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Cyn's Favorite Champagnes in 2006

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
November 1, 2006

Tarlant NV ($42)
Chelsea Wine Vault: 212-462-4244
Chambers Street Wines: 212-227-1434

The driest style of champagne, brut zero, is an acquired taste. However, if you get hooked, you’ll stay hooked. I shared my first encounter with this wine in last month’s Sipping. Since my first taste, I have definitely grown a strong liking for this bone-dry style of bubbly. I learned about Tarlant, a producer from Oeilly — note that many champagne village names end with a “y” — in an article, and was fascinated that half of this house’s entire production is of the brut zero style. This particular wine is a classic blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The addition of oak-aged reserve wine rounds it off, providing the wine with good structure and a long finish. It is incredibly pure and well-integrated. To put it simply, I couldn’t get enough of it. I had it with a simple pasta the first night, then finished off the entire bottle the next day with a Thai rice dish right before flying off to Shanghai. Irresistible!

Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée ($40)
Suburban Wine & Liquor Store: 800-962-9478
Grapes The Wine Company: 914-967-9245

This signature wine from the house of Bruno Paillard is consistently a joy in a glass. Bruno Paillard, one of my favorite champagne figures, launched his own champagne house in the 1980s and has done so much for the industry in such a short time. Paillard champagnes take extra care in labeling — on the backside of each bottle figures the date of the disgorgement (removal of the sediments), since after this process it is optimal to consume the wine between three months to three years. Champagne aficionados love this type of precise information. Since champagne is very much about the idea of assemblage (blending), the goal is to create a harmonious and well-balanced wine. That is exactly what this wine delivers time and again. A delicate wine made only with la cuvée (grapes from the first pressing; the best batch), this light style of brut evokes citrus and honey, all wrapped into one. I enjoyed it recently alongside an herb salad with goat cheese.

Henriot Rosé ($50)
67 Wines & Spirits: 212-724-6767
Sherry-Lehmann: 212-838-7500

I discovered this wine at a private event at Morimoto, the restaurant named after its star, Iron Chef. The drink of the night was a very addictive martini with refreshing cucumber slices. While the martinis were surely tasty, I couldn’t resist checking out the champagne list (surprise, surprise!). I had my first taste of the Henriot rosé that night with a couple of fried mini curry breads. Let’s just say that this cocktail-time pairing is still fresh in my mind. I love the elegance of Henriot’s coppery tone rosé. This wine is almost equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with 30% of reserve wines from different past vintages. It is aged for two years on lees (dead yeast cells), resulting in a beautifully structured wine with tastes of matured red berries. During my last Murray’s champagne and cheese class, we paired it next to an atypical blue cheese from Vermont, Bayley Hazen of Jasper Hill, and it was my favorite pairing of the night.

1996 Jacquesson Grand Cru Avize ($70)
Columbus Circle Wine: 212-247-0764
Zachys: 800-723-0241

This wine has signs of a winner written all over it: a top producer, a stellar vintage, and a single-village wine from one of the greatest Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs. I was so excited when I first spotted it, and the tasting that proceeded just confirmed my enthusiasm. With an incredibly vivacious mouthfeel, this one-hundred percent Chardonnay bubbly tastes like an old Burgundy. I have noticed that I have a particular liking for single-village champagnes which really reveals the terroir. This wine comes from three “lieux-dits” (parcels) in Avize: La Fosse, Némery, and Champ Caïn. This is also a brut zero champagne, but the partial oak ageing and maturity of the grapes leave no room for piercing acidity. Rather, it is layers of nuts and truffles, and then some more.

1990 Dom Ruinart Rosé ($210)
Zachys: 800-723-0241

Savory might not be a term you associate with champagne, but that is my most immediate reaction to this wine. And, I mean it as a big compliment. I tasted this wine alongside Ruinart’s venerable cellar master, Jean-Philippe Moulin. Somehow one-on-one tastings with the winemaker are really my favorite exercises since my level of concentration and understanding is heightened many times over at these occasions. Cognac in tone, the wine is infused with flavors of cooked plum. This Grand Cru wine dates from the highly-coveted 1990 vintage (still my favorite vintage of the last decade), and shows its age well in both the depth of the color and the rich taste of the slightly savory wine. Jean-Philippe and I happily imagined all the good dishes this wine would pair well with, and we dreamed of Moroccan pigeon pastilla, Chinese caramelized duck, and ginger-flavored desserts. This wine struck home so hard, the taste still lingers in my mind.

Bollinger R.D. 95 ($175)
Crush Wine & Spirits: 212-980-WINE
Astor Wines & Spirits: 212-674-7500

As you may know, I am a true die-hard blanc de blancs girl. Give me a pure Chardonnay champagne any day, and I could ask for nothing more. At one point though, I started to feel that I was missing out on a whole world of great Pinot Noir-heavy bubblies. Although it is rare to come by a one-hundred percent black grape champagne, blanc de noirs, some of the most coveted champagnes are in this style. Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Françaises being a prime example. It was actually the famed house of Bollinger that opened me up to the heavier and luscious style of champagne made predominately of black grapes. I started drinking Bollinger since you can easily find it by the glass in Shanghai. So, I would order it just because it was so widely available and also because it is such a treat to find it by the glass. It’s unheard of in Manhattan. Then, it happened, I was converted.

The R.D. 95 (R.D. stands for recently disgorged) is sumptuous. The whole point of the R.D. wines is the long ageing process and disgorging right before the wine is released. These wines can age anywhere from eight to twenty years before being released. Talk about complexity and structure. I recently enjoyed this wine alongside Shida’s remarkable Taiwanese cuisine. It really lived up to the heavier meat dishes, just like an older white Burgundy would.

Note: Prices will vary depending on the retailer.

More Fantastic Champagnes from Last Year’s List:
Holiday Toasting: Cyn’s Champagne Picks (Dec 05)

Favorite NYC Spots for Champagnes by the Glass:
Gramercy Tavern
The Modern

Past Sparkling Articles in Sipping*:*
Champagne by the Glass at Pearl Oyster Bar (May 05)
Lieb Family Cellars’ Pinot Blanc: Flat or Fizz? (July 05)
The World of Champagne Seen from the Inside Out (Oct 05)
Parker on Champagne: What’s in a Vintage? (Nov 05)
Parisian Bistrots à Vin (Apr 06)
Sparkles Everywhere (Oct 06)

All champagne enthusiasts: Please write in with your favorite champagnes, and I will post a list for New Year’s!

Want to learn more?
Sign up for future champagne class/event or hire cyn-et-vin to host your next champagne event!

Cheers to all!

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