My Pick for 2007 – Gosset Grande Millesime Brut 1999
For anyone who read my previous posting regarding the recent Annual Champagne Bash at Binny’s in Naperville may have already drawn the obvious conclusion that I have a deep passion for Champagne. I’m not a big drinker in general, but when it comes to these amazing wines whose origin can be traced back in history to a mistake made by a humble monk named Dom Perignon, I maintain a small collection and have little problem chilling a bottle for most any occaision, including the periodical mundane weekend evening at home. Even more, when dining out with others I love to pick a bottle for the table to enjoy, especially those who have never tried truly good champagne.
My earliest memory of champagne can be drawn back to my childhood when my parents would allow the children to have a sip of the sparkling wonder on New Years Eve. Moving forward in my life, I’ll never forget standing on a frozen third story roof watching fireworks and drinking champagne in Concord, N.H. during a campaign celebration when I worked on 1992 presdential campaign trail. Upon moving to Chicago, I discovered Pops for Champagne and the rest is history. Over the past nine years, I’ve lost track of the countless champagne houses and styles I have had the good fortune to enjoy. I’ve traveled to the Champagne region in France and truly had the pleasure of tasting champagne at the actual cellars of their origin.
Thus, when it comes to recommending what I consider to be the perfect bottle of champagne for a special occaision, such as the holiday season, I like to think that I might be able to share my own experience with others. While individual tastes and presence vary, I love when I find wines which would most likely suit any pallet. While I’ve tried many of the most expensive champagnes of many different vintages, the most expensive is not typically what the average person would consider the best tasting champagne. In fact, many of the very high end champagnes are so complex and bold that it requires a connoisseur to truly enjoy them.
For those who may not understand why champagne tends to be more expensive than regular wine should consider the beauty and artistry of the champagne-making process in and of itself. First, champagne consists of a blend of the three primary wine grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The wine is blended and put through a second fermentation process in which sugar and yeast are added. Great champagnes from the actual region in France are then left to age in the darkness and solitude of very old and often historic sub-terreranian chalk cellars which carry a constant year-round temperature of I believe around 50 degrees Farenheit. Hand-crafted wines may be aged in oak barrels before being bottled for fermentation and additional aging. Once bottled, each bottle is turned periodically by one method or another to keep the sugar and yeast from settling. When their time comes, the necks of the bottles are frozen and the yeast mixture is removed and the bottles sealed with their familiar cork. The finest of champagnes are often hand-crafted with the process being handled indvidually versus the lower end champagnes which are created through more of a manufacturing process.
Ever wonder what vintage, non-vintage and grand cru mean? My understanding is the grapes which are used to create champagne are drawn from one or more vineyards within the champagne reigon. The grapes of a harvest may or may not be considered a vintage year based upon the growing/weather conditions. Thus, not all years are vintage years. Even vintage years are rated, hence the expression “it was a great vintage year”. Predictably, supply and demand helps as well as quality of blend dictate the ultimate price. The very best grapes of a harvest are referred to as “grand cru” and are reserved for the best wines and carry a slightly higher price.
A non-vintage champagne, as you might guess, is created from a blend of two or more years, meaning the grapes cannot be traced to a single vintage year. Sometimes, the best vintage grapes/wines are blended together to create what are often called multi-vintage or “reserve” champagnes, such as Gosset Grande Reserve. The main difference between a vintage and non-vintage champagne is quality of grapes and balance in the overall blend.
I never thought much about these differences until the first time I had a chance to try the non-vintage,vintage and reserve wines side-by-side from a particular champagne house.
Finally, if you are trying to determine what types of champagnes you might like the best, consider the blend. In other words, consider the % blend of the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. A champagne consisting of all chardonnay grapes is called a “blanc de blanc” and one which consists of all pinot noir, pinot meunier or a blend of both is called a “blanc de noir”. If you like sweet wines, go for the extra dry or a demi-sec. If your preference is wines which are not sweet, consider a brut or extra brut wine.
Beyond the wine-making process is often a deep and sometimes romantic history surrounding the story, culture and tradition of the oldest of champagne houses which have endured tragedy and triumph tracing back as far as the 1500s. Consider the story of Vueve Clicquot which was actually run by a woman, Madam Clicquot or “La Grande Dame”, in the early 1800s when it was unheard of for women to be engaged in the champagne business. During World War II and the German occupation of France, Nazi forces took control of the cellars of many champagne houses. Rather than resist, the champagne houses allowed the soldiers to drink from the cellars freely, knowing that one day after the war ended they would develop a taste for French champagne which would convert them to paying customers.
The amazing thing is when you drink champagne aged for years in the historic cellars of one of these champagne houses, it’s almost as though you are tasting history. Then you consider the time and passion which goes into the time-honored process and you begin to develop a better understanding for the prices and celebratory romanticism behind this timeless beverage. Thirsty yet?
Thus brings us to my pick for this year, Gosset Champagne (Ay, France), in particular Gosset’s Grande Millesime Brut 1999. Though Gosset is considered to be the oldest champagne house in France, founded in 1584, they remain one of the smallest producers of “luxury” champagnes turning out just over 1 million bottles for worldwide consumption each year. Compare that with the annual production of 26 million bottles produced by Moet & Chandon. What this means is if you come across a bottle of Gosset here in the Chicago area, especially their vintage offerings, grab it! According to Gosset’s North American importer, Palm Bay Imports, Gosset is rare in most parts of the country but they devote a good supply to the Chicago marketplace.
Though Gosset is considered a “luxury” champagne, I find their pricing for the quality of wines they offer, given their small production, to be excellent compared to other perennial brands such as Krug. The Grande Millesime Brut 1999 is priced in the mid-$70 range for an “outstanding” vintage wine which I found to be extraordinarily smooth, balanced and rich in flavor with a finish that goes on-and-on-and-on. The “bouquet” or fragrance of the wine will leave you feeling peacefully entranced. Simply put, this is one of those champagnes that you won’t soon forget. In general, I find the Gosset wines, including the Gosset Grande Reserve Multi-Vintage, to taste like a much more expensive champagne though they mostly run under the $100 mark. Share a couple of bottles with loved ones during this holiday season and the memories will not soon be forgotten. I have mine downstairs ready to go.
If you are looking to spend slightly less, somewhere in the $50-$60 range, I strongly recommend the Gosset Grande Reserve which is a blend of 3 vintage years with a degree of flavor and complexity which will amaze you. I’ve had the Grande Reserve on a number of occaisions and am never disappointed. Gosset also makes an even less expensive non-vintage Brut Excellence wine, which is a bit fruitier than it’s more sophisticated siblings. My recommendation, if you are going to spend the $40+ dollars on a bottle of Gosset Brut Excellence, make the jump in spending just a few more dollars for the Grande Reserve or splurge on the vintage Grande Millesime as, in my estimation, they are substantially better.
Looking for Gosset in Naperville? Check Binny’s Beverage Depot of Naperville (790 Royal St. George
Cress Creek Square Shopping Center, 630-717-0100 of www.binnys.com .
How Gosset won my heart? The reason I love Gosset champagne can be traced to my first experience when my wife and I enjoyed a bottle of their Grande Rose while playing scrabble in an open-air cafe in Reims, France. We’d been traveling like crazy for over a week and just looking to sit and relax. I was blown away by Gosset. To be sure it wasn’t just a fluke, I expanded over the years to trying the Grande Reserve and became even more excited. When I finally tried the Millesime at the Champagne Bash, I did not hestitate in buying a bottle. When you add on the top of that the history and tradition of the Gosset Champagne house, you cannot help but fall in love.
Beyond Gosset, if you are wondering what else I have in my make-shift cellar downstairs, here’s what you would find: Vueve Clicquot Vintage 1998, Krug Grand Cuvee, Bollinger Special Cuvee, Gosset Grande Reserve, Gosset Grande Millesime 1999, Bruno Paillard Premier Cuvee Brut, Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2000.
Should the good people from Gosset or Palm Bay Imports happen to read this posting, please help me find a bottle of Gosset Celebris Extra Brut 1998 to add to the collection. Based on what I’ve read, I’m anxious to try this wine and know it’s rare here in the states.
So there you have it. My champagne pick for the perfect memorable holiday gathering. SM