The party was at Champagne Warrior Brad Baker’s house, and while the focus of the gathering was by no means the four vintages of Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne that he opened, they do serve as a convenient focal point for this report. In truth, it was simply taking advantage of an open Friday night to get together with members of that band of ne’er-do-wells known as the Detroit Wine Rats, pull some corks, eat some good food and swap tall tales. We got things started with a bottle we picked up during a recent visit to the Niagara Peninsula to gift to Brad. It wasn’t necessarily intended to open on this occasion, but since we turned possession over to him, it was his to do with whatever he wanted, and he immediately pulled the cork.
2004 13th Street Premier Niagara Peninsula Cuvée Brut, 12% alc.: Medium straw color, with an active bead and ample mousse; a bit yeasty on the nose, with a stony minerality that dominates the solid core of rich, if under-ripe apple flavors; nice intensity, excellent acids and good length. Find this wine
2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant, 12% alc.: This came courtesy of Chenin Blanc fanatic (yes, there’s one in every crowd) Jim Brennan; pale gold, with a fine, active bead and a slightly smoky nose. Pretty apple flavors, neither over nor under-ripe, with undertones of mineral in the mouth. Good acids and intensity. Find this wine
2009 Domaine Ricard Touraine Blanc Pierre À Feu, 12.5% alc.: Pale straw color, with a stingy nose that only hints at the creamy grapefruit, gooseberry and mineral flavors; medium-to-medium-full bodied, with good intensity and a smooth texture that belies the good acidity. Jim Brennan added an impression of “a little grassy,” and while this may not be a “great” wine, it is quite enjoyable and a fine example of Old World Sauvignon Blanc. Find this wine
2006 Faiveley Mercurey Clos des Myglands, 13% alc.: Ruby garnet color, with good, earthy plum and cherry flavors and aromas shaded with subtle hints of forest floor; medium bodied, with good acids and length and more than just serviceable. Find this wine
2007 Faiveley Mercurey Clos des Myglands, 13% alc.: Ruby garnet color, with plum, cherry and cranberry flavors and aromas underscored with some earthy forest floor; good acids and more intensity than the ’06, and Jim Lester opined that “the tannins are holding the middle.” Pleasant and enjoyable. Find this wine
It’s hard to hold me back when there’s 12-year-old Châteauneuf-du-Pape around, so I got right to these two after getting the preliminaries out of the way.
1998 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 13.5% alc.: Still dark in color, with nary a hint o’ rust, and throwing a slightly funky nose of earth, iron and black fruit; flavors echo loudly, big and intense and still very well structured. Classic Pegau that has yet to reach its peak, and may not get there until its 20th birthday. Find this wine
1998 Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Grenache, 13.5% alc.: Cloudy dark color, with a funky forest floor nose that echoes and expands on the palate with a rich core of earthy black plum and berry accented with big leather and hints of anise; full bodied, well structured and very earthy on the finish. 100% Grenache. Find this wine
With my Rhône jones somewhat sated and Kim requesting to saber some Champagne (she scored a beautifully clean cut on the following selection with her third swipe, her first time ever to employ this technique), Brad decided it was time to survey the four vintages of Louis Roederer “Cristal” he had chilled down. Brad is not a huge fan of this particular label, but he IS the Champagne Warrior, and he had some lying around and thought it would be fun to see where these were at in their development. I was particularly intrigued with these, since my experience with them had been practically nil up until this evening.
2002 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, 12% alc.: Medium color, with an active bead and a yeasty yellow apple nose that fleshes out nicely, almost politely, on the palate, with more yeast than mineral; medium bodied plus, with excellent acidity and very good length. Nice, but $200 nice?! Find this wine
1999 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, 12% alc.: Pale-to-medium color, active bead and smoke and slate on the nose; more of the same in the mouth, with what Paul Ragheb describes as gun smoke and flint.” Much more intense than the ’02, and much more to my liking, and that of several others as well. Find this wine
1996 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, 12% alc.: Off bottle; not horrid, but something obviously not right about this one. Find this wine
1989 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne, 12% alc.: Fruity, yeasty nose, with yellow apple and banana flavors and nary a hint of mineral or yeast on the palate; pleasant enough, with good spritz and acidity and decent intensity. Find this wine
The ’99 is the best of these, and some very good Champagne indeed, but where is the price justification for this label?! I don’t get it, and neither do any of the other tasters present. Paul R. asked Brad to pop the cork on the next bottle for comparison’s sake, and it more than held its own for far fewer dollars.
Louis Roederer “Brut Premier” Champagne NV, 12% alc.: Smoky, yeasty nose, with intense mineral character, and if it lacks some of the depth of the Cristal, it has more of the other “stuff” that I look for in my Champagne. Not great, but quite good; from 2004 base. Find this wine
2003 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 14% alc.: Deeply, darkly colored; big and chewy, with earth, iron, spice and black plum and berry. Huge, yet approachable, with tons of structure and intensity. Try again in 5 years to see where it’s at. Find this wine
2006 Domaine Bois de Boursan Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 13.5% alc.: Slightly cloudy dark color, with big classic Boursan character reminiscent of earth, iron, black fruit and smoke; full bodied, with tons of structure, but not unapproachable with some air. Despite its size, has an almost feminine quality about it; lovely, and promises to get much better with time in the cellar. Find this wine
1995 Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan, 13% alc.: Tasters commented that this is hard and unyielding when first opened, but by the time I get to it after a few hours, it’s drinking nicely. Slightly cloudy dark color, with an old wood, black currant, blackberry nose, fragrant and appealing; flavors echo, decidedly dry and old world in style. Full bodied, well-structured and still on the way up, yet very nice now with air. Find this wine
2001 Chateau d’Armailhac Pauillac, 12.5% alc.: Deep, dark color, with smoky coffee and subtle toast on the nose; follows through on the palate with a nice core of medium intense blackcurrant. Medium-full-to-full-bodied, with good structure; a polite claret that perhaps suffers a little in a company of powerhouses, but it has the goods to go for at least another 5 years, if not longer. Find this wine
As mentioned, Jim Lester of Wyncroft was in attendance, and pouring glasses from some of his latest offerings. Because we have tasted and reviewed these recently, I held off on them until I made my way through the wines noted above and am happy to report that all are showing quite well, thank you very much.
Many thanks to Brad Baker for hosting a great evening’s worth of fine food and wine, and for opening the mini-flight of Cristal. Thanks also to all of the participants for their friendship and their contributions to the festivities. The Detroit Wine Rats are a cool bunch o’ cats and kitties!
Reporting from Day-twah,