Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blind Bubbly Tasting

I am a big fan of blind tasting. It's humbling, but also very educational. Your mind races as the different flavors flow over your palate, trying to catch ephemeral hints of this and that, trying to figure out exactly what it is you're tasting. It's certainly not as easy as it looks, as the brain has a tendency to project expectations when the eye catches a label, and without this visual confirmation you are left with nothing but your nose and your tongue to figure things out.

That said, blind tasting is fun when it's with friends, but nerve-wracking when you're judging or in a competition. Luckily, this past Friday the blind tasting was with friends, and just as luckily, it was a Champagne tasting.

The theme was Blind Bubblies Under $80, the rationale being that even with a recession most folks would be splurging slightly to celebrate the holidays and the New Year (and for some, the new President). I decided to organize this as a cocktail party, since this is the format in which most people would be drinking these wines at this time of year. All the bottles were wrapped in aluminum foil, and each one was numbered as it arrived.

I won't bore you with detailed descriptors of every single wine, as there were fifteen bottles of bubbly (count 'em, 15!). Even I, a lover of the bubbly, was out-bubbled by the end, and savored the splashes of still red and white wine that were offered by generous friends who had brought extra bottles along for the ride. Apparently, there really can be too much of a good thing. Who knew?

In any case, my favorite of the evening was a 1999 Champagne Vilmart Cuvée Rubis (90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay), a lovely salmon-colored Champagne that was full of sweet berries and balancing acidity. I think the only flaw, and I am being really anal here, was that it was a tad sweet. I still loved it, as did everyone else. Another favorite was the NV Pierre Moncuit Cuvée Delos, a lovely yeasty wine with nice balance, which to me offered one of the best quality-to-price ratios of the night (approximately $30 in NYC).

Other delicious wines included the 1992 Champagne Dom Perignon, which I am happy to say I nailed blind (well, not the year, but I did say it was a DP). It was quite yummy, still fresh with only some hints of ageing. The 1985 Veuve Clicquot Rosé tasted younger than it actually was, with fresh fruit and baked notes and just hints of the oxydation age gives Champagne.

The NV Champagne Henriot Souverain showed well too, but sadly the 1990 Philiponnat had seen better days. Also good were the NV Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Saint Anne, another great QPR wine I used to have as my house Champagne. My least favorites were the 2002 Huet Pétillant, a bubbly from the Loire that was too young and really angry at being poured, and the 2003 Giacosa Spumante Extra Brut, which I didn't care for at all.

All in all, it was an interesting tasting, many of the bubblies were well-made, some were more interesting than others, but almost all offered something for someone. Best of all, we had a great time and laughed until late in the evening. Then again, isn't that what wine is for?

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