On a recent windy autumn day in Provence, I headed to Domaine Tempier to have a glass of wine with hundred-year-old Lulu Peyraud. We sat down as her daughter, Laurence, brought over a tray featuring freshly sliced melon, toasts with tapenade and brandade, and some cuts of saucisson. Empty glasses waited in anticipation. Can you guess Lulu’s preferred apéritif wine? No, it is not Tempier’s Bandol rosé. Nor is it Tempier rouge (although Lulu admits to a healthy red wine habit, “to avoid rusting”), nor the rare Bandol blanc. Instead, Lulu presented a bottle of Brut premier cru Champagne from J. Lassalle. The cork popped. Wine bubbled into our glasses. We rejoiced. Champagne adapts itself to any and every situation. There is no time when a bottle of Champagne feels unwelcome or out of place: all times of day, virtually every style of cuisine, and any of the wide range of human emotions warrant opening a bottle. It is a mistake to think that Champagne is appropriate only on festive occasions; remember that Napoleon advocated for Champagne in times of defeat as well as victory. Champagne is indeed a celebratory wine—the celebration begins as soon as the cork is popped. So let the celebrating start now, and may your glass stay full until our Champagne Sale returns next November.
The wines of J. Lassalle are among the first, and certainly the longest-standing, “grower Champagnes” present in the United States. While the house style is deeply rooted in the terroir of Chigny-les-Roses, a small village in the Montagne de Reims, a vigneron’s touch—or a vigneronne’s, in the case of the three generations of Lassalle women to manage the estate—can also help define a house style. Their twenty-eight-year tradition of “une femme, un esprit, un style” (one woman, one spirit, one style) holds true today more than ever: one can point to their use of malolactic fermentations and careful blending of different climats and cépages as the key to their lush, creamy, sublimely refined Champagnes. The Lassalle women craft a pale, elegant rosé Champagne, all about delicacy and lovely, plush fruit. Aged extensively sur latte before disgorgement, this soft, round rosé maintains a great balance of richness and refreshing acidity. It will provide utter satisfaction sipped as an apéritif, or all throughout a meal.
The latest release of the Lassalles’ tête de cuvée marries the power and drive of the vintage with a velvety texture acquired from a seven-year élevage. This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is a Champagne of luxury, from its decadent golden tinge to the fine, persistent bead that playfully caresses the palate. Uncorking this euphoric elixir will guarantee a ceremoniously delicious occasion.
The Lassalle ladies—three consecutive generations to lead the estate, with a fourth toddling around the cuverie—are characterized by fierce character, fine taste, and quintessential Champenois gracefulness. The same could be said of their Champagnes—lush, elegant representations of the Chigny-les-Roses terroir with exquisite balance and freshness. Don't miss this 2008 Blanc de Blancs, a powerful yet refined tour de force from one of the region's most consistent and talented growers.
Lassalle’s Champagnes tell a family story that can be traced back to founder Jules Lassalle, grandfather of current winemaker Angéline Templier. The common thread through the generations is the elegance and finesse that characterize each bottling—a result of meticulous work in the vines and cellar. The Spécial Club represents an elite association of growers who abide by such strict standards of quality, and the pedigree is evident with this 2008 release. It is a cellar selection of the estate’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—a lively, gloriously textured Champagne exuding the class and refinement consistent with generations of family tradition.
Lassalle’s Champagnes tell a family story that can be traced back to founder Jules Lassalle, grandfather of current winemaker Angéline Templier. The common thread through the generations is the elegance and finesse that characterize each bottling—a result of meticulous work in the vines and cellar. The Spécial Club represents an elite association of growers who abide by such strict standards of quality, and the pedigree is evident with this 2007 release. It is a cellar selection of the estate’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—a lively, gloriously textured Champagne exuding the class and refinement consistent with generations of family tradition.
The Fourny brothers’ meticulous attention to the local terroir is a perennial focal point that has distinguished the house style from the start. The chalky soils of Vertus, coupled with old vines inherited from their forerunners, allow Emmanuel and Charles to craft precise, terroir-driven Champagnes with gorgeous purity and finesse. The Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature is a a staff favorite: bone-dry, elegant, and surprisingly complex.
The village of Vertus is famous for its Chardonnay—here the long hillside known as the Côte des Blancs takes a turn that gives vines planted on the slopes above the village a southern exposure. More sunshine is crucial in a region where the climate does not favor full ripening every year. The wine is crisp and fresh and delightfully grapey—a reminder that premier cru Champagne is indeed made from grapes.
This blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir sees partial barrel aging, partial malolactic fermentation, and two and a half years aging in bottle before release. The result is a sleek, elegant Champagne that has roundness along with the astonishing freshness and finesse that are characteristic of all Fourny wines.
The rosé from Veuve Fourny is a favorite among the staff in Berkeley. When a special bottle needs to be opened for the right occasion, this is the one we grab. If you like rosé Champagne, don’t miss this wine. If you don’t like rosé Champagne, prepare to be converted. The Fourny Rosé is a delicate light pink in the glass with a very fine mousse. On the palate there is a lovely subtle minerality with a raspberry/cranberry tartness on the finish.
The village of Bouzy and Champagne Paul Bara are practically synonymous: this historic house boasts over 170 years of history, throughout which generation after generation of Bara has crafted celebrated Champagnes from the village's south-facing slopes. Bouzy's vineyards enjoy Grand Cru status thanks to an exposure that favors excellent ripeness and chalky soils that provide stimulating freshness, in addition to housing the deep, cool cellars essential to aging Champagne. Pinot Noir reigns, and the Bara house style is honest to its exceptional terroir. The Brut Réserve features the rich, ripe fruit we come to expect from Bouzy–seductive, mouth-filling, dry and focused; a class act all around.
The Montagne de Reims boasts some of the best Pinot Noir in Champagne, and Bouzy is its capital. The village of Bouzy and the Paul Bara house, in turn, are practically synonymous. It's no coincidence Bara's grand cru rosé is a staff favorite and best-seller: with its ripe, juicy red fruit, fine bead, and creamy yet lively texture, it is the perfect pairing for anything, everything, or nothing at all.
Like all of Paul Bara’s releases, Pinot Noir is the back-bone of their Special Club. Production is strictly old-school, with only free run and first press juice used, fermentation in small cement tanks, and aging and riddling in cold, extremely deep cellars for several years. Nothing is released until ready.
Each year, the Special Club represents the pinnacle of the Bara process and style. Superlatives seem to be insufficient when describing the experience of savoring a glass of this Champagne. It simply has it all—refined hazel-nutty, toasty notes, bright acidity, some of the most delicate bubbles ever created, and a finish that lasts and lasts (sometimes longer than the bottle does).
In his recent book The Gourmands’ Way, Justin Spring recounts the role of six prominent Americans in “the birth of a new gastronomy” by telling how they introduced French cooking and wine to the American public. Spring includes the tale behind what many believe may have been the most indulgent wine dinner ever. Craig Claiborne – then Food Critic at The New York Times – won the dining opportunity at a charity auction for WNET in November 1975, and invited his longtime friend and colleague Chef Pierre Franey to join him. They selected Chez Denis in Paris as the site of the dinner, which was donated to the public television station for their annual fundraiser by American Express. With the help of proprietor Denis Lahana, they developed the menu and Lahana selected its accompanying wines without regard to cost. Chez Denis was already described then as “a ruinously expensive right bank restaurant,” but Claiborne and Franey built their meal into a wine lover’s dream. Without regard to price, they were able to select wines from one of the greatest restaurant cellars in history, and they chose some real show stoppers. It’s most important to me to note that they opted to begin this meal with the 1966 Comtesse Marie de France from Paul Bara. The first course was fresh Beluga caviar, and it speaks volumes that with the entire world of French Champagne available to them, they selected Bara’s Comtesse Marie de France. This extraordinary bottling developed by Paul Bara is aged on its yeast lees for 9 years before release. It’s made from 100% Pinot Noir grown in parcels believed by some to be the best Pinot Noir vineyards in the Champagne region. I’ve begun a few meals with a bottle of Bara Comtesse, and I still can’t imagine a better way.
By the way, the other wines served to Claiborne and Franey that night were:
That wine should be paired with a steak” said Anthony Lynch when tasting this tête du cuvée from Paul Bara. Not just any steak obviously. I wouldn’t pair it with barbecue tri-tip, but consider filet mingon or a dry-aged rib-eye. It sounds heretical, right? Don’t you pair steak with Cab? Often, red meat has elegance and subtlety to it that can be masked by big, juicy, tannic wines. Here’s an instance where opposites don’t attract—elegance often pairs best with elegance.
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