BEAR on BUBBLES: The Current State of Champagne

The older I get, the more Champagne I drink. Well, Champagne and other sparkling wines. Those others include other French Fizz, Cava, British Bubbles, California sparklers and even sparkling wines from Australia. It all has a place at the table but the undisputed king of sparkling wine is Champagne. To really understand all the others, you have to understand Champagne.

And Champagne has gotten more complicated than it once was. If you were a US consumer 30-40 years ago (which is when I was getting started in and learning the wine business) and you knew 12-to-15 brands (all grand marques), understood the difference between vintage and non-vintage, were aware that there was pink Champagne (which no one then much drank),  and knew the names of a few luxury  Cuvées (Dom Perignon, La Grande Dame, Comtes de Champagne, Cristal, Grand Siecle …), you were on top of your Champagne game. Much has changed.

Today’s informed Champagne buyer needs to know some things: How Champagne is made (Methode Champenoise), How dry is Extra Dry? Does Size Matter? Do Glasses Matter? Just who’s Brut is it? Other hot topics in Champagne include Grower Champagnes vs. Grand Marques, Sur Lattes (Champagne’s dirty little secret), the new wave of sweet Champagnse, Rosé Champagne, and Champagne with food.

For all of this and more in a 33 page .pdf,  please click on The Current State Of Champagne


RIDGEVIEW English Sparkling Wines














I’ve been tasting (and liking) English sparkling wines for a few years now … but only when I’m in Europe. Noe that can change. Check out my notes (on the Spec’s Fine Wine site) on the Ridgeview English Sparkling wines which have just arrived in Texas.…/ridgeviews-english-sparkling-w…/

Champagne Friday: JACQUES PICARD

José Lievens

José Lievens

In the late 1950s, Roger Picard (who was then mayor of Berru) planted vines on parcels of land that had just been granted the Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controlée. In the early 1960s, his son Jacques Picard started his business and produced the first bottles of champagne under his own name. Over the years Picard invested to build and sustain the champagne house and build its reputation for quality. The vineyard was developed, the cellars were enlarged and the buildings wer extended. By then, Jacques Picard performed all the different tasks of champagne production – everything from from planting grapes to selling the finished wine – at their Champagne estate. In the 1990s, Jacques Picard’s two daughters Sylvie and Corinne (with their husbands) took over the business. Together, the family has continued to develop and modernize the business, respecting its traditions, philosophy and high-quality production which characterizes the brand Jacques Picard. As winegrowers and producers, the whole production process from growing the grapes to putting the finished bottles into cases still takes place on the Picard estate. The winemaking now falls to José Lievens, husband of Corinne and son-in-law of Jacques Picard. Here his three cuvees brought into Texas.picardbrut-w-2

JACQUES PICARD Brut, Champagne, NV ($39.89)
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier, and 5% Pinot Noir (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are from Berru. and the Pinot Meunier is from nearby Montbré). This cuvee is based on 2011 with 50% reserve wines (2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 and 5% of the estate’s solera). After the second fermentation in the bottle, it is aged three years on the yeasts and dosed to 8 grams per liter (true Brut). Straw in color with green highlights and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. The nose offers coconut, toast, spice, citrus and some red fruit and the palate follows. A core of mineral earth holds it together. This is a bigger richer style of Brut NV. BearScore: 91+.

JACQUES PICARD Brut Rosé, Champagne, NV ($52.99)
A unique estate-bottled blend of 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir Champagne Rosé. The color comes from the red grapes/juice getting a 6-7 day maceration (with no alcoholic fermentation) before being blended and co-fermented with Chardonnay and 8 months of vat aging before bottling. This bottling is based on 2010 with 30% reserve wines added for depth and richness. Aged over 4 years on the yeasts before it was disgorged in October 2015. Dosage at 8 grams/liter.   Pale-salmon-orange in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Integrated complete style of Rosé with enough red fruit and lots of Chardonnay (citrus and focus) character. the fruit, mineral earth, and yeastiness all knit together. More elegant aperitif style of Rosé. BearScore: 92+.

picardartdevigneJACQUES PICARD Art de Vigne, Champagne, 2005 ($69.99)
An estate-bottled blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier all from vineyards over 40 years old in Berru to the northeast of Reims. Barrel-fermented and aged with batonage (lees stirring) in a mix of used Burgundy barrels and some new barrels. 5 years en tirage (on the yeasts) as it develops in the bottle. Finished with a dosage of 4 grams of sugar per liter.   Medium gold straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Focused and fresh with lots of depth and development. Contrasty and complex but with good integration. Complete. The citrus is more dominant but the red fruit is there along with lots of richness from the barrels and the extended lees aging. Textural complex compelling Champagne. BearScore: 94+.

Utterly Unique: Henriot Cuve 38

2___cuve_38____dition_2___henriot__1820.jpeg_north_600x_whiteIn 1990, the late Joseph Henriot (1936-2015, former head of Veuve Clicquot and owner of Henriot in Champagne and Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy) set aside one vat to add a portion of outstanding Blanc de Blancs each year, capturing the essence of every harvest in a sort of solera. The idea was to create a perpetual blend of 100% Chardonnay from 100% Cote de Blancs grands cru vineyards (Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Oger). In 2009, the first 1,000 magnums were drawn and put through the Champagne process. After another 5 years aging on the lees in Henriot’s cellars in Reims, the wine was disgorged and given a final dosage of less than 5 grams per liter. Each year, another 1,000 magnums will be released.

From Henriot:
“Its dosage of less than 5g/l gives full rein to the aromas of its terroir.  It is a beautiful pale yellow with golden highlights and a gently efferevescent mousse, leading into a bouquet of fresh butter and white flowers. Cuve 38 also reveals both mineral and slightly creamy notes underpinned by hints of liquorice. On the palate, its richness is elegant and there are avours of citrus and ripe apricot. Finally, the wine delivers elements of both honey and viennoiserie, redolent of the Henriot style.

From Bear:
HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV     ($669.74)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru vineyards fermented and aged in a reserve wine solera representing 19 vintages made using Methode Champenoise in in Magnum, aged another 5 years on the yeasts and then finished only with a less-than-0.5 dosage. (The tank or cuve holding the wine is Cuve 38 – hence the name.)     Pale-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.  Deep dense, unique wine. Pure expression of Chardonnay and chalk, mineral and yeast but most of all development. The wine evolves in the glass as if slowly flattens and warms. It really succeeds as wine, not just as sparkling wine. My first impression score was 94+. Three hours later it was 97. Two days later (the still 2/3s full magnum stored cold and tightly stoppered) it was 100. This is stunningly good, utterly unique champagne that almost demands decanting to help it develop in a reasonable time. Or you could keep it for a few years and then … WOW! Only 2 magnums available only at Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.

Champagne Friday: KRUG Grande Cuvee

Sometimes we forget about the classics. We get caught up in the buzz about the new or the different and forget about the things that established our interest in a category in the first place. It is at that point that Dr. Samuel Johnson’s idea that people don’t need to be educated nearly so much as they need to be reminded best serves us. In the category of Champagne, please allow me to be your Dr. Johnson for the day. Here is one of those classic, defining, doing everything right sort of wines: Krug Grand Cuvee.KrugGC

KRUG Grande Cuvee Brut, Champagne, NV ($146.89)
A 12.5% alcohol blend of 37% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, and 19% Meunier with some barrel aging and lots of reserve wines. Oldest wines in the blend are from the 1990 vintage and the youngest from 2005. The cuvee spent over 7 years en tirage (on the yeasts).  Every bottle has a blend, disgorgement, and bottling information code on the back that can be scanned or entered into the App or Web Site. This sample was disgorged in the winter of 2012/2013.   Sensory: medium golden straw in color, fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics.  Citrus and peel and red fruit with toast and lots of mineral. Real depth and richneess while still fresh and ALIVE. Yum. Great Champagne and great food Champagne. BearScore: 96.

Champagne Quote:
“I’ll drink your champagne. I’ll drink every drop of it, I don’t care if it kills me.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald from Gatsby Girls

Champagne Friday: DOM RUINART Blanc de Blancs 2004

dom-ruinart-2004-bouteilleThe Forgotten Dom.
Dom Perignon everyone knows. Dom Ruinart – not so much. Which is a shame as Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house (established in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart in Reims). While Ruinart makes an excellent Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($44.64) it is the vintage-dated tete de cuvee Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs that stuns. A recent tasting of the 2004 showed a wine too good to ignore.

DOM RUINART Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2004 ($129.99)
A 12% alcohol, 100% Grand Cru, 100% Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) blend from the Côte des Blancs (69%) and the Montagne de Reims (31%).      Gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.  Fine, and quite elegant, but somehow juicy with citrus and tree fruit. Lovely feel and great flavors with fully integrated chalk-mineral and toasty yeast notes. Complete. Refreshing and delicious even as it satisfies. BearScore: 97.


I’m only a beer teetotaller, not a Champagne teetotaller. I don’t like beer. – George Bernard Shaw

Champagne Friday: ROEDERER ESTATE Brut NV

Champagne Friday is moving and changing. It is moving to the new site and it is changing from “Champagne Friday” to “The Friday Fizz“. The move puts it where it now belongs. And the name change is reflective of the many sparkling wines – not all Champagne – I want to cover. This week’s entry is Roederer Estate Brut from Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.

RodererBrutLabelROEDERER ESTATE Brut, Anderson Valley, NV ($18.99)
A 12% alcohol, estate-grown 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir methode champenoise sparkler aged 2 years on yeasts and dosed to a 1.2% residual sugar Brut finish. Medium-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-light-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Fresh but with a welcome richness from the presence of up to 15% cask-aged multi-vintage reserve wines. Fine mix of citrus and tree fruit with some spice and good yeasty-nutty notes as well as a clean mineral note. Has enough weight and richness to take on some food. Lovely fizz for the money. BearScore: 91.

CLICK HERE to head on over to and check out the whole Friday Fizz post.

Champagne Friday: BOLLINGER La Grande Annee 2002

Grande Annee.
Barrel-fermented vintage Champagne.
Aged over 9 years on the yeasts.
The Champagne of James Bond.
The Champagne of Lily Bollinger (see quote below).

BOLLINGER La Grande Annee Brut, Champagne, 2002 ($126.99)

A 12.3% alcohol blend of 6% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay from all Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. 100% underwent primary fermentation in small oak casks. Disgorged November of 2012 so over 9 years on the lees.
bollingerGrandeAnnee2002Gold-straw in color and fully-sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with fresh acidity and scant (but present) phenolics.  Lovely, rich, developed. Supple feel. Fine mix of toasty layered red fruit and citrus but the complete integration of the whole including the toasty-yeast and mineral terroir is the amazing thing here. Stunningly good Champagne that continues to develop in the glass for as long as you can keep some in your glass. BearScore: 98+.

(A rerun of maybe the best Champagne quote ever)
I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty. – Madame Lily Bollinger

CHAMPAGNE FRIDAY: DELAMOTTE Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV

DelamotteBdBAt last Tuesday’s 2011 Bordeaux dinner we started with Delamotte Blanc de Blancs. Why? Why not? The elegant 100% Chardonnay Champagne was a delicate but satisfying prelude to the symphony of flavor that followed. I think everyone quite enjoyed it and I know I wish I had had a bit more, even with all the fine Bordeaux that followed.

DELAMOTTE Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV ($58.89)
Tech: A 12% alcohol, 100% Chardonnay Cote de Blancs (from the area around les Mesnil) Champagne made from base wines fermented in stainless steel tanks including the 10% of reserve wines that are utilized. It develops on the lees for 5 years prior to disgorgement, while the legal minimum is 15 months. Finished truly brut with a minimal dosage.   Sensory: Straw in color and fully sparkling. Dry, medium-light-bodied with crisp acidity and scant phenolics. Fine, focused, supple. Citrus and mineral with yeast and real power. Lovely; elegant but engaging Champagne. Catches you with its elegance and vividity. Great tension. Vibrant in the mouth but ultimately satisfying. Perfect aperitif. BS: 94+.

Champagne Quote:
Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life. – Charles Dickens

(Not Quite) Champagne Friday: LUCIEN ALBRECHT Cremant d’ Alsace Rosé

I love bubbly Rosé but I can’t always afford to drink my preferred pink Champagne. So when pink fizz is the required tipple and my finances aren’t cooperating, I look to Tasmania (Jansz Brut Rosé), Burgundy (François Labet Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé), and Alsace (Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’ Alsace Brut Rosé). I’ve already written about the Jansz and I’ll get to the Labet (I need a more current note) so here’s my recent note on the Albrecht from Alsace.lucien-albrecht-cremant-d-alsace-rose

LUCIEN ALBRECHT Cremant d’ Alsace Brut Rosé, Alsace, NV ($19.94)
A 12% alcohol, 100% Pinot Noir sparkling Rosé made using rapid cuvaison and methode champenoise and aged nine-months on-the-lees before remuage and disgorgment.     Sensory: Salmon in color and fully sparkling. Dry and medium-bodied with refreshing acidity and a scant hint of phenolics. A richer-style bubbly with some red fruit and a nice bit of balancing citrus along with notes of earth and toast. Lovely feel in the mouth with enough weight to work with a wide range of foods (Maybe seared scallops over pasta?). YUM. BS: 91.

Champagne Quote:
Tiny bubbles in the wine…make me feel happy, make me feel fine.Don Ho