Winston Churchill said in 1946, “I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.”
Whether you think you deserve it or need it, everyone in the US probably really could regularly use a good glass or bottle of bubbles. With what will inevitably be a difficult remainder of this unforgettable year that we’d all rather forget, maybe there’s a need to allocate at least a few cases for every drinking adult out there… Or maybe you’ll choose to keep your indulgences to a minimum until the holidays, when some of us might experience some added travel and risky-mingle stresses to our already interesting family gatherings. This selection of six wines can set you up with what you need for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc, as well as the finale, on December 31st, when we’ll tell a lot of what happened in 2020 to go to h**l, while we also toast the many things for which we’re grateful.
The first tier of sparklers is for the bigger family gatherings, where price and quality are imperative. These go quickly so you may want to double up on them. And we can’t forget to account for those sneaky family members who forgot they are not the only ones at the party. You know they’ve already scoped out and zeroed in on the wines you brought because they’re not dumb and they know your wines are the best anyone brought. Consider these wonderful wines to kick it all off. And maybe they’ll take the biggest hit in the collection of wines you offered to the party. Just make sure the family wine predator sees you pop one of these first, take a sip, smile like you’re proud, intentionally forget your manners and look a little greedy by taking a bit more before offering it to anyone else. Look the predator straight in the eye to signal that you know they want some and pour them a nice big glass to keep them busy while you head to the kitchen to get into the second tier wine in the fridge before they catch on to your game. That’s how it’s done. I’ve been doing it for more than two decades now, and it works.
The second tier is a step-up and should partly be kept away from the family wine predator until you’ve had your share and are ready to move on from bubbles and that maybe you begin to feel guilty that you’ve been holding out on them; they’re still family after all, and I guess that counts for something. The second tier is indeed for you but even more so for the elders in the family who have endured your pain-in-the-butt family this long as well as this extraordinarily stressful year. Predator Tip: Make sure they don’t see what you’re up to and don’t ever set the bottle down until you’re ready to say goodbye to it. You can foil them by pouring it almost completely out for those most deserving (including you, of course), but offer them the last taste by pouring the remaining couple ounces, just enough to let them think about their sizable past offenses.
In the last phases of the holiday, we start to dig into Champagne and we’re going to keep the prices in the non-ridiculous category. They’re wines that are exceptional in their own right, but young and exciting.
The first set of Champagne’s are best served up with food. They are not the aperitifs or after dinner types that flaunt crystalline qualities and big fruit, or matured age with subtle nuance. These are savory, which makes them ideal with food. (The other showoff Champagnes that can be more overwhelmed by food than these will come in the next tier…) These wines need to be opened when people start snacking heavily and should be nearly polished off before everyone sits down and migrates into their preferred color.
At last, it was a good day and you’ve maybe taken a post-lunch, booze-induced nap, or you’re wild-eyed and just beginning to defile yourself as you purge 2020. In any case, by the time you get to this last tier of wines, it’s been a long day and you’ve waded your way through a lengthy dinner and floated away on a lot of good bottles; well, at least if you’re able to enjoy the ones you brought before they’re topped up around the table, three glasses out of each bottle…
The best part about saving these for last is that maybe you get to take some back home and have a toast with your intimate loved one, or the one you want to be intimate with… Or, maybe you just need a little perk up to finish the eventful day and the predator called it early because they thought you ran out, or they passed out (whichever comes first). In the wine industry we often start with Champagne and finish the night with it too. You will at least need these bottles opened some minutes on the night before 2020 turns into the past.
The Sorgente Prosecco is the perfect start to any holiday gathering. The proximity of Sorgente’s vineyards to the Alps and the Adriatic Sea brings an ideal temperature characterized by large temperature swings from day to night. As you may know, this is crucial for a proper Prosecco to remain true to form (bright, fresh, minerally) and function (pleasure over intellect, although both are strong here.) Limestone and clay are that magical mix of soils that impart many of the world’s great wines with interesting x-factors. Yeah, it’s still Prosecco, but it’s a good one. And it’s been noticed by some of the best restaurants in New York, California and Illinois where it’s being poured by the glass.
The Château de Brézé Cremant de Loire is another wine in our collection that over-delivers for the price, especially when considering the exhaustive effort that went into crafting such an inexpensive sparkler from Brézé, one of the Loire Valley’s greatest terroirs. This now famous commune in Saumur is known for its laser-sharp Chenin Blanc wines, and fresh, bright and extremely age-worthy Cabernet Franc. The blend here is about 75% Chenin Blanc with the rest Chardonnay; the latter is used to soften up, add body and round out the edges of the extremely taut character of the Chenin grown in the coldest sites on this already frigid hill.
Vincent Charlot is a master of organic and biodynamic viticulture, and within moments of meeting him, you know you’re in for it. Descending from a long line of family cooperatives, the passionate and eager Vincent took over the family business in 2001, when he began to bottle his own wines. One of the few vignerons in the biodynamic wine world to grow and make his own biodynamic preparations, he is a strong advocate of using homeopathy to manage any malady in the vineyard. To spend the afternoon with Vincent, means you will not only witness his remarkable knowledge of the complex microcosm thoroughly embodied by his thriving vineyards, and you’ll also see the rich biodiversity that populates them, including various species of wild strawberries and carrots, bees pollinating the lavender bushes and mushrooms that sprout between the vines as if to boast the health of the surrounding terroir. It is not only a visual experience; it’s also a spiritual one. Often quirky and full of surprises, Vincent’s wines are deeply complex and layered with savory characteristics that conjure up the feeling that you are drinking the entire terroir itself, with its immense biodiversity of plants, wild fruits, flowers and animal life.
“La Fruit de ma Passion”comes from the Côteaux d’Épernay and is composed of 55% Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir, and 20% Chardonnay sourced from 2 parcels: La Genette (0.55 ha) and Les Chapottes (0.55 ha) are predominantly grown on chalk soil with clay and silex rocks. After fermentation it is aged in old French barrels for eight months without a Malolactic fermentation. It’s unfined, unfiltered, and the dosage is 4.5g/L
“The secret is not what I do in the cellar, it’s my vineyards and how I work them.” Maxime Ponson and his younger brother, Camille, with his own label, Paul Gadiot, work their family’s vineyards together in La Petite Montagne, a subsection of Champagne’s Montagne de Reims, located west of Reims. The Ponson vineyards are scattered between seven different communes on premier cru sites spread over 13.5 hectares. The grapes are a mix of nearly 70% Pinot Meunier, and the rest is equal parts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bedrock here is mostly chalk and Maxime says it’s softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs because it’s more of a tuffeau, an extremely porous, soft, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock.
Maxime believes that if every vineyard is worked according to what it needs and not in a systematic way across the range of vineyards, the diversity obtained from the best characteristics of each brings to his blending palette something to fill the gaps where others may fall short. This makes for a more complete wine that hits on a broader range of complexities than others.
All grapes are whole-cluster pressed in a traditional Coquard basket press. Alcoholic fermentation lasts between ten days and two months with maximum temperatures of around 16° to 18°C. Aside from temperature control, Malolactic fermentation rarely happens and is not encouraged. The Total SO2 of any Ponson wines rarely exceeds 30 mg/L.
La Petite Montagne comes from premier cru sites scattered among seventy parcels in seven different villages and is composed of 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. The base year is 2014, and is blended with 25% réserve wine. The dosage is 4g/L.
Camille Ponson’s Paul Gadiot Précurseur comes from some of the best premier cru sites, a few of which are seventy years old. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Pinot Noir. 2012 is the first vintage and a joint effort between the brothers. The dosage is 4g/L.
In 2008, Guillaume Sergent started his micro-domaine with a tiny parcel of his family’s vineyards. Along with his formal education in enology, he earned a degree in geology, making time spent with him a treat filled with in-depth details of the natural history of his vineyards and the surrounding area. Located on La Montagne des Reims, Guillaume’s minuscule 1.25 acres of vineyards are entirely committed to organic culture and plowed by horse. All the wines are all aged in old François Frères French oak barrels and finished with a small dosage—rarely more than 1g/L, minimal amounts of sulfur (45mg/L, or 45ppm) and no induced stabilization, fining or filtration. While he employs simple and straightforward, low-tech winemaking processes, Guillaume’s wines are subtly taut, ethereal and refined—a clear reflection of his mastery in the vineyards and soft touch in the cellar.
Les Prés Dieu, a single harvest Blanc de Blancs premier cru composed of Chardonnay, originates from two vineyard plots on light sand and chalky soil. Both plots are within the advantageous middle of their respective hills, which brings balance to the body of wines; Les Prés faces northeast and Les Vignes Dieu, south. The May 2019 disgorgement comes entirely from the 2017 vintage, while the July 2020 disgorgement, entirely from 2018. Another Sergent wine labeled B.O. (Bouteilles Oubliées, which translates as “forgotten bottles”) signifies a lengthier bottle aging that lasts a minimum of six years.