When--hopefully a hundred years from now--I’m about to cross over to the great vineyard in the sky, the last thing I want passing through my mind is the sad thought that I could have consumed more Champagne. And yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that, for most Americans especially, it’s a likely outcome to a life otherwise well-lived.
Best I can figure out, the problem is (and oh, isn’t this always the case?) our Puritanical heritage--the guilt we’re collectively, culturally predisposed to feeling in the face of too much luxury, too much hedonism.
To this, I heartily say: Get over it. We’re only here for an all-too-brief period of time, a clichéd eye-blink, and no matter how stretched-out our life expectancies become, the proverbial three-score-and-ten is hardly enough time to soak up all we can in the pleasure department.
Fortunately, there’s Champagne, one of the most expedient ways known to our species to inject absurd amounts of enjoyment and happiness into our lives without breaking the law or the bank. (I’m reminded here of the famous last words of economist John Maynard Keynes, who is purported to have said, at the dying of his own personal light, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” There was a man with his priorities straight, to be sure.)
A few months ago, at the Wine Media Guild’s annual Champagne tasting and luncheon, members made significant headway in stuffing the supply-sides of their personal pleasure ledgers: Led and sponsored by world renowned Champagne authority Ed McCarthy, the afternoon provided a true embarrassment of riches, more than a dozen prestige cuvées from many of the top houses in the region.
Ayala “La Perle d’Ayala Nature” 2002 showed kumquat, minerals, and something that can only be described as savory honey on a taut structure; it was one of the wines of the day. Alfred Gratien’s “Cuvée Paradis” NV was almost Krug-like in its expression, with unexpected notes of fenugreek flashing through its mouthwatering acidity. If you have a bottle of this, lucky you: It has another decade or two to keep on evolving. The always great Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne,” this one from the 2000 vintage, is the second fantastic bottle of this I’ve tasted this autumn, and both sang brilliantly, boasting both freshness and depth, as well as warming hints of nutmeg and cardamom. Perrier-Jouët’s “Fleur de Champagne” 2002 was in a quieter phase, with subtly evocative hints of flowers and salinity. More masculine in character was the Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” 2002, an exotically spiced charmer flashing with flavors of marmalade and Marcona almonds.
“Cristal,” Louis Roederer’s renowned tête de cuvée, was young but wildly promising. Our bottles of the 2004 vintage were tight and toasty with high-toned, zippy acidity, lime, and mineral notes. It’s always a treat to taste a bottle of this, but right now the pleasure is more intellectual than sensual: I expect it to really shine in another 10 - 15 years, and then evolve for many more. The 1998 Gosset “Célébris” also needed more time for its citrus character to resolve into the more complete, complex whole that I expect it to ultimately exhibit. G.H. Mumm’s “Cuvée René Lalou” 1998 was far more mature, its nose sweet and evolved, is palate comforting with warm brioche, French toast, and spice.
On the more savory end of things was the Laurent-Perrier “Grand Siècle” NV, its gun-powder and sun-warmed slate aromas buttressed by a lovely minerality. The 1999 Deutz “Cuvée William Deutz” was another highlight of the afternoon, a thoroughly complete, beautifully balanced wine that boasted fruit and terroir in supple harmony. It’s great now, but you have time: Another 5 - 10 years at least. Pol Roger’s “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill” 1999, with its taut minerality and lemon oil character, can go another 10 - 15 years. It should be a fascinating, rewarding journey. I’d also like to revisit the Bruno Paillard “N.P.U.” 1995 in another 7 - 10 years; I think its acidity and fruit will be resolving themselves nicely around then. And another decade or two for the Charles Heidsieck “Blanc des Millénaires” 1995 will be useful, though not really necessary: Its flavors of warm tartine with lemon-ginger marmalade are intriguing right now and exceptionally promising for the future. Best to buy a case and pop a cork every couple of years. Finally, Henriot’s “Cuvée des Enchenteleurs” 1995, with its fine texture and bright character, wrapped things up on an exuberant note.
I have a hard time thinking of a better way to celebrate life than with prestige cuvées like these. I just wish I drank that well every day. Maybe that’ll be my resolution for 2014 and beyond: To drink more Champagne. The last thing I want to do is short-change myself of the pleasure it always brings.
Note: This column is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Brian’s grandfather, Charles Freedman, a great lover of Champagne and of life. It first appeared in The Food, Drink & Travel Report, Brian Freedman’s blog, at www.FDTreport.com.