18 November 2010

champagne 101: salon du champagne @ julhès paris, 75010

It figures that what was, objectively speaking, the least interesting tasting on my calendar this month proved to be probably the most satisfyingly educational. My landlady and her husband had invited me to a Champagne tasting at their strangely-named cave of choice in the 10ème, and since I'd flaked on similar invites in the past, I joined them this time, even though it was a rainy Saturday morning, and no vignerons were slated to attend, and after getting a late start I still had a sack of sopping groceries in my wobbly bicycle-basket.

The cave, it turns out, is named after its propietor, Nicolas Julhès, a charming, energetic, slightly elfin gentleman with very much the right ideas about wine. And the tasting was so edifying precisely because it was so simple: 8 large-to-enormous Champagne houses pouring two wines each, their basic and a selection cuvée, which presentation caused me to realise that despite having tasted all these wines before on various occasions, I'd never actually had the opportunity taste them side by side in quick succession.*

(During my professional years I worked almost exclusively with Italian wine, with the result that I possess troves of pointless categorical knowledge of Prosecco brands, and comparatively little about Champagne.)

Drappier's "Brut Nature" Sans Soufre left the strongest impression on me, in that, as the only "natural" wine in the tasting, it confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt my belief that natural wines, even in the process-oriented realm of Champagne, just taste light years livelier and and more visceral than non-naturals.

Drappier Brut Nature Sans Soufre @ La Bodeguita du IVeme.  (Forgot to take a photo that day at Julhès Paris.)
Even Drappier's classic bottling, with its pleasing toasty tones and hallmark fineness of bubble structure, felt slightly confected next to the "Brut Nature" Sans Soufre, which shone all the brighter in the company of more "traditional" Champagnes.**

Here is a very quick rundown of opinions on other houses that were either confirmed by, or revised in light of, this short tasting:
Bollinger: I'd always ignored this house. Why? It's actually very high-toned and tasty. The Grande Année 1997 had more caramel / scallion depth, but at the expense of a wee bit of bubble structure. 
Deutz: Very nice wines - chiseled and expressive - but to me they tasted the most overtly professional of the bunch. If you asked Porsche to design a wine, you'd get a very good-looking wine indeed, albeit somewhat over-designed. 
Jacquesson: Spirited, expansive Champagne. Yeasty and enjoyable. The rosé is low-toned and bizarre, however, like an amorous stranger on the subway. 
Philliponnat: The "Sans Dosage" I tasted that day was fractious and violently acidic. I liked it, but only the in the way that I liked doing wheelies on bicycles as a child. Well-priced though, and refreshingly unprofessional-tasting. 
Piper-Heidsieck: The meringue of Champagnes. Bright, lightly sweet, and of no interest whatsoever. I liked that the ditz rosé bottling "Rosé Sauvage" actually looked and tasted as ditzy as intended: perfect marketing synergy. 
Veuve Clicquot: Straight confected tooth-rotting nonsense. Should be squeezed from a tube not popped from a bottle. I'd always found it boring but in the company of even the other massive houses the stuff was particularly depressing. 
Taittinger: The basic bottling is wan and unpleasant. The notch-up stuff, amusingly called "Prélude,"*** is somehow cirrus-cloudy, like it never touches your tongue, which is interesting, though I imagine less so if one were obliged to drink an entire glass, let alone a bottle. 
Lastly, I should mention that this tasting, in its relative simplicity and beginner-ness, was not entirely typical of those thrown at Julhès Paris, which, in addition to stocking a broad range of wines (some, not all, natural) also houses a superb fromagerie / épicerie, and one of the best spirit selections I've encountered in Paris. It's an ambitious place.

Nicolas, for his part, seemed way more excited about a "Monstres Sacrés du Champagne" tasting that he'll throw on December 11th, and an upcoming tasting of ancient pre-phyloxera Cognac on the 18th, both of which events I marked on my calendar shortly after unpacking my groceries later that afternoon.

*Save, perhaps, at certain friends' birthday parties at certain nightclubs. A different format entirely, not well-suited to reflection.

**Drappier also make a more well-known version of this wine called simply "Brut Nature" which is not dosed but which is made with minimal sulfites. It is also very tasty, and invariably better suited to export, and commerce in general.

***When I bottle a Champagne someday, I'm going to go whole-hog and call it: "Foreplay." 

Related Links:

A sleepy trip to Reims; a Taitinger tour

A comparison of sulfured and unsulfured versions of Drappier's @ PeterLiem

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