When Andrew asked whether we would be interested in doing a Champagne horizontal for his year 3 tasting the answer was a resounding yes. There was huge anticipation for this tasting and many wines really delivered.
Andrew sourced tête de cuvées from nearly every big house and also several growers. There were 15 bottles, all recently sourced from US based retailers and private cellars and amazingly none were flawed. Overall I was impressed at the freshness, the balance, and the power some of these possessed.
As usual Andrew hosted this dinner at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario. Arguably this is the best restaurant in Ontario and this meal supported that conclusion. This is clearly worth the trip, even if you aren’t local. Head Chef Jason Bangerter brings his incredible experience and is simply doing a fantastic job with local, Canadian and even estate grown ingredients. It was a fabulous touch for him to visit our table a few times and introduce us to his gorgeous dishes.
The night began at 6:00 on a beautiful Saturday in July. We gathered and were greeted to two buckets of Champagne covered in ice. Before a cork was popped I was salivating.
Shortly after being seated the wines of Flight 1 were popped. This flight was thoughtfully grouped because these were all growers. In fact, the only three growers to be tasted on this evening. These were paired with a variety of Canapés pictured below: Cave Aged Gruyere Gougeres, Parmesan Shortbread with Herbs and Fresh Cheese, Lamb Tartare, Marinated Trout with Cucumber and Ginger.
This was followed by Caviar with Buttermilk, and Garden Herbs. Chef Bangerter described this as a lightly set, delicate panna cotta and it was lovely.
- 1996 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée – France, Champagne
This wine pours the lightest of this flight of 1996 grower champagnes, a medium/light straw. Nose is a tad tight (low intensity) with herbs, musty attic, lemon, green apple and oyster shell. The palate is alive with bright citric notes, low dosage and a biting, malic, green apple finish. Solid, but really not anything special. As I understand it this bottle was totally representative and Vilmart just wasn’t really knocking it out of the park yet. (89 points)
- 1996 Henri Giraud Champagne Fût de Chêne – France, Champagne
This was a really wild and unusual champagne. Clearly the deepest colour of the flight and perhaps the deepest colour of the whole evening. Rich honey with a deep golden brown core. Very rich on the nose with high complexity: mixed roasted nuts, sauteed mushrooms, chicken stock, game, wet forest, decaying wood, apple cider, applesauce, saline, light notes of sherry and a clear and distinct cave aged grueyre note. The rich, round palate certainly has some elevated dosage and a real cheesy finish. A very layered and multi-dimensional wine that clearly shows the oak ageing and oxidative leanings. (93 points)
- 1996 Drappier Champagne Grande Sendrée – France, Champagne
This pours a moderate lemon yellow. The nose is of lemon drop, lavendar, honey, slate, raw sugar, marmalade, some lightly sherried nuttiness, apple strudel and just a touch of applesauce. Quite a nice expression that’s drinking well. Another one that is elevated on the acid and low on the dosage. Medium plus finish. This feel like its drinking optimally now. (92 points)
The next flight came with a lot of anticipation for me personally. I have previously rated the 96 Grand Année 95 points and I know I’m generally a fan of the Heidsieck house style. This flight was paired with two courses. This first was Snow Crab paired with cured Foie Gras, Grapes and Sumac.
The second was Halibut and Spot Prawns paired with Chanterelles, Sweet Peas and Berkshire Lardo
- 1996 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
This is really my style. I think it liked it more than anyone else in the group. Quite a nice rich nose on this wine wafting notes of light roast coffee, honey, sautéed apple, saffron, coriander seed, chamomile tea, brown sugar, chinese five spice, smoked meat and pastry dough. The palate has fairly high acid but it is rounded off and feels like this wine has perhaps been through malolactic. the dosage comes across as a pinch above moderate (perhaps 10 g/l), which works nicely for me. The finish is medium plus repeating many of the rich notes shown on the nose. In my opinion this was flat out awesome. (94 points)
- 1996 Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année – France, Champagne
In the past I’ve absolutely loved this wine. This time it was great, but I wasn’t as taken with it as in other showings. Quite a toasty nose with lots of nutshells, nut skin, toasted bread, brioche crust, toasty wood, marzipan, the lightest kiss of sherry and the requisite orchard and citrus fruit rounding out the aromatic profile. The palate is nicely rich with abundant acid and measured dosage. Nice, long, lightly nutted finish that balances the toasty side against notes of green apple. (93 points)
- 1996 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Grande Cuvée – France, Champagne
We all found that this wine was markedly effervescent. It pours a moderate golden straw. Nose is down the middle stylistically with obvious autolautolytic character in full display. The nose is of unbaked dough, french pastry, melon and mixed citrus fruit. While quite enjoyable this was ultimately simple compared to the competition. The palate is typical with moderate dosage and the expected elevated acid. (91 points)
This next flight was selected by grouping the only Blanc de Blancs bottlings together. There was anticipation for the Salon as it was expected to be a top performer. Shockingly for me it was the bottom wine of the flight, at least today. Of course it does have huge future potential. This was paired with “The Queen’s Risotto” (Risotto with Truffle, Buffalo Milk Parmesan and Chives). Chef Bangerter discussed making this dish for Princess Diana and how it was her favourite dish of his. It was so stunning that we had him make us a second batch. What is lacks in visuals on the plate, it makes up for in truffle intensity. Served tableside from the pan by ladle, finished with a splash of Dom Perignon. This was the single best truffle experience I’ve had outside of Europe. These truffles were sourced from Australia.
- 1996 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
Pours moderate straw yellow. Here we have one of the most intense aromatic profiles of the evening. The pleasurable and expansive nose is of brown spice, cardamom, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, spices, aromatic melon skin, marzipan, vanilla and coconut. There are elements that have a slight resemblance to Sauternes or a late harvest Gewurtztraminer. The palate reveals a mouthfilling mousse and wonderfully spiced exotic notes. An unexpected standout for me. (94 points)
- 1996 Salon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne
While I understand other bottles have been more open, we all kind of agreed this one was a bit tight. The nose reveals some really interesting but subtle notes of strawberry shortbread, white currants, oyster shell, white flowers, fresh ginger and fresh cut strawberry. The palate has very focused high acid with a long delecate finish repeating fresh cut strawberry, white currants and ginger. 92+ for it’s future potential. It should be excellent in time, this bottle seems to have needed a bit more age. (92 points)
- 1996 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne – France, Champagne
Another standout with intense aromatics right out of the gate. I love this rich and open profile. The pungent nose blasts a distinct medium roast coffee note followed by wet dark soil, garlic/onion, popcorn, butter, caramel, butterscotch, brown sugar, hairspray and mixed orchard driven fruit. The palate is perfumed, mineral and highly acidic with perfect, slightly elevated dosage. I really like this style. (95 points)
We expected the next flight would turn out to be a interesting comparison between two bottles of the same base wine aged on the lees for vastly different amounts of time. While the regular Dom was approachable, if a bit young, the Oenothèque we found to be essentially undrinkable at this stage and left half the bottle full. In any case the food delivered. This was paired with an inventive chicken dish: Leg Presse, Morels, Baby Leek and Sherry Jus.
- 1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
A bit of a difficult showing from this bottle of Dom. The nose is focused on onion, garlic, a hint of plastic, some burlap, mango skin, pine needles and pear. All in all, enjoyable but at the same time a tad odd. The palate is well balanced with high acid and typical dosage. The finish has decent length, repeating mango notes. The impression I get is that this needs some more time to settle down. (92 points)
- 1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Oenothèque – France, Champagne
Really quite similar to the regular Dom but with a strong reduced overlay. Very strong plastic and rubber notes make this a difficult one to enjoy. Perhaps this will be good one day, but not really all there today. Followed over several hours without much change.
Finally we came to our final flight of four. This was grouped by the “heavy hitters” of the group; the expensive prestige labels that expectations were high for. I must say they all delivered what I expected from them, except that perhaps a little more age would have helped broaden the aromatics. This was paired with a dessert course of Strawberry with Rhubarb, Ginger Cream and Brown Butter Biscuit. Not too sweet, this turned out to be a wonderful pairing.
This was followed by the usual access to the Langdon Hall cheese trolley; a wonderful assortment of local and European cheeses. Clearly in the classic French tradition.
- 1996 Pol Roger Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill – France, Champagne
This pours a moderately deep shade of gold. While the aromatic intensity of this wine wasn’t quite as high as a few others, it still falls into the rich camp with expansive, integrated, maturing notes of candied ginger, a touch of sulfur, oyster shell, sandy beach, dry soil, poached pear, flint and smoke. The palate has the expected high acid and moderate dosage with quite a wild and long finish built on zingy ginger notes. Really lovely. Feels like it’s just entering it’s window of maturity. (95 points)
- 1996 Philipponnat Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses – France, Champagne
This pours a moderate golden yellow. The nose on this wine was so very mineral and floral via loads of crushed rock, yellow fruit, gun powder, daisy, orchid, tulip, ginger and honey. High acid and low dosage as expected with a medium plus finish. Very nice champagne and interestingly brings many of the same traits I look for in white burgundy. (94 points)
- 1996 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut – France, Champagne
This pours a moderate golden yellow. nose of yellow fruit and some secondary character: banana, caramel, vanilla, custard, mushroom, butterscotch, marzian and marshmallow. The palate is moderate dosage and very high acid. On the rich side but this still feels relatively primary and I think a bit more time might benefit this wine. (94 points)
- 1996 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut – France, Champagne
This pours on the lighter side; a light straw yellow. The nose is linear, low intensity and primary of lemon/lime, ginger and light honey. The palate is also linear and highly acidic with a moderate finish. I found this to be on the more young/closed side of things this evening. (92 points)
This was another unforgettable night. While we did come to the conclusion that Champagne can be expensive for what you get, some of these wines are reference points for me.
As always, Langdon Hall delivered on overall experience and provided a fabulous venue for such an event. Chef Jason Bangerter really added a personal touch, coming out to discussed dishes that he had thoughtfully prepared for us. Cheers to another amazing tasting and to Andrew for making it happen.