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December 2008

December 29, 2008

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck 1999 Rare Millesime

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck
1999 Rare Millesime

Champagne, France

Piper-Heidsieck, in spite of more than two hundred years of tradition to uphold, manages to be one of Champagne’s top innovators. In fact, the company produces some of the most original wine presentations in the world. The Champagne house loves to collaborate with top fashion designers to create unforgettable bottlings, such as the Jean-Paul Gaultier-inspired Brut laced in a red corset, which turned heads from London to Tokyo. And last year’s Viktor & Rolf design turned Champagne upside down—literally! However, it is the winery’s prestige cuvée, Rare, which really goes for the brass ring. The bottle’s design is the result of another collaboration, and being the winery’s most extravagant bottling, no partner less than Van Cleef & Arpels would do. The result is breathtaking, both on and in the bottle. On the outside, black glass is enveloped by elaborate gold filigree. A gold ring splashed with red embraces the bottle’s neck (the ring can be removed and saved as a memento). The wine inside the bottle, a blend of Chardonnay with just a touch of Pinot Noir, is of an equally masterful design. Its aromas are floral, with rose petal, jasmine and orange blossom. The wine’s flavors have great depth. Citrus and tropical fruits hit the tongue, with a hint of nuts and spices developing toward the back of the palate. With impressive length and a texture smooth as silk, this Champagne is a welcome addition to even your most decadent of New Year’s Eve feasts. Pop open a tin of caviar, prepare your best shaved truffle risotto and pick up a perfectly aged wedge of Brillat-Savarin cheese. This wine is a perfect partner for such indulgences.

Rating: 16.5/20
Price: $250

Other Sparkling Wines & Champagnes we have tasted
Check out our guide to France
For more information, visit

December 22, 2008

Champagne Vilmart & Cie's 1998 Cuvée Création Brut

Champagne Vilmart & Cie
1998 Cuvée Création Brut

Champagne, France

Vilmart et Cie produces less than 9,000 cases annually, and it is rather amazing that U.S. wine lovers are lucky enough to see any of this respected Champagne house’s products. However, thanks to trailblazing European wine importer Terry Theise, we are able to experience ten different cuvées from this family-run Champagne producer. The winery’s name may not be readily recognized, but the house has a pedigree as impressive as many of Champagne’s finest players. Founded in 1872, the winery has been run by the Vilmart family since inception. We’ve tried all of Vilmart et Cie’s offerings and would happily recommend them all, and their Cuvée Création is a perennial favorite. A graceful, womanly wine, Cuvée Création is a study in texture and finesse. Its fine stream of bubbles magically turns to silk on the tongue. The wine is 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Pinot Noir from a single vineyard site, and the majority of the grapes come from vines that are over 40 years old. Flavors are fresh but subtle. A hint of honey and citrus on the nose all lead into a fascinating depth of flavors from tangerine to almonds and something that almost suggests coffee. The finish lingers with a note of nutmeg. Serve with a festive roast and all the trimmings, or save the wine for a quiet moment when you can enjoy it with some biscotti and a loved one.

Rating: 15/20
Price: $105

Other Sparkling Wines & Champagnes we have tasted
Check out our guide to France
For more information, visit

December 15, 2008

Champagne Thienot N.V. Brut

Champagne Thienot
N.V. Brut

Champagne, France

Champagne Thienot is a family affair under the guidance of banker-turned-vintner Alain Thienot, who refers to his operation as the “youngest Champagne house.” The Thienot family launched the winery just 25 years ago, a mere blink of an eye by the standards of French winemaking. Alain Thienot, considered a dynamo of Champagne, has climbed the ranks in this very Old World appellation with surprising rapidity. He also oversees his winery’s parent company, the Thienot Group, which owns several other Champagne houses, such as Champagne Canard-Duchêne and Champagne Marie Stuart. Thienot’s non-vintage Brut is a textbook Brut-style Champagne. A delightful aperitif, the wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The bubbly exhibits a gold color, lengthy mousse, round flavors and lingering citrus finish, all qualities that you’d find when searching the term “Brut” in a dictionary. It does lack some of the depth and finesse of a prestige cuvée, but at a quarter of the price, it still delivers bright flavors and a touch of elegance. Although we recommend serving the wine for a sophisticated cocktail affair or a palate-cleansing pre-dinner drink, it is the sort of Champagne that would please any palate when served with a Christmas breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Rating: 13.5/20
Price: $40

Other Sparkling Wines & Champagnes we have tasted
Check out our guide to France
For more information, visit

December 8, 2008

J Vineyards & Winery's 1998 Vintage Brut Late Disgorged

J Vineyards & Winery
1998 Vintage Brut Late Disgorged

Russian River Valley, CA

The European press loves to criticize American sparkling wines for their sweetness and lack of sophistication in comparison to quality Champagnes. It’s true that the U.S. has few established winegrowing regions with climates suitable for producing the bubbly beverage. However, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is an exceptionally hospitable region for growing sparkling wine grapes. Iron Horse Vineyards established a tradition of world-class sparkling wine production in the region more than 25 years ago. Now another player from the appellation has steadily climbed its way into the circle of top producers in the world, and their new Late Disgorged may push them to the pinnacle of the American sparkling wine heap. In 1986, Judy Jordan, daughter of the Jordan wine family, founded her own wine company—J Vineyards & Winery—focused on the Russian River Valley’s sparkling wine potential. Through the years, J has experimented with different styles of sparkling and still wines as well as different winemakers and winemaking philosophies. While their products have grown progressively in quality and character, it seems that in recent years, with the addition of veteran winemaker George Bursick to the team, J has truly hit its stride. This is demonstrated in the winery’s 1998 Late Disgorged, which easily ranks among the top ten sparkling wines in the United States. The bubbly offers inviting bread dough aromas, and its flavors combine with a hint of tangerine and lime. Crisp and daringly tart, the wine is definitely refreshing, and yet it has the body to stand up to a substantial meal. With a creamy mouthfeel and delightful length, we would welcome this sparkler at the holiday dinner table or as a New Year’s Day toast.

Rating: 15.5/20
Price: $115

Other Sparkling Wines & Champagnes we have tasted
Check out our guide to California
For more information, read about J Vineyards & Winery

December 1, 2008

Huia Vineyards' 2002 Brut

Huia Vineyards
2002 Brut

Marlborough, New Zealand

Normally, when we think about the lands down under, bold and warm-climate reds like Shiraz spring to mind. Yet both Australia and New Zealand also contain cool climate areas suitable for growing grapes for crisp sparkling wines. Many of Champagne’s most respected houses, including Chandon and Deutz, have purchased properties in the Southern Hemisphere to produce sparkling wines under their recognizable labels. Even the Kiwis are starting to prove themselves capable of fashioning bottles of bubbly, and without the influence of the French. Take Mike Allan, who, along with his wife Claire, produces a Brut-style sparkling wine from Marlborough-area fruit. The 2002 Brut from Allan’s winery—Huia Vineyards—offers the sophistication of Champagne, but at a far friendlier price. Despite the winery’s boutique size, Huia also produces Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The sparkler, a blend of 55 percent Pinot Noir and 45 percent Chardonnay, is aged on its yeast for five years. The result is a creamy wine with predominant aromas and flavors of fresh-baked bread. A touch of citrus and a whiff of toasted oak round out the flavor profile. Although the wine lacks the finesse of a prestige cuvée, it is an affordable alternative to non-vintage Champagnes.

Rating: 13.5/20
Price: $30

Other Sparkling Wines & Champagnes we have tasted
Check out our guide to New Zealand
For more information, visit



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