The hardest part of writing my top 5 list of special occasion champagnes was working out what exactly was “special”. I took a pretty loose definition that meant really any excuse would do.
But here with our really special occasion champagnes we get a bit more serious, with price and quality, and we start to hit the vintage champagne market. So unless you are rich, you are going to hold these champagnes over for when you really do want something you don’t have very often. But I do have a top 5 list of really, really special occasion champagnes, so there is plenty of room to move up still… I’m not topping out just yet!
So let’s kick off this list but don’t forget to check out my top 5’s for:
1. Charles Heidsieck 2005
This is the list for very special occasions so Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 2005, is the logical next step up from the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve I raved about in my special occasions list. And it is also very special.
So imagine everything I said about the Brut Reserve… but even more refined. It’d be like taking a sexy, slightly scruffy Idris Elba wearing a blazer and jeans and sporting a three-day growth (already really, really good), and sending him to the barber’s for a clean, sharp old-school shave with foam and a straight-edge blade, and dressing him in an Armani suit for dinner… the result is he will very likely take your breath away. And the 2005 Vintage champagne will do the same.
The blend for the vintage is 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay with 11g/l dosage.
2. Louis Roederer 2010 Rosé
When I tasted this for the first time at a dinner with Louis Roederer cellar master, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, he proudly told us that his 2010 rosé had just been awarded the best rosé in the world. And that to win this award it had beaten his own current vintage Cristal Rosé, one of the most expensive wines on the planet! But far from being annoyed or disappointed, Jean-Baptiste was clearly immensely proud of his 2010 rosé because the award didn’t mean his Cristal Rosé was any less of a wine… just that the 2010 rosé was really quite remarkable.
I just love listening to Jean-Baptiste talk about his wines. He brings poetry to champagne… just read how he describes his rosé…
“… the concentration, fruitiness, and compactness of the Cumières Pinot noir grapes are transcended by the elegance, purity, and freshness of the finest Chardonnay grapes cultivated on the Côte des Blancs.”
And that sums it up for me exactly! For a rosé that is blended with still red wine and made from 65% pinot noir, this wine is given its predominant personality from the white chardonnay component. It is strikingly fresh and pure, even somewhat sharp and chalky (which is exactly what I expect from a Louis Roederer wine), yet you can still find the exotic floral and spicy fruit notes in this wine that belie its salmon pink colour and its rosé nature. All of which makes it simply stunning.
I often describe opening a bottle of Louis Roederer as a bit like a visit to a modern art gallery… you aren’t always in the mood for thinking about art or wine. So if you’re looking for an easy option, don’t open the Roederer! But if you are in the mood for an experience that will probably be unexpected but definitely exceptional, the Louis Roederer 2010 Rosé won’t disappoint! I can’t wait to taste this wine over the years to see how it ages.
A blend of around 65% Pinot noir and 35% Chardonnay, 20% of which is wine matured in oak tuns, the rosé Vintage cuvée is generally matured on lees for 4 years.
3. Champagne Pouillon
A complete change of pace from two big houses to now a small grower-producer making incredibly exciting champagnes in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (right next to the famous pinot noir village of Aÿ). Fabrice Pouillon from Champagne R. Pouillon has been working in the vineyards and making champagne for 20 years. His grandfather started making champagne in 1947 after a long family history of growing grapes to sell to the big houses. Fabrice makes just 50,000 bottles a year and in Australia we get a really small allocation of his wines so when they land on our shores, if you can get them, do it!
When I first tried Fabrice’s champagne – the 2008 Chemin du Bois (100% pinot noirs, 4g/l dosage) – it really blew my mind. I’ll tell you why…
I was at dinner with two GFs and their husbands when I brought along the Pouillon. The husbands are red wine drinkers through and through, although they’ve both visited Champagne with me so I know they enjoy champagne more than the average guy. So when I came to open the champagne for the main course, the boys both said they were going to move on from champagne and drink red wine. Which I was VERY pleased about because I wanted more champagne for me. Unfortunately, I was a little too obvious about how pleased I was and they sensed they might be missing out on something, so decided to have a “small” glass of the champagne to try it. Which turned into a top-up and then a second glass. Which sucked for me because I had less, BUT it is also why I know this is a cracking champs. If it could lure those two blokey-boys away from their red, you know it’s good.
Fabrice focuses on the best quality grapes to make high quality champagne. He is a grower producer (RM) so he only uses his own grapes to make his wines so he knows exactly where they come from. And exactly how to let the origin be expressed in the champagne.
Fabrice has a crazy-good range of champagnes which I tried with him on my visit and I know you could get your hands on the R. Pouillon Chemin du Bois Blanc de Noirs 2008 from The Wine Emporium for $165 when I wrote this (Sept 2018).
4. Bollinger La Grande Année
I always say that I love the rich, oaky, masculinity of Bollinger. The high percentage of pinot noir in these wines (about 70%) and oak barrel fermentation produces rich, strong, robust wines that are definitely suited for both special occasions and meal times.
I first tried La Grande Année at a Bollinger Dinner at Palazzo Versace and was struck by the power of the champagnes. La Grande Année is loaded with vanilla and spice and even a little burnt orange while the rosé is like a bubbly Christmas cake…. it’s ripe and fruity and generously spiced.
Drinking any glass of Bollinger for me is like the taste equivalent of listening to Adele… soulful, powerful and rich. Her voice can move you, break your heart, make you want to cry and fall in love all at once. And La Grande Année is like rolling in the deep… I can feel “a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch, and it’s bringing me out the dark.”
While it’s technically a vintage (the Bollinger cuvée de prestige is the Bollinger R.D.), La Grande Année actually sits a cut above most vintage champagnes for me.
La Grande Année blend is 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. The rosé blend is 68% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay. with 6% red Côte aux Enfants wine. Dosage for both is moderate – 6-7g/l.
5. Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill
Pol Roger was so widely known as Churchill’s favourite champagne – he was rumoured to have had 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger opened for him – that the house honoured him and recognised his favour by naming their cuvée de prestige after him.
I marvel at the contradiction between one of the most elegant and refined champagnes I’ve tried and the reputation of its namesake, Churchill. Sir Winston was a complex, tough and hardened war-time leader who was not known for subtlety or discretion, and certainly not someone I would imagine appreciated expensive champagnes. I personally think of Pol Roger as the Audrey Hepburn of champagne. Because Audrey was elegant, classically and captivatingly beautiful, but also understated, graceful, charming, warm, and gentle.
In the face of the dramatic contrast between Churchill and Hepburn, the real power of this champagne house could lie in its gentle ability to soothe and win over the rugged Churchill.
The vintages vary but Pol Roger characterises the Sir Winston by ‘power and refinement’…. which is just soooooo on the money. What strikes me most about all Pol Roger champagnes is a cream-iness. Peaches and cream, rich with gently honeyed spice, balanced with a fresh citrus hint.
I imagine instead of a croissant and coffee staring in the window of Tiffany, my version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s would have Holly Golightly (of course played by Audrey Hepburn) holding an empty bottle of Winston in one hand, the last few drops of her expensive champagne in a crystal flute (from Tiffany of course) cradled in the other hand. In fact, I might try that when I am in New York.
I always like to talk about the blend but I can’t share the blend of the Sir Winston … it is a very closely guarded family secret. Instead, I’ll just have to keep drinking a lot of this wine to try and guess it.
Try these champs and let me know what you think! Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #topfivechampagnes.
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