by Kara Hugglestone
Few things are so inextricably tied as New Year’s Eve and champagne. Dancing at a black tie or après black diamond, wherever I am this special night I’m sure to toast with an exceptional bubbly.
The new year with all it’s hopes and dreams deserves to be welcomed with something memorable so I’ll share some favorite special wines. Although many are well known for good reason, there may be some surprises.
Ask a serious champagne aficionado their favorite and the likely response is Krug – and rightly so. Whenever I attend champagne tasting inevitably it’s my favorite, regardless of the competition. It’s so creamy, elegant and rich. This complex wine is so remarkable that it’s an experience just tasting it. Ginger, pear, honey, smoke…
It’s easy to see why it holds it’s preeminent position with discerning palettes. Enjoying Krug is an event in itself.
An interesting note is since 2011 each bottle has it’s own Krug id, a six digit number on the back of the label which leads to the story behind that very bottle. The numbers refer to the quarter and year the bottle left the Krug cellars. It’s a good reference for building a collection of different bottles to age and enjoy.
I’m a big fan of Veuve Clicquot, it’s one of the houses making exceptional champagne at every level. Their prestige cuvee La Grande Dame however is something very special indeed. Named after founder Madame Clicquot, who impressively took over the wine business when widowed at age 27, La Grande Dame is made only in the finest years and only from eight grand cru vineyards.
The sensuous curves of the Grande Dame bottle hints at the seductive wine inside. It’s voluptuous yet crisp and has layer upon layer of complexity. I love how citrus mixes with yeasty toasty notes. And, the sailor in me has to declare an affinity for the anchor on the bottle too.
Dom Pérignon is a must for a best champagne list and Moet & Chandon’s ultra premium champagne never disappoints. It’s so elegant with a mixture of peach, lemon and passion fruit nicely balanced with biscuit and honey. The Wine Advocate has described it as almost tropical and I totally get it. Now it conjures up images of an island getaway…
I especially enjoy the special offerings from Dom Pérignon; this year there is an imaginative collaboration with artist Jeff Koons. He designed a colorful label and signature gift box as well as a limited edition Balloon Venus figurine for the fabulous rose. They are based on Koons latest addition to his Antiquity series, which takes inspiration from Venus of Willendorf, a Paleolithic artifact believed to have been a fertility symbol. Neiman Marcus featured the Balloon Venus in their fab Christmas Catalog, where the artist is quoted as saying the work represents past, present and future Dom Pérignon vintages.
I especially liked last year’s partnership with director David Lynch. He designed the labels after experimenting with special lighting for two days in a darkroom. They have a haunting, mysterious feel, much like Lynch’s work and in a way this elegant brand.
A favorite new discovery is Piper-Heidsieck’s Cuvee Rare Brut Champagne. It’s every bit as complex as you would expect from a tete-de-cuvee and the flavor is fantastic, pear, brioche, ginger… Wine Spectator gives it a 97 and I have to agree. As does the wine community, this year Piper Heidsieck’s wine maker, Regis Camus was crowned sparkling wine maker for 2013 by the prestigious International Wine Challenge. It’s his eight title.
Piper Heidsieck has long expressed the precious nature of its Cuvee Rare by adorning special bottles with beautiful jewelry and collaborating with fashion designers. In 1885 Peter Carl Faberge was commissioned to design a bottle in diamonds, gold and lapis-lazuli. A century later a bottle inspired by the original Faberge design was set with diamonds and gold by Van Cleef and Arpels. In 2012 10 bottles were wrapped in 18-carat gold tierras. Ooh la la!
Twice Piper Heidsieck has partnered with famed designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, first in 1999 having him “dress” a bottle of champagne – complete with red corset – and then in 2010 with a cancan-inspired bottle with Swvorski crystal fishnets. The champagne house and designer collaborated again recently with Piper Heidsiek sponsoring the opening evening of the international exhibit Jean Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk to Catwalk which was one of my favorite exhibits ever.
Another favorite choice wine is from one of the few grand marque champagne houses that is still family owned and operated, Champagne Pol Roger. Interestingly, their prestige cuvee is named after the house’s most ardent and famous fan, Sir Winston Churchill. He drank his first glass of Pol Roger in 1908 and it was love at first taste, to his death he remained faithful to the brand.
Most recently I’ve tasted the 1999 Cuvee Sir Winston which was made in celebration of the house’s 150 anniversary. It’s actually a celebration in itself with luscious notes of peach, orange and lots of mineral and toast, a special wine indeed.
I’m also quite taken with the 2004 Pol Roger Brut Rose, with it’s delicate balance of fruit and mineral. Along with berry, there are delicious notes of flowers and mint.
I just love how impassioned Churchill was about his favorite wine; two of my favorite champagne quotes are attributed to him. “In victory we deserve it, in defeat we need it!” and “Remember gentleman, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
The original prestige champagne is Cristal by Louis Roederer. It was created in 1876 for Alexander II, the Tsar of Russia, who feared assassination given the current political climate. Alexander requested Roederer make his champagne in a clear lead glass bottle with a flat bottom so he could better see inside, to make sure nothing was hidden. Lucky for the rest of us it became commercially available in 1945.
The wine inside is as elegant as the packaging. Delicate notes of grapefruit, pear, spice and buttered bread toast you deeper and deeper into its spell. Cristal is always a good choice for a festive occasion.
There are so many special champagnes… I’m saving a few more for another important event just around the corner.
Best wishes for a wonderful 2014, cheers!