Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Restaurants often offer your best opportunity to try grower champagnes, as they are neither in large supply nor widely available in retail stores. Here I've included some of the better larger brands as well as some grower champagnes.

Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger Blanc de Blancs
France, $50

Small grower. From family-owned vineyards in the most famous grand cru area of Champagne, this wine features brawn over finesse, with golden color and toasty, yeasty flavors. Without the bubbles, it could pass for a classy white Burgundy.

Kacher/Washington Wholesale: available in the District at Ace Beverage, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, MacArthur Beverages, Pearson's; on the list at Bourbon Steak.

Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
France, $58

Small grower. From top-rated vineyards in the Cote des Blancs, one of the world's best areas for chardonnay, this is a delicate, flirtatious wine with hints of jasmine, ginger and sea air. One sip is inviting, the next aloof, as the bubbles nearly mask the quality of the chardonnay. It actually improves the next day as the bubbles fade, suggesting it could benefit from being decanted. The more I like this wine, the more I want it to like me.

Terry Theise/Bacchus: available in the District at Chat's Liquors, Wide World of Wines; on the list at Proof, BLT Steak, Tabard Inn, Zaytinya; in Maryland, on the list at Casey Jones Restaurant in La Plata.

Thierry Triolet Grande Reserve Brut
** 1/2
France, $38

Small grower. This wine hails from the Cote de Sezanne region of Champagne, which carries less cachet and therefore prompts a lower price. Triolet sold his grapes to large houses in Reims until 1985, when he began making his own wine. This blend of chardonnays from several vintages is riveting, with bright red-fruit flavors and a strong mineral structure. It's a steal. Also good: the Vielles Vignes 2004 ($42), though it will reward several years' more time in bottle.

Wine Traditions: available in Virginia at Arrowine in Arlington, Grape + Bean in Alexandria; on the list at Mediteranee Restaurant in Great Falls; in the District, on the list at Cork Wine Bar. The Vielles Vignes 2004 is available at in Gaithersburg; in the District, on the list at Palena.

Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
France, $55

Small grower. Autumn fruits -- apples and apple cider -- dominate the aromas of this wine, which is blatantly more like a wine than we normally expect a champagne to be. Some may find that unexpected and even off-putting, while others will find it intriguingly delicious.

Kysela: available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Whole Foods Market P Street; available in Virginia at Rick's Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Vienna Vintner in Vienna; on the list at L'Auberge Provencale in Great Falls, Inn at Little Washington.

Gosset Brut Excellence
* 1/2
France, $45

Gosset is a smaller house that buys some grapes, so it does not qualify as a small grower in the trendy sense of the term. But it produces fine fizz, including this light and elegant wine that shows nice finesse and balance.

Republic National: available in the District at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Park Wine & Liquor, Pearson's, Rodman's; on the list at BLT Steak, Central Michel Richard, Posto.

Trouillard Brut Extra Selection
* 1/2
France, $50

Although the national retail price of this wine is $50, it typically is sold for less in this region, often under $40 during the holidays. It offers aromas of roasted hazelnuts and flavors of red fruits.

Kysela; available in the District at Bell Wine & Spirits, Magruder's, Marvelous Markets in Capitol Hill and Georgetown, Pearson's; on the list at New Heights; available in Virginia at Whole Foods Markets in Reston and Tysons Corner; on the list at L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Blackthorne Inn in Upperville.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut
France, $43

The importer lists this wine at a national retail price of $43, but it is frequently advertised in The Post at $26. At the sale price it's a good buy, with toasty red-fruit flavors (raspberry, cranberry) from the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes in the blend. The fruit fades quickly to a somewhat sweet, caramel finish.

Country Vintner: widely available.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut (Yellow Label)
France, $40

Bacchanalians love to hate this wine because it is famous and owned by the cognac-swilling fashion mavens at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey Group and is therefore the very antithesis of small-grower champagne. But it's good. And it's everywhere.

Washington Wholesale: widely available.

Store and restaurant listings are provided by the distributors and may not be complete. Check with your favorite store for availability.


*** Exceptional

** Excellent

* Very good

Prices are approximate. Check to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through the distributor.

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