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2014 Brut Grand Cru “Comtesse Marie de France”

Paul Bara
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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:

1918 Ch. Latour
1969 Montrachet, Baron Thenard
1928 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild
1947 Lafite-Rothschild
1961 Ch. Petrus
1929 Romanée-Conti
1928 Ch. D’Yquem
1835 Madeira (Producer not identified)

Followed by:

1865 Calvados (Producer not identified)
Hors D’âge Cognac (Producer not identified)

Bruce Neyers

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Technical Information
Wine Type: sparkling
Vintage: 2014
Bottle Size: 750mL
Blend: Pinot Noir
Appellation: Champagne Grand Cru
Country: France
Region: Champagne
Producer: Paul Bara
Winemaker: The Bara Family and Christian Forget
Vineyard: 40-50 years, 11 ha total
Soil: Clay, Limestone
Aging: Ages in bottle for 9 years before release
Farming: Lutte Raisonnée
Alcohol: 12.5%

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About The Region

Champagne

map of Champagne

True Champagne must not only sparkle, but also must come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and be made using méthode champenoise—a process that involves prolonged aging of the wine as well as a bottle fermentation used to add the sparkle to the finished product. Though wine has been made in this region since at least the 5th century, Champagne as we now know is a relatively new creation. It wasn’t until the 19th century that sparkling wine production took hold on a large scale in much part due to improvements in the strength of glass for bottles and the embrace of French nobility of the sparkling wines of the region.

Only three grape varieties may be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The chalk-heavy soils not only provide complexity and texture to the finished wine, but also act as a natural humidifier thus keeping the vine’s roots warm during colder months of the year. There are grand cru and premier cru designated vineyard areas but unlike Burgundy, there are few lieu-dit vineyards (though in recent years there has been a greater interest in producing vineyard specific Champagnes).

Kermit’s first foray into the region came in 1981 when he began importing the wines of J. Lassalle and Paul Bara—two producers whose wines we still import. In the mid 2000s, Kermit began importing the wines of Veuve Fourny et Fils.

Of Champagne, Kermit says, “You might be surprised to learn that I don’t like a goût de terroir to dominate the taste of Champagnes. If it dominates, you lose finesse. I want some, obviously—but only enough to keep things interesting.”

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Inspiring Thirst

I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.

Inspiring Thirst, page 171

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