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Sep 20, 2006 07:46 AM

Notes from IMW Champagne Tasting in San Francisco

On Monday I placed an excited call from the Ferry Building, "Richard, I'm in Champagne heaven! You gotta come by this afternoon, three different Krugs are open, Bollinger RD, Dom Perignon Oenotheque . . . " The public tasting included 35 houses and nearly 90 different wines enjoyed from Riedel crystal flutes. Now totally guilt-ridden for not telling more of my friends in San Francisco about it, I'll post my "quick and dirty" notes so that they'll remember to come next year. And, hopefully the New Yorkers will catch the event next week in Manhattan (hint:


The styles represented included non-vintage, vintage, rosé, blanc de blancs, prestige cuvée, and sweeter (dosé). Concerned that some of the top bottlings might disappear, I started with the vintage, then prestige cuvees, and then b de b, nv, rose, and dose. I mention it because this may have had the effect of underrating the non-vintage wines. As one of my tasting companions quipped, "We'd be happy drinking just about any of these in a lounge somewhere, but compared to Salon, well..." Anyway, here goes, in order of tasting (with * next to my favorites) -


Bollinger Grande Annee 1997 - EXCELLENT, bold, robust, creamy, toasty vanilla, smoke-filled rooms, earthy Pinot Noir dominating, very long, soft finish

Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvee Speciale 1999 - VERY GOOD minus, fruity, youthful, lacking complexity

Piper Heidsieck 1998 - EXCELLENT, very creamy and lavish mousse, green apple snap, refreshing personality

Lanson Gold Label 1997 - VERY GOOD minus, frothy bead, zingy unripe acid, touch metallic

Bruno Paillard 1996 - GOOD plus, disappointing for the year, steely, lean, vegetal, very tart, unripe character

Taittinger Brut 1999 - VERY GOOD plus, flowery nose, quit pale, somewhat coarse in the mouth, slight astringency in finish

Vilmart Grand Cellier d'Or 1998 - EXCELLENT, very ripe and rich biscuity nose, medium toast, touch sweet in the finish overshooting the acidity


*Bollinger RD 1995 - EXCELLENT plus, full-blow biscuity nose, thick textured, floral high tones and earthy Pinot Noir depth, harmonious, very good length

*Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1996 - EXCELLENT plus - vivid nose with white flowers and chalky minerals, intense yet light, statuesque and graceful carriage, most feminine of the lot, years to go

Comte Audoin de Dampierre, Family Reserve Grand Cru Ficelee a l'Ancienne 2000 - VERY GOOD, too young, hollow middle, lean and mean currently

Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvee 225, Eleve en fut de chene 1997 - VERY GOOD minus, not integrated, gangly impression, citrusy, green streak

Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or 1997 - VERY GOOD plus, restrained, closed in, very good length and weight, but little expression now

Krug Grand Cuvee NV - EXCELLENT minus, creamy, toasty, shrieking acidity, needs time to integrate, slight vegetal notes in aftertaste

Krug 1995 - EXCELLENT plus, fat with vanilla and autolytic character, medium straw yellow, almost waxy in texture, touch of honey, somewhat clipped finish in relation to volume, bit low in acid, but so deliciously complex

*Krug Rose - EXCELLENT plus, the palest of the pale with the faintest blush of pink, sweet floral nose, exquisitely delicate, mineral-driven, excellent length, clean and crisp ending

Lanson Noble Cuvee 1997 - VERY GOOD plus, bit of tannic etch, full-bodied, crisp acidity

Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 1997 - VERY GOOD, very floral and sweet nose, less intense and interesting on palate

Perrier-Jouet, Fleur de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs 1999 - VERY GOOD minus, verging on overripe, low on acidity, flaccid, dumb?

Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne, Rosé 1999 - GOOD plus, skunky, bitter aftertaste

Dom Perignon 1998 - EXCELLENT, lithe, graceful, great carriage, seems sweeter than the others

*Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1990 - OUTSTANDING, disgorged in 2003, full-blown winey nose, extremely complex and generous, toasted nuts, autumnal smoke, baked fruits, full and weighty, fat finish, vibrant acidity, truly majestic

*Philipponat Clos des Goisses 1996 - OUTSTANDING minus, my first encounter with this bottling for a wonderful discovery, great nose, perfect for drinking now, brioche, chalky minerals, floral, layered and long on the palate, great presence, creamy rich finish

*Salon 1996 Blanc de Blancs - OUTSTANDING, tiny pinpoint bead, light silken texture, higher acidity for many more years in the cellar, snappy verve yet remarkable refinement, great persistence

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc 1998 - EXCELLENT, very pale, backward, youthful and undeveloped, sizzling acidity, sugar protrudes in the end, very long

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose 1999 - EXCELLENT minus, prickly personality, not integrated enough yet for drinking, very flavorful, excellent length


Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines NV - GOOD plus, dirt, earth, clunky

Chartogne-Taillet NV - EXCELLENT minus, rich vanilla-laced nose, bread dough, very complete and satisfying

Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cru NV - VERY GOOD, basic, fruity, not much complexity or individuality

Delamotte 1999 - VERY GOOD minus, correct but lacking personality, bland-ish, lacks depth

Pascal Doquet Grand Cru NV - GOOD plus, green streak, awkward

Pascal Doquet Grand Cru 1997 - GOOD plus, green, vegetal, more body

Pierre Gimonnet Cuvee Gastronome 2000 - EXCELLENT minus, young, good potential, very good balance but needs time to integrate

Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve NV - VERY GOOD minus, pretty nose, briny/bitter aftertaste

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 - EXCELLENT minus, toasty, full-bodied, dripping with autolytic character, well-detailed, very creamy texture, goes down easy

A. R. Lenoble Grand Cru NV - VERY GOOD minus, slightly funky, awkward

A. R. Lenoble Grand Cru 1996 - VERY GOOD minus, lacking sufficient precision

*Ruinart NV - EXCELLENT plus, bold nose, full-on richness on the palate, power and intensity, creamy mousse, remarkable depth, surprisingly vivid b de b personality despite size and volume


Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines - GOOD minus, overtly sweet, overly oxidized, gummy finish

Bollinger Special Cuvee - EXCELLENT minus, house-style to the max

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label - VERY GOOD plus, mouth-filling, strikes a happy medium

Delamotte - VERY GOOD minus, again correct with good balance and no flaws, but little character

Rene Geoffroy Cuvee Selectionnee - VERY GOOD plus, lavish bread dough and toast, twingy acidity

Gosset Grande Reserve - EXCELLENT minus, low pressure, fuller and deeper with more aged character, missing a little lengthwise

Charles Heidsieck Reserve - EXCELLENT minus, flashy, very forward but falls off in finish

Lallement - VERY GOOD minus, minty, herbal notes

A. R. Lenoble Nature - VERY GOOD plus, fuller fruit and much more character than the b de b's, good balance, crisp and full ending, bone dry

*Jean Milan Cuvee Speciale - EXCELLENT, very complex, rich, forceful, deep and penetrating

Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee - VERY GOOD minus, bland and boring but without fault

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut - VERY GOOD minus, high-toned, modest finish

*Philipponnat Royale Reserve - EXCELLENT, creamy mouse, layers and layers of flavor, seamless blending, great harmony, very pleasurable

Taittinger La Francaise - GOOD, skunky, metallic clink

Taittinger Prelude - EXCELLENT, has it all, great richness of fruit and autolysis, powerful yet polished


Besserat de Bellefon Civee des Moines - faulty, dirty, microbial taint

Veuve Clicquot NV - VERY GOOD minus, muted and sulking

Veuve Clicquot 1999 - VERY GOOD plus, lovely nose, intense fruitiness, light step, good length, refreshing

Delamotte NV - VERY GOOD minus, gummy aftertaste

Pascal Doquet 1er cru NV - GOOD minus, brandy aromas, harsh alcohol, out of balanced hotness

Nicolas Feuillatte NV - VERY GOOD minus, very fruity nose, but lacking finesse, chunky and clunky

Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage NV - GOOD, darkest purple-maive hue, metallic, marred by rotten eggs aroma

Lanson Rosé Label NV - VERY GOOD plus, crisp and steely, light body, bright flavors

Moet et Chandon Imperial NV - VERY GOOD minus, sweeter, gummy finish

Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee NV - VERY GOOD minus, coarse, some tannin etch

Perrier-Jouet Blason NV - VERY GOOD minus, clean, precise, pleasantly boring

*Philipponnat Reserve Rosé NV - EXCELLENT, full-flavored yet not ponderous, good carriage, mellowed acidity, harmonious

*Ruinart NV - EXCELLENT plus, great breed, plenty of fruit supported by minerality, creamy texture, precise, great persistence

*Taittinger Prestige NV - EXCELLENT minus, well-fruited in a restrained way, chalky minerals, elegant


Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec NV - GOOD plus, sweetness overtakes other elements, not much else

Moet et Chandon Extra Sec NV White Star - GOOD plus, coarse

Moet et Chandon Demi Sec NV Nectar Imperial - VERY GOOD, steely minerality, sufficient acidity to balance sweetness

Moet et Chandon Demi Sec Rosé NV Nectar Imperial - VERY GOOD minus, pleasant, simple

Taittinger Sec NV Nocturne - VERY GOOD plus, toasty, some complexity and backbone for interplay with sweetness

. . . and that's all I can type.

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  1. Love your four point scale starting with GOOD. Very parkerish indeed...

    2 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      Heheh, and you're sounding Clive Coates-ish, indeed yourself!

      For Champagne, the ratings band is pretty narrow as the overall quality of the region and also what gets imported to this county is quite high. There was one wine in this bunch that got no rating as it was too defective for consideration, and no second bottle was open for comparison.

      For those who like numbers, the scale is approximately

      96 to 100 points - Outstanding
      90 to 95 points - Excellent
      85 to 89 points - Very Good
      80 to 84 points - Good

      1. re: RicRios

        I'm a neophyte...and was confused to see the rating GOOD followed by the descriptive "skunky".

      2. So which of these are these available retail? And which would be a "best buy" (price/quality ratio)?

        6 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          All of the wines are available at retail in the US. I have the list of distributors for California, but pooped out from any more typing! No pricing information was provided so without a bunch of research, I can't give you a thorough answer on QPR (quality price ration). But, I've just checked for the Riunart blanc de blancs, and at $52 at Wine Club, that's would be way up there.

          Here are my three photos from the day -

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Thanks! Just reading your comments both versions of the Ruinart caught my eye, and $52 is certainly in the range I could spend for a "special occasion" bottle of Champagne.

            I'll print out the whole list and keep it around for reference!

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Knowing that you don't even like sparkling wines, I think the added weight and complexity of the base wines in the two Riunarts might be interesting for you.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The word "creamy" in your description caught my eye as suggesting that the bubbles (which are the part I object to) aren't too ... aggressive. I also noted the absence of the words "yeasty" and "toasty" which are two other Champagne characteristics I'm not fond of.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Yes, that's exactly what creamy means. The difficult trade-off though is that the creaminess comes with bottle age and/or extended time on the lees, and with bottle age, you get more of the toasty and honeyed character. If you want to avoid yeasty and toasty (aka brioche, bread dought, autolysis, biscuit (which is shortbread-y things to Brits), etc.), then I suggest rosé champagnes.

                  The very chic and trendy things these days is to DECANT champagne. Not my idea of a good time, but maybe you'll like the wine that way. It takes an excellent bottle to still taste good flat.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Out of curiosity - what is the rationale for decanting champagne - personally, I love the bubbles!

        2. wow. quite the list! reminds me of a tasting i got invited to last minute by a sommelier friend in boston, right when i first got into wine. vertical of salon back to 88, vilmart, philipponat clos des goisses, yumyumyum. one of the coolest wine days i've had.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HeelsSoxHound

            Hope those within striking distance of NYC take advantage of the opportunity on Monday. Same tasting, actually more wines as some of them didn't make it to SF in time. Initially was crabby that I didn't have access to the Pol Roger line-up (including Winston Churchill), but it was indeed an embarssment of riches for a measly $35.

          2. In a similar vein, K&L is holding a Fete du Champagne -- Champagne Tasting -- in San Francisco, on October 21.


            I know nothing in addition to the info on the website, but they are clearly pouring wines currently available from the Champagne region (no Cali/Spanish/etc).

            Wish I had known about this event, but I'll cross-check Melanie's ratings against my own for any that are poured at the K&L event.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SteveT

              Anything at K&L's tasting that you liked in particular?

            2. We attended the 3-5 tasting so we missed Melanie. I don't really have much to add except that it was absolutely awesome and a screaming deal. We didn't get through nearly as many wines as Melanie did, but then we're not as laser-focused.

              Two things stood out for me:

              1) Over the past few years, I've been focused on the small grower-producers so I haven't had many big house champagnes lately. There were a lot of big names at this tasting and it was great to taste them. I'll definitely have to make room for them in my champagne budget (especially the Bollinger RD and my old love, Ruinart).

              2) We noticed was how important the "serving condition" of the wine is to our personal enjoyment....

              First, since we were the second tasting, the initial wines had been open an indeterminate amount of time and seemed flatter. On several occasions we tasted the "bottom" of bottle and then retasted the same wine when a new one was opened. We vastly preferred the "fresh" bottles, I can't even begin imagine decanting champagne.

              Second, the wines were in buckets with ice & water. Some of the buckets had more ice/water than others and once a bottle was half empty (or so) so that all the wine was under the ice/water level, the wine was much colder. On multiple occasions, we held the wine to warm it up slightly, and on a couple of occasions we went back to a wine that needed cooling down.

              I think it was more noticeable because we were able to compare these conditions side-by-side. Certainly at home my champagne starts to go flat and varies in temperature as I drink it, its just a gradual process and thus less noticeable.