Special Bubbles

What's your wine icon? Your ultimate? I'll pour you one glass of wine...tonight...tomorrow night...next week. One. What do you want?

For me, I might think about great pinot. But not for long. My answer would come pretty quickly. It'd be great champagne. I love great champagne. Love, love, love it!

Interestingly, great champagne may be harder to find than great wines of most kinds. Want great Bordeaux? I can find it at each of our top DC wine shops...and at any number of websites. Even some mature ones. Great Burgundy is harder to find...but it's there. If you say you want a specific vintage of DRC, the answer might have to be a wine auction. But there's great Burgundy in our best wine shops. And oodles of top west coast cab and chardonnay.

Great champagne? Not so much. Good champagne? Sure. Current edition of Krug Grande Cuvée. Current vintage of Dom Perignon. They're not great? Some people think so. I used to think Krug Grande Cuvée was great. I'm not sure if my taste changed...or if Krug Grande Cuvée changed (perhaps when LVMH bought them). Vintage Krug can cross the great threshold in a good year. DP? 1996 was great. 2002 might be close. But overall...for me, good...not great. How much vintage Krug or DP from these top years is for sale in the DC area? Last I looked, none.

If you're lucky and live in an area with a top wine shop--for example, DC's MacArthur Beverages--you may have access to some grower champagnes. Some really good grower champagnes. But the very best bottlings from the growers...not as many. For example, we in DC are blessed with access to Cedric Bouchard's Val Vilaine. Really, really good. But it's his "entry level." Want Bouchard's Les Ursules or La Bolarée? MacArthur's does offer it. But better buy it as a future. It'll be gone before it ever gets to the shelves.

And what about the Special Club bottlings? The Special Club (officially Club Trésors de Champagne or Treasures of Champagne) was formed almost 50 years ago to highlight grower champagne. The ~26 members offer their best as Special Club. To be sold as Special Club, it must be approved as a base wine in a blind tasting for quality and again as a finished wine. Standards are very high and nominated wines definitely are rejected. So how much Special Club is available in our area? Again, to my knowledge, none.

The champagnes that have really thrilled me--champagnes like 1990 J. Lassalle Special Club...2004 Marc Hébrart Special Club...1996 Krug--are very, very hard to find. I did find a 2008 Marc Hébrart Special Club on the Hart Davis Hart website. One bottle. I ordered it. I loved it. Soooo...if you want a thrilling champagne, where can you go? Well...if you have deep pockets, you can look at a top restaurant with a top winelist. Last I went, the Inn at Little Washington had 2008 Marc Hébrart Special Club on the list. They had two bottles (and thanks to a generous friend, we enjoyed them both).

But--and here's the point of this piece--there is a website that has dozens of thrilling champagnes, some of them fully mature. When I looked at the list, I felt like a cat prowling around in a catnip store! It's the website of David Speer, owner of Ambonnay, the wine bar in Portland that specializes in champagne and sparkling wine. The address is ambonnaycellars.com.

If you love champagne, you owe it to yourself to check it out.


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