I was recently invited to a Christmas party for a small group of wine enthusiasts where the main event would be a tasting of some older vintage champagne. Conventional wisdom is that champagne is meant for immediate consumption and is not really a wine to age. I’ve proved to myself and others many times that that is certainly not the case. I’ve had champagnes at 20 years old that were quite stunning. On this occasion, we would push the envelope a bit further by having a wine from 1976, a great champagne vintage, that means the wine is 37 years old.
Despite the holiday traffic, I managed to arrive on time and immediately platters of various cold cuts were laid out. We had some excellent Prosciutto di Parma, Salami Milano and Mortadella.
After everyone arrived, the wines were uncorked and poured. First up was the Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs 1988. Bronze/gold in color. Few bubbles. Some yeasty/bready notes but not a lot. Remarkably youthful. Sweet spices, white pepper and tobacco. A rather steely finish.Excellent wine that tastes like it could still give a bit more with additional time in the bottle.
This was followed by the Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvée Brut 1985. Very lemony and minerally. Quite muted. Although a good champagne and certainly not too old, it was definitely outclassed by the Blanc de Blancs.
But the star of the evening was the magnum of Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 1976 in magnum. Remarkably sweet and buttery with orange and lemon rind notes and candied peel. As it warms, nuts, white chocolate and sweet spices. Again, youthful and finishes with great length. The sweetness of this champagne is really unexpected and something I have not encountered before. A unique, great wine; one of the finest champagnes I’ve had the pleasure to drink.
Aside from the meats, we also had some excellent tempura. The batter was first class, very light and airy and not oily at all.
After we finished the champagnes, we moved indoors for dinner proper. The dinner was shabu shabu with everyone cooking their own meat and seafood in the hotpot. No expense was spared in the quality of the ingredients. The meat, particularly, was first class.
To accompany dinner, we had 3 vintages of Chateau Haut Brion Blanc. Unfortunately, one bottle was corked so we ended up drinking only the 2006 and 1999. The 2006 was very ripe, with an almost New Worldy Sauvignon Blanc character. Lots of fruit and even a bit of candy. The 1999 was more subdued and classic in style. Both were good but I preferred the 2006.
After being stuffed with the shabu shabu, we once again went out into the garden for dessert. A light and not too sweet strawberry shortcake from Bizu was a perfect way to end the meal.
Many thanks to our host for putting together such a fine event and sharing those precious bottles of some of the finest champagnes I’ve had the privilege to taste.