Tasty toasters for celebrating plus some robust reds

December 17, 2022

I had the good fortune to sample some Billecart-Salmon Champagnes. Their top-line Cuvee Louis Millesime 2008 will run close to $200, 95 McD. That and the 2009, 93 points, are relatively new releases, only followed by 2013. The best-reputation Champagne producers don’t release vintage bottlings every year. 2008 just opened its recommended window in 2021. It’s bright golden with silvery reflections and prolific fine bead, includes baked apple, cherry pie, peach aromas. The peach, apple and cherry aromas repeat on the palate with some earthen notes, all supported by a bright mineral acidity. An excellent choice for an extravagant seasonal toast. Billecart-Salmon makes a wide selection of Champagne, so read labels carefully. For my money, their Blanc de Blanc Brut Grand Cru under $80 rates 92. As I mentioned recently, since the changes at Clicquot, I’m searching for my new go-to NV sparkler, and this may be it. Ms. Jancis rated this 17, only 1/2 point lower than the Millesime. I agree. Keep in mind she employs the 20-point rating system. This is pale golden with prolific tiny mousse; it opens to peach, crisp apple and fresh bread dough aromas, round and creamy palate balanced by a tight mineral acidity. Shifting gears a bit, several readers have asked for a nonalcoholic sparkler. Lyre’s Classico Grande shows tart apple aromas which evolve to lime, apple and peach flavors with a chalky acidity. These folks are better known in some circles for their canned cocktails, but this Prosecco imitation is 87 McD under $20. Tost makes a wide selection of nonalcoholic drinks that enjoys a good reputation. I have not sampled any. Go domestic with Sutter Home Fre nonalcoholic Brut NV or Martinelli’s Sparkling Blush for those who prefer sweet. For “alcohol removed” fans, Surely makes a decent line of alcohol-removed wines and whiskey. The term means the wines are not juice but a fermented product that is reprocessed to remove alcohol through vacuum distillation. 

Those who enjoy Brut Nature, which is drier than Brut, may wish to investigate Champagne Tarlant Brut Nature Zero. The “zero” indicates it has no dosage. These 2012s were cellared for six years before disgorgement, then rebottled, recellared and released in 2019. Pale green-tinged yellow with tiny bead. Quince, biscuit and slight herbal aromas lead to a minerally, chalky, citrusy palate. Great with oysters and clams on the half shell; hold the lemon. I rate it 91 McD under $60. This is entry level. The best may be the $260 Agrapart & Fils Venus Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut Nature Millesime 2014, rated 19.5 by Bettane et Desseauve. My plebian buds say buy six Tarlant for long-term enjoyment and bang for buck.

Most winos equate Ridge with top-flight Zinfandel, but their Estate Cab is always a winner in the 91-93 McD range around $68. The 2018 is wonderful, 93 McD under $68. Very dark purple still, it shows a redolent bouquet of black cherry, plum, cassis, smoked meat, and hints of toasted barrel and herbs. On the palate, more dark fruit, oak, vanilla and herbal flavors supported by tannins appropriate to its color, indicating great aging potential. For cellarers who bought Caymus Vineyard Cab 2015, it is perfect now. We bought it for $71 in 2017 and it is selling now for $187.50. I mention this because the 2021, 93 McD, is setting up to repeat the success. Currently you may buy a case of this November release for $900, or $80/750ml. The best part is you can start consuming in 2024 and sell half a case in 2028 for as Bob Yesbek might say, “free wine.”

Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Sonoma 2020 continues it skein of 92 McD ratings at $65. However, his Goldrock Estate PN Sonoma Coast 2019, 96 McD, or the 2018, 95 McD, $85-$90, from a cooler terroir, are the way to go for those who can step up. The 2019 is dark purple-ruby; it opens to a complex bouquet of cranberry, currants and black raspberry, lots of barrel spice with hints of earth and graphite. On the palate, fruit is supported by slaty minerality with smooth tannins and juicy acidity through a very long, clean finish. If you are present-shopping, you can’t miss with anything Hobbs. What a talent!



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