The Grand Champagne Tasting at the Westin St. Francis last week was glorious. Walking into the light-filled room done in gold and crystal on the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis was like stepping into champagne heaven.
Around the room that offered a panoramic view of San Francisco on a sunny day, more than 100 different styles of icy champagne rested in silver buckets, just waiting to be tasted.
The first of its kind tasting was presented by the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. office of the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), a 70-year-old trade organization. The CIVC’s main mission is making sure the trademarked word champagne isn’t applied to sparkling wines from other places in the world.
“We have to defend this idea that champagne is from Champagne,” said Thibault le Mailloux, the new communications director of the CIVC visiting from France.
One of the best ways to do that is by letting people taste fine champagnes from smaller houses that often don’t get as much attention from consumers. “We thought this was an opportunity to show the diversity and richness of the Champagne area,” le Mailloux said.
My favorite discovery of the day was the brut rosé by Charles de Cazanove, a lively wine that tasted of wild strawberries. It’s also poured at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen + Bar in NYC’s East Village, so you know it’s gotta be good.
I experienced some other new wines as well: Champagne Thienot 1999 Grande Cuvée Alain Thienot, a $150 prestige cuvée that offered bread and toasty notes and finished with a surprising youthfulness; and the Champagne Mailly 2000 Grand Cru Les Echansons. The wine crafted from 75% pinot noir/25% chardonnay had lovely notes of quince jam followed by brioche. Juice from their oldest vines goes into the 11,000 bottles of this cuvée dedicated to sommeliers. Oh, and the 82-year old Mailly doesn’t use pinot meunier.
But as the ultimate comfort beverage, I think champagne is also about re-experiencing favorite flavors in wines like:
- Vilmart et Cie’s 2001 Coeur de Cuvée, a delicious rosé that tasted of dried stone fruit and toasted nuts;
- Bollinger’s 2002 La Grande Année, disgorged just two months ago and tasting richly of dried stone fruit;
- The juicy and crisp Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée, an amazing champagne value from the newest house in Champagne – (also love the Aria from La Wally on their website)
- Pol Roger‘s NV Brut, a wine with a remarkable balance of freshness, delicacy and age;
- Philipponnat’s 2004 Grand Blanc bursting with apricot flavors poured by Msr. Philipponnat himself and
- Devaux’s Cuvée D with its delicate flavors of mushroom and subtle fruit.