Three hours flew by like a fairy-tale. Friends, laughs, Champagne of the highest order, multiple pours... toward the end, the crowd dissipated... and all that Krug was still there, beckoning me like a lighthouse in the dark of night.
The three Champagnes shown below together retail for around $500. Is it too much to ask for my three favorites? Does it get much better than '96 Henriot, '98 Krug, '98 Veuve Clicquot "La Grande Dame"? Living in the Bay Area, I am soooo lucky to have the Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Champagne Tasting come to San Francisco, and for a measly $50(!!!!) I get to taste (and taste and taste and taste again...) the cream of the crop.
Champagne is polarizing. Some people love it above all. Some people don't get it at all. Some drink it, 'cause it's bubbly and fancy. I am close to the first camp. But it hasn't always been that way. I used to not get it - it was sour and carbonated and kind of "not wine". But I had an open mind, listened to my friends who knew more about wine than I did, and kept at it, until eventually the light bulbs went off. It may have been the Magnum of 1990 Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Annamaria Clementi" (from Lombardy, Italy) that Chef Donato served at a friend's party. Or maybe it was some other complex, nutty, bready, yeasty, tiny-bubble marvel - but my wine life changed forever when I finally got Champagne (or I should say sparkling wine?)
I drink it with sushi. I drink it with fries. I drink it with eggs and bacon. I drink it with tomato soup. Certainly with triple-cream cheese. And a million other things. Every thing. Too bad the darn thing is so expensive. But for $50, for three unforgettable hours of tasting the finest bubbly, money was of no consequence.
And now my favorite Champagnes of the tasting in the order of loving...
1. 1996 Henriot "Cuvee des Enchateleurs" Brut - all Henriot Champagnes at the tasting were impressive: the non-vintage Blanc Souverain Chardonnay, the 1998 Millsesime Brut, the 1995 "Cuvee des Enchanteleurs" Brut, and the ultimate 1996 "Cuvee des Enchateleurs" Brut. Across the board, Henriot is regal. 1996 was a classic vintage for Champagne. Several of my wine friends preferred the '95, but for me - the '96 Henriot was the clear, incomparable front-runner.
2. 1998 Krug Brut - must be the world's most famous Champagne. (Possibly Cristal and Salon are in the league). Powerful and full-bodied. The non-vintage Krug Brut was fantastic as well (~$120/btl).
3. 1998 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin "La Grande Dame" - had this Champagne almost a year ago, and it wasn't nearly as enjoyable. Perhaps the wine has evolved, but more likely - my palate has! This wine was elegant, balanced, powerful yet not heavyweight (like the '98 Krug). Very classy.
4. Non-vintage Krug Brut "Grande Cuvee" (as mentioned already) was textbook. My friend Enoch and I must have snuck at least 5 or 6 pours! (shhhhhh.....)
5. Jacquesson Cuvee #734 non-vintage Brut - lots of character, very nice.
6. Vilmart "Grand Ceillier" Brut Premier Cru, along with Jacquesson and Krug, was the top non-vintage Champagne of the show.
Many others were certainly not shabby - Perrier-Jouet (2002), Dom Perignon (2000, third time I've had it - keeps leaving me somewhat cold), Pol Roger (1999 "Extra Cuvee de Reserve" Blanc de Blancs and 2000), Taittinger, Louis Roederer, Bollinger (Le Grand Annee 2000 Brut), Ruinart (1998 and NV Blanc de Blancs), and many others - nothing to sneeze at, though certainly not earth-shattering mind-bogglers.
Normally, I enjoy Rosés, and the event had its share of big brands that drew the crowd. But this time, the non-Rosés ruled the show.
As the sun was setting over the San Francisco Bay, the heat dissipating with the refreshing coolness of Henriot, my friend Enoch and I headed downstars to Gott's (aka Taylor's Refresher) - the best fast-food style burger in Northern California (maybe in America?!), originally from St. Helena in Napa Valley, and now solidly at the foot of the Ferry Building. We ordered my all-time-favorite Texas burger - the mouth-watering creation of monumental proportions, with Jack cheese, fresh guacamole, salsa, mayo & pickled jalapeños on a toasted egg bun, with a side of garlic parsley fries, and just (drumroll please...) - "sorry, I can't handle any more wine tonight!" - diet coke.