Champagne Warrior Brad Baker had been looking for the opportunity to stage a comprehensive tasting of Jean Laurent Champagne for some time now, and he and wife Michelle finally bit the bullet and set a date to do so on October 3rd . The tasting was held at their home and by my count, no less than 24 bottles from that producer, spanning four decades, were uncorked, either by the more usual method of pulling, or with a the blunt edge of a blade. Oh yeah, there was a whole lot of sabering going on and we’ve got the videos to prove it!
We’ve waxed enthusiastically many times on the Gang pages about Champagne Jean Laurent. The consummate “grower” Champagne house, Laurent’s family has been growing wine grapes in the village of Celles-sur-Ource for more than 1,000 years, according to his importer, Hand Picked Selections. Only estate grown fruit is used in making this Champagne in small batches, using traditional methods, and it translates into the kind of superior bubbly that you rarely get from the big name houses, even when paying significantly more money.
Figure that all of these are very nice unless otherwise noted; actually, there was only one truly bad bottle opened on this marvelous occasion. They were enjoyed with a generous spread of a variety of food stuffs. Being the fool for sushi that I am, I went heavily in that direction, and it worked quite well with the bubblies.
Brad started us off with a couple of magnums that took him 42 seconds to saber both with one swipe each. (I followed up trying my blade-hand with one of the Rosés, and it took me a few more swipes than Brad. He IS the Champagne Warrior, after all!) Here are my snapshot impressions:
NV Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs from Magnum, disgorged in late 2006: Medium straw color; yeasty, smoky under-ripe apple flavors and aromas, intense and racy, with a certain creamy quality to it. Find this wine
NV Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs from Magnum, disgorged in late 2006: Medium straw color and then some; more expressive on the nose then the BdB,with smoky, yeasty yellow apple. Quite yeasty and smoky on the palate, and nicely so, with a good dose of minerality as well. Takes things up a step in intensity from the Bdb, with excellent acidity. Find this wine
Both of the following Rosés were made using the saignee method, and spent 5 years on the lees; more recent versions spent 3 years on the lees.
NV Champagne Jean Laurent Brut Rosé, disgorged Dec. 2004: Salmon pink, with cherry, strawberry and watermelon flavors and aromas, well mannered, but not at all wimpy; zippy acids, with nice presence and intensity. Find this wine
NV Champagne Jean Laurent Brut Rosé, disgorged Dec. 2004: Slightly darker salmon pink than the previous selection and more pungent on the nose; aromas of smoke and flint pick up strawberry, cherry and some subtle cream on the palate. Not quite as racy as the 2004 disgorgement, but very nice indeed. Find this wine
1998 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Medium straw color, and very yeasty on the nose, with some smoke in support; gains a rich core of under-ripe apple and mineral on the palate. Excellent acids and intensity. Find this wine
2000 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Medium straw color, and not quite as exuberant on the nose as the ’98, but very expressive in the mouth with smoky, yeasty mineral over a solid core of under-ripe yellow apple. Find this wine
2000 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Medium straw color, with less smoke and yeast on the nose than the 2000 BdN and obviously made from Chardonnay; flavors of smoke and mineral more than yeast, with a solid core of green and yellow under-ripe apple. Racy acidity, with very good depth and intensity. Find this wine
1997 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs from Magnum: Medium straw color and neither overly effusive nor stingy on the nose, offering some pretty yellow apple, smoke and yeast; plenty more of the same on the palate, with nice undertones of mineral and good presence and zip. In a really nice place right now, with plenty of life left ahead of it. Find this wine
1997 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs from Magnum: Medium straw in color, this one really shows its Pinot Noir character, with smoky yeasty under-ripe red apple; earthy, racy and intense. Find this wine
1996 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs, disgorged 2005: Pale to medium straw color; the pretty yeast, bread dough and apple nose follows through nicely on the palate, with undertones of minerality; rich and tasty, with very good intensity. Brad Baker and Jim Brennan both mention impressions of orange peel on both this and the following selection, disgorged a year earlier. Find this wine
1996 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs, disgorged 2004: Medium straw color, with intense mineral, smoke and yeast in support of a solid core of under-ripe red and green apple; big, rich and intense, with racy acidity. I’m in love! Find this wine
1996 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with just a hint of nuttiness on the nose, along with smoke and yeast; fleshes out on the palate with smoke, mineral, praline and under-ripe apple. Very good acids and intensity. Find this wine
1995 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with a moderate nose of mineral and smoke; flavors pick things up nicely with pretty apple and pear at the core. Not as intense as many of these, but very nice in its own regard; a “pretty” Champagne. Find this wine
The following selection priced at around $150 was included as a reference point for comparison with the Laurents, and for the most part, it didn’t quite measure up. Apples and oranges? Different strokes for different styles? Maybe so, but I’ll take Jean Laurent any day.
1990 Veuve Clicquot Le Grande Dame: Pale gold color, with a pretty, if not overly effusive nose of yellow apple and praline that echoes and expands on the palate with more praline nuttiness; good intensity, but not up to that of the Laurents, A very nice, well mannered Champagne. Find this wine
1992 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Medium straw to pale gold, with more creamy apple and less yeast and smoke on the nose; gains nice notes of mineral, yeast and smoke on the palate, but, again, the creamy apple rules here. Rather different than the preceding selections, with excellent intensity and cut. Find this wine
1992 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with a modest nose of praline and apple; follows through in the mouth with nice minerality, subtle earthy undertones and good cut. In a nice place right now, striking a pleasing balance between mellow comfort and intensity. Find this wine
1989 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Medium straw to pale gold color; the sweet praline nose carries through on the palate with a solid earthy and mineral base, and Jim Brennan mentions a note of caramel. Very nice intensity and cut and rather different than the selections tasted before it. Good stuff! Find this wine
1989 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Pale gold color, with a nutty apple nose that follows through in the flavors with subtle mineral and yeast; more than middleweight in intensity and no wallflower by any means. What it may lack in intensity when compared to the younger models is more than compensated for with charm. Find this wine
1986 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with a rather stingy nose; crisp and intense in the mouth, with creamy apple and pear shaded with subtle mineral and yeast. A lovely Champagne with beautiful presence and very good cut. Strangely enough, it almost reminds me of a really nice, hoppy micro-brew, and that’s a very good thing! Find this wine
1985 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Pale gold color, with nice secondary character that retains all its freshness, offering elements of praline, golden apple, some subtle mineral and a hint of butterscotch; still zippy in the mouth, and very harmonious and enjoyable. Find this wine
1975 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Pale gold color; dusty praline and golden apple aromatics in modest proportions pick it up nicely in the mouth with good depth and cut. Disgorged in the last two years, this shows impeccable balance, and while the intensity and racy acidity is toned down some when compared to the younger selections, it’s still more than ample for the overall appeal. Find this wine
Brad Cook brought the following wine as another reference point and Leeann Starr sabered it.
1990 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Brut: The dusty yellow apple aromas don’t exactly jump out of the glass, but they do make an appearance and flesh out and expand on the palate with some subtle flint, very good presence and acidity. Nice stuff! Find this wine
1973 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Maderized, over the hill and dumped; described by all as disgusting. I guess there had to be one… Find this wine
1975 Champagne Laurent Blanc de Blancs: This was bottled by Jean’s father with a different label and a slightly different dossage than the 75 JL. It shows a pretty gold color, with dusty praline, yellow apple and mineral flavors and aromas shaded with some very subtle butterscotch. A lovely Champagne that strikes all the right notes, with no negatives at this point. Find this wine
1975 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs: Pale gold color, with a dusty, nutty, sweet yellow apple nose that echoes and expands in the big flavors; still zippy and intense, though toned down when compared to the younger vintages. Find this wine
1978 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs: Pale gold in color and a surprisingly primary nose of apple and pear shaded with some dusty mineral; remarkably fresh and vibrant, with very few secondary characteristics. Under-ripe and rich at the same time; just delightful! Find this wine
Another “data point:”
1990 Deutz Cuvee William Deutz: Pale gold, with dusty, yeasty yellow apple in modest proportion on the nose; dry and dusty apple and mineral flavors strike a nice balance between rich and bone dry. Find this wine
There were also 1976 Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs and Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Blancs listed on Brad’s invitation, but if they were opened, I didn’t see or taste them, and at that point, “tasting” anything might have been a bit iffy. With discretion getting the better of irresponsibility, we took our leave at the appropriate time. I offered to sleep with the dogs if we could stay, but Kim was having none of that.
This was quite simply an amazing tasting, one of the most memorable for this reporter in a long list that we’ve attended or thrown over the years. Many, many thanks to Brad and Michelle for their generosity in not only opening their home to host this event, but also for opening so many bottles of truly great Champagne Jean Laurent. Thanks also to all the participants for their contributions of Champagne, food and good friendship. It was truly a night to remember, not for the least of reasons being that Kim drank and enjoyed Champagne throughout. I believe that the Champagne Warrior is correct when he says that we’ll make a bubble head out of her yet!
Reporting from Day-twah,