Alain Robert Le Mesnil Reserve Selection Grand Cru Brut 1990
Non-Vintage Sparkling Wine from Champagne, France
A show-stopper and certainly the favorite of a recent tasting, the 1990 lives up to all the vintage's lofty expectations. Subtle, savory notes of shaved chocolate provide bass notea for bright, soprano trills of pink grapefruit and chalk on the aromatic, complex nose. Truly palate-staining; rich, layered and very complex. A full-bodied wine that still has years, if not decades, ahead of it.
International Wine Cellar - "Bright yellow-gold with a lazy bead. Powerfully scented, strikingly complex bouquet of singed peach, pear, turbinado sugar, floral honey, marzipan and smoky minerals. Deep, palate-staining citrus and buttery orchard fruit flavors manage to be rich and energetic at once, picking up honey and talc notes with air. The long, sappy finish features seductive blood orange, minerals and a strong echo of marzipan. While this is complex enough to drink now, it also has the concentration and energy to reward further patience."
The Wine Advocate - "The superb 1990 Blanc de Blancs Reserve Le Mesnil is a current release from this small estate. Warm, toasty aromas emerge as the wine opens up in the glass. This is a full-bodied, intense Champagne with slightly oxidative flavors that add complexity to the rich, honeyed fruit. The wine possesses superb depth and richness, along with a finessed mousse and awesome balance. Readers who want to experience an aged yet fresh wine from the prestigious Le Mesnil vineyard will want to consider this beautifully-crafted Champagne. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2020."
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About ChampagneChampagne is both a region and a method. The wines come from the northernmost vineyards in France and the name conjures an image like no other can. An 18th Century Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon is said to be the first to blend both varietals and vintages, making good wines not only great, but also special and unique to their winemaker. Today, nearly 75% of Champagne produced is non-vintage and made up by a blend of several years' harvests.
All Champagnes must be made by a strictly controlled process called "Méthode Champenoise." The grapes are pressed and fermented for the first time. The blending phase follows and the wine is bottled and temporarily capped. Then comes the second fermentation, a blend of sugar and yeast is added and, this time, the carbon dioxide is kept inside the bottle. This process leaves a great deal of sediment that is extracted through a process of "racking" or "riddling." The bottles are progressively turned upside down until all the sediment is collected in the neck. The necks are then frozen and the sediment is "disgorged." After this phase, the winemaker may decide to add sugar to sweeten the wine. Finally the wine is corked. Some wines move through this process in a couple of months, while others are aged after the riddling phase to build greater complexity and depth.
Champagnes range from dry, "Brut," to slightly sweet, "Demi-Sec." Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are used in Champagne blends, but "Blancs de Noirs" is made entirely of Pinot Noir and "Blancs de Blanc" is made from only Chardonnay grapes. The high acidity achieved by the northern location is crucial to the balance and structure of these wines.
Not every year is a "vintage" declared. In years when it is not, the wines are blended with the produce from other years to create the non-vintage blend, the house style that remains constant from year to year. But in a great vintage year, champagne houses will bottle by itself the unblended year's produce, and use other portions as "reserve" wines to supplement and enrich the non-vintage blend. A vintage champagne can age quite gracefully, and gain complexity just like any other great still wine.
Mild cheeses like gruyere and shellfish pair nicely with Champagne. Also, oysters and Champagne is a popular combination. A full-flavored vintage Champagne can go with almost any meal.
About France - Other regionsWhen it comes to wine, France is a classic. Classic blends, grapes and styles began in the country and they still remain. Think about it - people ask for a Burgundian style Pinot Noir, they refer to wines as Bordeaux or Rhone blends - Champagne even had to pass a law to stop international wineries from putting their region on the label of all sparkling wine.
The top regions of France are: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Rhone. And these regions are so diverse! It makes sense that wine regions throughout the world try to emulate their style. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are no longer French varieties, but international varieties. They may not be the leader of cutting edge technology or value-priced wines, but there is no doubt that they are still producing wines of great quality and diversity.
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