Champagne season is upon us. November and December are when the majority of this glorious wine is consumed in the US, much of it at holiday season parties and dinners. No other beverage, or food for that matter, carries such an automatic association with celebratory occasions. In France, its country of origin, Champagne has always been a year-round drink known to accompany and enhance food. This is a message I am constantly reinforcing with our service teams, how if asked to recommend one all-purpose seafood wine compatible with a majority of our menu, it would be Champagne: delicate in body, high in acid and minerality, and a natural palate cleanser for a wide variety of sauces and fish preparations. I’m a firm believer that the more Champagne we serve, the more positively guests will feel about dining with us, as even one sip of the divine bubbly invariably stimulates the palate and creates an elevated experience.
To that end we are proud to serve the great Taittinger Brut NV “La Francaise” by the glass at the majority of our restaurants, and at a price tempting enough to make it one of our most popular wines. Being a Chardonnay-influenced Champagne, Taittinger represents the epitome of finesse and elegance. Its feathery, chalk, vanilla and lemon flavor profile is quintessential with raw shellfish, or subtle creamy preparations such as Dover sole. We also offer a half bottle of another family owned boutique producer, Duval-Leroy Brut NV, which is a real counterpoint in style to Taittinger: fuller, more red grape dominant, bone dry, spicier and rounder in texture, ideal with umami-rich shrimp and scallop preparations. In addition, we have begun over the past few years to focus on Rosé Champagne, chiefly from the US’s most popular brand, the Veuve Clicquot Brut NV Rosé. Crafted by the addition of about 12-15% still red wine from the region that is mixed with the white sparkling wine, it is berry-flavored, bone dry and sturdier in body, a great partner for dishes as lush and textured as grilled salmon or Arctic char.
Brut Non-Vintage, the majority of each house’s production, represents the true art of craftsmanship, as it is a blend of dozens of individual cuvées (representing three different grape varieties, and multiple villages, as well as vintages), which consistently reflects each producer’s signature style. Blanc de Blancs is a pure Chardonnay style which is rich and sleek, beautifully structured with apple-like tartness and a silky mouthfeel. (We generally offer half bottles from the great house of Ruinart.) Extra Brut (sometimes called Brut Zero, Brut Sauvage, or Non-Dosée) is a rare style that is beginning to gain popularity (Billecart-Salmon being a superb example); it has virtually no sugar added to balance off the naturally citrus flavors and often shows strong mineral flavors that especially suit it for oysters. Vintage dated Champagne is a rarity on the US market; we offer the Laurent-Perrier 2007 in many locations (including by the glass at Harborside), which is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from all Grands Crus Villages, that ages for 7 years on the yeast, so it is subtly toasty, with hints of lemony fruit, smoke and vanilla, walking a line between opulence and crystalline purity. This is the one I recommend to complement lobster dishes. Then there are the Sec and Demi-Sec Champagnes, categories with a bit higher dosage of added sugar, which taste very subtly honeyed and are designed to match seamlessly with white fruit-based desserts.
To reinforce the mutually enhancing symbiosis between these various styles of Champagne and seafood, we are delighted to present two Champagne winemaker dinners in the next month, where our chefs are are creating special menus to highlight the characteristics of many of these distinct Champagne expressions. First, on November 15th at Legal Harborside, we will be showing the incomparable Champagnes of Veuve Clicquot, with brand ambassador Rich Buchanan leading attendees through a stellar lineup that includes the “Tête de Cuvée,” (Veuve’s counterpart to Dom Perignon) La Grande Dame from the 1995 vintage, as well as a comparison between a vintage and non-vintage Rosé. On December 5th at our Park Square Wine Cellar, we are welcoming Taittinger Champagne’s Christian Dalbavie to guide us through his company’s selections, including the truly spectacular “Comtes de Champagne” 2006, vintage 2007, and a range of rarities, such as the Château de la Marquetterie, a single vineyard Brut. The menu for the Taittinger dinner is still being created; if it is of potential interest, please reach out to me at email@example.com and I will put you on the invitation list.
If you’re able to join us for either of these wonderful dining and tasting experiences we promise you a memorable evening. And, if not, we invite you to visit us and share a glass or special bottle of one of the Champagnes I’ve described because the truth is that Champagne can make any dining occasion special.
Sandy Block, Master of Wine