by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
November 25, 2008

Five Memorable Champagne Moments in 2008

To jumpstart my champagne recommendations for this year, here are some bubbly highlights from 2008. All of these wines blew me away, but what made them equally special were the company and settings in which I had them. With more bubbly suggestions and tales to come from now till just before the New Year, this is just the start. Look for “Choice Bubblies for a Thin Wallet” next.

1. Varnier-Fannière Brut Zero Grand Cru NV
Village: Avize (Grand Cru), Côtes des Blancs; Blend: 100% Chardonnay; Style: Brut Zero; Attributes: Steely, structured, balanced, clean, elegant.

First Impression: Joyful.

The Moment: December 19, 2007 (Okay, so I’m cheating; this wasn’t 2008, but I never got to write about this wine and it’s top on my list). Globus Wine Company, Shanghai. Pre-dinner drinks with French and Russian champagne enthusiasts — François Lemmonier, Chairman of the Shanghai Wine Society, and Alexy and Galina Poznyakov, owners of Globus — in a chic neighborhood of the French Concession during the holiday season. I served it again a few days before New Year’s at home with my parents in Taipei.

Pairings: At home in Taipei, uni dressed with olive oil and lemon juice served on toast. Also try, succulent raw oysters.

Context: I’d drink this in my happiest moments. If it were available in NYC, I’d have it as my house aperitif. Everyone who walks through my door would get a glass as a welcome!

Where to find it:
SHANGHAI: Globus Wine Company (RMB$498 , ~$73) 86-21-5465-2774.

2. Jose Dhondt NV
Village: Oger (Grand Cru), Côtes des Blanc; Blend: 100% Chardonnay; Style: Blanc de Blancs; Attributes: Seamlessly balanced, exhilarating, seductive, acidity intact and piercing.

Impressions: Racy.

The Moment: March 8, 2008. Savoy, NYC. A lunch date with Rollin and Corby Soles, owners of Argyle Winery visiting from Oregon, and their friend Patrick Cullina, VP of Horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. While pouring cold rain outside, we were in the fire-lit upstairs dining room, an incredibly cozy and intimate setting with the best story sharing, completely safe from the torrential weather outside. We enjoyed a complete champagne meal.

Pairings: At Savoy, handmade garganelli with house-smoked ham, English peas, dried chili and Parmesan. Also try, any pasta or other comfort food, a poultry entrée.

Context: I think of this wine a lot: it’s like a love affair. Perfect to have at Savoy because they serve the type of food I’d want with it: local, fresh and simple. My worst nightmare would be to have this wine with some fancy or heavy food in the wrong type of restaurant.

Where to find it:
NEW YORK: Savoy ($46/half-bottle) 212-219-8570; Cookshop ($102/bottle) 212-924-4440; 67 Wines & Spirits ($50) 212-724-6767.

3. Delamotte Rosé NV
Village: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (Grand Cru), Côte des Blancs; Blend: 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay; Style: Rosé; Attributes: Elegant, subtlety, pronounced minerality, hints of red fruits, made in the rare saignée method, drinks like a white burgundy.

First Impression: Delicate.

The Moment: October 10, 2008. A suite in the newly-opened Thompson LES hotel in New York. A by-appointment, trade-only tasting with Jean-Baptiste Cristini, Director of Export for Salon/Delamotte, and members of Wilson Daniels, their importer. Cristini, who exudes knowledge and passion for champagne, is a charmer with an approachable personality. And kudos for the event planning; the choice of hotel relaxed what could have otherwise been a stuffy event had it been hosted at, say, the St. Regis or some other midtown establishment. It was a laidback but focused way to present the Delamotte portfolio and the latest release of the 1997 Salon.

Pairings: Try it with raw seafood or a lightly seasoned cooked seafood dish.

Context: I’d want to enjoy this with like-minded lovers of champagne. Definitely not for mindless sipping, this is a wine worth savoring and discussing. And I would definitely want to handpick the company with whom I’d do this.

Where to find it:
NEW YORK: Acker Merrall & Condit ($85) 212-787-1700.

4. Jacques Selosse Contraste NV
Village: Avize (Grand Cru), Côtes des Blancs; Blend: 100% Pinot Noir (Successive vintages of Pinot from Aÿ and Ambonnay); Style: Blanc de Noirs; Attributes: Assertive but not overpowering or aggressive; poised and restrained.

First Impression: Pleasantly disconcerting.

The Moment: October 28, 2008. Eleven Madison, NYC. A rare champagne dinner with Anselme and Corine Selosse and other wine industry professionals and enthusiasts Anselme, a cult-status winemaker, does not fly around on marketing trips several times a year. Even booking an appointment with him in Champagne is a feat. Similarly atypical is his blanc de noirs Contraste, especially for a Selosse, known as a producer of Chardonnay-based wines. A celebratory wine and Anselme’s first experience with black grapes, it is a powerful wine, in line with Selosse’s philosophy and style, yet it is restrained. And perhaps because of Anselme’s usual focus, this wine drank as if it were made with white grapes in mind. I love how this wine threw me off.

Pairings: At Eleven Madison, lobster bisque with chestnuts and crème fraîche. Also try, any rich seafood dish but avoid spiciness and saltiness.

Context: This is a fine-dining wine. I’d want to have it with refined cuisine in a spacious, single-seating restaurant. I don’t care when it comes in the course of my meal, as I see it being an accompaniment to either the start or finish of the repast.

Where to find it:
PARIS: ($370) 33-556-680-545

5. 1983 Alfred Gratien
Village: Epernay, Champagne; Blend: 61% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 6% Pinot Meunier; Style: Vintage; Attributes: Rich, nutty, truffley, mature, complex.

First Impression: Vibrant.

The Moment: March 20, 2008. The Modern, New York. Meeting up with two Alfred Gratien contacts — Adam Lower, export manager visiting from France, and Geoffroy Ducroux from the local importer side. I had just finished a cyn-et-vin champagne tasting for a client and rushed uptown for this rather glorious night of champagne feasting. It’s not every day that a girl gets to savor a vintage champagne from three decades ago at the end of the workday, even a champagne girl. And the company was more than welcoming. This older wine jumped out at me as it tasted so fresh for its age. Yet after the initial shock, I picked up on the layers of roasted nuts and truffle. It drank so well, which reminded me that when a reputable house declares a vintage in an off year, they do it with confidence. This wine is showing better than a lot of 1990s (which are reaching their peak).

Pairings: At The Modern, Tarte Flambée, an Alsatian tart with crème fraîche, onion and smoked bacon. Also try, any other mushroom or bacon-inspired dishes.

Context: For those who love older champagnes or champagne with vinous qualities. To be savored slowly in a relaxed atmosphere.

Where to find it:
NEW YORK: Lure Fish Bar ($595/bottle) 212-431-7676; Martin Brothers ($270) 212-222-8218.

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