The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Visiting Champagne

Just a few remarks:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Though it’s been almost a month since I visited Champagne, my impressions of the world’s greatest sparkling wine-growing region remain as vivid as the day when my outbound train departed from Reims.

Located at one of the most historically significant crosswords in northeastern France, it was only after the Second World War that Champagne truly began to enjoy an uninterrupted era of peace and prosperity. This represents a stark contrast to decades and centuries past, when Champagne was plagued by everything from continual warfare to almost unstoppable vineyard diseases. Nowadays, Champagne may be rightly considered one of the most prosperous, most illustrious wine-growing regions of France, replete with delightful villages, meticulously tended vines, and an inimitable product of which the civilized world cannot seem to get enough.

But what is abundance without a gracious set of persons to take full advantage of  it? This is what makes the Champenois so special, in that despite the obvious prosperity their region enjoys, they have not allowed their success to go to their heads. On the contrary: like their counterparts in Burgundy and elsewhere, the Champenois are both unassuming and generous, outwardly proud of their wares yet conscious of the fact that much depends on the successful utilization of their terroir and the importance of demystifying the processes by which their wines are produced. In my opinion, this most accurately describes the vast majority of inhabitants I encountered throughout my travels in this part of France.

This notwithstanding, of all the facets related to the remarkable quality of sparkling champagne, perhaps the most under-appreciated facet the region continues to suffer from—at least from the standpoint of casual wine lovers—is the entirely incorrect notion that champagne is a one-trick pony. Quite the contrary: the wine-growing region of Champagne doesn’t offer just one type, or qualitative level, of sparkling wine but many. From multiple sub-regions to wide variations in blends, champagne may be produced in a vast assortment of styles. To taste them all is one of life’s special pursuits.

Such are several of the most vivid impressions formulated during my recent Champagne sojourn, of which I could wax poetic for hours. But it’s getting late, and it’s almost time for claret. Can’t have champagne every day, though not for lack of desire…

Julian Hitner

Here are some of Julian’s Champagne reviews for wines that are still available in stores:

Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2003Krug Grande Cuvée Brut ChampagneCristal Brut Champagne 2004Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2003: Strikingly opulent and seductive, at this point the recently released 2003 Dom Pérignon is far more outgoing than its more tightly wound predecessor the ’02. Pale lime in colour, this glorious bottling showcases magnificent, absorbing scents of fragrant lime-infused biscuits and French toast; gently giving way to white flowers, lemon citrus, ginger, orange zest, sugar powder, and exotic spices. Incredibly complex, delivering extraordinary, crisp yet multilayered frothy fruit, balanced acidity, and an astonishing hint of lemon/lime citrus, biscuits, and white flowers on the finish. Generous by Moët standards, along with the ’00 this should serve as a stunning stopgap while the more classic vintages of late come into their own. Now-2030++.

Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne: My second (or third) note for the Krug Grand Cuvée in 2011, each new tasting note serves as a valuable reminder of how stupendous this particular champagne is. This recording: pale-light greenish-straw in colour, as alluring and decadent as ever, exhibiting sensational scents of resounding spice-infused French toast, white flowers, lime, biscuits, ginger, jasmine, vanilla, pistachios, minerals, and grapefruit. Extremely complex, with mesmerizingly pure, polished fruit, excellent acidity, and an outstanding, lasting hint of French toast and Asian spice on the finish. Simply put, at least to me, a champagne of unbelievable structure, finesse, style, and richness. The ultimate non-vintage collector’s bubbly! Now-2032++ (much longer than previous estimates).

Cristal Brut Champagne 2004: The flagship champagne of Roederer and unquestionably one of the greatest sparkling wines in the world, the 2004 Cristal is a masterpiece that near-flawlessly combines subtlety and complexity with dimension and richness. Pale-light straw-lime in colour, the wine reveals an abundant array of aromatics, starting off with extraordinary toasted biscuits and pistachios that shortly give way to lemon, brioche, yellow pears, cream crackers, white flowers, and a hint of jasmine and spice. Extremely complex, with fantastic, generously rich fruit, marvellous acidity, and a wondrously crisp, luminous hint of citrus-driven biscuits on the finish. Classic, glorious Cristal of superlative focus, personality, generosity, and refinement. Collectors: consider yourselves warned. Now-2036++.

Bonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004Lallier Grande Réserve Grand Cru ChampagneLallier Grande Réserve Grand Cru Champagne: Since I began tasting wines from Lallier about a year ago, I have been extremely impressed, with the Grand Cru Grande Réserve adding yet another feather to their cap. Light straw-lime in colour, it exhibits beautifully rich, intense notes of brioche and French toast, switching to biscuits, lemon, ripe pears, shortbread, and vanilla. Complex, with unusually sumptuous, frothy fruit, polished acidity, and a lingering, elegant hint of French toast and pears on the finish. Delicious, rather profound, and undeniably excellent. Now-2018+.

Bonnaire Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne 2004: My first recorded note from here, the 2004 Vintage Blanc de Blancs, sourced entirely from Grand Cru vineyards, exceeds expectations. Pale lime in colour with a touch of straw, it opts for stylish, enticing scents of biscuits, pears, white flower petals, fresh lemon citrus, gingerroot, and spice. Complex, featuring excellent, finesse-oriented fruit, balanced acidity, and a superlative hint of pure brioche and pears on the finish. Exquisite mid-weight disposition, structure, and harmony. Now-2019++.

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Julian Hitner