996 tremendously given the stellar vintage it came from. I was surprised, however, by two things. First was my fondness for the 1992, which was served from a magnum. This was only the second 1992 I’d tasted from a champagne house. The other being the Clos des Goisses from Philipponnat. The remarkable thing is that while this vintage is overall very weakly regarded, the few houses that did make wines in 1992, namely Bollinger’s prized Vieilles Vignes and Vilmart’s Coeur de Cuvée, far exceeded expectations. So I’m beginning to see that when trusted producers declare a vintage from an off year, never doubt them. The second surprise was that cellar master Jean-Pierre uses the traditional saignée (skin-contact) method to make his rosé. This is rare today as it is labor intensive and difficult to control the resulting color. For the 2000 rosé, Jean-Pierre actually slept next to the batch to make sure the Pinot Noir skin didn’t impart “too much” color. For this wine, he used Pinot from Les Riceys — known for their still rosé made in Champagne — and Bouzy. This is no whimpy rosé.

While Adour should have been the big draw next to the champagnes, I have to say the wines outshined the cuisine exponentially (except for the exquisite sweetbread “meunière” dish). But the overall experience — the wine, the company, and the jewel-like setting — was unparalleled.

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