In 2010 I started a project named Champagnifique. I tasted many, many champagnes, with a small team on regular basis, and I published reviews on the website. We hoped to provide an alternative to the sites that charge expensive annual fees for access, so there was no charge to visit our site, and it was truly a labor of love.
I always wanted to do more than just review and score wines, though. What about travel to Champagne, about fine dining there, about the people who make and sell this most marvelous of beverages? What about lodging in Champagne? I loved Champagnifique, but was starting to feel a little cramped. I needed more room, to explore more. So I've started a new concept that embraces the people and places of Champagne as well as the wine.
Here we explore new horizons by connecting with people: growers, cellarmasters, oenologues, champagne dealers, collectors and even bartenders. Why the name Champagnist? Just like a physicist we are dealing with facts, doing technical tastings, making new discoveries. At the same time we’re like pianists, practicing, interpreting and performing. We are a team of passionate wine lovers and each of us has a different talent. We approach champagne with our minds and our hearts, too –like scientists who also paint or write poetry or make beautiful music. I guess we hope to be analytical bon vivants, if that makes sense.
Our initial launch tasting kept this philosophy in mind, and was attended by people who manage to know a lot about champagne while being light-hearted and romantic about it all. Attitude and cameraderie are at least as important as technical knowledge, don't you think? While the tasting as you can imagine included some very rare and special wines, some of my favorite wines, it wasn't put together to impress anyone or overwhelm people with prestige and grandeur. It was a tasting where we could honestly and completely enjoy wines worthy of their setting, a magical Rococo building in Ghent, Belgium from the Club des Nobles, where generations ago Belgian nobility may have dined and drank as well as we did, but certainly not better.
Speaking of magic, there's magic in good company, good food, good travel, and, of course, champagne.
We're excited to have this chance to share the magic of Champagne with you.
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2007
At first it seemed rather reductive on the nose, but after a short period of time it started to open up and express itself. We found aromas of dried peach, soy sauce (almost a hoisin sauce savory character), orange-ginger marmalade, redcurrant and lemon, with a soft overtone of vanilla and a hint of menthol. The mouthfeel is elegant and surprisingly silky for such a young Clos des Goisses. Flavor components were much more noticeable as the wine warmed up, with yellow fruits, pear and a lovely salinity foremost. Luckily there were no green notes in the taste. The finish has lots of zesty, vibrant astringency, and also a very dynamic acidity and soft woody spices. This champagne seems perfectly suited for long-term cellaring, and I would love to retaste this in 10 years to see how it has evolved.
Lanson cuvée Noble Blanc de Blancs 2002
One of the big discoveries for me in 2016. The color is simply amazing, patinated gold with crystal reflections and fat tears on the glass. Primary aromas were absolutely stunning, showing pronounced, layered complexity starting with floral notes like honeysuckle, lilacs, linden and even jasmine. In the Zalto glass this was quite different than when I tasted it in June out of Riedel Riesling Grand Cru. What an amazing mineral complexity of crushed rocks, seashells, chalk cave, silex smoke and even earthy tones! It is like a journey through the Cotes des Blancs. Then you get fantastic ripe Chardonnay notes of peach, quince, candied lemon and soft acacia honey tones , along with a touch of beeswax and walnut oil. On the palate you get a true noble silky texture with lots of retronasal aromas and flavors together with a lovely touch of coffee. The finish is packed with citrus acidity and minerality. You really should stuff your cellar full with this wine, simply fabulous.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005
I've always been a fan of Comtes and my passion for Champagne actually started with a fabulous vintage 1989. I had chosen vintage 2005 for the tasting because the 2006 seemed too young. I've tasted the 2005 vintage 9 times but during this tasting it really showed exceptional maturity for the vintage. Quite a peculiar first nose of ambergris and horse stables – even though the bottle was opened quite a while in advance - but after a short while it showed lovely beechwood smoked lemon, mushroom, lemon curd, ghee, pine raisin, ripe Doyenné pear and that typical Comtes toastiness. The mouthfeel is fleshy but still structured. On the palate you get the smoky lemon flavor from the nose together with Isigny crème fraiche, ripe melon, apple and brioche. Lovely touch of fleur de sel on the mid palate. The finish is moderately long with lemon oil, peach and a hint of cedar wood and coffee. Yes! This is Comtes!
André Robert Collection d'Auteur 1996
I was delighted that I obtained a bottle of this rare Blanc de Blancs from Mesnil. When I first tasted it in June 2015, it was like being struck by lightning. This was a young Coche Dury Meursault Charmes with bubbles. Depth, perfect harmony, linear acidity and tremendous complexity. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with the oxidative aromas of Vin Jaune and toasted walnuts I caught during the tasting. The color was also deeper than expected. After a while the aroma evolved nicely in the glass, showing myrrh, algae, roasted lemon and rhubarb. The texture is waxy but this wine is at the same time very dynamic and linear. Fortunately on the palate it showed more fruit than in the nose with apricot, rhubarb and Nashi pear. The mid palate is really austere with grainy, dark mineral elements, Indian black salt, algae. The finish shows perfect acidity – it's electrifying and it makes you thirsty for another glass. This baby could show a lot more but many of my guests were already enchanted by this - let's call it - "different" version. The 2006 Collection d'Auteur is out now and it promises a lot!
Vazart-Coquart Blanc de Blancs 1985
I had tasted a vintage 1989 at the Les Mains de Terroirs fair in Epernay and I was quite impressed but I was especially curious as to what the 1985 tastes like. When the 2 bottles arrived, I felt like a connection, something supernatural. This is going to be great! Intense golden color with absolutely perfect pinprick bubbles and fat tears on the glass. A first sniff reminds me of a perfect Old Fashioned cocktail with the Peychaud's bitters and zests, then followed by toasted almonds, artichoke juice and lovely warm spices like lovage, asafoetida and even some celery salt. After swirling the glass it showed beeswax, almond oil and mandarin orange. With delicate honied tones. This is beautiful! The mouthfeel is elegant and has a perfect mousse. On the palate you get lots of citrus with a touch of cognac, smoke, almonds, honey, poppy seeds and nutmeg, and also lovely bready autolytic notes on the mid palate. The finish has such lovely youthful fruit with vine peach, gooseberry and pear. What a wine!
Palmer & Co cuvée Amazone
This is a blend of vintages 1995 untill 1999, 50/50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fantastic nose of crème au beurre cake, mushrooms, tamarind paste, ripe persimmon, freshly made brioche, smoke and foie gras. Lovely silky, mouth-caressing texture. The palate is a nice reflection of the nose with lovely tropical flavors, butter and toffee. It has a surprisingly fresh finish of sweet lemon and green apple along with a hint of toast. It is not the most complex but somehow it delivers all the fun I need because of its festive Parisien joie de vivre character. The price is very comforting too. I'm a bit concerned about the future of cuvée Amazone because they have announced that the new version will be different in style with a more contemporary approach which I understand to be less maturity. Palmer & Co is a coöperative with quite an interesting vinothèque too and some great vintages are for sale at very friendly prices.
Cattier Clos du Moulin blend of vintages 1999-1998-1996
It's been awhile since I tasted this version of Cattier Clos du Moulin. It has evolved quite a lot. Lovely deep golden color with exquisite pinprick small bubbles and nice tears showing in the Zalto white wine glass. Seductive nose of rhubarb, clementine, ripe peaches, beeswax, orange blossom and very tropical --like ripe cherimoya fruit and with cognac flambeed pineapple together with butter biscuits and hazelnut cream with cocoa butter. The mouthfeel is silky but there is a lot of structure. On the palate you get lots of candied fruits ...a lovely sucrosity without being too sweet. The mid-palate shows lovely Pinot Noir fruit, like redcurrant jelly and forest strawberries. The addition of the 1996 vintage gives a lot of structure to the wine and it still shows a lovely mineral complexity but doesn't have that fresh whirlpool effect anymore which I had when I tasted it in 2011. The finish has a lovely acidity reminiscent of fresh kumquats and overlaying delicious nuttiness.
Piper-Heidsieck cuvée Rare 2002
I know many people that aren’t fond of Piper Heidsieck. First of all they buy in supermarkets exposed to UV lights stored in poor conditions and second they have never tasted cuvée Rare. When I was invited for the still wine tasting of Charles and Piper Heidsieck I was mindblown about the quality of the brut NV. Piper has - according to cellar master Régis Camus - a more sporty character with more freshness compared to Charles. The vintage 2002 is still young at this stage but showing so much beauty. It is made to impress. The color is almost lemony yellow and the effervescence just perfect with small bubbles and a soft mousse. On the nose we get sea shells, lychee, persimmon, kiwi, candied orange, cinnamon, fresh vanilla, fig and lemon. After a while, we get young Comté cheese, beeswax, jasmine flowers and white tea. After still a longer while in the glass, the lovely aroma of butter baked fennel and cedarwood emerged. The mouthfeel is very dynamic and perfectly structured, but at the same time has a delicate silky coating to it. On the palate we get candied lemon, crushed rocks, clementine, unripe mango, papaya, pineapple and cold sour cream. On the mid palate we get smoke, blueberry, caramel, Comté cheese, veal stock and a sniff of cocoa powder, all this combined with a deep autolytic yeastiness. The finish is huge with extraordinary acidity, lemon, lime, kumquat and physalis, along with a complex minerality, white pepper, chalkiness and salinity. A true masterpiece!
Boizel Joyau de France 2000
Ever since the Boizel labels were changed to a newer, more contemporary style, I've felt the disgorgements are also more recent and current, now giving the impression that the wine tastes younger. The color hints at the vintage with its lovely gold, and the bubbles are refined and elegant. On the nose you get delicious flambéed pineapple, passion flower, candied orange and soft woody spices together with redcurrant jam, cherry and hazelnut oil. The texture is rich and silky. On the palate you get a lovely sensation of tropical fruits and red fruits from the nose, along with quince, grilled lemon, delicate pastry tones and orange blossom. The finish is "la douceur", rounded with lovely red fruits and soft warm spices. Always delivers pleasure.
Roger Brun Collection 2000
I remember my first sip like yesterday. Philippe Brun welcomed me at his domain in Aÿ and he presented me a glass of this remarkable wine. It tasted like Charles Heidsieck 2000, (the first disgorgement). It was no coincidence because CH uses a lot of Brun his grapes in their blend. I've tasted this wine a dozen of times and it kept on surprising me. The nose reveals apple-fig syrup, foie gras, hazelnut, comté fruité cheese, deep yeasts and blueberry. It's a deep vinous wine with lots of body. On the palate you get a lovely expression of pinot noir with red fruits, blueberry, bramble berry and toasted brioche. On the mid palate you get marzipan and brown sugar. The finish is long with rosehip, prunes and cedar wood tones. Delicious.
Gosset-Brabant cuvée Gabriël 1998 Vinothèque
Maybe unknown to many but just across Bollinger you'll find this exquisite champagne domain. This cuvée Gabriël vintage 1998 is a Pinot Noir bomb. The nose is packed with red fruits, dark earthy tones, foliage, prunes and dried flowers.Lovely bold and warm style. On the palate you get caramel, fried onion, prunes, eau de vie, rosehip, butter-sauteed wild mushroom, truffle and milk chocolate. On the mid palate you get supporting acidity of candied citrus, baked apple and a touch of rhubarb. The finish is bombastic with deep cigar smoke and rye whiskey tones with a hint of truffle. This is a truly gentlemanly champagne. It has so much concentration and depth that it's like tasting Bolly Vieilles Vignes Françaises 1999.
Mumm Lalou 1999 Magnum
It was the first time that I tasted this vintage Lalou out of Magnum. The effervescence is so delicate and tickles your palate. There is so much going on with this wine. The first nose nose reveals greengage plum, gunsmoke, meringue, vanilla, coconut, juicy pear, lychee and deep overtones of veal stock, comté cheese and cigar. On the palate this is truly luxurious and it has perfect mouthfeel. This is multi-layered, sensational. It shows a lot of mineral complexity compared to the 75cl version with chalk and flint. I wonder if the composition is identical because there is lots of beautiful roasted Chardonnay tones. The mid palate is packed with pinot noir fruit, like raspberry, blueberry, redcurrant and even a hint of forest strawberries. The finish is long toasty, earthy, smoky and packed with juicy acidity. Fabulous.
Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2004
Deep nose of cooked apple, juicy pear, peach, toffee, beeswax, cherry, prosciutto fat, grilled nuts, white pepper, Royal Jelly, yeasts and clotted cream. After a short while it revealed more tertiary notes like leather along with oxidative tones going towards Oloroso and coffee. The texture is smooth, almost oily, but dynamic at the same time. On the palate you get butterscotch, salted caramel, cox apple, juicy doyenné pear, peach, plum and citrus. It finishes with a lip smacking wealth of tangerine, kumquat and lemon followed by toasted brioche and a very complex minerality. The balance is just perfect and all the elements are there to become a legendary wine. I recommend decanting it to help reveal more of its complexity.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
Blanc des Millénaires 1995 is without doubt one of the most impressive champagnes I’ve ever tasted. The nose is a symphony of aromas with ginger, smoked lemon, pear and fig syrup, mimolette cheese, coconut, charentais melon, toffee, white truffle, grainy austere Avize mineral tones, chalkstone, lardo, coffee grinds, Grand Marnier and beeswax. After a while you get deep woody notes but this wine hasn’t seen any wood at all, 100% stainless steel. The yellow golden color is so luxurious and the effervescence is perfection. This wine bursts with energy but has an exquisite patina. It's like this wine stood still in time. On the palate it is like youthful Batard Montrachet but just a fraction of the maturity. Another way to look at this wine: it is a sensory tour through the Côtes des Blancs. The first sip takes you to Cramant with it’s creamy character, candied lemon, luscious orchard fruits and yellow fruits like mirabelle plum and nectarine with linden blossom followed by spicy, dark mineral tones from Avize and then followed by a whiff of Isigny cream, butterscotch, an almost Meursault-ish character from Oger. The acidity and perfect balance comes from the wonderful Chardonnay from Le Mesnil sur Oger, which gives also that extra austere touch to it and then some tropical fruit and coconut tones from Vertus together with a delightful sweet tone of Sauternes nectar. I don't think I've ever tasted an Blanc de Blancs I've enjoyed more—or as much! The palate also shows evidence of a delicate Maillard reaction - like seared meat browned butter and potatoes fried in goose fat. It’s so tremendously complex and therefore it offers numerous food pairing possibilities. On the mid palate you get roasted coffee and grilled nuts and a sea saltiness which makes you crave another glass. The finish is huge, lingering, and nutty, with citrus acidity, smoke, toffee and complex minerality. I recommend drinking this out of Zalto Burgunder. This wine has tremendous aging potential – if you can manage to restrain yourself from opening your bottles! Pure love in a bottle. Close to perfection.
Drappier Carte d’Or 1979
Drappier has a very interesting vinothèque of their cuvée Carte d’Or going back to 1959. This 1979 is a deep oxidative style champagne. This one was disgorged in September 2016. At first I was a bit disappointed because the Vin Jaune aromas really turned me off but after a longer while in the glass it started to express itself with soy sauce, chocolate toffee, Poire William, old Port, artichoke, roasted leeks and a hint of charcoal. This wine is very liquourous with lots of depth and showing a lot of maturity. On the palate you get the retronasal echoes of soy along with leather tones, animal funk, plum, pear and peach with coffee, foie gras, braised endive, praliné and grapefruit. The finish has candied citrus with lingering chocolate and tobacco. I suspect that this wine was not in perfect condition but of course it was very enjoyable. A must taste is the rather affordable 1992 which is like autumn in a bottle packed with truffle and fermented tones., an ethereal champagne.