Every year in early December, the Wine Media Guild of New York’s monthly luncheon tasting features prestige cuvée Champagnes, the best of the best French Champagnes. This is always the year’s most popular tasting. Hosted by “Champagne for Dummies” author Ed McCarthy (himself, no dummy at all), this group of journalists (myself included) loses all its usual professional restraint in enjoying these uniquely enticing wines.
Last year, one of my favorites among the group, Brian Freedman, was giddy not only from the wines; he was also expecting the birth of his first child at any moment. This year, he was ready to celebrate again: It was his daughter’s first birthday. She already has a discriminating palate, favoring dry, complex red wines (tasted from Daddy’s finger). Cheap merlot makes her scream.
My own delight in the wines can be sensed from my notes, below. I only felt like screaming when all three courses at lunch featured salmon: smoked salmon with mayonnaise; pasta with salmon in cream sauce; roasted salmon on whipped potatoes. But no Billecart-Salmon Champagne! And this was a $65 lunch at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s famous eatery. Maybe the chef was tippling, too.
As for the wines, any one of these would make an outstanding contribution to Christmas or New Year’s. In order of tasting:
1. 2002 Ayala, La Perle d’Ayala Nature, $150. A light and elegant style: nutty, pure, austere, sophisticated, delicious.
2. NV Alfred Gratien, Cuvée Paradis, $130. From a small house with a particular style. To me, it was tightly wrought, with a singular acidity, quite phenolic, definitely a food wine.
3. 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, $130. Scrumptiously delicious, with floral, lemon aromas. Very pure, like looking into a deep pool and seeing a reflection of someone more beautiful than oneself.
4. 2002 Perrier-Jouet, Fleur de Champagne, $165. Too soft for my taste; designed for movie stars, I suppose. Slightly herbaceous. Like a friend who will gossip behind your back.
5. 2002 Piper-Heidsieck, Rare, $180. Ed McCarthy was impressed with this but I found it to be a repressed old lady in satin and pearls. Dickens’ Miss Havisham?
6. 2004 Louis Roederer, Cristal, $200. The hip-hop world’s favorite. I didn’t want to love it but was enchanted. Of all the wines I tasted, it was the most exquisitely balanced, full of complex, perfect harmonies; a vivacious wine with the intricate quality of a Bach sonata. Forget hip-hop.
7. 1998 G.H. Mumm, Cuvée Rene LaLou, $175. I was disappointed by the bubblegum quality of this august bottle.
8. 1998 Gosset, Célébris, $160. Ed McCarthy thought this wine was still young, but I found it somewhat oxidized. However, I did enjoy its perfumed, walnutty aroma and delightfully creamy mouth feel.
9. NV Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle, $120. A monolithic, clumsy, yeasty entry. It lacked distinction.
10. 1999 Deutz, Cuvée William Deutz, $175: This brand is owned by Roederer. Many at the tasting loved it, but I found it tired, with a distinct bruised apple aroma that put me off.
11. 1999 Pol Roger, Cuvée Winston Churchill, $200. I am a huge fan of Pol Roger’s wines. This is Pol’s flagship (battleship?), carrying Churchill’s blessing. It had a nuanced yeastiness, slightly reductive in a yin-yang dynamic with its clean, bright and fresh side. The finish was a bit sweet for me, but I suppose Winnie needed that to offset the aftertaste of his cigars.
12. 1995 Bruno Paillard, N.P.U., $240. This was not to everyone’s taste, but I found it round and vibrant, full of life, with a distinctive butterscotch and cream quality.
13. 1995 Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires, $190. Always a great wine. This one had chardonnay blooming all the way to the bank, with a delicious, tangy approach and a huge, broad finish.
14. 1995 Henriot, Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, $150. Truly enchanting; a rich, opulent wine in gorgeous balance, cushy like a pasha’s pillow. We all tried to steal the last bottle for our tables.
15. 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs, $80. In this context, an incredible bargain. This brilliant wine, by a pioneering biodynamic grower-producer, has a distinctively deep flavor and high energy, wonderfully textured and creamy. It’s a paean to Mother Earth.
16. 2004 Nicolas Feuillate Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs, $40. This was not part of the lunch; it’s from one of Epernay’s best and largest producers, sent to me as a sample. Accessible for its price and lovely, fresh lime and pear aromas; highly quaffable.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.